Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Nice Boost

So I discovered today that without really trying, I'm back to selling a few books each month. My sales only ever got truly exciting about a year and a half ago when for some reason one April I sold a bunch of books. I was like, "This is it!!! I'm going to be able to quit my day job!" Uh, no. In fact, about two months later my sales tanked lower than they had ever been before. There ensued some desperate marketing of various stripes, until I finally decided I just didn't want to contribute to the spam out there anymore. I pretty much abandoned all marketing, unless you count occasional tweets about dieselpunk stuff. Which honestly, I don't. I do retweet when someone lets me know they are reading one of my books. That's really the only time I mention my books online anymore. I've quit checking my sales, especially these last few months because I'm not writing and seeing zeroes in my sales columns isn't going to help motivate me. But recently a couple of people on Twitter and Goodreads have let me know they are reading or have finished one of my books (mainly The City Darkens) and one of them gave me a five star review, so I thought, okay, let's check the KDP report. And lo and behold, I'm back to the numbers I was seeing regularly before that illustrious April. Nothing to suggest I'll be quitting my day job any time soon, but it really is so nice to know people are reading the books. I find I only ever want to write for an audience, so feeling like there was no audience was just an inspiration killer.

Why a picture of fruit? Why not?
I'm rounding the last base of this pregnancy and writing just isn't going to happen for a while, though. I do spend some time thinking about it. I started a story for NaNoWriMo but only got about 3000 words in. I may end up abandoning it--I don't know. I get ideas for it, but I also get ideas for this middle grade/young adult fantasy novel I was toying with. Though most of the latter have to do more with setting than plot. So I just can't be sure which way I'll go when I am ready to write in earnest. I also have the first draft of the sequel to The City Darkens to revise, and I'm about 3/4 done writing the first draft of book four of my Veronica Barry mystery series. And since actually a number of the books purchased recently were from that series, I do feel like maybe the first thing I need to do is finish that. When I have the time and the energy. Which probably isn't going to be soon.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Here we go, NaNoWriMo 2014!

Well, I'm giving it a shot! So far, I have something in the neighborhood of 2200 words written, so I'm on track to achieve my 50K in something like February. But some writing is better than no writing! And I'm hoping my husband will be able to take the three year old to the park or something for longer this weekend, and I can maybe get a bit more caught up.

I deliberated a lot about what to write. I had a dream with this awesome setting. I can really see it working for a Harry Potter-esque young YA fantasy novel in a steampunk/early dieselpunk setting--you know, 1920s again, maybe with more of an art nouveau feel than The City Darkens. The trouble is, it really hasn't had enough time to percolate, so I'm going to put it on hold.

I decided to go with another idea I've been chewing on for the last year or so, which is more of a sort-of cyberpunk, futuristic urban fantasy dystopia story. I still haven't fully decided if I'm going for YA or New Adult in terms of my target audience... the difference is how much sex there'll be in it. I'm being vague about my MC's age for the time being (2200 words in, it's not hard to be vague about that) and I guess when I get to the first scene where sex is an option, I'll see how I feel about it. Oh the joys of NaNo, where you really don't know quite what you're writing until you get to like, the 30K mark.

That said, I did create an outline for this novel, which is unheard of for me. I figure with how little time I have in each sitting, I need a road map or I'm going to get lost. However, yesterday I was looking at it and I'm not sure what I meant by half of what I wrote. So there's that.

I'm a pantser at heart.

How about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? How well is it going, if so? What kind of story are you writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Monday, July 21, 2014

I'm not writing.

Not at the moment anyway. I blame this. With some luck things will go back to normal(ish) soon and I'll find the motivation. The first time around I didn't do any writing, though, so I'm not sure I'll get the urge to even if my body does find some kind of happy place soon. Of course, come January I'm not going to have any time, and I doubt that will change for quite a while, so it would be nice if I could get back into it and at least finish Veronica 4 and do the editing on my sequel to The City Darkens. Fingers crossed.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Maleficent: Hell Yes.

So, I'm in love.

My husband and I went to see Maleficent yesterday and if bigamy was legal and you could marry a movie, I'd marry Maleficent.

Okay, I'm kidding a little. But only a little. The movie isn't perfect. I could have completely done without the narrator, for one. Add a scene or two to provide the exposition, and get rid of the narrator. The only narrator I ever like to listen to is Galadriel, and this was no Galadriel. Also, the three Stooges-esque "comedy" of the three fairies was really weak--but then I've never been a fan of that kind of slapstick comedy. And I get the criticism some reviewers have made regarding the idea that anyone would entrust a baby to those goofs. Plus, this is not the movie where Disney makes any strides towards LGBTTQ inclusiveness. I'm willing to just set all that aside, because what I loved about the movie just so far outweighs all the flaws.

Some reviewers were unhappy with how focused on Angelina Jolie the movie was. This was no problem for me, because I really admire Angelina Jolie. Before she became unnaturally thin, I used to think she was very attractive, as well--I don't think of her that way as much, but I really enjoyed her in this role. She was perfectly cast. She has the unusually extreme features necessary for a non-human character, and all they needed to do was enhance her cheekbones and her eyes a little to make her look fey. Even her thinness worked for the character. And I loved how demon-like she looked, with her horns and the hooks on her wings. And yet she was not a demon. That was awesome.

Beyond her looks, though, I admire Jolie for her adoptions and her choice to go public with her decision to get a double mastectomy. I'm sure she's got plenty of flaws, but when it comes to what I know of her, I think of her as a really strong woman.

Which brings me to what I loved about this movie. This was a movie about a very strong woman. It showed her suffering and rising from that, taking vengeance, and then returning to herself. It's hard to capture in words how watching this movie made me feel. Just watching her fly--I had tears in my eyes. Why? Well, partly because I'm not in my right mind these days. But also because I haven't seen anything like that in so long. It's been so long since a I saw a female character who was strong without being irrationally emotional. Who was beautiful without being oversexed. Who was furious without being obsessed with a man. And the whole movie was like a feminist fantasy* of a woman beating these awful men--and only when they were trying to destroy the forest, too. I mean, for a greenie like me, that was awesome.

Most of the characters in this movie were female. Like I mentioned above, the fairies were too silly, but even so, at least they were female. I get very frustrated with all the stories where maybe the main character is female, which is nice, but then it's like the people writing the story have to balance that with three extra male characters. And then, of course, there's the bazillion stories out there with the one or two female supporting characters, who never talk to each other unless it's about one of the male characters. Even my beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy is terrible in this way. I've come to a point where I watch shows and movies and just try to roll with it. Watching Maleficent shook me up because it reminded me of what I've been missing.

[MAJOR SPOILERS]

Maleficent does fall in love in the film, but it's never central to who she is or what she's doing. Her love, Stefan, eventually becomes too wrapped up in his ambition to become king to visit her anymore, and all that happens is that Maleficent spends some time alone sometimes. It's implied she misses him, but not really spelled out, and certainly not dwelt on. That was refreshing. Then, the king tells his would-be heirs that he will give the succession to the one who kills Maleficent, and Stefan uses their former relationship to approach her. He drugs her and tries to kill her. He can't go through with it. One reviewer I read claims this is because he's "weak." I disagree. Stefan can't kill Maleficent because some part of him still loves her. Instead, he cuts off her wings.

Here's one of the things I loved about the movie. I knew something bad would have to happen to her to make her go evil and curse a baby, and I was dreading the obvious choice for her motivation there: the woman-scorned storyline we see so often (recently they decided to explain the Wicked Witch of the West's motivation in this tired way, for instance). But Maleficent doesn't go evil because Stefan scorned her. She goes evil because he stole her wings. It is her wings she mourns--not her love. She describes them, latter, "I had wings once, and they were strong. They could carry me above the clouds and into the headwinds, and they never faltered. Not even once."

Thoughout the scene where she first mourns her wings I cried for her because I thought of how in real life, Jolie has had to give up part of her body. I don't know what it's like to lose your breasts. I know she made a choice to do so--but it must still have been devastating. So, another reason the casting of her in this role resonated powerfully.

Then, there's the resolution of the curse. If you're familiar with the original Disney movie of Sleeping Beauty, you know that Maleficent curses Aurora as a baby--she will grow in grace and beauty, everyone who knows her will love her,** but then at the age of 16, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel's needle and fall into a death-like sleep (although in the original story, unless I'm mistaken, the evil fairy curses her to die and one of the good fairies softens the curse to a death-like sleep--in the movie they skipped that). Only true love's kiss will wake her, but then, Maleficent doesn't believe in true love.

Maleficent watches the baby grow and finds she has to intervene because of the three fairies' incompetence. Soon, she is charmed by the little girl, and eventually, comes to love her so much she wants to revoke the curse, but can't. Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep, but not before meeting a nice-looking, charming prince. Everyone scrambles to get this prince to Aurora's bedside, Maleficent included.

Now, I watch Once Upon a Time, and one of the things I love about that show is that mother's love counts as true love. And if anyone acted as Aurora's mother as she grew up, it was Maleficent, though she was cold and withdrawn about it. So I was really hoping Maleficent's kiss would do the trick, and pretty annoyed that they were going with the love at first sight silliness with the prince. And then... his kiss didn't work. Maleficent's did.

That was exactly what I wanted to see happen.

My husband, who in some ways is more radical that I am when it comes to gender and political stuff, was annoyed when the prince turned up at the end as some kind of reward for Aurora. He thought it would have been better without that. I can see his point, but it didn't bother me. The movie was never about Aurora, though she was important. And I don't begrudge characters having romantic relationships, as long as they aren't the only thing they are living for. I'm married, after all, and very happy to have a companion that I love. I wouldn't want to deny that to all the fictional characters out there, in some effort to make them all strong and independent islands. And Maleficent remains strong and independent, though not an island, because she has her companion and servant, Diaval***.

Anyway, overall, halleluliah for a film that presents a strong woman who never falters in her strength. A woman not ruled by her emotions. A complex woman. I have waited a long time to see that. Not to be over-dramatic about it, but in this current culture of open misogyny and narrow roles for women, it was like a balm to my soul.

_________________________
*It was very much the kind of fantasy I would have had as a young feminist. But I don't want to give the impression that I buy into the "feminists hate men" stereotype. It happens that many women, myself included, come to feminism after having very negative experiences with men, and as a result they do go through a period of fury towards men. It's not a balanced approach, and if this film wanted to be balanced, it failed at doing that. But I honestly don't need balanced fantasies right now. I am fine with a fantasy that privileges women, for once. If this movie plays out a feminist anti-man fantasy, in contrast with the thousands of male-fantasy misogynistic movies that objectify and dehumanize women, I am okay with that.
**This is actually something that bothers me. The implication is that Maleficent comes to love Aurora because of her own curse, not because she is a complex person with sensitivity and the ability to love independently of magical influence. I think it's great that she's so cold about it--she doesn't morph into this maternal, nurturing stereotype of perfect womanly motherhood at any point. Having experienced some of what she sees in Aurora with my own baby, I felt like I knew why she loved Aurora despite herself, and that's all I needed.
***One reviewer complained that Diaval becomes the dragon in the end instead of Maleficent, but I really feel that that reviewer totally missed the point. Maleficent is the one who turns him into a dragon, and he serves her. In the end, Maleficent regains her full power when she becomes fully herself once more. Changing into a dragon would have detracted from that.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Year of the Wolf by Heather Heffner

This novel is excellent. Of all of the indie novels I have read over the last few years, Year of the Wolf is by far of the highest quality in terms of writing and story sophistication, and it's better than many traditionally published novels I've read. I am seriously impressed with Heather Heffner. The novel will please those who like vampire and werewolf stories. The interesting thing about that is I really don't get into those stories (anymore--I was really into them for a while a few years ago and had my fill) but I really enjoyed this book because of the innovative approach to the genre. I found all the aspects drawing on Korean culture fascinating. I give this novel my highest recommendation.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

I do have some critiques of it, but you have to understand, these critiques are on par with critiques I would give any excellent novel, because no novel is perfect. So here we go.

First off, the story includes a subplot you see a lot of in books with werewolves: the main character, Citlalli, is a new werewolf, and the only other notable female werewolf character hates her on sight and wants to challenge her at every turn because that's what female wolves do to establish their hierarchy in the pack. I'm not a huge fan of the genre largely for this reason. I find pitting female characters against each other in this way, especially when there's additionally a male they are fighting over, really really tiresome. I wish that people would stop writing this story--it adds nothing new to the genre. And if it's not possible to write a werewolf story without revisiting this kind of conflict, why not go with a different kind of shifter? In Heffner's universe there are all sorts of shifters. The weretigers sound particularly intriguing.

Compounding the problem of the female wolf rivalry is that the rival in question is Korean. In fact, this story has several Korean characters and they are all supporting characters, yet it is set in Korea. None of them are very effective at dealing with the problems they are faced with. They need Citalli, a Mexican-American who has settled in Korea, and her love-interest, another Latino, for that. And hey, it's really cool and refreshing to see nonwhite characters throughout the book, it's one of the things that makes it so original. Still, I got the sense that even with as much knowledge as Una, a kind of shaman, had or the leading werewolf, also a Korean, had, they just weren't going to be the heroes in any way shape or form. To me, that's a problematic storyline. Not as bad as say, The Last Samurai, but it does have some similar issues.

Finally, the ending. Heffner took a big risk with the ending--it is an out-and-out cliff-hanger. No resolution at all. No satisfaction for the reader at all. IMO, you save that kind of ending for book 2. Otherwise I'm left feeling like this author is just going to mess with me. I felt that way when I read the first book in The Lying Game series. And I had no interest in buying the second book as a result. I may buy the second book in Heffner's series, Year of the Tiger; I haven't decided yet.

I do hope a lot of people read this novel, as the writing and plotting are excellent, and many people will not have the problems with it that I had. Again, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, 2014

It's hard to believe it's been a year since the last time I posted for this event, but here we are. Things have gotten a little crazy around here, and I almost forgot to get the blog post done. Nevertheless, here I am.

Two things come to mind this year as I contemplate homophobia and transphobia. First of all, a student of mine--let's call him Nate--is consistently homophobic, and this really depresses me. It depresses me in Nate's case more than most, because in other ways Nate is among my most enlightened students. He's African American and when he first came to our school, which is majority white, he used to get a lot of laughs by making jokes that were racist towards black people. This is something I've encountered a couple of times before in mostly-white communities. A person of color, in order to gain acceptance, will be the first to make jokes and declarations against his/her ethnicity. But the thing about Nate is, he evolved. I don't know for sure what did it. I'd like to think some of the content in the classes I teach helped, but I really don't know. In any case, he's now one of the kids I can count on to say something intelligent about diversity as it applies to race, and I'm always so pleased when he shares a personal story. I just wish he'd get over the homophobia. He talks about people he knows that he thinks seem gay and how unforgivable that is. He suggests that if a gay man approached him, he'd beat him up. You get the idea. I know it's not realistic to expect a kid who has come so far in terms of how he addresses race to somehow also be able to address LGBTQ stuff with an equivalent level of maturity and security in his own identity. I just wish that's how it worked.

The other thing that comes to mind is the passage of California's so-called "bathroom law." It's actually a law requiring schools to allow transgender student to self-select bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, and other gendered options. A very vocal part of the local community here is totally freaking out about it, and screaming about their (straight, cis--or at least so they believe) kids' privacy rights. That would be bad enough, but the school board has said, out loud, at a time during the school board meetings when doing so meant talking out of turn, that they agree with these people and that they will do everything they can to resist implementing the law. I cannot express to you, dear readers, how very disgusted and fed up this makes me feel. These people (and these school board members) seem genuinely convinced that their children are the ones who will be preyed upon due to this law. They have no understanding and no interest in learning about the reality of the situation for trans students. I heard recently that there will be three (or is it two?) seats opening up on the school board and we'll be voting new people in this election. Which sounds good, right? Except the nutjobs are campaigning whole-hog for those seats. I don't know what alternatives we'll have, but if I have to write-in Hannah Phylactic Shock, that's what I'm going to do.

Anyhoo... I'll try to remember to check back with the election results. In the mean time, post a comment here to enter a random drawing (I'll use an internet randomizer) and you may win an ebook of The City Darkens in the format of your choice.

Also, be sure to visit the HAHAT blog to find out about other cool blogs participating in the event.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Just updating for the sake of updating...

The good news is, I'm writing again, without feeling like I have to force myself. It's the first time I've felt that way since last summer, so I'm really pleased about it.

What's not so great is that this comes at a time when I'm feeling exhausted and have a lot on my plate, so I actually haven't had much time to do the writing. Still, I've managed to add about 3,000 words to The Cradle and the Grave (the fourth novel in my Veronica Barry series). It may not sound like much, but I'm glad it's happening.

Now all I have to do is get the rest of the nonsense sorted and I'll be able to finish this novel and add to the series.

In other news, I tried submitting The City Darkens to two agents. One represents Jacqueline Carey and one represented Marion Zimmer Bradley. Several of their novels are inspirations for TCD. Both agencies turned me down, though. The folks who represented MZB were nice about it--I got a personal email, and they said the setting sounded interesting. They didn't tell me why they were turning it down, though my suspicion is that it's because I've already self-published it. I may try again in a bit. I'm thinking of tracking down Cynthia Voigt's agency next. Maybe Sarah Monette's. I don't feel particularly in a rush. I'm mainly doing this because I need to feel like I'm putting my writing out there. I've been sending TCD to book bloggers but since those that have agreed to review it have all let me know it will be a few months, it just feels like I need something else as well. It would be cool to be accepted by an agent. Like a stamp of approval. I think what I've experienced with self-publishing is that while I like everything that comes with self-publishing, like having control over every aspect (especially the cover), I feel like I'm a speck of sand in a beach full of other self-published authors, and most of them have published their first novel without the benefit of a beta-reader or editor. Which means that most readers will assume I'm publishing my first novel without the benefit of a beta-reader or editor, and that is a damn shame, considering the outstanding quality of my beta-reader, Kathryn. Anyway. My hope is that if I do end up getting traditionally published, maybe I will at least not be a speck of sand in a polluted beach anymore. I don't know what I'll be, but at least not that. That's so far down the road, though. Like I said, I'm in no rush, and I think I may have to wait until I write something new--not a Veronica book or a City book--before I'll really have a shot at interesting someone. Time will tell.