Friday, June 6, 2014

Nonsense

You've seen it, haven't you?

That article telling adults they should be ashamed of themselves for reading kid-lit?

Of course you've seen it, it blew up your Twitter feed. I don't need to link to it here, even if I wanted to. 

So I wanted to briefly (in my traditional, long-winded style) address some of my complaints about said article. After ranting on Facebook, I figured I might as well take it to the streets. Step-Up style!

This is my main beef with that article: the idea that anyone "should" feel "shame" about anything they like doing. 

For example, I think competitive sports and video games are also primarily for children. Personally, I do not find them to be that enjoyable as an adult.

That doesn't mean I think adults who join Ultimate Frisbee leagues or play Red Dead Redemption should be ashamed of themselves. ("You idiots could be DEBATING THE STATE OF THE REPUBLIC or SAVING THE PLANET like GROWNUPS, why are you throwing that tiny plastic circle around for your petty enjoyment!?!")

The author followed up on Twitter by saying that she didn't think there was anything wrong with guilty pleasures, so long as there WAS guilt. But why should people feel guilty or ashamed about something they like? Are we that Puritanical? By the by, when a Mormon is telling you you're being too Puritanical, you've crossed a line. Again, perhaps we should all go throw eggs at the ComicCon attendees, just so they feel the appropriate amount of shame at doing something they love?


Furthermore, I just think the article is demeaning to young people and children. The premise is that adults should be ashamed of reading children's lit (primarily children's lit AIMED AT GIRLS, not that we're going to acknowledge the implicit sexism of the article) because it is less intellectual than adult literature. But it's okay for kids (mainly girls) to read it instead of adult lit because ...why? Kids (cough: teen girls) are dumb? That a 16 year old is incapable of the intellectual achievements of a 20 year old? Follow the argument to the logical conclusion and NO ONE should read books for kids, not even kids. They should go straight from Dick and Jane to The Iliad -- which, in fact, is how kids historically learned to read, and didn't we live in a fantastically intellectual society in the 1930s? (Spoiler alert: No, we did not. There were a lot more Joads than Ftizgeralds, if you know what I mean. Which if you read YA, you're an idiot and you don't, because no one ever has enjoyed both The Grapes of Wrath and Anna and the French Kiss. EVER.)


Then there's the fact that her argument applies to genre fiction as well. She doesn't come right out and say it, but under her standard, shouldn't people who like Elmore Leonard and George RR Martin and Stephen King also be "ashamed" of themselves? It's not literary fiction, after all. In fact, maybe we should pull out the old "approved reading" list from high school, just so we make sure no one crosses the line from high to low brow. (Is Jonathan Tropper approved or not? Well, he makes you laugh, so better not read him ... just in case. Laughter is for the simple-minded.)

But my biggest beef is that this is Slate, the publication that features a series called "You're Doing It Wrong," designed solely to tell people they suck at doing things like eating watermelon.
 

The whole point of Slate is to condescend and take the contrary position. And yet somehow they managed to get us all fired up anyway.

So don't go read that article! It's just click bait.

Instead, read one of these:
Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black)
Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)
Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
My Life After Now (Jessica Verdi)
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart)
To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Lola and the Boy Next Door (Stephanie Perkins)
Hemlock Grove (Brian McGreevy)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan)
Looking for Alaska (John Green) 

They may be about kids and written for kids, but I promise, they're at least as good as The Da'Vinci Code.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Writers on writing

My CP Melanie Stanford tagged me in a "Writers on Writing" blog chain that asks writers about their different writing processes. So here we go.

What Are You Working On?
As I've mentioned before, I have a bad habit of starting many things but only finishing few of them. Right now I am revising a project called STARRY NIGHT (working title) about four friends who are going to prom. I am also drafting a new adult novel about a Congressman's daughter who finds herself in a scandal and has to revamp her image through community service. There's also a hot reporter, because duh, new adult.

I am also working on getting copyright permissions for an old project. (Shhh, more information on that one to come.)

What Makes Your Work Different?

I'm not sure this makes me different, per se, but what I want more than anything is to make readers laugh. Whether I'm writing a romance, contemporary, or that thriller that's been on the back burner for ages, my main goal is to make someone who is reading my book laugh in public. 

Why Do You Write What You Do?
Little known fact about me: I write mainstream and LDS fiction. When I was 12, I got my first Jack Weyland book and my mind was blown that there were books about Mormon kids. I tore through every book the LDS fiction market had to offer. Was there a lot of cheese? Oh my, yes. SO MUCH CHEESE. But I loved the idea of writing for a market that never sees themselves reflected in pop culture unless it's on South Park. (Not that I don't love South Park.)

So my goal with LDS fiction is to write something that is realistic (read: not cheesy), but still solidly PG rated. Trust me, if you have a gift for the potty mouth (which I do), it's a lot harder than it looks.

And then on the mainstream side of things? I just worry about writing a good story, and good stories about regular people usually involve swearing and sex and sometimes violence. But I still have a vague idea about what does and doesn't fly for me. I don't write gratuitous violence, mostly because it is almost never necessary, and also because I don't see the point of making the world (even a fictional part of the world) more depressing than it already is. And a full-blown, euphemisms-for-anatomical-parts sex scene? Not going to happen in one of my stories, I am afraid. (PG-13 references? That's fine.) And for the record, that rule is less about general prude-ishness, and more about being risk-averse. I personally find that 90% of the time, explicit sex scenes in fiction are more awkward than sexy, and those are odds I don't want to gamble on. FADE TO BLACK FOR THE WIN.

Gratuitous swearing, though? That's fine, as a long as it's funny. (See above, goal of making people laugh at inopportune moments.)

What's Your Writing Process?
I tend to write in bursts, like 4,000 words in a day. Then I can't help but tinker with those words, and then probably let a week go by when I can't think of what comes next. However, I have started a new trick that has helped immensely -- when I get stuck, I just leave a blank and skip to the next part where I know what happens. I'm a loose outliner, but I tend to pants beginnings and then go back and figure out what ought to happen.

Basically, my system isn't great, but it's the only one I've got ;)

Who am tagging to post next? Why, all of you lovely writers out there, of course.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Part 2

You thought I'd forgotten about my promise of a Part 2, didn't you?

Well, I didn't.

Let's just get this out of the way upfront: I am not going to suggest you watch Mad Men (overrated, though I still follow it) or any show I haven't ever actually watched (I know that The Wire and Veep and The Good Wife are all supposedly amazing, but I just haven't gotten into them yet, and unlike the famous books I pretend I've read,* I'm not going to fake it on the TV front.)

All these recommendations have been thoroughly vetted by me.

Funniest (and possibly filthiest) TV show you could watch: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

If you haven't watched It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia yet, it's possible you never will. I mean, how many people have to tell you it's the funniest show on TV (sorry, Parks and Rec--you run a tight second) before you believe?

My personal favorite episode is "Who Pooped The Bed?" though I admit the rampant poop-jokes may be a turn-off to first time viewers.

Therefore, if you want to get into It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia but don't know where to start, may I recommend "The D.E.N.N.I.S. System" of Season 5?

My favorite running gag in It's Always Sunny is the subtle references to the fact that Dennis is a sociopath (and possibly a serial killer). You wouldn't think that could be funny ("Dennis, why do you have plastic zip ties in your trunk?") BUT IT IS. Ninety-percent of the time, Dennis just walks around the episodes like a shallow, selfish person (which is funny), but then on rare occasion, he pulls back the curtain on the darkness in his psyche (WHICH KILLS ME.)

So "The D.E.N.N.I.S. System." Dennis is the most traditionally handsome of the characters on It's Always Sunny, and generally has the easiest time getting women. In this episode, he finally reveals his foolproof method for getting women to fall for him:

Demonstrate Value - do nice things for the targeted girl
Engage Physically - self-explanatory
Nurture Dependence - put her in dangerous or scary circumstances, so she begins to rely on the person utilizing the D.E.N.N.I.S. system for emotional support
Neglect Emotionally - after getting the girl to rely on him for comfort, withdraw inexplicably, causing psychological distress
Inspire Hope - reappear in her life, claiming, "I was just so scared to love you!" Once she's taken him back ...
Separate Entirely. 

See what I mean? That's horrible! But so funny, because it's just so true. Let's be honest, aside from "separate entirely," how often is that EXACTLY how a romance novel plays out?

Funniest show on TV. Hands down.

Honorable mention: Broad City. It's only on Season 1, so I feel like it's too early to tell whether this show will be consistently great or flame out gloriously like Party Down.

Creepiest, prettiest show on TV: Hannibal

Confession 1: I do not know how NBC puts this on television without getting fined by the F.C.C. It is that gross.

Confession 2: I was obsessed with the Thomas Hardy novels as a kid. I wanted to join the FBI SO BAD. I have a disturbingly accurate memory of how all the Hannibal Lecter books go. This may have something to do with the fact that I am obsessed with Hannibal now.

Here's the short version for anyone who isn't super familiar with Hannibal Lecter's storyline:

In the very first Hannibal book (Red Dragon), Hannibal has already been caught for his crimes as the Chesapeake Ripper. Red Dragon explains how the FBI's Will Graham caught Hannibal in flashbacks, including the fact that Will had gone to Hannibal on several occasions to ask for help catching serial killers. (Now does it make sense why Jack Crawford sends Clarisse Starling to go chat with Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs, a fact that never really clicked for me until I read the books? Hannibal isn't just a serial killer -- he has a long, personal history with the FBI, including Jack Crawford, the person who sends Clarisse in.) (Yes, I saw Silence of the Lambs as a kid. No, my parents didn't know.)

Hannibal the TV show focuses on the timeline before Red Dragon: the years and months before Hannibal is revealed to be a serial killer himself, in which everyone thinks Hannibal is a pretty cool dude and Will Graham and Jack Crawford and Hannibal are buddies who eat dinner together on the reg (shudder). The creep factor comes in because OBVIOUSLY the entire audience knows what every character does not, and from wondering when characters will begin to see the cracks in Hannibal's story. 

Bonus points for having a borderline-autistic main character (Will Graham), having some really lovely scenes (not kidding you about the prettiest TV show currently on air), and never having a wasted episode.

All TV shows should last about 13 episodes a season, in my opinion.

Best show to geek out about: Game of Thrones (duh)

If you haven't gotten into Game of Thrones by now, or read the books, I'm not sure what I could say (other than this and this or just this quote from Parks and Recreation:

Donna: What is wrong with you today? Did they cancel Game of Thrones?  
 
Ben: Nothing is wrong, just do your job. And they would never cancel Game of Thrones. It's a crossover hit. It's not just for fantasy enthusiasts, they're telling human stories in a fantasy world.)
 JUST GO WATCH IT. OR READ IT. OR BOTH.



So that's it, my 3 top recommendations for TV-watchin' as we enter the summer hiatus. I realize none of them are family-friendly, so if I ever find something kiddo-appropriate, I will be sure to let you know, dear readers.
 





* Moby Dick, Tess of the Dubervilles, Ethan Frome, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Hobbit, The Fountainhead, 1984, The Bell Jar, and Ulysses, among many others.

Sorry, teachers of the past. I was really good at faking stuff and I see no reason to stop now. I got a 5 on my AP test anyway!

** I know, I know, the most shameful thing to be is a "writer" who doesn't read. But I do read! I read contemporary and classics and pulpy trash just like everyone else, but the fact is, some things are just not my jam. Yes, I always intended to read some of those books, but I'm 30 now, and it's time to just admit I will never -- NEVER -- really read Tess of the Dubervilles. 


Never.



Monday, May 12, 2014

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

You guys, have I mentioned previously how much I love TV? I absolutely love it.

Partly because I have an addictive personality (Who watches all of season 1 and most of season 2 of Hannibal in one sitting? This girl!), particularly because I'm a multi-tasker (Cleaning is just more fun when you're doing it with Mad Men!), and partly just because I have no life (No whimsical explanation for this one), I watch a lot of TV.

I don't get people who claim they don't watch TV. Pardon me, but do you people have no imaginations? Do you not like books or movies either?

People who think that TV has nothing to offer them aren't trying hard enough to find good TV. Fortunately, if you have found this blog, I am here to help.

In the mood for a guilty pleasure?

Brief caveat: Personally, I find the term "guilty pleasure" a bit misleading. Am I embarrassed to admit that I watch Revenge? Not at all. Will I argue that it's storytelling gold? Nope. But it's too hard sometimes to explain, "It's a really good soap opera" without people getting confused. Instead I just say, "Oh, it's just a guilty pleasure," and suddenly we're all on the same page.

Guilty pleasures are just the TV shows you watch and know, intellectually, that they aren't "good," but that you like them anyway. You couch your affection with an air of, "I actually AM too smart for this, you know" and then get to feel intellectually superior about ... liking the thing you totally like?

Whatever.

On to the guilty pleasures!

REVENGE
Here's the thing about Revenge -- I think you have to embrace a certain mindset to like it. Diego and Hannah make fun of me non-stop for liking Revenge, but I don't mind. It's either your cup of tea, or it ain't.

If you're into clever morality tales where everyone gets their comeuppance (and the comeuppers find that vengeance comes at a certain ethical price), then you're going to like Revenge. If you love watching rich people behaving badly in some really lovely clothes, you're going to like Revenge. And if you  ever thought to yourself, "Man, that guy who flirted with Betty in Mad Men season 2 did a solid job with some seriously clunky lines, I wonder what he could do with puns?" then you're going to like Revenge.

Synopsis: Girl moves to the Hamptons with her billionaire genius best friend, determined to clear her father's name from terrorism charges and ruin the lives of all the people who framed him. Speaks fluent Japanese, skilled in martial arts, and delivers soft-spoken bitchiness with a perfectly neutral expression. Spirit animal of anyone who ever wanted to wear high heels on the beach AND zing the 1% at the same time.

ONCE UPON A TIME
Oh, Once Upon A Time. Your concept is so fun, your execution so ridiculous. Do any of your timelines make sense? No. Do I want to re-write many of your storylines? Absolutely. Do I wish that one of your main characters (cough, Henry, cough) would fall into a time portal and come out 10 years older so we could ditch the child actor already? ABSOLUTELY. Will I stop watching? Probably not.

Who loves Once Upon A Time? Anyone who was a little too into fairy tales as a kid. I mean, seriously, who didn't wonder what it would be like if the Big Bad Wolf were real? And then take it one step further and think, "Wouldn't it be delightful if the BBW was also secretly my Sunday School teacher?"

That being said, Once Upon A Time is best watched while doing something else. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, taxes. It's got some serious acting talent, but you don't want to pay it too much attention, otherwise you'll start to notice things like, "Holy crap, Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow White wig is bad," "So they're planning to do absolutely nothing with this whole Captain-Hook-redemption-storyline, right?" and "Is it just me, or is the Evil Queen's emotional arc all over the map?"

Also, the idea of putting Queen Elsa into the mix a year after she got her own movie is delightfully bonkers. Go catch up before Season 4 starts.

Synopsis: All fairytale characters are real and were transported to our world via a magic spell. Season 2 will be sort of dumb, but there will be a really attractive pirate, so.

NASHVILLE
Or, as we call it around my house, Nashvull. It's got great music and Connie Britton, so what more do you need? Yes, it's a soap opera. Yes, you will wish half the characters (Teddy, anyone Deacon dates who isn't Rayna, Rayna's sister, etc.) weren't in the show at all. Yes, you will only like Scarlett when she is addicted to drugs and you will be annoyed when she gets off the drugs because undrugged Scarlett has the personality of a homemade crocheted afghan, BUT STILL.

Connie Britton. I want to be her when I grow up.

Synopsis: A bunch of country musicians and aspiring country musicians live in Nashville and give viewers a really unrealistic idea of what it takes to break into the music industry. Songs are amazeballs, but someone needs to fire whoever is in charge of Hayden Panetierre's wigs -- I suspect it's the same wig-rangler as Snow White.

THE ORIGINALS
Friends, there was a time when this spot would have been taken by The Vampire Diaries. That time is over. Despite my addictive personality and refusal to give things up once I've begun (I mean, I am still watching GREY'S ANATOMY, people), I just can't with The Vampire Diaries anymore. There is nothing I hate more than a show I love becoming boring or too committed to its increasingly nonsensical mythology, which is why I pretend that Supernatural ended at season 5, Lost after season 1, and Under the Dome after the first episode, WHERE THEY SHOULD HAVE ENDED.

Ahem.

Anyway. The Vampire Diaries has committed both cardinal sins: it is boring and it has started making stuff up to continue making money. So I'm done with The Vampire Diaries (and PS, if you want to get into The Vampire Diaries, might I suggest that you pretend it ends in season 3, because the only point of watching season 4 at all is the flirtation between Caroline and Klaus and I'm pretty sure someone has compiled that on YouTube by now?) 

Fortunately for everyone who enjoys some urban fantasy, The Originals has come to save the day. The Originals takes the creep factor of The Vampire Diaries up a few notches and whittles down the mythology to something easily digestible. There are witches in New Orleans who are (mostly) bad who have cursed the werewolves (sorta good) out in the swamp so they are only human on the full moon. There are vampires who are oppressing the witches (so ... sort of good?) but are okay with the werewolf oppression (so ... bad?). Add some ghosts, corrupt human politicians, and some parties, and voila, you have The Originals.

Synopsis: The original vampire family helped found New Orleans hundreds of years ago, but were forced out by various enemies. They have come back to reclaim their home and, ideally, their moral footing. There will also be annoying conversations with a boring bartender named Cami, who is fortunately the only dud in the cast. Seriously, you will find yourself slipping into a coma whenever Cami is on screen. 



In the mood for something good? Like, legit, want-to-talk-about-this-and-dissect-it-in-detail GOOD? Check in later this week ...
 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reading Recommendations

Have I really not blogged a blog in almost a month? Yikes, friends. Yikes.

While I've been not blogging, I've been doing some regular writing, some critiquing, and a lot of reading. My bloggy sloth is now your reading gain, because I have some recommendations for the peanut gallery.

THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion (currently on sale - $1.99 for Kindle!)

I cannot recommend this book more highly. I was literally the person laughing out loud in public while I was reading it. It's funny, charming, romantic, and smart.

MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.
Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, Graeme Simsion’s distinctive debut will resonate with anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of great challenges. The Rosie Project is a rare find: a book that restores our optimism in the power of human connection.


TRAGIC TALES OF STRANGE GIRLS by Suzy G (only $.99!)

I am friends with Suz, and she's a delight. Her short stories, however, are creeptastic. If you like horror and you like short stories (which I consider to be a rare art -- packing a whole story arc into 5-10 pages is no easy feat), then you should definitely download this collection post-haste. 

Let me know if you read either one and we can discuss. Happy Monday!


Heck yes, I said "Happy Monday."


Sunday, April 13, 2014

On bodies and stuff

Have I mentioned that I read a lot? I read a lot.

Some of the things I read are romance novels (boo hiss! whatever), and I've noticed a trend, both in the descriptions and cover art.

Perfect boobs. Perfect abs. Perfect hair and faces and legs and skin and teeth.

I like a certain amount of wish-fulfillment in fiction. I like reading legal thrillers where a lawyer brilliantly tears down a witness, even though I know it (most likely) would not happen that way in real life. I like political thrillers where the protagonist somehow thinks through every angle and no one catches on until it's too late. Not every book has to be lyrical and real. Some of them are exciting and funny and scary, and that's fine.

But as a lady, I have to say ... I tire of reading about ladies who are a lot hotter than me, but written by other ladies who (most likely) look exactly like me.

I've written about the weird objectification of men in contemporary romance before, and I've wanted to write this post for a long time. Part of me feels weird about writing it now, because it seems like this is something that is universally accepted in the romance-writing community.

But I know that I'm a normal looking woman. My hair is sometimes really great, but I wear glasses almost always (because I like them) and I have cellulite on my thighs (which I don't like). It's not very fun writing a romance novel about a gal with a muffin top who gets winded running up three flights of stairs (*hangs head in shame*), but I would feel much weirder writing someone who was self-deprecatingly gorgeous and athletic knowing that I am not self-deprecatingly gorgeous or athletic. Like I wasn't confident enough in myself or women or girls who look like me if all I wrote about was women or girls who are photoshopped perfection.

I think it's fair to say that I am not alone in the "looks like a real human" boat. In fact, I can be pretty sure of that--we (aspiring and actual) writers all have avatars on our twitter, links to our instagram photos. We're normal looking! And that's awesome!

And I think we'd all agree that the media portrays women and girls in an unrealistic, unnatural way, which in turn gives real-life women and girls unrealistic and unhealthy views of how they OUGHT to look. We critique magazine covers and television and movies that are designed to hide any flaw a woman could possibly have, and we feel fine about that.

But then when it comes time to write a novel that will be primarily marketed to women, it's OK to talk about impossible good looks for paragraphs on end?

Fantasy is one thing, and it's applied to more  than just how a character looks. I mean, who really has a quippy comeback for every situation? But there comes a certain point where it just feels ... distasteful. (Clutched pearls alert! Distasteful!) I don't know where that line is--I assume it's in a different place for different readers and writers.

We talk about how it's important to represent characters of different races and characters with disabilities in fiction, and I think that is important. Probably more important than what I am currently harping about.

But I think writing about chubby women (who don't get a magical makeover before the finale) is important, too. Women who are short or tall (maybe even taller than their love interests?) with gap-toothed smiles or frizz-prone hair. And you know, maybe even writing female characters WITHOUT describing their legs, their hair, their boobs, or their eyes in exquisite detail.

For the record: I don't think that writers should feel obligated to write in a particular way. I don't think romance writers are more guilty of this than, say, thriller or sci-fi authors. (It's a truth universally acknowledged that perfect boobs seem to pop up in every genre.)

But given that romance is written primarily by women, for women, I do think it's worth questioning.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On bravery

The word "bravery" gets tossed around a lot on these here Internets.

So-and-so is so BRAVE for speaking his/her TRUTH.

Admittedly, it's hard for me to take seriously the bravery of a person sitting at a computer screen. Sometimes you do read a truly brave Internet confessional, and you have to offer a tip of your hat to that particular writer. But more often than not, a person's attempt at BRAVERY is really a request for head-pats.

Internetland is a strange place, where criticism is viewed as haterade. And sometimes it is. It's easy to be mean and excuse it is as snark, to say it's funny and not cruel.

But criticism is not necessarily a negative thing. A statue only became a piece of art after someone took a sledgehammer to a piece of stone. To insulate yourself from criticism isn't brave, and it isn't cowardly.

It's just a lost opportunity.