Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Things

No doubt about it, I've had a bad week, as you might have guessed from my last few blog posts.

But I did some thinking.  Did some crying.  Did some writing.  Tried to get a lot of bad juju out of my system--some of which had been lurking there for quite some time.  I don't like to linger in unhappiness.  I have too much to be grateful for, thankful for, ecstatic about, that I refuse to dwell in the darkness.

Yet we all have weeks like this, weeks when everything just seems dumped on us at once and it's harder to remember all the things that make us happy.  So--at the risk of sounding like one of Oprah's "favorite things" episodes--I'm writing a few of them down to remind myself.

10.  Pizza.  I love pizza.  It's my comfort food, bringing me back to a simpler childhood time.  I could probably eat pizza every day and not get sick of it.  I like good, gourmet pizza, and I like crappy fast food pizza.  So long as it's got cheese and a crust, I'll give it a shot.  But my favorite pizza, I must confess, is Pizza Hut--specifically, a pan crust with extra cheese, especially when I'm on the road traveling.  When I was a kid, my family used to drive from St. Louis to Pittsburgh to visit family.  On one of these trips, when I was about 9 or 10, we stopped at a Pizza Hut in Indiana somewhere and got a pan crust pizza.  It was cooked to perfection, with a golden crispy crust and plenty of cheese.  I don't think any Pizza Hut experience since then has come close--but I'm still trying.  To this day, if I'm driving long-distance, I'll go out of my way to stop at a Pizza Hut.

9.  Before Sunrise/Before SunsetThe 1995 film Before Sunrise featured two twentysomethings: a French woman (Julie Delphy) and an American man (Ethan Hawke) who meet on a train, get off in Vienna, and spend a magical night together before the young man has to catch a plane back to the states the following morning.  The movie is sweet and beautiful and magical.  The whole thing seems enchanted somehow, like a fairy tale, and as night turns into dawn you can actually feel the mood changing.  It's beautiful, bittersweet, and a little bit heartbreaking.

Before Sunset reunites the lovers nine years later.  If Before Sunset is a fairy tale, Before Sunset is the harsh glare of reality.  The idealistic twentysomethings have become somewhat jaded thirtysomethings, each a little broken by the memory of "the one that got away."  It's set almost entirely in real time, and, once again, a plane ride threatens to separate them.  (Hawke's character has less than an hour before he's due to leave for the airport.)  In a way, it's more heartbreaking than the first film...but also more hopeful, depending on how you look at it.  It's one of my favorite all-time endings in film.  The first time I watched it, it drove me nuts, but when I saw it again, and take out of it exactly what you want to take out of it.  It's ambiguous and awesome.

8.  The song "Drops of Jupiter" by TrainYeah, I know: I'm about 10 years late to this party.  But despite the fact that I must have heard this song about eleventy bajillion times on pop radio when it came out in 2001, I recently downloaded it onto my iPhone and realized that I still love it, that I could listen to it eleventy bajillion times more and not get sick of it.  There's something so evocative about those lyrics.  As a girl who spends much of her time with her head in the clouds, much to the consternation of many of my friends and family members, it makes me feel...hopeful.  It makes me want to dance naked on the moon.  It makes me long for something I haven't found yet, but someone wrote those lyrics so I know it's out there.

7.  I am a linguaphile.  I read words, and I absorb them.  I got made fun of all throughout my school years because I used words that the other kids didn't know.  But I'm not so good with spelling or pronunciation.  Take the last paragraph.  The word I wanted was "consternation," but all I could come up with was "constanteration," which is neither the right spelling nor the right pronuncation.  But a few quick searches on, and I found the word I wanted.  Plus, I could hit the audio button and hear someone say it for me.  WAY easier than trying to figure out those pronunciation keys.

6.  My cat.  If you had asked me a year ago, I would have sworn up and down and all around that I would never adopt a cat.  I was terrified of cats.  Several years ago, I was attacked--in the bathroom, as I was getting ready for a shower--by two Siamese cats.  I screamed, blood ran down the drain.  It was very Hitchcockian.  I've had people insinunate since then that maybe they were just playing, but I know the difference.  These cats were attacking.  And it scared the shit out of me.

But I wanted a pet, and I don't like being ruled by my fears.  Given that I work full time, and I live in a studio apartment, a dog just wouldn't be convnient for me.  So I adopted a cat from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.  She had been a stray.  At the shelter, they were calling her Annabelle.  Being the macabre type that I am, I changed her name to Annabel Lee.  (And kudos to you if you get the reference.)

My awesome!  Anyone who says cats are not as affectionate as dogs has never met my cat.  She's sweet, and she's cuddly, and she likes to sleep on my chest.  She's easy to love.  With her, it's all very simple and uncomplicated.  You can never say that about people.

5.  My Kindle.  I could compose an ode to my Kindle...but I won't.  Escapist reading has saved me from some bleak moments, both in the past and recently.  My Kindle has made obtaining, reading, and storing this escapist material infinitely easier.  It is awesome.

4.  Revisions.  After getting off to a rocky start with the revisions to my novel, I finally feel like I'm getting...somewhere.  I'm not sure if that somewhere is any good, but at least it's something.  I've decided to try and tackle my revisions chronologically, as much as I can; I handle drafting much the same way.  Tackling things in a logical sequence like that seems to keep my linear left brain happy, prevent frustration.  I had a rough time with chapter 1; I ended up cutting the beginning scene altogether.  I think, for now, that I made the right decision.  Tomorrow I may change my mind.

3.  Sex scenes.  Dirty confession time: I love sex scenes in books.  This is a recent development.  Two years ago you wouldn't have caught me dead reading an explicit sex scene, or picking up anything out of the romance section.  Now, I hear bondage and ménage a trois and think, "bring it on," with a little quiver of excitement.  Oh, yes, sex scenes are awesome.

2.  My loved ones.  My mom is the awesomest person in the world.  She is honest, can read people like a book, and there's no bullshit to her.  My brother is...well, my brother can be a pain in the butt, but I've mostly earned it, and I know he'd be there for me no matter what--as would I, for him.  I've got great friends who genuinely care about and support me.  Two of them volunteered to be beta readers for my novel, and I've gotten great feedback from them.  My crush/penpal/lust object has been asking about it and wanting to read it for months now.  However complicated our un-relationship may be, at times, he genuinely believes in me and encourages me to do the things I want to do.  That, in my experience with the world of dating, is pretty rare.

1.  New books!  I just finished the newly released Archangel's Consort by Nalini Singh--after re-reading the other books in the Guild Hunter series.  I had almost forgotten how much I loved those books.  I love the way Singh refuses to humanize her hero.  Raphael is a 1500-year-old archangel; he shouldn't act human.  The feelings he has for Elena are considered a weakness by his fellow immortals.  Yet he can still be--by human standards--cold, cruel, and calculated.  I also love how they're still figuring out their relationship.  Trust doesn't come easily to either of them, and there's such a huge imbalance of power between them.  Raphael could control Elena, crush her ability to resist, which would make her safer--yet to do so would kill everything he loves about her.  And Elena, a strong, independent Guild Hunter, has to struggle in a world where she's the weakest one around.  I love their dynamic, and the way Singh has stayed so true to her characters.

And in less than a month...This Side of the Grave by Jeaniene Frost will be out!  Frost's Night Huntress series was one of the first urban fantasies I read, and it's no wonder I got hooked on the genre.  Cat is a tough, resourceful heroine, awesome enough to win the love of a 250-year-old sex-crazed vampire, and Bones is...well, Bones is just sigh-worthy.  I remember reading Halfway to the Grave and thinking he was one scary SOB--and he can be, which is what makes his feelings for Cat all that much more amazing.  Four books later, their relationship is still one of the hottest in urban fantasy.  Bones is the ultimate female fantasy.  If I had to pick a fictional character that I would bring to life and let seduce me, he'd be high on that list.

First Drop of Crimson and Eternal Kiss of Darkness, the stand-alone romances that Frost released last year set in the Night Huntress world, were great.  But Cat and Bones have always been first in my heart.  So after over a year of waiting (I first read the series in late 2009), a new Cat and Bones adventure is almost here, and I can't wait!

So these are my happy things.  Of course, these aren't really in order: my loved ones are way more important to me than new books.  Except on release days.  Then all bets are off.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My hard-core blog!

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

Apparently, my blog is a soft-core porn with an undercore of violence. I had no idea. Have I really mentioned sex 14 times? Apparently I've also mentioned "corpse" and "death" quite a bit.

I think they're overshooting. I'd say my blog is PG-13, tops.

Real update coming soon, I promise.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

An inconvenient corpse

I am having a rather crummy weekend.  I don't want to get into the details, but it comes down to this: I will likely soon be in possession of a very inconvenient corpse.  Actually, if I'm being technical, it's an inconvenient urn, but inconvenient corpse just sounds so much cooler.

If I sound blasé, then good.  That’s what I’m going for.  In actuality, I’m rather in shambles about this.  It’s being sort of thrust upon me to figure out what to do about this inconvenient corpse, the remains of a 14-years-dead relative that had apparently been stuck in someone’s closet somewhere.  It’s a very long, and complicated story, and the telling of it isn’t really something I want to get into on this blog.  Needless to say, having the remains of the aforementioned dead relative in my own closet is not something I want to do, not by any stretch of the imagination.  It freaks me the hell out, a lot.  So right now, I’m fighting to keep my head above water.

So, as is my way with things, I’m compartmentalizing.  I’m trying not to think too much about the reality of the inconvenient corpse, while at the same time the idea of it intrigues me, on a writerly level.  What shape would an inconvenient corpse take, in the fantasy world?  Maybe it wouldn’t really be a corpse at all.  After all, people don’t really die in the fantasy world.  They’re immortal.  Or if they’re not, they become vampires or shape shifters or zombies or whatever to compensate for their lover’s immortality.

Sometimes I think all the time I spend in the paranormal world affects my ability to deal with the real one.  Here I am, dealing with a real corpse (er, urn), and I have absolutely no clue what to do.  If it were a vampire, I’d stake it through the heart (with silver or wood, depending on what world we were in).  If it were a zombie, I’d chop off its head.  If it were a ghost, I’d get an Ouija board, and maybe a pottery wheel and some Righteous Brothers songs.  But here, in the real world, I have real remains of a real dead person, and I’m flummoxed.  Do I inter them?  Do I scatter them to the wind?  Is that legal?  Do you need permits for that?  Can I get someone to do it for me (because honestly, I really don’t want to)?  Can I flush them down the toilet, like a fish?

(For the record, I don’t care what anyone does with my ashes.  I won’t be there anymore.  If I become a ghost, I’ll have better things to do than haunt a stupid urn, I hope!  For the funeral, skip the casket and the viewing—that’s creepy.  Also, skip the hymns.  Play “Another One Bites the Dust” at least once, preferably when everyone is seated.  Anyone who thinks it’s in poor taste shouldn’t be at my funeral anyway.)

I think this is one of the reasons the paranormal world has so much appeal to me: death, you see, doesn’t have to exist there.  Oh, it exists sometimes, when it’s convenient and when it’s necessary for the story.  But mostly, there are ways around it.  Humans are transformed into immortality as easily as going to the gym.

As a teenager, I became a bit death obsessed.  A bit, as in, I walked around cemeteries all the time and talked to myself.  (Though, if I’m being honest, the talking to myself started well before my morbid teen years.  It stopped in college, when I had roommates.  Well, mostly.)  There were a few years there when I made Bud Cort’s character in Harold and Maude look like a barrel of laughs.

I’m not quite as macabre now as I used to be, but the darkness still lingers.  I think a lot of my fascination with the paranormal—both in my reading and my writing—has to do with my teenage quest for somethingness, that need to assure myself that we are not alone, that death is not the end. 

I toyed with religion, briefly, but it never seemed to fit.  By the end of high school I was a hard-core agonistic, if there is such a thing.  Lacking conclusive evidence of anything, I opened myself up to everything.  I liked—and still like, to this day—the idea of a world with infinite possibilities.  I don’t think we’ve figured everything out.  Many days, I don’t think we’ve figured anything out, but the illusion of knowledge is secure and comfortable for us.  It just doesn’t work for me.  I won’t answer questions I don’t really know the answers to.  I can’t pretend to know more than I do.

And yet, what I long for is exactly that: answers.  What happens when we die?  Do we cease to exist?  The possibly of not existing scares me shitless.  And the possibly that such inconvenient corpses, inconvenient urns, are all that remain of people who once meant so much to me is too much to bear.

So I remain enmeshed in the paranormal world of infinite possibilities.  Because there is hope there.  In a universe where anything can happen, not existing is not an option.

But here, in the bleaker, harsher reality in which I live, I will soon have an inconvenient urn on my hands, which is not really a corpse at all.  And I’ll put it away, somewhere I won’t have to see it, so I don’t have to confront my fear: that maybe that inconvenient urn—the one I can’t stand the thought of looking at any more now than I could 14 years ago—is really the end.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hey (hey), you (you), get off of my cloud!

What's with all the judgment in reading?

Not in reading itself--that's pretty much judgment-free (well, there are some genres that aren't, but that's not what I'm talking about).  But I mean as in other judging what I (and others) read--and by extension, since I write things I would like to read, what I write.

I read primarily for entertainment.  I love nothing more than curling up with my Kindle and reveling in a new book.  Reading is an escapist pleasure for me.  I like to read books that take me away from the problems and complications of my own life and the real world.  I like books written from the female perspective.  (All of the books I've read thus far this year have been written by female authors.)  I like strong, independent heroines.  I like well-developed characters.  I like characters who do the wrong things for the right reasons.  I like romance, the kind that takes your breath away and overwhelms you with passion and makes you root for this relationship.  I like sex scenes.  Yes, I'll admit it.  Sex scenes have been a relatively recent discovery in my reading world.  But I have quickly, and utterly, embraced them.  Bring on the boinking!  The smuttier, the better!

I don't like when rape is used in a sexual gratification context.  (One recent book, which I had heard almost universally positive things about, skirted that line, and I liked it less because of it.)  I don't like characters that do the right things for the wrong reasons, because they tend to be sanctimonious and annoying.  I don't like characters whose sarcasm turns to meanness, or characters who are just mean otherwise.  When you hurt someone, you should apologize.  I can tolerate murder and betrayal and all sorts of unscrupulousness from my characters, but not meanness.  I don't like books in which nothing happens.  I read fast, and I'm not very patient.  If a book hasn't hooked me within the first five pages (or less), I'll probably stop reading.  Slow builds don't work for me.

I'm fascinated with the supernatural and the paranormal.  I always have been.  I was the kid who grew up anxious for the "Unexplained" stories on Unsolved Mysteries.  Is it any wonder, then, that I've found my literary niche in urban fantasy and paranormal romance?

When I write, my ambitions are not very grand: I want to write a good story that people will like.  I try to write the kinds of stories I think I would like to read myself.  I know not everyone will like it, but I hope some people will.  That would make me happy.  I don't need to write the Great American Novel.  What is that, anyway?  Wouldn't such a thing be different for everyone?

Why?  Because once upon a time, I was worried about what other people would think of me.

That's right.  I was not always the cool, confident chick that now haunts the interwebs.  As a long- and oft-bullied child, I longed for the one thing I couldn't have: acceptance.  Once I was finally accepted among my peers (a status that remains, in my mind, tenuous at best), I was afraid of doing anything that would alienate me from them.  We’re often more like animals than we care to admit, we humans.  Any weakness and we push people out of the pack.  Often, we perceive “difference” as “weakness.”

(I’m often not a fan of the human race.)

To this day, I don’t like anyone to be around me when I’m in a bookstore.  I won’t go into one with my friends.  Hell, I don’t even like anyone else in the stacks near me, even people I don’t know.  No matter what I do, I felt that all-too-familiar surge of self-consciousness.  What will they think of what I’m reading, I wonder.  It’s a weakness I despise in myself. 

Thank God for my Kindle, where I can indulge in the kinds of books I like to my heart’s content and not worry about judgmental eyes watching me.

Ironic, then, that I spend so much of my time writing about what I read.  I am CC2K’s ( Book Editor, a position I’ve held for over two years now.  I review things over there, talk about the books I like and the ones I don’t.  And more recently, I’ve started this blog.  I get to be a lot more self-indulgent here, talking about the process of reading and writing and my thoughts about it.

So it doesn’t matter, really, that I have my Kindle.  Those judgmental eyes follow me anyway.  Only now, instead of making me feel self-conscious, they make me feel angry.

I didn't get here because I've never read anything else.  On the contrary, I got here because I've read a lot of other stuff.  For years, I wouldn't touch anything in the genre sections of the bookstore.  No, I was all about the literary fiction and the classics.  I bought a lot of books that I never finished.  And I finished a lot of books that I didn't really like.  Most of those people who would look down on me because what I read isn’t “good” enough probably haven’t read nearly as much as I have.  I’d bet, in most cases, it’s not even close.

I’m not in school anymore.  I have no homework assignments to complete.  I don’t doubt my intelligence.  I am smart, and literate, and I can have a conversation about a great many things without making an idiot of myself.  I no longer feel like I have to prove anything to anyone.  So what right does anyone have to judge me because the books I read aren’t “good” enough? 

Reading is a huge part of my life.  Already this year, I’ve read 16 books (14 full-length and 2 novellas).  So when someone judges my reading as being not good enough, it feels like they’re judging me.

But I’m angry Beth now, the Beth who can conquer the world.  And I don’t need them anyway.

This is Annabel Lee, my cat. If you had a cat like her,
you'd be very happy, too.
 I am one of the happiest people I know.  I finished a 309-page novel draft, and I’m working on revisions now so I can start submitting it to agents/editors this spring.  I have a family that means the world to me, and a relationship with my mother that most people would envy.  I have great friends, people who would have my back no matter what.  (Fair-weather friends simply don’t interest me, another consequence of years of being an outcast.)  I have a cozy, if usually messy, apartment, and a cat who adores me and likes to sleep on my chest.  I have enough money to buy things and travel and go out when I want.  I live alone.  I answer to nobody and no one.  I have my solitude, when I want it—which may sound horrible to some people but, to me, it’s paradise.  I am more deeply content now than I have been at any other time in my life.

So to those of you who would get all condescending and snobby toward me for my literary choices: is it really that?  It’s the bullies back in school, all over again: they put people down to make themselves feel better.  Maybe they see that I have what they lack: happiness.

So I’ll read what I damn well want to read, and the hell with anyone who doesn’t like it.  It doesn’t affect you, anyway.  Now, get off of my fucking cloud.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Can't we all just get along?

Finished Shadowfever yesterday, and I thought it was ABSO-FRIGGING-LUTELY AWESOME!  Seriously, a satisfying conclusion to a great series.  There were still some unanswered questions, but nothing integral to the story.  It was more like, "Hey, might be cool if this were explored at some point."  And it might be: Moning has indicated that she intends to continue writing stories in the Fever world, focusing on some of the side characters from the series.  This is fantastic news, to me: I think there are a lot of stories left to tell in this world.

But I'm not writing to gush about Shadowfever.  (Much to your relief, I'm sure.)  But rather, I wanted to talk about the reactions it evinced.  On my Twitter feed--which is populated by book bloggers and book lovers--there have been a few negative reactions to the book, and to the series.  The detractors have been in the minority, but they're vocal about it.  Brave of them.  Those on my Twitter feed are mostly a nice group, but the detractors have definitely endured their share of good-natured ribbing about it.  I say "good-natured," because I don't think there's any venom or spite behind it, but there's definitely passion.  (And I suspect, from what I've been hearing, that there's a lot of less nice things being said--or not said--behind closed doors.)  The people who like the series simply cannot fathom that anyone might not.  And those who don't can't believe anyone does.

But it's not always like that.  The internet seems to bring out a blunter, meaner side to people sometimes.  There's an anonymity to it; nobody really knows who you are, you aren't seeing these people face-to-face, and you'll never meet them, so you don't have to worry about what they'll think of you.  The internet can, at its worst, serve as a big "fuck you" to things like decency, politeness, tact, and courtesy.  And even when malice isn't intended, it can easily be read into black-and-white words; without tone, without knowledge of the person, it's easy enough to sound unintentionally mean or spiteful, especially when it comes to disagreements.

Which brings me to Breaking Dawn.

I'll confess: I liked the first three installments of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, enough to earn me the dubious distinction over at CC2K ( of being their "resident Twilight expert."  Twilight was a fun, if fluffy, story, Pretty in Pink with vampires.  I dig supernatural stuff.  It worked for me.  I liked the arc of the first three books.  Prettyboy vampire leaves, in swoops the werewolf, love triangle commences.  Works for me!  The ending of Eclipse, the third book, is awesome.  Bella finally realizes how her indecision, her inability to committ to one guy knowing she will lose the other, has hurt both of them, and herself.  She chooses Edward, and a heartbroken Jacob runs away to who-knows-where.  Then Bella agrees to marry Edward.  Okay, so the whole "getting married at 18" thing didn't work for me.  Nor did the "choose the guy you idolize but is actually a controlling jerk."  But the bittersweet melancholy as Jacob runs away and Bella mourns the loss of the guy she almost-could-have-loved is just awesome.  And there was a whole other book to resolve Edward's controlling jerk tendencies, and Bella's self-esteem issues.

Then came Breaking Dawn.

Breaking Dawn was the book that really divided the Twilight fandom.  Some fans loved it, while others despised it.  I was in the latter camp.  It wasn't that Bella went with Edward; that was pretty well resolved in Eclipse, and honestly, if you didn't see that one coming a mile away you probably haven't read very much.  It was just...ugh.  But been there, done that, and that's not what this post is about.  (Though if you're curious, you can read how Breaking Dawn broke Twilight.)

What got me about the whole thing was how vicious people were--both in defense and in opposition.  Some Twilight fansites even kicked people off for expressing negative opinions about the books.  "How dare you not be exactly like us," the action seemed to say.  There was a lot of anger and spite, on both sides.  The conversation between the people who liked the book and didn't often devolved into territory that was just personally insulted.  People seemed to forget that this was a book, and that everyone was free to like/not like it as they chose.  It was as if every negative comment was a personal insult against Edward, Bella, and Stephenie Meyer.
But not every book is going to work for every person.  No matter how beloved, how acclaimed, some people just won't like it.  And those who do like it won't "get" the ones who don't.  And vice-versa.  Opinions are neither right nor wrong, they are just that: opinions.

I read a book not long ago.  (Shocking, right, given that this blog is called "Beth the Book Girl."  Captain Obvious, you've just been promoted to Major Obvious.)  I didn't really like it.  I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it, either.  I thought the lead character was annoying, the premise was confusing, and the book suffered from sidelining the best characters in the story.  I've read a few recent reviews, and they've been very positive.  They praised the heroine's intelligence and wit, and the book's unique premise.  That doesn't make me like the book any more, or want to read it again.  But it's still a valid opinion.

Non-book related example: the movie Crash won the Best Picture Oscar a few years ago--2006, I believe.  I saw the movie, after it was hyped up by critic after critic.  I didn't like it.  I thought it was preachy and overwrought, and there were too many characters to sympathize with any.  (And most weren't sympathetic, anyway.)  The same year, Brokeback Mountain was also much-praised--and I didn't like that, either.  I thought it was over-long, not terribly interesting, and I just didn't sympathize with the characters.  (I think they hurt their wives and families too many times, and they just lost me.)  Did those movies deserve all the praise they got?  Not in my opinion.  But my opinion is no better, or no worse, than anyone else's.

So why, then, can the internet become such a hostile, mean place when people disagree?  Isn't that their right?  I wish someone would create some internet rules of etiquette--and people would follow them!  But they won't, and I sound like one of those old geezers, reminicing about the "good old days" when people were nicer.  But I'm also a cynical geezer.  People were never nicer.  They were just faking it more.

I, personally, want to see the dissenting opinions.  I'm genuinely curious about what other people think.  When I love a book, yes, I try to convince other people to give it a shot, too.  But I also know that the books I love won't work for everyone.  I'm obsessed with the paranormal.  I have friends who wouldn't even look at it twice.  I love genre fiction, and tend to think literary is often dry.  Yet I have friends who love it.  Without dissention, how boring would our conversations be?

So I welcome the discussion.  Bring it on, let's share and talk and revel in this amazing thing called the internet, where you can analyze your favorite (or least favorite) books/movies/TV shows ad nauseum with people who have already read them/seen them.  But let's leave the pettiness and pissiness at the door, shall we?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Musings about the Fever series and speculations about Shadowfever

For those of you who haven't read the Fever series, this post will be spoilery.  Like, major spoilery.  But it's my blog, and I can do that.  So instead, I recommend you go read my article over on CC2K about why you should read Karen Marie Moning's Fever series.  Then you should go read it.  Then you can come back.

So I've been trying to comment on a few of the blogs that have had Fever discussions and Shadowfever speculations, and have thus far been unsuccessful.  So either I lack the technological competence to figure out how to comment, or Blogger's comment feature just sucks.  I'm tending to think the former rather than the latter, given that several people have had difficulty commenting on my blog.  Though I am pretty technologically incompetent.

But then I realized: I have my own blog!  And nothing feeds into our societal self-indulgence like talking to yourself!  (And God knows I've been doing that for a very long time.)  So I'm going to post my musings and speculations here.


I think the Beast (the one killed at the end of Dreamfever) is Barrons.  But I don't think Barrons will stay dead.  Why do I think it's Barrons?  Because there are very few characters whose death could make Mac believe she had lost everything.  Alina, maybe--but she's already dead (as far as we know), and Mac definitely pointed out the Beast was male.  Her father?  Doesn't make sense; why would he be there all of a sudden?  And why would he be Barrons' beast?  Christian MacKeltar?  She might be upset about his death, but I don't think she's close enough to him to believe that she'd lost everything at his death.

Why do I believe he won't stay dead?  There's a few reasons behind this (i.e. my belief that Barrons won't stay dead) besides desperate, hopeful speculation.  Swapping out my fangirl hat for my critical one, Barrons being dead dead just wouldn't make any sense.  There's too much we don't know about his character.  Plus, he's been set up as a romantic interest for Mac for the last four books.  To kill him off so abruptly just doesn't make sense, especially since Moning has promised (at the end of the very dark Faefever, I believe) that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Story-wise, it just doesn't make sense.  Second, one of the things I've gotten from reading Moning's Highlander series is that time, in this world, is a mutable concept, and that the past can be changed.  It's been mentioned that the Fae once had the ability to travel through time, but this has been lost.  When someone (V'lane, I think) mentioned this in the Fever series, I had the impression it had been lost for a very long time.  But from reading the Highlander series, I get the impression that they had the ability up until quite recently.  The LM--if we believe him--has already said he can bring Alina back.  Why not Barrons?

So I don't think Barrons will stay dead forever.  But I think he may stay dead for awhile.  (Much as I don't want him to.)  Mac has grown and evolved a lot as a character throughout the series.  But one thing has been constant: Barrons has always had her back.  So by being forced to go through the final part of this journey without Barrons, she completes the character evolution that began in Darkfever.  She's already become a much stronger, more self-sufficient person.  Without Barrons, she'll be forced to become completely self-sufficient.  And really, if she's going to have a happily ever after with Barrons, she'll need to be the kind of woman he can go toe-to-toe with.  (Why do I keep thinking of that scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader and Obi-Wan fight, and Darth Vader says something like, "When we last met, I was but a student.  Now I am the master."  My mind is a weird place to live.)

I think Mac has misjudged Barrons.  Big time.  Mac has said, over and over and over again, that she doesn't trust Barrons.  And, sexy as he is, she's not being totally unreasonable.  He's lied to her a lot.  He's not forthright about himself, his motives, or his past.  She's in a strange place, where she doesn't know anyone, and her sister has just been brutally murdered.  No wonder she has a hard time trusting anyone!

But actions speak louder than words, Mac, and Barrons' actions have spoken volumes.  He's the one who's always protected you, always had your back.  He gave you a job, and sheltered you when you had nowhere to go.  He gave you a friggin' CAR to drive, a really expensive one, and guys are really protective of that kind of stuff.  Oh, yeah, and he offered to turn the bookstore over to you.  He cares about you more than you know.

He's not so great with social nicetites, I'll admit.  When he left you breakfast in front of your door on the first night you spent in the bookstore, you thought he was saying, "Don't make yourself too comfortable."  I think he was trying to be nice, in his gruff, hardass sort of way.  And that tattooing you without your permission...yeah, I wouldn't be cool with that either, but he was trying to protect you.  And he tore up the bookstore when you were gone and he couldn't find you.  It's sort of sweet, in a jackass kind of way.

Yeah, he can be a jerk.  (I wanted to hit him after the cake incident.)  But I don't think you were ever just a tool to him, as much as he tried to convince you otherwise.

Speaking of Barrons, I have to admit: I had some trouble initially with the way things played out between Barrons and Mac when she was Pri-ya.  But I don't anymore.  I read chapters 4 and 5 several times--and not just because I liked the sexy bits.  Mac was Pri-ya when Barrons rescued her, and I was surprised to discover that, during her recovery process, they were having sex.  Lots of it.  Mac wasn't really Mac, and she couldn't actually consent to what was happening.  Why would he take advantage of her in that state?

But I don't think he did.  Looking back, I think Barrons realized that the only way to pull her out of that state safely was to give her what she wanted--at the time, lots and lots of sex.  And Barrons has always been a bottom line, end justifies the means, kind of guy.  Mac notes that Barrons seems "torn" in his desire toward her; I think that's partially why.  He knows rational Mac would never consent to this, and he feels, on some level, like he is taking advantage of her.  ("One day you'll wonder whether it's possible to hate me more," I think he says.)  But I also think there's a part of him that wants to keep her safe in that room, doesn't want to give her up.  And he could have.  But he kept fighting to get her back to herself, knowing it would cost him Mac in the end.  *Sigh*

If Barrons just wanted the Sinsar Dubh, he could have used Mac while she was Pri-ya.  If he just wanted to have sex with Mac, he could have kept her Pri-ya and had himself a very nice and willing fuck-buddy.  Instead, he dragged her back kicking and screaming.

And she was, indeed, kicking and screaming.  The other thing the re-read showed me was that Mac didn't want to leave the room with Barrons.  So much had happened to Mac over the course of the three previous books, the worst of which was becoming Pri-ya.  She was broken.  The room was her safe place, her cocoon.  Whereas what happened with the Unseelie princes was shameful and degrading, what happened with Barrons was not.  Barrons, and that room, was what kept her safe from the monsters.  I think that's why it took her so long to come back.

Mac's conversation with Christian MacKeltar really got me.  Nothing that happened with Barrons had been nonconsensual.

Okay, do I have anything to speculate about that isn't Barrons related?  Well that just isn't as much fun.

I think Mac may be the daughter of the Unseelie King and his mistress.  She dreams of a cold woman.  Maybe she was born in the mirrors?  That would explain her newfound abilities.  Plus, it would likely make her immortal, or at least much longer-lived.  And since Barrons is, I believe, immortal, or nearly so...

Oh, crap, there's Barrons again.

I don't think the LM killed Alina.  There!  I got one.  I don't know who killed Alina, but I don't think it was the LM.

I think I'm going to go through an entire box of Kleenex tomorrow reading the book.  The whole series has been an emotional roller coaster.  Methinks this will be worse.

There's a wintery mix heading my way tomorrow.  I seriously hope my office is closed.  I don't think it will be.  But a girl can always dream.

Likeable Characters

I'm having a bit of a dilemma with my novel.  I want my protagonist to be a likeable, sympathetic heroine.  But she does bad things.  In her case, she kills people.  She can't control it; she goes into trance-like states that she can't remember afterwards.  And she usually kills "bad" people, people who are either physically hurting her or someone else. 

Of my two beta readers, one of them likes the heroine and one of them does not.  When I've read bits and pieces of it in my writing workshop, I've received similarly mixed reactions--though, judging by the reactions I've received on excerpts I've read more recently, I've softened her edges enough to win over most of my classmates.

The beta reader who does like her says she understands that the character is remorseful for her actions, that she genuinely seems troubled by the things she's done.  The beta reader who doesn't says that she's not remorseful enough, that she doesn't do enough "good" things to balance it out, and that she doesn't believe that the protagonist is genuine in her interactions with other characters.  (Which is true, in part: this is a woman who has lived under various false identities for 10 years, so there's always a delicate balance of truth/lies in how she presents herself to people.)  She also has a problem, in general, with killing, her perspective being that killing is always immoral, so she inherently has more trouble sympathizing with a character who kills.

My male lead, I think, is even more problematic.  He does some pretty f***ed up things in the book, things that I can neither sympathize nor agree with.  Yet I still want him to be likeable, as well--mostly, anyway. 

So that brings us to three questions:

  1. What makes a sympathetic protagonist?
  2. Must a protagonist be sympathetic to be likeable?
  3. Can a character do things we disagree with and yet still be likeable?
I think I need to define my terminology here.  "Sympathetic," to me, means a character you can relate to/feel for.  Likeable, on the other hand, is someone you might want to hang out with outside of the book world.  They're closely interrelated, yet I think they don't always match up.  House, for example, is sympathetic yet often unlikeable.  Someone like Tony Soprano might be called likeable but extremely unsympathetic.  But those are constantly shifting boundaries, and it depends very much on personal preference.

Orson Welles, from the 1944 version of
Jane Eyre. My favorite Rochester.
 For me, I can root for characters who do bad things.  One of my favorite romantic leads is Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre.  He's controlling and domineering.  He's cold and condescending toward everyone but Jane.  He has a young ward who may or may not be his daughter, and he barely acknowledges her.  And when he falls in love with Jane, he proposes to her--despite the fact that he's already married.  Oh, and, he locks his mentally ill wife in an attic.  Lemmie say that again, just for effect: he locks his wife in an attic.  Then when Jane discovers his betrayal--on their wedding day, no less--Rochester tells her to just disregard the wife; they'll run away together and Jane will become his mistress.  Really, Rochester, WTF?

Yet every time I read the book, I root for his and Jane's happily ever after.  He loves her, and she loves him.  His wife was crazy, and he was coerced into that marriage.  But he didn't treat his wife--or Jane--very well.  I can't excuse it, but I can forgive it.

Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights...well, I won't talk about him much, because I just gave a friend (and one of my blog followers) the book as a Christmas/birthday present, and I'd hate to spoil it for her.  Even the much-lauded Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice--lest we forget that the slight that kept him and Elizabeth apart most of the book was that he said she wasn't hot enough for him!

One of my favorite contemporary fiction authors is Jeaniene Frost.  In her Night Huntress series, the heroine, Cat, hunts vampires, believing that they are evil.  Bones, the hero, is a vampire--and a bounty hunter.  When they meet, she tries to kill him, and he kidnaps her and chains her up in a cave, beating her up to try and get information out of her.  There's lots of blood and death in these books.  Yet I root for them, and their relationship, anyway.  Why?  Because I feel that, in spite of the things they've done, they're ultimately on the side of "good" overall.  They try to do what's right, and they don't always succeed.  And that's okay with me.

I tend to revel in ethical gray area.  One of the things I've been thinking about, as I write this story, is whether there is any such thing as good and evil.  Morality is a human construct, and what we deem "good" and "bad" has changed significantly over the years, as well as the way we punish illegal or immoral behavior.

So what causes a character to be likeable or unlikeable?  Likeability is a very personal thing.  I can tolerate characters who do a lot of bad things, especially if they do them for the right reasons.  Rochester keeps his wife in an attic, but only because he feels she's a danger to herself and others (mental hospitals being a lot less prevalent in the early 19th century).  He asks Jane to run away with him and become his mistress, but only because he loved her so much that he couldn't bear to lose her.

Darcy, meanwhile, almost lost me during my first reading of Pride and Prejudice with his crack about Elizabeth's appearance.  I hated him almost as much as Elizabeth did--probably more!  On the surface, his transgression is much more minor than Rochester's: making a snide remark about a woman he's barely looked at, when he had no knowledge that she could hear him.  He was cranky, and he disliked parties.  But his comments were mean and hurtful, and I had trouble looking past them.

I'm considering abandoning one book series I've been following partially because I'm having more and more trouble liking the main character.  She's very moral and upstanding, so that's not the problem.  But she loves to throw sarcastic barbs at people, comments that cross the line from funny to just plain mean.  She hurts people's feelings, and I don't like that.  Is she unsympathetic?  No.  But she's unlikeable, at least for me.

Murder most foul--no problem there.  Meanness, on the other're on my shit list.  I think my priorities are skewed.

The Great Gatsby.  Gatsby is a bootlegger with ties to organized crime.  Yet he only got involved with that life to win the affection of Daisy, the woman he had loved and lost to a richer man.  Meanwhile, shallow, superficial Daisy is really guilty of nothing more than toying with him a bit and choosing to stay with her husband.  (The accident at the end was, indeed, an accident, and Gatsby plays more of a role in covering her involvement up than Daisy does.)  Yet Gatsby is, to me, both likeable and sympathetic, the tragic hero of the story--and for my money, Daisy Buchanan is one the most unsympathetic, unlikeable characters in fiction.  Their transgressions are roughly equal; perhaps Gatsby's are even greater.  But Daisy, throughout the story, is insipid and selfish, toying with Gatsby because she doesn't want to leave the old money status her husband provides (this despite the fact that she knows he's cheating on her).  Gatsby only became involved with bootlegging and the mob because he wanted the money to win Daisy--a futile effort, since it wasn't the right kind of money.

When my 12th grade AP English class covered Crime and Punishment back in high school, I couldn't even finish the damn thing.  Although senioritis was partially to blame, I'm sure, part of it was that I despised the lead character, Raskolnikov.  Within the first 50 pages of the book, he kills a pawnbroker and another woman (her niece, as I recall) just to prove he can.  He thinks he's better and higher than other people, therefore he was entitled to do such things.  I was done with Raskolnikov right there, and I still haven't gone back.

On another note: funny how most of the characters I've talked about are men.  I wonder--and I'm probably opening Pandora's box by saying this--whether we're more willing to forgive transgressions when they're committed by male characters than female ones.  Back to the Night Huntress series: I remember Jeaniene Frost saying in an interview that the character that she most often hears criticized in the series is Justina, Cat's mother.  Justina believes that vampires are evil and encourages Cat to kill them--despite the fact that Cat is half vampire herself.  Poor Cat starts the series with a massive inferority complex because of this treatment, knowing that her mother thinks she's "half evil" and that she must constantly prove herself to her mother by hunting vamps.  Unlike Cat and Bones, Justina has never killed anyone.  She's a good, law-abiding person by most standards.  Are her acts really any worse than Bones's?

I, personally, like Justina.  There were extenuating circumstances fueling her belief that vampires are evil, and she softens and evolves throughout the series.  Plus, anyone with gumption enough to stand up to a vampire like Bones and basically tell him to go to hell--despite the fact that she's only human, and Bones could crush her like a bug--is pretty awesome in my book!

Friday, January 14, 2011


This is sort of the flip side of the revision process: giving--and getting--critiques.  It is a challenge on both sides, and it can often lead to resentment and hurt feelings.

I know of writers who refuse to let anyone else read their work.  They feel that other people can't truly understand their work well enough to give a valid critique.  Plus, some worry that someone else might steal their ideas.  To which I would probably reply: dude, you're not that good.  I suspect most creative writers have too much pride to steal someone else's work.  It would be like admitting defeat: I'm not good enough, so I'm going to take someone else's work.  Plus, believing someone will steal your work means that you're going in with the assumption that your work is good enough to steal.  (Why would someone steal bad work?)  I think that's kind of a dangerous assumption, and leads to the kinds of writers who will dismiss critiques outhand without even listening to them.

I, on the other hand, firmly believe in critiques.  Why?  Because it's my intention to publish my work for an audience.  The people who critique my work act as a test audience for me, and before I submit my work to agents/editors, I want to know that it's as strong as it can be.

But I really, truly wish that someone would set up some rules for critiques.  Because I've heard good ones, and I've heard bad ones--and the distinction has nothing to do with the content of the critique.

And so, if I were the Master of the Universe (like He-Man!)

Beth's Rules for Good Critiques

  1.  Start out with what you liked, and preferably why.  Nobody likes having their work ripped apart.  When you put so much thought and effort into something, it's disheartening to hear, "It sucks."  I'm no exception.  But a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.  Tell the writer the things you liked first.  Ease him/her into the criticism.  Writer X may be more likely to take it if he/she doesn't feel like he/she's been massacred.  And if you can, articulate why you liked a certain thing.  That's not always possible, but it helps a writer to know what he/she did well.
  2. If you can't say something nice, maybe you shouldn't say anything.  This isn't always possible; I've been in classes/groups where you've been required to give critiques.  And at times, I've really had to scrape the bottom of the barrell for something nice to say.  (I haven't quite resorted to, "You've got pretty font and good quality paper," yet, but I've gotten pretty close.)  Sometimes--and I know I'm probably betraying my writer bretheren by saying this--something just sucks.  It may not have redeeming value.  But remember that a) what is good, and what sucks, is a matter of personal preference, and b) no matter how much you think something sucked, the writer still worked hard on it.  I've kept my mouth shut in my current writers' workshop more than once.  At times, I've piggybacked off of others' nicer critiques to offer my own more negative assessment.  I won't be dishonest, but sometimes what might come out of my mouth would be too harsh to be useful, anyway.
  3. Explain why you didn't like things, if you can.  "This sucks," is as useless as a critique as, "This is awesome."  Why does it suck?  What's wrong with it?  Where are the areas of weakness?  Why didn't you like it?  This will help the writer determine what can be improved and whether it's a valid critique.
  4. Be nice.  Back to, "This sucks."  Even if it weren't completely useless, it's also unnecessarily mean and hurtful.  When you critique something that doesn't work for you, don't be a jerk.  (It goes back to rule #2).
  5. Critique the work that is, not the work that could be.  I have a very bad habit, as a reader: I tend to insert myself into the place of the protagonist (or the main female character) and imagine how things should play out in my head.  But that's not my decision, in the end, and I know that.  You are not the author.  Don't try to rewrite the author's story for him/her.  I love reading fantasy and sci-fi, but I'm not much into straight romance.  If I was critiquing someone who wrote straight romance, I wouldn't say, "I think this would be better with aliens."  In a way, you have to take your personal preferences out.  Consider whether you didn't like something because it's not your normal genre, or because it simply didn't read well.

As a writer, there should be a few rules for accepting critiques, too.
  1. When you're on the receiving end of the critiques, listen to them.  Let me explain: critiques of your work will not be right all the time.  You will not take every criticism and change your work based on it.  (Since many could be contradictory, you'd be in trouble if you tried.)  But don't get up on your high horse and say, "Well, they just don't appreciate my style/my vision/what I'm doing/etc."  Maybe they don't.  But maybe you don't have an accurate view of the strengths/failings of your work, either.  Those people have taken the time to read your work, engage with it, and think about it.  The least you can do is listen to them and consider their perspective.
  2. Don't go into a critique group/writing workshop/etc. with the expectation of universal acclaim.  Writing is a very self-serving pursuit, I'll admit it.  Most of us have got some egos on us.  I'm no exception.  And I love the times when I read something and I get nothing but praise.  It's an awesome feeling.  But the next week, I could read something that will be torn to pieces and come out feeling bloody and raw (and believe me, I have).  It's the name of the game, and I've got to take it all for what it is.  Your writing is not The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread.  You've come into that critique group/writing workshop/etc. of your own free will, and the goal of that situation is to get critiques.  Those people are trying to help you make your writing the best it can be.  They are not there to tell you how wonderful and great you are.  If that's what you want, read it to your mother, your spouse, your adoring 4-year-old child/grandchild, and maybe your dog--the people in your life who think your shit doesn't stink.  If you want to publish it, on the other hand, learn to take your lumps--because editors, in all likelihood, won't be as gentle as your critique group.
  3. Be gracious.  You will run into idiots.  People will critique your work whose very existence offends you.  Maybe their critiques are completely off-target.  Maybe they strike you as being a total moron.  Maybe they ran your story through an online translator, and accidentally read it in Pig Latin.  It doesn't matter.  Again, these are people who took the time to read and engage with your work.  Just because they didn't like it, or just because you think they're wrong, doesn't mean you should get all snooty and condescending (a personal pet peeve) or tell them to go f-themselves (which I could tolerate better than snootiness, honestly).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Inner Angry Monster does revisions

It's revision time, again.

I'm channeling my inner angry monster.  It hates my work.  It thinks I suck.  It picks me apart.  But lucky for me, my angry monster and I have an understanding: it can be as critical as it wants to be, and it doesn't hurt my feelings.  Something about it actually being a part of my psyche seems to shelter me from the feelings of worthlessness that usually accompany a harsh critique.

So we've talked, and I've agreed to let the angry monster take over the keyboard temporarily, to give me an honest assessment of what he (she?) thinks of my manuscript thus far.  (He/she has read about 40% of it, thus far.)

Introducing: my inner angry monster!


Hi.  I'm Beth's inner angry monster.  You can call me Growl.  (Yes, I am male.  Isn't that obvious by looking at me?  She can be such a moron sometimes!)
But really, this is for Beth, so she can get an honest assessment of what I think of the first 40% of her novel.  Because someone needs to kick her off her high horse and tell her when things suck.  Not sure why she wanted me to blog to do it, considering her only two followers are, at the moment, also the other ones reading the manuscript.  But whatever.  I guess she's just pretending they won't read this.  Yeah, whatever.  Pay no attention to that monster behind the curtain.  *Snort*

Okay, Beth, here it is.  You talk too much.  And by talk I mean write.  (But you talk too much, too.)  Your prose is repetitive, and sometimes you say things that are already obvious from what's going on in the scene.  Tone down the inner monologue.  You're not Woody Allen!  Often, we know what your protagonist is thinking by what she does/how she reacts.  You don't have to explain it ad nauseum.  We're not stupid.  Same thing with the other characters.

What's the deal with your heroine and hero?  I mean, they seem to go from zero to 60 pretty quickly, if you know what I mean.  I think you need more sex and/or violence in those early scenes between them.  Not that they need to have sex right away.  (Not that I'd ever object to sex...especially hot monster sex...yummy!)  And they don't need to kill each other.  But do they hate each other, or are they attracted to one another?  Maybe it's both.  (And yes, I'm benefitting from my unfortunate insights into your brain...ugh.)  So show it.  I want to smell the sex and blood.  Whoohoo!

(Monsters are hedonists, by the way.  Or at least I am.  Just thought you should know, for the record.)

You've got some consistency problems.  How long did your heroine live in New York?  How many super-secret special necklaces does she have, exactly?  Is her former best friend dead or not?  Really, Beth, this is just careless.  Don't you know your own story?

Chapter 1 starts a few weeks after the prologue, but the story doesn't actually start until six months, and several scenes, later.  I think you should cut out those in-between scenes and just get to the meat.  Mmmm, meat.

Ummm...Growl?...Beth here.  Is there anything you did like?

Why should I tell you that?

Because it's generally accepted within a critique that you'll tell the author both what you liked and what you didn't.

Ugh, fine.  I liked your opening scene.  That's awesome.  There's lots of blood.  And your heroine feels bad about what's happened, so it's not like she's a complete monster.  I am, so I wouldn't mind if she were, but I don't think that's what you were going for.

And when you do show sexual tension between hero and heroine, it's awesome.  I should want them to bang all the time.  You have it when they first meet, and you have it later on, at the bar and afterwards, but not so much in between.

I like your violent scenes.  Violence = fun!

And I like that your heroine has a nice rack.

It's a novel.  How would you know she has a nice rack?

Because she has a nice rack in my head!  Plus, you said it in the story.

Oh...uh...thank you?

You're welcome.  That's just how I roll.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Love Triangles Ahoy!

(Psst...if you haven't already, go read my review of Pack of Lies by Laura Anne Gilman over on CC2K.  Yes, I know, that has nothing to do with this post, but if I don't toot my own horn, who will?)

I just finished Diana Rowland's Secrets of the Demon, and I absolutely loved the book.  The series has officially gone from my "yeah, maybe I'll read the next one" pile to "oh yeah, I'm definitely getting the next one...on release day!"  Kara Gillian is a police detective in Beaulac, Louisiana, who also happens to be a demon summoner.  But demons, in Kara's world, aren't the evil creatures depicted in Christian mythology; instead, they're creatures of another realm, completely self-serving yet bound by their unwavering code of honor.  The demons are both scary and fascinating, and Rowland does a fantastic job depicting creatures that don't operate within a human ethical framework.

Kara has two potential romantic interests in the series: Rhyzkahl, a demonic lord, and Ryan, an FBI agent with a sensitivity to the paranormal.  Both are unbelievably hot.  Both seem to care for her in their own ways.  Both have their flaws and drawbacks.  Both occassionally behave like petty assholes.  (Yeah, apparently being a demonic lord doesn't save you from that one.)  In short, I don't know which one to "root" for.

Thus, my ambivalence with love triangles.

I once called love triangles a "literary cliche worth banning"--though I think, looking back, this might have been a little harsh.  Love triangles can be fun and enticing, and they can showcase a lot about a character.  On the other hand, they've also become extraordinarily overused in fiction.  That said, done well, they can be a lot of fun.

But what's frustrating about them is that I don't always know who to root for.  Or sometimes I know who I'm rooting for, but it's not the person who wins out in the end.  For example, in the Twilight series (yes, I read it, and yes, I liked it at the time, but I've developed deep issues with it since Breaking Dawn came out), I was completely, totally rooting for Jacob.  I just liked him better.  Edward struck me as horribly controlling.  (Not letting Bella see Jacob, keeping things from her "for her own good," etc.).  Plus, I never forgave Edward for leaving in New Moon.  It was an asshole move, and Bella let him off way too easy.  (Cause she was so in love...ugh!)  Having been unceremoniously ditched in a similiar manner in my younger years--though not quite so abruptly--I was not so inclined to dismiss such behavior.  I thought it was indicative of a bigger problem: how Edward, in his infinite self-righteousness, always thought he new best, and Bella, in her infinite naivete, believed him every time.  Jacob, on the other hand, reminded me of a lot of guys I was friends with.  Sure, he was a werewolf, but once he got over the initial shock he wasn't particularly angsty about it.  (Edward, on the other hand, was a very angsty vampire.  Like being beautiful and young and strong forever is such a terrible thing!)  He was warm and caring and generous.  Yes, there was some maturity lacking there at times, but honestly...if you're gonna marry the heroine off at 18, the whole thing is gonna lack maturity one way or another.

I've read a book or two before.  (Actually, I've read nine this year so far.)  I knew, long before Breaking Dawn, that Bella would end up with Edward.  Actually, I knew long before Eclipse that Bella would end up with Edward.  I mean, really, was there any doubt?  Yet I couldn't help but root for Jacob, who seemed to want Bella to spread her wings rather than cower behind a rock somewhere.

But I digress.  Love triangles can be fun, but they risk dividing your readers' loyalties.  Which brings me back to Secrets of the Demon (the third book in the Kara Gillian series, in case you were wondering).  Every time I think I've picked which one of Kara's suitors I'm rooting for, the other one swoops in and steals my affections again.  Unlike Twilight, where I just wasn't rooting for the right guy...I like both of them.  And I dislike both of them.  If you had asked me at the end of Blood of the Demon (the second book), I would have definitely picked one over the other.  Now, at the end of the third, the other guy has managed to edge him out.

It's frustrating...but also really, really fun.  I look forward to Kara's scenes with both characters, and each interaction adds dimensionality to their relationships and their characters.  Though the crime-solving plots are fun and exciting, I must confess: it's the love triangle that keeps me hooked.  My own personal loyalties may be divided...but I kind of like it that way.

Maybe the love triangle has some life left in it after all...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Abandoning my native land...maybe

If there's one thing I "regret," it's not taking the opportunity to live abroad while I had it it in college.

I say regret lightly, because at the time I really didn't want to.  I was happy in New York--which was nearly as much of a foreign country to this suburban Pittsburgh girl as Italy or Spain or anywhere else would have been.  I know I'll probably never move back to New York--it's prohibitively expensive, even to someone who is making decent money like I am--so I'm glad I enjoyed the time I had there.

But the fact remains: I would like, at some point, to live in a country other than my own.

Australia, a country that has always appealed to me, has a visa program called the Work and Holiday Visa (or something like that).  It allows people under the age of 30--which I still am, for another 2 1/2 years or so--to travel to Australia and work part time while they're there.  I've been thinking about this for awhile now, and it sounds awesome.  It would be a great chance for me to spend some time in another country.  I have a friend who's Australian (though he lives in the UK now), so I know someone who could, at least remotely, give me the lay of the land.  And a part-time work schedule would give me an opportunity to travel and experience the country more, and also ample writing time.  It sounds like a win-win.

It also scares the shit out of me!

All my rage-against-the-machine protestations to the country, I've actually been very much a play-it-safe girl for most of my life.  I've had jobs since I was 16.  When I got out of college, I took a steady government job rather than hunting for something that appealed to me more (but might be less stable).  I have always had some measure of stability and security.

And if I leave--the visas run from 3-12 months--it would mean quitting that job.  It would mean going to a strange place where I don't know anyone.  (Like I said, my Australian friend lives in the UK now.)  It would mean trying life for the first time without a safety net--something I've never done before.

I'm in the perfect position to try something like this right now.  I'm single.  I don't have a boyfriend.  My friends all have lives and careers of their own, and many of them will probably leave the DC area within the next few years.  I rent an apartment.  I don't even have a car.

The only thing I have that involves any sort of committment, on my part, is my cat.  What the hell would I do about my cat?

As the years pass by, I will likely have more commitments and obligations holding me here.  But right now, there's nothing--well, not much, anyway.  Will I spend the rest of my life regretting that I didn't do something--just one thing--crazy in my 20s?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Whitewashing History

According to this article, NewSouth Books is planning to publish a book with Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn together.  Sounds awesome, right?  Except they're also going to go through and delete all the instances of the n-word and "injun" from the books.

Oy.  Let's start by talking about how much it pisses me off when we try to make our history look better.  And we (meaning, in this case, Americans) do it all the time.  (Oh, the Indians and the Pilgrims were such good friends, and they had the first Thanksgiving dinner together, yay!) We have this long-running narrative going on here in America that casts us as the heroes in our own history.  We are America.  We are the good guys.  We are all that is good and right and true.  Etc.  Yeah, right.  I ain't buyin' it!

There's also the insane level of political correctness that has taken over American culture.  No, neither the n-word nor "injun" is a nice word to use.  They were pejorative then, and they remain so today.  But making words into untouchable, taboo things only gives them more power--power, in this day and age, they shouldn't have.

Political correctness has become a way of masking -isms, making the world, on the surface, a nicer, less racist/sexist/homophobic place.  We get so caught up on the words that we forget to look at the intent.  We tiptoe around things, so afraid to offend, and it prevents us from having a real conversation about these issues.

Huckleberry Finn has been controversial since it was released.  It uses a lot of racially charged language.  But to me, it's not a racist book.  Part of Huck's journey through the story is overcoming his racist attitudes and ideas.  He learns to see Jim as a person, whereas many of the other characters often treat him (Jim) as if he's invisible.  Both Huck and Jim are marginalized by society, but in different ways, and by the end of the story we see how distanced Huck feels from the "civilized" folk--even his best friend, Tom Sawyer.

But let's take those terrible, horrible words out of the book.  Let's pretend they didn't exist--that they don't still exist.  Let's hide behind our own civilized, politically correct demeanors and say, "That's not how we are anymore.  We don't use those words.  We won't even let those words stay in a 130-year-old book anymore!"  Except not using the words doesn't mean the attitudes that Twain critiqued don't still exist!  And pretending they didn't exist, once upon a time--or at least downplaying them, so we don't destroy our children's fragile view of the world as a perfect and beautiful place--doesn't solve anything.

When I was reading Huckleberry Finn a few years ago on the Metro, I caught an African-American woman glaring at me, unfettered loathing in her gaze.  I don't know if it was because of the book or just because she had a bad day. I wanted to know what she found so offensive that it made her glare at a stranger on the Metro just for reading it.

But I didn't ask.  That's just not a conversation you can have in politically correct America.