truly, madly, deeply

I will be honest with you– in the past, I have been guilty of writing things that weren’t truly reflective of who I really am. I’ve written things just to try to sell them, just to try to break into a particular market, and written things that don’t actually reflect my ideals, thoughts, hopes, and morals.

Which is why I don’t really like to dig back into my past and publish my old stories and poetry. There’s very little in there that I am actually proud of, very little that I would want my grandchildren to read, so to speak. I wrote things that I thought would please my “market” and they are embarrassing to me now. Why did I write that, I ask myself. Was it really that important to sell a short story?

Some writers will tell you that writing “to a market” is just what you do. It’s the accepted practice– if someone wants to publish an anthology about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, then you write a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, even if you heartily wish that clowns were all stripped of their red rubber noses and forced to work at the DMV.

In some cases, the ideas spawned by certain markets, like anthologies and magazines, may, possibly, once in a blue moon, actually rouse your best creative force and you can write a heartfelt tale that sears the page in its beauty and passion. But mostly you’re just hurriedly grinding something out in the very slim hope that the editor will like it. Even though the editor is mainly counting on their friends and acquaintances to fill the anthology and is only holding out one or two slots for unknown writers, of course. And then you’re stuck with a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, which you now have to try to foist off on another market. (Those other markets know that this will happen, and cringe for months reading freaky clown stories.)

Sometimes, though, you’re just writing in a certain genre and you absorb the mores and cultural assumptions that are common to that market. Cultural appropriation is terribly common in science fiction and fantasy (ask me sometime about alien worlds who all seem to have desert areas with heavily draped peoples who call the area Something-istan. I start to foam at the mouth, I have heard.) So is writing about gay characters even if you yourself are not gay. Being progressive sells, that’s the heart of the idea.

I wrote a story once about a young woman in 1600-1700s Indonesia who was banished from her village, became bonded to a cursed knife, and then had the problem of how to remove the knife. Long story short: she gets her hand cut off, but decides, with the help of her lesbian lover, that the cursed knife must be destroyed for the good of her people. Because of the religious powers that were in that particular region at that time, I ultimately had my character pray to the Islamic god for his help in destroying the knife.

Now, if I was writing the story today, I would have found a way to leave Islam out of it ENTIRELY. Not simply to avoid offending the people of that faith (although that would be part of it) but also because it was just a hasty addition at the end, written under time pressure, and it wasn’t a very satisfying ending to the tale. I would have preferred it if the woman could have found some other ghost of her own people to banish her vile uncle’s spirit.

I guess it was satisfying enough to sell it, anyway– it was published in 2002 in a cd-rom anthology called “Extremes 5: Fantasy and Horror from the ends of the earth.” For, hah, an equal share of the profit. Sadly, after the editor had taken out his expenses, there was no profit, so basically all I got for tacking on this hasty religiously ambivalent ending was a copy of the cd-rom and a cramped hand from signing the sleeve inserts. Oh, and I was out about ten bucks for postage.

I would have made it more clear, I think, that the main character was only “gay” in the sense that she was heartbroken and suicidal and that she was responding to the other woman’s kindness and love. Two broken people clinging to each other in a storm. If it had been a man, she would have probably run in fear after her lifetime of abuse by men. Situationally, the gay character made sense. I don’t regret putting it in, because it was true to the character and the story basically wouldn’t have worked without there being someone else there to help her. She would have just given up and died, otherwise. I wanted people to feel that sorrowful weight upon her, and then to see at the end that she was, in fact, still broken– the love had not fixed the wounds in her heart. It just enabled her to endure the pain.

So I have decided that this week, in celebration of the idea of doing things “right” and true and writing from your passion and not your fear, I am going to republish this story, A Dagger in the Rain, on Kindle. I will be doing some editing to it first, fixing that problematical ending with the unneeded influence of an outside god. As an outsider writing about a distant historical place, and about ghosts in that place, nothing is ever going to be perfect. Even Joseph Conrad had to read several books about the Indonesian peoples before he dared to write about them, because he knew he wouldn’t get everything right without years of experience that he didn’t have.

The first step is going to be to find the disc. I know I just moved it into my closet right before Christmas! Then a quick edit and rewrite, and I will make it available for a nominal price on Amazon’s kindle page. I’d start tonight but I can feel my Ambien kicking in and my typing is starting to fall apart.

I am excited, I think, to try to make a story closer to my true vision for it. There are not many stories that I would bother fixing in this way– mostly my ghost stories, for those have always been the ones closest to my heart. When you’ve lived in a haunted house, ghost stories are always interesting ones.

My novel, thankfully, is only “not me” in one respect: I wrote it with a male protagonist. In hindsight, I still feel that he’s the best character for the job. I definitely wouldn’t want to put a female through all the stuff those guys get up to in their desert journey. But the fact that I wrote this novel to fit in with MY vision of what a fantasy hero should act like and do and feel and dream . ..  that makes it so pleasing to me. I didn’t sell out for this novel. Raban and Valerius are just who they need to be, where they need to be, doing what they need to do. And it was a labor of love to get them there.

I’ll announce the release when it posts. 🙂


Last Post . . . no, I mean the novel

So, I had urgent business that I had to finish before I dusted off my novel and got it ready for publication.

I had to finish reading Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy “Parade’s End.”

You see, the fourth novel in the book, “Last Post,” is a hard slog at first. You’d think that, after having hacked your way through the thickets of confusing prose in the first three novels, the fourth would be a breeze, but you’d be wrong. Because suddenly Ford throws a curve-ball and abandons his protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, leaving him entirely out of the book until the last two pages. So we’re thrust into the point of view of a bunch of people who have mostly been in the background, and the epic study of one obstinate man becomes more of a gossipy pursuit of truth through the various bits of information these characters reveal.

It’s jarring. But, having resolved to finish the book, I kept at it until I found the groove. Which came, oddly enough, from the one completely incurious character in the novels.

The other characters are always wondering about something, obsessing about something, sifting through memories and possibilities until you’re quite certain that all of them are more than a little bit crazy. None of them are introspective; they’re constantly obsessed with the actions and possible actions of others. When we finally get dropped into the POV of Tietjens’s sister-in-law, it’s refreshing. She’s completely incurious, to the point where it’s ridiculous. After so many hundreds of pages devoted to worrying about people, here is a woman who just wants to bottle some cider. Properly, the French way.

Graham Greene famously hated “Last Post” and tried to strike it from the tetralogy completely. It’s easy to see why– it’s so different in tone and style from the first three novels that it seems like an ugly duckling. But by the end of the third book, the only real “change” that Tietjens is capable of making has been made. We know him, we know how sentimental and hard-headed and absurd he is. What we haven’t seen before is the resolution of the conflict between the women of the novels and the fallout from WWI. Those are both messy topics, and not in the least anything that Tietjens himself would want to even think much about. It’s a much prettier ending to end the series with the third book– it has a classic romantic ending– but it’s much more psychologically satisfying to see the whole darn mess for what it is.

And that’s what “Last Post” gives us: a real conclusion. And I couldn’t move on from Ford’s books, mentally, until I’d moved past them. After the horrible shadow of jealousy and despair was dismissed, well, we can all move on. Until then, the reader knows that there’s no actual happiness in that romantic ending, because the banshee of Sylvia’s desire is going to keep haunting Tietjens and all his affairs.

Now that I’m finished reading the series, however, my lovely excuse for not working is gone so I’d better get busy.

Reading novels like these, however, does set the bar that little bit higher. How can I be happy with my work if I don’t try for “art?” I can’t, of course. But it helps to remember that Ford wrote dozens of novels, of which only this series and “The Good Soldier” are actually given any renown. Not everything we write really hits the mark. And sometimes, like this novel, it may hit it for some people and decidedly NOT hit it for others.

 

 


Back from the Dead

Okay, so WordPress tells me that I haven’t updated this blog in 4 years. That’s not strictly true, it was June of 2013 when I decided to take a break from blogging about writing, and basically from writing itself.

What happened to keep me from going BACK to writing sooner than this, you ask? Well, it was a slightly unanticipated pregnancy that turned into a high risk nightmare, which turned into a baby in the NICU, which turned into me being somewhat obsessed with said baby for the past couple of years.

He’s 2 1/2 now and doing great. Half my kids are now legally adults. The other half are homeschooled, which has freed me from the logistical dramas of dealing with the public school system. (Night owls do not do well when their kids have to be on a school bus at 6:30 in the morning. Just saying.)

So, I find myself in the enviable position of having my “headspace” freed up enough that the urge to write is coming back and the stories are starting to nag at me to be finished. And writing Facebook posts is just not cutting it. I can tell them lots of stories about my kids and how badly my day went and what I cooked for dinner, but if I start rambling on about dragons or werewolves or literature or mythology, they look at me kinda funny. And I always have *something* to say about books or television or movies. Keeping it all inside is frustrating, although I have to admit that if I *had* liveblogged Season 6 of Game of Thrones, I may have gone mad trying to convey how much I hated about it.

Anyway. I’m back. . . . I’m bad. I’m nationwide. (hat tip ZZ Top.)

 


Tiptoe

I’m reaching here, in other words. Writing a writer’s blog is something of a self-delusion– writing about writing will never get real writing done.

So I am thinking of retiring this blog and just focusing on my other one for the time being.

I am trying to justify blogging at all . . . I can always find a justification, though, so never fear, my faithful three readers. I will still blog.

This spot, however, may disappear.

 


Books, books, books

So I had a library fine on my account, 60 cents, for four days late fee on a book that I forgot to return last week. No biggie, really, except that I have about 15 books that are due to return tomorrow unless I renew them online.

And our library, as yet, doesn’t let us pay fines online.

So, at 8pm, I made a quick trip downtown to our renovated Central Library. It’s usually pretty nice, with a (relative) abundance of books compared to the other branch libraries in town. Hubs came with me to see the place.

Of course, as we walked in the door, hubs realized he’d left his wallet at home. And I had no cash on me . . . .

Luckily, there were still two quarters in the library bag, and between us we scraped up ten cents in pennies to pay the rest of the fine. So, we walked in . . ..

And the central air conditioning was out. Ugh, it was like a sauna in there. No wonder the librarian who took my sixty cents was such a jerk. Or maybe he’s just a jerk– dunno, first time I’ve ever seen him. Anyway, I paid my fine, which freed me to browse the new books section.

Oh man, it’s like turning a pill-addict loose after-hours in the Walgreens.

I found Pope Benedict’s Infancy Narratives, which I’ve been waiting for for ages. And a book about art forgery. And one about life in the fall of czarist Russia. And one about dragons. And a book about ducks and geese. And a new Ruth Rendell book. And a thriller. And something about a librarian with Tourettes.

All lovely new books with the infinite promise that unread new books hold. Now, I shall be toddling off to read, probably for much longer than is good for me.


Rain after drought . . .

So, yes, the rain has fallen and I’ve actually begun to write new stuff again. No, it’s not exactly what I planned on writing, but it’s . . . good. Different. It’s taking some of the conventions of the genre and up-ending them in a way that (I think) has some interesting ramifications.

In a way, it’s a departure both from “Harry Potter” and Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians”, steeped in science fiction, Star Wars, and hours and hours of actually dealing with children.

I’m excited about it.

But, I’m not going to spill it all out and waste that creative energy. I’m really happy to be writing again, though, and writing something with some meat to it. Flash fiction is all very well and good, but it’s hors d’oeuvres and not dinner. This is a lot more substantial fare.

Happy.


Back at it– and taking lessons in humility

So, yeah, I’m taking Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course in Flash Fiction. Because, well, why not? I haven’t written anything substantial in months and I meant to write ALL SORTS OF THINGS and yet, the time, it breezes past me so quickly that I’ve begun wondering if I’m actually moving backwards.

All of this writing downtime is doing one thing for me, though– it’s giving me time to go back and think through some of my more egregious mistakes and try to figure out ways around those kinds of mistakes. Things like my habit of hurrying things to submission before they’ve undergone real re-writes, and not getting any good feedback, and forgetting to read things through out loud. I’ve had a lot of time to work through a new picture book (in my head) although I haven’t written any of it down as yet. I have serious FEELS about this story, so I want it to be right before it hits the page in a serious way.

Anyway, what this means is that I will be writing again, even if it’s just “writing to learn” and not writing from passion. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll do a better job with the next story I write. I am getting sick of my own habit of rushing things to completion before the actual mental work of thinking it through has been done. I’m getting sick of not having some success, too. But you have to treat the illness before the symptoms get any better, so I will take my medicine and wait for the fever to break.

So to speak.


Jitters

So, I am having an MRI this week, to check the condition of my spine.

I had one seven or so months ago, and they found something of slight concern, so this is a follow-up to that, as well as an exploration of what might be causing my lower back pain.

No big whoop, in other words, but I am jittery and nervous as it draws closer. I am more than slightly claustrophobic, and being crammed into an MRI tube with your head in restraints is NOT my idea of a fun fun time. I’ve been trying to talk positively to myself about it, to be cheerful and look on the bright side, but somewhere inside me, there is a chattering squirrel of anxiety who is jumping from branch to branch and freaking out about this whole idea.

So far, I haven’t been able to shut up that particular rodent of thought. As much as I try to talk myself into it, I can’t quite escape my own illogical fears. So, I have a couple Valium prescribed by my doctor to try to at least get me through the process.

Problem is, I could sure use one NOW. 🙂

 


Gratuitous Gore in Game of Thrones

Caution: Extensive Spoilers Ahead! For both the Song of Ice and Fire books AND the Game of Thrones HBO series! Abandon Hope, All Ye who Enter!

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So, anyway, last night I finally caught up with Game of Thrones on my DVR. What can I say, it’s been a busy week. Anyhow, I was generally pleased by the changes that the tv series has made to the book storyline– at this point, I am almost ready to call it a completely alternate universe of Westeros and be done with comparing the two universes. Most of the main characters have been improved hugely beyond their characterization in the texts, and many of the pacing problems of the books have been avoided. One tiny little thing niggled at me, though, when the show was through . . . a tiny pinkie finger, and the torments thereof.

You see, in “A Storm Of Swords”, the book that Season 3 of the show is mostly following, we do not see or hear of the fate of Theon Greyjoy. He basically disappears from the text, only reappearing in the later books, transformed utterly by the experiences he’s had in the interim. Those experiences, at the hands of the bastard of Bolton, are essentially tortures that are almost unimaginable in cruelty and sadism. Thankfully, GRRM doesn’t subject us to every detail of them. The aftermath, and the slow reveal of all Theon’s missing appendages and broken bits, is horrifying enough.

The television series, on the other hand, has subjected us now to several scenes of graphic torture. I have to say that I entirely disapprove of this– not just because torture is sickening to watch (which it IS), but because it’s a lousy choice to portray something so graphically for such an extended time. Eventually, the audience recoils– if you’ve ever watched the movie “Casino”, I bet you can remember the point at which you sat back and said “Now, this is just sick for sickness’s sake.” There comes a point where the mind, in order to protect itself, just shuts down the empathy section and refuses to care about these characters anymore.

A lot of people had that reaction to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, so it’s not just mobster movies that can tilt the emotional pinball machine. By choosing to hit us with graphic scenes of torture, both physical, as in the first scene of having his feet broken in the screws and the later scene where his finger is flayed, and psychological, as in the mind-boggling false escape and the later game of lies, the television series risks the very real possibility that the audience will just dissociate themselves from the events. I’ve read several comments on various websites that lead me to believe that a lot of people are having that reaction already. They’ve gone from squirming in their seats in horror to just walking out of the room to get a soda or something.

In a way, it’s a sort of PTSD of TV. Not to trivialize the very real disorder, but for sufferers OF those types of disorders, especially, these scenes may be unbearable even to read about.

I think GRRM chose the right path in his books. By letting us slowly see the results of torture instead of the torture itself, we are allowed to gradually build up some feelings for the broken betrayer of the Starks. He’s done hideous things, but what was done to him was, in a way, his payment for those crimes. The Theon at the end of Book 5 is not the Theon of Book 1. He’s been shattered and is slowly piecing himself back together. It’s one of GRRM’s better pieces of characterization.

By showing us the torture, perhaps the show’s directors felt they were making sure we knew that Theon paid his dues in the dungeons of the Dreadfort. I think it’s too much of an appeal to our worst sides, too much like what people call “torture porn.” There’s a faintly lascivious air . . . which is made even more apparent in the final scene of torment of the episode “The Climb” . . . a scene that I knew was coming but was very nauseated by anyhow.

I had a feeling that the character of “Ros” on the show was due for a death– she had no more real role to play in the events to come, and her usefulness was pretty much over once Sansa and Littlefinger went on to their next destination. I was expecting her to be written out . . . maybe not expecting her to be explicitly shown to be the harlot that Littlefinger sent to an unpleasant demise at the hands of a sadist. But her death scene, in her ripped clothes and cross-bow-crucified pose, was another instance of “too much” in the graphic (and sexualized) violence scale. Mercifully, the scene was brief, but the image lingers in the mind. It’s reminiscent of the queerly obsessive attention that we still pay to the Jack the Ripper Murders. Murder, when it involves a prostitute, seems to become another sort of “service” that they’re providing for the public. By being paraded around by the media in pictures (or carefully positioned and shot in a television reenactment), the public is led to what is, essentially, another exploitation of them.

Yes, yes, it’s all for the audience, and we keep watching so it must be okay with us . . . but will we keep watching? As the thousands of books, websites, and magazine articles about the Jack the Ripper case can attest, we probably will. The scenes of Littlefinger’s whorehouse are, mercifully, now at an end as he moves off to court Lysa Arryn, but the camera’s lustful eye will soon turn to Dorne and the scantily-clad southern women, to Meereen and the scantily-clad women, to Braavos and, well, more scantily-clad women . . . and then there’s the torments ahead for our various heroes and villains. How many more torture scenes with Theon do the directors expect us to endure? The one in this episode dropped my own internal rating of the show down. Any more, and I’ll be strolling to the kitchen instead of sitting on the couch . . . and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the people at HBO want me to do.

Cut the torment, Game of Thrones. Have some mercy upon your viewers, even if there is none (story-wise) for poor Ros and Theon.


Downtown . . . in Hemlock Grove

Okay, so this isn’t exactly a nice post, and anyone who really gets upset by sexual discussions might want to just scroll on past . . .

Ok . . .

We ready?

Yeah?

All right.

So, I spent several hours of my irreplaceable precious life watching Netflix’s newest “Made for Netflix” series, Hemlock Grove. And, yeah, it was a pretty silly way to waste 12 hours of my life, but I found it campy and amusing in its own way, and the kid who played the werewolf was, well, really cute, in an adorable “Don’t you want to pet him and feed him a sandwich and check his i.d. to see if he’s over 18 before you ogle him” kind of way.

I was most interested, however, by the way the show depicted sexual encounters. I’m going to give you a huge spoiler alert right now and say that, if you haven’t finished watching the show (or ever want to watch a silly “vampires-and-werewolves-fight-crime” show), you might want to stop here.

Spoiler space

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Okay, now that we’ve eliminated the readers who don’t like to discuss human sexuality and those who don’t want to be spoiled for Hemlock Grove . . .

(You guys HAVE stopped reading, right? Here’s your last chance.)

The whole show, since it’s a made-for-online show, doesn’t fall under the rules for TV shows, so it has some pretty explicit sexualized scenes. That’s not exactly surprising in a world where HBO is the big bad boy on the street. There’s one scene that’s a positively-portrayed sex scene between high school seniors, which is questionable at best. Since they are each other’s “true loves”, however, we’re supposed to let it slide. Another scene is, frankly, rape.

One spoiler that you’d need to understand the rest is that two of the characters, a mother (Olivia) and son (Roman) are basically vampires. They have mind-control powers. Roman is 17 and can force people to do acts against their will, although every time he uses this power, he gets a nosebleed. His mother never spills a drop of blood, although we highly suspect throughout that she’s controlling people more subtly. Roman doesn’t know he’s a vampire, however, and may just be a novice at the whole thing. He craves blood, especially during sex, and we see him cutting himself during sex in order to facilitate his little vampiristic bloodlust. Creepy, but, well, not the creepiest thing we’ve ever seen.

We do, however, see him a) spot a girl who is on her period, since she has a tampon sticking brazenly out of her purse, b) follow her to the bathroom, and c) persuade her (possibly with his mind-control, we don’t know for sure) to allow him to perform oral sex upon her.

That was pretty creepy. And, honestly, menstrual blood isn’t per-se blood, but that’s probably too nit-picky for most people. But it’s still a pretty questionable way for anyone to portray cunnilingus. Gross, really.

The two young lovers (the werewolf and his pregnant girlfriend) do use a little oral stimulation by the male before they get the bed rockin’, but it’s clearly foreplay and definitely a situation where it’s freely engaged-in and pleasurable for both parties. Applause, at least, for that.

The other two instances, however, are definitely questionable, and both for the same reason: the vampire mind control bit. The mother, Olivia, has a scene where she is receiving such pleasuring by her (married) brother-in-law. Afterwards, he stands up and straightens his tie and she sends him back off to work . . . we get a strong hint, here, that she coerced him to do this. In the last episode, we see her directly mind-controlling this same man, so it’s definitely a possibility that she’s been playing with his head all along (Don’t kill me for the pun, it was unintentional, I swear!)

The last instance is during the rape scene– Roman begins what seems like a consensual encounter with a young woman by giving her some rather perfunctory oral stimulation. Then he rapes her. After this very heinous and terrible act, he makes it worse by using his mind control powers to force her to forget the whole thing. It’s almost impossible to retain any sympathy for his character after this point, no matter what comes afterwards. All in all, it was a wrenching scene, made worse by the fact that he briefly made the young woman think it was going to be a good encounter– by doing that act which is, presumably, for the woman’s pleasure.

So, we have four instances of oral sex being performed upon a woman. Three of those are definitely not positive depictions of the act. The last one is . . . troubling. Not because cunnilingus is prohibited during the marital act, no, but because it wasn’t between a married couple, for one, and two because these two young people weren’t supposed to be adults.

That last fact was . . . dare I say it, unintentionally, rendered the most squicky and uncomfortable by its timing in the show– I’ll explain.

The young werewolf and his girlfriend are walking peacefully across a large lawn. They sit down on the hill, cuddle, and exchange soft words. The werewolf hunter, who is watching them with binoculars from afar, looks at them and says, “They’re children. They’re all just children.”

And then it cuts to the explicit sex scene.

If it wasn’t intentional, the director needs a kick in the nuts.

Ahem. Just my opinion, of course.

All in all, Hemlock Grove was not a victory for a discerning viewer when it comes to depicting oral sex. Some people may question whether it should ever be depicted, period– of course, that’s a problem in and of itself. I happen to think that, if it is depicted, it should be in a way that doesn’t make it either a) disgusting, b) non-consensual, or c) illicit. Possibly, that can never happen. I’m no expert in the field.

I am, however, disappointed, Hemlock Grove.

Very, very disappoint.

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