Monday, September 22, 2014

Quick Pulse Check

This is less an "update on what I've been doing" so much as it is a "pulse check to make sure Laura's still alive." I haven't been doing much worth updating you on, but I can assure you that I'm still breathing.

I haven't been active on the blog or on my Examiner book review channel, or even on twitter and Facebook. I wish I could say this is because I'm busy with "real life." Graduate school and a part-time job are time-consuming, yes, but the main reason is because I was sidelined by illness. When I get sick, my body goes into full-on pouty brat mode and refuses to get better or do anything. And everything is so hard to do that I find myself slacking not only on online stuff and writing, but on my homework, reading, job performance, and various other functions. Basically, everything that requires effort.

I had tonsilitis, lost my voice, got it back in raspy form again, am still coughing a lot, had an asthma attack last Tuesday, and a migraine on Wednesday (probably partly due to coughing so much) and I hurt all over and *insert paragraphs of whining here.*

I don't really want this blog to become my diary, so I'll leave off there, with the promise that as soon as I feel better I'll be back.

In the meantime, I stumbled across an interesting post: Divergent Tastes in Books? by Chuck Wendig of The post challenge is to list a book you love that everyone else seems to hate, and a book you hate that everyone else seems to love. Here are mine:

Image source: This book has also been banned before...

1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: This was the book in high school that everyone had to read and hated. I chose it as free reading from the library and I really liked it. I think most people hate it because it's not plot-driven, their teachers made them read it, and most modern American high school students probably can't relate to the culture the book is about or what it meant in that culture for a woman to commit adultery with a preacher.

Image source: Wikipedia.

2. Paper Towns by John Green. Actually, most of what I've read by John Green. I feel bad -- I really like his YouTube personality and I've tried really hard to like his books. But I am forced to conclude that they're sentimental drivel. Most that I've read use the mysterious unattainable girl as a prop in the male character's coming of age story cliche. And John Green never can seem to resist explaining the moral at the end in an unnecessary three pages or so. I hate books that do that. He's funny -- he does humor very well. It's when he tries to get all deep and philosophical that it ends up sounding forced, moralistic, and sentimental.

What do you think? Have you read either of those books? Are there books you love that others hate, and vice versa?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We (Still) Need Diverse Books: Mind Games by Kiersten White

A little while ago, I wrote a post inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, begun by Ellen Oh (@elloecho).

The book I chose was Mister Monday by Garth Nix, an MG fantasy/steampunk/alternate universe adventure about an adopted kid with debilitating asthma. It also portrays a "non-traditional" family. I picked that book in particular because Arthur has asthma and so do I, but also because I've noticed that people are a lot less willing to mess around with traditional family values in fiction than they are willing to use other elements of diversity.

We still need diverse books, and to do the hashtag justice, I'm thinking this post might become a weekly thing. Today's pick is Mind Games by Kiersten White, which I chose for one of the same reasons that I did Mister Monday: it portrays two main characters with disabilities.

And yes -- both main characters have superpowers, but no, it isn't handled in an insulting way to people with disabilities. At least, I didn't think it was. If you think otherwise, please feel free to share in the comments.

What it is

Mind Games is a science fiction/paranormal-ish novel about seers, empaths, and mind readers who are controlled by a Big Bad Corporation that uses their psychic talents to its own benefit. Fia is a unique psychic who has the gift of intuition; her gut feelings and instincts are always right. Annie, her sister, is a seer who is blind. Bid Bad Corporation holds Annie hostage to get Fia to spy, steal, and assassinate for them. Meanwhile, they train Annie to spy on Fia, since no other seer can predict her actions.

Why I liked it

Actually, this wasn't my favorite book, and I don't know if I'll read the sequel. Parts were quite good and I loved some of it. Overall, I didn't get a very good sense of the heart of the conflict and I wasn't a huge fan of the plot or even the concept. Its strength was the characters (even though it did resort to the tired good-boy bad-boy dilemma). Annie and Fia are very well-written, I liked the viewpoint chapters, and their relationship development was great even though they are depressingly co-dependent.  


First: Annie. I think Mind Games dodged the bullet with Annie by having her go blind at the age of four, long before she develops any psychic powers. This avoids the all-too-common trend of giving a character cool superpowers to compensate for a disability...and making that character the best ever at the superpower (or at overcoming their disability, whether or not such a thing is physically possible). Annie isn't any better or worse at being blind than anyone else. Neither is she The Best Seer Ever. Big Bad mostly uses her to spy on Fia, considers Annie expendable, and actually sabotages her seer training so that she doesn't get too powerful. Mind Games doesn't sugar-coat Annie's life. Nor does it portray being blind as the worst thing that could ever happen to someone.

Second: Fia. Annie has a psychic/mind-based ability and a physical disability; Fia has an instinctual/physical-based ability and a mental illness. I thought that was a neat parallel. Annie is blind, and Fia is suicidally depressed. She also seems to have an addictive personality and self-destructive tendencies. I enjoyed Mind Games's portrayal of her depression because it showed someone who is depressed in an angry way, and I haven't seen that very often. Many people with depression cycle through angry and depressive periods.

I don't think Fia's mental illness is handled as well as Annie's blindness, and this is also where the plot starts to fall apart. The bad guys have empaths and mind readers -- but apparently they can't treat Fia or see the warning signs. They don't care about the mental or physical health of their most valuable asset and the only known person with this ability. The Big Bad Guys spend all this time manipulating and cozying up to Annie, who is barely useful to them, and let Fia become a suicidal, angry wreck who hates them all. 

I know they're supposed to be EVIL, but really -- that's no excuse for Stupid Evil. "Murder-suicide attempt? Here are some pills and a long vacation without any mental health professionals, adults, or bodyguards, unstable spy/assassin-in-training! Oh, and we'll just send along the (superhot) heir to the company. Not like Fia has any reason to hate him. He's not valuable at all! She won't have plenty of opportunities to kill him and her romantic rival and/or herself!" 

This entire plot could have been solved if Fia had taken Hot Heir (pun intended) hostage for her sister's freedom. Which they gave her ample opportunity and motive to do. But I suppose if they had done the logical thing, there wouldn't be a plot. 

Have you read Mind Games? What did you think?

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Best Part of #NaNoWriMo

It's September 1st and still far too early to be thinking about NaNoWriMo, yet I find it on my mind as I wait for November. I'd like to attempt it this year, even if I don't finish the 50k goal.
Why? While I do like racking up the word count, the best thing about National Novel Writing Month has been the writing community. I love hanging out on the forums. It's a place to post questions, answer questions, pick and choose ideas, and chat. I've found critique partners and some other interesting people there as well. 

There's a whole writing community that I never would have found if I hadn't done NaNo, and my writing would be the poorer for it. NaNoWriMo is helping me get over my intense fear of sharing my writing. I used to be exceptionally paranoid even among other writers I knew when it came to sharing my writing. This is helping.

It hasn't been entirely positive, and the forums can be an extremely distracting place. However, the "Word Wars, Prompts, and Sprints" and the "Adoptables" forums have been extremely, AMAZINGLY helpful in getting new ideas, forcing myself to write, and beating my own personal procrastination monster.

Every year around this time, I see a flurry of posts on NaNoWriMo -- why you should do it, why you shouldn't, etc. Most people do the plug about how it forces you to speed-write 50k in a month, which helps you focus on discipline and ignore perfectionism. It does do those things -- but I've never seen or heard anyone to recommend it for the writing community. 

So I will! :) The best part of NaNoWriMo is that all the other people on the forums can be extremely useful, helpful, and fun. Of course you have your nasty people, too, but the moderators generally do a good job. (I can recall only one time I was really and genuinely offended by a moderator's response to my concern.) And the best thing about the forums is that they don't close when November ends. There's a small but dedicated group of people who hang out on the forums all year long.

Have you done NaNo? Have you "won" NaNo? Did you use the forums at all?

Friday, August 29, 2014

First Day of Grad School!

I survived my grad school orientation!

All right; that's not much of an accomplishment. This was really just the first dip of the toe into the dangerous waters of a graduate degree. I'll be drowning in paper soon. I wanted to take a photo of my pile of books for this semester, but the thought made me want to cry. I'm going to try to read the first chapters of all of them before class on Tuesday.

My first graduate degree will be a Master of Letters in Shakespeare and performance. I'm quite excited. I feel like I've been waiting to really dive into Shakespeare, once I decided that that was want I wanted to do. I also want to audition for the MFA program in my third year. It's based on a company model, which is very exciting and not an education you can get at very many other places. 

I was in a high school company that collaborated on a lot of theatrical decisions and work. Even though we had a director, we all wore several hats and were pretty flexible; we also had the chance to bond. I rather miss that dynamic. I know a graduate program will be a heck of a lot more intense, but the MFA -- especially in this format -- is something that I'm really shooting for.

Now on to classes and brainstorming a thesis topic. *gulp* At least 50-80 pages isn't all that much for a writer. It's all the outside reading I'm getting worried about. I have the ghosts of some ideas floating around in my brain:

  • Something about stage combat and audience reactions/empathy
  • An acting focus studying portrayals of Lavinia from Titus Andronicus 
  • Some kind of textual analysis or survey examining how female characters describe other female characters and women
  • Iago and sexual fantasy; something about how he manipulates everyone's perceptions to make them believe everyone else is having a lot of sinful, adulterous sex in order to compensate for his own homoerotic sexual frustration (although I believe this has been written about quite a lot already).
  • Studying the casting, portrayal, and gender assignment (or lack of gender assignment) of gender-unspecified or androgynous characters like Puck and Ariel and how it plays onstage
These are all fun topics. All quite huge topics, too. Oh, well. All I know is that I really don't want to write about Hamlet or anything to do with Hamlet again. Not for a while, at least.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Stop With this ALS False Humility Bullshit

To those of you doing the ALS ice bucket challenge, I applaud you. It's quite a clever idea, especially for a summertime activism/awareness campaign. The most effective of these campaigns make something trendy in order for it to spread farther faster. 

It works a hell of a lot better than guilt-tripping or shock value. It requires donors to participate in a way that's more active than sharing a status. Take the challenge, donate some money, share, post, challenge others.

Most people -- judging by the admittedly limited sources of my Facebook and twitter feed -- seem to enjoy taking part in a big cause in a small way. Then there are those who scoff at it as "slacktivism" and refuse to participate. Opposite the "too cool for this" group are the few people who appear to believe that dumping a bucket of ice water on one's head makes them an expert on ALS and is the most important thing they'll ever do to help the ALS cause -- whether they donate or not. 

Then there's a fourth group. And this fourth group, while probably the smallest, angers me the most -- the False Humility group.

They're sort of like the "too cool for all you 'slacktivists'" group, except that they actually donate. However, they take the challenge with a sneer and a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Others in this group don't take the ice bucket challenge. Rather, they make sure you know that while they won't be doing a stupid challenge, they're donating money to the cause because I guess they're just too damn good for childish antics.

I've seen protests from these supposedly humble activists that no, they won't be filming and sharing an ice bucket challenge because they're not narcissistic enough to use social media like that. They'll share on social media that they are donating, but specifically not doing the challenge. Because, you know, that totally shows how humble they are. And, you also know, it would be totally narcissistic to put the challenge on social media and get more people to see it, donate, or get curious about the cause. It's not like social media sharing is how this cause got so popular or anything.

There's nothing wrong with saying you don't want to dump a bucket of ice water on your head. I wish this last, oddly smug group of people would just admit that instead of spitting on the rest of the people doing the challenge -- without whom they probably would have heard nothing to be smug about. The pride and false humility is more about a disdain for being seen to participate in current trends rather than any specific objection to the cause or the awareness campaign itself.

You want to be humble about your activism? Donate some money -- and then try not to brag about how you donated money out of the goodness of your soul, instead of dumping water on your head like all these other dorks.

I won't be doing the challenge. I may or may not be donating, either, depending on my financial situation. Perhaps I'll set a donation by for a later date when I have money to spare. However, I'll leave this link here in case you would like to donate or read more about ALS: