Profligacy

Something that I remind myself of periodically is that even successful writers often only get about one book out a year. I know this because so many of the authors I love keep to about that timeline.

Kameron Hurley, for example, works full-time like me and still manages to have cranked out six books since 2010, along with a startling array of novellas and short fiction. Her book a year reminds me that I, too, can do it if I put my mind to the accomplishment. On the other hand, of course, you have forces of nature like Seanan McGuire, who, since her break-out novel in 2009 has published an astonishing 27 books. That averages to about 3 and a half every year. These women inspire me to do better, to write more, to strike a hard balance.

I am conscious that I, also, am an inspiration to someone. This is comforting on days when I feel that I cannot accomplish anything because so many things want my attention.

I published my first book, since taken down for editing, in 2013. I had been working on that book since 2009. It wasn’t ready to go up, but it taught me a great deal. I have since written thousands of words, including Mother of Creation and two unpublished novellas as well as editing an unpublished novel something like a thousand times, which I pitch to traditional publishers as time permits. I have a trunk of short stories, some of which have received good reviews from editors, though none have yet found a home. I am about two thirds of the way through Daughter of Madness. I have done all of these things while attending graduate school, job hunting, and finally holding down a full-time job. I am, by these counts, a writer.

Recently, I don’t just say I’m a writer. I feel like one. Making time for writing, while it puts additional pressure on me, reminds me that this is a part of who I am. It’s not something I can just stop being.

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Instead of being anxious and upset that I’m not writing, I remind myself that I will be writing tomorrow. That I will sit down in my cafe and put on my headphones and dip into another world, shaping it and creating it. That has done wonders for my stress levels and my productivity.

There are still so many things that try to pull me away from this part of my life. The job. My family and friends. The chores needed to make a house run. Volunteering. Planning a wedding. The internet. Even hobbies like reading and watching shows. They’re all things I need. They’re all things that make me who I am and it’s not a contest. For me to be me, I must do all of it. I must bring it all into balance, and really, isn’t that what we are all striving for? Balance?

Balance, to me, is probably the hardest skill and also the easiest. Once you find balance, life becomes easier, but finding and holding onto balance in a changing world is massively difficult. My competing wants can pull one another down as easily as they push one another up. And yet, when I strike that balance, however briefly, I am happier. My writing is better, my mood is better, I am a better lover and friend. It’s worth striving for, however elusive. It’s worth remembering that producing words takes something out of us, and that the well isn’t endless. Our profligacy is directly dependent on our ability to feed it.

The next time that you are down and out about something you want to accomplish, remember that no one does it easily. We are all balancing our own plates, overburdened with bounty as they sometimes are. The task is to walk in balance. That seems easy to say, and harder to do. It is both of those things. No one can tell you what balance will work for you, but find one that does. Compare yourself to others for inspiration, if it helps.

If it doesn’t, throw those comparisons out the window. Your writing, your act of creation, your passions – they don’t belong to anyone else. They belong to you.

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Werewolves and women

transformation
Not sure who drew this, but it is lovely.

In Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, which I just reread this week, the main character Elena Michaels tells a story. It’s the story of an old European legend about a werewolf that is ravaging a town. In response, the local lord goes out to hunt the werewolf. He lops off its paw as they fight. The werewolf flees. The paw becomes a human hand.

The nobleman is baffled by this. He returns to his castle, hand in tow, and goes to seek out his wife – only to find her cradling the bleeding stump of her arm. Realizing that she is the werewolf that he injured, he kills her. The aggressive, destructive feminine, revealed, is destroyed. There is no place for it in a wife and mother.

This story is related by Elena as a piece of trivia, but it’s really commentary on how she sees herself. What I want to get into today is precisely that – the way that female protagonists in werewolf novels see themselves. I’ve picked three examples: Elena Michaels in Bitten, Vivian from Blood and Chocolate, and Anna from Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs. Full disclosure: This review is full of spoilers. I really enjoyed all three of these books, but there are some interesting parallels in the way that werewolfism is portrayed psychologically for the characters that really struck me.

Of these three characters, none of them chooses to become a werewolf. Elena is bitten by her lover in an effort to keep her with him. The agent of her change is undeniably a man, who is forcing a choice on her for selfish reasons – a metaphorical rape if not an actual one. Anna is changed as a literal act of rape, and is raped and abused continually throughout her early months and years as a werewolf. Again, the agent of her change is a man, and this time not someone she was even considering sharing her life with, but a predator who picked her out for explicitly sadistic reasons. Vivian breaks with the other two stories in that she was born as a werewolf (or loup garoux, to use the novel’s parlance). While she doesn’t choose the life, it is not forced on her but a part of her identity. That said, most of Vivian’s conflict with her identity comes from the fact of her sexuality. As a young female werewolf whose father was the leader of the pack until his death, she is seen as a prize for all of the male werewolves, a way to secure their role as dominants. She is even tricked into a mating ritual with the most alpha werewolf, a man several years her senior. (She does this in order to protect her mother, and in the process essentially weds herself by pack law to a man she had previously been avoiding and rejecting outright. Her mother does not protest.) In other words, all three of these women come into conflict with themselves and their werewolf identities as a product of male objectification or violence, or some combination of the two.

As might be imagined, the main internal plot of these three novels revolves around, to some extent, the desire not to be a werewolf. There is also a corresponding romance plot, wherein each of the three women struggles to find a man who will both respect her and accept her violent nature. In two of the novels (Bitten and Blood and Chocolate) there is a moment where the main character finds herself, either involuntarily or otherwise, revealed as a werewolf, a ‘monster’ that is summarily rejected, to a nice, respectful human male. They are forced back into relationships with their werewolf partners in part because of the circumstances of this reveal – partners that have not previously been partners at all, but manipulators and abusers.

The repetition of this idea is a little troubling. Only Cry Wolf stays away from that particular trope. Anna meets her werewolf mate at the beginning of the book, as a consequence of her own rebellion against her abuse. He is able to emancipate her (with her help) from that abuse, and to help her adjust to her new life by showing her that she is not a monster at all. The violent nature that she has inherited is a product of the violent world she has found herself in, and her goodness as a human being is made no less because of that. For Anna, her wolf becomes a source of solace very early on, protecting her from the worst ravages of her abuse, an alternate personality that keeps her human psychology insulated from what happens to her.

For Elena and Vivian, while they eventually come to terms with their wolf identities, the wolf represents a cost. They are forced to give up their humanity (in the form of their symbolic human lovers) and are essentially trapped by the violent wolf nature. While they each eventually decide that the good things about their wolfness outweigh the bad, and while I reveled in that decision for them, the core of the conflict still meant that accepting their status as a werewolf lost them some of their status as humans. They faced the same conflict as the lady whose story Elena relates, and while their human lords didn’t kill them outright, the symbolic cutting of these two women from the lives of their human lovers is no less a death.

Werewolf books are books about transformation. I’m a huge fan of them, and as mentioned I enjoyed all three of these books. I would still recommend them to people on the basis of my deep werewolf love, and because the main characters are complex and often relatable. I would argue they are relatable because werewolves are relatable, especially for women. The sense that one must conceal one’s negative, aggressive qualities, must play the quiet and passive feminine creature, is drawn out explicitly in Bitten especially. The ability to return to a primal identity as the feminine destroyer goddess – Diana the huntress, Kali the eater of men – is a fascinating and seductive one. But there are definitely troubling overtones in a version of this transformation that relies entirely on males – whether a mate as in the case of Elena, a predator in the case of Anna, or her father’s lineage in the case of Vivian. I would love to see a werewolf book that didn’t lean on these tropes of male domination and abuse.

Guess I’ll just have to write it.

Some thoughts on audiobooks and performance

I may have mentioned that I have recently been listening to a few audiobooks. It started last summer, when my fiance forced me to listen to Dune through his Audible.com subscription. I say forced like he had to twist my arm, but it wasn’t hard. I hadn’t read Dune yet (I know, bad Amanda) so it was something that I wanted to knock off my list. And he loved it so much, which was surprising, since he typically is not a huge fan of fantasy or science fiction.

Anyway, I listened to Dune. And then I listened to The Fifth Season. And then I downloaded a few nonfiction books, and most recently I listened to The Water Knife.

What’s so interesting about each of the books above is that they are read by very different narrators. Dune, for example, is read by a white man. His voice is vaguely British, and there are all sorts of little flourishes and sound effects that really brought me into the story – blowing wind on the desert, that sort of thing. It was almost like listening to a radio play. The Fifth Season is narrated by a black woman, which is appropriate because both the author and the characters are black. The narrator of this book doesn’t do as distinct a set of voices for the different characters, relying more heavily on dialogue tags. Her voice is rich, and listening to a black woman tell the story within the context of the plot – that of slavery and prejudice and racial violence – is particularly chilling. Lastly, The Water Knife is narrated by a woman who, based off her proficiency in Spanish narration, is at least fluent in the language if not a native Hispanic Latina. It was fascinating to hear her manipulation of different accents – the Mexican-born Angel, a man, was voiced very differently from the probably-Canadian Lucy, a woman, for example, or even the bilingual Texan girl Maria. The way that she managed to capture their underlying identities with accent was fascinating.

Listening to these different books has taught me more about writing than I could have imagined it would. Before listening to these separate humans from separate backgrounds narrating these stories, I had sort of imagined that every book had a firm, definite way it should ‘sound’. That is to say, emphasis should be put on certain words and not others. There was a way I read, and I interpreted that way as the way the author intended the words. Now, I’m not so sure. there have been several moments when listening to these books where I have found myself absolutely taken aback by a stylistic choice in delivery of a sentence or paragraph. I could, in those moments, hear the sentence as it was spoken, and hear, in my head, the way I would have interpreted it from the writing. These two things did not match up. The whole text transformed before me, unlocking new meanings, clarifying characters. It was an epiphany each time it happened.

It makes me realize just how little control I, as a writer, have over what the reader will understand of my work. Sure, we writers do our best to be clear. We comb through, searching for misunderstandings or bulky phrasing. But in the end, the reader has their own voice, their own experiences, that must be laid out over the story we have made. We’ve provided, perhaps, the line drawings. The reader has to color in everything. The picture will always be of more or less the same thing, but that doesn’t mean that any two readers will end up with identical pictures. I don’t think I had ever really understood that before. I certainly had never realized that all of those ways of coloring inside the lines are totally sensical and valid. That all of them can add something, some essential essence, to a story.

So, in closing, I’m very excited about listening to more audiobooks, and about working to get my book into audio form. Speaking of, the audiobook should be done over the next week or so. I will be reviewing it and then it will be ready to publish! I’ve still got to get the cover finalized for upload, so I’m looking at a August 20th roll-out, in all likelihood.

Anime: love it and hate it

Warning, folks. This is a long one.

There are some things that really exhaust me when it comes to anime.

I’ve been watching anime off and on for pretty much as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was totally hooked on Sailor Moon, and the Japanese live-action import of Power Rangers. I would sing the Sailor Moon theme song (the English version, of course – I was only slightly bilingual at the time, having not moved on to any other language besides Spanish) and do flips on the monkey bars at school. My favorites were Sailor Venus, because she was the strongest, and Sailor Mars, because she was the prettiest.

Anime dropped off the radar for a couple of years after that. A notable exception was when my dad brought home Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke sometime around middle school. That film blew my mind, needless to say, and remains one of my favorite movies. Not long after, my brother and I discovered Toonami, then airing typical shounen animes like Dragonball Z and Inuyasha. We also encountered some heavier stuff. Wolf’s Rain comes to mind as a particularly phenomenal and scarring work in later years. My dad really hated for us to stay up and watch anime, because he didn’t want us up after he had gone to bed. The anime only came on after midnight, so it was a constant battle.

There were no shoujo anime that I remember on Toonami. The stories were all about huge battles and epic quests. This in and of itself is not a bad thing – I’m a fan of huge battles and epic quests. But it’s notable that the only female characters that I really remember from the anime in my teen years are the cast of Outlaw Star, which has remained one of my favorites to this day, and Kagome from Inuyasha. I don’t think I ever remember seeing a woman on the episodes of Dragonball that I watched. The women on screen, with the exception of Aisha and Suzuka, were not expected to do anything particularly. They were pawns to the power they held, dragged into situations far beyond them. At least Kagome and Melfina managed to find themselves eventually, which may be why I remember them so fondly.

As an adult, I have continued to watch anime. I even collect it now. I have logged hours and hours. Every once in a while, an anime will come along that blows my mind. Akatsuki no Yona, Serei no MoribitoPrincess Jellyfish, Durarara!!!, to name a few. And of course you have to love the old classics. But I find that there are some tropes that repeat over and over that can be really exhausting for me.

This week, I am watching Kuromukuro, a Netflix original. A friend recommended this one to me, actually. I was skeptical – I’m not a huge fan of mecha anime outside of classics like Gundam Wing. It’s been done, and done again, and then done some more. But the first episode was interesting, the premise kind of caught my attention, so I’ve been watching it. And I’m so frustrated.

Kuromukuro falls into a tired trope that reoccurs often in anime as an art form, especially in shounen anime. There is a girl. She sort of has an identity? She has people who surround her, tenuous relationships, unformed dreams, so I guess that counts. But those dreams never go anywhere. Unforeseen circumstances catch her up, and she ends up bobbing in the wake of some powerful male figure. Usually she cries about it somewhere in there. He needs her around to accomplish his goals, and he may pay lip service to her autonomy, but the plot itself never backs up his altruism. She just doesn’t do anything. She’s a magical object. You only need her to make the machine run. A glorified key that can talk.

I’d almost rather that girl didn’t exist. I’d almost rather the story just was about the man. At least it would not feel so degrading. There are insipid people about in the world, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you might even need them for something. But unless it moves your plot, your message, to write that character, I personally don’t want to read about them. That would be true if they were male or female.

The issue is simply that these weak, deadweight characters are so often female that it almost becomes synonymous. When every woman’s story is hijacked by a man, when her only powers are domestic or romantic in a plot driven by glorious battles, it’s incongruous. And it sends a message that women’s stories are only worth telling if there is an interesting hypermasculine character to carry them forward. I’m not here for that. I’m not here for lazy writing that falls back on tired tropes about the uselessness of women.

Anime can be a wonderful medium. I have had my brain stretched so many times by this stuff, and I love it. I love Japanese, too. It has this speckled rhythm that pleases me, and the writing system is fascinating. But I do get tired sometimes. As with all mediums, there are genres and tropes which exhaust me. I’m sure this is not the last time that I will be disgusted by a writer’s treatment of a female character, either. I won’t stop watching anime anytime soon, but I’m definitely going to have to take a break from shounen for a bit after this experience.

Summer slump and life changes

Did I mention that I have a new job?

The job is awesome. It is closer to my house, for one, so I can (and have, once) bike in. I get a bike stipend if I do it enough times as congratulations for offsetting my carbon footprint. This is pretty much my jam. It takes me five minutes instead of 45 to get to the office by car. The amount of energy I have without an hour and a half of car time every day is stupendous. The job itself involves doing something I love and that I am very passionate about. This is not to say my previous job didn’t involve interesting things that I was passionate about, but I am more excited about this stuff as a rule.

That said, changing jobs is definitely a taxing experience. There are all sorts of things I don’t understand about what I’m supposed to be doing here. There’s this weird system of tracking hours on all of the projects I have. There are all of the projects I have. There was the sudden rush to finish all of the things at my old job and now there is a sudden rush to know all of the new things at this job. Part of my day every day is just shrugging. And emailing people asking desperately for enlightenment.

Plus, it’s summer. Literally birthdays every other weekend that I can’t miss and so much tempting hiking and kayaking to do.

Given all that it has been incredibly difficult to focus on anything to do with my writing.

Ideally I don’t have time to get bogged down in the minutiae of my day-to-day existence. Eating? Working? Pffft. There is a book I want out by winter. Realistically? I don’t have the time to not get bogged down in these details. Writing, sadly, still does not pay the bills. It will probably never pay the bills, at least not until I am pleasantly retired. (And at that point aren’t the bills still being paid by the work of the day job? So yeah, maybe never.)

That said, I spent last night typing up some of the words I have managed to scratch out over something like the past month. There weren’t a lot of them, but glacial progress is still progress. And I feel connected to the WIP for the first time in weeks. Now it’s just a matter of deepening that connection and climbing back on the wagon.

The advantage, too, is that I have all this aforementioned time freed up from the lack of commuting. Which is like…the best. A changing schedule means my normal writing times have also gotten rearranged, but once I can get that figured out I am sure that I will have more consistent time for this book. Which should breathe life into my stalled out publishing timeline.

And, happy thing, I’m starting the process to get a cover for this book a little early, meaning now! This is going to be a great thing from a promotional perspective, because I can use it for cover reveals and giveaways. So be looking out for updates on that!

It’s going to be great, folks. I just have to be patient. And stop spending an inordinate amount of time playing in the sun on the weekends, maybe.

 

Some things I’m looking forward to, Part II

A week ago I posted about the films/TV shows that I’m looking forward to seeing adapted from some favorite books, and now I’m going to list some books and novellas that I’m very excited about. None of these are out yet, but they’re all on my wish list. I am only going to mention the ones that I am the most excited about, though, because my wish list is very long.

Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal

This book. Really. I’ve read the beginning and it looks so good. I am a huge fan of alternate re-tellings of WWI/WWII anything. One of my all-time favorite series was Martha Wells’ The Fall of Ile-Rien, which is set in a fantastical psuedo-Britain which is being invaded by a fantastical psuedo-Germany. There are many dissimilarities, but the specter of such an all-encompassing industrial conflict is something that I feel really drawn to for some reason. I think it’s a time period that is vastly underutilized in fantasy and historical fantasy, so I am so excited to see a book set in this time. Not to mention that Mary Robinette Kowal is known for the quality of her research as well as her prose. While I have enjoyed her Glamourist Histories books, I’m actually really excited to see her writing liberated from the prose style favored by Jane Austen and her contemporaries, which can sometimes feel a little staid for me. I also love this cover. Just love it. It feels simultaneously ethereal and tense, which is a bit what talking to ghosts would feel like I imagine.

Once Broken Faith – Seanan McGuire

I’m also looking forward to Full of Briars, which is a novella coming out in the same world. Seanan McGuire’s October Daye novels were something I was a bit slow to get into, but I’m so glad I stuck around. She has become one of my absolute favorite authors. She seems to really know how to speak to the human condition, which is what I look for in a novel or similar project. I trust McGuire to lead me down interesting roads and cut me to the quick. She also writes as Mira Grant, and one of my favorite series which I have read recently is the Newsflesh trilogy. I would pay all of my money to see that trilogy made into a Netflix mini-series or series of movies. Like all of my money. Actually seeing any of McGuire’s stuff on the screen would be ideal in a perfect future. Supposedly some of the rights have been acquired for Newsflesh and the October Daye series, but there’s not be any indication of production (and that was really another blog post so I should probably get back to books).

Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

I have to admit, I add this last book tentatively. I’m watching it because it has gotten great reviews in the pre-readings and the concept looks like my jam. However, I haven’t read anything by this author previously. My favorite story-line from A Song of Ice and Fire is definitely Arya’s, so with a narrative about an orphaned girl being trained as an assassin I am very interested from the get go. Plus three suns which never set? That sounds brutal for world-building purposes and I’m excited to see how it is executed. Also, I was totally pulled in by what I believe is the Kindle cover or ARC cover perhaps, which I’ve included below because it is probably one of my favorite covers that I’ve seen recently. I of course don’t own the image, but I wish I did.

Anyway, that is it for things I am waiting for right now. I also have a lot of other books on my to read list, but there is unfortunately only so much time in the day. I’m sure you’ll be hearing about the things I get to in future posts!

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Things I’m looking forward to, Part I

I mentioned on Twitter a week or so ago that I was really excited about a couple of upcoming movie/TV adaptations of books that are supposed to be either in production, have been announced, or are coming out this year. A friend of mine asked that I create a list and I thought the blog would be a good medium for it, so here goes! This is part one of two, since I plan to do a second blog post about upcoming books and novellas that I am excited about.

Annihilation – This first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy is ridiculously good and in the process of being made into a movie! The team includes the director from Ex Machina and one of the main leads, Oscar Isaac (who I may sometimes call Oscarito because he is adorable).

I do have some reservations about this movie adaptation, though. Annihilation has minimum of six main female characters (all currently cast according to IMDB, though I’m not sure who is what yet). There are two male characters that I can think of that might be construed to have lines in a screen adaptation of the book – the Biologist’s husband and the lighthouse keeper. So far there are four men cast, three on IMDB and one which was announced on Twitter recently. The cast in general looks diverse, which is a nice change, but it does worry me that what should be pretty much an entirely female driven movie and was an entirely female driven book is going to somehow be undercut with an excess of male leads, especially since a lot of the male cast seem to be relatively famous. I’m still crossing my fingers. It helps that the author is directly consulting at least some of the time on the adaptation.

The Girl with All the Gifts – There’s already a trailer for this one, but you can read the book summary here. I loved this book – it’s a nice new take on a zombie novel with a very deep, literary focus instead of a focus on action. I am not sure how that will translate into the movie, but the trailer is good. Despite the main character being a young girl, the book is definitely adult. I see some vacillation here in the trailer on the branding, though. I expect this to be a very different movie from the book, but still good and interesting.

My biggest worry with this is how they will successfully capture in screenplay/acting the central theme of the book, which was, arguably, how adults sin against children. It’s an important aspect of two of the main characters and how they live (and die, in at least one case). It will be interesting to see how that is communicated.

Oryx and Crake – I am not tracking this one as hard, mostly because I loved this trilogy so much and I’m terrified they are going to mess it up. It’s been licensed by HBO for a television series. HBO does not have a great record for truthful adaptations (True Blood) but at least this series has the advantage of being complete, with each of the books able to function as a semi-standalone. We won’t end up with another Game of Thrones fiasco (which is literally wounding my reader’s heart every Monday. Please stop posting spoilers, internet). That said, we all know how tempting it is for TV adaptations to just keep running on and on if they make decent money, and I can see this work really suffering from that.

I am, however, very excited for the potential Netflix adaptation of Alias Grace. Netflix has a much better record for adapting clear, concise stories (I’m thinking Jessica Jones here) so I’m hoping they will bring some of that to Alias Grace if production ever kicks off. While I haven’t read this book yet, it is apparently based off of a true story and seems like it will have a gritty, cerebral crime-solving feel to it. I can totally get behind that. I’ve also heard rumors of a potential Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s apparently a great year for Margaret Atwood adaptations.

Lastly, of course people are excited about The Dark Tower and American Gods (check out the images for American Gods here). I’ll totally be sitting my butt down to watch those, but plenty of people have already said more than me about that source of excitement.

A more comprehensive list of upcoming movie/TV adaptations is available at Tor.com, so if there’s something you’re excited about that I didn’t mention leave a comment telling me why you liked the book! I’m always looking for additions to my reading list.