Taking a Breather

It’s been a long, long while since I had a really relaxing weekend (where I relaxed rather than slipped into a unproductive puddle). This weekend was one of those weekends. I’m still flipping out about the writing funk, but I’m using the time to do things rather than obsessive over it too much.

  1. As mentioned prior, I’m re-reading Sunshine by Robin McKinley. It’s been a while since I read for pleasure and actually found the reading to be an intense pleasure. I had begun wondering if I’d lost enjoyment of reading. This has reminded me that maybe I do still love it but I’m not picking books that really grab me.
  2. I watched a ton of anime (only 2-4 episodes of each, which is how I consume most things)
    Yakitate!! Japan – This show is very much a precursor to the more modern Food Wars, and it suffers a little from me having already seen Food Wars and the humor being dated. It’s sub-only, and really slow, but kind of enjoyable if you just go with the flow.
    Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing – I probably should have rewatched the first series, but this does stand alone. I generally don’t like anime with a ton of young girls, but this handles it well, has them be strong and mostly not annoying, and while slow-moving, it’s involving politics and war, so is fitting (and matches the first series in this).
    Magical Girl Raising Project – I’m really enjoying this, although before recommending it, I’d warn that it’s dark! Viewers of Madoka Magica will probably find this a natural fit, although I’m enjoying this more, as the writing feels tighter and the characters more enjoyable/relatable to me (possible because we get more variety).
    Spice and Wolf – I’m not particularly in love with this show, although I’m only two episodes in. It doesn’t fall into the “naked wolf girl” problem (thankfully), but it does suffer heavily from talking head syndrome (which is a neat trick in a visual medium!). I think my issue is that the guy is okay and the goddess is on the other side of okay, so I’m not really engaged in them, so their talking heads are boring and talking at me rather than inviting me to contemplate with them.
  3. It’s really expensive to have 1 niece and 2 nephews with the same birthday and then an honorary nephew born the day after (5 years later). I got a lot of shopping done. My wallet wept 😀 (And that had nothing to do with the oh this yarn is on sale, I swear).
  4. A good chunk of my weekend was spent reading the Changeling: The Dreaming core book and plotting. And then replotting. Painting stones. Rereading that one section. Wondering if I actually know how to play games at all, really.

I’ll get back to editing and writing in serious form soon enough, I hope, but this was a much-needed break from reality, where I got in touch with my roots.

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!

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.

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.

Happy New Year…

Do I get extra points for doing this post before the end of January? I think I should…

I’ve been keeping myself busy so far this year with my writing goals (10K again), revising goals (Just do it *swoosh*), reading goals (book a month, that sounds familiar…), and health goals (lose the extra weight I put on over the past few years).

Of course, I’m a writer so you can assume I’m mostly playing mindless app games, watching TV, and talking on social media about how I should be writing…

But I did do revisions on The Miracle Man, which I’m currently looking for a beta reader for:

I’m looking for a beta reader, focusing on pacing/plot issues, for a light fantasy m/m romance (light on magic, heavy on time spent in wagon traveling). 53K, would love feedback by end of month.

Email me if you’re interested!

Premise: A young man with a “knack” for fixing things, becomes apprentice to a miracle man in the hopes of learning how to heal people.

I also finished writing a 50+k contemporary that might never see the light of day (who knows), brainstormed a new fantasy story (disgruntled coworkers to lovers is a thing, right?), started brainstorming a second in the same world as Magic Runs Deep, and I’m reading The Left Hand of Darkness which is good but not light.

So I’m keeping busy. I guess it keeps me out of trouble 😉

Let’s Talk About Expectations

There are many, many things to have expectations for/about in life, but this post is focusing on self-expectations, specifically in regards to goals/resolutions, because these are the expectations we have the most control over.

I set some goals for myself at the beginning of the year and by the second week of February I knew I’d built a pretty high mountain to climb. January went well. Book read, edits done, writing mark hit! Of course I also finished a book, so starting a new one was hard–immediately my word count plummeted. I finished edits, got beta reads, submitted the book…and immediately got developmental edits to do. While I was brainstorming how to fix February’s editing case. So my “edit a book a month” plummeted. Reading one book should be easy, right? But after reading all day, editing various books, and struggling to write, the last thing I wanted was another person’s words in my head. I read one page of a book and switched to another. Read a page of that and put it aside.

What I realized around the middle of the month, was that I might have burnt myself out by being too productive too fast. I need to reassess and adjust accordingly.

Revising: One book a month is kind of crazy, especially depending on how much work needs done. Especially since I edit for a living (duh, Alex). I think if  get 6 books revised this year, I’ll call it a win. It’s still going to be about 5 more books than I did last year!

Writing: Same basic 10K a month, but I think it’ll be a year-end goal of 120,000 instead, which will average out to 10K a month, which is pretty much how I looked back a 2017, so I think it’ll work.

Reading: I might need to “cheat” and read another volume of manga, but I do want to at least hit some of my titles on my to-read list. However, I also want to watch a bunch of anime shows (many of which are subtitles), so I’m giving myself flex here. Kind of a “we’ll see how it goes”. I know it sounds like I’m giving up, but it’s more a matter of “how much can I fit into my free time without feeling like it’s not fun anymore?”

The important thing, for me, is not thinking of the above changes as failing. Goals and resolutions should be flexible, especially in the beginning, so you can improve while also not killing yourself. Because once you start to fail, you give up. But if you lower the bar, then you might end up jumping just as high as you’d first planned, once the stress of failing is removed.