Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Query Take Three

The major feedback from Monday was "need more plot" but "love the last line" (which I do too!). So here is my second attempt at the query. What do you guys think? Too much? Not enough? Would you read it?

So keeping in mind Krista's reminder about needing to establish character, conflict, and stakes in a query, what do you guys think of the following:

Take Two:
Chris is doomed to life as a Norm--a normal 17-year-old, that is--until his wizard father develops an amulet that grants even the most un-magical of people wizard powers. After years of being the family pariah, as the only Norm in a family of wizards, Chris has the power he always wanted and his father is finally proud of him.

Finally a wizard, Chris is now allowed to attend Southeast Paranormal High School with his siblings and best friend. At Para High, popularity and power are intrinsically linked, and after Chris saves his classmates from an attack by a vicious spirit, he takes his places as the most popular student at the school.

However not everyone is happy with the development of his late and unexpected powers. The beautiful, MIT bound Marilla rebuffs all of Chris's attempts at friendship with suspicion, and when Chris's best friend, Jeremy, discovers Chris's powers are unnatural, he demands that Chris give up the amulet, which he views to be a threat to Norm and Para kind.

But Chris won't go back to the way life was before: being a reject in his own family and a second-class citizen. And now he's the most powerful wizard to ever live--powerful enough to tweak the minds of those who confront him.

After all, what's a little mind control  between friends?

THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL is an 81,000 word YA paranormal fantasy told from the viewpoints of both Chris and Marilla.

OK! So due to mid-day feedback, TAKE THREE!

Chris Chappell is doomed to life as a Norm--a normal 17-year-old, that is--until his wizard father develops an amulet that grants even the most un-magical of people wizard powers. After years of being the family pariah, as the only Norm in the Chappell family, Chris has the power he always wanted and his father is finally proud of him.

Officially a wizard, Chris is eligible to attend Southeast Paranormal High School with his siblings and best friend. At Para High, popularity and power are intrinsically linked, and after Chris saves his classmates from attack by a vicious spirit, he takes his place as the most popular student at the school.

However, not everyone is impressed with Chris's limitless powers. The beautiful, MIT bound Marilla rebuffs all of Chris's attempts at friendship. Being scientifically minded, Marilla is naturally suspicious of people who rely on magic to get them everything, but as she gets to know Chris, she finds her defenses weakening.

When his best friend, Jeremy, discovers Chris's powers are unnatural, Jeremy demands that Chris give up the amulet, which is a threat to both Norm and Para kind. But Chris will not go back to the way life was before: being a reject in his own family and a second-class citizen. And now he's the most powerful wizard to ever live--powerful enough to tweak the minds of those who confront him.

After all, what's a little mind control between friends?

THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL is an 81,000 word YA paranormal fantasy told from the viewpoints of both Chris and Marilla.

So...better?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Query Help!!

My dear, lovely, wonderful readers, today I need your assistance. I recently finished revising The Descent of Chris Chappell. It's down to a beautiful, lovely 81,000 words. (Uh...well beautiful, tragic 81,000 is probably a better description). And my beta readers have their hands on it as we speak, trying to turn it into a masterpiece.

But you see, I really hate query writing, and if I'm ever going to get published, I need to have a killer query. So below is the query for my story, and I would really really appreciate it if you guys could give me your reactions and feedback.

The most important question one must ask themselves when giving query feedback is: would you want to read the story the query is describing. So if you could especially help answer that question, (and why or why not) I would greatly appreciate it.

Any other advice/nitpicks/thoughts/feelings/concerns are greatly appreciated.

So without further ado, the QUERY:

Chris is doomed to the life of a Norm—a normal American 17-year-old that is—until his wizard father develops an amulet to grant even the most normal of people wizard powers. It’s all Chris ever wanted. With the amulet he becomes praiseworthy, popular, and powerful.

But not everyone is happy with the development of Chris’s late and unexpected powers, including Chris’s best friend, Jeremy. He thinks being a Norm is nothing to be ashamed of and realizes the dangerous implications of the amulet. It allows Chris to draw his power from the world around him, instead of from himself like a true wizard, giving him unlimited power. If it got into the wrong hands, the wielder of the amulet would be unstoppable. The amulet’s very existence is a danger to both wizard and Norm kind. Chris, however, is not willing to go back to being the shame of his family. He won’t go back to being on the outside looking in. And he’s now the most powerful wizard to ever live—powerful enough to tweak the minds of those who confront him.

After all, what’s a little mind control between friends?

The Descent of Chris Chappell is an 81,000 word YA paranormal fantasy told from two points of view.

So would you want to read this story? Why or why not? Other thoughts?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving? Already?

The other day at work, I was on the phone for a telecon. I was discussing scheduling stuff, trying to make sure we had time to get everything in, when someone said, "You know Thanksgiving is next week, right?"

No, I didn't. Somehow, I thought we had an entirely extra week in November and that Thanksgiving wasn't [what is now] this week but rather the week after. I feel like I've lost an entire week somewhere, guys. 

This week is Thanksgiving!

Which means Christmas is only like a month away, and that a HUGE HUGE HUGE work deadline is shortly after that, and A MEMORY OF LIGHT is only weeks away! (No longer months! We can talk in weeks!) 

And I'm not ready for any of these things. 

I still have Christmas presents I haven't bought, which is highly unusual for me. Normally, by Thanksgiving, I have all the presents I need to buy hidden in my closet. (Though why I hide them when I live alone and there is no one around to find them, I don't know). I don't have my plane ticket for flying home for Christmas purchased (which means it's going to cost me an arm and a leg). And all in all I'm just unprepared for it to be Christmas.

Let's not even get into how unprepared I am for the work deadline. Might be working some long hours coming up.

So are you guys ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Am I the only one it snuck up on this year?    

Friday, November 16, 2012

City of Bones Movie Trailer

Despite the fact I tend to write YA, you guys know I'm not a huge fan of it. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of YA books, but unlike "adult" or "MG" books which I generally always like, YA books and I have a long and tortured history.

So when I say I'm super fan-girl excited about the City of Bones movie (being billed as "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"), you know I don't say that lightly. But I loved the book. And this trailer looks seriously amazing:


Now if you haven't read the book I know what some of you guys are thinking. It just seems like another Twilight ripoff. The trailer seems all "girl and guy inexplicably drawn to each other" and "only this girl can save the world" and "blah blah every YA trope ever made into existence. I know guys. I know. 

But that is not what this book is like; go read my short review of the book and come back.

Read it? Good. I know the review was also vague. So let's get into some enticing clarifications.

Imagine a villain who has all the ferocity and power of Voldemort, topped with the suave and charm we're told Voldemort had as a younger man. The sort of villain who doesn't just attract your regular "evil" types, but also decent people with his words and ideas. A revolutionary if you will, whose revolution turns out to be darker than anyone expected.

And imagine that villain is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyer. 

What? That's not enough for you? Ok, I get it, you want to actually know what the plot is about. 

Clary, a regular average girl, witnesses two teens murder another teen in a dance club. When she freaks out and tries to report it, no one else sees what she's talking about. Shortly after, her mother goes missing and Clary is attacked by a strange creature in her own home. She is saved by the a fore mentioned murderer--an enigmatic boy named Jace--and taken to his home, the "Institute", a training ground for "Shadowhunters".

Shadowhunters are half angel/half human, also known as the Nephilim. They essentially police the fantastical underbelly of our world: where werewolves, vampires, and demons live. By all rights, as a "mundane" (i.e. muggle, normal person), Clary shouldn't have been able to see the murder of the demon in the club. And neither should have mother been kidnapped. 

There must be more to Clary than there seems to be. And as everyone will soon discover, Clary is not the only one with a hidden past. No one is who they seem to be. And there is a villain who has been orchestrating everything from the shadows.

In short, it's going to be awesome.

And you should totally read the book.

(P.S. Remember when I mentioned Magnus Bane as a member of my Alien Response team a while back? Magnus Bane is from this book.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Draft Zero

Since tomorrow marks halfway through the month of November, it seems appropriate to post about how NaNoWriMo is going for me. And long story short it’s harder than I expected.

I expected NaNoWriMo to be easy. You’re talking to the girl who once busted out 10,000 words in four hours. I live and breathe writing. I have loved writing since the sixth grade when I wrote that first terrible Star Wars story. (Note: It wasn’t terrible because it was Star Wars. It was terrible because it had no plot. Also, for the record, though it probably does count as fan fiction, all of the characters were completely original. It just took place in the Star Wars universe. Basically, I shortcut world building). Writing is what I do. All the time. For fun.

So I thought getting 50,000 words in a month would be no problem. Instead I’ve found it to be intensely painful every step of the way.

The words didn’t flow like I was used to. I realized that as much as I knew about my main character, Zeke, I actually didn’t know him. I only knew the text book facts of his life. I didn’t know him as a person. I didn’t know his voice. And it wasn’t just him, my main character, I didn’t know. It was everyone. Every side character, every friend and enemy Zeke has. I didn’t know who these people were.

And that’s when I realized something.

I was trying to write a Draft One, when I wasn’t ready to. I needed to write a Draft Zero first.

“Draft Zero” may be an unfamiliar term to you. I’m not sure it’s something I’ve ever heard someone else use, though in my head I use it all the time. I’m just going to go ahead and blame my boss in my day job for this one, since he’s talks a lot about “Zeroeth Order Success”. Essentially, a level below the level that should be first…

So why do I say “Draft Zero” instead of “Draft One”? Well, because I’ve discovered there are two different kinds of first drafts.

The kind of used to dealing with recently is what I’d call a Draft One. It’s a draft of a new story in a world I completely understand with characters I completely understand. Sometimes, that’s because it’s a sequel (though I tend to not write too many sequels as of right now). With a sequel, I’m writing in a world I already completely created. I don’t need to stop every too pages and ask myself if people would behave a certain way in that world or what sort of technology they have. I already know that. Often, I already know most of the characters too. They are the same people from the previous story, or people closely involved with the people in the previous story. I know who these people are. I understand their world.

But sometimes it’s not a sequel. More often than not, for me, it’s a world I created a long time ago and wrote a (terrible) story in when I was younger. I was an extremely prolific writer in my middle school and high school years. I created new worlds all the time, and I wrote down as many details and thoughts about them as I could. Most of them I even wrote stories about. And they were pretty terrible. Epically terrible even. However, in college I re-discovered a lot of those old stories, and I re-imagined them. This worked very similar to any sequel work I’ve done. In many ways I already understood the worlds. I might have to redefine an aspect or two, or sometimes I even mashed two old worlds together to create a new world which required a lot of rework, but for the most part it was like smoothing out something I already created. More like the revision process than the draft process, even though essentially every word I wrote was brand new and nothing like what I wrote in my younger days.

A perfect example of this would be The Descent of Chris Chappell. The idea for that story had been in my head since I was fourteen. And I finally wrote a first draft last year, literally ten years after I had the idea. For ten years that idea was stewing in the back of my mind, pulling in all sorts of awesome creative juices. For ten years I had been writing random scenes and sequences, figuring out who these characters were. And then one day it just clicked. Thus the 10,000 words in 4 hours. I wrote a first draft. It wasn’t beautiful. It needed a lot of work. (Still needs a lot of work. I’m almost done with Draft 2). But it came to me fairly easily. Because these characters were people I’d known for ten years.

Which brings us to the idea of a Draft Zero. This is a completely new story. I had the idea for the setting for this world maybe a year ago, and didn’t play around with it much. I just wrote it down somewhere that this would be a cool world. And then for NaNoWriMo I decided to write a story in that world.

And it’s not going well. Because I’m expecting it to work like a Draft One. And it’s not. It’s a Draft Zero.

In a Draft One process, I know things are going to need to be revised but that for the most part they are working in the right direction. In this Draft Zero process, I don’t even know that. I’ve written ten chapters (20,000 words!) and I’m just now beginning to know who these characters are. I don’t even know them fully. Essentially every sentence, every word, and every idea I’ve written is going to have to be completely thrown out.

What I’m learning is that this draft is completely crap. Completely. And I’m going to have throw the whole thing out.

Just like I did with those old drafts in high school.

This crappy draft is what my old drafts in high school were to my recent stories, as in it barely counts as existing. Hence, Draft Zero.

Before NaNoWriMo began I never realized how long it had been since I’ve done a Draft Zero. In undergrad I worked almost exclusively in one world, the world of Spirit Riddled, which I’ve written about fairly often here. I created that story, from scratch my sophomore year. It wasn’t based on anything from high school, but that sophomore was extremely creatively productive and I essentially created a Draft Zero. It wasn’t a pure draft in many ways. I wrote well over 80,000 words on just random scenes between characters and events that I thought might come to pass. And then I went back and wrote a draft one. Then I revised it. Twice. Revising it for a third time before shopping it around has been on my list of things to do for quite some time.

Then I began to focus on Descent. Which had tons of Draft Zero work done in high school on it.

There was one other original story I began to work on in undergrad and I would argue it’s still in the Draft Zero phase. I’ve written tons of backstory and what I think might happen, but I haven’t actually started on a Draft One yet.

And I guess this NaNoWriMo has really taught me that the Draft Zero is critical to my writing process.

I just can’t sit down and write 50,000 continuous words in the same story and expect to feel good about it, and expect to call that my first draft. That’s not how my process works. I need to give myself more freedom than that. I need to write 80,000 words of what might be, what could be, just to develop the world and how the characters interact with each other. Those 80,000 words don’t need to be continuous. They can be fun scenes. They can be pointless scenes where characters do nothing but talk and interact. They can be nothing that will ever, ever make it into a finished draft.

And that’s ok. That’s my process. Because I’m a weird mix of a gardener and an architect. I can’t write a story without a plan, without a vague outline. But I can’t write an outline without having detailed knowledge of who my characters are and what world they live in. And I can only create that knowledge with free form writing. So I make a test garden, where I plant whatever the heck I want and watch how it grows. Then when I see what those seeds become, I go back and I design a brand new garden.

If I get nothing else out of NaNoWriMo this month other than it has taught me this critical fact about my process, then that’s ok. And from this moment on, I’m going to go forward with my NaNoWriMo in a different way. I will write 50,000 words, but I’m not going to feel rushed to make it a story, to make it coherent. I’m going to have my characters walk in a corridor talking back in forth just to see what happens. I’m going to isolate them in a room just to see what happens. I’m going to write about characters who will never appear in the story just to explore the world.

And that's ok. 

So how about you, what's your process?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Veteran's Day!

Happy Veteran's Day! I would like to give a big shout out to all the vet's who have served our country and the people who are currently serving our country.

On this day, I give a shout out to my dad, who was a Commander in the Navy as well as to my many friends who are in the Air Force, especially Kelly who is currently deployed overseas. We miss you here in Albuquerque and can't wait for you to come back.

I'd also like to take a moment to remember my friend Mike McGahan, who gave his life for this country.

And when I think about people fighting and dying for their country, I always think about Les Mis. So in honor of Veteran's Day, here is the latest International Trailor for the Les Mis movie, which comes out this Christmas.


Look beyond the barricade, dear readers, and fight for freedom.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Avenge America!

Click here for the Shirt this Image Comes From


I don't like talking about politics, but since tomorrow is the presidential election, it's sort of the topic of the day. So I want to talk about the presidential candidate I would love to endorse. If he was real.

Steve Rogers. With running mate: Tony Stark.

You laugh because well...they're not real and they're Avengers. But honestly, if these two men were real and ran for president, I would vote for them in an instant.

Let's put aside the fact that if we lived in the world of the movie Avengers, both men were critical in saving us from an alien invasion and the nuking of New York City. If that doesn't make you a shoe in for office, I don't know what does. But that's not why I would vote for them.

I would vote for them, because I think these two men would stand for pretty much everything I believe in. America and Science. 

Steve is the All-American. He is freaking Captain America. He stands for truth, justice, and the American way. He's a legitimately good guy and he grew up as a Brooklyn underdog. Essentially he's one of the 99%. 

Some might argue that Steve would be a little too old fashioned for office. He was a young man in the 1930's and 1940's. But I would argue, who would better understand the importance of getting America's economy straight then a man who was a teen and young adult during the Great Depression? 

He's a Christian, which would win him the South, but a New Yorker, which would help bring in the Northeast. People might be afraid he'd be a little backward. A man from the 1940's...might he be a little bigoted and backwards? You forget that Captain America led a strike force made up of men of multiple ethnicities and nationalities. You forget that he fell in love with a woman who was a trusted agent of the British Government in a time when women weren't trusted to do much. You forget that this is the man who doesn't judge Dr. Banner on the fact that he occasionally turns into an uncontrollable rage monster. Steve Rogers is exactly the sort of man who judges you based on your actions and merits, not on your history, ethnicity, gender, or even sexual orientation. And he's the sort of man who believes that the American Dream should extend to all of these people.

Which makes Steve a little bit of an idealist, which is not necessarily the perfect man for an office. But that is why he needs Tony Stark to balance him and to keep him in touch with the modern world. Tony would also bring in the vote of the wealthy, since as a billionaire-himself, the wealthy would trust him not to completely screw them over. Of course, Steve is the presidential candidate and not Tony. Steve would not forget about those of us who are less wealthy and would understand that the wealthy made their wealth on the greatness of America, and that means they need to help support America.

Tony would bring practicality, pragmatism, and the ability to deal with the dirty side of politics to the administration. Steve is a little too good to deal with that sort of thing, so Tony could do all the behind the scenes dealing.   

And when it comes to balancing the budget, both Tony and Steve would not allow our nation to forget the importance of science. Steve's super human strength and ability was created by science. Tony's entire life has been founded on technology and going further. They would not allow America to fall behind, but they also wouldn't allow us to become Hydra or double deal weapons under the table. Something I think we can all agree is a good thing. 

This is just a high level description of why I would vote Rogers/Stark tomorrow, if it was possible. And being superheroes, they would be up to the task of avenging America, of fixing this nation so that it is the land our forefather's lived and died for. 

Alas, neither is a candidate. But one can dream.   

Friday, November 2, 2012

NaNoWriMo

The month of November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. (Which for some reason I always pronounce in my head as Nano-rammo instead of Nano-rye-mo as it probably should be). Rather than just being some sort of "compliment a writer and give them a new journal" sort of thing, NaNoWriMo is instead presented as a challenge. This is the month when everyone is encouraged to write a novel, or rather 50,000 words. If you reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, you are said to have "won" NaNoWriMo.

Normally I don't "participate" in NaNoWriMo. Which isn't to say I don't write novels during the month of November. I've just never much cared to label it or push myself to get to 50,000 words by Nov 30. Being in school messes with your priorities like that. Last year, I accidentally won NaNoWriMo. Between finishing my thesis and finishing The Descent of Chris Chappell as a de-stress while writing my thesis, I think I actually managed to write somewhere around 70,000 word in the month of November. It was intense. 

For the record, I don't recommend writing technical theses and novels at the same time. It's not good for your health. 

So NaNoWriMo has never been at the top of my priority list, but this year a local friend of mine wanted to do it and asked if I would do it with her. So of course I said yes.

I say "of course" for two reasons. 

(1) WRITING BUDDY! YAY! I have so few writing buddies, and I have none outside of the internet that I know as real every day people, so I'm super excited to have someone local I can talk to about all the kinks and foibles of writing, and who gets it when I lament that I feel like I'm forcing everything and I just can't find Zeke's voice. (Also, she's awesome, my writing buddy. She's writing a YA travel novel.)

(2) I've had a terrible time getting into my writing groove now that I'm out of school. Sure I have a ton of free time, but for some reason, I just find myself not writing. I don't know if it's because my computer is in a separate room from my TV now (which is actually a big problem. I'm thinking I'm going to have to fix that this weekend, because I really need to be able to see the TV while I write) or if it's because my work has been crazy lately (working on weekends = not fun). So I'm hoping this NaNoWriMo will jolt me back into full writing mode. 

So NaNoWriMo started yesterday and I managed to write about 1200 words, which puts me under pace, but this month has two work holidays in it. I think I can catch up. 

If I can find my character's voice. *sigh*

Anyone else out there doing NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Emotional Overload

I originally planned to write a post apologizing for being a slacker blogger and then something about Halloween. But all of that is pointless now. Yesterday my entire world was rocked by the announcement of one movie.


It's not so much that Disney bought Lucasfilm that concerns me. In my mind Disney and Lucasfilm have always been one big happy family. I went to high school in Orlando and attended Star Wars weekends at Disney yearly. Disney has attractions that deal with both Indiana Jones and Star Wars. So that part didn't blow my mind too much, and if that had been the only announcement I would have shrugged my shoulders and been like, "Ok. They're just making their relationship Facebook official."

But Disney didn't stop there. They announced we would be getting Star Wars Episode VII in 2015.

My gut reaction was this:

I love Star Wars. A lot. My feelings for Star Wars cannot be expressed in words. My love of Star Wars borders on the blasphemous. My love of Star Wars is....is crazy. It's my first and greatest geek love. 

I love Star Wars so much that I can watch the prequel trilogy and see past the bad writing and bad acting and see the kernel of greatness that it could have been, and love them for that kernel.

So my gut reaction came from pure fear, fear that somehow they would make Star Wars even more of a laughing stock than it already is. And fear that they will completely disregard the 25 years of Expanded Universe Novels that I love

I've known how Star Wars continues after The Return of the Jedi since I was nine-year-old and read Heir to the Empire. And I don't think I could stand to watch someone butcher Han, Leia, and Luke, who I watched grow from the smuggler, princess, and farmboy to the leaders of the New Republic and then even retire from that.

But I love Star Wars so much I also can't help but squee in joy and dance around because they're making another movie of the thing I love. It's coming back to the big screen! A new adventure! My favorite thing in the whole universe! How can I not be happy? How can I not be dancing in joy?

The prequels were bad, but this time George Lucas will be involved only as an adviser, which is the only role he is any good at. The prequels left a bad taste in everyone's mouth and made a lot of people mock Star Wars and deride the thing I love. Maybe this will redeem Star Wars! Maybe Disney will make it amazing and beautiful again, and bring back everything that was good and wonderful about Star Wars. Maybe Disney will make people fall in love with Star Wars anew. 

Such hope! Such a brilliant tantalizing hope!

But my emotions swing back and forth between fear and hope, between horror and joy. 

Disney holds my heart in their hands with this movie. I can only hope they treat it well.

So my advice to Disney is to remember that Star Wars is my dream, my love, like so many others. And in the words of Yeats,

"I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Seanchan

This post is going to reference The Wheel of Time, but it's using the Wheel of Time to discuss a bigger topic, so feel free to read even if you don't love the Wheel of Time.

Also, it's only going to reference cultures, not plot points in the Wheel of Time. So more of a setting and less of a spoiler discussion. 

In The Wheel of Time, there is a powerful people called the Seanchan. Their culture has a very rigid hierarchy, where everyone knows their place and doesn't seek to expand beyond their place. Part of their hierarchy involves slavery. 

Related (though it may not seem to be), the Wheel of Time has magicians called "channelers". What they do is not important. What is important is that the Seanchan enslave their channelers. It's a rather horrid practice. They "leash" their channelers, basically putting a collar on their neck that has a leash that connects to a band on another woman's wrist. (It's always a woman channeler, aka "damane", and a woman leash holder, "sul'dam". Men have their own can of worms that are unimportant to this discussion.) What makes it particularly horrid is that the collared woman, the damane, can do nothing without the sul'dam's permission. If the sul'dam takes off her wrist band, a damane can't do anything--she can't move away without experiencing immense pain (from the wrist/collar device). The damane is taught from the moment she is labelled as a channeler that she is worthless and useless and nothing and then the most she can aspire to in her life is being treated as a pampered pet. It is very very terrible.

And I think we can all agree. Slavery is wrong. No person (magician or not) should think of themselves as not a person, as horrible piece of crap that's only worthwhile because someone else is controlling them. This is a terrible, terrible, terrible practice. 

Also in the Wheel of Time universe, there is a group of creatures called "Trollocs". They are innately evil beasts that have features that mix bear, goat, man, whatever. It's not that which makes them evil though. They are essentially created by the Dark Lord (bum bum buuuuuuummmmm) and he created them with innate darkness. They spend their entire lives murdering, raping, and pillaging. Do they enslave people? No. Because they capture them and rape them and EAT them. Seriously. It's really terrible.

So yes, with that in mind let's go on with the conversation.

There is a Wheel of Time re-read I follow on tor.com.This past week's post covered a chapter that deals with a different people who are in opposition to the Seanchan, so that brought up some discussion about the Seanchan people. And the comments for these posts are always really long discussions. I don't usually comment, because my Wheel of Time knowledge cannot even begin to compare to other people. But on occasion, someone strikes a chord and I just have to say something. This week someone made the following comment:

"....[the Seanchan] are abhorrent and deserve to die, more so even than Trollocs in my opinion...."

To which my reaction was WHOA!  WHOA? WHAT? Did someone really just say that? A people group deserves genocide? GENOCIDE? 

Now maybe they didn't mean it that way. Maybe they mean Seanchan practices are abhorrent and those practices deserve to die. But that's not how it reads. What they seem to be saying is that a group of people, made up of good and bad people, deserve to die because of cultural practices that we--from our cultural perspective--view as bad. That they deserve to die even more than an innately evil group of monsters who pillage, rape, and eat people.

I'm sure my little sister would have something to say about being "ethnocentric" in all of this. But whatever. Let's say we all agree that slavery is evil. And I think that's a fairly decent point. (My sister may not agree, but she is an anthropologist, which is why she gets into these shades of gray cultural arguments. Heck, she writes papers on objectively viewing human sacrifice. Anthropologists are weird.). I disagree with how the Seanchan treat their channelers. I think it's inhuman, wrong, and yes, even evil. But does an evil practice of a people warrant the genocide of that people?

Do two wrongs make a right?

Let's look at it this way. Nazism? Bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. They tried to commit genocide of another people! But is the appropriate reaction to that to commit genocide on every German? NO! The appropriate reaction is to make them stop the practice and then rehabilitate their culture. 

No one is irredeemable. No people is irredeemable. 

To quote the Wheel of Time, "no one is so far in the dark, they can't see the light."

It's will take work, but the Seanchan can be saved. I think they are worth saving. 

Yes, they're fictional, but this sort of view of fictional peoples frightens me, because it so easily translates into the real world. 

Every people is worth saving. Every culture has some worth in it. No matter how "evil" a culture might be, genocide is not the answer.

Genocide is never the answer.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Young Avengers

A while back, I wrote about the impossibility of diving into comic books. Despite the seeming impossibility of it all, I haven't truly given up hope. Sure I hadn't read a comic in months, but I was still keeping my ears open for "Where to Start" advice. Just some way to get into the comic universe.

So one day, I was laughing my head off while reading the archives of Memos From Fury and came across a post, when someone asked the question I've been asking. "I liked the movies. Tell me where to go into the comics that's not too hard." 

The first answer was The Ultimates, if you're looking for something close to the movie, since the movie took a lot of it's inspiration from that comic. But I'd read the Ultimates, and they had done nothing for me. I didn't like the characters. And the Ultimates are not in the main Marvel continuity, which just made it all seem useless.. For breaking into that continuity, the blogger (tumbler?) suggested The Young Avengers, because it required no previous knowledge of characters or story line with the exception of Iron Man and Captain America are awesome and Avengers. Which if you've watched the movies, you of course know.

So I figured I would give it a shot.

I wasn't overly optimistic. My foray into comics/graphic novels has not been the best. It's a weird medium for me, one that makes it hard for me to connect to the characters, generally. I'm used to books, where I'm privy to a character's innermost thoughts. I'm used to movies, where emotional connection is the name of the game. The graphic novel medium just seemed so shallow in comparison.

So basically, I didn't have much hope that I would connect with the Young Avengers, that I would care about these characters who I knew nothing about. 

I opened the comic with hesitation. I closed that first issue and immediately purchased the second one. (For the record, I use the ComiXology app, which means I can instantly download the second issues.)

Finally, in my hands, I had a comic where the plot required no for knowledge. Sure it might be more meaningful for someone who actually knows who Kang the Conquerer is in Marvel continuity, but even being me and not having that knowledge, I still got the emotional impact. What if you were a kid and you discovered you were going to grow up to be Hilter? Wouldn't you try to change your life? But what if by doing so you ruined the world as it was known, and not for the better, essentially discovering that Hitler needed to be a live and do his evil deeds are else the entire world would be destroyed. What would you do? That's a question I don't need to have continuity to understand the depth of.

Finally in my hands I had a comic where there was no character foreknowledge required. This was the Young Avenger's first comic. And it wasn't some ridiculous thing written in 1965. It was written in 2006, which means impressive artwork and a real storyline.

However, it's also a story about teenagers, which gives us a coming of age, dealing with authority story that anyone who has been young can relate to. Also, one of the things that has annoyed me in comics generally is the ridiculous proportions the characters are drawn with. Every man is an Arnold Schwarzenegger. Every woman is an over exaggerate hour glass. I actually kind of find this disturbing to look at. But when it comes to teenage heroes, artists tone down the over-exaggerated build (for the most part...I'm looking at you, Kate Bishop), giving me characters I actually don't find it disturbing to look at.

And somehow, I actually connected with these characters. Their motives are relate-able and real. They just want to be heroes, like their heroes. They want to be more than they are and yet completely themselves.  And one wants to change his fate. 

I fell in love with them all. Patriot. Iron Lad. Hulking. Asgardian/Wiccan. Stature. Kate. Even Speed and Vision, who were in the group the shortest. I loved them all! (Maybe Wiccan a little more than the others if I'm honest, which is a combination of his awesome powers, his general adorableness, and the fact that he's one of the least angst-y in the group...so far). 

After a summer of searching, I found my answer to the comic book conundrum. The Young Avengers should me I could read a superhero comic with understanding. And it showed me that I could read a story in the comic medium and feel the same level of connection I do to a character in a book or a movie.

I found my gateway drug.

So I just thought I would share it with you guys. Read The Young Avengers. It's great. 


Friday, October 12, 2012

Where to Start: Robots/Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov

(This "Where to Start" was requested by a reader. I hope you all enjoy.)

Isaac Asimov is one of those SF authors that everyone knows. After all, you can't have an intelligent discussion about robots in science fiction without talking about the man who invented the term robotics. It doesn't take a SF fan long before they come across a reference to Asimov in some other work, whether it's positronic brains or psychohistory. So sure, you may know a lot about Asimov, but have you actually read Asimov?

Maybe the answer is "yes, of course, duh". And that's awesome. But maybe the answer is a shameful shaking of your head and maybe you admit that part of the reason you've never read Asimov is because there is just so much. And you could ask your friends where to start but you don't want to be labelled as a SF n00b. Or maybe you tried to read Foundation and just got bogged down in his short story-esque writing style and you just can't get what a big fuss everyone is making over Asimov.

Never fear! I am here to help. I have read every novel by Isaac Asimov and most of his short stories. And I am here to help you dig into his universe.

For you see, the majority of Asimov novels actually fall into one universe, and it just happens to chronicle the history of that universe from a time very close to our own (or in the past if you pay attention to the dates) to a time in the far far far far future.

A lot of people will recommend reading Foundation first. But DON'T DO IT. Foundation is a great book, but for those of us with more modern sensibilities, it can be hard to get through. It's divided into four parts that read more like short stories and aren't (in my opinion) very engaging. So if that's the first Asimov book you ever pick up you may think, "WHY? Why does everyone think he's so awesome. This book is just sort of 'meh'."

So where should you start?

1) I, Robot

Note: I would like to take a moment to say that the movie of the same name is an abomination, and if you saw it, please don't hold it against this book or any other book by Isaac Asimov. Ok?

I recommend everyone dipping a toe into Asimov start with I, Robot. Heck, I've been known to recommend I, Robot to people dipping their toe in Science Fiction in general. This is mandatory reading for anyone who claims they are a Science Fiction fan. But I don't just recommend it first because it's a crucial, pivotal work in the history of Science Fiction. I recommend it first because it's good.

Sure it's just a collection of short stories strung together with a wrapper about a reporter interviewing Susan Calvin for a fluff piece, but it's amazing. The short stories range from mind blowing to hilarious. Basically, there is something for everyone here--minus an epic insane space opera storyline.

And if you read it and you don't like, no big loss of your time, because it's a fairly short collection of short stories. But really, you have nothing to loose by reading it, because it is such a critical work of Science Fiction. At worst, you come out of it having read a classic. And it's maybe a 100 pages of short stories. Anyone can find time to read that. Heck, my program manager who just had a newborn found time to read it.

My second Asimov recommendation (and another book I always recommend to newbies in SF in general) is:

2) Caves of Steel

I love this book. In fact, it's one of my favorite science fiction books. I tend to re-read it every other year. And R. Daneel Olivaw is one of my favorite characters. Ever.

Why is this a book I often recommend to newbies in SF? Well, the answer is because though this is a SF book, it's really a murder mystery that happens to take place in a SF environment. And who doesn't love a good who-done-it? People who aren't used to SF genre can get engrossed in a mystery plot and not get overwhelmed by the different SF elements. After all it's just a story about a cop and his partner who are looking into a mysterious death. Sure it takes place in a mega-city in a Futuristic Earth and introduces us to the struggle of Earthmen against the Spacers...but that's all icing on the cake of a great murder mystery.

Once you read Caves of Steel, you have to finish the robot books, so...

3) The Naked Sun
4) The Robots of Dawn
5) (optional) Robots and Empire

I'm actually going to allow you to skip Robots and Empire. There is one big reason for this and one small reason. The small reason? It's not Asimov's best book. However, you may want to read it for completion, because you've read all the other Robot books and you love Daneel so you want to read this one. That leads us to the big reason. It's impossible to find. You would think that would be fixed in this world of e-readers, but nook doesn't have an e-version (I don't know about kindle). Your best bet is to search Used Bookstores, which is what I had my grandmother do for me for this one and for the Galactic Empire books (which we're about to get to). I now own two copies, but they're both old paperbacks. If you know me personally and want to borrow it, that can be arranged. Otherwise, you're on your own kids.

So now I'm going to go with the road not taken. A lot of people might think, "OK, so you recommend the robot books first, but now Foundation, right?"

Umm...no, not exactly.

Isaac Asimov is one of those authors where I recommend reading his books in order based on their chronology in universe, not publication. And lucky for us, the chronology in universe is easy to find, because Asimov himself defines it in one of his forewards in a book.

So next you'll want to read the Galactic Empire books, which are three standalone, but classic books. The science is wonkey, and they used to be really hard to find (hence I had my grandmother search in used bookstores) but lucky for us they have recently been republished! So now you will have no trouble finding them in book or electronic form!

6) The Currents of Space
7) The Stars, Like Dust
8) Pebble in the Sky

The Galactic Empire books lead directly into the Foundation books, which are the easiest Asimov books to find, so never fear looking for these on the shelf. But be warned. Foundation is a classic for a reason, but it's not because the writing is amazing. It was one of Asimov's first full length novels and it suffers from having been written by a master of short stories. It's basically four short stories thrown together. But they get better! So read it and enjoy.

9) Prelude to Foundation
10) Forward the Foundation
11) Foundation
12) Foundation and the Empire
13) Second Foundation
14) Foundation's Edge
15) Foundation and the Earth

And there you go! You've read all of the novels in the Robots/Foundation universe!

Asimov has also written some standalone novels that don't connect, which are all amazing and you can read in any order you please. I highly recommend Nemesis

I really love Isaac Asimov and hope you will enjoy his books too.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

*sigh*

I completely apologize of having been a slacker on posting here recently. I have no legitimate excuse. The reality of the matter is that Mark of Athena came out, so that's all I did on Saturday. Read.

There will be a post on my thoughts on Mark of Athena, though I may put it on Shelf of Friends instead of here.

There will be a post on Friday, and I WILL post normally next week. I am determined. It's going to happen.

And so you have something to spend time on, I direct you to the tumblr, Memos From Fury, which is hilarious but has some strong language.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Repost: Burning, Banning, Censoring, and Rating Books

(It's been brought to my attention that this week is banned books week. It's also been brought to my attention that I've been a complete slacker about posting yesterday. So here on Thursday *gasp* I'm reposting something I originally wrote on June 19, 2009. I wasn't going to write anything but this post at the League brought the topic up again. So here I am. Enjoy and please let me know your thoughts.)

The title above lists several things that are sometimes associated with books. I have listed in them in the order of the worst possible thing to the not-nearly-as-bad-as-creating-bonfires with books. This list is of course, only in my humble opinion.

Burning books is clearly bad. I read Fahrenheit 451. I’ve studied WWII. I love the movie Equilibrium. (If you’ve never seen Equilibrium, you need to. It’s about a dystopian society where Christian Bale is the main character. It’s sort of a Fahrenheit 451 meets The Jungle meets 1984. It’s fantastic). Now some people may say that burning books and banning books are all the same. Both ways you take the book out of the reader’s hands. To the people who say that, I have a short response.

Banning books gets the books out of your local library, possibly out of the Library of Congress, and out of the country. However, Canadians could still be reading that book. Burning books takes the books away completely. There is no changing your mind and saying “Oh, the Catcher in the Rye wasn’t that bad. Let’s un-ban it.” Once you’ve burned every copy of the book found in your country, destroyed all electronic records of it (electronic burning…), and done away with every physical form of it, how can you bring it back? Well let’s hope Canada wasn’t just reading it but keeping electronic copies ready, or else if we change our minds someone is going to spend a long time retyping a lot of books.

Banning I sort of already addressed. Banning books is bad. It’s the government, or the state, or the county, or your mother taking the books off the shelf and saying “You can’t read this”. Generally banning books makes people read them, which is why this is not quite as bad as book burning. When you burn books people get all excited and start throwing books you’re not even supposed to burn on the fire. When you ban books, you get all the teenagers excited and they start reading them. (They’re being rebellious. Ooo, how fun is it to read rebelliously!)

Technically everything listed (burning, banning, rating) is a form of censorship, so I’ll be a little more specific. When I say censorship, I mean when your teacher blacked out all the curse words in The Day No Pigs Would Die or when they tore out those two pages in the Diary of Anne Frank (you know which pages I’m talking about). The censoring I’m talking about is taking out certain parts of the book, butchering books. I bet you’ve come across this in your life. Both of the examples listed have happened to me. Is this nearly as bad as banning or burning? Well, the books still exist so that’s a plus. The books are still on the shelves, another plus. However, the books that remain are butchered books. Books where only what The Man wants you to read is still part of the book. Goodbye hooker scene in the Catcher in the Rye. Goodbye Anne Frank’s dream. Goodbye artistic freedom.

Now all the above things I’ve mentioned are bad, bad things. I do not support any of these things. It’s not the government’s job to tell me what I can and cannot read. That’s my choice. I’m pretty sure books are part of my freedom of expression and the government can’t limit that. Please, keep all books published in their complete form in the libraries. It’s the editor’s job to butcher them, not your librarians.

Rating on the other hand, I feel very differently about.

I’ve wished books were rated since I was ten. I’ve been outspoken about it since I read A Throne of Swords by George R. R. Martin. (Note: I’m not recommending this book. This is like the opposite of a recommendation. However, neither do I believe it should be pulled off the shelves. Read what you like and I’ll read what I like). I guess I didn’t realize that most people didn’t feel this way until Daphne Unfeasible (a literary agent’s blog) mentioned banning and censoring books on her blog and asked her readers to comment. I read the comments and was stunned. I had to say something. I could not let these comments go uncontested. I have commented on someone else's blogs 4 times in my life. It’s just not something I do. But yesterday, I could not control myself. My comment was twice as long as anyone else’s.

All of the commenters expressed their dislike of banning books (completely understandable). One of the commenters said she did not like banning books but wished her 12-year-old could stay a little girl as long as possible and not be exposed to such things. Practically everyone who responded to that said they understood and that it was the parents job to monitor what their child was reading.

It’s not the library and bookstore’s job to make sure the book is in MG instead of YA, or in adult instead of YA. It’s the parents’ job to make sure the book is appropriate.

I laughed.

Are these parents really so naive? Really? Do they really think they can read ahead of their middle school student who has tons of free time? Do they really think that an online synopsis of the adult book your 11-year-old is reading is going to warn you about adult content? (Of course it has adult content, it’s an adult book). Do you really think your 11-year-old wants to talk to you about the strange, sexual content they came across in a book that you’re not aware of? I laugh.

When I was nine years old I read my first sex scene. It was in a Madeleine L’Engle book. My parents approved of Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve already discussed how amazing A Wrinkle in Time was. I loved it so much I read every book by her that my library in the 5th grade had. I stumbled on a book that was a little too old for me. It probably wasn’t that graphic, probably not nearly as graphic as half of the YA out there, but at nine it was more graphic that I ever wanted to be exposed to. How was I supposed to know that this one book out of twenty or more contained this scene when none of her other books did?

When I was ten I read my first curse word in a book. I cried because it was Han Solo who said it and I couldn’t imagine one of my heroes ever saying such a thing. It’s one thing to hear a curse word briefly, it’s another to see it spelled out – staring at you.

I outgrew the kids section of the library at ten and plunged into Star Wars books, where I did not have to worry about sex, just some kissing at worst. But by the time I was twelve, I had read every published Star Wars book. More were coming, but I couldn’t wait. I started reading Wheel of Time and the Dragonriders of Pern that Christmas. Lucky for me both are fairly tame when it comes to cursing (since they both make up their own curse words) and both have only PG-13 love scenes. (It’s insinuated that something happened, but no details). However, some of the pure evil I read in the Wheel of Time (the Forsaken are a group of pretty evil people) was too much for me to understand. I suppose I should still wish it was, but now I understand it better.

I read my first graphic romance scene in the tenth grade. It was in a fantasy book – not a romance book – a legit fantasy book sold in the sci-fi/fantasy section of the bookstore and it was recommended to me by a friend. It was more than I needed to know. I regretted reading it.

I read two of George R.R. Martin’s books my freshman year in college. After the second one I just could not go on. The plot was not worth the graphic images of sex it was putting in my mind. It was not worth the curse words that I learned (words I had never heard before but read in the book).

Now I’m very careful about reading books. I rarely pick up a book I’ve never heard of or read a book that wasn’t recommended to me by a friend I trust. The fact that books don’t warn me about their content keeps me from reading.

All of this description was to bring up two points.

1) Do you really think you can read every book your child reads? I read 500 words a minute. I read two adult books a week in middle school. My parents tried to read Wheel of Time with me, but my dad is a slow reader. I was always at least two books ahead of him. Did this make him a bad parent? No. Would it have made him a bad parent if he had forced me to read books he could read quickly or if he had made me wait the weeks and months it took for him to read a 1000 page Robert Jordan novel? Yes. He would have been stopping me from reading.

2) I think books should be rated.

The second statement might shock some people. It might cause some people to cry out that I’m censoring books. Well, we rate movies. No sane, good parent would let her seven-year-old see a sexually graphic movie. We put age limits on movies. G and PG movies are good for kids to just show up in. If you’re seeing PG-13 you better have an adult with you. To see an R you better have your parents and you’re not allowed to see it after seven pm. If it’s NC-17, I don’t care how much you beg. You better be old enough.

Is this rating of movies censoring movies? Is this rating of movies banning certain movies to an entire generation of movie-goers? Is this rating system infringing on children’s rights to see what they please? I’ve never heard anyone try to argue in favor of any of these points. Most people would laugh and say the movies are still available – it’s not censoring (that’s what TBS is for). The children can see the movies when they’re old enough and children don’t have rights.

Many people also agree that books are more powerful than movies in a child’s imagination. If that’s true, why do we let our children read books we would never let them see in movie form?

And if you really want your child to read a PG-13 book it’s not like they can’t. You, as the parent, buy the book and give it to your child. It’s not illegal or against the rules to take your child to a PG-13 movie. Neither would anyone frown upon you for reading a PG-13 book. The point is that you know and your child knows what they are getting into. As a young reader (and still as a slightly older reader) I would have liked to know. Is this book PG-13 for violence? Ok, I won’t find the violence so shocking. Is it R for sexual content? Maybe I should put this one back on the shelf and read it when I’m older. Is it PG? Sweet. No worries for me.

I think half of the horror of what I read as a child is that I did not expect or see it coming. If I had been warned the book contained cursing, I wouldn’t have been as surprised when Han Solo cursed. If I had been warned the book contained sexual content, I wouldn’t have been surprised when it happened. I could make informed decisions about what I should and should not read.

When I was twelve I remember thinking “I wish books were rated” and that feeling has not changed, but maybe you feel differently. That’s cool. That’s what America is all about. It’s about the freedom to disagree. I just wish I had the freedom to know what books would be rated if they were movies.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sorry!

Let me apologize for not posting on Friday and apologize for the fact that this little apology post is all I will be posting today.

To say "work has been crazy recently" is an understatement. I literally pulled ten hour days for the past week including the weekend. And for the past few days when I got home all I did was read. That's all I wanted to. Well that and watch the latest episode of Doctor Who, but beyond that I'm behind on all of my Fall TV! I know! Me! The girl who loves her TV shows.

Anyway, I plan to post normally on Wednesday and Friday. Please stay tuned, dear readers. I will be back.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fighting Words

Sometimes, I get very excited about certain things, and other people don't understand. And when I say sometimes, I mean every other day. And when I say "things" I mean generally geeky things. 

If you're friends with me on Facebook, I'm sure you've noticed the Wheel of Time banner on my Facebook timeline. (For the record, it's the Moraine one). I've made several comments recently about the impending end of the Wheel of Time (and about how Tarmon Gai'don is coming), and how I'm pretty sure I'm going to cry when I finally hold that book in my hands. I told my boss that I won't be coming into work the day Wheel of Time is released or the day after. Because all I'm doing is going to be reading it.

If you've been in my presence in the last week, you've noticed my bouncing off the walls excitement that The Avengers is finally coming out on DVD. (Which I totally now own). And I'm planning an awesome Avengers party with my friend Melody, where we will watch The Avengers, dressed in the colors of our favorite hero (or villain, as the case may be), and eat Avengers themed snacks (I plan on making Captain America shield sugar cookies). It's going to be awesome.

Over half of the blog posts I've commented on in the past month have been Doctor Who related. And any time myself and another person who watches Who have been in the same room, all we've done is discuss how we feel about the new season. And it never fails that there are strong feelings on either side and voices sometimes get raised to volumes that probably shouldn't be used indoors (though never angry yelling, just over excited hysteria, mainly).

These are only the recent things I've been geeking out about. I've been a geek all my life. And over the course of my life, there has been a set of words that will immediately make me furious.

Sometimes it's not actually said in words. Sometimes it's just a raised eyebrow when I excitedly start talking about my crazy Wheel of Time theories or how I feel Steven Moffat has forgotten which Doctor he is writing for. Sometimes it's in an indulgent shake of the head. But those I can ignore. It's the words, though, words that make me angrier than most people probably realize.

What words?

"It's just a movie."

"It's just a book."

"It's just a TV show."

"It's just a......"

Three very short words put in front of a noun. But it's amazing how three short words can patronize and belittle. 

Three short words that say, "Why are you so worked up about this? It's not real. It doesn't matter. It's silly. There are bigger, more important things in life that you should care about. Things that real grownups like me care about. Stop being such a silly little kid."

I recognize that my love of Mat Cauthon isn't going to end world hunger. I know that my love of Harry Potter or Stargate SG-1 isn't going to end war or hate. 

But beyond that, who are you to judge my love of something and what it has done for me and others?

My love for geeky things has brought me a career and community. Through the characters I have come to love like friends, I have learned lessons from their actions and avoided mistakes in my own life. Through my love of these things, I've had revelations, both about myself and my faith. These things I love, these things I get excited about, they are a part of me, inseparable from me. I am not just Loki or Meg Murray. I am also Rand al'Thor, because I have learned his lessons. I am Menolly, because I have walked with her through her life. I have never just been a student of my teachers and professors. I have been a student of Hari Seldon, Moraine Sedai, Luke Skywalker, Dumbledore, Kelsier and so many others. 

When you belittle and demean my enthusiasm, you're belittling and demeaning the impact these things have had on my life. I am who I am today, because of these things. 

So next time you find yourself uttering, "It's just a...." Catch yourself. Stop and think. Because it's not just a book or movie. It's not just a song or a game. It's something more. It's someone else's identity. Their life.

And the next time you want to tease someone because they're geeking out over something, just remember this quote from John Greene.

"Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’"

Think about that. "You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness." 

May that always be said about me.