Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday Excerpt: Her Own Dear Soul

Now Playing: Of Monsters and Men - Thousand Eyes

[Introduction].

Another long excerpt.

The Golden Compass has stayed in my thoughts for years and years since I first read it. I remember scenes and dialogue pieces and even character descriptions in perfect clarity. Among my favorites are Lord Asriel's somewhat frightening introduction, and the fight between Iorek and Iofur, and the moment Lyra sees the witches' flight and meets Serafina.

This scene, however, almost broke my heart the first time I read it. The writing captures the feeling of desperation and terror Lyra and Pan are experiencing. Whenever I read it, I can hear the voice in my head running breathless, exhausted but still persevering.

Some spoilers, as this scene is toward the end of the book.

And she kicked and bit more passionately than ever, until the man holding her gasped and let go for a moment--and she was free, and Pantalaimon sprang forward like a spark of lightning, and she clutched him to her fierce breast, and he dug his wildcat claws into her fresh, and every stab of pain was dear to her. 
"Never! Never! Never!" she cried, and backed against the wall to defend him to their death. 
But they fell on her again, three big brutal men, and she was only a child, shocked and terrified; and they tore Pantalaimon away, and threw her into one side of the cage of mesh and carried him, struggling still, around to the other. There was a mesh barrier between them, but he was still part of her, they were still joined. For a second or so more, he was still her own dear soul. 
Above the panting of the men, above her own sobs, above the wild howl of her daemon, Lyra heard a humming sound, and saw one man (bleeding from the nose) operate a bank of switches. The other two looked, and her eyes followed theirs. The great pale silver blade was rising slowly, catching the brilliant light. The last moment in her complete life was going to be worst by far. 
"What is going on here?" 
A light, musical voice: her voice. Everything stopped. 
"What are you doing? And who is this child--" 
She didn't complete the word child, because in that instant she recognized Lyra. Through tear-blurred eyes Lyra saw her totter and clutch at a bench; her face, so beautiful and composed, grew in a moment haggard and horror struck. 
"Lyra--" she whispered. 
The golden money darted from her side in a flash, and tugged Pantalaimon out from the mesh cage as Lyra fell out herself. Pantalaimon pulled free from the monkey's solicitous paws and stumbled to Lyra's arms. 
"Never, never," she breathed into his fur, and he pressed his beating heart to hers. 
They clung together like survivors of a shipwreck, shivering on a desolate coast.
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Friday, February 26, 2016

Tranquil Violence

Now Playing: Trocadero - Contact Redux (feat. Meredith Hagan) 

Last week, I finished The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

One of the most fascinating chapters deals with the issue of spousal abuse. It's called Intimate Enemies. In it, he places special emphasis in saying a woman stays in her abusive household as a choice.

Yeah.

 He calls it a choice straight out.

To say that's controversial would be an understatement. It's controversial to this day and will be for decades, probably.

He doesn't do it in a way that blames the victim, but he still calls it a bad choice, while emphasizing that it doesn't mean violence is a fair penalty for said bad choice. It's not about blame, but about a) ensuring a victim fully and truly understands her situation and what led to it and b) gives her the power to leave. (He doesn't spell out the latter part, but it's clearly what's being done throughout the book. Always, always telling you that listening to your intuition and understanding a situation gives you power).

As de Becker was a victim of abuse growing up, he describes the mentality of someone who has grown accustomed to the abuse from a loved one. He talks about how a victim's perception of their limits and of danger changes drastically. ("I'm safe right now because--even though he's holding a gun outside the room--he's not in the room with me"), and how the victim come to associate feelings of safety and peace as only being capable of being distributed by the abuser.

Over the years, I've read pieces by people who suffered abuse--sexual, emotional, physical, mental--but though they did a lot to give me perspectives of those who suffered and survived, The Gift of Fear made me realize how little I knew about the attackers. What they need, what they search for, how they push boundaries, how they receive "rewards" for their actions based off of their victim's responses. (Ex: contacting a stalker--no matter what is said to them--more often than just encourages them to continue pursuit).

This part stuck out to me the most:

"...far from the 'crime of passion'  that it's so often called, killing a wife  is usually a decision, not a loss of control. Those men who are the most violent are not at all carried away by fury. In fact, their heart rates usually drop and they become physiologically calmer as they become more violent."

I gotta add this quickly: when my dad saw this book on my nightstand, he made two guesses: 1) the information surely will be useful to me in life and 2) it surely will be useful to my writing.

It's true, of course. Plus, seldom do the things I learn not resurface in my work in some way. Information like that is important for research and believability, but I have to find a way to frame the actions of my characters and the emotions of the scene without ever jeopardizing the reader's suspension of disbelief.

That part of the book stood out because I realized I could use it to reframe a certain scene I wrote a long, long time ago. There are hints of that tranquility born in choosing this particular violent act, but I never really embraced it. If anything, now that I'm revising, I wasn't sure if I should shift the antagonist's mood entirely and have him just go batshit angry.

But though I haven't tried to rewrite the scene as such, I hadn't fully convinced myself it would improve it. Now I feel certain it won't. (I might still try, just in case, but I feel confident in the other approach.)

I'm thinking being true to life will ultimately strengthen certain scenes.  But we'll see what an eventual beta reader has to say.
~Becky

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Beats

Now Playing: Trocadero - The Good Fight (Red vs. Blue soundtrack)

I told my dad about Adult World and he promised he'd get around to watching it sometime soon. I'm not sure if he'd like it as much as I do--it's a seriously ridiculous movie that spoke to me for very obvious reasons. But I do kinda hope he watches it. Storytelling is one of the definitive forms of achieving empathy, so if you watch Adult World and understand where it's coming from (even if you don't wholly like it), then, well, you can come to understand a little of my perspective and situation. And all of those like Amy and I.

(Which, side note, is why I'm not 100% against self-insert fiction. Overdoing it always results in a mess, but to an extent, writers always insert pieces of them in their work. It's the only way to try and make something genuine).

Anyways. I guess because I mentioned I often enjoy watching movies about writers, after he saw Ruby Sparks, he decided to let me watch it before we had to return it to Netflix.


And. It's. . .not very good. It's not bad. But it's not where it clearly wants to be either.

It got a high enough rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was written by its lead actress and directed by the people who did Little Miss Sunshine. It kind of attempts a subversive take on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and discusses men's misogynistic perspectives of both real life women and their fictional counterparts. It's kind of like Paper Towns.

And it fails in the exact same way Paper Towns* fails.


Look. You cannot be an introspective look on archetypal, cliche ridden narratives when you end up hitting every. Single. Beat. Of that cliche archetypal narrative. All the way from the beginning to the very last scene.

And if your main character is a borderline psychopathic asshole who desperately needs the revelation that women are, in fact, human beings, then why the hell would you still reward him at the end? Let him suffer! HAVE SOME CONSEQUENCES, is all I'm saying.

And if your narrative hinges on the fact that women are, yes, people, then why still make it the man's story? That's what I mean when I say these things still hit all the beats. Dude still uses the female character for personal growth while she, in turn, barely gets any real development or chance of complexity. We are told it's there, but because we're locked behind the man's perspective, we never see it.

Paper Towns was written by a man. Ruby Sparks was written by a woman. I find that interesting. They both think they're subversions of archetypes and stereotypes. They're really (and sadly) not. at least in my opinion. I'll say this, Ruby Sparks is more ambitious and has a far more interesting framing.

But that really cannot save it. Execution matters most.

Sigh.

I'm gonna get some coffee and go back to revising.

Maybe a read a couple of tweets from the Guy In Your MFA.
~Becky

*Talking about the book here. I tried watching the movie for Cara Delevingne, but it didn't hold my interest past the first part. Going off Thibaut's review, I didn't miss much.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rust-Flecked Familiar

Now Playing: Lana Del Rey - Freak 

Yeah, I'm stealing the first part of that title from Chuck Wendig and the latest Monday Excerpt.

But "flecks of rust" was the first thing to come to mind when Silvia and I ran into this cat at the library.

He wanted all of the cuddles. I kinda wish I could have adopted him so he could become my full-time familiar.

I like animals well enough, but I'm not necessarily an animal lover. If anything, the cats around my neighborhood make me slightly anxious because they seem constantly on edge. I kinda know them in the sense that we always lock eyes before they scurry off and climb the side of a car, duck behind a bush, dart down the parking lot, that sort of thing. There's one tabby I know somewhat because she spent like half a decade continuously pregnant; hopefully she's doing okay. Has not been pregnant in a while so she's got that going for her, at least.

But yeah, I never really got close to her. Didn't stroke her head or rub her tummy--not to her or any of them. Especially not the ones who ran away. I kinda pet dogs when I see them, but I tend to just admire them from afar. I don't get all "SQUEEE" at dogs or cats, and in fact, there's a lot of dog breeds I find kind of ugly. (Even more so now that I learned about the nature of said dog breeds)

Slight side note, but I always hear from childfree people that they consider dogs and cats cuter than human babies. It's like Our Thing.

Well. Not me. I'll probably always be childfree and yet I find babies adorable. I've only seen a handful of kittens and puppies so I can't say I have the best foundation for comparison. But then again, I've also only seen a handful of babies and I still think they're adorable.

So yeah. I'm not that big of an animal lover and I tend to have a live-and-let-live attitude with most of them. I've never owned a pet, though I used to quite like the rottweilers my aunt and uncle had back when I was child. They were never mine, though, and so I never had to take care of them and didn't see them all that often.

But that rust-flecked library cat is stuck in my head. Like, I-Wanna-Write-About-Him stuck in my head. I think it was just because I'd never seen a cat of that color. We learned later that it's common for black cats to "rust" when out in the sunlight, but with or without that knowledge, he still looked pretty amazing.

The closest other cute cat encounter I had was when my AP Environmental class found a kitten by a lake. And after rescue, we brought him to the class, called him Proton, and later had one of my teacher's cheerleaders/students adopt him. He was adorableeee.

Hmm.

Okay.

Okay, maybe I am a cat person.

This is an interesting development.

Writing side note: it's also partially interesting that, though I've never written about a character having a pet or just general animal companion, I am starting to write/plan a couple of animal motifs.

Specifically--the wolf, the spider, the bunny, and the butterfly.

Maybe someone could gain a cat--motif or otherwise. Classic witch companion, after all.
~Becky

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Excerpt: Rust-Flecked

Now Playing: Hans Zimmer - Are You Listening, Clark? (Man of Steel OST)

[Introduction].

I love this book. Chuck Wendig (who's quickly becoming my favorite author) is an incredible writer; he's proven that through his books, his short stories, his freaking blog (and Twitter). I'm almost jealous of him--of his characters, his humor, his understanding of what makes a plot hold the reader's eyeballs hostage, his incredibly vivid but unobtrusive writing.

This is a rather large excerpt from Zer0es because I want to showcase how one should introduce backstory. Particularly that which is especially painful to the character. I also almost wish I could make it even longer and backtrack a little bit so I could quote some of his dialogue. (It's realistic without being so true to life it becomes distracting).

A lot happens in this book. This is not the most visceral scene to go down in Zer0es--in fact many more terrifying, jaw-dropping, or outright awesome scenes happen after the halfway point--but it is one of the first powerful moments. After this point, I realized this would become one of my favorite books ever. Because it's not just the voice, it's the attention to detail that intertwines with the emotion, and how all that works together to reveal so much about this character.

Some backstory spoilers for Chance.

And then the lid pops and Chance's eyes adjust: everything's dark, then the white comes in like a nuclear blast, and then everything's bleached by light. Soon the scene creeps in through the wash, like shapes rising out of milk. Chance lifts himself up, water dripping off him in little streams, his puckered hands on the edges-- 
Hollis Cooper has a gun pointed at him. A rust-flecked old Smith & Wesson .357. 
Next to Hollis is Angela Slattery. Her face is bruised, swollen, plumped up like an ugly peach. She opens her mouth and pills fall out, clatter on the ground. "Don't look away," she hisses. 
"No, no, no, wh-what is happening--" 
Copper hands Slattery the gun. "I think you deserve this," he says to her. 
"Don't look away!" she screams. 
She pulls the trigger. Chance is erased in a white light and a dark splash. 
Chance lurches up. Bangs his head atop the inside of the deprivation chamber. It never opened. Hollis was never here. Neither, it seems, was Angela Slattery. (A mocking voice inside his mind: I don't know Angela Slattery!) Chance weeps. The moments stretch to minutes. They combine to form hours. They collapse again to seconds, moments, slices of moments. Time means nothing. Somewhere he fouls the water. He hears his mother drowning in her own fluids, coughing so hard she spatters the walls with her cancer. He feels movement underneath him, like he's in a casket on the way to the funeral instead of her. He hears the gunshot again from a rust-flecked .357, but this time it isn't pointed at him but pointed upward, underneath his father's chin, leaving him alone at the farm, and in life, forever.
- Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I didn't want to write too big of a post on this, but I figured I'd type my thoughts after a few days had passed.

Mostly because I feel really lucky in my experience with To Kill a Mockingbird. I never had an English teacher assign it to me. I never had to write essays and analysis and book reports on it. When I picked it up off a library shelf, sometime at the end of my middle school years, I got to read it with only the vaguest idea that it was this big part of American literature and that it had been a massive influence in some way.

I'm conflicted when it comes to classics. When I was younger, I used to think I was obliged to read them, and if I couldn't get into them, it made me feel guilty and dumb. For a few years, I didn't read as much as I wish I did because I couldn't get into old, somewhat complicated novels. (I tried eight times to read Pride and Prejudice when I was eleven and. It. Just. Bored. Me. I managed to appreciate it a bit more when I was older).

Weirdly, I never had a problem getting into To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe it was because I came to love Scout so quickly and so easily. I adored her voice and I saw myself in her character. I liked talking about the book with my mother too, and I remember she told me she'd loved it so much because Scout was the truest form of innocence in fiction.

I'm glad I went into the book without knowing anything about it. It was one of the first times I analyzed a text and had it impact me without someone else telling me to look out for X, Y, Z and discuss this point and that metaphor, etc, etc. I didn't need guidance, I just needed the words.

RIP Harper Lee.
~Becky

P.S: Slightly bookish related--I saw the Nebula nominees. I'm glad The Grace of Kings and Uprooted got nominated. Wishing those two the best :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Narrative Choices

Now Playing: Trocadero - Heart with Wings

The 100 came back a few weeks ago with season 3, and though I tried to stick with it, I got really annoyed, really quickly.

Ever since season 2--but even some decisions in season 1--it feels like the writers have been specifically tailoring scenes, dialogues, and episodes to pander to their audience, or pointlessly shock them, or basically just have entire arcs and character deaths and pivotal decisions happen because of what they think will keep different parts of their audience watching.

That may not sound like a bad thing--after all, if they made shit no one wanted to watch, then, wtf are they doing in a storytelling medium distributed to an audience? But when it's this blatant, it feels contrived. Not because I don't want them to listen to their fans. A lot of good can come from it--in fact, I'm certain they chose to include LGBT characters (like Clarke and Lexa) and a ton of women in a variety of roles because of feedback from the audience. But at the same time, when they overdo it in their plot choices, the story loses all credibility.

It's not something that has ruined all the show. The 100 has surprised me a few times and ensured I'd keep watching all the way until this point. There's a decision made at the very last episode of season 2 that felt both shocking and earned. Like something Clarke (and to an extent Bellamy) would do, given past decisions, character development, and the scenario that was presented to us. It all aligned perfectly. But just an episode earlier, there's a decision Lexa makes that is utterly nonsensical and pointless given earlier moments in the season.

Character deaths seem to happen on a checklist of "how do we shock the audience/keep getting those Game of Thrones comparisons?" The decisions and interactions seemed to be grounded on giving fuel to the stupid shipping wars. Every now and then on Tumblr and Twitter, you'd see the writers and series creators having to explain character motivations because, just within the context of the show, they, at bestdon't make any fucking sense and, at worst, completely fuck with established personalities or previous character development.

It got me thinking of Legend of Korra. And Avatar: The Last Airbender in general too. While they had controversial decisions and occasionally failed episodes, they managed to listen to their fans without completely pandering to them rather than letting the story unfold naturally. The creators (Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino) never went out of their way to please anyone, but they didn't ignore criticism either.

Basically, when the Avatar creators said, "we're doing this because it feels true to the characters and story," I believed them.

I don't believe The 100 creator and writers anymore.

I'm not sure how I would handle it in their position. I wouldn't ever want to pander to anyone--that kinda feels like the basic destruction of my artistic credibility.

But plugging my ears and shutting out all the feedback feels, uhm, Stephenie Meyer-ish. (Or actually. Responding to the feedback with an extended, "but you just don't get me!" is Stephenie Meyer-ish. As Life and Death proved. So I guess I'll never go that far).

Actually, Jason Rothenberg and The 100 writers seem like the exact opposite of David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who have, for years and years now, ignored the very real, very important criticism Game of Thrones has accumulated. Especially from the people who stuck by the show even when it repeatedly disappointed them.

Then in season 5, Benioff and Weiss put out the most contrived, insulting, and gratuitously offensive rape scene that didn't even make any sense within the context of previous narrative choices. And a ton of fans just said, "fuck it. We're done."

They still have an audience and they won't really suffer any true repercussions for their choices. But just based on artistic merit, their extreme isn't any better than the extreme of The 100 writers. How is balance so difficult for people to achieve?

I'm mostly jumping ship for that reason. It's come somewhat close to offending me (mostly with what they did to Anya), but not enough to make me drop it like I did with Game of Thrones after season 5.

No, it's just that I don't think I can keep watching The 100 when I just don't believe in any of it. I don't believe in these characters anymore. I don't believe in the story anymore.

Admittedly, I'm also partially doing it for that stupid fucking A.I. plot that got shoved in at the end of season 2. Shut the fuck up with the "and then the A.I. went sentient and launched nukes and killed humanity." (And she has a holographic avatar, is Battlestar Galactica Number Six-ing it up with Thelonious, and for some inexplicable reason has the platform the size of a briefcase. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?)

Ughhh. Lazy shitty cliches. Nonsensical choices. Kill me now.

This whole thing makes me sad.

Are the majority of franchises I get into bound to thoroughly disappoint me at some point?

No wonder I like stand-alone work so much.

Oh! Oh! But speaking of A.I's, I recently got back to a franchise that hasn't disappointed me yet. I started rewatching Red vs. Blue again.

I know "hasn't disappointed me yet" doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement and I'm not claiming I love every singular second of it, but it does strike a cord with me. I adore this show.

I'm finishing up volume 10 right now. It's been a blast.

I got into the show when season 5 was wrapping up, then followed along the next two seasons before drifting away from it. Not for any real reason. I just kinda forgot to catch up until now. Thank you, Netflix.

Season 6, Reconstruction, might be my favorite so far, just because of the almost mythic aspect surrounding the backstory of the A.I. Alpha. I'd forgotten that the show just got better and better as it went along--plus it has a kickass soundtrack.

Although of course 9 and 10 are amazing too--mostly because Monty Oum's (sigh. I miss his work) great animation and choreography is showcased perfectly with the Project Freelancer agents--which has more female characters (woo! NEED MORE) and a hundred percent more badasses than usual (although I still love you, Blood Gulch dumbasses).

Tex and Carolina - the best.
Oh, and, I talked about this with my dad and briefly with someone else, but I realized: it's no wonder I'm so fond of f-bombs. Season 5 finished in 2007. Combine that marathon with my middle school years and it's no wonder my cursing went haywire. Reading Chuck Wendig's work lately sure isn't helping either.

I know there's a lot of people who find cursing immature and offensive. Not me. I need to filter it out a lot when talking to certain people. But weirdly, no filtering is needed when I'm writing. It feels wrong when a character who isn't as fond of curse words as I am spews them out, even if it is technically warranted.

I am noticing I tend to love the potty-mouth characters slightly more than everyone else. (Thanks for sharing my love of cursing, Yukiko. You make revisions slightly less painful.)
~Becky

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Excerpt: The Sound of Peace

Now Playing: Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn - The Avatar's Love (Avatar: The Last Airbender OST)

[Introduction].

This is a gigantic book. Bunch of characters, bunch of conflicts, a million scenes, backstories, battles, political unrest, moments of introspection, etc, etc. Trying to find the One Solid Standalone Scene from such a complicated book is next to impossible, especially because everything builds on itself in The Grace of Kings in a way I hadn't quite encountered in other books.

But it's because everything just builds and builds and builds that, as soon as you reach the end, you feel this sense of relief. Things start to settle down. After such a complicated series of events, closing into a peaceful, quiet moment is all the more powerful.

Plus, this is a nice scene. Before I went into the book, I had in my mind an idea of how the prose would be, and then it turned out to be more inviting than I had presumed. Formal without trying to be too complex and alienating. It lets the reader focus on the action rather than the words.

This is near the end of the book, so I'll say it's a slight spoiler warning? Nothing too big, though. Like I said, just a nice, quiet moment.

As Luan Zya strolled through the streets of Ginpen he watched and listened: Young scholars earnestly debated philosophy in bars; mothers window-shopped with babies strapped to their backs, chanting the times table or the simpler Ano Classics; the great doors of long-shuttered private academies were open, revealing servants sweeping and washing the floors of lecture halls to prepare them for new students. 
He arrived at the site of his ancestral estate. The ruins remained undisturbed, but he saw that wildflowers were blooming in the nooks and crannies of the fallen stones: dandelion, butter-and-eggs, fireweed, columbine, chicory. . . . 
He knelt among the broken stones, and the bright sun warmed his face. He closed his eyes and listened, and all around him was the sound of peace.
- Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Forged. Ingrained. Loved.

Now Playing: Taylor Swift - Style

Happy Valentine's Day :D

I had this post ready to publish a few weeks ago, but like with the New Years' post, I realized I kind of had a holiday that was somewhat related. Somewhat. Only tangentially.

Mostly, it's a short ramble today.

Long ago, I asked a few artist friends once--during the Scholars' study hall, where we did everything but study--if they attributed their artistic accomplishments to aptitude or slowly constructed skill. Was their talent something they were born with, or something they constructed throughout years and years?

Like in most cases, I assumed they'd give me a middle answer. Maybe they were born with just enough talent that once realized and built on, it turned magnificent.

But their answer was pretty unanimous: built not inherent, nurtured not nature-sprung. We all start with stick figures. They kept drawing them and drawing them and drawing them until the stick-limbs fattened up, got joints, had crinkles, gained shaded dimensions, etc.

So I figured that made sense. No one--or at least, not 99% of the population, excluding those true prodigies--is born with ingrained talent. We have to forge our skill through persistence.

But maybe we all are born with something; not the skill, but the love/drive to build it. Some brains are wired to release all the happy chemicals in response to painting a picture. Other brains launch said happy chemicals when solving a math problem. (Some for both. And that's always nice).

I don't believe in fate, exactly. I can't stand hearing "everything happens for a reason." But of course there's cause and effect in our lives. I don't believe it was ever my ""fate"" to write half a dozen books, but clearly I was lucky enough to discover my brain was wired to make me happy when I told stories and worked with the written language.

In many ways, and especially during bad days, I wish it were otherwise. I wish I'd been born with a love for something more "practical." Something that could sustain me and keep me afloat without constant probability trying to push me down a ditch.

Life would not have been easier if I'd been born with an obsessive love for, I don't know, something in the wonderful world of business or STEM.

Important to note, I'm not so willfully stupid to think merely liking something replaces the need for hard work and persistence and even luck. (Luck being that thing that mostly happens through coincidence and perseverance). Nor do I think the job market is any good anywhere. My STEM friends aren't living the dream--we're all struggling. We're all fucked.

But I can't help but feel it might have yielded better results so long as I worked hard. I can't say the same for writing.

The reason I wrote this post is because I've started to wonder, just, why I went into writing. Why am I still writing? If it's difficult, why am I doing this? The answer used to be: "because I love it." Now it's slightly extended, in the range of, "I don't know. I didn't ask to like writing, I just always have."

It's probably a product of being a melodramatic somewhat-adult-kid who's rewriting about 100k words of a manuscript that might never go anywhere and will never bring me money if it even makes it out of this computer. But it's very, very strange to both appreciate and resent your passions.

Although I do wonder something else. If my passions were different, I wouldn't be me, would I? Down to the wiring of my brain, if I loved something else, I'd be someone else.
~Becky

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hunt

Now Playing: Brand X Music - World Without End

This is really lame, but I feel like I need to admit it: about half of the reason I got into archery was because of video games.


The first time I played Skyrim, I made Arkana--my witch character from my childhood book AKA first attempt at a lengthy story, The Night Kingdom. She uses a giant battle axe in the rewrites of the book, so in the game, I'd sometimes alternate between dual magic using and a two-handed axe, and other times I'd have magic spells at the ready in one hand and a small war axe on the other.

I always liked the idea of an archer character, but I mostly stayed away from it because a) my aim and level of patience was shite, b) I was afraid I'd run out of arrows, and c) it just wasn't Arkana's gig.

I think at the time I resented that bows and arrows were the designated female character weapon, and I never thought to consider just how much strength and skill was required to operate one properly. In fact, it wasn't until years later, when I was reading someone's critical analysis of The Hunger Games that I really considered the ins and outs of archery. (One of the things that annoyed the reviewer the most was how much emphasis Katniss put on her opponent's size and weight and how "useless" her bow and arrow might be if a 200-pound opponent comes at her with a sword. Completely ignoring the fact that ranged weaponry is more often than not superior).

Even in games where there was no aiming mechanic--like Dragon Age--I'd make rogue characters who weren't archers. My first Warden (River) was a mage, but my second one (Kyoko) and my Hawke were rogues who dual-wielded swords. (Because in rewrites, that's Jacob's weapon choice).

What finally convinced me was watching my dad's Dovahkiin archer--which is already odd since he's usually a warrior, all sword-and-shield. He didn't seem to use the bow much for fights, just for hunting. Later on, when we got ahold of the Tomb Rider reboot, the aiming mechanic for Lara's new weapon--the bow and arrow--is really, really good. It's silent and precise, so it makes it perfect for hunting all kinds of creatures. (Including heavily armed enemies).

I replayed Skyrim after my brother pumped it full of mods (including new hairstyles--squee!) and created Valianna*,my Wood Elf archer.

It was almost nostalgic. Years before, early middle school time, my dad bought me a tiny compound bow from Bass Pro Shop. I can't use it anymore (too small, can't do a full draw), but I did remember having fun with it. By the time I got around to writing Oculus, modeling my fictional Serena after her Dragon Age: Inquisition counterpart, I researched a lot about archery.

I'd never quite realized archery was all about stance and consistency. Fiction puts a shitton of emphasis on hitting bull's eyes, precision, that kind of thing. But the basics of it really does come down to stance; you're really not focusing on your aim in the beginning. Eventually you adjust, you get the general feel of where the arrow will go. But it's all: squeeze your shoulder blades, put your back into it, stand correctly, be consistent in your anchor point, don't. Do. The. Chicken. Wing.

We have another practice bow here--a simple longbow (that belongs to my brother) with a basic draw weight of about 10 pounds or so. But it has become quite fun to practice with it. And it's gotten me thinking about hunting.

I'm a really squeamish person. Anything that smells odd or funky might end up sending me into a vomiting spree. Sight might push me over the edge.But I really want to learn how to hunt. Probably nothing big--squirrels and rabbits. Definitely not gonna kill deer unless I have thirty people to feed or something. And I don't want to do it with a firearm, though I wouldn't be against carrying one as a back-up. I'd want to hunt with a bow. But which kind? What archery style would benefit me? I wonder what most hunters prefer. Recurve interests me, but for field archery, do people like compound more. . .? It feels like they might, but I haven't researched it fully yet. (NUSensei has been the bulk of my early archery education).

Part of me wonders if I'd be the kind of person that can take an animal's life with my own hands. I'm not a vegetarian, probably never will be, so it's not like I'm morally opposed to the idea of eating meat. But when it comes to doing it first hand, would it be difficult for me to process the weight of my actions?

I'd practice ethical hunting of course. Follow hunting laws, be as humane as possible, never be wasteful or cruel or give myself unfair advantages. (I talked to someone who hunts in Australia, and she mostly goes after invasive species and said they're not allowed hunting dogs or tracking devices or anything of the sort. Which seems more than fair).

I remember years ago watching this short, student-documentary about a family, and they mentioned that the boy was an animal lover. His dad said people don't expect that of hunters, but to be a good hunter is to understand and even love animals. It was fascinating.

I'd keep up with the sport even if I stuck to and developed target archery, but I think I'll always be at least a little curious about hunting. (Plus, it'd bring me closer to Serena).
~Becky

*I can't remember if that had a "y" or an "i" >_>

Monday, February 8, 2016

Monday Excerpt: Beneath Her Skin

Now Playing: Marcin Przybylowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, Percival - The Trail (The Witcher 3 OST)

[Introduction].

Despite all the praise I've been giving this book, I've had trouble picking out a moment that truly encapsulated why the prose built on the atmosphere so well. Usually I remember a particular phrase or passage as it is written, but with this book, all I  remember are images. Vivid images. Which is not how I really remember books at all.

However, because it's how I remembered this book, I picked a scene that stood out to me. And I think part of the reason I remember it so much is because of its length--it goes on and on, in such close detail to draw out how agonizing the pain must be. It doesn't try to hold back in its brutality.

Major spoilers for the end of the book.

Close, the Wood-queen seemed even more strange, not quite alive; her lips were parted, but her breast didn't seem to rise and fall. She might have been carved from wood. Her skin had faint banded pattern of wood split lengthwise and smoothed, waves of light and dark. Sarkan opened the vial, and with one quick tip he poured the fire-heart directly between her lips, and then spilled the final dregs over her body. 
Her eyes flew open. The dress caught, the roots of the heart-tree caught, her hair caught, fire roaring around her like a cloud as Sarkan pulled me back. She screamed a hoarse, furious cry. Smoke and flame gouted out of her mouth, and bursts of fire were going off beneath her skin like orange stars flaring, in one part of her and another. She thrashed on the mound beneath the roots, the green grass charring swiftly away. Clouds of smoke billowed around her, over her. Within her I saw lungs, heart, liver, like shadows inside a burning house. The long tree roots crisped up, curling away, and she burst up from the mound. 
She faced us, burning like a log that had been on the fire a long time: her skin charred to black charcoal, cracking to show the orange flames beneath, pale ash blowing off her skin. Her hair was a torrent of flames wreathing her head. She screamed again, a red glow of fire in her throat, her tongue a black coal, and she didn't stop burning. Fire spurted from her in places, but skin like new bark closed over and even as the endless heat blackened the fresh skin once more, it healed again. She staggered forward, towards the pool. Watching in horror, I remembered the Summoning-vision and her bewilderment, her terror when she'd known she was trapped in stone. It wasn't simply that she was immortal unless slain. She hadn't known how to die at all.
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Friday, February 5, 2016

Rambles

Now Playing: 

Some random thoughts I've had throughout the week.

1) Much as I have problems with The Fault in Our Stars, the height of my hate for it occurred sometime between 17-19. It lasted a while. Yes, at the time when I should have connected the most--YA girl with a YA book--I abhorred it. I picked it back up three days ago--adult!me reread--thumbing through it, and remembered why I'd liked it during that very first read. It's lyrical. To me, it's still too pretentious and preachy and didactic and outright infuriating. But it can be lyrical.

This line:

". . .and then I just started muttering stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid over and over again until the sound unhinged from its meaning."

Bolding mine. I really liked that line.

I know John Green said once that he'd rather write something useful than write something beautiful. And that's totally fine, I wouldn't want to tell another writer how to connect and build on their craft. But he'd be among my favorite writers if he wrote that which was beautiful, because his prose really is lovely.

One of the book's themes is about, like, gender perceptions of heroism and general heroic narratives (which leads to that baffling line regarding V for Vendetta), and it's got a ton of water-related metaphors. I'd completely forgotten about that.

I'm not going to say this book is a direct influence on my book, but I guess it stuck in some ways. Some. Ways.

My water metaphors are part because I was a swimmer for years and part because of the Drell religion discussed in Mass Effect--they coincide the afterlife and other divine places with the ocean.

Plus, if you romance a dying Thane, he has a letter where he says, "I will await you across the sea" to your Shepard. He also says the line, "And when you go to the sea, I'll be waiting for you by the shore." 

I just think it's a beautiful image: crossing through worlds in the same way one crosses an ocean. Which I realize is not necessarily an original concept, but it was only through Mass Effect that I really appreciated it.

But still. This water-imagery is not wholly unrelated to TFIOS, I don't think. It's like, part of the culmination of influences that led to Millennium Girl.

I still don't like TFIOS, but I don't hate it as much as I did a year ago.

Which leads to,

2) Revised-draft!Wendy likes comic books, a trait I didn't discover till sometime late last year. This has led me to realize I need to answer a question I should have asked the first time I wrote the book.

Years ago, for my AP English class, I had to write an essay about what I believed in, and the only two rules were: we have to read it in class and not go over/under time (can't remember the limits) and it has to end with the phrase, "this, I believe."

I wrote about heroism, and how it can manifest in anyone, great and kind people, or the truly despicable. Now, years later, this revised MG and this version of Wendy are making me write about the price of heroism and how it connects to a person's limits in terms of goodness/kindness.

Also, somewhat tangential, I'm also adding in a bunch of shit about using people--whether you mean to or not--but that's because, uh, I'm always reeling and overthinking past real-life conflicts.

I kinda have to write my way out of it.

3) I really wanna give myself bangs. Fringe bangs.

I've been cutting my own hair for a while now (just kind of eyeballing it and cutting it dry since it's curly) so I don't see why fringe curly bangs would be any difficult. The only problem is, the very hair I would cut is the very hair that often looks dry and frizzy. Especially in the humid Miami days.

I still wanna try >_> There are plenty of girls who can pull it off, but I have no idea how many bottles of conditioner/animal sacrifices they go through to maintain such beautiful hair:


The other problem is I have somewhat of a tiny forehead, and I've always gotten the impression bangs look better on five-heads. I'd have to confirm somewhere. . .

4) I. . .figured out I like Taylor Swift.

I like her--as pure country fans would say--post sell-out move. AKA I like her in the pop genre. I figured this out the other day when I relistened to Blank Space, which is not necessarily great musically (not to my persona taste--I have no idea what the "professional" opinion might be), but she's got a great voice, and the lyrics are really, really good. I think I appreciate the song so much because it showcases her writing and her vocals.

Plus, I'm starting to think there might be witches in Death Awakens (still deciding, still planning, still not-writing-that-one), and I think Lola (one of the main characters) would hardcore connect to Blank Space, completely oblivious to the fact that the song is deliberately over the top and in fact displays a level of egoism that is frighteningly harmful for all parties.

See, if the character of Blank Space was real, this bit seems to be a moment of complete self-awareness for her:
So it's gonna be forever
Or it's gonna go down in flames.
You can tell me when it's over
If the high was worth the pain.

From experience, she knows it'll end. She pretends there's some hope, but she knows already it never, ever works out.

As well as,
'Cause we're young and we're reckless
We'll take this way too far.

That right there sounds like something the Blank Space girl (and Lola) tells herself pre, mid, and post fall-out. Self-aware in some ways and completely oblivious in others.

Anyways, I really like the song now. I also got around to listening to 22, Welcome to New York (which, despite being described as cliche by critics, I like because she uses the word "kaleidoscope." You win me over with your word choice), Style (another one for Lola), Out of the Woods, and Wildest Dreams. I even kinda appreciated the utterly nonsensical and silly Love Story.

I still don't like a whole lot of her songs. Bad Blood, Shake it Off, You Belong with Me, Fifteen--they all make me wanna set things on fire. Terrible, terrible songs.

But I like a good chunk of her work, it seems, and I even like her as a person. Or at least what she allows people to see. I like how she's still learning about feminism and pushing to understand it and have others understand it--because to be part of the movement is to not just educate others, but constantly educate yourself.

I like how amusing and hyperactive she can be. I like that she speaks so much about reading and writing and how important they are.

Hopefully I can like whatever other music she makes. I wouldn't want this to be a one-time thing.

5) Speaking of Death Awakens. . . .

Not that I've written too much about this character--I mostly see Lola in snippets as I listen to music and click through Pinterest--but she seems like a girl with a really warped perception of who she is. Except that perception is born out of caution. It's like a self-defense mechanism; she sounds so terrified she'll be perceived as weak and easy to manipulate that she works to convince everyone--even herself--that she's like this villain in the making, untouchable, wielding uncontrollable power over everyone else.

The main emotion I get out of her is anger. Anger and desperation but not, like, in a way that makes me dislike her or pity her. I think I can sympathize with her frustrations even if I do see through her defenses.

I just hope, if I get around to writing her, I'll be able to convey that properly.

Also, speaking of popular music I now apparently like and how it relates to my writing: I was watching some old videos by YouTuber/music critic Todd in the Shadows, and he mentioned Love Me Harder by Ariana Grande and The Weeknd. I already really like The Weeknd, but hadn't listened to this song. Once I did, I found there's something very sweet about it.

I mean, I know it's meant to be super sensual in like a mature way, but that's not. . .how I'm hearing it? I'm hearing it more like two somewhat inexperienced young adults being curious and youthfully passionate about each other. Which I think is why I keep thinking of Lola and her possible relationship with the main boy character.

Although btw, I haven't figured out said boy character's name. His last name, yes, but not his given name.

Frustration.
~Becky

P.S: Turns out Death and I like the same designer. I don't know if I'll be able to name-drop it, but at least on blogger I can say she wears McQueen.
Can't forget the shoes too:

 (She likes bunnies and high fashion. Can't say I blame her).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Archetypes and Subversions

Now Playing: Chris Cornell - Seasons (Man of Steel soundtrack)

I mentioned I got really mad at Red Rising for how it handled its female characters. I was also, surprisingly, mildly disappointed in the much-better-crafted The Grace of Kings for the same reason.

Because both Grace of Kings and Red Rising were due on the same Saturday at the library, I had to rush that final week to finish the both of them. They're not alike, of course. The Grace of Kings is better written, better plotted, has better characters, is more imaginative, has a better grasp on emotion and complexity. Basically, it's just better. Overall, Ken Liu is a better writer.

I do look forward to upcoming books in his series and how the world and the characters will develop. But. Yeah. I gave it three stars. And inadvertently, because I read it back to back with Red Rising, I ended up thinking a lot about a similar problem I had with them both.

Basically, I always find it weird that we're over a decade into the 21st century and female characters are still just. . .written really, really badly. If they're not boring archetypes, they're insultingly underutilized and/or disgustingly tossed aside for the benefit of the male characters. As harsh as I was with The Grace of Kings, this review pretty much summarized what my problem was with the book--and that reviewer holds nothing back.

A lot of dude-bros will get annoyed that readers like us are angry when books have minimum female characters or stereotypical female characters. And all I gotta say to that is eat a dick, I deserve to be represented in my favorite genre and my favorite adventures, and until there's a gender balance among all storytelling mediums, you're not allowed to pretend we should be content with the bare fucking minimum.

Ahem.

Anyways.

The weird thing is, people are surprisingly hard on Grace of Kings for not doing more with its female characters. Yet Red Rising, at least in my friends' list, got a lot of leeway on the whole Women in Fridges and Rape as Plot Device problems. (Some people argued the rape plot points were handled properly in connection to how brutal it was? But. Uh. I have no idea what they're talking about). People gave it four or five stars while acknowledging that it's utterly misogynistic.

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't forgive it.

In the years that I've become more and more attached to the feminist movement, I've found it impossible to just "turn my brain off" and let sexist narrative choices wash through me. If it's there and it's prominent, I will hone in and hate it. Hate, hate, hate it. It's intrinsic now. And for anyone rolling their eyes--I get daily reminders of prominent sexism in our modern era. If I stay at home, I get those reminders through the good ol' internet. If I leave, hit a cafe, walk around Downtown Miami, I get those reminders just moving around streets. No matter what I'm wearing, how I feel, what time of day it is. I. Get. Reminded.

It's enough to make a girl angry.

And while Grace of Kings has some problems in that department, Red Rising is utterly horrendous. There's no reason for why it treats its female characters the way it treats them. It's just there, a byproduct of our real life fucked up culture overstuffed with fucked up narratives. On occasion it seems to think it's better and more complex than it actually it is and it never quite rectifies this problem.

And weirdly, GoK is almost there too.

Because GoK is a better book, I'm going to discuss it more thoroughly. It bothers me because the book is so good and because I understand, on a thematic level, what Ken Liu was trying to do.

Basically, GoK deals a lot with the expectations of the genre. A lot of books would end after the formidable blue blooded warrior destined for greatness ascends through his cunning eye for warfare and the games of politics to take the throne. That's, at best, the middle point of GoK. It chooses to keep going, really bringing its character through a downward spiral and showcasing the dangers of peoples' actions and the extremes of their personalities and choices.

(Side note: In fact. . .I think it's what Marie Lu's The Young Elites series is currently trying to do. But, as much as I love Marie Lu, TYE seems more concerned with saying that Adelina is entangled in darkness rather than actually showing it.

Tangent, though. I can't say for sure yet.

I will have to revisit this point later on, after the series concludes).

So as established, GoK is really complicated and I'm not going to get into everything that happens. But I am going to talk about one character--particularly her introduction--that is just. . .baffling to me.

Princess Kikomo is introduced about two hundred pages in. While her position in the world and her backstory is explained, a lot of her early chapters are basically veiled by discussions of a familiar archetype: the impossibly beautiful princess at the center of a high fantasy book. The story first spends a lot of time acknowledging that Kikomo is so beautiful and so aware of her beauty that she's witnessed how it's changed people's behavior toward her, and not necessarily for the better. Then, the story has her complain about this to someone, who in turns states that her oh-so-tragic view of her beauty is wrong. Wrong because she can wield her beauty as she should wield any advantageous trait.

There's a ton of back and forth then with Kikomo saying, well, why must beautiful women in stories use their beauty? If they're not going to be pretty damsels in distress, why must they be seductresses and femme fatales? Is there nothing else? Why can't they (we) be more than that?

And then the other character says, you wouldn't give this criticism to a man. If a man was introduced as being impossibly handsome and using his charms to get ahead in life, you wouldn't criticize the way he behaves or how he utilizes his gifts.

The whole time I was reading that section, or really the whole time I came across a Kikomo scene, I swear, I could feel the authoritative stick poking me in the ribs going, "get it get it get it? I'm playing with your expectations. She's not a typical princess archetype."

Except there I was, for that entire middle portion of Grace of Kings, waiting for the subversion to hit.

And it never, ever, ever did.

It kept telling me, through super meta conversations and occasional moments of introspection, that Kikomo was more than that. And she wasn't. She wasn't a bad character. No one's bad in this book. But she was nothing special. In fact, to make matters worse, she's discarded almost as quickly as she's introduced.

The greatest failure in Kikomo as both a literary device and a character is that, ultimately, she's fucking pointless.

Her and Mira. Two women who are introduced as possible archetypes, presented as subversions, and discarded before they can become anything more. Before the so-called depth and subversion could properly manifest.

I don't believe it's unwarranted to think Ken Liu assumed it would be different. Or that there are readers out there who saw the Kikomo and Mira scenes and thought, yes, these are powerful characters with tragic but deserved endings.

I couldn't see it. I couldn't see how the book didn't realize it was talking about all the things Kikomo and Mira weren't (damsels, pawns, beauties of no substance) and yet did nothing with what they were supposed to be (??? fuck if I know. Cunning, I guess?).

There is another female character, Gin Mazoti, who just, like, storms in at the eleventh hour and is about 99% of the reason I'll be reading the sequel. But that's the thing--she's introduced near the last third of the novel. I know next to nothing of who she will become, how she'll play a role in future narratives, or if I can even be certain she'll be a top player in the next book.

I have some ideas, as well as slight reason to believe she'll be a delight to read about. Like many other characters, she seems to be a play on tropes too. While I'm nervous about how she might surprise me, I am excited too. Because I'm hopeful. Hopeful I won't be disappointed again.

We'll see.
~Becky

Monday, February 1, 2016

Monday Excerpt: Fluxing Universe of Shapes

Now Playing: Daft Punk - Recognizer (Tron: Legacy OST)

[Introduction].

I don't think too highly of this book's plot. I thought it started off great, had a really interesting premise, even great writing in the beginning. Then, right after the main character, Sadie, goes into the mind of the boy, Ford, the entire premise gets wasted in what basically amounts to a murder-mystery plot. And our two leads gradually become more and more insufferable. (Ford more so, but that's because the kid started at the bottom then dug himself a pit of atrocity).

But whilst reading those opening chapters, I was really drawn into the concept. The imagery can become kind of abstract at times, but just like I discussed in the Octavia Butler excerpt, it's done so well here it doesn't lose me. It manages to stay grounded.

Focusing her eyes not through Ford's but somewhere closer, she found herself watching as points of color, red and green and yellow and purple, hundreds, then thousands of them, materialized like a George Seurat painting into a shimmering image of a boy smiling blissfully while a girl, face hidden by a mass of dark hair, kissed the corner of his mouth. 
It was dazzling, magical. As Sadie's eyes adjusted to this new focal length, she saw that this image wasn't the only one, it was happening all around her in his mind, millions of points of color, a massive, fluxing universe of shapes, images, and scenes forming and fading synthetically into one another. It seemed boundless, an endless stream, whipped by at the speed of thought and yet clearly visible to Sadie. A fall day at a lake, a crushed beer can, bunk beds, a hand reaching-- 
"Plum," Kansas announced triumphantly. "That's her name. Real pretty, right?" 
The images--memories? Fantasies?--vanished. Sadie heard a low thump and realized the entire episode had taken place in the space of one of Ford's heartbeats. 
- Minders by Michele Jaffe 
"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.