Monday, October 31, 2011

On All NaNo's Eve, the ghouls come out to play...

...and they keep muttering about word processing programs.

Call me the proud possessor of a Type A personality, but I haven't been able to stop watching the NaNoWriMo countdown clock all week. This is my first year attempting it, and I'm both excited and scared.

Which is odd, quite frankly. I'm a fairly productive writer. I consider 3500 words to be a good day. Anything under 2000 is a failure. 1667 should be a cakewalk, right? Then why the hell haven't I done this before?

Well, things have a way of piling up. The first time that I heard about this strange NaNoWriMo thing, I was a sophomore in college. I was taking a full course load on top of working a full time job, and November landed right smack in the middle of finals season. Not a chance. Not even if I slit open my veins and poured the Red Bull directly into them. Then I graduated college, got a job that actually paid all of my bills without requiring ninety hours a week. Whoo-hoo! Time to party! The past two years of my life, without going into too much detail, have done a great job of dismantling that plan. Maybe NaNoWriMo just wasn't destined to be in my future.

Long story short, I got mad. I got fed up with the person who sent my life running into that brick wall two years ago having control over me even though we're in different states and decided to do this rather than simply talking about it. Every writer runs into excuses not to write, I'm not enough of a special snowflake to escape being a…special snowflake. The third book in the series that I'm tweaking is also guaranteed to kick my rear end. Opening myself up to the specter of public mocking might just be the only way to get it done. And, okay, my competitive spirit is up.

So, gentle readers, this is my warning to you: I will be of dubious sanity for the next thirty days. However, if all goes according to plan, at the end I just might have a book.

It's about to get scary.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"She's Got a Real Nice...Voice."

My earliest memory is of watching a horror movie with my dad when I was about eighteen months, maybe as much as two and a half years old. (Certainly no older.) I use the term "horror" because the goal of the movie was to scare the crap out of everyone watching, though by today's standards it would probably ring more hokey than frightening. It was filmed in black and white, with the particular and oddly endearing softness that marks old film. A blonde in a nightie was traipsing through a dimly lit room. As she turned to gaze pensively into the camera, a warty monster hand reached out from behind the window curtain and stretched slowly towards her throat.

My mother chose this moment to walk in the front door laden down with grocery bags. She noticed the ghoul behind the curtain several seconds before the blonde in the sexy-chaste white nightgown caught on, long enough to turn her head towards my father and fix him with the kind of withering, paragraph-heavy glare that only spouses who have been together for a long time can pull off. Before he could defend himself or make up an excuse for why it was actually educational for a toddler to watch a strangling, no, really, I took over matters for him.

Pointing at the television screen with all of the gravitas that a person still wearing Pampers could muster, I intoned, "Boogie man, Mommy. Boogie man."

Yeah. I didn't have a chance. By the time that I hit adolescence, I loved the late seventies/early eighties slasher flicks like I had loved my Gem doll and Sci-Fi Saturday as a child, because girls got to be cool. The age of the Final Girl* had begun. My friends and I would have constant slumber parties at the house of the friend with most permissive mom, and Scream featured heavily. Horror movies have always been right at the pulse point of what's troubling society at that particular time (much like comic books and superheroes, and that's why I less-than-three them both), the Scream franchise being no exception. The first film was made in 1996, right at the height of self-important irony in media**. The first movie took apart the rules of horror movies and put them back together in new and fun ways, winking at the audience all the while. The next three have continued the trend of mocking themselves, analyzing themselves, then mocking their over the top analysis, and have never stopped being fun. (Even the third one. I refuse to be ashamed.)

But above all, the movies have Sidney Prescott. She's only seventeen in the first movie and spends a lot of her time alternately brooding and screaming, but pulls it together to kick bountiful amounts of ass in the climax. She continues this pattern over the course of the next three movies, steadily growing stronger, more willing to rush into danger because it's right. She never crosses the line into pursuing trouble before it comes to her (as many attempts on her life as she's survived at this point, that would surely qualify her for superhero status). As of the fourth movie, she's still kicking strong fifteen years after most horror ingénues make their exits.

So, in honor of Halloween: here's to you, Sidney Prescott, one of my very favorite Final Girls.

*Even though Clover's point in Men, Women, and Chainsaws was that female characters had to really be dude stand-ins because they were, like, powerful and interesting and stuff. -_- face forever.

**This is the same time period in which Lady Gaga was reaching adolescence. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Comic Book Nation by Bradford Wright

Description: As American as jazz or rock and roll, comic books have been central in the nation's popular culture since Superman's 1938 debut in Action Comics #1. Selling in the millions each year for the past six decades, comic books have figured prominently in the childhoods of most Americans alive today. In Comic Book Nation, Bradford W. Wright offers an engaging, illuminating, and often provocative history of the comic book industry within the context of twentieth-century American society.

From Batman's Depression-era battles against corrupt local politicians and Captain America's one-man war against Nazi Germany to Iron Man's Cold War exploits in Vietnam and Spider-Man's confrontations with student protestors and drug use in the early 1970s, comic books have continually reflected the national mood, as Wright's imaginative reading of thousands of titles from the 1930s to the 1980s makes clear. In every genre—superhero, war, romance, crime, and horror comic books—Wright finds that writers and illustrators used the medium to address a variety of serious issues, including racism, economic injustice, fascism, the threat of nuclear war, drug abuse, and teenage alienation. At the same time, xenophobic wartime series proved that comic books could be as reactionary as any medium.

My Thoughts: Loved it without reservation. It would be obvious that Wright is a lively and sincere comics fan even if the preface had been omitted, and it's because he loves them that he's able to give such an insightful, expansive history and occasional critique of the medium across its eighty-year history. He rejects as hardly worth debate the notion that comics are juvenile and inconsequential, but ground his observations in the larger trends rather than jargon-laden "decoding." (Which I appreciated a great deal: to paraphrase Jim Carrey, the pen is blue, the pen is blue, sometimes the goddamned pen is just blue, all right?) He's blunt about the medium's flaws when it comes to gender, race, and sexuality (and inadvertently answered Marvel's own question about why they can't consistently snag a large percentage of female readers, as X-Men's female readership shot up with the inclusion of a multiplicity of complex female characters) and enthusiastic and thoughtful about its strengths. Most pleasing to me: in addition to focusing on what comic book heroes and villains can tell us about our ourselves, he spends a fair amount of time talking about the way that they can also shape our society. We need our heroes, the ones in the firefighters' helmets and the ones who wear capes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey

"Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true."

And thus we have Bossypants, a book which doesn't quite know if it's a feminist manifesto, a straight biography, or a collection of humorous essays. Doesn't matter, all of the facets are awesome. Fey talks about her early life, her first moment of identifying as a woman (sadly enough, I have to agree with her: way too many of those moments revolve around some jackhole yelling crap at you from a speeding car), and her efforts to turn Saturday Night Live into a place where Chris Kattan in a dress didn't get picked to play a female role over, you know, one of the actresses. She also includes an anecdote of Amy Poehler wheeling on Jimmy Fallon having a moment of mild male privilege and snarling, "I don't fucking care if you like it."

And now I can't wait for Amy Poehler to also write a book.

Women are constantly under pressure to go along to get along, and that pressure is only intensified when you're also trying to get a writing career off of the ground. Livelihoods rest on reputations nearly as much as they do the books themselves; "interrogating the text from the wrong perspective" is as big a meme as "I can haz cheezburger?" I second-guess myself constantly, and big chunks of the internet would have no problem whatsoever telling you what a bitch I am. (Don't worry. I mostly don't mind.) Believe it or not, I went through a two-year period in my early twenties of being so profoundly depressed that I barely even dared to raise my voice in public. It took burying two family members, hiring my first big-girl lawyer, and getting thrown out of a police station all in the span of two weeks to, as Audrey put it, "un-break [my] bitch." To compromise or not to compromise is one of the many back-and-forths I have with myself when it comes to keeping this blog stocked with content, but Ms. Poehler has a good point.

I'm a feminist. I like powerful women, so I write about them. And I don't care if you fucking like it.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Low Town by Daniel Polanksy

Description: In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.

Daniel Polansky has crafted a thrilling novel steeped in noir sensibilities and relentless action, and set in an original world of stunning imagination, leading to a gut-wrenching, unforeseeable conclusion. Low Town is an attention-grabbing debut that will leave readers riveted . . . and hun­gry for more.

My Thoughts: Low Town is a noir drama set in a dystopian world where sorcery and science mingle together and are often indistinguishable from each other. As is often the case in noir dramas, the protagonist is not a nice man. In fact, at book's end I'm not even sure that he's a good man, and I'm saying this as someone who likes what Polanksy is doing here. He's a killer and a drug dealer, perhaps even an outright murderer. If he were a better person, he probably would have wound up dead long before the start of the novel. Polansky is skilled enough with language, however, that Warden remains an interesting man; several of Warden's internal observations on the banality of the evil surrounding him had me giggling even as I realized I was going straight to hell for it. As a mystery, many are going to find it unsatisfying and easy to guess. (I'm not one for mysteries, generally, and I still figured out whoddunit a good eighty pages before Warden.) Fans of speculative fiction, dark worlds, and hard-bitten antiheroes will have a great time. As a first novel, it's strong, and I'm looking forward to what Polanksy does next.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Viva La Revolución?

Damn, people. The e-book revolution—particularly the indie-driven e-book revolution—has barely reached its second birthday, and already it has caused more tumult and controversy than most bachelor/ette parties and some political elections. The current go-round rests on an argument of economic inequality and class privilege: authors who publish electronically are hurting less monetarily blessed readers, because electronically published books are not available in secondhand bookstores. More and more libraries are carrying e-books, the argument goes, but they're still out of reach unless you're willing to plunk down a hundred bucks or more for a device on which to read them.

(Because it will never be said that I have been cursed with faulty memory when it comes to incidents that got my dander up, I will point out that one of the calling-bullshit rebuttals made during the piracy dust-up earlier this year went along the lines of, "You can afford an e-reader, but not the books to go on them?" The counterargument made by the pro-piracy contingent was "How dare you imply that economically underprivileged folks don't know what an e-reader is/can't access Internet cafes/spend all day swatting flies off of each other!*" I'll keep it short 'n sweet to avoid going off on a complete tangent, but my eyebrow is getting a pretty good workout right now.)

Actually, when it comes to indie authors (who are driving the bulk of the shift to electronic books), that's not the case. At all. The books written by indie authors would not have been in the library in the first place, because I have yet to hear of one single library that would shelve an indie book. Most indie authors wouldn't have a hope in hell of getting a traditional publishing contract that would then put their books in a library in physical format, sometimes due to quality issues but frequently due to traditional publishers' increasingly conservative stance on signing new authors or renewing the contracts of old ones. An argument which on its surface looks like, "Because e-books are not universally available, you should not publish them" (which I have deep-seated issues with both as someone who grew up dirt-poor and really loves books and thinks that a good story is one of the most powerful forces out there), is actually, "Because e-books are not universally available, you should not publish them, even though you could not have published in a universally available format, anyway." That's simply, to get all technical about it, pants-off crazy.

But let's issue benefit of doubt and go deeper. Many of the people turning towards indie publishing are authors who have been traditionally published in the past. Either they don't sell enough and aren't renewed (and thus we're back to "How dare you publish in this new method that's not available to me, even though you would not have been available to me in the old way, either!"), or they make far less per book sold and still struggle to make ends meet even if they manage to hold onto their contracts and scrabble up to midlist status. Fine. This at least manages to be an honest need vs. need conversation, rather than a bunch of smoke with a vague tinge of "When did you stop beating your wife?" (Contrarian that I am, anytime someone tries that argument strategy, I feel an urge to chirp right back, "Three weeks ago, we're going out tonight to celebrate!") However, my response to this is essentially the same that I put forth during the e-book piracy dust-up**: I will defend your right to read books and I will defend her right to read books, I will defend your right to receive health insurance and I will defend her right to receive health insurance, but I will not defend your right to read books against her right to receive health insurance.

So where do we go from here? Are we just supposed to say "Ha-ha, sucks to be you!" to anyone who wants to read books but can't or does not want to drop the coin for an e-reader? Considering that I plowed through one, sometimes two library books per day as an adolescent and was likely stopped from making the transition from the creepy kid to the violent kid more than once due to their influence, I don't want to see that happen. As the OWS protests have made abundantly clear, there is a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots within the United States. (And that doesn’t mean that other countries are doing so hot, either; unequal and unfair distribution of resources is a global crisis.) When budgets are strained, the arts feel the knife first. My library is offering an increasing percentage of their books in electronic format and has designed an app that lets library patrons download books onto their smartphones. This is probably going to be the future of e-books for folks who can't afford an e-reader, as smart phones are cheaper than e-readers, have a hell of a lot more bang for the buck (I don't have a land line, and neither does anyone else I know around my age; it just doesn’t make economic sense any longer), and are increasingly eligible for need-based discounted service. Even as I type this solution, I am aware of all of its flaws. Many people do not have the funds even for this service, and many libraries are facing grim futures because they are seeing their existing budgets slashed as it is, forget about getting the bump in funds needed to modernize their catalogues. Technological advancements that a few decades ago would have found themselves becoming cheaper as they made the shift from toy to necessity are instead growing more expensive rather than less, and I hate it. It's a symptom of a very deep sickness in the way that capitalism has come to work in the United States. I'm going to go after the powerful people who are actually responsible for the illness, though, rather than the authors who are reacting to the symptoms. To hammer home the point just a little bit harder, e-published authors are either 1) indies who would not have been able to aid accessibility to books even if they did obligingly agree not to exist, or 2) are working out of a traditional contract, make pennies on the dollar for their labor, and are in the weakest positions relative to the rest of the publishing industry. They simply present tempting targets because they're generally more accessible via internet contact and are eager to please in order to protect their reputations. Seeing the weakest person in any power structure and choosing to go after them on the basis of that is a lot of things, "lazy" being about the most flattering among them. Aim higher.

*That last example being a pretty direct quote.

**I really need to rewrite that essay to comb the f-bombs out of it and get it up here, it's not as if I'm putting any particular effort into hiding my fannish identity.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The difference between "revenge" and "avenge" lies in a kickin' suit.

The official Avengers trailer is out. You might have heard.

What amuses me the most about this very amusing trailer (I would promise to live-tweet the movie when it premieres, but it's not concern about spoilers that halts me, it's the fact that I'm going to be squeeing like a damn fool during the whole thing) is that Tom Hiddleston, surprisingly one of the least geeky members of the cast, apparently spent the entire filming struggling not to die of glee.

(I know, I know, I indirectly promised bear-poking on Ye Olde Twitter yesterday, but it needs some editing; one does not poke bears unless one is absolutely sure she has looked ahead to the counterarguments. Little Miss Likes To Fight will probably be paying a visit this weekend instead.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Random Anecdote is Random.

As most of you know, I'm readying a couple of books for self-publication. I am also doing this on a shoestring budget, which involves a lot of networking. (Surprisingly not-hard, even for a dedicated introvert like myself. It mostly involves reciprocity, lack of being an asshole, and enthusiasm. I live in a world with a significantly more explanation points now.)

For the past several weeks, I have been fretting over the covers for Books One and Two, since I hadn't yet networked my way into cheap models for Books Three, Four, and Five. It's a series, they need to clearly belong together as a set; I was thinking that Audrey and I were going to have to trash the epic full-body ideas that we had in favor of face-only covers so that I wouldn't have to sell organs to afford the last three. But! The model for the second book also does costuming and theater on the side and is skilled in changing herself up. Meaning that with a little help with angles, wigs, and masks (writing about superheroes ftw!), plus a dollop of graphic design wizardry from Audrey, and I'm only lacking a model for the fifth book. Surely my inevitable fame and fortune will have kicked in by then!

So I'm talking to the model via text today, and she chirps back, "Sure! Will I need to be nekkid?" no point did I mention nudity while sketching out any of my ideas. In fact, the second cover will probably be done outside and in January, so I'm going to rule against it. I am putting my foot down and instituting a pants-mandatory workplace. Plus, I've already had to scrap one of my ideas for Book One because it would just be too dangerous without a lot of money on permits and safety equipment, and I'm pretty sure that a public indecency charge would rate right up there.

Networking is actually really fun.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Selection Event by Wayne Wightman

Summary: In an isolation experiment, Martin Lake had been below-ground for fourteen months and two weeks. He came up on May 30, Wednesday, 11:35 AM. He discovered that civilization had folded its arms across its breast, closed its eyes, and ceased.

When natural selection wipes the slate, there are always a few survivors. Unfortunately, nature does not select for beauty or intelligence.

Selection Event follows in the tradition of Earth Abides and The Road. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, this is what happens next. People open zoos, sabotage dams, and in a final nihilistic fling, several countries have a small nuclear exchange of greetings.

It is into this that Martin Lake awakens and has to find his way.

My Thoughts: This is a nice, tightly plotted drama that could not have existed without The Stand (my sweet baby!), but quickly tears off and becomes its own thing. We rotate among a cast of several characters, chief among them Martin, his dog Isha, and a biker afflicted with bipolar depression named Diego, who appears to have been based upon one of Wightman's own friends. (In which case he clearly cared for his friend a great deal, because Diego is more sharply and lovingly drawn than any other character.) Our first encounter with real danger within the book is a Kurtz-like cult leader who shoots his followers up with heroin in order to keep them under control, rapes and murders women, and uses children as spies. Right off the bat, we know we ain't in Kansas any longer. The writing style is clean, and fans of apocadramas will find plenty of meat in one of the great pleasures of the genre: getting to build the world back up after completely smashing it down. I enjoyed seeing the different family structures that can take place when you don't have to please anyone but yourself (and presumably not hurt others).

Issues: religious characters aren't drawn with a lot of depth. Martin is occasionally a bit of a naive twit (not eating meat makes sense in The Jakarta Pandemic, as that book was talking about infrastructure collapse rather than complete depopulation; there were a couple of points in this book where I was convinced that the entire next generation was doomed to die of marasmus or kwashiorkor), but by the end it's in a generally endearing way.