Monday, 30 December 2013

SHADOWS ON THE MOON SEQUEL SHORT

Hello, my lovelies! I hope everyone had a marvellous Christmas and that you're all gearing up for a fantastic new year, too. I have a little seasonal gift for you, which I hope you will enjoy.

People are always asking me if I'll ever write a sequel to Shadows on the Moon, and I'm always saying 'If I write a sequel, I have to make my babies suffer! I don't want to make my babies suffer!' But it turns out that short stories are a kind of exception to that rule. You can nip quickly into and out of your characters lives, just to check up on how they are. Which is what I did when Walker Books asked me to write something to promote the iTunes and Kindle sale that's going on right now - offering Shadows on the Moon for just 99p until the 6th of January.

You can read the short story, which I called 'The Rainy Season', for free, on the Ink-Slingers blog here, and get a taste of what life is like for Akira and Suzume in their new home in Athazie. And if you've been meaning to pick up a copy of Shadows on the Moon, now would be a great time to do so from Kindle or the iBookstore.

Read you later, chickadees.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

SOME BOOK REVIEWS

Hello, oh luverly readers. I've just realised that this is actually my 500th post on the blog! If I'd figured that out any earlier than eight o'clock last night I'd probably have tried to organise something a bit different and special, but perhaps this is more appropriate really: today, I bring you the fruits of my procrastination - ie. a bunch of reviews of things that I read while I should actually have been writing.

If the universe was fair, of course, these books would all have sucked in order to punish me for my lazy, procrastinatory ways. But instead, several of them are amazeballs of a really high order, and I thought I'd talk to you about them.

First up was Lips Touch: Three Times written by Laini Taylor and illustrated by Jim di Bartolo.

U.S. Hardcover

U.K. Hardcover
I was *so* thrilled that this came out here in the UK finally that I snapped it up for my Kobo and ordered a hardcover copy too. And then another hardcover copy for my sister, for Christmas, because I know she'll love it nearly as much as I do. This isn't a novel, but a collection of two short stories and a longer novella, and that format really allows Laini Taylor's extraordinary imagination the freedom to spread its wings. She creates three complete, fully realised fantasy worlds and populates them with vivid, complex and not-always likeable characters who each become simply unforgettable by the end of their stories. The gorgeous illustrations are icing on the cake - although I was sad that they were in black and white, rather than colour (the preview on the Kindle version of the book does show them in colour, and I believe they were coloured in the U.S. hardback too - why so stingy UK publisher?!).

Laini Taylor's writing is intoxicatingly good. It's so good that it's not possible to describe it, really, without sounding gushy and overblown - you want to throw superlatives in there like 'romantic', 'lush' and 'beautiful' but you're still not getting at just what it is that makes this story collection so special. The atmosphere it creates is utterly magical, and every time I had to put it down I felt as if I was still walking around with half my soul existing in a parallel dimension of wicked goblins, tragic curses and howling wolves. I had the sense that every line of Ms. Taylor's prose I absorbed was teaching me something, whether it's how to contrast whimsy and terror, or how to use contemporary language to understate horror, or how to let lyricism off the leash without losing control of it. My favourite of these stories is the final one, the longest, and I hope and pray that the writer may one day return to that world; although in fact any of the settings, any of the characters utilised here, could easily support a full length book. If you only buy one new book before the end of this year, make Lips Touch the one.

Second came The Name on Your Wrist by Helen Hiorns (this will be out on the 2nd of January 2014).



I was sent a link to an eGalley widget to this book, saw that it was about soulmates, and downloaded it assuming that it would be a nice, sweet story about forever teenage love. I probably *wouldn't* have downloaded it if I'd realised that it's nothing of the sort - that, in fact, it's one of the bleakest and most uncompromising Dystopian novels I've ever come across - but that would have been my loss. I'm glad I read it, even if it did leave me wanting to curl up under a blankie with a cup of hot chocolate and have a good cry.

This is a really remarkable debut from a very talented writer. I've never come across a PoV character quite like this, or a narrative voice that struck me in quite the same way. The writer walks a razor-edge between prose that truly does read like the self-obsessed, angsty journal rantings of an emotionally broken teenage girl, and prose which has the emotional clarity and power required to carry a full-length book. The main character, Corin, is one of the least immediately 'likeable' and therefore perhaps *most* realistic female characters I've read in ages, calling up definite echoes of Cat Clarke's unforgettable Grace in her debut Entangled. She's strong and yet feeble, angry yet vulnerable, and she's got everything and everyone all figured out right from the start, while simultaneously managing to be wrong about all the most important things.

I love the ideas in this book. It creates a Dystopian future which rather than seeming outlandish and shocking feels shockingly plausible to the point of being bland. A future in which people in power  really do seek to keep everyone safe - by making them comfortable, appealing to their laziness and desire to fit in, and making all their choices for them. Each plot and subplot is there to challenge our idealisation of romantic love as the only love that really matters, presenting a world where everyone has a soulmate, where everyone knows the name of the true love whom they will eventually find - and it's a complete nightmare.

This book's only real weakness is its ending. There's a brilliant twist, but sadly the way it's unveiled and the main character's reaction to it rather works against the messages that we've absorbed from the story up to that point. It needed further unpacking and resolving to make it as strong as it should have been. But regardless, I really admired the author of this book for making so many daring choices, and for managing to surprise me. Recommended.

Finally, Chime, by Franny Billingsley.

U.S. Hardcover

U.K. Paperback
I must be the last person in the whole world to read this, but I'll go ahead and throw my two cents in anyway. Again, I fell in love with the snarky, bleak, broken voice of our narrator, Briony - it was clear from pretty much the first page that she was an utterly unreliable narrator, but equally clear that *she* didn't know this. I love both her, and the cast of characters around her, some of whom revealed hidden depths by the end of the book - others of whom simply became more who they had seemed to be at the beginning, which I thought was a nice touch. In real life, after all, some people really ARE just exactly what you think they are when you first meet them.

One of the great strengths of the book, aside from that marvellous Briony voice, is the setting of the Swampsea, which felt completely real to me as someone who lives on the edge of a boggy saltmarsh. I also loved the richly textured, tattered backdrop of myths and fairystories and legends - many of which, of course, turn out to be frighteningly real. At times the town setting felt a bit threadbare in comparison, with scenes that could/should have been colourful and lively, such as Briony's fight in the town square ending up feeling a bit 'talking heads'. I wonder, actually, if that was a conscious choice on the part of the author, making the magical swamp feel much more real by comparison.

However, once again I felt that the ending of the novel let it down. Without giving away spoilers, a certain character abruptly acts in a way that completely changes our understanding of who he is - and then proceeds to blame it on Briony (who is far too ready to take the blame, as we've seen throughout the entire book). This scenario feels entirely familiar to someone who's read about rape culture, as does the fact that this male character's pain over what he's done is treated as far more important than the heroine's pain at he's done to her. He's instantly forgiven so that the story can have a conventionally happy ending. All this left me feeling betrayed and bruised on the heroine's behalf. I think I can understand why that scene was there and what the writer intended - to shed a light of human frailty on a character who might otherwise have seemed too good to be true - but the method used and the pat wrap-up just didn't work for me, and nearly ruined an otherwise brilliant story.

I think I'd still recommend this, but with a trigger warning that there are problematic elements.

So! What have you guys been reading lately? Give me your recommendations in the comments, my muffins.

Monday, 18 November 2013

PROJECT: NORMALITY

Hi everyone - happy Monday (which I know sounds like some kind of cruel joke but... we can hope, right?).

Right now the biggest struggle in my life is to try and find some sense of normality. The problem, of course, is that my normality is gone, and it's gone forever. There's a part of it - a part of my life - missing now. A huge, important part. Everything I do, every step I take, is tip-toeing around the edges of that hole, and trying not to fall in. That hole is where my father used to be.

I think it's only when you lose someone who is so important to you that you realise just how much of 'you' is actually made up of 'you and me together'. Bereavement is like that moment in Star Trek or Star Wars where someone screams 'Direct hit! Hull breach!' and you see debris - chunks of the ship, and maybe even crew members - spiralling away into the cold darkness of space, lost forever. That debris is made up of your sense of safety, in-jokes, comfort, silly little routines, the sound of a beloved voice, a familiar smile, a certain smell, happy memories and sad ones. The remaining crew might get the shields back up and save the ship, but that debris is gone. The integrity of the hull is gone. If they make it back to safety they're going to need to weld a whole new bulkhead onto the ship, and fill her up with new control consoles and chairs and carpets, and replacement staff. She will never be the same. Even if she's sound, she'll never be entirely the way she was before.

So I'm struggling to find normality - but in the same way that you might feel helplessly homesick for a home that's fallen into the sea. I can never get back to it. Not really. I have to build a new normality. A bridge across the hole, a new bulkhead, a new 'home'. And a part of me resists that; a part of me wants the hole there, wants to be broken and unsound, because filling the gap with anyone or anything else feels unfair to my father, who deserves to be mourned to the fullest of my ability. To begin to recover would be to begin to let go of him, and that feels like the worst thing in the world.

Not letting go? Well, yesterday I watched Pacific Rim on DVD. It's the sort of thing that my dad and I would have gone to the pictures together to watch, a few years ago, before he got really ill. It's the sort of thing I'd have bought for the two of us to watch together on DVD, after he couldn't go to the pictures anymore. All the way through it, I kept thinking 'I hope there are DVD players in heaven. Dad ought to be watching this'. But when I got to the end of the movie, I still had this gleeful sense of anticipation, and I realised that even though I'd never forgotten that my dad is gone, some part of me was still looking forward to taking it around and watching it with him. That revelation resulted in an hour long crying jag and a really bad headache. Over a silly, glorious film about monsters and giant robots.

Normality. I would like some, please.

Well, that's it for my random ramblings. Onto some actual updates:

I've finished my Akira short story for the Things I'll Never Say anthology and submitted it. It's provisionally entitled 'Storm Clouds Fleeing From the Wind' and although I have no idea if there'll be edits to come, the editor has told me she loves it, so that's good. There's no listing on the Candlewick Press website or on Amazon for the anthology yet, but I'll keep an eye on it and let you know when that goes live.

I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook that I was intending to try and do a modified NaNo this year, in honour of my father to finish the final book of The Name of the Blade. There's about 40-50k left to be written, and my dad loved this trilogy and believed in it so much. It seemed like a good thing to attempt (more struggling for normality). But, as usually happens the moment that I mention an interest in NaNo participation, life got in the way. First of all, when I go back from WFC, my mother had a whole pile of things that she needed me to do - forms and phonecalls and all kinds of unpleasant stuff relating to my dad's passing away. This did not put me in a writing mood.

Then, just as I was getting on top of that, I was struck down, quite literally, by either the NaNo-Virus or the well known 'Convention Crud'. I'm not sure which, but it was an absolute lulu of a bug, not quite bad enough to be the flu, but enough that calling it a cold feels like an insult to me. I personified 'death warmed over' for nearly a week, and only just started to feel like myself again this past weekend. A glimpse at the calendar tells me it's now probably too late to try for NaNo in any meaningful way. So... maybe next year.

But that doesn't mean that I don't want to get back to work. So instead of NaNo I've decided to launch Project Finish This Durned Book. Which involves me re-reading the incomplete draft on paper, marking it up with the Red Pen of Doom, revising the Word Doc, and then going on from there. As with InCreWriJul earlier this year, my goal will be to spend about two hours each morning writing like a fevered pen-monkey, and then spending the rest of the day typing those notes up into my first draft. Even on days when I can't find the time or the motivation to do the typing up, I'm hoping I'll be able to manage the scribbling. Writing has always been my sanctuary and my centre, and I know that getting back into the habit will make me feel stronger and more myself.

Even if Project Finish This Durned Book goes swimmingly, I don't think I'm going to manage to get this manuscript ready to submit in time to hit my deadline, which is the end of the year. What I really want to avoid is being so late that it delays the production of the book in any way. I don't want to do that to you guys.

I'm having lunch with my lovely editor next week. Mostly she wants to see how I am, but I'll be talking to her about potential new books, too, because talking about that makes me happy. Once I've seen her reactions (horrified or intrigued? Who knows!) I might be able to start giving you some more solid hints about future stories. We'll see.

Wish me luck with both my projects, Dear Readers - the book one and the normality one. See you, most probably, next week.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

HEY, SUMMIT! I FIXED YOUR DIVERGENT POSTER FOR YOU!

So, has everyone seen the official poster for the film version of Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT? I really loved the book. I read it way before it came out, after being lucky enough to win an ARC from the author's blog (which I still have, and much treasured it is, especially since Veronica filled it with wonderful notes that gave insight into her writing process). There's controversy surrounding the novel, and controversy surrounding the film and its casting, but I've been pretty much willing to keep an open mind about it. Until this:


Whut.

So... this is a film about a young hero, and her journey to both physical and emotional strength. About her battle to reconcile basic decency and kindness with courage and necessary ruthlessness. About the terrible things human beings do to one another, and about freeing your mind from preconcieved notions and prejudice and daring to think for yourself.

And this is what Summit Entertainment give us for the film poster. "Hi! My name is Tris Prior - but my love interest there, the guy with the giant gun? He is clearly more important than I am, since he's right at the front of my poster. In order to show that I'm not one of those awful, unsympathetic, domineering women, I'm going to stand behind him, completely unarmed, with my back to you, while coyly looking over my shoulder. But enough about ME! The important thing here is that you can clearly see my boobs AND my butt! Do you like my butt? They lit it specially, defying all the normal laws of light and shadow, and placed it at the exact centre point of this poster!"

I don't know what the film is going to be like. But I do know that this is an awful poster. Egregiously bad. Exasperatingly terrible. This is not the poster that DIVERGENT should have. This is a poster for some other film about a boy and his giant gun, and his girlfriend with the shiny bum. Here. I fixed it:

Much better.

Monday, 4 November 2013

WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Monday. I know it's not my normal posting day, but then again I don't really seem to have normal posting days anymore, do I? It's always hard to come back to the blog after a break, and this time it's particularly difficult because so much has happened. I don't think I'm really up to sticking to any kind of a schedule at the moment; it's too much pressure. But I do want to start being a bit more present online again. I miss it. I miss you. So here I am, with a report that might be a surprise to many of you: I went to World Fantasy Con at Brighton last week.

I actually bought my membership to WFC pretty much immediately after it was announced that the 2013 Con would be held in Britain for only the third time (that was back in 2010, I think? A long time ago, anyway!). One of the first things my dad said to me after we found out he was dying was that I *had* to go to WFC, no matter what happened - he knew how long I'd been looking forward to it. I didn't really feel that I could promise him that at the time. If things had gone the way that the doctors thought, my dad would probably have been in a hospice this past weekend and I would catagorically NOT have been OK with swanning off to Brighton and leaving him.

After he passed away, my mother and my sister both told me they thought I ought to go to the Con if I could face it. It was what my dad had desperately wanted me to do, and it would probably be good for me. I umm-ed and aaah-ed about it for a couple of weeks, but Walker Books had already paid for my accomodation and travel fare, and my friends from my writing group were going, and eventually I just decided to suck it up and go. So last Thursday, the 31st of October, I left my house at 8:30 and travelled all the way across the country (over five hours, not including the taxi rides at either end) to get to the Brighton Metropole Hotel, where the convention was being held.

I don't have a proper Con report per se, but I am bringing back a lot of lovely memories. I met several Dear Readers, all of whom were absolutely lovely, and all of whom were shocked to see me there because even though I'd tweeted about going, of course I haven't been online nearly as much as normal lately and apparently the message didn't get through. Luckily I had postcards and fridge magnets that I could sign and hand out. Thank you all for treating me like a real writer-person even though there were lots of much more famous and successful authors walking past all the time. Every time I meet a Dear Reader in real life I feel as if I've made a friend.

Highlights - the two YA panels, on which Frances Hardinge, Garth Nix, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Susan Cooper, Will Hill, Sarah Rees Brennan, Chris Priestley and Chris Wooding made lots of wonderful points with humour and insight. All the Guest of Honour events that I attended were also outstanding, particularly Joe Hill's hilarious and fascinating discussion with his UK editor Gillian Redfearn, and Susan Cooper's Lifetime Achievement conversation with Neil Gaiman, which was wandering and wistful and lovely (and the only panel where I was brave enough to ask a question).

I went to some fantastic readings, including one by my Furtive Scribbling pal Tina Rath, who read one and a half of the short stories from her delicious anthology The Chimera in my Wardrobe and reminded me just how much I want to re-read it. Garth Nix made me jump up and down in my seat when he read an extract from his upcoming Old Kingdom novel Clariel (even though I didn't win an Abhorsen bell charm and will *never* get over it) and then signed my programme. The reading that gave me the most chills was predictably Holly Black's. She read the first two chapters of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and left me thrilled and traumatised. When I told her this, she very, very kindly gave me the copy of Coldest Girl that she had read from, and signed it for me. I skipped about (literally) telling every single person I met about this for the next hour or so.

It was marvellous to meet up with Lucy Coats, and Liz de Jager, and Katherine Langrish, and Amanda Sun and Joanne Harris, and Barry Goldblatt, and Karen Mahoney, and equally marvellous to meet several book bloggers whose work I really admire. I owe my friends Barbara Gordan, Tina Rath, Rachel Carthy and Marion Pitman all the thanks in the world for looking after me, giving me space when I needed it, and offering comfort when I broke down (which happened randomly, usually in public, and once right at the beginning of a packed panel).

It was very sad to see the Con end, and say goodbye to Brighton and everyone there. Coming home was even harder, because for the first time in my life my father wasn't there waiting for me, and that's a gap which can never really be filled. But I'm so glad that I went. I don't have any pictures to show you because predictably, I forgot to pack my camera. But here is a sexy picture of the amazing books I picked up and brought home, both from the dealer's room (where books were sold) and from the registration area where ARCs and books by some of the attending authors were given away:


I actually had far more than this, but I couldn't find space for them all in my bags. So I put some back in the registration area for others to take, and a few others I scattered through the waiting areas at Brighton Railway station, Victoria Railway station, and Kings Cross. I hope others will find and enjoy them.

That's all from me for now, my chickies. Take care, and read you soon.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

WITH LOVE

Hello, Dear Readers. I hope you've all been keeping well since I checked in last.

My dad's funeral was yesterday, and I'm not quite ready to come back to the blog again. But I'm starting to feel strong enough to imagine about what the rest of my life might be like, to think about a future that won't have my father in it, but will still hopefully be joyful again, one day.

Whatever peace and comfort I've felt over the past few weeks has come because of the amazing love and support around me. Some of that has come from my family, and from friends that I know here in Real Life(tm). Everyone who knew my father had something wonderful to say about him yesterday - some little gem of a story about his kindness or his humour. The renal nurses who visited him at home, his social workers, people that he used to work with, neighbours: he had an impact on them all.

I've also received a humbling amount of support from other people. From Dear Readers, who've posted loving, kind comments to me here on my blog, even though I couldn't reply. From my friends in the YA Think and Authors Allsorts groups, whose wonderful package of letters and cards made me laugh (Ruth) and cry (Liz) and experience every emotion in between. From Tweeps, fellow bloggers, and online friends, who've emailed messages of love and support. From my Furtive Scribbler friends who've been with me through it all. From my marvellous agent, and from my editor, who've poured compassion and understanding all around me, and from the lovely folk at Walker Books and Candlewick Press.

Every comment, every card, every bar of chocolate, and every flower, has felt like a warm hug around my heart. And it helps. Please believe me - it helps so much. Grief is a terrible, isolating thing, that makes you feel as if there's simply no hope or joy left in life. You have given me joy, my darlings. It is as welcome, as vital, as a brilliant shaft of sunlight piercing the clouds after weeks of rain. It makes me hope again, and that means all the world to me.

Thank you all. I love you all. I will be back... soonish. Don't go anywhere in the meantime.



Zxx


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

THE SADDEST DAY

Hello, Dear Readers. I'm back again, but not for long. I just thought, in light of all the love and support I've recieved from everyone, that you deserved to know what was going on.

My dad passed away in the early hours of Monday morning. I think he went peacefully. I saw him, and he looked just as if he'd fallen asleep and was about to start snoring. But he was gone. If anyone's soul ever deserved to find its way to some blissful, light-filled place and be reunited with all their loved ones, my father's does. And if that's true, I know he'll always be watching over me, and I hope that I continue to make him laugh and make him proud, just like I always tried to do.

We were not expecting this to happen so quickly, and it's caught me completely unprepared in exactly the same way that the news he was going to be leaving us did. But I don't know, really, if I could ever have been prepared to lose him. I have a lot of work to do now, supporting my mum both practically and emotionally, and I'm probably not going to be around for a while. I will be back, though.

Love to you all.

Zxx
Never, ever to be forgotten

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A SAD ANNOUNCEMENT

Hello, my lovelies. I'm going to try to keep this short, because writing about it turns me into a giant weeping mess. But after considering it for a few days, I decided that you guys would need to know what was going on with me.

So here goes.

My father, who you've read about on my blog many times, and for whom I've been caring over the last several years, has recently been told that his condition is now terminal. The treatments that he's having are no longer efficient, and there's nothing more that the doctors can do for him. He most likely won't live to see Christmas this year.

I've always been incredibly close to my dad. He's always been the biggest cheerleader for my writing career, the one who always got all my jokes, no matter how weird, and the person I could always count on to get out of bed in the middle of the night and drive thirty miles through a snowstorm to pick me up from some railway station in the middle of nowhere when the last service was cancelled. And now he's dying.

I am, to put it mildly, devastated.

Over the coming weeks and months, I may occasionally post just as normal, answering your questions, updating you about what I'm working on, or ranting. At other times, I might not post at all. Almost all of my energy is going to go towards trying to make my dad comfortable and happy during his final days, and into trying to sort out all the horrible, tangled, legal and financial details that come up at times like these. If there's anything left over, which there may not be, it will probably go into writing that I've got deadlines for, rather than into this blog - much as I love it, and love you all.

Please send good thoughts to my father and me, Dear Readers. Don't forget me while I'm gone. I don't really seem to know much of anything at the moment, but I do hope that I will be OK again one day, and this blog will be a happy place, even if it's never quite the same as it was before.

For the same reasons listed above, I might not reply to comments on this post. But I promise that I will read and appreciate each one.

Monday, 23 September 2013

NEW STUFF!

Hello, hello, hello, and happy Tuesday, Dear Readers! I hope everyone had a productive weekend and, if you were lucky enough to glimpse the sun, that you made an effort to get out and soak a bit of it up (through properly applied sunscreen, of course).

Today I bring some updates. First of all, Book Two of The Name of the Blade, aka Darkness Hidden, aka The Sequel That Ate My Brain is FINALLY finished, approved and off to copyedits, whhooop! No more structural changes, no more arguing minute yet vital points of character motivation, no more asking myself and my editor 'Wait, does she know that yet?' no more waking up in the night in a cold sweat crying: 'What about the tone of the first scene in chapter three?!?' The ms will, of course, be back to me in no time at all, covered in precise and picky notes in red ink - but after everything it's taken to get the book to this stage, frankly, I care not at all not at all. Tee hee!

*Jumps in the air, clicks heels together*

Onto the next thing! Remember when I told you about this anthology, to which I had been invited to contribute, and mysteriously hinted about the story I was going to tell for it? Well, having spoken about it to both the anthology editor and my U.S. editor at Candlewick Press, I can now share a few more details.

I'm hoping to tell the story of a young Akira (from Shadows on the Moon); what her life was like, how she ended up dancing for the Moon Prince at the Shadow Ball, and what happened next. The working title for this story is 'Stormclouds Fleeing from the Wind', although that may change as I go on. I'm thrilled to be able to shed light on what's always struck me as an incredibly romantic and tragic backstory, which sprang from one of my all-time favourite characters ever. I know from talking to readers that many of you love Akira as much as I do, and are really keen to know more about her. So I'm also a little tense and apprehensive about writing this. It's a lot of pressure; Akira deserves the best. This has to be goooood.

I have a clear stretch of time from now until the 31st of October, when I'll be heading off to World Fantasy Con in Brighton, and I hope to get at least the rough draft finished before then. Wish me luck with it, my duckies.

Which brings me onto the next thing: The Name of the Blade Book Three! Soon (soon, my precious!) I will be able to concentrate my full attention and love on this trilogy ender which I adore sossososososo very much. I cannot wait. I've got just over 50% of this drafted and a very clear idea of how everything should proceed but still - wish me luck with that as well, OK? I left the ms at a really tricksy moment and I'm hoping I'll be able to enmesh myself back into it all again without too much rending of hair and garments. I normally find the middle and ending of a book much easier and more enjoyable to write than the beginning, but you know trilogies. They don't always follow the rules. And this is going to be pretty emotional to finish. You guys literally have no idea what... er. Hmmm. Spoilers. Never mind.

*Evil laughter*

Anyhoo, that's what-up with me. What about you? Share in the comments!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

RETROTUESDAY: BLOGGERS Vs AUTHORS

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! How are you? What's going on? Yes, I am finally back after my nearly two week absence - which was a lot longer than originally anticipated - and I'm so sorry to have left you guys for that long. The neck and back issues melded with other issues, culminating in the hospitalisation of a family member (my uncle) who has now very sadly passed away. Yesterday I realised that with the way things were doing, I could quite easily end up leaving the blog un-updated for weeks, or even forever, if I didn't pull myself together and just jump back in with both feet. So I'm back. And hopefully the blog will now return to its regular schedule.

Before I go on, here's a link to a very thoughtful interview with me at the newish blog The Book Wars. This went up while I was mostly off-line. Thank you for inviting me over, Nafiza and Co.!

I still have all the reader questions that you guys sent me, and I will start work on replying to those hopefully later this week. Today, however, it seemed timely to bring out a post from the archives, because although I've generally been steering clear of my computer over the last fortnight, even I've noticed that there has been a LOT of The Internet Drama(TM) going on.

MY THOUGHTS ON BLOGGERS vs AUTHORS, LET ME SHOW YOU THEM

Today I'm doing that thing again. You know. The thing where I cast common sense and the wise advice of friends to the wind and venture onto a topic that anyone with half a grain of sense would treat like a canister of highly radioactive material (don't even go near unless there's some kind of life-or-death-Tom-Cruise's-furrowed-brow situation, and even then only while wearing a full hazmat suit and using mechanical pincers instead of your actual hands).

Today, I would like to talk about this whole Authors vs. Bloggers debate.

WHAT did you say?!
Disclaimer: I'm not attempting to be definitive here. I have no ambitions of Saying All The Things and single-handedly producing World Blogger/Author peace. I just have all these...feelings. You know: conflicted, squirmy, put-you-off-your-icecream feelings, churning away inside, and I'll feel better if I spill them out onto the page. If you want clear-sighted wisdom, you might be better off seeking out the Dalai Lama, or perhaps Justine Larbalestier.

I'm also well aware that there are many bloggers and authors who may read this post with puzzled faces of adorable confusion and say 'Huh? I've never noticed any of this! Where's all this going on?' My post today is a response to things I've seen bloggers and authors talking about on various comment threads and websites all over the place, and to several recent incidents of Internet Drama(TM) that have blown up and then blown out again. If it's all Greek to you? Well done; you've successfully done what the rest of us wished we could and steered well clear of all the angst. Go on your merry way and ignore my convoluted ramblings with a light heart.

So. This debate. Let me break it down a little.

BLOGGERS & REVIEWERS

Right now we have this vibrant, thriving, book blogging community on the internet. It encompasses book-review sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing and people's own personal blogs, and participants  span the whole of the real world and might realistically be any age between eleven and ninety. This community loves to read, loves books, loves authors, and on the surface of things there really seems to be no reason why all of us shouldn't be skipping through fields of daisies together, holding hands and singing Justin Beiber's Greatest Hits (wait - is that kid old enough to have Greatest Hits? If not, we can just sing Kumbaya, I suppose).

But beneath the surface of the community there are deep divisions - essential differences in approach and philosophy which constantly cause dissent and even sometimes acrimony and hatred. In order to make sense of this, I'm going to talk about the two different kinds of bloggers you tend to find in the reviewing world (most reviewers, in reality, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes - but this is just to illustrate my point).

Some bloggers regard authors and publishers and the whole book blogging world like this:

Let's all eat cake. And be friends!
They love to able to interact with and be taken seriously by people in the publishing industry. They regard it as a privilege to be part of this exciting and heretofore hidden, secretive world. They get excited about ARCs and swag and blog tours, and enjoy talking to authors personally. Generally these reviewers will have a positive attitude to books they review: they'll usually try to find something good to say, even if a certain book wasn't for them. They might only review books that they love and not mention any that they did not like or failed to finish. Or they may publish negative reviews, but view this as a sad, serious duty. They feel it's only right to treat authors and their work with a lot of respect, so they will, rarely if ever, employ snark or humour when they air their opinions.

These are the bloggers who are usually very happy to have an author for a chum, and who don't mind authors popping onto their blog and commenting on the reviews and features.

Bloggers on the other side of the divide look at publishing more like this:

Oooh, this is going to be fuuuun...
While still on the whole respecting authors and publishers, these guys take a more worldly view. They see the relationship between reviewers, authors and publishers not as a privilege but as a pragmatic arrangement, with all sides getting benefit from the exchange of books/swag and reviews/publicity. Some reviewers don't accept ARCs or swag at all because they feel like it encourages a sense of endebtedness that prevents them from being honest. They take their reviews seriously, but that won't stop them from snarking and using humour (including .gifs or photoshopped images) to make a point either in favour of or against of books which aroused strong feelings in them. If they feel that an author or publisher messed up in some way they will call them on it fiercely, and they post negative reviews without a blink. They don't believe it's their job to shelter an author's feelings by finding good things to say about their work: they believe it's their job to be completely honest and give readers their unadulterated, sincere reaction to books, even if they didn't finish them.

Bloggers in this camp tend to be wary of being too friendly with authors, and they feel a bit squinky and uncomfortable if writers pop onto their blogs and comment, even if the comment is positive. The author doesn't really belong there, to their mind.

Sometimes the most extreme of these two types of bloggers will clash because they have such opposing styles and ways of looking at the business they're dealing with. But the real reason why there's such a huge divide these days? Well, it's because of...

AUTHORS

Obviously it's a bit harder for me to be objective here! But I'll do my best.

Basically: writers are now more active online than they've ever been before, and publishers are encouraging us to interact with and form working relationships with bloggers in order to help promote our work.

Quite often writers end up grativating towards bloggers in the first group that I mentioned, just because those guys are the most receptive and the most likely to be happy taking part in blog tours, etc. They can form real friendships with bloggers (the ones that are fine with this) in the course of working with them on, say, an interview feature, and then talking with them at a blogger event, and tweeting and emailing back and forth for a bit. This is hardly surprising, since most writers are avid readers and - look at that! So are bloggers. They already have a lot in common. For an author, getting to know bloggers who like you and your work means that you suddenly have a whole network of new people in your corner.

But not all bloggers can be - or should be - your friend. Not all bloggers can - or should - like your work.

And this, in my purely subjective opinion, is where the crazy starts.

(N.B. I'm aware that there have been authors who had a mental breakdown over a generally positive three star review. But those guys are usually so obviously unbalanced that EVERYONE backs away with wary looks, including other writers. I don't think those people are materially contributing to the Us vs. Them mentality I've noticed - they are outliers. So let's move on).

Authors might be resigned (or tell themselves that they're resigned) to seeing negative reviews of their books. Reviews in which the blogger sadly admits that the story didn't work for them for some reason, that they couldn't empathise with the heroine or that historical fiction/fantasy/Dystopian just isn't the reviewer's bag. Those are the sorts of reviews that our blogger friends do occasionally write, after all. Reviews that the blogger is well aware the author and publisher may read, and which are sensitive to and considerate of the writer and publisher's feelings in consequence. Authors grit their teeth and mumble under their breath, but generally manage to avoid making idiots of themselves over reviews like these.

What writers are really not resigned to seeing, and what normally is the start of The Internet Drama(TM) is a different kind of review. One written by a reviewer who has no interest in what the author or publisher might think if they read it (the review isn't FOR them, after all) and who feels no reluctance about expressing their problems with or outright dislike of the book. A review that may (le gasp) snark, make jokes and outright mock the story. Possibly using .gifs of Tribbles humping.

Writers are not prepared for this. For someone making fun of their book like it doesn't matter. And so, often in a blaze of wild emotion, the author takes to their email or Twitter or Facebook and Says Stuff. They might just say 'Argh! I hate Teh Internetz today!'. They might take it further and make condemning comments about the quality of reviewers on Goodreads. They might go the full cray-cray route and provide a link to the review they didn't like. But in any case, the moment that the author responds to the negative review?

BATTLE HAS BEGUN



Straight away, people on the author's side of the divide will flinch from their pain and attempt to soothe them. And because this - authors publicly weeping over bad reviews - has now happened approximately 12,900,670 times before, and there's this sense of Authors vs. Bloggers online (why are bloggers so mean? Why do they have to attack books and rip them up like this?) their responses will usually be something along these lines:

'Oh, honey! It's OK, your book is wonderful! Just ignore that silly hater! Goodreads is full of trolls anyway!'

In their urge to reassure their friend, client, co-worker or fellow author, this person or persons have fired the first canon.

Reviewers, who, not surprisingly, are very active online, will catch wind of this. Word will spread quickly that YET AGAIN an author is dissing reviewers (surely not? Don't writers ever learn?). The link is RT'ed, posted on Goodreads, and suddenly reviewers appear on the scene defending their right to write honest reviews without being attacked and labelled a hater or a troll, thank you very much.

This skirmish will last for a bit. Then someone will attempt to pour oil on the troubled waters by offering some variant of:

'Why can't we all just get along? Why do we have to be mean to each other? Why can't we all just...Be Nice?'

Oh, look, that's not oil. It's lighter fluid. Whoosh!

Sometimes the author will calm down, look at this huge Internet Drama(TM) and apologise. Sometimes the furore will make them even angrier and the war will drag on and on and on until everyone's sick to the back teeth with it. But eventually the battle will finish and both sides will retreat to their own sides feeling bruised and battered and wondering: why does this keep happening?

And everytime, that Bloggers vs. Authors feeling just gets stronger and stronger.

The reviewers angrily ask themselves why writers can't get it through their skulls that reviews are for READERS not WRITERS. Why are they even reading reviews and hanging around on Goodreads to begin with if they hate honest reviews so much? Authors put their books out there for people to read and respond to - they presumably WANT readers to have strong reactions to their work. They don't have the right to just take it back and throw a tantrum when someone's reaction isn't all beatific smiles and gushy five star praise. Reviewers are consumers. They're the audience the writer is trying to win over! Why do so many authors think it's OK to treat their own customers like crap?

Writers angrily ask themselves why it's OK for reviewers to respond to an author's book, but not for an author to respond to the review. After all, reviews are for public consumption just as much as books are! If reviewers are all about honesty and freedom of speech, how come they come boiling out of their anthills to eat writers alive the moment one of them dares to mention their feelings about less than favourable responses to their work? Why do reviewers always automatically take a stance of hostility and hatred towards authors when authors dare to involve themselves in a debates about star ratings, or try to correct a reviewer who might have gotten their facts wrong? Aren't we all supposed to be part of the same community?

Well, OK. Let's tackle some of this stuff, shall we?

REVIEWERS: YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT

You guys are writing for yourselves, your friends, your blog readers. You're being honest, you're being passionate and yeah, you're having a few laughs: why the heck not? You shouldn't have to censor yourselves because you're worrying about the author's/agent's/publishers feelings. This is a business: writers/agents/publishers are supposed to be professional, and no matter how much their feelings are concerned with their work, that's not an excuse to act like a five year old whose best friend said their Play-Doh house was stoopid. It's especially not an excuse to mobilise all the other kids in the playground and wage a hate campaign against anyone who doesn't agree that the Play-Doh house is the best one-level soft sculpted domiciliary ever built.

You read a whole heck of a lot of books. You love books. You usually go in there excited and ready to be pleased. But sometimes you get sick of seeing the same crap repeated over and over in every crop of hyped up would-be-bestsellers. Misogyny disguised as romance. Designated Boyfriends and Passive Heroines. Horrible cliches. Bad writing. Predictable plots. Lack of diversity.

And no one ever admits this! YA writers (and agents and other publishing professionals) just don't seem interested in looking at their category as a whole and admitting that there might be problems there. If it weren't for you guys there would be no antidote to the hype-machine - and on a personal note, there have been times when finding a few snarky, honest reviews of a book that I thought was terrible, but which otherwise garnered only positive reviews, might just have saved my sanity.

All too often, when you guys try to discuss troubling trends or issues seriously, authors either play it off or turn on you. And then those authors hold grudges. Certain authors threatened to remember your name if you reviewed them badly, and do you harm further down the line if they could - and they then somehow tried to label this 'Taking the High Road'! And when you started asking yourselves if there was some kind of YA Mafia, Twitter exploded with YA novelists nearly peeing themselves with laughter and making jokes about horses heads and sleeping wit da fishes - but no one ever really addressed your concerns over the pettiness and sheer meanness of that Be Nice threat.

In fact, it seems like the whole YA industry is so concerned with this idea of Being Nice, of projecting an image of child-friendly harmoniousness, that no one is ever going to tackle the issues that lie beneath unless you do.

REVIEWERS: YOU ARE ALSO IN THE WRONG

But you know that oft-repeated phrase 'reviews are for readers, not writers'? Now, I can see where you're coming from with this, I really can. Unfortunately - I'm sorry, but...it's complete and total bull.

Seriously. Writers are readers. We read reviews all the time when we want to decide what books WE should read. We review books to our friends over dinner, we spontaneously tweet about how everyone should run out and get the book we just read because It. Is. So. Awesome. And let's not forget that bloggers with a different approach to reviewing send us emails of reviews they have written, or @reply us on Twitter with links. They *want* us to read them. Reviews are EVERYWHERE, yo.

There's this sense among certain bloggers (and some writers, even) that the best policy is for writers to put their fingers in their ears and sing 'la la la, I'm not listening!' when it comes to reviews. That we should wilfully pretend to have zero awareness that anyone's talking about us or our work - or anyone else's work! But not everyone wants to completely cut themselves off from critical discussions of books just because they got published. Many of us are able to read even quite snarky reviews of our own or our friends work without freaking out and creating An Internet Drama(TM). So please will you stop repeating 'Reviews are for READERS not WRITERS' all the time? You make me feel like I'm doing something wrong when I go looking for book criticism in order to learn from it. And I'm not. You're not my mommy and you can't tell me to stop hanging around on Goodreads if I don't want to, dammit.

Maybe most important of all: please, stop telling us how we should feel about reviews, OK? I understand that seeing newbie bloggers, and your friends (maybe even yourself) get attacked by authors and a hoard of their friends and yes-people over and over has made you feel so wary that now the second an author impinges on your personal space you hit out as hard as you can. But please just stop with that shizz about how 'authors should just get over this!' or 'authors shouldn't pursue publication if they can't take criticism' or 'writers should toughen up and grow a thicker skin', will you? If an author says that 3-star reviews make them sad, that's not them attacking YOU. That is them expressing their own feelings, which they are allowed to have.

When I saw a review trashing my most recent release for daring to feature a transgendered character I got cross and I vented to my writing group. I didn't mention the reviewer's name or link to them, and half an hour later I felt better and got over it. But I needed that half hour to be allowed to be honestly distressed and to get some sympathy, because I'm human. Reviewers don't always have to take every expression of an author's feelings about a bad review as an attack on them and their rights. What's more, you don't have the right to try and silence authors when they express their feelings about getting reviews: we're entitled to free speech too, so long as we're not trying to take yours away.

You don't have to Be Nice with me. You officially have my permission to BE NASTY about my books if you feel they warrant it (not that you need my permission). But don't tell me how to feel about that, please. If I want to read every buggering review ever written about every book I've ever published and then cry myself into a soggy snotty puddle on my teddy bear that is MY BUSINESS.

No, I shouldn't pop up on your blog and try to inflict equal suffering on you. But you shouldn't try to minimise my feelings or my right to have them, either. That's exactly what those authors did to you, so you already know it sucks donkey rear-end. Just stop it.

Did he say 3 Stars? MY LIFE IS OVER!!!
WRITERS: YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT

You guys are dealing with a heck of a lot of pressure when your book comes out, and I know that. You've dedicated hours, days, weeks, months and years of your lives to creating this story. You've more than likely made other sacrifices too - financial ones, ones concerning commitments to your friends and family. Your book is important to you and you know that it's the best you can do - your heart and soul is in there and you're allowed to want to know how people respond to it, and feel emotional about that. You're allowed to get angry when you see someone dismiss your heroine as a Mary-Sue when you are extremely-very-bloody sure she is NOT, thanks very much. Particularly when you look at the reviewer's other reviews and see that she calls EVERY female character this! AND SHE CLAIMS TO BE A FEMINIST!? How come the only books she reviews positively are ones written by men or with male main characters? What the Heck?

Sometimes reviews will even seem to be attacking you personally (maybe because they disagree with your stated religious beliefs, or don't like the other writers you hang around with online) or offering statements about your motives in making certain choices in your writing that are not only utterly unfounded but extremely insulting. You know you're not supposed to respond to this and, just barely, you manage not to.

But you are human, after all. So you go and vent a bit to a friend online, maybe on Twitter - and the next thing you know, everyone's wagging their finger at you like you were a toddler. It wasn't like you linked to the review or tried to call the reviewer out - you just said that sometimes Goodreads gives you a headache and you wish people would stop Mary-Sueing all over the place. Now there's a Goodreads thread about it and they're all putting your book on a Do Not Read list? Gaaah! Why do reviewers treat you like the enemy all the time? Do you really have to watch every single word you say?

You should be given a little more leeway to express yourself online if you want without being labelled A Bad Author. After all, you didn't give up your right to free speech when you signed a publishing contract, and if reviewers are allowed to express their feelings, you are too. Sometimes it's that or just explode in a messy heap of guts. It's funny that reviewers will condemn YA authors for not speaking 'honestly' about the work of other authors in their category (for example, if writers chose to only review books that they liked on their blog) but then get on their case when they're honest...about how bad reviews make them feel.

WRITERS: YOU ARE ALSO IN THE WRONG

Unfortunately, when you signed that publishing contract, you did become a paid professional, and that comes with certain expectations of professional behaviour. It might not seem fair, and often people who should be encouraging you to hold to that standard will act like it doesn't matter (for example, agents who have shown up on blogs or on Goodreads to 'defend' their clients work) but I'm sorry, it DOES. You have to act like a grown-up online. Cry and wail and get upset in private all you want, but don't take that internal upset online and try to hurt a book reviewer with it. Just what do you expect to achieve? They're not going to change their minds because you go and tell them off, are they?

And no, us writers can't complain that a review isn't 'professional'. Even if the writer of that review was unfailingly snarky and used comical .gifs of Tribbles humping to make our story a laughing stock. Because guess what? 99.99% of the time, bloggers are not professionals. They're not getting paid (no, ARCs don't count. They just don't! Look, if you don't get it, I can't explain). Reviewers do this for free, and while many of them take it very seriously, it is, effectively, a hobby. Do you expect Grandma Bessie to 'be polite and professional' when she takes part in her hobby of strip poker on a Wednesday night? I didn't think so.

And here's another truth that is spikey and hard to swallow. Unless a reviewer makes an ad hominem attack on you personally (something which is generally frowned on within all parts of the blogging community)? THEY CANNOT BE WRONG.

Shocking, I know. But think about it for a minute. There's no universe in which you dismissing someone else's feelings as worthless and invalid is OK. If someone reads five pages of your book and it made them so angry and infuriated that they refused to read another page and then wrote a three page long rant against it? They are right. Their feelings are theirs. You're obviously not going to agree with them (and Hell, if they're ranting because you didn't burn the gay character, maybe they're objectively out of their tree too) but that doesn't mean you're allowed to move into their reviewing space and attempt to erase their feelings from the internet. Especially not using a hastily gathered gang of pissed off friends and followers, as some writers have done. I'll put your book on *MY* Do Not Read list if you try and pull that crap.

The simple fact is that books are written to be reviewed. That's what Goodreads and LibraryThing are for. But reviews are not like books. Reviews are not written to be reviewed in their turn. Yes, they're put out there for public consumption, just like a novel, but bloggers don't ask you or anyone to pay to consume them. As you're an author, they'd probably rather you DIDN'T consume them. Just because there's a comment trail on that blog post or Goodreads review, that's not an invitation from the reviewer for people (including you) to come along and tell them they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Why are you intruding on this place, their place for reviews, with your not-a-review comments?

Go away and cry yourself into a soggy puddle of snot on your teddy bear if that's how you feel. You have that right. Ask for sympathy in non-specific terms - you have that right too. But don't be yet another author who starts a flamewar because they couldn't respond to criticism any other way than with public meltdown. Don't be yet another author who persecutes and devalues the very readers - the passionate, dedicated, searching for excellence readers - we should all be supporting and valuing the most.

Passionate readers are our friends! Snuggle them!

So what it comes down to is that I think we all need to ease our trigger fingers OFF our derringers and stop trying to make each other shut up all the time.

WRITERS: If you can't stand to read a negative review without going into public meltdown then stop reading reviews. If you can, and you want to, then do; but confine any comments you make in response to YOUR space and YOUR feelings, and never, ever, ever name reviewers or link to negative reviews or make obvious references to comments in reviews that will allow your friends or readers to figure out who you're talking about. Reviewers that get attacked because you called them out directly or indirectly will have every right to get a wee bit cross with you.

REVIEWERS: If you can't stand to see authors bitch about how bad reviews make them feel, unfollow them on Twitter or stop checking out their blogs. Writers are human too, and they are allowed to have and express their feelings in their own spaces on the internet, just like you. Unless they call you or a friend out either by name or in such a way that it's clear they're giving the reviewer's indentity away in order to cause a backlash against them, or they write darn stupid posts urging reviewers to stop being honest and start being 'nice'. Then you're free to go to war.

Other than that? Keep up the good work.

And those are my thoughts.

(Why yes, I have illustrated this entire post with images from Ouran High School Host Club. I thought it might lighten the mood.)

Monday, 2 September 2013

APOLOGIES

Hello, best beloveds. Today I bring you disappointment and despair - I'm so sorry, but there will be no posts this week (well, apart from this one, which is kind of rubbish, and more apologies for that).

Explanation: About ten days ago I cleared out my father's medical shed, where all his dialysis supplies are stored, and felt a wee twinge in my lower back. Then the next day I was changing the sheets on my bed, turned to pick up a duvet, and transformed the twinge to agony. AND THEN (oh yes, this story is only just beginning) I took my dad to the hospital for some tests, and since he can't walk very far I needed to push him in one of those Godawful, metal porter's chairs. My back was killing me. I tried to baby it, which meant I was pushing and turning the unwieldy chair with my upper body and arms. That was a mistake. The next day I woke up in agony, my neck and shoulders feeling as if someone had replaced all the tendons with burning hot wires and the muscles with slabs of concrete.

I've been trying to soldier on all bravely, popping anti-inflammatories and applying heat to all the injured bits, but yesterday I accidentally brushed against a hot radiator, which I had turned on because I was hanging up clothes to dry (yes, I was doing laundry, even though I couldn't raise my arms above chest height) and as I instinctively jerked away SOMETHING ELSE went pop in my back.

I am typing this from a horizontal position on my bed. My laptop is lying on my stomach. Not a good typing position. Especially since the fans are whirring and it's rather warm. I also have a hot-water bottle and a heating pad underneath me, pressed to my neck and back. It's a boiling hot summer's day, my entire spine is weeping red-hot tears of pain, and I may melt at any minute. I am... uncomfortable. And unhappy. And I cannot type many more paragraphs without bursting into years.

Forgive me. Hopefully things will start to hurt less soon (very soon. Hopefully. Yes) and I will be back next week. I know I promised to answer questions - I have them safe, and I will get to them as soon as I can. You may also catch me on Twitter a little bit, since 140 characters is about the limit of my creativity right now.

In the meantime, prayers, sacrificial offerings to the Gods of the Lumbar Region, and any lucky shamrocks anyone may like to dedicate to the cause of my back/neck would be much appreciated.

I love you, guys. Care take. Especially of your spines. Trust me: you will miss them when they are gone.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

THREE THINGS ON FRIDAY

Hello, my lovelies! Happy Friday. Today I have a feast of linkity for you.

First up, here's a piece I did for Authors Allsorts about my favourite setting that I've ever written. It goes into a bit of detail and has many pretty pictures, so hopefully you will find it interesting.

My second link is to the lovely Nina's blog, Death, Books and Tea, where I give an interview about writing QUILTBAG characters in YA and where there is *also* a giveaway for a copy of The Night Itself.

The third and final link is to the blog of fellow Author Allsort Kate Ormand, because she's doing a cover reveal for Emma Pass's book THE FEARLESS. The artwork is gorgeous, and gives me grabby hands. *Want*

That's me done for the day, muffins! Sorry I didn't manage to get to anyone's questions this week - it's been a bit frantic around here. I'll start on them next Tuesday :)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

COME BACK TOMORROW!


I'll be doing a post on the Author Allsorts blog tomorrow - on the theme of my favourite scene or character that I've written. I'll add a link here when it's up, so check back then :) See you, my duckies!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

MASSIVE FANGIRLY SQUEE

Hi everyone! Today I was *going* to answer reader questions, but then a little thing called a gigantic uncontrollable fangirly squee got in the way, and I'm afraid that takes precedence. Guys. You guys. Avatar: The Legend of Korra Book - Two now has a release date! It's starting September 13th!

DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG I HAVE WAITED?

Well, since the last season finished in what, May? Last year? A long time.

And here is a trailer!

And it is spectacular!

And also a CLIP!


Also amazing! Although the voices aren't supposed to be squeaky like that... not sure what's going on there! By the way, I literally have no control of these exclamation marks! Someone stop me before I break the button or something!

*Rips fingers away from exclamation key*

Anyway, I am also supremely excited about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which I am going to see this weekend. All this joyful anticipation is blending to make me kind of useless for any thoughtful question answering activity, but it's also numbing my apprehension over taking Finn to the vet's tonight, so you won't hear me complaining.

Keep popping your questions in the comments and I will definitely get to them next week, I promise. So far there are some really good ones that I haven't answered before.

Read you later, duckies!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

PHEW

Hello, my chickies! Happy Tuesday. I hope everyone had a restful weekend. I did, because *drumroll please* I finished Darkness Hidden edits on Friday!

Yippee!
Yes, I hesitated over pressing the send button, then womaned-up and pressed the 'Send' button, and did the gibbering over the fact that I had pressed the send button and the edits were gone and I couldn't get them back etc. etc. I expect to get at least one more round of edits back before we move into the copyediting stage (because I'm pessimistic like that) but I decided to have the weekend off to catch up on some reading, try out a few new recipes, and gibber a tiny bit more.

My job now is to get stuck into the first draft of The Name of the Blade Book #3 and get as much done as I possibly can before that next round of DH edits lands. Which is easier said than done. Nothing, but nothing, seems to mess me up more than forcing myself to stop in the middle of the white-hot creative phase of writing something new, in order to move into cool, analytical editing mode on a different book. It's so tough to shift back.

After spending a full day staring blankly at my screen yesterday, I've decided to do the same thing with my incomplete bk #3 as I did when I returned to the Darkness Hidden draft after stopping to do all the revisions on The Night Itself. Print the incomplete WIP out, re-read and revise it, and then go on from there. It seems like the best way to think myself back into the headspace of who the characters are now.

You can probably expect slightly shorter and less ranty posts from me for the next little while (stop cheering at the back), as all my brain juices go into trying to bring bk #3 back to life again. However, if anyone would like writing, publishing or reading questions answered on the blog, leave them in the comments and, as always, I'll try to answer them here as soon as possible.

In other news, I was delighted with the thoughtful, civil, intelligent discussion in the comments on Thursday's post. Thank you so much, everyone! Read you Thursday.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

REAL GIRLS, FAKE GIRLS, EVERBODY HATES GIRLS

Hello, my duckies! Welcome to Thursday and yet another rant from me. What can I say - maybe the editing brings out that ranty side of my nature? It's as good an explanation as any. But this topic has been teasing my mind for a while. It was really brought into sharp focus by a fantastic quote from a blogger called Shin that I saw reblogged by Sarah Rees Brennan and Holly Black. Thanks so much to Holly for giving me the original poster's details! And thank you, Shin, for inspiring this rant.

Content warnings before we start: mention of sexual violence and forced marriage/pregnancy ahead.

Everyone knows how I feel about the term Mary-Sue. If you managed to miss that, you can catch up here and here. I think it's fair to say that regardless of the discussion about this online (which was amazing and diverse and fascinating, and involved all kinds of talented ladies) the term is just as popular and just as likely to show up in reviews as ever. Everyone hates Mary-Sue. She's supposedly this overly perfect, flawless, wish-fulfilment character who gets what she wants all the time with no meaningful struggle and is beloved by everyone within her fictional universe (unless that person is manifestly evil or jealous).

Now, leaving aside questions of who exactly decided that perfect characters with an element of wish-fulfilment are a deadly sin when they're female, but A-OK when they're James Bond, Jason Bourne, Captain America, Batman, Superman etc. etc. the use of the term Mary-Sue comes with an obvious assumption attached: if characters like this are simply unacceptable by definition, then there must be other types of characters out there that are OK. After all, not every single female character ever written can possibly be a Mary-Sue. Even the people who cling to the term Mary-Sue as if it was their long-lost twin would not dispute that.

The Mary-Sue is a 'fake girl'. A plastic girl, an unrealistic girl, a perfect girl. Her opposite number in that case must be a real girl. A human girl. A realistic girl. An imperfect girl. Fictional ladies whose failures and flaws are right there on the page. Ladies who cannot be dismissed as 'too perfect' or 'wish fulfilment'. Let's call this type of character a Sarah-Jane. 

Now, because Sarah-Janes are in total contrast to the Mary-Sue, defying all the traits that are supposed to make a Mary-Sue unacceptable, then the Sarah-Jane, by definition, must be acceptable. I mean, obviously they're not as tightly defined as the Mary-Sue type, and because their major trait is that they're realistic, they're going to vary a lot. But they must be the kind of character that readers want to see. The kind that readers will embrace. The kind that they will at least give a chance.

Right?

Yeah. No. It turns out the vast majority of talk about Sarah-Janes - realistic, flawed, prominent female characters in fiction - *still* centres on what is wrong with them, and all the reasons they are SO ANNOYING for... not being perfect?

No one likes Mary-Sues. But it seems like no one really likes the Sarah-Jane, either. Whenever there's a portrayal of a heroine who actually acts like a real person, a real young adult, the vast majority of discourse about them within their own fandoms will focus on how unlikeable, nasty, selfish, immature and *gendered insult with connotations of promiscuity here* they are.

Just what does a Sarah-Jane have to do to avoid being an annoying, immature w****?

Based on my reading, here is a list. Pay attention now! 

Heroines must be mature. Your fourteen to eighteen year old character needs to have the kind of lucid, logical, emotionally self-aware thought-process that would normally be expected of the Dalai Lama. It doesn't matter if she's a kid! It doesn't matter what turmoil she's going through! She needs to pull herself together! Any signs that she doesn't know exactly what or who she wants in her life, that she might change her mind, not exactly understand her own feelings, or still have some growing up to do? Whoops - she is an immature and annoying w****.

She must be utterly selfless. No heroine may ever make a decision which puts her own interest above another's - especially should that other be a man. She must never make a decision which causes her to inconvenience or hurt another, particularly a man. If she does this your book must severely punish her. And I mean severely. We're talking horribly disfigured in a fire, rejected by everyone she loves, beaten and left for dead punished. She must unreservedly realise the error of her ways and apologise and be shown to have learned her lesson. But having done so, she should never realise just how pure and selfless she is/has become - that would make her an annoying martyr w****.

She must get an A in relationships. If a male in the story has an interest in her - even if he never actually has the guts to tell her, or show her how he feels, even if he generally treats her terribly and gives her no clues that said interest could possibly exist - she must immediately figure this out and immediately know exactly what she thinks and feels about him and tell him kindly, nicely and gently. If the reader favours him, it doesn't matter if the character does or not - she must 'give him a chance'. If more than one boy expresses an interest this is even more important - her feelings are irrelevant and must take a back seat to making sure that neither of them could possibly be hurt by having to wait for her to make up her mind, or her eventual decision. She must never go out with more than one boy at once, even if both boys are aware of this and OK with it. And she must pick one of them eventually and give him Twu Wuv 4Eva. Fail in any of these and she is a selfish, annoying AND immature w**** (bonus points!).

Heroines must be smart. Preferably very smart. However, they and the rest of the cast must be unaware of this at all times (unless a potential love interest is offering a compliment, in which case OMG he's so perceptive and sensitive LET ME LOVE HIM). While excelling at most subjects (except maths) she must never singled out by teachers or other students as gifted academically or seem to take pride in being clever. She must never hold the plot up by failing to 'get it' before the reader does, even if the reader actually had a lot of information that she does not - but at the same time, she must never show off her brains by being right when others in the story are wrong, even if the plot has given her ample cause to do so. If she does, especially if her rightness is a cause of embarrassment for male characters, she should die in a fire, the cocky know-it-all w****.

Heroines must be attractive. But not too attractive. Naturally slim and naturally pretty, but not aware of it. A heroine must never take pride in her appearance, or make an effort over it (although it's OK if another female character pushes her into a make-over, or a male one if he's gay). There should always be at least one scene in which a heroine compares herself unfavourably to a female friend or rival, or else she'll be seen as vain. There must be no scenes of toe-nail painting, trying on outfits, or hair-fluffing in which the heroine seems to be enjoying herself, unless the heroine is adequately punished for caring about her appearance later on (preferably by a hero laughing at her ridiculous FEMALE habits, or angrily pointing out how shallow she is, how dare she). Heroines may slap on thick black emo make-up in order to make themselves *less* attractive as a sign of mental turmoil, but never because they just like it. Heroines may dye their hair, but only to bright red, black, or maybe pink. Again, this may only be a sign of mental turmoil. If they do it just because they like the colour, then it's attention-seeking and w****ish. Natural brunettes or blondes who get colour treatments or highlights in order to enhance their attractiveness are right out. We wouldn't want anyone to think that our heroine was a conceited w****!

Heroines must be brave. But only on other people's behalf, never her own - that makes her an unrealistic w**** because everyone knows there have never been any women warriors, or fighters, or brave people, ever. Women are only given bravery by the power of LOVE. She must never be reckless, enjoy fighting. or put others in danger; a hero may charge heedlessly into battle for honour, glory and idealism, but a heroine better only be there because she wants to protect the ones she loves. And then only if her love interest consents to it. And she promises never to put him in danger by getting in danger herself. Remember, having thoughts, feelings and wants that run counter to your love interest's makes you a selfish and immature w****.

This is only a short list, mind you. There are many other ways in which a heroine can mess up, but frankly if I kept on, we'd all be here all day.

This is all clear, right? Doesn't it seem just easy-peasy to create a realistic, flawed, yet likeable female character who readers will embrace? No? Oh good, I'm not the only one. Seriously, how could *any* character, male or female or other, live up to all this stuff? And yet these are the criticisms I see aimed at Sarah-Janes over and over again. It seems Sarah-Jane must be EXACTLY as perfect as the Mary-Sue is criticised for being, if she wants to avoid hate. The only difference is the criteria of perfection she must aim for.

Selfishness and immaturity are disturbingly often found endearing in a male character, signs that he is broken and vulnerable and just needs luuuurve, even if he hurts everyone around him. Self-doubt and the inability to make up his mind, going out with two girls at once, acting cruelly toward the heroine, ditto. A male character who murders people for purely selfish reasons will still be forgiven if we get a hint of a tear in his eye. A male character who directs violence or sexual violence at vulnerable characters will be judged 'unable to help it' so long as we get a few shots of his sad and lonely childhood.

Loki killed 80 people in two days and the fandom screams LET ME LOVE YOU. Loki, you poor baby, if only you had the care of a good woman I am sure you would stop slaughtering people and attempting to murder aged Holocaust survivors! None of it is your fault! I can't believe they put that horrid muzzle on your beautiful face at the end of the film, it's so UNFAIR.

Precious misunderstood baby with a heart of gold.
Despite the calls for 'flawed', 'realistic' and 'not-too-perfect' female characters, girls in fiction don't get to make mistakes or cause suffering, regardless of the reason, and expect forgiveness. Even unavoidably hurting or inconveniencing others in order to defend themselves or make themselves safe is not allowed. If they do and they don't get punished and learn from it in the story - 'leaning from it' basically means 'being shown to be utterly broken and destroyed' - a whirlwind of hatred descends. In order to deserve a place in a story, a place in our attention, girls in books and on TV have to SUFFER. They need to be flawed but not TOO flawed and - most important of all - punished and repentant for each and every perceived lack of perfection.

Tessa Gray had two boys fall in love with her. Her fandom (and it is her fandom - she's the main POV character) screams THE W**** MUST DIE. Being abducted and threatened with forced marriage, rape, and forced pregnancy are not punishment enough for deliberately ensnaring those poor helpless boys! Suffering the ultimate loneliness of the immortal, watching the ones she loved die around her? That was NOTHING. How dare she escape unscathed? How dare the story let her off, scott-free? She ought to have had her face ripped off, her eyes gouged out, and maggots poured into her mouth TO TEACH HER A LESSON.

Nasty, conniving, selfish, slutty w****
Sarah-Janes may never do anything bad, never hurt anyone or do anything wrong at all. They may display enough flaws to be 'realistic' and escape being labelled a Mary-Sue. But people will still vaguely dislike them anyway. The underlying attitude is: Why are they here? Why do they need to exist? Why are they talking? Doing? Being?

Why is this GIRL in the room taking up oxygen that my beloved tortured hero/antihero/villain needs?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What am I saying here? Am I implying that people who critique characters in these ways and using this sort of language may, in fact, be sexist? That despite being well-spoken, geekish and intelligent, people who react to female characters in these ways may be acting on the promptings of unconscious, internalised misogyny which basically means no female character can ever measure up against the male ones?

No! No, of course not. It's not that everyone doesn't LOVE female characters! Of course they do. They ADORE them. They're totally Feminists - spending all your time hating on female characters is totally Feminist - because *these* female characters... these are bad, you see. It's the writers fault! They always create BAD female characters - female characters that no one could possibly like. That's the problem. All these female characters are rubbish.

This one is too loud, too cocky, too over-the-top, too powerful - a total Mary-Sue. This one is too stupid, too useless, too passive - she's a Mary-Sue too. OK, this one may NOT be a Mary-Sue, but she thinks she's perfect when she's totally not, and what is up with how long it's taking her to make up her mind who she should spend the rest of her life with? This one is a w****, clearly, since she kissed two boys in one book. This one is OMG just SO immature and ANNOYING who does she think she is, getting all up in her love interest's face and telling him off when he is a poor sweet misunderstood darling who deserves so much better?

If writers just wrote better female characters, this wouldn't be a problem. Not perfect female characters! God no. We hate Mary-Sues. But... you know, BETTER female characters. Ones who are realistic... in different ways. Hey, that's the perfect female character, right there! We love her. Yes, she's a minor female character who has no significant relationships with any of the main characters, only gets two lines and doesn't really do anything meaningful within the plot but SHE is AWESOME.

Oh, except for in that episode where she got to be the main character once. She was an annoying b*tch in that one. But that was the writer's fault! They wrote her wrong! See! Not sexist - we're not blaming the character! We're blaming the writers.

Can you tell, Dear Readers, that seeing these attitudes over and over again makes me tired? Really tired? Deeply, sometimes-wondering-why-I-even-bother tired? Female characters who don't make enough mistakes are Mary-Sues and hated. Realistic Sarah-Janes who make mistakes are equally hated. They just cannot win.

What do female characters have to do to escape being called w****s and b*****s? To escape being hated? Ripped apart? It really seems like they have to stop existing. Go away. Get out of the stories and leave all the space and oxygen for the guy characters, who are so much nicer and better and more lovable, even when they're mass-murderers. That's the only way.

There is something seriously messed up about this, guys.

I am not in any way suggesting that everyone has to like All The Girl Characters. I don't! I have many times thrown a book across the room because a character (of any gender) has annoyed the cr*p out of me. I criticise characters all the time. I pick them apart with my friends and my writing group, analyse why this person was too stupid to live, why these characters could only exist in an idiot plot, why this person was presented to the reader as a good guy but acted more like a villain and got away with it because they were clearly the Author's Pet, and why these characters were unconvincing because they seemed to be reacting to what the writer wanted more than what they actually knew in the story. It's also true that oftentimes when a character is advertised as a Strong Female Character she turns out to be a caricature, and yes, that's annoying, and we need to analyse why that keeps happening. All that is GOOD stuff.

Criticism is good.

But hate is not good. And that's what I see on the net when I look for discussion of female characters - so much hate that it gives me a visceral little shudder.

When you dislike a female character because you feel she is badly written, or unrealistic, or her unacceptable behaviour is sanctioned by her writer in the narrative, that's that. Those are your feelings, and they are valid. Share them. Talk about what is wrong with the character in your eyes. But why do you feel the need to label her a w**** and a b****? Why write reviews where you praise every male character in detail, adding that you just can't stand all the female ones in a footnote, as if it went without saying? Why start Tumblrs dedicated to enumerating each and every way that a female character is imperfect and tearing them down? Why are you so seethingly furious that the female characters took up narrative space that should have belonged to someone - anyone! - else that you must write fanfics in which they are judged and rejected by everyone they loved, and flung out into the snow, and then horribly die?

The way the debate about female characters is framed, the language that is used, the sheer intolerance and lack of interest in their existence, comes from a place of hate. Disturbing and unjustified hate, aimed at female characters NOT BECAUSE OF ANYTHING THEY HAVE DONE, but merely for being female. This is a problem. We all need to open our eyes and admit it exists - maybe even within ourselves - before it can begin to get better.
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