On Openings: Sunshine

I’ve been mired in a bit of writer’s bog, and one Nano thought led to another, and I was reminded of a story I wrote that probably needs completely redone. It’s a vampire story (sorta), so I decided a reread of one of my favorite vampire stories was due. The book is Sunshine by Robin McKinley, and since I read it pre-concussion, I remember absolutely nothing about it except liking it and there’s vampires. (I forgot she was a baker, that’s how much I forgot.)

This is only discussing the first ten pages or so (before the first scene break), which if you haven’t read the book, can probably be found in an online excerpt.

What’s interesting to me as a writer, is that McKinley does a few things that if this were submitted to a writers’ group, might be marked as no-nos:

  • the first seven pages are blocks of text (no dialogue)
  • these seven pages are pretty much an info dump

And yet it works for the story, and as an entertaining read. Because while the reader is being given lots of information (her job, her boyfriend, her family…and more about her job), there are a lot of hints of things to come, and it works more to paint a picture of her world rather than just dump the information on the reader’s lap. But it’s a fine line, which McKinley succeeds in toeing. Obviously if you read the blurb, you know this is supernatural/vampires. If not, the first scene hints of this with “cockroaches the size of chipmunks” and “Other law” then hinting a bit more with “Voodoo Wars” and “bad places around the lake” before the very last word is “vampires.”

Not all of the first scene would be considered info dump, but looking at the parts that could be considered that (if not masterfully handled) shows how it can be done.

  • Hint at something more than is being presented
  • Have the information dump contrast with the something more (ie, mundane info when there’s something supernatural lurking in the background)
  • Use the info dump to introduce the reader to the narrative voice/tone of the story, weaving in information about the character’s personality while seemingly just presenting facts.
  • Make the information interesting on its own, but not quite interesting enough that the reader wants the story to be about that.

At least those are my thoughts on it. If you’ve read (and enjoyed) Sunshine, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the first scene and what works/doesn’t work for you!

Random Is Good, Right?

A while back I had an idea for … something, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to develop into anything more than these few paragraphs, so I thought it’d be fun to share with you!

Black ooze seeped under the door. With it came a sharp, bitter tang that filled the air. Evelyn stared at it, entranced, until the scent crept into her mouth, bogging down her tongue. She scrunched her nose, stepped forward–mindful of the puddle–and pounded her fist on the door. “Kira! Kira, you better not be making a mess in there!”

The ooze shrank back under the door, leaving only its stink behind. 

Evelyn sighed. “Kira, what are you doing?”

No answer. 

Evelyn rolled her eyes. “I’m coming in!” 

She turned the handle and pushed the door. It creaked as it slowly swung open, the light from the hall doing little to break through the dark murk of the room. Evelyn sighed and reached for the wall just inside the door. “Kira, I’m going to turn on the light.”

“No!” Kira’s husky voice was pouty and petulant. “No light.”

Evelyn restrained another sigh. “Why not?”

The darkness slithered back, and the light from the open door was just enough to show a mass on the bed.

She stepped into the room, eyes on the bed. “Kira?”

Kira sighed, and the bedsprings sagged with the weight of the emotion. 

“Kira, what’s wrong?”

More slithering, and the shadows lurking deep in the corners and along the far wall faded, until the room was cast in the gray glow of a dark room lit by the light from the door. Evelyn waited, not wanting to intrude in Kira’s space but also running low on patience–and restraint on another sigh. “Kira.”

“I’m ugly,” Kira said, choking on the words like a sob was trapped in its throat.

Evelyn’s heart broke. “Oh darling, no, you’re not.” She moved into the room, mindful of the shadows spilling across the floor. By the time she sat on the bed, Kira had pulled its shadows in even tighter, making a dense physical form for Evelyn to side her arm around its not-quite-shoulders. She gave a little squeeze. “You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Hope you enjoyed this random little thing!

I need the happy ending

Lately I’ve been trying to read outside the romance genre more, which has been an on-going thing from last year, but it hasn’t seen rousing success, and while part of it is just me not sitting down to read, another key road block is that, well, I’m reading outside the romance genre, and in the romance genre, I’m guaranteed a happy ending.

It’s not that I can’t read stories without them (I have in the past, at least), and it’s not like general fiction/fantasy/sci-fi don’t have happy endings a lot of the time. But in this day and age (hah), where it’s cool and edgy to have dark, unsatisfying endings, I’m incredibly cautious of proceeding. Not because I don’t see the use of some of these types of books, but rather, when I read, I experience the emotions of the book, and if the book is going to be depressing, then it’s likely to trigger a depressive episode, and who wants that?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much of this roadblock is in my head (again, because I’ve read LOTS of non-romance stories with happy endings), but I know it’s kept me from finishing Left Hand of Darkness and The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (which is a novella and I really have no excuse).

A little voice in my head is yelling at me to just read some romance, let myself off the hook, and get some reading done rather than tie myself in knots. But I’m so bad at letting myself off the hook.

We’ll see.

Anyway, I have a horse show this weekend, so wish me luck!

Bonk: unarousing

Having read Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, I was interested in what she’d bring to the table when talking about sex. Well-known for her humorous footnotes and glib commentary, she tends to make what could be dry reading into an enjoyable experience.

While Bonk continues the humorous footnotes, glib commentary, and accessibility of content, overall the books fell flat for me. Part of it I think maybe attributed to Roach’s age (she was 52 at year of publication), the fact that the book is 8 years old (and research even older), and–as she points out many times–sex research is difficult to fund, find volunteers for, and explain to your dates. Obviously any research is limited by these factors.

My biggest issue is that the book (as likely the research does) focuses almost exclusively on sex between a cis man and a cis woman. Obviously Roach can only present research that’s available, but a few too many comments throughout made me concerned that it’s not just lack of research but lack of author looking at said research. Aside from mentions of Kinsey’s work, there’s very little about homosexual sex, and almost all of it is shoved in the last chapter, where it discusses a study from 1976, and–without any further research–Roach discusses how obviously heterosexuals caught up to the gays in talking about sex, so thank goodness for that. (The point being that talking about sex will lead to better sex between the participants, but she makes a 40-year leap without any thing to back her up.)

I won’t hold against her the complete lack of discussion about trans individuals, as there likely is limited research. However, if there is limited research, it seems like it should be important to point out, especially when discussing things related to the brain, arousal, etc.

Obviously Roach has to toe the line between producing edu-tainment and paying the bills, so is likely to play to the largest audience, especially if she has pressure from her publisher to do so, but overall I found the book lacking. Anytime the discussion wasn’t strictly medical/scientific, it felt like she was giggling behind her hand, especially at anything that wasn’t heterosexual vanilla sex. My suggestion: It’s worth loaning from the library, but not buying a copy.

A Good Omens weekend

If you somehow missed the news, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens was made into a mini-series, released on Amazon Prime.

I read the book eons ago (okay, like 2002), which was pre-brain injury, so my recall of the book is spotty (I remember random tidbits and overall plot but not the majority of specifics). In general I know I liked the book, although it was never one of my favorites. However, my friend is…a fan…so when it released, I signed up for my 30-day free Prime trial (yes, I’m one of twenty people who didn’t already subscribe) and got my Good Omens on.

For those not familiar, here’s a blurb:

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Now for my review: it was good 🙂

Well worth the watch for the superb acting alone, but I will warn viewers that it requires (or at least is easier with) a certain acceptance of British humor, although not a lot. Also a willingness to go along with the ride, as reality and normalcy fly out the window. In many ways it’s goofy and silly, and I can see how that might not vibe with some people.

However, the acting was superb, bringing to life two characters who already had a bit of a cult following (Michael Sheen as Aziraphale and David Tennant as Crowley), and adding flavor to other characters who might not have been as engaging. The special effects were used to just the right level, the makeup was delightful, and for me the changes made between book and show were good/acceptable.

Honestly, I think the whole 6 hours is made worthwhile for this scene alone:

My Roommate Is a Cat – review

If you love cats, this will probably suit your viewing pleasure. The 12-episode anime is delightfully mellow, and yet surprisingly heart-wrenching at times. It follows 23-year-old introverted mystery writer Subaru and his accidental adoption of stray Haru, a tuxedo cat. As the two bond and learn to live with each other, both are forced to re-assess their lives and face new experiences, which leads to change and growth.

While I wouldn’t really consider this a show with spoilers, consider this your spoiler warning.

Since this anime follows the experiences (and hijinks) of an introvert and his cat, it’s about as action-packed as you’d expect. If that’s not your type of show, then this won’t be either. However, if you’re looking for something where you can chuckle, coo over things, and experience Subaru and Haru’s slice-of-life adventures, then this is worth checking out. (Available on Funimation’s and Crunchyroll’s sites.)

We spend roughly half to three-quarters of our time in Subaru’s perspective, as he’s forced to go out in public in order to provide for his cat (the show mostly ignores the internet being a thing and next-day delivery resolving a lot of Subaru’s problems). The rest of the time is from Haru’s perspective, in which we get to see why the cat does what she does, and how she’s experiencing what might seem harmless from the human perspective.

The show is full of super nice people being nice to each other, but it was never so saccharine sweet that it turned me off. Rather it just showed the best parts of humanity. It’s uplifting in that regard.

One of my favorite things is that the story doesn’t have any romantic plots. He has guy friends and girl friends and aside from one moment where a brother things he has foul intentions with his sister, it doesn’t even come up. Oh, there is lots of room to ship couples, but it’s not in the show itself.

My one concern going in was Subaru’s personality. He’s introverted, and they point out the very reasonable problems with this and what it takes for him to go out in public. They also present it as a natural part of his personality (he’s been like this since he was a kid), although it’s possibly his natural aversion to being around people (especially large groups) as led to a more extreme isolation. As I watched, I worried that they would “fix him” and make him no longer introverted. Of course, that would be a problem.

However, the show seems to toe the line without going too far. While Subaru in some ways does “get better,” much of it is in things that improve his life and that he does enjoy. He’s still rather shy and he’s definitely introverted, but through his cat, he’s been forced to face people – and he found it’s okay in small doses with those he likes, as long as he has his support system.

What I really love is how the show expresses his support system. His friends (and editor and neighbor) all recognize he’s an introverted isolationist, and while they might make a few teasing remarks about it, they are generally accepting. He’s introverted, and that’s okay. When he does venture out to the grocery store and becomes overwhelmed, his friend (who just happens to show up) helps him through it without begrudging him. His editor is not surprised when Subaru rejects a public signing, and doesn’t pressure him – just presents the idea and all the benefits. When Subaru later agrees, the editor is right there beside him, making sure he doesn’t overextend himself, and talking him through his panic.

Overall, I’d recommend people checking this out, especially if want to watch something to settle your nerves or that doesn’t require too much thought and won’t be emotionally taxing. Warning: his parents have just died in the first episode, and some of the show and much of the ending revolves around realizations and coming to terms with their deaths and his feelings about that.

You’ll probably like this anime if you enjoyed: Tanaka-kun Is Always Restless, Mushi-shi, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.

On the Shelf

My reading has been sporadic and weird at best, and most of it’s been audiobooks of late. Partially because I’ve been reading less romance (since a lot of it, for me, is tainted by things I see/experience on Twitter, and even authors who I want to read bring up those emotions tangentially), but also because I worry about being too immersed in a genre and wanting to bring “fresh” ideas by tasting other genres. At least that’s the theory 😉

After watching the Series of Unfortunate Events TV show and hearing that there were changes from the books, I was curious. (Oh sure, I could probably find a wiki page about it, but where’s the fun in that.) So far, I’m finding the TV adaptation to be one of the best I’ve seen from a book, and the format Netflix went with was kind of perfect for a youths’ series like this. But more on that as I delve further and more changes are likely to appear. (I just finished The Austere Academy.)

Currently on my nightstand (in real, physical form!) is Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. I’ve read Stiff by Roach already, so I knew what I was getting into (and I highly recommend reading Stiff if you haven’t, as long as thoughts of death won’t depress/freak out you!)

Bonk was published in 2008 by (as far as I know) a cis straight woman, so in some ways her humor/commentary feels dated and out of the loop for a hella queer reader like myself in 2019. That said, there are still plenty of humorous stories and footnotes, not to mention factoids and historical accuracies that make it enjoyable.

(As an ace person, I sometimes study sex the same way I study religion as an atheist. Is that weird?)

A more thorough discussion once I finish the last 100 pages. Now off to enjoy the sunshine, while it lasts.