Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Mr. Spidey"

When I was a kid, I used to have a pet spider.

I kept him/her/it in a little cardboard box -- a shoebox, I think -- and occasionally opened it to look at it. I fed it dead flies and drips of water, when I remembered. I was six and younger -- this before my terror of spiders began. My pet's name was Mr. Spidey.

I caught this spider myself, but I'm not sure I remember the actual catching. (My older brain probably repressed it.) I'm actually pretty sure I went through several "Mr. Spidey's" because I didn't actually remember to feed him very often, and I kept him shut up in that shoebox all the time. You can't play with a spider very well.

I'm not really sure what the point of Mr. Spidey as a pet was at all, really, but I do remember how it sounded and felt for my young voice to coo "Mr. Spidey" and get all excited at opening the box to look at him. I remember the immense feeling of satisfaction that, apparently, only comes with owning a pet spider kept trapped in a shoebox when you're a five-year-old girl. 

Looking back as an arachnaphobic adult, I am beyond shocked that my parents let me keep him. And that they didn't suspect me of being some kind of serial killer in progress. To be fair, I only pulled the legs off of spiders that weren't Mr. Spidey -- daddy long-legs and such. You know -- those round-bodied pinpricks of spiders held up by these long, thread-like legs that practically beg kids to mess with them. Seriously, kids just can't resist that shit. 

Just kidding; I didn't pull legs off spiders. I would occasionally pull legs off flies (before feeding them to Mr. Spidey).

Once I protested when I saw a couple of kids torturing a daddy long-legs spider like this. But the scene stuck in my head. I couldn't get the image out. In a strange way, it was fascinating. And although I protested, I did keep watching. After that, I paid more attention to spiders and to how many legs they had. I would sometimes see daddy long-legs walking by on six or four legs, perhaps having survived the depredations of elementary school children. 

I lied when I said I didn't pull the legs off of spiders. My curiosity built. I trapped a daddy long-legs alone one day and started pulling off its legs. I had wanted to try -- to experiment -- with what the other kids had been doing. 

I didn't like it. It upset and disgusted me. Oh, it was satisfying -- but in a confusing, sickening, sadistic way. But I left the spider legless. And then I squished it, as if to erase the evidence and the guilt for what I had done to it. For a long time afterwards, I felt the clench of guilt and disgust in my stomach whenever I thought about it.

I recall Mr. Spidey didn't move very much. I did keep him in a tiny box, after all. He seemed to like the corners, but sometimes, he would just sit in the middle of the shoebox, eerily still. He didn't try to escape, and I suppose I must have taken that as a sign that he was happy. 

So when he started moving less and less, then, I didn't think much of it. "Mr. Spidey!" I would say, and open the shoebox.

But one day, he was all curled up on himself. He looked tiny, shriveled. I remember not really believing it was Mr. Spidey at first. Spiders in death look so much different -- smaller, and inert. His stillness was not that of a live spider. Even in utter stillness, a live spider has a sort of sense of expansion -- of contained energy that could explode into a flurry of movement, in any and all directions, at any moment. That, I think, is what terrifies me most about them now.

Dead Mr. Spidey had lost that kinetic stillness. He was shriveled, legs curled around himself, probably starved or bored to death by me. He seemed to even be a different color -- dry brown instead of healthy black. If dry has a color, that was it. 

Maybe the disappointing, disgusting sight of dead Mr. Spidey was where my fear of spiders began. Or maybe it was watching the neighborhood kids shriek in terror of spiders. Or maybe it was the wrench of horror in my gut that I felt when I thought about the spider I'd plucked legless. There's no real moral to this peculiar anecdote about my pet spider, other than maybe that kids are weird.


I chose the above picture because in Germany, where I had Mr. Spidey, a spider is called a "spinner." Also, I needed an image that wouldn't give me nightmares.

Friday, March 27, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Asexual Characters

I've been sitting on a review of Clariel for a while, because it was so very good and, for a longtime fan of Garth Nix, a fun return to a story universe I love. But I also want to review it on my examiner channel eventually, so I wanted to do a different focus here on diversity, inspired by the #weneeddiversebooks site and hashtag. 

You know that A in LGBTQA+? That would stand for "asexual." (And ally, and agender.) There are many ways someone can be asexual, but it basically means someone without interest in sexual relationships. They might be interested in romantic relationships, or not. They might be celibate or a virgin, or not (there are various reasons someone might choose to have sex anyway). They might be sex-repulsed, or sex-ambivalent. Someone who does not have any inclinations towards romantic love is aromantic. Someone who is romantically interested in the same sex would be homoromantic, and there's biromantic and panromantic as well.
Source.
So, let's talk about asexuals in Young Adult fiction!

*crickets*

A lot of YA fiction centers on romance, and I don't remember the last time I read a YA novel without at least a romantic subplot. Even Clariel, where the main character is asexual and aromantic, has a romantic subplot in which Clariel rebuffs the romantic advances of her fellow student. (He whines about the friendzone. She snaps at him. He persists. She remains aro/ace.)

It is easy to see why there is a lack of representation in YA. YA deals a lot with issues like puberty, hormones, first relationships, first sexual encounters, and finding sexuality. Asexuality is not a common theme. Sometimes, when a book has a romantic, non-sexual relationship, reviews will even accuse the author of neutering the relationship or of being disingenuous in representing teens' priorities. Asking for more asexuals to be represented in YA lit may even be interpreted by some as a call for censorship in disguise. 

I went through the Amazon reviews for Clariel before I bought it. Many people complained about Clariel's solitary nature and her desire to live on her own and return to the forest as a Borderer. To me, her desire to get back to the forest and live alone, escaping an arranged marriage to a jerk in the process, was part of her asexuality. She was actively seeking a life where she could be useful to society and do what she enjoyed -- while escaping social norms that did not allow for asexuality in the mainstream culture. Her aunt, who also chose a life of solitude as an herbalist, is also implied to be asexual, so it is shown to be a viable option in this world. Yet it was the characteristic reviewers and consumers complained about the most. 


-obligatory oversized badass cover-
Characters who violate social norms are still generally unpopular and often criticized. Another sentiment I used to encounter a lot when I was active on the NaNoWriMo forums is that asexuals (as well as rebellious princesses who don't want to marry dudes twice their age) should grow up and "do their duty" rather than running off or seeking other options for themselves. I am offended that the idea of seeking to preserve one's sexual autonomy and identity is considered immature, lazy, or selfish. I mean, I kind of understand the beef with the rebellious princess trope, but that is still basically saying, "Just buck up and submit to years of marital rape and unwanted pregnancies, already! It's your duty!!!" Yeah, no. 

That went on a tangent -- but I wanted to talk about Clariel because it is only the second representation I personally have seen of an asexual character in written fiction. (The show version of Game of Thrones has an asexual character, but he's not asexual in the books.)

The only other asexual character I have encountered up till now was the mother from The World According to Garp. She is an aromantic asexual who molests and rapes a mentally disabled WWII veteran because she wants a child without having to be in a relationship. Her asexuality is used mostly to justify her feminism. (The "asexuals and feminists are just unnatural man-haters" stereotype.) 

So...that was my only frame of reference for an asexual character up until now. Clariel, on the other hand, presents a well-rounded character with depth. Her asexuality is an important part of her identity, but hardly the most important or her one defining feature as in The World According to Garp. 

If you know any other books featuring asexual characters, please leave a recommendation in the comments. :)

Also, there's a dragon in Clariel, so you should totally read it. The main character wears a Phantom-esque bronze mask and is a total badass, so there's that, too.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Art of Persistence

More than anything, writing is an art of persistence.

There is a book I have been working on since I was 14. It is still as fresh in my mind as it was the day I made it up. I can still remember which characters I chose names for on that first day, which characters had been bouncing around in my head for years before then waiting for a story, and which ones I didn't add until this past year or are still changing names and genders and roles. 

I have wondered several times whether I should lay this one to rest. The sunk cost fallacy refers to an error in thinking that says, "I have already invested so much time into this bad relationship/failing project/awful job/expensive fixer-upper that if I bail on it now, I will have wasted all that time" and then proceeds to waste even more time and energy on it. The wisdom of the sunk cost fallacy is that sometimes, quitting is a good decision.

Yet while I entertained the idea, I never seriously considered quitting on this story. I would go write other things, edit the heck out of the MS, chop and cut and reposition until it was no longer recognizable -- but I did not give up on it. I persisted. And to be fair, it is SO HARD to revise something you wrote when you were in high school. I mean, really. So I am not even surprised it is taking this long. 

Not quite what this image means, but I couldn't resist.
Right now, I am in a very frustrating patch. I am prepping it for Camp NaNo in April -- which, like some of my previous attempts at NaNoWriMo, will probably be sidelined by grad school. I am writing so much new material that it barely counts as editing anymore. I will be effectively writing a new book this April. Hell, I once considered changing the genre to magitek. (Which would be awesome. You know, fantasy but with technomancers instead of necromancers. It is seriously tempting.)

All that aside, I think that it is going in a good direction. I am doing the patience thing. I am doing the persistence thing. 

It is paying off.

I am glad I did not quit this one. I do not think I'm committing a sunk cost fallacy here -- after all, imagination costs me nothing. Time? Energy? Sure, those cost. But after nearly ten years of working on this thing, it's not like I feel a huge time crunch or pressure anymore. It will be done when it is done. I have proven to myself that I can crank out a book in a year, but clearly that is not right for this project. I will finish it at its own pace. 

In the meantime, it is huge fun to put my daydreams to paper.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Letter to a Character: Blog Tag

I've been struggling with writer's block lately. I think I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything I want to write, the impossibility of doing it all, not knowing what will happen next or having a plan for any of it -- and then just subconsciously rage-quitting and calling it "writer's block." There's a selfishness to it, too -- a desire to keep all these characters, scenarios, and worlds in my own private imagination where I can daydream anything and everything without having to commit to anything. Or share. Or hear criticism.
But then I feel guilty about all the voices in my head characters that I like so much and want to write about. So I did another writing exercise -- again, making myself write SOMETHING -- and wrote a short letter to one of my favorite characters. Maybe a self-induced guilt trip will get me started writing more again.
If you'd like to pick up the "Dear Character" post as a blog tag, feel free. :)
-
Dear Character,
Right now, you probably think I'm ignoring your story because you're a minor character. Just to clear that up, I want to let you know that you're actually in my Top Five of characters I've written or made up. No one thinks of themselves as a minor character, and I don't think of you that way, either. 
I really want to write more of your story because you are a boss and a total badass, but I get worried about what people will say and how they will criticize you (and me) on any number of things. Please forgive a writer her insecurities. Bear with me in the meantime. I'm sure that if you end up being weak, offensive, boring, or unimportant, any future readers and reviewers will let me know. I don't think you're any of those things, but then, tumblr hasn't read my nonexistent book yet. 
For now, while you're still my own personal creation, please know that I like you a lot, you are awesome, and none of that other shit matters. 
Thanks,
Your Writer

Friday, February 13, 2015

Stalling, Paralysis, Inactivity

This post is excerpted from a free write session I did because I wanted to make myself write something, damn it.

-

Why don't I want to write creatively on any of my "stuff" anymore?

Maybe it's my fear of commitment -- like once the words are there, I can't take them back. Maybe it's a matter of feeling lost in the story, spiraling off in the wrong direction and getting mired in the subplots...and then having to backtrack through all that crap and fix everything. Ugh. I know what it's like to go through 5+ edits of a WIP and know that that's only the beginning. Maybe I just don't have the stamina for that. Or I do -- I know I do, since I've done it before -- but I just do not want to undertake a project like that right now.

Or maybe it's the fear of it being judged even if it were to become successful. I doubt that, but it's a thought. Maybe this stalling and difficulty getting out new material is because it is hard to invest time and energy that I don't have. That seems closer. What it probably is is just simple lack of time -- or perception of a lack of time. I'm paralyzed at the thought of doing anything not strictly "necessary."

At some point, I will have to buckle down and "just do it," but knowing that technically I don't have to do it -- can put it off, because honestly, there are more important things that need my attention -- brings mixed feelings of frustration, guilt, and shadowy relief.

When I was in undergrad, I did my best, most productive work on my creative writing projects when I was under a deadline for something else. It was a procrastination technique. I subliminally took the pressure to get the one deadline done and used it to motivate myself to do something I didn't technically have to do (ironically, procrastinating on the first thing in the process). 

Later, it became an incentive: I wouldn't let myself work on something "necessary" until I wrote some fiction. Now, though, that method doesn't seem to be working. Maybe I've reached the point in graduate school -- finally studying what I want to study -- that I'm both overwhelmed by my work load and caring about that work load more than I have before. Similarly, I no longer need an outside incentive to do my homework, because I already really want to. Maybe since I am busier, I just need more time to decompress instead of write. Also, lately I have been involved in two productions and am in a very draining rehearsal process (*edit: or was at the time I wrote this free write*). 

I wish I could lay these productivity problems to just that, but they have been going on for a while now. 

-

I scribbled this little piece in my notebook before work one day, trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with my "brain to hand to page" mechanism. It may sound like I'm making a list of excuses. I'm not trying to excuse it; I'm trying to find a reason for it so that I can properly address whatever the problem is. 

Sure, I could apply a solution or "just write," but I know from experience that that does not work. The solution may not fit the problem I am having if I don't know what that problem is. Also, whenever I try to "just write" when I'm like this, I have all the same stagnation problems -- but this time, they register in my writing, which means I just wrote ten pages of utterly worthless crap that means more work for me later. Which means more frustration and feeling like "what is the point?" which just contributes to this overall paralysis.

So here's a blog post instead.