Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Won't be too much longer before I'm muttering over my pen cache like Gollum.

I hit 50,000 words on my current WIP (51,200, to be exact), making it officially a novel. Aww, my little baby is all growing up! It's shaping to be in the 80,000-90,000 word range when the first draft is completed, which is just where I want to be. (There are some fat parts in the middle wherein Our Heroines are mostly running from place to place like video game characters instead of, you know, actually sleuthing.) I'm feeling fairly accomplished right now; you would think that maybe now would be the time to push forward for another thousand words or two, since I'm such a Type A and all. Nope, though, not going to happen. It doesn't fit the routine.

I write for about an hour and a half to two hours per day, during my breaks and lunch period at my day job. When I try to write during the weekend, I mostly just flail in circles and frustrate myself without managing to get much of anything done. This is so weird to me, because it used to be that I could write anywhere. I was broke as hell in college and wouldn't have written anything at all if the only time that I wrote was when I could throw enough elbows to get access to a computer, so I wrote longhand in the hallways, in class, and at work. (And considering the grades and job evaluations that I still managed to pull, maybe I should be packing in this whole writer thing and be going for a fulfilling career as a con artist instead.) I was like those people who can sleep hanging upside down or on the wings of planes, but with writing. I get a fresh amusement when I read people describing their writing routines that absolutely cannot be deviated from since I've become one of them.

So, folks, what do you do create your writing space? (And it's okay to say Starbucks. I won't judge.)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How do different mediums tell such different stories?

Are We Living in the Golden Age of Male Objectification?


The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'.

How can the news be so good concerning gender equality--or at least cheesecake equality--be so different from one media form to the other? And what does this say about comics continuing reputation for being solely for the boys? (Movies aren't known for being particularly progressive, after all, stereotypes about Hollywood or not.) I remember watching Casino Royale in theaters a few years back and one reviewer losing his mind in a very public and hilarious way over the "homosexual subtext" of the way that the camera lingered so lovingly over Daniel Craig coming out of the water in those tiny little swim shorts because he honestly could not conceive of the idea of gratuitous candy shots being thrown in for the sake of the women in the audience. (Nor would the "homosexual subtext" that the reviewer ruined his reputation over have been a bad thing. Candy for all!) I know I've mentioned before in this space how fun and refreshing I find it that Marvel realizes women attend its movies, too. The great thing about this "Golden Age of Male Objectification" is that the male characters still have things to do when their clothes are on. I will not deny that I giggled like a twelve year-old a time or two over just how insanely long Chris Hemsworth's legs are during Thor, but he still saved the Jotun, got down with his Shakespearean family drama, and became a king. I don't have the slightest problem with Starfire leaping into bed with Jason Todd so long as she, you know, still has a personality and agency on the other side of the bedroom door. That is where DC is failing, not in making the eyecandy in the first place.

(And now that I've bitched, I do have to say that the news from the DCnU is not all grim: holy hell, Batwoman and Wonder Woman were full-stop awesome. I dug the hell out of the horror aspects of Wonder Woman's story and think that her current artistic team is treating her like an equal member of the DC Trinity for pretty much the first time ever. Keep it up, guys! I might also add that WW was staggeringly beautiful while she was also kicking ass and taking names, so it's not like being pretty and being a fully-fleshed character at the same time is such a Herculean task.)

EDIT: Changed title because I was confusing some folks into thinking that I'm on DC's side in the Starfire/Catwoman debacle. Whoo-buddy, not even a little bit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What's so shameful about productivity?

About a week or so ago, I ran across a comment that made me laugh. I'm not going to link to it because, well, they spoke in all earnestness as a guest in someone else's "house" and overt mocking would be mean. They were expressing reservations about the shift away from paper and towards electronic books, lamenting the fact that some authors now have to write a whole one-hundred and fifty thousand words per year in order to make ends meet via the indie route.

Yep. You heard me right. One-hundred and fifty thousands words per year, or three skin-of-your-teeth novels, or less than five hundred words a day. Now, I'm pretty obviously of the "yay indie!" camp over here, and I'm not quite sure where the poster was going with that line of thought, given that the royalties earned off of those one-hundred and fifty thousand words are going to be a lot fatter via the indie route. What I'm more interested in talking about today, however, is the idea that 500 words a day is some torturous goal that only the overworked, joyless writer who is more like a factory worker than an artist would attempt.

Well, fine, then. I'm a factory worker. I get up, I go to the job that pays me, and I write. Every day, and a lot more than 500 words, too. Does this make me a worse writer than someone who only puts fingers to keyboard (ah, the electronic age, now if we could just get rid of the rest of the Romantic illusions about writing, too) when muses flit down and dance about her head? I don't think so. Had I a book contract, I would still be writing daily quotas to hit deadlines. Now, I will grant that I'm lucky in that I don't have a second job or kids that nom up my time, but that doesn't mean that they aren't plenty of distractions to pull me away from my job if I allow them. Writing is a job, too. Put in your time just like you would at the place or places that cuts you regular paychecks.

I'll bet that within six months you'll be laughing at the idea that 500 words a day is supposed to be impossible without bullwhips cracking over your head and overdue electric bills being nailed to your door.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Let's Hear It For the Girls

I'm a child of the nineties. Born in 1984, I hit my adolescence just as Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were riding high on the girl-power renaissance of the late nineties. The early 2000s (post-Buffy, basically, though she was the last of the holdouts and the crowd was thinning well before her) were a wasteland for me. Given just how much my sense of being a powerful female and powerful because I am a female was born of that informal education, I honestly wonder what kind of women and feminist* I would have become if I had come of age during the vacuum that Buffy Summers and Xena left behind them. I have Big Thoughts on Stephanie Meyer's (not just Twilight, as I think that what was implicit in Twilight doesn't become explicit and truly disturbing until we reach The Host) attitudes towards women that are definitely less than positive, but I digress at this point. I think that we're experiencing a second girl power renaissance in televised media right now, following on the heels of the first one spawned in the late nineties**. Cable has been quietly realizing that women-forwarded dramas sell for several years now, and it seems to have finally hit major broadcast zenith. Let's see a portion of what we have this season.

Ringer: Deserves a mention merely on the basis that Sarah Michelle Gellar of BtVS fame is both the star and one of the executive producers. The ratings are so-so after the pilot, and only achieve that mark because the CW has been hemorrhaging viewers over the past two years and is entering desperation stage, but I enjoyed it and love that both hero and villain are played by women. (And that the person making a majority of behind-the-scenes decisions is also a woman!)

Charlie's Angels: The original CA came about during the big push of second-wave feminism. The reboot comes about roughly twenty years after third-wave starting stomping its mark, and there are certain interesting differences. The first Angels were all undeniably Lawful Good figures. Now, I love Lawful Good, and the first Angels were amazing in how much ground they strode towards dismantling the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, but I kind of love that the rebooted Angels are reformed or reforming criminals. Women get to screw up now and still be heroes. (And one member of the "two brunettes, one blonde" formula has become a woman of color***!) I am very interested in how this one turns out as a Big Dumb Fun Show.

Unforgettable: Poppy Montgomery has been bouncing from procedural to procedural for more than a decade now. (And as many of the women taking center stage this season are doing so in shows aimed at older audiences, I wonder how many of the kids like me all grown up are being targeted demographically. That definitely doesn't mean that I mind.) Police procedurals, for all that the hardbitten, cynical, seen-it-all cop is generally pictured as a man, have been friendlier towards women for a goodish while, and especially older women who don't fit an easy T&A market. I'm glad to see the trend continuing.

The Secret Circle: Made possible by the success of the CW's major money-maker, The Vampire Diaries, TSC follows a group of witches the same way that TVD follows a group of vampires, werewolves, witches, and human hangers-on. Both series are based on books by author L.J. Smith, who was herself a part of the girl power renaissance of the nineties****. I was doing other things and couldn't give the pilot my full attention, but it's being produced and helmed by the same person that made TVD a success, and it's one of the few vehicles aimed specifically at a younger audience.

The Playboy Club and PanAm: I'm giving these a mention because they haven't aired yet and both feature women-heavy casts, but the promotional strategy thus far makes me believe that they're going to be turned out by folks who liked Mad Men and didn't realize that it's supposed to be a deconstruction rather than an endorsement. I will happily throw confetti and blow a vuvuzela if I'm proven wrong.

Returning Favorites:

Nikita: The titular role is played by fabulous stunt woman and gifted actress Maggie Q in a blending of television and movie canons. It won a second season by the skin of its teeth, but it's my very favorite thing on TV right now, so expect me to talk about it a lot.

The Vampire Diaries: Pretty much the CW's major moneymaker now that Smallville has retired and Supernatural has started to enter its natural decline. It has major issues with race that were, in retrospect, seeded during the first season in order to grow tall in the second, and has been steadily eroding the fantastic ground it once held on gender. However, it's still a drama 1) aimed towards young women and girls, and 2) a drama in which most of the movers and players are powerful women. That the villain of the second and (thus far) season is male is a new and remarkable thing. The CW has always been targeted towards a young female office. I hope that it (The CW) gets to stick around and continue to make television.

The Good Wife: Coming into its third season, it began as the drama following the wife of a disgraced politico and is now a pretty solid legal procedural in its own right. Remarkable for featuring older women and bisexual women, both of which don't get seen all that often on network television in meaty roles. It also has a rep for some skeevy race issues, which I can't disagree with even after having seen maybe a quarter of the total episodes.

Harry's Law: Entering its second season on NBC. Remarkable because it's about an older, overweight, not conventionally attractive woman. Who happens to be played by Kathy Friggin' Bates, probably a big part of why it got a second season in the first place. But don't you want to be defended by an attorney who could cut someone's foot off for looking at her wrongly?

This is a good thing, y'all. Let's support it as it continues.

*Not a bad word, no matter how much Limbaugh tries to make it so. It means that I think women are equals of men, and I will fight to make that statement a reflected reality in society. I don't hate men, and I think that patriarchy hurts men, too. (Not as much as it hurts women, but it does.) The end.

**I'm not counting the efforts to include women in powerful roles in media of the late seventies, not because I discount them, but because they're not a rebirth as the term "renaissance" implies: nothing like them had ever occurred before.

***Accompanying the ladies in charge general push of the late nineties was also a specific push towards ladies of color in charge, spearheaded by the WB and UPN (a philosophy that the blended CW has not reflected). I have not seen a renaissance towards more characters and actors of color on major broadcast television the way that I saw in the nineties. There has been some growth, but it's been a slow-going thing.

****And then lost her damn fool mind in the 2000s, but, oh, shine on, you crazy diamond.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

I think I've stated before that if I have a good idea, there's an equally good chance it actually originated with my best friend, Audrey. She's not only a brilliant photographer and graphic designer, she's been helping me with beta reading (and fear not, has no problem kicking me in the shins when I balk at killing my darlings) and tips on developing an audience for my own work. One of her tips was to check out Kelley Armstrong. She writes about badass women, I write about badass women...seems like easy math. Ergo, I hit up my local library for her latest release.

Summary (From Book Jacket): Sixteen-year-old Maya is just an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. Sure, she doesn’t know much about her background – the only thing she really has to cling to is an odd paw-print birthmark on her hip – but she never really put much thought into who her parents were or how she ended up with her adopted parents in this tiny medical-research community on Vancouver Island.

Until now.

Strange things have been happening in this claustrophobic town – from the mountain lions that have been approaching Maya to her best friend’s hidden talent for “feeling” out people and situations to the sexy new bad boy who makes Maya feel… different. Combine that with a few unexplained deaths and a mystery involving Maya’s biological parents and it’s easy to suspect that this town might have more than its share of skeletons in its closet.

My Thoughts: Um, I loved this book so much that it's kind of embarrassing. Maya is determined, accessible, and very much a capital-letter Hero in the making even as she still has flaws and a ways to go before she figures out her place in the world. Rafe is a fantastic twist on the "bad boy with a heart of gold" trope. (He's not really a brooder, but he's not above using that image to get what he wants, which imo puts him in a much more genuine and original place of moral ambiguity than simply being a Rebel Without a Clue.) Maya is also Native, probably Navajo, though the full story surrounding her identity is not answered in his book. I thought that Armstrong did a fantastic job of flipping on its head the overwhelming whiteness of YA fandom, and doing it effortlessly. The skinwalker myth plays a role in this plot with all of the Native American characters, but it's not the ~mystical Indian~ stereotype (which Maya herself snarks about), and in fact has a pretty damned cool sci-fi twist that I can't wait to see filled out further.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

There's a poem etched at the feet of a tall green lady.

9/11 is my generation's Kennedy or King assassination: you will always remember what you were doing on that day. I was a junior in high school. I was excited about going to a concert the next night, mostly because the ticket had cost fifty bucks, which was no small amount of money for a sixteen year-old who didn't have a job. Naturally, it was cancelled. I was sitting in the classroom of my legally blind chemistry teacher (most people think it's the beginning of a joke when I say that, but nope, and he was also one of the finest educators that I've ever had) when the towers came down. The television in the classroom was supposed to be closed-circuit, but that took all of five minutes to work around.

9/11 is the beginning of a series of tragic anniversaries around the globe, most of which will not be used as political bludgeoning tools or merchandise, but will also not be granted the dignity of memorials and long moments of silence. Nearly eight years after the fact, 9/11 took my brother from me. I know that I am far from the only one who has a tragic anniversary made possible by 9/11, just as I know that not all of them are American. Many, maybe even most, of these dark days on the calendar were unavoidable. Doesn't make their ripples any less painful for all that they pass by without comment.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two Reviews: Fated and 30 Pieces of Silver, both by Carolyn McCray

I picked up several tasty noms during the Labor Day Indie Book Blowout. Two of them were written by an author that I've been meaning to check out for some time, one Carolyn McCray. I had heard good buzz about 30 Pieces of Silver, but Fated was strictly an impulse buy. It soon became clear why I had heard of one but not the other; McCray is a competent paranormal romance writer, but it's in thrillers that she shines.

Fated: It's Rome in the year 42 CE. Marcus Brutus is a Roman senator. (Yes, he's that Marcus Brutus.) Syrah is a tribeswoman from the area now known as Scotland, taken as a prisoner of war and sold as a slave. The two of them meet, sparks fly, and they are soon drawn into the political intrigue surrounding Julius Caesar's assassination and the realization that they are fated lovers destined to be reincarnated again and again at critical moments throughout history. It's quick and engaging, with a nice aura of mystery surrounding the reincarnation angle. McCray states in her author's notes that she set out with the intent of redeeming or at last layering one of history's major villains, but I honestly would have liked to see a little more bite to Brutus, even if he was being influenced by past-life knowledge. (The recent movie version of Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth didn't get a lot of love from critics or moviegoers, but my favorite part was how willing everyone was to let Marcus be a dick, even if he wasn't a historical character on anywhere near the scope of Brutus. Romans were Not Nice People, y'all.) The book also could have used a stronger history editor, especially with regard to Syrah.

30 Pieces of Silver: Okay, I'm not even going to try to front: this book was spectacular. It jumps from the years leading up to the Crucifixion to the present day and back again, with action happening at several different locations across the globe. Rebecca Monroe is a geneticist and historian looking for the "smart gene" that she thinks is a mutation responsible for every major leap forward in human history. Sgt. Brandt and an elite team of military operatives extract her from her research deep within the Ecuadorian jungle with bad news: there's been an explosion in Paris which has revealed the hidden skeleton of John the Baptist, and Monroe's former mentor is using it as one of many clues leading him to the actual body of Christ. (Which, if found, would disprove his Resurrection and thus divinity and unleash a whole hell of a lot of religious conflict worldwide.) What follows is a mad dash about the world as Monroe, Brandt, and Co. attempt to find the skeleton themselves before a crazed cult can kill them all. Oh, and they might have a traitor in their midst, Monroe and Brandt have simmering sexual chemistry (that they deal with like grown-ups and then get on with things, my favorite kind), and Brandt is a devout Catholic with major reservations about what they're doing and what it might reveal. "Don't drop F-bombs on the internet" is about the only rule of professionalism that I hold myself to, and not even particularly consistently, but I was cursing like a millworker when I hit the final twist of this book. Very fun, and I am definitely going to check out Plain Jane now. The comparisons to Dan Brown are going to be obvious, but I don't like Dan Brown, and I loved this.