Impenetrably Reticent

This is an actual line that can be found in my current working version of Tallulah, my work-in-progress-for-almost-two-years. There’s a big stereotypical girls’ sleepover happening and then boom, there it is, one of them is being ‘impenetrably reticent’.

I can’t stop now. YA needs me.

Working off a hard copy is both good and bad. It’s good because it does actually let me see the work with fresh eyes and attain that critical, objective distance from my work that I want while doing revision, and bad because I didn’t think ahead and leave big enough margins for me to make notes in. I am solving this problem via a Word document and writing on the pages in pen where there is space, and it’s going fine. I’m really quite happy in this line of work, working over lines.

See what I did there?

I got another Gail Simone Wonder Woman comic today, and … I just love Simone’s Wonder Woman. She’s awesome. Hell, I even kinda like the original Wonder Woman, embarrassingly transparent bondage fetish agenda, archaic gender depictions and all. It’s just very … well-meaning, and this could very well be because I’m not affected by the unassuming sexism in the same way as I might be if I were a woman, but after a while I stopped being annoyed (mostly) and found it easier to appreciate the intention behind it all, clumsily-executed as it was, at least by today’s standards. And it’s pretty funny, too. Wonder Woman is pretty sassy.

But seriously, there needs to be a temple built to the glory of Gail Simone or something. If you ever get the chance, read Ends of the Earth. The first story is great, but the second story … there are no words. It’s ridiculous, and it’s awesome, and Wonder Woman is so freaking cool.

Nothing quite like having sentient gorilla knights for sidekicks, either.

It’s the almost-camp tone that makes Simone’s blend of drama and humour work so well, bringing seemingly disparate elements together to form a cohesive and dynamic whole. It’s that gelling of components that I’m noticing not quite happening in my hard copy manuscript – which is good, because I need to know these things, and while I did write over 21k new words for this 86k-word revision, that’s still over three quarters of the same content I had ten months ago. It doesn’t all fit together, and more than that, the different elements of the story don’t fit all fit together.

If anything, the messy continuity due to my copy-and-paste rampage through my draft has now been exacerbated, which makes it all the more obvious, so that’s yet another reason for me to be pleased that I did this really rough revision. Now it’s just a matter of focusing on structure and not getting so caught-up in the writing style or the specificity of events, though of course I’m taking notes.

It occurs to me, though, that trying to have too narrow a focus during a read-through would not be great. Obviously I want some kind of focus so that I know not to ‘worry about’ certain things right this minute because I’ll go back and check for them later, but if I were to go to the extreme and not take any notes at all other than those concerned with structure, would that be counter-productive? I mean maybe it wouldn’t. I know I made very different observations during my two readthroughs of the original manuscript, not taking issue with things the second time through I’d had massive problems with the first time and vice versa. Then again, surely it’s good to have both sets of observation to hand …

But anyway – I’m taking notes, and I’m getting through pretty quick. This big girly sleepover chapter that I felt compelled to write for some reason is not making a particularly strong case for remaining in existence, other than the ‘impenetrably reticent’ line, which I think is rather glorious, but it is making a case for whittling it down to some very specific scenes that would work for the story. It’s a chapter I’ve been very fond of since I wrote it, a fondness equaled only by my anxiety over it, but I believe this is what they call a ‘darling’, and those are things I’m supposed to kill, evidently. And I get it now. I get why they have to be killed. They sit there, looking at you adoringly, and take up space needed for the vital procession of narrative building-blocks to pass seamlessly by in a parade of self-contained resolution.

It’s filler, basically. Kill the fill.

Er.

At least some of it works, and it’s mostly the new stuff I added, so that’s heartening – during this first read-through at least it seems like I am, indeed, fixing some problems with structure and focus in the story, which is exactly what I wanted. So that’s good.

Our house is looking more and more habitable every day, and it’s rather fitting that this should happen less than a month before it gets auctioned off, as well as our massive and utterly unused property section. It’ll be nice to be living in a hospitable dwelling before moving out of it. And seeing as I’ve lived here for pretty much the entire portion of my life that I have memories of, I want to give this place a good send-off. It’s been pretty good to me.

I may even write a story about it someday.

Like as soon as I move, probably. I have rather bad impulse control.

Getting physical

So my wonderful mother printed out my revised version of Tallulah so that I can work with it in hard-copy, which will hopefully help me get some distance from it by swapping mediums rather than waiting. I haven’t really done revisions on hard-copy documents before, except for way back in the day when I was a kid drawing comics and would turn my scribble-outs into part of the environment or whatever, so I’m not really sure what to do with this hard copy. And for that reason I might not actually do anything, and just read it. I mean yeah I’ll take notes, but probably on the computer. And actually I may not even take notes at all this first time around.

I tried with the digital copy, but got so wrapped-up in the writing that I ended up spending around two hours just re-writing parts of the first chapter. I kept those changes just because I think they could work in the future, but in a different document, because the writing style is not the point right now.

Though even just reading that first chapter again, immediately after finishing revision, highlighted a whole bunch of gaping plotholes that I hadn’t really noticed before, or at least not to this extent. But again, that had nothing to do with the re-writing, just the reading, so … yeah. Might just read. And then read again.

And I kinda want to do it before we move house.

Yes, yesterday I learnt that we have put our property up for auction in December, after years of talking about it and never really doing anything about it. This after having a dream about us constantly moving and me panicking about not having enough room in my backpack to carry all of my super-important possessions, which was literally just my laptop, books and CDs. They do not all fit in my backpack.

It’s rather exciting. This is one of those big upheavals that gives the life a good airing-out and I feel a great sense of perspective on myself and my current situation, and I just wish I could get that without having to wait for these big external catalysts. But hey, at least it happened, right? And it’s not like this is going to suddenly solve all of my problems for me or anything, and neither did the last big Life-Changing Moment, though it certainly helped me out of a hole. And this has too. I still have to be the one who climbs out, though.

Thankfully this particular ‘hole’ is nowhere near as deep or dark as the last one; this is more of a ditch than a hole. But this has still helped me uproot all sorts of personal issues that I’ve been dealing with for … like, eleven years? Habits and attitudes that make me feel like a quite horrible person (which I suspect is not as true as I sometimes feel it is, but still) that I haven’t been able to focus on dealing with until now. So that’s nice. And I was getting there on my own, very gradually, before I heard about the move, so it’s not all just serendipitous external catalysts ushering me in the right direction, which is nice. I do have reasons to be able to rely on myself.

I’m going to miss this place, but I’m excited to be moving out – assuming the auction goes well. Otherwise we can just stay here. Which I don’t think I will for much longer – that’s been the main change so far for me personally, the rekindled desire to move out and go do grown-up stuff, only this time I actually feel like I can do it rather than just like I should do it. Though with study still not finished that may not be able to take place until about halfway through next year, as I doubt I’ll be able to earn enough to move out and still have time to study while passing all my papers. We shall see.

Nevertheless, it’s exciting, and it’s making me excited about writing, too. We’re also tidying up the house for the whole open home thing, and it’s amazing how new you can feel during Spring Cleaning (perhaps especially if your house is as unkempt as ours). So I’m just kind of generally buzzy at the moment, and it’s rather nice.

Though I still don’t really know what the right course of action is with this revision. The plan was just to read it quickly and get a feel for the rearranged events and see if they were something I wanted to build on, or what else would need to change for that to happen. So just reading it a bunch of times to get that sense of continuity might be the best bet, while somehow not getting too distracted by all the writing stuff I really want to change.

So yeah. That’s what’s happening. I also just want to mention the whole incest thing in City of Bones, because I left it out in my review/rant thingy: it’s very … I think this, more than anything else, is what makes it feel like a fan-work. But honestly it hardly registered for me, just because I already knew it was coming from having seen the movie. And actually perhaps the main reason I don’t really want to continue the series is because the main reason I would want to is just to find out if Clary and Jace actually are related, and how they … deal with that.

Which I really don’t want to be invested in to begin with, so yeah, no thanks.

But yay stuff is happening! And now to go tidy up some more.

Getting mortal

In which there is a City, and it is of Bones, and it features for exactly one chapter. Really this should be called Spot the Plagiarism.

But I will admit that I totally enjoyed the hell out of this book, though I may also have felt rather guilty about it.

Especially because it seems to have plagiarised one of the best lines from one of my favourite books of all time, The Changeover, which is a spectacular, Carnegie Medal-winning, incredibly evocative and humane low-fantasy YA novel and get off your ass and read this fucking book what are you even still doing here. Yes I have some issues with it – some pretty major issues – but like with The Hunger Games they are issues that I think ultimately play to the strengths of the novel and the authenticity of its representation of adolescence, even if those strengths are native to my mind and had nothing to do with the author’s intentions.

I can’t really say the same for City of Bones, where I can’t be sure what has and hasn’t been plagiarized and therefore am not fully comfortable saying that I like the book, even though I enjoyed my time reading it. If it’s just a matter of content, then yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I have to wonder where that content came from, and whether I can attribute all of the wit and humour to Clare or if there is some unrecognised artist – or artists – to whom I owe my enjoyment of this story.

But since I have absolutely no idea either way, aside from being very leery of the Changeover possible-ripoff, I can only go on what I’m given. And make no mistake, this is a fun ride.

It’s just a bit … fan-ish.

Get comfy: this is going to be a bit long.

  • Writing

I don’t know the specific words I want in this situation, but basically you can very clearly tell that, while it’s certainly quite decently-written, the writer came from fan-fiction. It’s something in the order of the words she uses: ‘Without a word he spun and hurried back toward the infirmary. He was lurching as he walked, like someone drunk or dizzy.’ ‘Eventually she pulled her sketchpad out of her backpack and started drawing, propping the tablet against her knees.’ The words being used all seem right, but the order feels a bit … off. Like going 1,3,2; it just feels off-kilter to me, like a concept grasped but not experienced and thus not executed properly. I don’t want to say it’s a writer trying to punch above their weight, but that actually might be it. It feels amateur, and I say that because it reminds me a lot of my own writing, especially my earlier stuff. Thank Shakti for drafts.

Having said that, this isn’t bad writing per se, and it certainly gives it its own unique feel, but again, that is a feeling of an enthusiastic amateur trying things out. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and it is easy to read, and you get the point of what’s being said and what’s being conveyed without any problems. I do think though that a little word-rearranging would have made the thing a little smoother. I guess it feels like the writing is aspiring to be a little more sophisticated than the story it’s telling, and while I can certainly relate to that, it suggests a kind of lack of awareness.

Basically I’m saying that the writing makes me feel really smug. Make of that what you will.

There’s also the occasional repetition of exchanges between characters that reminds me of that one line between John Snow and whoever his girlfriend is being repeated in Season 2 and Season 3, something about … blood? Periods and how men are really squeamish? Anyway it felt like an oversight and it happens here, only instead of it being a year apart it’s like 2 chapters apart. Granted, I think this is actually the only instance of this happening, though I do have some vague recollection of it happening once at an earlier point, but while a fairly basic misstep it’s also a pretty minor complaint enjoyment-wise.

Overall the writing is beyond merely serviceable; it does feel a bit ‘amateurish’ in places, but if anything that adds to the charm. I really am a self-important shit, aren’t I?

  • Characters

I really like Clary.

I was not expecting to. I suppose she does actually qualify as a Mary Sue, but I really can’t get behind that. I suppose I have a rather high threshold for main characters who have wish-fulfillment on their side, being a Harry Potter fan and all. That and pretty much every main character ever has wish-fulfillment on their side of one kind or another, unless there’s some kind of willful subversion of the convention going on.

Clary’s wish-fulfillment goes along the fairly typical lines of being ‘plain’ and then having all the boys drooling over her and not understanding how they can possibly like her when Isabelle/any other girl ever is around – well, both the boys I should say, because other than Jace and Simon every other male in this book is either too old for her or just isn’t interested. But really, other than Jace and Simon, who matters?

It is kind of obnoxious, not just the ‘that’s what makes you beautiful’ crap but also the ‘hot girl is jealous’ thing – and, of course, the dreaded love-triangle – but I don’t understand the people who get really upset about this stuff, except I guess for the fact that it is really prevalent. But it’s no more prevalent than, say, every teenage male protagonist getting The Girl, the only one who matters due to looks/importance to plot/being female, which was something people didn’t seem to batt an eyelash at until fairly recently. Then again I could just be hideously ignorant; and either way it’s not like there’s nothing to complain about in either case. They’re both iterative and kind of dull, and that’s a kind of offensive all of its own. But it’s also the wish-fulfillment thing, and for the sake of enjoyment, I cannot hate on that, at least on principle. The only downside is that it can be portrayed really disrespectfully, and also to the exclusion of any other representation of male-female interaction for our lead protagonists.

Which is where Clary is kind of refreshing. She takes no shit from anyone while still coming off as unsure of herself and this new world she’s fallen into, which you would expect from anybody in this kind of situation. The banter between her and Jace is rather overblown at times, but that’s part of what I like about it; she’s very much the ‘reactive’ one when it comes to the witty repartee, which is yet another gender norm being perpetuated, but at least she is witty, even if it is a bit … convenient sometimes:

He (Jace) squinted at her. ‘Do you remember back at the hotel when you promised that if we lived, you’d get dressed up in a nurse’s outfit and give me a  sponge bath?’

‘Actually, I think you misheard,’ Clary said. ‘It was Simon who promised you the sponge bath.’

Jace looked involuntarily over at Simon, who smiled at him widely. ‘As soon as I’m back on my feet, handsome.’

This seems like something that happened because it could, rather than because it was necessarily believable; Simon hates Jace, sure, but this kind of coordination in making fun of people has not been demonstrated anywhere else in the book prior to this between these two. Also this is a joke at his expense almost as much as Jace’s, having Clary drag him into their little mock-off, and that’s all without getting into the casual homophobia of the joke. However, this is also just after Clary and Jace rescued Simon from the vampires (and if you think Simon should be grateful – well yes, but Jace is a real tool to him throughout the whole book, including when he’s in mortal danger, so that only goes so far) and they’re sort of bonding after being a bit icy towards each other earlier, so some spontaneous camraderie for the sake of humour does actually make sense, especially since Simon probably gets a kick out of her mocking Jace instead of ogling him and wants to take full advantage of it, even if it is at his expense in a way. In fact his being included by Clary in this ribbing of Jace probably turns him on a bit anyway, so …

No, I don’t know where I’m going with that …

As for that ‘takes no shit’ thing: there is a point in the story where Clary is essentially expected to take the blame for ‘making’ Jace risk his life to protect her by Alec. Alec is motivated by his own love for Jace, which is a secret he wishes to be kept … secret … and this may be a gross generalization, but it feels to me that any kind of guilt-trip offered to a female YA protagonist she’s guaranteed to snap up like it’s chocolate. Clary just outright tells him: ‘I don’t make Jace do anything. He does what he wants. You ought know that.’ Which is right – Alec has known Jace for almost half of his life and has been on countless demon-hunting missions with him. I do appreciate that Alec is not acting rationally at the time and that this is made pretty damn clear, so he’s also not just some strawman prick picking on Clary because she’s a teenage girl and therefore must be made to live in shame. Sadly she does kind of end up internalizing the guilt when she sees how upset Alec is – by being slammed into a wall and having her life threatened by him. Women, am I right?

It’s stupid, and it undermines Clary’s previous refusal to take on other people’s baggage, which was an awesome thing about her as a character. But she’s still all right after that. She’s a lot more active than she was in the film over the book as a whole, though sadly that awesome scene where she blows up her apartment to fight that demon at the beginning does not happen in the book. Also she’s kind of a dick to Simon, considering that she’s his best friend and the Shadowhunters treat him like a sub-human most of the time and she doesn’t really stand up for him, but you win some you lose some with any main character I guess.

And then there’s Jace.

I don’t much care about him, but he did make me laugh a lot.

It’s not even that he’s a particularly interesting or original character in terms of being a conceited, self-satisfied douche bag with an angsty backstory to justify it all. Finnick Odair did it better, and he wasn’t even the main character.

However, Finnick Odair did not have Jace’s line-delivery.

The rat, huddled in the hollow of her palms, squeaked glumly. Delighted, she hugged him to her chest. ‘Oh, poor baby,’ she crooned, almost as if he really were a pet. ‘Poor Simon, it’ll be fine, I promise -‘

‘I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him,’ Jace said. ‘That’s probably the closest he’s ever gotten to second base.’

At first glance, this is pretty generic, though no less appealing to the 13-year-old boy I apparently still am for finding that rather hilarious. However, when you factor in that Jace is pretty jealous of Simon and Clary’s closeness his constant insulting of Simon and mocking of Clary gives it another layer – another fairly generic layer, to be fair, but at least it’s there.

But that is part of the reason I don’t care too much for Jace either way: he’s just really predictable. Oh look, he’s being self-congratulatory. Oh look, he’s being sleazy. Oh look, he’s belittling somebody. I’ve never come across this before in a male romantic lead. Please tell me more about this Draco in Leather Pants you speak so much about.

There isn’t really anything to him, not beyond his (fairly modern) DiLP archetype. Bad Boys are nothing new, and Bad Boys who hide behind a veneer of hypermasculine sleaze and shallow self-satisfied conceit to protect their precious vulnerable feelings aren’t anything new, either. And that’s pretty much Jace in a nutshell: nothing new. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t work for his intended purpose, which is to be a foil and romantic interest for Clary, but … I dunno. Maybe if I was into guys I’d get it.

Simon, however, I do get. He’s pretty cool.

Unlike most other Romantic Third Wheels I can think of off the top of my head, he’s actually quite cool. He even gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome that was … kind of lazy in its build-up, but the execution made up for it, because not only was it awesome but it was also an actual contribution to the plot. Basically he sees Alec’s bow and offhanded mentions that he’s done six years of archery while driving the Shadowhunters to Clary’s apartment to get the Mortal Cup, which seems like a throwaway line other than the fact that it’s also the first time the Shadowhunters start to treat him like something other than vermin (with the possible exception of Isabelle). And then he’s left to guard the van so it doesn’t get towed, and also because demons won’t come to get him there, because the sun kills them. And then in the next chapter when Madame Dorothea turns into a demon, Simon comes in and saves the day by using Alec’s bow and arrows to shoot the skylight in the apartment and banishing Abaddon, saving everybody’s life.

Ideally, Checkov’s Archery Class would have shown up much earlier in the book just so that it didn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. It still works, because nobody has shown any interest in his life over the course of the whole book, so he hasn’t exactly had the opportunity – or desire – to share it. Like seriously the Shadowhunters are dicks. I get the feeling Clare is a devoted Slytherin, too, because they’re never called out on it, not effectually anyway. Clary does actually tell Jace off every now and then, but it’s not quite the same as defending Simon or telling Jace to, like, stop. But I digress. Simon is cooler than all of the Shadowhunters combined, thus far anyway, because he’s actually a somewhat original character.

And part of that is that while he is the Romantic Third Wheel, he’s also not a jealous manipulative toolbag like, for instance, Jacob Black. Clary – well, she doesn’t say no, but he gets the message, and he doesn’t dangle it over her head trying to guilt her into making out with him or anything, instead remaining supportive and considerate, while also being allowed to be upset about not having his feelings reciprocated without either him or Clary being made to feel ashamed of it. He’s actually a good friend. He’s actually a nice guy. And he’s cool, and his geekiness is never played stereotypically that I can tell. He’s just kind of normal, only slightly cooler. It works for me.

Isabelle – she’s kind of like Jace in that there just isn’t that much to her, but I have a bit of a soft spot for the Bitchy Rival Girl archetype. Hence why Johanna Mason is one of my favourite characters from The Hunger Games. She didn’t really get a lot to do in this book, even less than she does in the film actually, and in the book she is much more played-up as the flirty, sexually confident foil to our lead’s virginal purity and whatnot. The word ‘flounce’ is used to describe her movements, twice, in the same chapter. She’s a bad cook. And Simon (or Clary, on Simon’s behalf) is warned that Isabelle will ditch him once she gets bored of him, as she does with all boys. She’s that kind of character. And yeah, also she’s … romantically? involved with Simon in this book, which was another kinda big change, though he’s doing it to try and make Clary jealous/notice him and she’s doing it because she’s … bored? Intimidated by Clary? I don’t know and it really doesn’t go anywhere so I don’t have to care, either. She’s fine, just not particularly interesting.

Alec is, sadly, almost negligible. He seems like a character I could like if, for one, he wasn’t a violent jackass, and if he actually did anything. I assume both of the Lightwood kids will get bigger roles as the books go on, but … well, I’ll get to that later.

Who else is there … ah yes, Lupi – uh, Siri – no, Luke. That’s the one. Luke. Not either of those other two characters huh what who said that Luke is totally original and unique and HIS REAL NAME IS LUCIAN FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. What lupine shape-shifter from recent popular media is he not ripping off?

The one somewhat original aspect of Luke as a character is also the one that puts me off him the most: he kills – as in murders, in cold blood – a werewolf pack leader so that he can take over, in order to raise an army to fight Valentine, because it seemed ‘quick’. And Clary, who he tells this to, doesn’t really seem to care. This is something of a theme with this book, actually, highly questionably and even outright evil acts and attitudes being expressed by the main characters without anybody so much as coughing nervously. I mean sure, it’s kind of refreshingly pragmatic if you’re looking purely at tropes or cliches, but … really? Murder? Because it’s ‘quicker’ than, I dunno, trying to work together by convincing Downworlders that it is in their best interests to kill somebody who wants to exterminate all Downworlders, and tried to do it before?

No, that’s crazy talk. No self-respecting Slytherin would ever do that.

Valentine is dull and predictable and VOLDEMORT. He is Voldemort who has, at some point in his life, experienced sexual desire for other human beings, and acted on it. Consensually, even. Voldemort is not a particularly fantastic villain (Tom Riddle, on the other hand …), just in terms of originality, and Valentine is even less interesting, because he’s slightly more original. Where as Voldy is just straight-up Big Bad material, Valentine has the whole family angle to play on, and while it makes Jace a bit more interesting when we see his reaction to it, Valentine doesn’t really benefit from it.

And Hodge is … not bad. He’s not the redemptive character that he is in the film, and in fact the entire third act of the book differs in a few significant ways from the film, including the fact that Hodge just up and leaves instead of helping to save the Institute – also the final climactic battle doesn’t take place in the Institute, and the final showdown is between Luke and Valentine, not Jace and Valentine, and the whole ‘I am both of your father’ thing actually feels more convincing because it’s explained a bit more, and there’s no mystical water-portal thingy for Clary to use, and there’s no fake Cup. It makes me wonder what exactly the next film is going to do if it’s already screwed with the canon that much. But maybe it’s not important.

And to be perfectly frank, I don’t know if I can be bothered finding out.

  • Closing thoughts

Beyond writing and characters, the only thing of note I can think of to talk about is the ridiculous number of times I picked up on ‘similarities’ to Harry Potter. The end of the book has Jace making a choice between seeing his heart’s desire in a reflection; they make a big deal about how the stuff they do with their little not-wand thingies is so totally not magic you guys for serious; they have a genocidal cult leader as the main villain (whose name begins with a V) who convinced some like-minded idealists that it was for the greater good; there is some serious disdain for non-magical people that is mostly played as a joke; the plot is centered around finding and protecting a fabled magical object that produces a magical elixir; there are more sub-plots of unrequited love than you can shake a Snape at; the main character has been lied to her entire life about her past and her parents; her father-substitute turns into a giant canine at will; there are flying motorbikes; there’s a case of mistaken identity and awkward physical boundary issues involving a shape-shifted rat …

Just …

Hey, witchlights are the Light of Earendil! It’s not all Harry Potter, see?

I don’t care.

I will go and see the next film, though, if and when it comes out, because the sheer amount of joy I took in the corniness of the first one is something I long to repeat. I will see it once, and I will intentionally turn up 5 minutes late so that I’m left wondering what I missed and it seems more interesting.

And who knows, I might actually buy the other books, but the fact that it was meant to be a trilogy and was extended into a six-part series really puts me off. It’s either bad planning or looking to make more money, and given the very strong Slytherin vibes I get from this book …

Well, it’s all speculation. I only know what I know. And I would recommend this book for anybody looking for a bit of fun, as well as fascinating look at how fan fiction has shaped our literary landscape. It’s often funny, the pacing is exactly right for a casual but engaging read, it’s quite clever and self-aware in a lot of ways, Clary is a pretty neat protagonist, and it certainly captures that glee of imitation that I so desire to reclaim myself. Though perhaps a little too much in places.

Because seriously, that Changeover steal is … I mean I guess maybe it was a ‘tribute’? Because I can’t exactly fault any book for paying tribute to The Changeover. And it was worded differently. Or maybe it’s really just coincidence.But still.

Seriously, go read The Changeover. I recommend it over this book.

I also recommend getting writing done, which I did do today – and I wasn’t meant to; I was meant to read. And take notes. And I did, but I rewrote as well, and I’m not sure now whether it’s worth going through the long and painful process of letting myself obsessively ‘correct’ my manuscript before taking a break and then coming back to it later to analyse it a bit more objectively, or if I should try to do the skim-read now and go in-depth later on.

Or just … leave it for a while. Much as I don’t want to.

But I kinda do.

It’s good to be Writing again.

And that’s 200

Yes, it has been 200 posts already, which means that I have published just over 1 post every 2 days for just over a year, which is kind of astounding to me. Thank you to everybody who’s followed me thus far; I hope you’ve enjoyed at least a few of those 200 posts, and I hope you’ll stick around for more!

So a few cool things happened yesterday: I did manage to finish Revision Round 1 of Tallulah in the morning – I use the word in the most technical sense, as it was around 3:40am when I finally wrapped it up – and ended up cutting around 40k words, which puts me down at 86k (and 1) full told, which is much more YA-friendly if I intend to promote it as such (which pragmatically speaking I maybe should). Now there’s nothing left to do but read it, and then probably let it sit for a while before coming back and reading it again. I would love to have a second draft done by Christmas, but it depends on what this revision suggests I need to do from this point moving forward. If a full rewrite by Christmas isn’t an option, well, there’s always my Christmas-themed novel for me to finally get around to revising the first draft of.

But yay, I accomplished a goal! And Wicked’s closing night for the New Zealand season was a lovely way to celebrate, although I must remember to not sit up above the action for the next live show. Stalls or nothing from this moment on, unless there’s a really good reason for it. (Like money, which was the main reason this time.) But I had wanted to be a part of this particular milestone ever since I saw the show the first time, and I am very glad that I did so, even if the seating could have been better. And I also saw a not-quite-live broadcast of Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth at the Rialto cinema beforehand, so it was a very theatrical day all around.

Now I’m sort of in the lurch, waiting to hear back about possible study options for next year and mentally preparing myself to mentally prepare myself for the prospect of having to go look for a job like a normal person, or at least a normal person before the recession. If I don’t get into Summer School then my options are to apply for the student hardship allowance thingy, which is basically just the unemployment benefit for tertiary students, or to find a job. Or I guess to rob a bank, but while it’s nice to have options, I’d rather not be writing my novel from prison. I feel it gives off the wrong impression.

There is quite a bit of Life Stuff going on at the moment, which is rather nice in the sense that it feels like a big paradigm shift is coming, the only downside to this being that, being very habituated to anxiety, the idea of a paradigm shift freaks me out a bit. More than a bit, if I stop to think about it seriously, and the frustrating thing is that I don’t actually seem to be able to take it seriously. That or I just don’t care, which I don’t think is true at all. I’m just a bit of a mess in that sense I guess. I may need to take a personal day and get these feelings aired.

Because I feel that through the other side of the anxiety, I do actually want a big change. Or maybe not a big change, just a significant one. I feel the past two years have been leading up to it: working on Tallulah for most of last year very intensively gave me a huge shift in perspective and boost to self-esteem as well as self-awareness, and going back to university this year made me feel like ‘putting myself out there’, actually looking to the future and considering what it is that I can do, and how that might intersect with what I want to do.

And one of those things is what to do with this blog.

This is an issue that has come up before, and I really do want to follow through, almost more for the challenge than anything else – can I give this blog a bit more structure and persist with it? Do I have the stamina? The follow-through? I think I do. It’s just a matter of having to use it.

I feel like there are more ways to Write about Writing than just having a confessional status update every few days regarding where I’m at, both personally and with my writing, and I want to explore some of those. I really want to do something generative for you guys too, because at the end of the day this is kind of meant to be a resource for aspiring writers, as well as anybody who is just curious as to what exactly goes on in a writer’s mind while they’re on the job, and in my case not being paid for it or held to a deadline by anybody but myself. I’m not sure if anybody other than another writer would find that interesting, but it’s here just in case.

I guess really I just want to look for new ways to apply myself and take those opportunities, because that’s what’s been happening with me since I started focusing on Tallulah. My limits have been stretched in ways I never considered, and have also come into sharp relief for me in the areas where I’m still rather inflexible, to say the least. And there’s nothing I can do about it now. This is what happens when you try something: you get so much more done than just that one thing, whether you like it or not. I would not trade it for anything. I just want to keep going.

And to that end – I really do need to decide what to do with this revision, now that it’s done.

The plan seems like a good place to start, at least. The plan was to pretty much just keep going, take no breaks, because this revision was never meant to be the ‘actual’ goal – the goal was to have the revision done in like a week so that I could then take that revision and see how suitable it was for use as a foundation for a proper Draft 2, a full rewrite, or as full as necessary. Quickly over and done with to build up some momentum for said rewrite, to open the floodgates for my new, fresh ideas to spew forth from in a torrent of inspired novelty.

That, of course, did not pan out, and I ended up not really liking the feel of those new ideas taking up residence in my manuscript, even if the contents of that manuscript were being tossed around and rearranged to tell a somewhat different story anyway. So the plan doesn’t quite cut it anymore in those terms – what was once a clear next step is now looking like a rotten gangplank between two rooftops. That might just be the result of a bad paint-job, but I’m not too keen to risk the use of my legs to find out.

Analogies aside (and thankfully writing is not quite as life-or-death as falling off a building, at least in and of itself), I have to decide whether to ‘force’ some momentum here by heading right in as though it had only taken me a few days to complete this task and then see what ideas it fires off, and go back to taking notes and drawing up plans of attack and trying to decide if I’m really the right person to be writing my own story because it feels like somebody else would understand better how to put all of my ideas together in a coherent sequence that people might actually want to read, or to take a week or two to focus on other things instead, get some distance first.

Just writing that makes me think that jumping right in and ‘forcing’ the momentum is the best option. This is the closest I’ve felt to this story in a long time, and the first time I’ve had the opportunity to feel close for the last four months; I think it would be kind of stupid to miss out on it.

And after my read-through, then I may well take a week or two off, just to get some critical distance, read all of those Book Depository books I’ve ordered and the two books I’ve borrowed from friends and have yet to read, see how much of my stupid YA thing I can power my way through in 14 days (and how insipidly corny I can make it), rewrite a bunch of fairytales because they’re public domain and I kind of wanna write some fanfic, go to the beach for the first time in like 3 years, do some gardening because the Council has told us we need to tidy it up or they’ll charge us a crapton of money to get some Council person to do it, get serious about diet/exercise again and make it last longer than 2 weeks this time, before coming back and reading it again with considerably less self-consciousness, hopefully, and go from there. Having cut out about 40k words does actually make me feel like reading it more.

So … yeah. I’m glad I set myself an arbitrary goal to meet, because it ended up having all sorts of run-on effects, such as momentum and enthusiasm to keep going. I shall start reading tomorrow. Which is also the last day I get Student Allowance money, so I really hope I hear back about Summer School soon …

But in the meantime, thanks again to everybody who’s stuck around for this past year, and I hope you will all stick around for another.

Now go forth, and write!

Something old, something new

So I got a chapter revised.

I’m happy with it. It took a long time, but it happened, and I think it turned out about as well as it could have. And along the way I had a few revelations about certain supporting characters and the role they play in this story that is all about the main character of said story. Which was eye-opening, and clarifying, and I’m saying those are both good things.

I keep forgetting how much I can end up learning about my own story just by interacting with it. It’s that objectifying process at work: when it’s put down in writing it becomes an object, an interactive part of the environment independent of your thoughts, and with that split your relationship to your ideas, now expressed and externalised, takes on an entirely new and much more dynamic relationship, because the ideas no longer change on your slightest whim if you wish them to – they are locked in, and any change you want to implement is now an interaction rather than simply an action.

This character ended up pretty much splitting in two, one of which was newer and much more conventional, which also gave me something to work with that made the story feel like a ‘proper’ story, one I’d recognise in other stories, the other feeling less coherent than ever by comparison. But then through that comparison, I realised that she actually did have a really clear purpose – I just hadn’t had the opportunity to reflect on it, to compare it to something a little more recognisably clear-cut.

So while I only revised one chapter – well, I revised a chapter, wrote over 2k new words, and learnt something about my story and my characters that feels like it’s made the whole project grow up a little. I also remembered how exciting writing can be, and this is a new excitement, one that comes from knowing what the story is and finding my way to it rather than making it up as I follow a very rough map. On the whole it’s been a net gain, and learning is always worth the effort. It’s always nice to find something new in something you thought you had all figured out. It gives you hope that there’s even more there, that you’ll never really run out of things to discover, if you only put in the commitment to finding it out, and of letting it come to you when you’re ready.

Seven chapters to go, in two days. I can do that.

When you believe

There are ten drafts sitting on my dashboard of posts I never posted. They are all things I started to write, left for a day or so because, to be fair, I started writing them sometime between 2 and 4am, and then upon reflection decided that what I’d said was not worth committing to in the light of day. As such I’ve lost track of some interesting thoughts and issues that I do want to share. And it occurred to me this morning, when asking myself why I hadn’t used today to get started on revising Tallulah for my big Wicked Convergence Point plan, that there is one unifying reason behind all of it.

I have a hard time believing in what I write if I let it sit for too long. ‘Too long’ being ‘long enough for me to think about it’. Thinking, it seems, is my undoing, overthinking to be exact. This has long been a problem of mine where I take things too literally and simultaneously internalise a lot of shame for really stupid reasons, emotional baggage etc. I’m not here to talk about that today. I am here to do some believing.

Specifically, I am here to believe in Tallulah. I’ve got three days – safe days, I technically have three days and a morning/part of an afternoon – to get this revision done, and while I didn’t do any revision of chapters yesterday, I did revise my plan.

I’ve been sticking to this plan out of superstition more than anything. Or maybe principle. Either way practicality was not part of it. The plan was about as good as it could be, but when I finalised this plan it had been … how long … June 20th is when I finished making broad notes after my speed-read and felt really familiar with the overarching structure and progression of the story, and I implemented the plan … around the 5th of September.

Wow.

So yeah, this plan did not exactly take advantage of that moment of galvanic Big Picture clarity-of-purpose thinking. I’d had time to think and worry and nag and doubt, and I think I did the right thing by just going ‘screw it’ and picking some plan rather than waiting for that lost clarity to possibly return to me at some indeterminate point in the future, which it so far has not. But it’s lingering around the periphery; the ideas are still kicking around up here, alive and well, we’re just not on speaking terms right now for whatever reason. That’s fine. We can make up later.

That’s not to say that the plan was lazily tossed together like an unexpected salad. I actually tried to get a plan down in writing that felt right, and it just kept … not doing that. Looking back now, part of the issue was that I had about five different versions of the story vying for attention, and to be perfectly honest I still do, and they all shouldered their way into the queue and messed up my attempts to establish a unified vision, a clear voice for the story. It took a long time for me to come to a decision, a lot of wrestling with competing options and possibilities, all of which were pretty valid in their own right. Ultimately there was no one deciding factor that convinced me to value one over the others, until I came back to the manuscript, to what was already here to work with rather than things that were still only possibilities, and my final plan ended up being pretty close to what I already had, with a few changes and new additions as possible.

There were still a few, though, and at the time I thought they were fairly ‘neutral’, but as time went by and the revision got closer and closer to those items I had listed as ‘new scenes’, the less confident I felt about writing them. And it wasn’t just because they were new – they also felt distracting.

And ultimately, it made me feel uncertain about what I’d written.

I do not think that my manuscript makes a good story. I do not even think that it delivers a good story if I switch things around and try to package them in a more conventional narrative, just to make it feel more recognisable, and consequently more solid. I don’t think it’s a bad story when it’s rejiggered like I’m planning on doing, but at least from my perspective of not having yet finished this revision and being able to read it over and see what the flow is like, it feels like it needs a lot more. Which is why this is a skeleton revision rather than a full-on rewrite; I need that foundation to work up from before I get to that stage.

But what I do think is that it’s what I’ve got, and that has to take priority over what I don’t got. It is the least ‘biased’ decision I can make, the one that allows for the least conjecture and indecision, because it’s already been decided. It’s just the arranging of events into a new sequence where I can start playing around, and I’m never going to be able to avoid my own bias – I mean telling stories is itself an act of bias anyway, so I don’t want to try and avoid bias. I just want to avoid falling into the trap of getting caught up in the seductive tar-pit of ‘what if’ and instead climbing the rope ladder of ‘here’s what I’ve got’, even if it doesn’t feel ‘right’. There will be plenty of time for that feeling to come later on.

Because it’s all bias. What I’ve got is still only a version of what this story could be, and it feels like the least comfortable one. But, there are parts of it that feel strong in ways that my fantasies about this story’s possible outcomes can’t possibly compete with, because these possibilities have been realised. They are here for me to interact with, to remove myself from and look at from the outside, to see them as objects rather than abstract queries. This is one instance where objectification is uber-useful.

And I do feel that what I’ve got does contain what I want to move forward with, that it can provide me with a really solid foundation to work up from without actually having to change very much at all, and without having to add in almost anything.

So I went back and I took out the new scenes. I made a new plan, despite my resolution to stick to it and see how it panned out, because it wasn’t direct enough. The new scenes pulled it in messy directions that were not necessary, except in trying to bring some of my other potential ideas to life, like parasites hitching a ride on some unwitting host creature just trying to go about its own business. I don’t want no parasites here.

If I end up implementing some of my fanciful ideas later down the line then great. Fine. Fantastic. I like those ideas. But that can’t be the focus, simply because of luck of the draw in a sense – if those had been the ideas I’d written down, then I’d be prioritising them. But having said that, there is also a core, a through-line that I want to focus on and it’s very simple: this is Tallulah’s story, and my conjecture and fantisising more often than not takes the spotlight off her. Just for that, this plan needs to be as ‘clean’ as possible.

And also to make less work for me, I won’t lie. The less new stuff I have to wrap my head around, the less I have to think of how it works in the greater scheme of the story, and the less new stuff I introduce, the more I can use this revision to focus on what I already have and how far I can push it in the direction I want to go in. It’s a relatively unsophisticated direction, but that simplicity is a strength as well – make it about Tallulah first and foremost, and at least until that feels like it’s taken care of, let everything else just be a fantasy.

So I’ve got a new plan. It is not very different to the old plan, just less reliant on the interventions of external possibilities. It’s more insular, more self-reliant. And I really do need to see just how far I can get with that, so that I know what’s holding the story back, and where new stuff does need to come in. I already have ideas on things that need to be cut, but perhaps I’m wrong. I will only know once I have the opportunity to step back and look at it as a whole. It’s great to have principles and to make decision and stick to them, but you’ve got to be just as able to change your mind and do something else. Because the bottom line is to do what works. And you don’t get there by doing things that don’t work, even if they used to, just because you said you wouldn’t. Then it’s about something other than getting things done, and first and foremost I want this done.

Speaking of which: I have to get 8 chapters revised in the next 3 days so that my big Wicked Convergence Point plan can be realised. And I want that something fierce.

Use what you’ve got, because gambling is dumb unless you have no other choice. I have that choice. I’m using it. Because this story means something more to me than just kicking ideas around and having fun indulging my creative firehose. This is something substantial and growing, a living thing that needs my attention to come to full fruition, even if I don’t know what that fruition will look like at the end. But that’s not the point – it’s the journey, not the getting there. It’s treating my work as though it’s valuable, regardless of whether it ‘is’ or not, because in the end I’m the only one who can decide that for myself. And it is valuable to me. It has rewarded me in ways I never imagined, and they weren’t even very imaginative rewards. But they were most certainly worth it.

And now, finally, I will actually get back to work. Will report my progress later tonight. Here’s hoping all of your endeavours, creative or otherwise, are going well. And if they’re not – change it up. Make it work for you, not the other way around. Whatever it takes.

Your work is worth it, and so are you.

 

A plan

Did I talk about how much I love Wicked already? Because I much love Wicked already. Super correlation.

Ahem.

Wicked is awesome. Seeing it was like being transported back into my single-digit years and going to see the latest Disney film with the family; I felt all giddy and surrounded by likewise enthusiastic and enchanted people, and it didn’t hurt that the venue, Auckland’s beloved Civic theatre, is amazing all on its own (for those of you who haven’t been to The Civic, for instance those of you who do not live in NZ, it’s the venue at the end of the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong, and the film does not do it justice). I paid $150 for what was arguably the best seat in the house and it was amazing. So, naturally, I considered going again.

That plan kind of teetered on the edge of my end-of-semester preoccupation with things like trying to make sure I passed all of my assessments (which I have), and the prospect of paying another $150 was not particularly attractive to say the least. By the time I seriously considered going again this evening – for closing night, just to be there – the seats I wanted were all gone. However, all the tickets were also reduced to $70, so I snapped one up.

Over the past few days since exams have ended, I’ve made a start, a pretty decent start, on chapter 13 revision for Tallulah. I try to remember that I’m not really Writing, as in I’m not finding out what happens as I go – I already know what I want to happen and it’s my job now to get it down in writing, even if it is only to the end of creating a skeleton to build upon. That skeleton needs to be as sturdy as possible. It’s feeling like I’ll have to go back and do some revising of my revision of that chapter because of my veering off into ‘what-if’ land, and that’s part of why revision has come to yet another halt – the time between halts is growing shorter and shorter, and at the end of the day that really is the only thing that matters in the long tun, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve spent the last two days playing videogames in order to avoid doing this vital work.

And now with my Wicked ticket all purchased and ready to be picked up, I realised I’d given myself another ‘out’, in the sense that my planning skills were not going into Tallulah, but into various self-indulgent pasttimes.

And then, I realised, that didn’t have to be the case at all.

I’m seeing Wicked again. That’s done. I am not going to feel guilty about it, because it is an awesome show.

I also know that I can finish revision in the next four days if I actually just sit down and commit, and that I am fully capable of doing this.

And I know that if I do finish revision in the next four days, not only will I be finished in time for Wicked, but Wicked suddenly becomes more than an act of indulgence and distraction from the potential next six weeks of utter aimlessness: it becomes a reward.

I realise that this is not how rewarding yourself for a job well done is supposed to work. The reward is supposed to be contingent on completion of whatever job it is you’re trying to bribe yourself to do. If it’s coming your way regardless, then how can it possibly work?

Because a reward is a feeling.

What is the difference between buying yourself an ice-cream just because you want one, and buying yourself an ice-cream after sitting your last exam? The feeling. The statement. The way you use it to signify something, of making it count, making it stand for something. The feeling of acting like something you did mattered to you, and deserves recognition.

I can just let Tallulah sit and have the days fly past in a blur of trance-like gaming zeal until Wicked comes along and just go see it. There is nothing stopping me from doing that. But if I do that, then I lose this opportunity to capitalise on a fantastic night out, to infuse it with meaning and significance. I miss the chance at euphoria.

Most importantly: I miss the feeling of having earned it. And it’s the fact that it is a choice, that it is something I don’t have to do, that is getting me really motivated to finish this revision, to put my all into it and get it done by Sunday, because if I don’t then this alignment of celestial bodies is going to pass me by. I’ve set up a convergence for myself, and if I can stay the course, it will be glorious.

And if I don’t, I actually don’t know if I’ll feel good about going to Wicked at all.

I mean I assume I will. It is Wicked. But this opportunity for extra awesome does make it feel like I’ll be missing out on something really special if I don’t make this commitment. It won’t be a celebration of a job well done, it’ll just be a night out on the town that I paid $70 for. I can do that any time.

I can’t turn it into a celebration any time. I may be going to see this show whether or not Tallulah is revised by Sunday, but I won’t be going out to celebrate if it’s not done. And that is the reward, that feeling of having something worth celebrating for myself, not just the idea of going to the closing night of a great show that I adore. I do want to be there for that, of course. But now that I know I can get something more out of it, the idea of not getting that something more makes the original plan feel like less than it was.

I think it’s just because I realise that I am letting my opportunities for revising pass me by. I have been so busy and so ill-prepared over the past three or so months that I haven’t had the time to focus on Tallulah without feeling irresponsible, and that could have been avoided. Here is another opportunity to act like this project means something to me.

And I think that’s the real reason I’m so motivated to do this: it does mean something to me, and it’s worth celebrating. It’s worth a reward for getting it done.

Now to do it.

Represent Again

Got a nice long rant for y’all today, but first: after a very intelligent comment left on my last post I love The Hunger Games even more than I did upon finishing it, and Katniss Everdeen now occupies a particular place of honour in my pantheon of favourite characters. I have also started reading City of Bones, and it’s so pulpy. It’s amazing. I can see why it got so popular – I’m never sure whether I should allow myself to enjoy the humour because I can’t help but wonder how much of it is plagiarised, but since I already paid for it I guess it’s a bit late for that now. And anyway we all have to get our ideas from somewhere.

Seriously though plagiarism is really shitty don’t do it.

***

A little while ago, I tried to write something about representation. Then I did write something about representation. I am never happy with anything I write that involves personal disclosure when it comes to issues of sexism, because I’m afraid it’s going to be taken as some kind of apologist statement, and that’s absolutely not my intention. My intention is to use my own personal experiences as a testament to how pervasive the kinds of sexist attitudes that are so prevalent in Western culture are – and perhaps more importantly that it does not matter what we intend, not in terms of whether what we say or do is hurtful or offensive to others. What matters in terms of intention is the intention to be considerate of other people and why they might react a certain way to things that may seem ‘normal’ first and foremost, rather than going for the ‘well I tried to apologise so lay off or you’re just as prejudiced as you say I am’ knee-jerk reaction. I think sincere apologies are not only the respectful thing to do but something that should be acknowledged, but at the same time those making the apology have to understand that it’s not going to be enough if what you’re apologising for is being yet another person who didn’t consider, who ‘never thought about it that way’ – having the privilege to not have to consider it, basically. It may be new for the offending party, but for the offended party/s, especially when we’re talking about things like sexism and racism, it’s almost certainly not, and that really needs to be respected.

A case in point I came across today was this poem/speech/thing about Cho Chang, and by extension the representation of Asian women in Western media. I have written a few times about how much I love Harry Potter, and that’s not changing anytime soon. I have perhaps written less frequently about the fact that I myself am half Chinese. I really don’t feel it. There’s like one instance I can think of where a couple of drunk girls were backing out of their driveway a little recklessly while I was walking home and they shouted ‘Whoops! Sorry Asian man!’ before driving off. I mean I felt rather uncomfortable for a while after that, but that was mostly because I hadn’t expected it, and in the grand scheme of things it could have been much, much worse.

I could see myself as Asian according to a white world, for example: I could be really good at maths and be working towards a job as a banker, or I could take up Kung Fu and dispense Taoist quotes to those in need of philosophical guidance. And every time I do one of these things I would know that, to anybody who knows I do these things who does not know me, the first thing they’re going to think of is a racial stereotype. I have to wonder how much of the fact that I don’t feel Asian has to do with the fact that I just don’t do very stereotypically Asian things to begin with, the fact that, again, the racist comments and stuff don’t seem to come my way that much to constantly remind me of how non-normal I am in other people’s eyes and make me feel like a gimmick for reasons beyond my control. I imagine, especially with the second one, it’s a pretty huge factor indeed, and one that I’ve never really considered until quite recently.

The young woman who wrote and performed the piece also made this video response to some of the critiques she’s gotten about it, and I want you to watch it, because this is really what’s at the heart of the debate. The issue is not whether Rowling was being intentionally racist, not least because it is highly unlikely that she was. If anything her intention was to be inclusive. I mean look at all of these ‘alternative’ representations being included in this story that isn’t about people who aren’t white. There’s Dean Thomas, for example. The Patil sisters. Blaise Zabini. Lee Jordan. Let’s not forget Kinglsey Shacklebolt. I mean he fought Voldemort, man. Voldemort. And didn’t die. And then became Minister for Magic. That’s like … that’s pretty awesome, right? And then Cho Chang, who is, like, into sports, which makes her really original because she’s both a girl and Asian, what Asian girls like sports amirite?

No but seriously, while there is some avoidance of ethnic/racial stereotypes through the fact that all of these characters are very, as a blog post I read today terms it, ‘Western Neutral’, there are myriad subtle forms of racism in their representation. And yes, subtle racism is different from the straight-up racism you might find in Gone with the Wind, but it’s still racism.

For one, they’re all minor characters. They get some cool stuff to do if their name is Kingsley Shacklebolt, but that’s about it. The Patil sisters don’t get to go to the Ministry of Magic with Harry and the others, despite being members of the DA; Cho Chang doesn’t get a character-arc beyond being upset about Cedric dying and having feelings for Harry – it’s on the sidelines, and maybe important for one book. There is no significant narrative through-line for any of them beyond Cho Chang and Harry’s very peripheral romance sub-plot.

For another – her name is Cho Chang. Never mind whether it’s two Korean surnames, never mind whether it could be a Chinese name but probably wouldn’t because the meanings don’t match up – it’s Cho Chang. It almost would have been less offensive if her name had been Hong Kong. I mean they’ve got Kingsley Shacklebolt, whose surname, I will point out, was not Washington, Jackson, Freeman or, I dunno, Brown. It’s a very Rowling kind of name; it fits in with the Slughorns and Snapes and Shunpikes (and not just because it begins with ‘S’), rather than advertising his ethnicity in neon lights on the face of the moon.

There is also the whole Western Neutral thing. Luna freaking Lovegood (who I love) brings more cultural diversity to the Hogwarts gang than all six named ‘ethnic’ characters combined, and I have to imagine it’s because she’s just another white person, rather than the sole Caucasian representative in the Wizarding World; she’s allowed to be ‘different’ because she has to many ‘normal’ people to play off against. By no means am I saying that the Patils should have been portrayed as devout Hindus or Buddhists or spoken with accents or have it pointed out how much they loved curry (btw I wonder if the House Elves could make a good korma because I would totes go for that), because among other things I am a living testament to the validity of having Western Neutral ‘ethnic’ characters. It happens. A lot. And making these characters overtly ‘ethnic’ would have been, in a sense, just as bad, but mostly because of the whole ‘sole representative’ thing. If there had been more than one named Asian character then perhaps Cho would have been given the opportunity to be fleshed-out a little more as a character, rather than having the pressure, intentional or not, of being completely and utterly Tokenised, and therefore the pressure of being as inoffensive as possible on a surface level, which rather fails because of how offensive it is within the broader context of the representation not just of Asian female characters but any PoC character in mainstream, well-known media texts in general. Either they’re an ethnic stereotype or they’re so Western Neutral that they may as well be white anyway, and the only way to begin alleviating that is to make it so that they’re not alone on the page or the screen to try and ‘represent’.

And with Cho Chang in particular, since she’s the only one of these minor minority characters (like there are any other kind) in the story who we do actually get to know on some level, it’s extra disappointing that all she’s there to do is turn out to be a bad fit for Harry, whether it’s done specifically to push him into the arms of Ginny (which is another thing I have issues with, but that’s another rant, and one that other people have already made) or not. She’s not just a romantic interest; she’s a fake-out romantic interest. She isn’t an interesting character, but she could easily have been as well-realised as say Luna or Neville if she’d been given the space for it. And yes this is more of a gender issue than an ethnic one in a sense, the fact that her primary reason for existing is the fulfillment of a romantic sub-plot, but there is certainly something to be said about the tragic Asian female character archetype which, again, mightn’t have been so bad if she’d gotten more to do. Like she and Harry break up but she actually sticks around and does stuff afterwards, and maybe they reconcile and become friends later on or something. She gets shafted as soon as it becomes apparent things aren’t going to work out romantically between her and Harry, whereas bloody Neville (who I also love) gets to stick around for the whole heptalogy.

At least she isn’t overtly defined by being Asian – she doesn’t have an accent (not a written one anyway, thank the Morrigan), she isn’t shown to be super-geeky or meek and subservient to men (or just in general), and she does come across as a fairly typical, irritating female romantic lead (which brings us right back around to Western Neutral, but I – slightly – digress). If that’s what we’re going to call progress, though, then we need to really think about what progress actually means, who it benefits, and why we should be interested in it.

Or, put another way: this is not progress. This is not something to be celebrated or held up as an example of how to be ‘inclusive’. This is something to look at and say: ‘we need to do better than this, because wow‘ – as well as saying: ‘it did some things right’, to be fair. I mean Hermione even defends her emotionality to the boys; she doesn’t get to do it herself, and Hermione is also notably, invisibly white, but in terms of gender it’s … better than it could be. I’m certainly not of the opinion that Harry Potter is particularly sexist, rather the opposite in fact, other than perhaps the fact that the three most powerful magic-users in the canon (whose power we have any measurement of) are all male (and two of them are white).

And I don’t think that, taken on her own, Cho Chang is an unbelievable character. She’s pretty dull, but she makes sense. She does fare better than she could have done, all things considered, but that still doesn’t make it good enough or prevent it from being racist, intentional or not. And the most disappointing part of it all is that I firmly believe that it absolutely was not intentional. Rowling does not strike me as somebody who looks to make anybody feel bad about themselves or marginalise them, at all. But it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

And I think that’s the main point Rachel Rostad was trying to make: white writers with the best intentions do not amount to white writers with sufficient understanding of the kind of impact their decisions may have on non-white fans. I never cared about Cho Chang as a fellow Asian because I have never seen myself as Asian to begin with. But if I did, I have to assume I’d see myself consistently not represented outside of Hong Kong cinema as anything but a token martial arts badass with next to no lines or personality, some mystical old hermit who helps some whiny white kid find self-esteem, a sexualised and most likely underage schoolgirl, or Jackie Chan. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jackie Chan, and I hardly think  I’m in the minority when I say that, but he’s Jackie Chan. He is the Token Asian. Just like Wonder Woman was, and kind of still is, the Token Woman in the all-boys’ club that is the Justice League – that’s how she’s seen, even if it’s not technically true. She is one of the only female superheroes to not be a distaff counterpart, to have a distinct backstory and set of powers, and to have avoided refrigeration. She’s still looked at to ‘represent’ her ‘side’, which is women in general. She is still Tokenised in the public eye even if she’s no longer the only woman in the DC universe to not also be a love-interest in recurring distress, and if that’s still the case after over seven decades I have to think it’s not going to go away anytime soon.

These kinds of representational prejudices are so culturally ingrained and have historically been largely unexamined (and still remain so with a lot of people) beyond vague, general declarations of believing in equality for everybody without really comprehending what that means, what it feels like to live with, and that’s only going to change when the people who don’t have to care about this stuff in order to live secure, satisfying lives make themselves start caring anyway, and realise why it is that they don’t have to – and that so many other people do.

Why I like The Hunger Games

Just finished the series, and reminded myself that I can, indeed, finish a novel in one sitting. I may write a proper review for Catching Fire and Mockingjay at some point, but that’s all specifics. The gist of what I’d want to say about them, and the series as a whole, I’m going to say now.

There is a lot that I don’t like about Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Most of that, I hate to admit, is Katniss. Though it’s for all the right reasons. She’s a well-realised character; I’m not saying I don’t like her because she’s not written well or realistically or anything – quite the opposite. I think she sums it up quite nicely herself: ‘Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly.’ It makes sense. I can’t stand her, but it’s because that’s the point. Or if it’s not the point, it really should be.

Because this is what I love about The Hunger Games: it’s about reality television, in a way I never realised until I finished reading the first book. It’s about drama. It’s about twists and turns; it’s about manipulation and exploitation, about making every little detail really count, hit home as vividly and viscerally as possible. It is sordid and twisted and disappointing.

And it’s fantastic for it.

Katniss is really, really self-centred, and I liked that about her in the first book, the fact that she was very much uninterested in any kind of rebellion or radical action against the status quo of any kind. Her self-centred attitude is not one born of callousness or narcissism, but out of fear. True, it’s not enough fear to stop her and Gale to sneak out to go hunting on pain of nasty stuff happening to them, but that’s different. She is a product of her circumstances. She isn’t a hero. I really like that about her.

It’s also what I detest about her, but in doing so I just end up liking her for it all over again. The fact that there’s a war going on, the fact that there’s this tyrannical regime making life miserable for everybody and all she can think about most of the time is whether she’s worthy of Peeta or Gale’s affection, how horrible it is that she has to decide whether to let Peeta die or save the Capitol – it’s just so perfect. On the one hand, why the hell are these decisions being left up to a 17-year-old girl – and on the other, it’s exactly how she should think. She is a bit despicable, sometimes a lot despicable, and I really rather appreciate that.

Whether this is intentional or not is no longer of any concern to me; I have gotten very used to interrogating the values represented in books I’ve read and trying to figure out the morality of their writers, but with this series I’m sort of torn between giving it the benefit of the doubt of being a lot cleverer than I’ve heard people talking about and finding it as repellent as Twilight in many regards. Not as many regards, but even Twilight I can distantly admire for its sheer lack of restraint in the self-indulgence department. Never before have I encountered a story that was so brazenly unrealistic and driven by the promise of a ridiculous, impossible and even unethical Happy Ending, and certainly not one that achieved that ending. I can’t say I condone it, at all, but the sentiment, and the fact that it was even done, I do kinda have to appreciate. It adds a little flavour to the world.

Katniss does get really caught up in the love triangle stuff in the second two books, and it really did grate on me. I loved her obliviousness and the fact that she had other things on her mind than boys and how she felt about which one of them. By the end of Mockingjay the story just gets so depressing that I don’t actually know what drove me to finish it, but I think it was just a morbid desire to know how the hell all of this would turn out. I didn’t like the ending, the final conclusion, but I did love her fatalism leading up to her and Peeta inevitably getting together. It would have felt better if she’d been a more likeable person, but it still doesn’t feel wrong. I have to admit that this is only because people don’t always end up finding themselves dependent solely on the people who are good for them, and I can’t see how Katniss is very good for Peeta. It does seem like a very one-sided relationship. But that’s not to say I didn’t want her to have a happy ending – just a different one. Something that felt a bit more satisfying. I didn’t feel she quite deserved it.

But maybe that’s kind of the point. What does Katniss deserve, really? She’s been used and manipulated by a whole congregation of people for purposes that she cannot be expected to handle, not just given her age but just given the fact that these purposes are so twisted in and of themselves; nobody would be expected to handle it. She’s a scapegoat and a fall-guy just as much as a symbol of hope and rebellion; she becomes a brand, and all of these things are attributed to her – how brave she is, how heroic, and it all ties in with ideas about heroism and nobility and sacrifice and all the rest of it. And while you may certainly argue that she should have handled things better, is it fair to argue it? Because I don’t necessarily think it is.

I have to say, while I do certainly resonate more positively with depictions of selfless heroes who Do the Right Thing, Katniss is better than that in a very problematic way, because again, she’s not a hero. And that’s kind of the point. She makes some really selfish decisions and they have massive consequences, but putting that kind of pressure on somebody to perform to a certain moral standard, putting that much responsibility on them, and at that age and with her history and in that situation … it’s insane. It’s irresponsible. It’s immoral. She never really gets out of the Games. So even though I do feel like Peeta could have done better, it’s partly because I never quite got out of the Games, either.

Every step that these books take to paint Katniss in a certain light within the diegesis is mirrored through the story told to the reader. The Capitol decides to emphasise her romance with Peeta, so the story emphasises her love-triangle with Peeta and gale; Coin decides to make her the face of the rebellion, so the story exposes us to her every near-sighted decision, her bias and her limits and her general inability to be this iconic figure she’s supposed to be. It kinda lets you hate her.

It doesn’t feel like a victory by the end. This is partly because we don’t see the final battle, which is the thing you expect to get out of any story that features a Rebellion and an Evil Empire and some kind of final victory and defeat of the dark forces; instead we get Prim dying – which was really sad – and then Katniss being a complete wreck for the rest of the book, which is fantastic, absolutely my favourite part of Mockingjay and tied back really well to the way the story opens. The lack of a moral imperative for Katniss really is refreshing, and I wasn’t expecting it to stay that way when I got to the end of the first book and realised that she wasn’t rebelling, just trying to stay alive.

And by the end of the series, she’s not only still doing that, but I realised that she was always doing that. Even when she decided to take on the Capitol and get revenge, it was still driven by the need to survive, to endure, to just not fall completely to pieces. It’s why, I think, Mockingjay felt so comparatively shallow in places, like she was kind of swinging from one decision to the next like bars on a jungle-gym. Or it could be because I powered through it over the last 6 hours after finishing Catching Fire and decided that I needed to know what happened to dear sweet Peeta. Seriously I love that guy. I think it felt that way because it was exactly what she was doing. She was not really in control at any point, except when she had a clear focus, and it was never a long-term focus, never really well thought-out or noble or transcendent. ‘Keep Peeta alive.’ ‘Kill Snow.’ ‘Make impassioned propo.’ ‘Kiss Gale.’ These are not plans; these are life-rafts.

When I read these books, I’m faced with the amount of investment I put into this idea of the Hero archetype and the fact that Katniss just doesn’t fit what narrative convention suggests that she should, as the central protagonist. For that alone I’m glad I read these books. Her happy ending with Peeta was inevitable; I still don’t like it as much as I’d like to, but it makes sense. She gets through the chaos and she makes a life, and I think this is where she should be judged, because before that she’s already a total wreck. It’s only at the end of the book, in the epilogue, where we get a sense that she’s done any healing at all, or even any growing at all. She goes from not even considering standing up to the Capitol to being a pretty hot-blooded radical, yes, but that’s at least partially a situational thing. It takes her a long time to get on board, and even longer to commit. The opening to Mockingjay drove me insane due to how spiteful she was being, how she just didn’t seem to see that, again, according to narrative convention, District 13 was the way to go if she ever wanted to see Peeta alive – and more importantly, that there were bigger things at stake here than her confused feelings of affection for and obligation to him. Like the freedom of millions of human beings. And I mean there was the very reasonable fact that there was no guarantee that Coin would be any better than Snow (spoilers she’s not), but still, this is not the mindset of a heroic leader. This is the mindset of a self-absorbed teenager.

It’s just … it’s so good.

I don’t have to like Katniss as a person to like her as a character. And I like her a lot as a character. I like what this series has to say about the expectations that we have of our icons, of the characters presented to us and what they’re supposed to mean according to … whatever. Social expectations, gender norms, narrative convention, shared morals. As though any of those things is understandable out of context of the others.

I really like The Hunger Games because it makes me think about important things, and ask questions that I didn’t realise needed answers – or, to be more specific, questions that I thought I’d already answered for myself. And I like Katniss specifically because, really, I don’t like her at all. I can’t help but judge her, and in doing so I can’t help but judge myself, either.

Well played, Suzanne Collins. Well played.

Something to report

I’ve felt pretty guilty about not having anything to report about Tallulah over the past … almost a month now. I mean yes assignments do take precedence, but I could have planned better, and I could have gotten more done. I particularly feel guilty about it because this blog was originally started not even to talk about being a writer, but to talk about writing Tallulah specifically. I always had the idea that I’d bring in other things, but as I’ve been doing such a crap job of having anything to say about Tallulah at all that wasn’t just incessantly repeating myself, especially this year, it doesn’t feel like I’ve quite earned that privilege of moving forward yet. Trying to work on Tallulah just to get to a new phase with this blog would be absolutely ludicrous, but it does feel like that sometimes, and it makes it all the harder to actually get anything done, because it feels like it’s for the wrong reasons. And I feel that Tallulah deserves better than that.

Although on reflection I’d probably just say ‘whatever gets you to write it’. Do what works, after all. I can always go back and add in the artistic integrity later.

However, today I’ve finished revising two more chapters – the one I didn’t quite finish I’m just going to let sit, as it has instructions on what to do and I can fill them in later. Maybe later today. I’m quite eager to see how far I can get in one sitting. I have the sneaking suspicion that I could finish it all in one or two days tops, given that some of the chapters are literally just copy-pasting chunks of other chapters into new documents in a new sequence.

Being a Good Writer can get to be more of an occupation than actual writing, and that’s not healthy. The idea of a Good Writer to me is somebody who finishes what they set out for themselves to accomplish by way of writing goals and deadlines and such, somebody who reflects on what they’re writing, what they’re influenced by and what kind of message it might be sending to potential readers to have such a story presented to them, and somebody who values getting the work done over how good that work is, at least initially, able to ‘just do it’ and not only be at peace with the idea that anything can be fixed later down the line, when there’s something to work with, but who sees it as an advantage, something empowering and enabling.

And all of that is something I can turn into procrastination.

I can go: well, look at this area of my self-set standards that I’m not living up to, what a failure am I, let me just take a few hours of playing Dragon Age for the second time to deeply reflect upon said failure and allow for the germination of an intuitive solution that will sprout out of my non-interference with this idea.

Or: gosh, there’s more work not done when I determined it should be done by, how’s about I just give up altogether because if it’s not done by now, after 13 years of trying to get good and consistent at this Writing thing, what’s even the point anymore.

Or: hey, I’m a really prejudiced person with a whole bunch of unassuming biases and archaic preconceptions about other human beings, let me write about what a horrible alienating person I have become and how I can’t write anything because I don’t deserve to. Let me write the hell out of that.

It’s really bad is what I’m saying. Having the idea is not the same as getting as wrapped up in it as I am, but it does open up that opportunity for me, and perhaps because I just have a habit of trying to get out of things that I don’t absolutely, in the strictest sense of the word, have to do, I use it to shoot myself in the foot as it were. Only I don’t really see it as shooting myself in the foot, because I’ve still weaseled myself out of some kind of commitment that I’ve changed my mind about on the spur of the moment. Like I like to remind myself that I can change my mind, like if I don’t keep copping out of things I’ll lose my ability to refuse to do things, even if they’re just for me.

And that’s the thing. I don’t tend to cop out of things I say I’m going to do for other people. I may well forget, but not very often. I’m much better with commitments to others than commitments to myself. True, they’re often very different kinds of commitments, but I still feel bad about it.

Well, no, not really. I feel I should feel bad about it. Because if I don’t feel bad about it, then maybe I don’t have any urgency, maybe I don’t see my writing as important enough to be worried when it’s not happening. Except that trying to make myself worry for the appearance of the thing isn’t actually doing anything to get me to care any more about it.

The really difficult thing to get your head around is that the thing that makes you care only happens while you’re doing it. Not before. It doesn’t pick you up and put you in the right place at the right time, but meets you when you get there. And sometimes only a bit after. It’s a retrospective act, getting satisfaction out of writing. Like most things, really. It’s getting it done that makes it worth it, not building up to it.

Because I feel good about those two chapters. They took almost no effort, even given that I wrote 2104 new words today for one of them, which is over my former daily quota for Tallulah. It all just came together; it was easy. And I keep asking myself why I can’t remember how easy it was, how effortless and painless the process is when I actually get down to business, and why I’m not happier with that, more content to just have that as an incentive to do it.

And my conclusion has to be that it’s because it’s just not enough incentive. Maybe even the incentive only comes afterwards. Once I’m done, then I’ll feel motivated, then I’ll feel like my time with this project is well-spent. For now, all I get is the lukewarmness of ‘painless’ work, and yes, the satisfaction I take in looking back and having evidence that I’ve done some work, ticked off a couple more boxes, somewhat reduced the workload to come.

I think it also has to do with the way I approach and invent stories nowadays, especially compared to how I used to, but that’s for another post. For now, I’ve revised two chapters.

That’s not bad. That’s great, actually.

I will go and do some more.

And I’m expecting to have a new plan and another revision after this one, probably just as slapdash, but I don’t know that. I’m looking forward to it, because it feels better than my current plan, but maybe it’s not. Or maybe it will be, but not until after I’ve finished this one.

In any case, it’s nice to have something to report at last. Here’s to more of that.