Friday, August 28, 2015

Reading Books and Plays Aloud: Should You Read Books Aloud?

When I was in high school, I was one of the most obsessed Eragon fangirls you can possibly think of. Why I fixated on this series in particular is a whole nother blog post, but the upshot of my obsession was that I wanted my brother to read it.

Me: READ THIS BOOK YOU WILL LIKE IT IT HAS DRAGONS
Brother: Ugh go away
Me: READ IT YOU ANNOYING SIBLING-PERSON
Brother: But I don't like to read thingssssss
ME: FUCKING READ IT
Brother: Oh fuck off already
Me: fine then I'll read it to you
Brother: GO. AWAY.
ME: I'M GOING TO READ THIS FUCKING BOOK TO YOU AND YOU WILL FUCKING LIKE IT OR YOU WILL ANSWER TO ME DO YOU HEAR ME I WILL MAKE YOUR LIFE HELL
Brother: FINE THEN

So I read him the book.

And he fucking liked it, as I'd told him he would. Sisters are always right about these things. 

Then I read him the sequel, and he hated it just about as much as I did. 

I'm amazed that I had the vocal stamina to read him this long-ass book, and amazed that he let me without punching me in the throat halfway through mangling the ancient-magic-language. But I think he'd never have read it on his own, and that neither of us would have enjoyed it as much without me doing voice-acting-reading and creative interpretations of "lines" and characters. 

Which is odd, because novels are not a medium meant to be performed or read aloud. 

Recently, I posted my review of William Shakespeare's Star Wars, which, while it can't be performed because of copyright, is a play. Meant to be performed.

Reading plays is tricky, because plays aren't meant to be read. They are meant to be heard, and seen, and played. So much is lost in translation if you simply read a play silently to yourself. Thus I, my professors, and every other drama nut I've ever known will advise you to read a play aloud -- preferably with other people, to get more voices in the mix, but also just on your own.

Is it worth doing the same thing with books?

A lot of writing advice says to read your work aloud when revising. But sometimes, I'll read the dialogue in books aloud just as a reader. I've found surprising benefit from doing this. It alerts me to clunky dialogue, cliches that I didn't notice, and vocal tics (or writing tics) such as overused words.

And in the cases where the writing is good, reading aloud doesn't alert me to flaws. It imbues flawless words with life.

Have you ever read a book aloud, to yourself or anyone else? How about audiobooks? Opinions, anyone?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: My Nerd Dream Come True (Review)

The trilogy of verse plays, William Shakespeare's Star Wars, is one of my favorite things in this world. 

The author, Ian Doescher, wrote them as part homage, part parody -- exploring the question of what would it be like if the famous Star Wars original trilogy was written in the style of William Shakespeare.

Not only is the full trilogy in iambic pentameter -- the verse in which Shakespeare's plays are written -- but it also incorporates, reappropriates, and adapts a mishmash of lines from Shakespeare's plays. The majority of the verse is Shakespeare's words, reassigned and sometimes tweaked slightly for plurals and pronouns. Doescher supplements the Shakespeare with additions of his own, but keeps the plot firmly Star Wars. 

The style feels strangely Shakespearean in more than just the language. Fans of Shakespeare will be reminded of the Henriad when the plot grows more chaotic -- with characters rushing on during brief transitional and battle scenes to deliver their lines and move on. You can imagine the plot taking place on the stage, or you can imagine the plays' language transposed over the original Star Wars movies. It works brilliantly either way.

Doescher also adds monologues and scenes of his own. Darth Vader has a surprisingly moving monologue contemplating his own evil after he force-chokes someone to death, for instance. That soliloquy incorporates lines from Richard III -- an apt parallel. Also like Shakespeare, Doescher gives characters of minor importance important scenes. While their significance to the plot is small, the scenes shine with innovation and interest -- a refreshing break from the main action. The conversation between two unnamed Stormtroopers is probably my personal favorite. 


And then there are some things that are obviously there just for hilarity. R2D2 speaks in beep-boops of iambic pentameter. Which is written out, with shared lines and all. 

Anyway, a mere review can't express my happiness that this thing exists. It's like the author took my two favorite geeky fandoms and smashed them together. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to perform it because of copyright issues. Disney now owns Star Wars, so we're probably never going to see this parody hit the stage or the screen anytime soon. However, I'm told there are a number of amateur performances and readings that have already been done on YouTube or elsewhere. 

Seriously. Just read this. You won't be disappointed. Also, I really like reviewing stuff from this publisher (Quirk Books) because of the fantastic cover art. The Darth-Vader-in-a-ruff cover art. 

READ IT. IT'S AWESOME. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

More Reviews Upcoming (I Promise)

June and July have been nuts, and I've been largely absent from my usual online spaces as a result. 

I'm finally getting around to seeing various doctors re: my visit to the ER, and so far things are looking better. I still have weird chronic pain, vision and hearing problems, and dizziness, but it's getting better. Or at least, it's not as bad as it was.

I've also been writing a lot, but not on my typical projects. I've been doing a lot more freelancing lately -- translation, mostly, as well as some editing and (fingers crossed!) I may be hired later for a content-writing job, if they like the samples I sent. I'm also making a tentative foray into copywriting. I'll see how that goes. 

What I really want to do is get back to writing reviews. I have to review Virtues of War (quite good), Inked (shaping up to be good), The Sorcery Code, and A Legacy of Light. Reviews just take longer than you'd think, probably because I obsess over every detail and want them to look good on the examiner.com site. I also find it harder to write reviews of books I loved, since it's difficult to find new ways to say "I loved this and it was amazing." That's a good problem to have, I suppose -- it means I'm reading a lot of good books.

I'll get around to it. I swear.

Right now, though, I'm working on a secret project. Very hush-hush and definitely outside my typical genres. I won't say much, in case it goes utterly to shit, but the newness of the idea, style, and genre have been quite fun. It's helped re-teach me the fun of writing. I think that's because, for once, I'm not worried about taking myself too seriously. It's not something I can spend a ton of time on, as I have freelancing deadlines to get to now -- but due to the nature of the beast, I can crank out a lot of words in a very short period of time, say, half an hour. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Re-writing: My Characters Don't Make Sense

As an actor, you're given a script and a character and told to go from there. You have to figure out why that character does what they do, and then you have to commit to that and sell it to an audience who will (hopefully) be engaged. And if they do not care about the character, they likely will not be engaged. This even goes for the school of thought that says audiences shouldn't be totally immersed and sympathetic -- but if they don't care about what they are seeing onstage, then why should they care enough to critique or think about what they are seeing?

So: you get a script and a character, someone who is not you, whose motives and actions may be totally incomprehensible. And you have to figure out why. 

Writing and revising are a bit like that. 

I'm currently rehauling That Novel I Wrote In High School* (yes, it is about as bad as it sounds) (and technically I wrote it in high school, finished it in college, and wrote the second book in college) and it's a lot like being given a script as an actor. I'm faced with the same sorts of questions, like...

Why do the characters do these things, apart from the fact that at the time I clearly wanted them to do it to advance plot?

Why does the plot move forward like it does? 

Do characters' actions make sense?

A lot of the time, I found that there was no reason for the plot to move as it did (apart from that I wanted it to happen). Characters did not have compelling reasons or motives to act as they did. Their actions did not make sense beyond getting from A to B. 

I thought for a long time that I was bad at plotting -- because all the above objections meant my plot made no sense. 

But then I realized: it's not that my plot doesn't make sense. My plot doesn't make sense because my characters don't make sense. 

I'm not bad at plot. I'm bad at character.

Luckily, I get to rewrite this "script." I can take the bones of the actions it contains and then write characters who would do those actions. And I can let those actions change as the characters develop. 

Giving the characters things and people to care about in order to inform their motives has been difficult. Letting go of some of the basic assumptions I've held about this story and these characters for years has been difficult. 

And -- if you'll permit me to ramble on about myself a bit more -- I'm glad I wrote that third book in college. I always heard that you should only work on one big project at a time. However, working on a different book helped me let go of this first project. It stopped being my "baby." Now that I'm not so attached, I can step back and rehaul it. 

Rewriting an old project has taught me a lot about writing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Adventures in the ER

Things took an unexpected turn for the worse last Friday when a trip to the health clinic ended up with me in the emergency room.

For a little under a week, I had been feeling dizziness, weakness, nausea, blurred or randomly unfocusing vision, difficulty concentrating and putting words together, and a laundry list of other weird symptoms that added together to make "I feel like crap and I can't blame it on my usual spaciness." When I had what I thought was a fever on Friday, I decided enough was enough and went to the clinic at the local Wal-mart. That's my litmus test for sickness: have a fever, see a doctor. 

They listened to my symptoms, got very confused and concerned, took my vitals, and did some tests. While I had teeth-chattering chills, I didn't have a fever -- but my blood pressure was low enough to make them alarmed and my symptoms were bad enough that I didn't feel safe driving. They called me a taxi and sent me to the ER. 

This experience fucked up my entire weekend. I had to call out of work for the duration of the work excuse they wrote me (but still had to go in the day after that while still feeling horrible, because I need the money). I missed the deadline to apply for a TA position at my college. Luckily, they extended the deadline and I sent my application in (sans any kind of real work experience apart from a very earnest, hopefully not-too-desperate-sounding cover letter). I also missed the deadline to submit something I was working on as a freelancer. I've communicated the situation to the client, and hopefully I can finish it by Thursday. It wasn't going well to begin with, but since then, I've had even more difficulty concentrating. 

Also, whoever put the IV in to draw blood managed to BEND THE NEEDLE while it was in my arm. OUCH.

On the other hand, the experience was oddly positive in a couple of ways. This is one of the only times I've felt like I was taken seriously by a doctor. I'm someone who doesn't typically go to a doctor when sick -- partly because I've learned that all they will do is take my money, shrug at my symptoms, and manage to imply that I'm either pregnant and lying, on drugs and lying, or making the whole thing up and super-lying. They don't listen, they constantly interrupt, they make it clear I'm wasting their time, and they don't act like it's serious. The doctor's office is already a very unpleasant, invasive place where everyone acts like you're a fool. I avoid it whenever I can.

So normally, I just shrug and assume it's nothing serious. But for once, the clinic and ER doctors actually listened. I was even trying to downplay the concerns of the clinic doctor, and was forced to acknowledge their validity when she asked if I felt safe to drive and I had to admit I didn't. Under different circumstances, I guess I might have been worried or scared. But I was too out of it to care at all, and my main concern was the work I was going to miss and how everyone was going to hate me for calling out of an opening shift the next day. 

End verdict: they didn't know what it was, but diagnosed it as vertigo probably caused by complications from an ear infection. But they also advised me to push fluids in case it was dehydration, and sent me home with a prescription for anti-vertigo medicine. Getting me out of the chair was kind of funny, actually. I kept shivering, so people kept offering me warmed blankets. By the time it was time to leave, I needed the nurse's help to break free of my blanket burrito.

I don't know. Maybe this IS something to be worried about. As the ER nurse told me, I'm awfully young to be having these kinds of symptoms. In the past few days, I've also experienced the added joys of shortness of breath and tightness/pressure of the chest. 

I've avoided finding a doctor in this area because of my dislike of doctors, but I'm going to pursue that this week -- to follow up on the symptoms if nothing else.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pink

Once again, I've changed my blog.

The look is decidedly "pink" this time. I wanted to use the same picture I use for my twitter account background (@Laura_the_Wise). I had been using one of the stock images provided by Blogger, and I didn't like it. The header text stands out better now (it helps if you tilt your screen a bit to get more contrast), and the image is a photo I took myself.

After much torturous experimentation, I decided to leave the background white. I had waffled between pale yellow, green, or pink --  but backgrounds of any kind, even solid color backgrounds, distract me. So, white it is. I know that's hard on some people's eyes, but I've tried to make the post font fairly large and easy-to-read to compensate.

Let me know if you like the new look (or not). I probably obsess way too much over what this blog looks like.

It seems that, once again, I've created a blog that reads as far more "cutesy" than some of the content on it. I used to worry about that a lot more, but now I'm just pleased with the way it looks. After all, this is mostly just my silly personal blog where I have opinions on books, movies, and other things. Even the email associated with it is the one I made when I was fifteen.* Come on -- cuteblondandcrazy[at]gmail[dot]com? That should be my porn name, not my email address. (And for some reason, my name under that email sometimes still shows up as "Theresa McKay." A fake name and a porny corny email? That's not suspicious at all...)**

Speaking of which, you'll note that my new "About" page has a different email: lauraw178[at]gmail[dot]com, aka my "definitely not a porn star responsible adult email." If you have my old email, don't worry -- you can just message or email me there, and I'll answer. If not, the lauraw178 one works just fine.

Apart from changing my blog, I'm plodding along in thesis research and working my way through the 14 Books of Fantasy ebook anthology bundle thingy. Concealed Power is my current featured review, and The Sorcery Code is great! I loved it, and I really did not expect to. It's magitek/mathemagic, which I really like, and it's very well written (which I also appreciate after the first couple of books in that anthology), and it has a great plot, characters, and concept.

Basically, it's Frankenstein but with a mad sorcerer instead of a mad scientist. 

Currently Reading
This cover makes just about zero sense, though.

*My current self refuses to be held responsible for this.
**Again, these things made perfect sense to a paranoid teenager convinced someone would steal her identity on the Internet. Because, you know, a fake name on your email TOTALLY prevents that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meditation as Stress Management?

I read this post at Janice Hardy's blog today, where the guest poster recommends meditation as a stress reduction and relaxation technique. The post was about establishing healthy writing and living habits. Some of it's not for me, but the meditation idea piqued my interest.

I am an absent-minded, daydreaming sort of person. I'm no expert, but meditation seems a lot like directed daydreaming. 

I've tried meditation before, and usually with pretty good results. I was first introduced to it in church. The pastor wanted us to pick a focus word and meditate on that. He gave some tips for focusing the mind (read: not getting bored out of one's mind) such as holding an image in your mind or watching a candle flame, or paying attention to your breathing. He gave the focus word for that particular time, and if I remember correctly, he probably recommended some more words for later practice. 

My church also held all-night vigils and Tenebre services during Lent and before Easter. If you signed up for a vigil, you took an hour or two hours or whatever and sat in church meditating. You could choose to play meditative religious music, which usually featured a word, phrase, or prayer repeated over and over with varying instrumentalists. The vigils would start at sundown and go until dawn Easter morning. Because multiple people participated, it was less a private experience and more a communal meditation.

My third experience with meditation was also religiously based. When I was in the confirmation class, we went to a convent and walked a labyrinth. You're supposed to meditate on stuff when you walk a labyrinth. Afterwards, people would write down their thoughts, prayers, whatever in a little book on a board by the labyrinth. We read through them. Some people wrote basic stuff thanking the facility for the beautiful location, some people were inspired to write poetry, some people wrote down what they meditated on or any kind of spiritual guidance they wanted. 

I guess people associate meditation with New Age-y stuff, so it's kind of funny that I was introduced to it via Christianity.


I used meditation as a relaxation technique more than a spiritual one in college, because I wanted some kind of stress relief. I had studied psychology, and I knew that it was possible to hypnotize yourself. So I would basically hypnotize myself into a relaxed state with meditation. It was kind of nice.

The problem is...It takes a long time.

The benefit of and problem with meditation, for me, is that it takes a long time. So when I am choosing to do it, I am actively choosing not to do something else. It's hard to relax when you're thinking about all the things that you should be doing but aren't. 

My other main problem with it is that I daydream too much already. I always think about what I am going to do, read, write, work on, or whatever, and think about it but don't end up doing it. I don't want to get into the habit of meditating and using "I'm doing it to manage stress" as an excuse to do that instead of things I need to be doing. I can see how it would help manage stress or clear your head, but I don't see how it would contribute to overall productivity or self-discipline.

What I'm saying is that I guess I'm a bit up in the air about its effectiveness. I'd be curious to know if anyone else has tried this and gotten better results than I have.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why This Book Has Been Sitting on My Sidebar for Months

If you look to your right, you will see Emperor of Thorns sitting on the sidebar of this blog under the label "Currently Reading." It's been there for a while. Why, you ask? (You didn't ask, but let's pretend you did.)


Currently Reading

Because not many other series have had as big an effect on me as The Broken Empire trilogy. And Emperor of Thorns is the last book. And once I finish reading it, it's over. And I don't really want it to be over because then it will be DONE. (And I'm pretty sure the main character will die in the last book, so there'll be no more reading about him after this, either.)

These are really, really great books. What hooked me first was the "voice" -- writing voice, character voice, whatever. It's unique and compelling and one of the best examples of what people like to call "voice" out there. Voice can be tricky to define. If you read this series, you will immediately understand what voice is.

The characters are also great, whether or not you like them. I wouldn't want to meet any of these people or hang out with them, but damn do they make great characters.

Also, it is post-apocalyptic fantasy, which is like my chocolate. I love dystopian fiction, post-apocalypse fiction, and fantasy, and this series is an unholy cocktail of those subgenres -- with a splash of pure science fiction. (The author actually used to be a rocket scientist.) Post-apocalypse/future-Earth fantasy isn't exactly thick on the ground, either, so it's not like I can go find a similar book after I'm finished with this trilogy. Also, the style is very much "sword and sorcery" -- so it really has the flavor of classic fantasy, despite the sci-fi elements. PA fantasy that reads like S&S -- this book just makes me happy in every fiber of my hopelessly geeky being.

Now, normally I'd recommend this far and wide -- but I won't. I don't recommend this to anyone who isn't prepared to have to read through a lot of disturbing violent and sexual content. 

(Actually, if you are a Game of Thrones fan, the main character Jorg Ancrath is best described as a mixture of Arya and Joffrey. If you can imagine.)

The main character is a warlord, rapist, mass murderer, and war criminal. And he accomplishes all those atrocities by the time he's 15. In a lot of ways, he's like a regressed child throwing a bloody temper tantrum throughout much of the first book. He's worst in the first book, but as for whether he stays that way...well, it's a bit like the original ending of A Clockwork Orange, where the psychopathically violent MC just sort of grows up, matures, and grows out of it. There's a lot more to it than that, obviously, but it's still a series where the main character is pretty damn evil.

So I don't necessarily recommend it, because villain protagonists are not for everyone. This series is premised on the idea that in order to defeat extreme evil, you need a "hero" who is at least as evil as the bad guy. My prediction is that he's going to sacrifice himself in the end. There is also a lot of Biblical imagery and metaphor in this trilogy. This series can't seem to decide whether its hero is Jesus or Satan.

Another reason I don't necessarily recommend it is that this book is also just depressing in its message. Nuclear warfare wiped out society as we know it...and even "recovered" society is brutally medieval and backwards. A warlord comes along over a thousand years later and rediscovers some nuclear weapons. And of course, what does he use them for? EVEN MORE nuclear warfare. Because, in the author's opinion, humanity just can't learn its fucking lesson when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

Despite all that, it's one of my favorite series and I'm resisting finishing the final book because I don't want it to be over. Which is why it is still on my sidebar. However, the author is writing a new trilogy set in the same world, the first book of which I bought while it was on sale on NOOK. So now, I feel like I have to finish the original trilogy. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thinking of Baltimore

I lived for part of my life in the greater Baltimore area, so the news of the recent riots had me worried for friends that live and work in and around the city. I don't really want to write a post about it, honestly, because I said some things on Facebook already, but something has been bugging me in particular.

That "Mom of the Year" viral video. That -- or rather, the reactions to it -- has bothered me more than almost anything else to come out of the social media shitstorm the riots caused.

I'm not linking to the video. You can find it yourself, if you haven't already seen it. The video shows an African American woman who, finding her son among the rioters, assaulted him in order to get him off the streets. If you look it up, you can see her screaming at him, hitting him, tugging at the mask he was wearing, and cussing him out as she yells at him to get home. 

This video was picked up and retweeted by someone who dubbed her "Mom of the Year."

And, suddenly, everyone was assigning motives to this anonymous woman. They assumed she wanted her son home because she disagreed with the riots. They thought she engaged this violent assault on her son because he was rioting, and she thought the rioting was wrong. Every article I read focused on what the kid was wearing, as if to say that he deserved it because he looked like a thug. 

And it didn't stop there. Because suddenly, it was like someone had given permission for all my white facebook friends to vent their fantasies about beating the shit out of some black youth. 

"Maybe if he'd had some more of that at home when he was younger, he wouldn't be out rioting now!"

"That would be me. Except, I don't look as good in yellow." 

"If I saw MY kid out dressed like that..."

"If these people disciplined their kids better, they wouldn't act like thugs."

...And some comments I won't repeat about how they wished THEY could go out there and give some of those kids the same treatment the woman had given her son.

People were assigning the mother of this kid their own motives, and using her example as a proxy -- as permission -- to condone violence against black youth. It fit into a narrative they already understood, where black-on-black violence is accepted as normal, where the sassy black mom is a comforting stereotype, where youth vs. adults is the real problem and not systemic injustice, and where they could take an anonymous woman's actions and assign them motives that aligned with their own. 

People who hadn't initially condemned the riots or participated in the first spew of racist and angry comments were suddenly coming out of the woodwork to endorse, applaud, and encourage this violence -- because it suited them. Because they could pretend to make it about parenting values or whatever. It was like, "this woman assaulted her kid; suddenly it's OK for me to talk about how I want to beat on some black kids." These were some the same people who were posting MLK statuses and saying things like "I don't condone this violence!" earlier.

No. You don't get to do that. You don't get to condemn violence when it's inconvenient and applaud it when it benefits you. 

And you especially don't get to appropriate someone else's story like that.

I was over here behind my computer screen thinking, hey, maybe she is flying off the handle like that because she wants her kid home safe. I interpreted her level of violence as coming from fear more than anger. Because most moms, I think, wouldn't go to that extreme unless they thought the kid was in danger. But most people assumed her actions came from the same place of anger and hate for the rioters as THEIR feelings. 

Of course, what would I know? Maybe she DID disagree. What pissed me off was how unanimous every single goddamn status, post, article, and comment was in their assumptions about her motives. They were DETERMINED to spin it as "she is doing this to PUNISH" instead of "she may be doing this to PROTECT." 

Because in their minds, the angry youth in the streets of Baltimore needed to be punished, not protected. 

In the minds of white America, African Americans who make a stir about racially based injustices need to be punished, not protected. In the minds of white America, the police are out to punish blacks and protect whites. Obviously, I'm generalizing very widely here. But it was depressing how smoothly some people -- way more people than I expected; people who I otherwise respected and liked and who I thought would think more deeply before sharing and applauding something like that so casually -- fit one viral video into their existing prejudiced worldview. 

The mom was eventually identified and interviewed, and said that she acted as she did because she didn't want her kid to become "another Freddie Gray." Make of that what you will. 

I'm not going to pretend to judge the mom and kid. But, everyone who clamored to call her Mom of the Year and responded to the video with a weird, vicious glee? Yeah, I'm totally judging you. A lot. People like to try to simplify this whole Baltimore fiasco into "Cops are good vs. Cops are Bad" and "Riots are OK vs. Riots are Bad" and "Racism vs. Not Racism" arguments. I won't say anything about that. But here was a quantifiable, observable reaction. And it was awful. I mean, FOR FUCK'S SAKE. If your Moral of the Story here is "Let's all go home and beat our kids so they don't riot!" then you're an asshole.

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

Book Review: Clariel by Garth Nix

I've been sitting on a review of Clariel for a while because as a longtime fan of Garth Nix, it was a fun return to a story universe I love. I've updated this review since originally writing it to reflect other reviews I've read and expand on things I didn't get into before.

A Bit of Background

You know that A in LGBTQIA+? That would stand for asexual and aromantic. Asexual is an umbrella term for a number of identities on the ace spectrum, but it basically means someone who does not experience sexual attraction. They might be sex-repulsed, sex-ambivalent, or sex-positive. Sex-ew, sex-meh, or sex-yay. 

Someone who does not experience any romantic attraction is aromantic. Differentiating between sexual and romantic is important for people; people frequently say, "They're super hot and I'd love to sleep with them, but I'd never date them." 

Some other identities on the ace spectrum are demisexual, someone who experiences no sexual attraction until a deep emotional or romantic bond has been formed with another person. There's also gray-ace, which means an asexual person who only rarely experiences sexual attraction. These I.D.'s also apply to aromantic-spectrum people, with demiromantic, grayromantic, and more.


So, let's talk about asexuals in Young Adult fiction!

*crickets*

A lot of YA centers on romance. I don't remember the last time I read a YA novel without a romantic subplot. Even Clariel has a subplot in which Clariel rebuffs the romantic advances of her fellow student. (He whines about the friendzone. She snaps at him.)

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 discovering sexuality. Because people just assume these experiences are universal, often because they haven't heard of asexuality, portrayals of asexuality are not as common. 

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. (Not my words. I'm referencing think pieces and blog posts which I refuse to link to.) Those people tend to interpret the call for more asexual rep in YA as a masked call for censorship.

Freedom, independence, and reader perceptions

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 as a Borderer. To me, her desire to get back to the forest where she grew up and live independently, escaping an arranged marriage to a jerk in the process, is somewhat related to her asexuality. Her aunt, who also chose a life of solitude as an herbalist, is said to be "just" like her -- ace and happily living outside the bounds of heteronormativity. This is the life path Clariel has seen modeled by another person, so she knows it's not an impossible pipe dream. Being a solitary person herself who hates the city, crowds, and social niceties, she wants to pursue an independent life like her aunt, doing what she enjoys with other Borderers but living on her own. 

Basically, viable options for women and queer people exist in this world outside of heterosexual marriage for reproduction. Yet her desire for freedom and independence was the characteristic reviewers and consumers complained about the most. 


-obligatory oversized badass cover-
Another sentiment I used to encounter a lot when I was active on the NaNoWriMo forums is that asexuals (as well as rebellious princesses) should grow up and "do their duty" rather than running off or seeking other options for themselves. It's a bit gross that seeking to preserve one's sexual autonomy and identity is considered immature, lazy, or selfish. "Just buck up and submit to years of marital rape and unwanted pregnancies, already! It's your duty!!!" Yeah, no. 

Anyway, I wanted to talk about Clariel because it is only the second representation I personally have seen of an asexual character in written fiction.

At the point of writing this review, the only other ace character I'd encountered was the mother from The World According to Garp. She is an aromantic asexual...and a rapist. Her asexuality is used mostly to justify her feminism, which plays to the stereotype of asexuals and feminists being "unnatural man-haters." Representations of terrible people aren't always bad representation, but it was the book's attempt to portray her rape of a disabled man under her care as positive that grossed me out.

The Plot Summary

Clariel's plan for her life is derailed by her mother's ambitions when they move to the city. Suddenly she has to dress right, go to etiquette school, and pretend to like the boy to whom she's betrothed (despite never having experienced sexual attraction in her life). As she plots her escape, Clariel begins to suspect there's something sinister behind this young man's perfect, respectable mask. But she's no angel herself. As an Abhorsen, Clariel is a distant royal cousin, and she's inherited the berserker gene of the royal family. She makes headway in controlling her berserker rages, but discovers an affinity for Free Magic, the primal, addictive magic wielded by necromancers and dark sorcerers. 

When murderous plots threaten those closest to her, Clariel seeks the help of others. But no one seems to care. Desperate, she turns to Free Magic to save the King and avenge what she's lost. Can she survive the toll such power takes, or will she lose her soul to her darker instincts?

Horror Fantasy, Grey-Morality, All the Things I Like Basically

That...pretty much sums it up. Also, there's a dragon in Clariel. The main character is pretty much a badass, if misguided. AND THERE'S A TALKING CAT-DEMON.


Image result for evil white cat names
Mogget's a fan favorite, the little monster.

Garth Nix's Old Kingdom-verse falls in the genre of horror-flavored dark fantasy. Eldritch horrors, demons, the undead, scary scenes, and more dot the landscape of this unique world. It was fascinating to see what that world is like hundreds of years before the dystopian anarchy post-zombie-apocalypse of Sabriel: a prosperous, bustling society where magic is considered uncivilized and the Abhorsens, "good" necromancers who banish the undead, are a quaint relic of the past. 

Clariel throws a bit of a wrench in all that. Fans of Garth Nix will recognize her as the character who becomes Chlorr of the Mask, an ancient, undead sorceress who haunts the main characters of Lirael and Abhorsen. You'd think that knowing where Clariel ends up would decrease the tension, but for me it had the opposite effect. It made certain passages and decisions more tense because you could see the far-reaching implications of her actions. For instance, there's one moment when she could have turned back and left everything behind -- but she chooses not to because she wants to stay and protect her friend. They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and that pretty much sums up this book. 


Related image

While this is a "villain origin story" within the wider world, Clariel is the anti-heroine of her own book rather than the "bad guy." There's still a long way to go between Clariel at the end of this book and Chlorr of the Mask. Also, so far we've only seen good characters and sanctioned Charter Magic in the Old Kingdom books. Nix has never written a protagonist who walks on the dark side or who is even tempted by Free Magic. 

The rest of the books cast Free Magic as evil, but Clariel presents it in a different light: as a force of nature. There are magical beings that exist outside Charter Magic, as well as people like Clariel who lack an affinity for the "good" magic and are more attuned to the "bad" magic. Rather than good and bad, which is reductive, it's more accurate to call them "structured" and "free." Much like Clariel doesn't fit in with the highly structured society and longs to be free, the more ancient Free Magic exists at the borders of the ordered Charter Magic. 


"Free Magic is not necessarily evil as such, it is merely unconstrained, though this difference may be hard to understand" - Clariel, Garth Nix #sabrielsarmy:

The Free Magic of this book is chaotic, uncontrolled, and destructive, but Free Magic beings are depicted more as wild animals than willfully evil demons. A wild animal isn't evil for mauling humans that mess with it; that's within the range of what it does. Clariel messes with these creatures, and well...she learns the hard way that though Free Magic creatures can be useful, but she can't force them into empathetic, human-like behavior. Their very nature resists control. In any case, the worldbuilding that Clariel adds to the Old Kingdom saga is great. 

About that ending...

So, people have tended to hate this book for negative asexual/aromantic representation. I'd like to address this, since I'm doing a more in-depth review. First of all, now that you know that, don't immediately pull out this book to rec to your ace friends. It gets enough hype and other books need love. Pick something else, like maybe this book about mermaids.

There's a problematic scene towards the end which also ruined this book for a lot of people. Clariel's friend professes his romantic/sexual feelings for her, which she rebuffs. There's some drama involved. He grows a lot during the book, and their friendship is important to Clariel. At the end of the book, he admits that he still has those feelings for her, and says he knows her feelings but is willing to make it work if she wants to. 

When he hugs her, Clariel feels a flash of an unfamiliar feeling -- like maybe she has those feelings, too. She wonders if it's new or something she'd previously pushed down. Either way, she ignores it and continues to do her own thing, because as we've established, her desire for independence is important to her.

One reading of this is that she was just repressed all along and isn't really asexual. This says something very negative about asexual people outside of fiction, which is why many dismiss this book. On the other hand, this signaled to me that Clariel is demiromantic. So, I've...kind of headcanoned that pretty hard. Quietly. To myself. Because this book is almost universally hated among asexuals.


Image result for demisexuality
Charts seem useful here.
source

Much like how a demisexual doesn't experience any sexual attraction until after forming a deep emotional or romantic bond, demiromantic people don't experience romantic attractions or inclinations until forming an emotional connection. Clariel feels no romantic pull towards her friend until after they've been through the shit together, matured together, and formed a unique platonic bond. It's possible she might be demisexual, but the feelings she mentions having in that moment weren't about physicality or sexual attraction. It seemed more like an emotional moment, where a platonic hug stirred romantic feelings.

Clariel's only relationships before this were for casual sex, which she ultimately ended because she didn't care for it and was just exploring her sexuality. She had no emotional bond with her sexual partners, and so wouldn't have figured out she might be demiromantic before now.


This ending is confusing or offensive for someone who was told that Clariel is an asexual aromantic character. I also have no idea what Garth Nix intends for the character, and if he intended to write an aro character, he failed pretty damn hard. 

But reading Clariel as a demiromantic ace makes a lot of sense to me. As in, everything she experiences -- from the casual sex for purposes of "so what's the big deal here oh ok well that was overrated bye" to the "where the fuck are these feels coming from" to "wait a moment, am I really just repressed? IDENTITY CRISIS LIKE WOAH oh no ok I'm fine now" exactly mirror my life experiences as a demiromantic person. 

If you don't agree with that interpretation, she could also be gray-ace or gray-romantic, with this being one of the few times in her life she experiences sexual attraction. I also saw the moment as her wondering whether she was repressed, questioning herself briefly, and then figuring she's not and going on her merry way...rather than the author's Word of God that she's a repressed allosexual. Third person close. It can get a bit messy in moments like these.


Image result for gray ace
source and more pictures

Headcanons or, what this books means to me...

Her asexuality isn't her one defining trait. However, it's important enough that reviewers who have condemned this as bad rep without even considering the possibility of Clariel being demi or gray do it a disservice. In the end, it's up to reader interpretation, and I share the frustration that it was not made clear enough in the book itself. This is simply my own, admittedly biased, take. 

I'm biased because I read this book at a serendipitous time when I really NEEDED to read something like it. I am that antisocial loner who would be happier if I lived alone in the woods doing my own thing. Mainly, though, I related to Clariel's struggle to separate herself financially from controlling parents and find independence. Would I sell my soul for independence? Probably. My parents have also tried to persuade me to date and marry a guy who would be good for the family and push a relationship which wasn't super positive. They also didn't want me to move away or get a job which would give me a measure of independence for myself and...basically, at the time I read this it felt like this was the Story of My Life minus the creatures and talking cat. In retrospect I'm not sure whether all the parallels will hold up to a re-read, but I'll always have a soft spot for this book. 

This book pissed off a bunch of people and my liking it is NOT a blanket endorsement. People not liking it is 100% understandable. This is why I have redacted my star rating, which is based on a "would you recommend?" system. I loved it, but I'm an outlier here and I don't know if I would recommend this to people or whether you should either because of all the negative reactions to it from others. This character is a very particular type of ace and a very particular type of gray-moral-lone-wolf-protagonist, and definitely shouldn't be upheld as The Defining Ace Book for F/SF especially since it isn't #ownvoices. Nix followed a couple stereotypes of asexuals, and just because I AM that stereotype doesn't mean everyone else is or that all your ace friends will magically relate to this character. And apparently there's also some twist on Clariel in Goldenhand which is bad. I haven't read it so my review and interpretation are not influenced by that context. Which is probably a bad thing, but...

I ALSO WANT TO KEEP MY HEADCANON OK? My headcanon is also a valid interpretation, of this book as a standalone at least, and I don't see any other demiromantic characters or demiromantic aces out there, so just LET ME HAVE THIS. I'll read Goldenhand sometime. Probably. Maybe. Not right now. Honestly maybe not ever if Nix is just going to stomp on my childhood memories.

In Conclusion...

This update turned out way longer than I thought it would be. I recommend reading the other Old Kingdom books, especially if you like more traditional heroes rather than a walk on the dark side.

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. :)
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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, Inactivity

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

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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 frozen by 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. 

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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 stagnation.

So here's a blog post instead. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What's Up Wednesday

What's up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop sponsored by Erin Funk and Jaime Morrow.

What I'm reading:

The sidebar says Emperor of Thorns, which is true as I haven't finished it. I don't really want to finish it because then it will be over, you know? I only want to finish it once I know that the author has published his sequel series.

I also finished Clariel by Garth Nix recently, which was very good. I think Clariel is the first asexual character I've read before in YA. I had to put the book down and jump up with excitement because I had this overwhelming feeling of FINALLY SOMEONE GETS IT JEEZ.

In the meantime, I picked up 14 Books of Fantasy for $0.99, a fantasy anthology by a variety of authors. The first, Blades of Magic, is...meh. The writing tends to be a bit redundant and the main character is a totally unsympathetic, sociopathic, murderous brat. Her father was executed as a traitor, so she goes around murdering everyone who's ever insulted her father. Which includes murdering her neighbor, who has an infant daughter, and gloating about how his daughter will never have a father in his final moments. 

And I mean, I can do amoral serial killers, but then this chick goes home all weepy and "Oh woe is me I'm just a little teenage girl whose daddy was killed and I think he was a traitor but I'm murdering everyone who thinks the same thing" and we're clearly supposed to feel sorry for her and think her serial killer habit is just something that makes her a badass. Which is RIDICULOUS. Women don't get a free pass for being brutally violent assholes just because they are women. And then, THEN she was like, "Waaaahhhh, now I have to get a JOB, but if my father was alive, we would still be rich, guess I have to go down to the docks and grub for fish with the PEASANTS OH POOR ME" and I was so done. 

What I'm writing:

Errrr... *guilty cough* The last thing I worked on was a scene in Contracted, which is probably still utter indulgent crap. At least I wrote it. It's been sitting there waiting for me to write it for weeks now.

I am also, very, very slowly reading the stuff my CP gave me months ago. I feel like a jerk. 

What else is up with me:

I'm in The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare with my graduate program, as directed by Lisa Wolpe. She is a famous director, and we are very fortunate to have her. My "statement of interest" for this audition, which was just to send my resume and headshot, was basically "please just put me in I will be over the moon to have anything." So I'm the character who's in a lot of crowd scenes and I have one line (they had to cut the main scene I would be in otherwise) -- and I could not be happier.

I'm just glad to have this opportunity, because over the break my parents had the customary holiday "interrogate our daughter on her life and career choices" where my mother accused me of thinking that I'm "too good for" or somehow "above" D.C. and the Shakespeare theatre and universities in this area...or something...I didn't quite understand what they were going on about. They spent half of high school trying to kick me out and now they want me to move back in. It's weird. But I know I wouldn't have this opportunity elsewhere, and now that we are actually in rehearsal, I am EXTREMELY glad and grateful to be where I am. 

What inspires me:

I'm sound designing for a play at my college. It's a daunting task, since I have never designed sound before. On the other hand, I get to dig into a play that is so rich in sound. Approaching it from a sound designing perspective has made me realize how sound is essential to the play's structure, which is really amazing. If you take the first vignette as pool/stillness with marked and distinct sounds intruding on the quiet/stillness, and then contrast that with the next vignette which is all ocean/gulls/chaos/storm with constant sound and underscoring -- the auditory contrast is just brilliant structurally. I mean, wow. 

People who write plays amaze me because of their ability to structure not just based on words but on sounds. They never lose sight of how words sound -- their pitch, syntactical sounds, syllable counts, vowels, consonants, etc. -- because the audience will never read those words; they'll hear them. Their work is meant to be performed. I think that many writers of fiction and even poetry lose sight -- or rather, lose hearing -- of the importance of sound. There's a lesson to be learned from playwriting.