Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Your characters are only as smart as you are

Have you ever read a book where the main character was supposed to be smart (or even a genius), but all of his or her "brilliant plans" seem like something that anyone with half a brain (or a good working knowledge of action movies) could have thought up? I don't feel like naming any examples here, but I've read (and writte) many a review where the "smart" character comes across as anything but.

There are two ways to fix this:

1. Think up smarter plans. (Hint: If you saw something like it in a movie, you should probably try to be more original.)

2. Stop telling us how "brilliant" your characters are. Let your readers decide for themselves.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stating the obvious


Dear person who wrote the "war on men" article,

I am one of many women who has career aspirations. More specifically, I aspire to a mixed career consisting of medicine, science, and writing fiction. Contrary to popular belief, my interest in these careers does not stem from a desperate need to "equalize the playing field between men and women." Rather, it stems from the fact that I like medicine, science, and fiction. In fact, I like these things enough that I am willing to dedicate a big part of my life to pursuing them. Yes, I acknowledge that, in order to be successful in these fields, I will have to compete with men (and other women). However, I am not pursuing these things for the sole purpose of competing with men.

You tell me that the reason that I won't find a husband is because I am interested in these things. I should give up my futile war against men career aspirations and accept that I will be happier living a balanced life as a housewife and mother. Except that I've done that. Well, okay, not the "wife" or "mother" part. But I have spent almost a year of my life unemployed, and a large part of that was while I was living in a house with small children. And you know what? I didn't enjoy that. Sure, there are other women who do, and I have no problem with that, but I wasn't happy.

You're telling me that by having a full career and pursuing my own happiness, I'm driving men away. Men want to feel like the providers, so I should sacrifice my own happiness in order to satisfy my husband's insecurities. So in other words, what you're telling me is that a) most men don't want me to be happy, and b) most men are insecure.

Now tell me this? If that is true, why the hell would I want to marry someone who is insecure and doesn't want me to be happy? Especially when I have tons of better options?

So please, stop going around blaming me for the "war on men." I am not at war with anyone, unless of course they try to tell me how to live my life. (Oh wait, you're doing that right now.) If a man doesn't like the fact that I have a job, that's his prerogative. However, it is also my prerogative to not date that person. Instead, I'm going to date a person who finds smart women sexy...because, you know, they exist, too.

Sincerely,
-Someone who shouldn't have to state the obvious

Oh wait, fuck. I just noticed that the article was written by a woman. (And no, I won't link to it, because that kind of bullshit doesn't deserve any more traffic.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Holidays

Notice how I never do YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday anymore? I stopped when I started working in the lab (7:30 AM lab meetings, guys. Not fun.)

But now that I'm on holiday vacation, I suddenly have all this magical free time. I can write my book, write my blog, read some stuff (A Clash of Kings, ftw!), run around St. Louis, drink too much, sleep as late as I want, and still have loads of time to waste on the internet. Best of all, I don't have to sit through Jersey traffic, so when I get home from whatever the hell I'm doing, I'm not too pissed and tired to be productive.

But don't I have to spend this time doing holiday and family things? Like cooking and cleaning? (Nope. We go to friends of the family for that.) Or traveling across the country to visit relatives? (My family breeds like rodents, so we save all our frequent flier miles for when somebody just had a baby.) Or going to Church? (We're Jews.) Or going to Synagogue? (We're not very good Jews.) Or watching parades and fireworks? (Patriotism is for sheep.) Or football? (I lack the attention span for a game that pauses every ten seconds.)

So, no, holidays do not get in the way of my writing.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Audiobook review: Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt


Have you ever had those moments where you hate, hate, hated a book, and then you get to the last chapter and it's suddenly awesome? That was my feeling about Keturah and Lord Death. A big part of this was when I read it on audio, the last chapter or so was unintelligible due to static. I was all prepared to write a terrible review, and then I went to the library and found a print copy of this book just so I could at least know how it ended. And that ending? Brilliant.

Anyway, let's start with my initial reaction: As I was listening to this, all I could think was "So the moral of this story is that if you're pretty, vain, and selfish, you can have whatever you want?" The vast majority of this book involves watching Keturah be a special snowflake while simultaneously trying to understand why all the characters are so enraptured by her. Death grants her a temporary reprieve because she's...brave...because she argues with him? Are you really expecting me to believe that Keturah is the only person who has ever argued with Death? I mean, for Christ sakes, if you're about to die why wouldn't you argue? It's not like you have anything to lose! But anyway, then she has to go home and save her town from the Plague and fall in love so that Death won't marry her. But then other people are dying, so every time someone needs to be saved, she goes back to Death and promises that if he saves just one more person, that she will marry him--unless of course she falls in love first. And the way she keeps putting off her death are ridiculous: she pulls a Scheherezade (telling part of a story every night so that he can't take her until he finds out how it ends). Because, apparently, Keturah is known for being such a good storyteller. Except that her story isn't exactly a story, but more of an underwhelming diary. And you can feel Death losing his patience, but he loves Keturah so much, because she's so brave and so pretty, that he just about gives her whatever she wants--and if you're anything like me, you're probably starting to smell an unhealthy relationship. You know this girl's a selfish bitch when all you want to do is give Death a hug and tell him he can do better.

So by the end of the story, it becomes fully obvious that Keturah's going to get everything she wants. Everyone is saved, she's going to win the pie competition and marry the handsome young lord, and even her friends get to fall in love. And Death is going to have to shirk back to his lair, having been completely taken advantage of by this random village girl. And then--bam! I don't want to spoil the ending, but let's just say that Keturah completely proved me wrong.

So do I recommend this book? Fuck, I have no idea. If you like something with a fairy tale feel and a small bit of introspection, then Keturah and Lord Death would probably be up your alley.

***

End of the Year Review Checklist:

Keturah and Lord Death (audio)
Cinder
The Sound of Blue (New Adult)
Shadow and Bone
Blame It on Paris (New Adult) (DNF)
A Game of Thrones
The Spirit Thief

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Adult Project: "Just Remember to Breathe" by Charles Sheehan-Miles


Goodreads Summary:


Alex Thompson’s life is following the script. A pre-law student at Columbia University, she’s focused on her grades, her life and her future. The last thing she needs is to reconnect with the boy who broke her heart.

Dylan Paris comes home from Afghanistan severely injured and knows that the one thing he cannot do is drag Alex into the mess he’s made of his life.

When Dylan and Alex are assigned to the same work study program and are forced to work side by side, they have to make new ground rules to keep from killing each other.

Only problem is, they keep breaking the rules.

The first rule is to never, ever talk about how they fell in love.

***

This book is my first venture into indie publishing. My deciding factor in picking up this book was the PTSD element. The author, Charles Sheehan-Miles, was in the army and currently works with disabled veterans, so I trusted him to handle this topic with the necessary depth and realism.

On that front, I wasn't disappointed. Dylan's trauma, both from his experience in the army and his difficult past, manifests in several different ways throughout the story. His physical health, mental acuity, emotional stability, and interpersonal relationships are all affected. This book, while written as a love story, is equally about his journey to self-acceptance.

However, I often felt that Alex wasn't quite so well-constructed. She's a driven pre-law student who grew up in a large family that values intellectualism. What's wrong with that? The fact that I didn't learn about any of those elements until at least halfway through the story. At the beginning, her entire existence and thoughts seemed to center on men--her relationship with Dylan, and her near-rape experience. (The first half of this book would not have passed the Bechdel test.) There were several moments where she came across as clingy, a problem that might have been avoided if she appeared to value something other than "the boy who broke her heart." That's not saying she didn't have a good arc though--she also did develop a sense of personal strength, and it was refreshing to the way she put her foot down with Dylan.

There were also moments where I wondered if this book had ever been edited. For instance, Joel's name first appeared as "Josh," which made me wonder just how many guys Kelly was currently dating--not that I would have a problem with that, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the author's intention.

I would recommend this book for anyone who likes stories about romance and personal growth.

***

Interested in this book? Goodreads is running a giveaway here.

***

Disclaimer: I received a review request and my copy of the book from the author. (Thanks, Charles!)

Other New Adult Project reviews

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The problem isn't her argument; it's how she frames it (AKA, some YA bloggers need to chill the fuck out)

Start by reading this.

And then read this. And this.

I will start by criticizing some things in the original article:

"I actually believe in manhood as something that’s real, that’s inherently different than womanhood, and that is, potentially, awesome. And I don’t find a belief in manhood to be reactionary or antifeminist — indeed, to blame the distrust of men on feminism would be wildly wrong, a cruel characterization of an optimistic movement. What feminism has made possible is an ability to have hope for new ways of integrating gender into the world. And I refuse to conflate a critique of the way male power is sometimes — even often — abused with a sweeping dismissal of manhood itself." 

One of the main issues with Mesne's article is she keeps trying to put things into boxes. (ie, that "manhood" = "power" and that the two are somehow separate from "womanhood."). The same applies to how she makes sweeping generalizations about YA lit and male presence in YA lit. Obviously, teenage boys in young adult literature span a wide range of archetypes and personalities.

But...

...what about the author's actual point?

"Well, Mesne's point is that boys in YA lit aren't manly enough." Or something.

*shakes head*

Yes, the author does say this: "Why is it that in YA literature — a genre generated entirely to describe the transition to adulthood — there is so much fear and ambivalence surrounding manhood?" But I don't think ranting about YA literature or males in YA literature was really the point she wanted to make. Sure, that is essentially what came out, but I think the gross generalizations she made were more of a frame for her argument than the argument itself.

Mesle's actual argument is here: "But YA literature shows us that in our cultural imaginary, morality has branched off from male social authority." And here: "I think that strength and compassion can be linked, that leadership is a responsibility, that privilege doesn’t need to be apologize for if it is generously used."

Whether or not Mesne is correct in attributing this observation to the majority of YA books, she still makes an excellent point: heroism doesn't have to mean throwing away your place in society. Power doesn't have to corrupt; rather, it can be used to enact necessary social change.

I don't agree with every element of that argument (more on this later) but it seems like several of the responses to the article neglected to even address that point. Mostly, I've seen a lot of "Leave my  genre alone, you ignorant tourist!"

I understand people getting reactive. YA is always getting shit upon by literary snobs and uninformed journalists. However, in this case, the backlash is unfair. For one thing, I have trouble seeing Mesle as a "YA Tourist." She gives several examples of modern YA books, and her examples span at least three or four different genres. She also mentions that she teaches courses about YA literature and gender theory (or at least that was what I understood). And while I think this article was poorly written, that the author needs to stop making sweeping generalizations about the entire YA genre, and that it was completely unnecessary to gender-ize this argument, I think that her ideas about coming of age, morality, and embracing power are worth a mature, civilized discussion.

And now that I've said that, it's time to address the author's actual argument:

As I said earlier, I don't think this needs to be a gender-ed argument. Yes, I acknowledge that males in our society have more power and privilege, but this topic would apply equally well to any type of power.

Basically, Mesne wants to see more portrayals of teenage males people who learn to embrace their social power and use it to better the world around them. In other words, why do we keep romanticizing (double meaning intended) the rebel/outsider? After all, real world rebels usually suck at actually accomplishing anything. So why can't we have heroes who, rather than rebelling, actually try to change the system from within?

Three reasons:

1. That's boring.

2. YA lit means they have to be teenagers. I suppose we could have a novel about a dystopian hero (or heroine) who works hard, studies hard, sucks up to bigshots and attracts supporters with his (or her) years of political experience and fine-tuned charisma, and then gradually transitions the society into a well-fed democracy...but wait. If this takes years, chances are these characters will no longer be teenagers by the end of the novel.

3. Rebellion is an important part of the teenage years--which means YA literature can't exist without it.

And now that NAlitchat has started, I'm ending this post. But I'm not finished with this argument. Point #3 is important enough to me that it's getting a whole post of its own.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Three Things To Do Before You Vote

(This is mostly all common sense, but it never hurts to re-iterate it.)

1. Learn about something other than the presidential race! The presidential race is the issue everyone talks about, but in reality, it's the issue that should mean the least to you. Unless you live in a swing state, your individual vote won't make an ounce of difference. (Thanks, electoral college system.) However, your vote does count in other matters. Who is running for Congress or Governor in your state? Learn about these people. What are their opinions, or, more importantly, their political experience. What about ballot initiatives (ie propositions and amendments)? The ballot initiatives are the only means through which you can have a direct voice. When you get to the polls, they will ask you about things like cigarette taxes, partisan/nonpartisan judge assignments, and other weird things written in lawyer-speak. Learn about these ahead of time so that you know whether or not you want to vote for them!

2. Check the facts. There is a lot of false or misleading information out there, and it's your responsibility to know the truth behind them. I recommend factcheck.org. Also, before you go around bashing things like the Affordable Care Act, you probably want to take a look at what's actually in there.

3. Dress appropriately! If you come to the polls wearing a shirt that endorses a particular party/issue/candidate, you will be turned away.

With all that said, my stomach is kind of knotty. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for tomorrow night.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Like I Said...

..."I might toss that project tomorrow."

Basically, the day after I decided to do NaNo (1200 words in), I woke up and realized I didn't want to do it anymore. It wasn't so much because of the 50,000 word panic. Rather, it was the idea of spending a whole month working  on a story that I, quite honestly, didn't give a shit about.

The whole "whatever" premise of the story was what first made it appeal to me: that I could spend the next month writing whatever the hell I wanted--as opposed to The Temple Well, which I absolutely love, but is somewhat of a hot mess. (I've been stressing out about the same scene for the last two months.) So I decided to take a break and try NaNo. I came up with a basic idea of a character and a premise, and it was moderately fun for about an hour. But by the time I went to bed that night, I realized how much the whole thing bored me and I threw it out the next morning.

I'm glad I tried NaNo, but this very brief experiment was enough to help me decide that it isn't for me. I'd rather spend the rest of my life slaving away and obsessing over a project I care about than half-assing something that means nothing to me.

For those who are continuing with NaNo, good luck to all of you! As for me, I'll still be here with that unfinished ten-year project that I sometimes call a novel.

***

Also, life update: One of my roommate and I are moving next month. Currently, we are subletting a rooms in a three-bedroom in Jersey City. Due to our apartment being kind of shitty (with slow wifi) and our other roommate (read: the guy who gets our rent money) being kind of a sketch-ball, we have decided to move. Yesterday, we looked at a place in Ironbound (the nice section of Newark) and fell in love with it.

I'm already planning our housewarming party!

(I am kind of sad about leaving Jersey City, though. I love Jersey City, or at least as much as I could love any part of New Jersey.)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo

I have decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. I made this decision two hours ago and since then I have written just over 500 words.

Note that I may retract this decision at any point during the next month. I might toss the project tomorrow, or even tonight.

Mostly, I just needed to get myself writing, but on something that wasn't The Temple Well. Or another project that was meaningful to me in any way. I need to write something that I can chug straight through without caring about whether I need to improve it or write with any certain goal in mind.

I'm doing this for the sole purpose of perfecting that essential "butt in chair" technique that I seem to fail at doing.

So Happy NaNo to all of you. If you're interested, my NaNo name is breaking_burgundy.

With that said, I have 1100 words left to write tonight.
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