Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Blog Challenge: Something Unusual

Now Playing: Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead

Woops. Forgot today was Friday, so this update is a bit late in the day :P

Not gonna add updates here because this turned into a long challenge answer. Although I will say, I rediscovered the awesomeness of the library last Saturday. (Went with Silvia, am going again tomorrow. Weeee)

Week 11: Something unusual.

Well that's...a super broad prompt. I assume it means, "something unusual about you" but that can go anywhere. Me as in, my appearance? Where I live? My upbringing? My family/friends?

Hmmm. Just an unusual fact about me, then.

I'm assuming most people know about or have seen The Blair Witch Project.  I learned about it in a peculiar way--by my dad complaining and my cousins raving about it. My dad thinks it's pretentious, long, boring, all kinds of terrible descriptors. My cousins, I think, were always pretty big fans of it. And for a long time, I was somewhat inclined to agree with the "it's (probably) overrated". It wasn't a fully formed opinion since I'd only seen snippets of it. (Mainly that annoying clip of Heather pointing the camera directly up her nostril while she apologizes for everything that's happened).

It used to run a lot on TV back in Ecuador, and the networks usually did a ton of advertisements for it. Except they'd use reallyyyy vague clips of it, like, footage of someone running with the camera over the forest grass at nighttime, the light of the camera illuminating patches. The movie played really late, so I remember the one time my mom decided to watch it, she sent me to bed before I could see much of it. I caught maybe ten seconds of it, the first scene of the camera focusing on Heather as she motions around to her house. I never got to see it in full until years later--maybe when I was eleven. Despite how much I was inclined to try and roll my eyes at the concept of the movie, I think I did it out of self-defense. For years, I believed that the whole Blair Witch thing was real.

I bit the bullet at some point. I saw the movie, for the first time, at either eleven or twelve, when I had my first laptop. One of the first nights I ever stayed up wayyy too late, just playing on my computer, was the time I found the Blair Witch Project online and I watched it. Midnight, eleven year old scaredy-cat, goes under her covers to watch a scary movie; I didn't sleep for days. I would never admit it to my dad, but I was terrified of it. And I'd also liked it a lot. I saw it again, a few months later. Then again, about a year later. I've seen it countless times since.

So here's the something unusual: I've watched The Blair Witch Project a dozen times because, honestly, it reminds me of my childhood. It makes me nostalgic.

That sounds threatening out of context. But it makes sense with a little unpacking.

I was terrified of a lot of things when I was little. My cousins, aunts, uncles, pretty much everyone from all sides of the family had a fascination for ghosts stories and urban legends. I'm going to guess it's due to the influence of a mostly Catholic society combined with somewhat violently dangerous areas. Whatever the reason, urban legends are abundant in Ecuador. As far as I can tell, everyone knows the same ones.

I grew up afraid of seeing La Dama Tapada and La Llorona*. I heard one of my cousins tricked his sister into believing she'd seen la mano negra. La caja ronca absolutely terrified me and my parents usually forbade people from ever telling me that story, though I heard many variations throughout the years.
Ecuadorians celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, though in a somewhat different fashion than the Mexican festivities. (In fact, saying we "celebrate" it is a bit of a stretch. I think it's more of a day of contemplation...and really delicious food. No cool outfits, though). So I grew up thinking a lot about death and spirits. I wasn't an odd little kid with a fascination of the macabre. I was horrified by it.**

But I guess a part of me was also interested in it, to an extent. I thought a lot about Cantuña and his cathedral, because that was my favorite legend. (Not surprisingly, since the business of a missing stone saves Cantuña 's soul. So in that respect, it has a "happy" ending). And while the one about Padre Almeida isn't my favorite, it's always kind of amused me, so I remember it a lot too.

Aside from urban legends, however, my family also often had a ton of personal stories about things they were certain they'd experienced. It was said that my paternal grandmother saw the Virgin Mary once when she was very young. My aunt saw strange things when she was young, too. She told me she saw a strange creature on the bus--tall, with black fur for skin, hidden by the layers of his clothes--and that when she pointed it out to my grandmother (same one who saw the Virgin Mary), she saw it too and said to pray quietly. Two of my mom's uncles apparently saw La Dama Tapada after a night of drinking. A great grandmother of mine (maternal, this time) was forced to stay past midnight in her school because of bad behavior, and she told us that, in the dead of night, she thought she saw the Virgin Mary approaching from outside; once she came into the classroom, she didn't have a face.

Yeah, the Virgin Mary showed up a lot in these. See what I mean about Catholic influence?

Despite all this, by the way, I don't believe in ghosts. And I can't help but somewhat roll my eyes at people who swear they can see ghosts and spirits and demons, and that so and so family members saw the ghost of whomever the fuck. It's...pretty bullshit. I believe people saw these things, I just don't believe they can actually be supernatural things. The mind is a complex, tricky thing. I saw a ton of odd stuff when I was young, but that's born out of an overactive imagination, religious upbringing, and a tendency to freak out over little things. (Branches shook, shadow on the wall... some witch is here to kill me).

After I moved away from Ecuador and slowly grew away from my beliefs, I didn't think much about the legends or ghost stories imparted on me. I stopped believing in ghosts sometime after I realized I didn't believe in any kind of deity.

But I somewhat missed the terrifying nature of those legends. I missed the intensity of that absurd fear. It was pretty awful, but there's something very, very innocent to remember a time where I believed, wholeheartedly, in magical creatures--even if they were of the evil variety. Sometimes I don't remember the full stories or even much of the way they were told, but I remember vivid images; things I pictured as I was being told the stories, as vivid as if they were real-life memories

Anyways--that's why the Blair Witch Project reminds me of my childhood. I stand by the claim that the best part of that movie is the first thirty minutes or so, when the three of them are finding out the legends just by talking to people or relating what they themselves have learned. Mary Brown's story of encountering the witch as a child reminds me so much of my aunt's own story of seeing that strange creature in the bus.

I wish I could find more horror stories like it. It's a very odd type of nostalgia.
~Becky

P.S: I found some related art by Roger Ycaza and his work is gorgeous. Check it out.

*I am aware she's from Mexican origin, btw. (Same, apparently, with La Mano Negra). But throughout elementary school, I discovered pretty much all Latin American countries share some variation of her story. (The one I heard was...infinitely more violent than the ones you'll find online). I think I even had an argument with some Venezuelan friends of where she was really from, since we had no way of knowing for sure at the time.

**...which probably also explains my love for Master's Sun. Gong-shil is just...like...a frightened kitten begrudgingly dealing with the macabre. I can sympathize.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Excerpt: Red Red Krovvy and Torn Skin

Now Playing: Otto Ketting - Symphony No. 3 - 1

[Introduction].

Here's another favorite book of mine.

A Clockwork Orange is at first difficult to read, not just because of the violence, but because of the language and the voice. It's very conversational and sometimes you might have to pause and look up the glossary so you don't miss something. But after about fifteen pages in, you'll probably get the hang of the style and it won't ever confuse you.

The way in which the readers feel as breathless and exhilarated as Alex is through the structure of the sentences: a lot of them are very, very long, grouped together in giant paragraphs. Short sentences make a reader pay attention to every single word. They slow time down. Long sentences do the opposite, picking up speed and dragging you along. Commas end up being like small dips in the road. You feel them as you pass them, but you're still racing forward.

It's mostly effective because it's Alex's voice. He talks fast and he talks a lot, but that's where part of his charm comes from. Like Humbert in Lolita, the way the reader comes to accept this narrator and his actions is through the prose. It's so unique and vivid, it's impossible to want to stop. (At least, that's how I feel about it).

This is from the climax of the book, close to the end, so there are spoilers ahead. It's also quite a long excerpt, but it didn't feel right to scale it down too much.

I crashed at the wall till my knuckles were all red red krovvy and torn skin, creeching and creeching, but the music did not stop. Then I thought I had to get away from it, so I lurched out the malenky bedroom and ittied skorry to the front door of the flat, but this had been locked from the outside and I could not get out. And all the time the music got more and more gromky, like it was all a deliberate torture, O my brothers. So I stuck my little fingers real deep in my ookos, but the trombones and kettledrums blasted through gromky enough. So I creeched again for them to stop and went hammer hammer hammer on the wall, but it made not one malenky bit of difference. 'Oh, what am I to do?' I boohooed to myself. 'Oh, Bog in Heaven help me.' I was like wandering all over the flat in pain and sickness, trying to shut out the music and like groaning deep out of my guts, and then on top of the pile of books and papers and all that cal that was on the table in the living room I viddied what I had to do and what I had wanted to do until those old men in the Public Biblio and then Dim and Billyboy disguised as rozzes stopped me, and that was to do myself in, to snuff it, to blast off for ever out of this wicked and cruel world. What I viddied was the slovo DEATH on the cover of a like pamphlet, even though it was only DEATH to THE GOVERNMENT. And like it was Fate there was another malenky booklet which had an open window on the cover, and it said: 'Open the window to fresh air, fresh ideas, a new way of living.' And so I knew that was like telling me to finish it all off by jumping out. One moment of pain, perhaps, and then sleep for ever and ever and ever.
The music was still pouring in all brass and drums and the violins miles up through the wall. The window in the room where I had laid down was open. I ittied to it and viddied a fair drop to the autos and buses and waiting chellovecks below. I creeched out to the world: 'Good-bye, good-bye, may Bog forgive you for a ruined life.' Then I got on to the sill, the music blasting away to my left, and I shut my glazzies and felt the cold wind on my litso, then I jumped.
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Reflecting/Rewording

Okay, yesterday's post was terrible. It makes me sound so whinny--and to be fair...I am.

(I also added a link to a blog post Danielle Jensen made where she talked about Hidden Huntress. The video there is unlisted, so I'm not going to embed it. But this is the link to the author's blog post if you missed it).

This is why I should schedule things out rather than hit "publish" when my head is going haywire.

I know there are readers out there. I know there are readers out there who aren't writers. I know even if the industry just ends up being other writers supporting other writers, it'll still be a great thing, like one massive community of contributors and consumers and people just building off of one another.

I know this is really premature worrying. I don't even have a draft solid enough for beta readers and I'm already freaking out at the prospect of all books disappearing. Slow down, Becca. The horse hasn't even left the stable.

I know my mother not liking the particular style and set up of one book doesn't mean she won't like mine. Or that she's not going to pick up reading again. And I guess I mildly implied, "damnnn if she doesn't like that crap she'll never like my crap!" (Stormdancer deserves better. Sorry book, I love you, you were just kind of the in-the-moment example. Plus, I also know there are plenty of people who hated the writing in that book. And I know there are plenty of people who hate known literary classics so it's not like you can judge anyone's taste and do a cross reference analysis of what they might or might not like. Tis a complicated thing). Oh and that thing about my dad not finishing a book in a while is just an outright lie. He finished The Giver a few weeks ago. I'm not sure why he talked as if he hadn't picked up and completed a book in ages when clearly he has. And I'm not sure why I didn't remember him taking The Giver with him to work to read during his lunch hour.

I also didn't mention audiobooks yesterday, and even though places like Reddit are pretty notorious for proclamations of not reading or whatever, there always seems to be a follow-up comment that suggests audiobooks to get into books. I think some readers who can speed through 300 pages in one sitting don't particularly like them because they're used to the speed, but I think audiobooks, if given more attention, could help a lot. I see a lot of advertisements for Audible--though I admit I won't get it because I'm of the opinion one audiobook a month isn't enough--and it's a perfectly valid way to engage with literature.

I still stand by the fact that I'm not worried about money. Or I am, to an extent, and I'll expand on that in just a bit, but the real thing I'm worried about is not having readers. Modern readers, I guess, more so* than some kid fifty years after my death discovering my writing--which is fine, it's just...you know, I'll be dead. I won't know if anyone read anything by that point.

But all those snide comments from my upbringing are getting to me.

Here's the thing: there's a big difference between, "have some realistic expectations, hope for the best, prepare for the worst," and "ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE."

Like did I and every other young writer in the world need it drilled into their head that we're gonna be failures and we're gonna struggle and holy shit better look forward to a life of, "paper or plastic?" Not just from professors, but snotty fucking kids who so happened to be my classmates? It's one thing to utilize self-deprecating humor as a defense mechanism. It's another to joke, "yeah, I'm probably gonna be homeless and crashing on couches for my entire adulthood," in the morning, then imagining it as a realistic possibility at nightfall.

University didn't help. Especially that last semester. All those stupid remarks at genre fiction, all those idiotic attempts to try and paint literature as some untouchable thing that must only be understood and analyzed (not even consumed, cuz that might imply some form of pleasure out of the ordeal), hundreds of years after the writer's death is fucked up.

I get the educational system now a days gets a lot of flak for trying to accommodate everyone and hand out "Yayyy you participated!" medals left and right. But let me tell you, the opposite approach of adulthood will be hell, figure everything out on your own, fuck your passion and all your dreams and futures, is Not. Preferable. All it has done is suckered punched me into sleepless nights and crying jags. (Granted I'm really emotional already. BTW, my brother found me with my face buried in a journal, bawling my eyes out one day. I think it looked like somewhere between the walk from the living room to the desk, someone just outright died. Anyways, he tried to make me feel better, so that was nice of him.)


Now there's a perfectly timed video to illustrate my point. I saw it yesterday afternoon and had some flashbacks.

Anyways. I'm sorry. About panicking. And freaking out. About ranting and not being as self-assured or as confident as I should be. Like I said yesterday, I'm not going to stop writing. I just kind of wished I wasn't unemployed and in debt while still figuring my life out. But that's the way of America right now, you know? It could be worse. At least, despite some misgivings, my immediate family and friends are supportive.
~Becky

*Is...this...one word or two? I'm getting conflicting answers.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ranting - Books Edition

A couple of weeks ago, while panicking about my impending failure as a post-graduate kid with no work experience and a short temper, I asked the question, "do people even read anymore?"

It's been on my mind for a while. At bookstores, I see people browsing before they head for the cafe. In Goodreads and YouTube, there's some energetic talk of YA releases and the like, but they don't seem to pop up that often. People are obsessed over movie adaptations and that's about the only thing that can help boost your book to wider audiences. It mostly seems nowadays that the only people keeping the industry afloat are other writers. Do you know how quickly the film industry would become obsolete if the only ones who watched movies were filmmakers? Granted, film takes more money and people to make an individual product, but it seems somewhat comparable.

The comic book industry is apparently in the toilet. The sales are mostly taken from older white men--basically, people who've been reading comic books since they were teenagers. If you ever wonder why DC and Marvel is spending so much time and effort in the cinematic universes, it's because of that--it's their way to stay in business.

Today, my parents got into a bit of an argument with my brother because he's not reading. Thing is--and I wonder if I did the right thing pointing this out--they're not reading either. My mom, a previously voracious reader who could get through literary classics before she'd even turned thirteen, would rather unwind with a K-drama. My dad has Netflix and Destiny. He probably hasn't finished a book in years.

I don't blame them for it--they work hard and I don't have a right to judge them for whatever medium of entertainment they pick, but it worries me. Worries me that a family that's always been supportive of their writer daughter, that had life long readers as the heads of the household, and that has always understood the importance and power in literature just...doesn't read.

I guess reddit put me down a little bit. There are plenty of people who proclaim rather proudly they don't read anymore, or who seem resigned to it like it's out of their hands. And those who do seem more interested in reading mostly just read successful books or those written at least 30 or so years ago. (The older they are, the more they're recommended).

This isn't, "I'll never be rich from my books." This isn't even, "I'll never make decent money from my books." This is me afraid that publishing is just not going to get anywhere. That there won't be anything left in a short while.

Is that paranoid? Probably. But I am a paranoid person. And understanding the absurdity of your worries isn't the same as getting over them.

Last thing that really made me worry was when I was reading something from another author. Her name's Danielle L Jensen and she wrote a YA fantasy called Stolen Songbird. There was a lot of buzz for this book a year or two ago, and I ordered it having high expectations for it. I did like it--haven't gotten the sequel yet, not sure if I'll be getting to it--and decided to look up the author.

Turns out her sequel almost didn't get published because the imprint responsible for Stolen Songbird was closed down. It just wasn't making any money. Jensen was left without a book contract. For six months, Stolen Songbird was out of print--in both online bookstores and places like Barnes and Noble.

But it sold. Word of mouth got out and people ordered e-books during that time. It was such a best seller that the adult sci-fi and fantasy imprint of her publishing house picked up Stolen Songbird's sequel and managed to publish Hidden Huntress.

It's good news for her, but it almost didn't happen. And what about the other authors in that YA imprint? Are they scrambling to find a publishing house that will take them? What did they do?

I know the road is hard. I know, I know, I know. And I'm not claiming I will ever stop writing if it turns out the industry collapses even before I get good enough for a contract. But it doesn't make it hurt any less.

Right now, after scavenging around for a Lois McMaster Bujold book to give to my brother, my mom sat down and started reading it again. I kind of decided if she's going to try and make my brother start reading again, she should give it a go too. It's been a while since I've seen her with a book in her hands. I offered her a trade. I'd take The Curse of Chalion off her hands and she could read Stormdancer--it was literally the only book I could think of giving her. I read it, liked it, know it's not perfect, but it was entertaining. And that's what I need literature to be--fun. Call me shallow, but that's what I want.

About a page in she kind of started complaining about the writing in Stormdancer.

And I got absurdly offended. It's so ridiculous because there are a million other books she could pick up instead. But it happened because if she dislikes it and she can't get into it, and I know in comparison that I'm way behind Rule of Cool entertainment in the prose level...then she'll never read nor like my books.

It's irrational. I'll admit it's irrational and deluded and I can't compare myself to other writers or worry about the industry all the time or even let my fears of my life and future push me away from writing. But I'm unable to distance myself from those thoughts, and as the mess that is Vanguard's Exodus comes to a close, I wonder if I'm just not cut-out for this. Adulthood, publishing, what have you.

Patience would help. A lot. But I've never had that, even in better times.
~Becky

EDIT: Here's the blog post Jensen put up a few weeks back. The first video has her talking about the struggle to get Hidden Huntress out.

Friday Blog Challenge: The Weather

Two quick update thingys: I've been watching Sense8 in between all the writing. I keep trying to space it out rather than marathon everything in a day, but it's difficult. I do love the series so far. Maybe partially because I am in love with Bae Doona and I'm probably always gonna be drawn to her work, but I kind of also love all the main eight characters and the people connected to them. All of them. I don't know--it's just a perfect cast. I only have one episode left, so I keep stalling, not wanting it to end. Maybe I'll finish it as soon as we get a season 2 announcement.

Second, I've been doing catch-up with the Lunar Chronicles lately, since the last book, Winter, comes out later this year. I'm usually not one for finishing series or getting into sequels, and I am definitely not into spin-offs or prequels or whatever. There's so many books out there, I'd rather get to experience new stories than stick with familiarity. (Which is neither a good or bad thing. Lots of people like expanded series and that's awesome too).

But I guess the Lunar Chronicles is the exception. I didn't just read the available sequels, I also decided to give the prequel a try. It's a villain prequel at that, told from the POV of a younger Queen Levana, and that's usually really risky. When author try to over explain their villains, they end up ruining them, but this time...it works! Fairest is actually proving to be really enjoyable.

It made me realize something: usually when I come across a concept that's almost totally perfect in its execution, I can't imagine every trying anything like it myself. Like, I'll never do anything with the four "elements" of water, fire, earth, and air, because Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra happened. I can't imagine ever doing anything with the concept that would surpass ATLA and LOK, or that wouldn't be influenced by it. And now, I can't imagine I'd ever even try a fairy tale retelling. The Lunar Chronicles is everything a fairy tale retelling should be and I don't know if I'd ever come up with an idea not influenced by it--so I'll probably leave the concept alone.

Anyways, enough fangirling :D On with the challenge.

Week 10: The Weather.

Oh man. I gotta talk about the weather?

Okay, here's the only way I can...all caps:

I LIVE IN MIAMI.

IT MEANS I'M CURRENTLY MELTING

BLAAAAAH.

Sorry.

Weather talk always sucks ):< Maybe it's because I've lived in Miami for so long, but I always get super confused when I hear people want to vacation here. It's like...why? Why would you torture yourself with the humidity and heat? What's there to like!?

I suppose I can't say I'd prefer living in a place that's perpetually freezing because I've never really lived anywhere that regularly goes below 40ºF, but I've always preferred the colder side of the year than the hotter one. (I think Tallahassee once went below 40, and while it was a shock for me, I liked it a hell of a lot more than the 100 degree days here).

Heat wavesss.

Heat wavesssss.

Stretched S's. That's how I probably sound when I'm dying. It's even worse when it rains because then it's hot, wet, and sticky. A sauna in the streets >:(

Did I mention the only reason I'm learning how to drive is because my parents' car doesn't have any AC ventilation thingys in the backseat? The front is nice and cool and the back seats can give you heatstroke?

So unfair. That's why I prefer being in control of the wheel. And the AC dials.

Welp. I complained about the weather today.

This is the bloggiest this blog has ever gotten.
~Becky

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Excerpt: In a Princedom by the Sea

Now Playing: Clint Mansell - Opposites Attract (Black Swan OST)

[Introduction].

These next two Monday Exerpts are going to be super obvious, but this list would be incomplete without them.

The entire reason this book works is because of the prose. Without it, it wouldn't be half as clever and half as powerful. Nabokov draws you in with beautiful, lyrical language and promptly sticks you into the mind of a depraved, demented, sociopathic man that destroys the life of a pre-teen girl.

The only problem is that there's no part of Lolita that hasn't been quoted and analyzed by a million other people, so even when I'm trying to narrow it down to my personal choice, it's a bit difficult not to be affected by that. And I tried really, really hard not to do the obvious, not to pick the opening paragraphs. I reread chunks of the book over the week, and I found a ton of passages I loved.

But in the end, nothing beats the opening.

It's really all in the alliteration--you can't miss it, but you're not distracted by it. It's perfect.

Sorry. I was going to try and steer away from it, but I just couldn't. It's a famous passage and rightfully so.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for fancy prose style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Blog Challenge: Favorite Thing To Do

Now Playing: The Dresden Dolls - Missed Me

No big updates to give. I just gotta say--if you haven't seen the Suicide Squad trailer, you gotta do it now. Or, as I like to call it, The Reason The Internet Is Collectively Squeeing over Harley Quinn.

I need to be Harley Quinn this Halloween. My hair might be too short for pigtails but...I could try? I could do the make-up easily. Messy, badly blended, blotches of color over my face is totally my thing. (Plus it'll be in honor of the new Halloween scene I'm writing for MG).

Second awesome thing of the week that everyone's been squeeing over: Pluto!
My love of Pluto (and Charon) grew last year when I was researching binary planet systems for my WIP. It's only fair I post up a picture of it being all cute.

On to the challenge.

Week 9: Your Favorite Thing To Do Right Now.

It might be kind of a cop-out to talk about something blog-related on a blog post, but I am really, really enjoying the Monday Excerpt thing. Now, whenever I read my books (and I've been doing it a lot more since I'm in desperate need to catch up on my challenge), I keep an eye out for passages I may want to feature on the blog or not.

I have a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to writing. I do worry about the plot and the characters, but at the moment, nothing is more important than the prose. Character development you can learn. Plot can get polished after at least ten drafts. But prose is a different beast entirely. Learning how to be clear and original in your use of language, to make people connect and imagine through the written word alone is really difficult. I've never been as good at it as I wished I was.

You learn to write by reading. A lot. And the Monday Excerpt thing is really proving to be helpful. I'm going to look at more action oriented stuff for far future installments, mostly because that's always where I fail the most. Oh! And I should feature more dialogue. That might be a bit trickier, but I'm sure I'll come across a book eventually with pitch perfect conversations.

Won't hurt to look, at least.
~Becky

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Excerpt: In All Ways Unremarkable

Now Playing: Gustavo Santaolalla - Leyendo en el hospital (The Motorcycle Diaries OST)
Here's another YA dystopian I don't hold in high regard. And once again, another YA dystopian that does deserve to be successful because the writing is pretty solid.

There's no denying it: there's a lot wrong with Divergent, and a ton of talented book bloggers and critics discussed that at length when it came out and are still discussing it at length now. Its biggest failing is the worldbuilding, but there's a lot of other things that don't really hold up well.

Thankfully, there are moments in the writing that are actually pretty good. And I can talk about them and praise them without the slightest hesitation.

I was already pretty apathetic toward the series when the finale happened, so I was equally apathetic at the giant plot twist of all plot twists that happened at the end of Allegiant. It's why I can't help but feel a bit of admiration toward Roth when I read this passage and actually felt a bit torn up. I wasn't invested enough in the series to feel it wholeheartedly, but I could easily imagine why it'd be the moment where a lot of fans felt the most emotion.

I think it's the framing of it. That first line carries the next two pages and it helps steer them with just the right amount of grief. I've been guilty of doing the one-line paragraphs thing, and I learned in workshop that's not really needed. But here, I think it's a bit justified. It slows everything down, makes the thoughts feel more spaced out. An unknown amount of time can pass between them. This is almost in the same way the "let's praise the MC's personality traits" feels justified. Generally, you get drilled that you should show, not tell, so having your characters stand around and think about how the protagonist is such an angel of beautiful awesomeness is not recommended. But once again, in this tiny moment, it feels justified because this is how someone might think when grieving.

Overall, it works, so I'm including it.

Spoilers for the end of the book.

Also, quick note: this is technically two chapters, both about a page in length, but I combined them here for easier reading. In the book, the break is done to pace them out.

When her body first hit the net, all I registered was a gray blur. I pulled her across it and her hand was small, but warm, and then she stood before me, short and thin and plain and in all ways unremarkable--except that she had jumped first. The Stiff had jumped first. 
Even I didn’t jump first. 
Her eyes were so stern, so insistent. 
Beautiful.  
But that wasn't the first time I ever saw her. I saw her in the hallways at school, and at my mother’s false funeral, and walking the sidewalks in the Abnegation sector. I saw her, but I didn’t see her; no one saw her the way she truly was until she jumped. 
I suppose a fire that burns that bright is not meant to last.
- Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Blog Challenge: 5 Things

Now Playing: Annie Lennox - I Put A Spell On You (cover)

Went to West Palm last weekend to go see Ren at her internship. It's the first time I ever took the tri-rail anywhere, and I was surprised Silvia and I didn't get hopelessly lost on our way there.

Saw awesome fireworks, ate awesome food, fought for the right to sleep early/sleep in, andddd bought really cute tiny notebooks >.> (I tried to resist. Failed. I am using one for revision notes on MG and the other for VE. Sooo maybe it was worth it?)

Back to business as usual :P

Week 8: Five Things From Your Bucket List

Hmm. You know, I don't really have a bucket list. There are things I want to do, but I want to do them recently. (And I'm under the wishful belief that I'm going to live till I'm 90. Shhh. Don't tell me otherwise).

I guess since I haven't yet even made it to 20, I could be as outlandish as I want in my so called bucket list since, as far as I'm concerned, I've got ten million years left to do everything. But I don't really want impossible things. I guess I could put "BECOME A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLING AUTHOR" down there, but that's not exactly something that's in my control.

I just wrote down things I want or things that would be cool. They're kind of silly and inconsequential. Well. Except for that first one. That one still ranks as one of the most important wishes.

Here's the list:
  • Publish a book 
    • yes, gotta get the obvious one out of the way first
  • Have my own home library.
    • You know what'd be cool? If all of my (hopefully) future home was a library. The entrance, the living room, the office (where it would start), at least half of the dining room, a shelf on the kitchen, the bedroom (of course).
  • Ride a motorcycle
  • Spend a day writing/reading at Disney world.
  • Visit a castle.
I guess the bonus one is "see snow", but that one ranks lower than all of these. (Plus, I doubt I'll be super heartbroken if it doesn't happen. If I can't get a home library though? Deathbed sadface).
~Becky

P.S: I had no idea what the hell this kind of list was supposed to look like, so I looked up a few examples online to see what I got. You guys. They're so vague. And broad. In the same lists, "go scuba diving" could be followed by "change the world."

K. I'll get right on that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monday Excerpt: Blue Haze of Cigarette Smoke

Now Playing: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - Sugar Storm (Gone Girl OST)
Maybe I could get a bit more imaginative than doing sci-fi classics back to back, but I didn't see point in delaying this one just because I noticed a pattern :P

This book is actually a bit difficult to read at times, and since technology's moved on, some components sadly didn't age well. But I'll alwaysss love the writing, especially because of scenes like this. They're so short, but so integral. 

This passage happens fairly early on, so there aren't any spoilers. If I could summarize the entire genre of cyberpunk into a few paragraphs, it'd be with this moment. It all comes down to atmosphere. 

Plus I just love how color is integrated. 

And that was the part of him, smug in its expectation of death, that most hated the thought of Linda Lee. 
He'd found her, one rainy night, in an arcade. 
Under bright ghosts burning through a blue haze of cigarette smoke, holograms of Wizard's Castle, Tank War Europa, the New York skyline[...] And now he remembered her that way, her face bathed in restless laser light, features reduced to a code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as Wizard's Castle burned, forehead drenched with azure when Munich fell to the Tank War, mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the night, with a brick of Wage's ketamine on its way to Yokohama and the money already in his pocket. He'd come in out of the warm rain that sizzled across the Ninsei pavement and somehow she'd been singled out for him, one face out of the dozens who stood at the consoles, lost in the game she played. The expression on her face, then, had been the one he'd seen, hours later, on her sleeping face in a portside coffin, her upper lip like the line children draw to represent a bird in flight. 
Crossing the arcade to stand beside her, high on the deal he'd made, he saw her glance up. Gray eyes rimmed with smudged black paintstick. Eyes of some animal pinned in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. 
Their night together stretching into a morning, into tickets at the hoverport and his first trip across the Bay. The rain kept up, falling along Harajuku, beading on her plastic jacket, the children of Tokyo trooping past the famous boutiques in white loafers and clingwrap capes, until she'd stood with him in the midnight clatter of a pachinko parlor and held his hand like a child.
- Neuromancer by William Gibson

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Blog Challenge: Siblings

Now Playing: Muse  - Map of the Problematique

It was mostly through coincidence, but it's good that I picked Ender's Game for Monday's entry since today's blog challenge is about siblings. Ender's Game is one of my brother's favorite books, second only to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He read Ender years before I got around to it and hyped it up big time for me.

(There's a part of me that's jealous of Orson Scott Card because he wrote the one book people close to me love: my mom, my brother, Silvia, Giselle... they all like it!

One day...one day...)

Week 7: Siblings.

Last New Year's Eve.
My brother and I have kind of grown up close over the years and then also nearly killed each other daily during our super early elementary school and late middle school/early high school time. In between fighting over the gaming consoles on the living room and how messy he is/how much of a neatfreak I am, we've managed to maintain a good relationship over time, more so now than in childhood and early adolescence.

I actually didn't talk to my brother a lot--or even at all--while I was away at FSU. I think we sent a text to one another maybe once every four months or so, and it was usually to ask something specific not just to talk. It's also why I know we probably won't communicate that much when he goes off to UF this fall.

Side note: and if you live in Florida or care anything about college football, you'll notice that he is indeed picking my school's primary rival as his alma mater. It's kind of great how our sibling rivalry got the full academic upgrade.

Despite that, whenever we do see each other, it's pretty easy to talk to him. He's told me about a few of his problems so I can give him some advice and he gets to listen to me whine whenever I start to worry about my writing. We have somewhat similar tastes in terms of music, particularly when it comes to Nine Inch Nails and rock in general. We beat Halo 3 in Legendary together and he helped with a ton of the large scale fight scenes in Redemption. Even now, I go to him for some combat and weapons related questions.

While we did have a couple of years where we couldn't really stand each other for long periods of time, I still stand by the fact that it was good siblinghood* for one reason: we were always backing each other up. Whenever he messed up, or I messed up, or something stupid happened, we never ran off to either of our parents to tell on each other. Keeping secrets and guiding one another was one of those things you were just supposed to do as siblings.

He's barely two years younger than me (already a lot taller--because genetics hate me) and just graduated from high school about a month ago. At the moment, he's planning to study biology and become a veterinarian, but whether or not he stays on that path or changes his mind, I wish him the very best. I do hope he finds success and happiness in life.

Bonus picture of us firing off a bunch of ground fireworks, in honor of Fourth of July:

Love of explosions run in the family.
~Becky

*Srsly why isn't this a word...?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Some Criticism

This is like a Monday Excerpt intermission.

Because not many people read this blog and I'm not planning to post this anywhere it could get attention--Tumblr or some carefully picked subreddit--I think it's okay for me to write this out. It's just some of the criticism I've wanted to give a YA author for a while now. And I can thankfully do it without being afraid of angering fans/anti-fans/neutral readers/authors/whoever.

I read John Green when I was really young--at the perfect age for his books. At the start of ninth grade, I began with Paper Towns, moved on to Will Grayson Will Grayson, read about a page or three of An Abundance of Katherines where I promptly got bored, read Looking for Alaska, followed him on vlogbrothers before, while, and a bit after the publication of The Fault in Our Stars, was so invested I cried the first time I read it-

And by the time the movie came out, I didn't know if I liked or disliked the book, or if I liked or disliked any other Green books. I just knew they didn't seem as great anymore.

As per all things that become famous, there has been some heavy backlash against Green in recent years. The primary criticisms seem to be that his stories are formulaic, that the same old boring plot structure happens to the same old boring-and-quirky characters. Plus, his dialogue is unrealistic since he's too invested in making his teenagers sound super intellectual and witty and funny, so, in the end, they don't sound like teenagers but like a twenty/thirty something man writing teenagers.

But I don't mind that stuff? Actually, I kind of disagree with that criticism. I don't hate his dialogue and I don't mind that some plot structures/character arcs are repeated. I notice enough difference in the executions to not be bothered by that sort of thing. The dialogue sounds pretty dumb, but I've actually spoken with people who talked like that and I've said incredibly Stupid Things in an effort to sound Super Deep, so it's not like teenagers don't talk pretentiously. It sounds equally stupid in real life as it does in a book. My willing suspension of disbelief is not affected by his dialogue.

So those aren't my problems. I'm fine with all that. But I've still started to feel conflicted over his books over the last few years.

It took me a while to put the reason into words, but I can do it now without problem. Here's the thing about his novels--the ones I've read at least: They never shut up about their themes. They are so. Incredibly. Preachy. They are built to be quotable. They are constructed to Teach Lessons.

Paper Towns is constantly talking about the complexity of individuals, how women are "real" people, how it's such a "treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person." And I don't mean the story fully explores these themes and lets them unravel. I mean, it tells you. It explicitly tells you. Characters summarize it in bullet points, quotable lines show up at the end of giant passages. It analyzes Walt Whitman to death and gives you pretty lines like how Margo Roth Spiegelman "was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl." It's pages and pages of Let Me Explain The Theme To You. And it makes me wanna go, Oh. Oh really? Sorry, that's too subtle for me, can you repeat that again? Margo...is not Manic Pixie Dream Girls, eh? Looking for Alaska honestly isn't much better since other characters have to tell Miles multiple times the themes of forgiveness and the real flawed nature of Alaska rather than the fantasy image he conjured about her.

By far the worst offender is The Fault in Our Stars, a book that never shuts up about Not Being Like Other Cancer books. It's annoying in the same way girls with internalized misogyny are annoying in their Not Like Other Girls proclamations.

It is a book that spends so much time trying to reiterate to you why cancer kids aren't inherent angels of virtue and knowledge. It's so good at praising itself. It reminds you constantly of the cliches of other cancer books and how this one subverts it. Hazel has to explicitly and bluntly tell Augustus that they were good people with good lives even if they weren't saviors of the universe. (And then in videos and interviews, John Green has to explicitly spell that out too). Because I, as a reader, am too stupid to understand or come to these conclusions on my own.

These are important themes. There are interesting discussions. They're smart and they're thought provoking and they deserve to be analyzed with teens and adults alike. But is it too much to ask the books lead me into said themes, to guide me, not push and shove and slap me around with them?

The speeches are the biggest evidence to my point, the ones that always happens at the end of the book.

(Spoilers ahead).

Paper Towns: At the end, there's a speech about the Strings, Grass, and Vessel metaphors (which are also the name of the parts of the book), how Quentin can now see the flaws in Margo and how there are cracks in the vessel but that's what makes it all beautiful and insightful and sympathetic, etc, etc, etc.

In fact, let's quote it, I have these books here, might as well use them:
"I like the strings. I always have. Because that's how it feels. But the strings make pain seem more fatal than it is, I think. We're not as frail as the strings would make us believe. And I like the grass, too. The grass got me to you, helped me to imagine you as an actual person. But we're not different sprouts from the same plant. I can't be you. You can't be me. You can imagine another well--but never quite perfectly, you know?
"Maybe it's more like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like, each of us starts out a watertight vessel. And these things happen...And the vessel starts to crack open in places. And I mean*, yeah, once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable....But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And it's only in that time that we can see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can come in. The light can get out."
All that? It's just Quentin. He gives an entire monologue about stuff we've already been explained throughout the book. I had to scale it down with ellipses or it'd be twice as long. Plus I'm sparing you the part where Margo is all, "whoa, that's deep."

The John Green side of Will Grayson, Will Grayson has a giant speech about how friendship is just as, if not equally, important as romantic love/sexual attraction and how much friends matter and love each other.

Here it is:
"You are a terrible best friend," I tell him. "Terrible! You totally ditch me every time you have a boyfriend, and then you come crawling back when you're heartbroken. You don't listen to me. You don't even seem to like me. You get obsessed with the play and totally ignore me except to insult me our friend behind my back, and you exploit your life and the people you say you care about so that your little play can make people love you and think how awesome you are and how liberated you are and how wondrously gay you are, but you know what? Being gay is not an excuse for being a dick.
"But you're one of my speed dial and I want you to stay there and I'm sorry I'm a terrible best friend, too, and I love you."
He won't stop it with the turned head. "Grayson, are you coming out to me? Because I'm, I mean*, don't take this personally, but I would sooner go straight than go gay with you."
"NO. No no no. I don't want to screw you. I just love you. When did who you want to screw become the whole game? Since when is the person you want to screw the only person you get to love? It's so stupid, Tiny! I mean*, Jesus, who even gives a fuck about sex?! People act like it's the most important thing humans do, but come on. How can our sentient fucking lives revolve around something slugs can do. I mean*, who you want to screw and whether you screw them? Those are important questions, I guess. But they're not that important. You know what's important? Who would you die for?..."
I am also once again sparing you the second half of that speech and a brief moment where Tiny is all, "damn you are amazing."

Even The Fault in Our Stars has a speech via letter form that Augustus writes to someone else but Hazel ends up reading.
Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We're as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we're not likely to do either.
People will say it's sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely.  But it's not sad, Van Houten. It's triumphant. It's heroic. Isn't that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.
The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invent the smallpox vaccine didn't actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn't get smallpox.... 

I can't even move on without addressing all the previous meta commentary sprinkled throughout the book, like,
[About a fictional book she likes]. But it's not a cancer book, because cancer books suck. Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy.
And,
 "Like, you are familiar with the trope of the stoic and determined cancer victim who heroically fights her cancer with inhuman strength and never complains or stops smiling even as the very end, etcetera?"
"Indeed," I said, "They are kindhearted and generous souls whose every breath is an Inspiration to Us All. They're so strong! We admire them so!"
"Right, but really, I mean* aside from us obviously, cancer kids are not statistically more likely to be awesome or compassionate or perseverant or whatever..."
And (massive spoilers),
According to the conventions of the genre, Augustus Waters kept his sense of humor till the end, did not for a moment waiver in his courage, and his spirit soared like an indomitable eagle until the world itself could not contain his joyous soul.
 But this was the truth, a pitiful boy who desperately wanted not to be pitiful...
And,
One of the less bullshitty conventions of the cancer kid genre is the Last Good Day convention, wherein the victim of cancer finds herself with some unexpected hours when it seems like the inexorable decline has suddenly plateaued, when the pain is for a moment bearable...
I don't have a copy of Looking for Alaska here and I don't want to pirate it, but while it's been a couple of years since I've read the book, I am 99% certain it also ends with a speech of the TFiOS variety. Miles sits down and writes a couple of paragraphs about the Labyrinth and death and the afterlife and forgiveness. He writes you a conclusion of the book in case you were too dumb to figure things out.

Here's the thing: none of that is needed because there are a shitload of other moments where his argument is built on through actual character interactions and moments. This is just too much.

The weird thing is--while I'm complaining about this, I know for a fact there are people out there who can't see these things. They're so blatantly spelled out, and yet some readers reach the wrong conclusions. I'm cool with a lot of the criticism in the novels (like, just because the language doesn't bother me doesn't mean I can't see why it bothers other people or rings fake to them) but there's also a lot that's skewed or misguided. By far, the main thing people disliked about TFiOS is that it apparently romanticized cancer.

There's an argument to be made in that it's not particularly successful in getting across its message. Like, there's argument to be made that because Paper Towns still deals with the journey and enlightenment of a boy through the use of a disappearing, 2D girl we never know nor understand then the book doesn't really subvert the Manic Pixie Dream Girl narrative, it just uses it straightforward without realizing it.

But when a book is constantly shouting at you "LOOK, CANCER ISN'T GLAMOROUS. IT ACTUALLY SUCKS" how do some readers come out saying the opposite, often with no real evidence? (That I've seen. Maybe I'm wrong).

The other thing that sucks is that, as much as I mock these books for Trying Too Hard, I know there are books out there that are on the other end of the spectrum. I know there are books that romanticize illness and death and make characters martyrs rather than people.  I understand why there's a need for this type of writing, but it still bothers me. Bothers me to think we're all too stupid to get it unless it's spelled out every other chapter.

I guess that's the sucky thing about internet culture in general, too. John Green might go around stating that Books Belong To Their Readers, but he sure likes to explain them a lot mostly because he sure gets bombarded by a crapload of questions constantly--as if the answers weren't already obvious enough--and he sure has a really grand platform to deliver those answers.

And that's the unfair but truthful reason for why I started to dislike these books: it is impossible to have a good conversation about a John Green book with another reader because they will inevitably parrot back exactly what he's already said in interviews or internet posts.

(Side note: and it's not limited to him either. While there are a lot of great conversations to be had, it's difficult at times to talk about A Song of Ice and Fire with people without them saying the same old, "oh you see, it's great because, like, it's so morally grey, and there are no true villains or heroes." Yeah, yeah, yeah, I read that GRRM interview too, can we talk about something else?)

It wasn't really until I started gathering things for the Monday Excerpts that I could put it into words. I hate it when authors try and hold my hand and spoon feed me their philosophies. I hate it when it feels like someone is preaching at me. And you know what? I may not hate that the dialogue is pretentious. But I can hate that it was the author's choice to write it that way not because some teens talk like that, but because it's just another vessel to spout the message.

Ultimately I think the root of this criticism is on an author level as much as it is on a reader-and-writer level.

He and I write for different reasons. He's said before that he constructs his narratives entirely on huge ideas about the human condition or whatever--the ambiguity of death, the nature of heroism in ordinary life, the way we "misimagine" (I hate that word...) other individuals--particularly girls--and fail to see them complexly, etc. And it shows. It really shows that he had a concept and overarching theme and then constructed characters and narratives around them.

I'm not going to pretend I'm entirely removed from that. No, I'm not going to pretend I didn't write this last sci-fi book on the idea that Amber's cybernetic nature and the eventual conflict with the robots of Vanir aren't my attempts to understand and maybe define what makes someone "human." But that wasn't written with the expressed purpose of giving an answer. If anything (spoiler alert?) I don't think Amber comes to an answer at the end of the book. I don't think she comes out saying, "well I guess I am/am not human because of X Y and Z reasons." In the end, it doesn't matter.

I spent years trying to figure out an answer for her. Amber and Miranda were people that came into existence somewhere at my start of high school, opposite sides of a Order vs. Chaos theme I was trying to build up on. I kept thinking, "when I write their stories, I need to have something worth saying, I need to have an answer for what makes us human."

And years later, older-me said, "uh...I don't know. Who cares?"

It isn't because that kind of thing doesn't warrant an answer. It's because I've just realized the story can feel complete without it.

I want to clarify: I don't really think I'm as a good a writer as John Green is, nor do I think that I'll ever be as famous or as analyzed as he is. You can make the argument that he'll be read dozens of years after his death and analyzed in the way we analyzed Catcher in the Rye, or something, and I won't. That's fine. But in this regard, in this approach to writing, is there more merit to one over the other? Am I the one who's mistaken?

Am I a bad writer because I inherently don't care enough to ask and answer complicated questions? Or is he?

I don't really want an answer to those questions because a part of me thinks they're the wrong thing to ask. Plus, writing is some complicated and full of so many little components, that it's difficult to define a truly "bad" writer.

And I don't think John Green is a bad writer. There is some lyricism to his prose at times. He pays attention to word choice and tenses to build certain moods and emotions for particular scenes. And he can be really funny. Side characters are great too. Radar and Lacy in Paper Towns are pretty awesome, Kaitlyn and Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars are equally awesome. So no, he's not a bad writer.

This entire time I've been writing and thinking about this post, I keep wanting to say something like, "I just don't think that kind of thing--pandering, explaining, being about concepts over people--is what fiction is supposed to do."

But truth is, I don't think fiction is supposed to do anything. And I don't know, nor do I think I'll ever know, what fiction is "supposed" to do other than be good. I guess it depends what my definition of "good" means in this context.
~Becky

*Note: A couple of weeks ago, while revising and writing, I noticed one of my verbal ticks was showing up in a lot of the dialogue. This: "I mean, [clarification/reiteration/what have you]." It showed up with Kaede, Monroe, and Miranda, and I think briefly with Amber once. It'll probably be in my other books too.

I'm taking it out of everyone except Miranda. "I mean..." can be her verbal tick.

I realized, while thumbing through the books I have here, that "I mean" is also John Green's verbal tick. He's said it in a few videos and Tumblr posts, and his characters say it too, over different books.

So to other writers: be aware of your own mannerisms and gestures, etc, while writing.
"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.