Thursday, June 27, 2013

Slush reading, long form

I’ve already told you about how much I love Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform that allows independent writers, designers, artists, chefs (and the occasional film star) to fund passion projects. I really need to do a better job of keeping up with the publishing area of Kickstarter, because there are a lot of authors and publishers putting out really awesome projects (whether or not crowdfunding is the best route to publication is a whole other question we won’t talk about tonight).

Almost a year ago now (how time flies!), I noticed that editor Mike Allen had put up a campaign to fund his next Clockwork Phoenix anthology. I have wanted to be published in Clockwork Phoenix for ages, ever since I heard that Tannith Lee always contributes, and especially after I read the description of the anthology on Duotrope:

Clockwork Phoenix is a home for stories that sidestep expectations in beautiful and unsettling ways, that surprise with their settings and startle with the ways they cross genre boundaries, that aren't afraid to experiment with storytelling techniques. But experimentation is not a requirement: the stories in the anthology must be more than gimmicks, and should appeal to genuine emotions, suspense, fear, sorrow, delight, wonder… bring something new and genuine to the equation, whether it's a touch of literary erudition, playful whimsy, extravagant style, or mind-blowing philosophical speculation and insight. Though stories can be set in this world, settings at least a hair or more askew are preferred. I hope to see prose that is poetic but not opaque. I hope to see stories that will lead the reader into unfamiliar territory, there to find shock and delight.
 That’s the kind of thing I want to write! But alas, nothing I had written at the time was right for the anthology. I went ahead and pledged to the Kickstarter anyway, so I could read the new volume when it came out. The campaign got over twice its goal, and every so often, we as the bakers would receive updates about the project.

And then came one email with the casual line, “And I’m going to need to find from slush readers.”

I immediately perked up at that. I’m a slush reader. I know how to slush. But I’ve only ever read stories 1,000 words or shorter, and I’d always wanted to read longer stories, but I certainly didn’t want to commit to reading for two magazines full-time. An anthology with a limited submission period, however……

I sent Mike an email, and amazingly enough, he told me he’d be happy to have me as one of two slush readers.

It was really, really, really fun. The setup was very different to what I’m used to at FFO. I did decline to read any flash-length stories to avoid conflict of interest. And, of course, I learned a few things along the way.

1) There IS such at thing as spending too much time on the computer
This might seem blindingly obvious. However, I’m a homebody and am computer-oriented by nature. I write scientific documents for work. When I get home, I surf the internet, and later at night I read FFO slush on the computer, and try to work on my writing as much as possible.

In general, I should probably spend more time in the fresh air (that’s what gardening is for!) but I’ve never actually dreaded picking up the laptop before.  It was very odd, given all the above activities that I do on the internet on a constant basis.  Luckily, I have since recovered (let’s never fight again, laptop!”

2) Slush really is the same, regardless of story length.
 I always had this vague idea in my head that reading longer stories would be somehow different than reading flash-length fiction. It really wasn’t. I don’t even recall being annoyed by how long some stories were – it was pretty easy to tell right away which stories were quality and which were not appropriate for the magazine, or were not up to the quality standards of the anthology.

3) But the stories were very different
The one thing about flash is that it's not a length that works well for everyone. Neither is short story length, to be fair (I personally favor novelette length in my writing), but the field of people who can accomplish short story form is much broader. Plus, this project is proof positive that a cool anthology attracts cool stories. There wasn't room in the anthology for all of them, alas, but it was inspiring to read so much good fiction. For example, see "The Bees Her Heart, The Hive Her Belly" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, one of the stories that did make it into the anthology, which features gorgeous prose and fantastic worldbuilding.

Clockwork Phoenix will be available for purchase in July, and is now available for pre-order at Reviews are here, here and here.  And if you like what you've read about Mike's projects, he has a new Kickstarter for a short fiction magazine called Mythic Delirium. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Real Life Romance

I’m going to continue on the marriage theme we’ve had here on the prosers, but I have to warn you that this really doesn’t have anything to do with writing.  I just feel compelled to share my story.  

It has to be fate that Susan blogged about marriage so close to my wedding anniversary (either that or almost everyone gets married in June).    On June 20th of this year (2013-just in case you stumbled on this post sometime in the future) my husband and I celebrated our 15th Wedding Anniversary.  I can’t believe I’ve been married that long.  It doesn’t feel that long which is probably a good thing.  :)

I met my husband in college.  He was in grad school and a teaching assistant (TA) for one of the chemistry classes I was taking.  The class was working on special projects in lab and to finish early (cause I’m a nerd), I went to a different lab session that my husband just happened to be the TA.  He needed to use a calculator and asked the class if anyone had a TI 95 (a fancy graphing calculator-all us science nerds have fancy calculators although some have those inferior HP calculators).  I lent him my calculator, and that was the first time we ever talked to each other.

A few months later, I was in the chemistry building studying with one of my friends (a very cute guy who was married, but my husband didn’t know that).  My husband stopped by and asked my out right in front of my friend.  I said yes, and we went out that Friday.  I had so much fun with him.  I laughed more than I ever had before, and I really, really liked him. 

But we had problems, religious differences that were a big deal to me, so after a month of dating, I broke it off.  I knew I liked him too much, and I didn’t think I could marry someone outside of my religion.  But the break up didn’t work.  I really liked him, and he really liked me, so we did this friend thing for a while, where we would hang out A LOT, but you know just as friends. 

Then he went away for a weekend to his best friend’s wedding, and I missed him so much.  The day that I knew he flew back, I sat on the floor with my front door open hoping to see his red truck pull up, but he never came.  When I went back to school, I found him, and we went to lunch (which we did far too often for two people who supposedly weren’t dating).  During the lunch, I could feel that he was ready to move on, that he was done with our pretending not to date thing.    I knew I was losing him right when I realized how much I really liked him.

So that weekend, I called him up and asked if he wanted to go hiking with me, and I told him on that hike that I liked him as more than just a friend, and that we either had to start dating or we couldn’t hang out anymore.  He teased me a little bit by dragging out his answer, which was a bit annoying, but in the end we were dating again.

Picture from stock.xchnge

Everything wasn’t exactly perfect after that.  We both freaked out a little when we realized how serious our relationship was getting.  I broke up with him once, and he broke up with me once.  I really hated that drama.  Way too much crying on my part.  But once we got back together the second time, I think we both decided that we were going to marry each other.  He proposed to me at the first place we ever kissed on my birthday.  I think he knew I was going to say yes.

We got married in my brother’s backyard, June 20th, 1998.

Our marriage isn’t perfect, but no one’s is.   Marriage is hard.   It is tough to meld two lives together no matter who you are.  There is always going to be some conflict.  My husband and I have definitely had our ups and downs.  We’ve had some big fights and times when we’ve drifted apart.  There have been moments where we have both wonder if we should see a marriage counselor, but the majority of our fifteen years, we’ve been happy.

 I love sharing my life with him.  I love climbing into bed with him every night.  When he puts his arms around me, I can feel that we fit together perfectly.

I like reading romance and writing it.  I love the male/female dynamic, that push and pull.  I love seeing people connect on a deeper level and being vulnerable with each other.  I love reliving that feeling of falling in love because there is nothing else like it.  But my favorite romance will always be my real life romance, and it is not over yet.   

I love you honey, and I always will.


Friday, June 21, 2013


For the past several days I've been dealing with the kind of allergies that have made me contemplate gouging my own eyes out with my fingernails. Knowing that I'm not at my peak, I started writing this blog post on Monday. I'll give myself extra time, I said to myself.

4 half written blog posts later, I'm resigned to the fact that nothing is going to come out coherently this week. One post was going to be my (as yet non-existent) research on self-publishing a book written by more than one author. One was about contemporary YA books I've read lately, and one was about the stories I'm transcribing about my grandmother's life. I was half-way through the first draft of my latest blog post when I realized that my actual premise was "Authors should only write what I want to read." Nice, Melanie.

So instead, I'm just going to give a shout-out to If you have a blog about writing and you've never heard of this site, you are in for a happy surprise. Like most great ideas, it's pretty simple--it's a place where you can submit a link to your blog post so that other writers can find it. Unlike other sites I've seen though, inkpageant is not messy or difficult to navigate. It doesn't try to do so many different things that you can't find the one thing you actually want.  The true beauty though, is that I have found blogs that resonate for me there. I've made friends through inkpageant, and that is priceless.


Here are some links to posts on inkpageant that caught my attention. It was hard to choose which ones to include, and I know I missed some amazing ones, so you should definitely check them out. In addition, some of the blogs I frequent the most often hadn't posted anything lately, so I couldn't include them either. 

Sexy Other Book Syndrome I'd never been to this blog before today, but who can resist a blog post with the word sexy in the title?

I'd never been to neobluepanther before either, and if my brain was up to the task I'd write a blog post telling him how lucky I am to be part of a writing team that works. Maybe someday.

The avatar on inkpageant for this site made my eyes skip past it with disinterest for nearly a year. When I finally clicked on it, I realized that I'd been missing gold.

In A Fight to the Death, Who Wins: Passion or Discipline?
This is a blog I go to frequently, although, as usual, I rarely comment.

3 Types of Character Arc:
This looks like good stuff, but I admit I haven't read it yet. I will though! The very moment I'm capable of reading anything that would go over a kindergartener's head.

Go Ahead, Aim For the Stars
Ahem, Jeff, I had to go down pretty far on the inkpageant list to find one of yours. But I couldn't skip it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


First off, this month my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. That's really quite a milestone.

Second off, not too long ago, Melanie had a great post about choosing and un-choosing. Together these things got me thinking about how writing is like marriage. (Or maybe it's more like children - all those unforgettable firsts, but also all the seemingly unending messiness and sleep deprivation.) But, seeing as how it's my parents' anniversary, I guess I'd better stick with the marriage analogy. And, anywho, children are a decision you make once, and then, well, you're sort of stuck with them, aren't you? Writing and marriage are things that take rededication every day.

So, according to this Reader's Digest article, here are three things that couples who reach the 50 year mark do - and, from me, how, just maybe, they relate to writing.

1) The Past: Revel in success and don't dwell on failures.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Remembering the good things (counting your blessings) is a clinically proven way to increase happiness. Wouldn't it also increase your happiness together? You can't change the past, so why let worry over it gobble up your future?

In writing, those who succeed seem to be the ones who can roll with the rejections and keep trying (haven't you heard of big name authors whose walls are plastered with rejection slips like badges of honor?).

2)  The Present: Spend time together, just the two of you. Make time to explore,  take trips, go on adventures. Dream together.

The same article suggested making sure to sit down next to your loved one every day. Just sitting. Because you can't just sit. You end up talking, or holding hands - renewing that connection. A gentleman I once worked for told me the secret of his long, happy marriage. Every night after dinner he and his wife would take a walk, just the two of them. The time to share their day, stretch their legs, enjoy new scenery - it was priceless. 

So, in writing, the only times I'm sure my writing won't happen is when I ignore it. Stephen King, and I bet most successful authors, sit down each and every day to spend some quality time with their stories, to explore, take trips, go on adventures. Dream.

3) The Future: Always plan forward.

This was an interesting tidbit of advice. If spouses are always looking forward together, I bet it would be a lot harder to let things slip in the here and now.

Do you write visualizing The End, or putting the manuscript in the (e)mail, or getting the offer for a book deal? I bet if I did that more often it would help motivate me with 2) The Present and spending time with my writing every day.

So, there you go, just like Scrooge, the past present and future (of writing and marriage) all in one night.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

And Happy Writing to you all.

~ Susan

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Writing is a Lonely Job

Today is my final post for the Prosers.  I have loved every minute of my time here, and will miss all of you immensely.

When I started contributing last year, I set out with one basic goal: to see what I could learn through shared experiences.  And while I've learned a lot from my year here, there was one lesson, one truth, I never would have guessed I'd find.

Stephen King said, "Writing is a lonely job.  Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.  They don't have to make speeches.  Just believing is usually enough."

I always thought this meant that having the support of my husband/sister/friends was enough.  But writing is not something I have ever readily shared, even with them.  They believe in me, encourage me, but they are not writers.  They can't commiserate with me when I hit a tough spot.  They don't always have the right words to spur me on.  Other times I just need someone who understands, who can listen and nod, and not say anything, and yet I'll know they've been there, they've survived, and so can I.

Having a writing community, having friends who share this passion, or obsession, or aspiration, whatever we want to call it, that is the single most important part of writing for me.  I can write without it.  I did before I joined the Prosers.  But writing within a community is something beyond basic accomplishment.  I imagine it's a lot like the discovery of fire.  People survived without it, but once you've got it, why give it up?

So I'm off to other adventures, mostly those involving a small, pink creature that cries and eats and sleeps more than anything else.  But I won't be far, because I can't imagine going back to life without other writers, people who will understand why my shirt is inside out and I've got bags under my eyes as I stare at my computer screen at two in the morning, muttering under my breath something about plot points and story arcs.

Thank you for being those people this past year.  Thank you for giving me this wonderful lesson, and many others.  Most of all everyone, thank you for the stories.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cross-dressing Heroines

I just finished reading the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. They weren’t the best books in the history of time. I mean, I give him an A+ for world building, B+ for characters (especially Deryn), but C+ for plot and C- for Annoying Historical tie-ins (I got particularly annoyed when they went to Mexico).

But still, I read through them like lightening (Tesla cannon lightening, maybe?). I do recommend them as a fun read, especially because the worldbuilding really was fantastic. See, it's 1914, and the world is split between two philosophies: the Clankers (Germany, etc) who favor machine technology, and the Darwinists, who have figured out how to splice DNA and make crazy animal hybrids - such as the giant flying whale that is the airship Leviathan, which is a flying ecosystem all its own.

Okay, my description makes it sound a bit silly. Just go read the description - Westerfeld does a much better job of selling it.

But what really appealed to me about the series was the main female character, Deryn - she's in disguise as a male midshipman aboard the Leviathan airship.

That’s right, y’all: it’s one of the cheesiest plot devices of all time – and one of my very favorites.

Really, I blame Tamora Pierce. I got absolutely addicted to her Song of the Lioness Series when I was in middle school. Alanna is a ten year old girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to become a knight – and ends up becoming a legend in the process.

Of course, with every cliché, there’s ways to do it right, and ways to do it absolutely horribly wrong. Here are a few of my favorite examples of the girls-dressed-as-boys trope.

The Song of the Lioness Quartet, Tamora Pierce

Ah, Alanna. The reason I came up with lots of stories about women who were both mages and swordswomen. Also the reason for my obsession with purple eyes Рuntil I figured out those were a major clich̩ of their own.

Pros: can you say strong female character? Alanna spends the first two books in her identity as a boy, but then gets to live as herself for the last two books. She’s strong, tough, resourceful – and loves pretty dresses..

Cons: Alas, she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. Case in point: all the men in her life who are in love with her. I mean, the whole Jonathan/George love triangle was kind of central, but then she had to throw in Liam too. And beyond that, Alanna is an expert mage and swordswoman. I suppose it’s a difficult balance – in such male-dominated cultures, women had to be way better than men in order to succeed. But that doesn’t mean they have to be perfect at all things in life. Give your girl-as-boy flaws. No male character is perfect either. And limit the love interests -that’s annoying whether your character is  cross-dressing or not.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

Pros: Deryn was practically born to be a soldier, minus that whole gender thing. I don’t know why I appreciated that, but it was fun seeing her do every day, ordinary soldier jobs and loving them. Additionally, Alex doesn't start falling in love with her until he finds out she's a girl. I always find it kind of squicky when the male character falls in love before the reveal, because the author often feels the need to have the character wonder if he's "suddenly preferring men"... and that whole thought process has it's major group of issues. 

Cons: Deryn is also a bit of a Mary Sue. And there are inexplicable plot elements that keep placing her at the center of the action: for one, she’s put in command of a mission at some point (?!). No idea why she’d be put in charge given that she was 1) fifteen, 2) a minor officer. Why on earth would she have been put in command, except to make her feel guilt when the mission goes horribly wrong? The girl-as-boy needs to be perfect to the society, not to the readers. Also, readers appreciate spots of realism throughout their fantasy worlds, at least where characters are concerned.

Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett

Pros: Terry Pratchett is one of the few to consider the practicalities. Polly pretends to shave. She learns to, um, answer the call of the wild while standing upright (news flash: it’s apparently possible, ladies! Google it if you absolutely must. I prefer to maintain ignorance on the details). 
All in all, this is one of my favorite Terry Pratchett books of all time - not for my favorite cliche, but because of its discussions of war and politics and idealism.

Cons: There was one big thing about the story that annoyed me, but it’s hard to address without giving away some major, major plot points.


Cons: You'll note I'm addressing the cons first this time. It’s a Disney movie. I mean, it’s pretty much all cons, realism-wise: Really? No one figured out she was a girl by the terrible, terrible impression of a man she does? Other questions: how much training do they get? I mean, it seems like it’s about a total of three days, and then they’re suddenly pro soldiers? Do they really all only bathe once in that time? And don’t even talk to me about the cross-dressing scene with the guy soldiers, and apparently how the hero is too manly to join in wearing makeup. *

Pros: It's still one of my favorite Disney movies!
“I’ll get that arrow, pretty boy. And I’ll do it with my shirt on!”
“They came up out of the snow. Like daisies!”
Also, my friend and I sing this aloud to each other on a regular basis.

What are your favorite stories of cross-dressing characters?

*(“You gotta be a man to wear tights!”)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Problem with Girly Covers

I recently read this article on The Guardian about how girly book covers are harming YA readers.   I know covers are all about marketing, and a lot of YA novels do appeal more to teenage girls than boys, so targeting them specifically isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But the girl in the pretty dress cover really repels most boys.

The article has a brilliant quote by brilliant author Libba Bray (loved her Great and Terrible Beauty series).
Not exactly a gender neutral cover,
but I like it.

But, as American YA author Libba Bray points out, books have no gender – titles for young adults, she argues, should have gender neutral covers. ‘We have to move the needle,’ she says. ‘If you categorize books as for boys or for girls, the message is that boys don’t need to be concerned about the female experience. And vice versa.’”

As a girl, I’ve read countless books about the “boy” experience, and actually found it fairly similar to my own girl experiences.  And I’m not alone.  Girls are far more willing to read “boy” books than boys are willing to read “girl” books (tried to find some statistical data on this, but everyone seems to agree with this idea even if there is no hard data).   This is not surprising since society has always marginalized anything that is traditionally “feminine”  because clearly the human race could’ve survived just fine without anyone raising those babies as long as men kept doing their important manly things, or at least that is how history shows it. 

I do think that boys should be reading books about the female experience, so that they may discover as I did, that we are really not that different.  There are important books like Speak, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Little Women, and Pride and Prejudice that really give insights into female issues past and present.  But I’m not really sure that all YA novels should have gender neutral cover. 

The most important thing a cover should do is signify what kind of story is being told, so that those who want to read the story will be attracted to it.  My sister is a high school librarian and has a unique insight into what books attract YA readers.  Of course I’ve picked her brain on the subject, and she says that girls do check out more books than boys, and they seem to be more drawn to the covers with pretty girls in prom dresses.  So these covers do work (or at least it seems from this very small sampling).  These girls want to read certain types of stories (usually paranormal romance), and these gendered covers are promising those stories.

I think the problem comes when these gendered covers are given to books just because they were written by female authors and had a female protagonist whether or not the cover actually fits the story being told.  Not every story written by a woman promises the story that these “girly” covers promise.

For example : 

Here is an interesting link about this cover.

Even though I haven’t read The Bell Jar, I’m pretty sure Sylvia Plath didn’t write chick lit.

And another:

Way too much pink for my tastes.

This one I have read, and I almost didn’t because it does look like chick lit in fantasy land.  Really it is a great second world fantasy story (with a more urban fantasy feel) that just happens to have a pretty awesome and very capable heroine.   A more gender neutral cover would better represent the story and not turn off potential male readers.

I know these examples aren’t YA because I really couldn’t think of any YA examples although I’m sure there are plenty.  But this problem of gendering covers just because the author is female goes well beyond YA.  There are many more examples out there, but I think this awesome link says it all.

Well those are my thoughts.  What do you think?  Are girly covers hurting YA readers?  Are gendered covers just another way to marginalize female writers and make it okay for men to ignore us?  Or are they just an effective way to find their intended audiences?


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Melanie's 2013 Summer Reading List

Back by popular demand! 

I didn't come close to finishing my Winter 2013 Reading List, and I didn't even write a spring reading list. I did do some reading, but not as much as usual. I'm going to pretend it was because I was writing more...

My Favorite Books of Winter 2013
(the link to goodreads is on the author's name, because I spent so much time making the book name's all pretty and then realized it was too complicated to keep it pretty and make it a link too)

1. Prodigy (Legend Book 2) by Marie Lu
This is dystopian fantasy. I loved, loved Legend, and while I enjoyed Prodigy a lot, it wasn't quite the same. Maybe because I listened to Legend and read Prodigy???

2. Ruins (Pathfinder Book 2) by OrsonScott Card
This is a sci-fi/fantasy crossover. It's pretty intense stuff, but one of the better things OSC has written lately.

Dark, sexy and funny--I think is would be called an Urban YA Fantasy. It danced on the edge of being too dark and sexy for me, but it didn't cross over the line. For older readers.

4. Insignia by S.J. Kinkaid 
Science Fiction. If you love Orson Scott Card, but sometimes wish he was funnier--this is the series for you!
And one that wasn't on the list that I'm recommending anyway:

5. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin Book 2) by R.L. LaFevers
Historical YA Fantasy. For older YA readers.

***The books I have yet to read from my winter reading list are Palace of Stone, Code Name Verity, The Outcasts, Screwing Up Babylon, and Princess of Glass.

My Summer 2013 Reading List
It's impossibly long, but I'm overdue for some intense reading, so we'll see how far I get.
The link is on the author's name.

6. Wednesdays in the Tower (Sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle) by Jessica Day George
MG Fantasy. If its anything like the first one, I can't wait to read it to my kids.

7. Earth Afire: The First Formic War (Book 2) by Orsons Scott Card
Science Fiction This is the prequel series to Ender's Game--all about the Formics coming to Earth

8. Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices #3) by Cassandra Clare
Steampunk YA. I've heard the audio is to die for

9. The Spectacular Now by: Tim Tharp
6/2013: There were things I really liked about it, (like the main character, Sutter) but I can't recommend it. Lots of sex, lots of bad language, and lots of drinking. The drinking was kind of the point...that's what the book is about. The values are contemporary ones--live together, have sex, party a lot, but grow up eventually. But those kinds of values don't exist in books I recommend. On the other hand, the end of this hit me like a mack truck, and I'm going to be pondering it for a long, long time. Contemporary YA Soon to be a movie

10. The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes Book 2) by: ChristopherHealy 
MG Fantasy--Fairy Tale Retelling from the male POV

11. Edenbrooke by: Julianne Donaldson
Historical Romance

12. Guards, Guards  By Terry Pratchett. Recommended as a good jumping-in place for the Discworld books. Fantasy

13. When You Were Here by: Daisy Whitney
Contemporary YA, set in Japan 

14. The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by ClareMulley 
Ooh! Lookit this. An actual non-fiction book in my list. Biography.

15. The Star Attraction by Allison Sweeney
I don't know if this is really my cup of tea. It's Chick Lit. We'll see.

16. Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry
Contemporary YA

17. Perfect Scoundrels (Heist Society Book 3) by Ally Carter
Contemporary YA

18. Switch! By Karen Prince 
Oh, just go look at it. It sounds so cool. YA Fantasy set in Africa

19. Vortex (Insignia Book 2) by: S.J. Kinkaid 
YA Science Fiction

20. Ender's Game (Got to read it again before the movie comes out, of course!) by: Orson Scott Card
YA Science Fiction Classic. AKA best book ever.

21. Meant To Be by: Lauren Morrill
Contemporary YA

22. 6/2013 And, because I'm crazy like that, I just finished reading Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christy. It's been such a long time since I read it that it felt brand new again. I definitely recommend this if you haven't read it or if it's just been a while. Mystery.

What do you recommend?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why I Love a Good Witch

I've been reading The Witches by Roald Dahl to my children.
(Good Mom Medal)

Rereading it has reminded me of how much I love this little book.

There's the Grand High Witch with the mask on a hinge, and moldy worm pocked face hidden behind, who can shoot white hot lasers from her eyes, and talk in rhymes when she's angry.

This cunning tiny woman with the Delayed Action Mouse Maker plan who laughs and sings as she talks about snapping up the stinking children and snapping their necks.

(Good Mom Medal revoked)

My children, in case you're wondering, have started praying that they won't have nightmares. I'd worry and stop reading, except I'm afraid that stopping will fuel their imaginations, and that the only way through it is to finish, and then read a book about fluffy bunnies.

I've had a thing for witches my whole life. The witches of Tar Valon, the Aes Sedai, represent wisdom and power to me.

Hermione Granger, and Mrs. Weasley wrote "How to be good" inside my soul, and I want to be more like them.

Granny Weatherwax, and her...friends taught me about headology, and that what you know isn't nearly as important as what people think you know.

Witch of all witches, Baba Yaga, is one of my favorites. She is a creature of folklore and mythology who lives in a home that stands with chicken legs. She lives outside of fairy tales, like a neighbor that doesn't belong. I love them all.

Evil, good, crazy, ugly, or beautiful I love them all.

Growing up, I noticed that female characters often fell into two categories; Princess or Witch.

The princess was good and kind, but mostly beautiful. She gained all her power through her beauty, and through marriage. And while many stories about princesses try to hijack that thought, still there are so many beautiful girls, who are redeemable, precisely because they are bed-able.

File:Stacie Morgain Lewis & Kristy Cates in Wicked in Chicago.jpg
The Cast of the Chicago
 cast of Wicked the Musical
Witches live outside that paradigm.

They're often unattractive. They are often hated. But always they are respected.

They are treated as a real person, possibly because of the fact that they aren't attractive. It's kind of a 'I can't sleep with you, and I can't ignore you, so I guess I'll listen to you. Or maybe I'll burn you at a stake for not being usable.'

In a story, a witch gets to set her own worth outside of how a man sees her, or outside of how she can be used. For thousand of years, up to this one we're living in right now, female characters are often viewed only as proprietary to a man use for her.

As a girl who was taught to see my worth outside of how I looked, is it any wonder what category I most connected to?

That's the reason why I wrote FUNNY TRAGIC CRAZY MAGIC. Larissa is a girl who only see's her worth by how she looks. She's a witch who thinks she's a princess. But worse, she's a witch who is unsure of herself because she's trying so hard to be princess and not succeeding. Throughout the story her experiences teach her to own the witch inside, and to take her own power as someone who defines herself.

And there's a witch hiding behind a mask, just like the Grand High Witch.  There's Grandmothers who know more than they're saying, (like Weatherwax) and Larissa who is trying so hard to be good ( like Hermione).

Because those witches I read made Larissa who she is, and who she'll be in the future.

She'll be a witch on her own terms.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Under Pressure

If I  got that bassline from Queen's song stuck in your head, I'm sorry.  It's a great song, but not what my post is about.

Actually, this has to do with high school, where I learned just what level of pressure I can handle, and why I like it.

In freshman year, I was in really basic classes.  They weren't much of a challenge, and I started putting my work off till the last minute.  Rather than fall behind, my grades jumped.  It was stressful, but nothing I couldn't handle.  I loved leaving a six week essay project till the last weekend.  Cramming for tests was the only way I was able to get an A, because if I started studying too early, I lost interest and gave up.  For me, the first year of high school was a breeze.

Then in my sophomore year, I signed up for a bunch of honors classes, thinking it would help me down the road.  It was harder, I found, to wait till the last minute.  I began developing studying habits--gasp!--and started my research projects long before they were due.  I had to juggle assignments, and it started to wear on me.

For some reason, I didn't catch on that taking a bunch of challenging classes was probably not for me.  Junior year I moved to my umteenth school, 1,200 miles away from all my friends.  Either madness or homesickness (or both) pushed me to take too many AP classes, two of which were math, the bane of my high school experience.

Big mistake.  In 11th grade, I broke.

I failed one of my math classes, barely skirted by in Physics, and by the end of the year, hated even my most beloved subjects, English and History.  I also had to face a depressing summer break in summer school to make up those math credits I'd lost.

The next year, I pulled out of every one of the AP classes I'd signed up for.  I prioritized, I figured out what was important to me.  Getting decent grades ranked at the top.  Not wanting to crawl under my bed and hide from the world was up there, too.  So Senior year, I struck a balance.  I figured out what could wait a little longer--what could be put off without sacrificing a grade--and what needed my attention right away.  It's a lesson I'm grateful to have learned before I hit adulthood.

Flash forward a decade and I'm still making compromises.  Writing is one of those things I enjoy.  A challenge each day, to see if I can juggle my needs and wants.  I want to lock myself in my bedroom and write for hours on end.  I need to feed and dress my children.  Some days I can handle both and retain my sanity.  Some days I can't.  This week, writing is out.  Next week's not looking so hot, either.  I think it's probably safe to say until this baby comes, the most typing I do each week will be contributed to this blog.  And since it's 8 pm on the night my post is due, I'd say I'm still not totally cured of procrastination.

Okay, I tried, but I can't resist.  Here's the video to Queen's Under Pressure.  Keep up the hard work, Proser, and don't let the pressure get to you this week.