Writing: Dealing With Criticism

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Writing: Dealing With Criticism

I want to be honest up front here: I have never had anyone out and out tell me I was a shitty writer. I’ve never gotten a one star review: or, for that matter, a less than four star review.

This isn’t, much as I want to believe it is, because I’m just that good. It simply hasn’t happened yet. And, judging from the reviews I’ve seen writers just as good as I am get, it WILL happen.

It’s just a matter of time. And, as a self-pubber, I don’t have the advantage of a publishing company between me and the reviewer. It’s just me, five Amazonian stars, and some stranger who’s read my book.

There’s the opportunity here, especially for a delicate multi-feelings’d cupcake such as myself, to get bruised. There’s the opportunity, for a grammargating, mouth-frothing, itinerant fragile flower such as myself, to get pretty butthurt. There’s the opportunity, I might even dare say, for a bright-eyed, artistically souled, chirpy chirpy baby bird such as moi to get downright pissed.

But here’s the thing: I’m not just writing for my grandmother and my cat any more. My book is going places other than my dad’s office or the storage compartment on my boyfriend’s bike. I voluntarily underwent the process of publication: put myself through it, actually. I did this because I deemed my own story fit for public consumption.

And that’s the thing about the public–not everyone likes the same things. Not everyone’s going to like my book as much as I liked it. And of the people who do–well, who’s going to be as enthusiastic about it as I am? Almost nobody.

Lemme tell you, I’m a sensitive, sensitive little shit. I take everything personally. I take the kindest and most well-intentioned criticism deeply personally. I take the way people look at me personally. I probably have self esteem issues, or something boring like that. Luckily, I’m also egotistical, so I mostly ignore them.

But here’s the thing: I signed on that ‘for public consumption’ dotted line. And this means my work–and myself–exist, in these public spaces, as a public entity.

And the folks who’re kind enough to give me reviews–they’re existing in a public space as well. They’re taking the same risks, albeit with a less lengthy piece of writing, that I am. For all a one-star reviewer knows, I’m actually a crazy hacker lady with a butcher knife and access to their private address and family phone numbers. And what you said about my main character being boring and horrible to read about–rawr. It makes me and my forty-seven cat army very angry.

Therefore: I do them the same favor they do me. What they’re offering isn’t criticism, or praise, of me–hell, they don’t even know me.

So I don’t take it personally.

Yes, you might be a shy wounded flower in private. But in public, you’re the guy or girl who wrote that book somebody may or may not have liked. That’s all.

It’s irritating sometimes, sure. Again, you’re an individual snowflake and whatnot. But it’s also freeing.

You are, to repeat, the individual, artistic little snowflake who signed your work off as ready for publication. There are no special allowances for you because you’re indie, because you’re a single dad, because you’re homo/heterosexual, because you’re very young, because you’re very old, etc. To your readers, it’s just a book. It isn’t you.

You can decrease your number of negative reviews by making it a damned good book. But that’s about all you can do, and you’ll still get some.

Whenever something makes the shuddering snowflake side of me rear its ugly multifaceted little head, I just think of this:

One of my favorite writers amongst the bestselling indies is Hugh Howey. He’s a very kind man, very supportive of other startup writers, and his first Wool novella was pure genius, a la classic sci fi. It was a story you might’ve expected to see in Playboy circa 1970, next to Ray Bradbury or Richard Matheson. The twist was perfect, the ending left you gasping. The writing was terse, elegant, emotionally charged. (Are you one of the four people left on earth who hasn’t read it? Here it is, do yourself a favor and read it.)

The first Wool story has, to date, 2,020 reviews. That number’s probably changed since I wrote it down five minutes ago, but there you go. It’s a lovely piece of writing. There’s little to dislike about it, if you’re a sci-fi fan.

And yet. And yet.

Out of those 2,020 reviews, sixty-four of them are one star. Eighty of them are two. Which means that, out of 2,020 people bold enough to leave a review, one hundred and forty-four of them–somewhere around seven percent, I think–found it unacceptable.

One hundred and forty-four. That’s over ten times the number of reviews I have, total.

So logically–even with a great piece of writing–somewhere around five percent of people just won’t like it, and won’t like it enough to tell the world just how much they didn’t like it. Respect these people. Respect their opinions. They cared enough to tell the rest of the world how they felt–care enough about them, and the time they took to read and purchase your book, to let it stand in silence.

As far as I know, Mr. Howey didn’t bitch. He might not have liked it–I don’t know the man, I don’t presume to speak for him–but I’ve never heard anyone complain about the way he treats reviewers. If I were him, I would have looked at that 1,876 figure–the people who DID like it and find it acceptable–and patted myself on the back.

So just know: whatever it is you’ve written, even if it’s the goddamn Mona Lisa of speculative fiction, someone, somewhere, isn’t going to like it.

And that has nothing to do with you.

So button it up.

EFR

PS–And, of course, what would this post be without a dangerous and passive-aggressive plug? Give me five stars and make my heart go gummy, or give me one and imagine me silently and respectfully going batshit while I say nothing. Those’re odds everybody feels comfortable with, I know. šŸ˜› Booky booky, looky looky.

Writing: 5 Things I Want More of In Fantasy Romance Subplots

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Writing Wednesday: Five Things I Want More of In Romance Subplots

I’d like to make a note: this is NOT one of those ‘twenty tropes I as a self-published and inexperienced writer totes mcgoats think we could do without lolz’ types of posts.

I’m tired of those. I wrote a whole post about them a while ago: here it is. For now, suffice it to say that I think our bad-mouthing of common genre archetypes, especially poor Campbell and his Hero’s Journey, is the HEIGHT of self-published self-indulgence. Picasso might’ve preferred cubism, but you can bet he could draw pretty well realistically when given the chance: on the same note, if you want to say you don’t ‘believe’ in the Hero’s Journey, you might want to try dealing with it a little first. You know, just to see what all the fuss is about. ‘ZOMG I so hate Joseph Campbell’ isn’t an argument. It’s a statement.

And, frankly, when we think those sort of statements count as guidelines and arguments–‘I’m tired of this, I don’t like this, I’m offended by that’–that’s when we lose our ability to write, and argue, effectively. Because I can tell you a million things I don’t like. Eggplant, for one–I really don’t like eggplant.

But you might LOVE eggplant. You might think eggplants are tiny purple angels on tiny purple wings. You’re not wrong. I’m not right. And vice versa. We just have differing opinions. (Actually, you ARE wrong. Eggplant is the aubergine spawn of Satan.)

Anyway, that out of the way:

Here are five things, specifically related to the fantasy genre and romance therein, that I’d like to see MORE. Because I read a lot of fantasy, and here lately, I haven’t seen them much. And I miss them. And–for the trillionth time–that’s just my opinion.

1) Happily married couples.
None of these great fantasy heroes have wives or husbands. At least: not living. A husband or wife may’ve had to die tragically to MAKE a hero, but c’mon. I’d like to see more stories about hero husband and hero wife working as a team. More or less happily. I mean, I get that it’s kind of tough to be Tall Dark and Handsome when you’re married, but, well. Maybe we could do with a little less Tall Dark and Handsome.

This is the point where I plug: my novel features this. Or, well, sort of. It’s, erm. Definitely nontraditional. But if you want to read it, here it is. Pluggity plug plug plug.

Or:

2) Falling Out of Love.
Y’ever notice all these people seem to find The One and then stay with him or her? To which I say: huh? I’ve been through a few boyfriends. I’ve seen no evidence it’s that easy. I’d like to see a story where the heroine finds her One and Only, has a great relationship for a few months or years, and then–gasp!–just like the rest of us, it just stops being the same, and she’s off looking for a new One and Only.

I don’t think, for most of us, there were any SIGNS at the beginning of our last failed relationship that this might not wind up being Twoo Wuv. We probably believed in it pretty hard for a while. And then, that moment came–he yelled at a bus driver, or got really pissing drunk and threw up on your cat, or you saw him propped up in bed in his underwear laughing at his own farts one too many times, or whatever it was. He wasn’t an asshole, he just wasn’t right. Your illusions were shattered. And it just wasn’t Twoo Wuv any longer. So you broke up.

Got it? No fires, no masked assassins, no cheating, no beating. It just–didn’t work. Why, in fantasy, does this happen so rarely?

3) Nontraditional Relationships.
Always found it interesting that, in all these well imagined fantasy worlds with different pantheons of gods and codes of behavior and whatnot, a relationship is still predominantly one man and one woman having sex and usually getting hitched. Where are all my gay societies? My polygamous societies? My man-harems, my surrogate mothers, my wife-or-fives? This can be tough to do well, I think–as a person in the Western world, I know I take cishet relationships for granted as the baseline standard.

But in a fantasy world, they don’t have to be. Remember: the baseline in your own imaginary paradise is whatever you want it to be. Just stick to it throughout the story.

4) The Impure Maid/Man
This has gotten a little less common in the past ten years, and that’s great, but it’s still there, and I have to tell you. Unless your character is eleven, this latest girl he’s seen at the water fountain probably isn’t the first girl he’s ever felt this way about. Your thirty year old main character had probably felt this way about a COUPLE of people, depending upon availability and circumstances. Even a seventeen year old kid, while she’ll maybe not have a dating history, will have had crushes, feelings, THOUGHTS on the matter of love. She will notice when a man is attractive. It may or may not mean they’ll date later, because I sure as hell haven’t dated everyone I’ve ever found attractive, and a lot of them for damned sensible reasons.

Again: this isn’t about actual VIRGINITY, per se. Depending on how you’ve written your world, it may or may not be weird for a thirty year old person to still be a physical virgin. But as far as feelings go? No. That IS weird. Because we’re not made of stone, and we don’t come alive only for one person.

And number 5. I hate that I’m even having to write number five down, but here we go:

5) Women Having Consensual Sex.
See why I hated having to write that down, now?

I’ll put it plainly for you: I think rape gets overwritten. I think it gets sensationalized, trussed up in lurid colors, even, though no one in their right minds will admit it, romanticized.

Here’s the thing. It’s not romantic. It’s the opposite. And it certainly isn’t a plot device. And the fact that it’s common enough in spec fic for me to think of it as a trope is SCARY.

I read a book recently that could have worked, I think, with about a FIFTH of the rape that was in it. Jesus. I understand that it’s a very tragic happening, and it’s ruined many a life, but that doesn’t mean you should resort to it every time you need to come up with something negative to happen to a female character. This is ugly. It’s ugly, and sick, and just a little demeaning. There are times when your story will involve it. There are times when you HAVE to have that happen. And that’s all well and good. But overdoing it is tasteless in the extreme.

Girls can get robbed too. Girls can get murdered, too. Just because your character is a woman doesn’t mean rape is automatically the worst thing that could happen to her so it SHOULD happen. Christ.

And, on a similar note: fascinating how men and boys are almost never represented in this particular statistic. I’ve seen it a little more here lately, again, but before ten years ago or so, you’d think women were the only people with non-willing orifices in fantasy. This is not the case. Men can get raped too, and it’s just as tragic.

So there you go. Again: my opinion. Romance is usually a subplot in fantasy–very much not the main attraction–but that doesn’t mean it needs to get reduced to a few easily-taken-for-granted bobbly bits. Your fantasy relationships should be just as rich and varied as relationships can be in real life.

If you need help with this, just think about yourself. Did you remain alone and aloof until you saw that one boy at the Summer Dance, who started off as a good friend but you-both-knew-how-it-was-going-to-go-by-chapter-ten? Did you fight through Many Hardships just so you could Be Together, eventually getting married and living Happily Ever After (At Least Until The Sequel?) No. Fuck no. Before THAT guy there was Travis, Ted, Devin, Ryan, Zorvak the Enrapturer (boy, was THAT a mistake). You saw cute guys in bars, maybe even divorced a cute guy you saw in a bar.

Or maybe you have a girlfriend AND a boyfriend. Or you’re a girl with a girlfriend. Or you’ve got the sister-wives joining together to make a turkey dinner at home. Whatever. You get my point.

There’s nothing wrong with the story of A Boy and A Girl, Together Forever. It’s a good story.

But other things happen too. Don’t forget them.

Cheers,
EFR

Flash Fiction: Dear Greg

I hope you guys find this amusing. I certainly did.

Hey honey,

I’m sorry I’m having to write you a letter like this, but I couldn’t think of any way to just say it. Every time I see you now, you’re busy doing other stuff. So I’m going to come right out with it:

If you don’t stop telling people you’re a wizard, I’m going to break up with you.

It really hurts me to have to say it. This year has been one of the best years of my life, and we’ve had a lot of great times together. But Greg, it’s kind of crazy how you keep insisting you have magical powers left over from the birth of the universe. And screaming out in pain over the ectoplasmic wounds the demon you traded your soul to inflicts on you REALLY isn’t helping our sex life, ha ha!

So it’s got to stop. I just can’t be happy with you as long as you’re doing this wizard thing.

The first time it was sort of cute and funny. Remember that? We were out at the bar with Stacy and Karen and Gay Steve, and you gave us all that sweet back story about how we were the only people you trusted, and you had something really amazing you wanted to share with us. And then you raised your hands like you were doing a spell, and WOW, that was a well-timed gust of wind! You even made Steve a little nervous; at least, until we went back inside and you were just the same old you. The shot of tequila you got for everybody probably helped with that.

At any rate, we all know you’re such a joker, so we didn’t think anything of it until next Friday when you said it AGAIN! You sure got Stacy and Steve with that fire-breathing trick, but my college roommate used to do that stuff for Burning Man, and you can’t fool me that easily. And your story after that, about the Mantic Demons seeking the life-essence of the human race–how drunk were you? I was a little embarrassed, honestly. You apologized the next morning and everything, but it still wasn’t cool to be seen with you blabbering on like that, especially when you burped in the middle of the last fireball and set Karen’s perm on fire. She still won’t speak to me, Greg! We’ve been friends since fifth grade!
Even that I could’ve dealt with. I mean, everybody has their flaws, right? You like practical jokes and I’ve always known that. I used to think it was funny. But this wizard thing? You’re trying too hard. And it’s gotten waaaay too serious.

I should apologize, Greg. I only realized how bad it was when I got that call from the police station. What were you doing with a human adrenal gland, Greg? And why on Earth would you want anyone to call you Borlax the Magnificent? You’re lucky I was there to bail you out. I’d had a few glasses of wine with Stacy, and if I’d had one more I wouldn’t have been able to drive to the station. What would you have done then, huh? The police officers almost didn’t let you go with me–they thought Raving Acres, that asylum out in Herckelwhaite County, would be better.

But I convinced them. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe there really is something wrong with you. The ‘talk’ you gave me in the car sure made me think so–it isn’t funny to talk about the world ending in a vicious blaze of infernal fire, Greg! And the stuff about the Mantic Demons flaying flesh from flesh until there was only bone and the defeated whimpering of humanity’s dregs wasn’t very nice either. People just don’t talk about that sort of thing, Greg. Not even for a joke. It gave me the creeps. And these texts you keep sending are really creepy too. What does THREE DAYS mean? Please stop!!!

I thought about what you said, though. Not the stuff about joining my powers to yours to defeat the Legion–that was just plain stupid–but when you said you loved me, and you would be worthless without me, and how I needed to accept the truth if I wanted to survive. Maybe it’s a self esteem thing? You don’t need to make up all this weird stuff to get my attention, Greg. I know I’ve been a little busy with work lately, but as soon as evaluations are over it’ll be back to how it used to be, you and me going out every weekend and watching movies cuddled up on the couch. Won’t that be nice? Isn’t that what you want?

So please stop with this wizard stuff! You are taking it WAY TOO FAR, and it’s really starting to worry me. I’m starting to almost think YOU believe it–guess the joke’s on me!

Love,
Cindy

PS– Just got your text. What does ‘THE LORD OF THE FLIES HAS HIS THOUSAND EYES FIXED ON YOU’ mean? Are you trying to be romantic again? It’s sweet that you think there are that many people looking!

PPS–Steve wants to know what weather app you use. He thinks to-the-minute wind coverage is pretty cool.

Writing: The Chosen One Chooses

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Sorry if I’ve been a good deal in absentia here lately. I’ve been writing and reading (oh, and working). First off, I just had to finish reading everything Patrick Rothfuss has written ever (more on that later, and why it’s a good thing and a bad thing). Then I had to get through the newest B.E. Priest novella, Fire From the Ashes, which is just as worthy a read as the rest of his series. Now, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I’m stuck with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series–which, so far, is totally worth it, if a little frustrating for the sheer amount of Female Distress involved (ladies do things other than get raped and abused).

So, we’re reading a bit gluttonous this week. But I have time for a short blog. I always have time for a short blog.

I want to talk about the Chosen One.

Of course I do; I’ve been reading Mistborn. The whole premise of Sanderson’s somewhat dystopian world is that the Mistbornian Chosen One, that big bolshy hero in shining armor, DID NOT save the world a thousand years ago.

Note: he is not a main character in the story. At least, not in that form. The action in the story takes place a thousand years from then. Of course it does: how can you make a compelling story when the Chosen One was Chosen wrong? It becomes background, nifty set dressing (or it is so far, I’m only about halfway through the first book).

But this brings up an interesting point. Is the concept of the Chosen One (think Harry Potter, or Paul Atreides, or Aragorn in LotR, or…well, you get it) still a useful fantasy archetype?

A little background information, if you’re living under a rock, never took an English class, and don’t have the faintest fucking clue what I’m talking about:

The Chosen One (see: big bolshy hero) is a character who, by divine interference or some happiness of birth, has been gifted with singular powers, and has been destined to save/rule/otherwise generally change the world. It isn’t uncommon for the Chosen One to have a Mighty Weapon (again, think Aragorn, or redheaded Aerin from Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown). The Chosen One is usually a part of a Hero’s Journey type of story arc, often combined with Coming of Age (because, naturally, the Chosen One is unaware/not fond of being Chosen, and must learn to accept his or her place as a hero, and that goes really well with growing up and getting the fuck over ourselves).

For me, this is a writing archetype, particularly in fantasy, that is inescapable. Your character has to be central to the action of the story–it is, after all, THEIR story–so there’s got to be something special about them, right? BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL. We can do this shit. Let’s stick some mythical abilities and divine providence in there.

But here’s the thing. The Chosen One’s power, and continued currency, as an archetype doesn’t come from BEING chosen. It comes, instead, from CHOOSING.

The important thing about Effluenza the Ordinary Peasant Girl isn’t the extraordinary powers she is currently discovering, quite by accident, on her father’s farm. It isn’t the Magical Machete in the Barn of Ages, which has been waiting for a thousand years for the arm strong enough to thresh wheat with it, and which Effluenza snags one night because she really, really needs a long blade to slice up some pears she stole from Goodman Gottson’s neighboring farm. It isn’t even the Wise Old Man, known to all the village as Billy the Drunkard, who heralds her coming and teaches her to use her Mystical Powers to cheat at Blackjack without counting cards.

The important thing about little Effluenza–about any Chosen One type hero–isn’t that she is Chosen. It’s the moment she STOPS being the Chosen One, and becomes the One Who Chooses.

There’s a moment in the Hero’s Journey–a transformative moment–where the Chosen One has to own up to destiny. It stops becoming a game, where you learn cheeky things and men in the tavern commons teach you how to spit, and becomes an earnest desire to take the Machete of Might and stop the local baron raising the rent. It’s the moment, in short, where Paul ceases being the hunted Atreides Duke, and becomes the Kwizatz Haderach. Where Harry Potter sees the real death and torment Voldemort causes, and begins taking steps to stop him. Where Aragorn, previously Strider the Ranger, becomes Aragorn the King (hard to pinpoint this moment, but I think it’s when he calls the Dead down from Dwimorberg, especially in the movies). This, and not before, is where this archetype starts to have pull and strength, where the character starts making his or her own decisions towards the positive. An old identity, which didn’t quite fit, is shed or transforms into a new one.

If you’re writing a Chosen One type character, this is the character arc you HAVE to follow. I’m sorry, but there is no other. There are variations– Failed Chosen One Tries Again, or the eternal falling action of Chosen One After the Great Battle–but it’s the same story. The Chosen One MUST become the One Who Chooses for this archetype to hold meaning. You can do it any way you like, but it has to happen for the whole premise to work.

Using an example from my own work (and if you haven’t read Aurian and Jin yet, and you plan to, you might want to stop reading here):

Evinanjin is the classic Chosen One, minus the boring prophecy. She has remarkable abilities, a good mind, the love of the people.

But (and here’s one of those monkeywrenches you can throw in things) she loses the abilities that made her who she is. Or, she thinks she does. It takes a lot of drinking and bad-tempered brawling for her to figure out that, in the end, it isn’t what was given to her that makes her who she is–it’s something she was born with. Aurian Sees his wife, towards the end of the story, and what he Sees isn’t her training or the Holy Bones or the Emperor’s favor–it’s an empty field and a people dying of hunger. It’s her essential peasant nature. Her determination. Her willpower.

My timing’s a little different–the pivot-point, where Evinanjin makes her decision, actually occurs in the past–but its placing in the story is spot on for the third act, where such things usually happen, in tandem with Aurian’s decision to actively help his wife destroy the Bonemaker by stealing the Sundering Sword (see how cleverly I doubled it up? See? SEE?). I like putting pivotal moments in flashbacks. It makes me happy. Character motivation reveal and whatnot. Don’t judge.

Point is, stop thinking about The Chosen One completely. Think instead about his second self, The One Who Chooses. If you write a Hero’s Journey type story, this is the person who completes your MC’s character arc, and moves the story forward.

For More Information on Common Fantasy Tropes:

The Hero’s Journey–Very good layout of the classic steps of The Hero’s Journey. Pay special attention to step 8–this is where your chosen one begins actively choosing. If you get confused at any point, just think of Star Wars. Not the new, crappy Star Wars. No. Luke and shit.
Hero’s Journey, Now With Charts!–Though for screenwriting, this is also very useful. They place the turning point I’m talking about near the end of Act II, which, okay, I’m open to suggestions.
The Hero With A Thousand Faces–You’re an epic fantasy writer, and you haven’t read this yet? What the fuck?
TV Tropes Wiki–Like all wikis, this information might not be 100% factually approved, but my God, this is fun for any media. People who’re afraid of ‘tropes’–do not read. You’ll learn just how unoriginal all your ideas are and cry like a little baby.

Related Posts:

Tropes and Archetypes Won’t Kill You–Why all this hand-flapping and trope-fearing is stupid, especially among unseasoned writers. After all, would it be called a MONOmyth if it wasn’t pretty pervasive?

Fat Girl

This is one of those Emily rant posts.

To explain, in brief: I’m sick of all of you–ALL of you–talking about ‘body image’. As though this were a great social course of action.

Let me explain. I went to the doctor recently, and stepped on those shiny scales for the first time in a while. And, lemme tell you, I’m fat.

Hang on, hang on. The first person to post anything REMOTELY resembling ‘aw gurl, but ur beautiful just the way you are!’ gets a ham-handed slap in the face. I AM beautiful. It has nothing to do with my body or my face. Neither because of, nor in spite of.

I’ll also dope-slap the well-meaning person who says: “no ur not fat!!!oneone”

I’m many things in this world. I’m intelligent, witty, kind of an asshole, well-intentioned, socially stupid, fond of whiskey, women, and song. Or, well. Women and whiskey, anyway.

I also happen to not be blind. And those numbers told me, with a quick cross-indexing of the BMI chart taped to the weighing room door, that I am–

–in all actuality, devoid of any sentiment, while failing to suffer from ‘negative body image’ or the surprisingly societally prevalent idea that peer pressure, for some reason, is MORE LIKELY to affect overweight women than any other demographic in history–

FAT.

Fascinatingly enough, I had trouble dragging this delicately worded truth out of my doctor. My DOCTOR. Who is the one person, in the world, who should be able to tell me with NO FEAR of offense if I’m doing something unhealthy.

No, I don’t need your shoulder to cry on. I don’t need you to dress me up in pinup costumes and photograph my soft mounds of flesh in an attempt to make me ‘feel positive’ about myself. I don’t give two blue balls in the innermost circle of hell about whether or not I match up to the picture society has painted for me to fit into. Frankly, I’ve never given much of a damn WHAT picture society paints. Of anything.

What I care about is that, for the first time in my life, I am unhealthily overweight. And I don’t look good, or feel good, about myself this way. Some girls can rock a little extra cushion. Some girls look stunning. I am not one. I look like a poached pear floating in a sea of ass.

Again–NOTHING to do with ‘society’. I’m very tired of ‘society’. It’s me. Just ME. This is how I feel.

So I’m dieting.

Cue the worried voices. Somehow, ‘dieting’ in our society has become associated with ‘starving yourself, giving in to the pressure of the masses, and stepping away from the ‘true you’ into the bigoted, stereotyping realm of the cultural whore.’ What it actually means, ladies and gents, is ‘exercising healthier habits and portion control in an attempt to get rid of the worst of your flab’.

Because your body and figure aren’t the ‘true you’. Associating these two things, in fact, is some of the MOST image-negative, shallow, and inappropriate nonsense you can foist uponĀ  your feel-good media feed of choice.

Any man or woman on earth has the right to diet, should they so choose. And, while it’s good that there are positive examples of bigger people in the media today–and while no one should ever have to feel bad about themselves because of their physical shape–I think we tackle this ‘problem’ the wrong way.

The problem isn’t the targeting of overweight people in the media. It isn’t coddling negative body image. It isn’t accepting yourself as you are–because sometimes, you just aren’t happy with how you are, and you’re not going to BE happy, and you’re better off devoting your energy to change than to meek acceptance and borrowed gratitude.

No. The problem is in the sheer amount of time and effort we devote to TALKING about body image.

Maybe you’re happy with how you look. Maybe you’re not. But either way, other people can’t see for you, and you can’t try to take their viewpoint as your own. Only you can see you the way you do.

And therein, perhaps, lies the secret. Yes, I’m overweight. Yes, I’d like to lose a little weight. Is this the sum total of my existence? Would I EVER let this tiny facet of the manifold presence that is myself become ME?

No.

Nor should you.

My final view on the subject of ‘body image’: you should be happy with what you see in the mirror. If you’re not, work on it until you are. But don’t let it become WHO you are, happy or not.

You are just as much of a person–just as much of a full and complicated human being, whose views contain just as much complication and resonant depth–whether you’re fat or thin.

To this end, next time you give a compliment–especially to a lady–remember that there are things in this world other than attractiveness. Perhaps this person is also funny? A good dresser? Wrote a poem or story you think is great?

It’s natural to feel bad about yourself sometimes. If you’re a few pounds overweight, if you were mean to a coworker at lunch, if your hair looks like shit, if you pronounced ‘Prague’ to rhyme with ‘vague’ in conversation.

But you work on it, right? If it really bothers you. If you’re happy and healthy with a larger figure, go you. If you think Prague and vague is the only rhyme you can justifiably use, use it. If your coworker deserved it, fuck ‘im.

Because it’s all up to you.

Writing Wednesday: Likeable Characters

Hey, guys. I’m back.

Sorry for the long absence. I been workin’ on selling things and writing other things, as my first novel just came out. If you’re curious, or just want to see if I’m worth all the shit I talk, it’s available here:

Aurian and Jin: A Love Story

But that’s not why you’re here right now. I know, I know. You’re here because it’s Wednesday. Writing Wednesday.

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Today’s gem of semi-literate wisdom is brought to you by another frequently mouthed Writerly Tip, the ever popular ‘your main character must be likeable’.

I totally agree.

What, you say? I do. I totally agree with thisĀ  statement.

My problem (and you knew there was going to be one), comes in with some folks’ definition of likeable.

I read a book recently, which I won’t name due to the large amount of shit I’m about to talk, that featured the world’s most easy to get along with MC. This character was a font of understanding and acceptance. Forgiveness came as easily as microwave popcorn. All other characters, even the biggest dicks of the novel, were pitied or admired or helped as was most appropriate for showing off this main character’s incredible good nature.

It was, without a doubt, the simpiest and most treacly bit of characterization I have ever not enjoyed. And it wasn’t even good characterization. Nobody learned anything. Nobody grew.

This most likeable of characters was, in essence, the sort of person you want to noogie and shove in a locker somewhere on middle school grounds. I kept on hoping–really hoping–that something horrible was about to happen, and wipe that silly smile off her face and all her talk of dresses and relationships right the hell out of her head.

Why? She was likeable. (Every other character in the story certainly liked her). I’m not a naturally mean person (those of you who know me well, this is the part where you shut up). I wear dresses. I like relationships. I even have some with other people, when I can’t avoid it.

But here’s the thing, my barbies and kens. Think of someone you like in real life. (If you’re having difficulty with this step, go to therapy for a few years and then get back to me). Now, think of five specific reasons you like this person. Not general ones, mind you. No ‘s/he’s funny/creative/smart’. Specific reasons. Here are my five, for the handsome Definitely Not Dave:

1. He’s good with his hands. He likes to tinker, and he’s good at fixing all sorts of stuff around the house. He doesn’t just do it to do a favor, he does it because he honestly enjoys the tinkering.
2. His accent. My DND is from Boston, and there’s something so right about a magician asking you to pick a fookin’ cahd.
3. Cuddly person. If you are also lucky enough to have a cuddly person in your life, you know what I mean right here.
4. His impatience. I genuinely enjoy the fact that, before Christmases and birthdays, it is all he can do not to tell me what he got me.
5. He likes to know how things work. DND is a magician, and what this mostly seems to mean is that he has an unslakable thirst for knowledge of how shiny tinkly spinny things function. DND grew up watching old David Copperfield specials and pausing them, frame by frame, until he could figure out how the illusion was done. He would spend hours doing this. In a young kid, that’s dedication.

So there we go. Fuck, I feel like I just wrote a goddamn Valentine for demonstration purposes, but anyway.

Your list probably looks a lot like mine in some ways (yours, perhaps, with fewer card tricks). But the details are probably small, and you know what else is curious?

Some of these things are imperfections.

I mean, look at this list. Impatience, that’s not a good thing. And it isn’t, not always. Sometimes it’s downright irritating. Sometimes I don’t want to know what I’m getting for Christmas on the 21st.

But that’s where the growth comes in. In good characterization, there aren’t ‘good traits’ and ‘bad traits’. There is a single set of characteristics that, when expressed in different ways, can be likeable or dislikeable. That was so important I put it in italics. Because, and here’s the caps lock kicker:

YOUR LIKEABLE CHARACTER’S STRENGTHS ARE ALSO HIS FLAWS.

The guy whose pride causes him to practice his tuba playing six hours a day might also cause him to never speak with his estranged father. And that character’s struggle isn’t to get rid of his pride, it’s to learn how to use it for positive purposes.

I repeat, in Capslockian:

THE NARRATIVE JOURNEY OF A LIKEABLE CHARACTER IS THE TALE OF HIM LEARNING TO USE HIS PERSONALITY FOR GOOD.

Because his strengths are also flaws, see? What makes him likeable isn’t a set of ‘good person’ characteristics. It’s all the anger and hubris and small meannesses of an ordinary mortal, combined with the desire to do better, to become better.

Think about your favorite person again. Write a list of five things about this person that irritate you. When you’re done, burn it or put it somewhere they will never find it.

But it’s funny, isn’t it. Those two lists, though they may vary in magnitude, contain the same basic characteristics.

Love you guys, have a good day doing whatever you do other than read my blog.

NOVEL TIME

Sorry, guys. I’ll have a really writing post up for you tomorrow. But for now, guess what came out today?

No, not a new Harry Potter book. No, nothing to do with Star Wars. Sorry.

Here’s my book. Yessy yessir. You should buy it. You’ll love it, even more than you love me (which is a lot, I know.) You’ll grow fond of these people, which is a shame, because they ‘re words on paper and they’ll never know. But you’ll like it. I promise.

We’ve just got the paperback for now. Ebook is coming out tomorrow. Ebook will be 2.99. Print book is 12.99, because it’s pretty fucking thick. Yes. Yeeeessssss.

Aurian and Jin: A Love Story

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Recipe: Six Hour Southern Cabbage

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Image @quaddle on deviantart. Ruined by me. Satan watches you making cabbage.

I happen to have a little extra time today. So, as promised, here’s my Southern Six Hour Cabbage.

Beforehand, a note. If you are looking for delightfully crisp, healthy, still-green leaf vegetable, turn your attention elsewhere. If, however, you want salty, spicy, mash-between-your-teeth pot likkery COMFORT, then this cabbage is for you.

That guy I live with (known henceforth as Definitely Not Dave, or DND for short) would probably wish me to inform you of its restorative properties, as well as its near-volcanic effects on the digestive system. Again: if you don’t mind farting like a wet sneaker on linoleum for the next few hours, this delicious cabbage is the no-longer-quite-so-green meanie for you. If you’re having your mother-in-law over for dinner, perhaps stick to steaming.

Alternatively: serve it anyway, and set your phone on record. Depends on whether or not you like her.

Anyway, Southern Six Hour Cabbage.

You’ll need:

Big ol’ pot
Roughly 2Q to 1G water (consider, if you will, the size of your cabbage. The water needs to cover it by an inch or so.)
1 head cabbage
1 med. sweet onion
5 large cloves garlic (seem like a lot to you? Take your garlic-pansy ass over to some other cabbage recipe. I usually do seven.)
1/4 c apple cider vinegar (adjust to taste)
1 tsp celery seed, or 1-2 sticks celery
1 tsp bacon salt (alternatively: 1 ham hock + 1 tsp salt, or 1-2 cubes ham bouillon)
1 T vinegar based hot sauce (Louisiana, Texas Pete, etc.)
More salt, if you for some reason still need it

Chop onions, garlic. Saute onions in bottom of your soup pot for 5 minutes or so over medium heat, or until transparent. Add garlic, continue to saute for 30 seconds. Usually, I add in my celery/celery seeds at this point. It doesn’t really matter, because everything is going to be cooking until the remains of your ancestors are gas in someone’s hovercraft tank.

Chop your cabbage and add it. Stir, so things don’t get all layered and shit. This isn’t a parfait.

Add water, enough to cover the cabbage by about an inch. Now bring things to a boil.

Add in your vinegar and hot sauce. You could probably do this at any point in the watery life of this recipe, but hell, I’m superstitious, and I think Satan watches you when you boil vinegar.

Reduce to simmer (usually two or three setting on my crappo apartment stove). Cover with pot lid or whatever’s handy, because you always lose the lids and you can’t for the LIFE of you figure out how, seeing as they never move from your kitchen.

And COOK. Oh sweet Jesus, COOK. Cook while you prepare the rest of your dinner. Maybe get a head start on the cabbage by an hour and THEN cook the rest of your dinner. Stir occasionally, more or less whenever you remember. The point of this is, you want to cook the cabbage over low heat for as long as you’ve got until they turn the power off on you. Hence, six hour cabbage.

Just keep an eye on the water and make sure it’s covering the cabbage and you’ll be fine. Beyond that, cook until the last gasp of hydrogen in our beautiful sun makes the transition to helium.

Serve, with warning label as to gaseous nature of cabbage. Enjoy your delicious mushy vegetable.

A note: I sometimes add in like a fistful of hot pepper flakes, mostly because I enjoy seeing people cry. Also, this could totally be done in a crock pot. High for four hours, I’d say. Resulting cabbage would be loved so tender it could never wear pants again.

Writing Wednesday: Details, Plaid Genitals, and the Devil

Before we begin, let me bring you bastards up to date.

So I was freaking out for quite a while there. Had a family member gotten cancer? No. Had I lost a job, lost a friend, gotten ebola? No, no, and no.

The caps lock and shift keys on my Bluetooth keyboard stopped working. Or, okay, to be honest: I was being all gloomy nineties college rock about it and writing in the rain. Like a moron. Like I do every couple of months, only to then be surprised when my keyboard dies.

Sure, laugh. I was in a foul mood for the entire week. I couldn’t write. I went through the stages of grief–or, okay, to be honest I think I bottomed out somewhere around ‘anger’–only to realize, towards the end, two very important things.

1) This is very much a first world problem, and as I still have food and running water I probably need to consider my priorities, sip my frappa-mocha-choka-whatever latte and shut the fuck up. Also:

2) A KEYBOARD HAS TWO GODDAMN SHIFT KEYS.

So yes. I am, if anyone was as of yet undecided, an idiot. Writing resumed. Woohoo.

As writing is resumed, I think it’s only fair that I eke a meager Writing Wednesday post out of my rosy buttocks. I apologize for last week, really I do. I was just too busy weeping into my soy latte to do it.

But this week, ladies and gerrymanderers, we’re going to talk about details. Why? Because the devil’s in them. And the devil usually makes things interesting.

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WRITING WEDNESDAY: THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

So you’ve probably seen this chestnut in your internet writeathon rounds: write what you know.

One of the basics, right? Good advice, right?

Well, it is. Collective oohs and aahs, because I’m actually agreeing with someone.

Here’s the thing, though. People take this way, WAY too literally. Writing what you know doesn’t have to mean writing about waking up at seven in the morning, accidentally using your husband’s toothpaste, and wearing a pair of slightly uncomfortable pumps to work. It doesn’t have to mean taking every little protoparsible word-snippet from your day to day. If you write fantasy, this is doubly hard–I mean, what do you know, like, really know, about hexing someone’s private parts? Not much, I’m hoping. If you do, please share your experience with the rest of us. In relatively non-graphic terms.

But here’s the thing. You’ve never hexed someone’s privates. You’ve never had your privates hexed. But I’m willing to bet you’ve had an itch down there, or a rash. Maybe even–gasp–an STD. Remember what that was like? Remember when you were eighteen, and you JUST KNEW you’d somehow gotten AIDS, dammit, how did this happen, how’re you going to tell Mom–and of course, when you DO tell Mom (aaaawkward moments, here) she sighs, shakes her head, and tells you it sounds like a yeast infection to her, but by the way, you’re grounded for like a year?

My experience here lately has been mostly culinary, so as a result, we’ll name our hero Sambal Oelek. His girlfriend, princess Garam Masala, took an elective class in the Black Arts in college. Three credits if you can pass the exam–which is, of course, the recitation and elocution of a spell that turns someone’s Gendered Giblets plaid. Because this is college, the spell is of course intended as pure demonstration and nothing harmful should come of it. Because, again, this is college, and you’re not going to get to the interesting stuff until grad school.

Now, there are a couple of places to draw from your own experience here. A couple of places where details–those crunchy, real-life details–will come in nougaty handy. First off, have you been to college? No? Then maybe this school should be more local. Or maybe Miss Masala is just learning a thing or two from a mysterious hunchbacked palace scrubwoman (in which case–have you ever had a servant?).

If you have been to college–and I have, so we’ll stick with this–think about your own college classes. I’ll be honest, I was at best an indifferent student. Classes often took a back seat to other important things, like discovering which liquor goes best with tomato juice, which is the only thing you have for a mixer in your fridge. And of those classes, elective classes, which didn’t fulfill any of the umpty-teen course requirements, were so far back they were practically standing in the lecture hall doorway.

Maybe our genital gentrifier, Garam Masala, is in a similar situation. She’s been having a little too much extracurricular fun, and she needs, NEEDS, to pass this class to keep herself out of magical academic suspension. (And here we have some basic detailing that broadens the ‘college’ feel already. There’s an academic suspension level of grading. There are credit hours, requirements for your major that are filled or not filled by certain classes. You remember this stuff. If you don’t, pick a more appropriate setting.)

So she’s studying. Hard. The trick is, she hasn’t been studying hard for the rest of the semester. So when it comes time to cast the spell, instead of aiming her wand at the plaster cast intended for this demonstration by her professor, Masala makes the terrible mistake of pointing it, blindly, out into the distance, and reciting the terrible words:

GENITALIUM TARTUM EST.

She missed the first-day lesson where the students were told that a hex must, under all circumstances, have a subject. Her professor tries to knock the wand out of hand, but he’s old and slow (and also a little disinterested–maybe he just lost magical professor tenure). The spell, in a flash of tartan brighter than the Hindenberg exploding, recedes into the distance.

She also missed the lesson where you were taught to empty your mind while casting. She’s been standing there, gesticulating wildly at nothing, thinking off-handedly of her long-distance boyfriend, Sambal Oelek, who she’s been having some trouble with lately. (Young lovers, separated by cruel college, able to communicate only by magic mirror. Sigh. Where’s Skype when you need it.)

Now, the professor checks in the village below to make sure the hex didn’t land anywhere important. A university always has some CYA policies in place for this sort of thing. He doesn’t find an afflicted mark, fills out his sheaf of paperwork, and goes back to dozing in his insufficient and cubbylike office, waiting to die and/or retire.

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Sambal Oelek is practicing his fencing (because princes do that) when his privates start to itch. He excuses himself, runs to the restroom, and pulls down his particolored hose to find, you guessed it. Plaid penis.

The rest is up to you. A note–we recommend not mixing patterns.

There are a lot of places you can write what you know in this fantasy story to increase its impact and emotional resonance. First off, remember being twenty-one? Oh, god, I do. Garam Masala probably thinks she knows everything, probably thinks she’s not so much ‘a drunk’ as ‘avant-garde’. She probably hasn’t realized yet that, when she signed that ‘student loan’ contract in blood, the chalk circle and newt’s eye paste wouldn’t protect her from massive debt. She may or may not have had to make rent at some point in her life. She may or may not have had a real-girl job, even.

And the university. Remember your school? I bet there were sports. I bet there were a LOT of sports. I bet you had crusty old guys in polos and belted shorts LEFT AND RIGHT telling you about university sports, and how much better ‘the team’ was when THEY were in college. If you were me, you didn’t give a shit. If you weren’t, maybe you did.

I bet your campus had a ‘green’. I bet it was more often silver and nicotine colored than the aforementioned verdant hue.

I bet you had a cafeteria–I’m sorry, is it a ‘dining hall’ by the time your pubes are fully sprouted?–and I bet you remember what food you liked, what food you didn’t, whether or not Chik-Fil-A had a kiosk downstairs. This was the first and last time in your life Chik-Fil-A would feel special to you.

Did you live in the dorms, have a roommate? Did she smell funny, watch Judge Judy at three in the morning, save her crunchiest cereals for midnight cram-session consumption while you were trying to sleep? Living with somebody, especially someone you know, is annoying. In what ways did she piss you off? In what ways, and at what times, were you glad she was there?

You can take all these things and adapt them. Maybe they don’t have Captian Crunch at Fenugreek U, but you can work with it. For instance, maybe Masala’s roommate is one of those horrible fucking elves. Maybe she eats twigs. Maybe she poos compost, and it stinks up the whole suite.

Maybe the university sport is magical duelling, instead of whatever version of sportsball yours indulged in. Maybe the alumni, veteran duellers of old, tend to try and help out from the stands.

Maybe you have to invoke the demon Asafoetida and sign a contract in blood instead of paying tuition. Maybe college loans take years off your life if they aren’t paid, on time, every month. Maybe there’s a group of seniors, informed by their older siblings of the years of infernal slavery ahead of them in the name of college debt, who’re trying to find a loophole in the contract. Maybe they have. Maybe you have to be in Anise Hall, room 666, at precisely 12:03 AM for the secret to be revealed to you. Maybe they’re just blowing hot air, and they ambush you there and turn you into a muskrat. Maybe there’s now a muskrat wing in Student Health because of it, and muskrat care supplies in Student Stores.

See what I mean? No, you haven’t lived any of these things. At least, not exactly. But you’ve lived through things that made you feel the same way, made you react the same way, had the same repercussions in your life. And the basic premises–student loans, annoying roommate, sportsball–are still real-life premises. They’re things that anyone in a college setting remembers and will have to deal with. So you get emotional resonance as well as detail, detail, detail.

A note, however; the devil is also in TOO MUCH detail, and he is just waiting for you to waste those three pages describing the magical duelling sportsball system at the state university of your main character’s second cousin. Look at it this way, and only this way:

1) Does this add to my story?

Note–not ‘is it important’. Important can mean a lot of things. But.

Does this detail further, in any way, your main story? Does it increase your understanding of the characters? Does it make the setting more accessible to the average reader? Does it enhance the mood of the story? Does it keep the plot moving?

If it does none of these things, chuck it. Or, if you must, mention it briefly. But remember:

When you write a LOT about something, you are emphasizing it.

Hence, Checkov and the whole gun going off in the third chapter thing. (Don’t know about Checkov’s Gun? Google it. You need to.) If you draw your reader’s attention to something, they quite rightly expect it to be important. Too many false alarms, too many false starts, and your reader will start wondering if your story in total is important. Then, thirty seconds later, they put down your book.

So there you are.