Thursday, May 28, 2015

Weird thoughts, story ideas, & insomnia

I go through random bouts of insomnia which are almost always fuelled by too much information packed into my brain.

It generally happens after I've spent a concentrated amount of time devouring books or watching an eclectic/unrelated horde of documentaries.

Last night, my brain linked up "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", "1001 Nights", "Jaws", and a some random fable/tale I vaguely recall, but don't know the origin of, involving whales... and one of the flash fiction snippets I wrote last year on my Skullduggery site.

Me thinks this means my brain is tired of edits and is stretching its muscles in preparation for new writing.

Me also things I am insanely tired this morning and 2 cups of coffee is merely lubricating my creaking neurones, not actually jump-starting them.

...and this is also probably why my story ideas are often a little off the beaten path. Project #7, the "shoe story" involving a consignment store, world mythology, alcohol, and magic shoes.

I'm not sure which is weirder.

But for now, I think I'll stick this new strange idea into a dark corner of my head and let it sit there for a while, either to fade-out, or to gobble up new ideas/thoughts until it's a behemoth that demands it be written.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Starting to feel like normal :)

Well, since the court-date has passed and it seems like everything is on track for my divorce to finalize in June, I feel like things are starting to get back to normal and I don't have to censor my online life anymore.

SO, pages (at the top) are up again, as well as the ability to navigate old posts via archive & labels are back...

And a couple new things have been added:

One of the reasons my blogging has been a little less... frequent is because I've been dipping a proverbial toe into the twitter-universe.

Best/worst part about it? Having actual evidence of the number of dyslexic errors I make since I don't have the ability to really edit, unlike here :) You're welcome to come laugh at me :D

Also, I sortof put up a small website. Still playing around with what I want. I was going for a look that suits my personality... laid back, a little bit silly/fun, but all relevant information is accessible & clear.

Suggestions/corrections are always welcome :)

Well, that's what I've been doing... how about you? Anything new/interesting to report?

...I know one of my long-time buddies is graduating today!


Time to take over the world with your giant, beautiful brain :D

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why I don't review books

I have a brain-wrenching quandary.

Ever since I started hanging out online and chatting about writing, I've had a clear policy of not talking about books I've read.

There are three main reasons for this.

#1) I find it incredibly disrespectful to dump on something I don't like because it might be someone else's favourite thing in the world, and because the (in this case) author worked darn hard to get their book in print.

#2) As part of the whole respect-thing, I will never lie or exaggerate. If someone respects me enough to ask a question, I want to respect them enough give them an honest answer. I want to own my words.

 #3) I (unfortunately) know myself.

The first one is easy. It's pretty self-explanatory. Disrespecting others is about the one thing that snaps my usually calm/patient state of mind and has, on the rare occasion, gotten me so furious that I can't speak/articulate a single word. I could write an entire post (or several) on why I care so much about respect/disrespect, but it boils down to: when you disrespect someone, you're essentially treating them as less-human than yourself, which is a very slippery slope upon which can be found the greatest atrocities in human history.

But let's avoid a hearty dose of over-analysis for today, yes?

And the second reason is also pretty clear. I'm not going to talk-up a book I didn't particularly like. I might suggest it to someone who I think will like the book, but I will avoid talking about my own reading experience.

So what do I mean with the third reason?

I (unfortunately) know myself.

From #1 & #2, you should be able to guess that I don't want to talk about books I have not liked.

So that narrows the potential list to review and leaves the books I tolerated, I liked, and I loved.

All of which come down to personal taste. "Would I have it again?"

...and I'm not shy about admitting I may have bad taste.

Because the things I like, the books I am attracted to are... strange. Or the reasons I am attracted to them are strange.

Like, I've read Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' probably 50+ in my life and it is one of my favourite books, but probably not for a reason anyone else likes it...

I love that, through the entire book, no character ever tries to sympathize/reason with him. They simply label him as a monster (which I'm not arguing, he is, and that's awesome), but at the time when Dracula was written, most intelligent people still judged those from other cultures as sub-humans and sought to destroy them with the same level of dedicated arrogance as Van Helsing & co set out to destroy Dracula.

I have a set of world mythology books published by professors from Yale/Harvard/Oxford/etc in the early 1900's where they consistently refer to other cultures/people as barbaric, etc and how difficult (and necessary) it was to 'civilize' them. That's only a hundred years ago...

So, assuming Dracula is a monster, sub-human, and not worth trying to empathize/reason with, fits perfectly in with the world-view at the time. It's a nearly-honest, non-white-washed, non-PC-glossed glimpse into how people actually thought about those outside their culture at the time.

Now... to anyone out there who's read "Dracula", is that something you noticed, or cared about? And for those who haven't read it... does that even remotely entice you to read it? ...I'm guessing "no".

Let me reiterate that I read it for the first time when I was 9, and I couldn't articulate all of this back then... but I did ask myself why they didn't just talk to Dracula. So even way back then, this was the odd reason I connected to the book and the reason I re-read it... because I couldn't understand why they didn't just sit down and have a conversation. It seemed the obvious thing to do.

I almost never lend books to other people because usually the books are returned... unfinished. Most of the books I love and re-read,no one has ever heard of. But I don't really care. Just like I want to own my words without being ashamed, I also want to own the things I love without being ashamed.

Which makes me want to write reviews for books I love...


I like books for weird reasons. Like a character who is creepily OCD. Or the author is amazing at playing with words to create sentences that have multiple meanings. For clever description. For philosophy, for irrationality, for humour, for the way words are strung together so they look good, or sound good or taste good. I like books that are so ridiculous that they hit a level of absurdity that's baffling. Characters who are arrogant, or dense, or broken. I like seeing how skillful an author is at emotionally or psychologically manipulating readers. And subtext... shovel on the subtext and I will revel in it :)

There's no set reason why I like a book, other than, maybe, it gets me to look at something from a new angle. Good, or bad.

Now, add in the fact that I'm prone to over-analysis... if I wrote a book review...

...and focused on what I liked...

Like, analyzing the use of 'I' in 1st POV. Or cataloguing the use/frequency of colours. Or how the author uses a specific word which manipulates the reader into thinking "x". Or how I like the taste of a set of letters/sounds/words in a particular sentence. How the order/arrangement of a couple lines can completely change the subtext. Or the progression/arc of emotional intelligence or self-awareness in a side character.

...can you imagine the result?

Well, most likely any potential readers' eyes would glaze over and they would die of boredom. The things I seem to like and care about are not generally things that others are interested in. Thus, not enticing others to buy my favourite books... which would be the opposite of what I set out to do.

And therein lies the quandary. How to go about sharing books I love, while being honest/true about why I loved them, yet also succeeding in not actually scaring people away...

Suggestions? Advice? Thoughts?

(other than I'm crazy and you feel the intense need to run far, far away)

As a curiosity, here's a random/short list of some of my favourite non-YA books. Three gold stars for anyone who has heard of, or read, more than two of these:

Edward Carey's "Observatory Mansions" and "Alva & Irva"
Jostein Gaarder's "The Solitaire Mystery" and "Sophie's World"
Helen Oyeyemi's "Icarus Girl"
Banana Yoshimoto's "Amrita" (and nearly everything else she's written)
Elizabeth McClung's "Zed"
Catherynne Valente's "Orphan's Tales" (books 1 & 2)
Nicholas Christopher's "A Trip to the Stars" and "Veronica"
James Thurber's "The Thirteen Clocks"
Kris Kenway's "Bliss Street" and "Too Small for Basketball"
Lulu Wang's "The Lily Theatre"
Joe Coomer's "Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God" and "A Pocketful of Names"
Sean Dixon's "The Girls Who Saw Everything"
Stephen Walker's "Danny Yates Must Die"
Jim Munroe's "Angry Young Spaceman"
Emma Donoghue's "Room"

Probably the last one, Emma Donoghue's "Room", is the only one you've likely heard of/read.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


I've been thinking a lot about rituals.

We all have them, but it's easiest to recognize the big ones like religious, cultural, or holiday-related (not necessarily religious*), but we all have smaller rituals as well that infest our daily lives.

Maybe because I've always been crazy interested in cultures/mythology/etc, I tend to think about rituals more than most. It's not the elaborate ceremonies (although death rituals around the world is always a fun topic to Google) that I love, but the small series of actions that are repeated over and over until they become habit, or are even passed on to become traditions at a certain point.

When I moved away from the lower mainland for the first time, I purposefully started a ritual to maintain contact with my mom and sister. In that case it was the resurrection of a childhood tradition. Even though we all now live within a 20 minute drive of each other, we still do it. Not every month, but when one of us does remember, it packs a lifetime of shared memories and laughter into a single 10 word text message.

...and I'm going to break my rule a tiny bit here... since I generally make it a point not to talk about/name the books I've read.

You can tell when a book is written by a person who spent 10 minutes and Wiki'd a city/culture versus someone who has actually lived there, or has taken the time to research it in depth. A Wiki'd story feels shallow/flat, like the 'Coles-notes' version. A veneer thinly spread and easy to chip if you pick at it a little.

"Drift", by MK Hutchins is a good example of a book that does not feel Wiki'd. I know the mythology was based on Mayan/Aztec, but it was entirely its own thing... so layered, so textured that I wanted to crawl into the world and live there.

A non-YA book I love is "Bliss Street", by Kris Kenway, who actually moved/stayed in Beirut for a year or so while writing the book. It's full of these tiny moments, tiny peculiarities and details that make the book a much richer experience and you can really feel how alien these are to the main character, a British citizen temporarily stranded in Beirut.

Whenever I read a book like this, where I can really get a taste of the world, I get insta-writer-crush. Especially when authors use rituals to not only world-build, but manage stuff like this.

Rituals give depth and, I think, especially with fantasy books (meant as an umbrella term, including, but not limited to: magic, alternate world, steampunk, alternate history, dystopian, etc), it's too easy to fall back on our own familiar patterns rather than step back, take a look at the world we've built, and create some new rituals/traditions to fit. I've read many fantasy books where I have been disappointed that the flavours were too North American (sorry, is that understandable?).

Often this is because writers are imposing their own personal thoughts/morals/ethics/etc on these fantastical worlds. They have a certain tone of modern-judgement, especially when the stories involve things like arranged marriages, slavery, etc.

...but it's in the smaller things as well. Subtle things like gestures related to local superstitions or religions. How people greet each other. Eating rituals or what they snack on. How respect or rudeness is conveyed. What's joked about and what's taboo.

It's all the tiny everyday details that really enrich a story and make it feel 'real' instead of flat.

It's easier to notice rituals in Fantasy because they can be quite different from what's familiar to us, but I think rituals are just as important in contemporary books. They just aren't as noticeable.

Often small rituals evolve to centre a person, so they can be a great device to show the emotional state of a character.

To use a (perhaps) familiar example? (so I'm not spoiling other people's enjoyment of other books by over-analyzing them to death)

Triss, from TRoRS, licks her lips when she's putting on the pretence of confidence. So, before she tells a lie, to someone else, or to herself. When she's preparing to do something she doesn't want to. When she's unsure of a decision she's about to make. In times like that, she licks her lips.

Similarly to how some girls chronically check their makeup. Or someone might adjust their clothes or wipe their hands (to check for sweat).

These are all tiny, self-soothing rituals. A preparing of the mind and the body. Some may start out as intentional (like checking make-up to be battle-ready) some not so intentional. I, for example, have a bad habit of cracking my fingers/wrists/elbows/knees... for a similar reason as someone might wipe their hands... I'm nervous and it's a self-soothing ritual to break my own tension/anxiety. Sometimes I do it semi-intentionally because I know it shocks people -> so it's a good way to break the tension of an awkward silence, or to get a laugh (or shiver of disgust).

Just to be clear, what I'm talking about is different from a character-specific beats/actions** to modify dialogue... y'know, like how you shouldn't have more than one character always rolling their eyes or running a hand through their hair*** while speaking... those are often meaningless, other than making dialogue a little more visually interesting. They don't necessarily have an emotional/psychological reason behind them.

In the case of Triss, she also has her driving rituals, her music rituals, her drinking rituals, her weird-condiment rituals, and more. Some of which are intentional, some not so much, but all ingrained in her life to make her feel more in control.

Because that's what rituals do. Even if it's only in our minds.

Triss' rituals are all repeated series of actions/behaviour that make her (perhaps) a far richer character than N (the main character) since N is observing Triss' behaviours and is less aware of any self/personal rituals (though they do exist).

But that's fun too... because rituals so often become habits and we cease to notice our own until someone else points them out (like my joint-cracking-thing).

And y'know what, maybe this is just something that I like, that I care about. And I'm fine with that.

No matter what, I'm still going to get writer-crushes on authors who layer their stories with habits, rituals, etc.

...and I'm going to write characters this way too.

...and I don't care if anyone else notices them.****

I get to be selfish like that :)

Write what you love, yes?

What about you? What do you think about rituals, either in your own life, or those in stories? Can you recommend any books where you've noticed repeated actions/behaviours used as subtext to hint of a character's emotional state, or books where you've really been impressed by the depth of the world-building?

Hmmm, I also am super interested in totems/items of great sentimentality... but there's been enough nerdy-ponderings for one post, so I'll leave that for another day :)

* As a kid, the Christmas Eve ritual/tradition would involve homemade clam chowder, opening one gift which would always be new pyjamas, then my sister and I posing in front of the fireplace/stockings wearing the new pjs. Seriously... like even as teenagers we had to stand there and get our picture taken (less giddy smiles, more eye-rolling, but still...)

** There's probably a better/more specific term for this, but it's late (will do a quick dyslexic-error-hunt tomorrow before posting) and I'm tired :p Anyone who knows the term, please tell me in the comments (I love hearing when/where I'm wrong)

*** OR, the one I hate the most... the dreaded eyebrow or lip 'quirk'. If I see this more than a couple times, I will not read another book by that author. Seriously, I am not kidding. Especially if every character's face is quirking... gah!

**** Seriously, a crate full of virtual cookies to anyone who can name N's rituals. There are 3 major ones that repeat a lot and several smaller ones as well. Okay, I'll give you the most obvious one: repeating the rules when stressed out/uneasy/afraid.