Two Years Well Spent

Yesterday, I met up with a friend of mine, and did some writing.

Is it 2012 again? This is a strange feeling. I … like this. I feel good about this thing that happened that I did.

Weird.

Not just writing; Writing. And by Writing, I really do mean that capital “W”; this was Writing in the purest sense of the word, where I spent the majority of the time reading in order to make notes, said notes intended to be minimal but quickly swelling into miniature rants about whatever trivial detail I inevitably fixated on every few paragraphs, and then completely switched to making notes about a new project that I had come up with on the spur of the moment.

It was awesome.

And the best part?

The thing I was Writing was Tallulah.

It was important to me – and still is – it was serious work that I wanted to get done, and I just couldn’t help it. I had to be a Writer.

It was glorious.

And it feels great to get back into the zone, which is not only where all the things happen, but where all the things happen. Work will get done; work will be put off. Procrastination will happen, get overcome and happen again. Progress will build momentum, and to celebrate said momentum every single distraction that could possibly take place will, in fact, take place.

It’s a thing of beauty. I have said, over and over again, that I am no longer a Writer. But that was then, and this is now, and I realise that either of those extremes is, well, too extreme. I am and am not a Writer, because while that’s not all I am, it’s definitely something that I am, and it is an all-consuming something – until it’s not.

It’s like that one cardinal rule of writing, the one that I have held to from the start of this blog and continue to hold after so many of my beliefs, habits and attitudes have been challenged and changed over the past five years: you have to commit absolutely to your plan, and you have to reserve the right to completely change your mind about it at a moment’s notice. It’s both. There is no middle-ground; there is no synthesis. It’s both, at once, all the time. And that, I now realise, is how I feel about being a writer – I am until I’m not, and I’m not until I am.

Also I’m really kind of excited about this random new project; it’s more werewolves, but because I’ve been reading all those urban fantasy books, this is a shitty urban fantasy werewolf novel, as opposed to my shitty YA werewolf novel, which technically was also urban fantasy but whatever. What I’m most excited about was simply how easily and quickly ideas for books came to mind almost the second I came up with the premise; there was almost nothing to think about. The only issue that, honestly, I will never write it because I don’t have the energy to put into it – whereas I’m starting to backtrack on my stance on my shitty YA werewolf novel, which might actually become a Thing now. It would be started over from scratch, my main character would either be pretty heavily altered or just removed altogether because he’s an insufferable piece of shit, and … I dunno. I think I might actually shift it a little more towards what I’ve heard referred to as “mid-grade” books, like young adult books – Animorphs comes to mind most readily, and Tomorrow When the War Began. Even though I wasn’t the biggest advocate of that second book, I did like the dynamic of having a relatively large cast of core characters who all go through the Inciting Incident together, as opposed to what generally happens in heroic narratives where it’s just one orphan farmboy who receives the Call to Adventure. I’m feeling an ensemble, in other words, and I think this werewolf thing could work really well in that regard. Much better than this random urban fantasy thing that I like thinking about and planning but feel absolutely no passion to actually write.

Also – I do actually want to continue working on Tallulah, now that I’ve finally picked it up again after 2 years. I made not very much progress the other day, but it was a start, and a start is all I need to get going. I think the best way to go about this is to not think, at all, about what comes next. I’m just going to make a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, because that’s what I’m currently doing – and then, we’ll see.

Either way, I do think that I needed those 2 years for other things. Something wasn’t working, and now – well, something is. I don’t know what; I don’t think it’s the thing I was hoping would start working when I decided to take the break initially, but it’s enough. I’ll take it.

And I’ve also realised that, if I’m going to make mistakes and learn from them, I would actually rather do it with things that I care about, instead of “safe” options – Tallulah is something that I care about a lot, and part of the initial reasoning behind writing my shitty YA werewolf novel was the idea that I could use it as my “test” book, the one I’d actually shop around and go through the process of finding an agent, writing query letters, all that stuff. But it’s not the thing that I care about, and if everything does go well, it’s not the kind of work I want to be known for – not at first, anyway. I’m honestly not sure that Tallulah is that work either, but I do care more about it, and out of the two projects it is the one that I would most like to be published. I could fail with either of them, and it would be kind of heartbreaking either way. But if I succeeded, there’s only one of them that I really want to make that journey with. So I’m going to give that my best shot.

And the next time I decide to take a 2 year break from something I really care about, I at least know that I can have a lot of fun doing something that I don’t really care about in the interim, which I might end up caring about after all. I feel that’s a valuable lesson.

2 years well spent indeed.

Changes here and there

I have been “off” facebook for, I think, about 6 months now. It feels exactly the same as being “on” facebook, from an emotional standpoint, except for the fact that I no longer feel that clingy addiction-buzz that I used to get when I was a user. I like how the word “user” has a double-meaning here. Convenient.

I have also quit WOW relatively recently; it hasn’t even been a full month yet, and again, it feels emotionally around about the same.

It’s not the same, though, and that’s good.

To make up for these pasttimes, I have been picking up others – not new ones, not really, but they feel pretty new. Specifically, I’ve been reading.

Even more specifically, I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and the Dark Swan series by Richelle Mead. Do I have problems with them? Fuck yes. I could – and maybe will – write several long, ranty-ass opinion pieces about them when I’m through, or when my problems become so intense that I can’t keep myself from venting any longer.

But goddamn, I need this. I need so badly to be reading, a lot, and without any designs to write revies about them. I enjoyed my YA kick a few years ago, but at least part of that was motivated by an urge to gather material for this blog. This blog really hasn’t seen much use from me lately – or it feels like that at least. Mostly because I’m not writing as much. Maybe writing a whole book plus a whole MA manuscript has taken it out of me more than I realise. Whatever the reason, I no longer feel that urge to create content for this blog, which means that it’s inevitably growing stagnant and stale. And I’m okay with that, but it’s not exactly a winning formula for running a blog. I’m okay with that too, though.

Mostly because I’m enjoying what I’m doing currently, more than I’ve been enjoying much of anything for quite a while. It’s nice to just read, and these books especially facilitate that activity – problematic content abound, but fuck are these things easy to get through. It’s a similar feeling to binge-watching, only with less of an effort on my part. No need for an internet connection or to even sit upright to enjoy this media; all I have to do is just lie there and let it happen.

Speaking of which – yeah, I think I will have to at least give an overview of these books at some point. Particularly the Dark Swan series with regard to my above innuendo.

Fuck it I’ll do it now SPOILER WARNING.

While reading Storm Born today, I literally asked myself out loud how this could possibly be the premise of a book, and wondered much earlier how this was even possibly published. Not because it’s badly-written, obviously; this shit is not high literature but it’s designed to be readable, and that is a form of good writing. No, it’s because I have never come across a book – or any media product – so obsessed with rape, and handling the topic with all the thoughtfulness and tact of a comments section. And yes, that is hyperbole, but if you’ve read it you may be able to appreciate my use of it here.

Then there’s The Dresden Files, and while the issue there is more general, insidious, “no that’s just how the character thinks it’s totally not really actually sexism actually” sexism, it’s bad enough by book 3 – Grave Peril, for those interested – that it’s almost enough to make me stop reading.

Almost.

Because both of these series, again, are remarkably readable. It’s kind of hilarious, in a depressing way, what I will actually tolerate content-wise if it’s delivered in comfortable enough prose. Like Harry Dresden in Grave Peril, for instance: by the end of the book he’s basically a full-on mass murderer, and all that happens is that he feels bad about it, kinda, for a little bit, a pain that is quickly superseded by that of his girlfriend – who has been bitten by and is on the verge of turning into a vampire and suffering the psychological, physical and emotional consequences of it – breaking up with him. Man, poor Harry. He has it so hard.

It’s gross.

It’s also gross in Storm Born how main character Eugene becomes the target of every male Otherworld entity because of a prophecy concerning her child reigning in the Otherworld’s conquest of the human world. You know how in typical urban fantasy novels, the action sequences generally revolve around trying to get information out of supernatural beings or avoiding being killed by them? Here, the action sequences are all sexual assaults. Every single fucking one.

And then, Eugene enters into a weird contract-based relationship with Fae lord Dorian, wherein she will make out with him in public and make all the other Fae think she’s sleeping with him in exchange for 1) him teaching her how to use her latent Fae powers (she’s half Fae, specifically half-the-most-powerful-fae-to-ever-live), and 2) getting all – or at least most – of her would-be rapists off her back for fear of reprisal from Dorian. During his training, he ties her up to chairs a lot, for the purposes of forcing her to focus her thoughts to control her powers. Of course, she finds this secretly really hot, while being put off by the fact that he’s Fae and she’s been raised to see his kind as marauding rapist monsters that she’s trained to kill. They make out a couple of times, and both times she feels an instinctual urge to stop, and blames herself for feeling like she wants to stop. Literally, she asks herself why she can’t just force herself to fuck him despite her instinctual urge to not do so, in the same way you might ask yourself why you never really appreciated your ex while you were still together.

Because, you see, she finds him tying her up to be quite exciting, and even though she doesn’t trust him while they’re making out, she does trust him when he ties her up, and this is conflicting for her.

And then they do actually fuck, and the way she gets herself to do it is by telling him to tie her up. Her inner monologue informs us that this is because she wants the decision taken out of her hands. Dorian, to his credit – or something like credit anyway – does ask her to tell him what to do and not do, they have pretty vanilla kinky bondage sex, she likes it.

AND THEN she next day she feels bad, because after all of these other Fae dudes trying to rape her, she “gave in” and “submitted” and “what does this say about me” and, like, yeah that’s actually a nice bit of character-work and I appreciate it. It works, it makes sense, it feels real. I always appreciate that.

What I do NOT appreciate is that fucking DORIAN is the one to then go on a big rant about what does and does not constitute rape. And that’s where I’m up to, because whatever kind of deal I need to make with myself in order to read beyond this point, I have yet to make it.

The bit that really gets me is when he says this: “rape is brutal.” The general patronising tone is bad enough, but this?

It’s just untrue.

Rape is horrific, but it’s not always brutal. Sometimes it’s soft and gentle. Doesn’t make it any less horrific; probably makes it more horrific in some cases. But it does make it fall outside of the narrative parameters that we have set up around rape, particulary what does and doesn’t count. And look, I’ve become a lot more tolerant of problematic shit just from reading these 3 books; I don’t have any less of a problem with it on a moral level, but I can get through it for the sake of enjoying myself overall. Hell, even Storm Born falls into that category. And at the very least, Dorian wraps up with an important point: if there’s consent, it’s not rape, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of having the kind of sex you like as long as there is consent.

I might be able to appreciate this more if it wasn’t … I mean, Richelle Mead is a woman, so this maybe doesn’t count as mansplaining in a literal sense, but … no. This is mansplaining. And not just mansplaining; it’s mansplaining rape, to a woman, who spends the entire fucking book fighting off potential rapists. And this dude is the main love interest.

Even so, I’ll take him over Kiyo, the red-herring love interest. At least he doesn’t mansplain rape; but he is a whingy, jealous, manipulative liar. There’s actually a serious level of Edward/Jacob mirroring going on here; Kiyo is not only the Ethnic One (Japanese), and therefore obviously not the proper love-interest, but he turns into a giant fox. Bigger than normal foxes. And he’s primal and aggressive and made of sex, whereas Dorian is refined and elegant and pretty and has pale fucking skin and OH MY GOD HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS UNTIL NOW, UNCLEAN, UNCLEEEAAANNN …

I have said that I prefer Jacob to Edward multiple times, but not to the point where I’d rather Bella had ended up with him instead. Neither of them deserved her; and while she’s a pretty shitty person, she’s at least a shitty person who could potentially amount to something better if given the chance, like some decent friends or role-models. I feel similarly about Jacob, but not Edward. He’s a lost cause, and it’s the lost cause part that makes me prefer Dorian to Kiyo. Kiyo reminds me of Clayton from Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, which I also wrote a sort-of review about a while back. Not because he’s a literal rapist, which Clayton is, but because he’s played up to be sexy based on the fact that he’s so primal and animalistic. But that same animalistic nature is what also makes him feel extremely “set”, unable to change. Dorian, I feel, could learn to stop fucking mansplaining and become a better charming asshole. But Kiyo would surprise me if he proved capable of learning a sex position other than missionary or, of course, doggy-style. (How Richelle Mead kept herself from making that joke after 4 sex scenes between Eugene and Kiyo, I do not know.) And in the end, even a character who fucks me off tremendously will escape the full extent of my ire if I feel there is any potential for redemption, and Kiyo doesn’t have that potential.

Having said all of this, I am still going to finish not just this book, but the whole series – it’s a four-parter, so it’s not that much to get through, and I have to admit I’m just kind of morbidly curious. Not to see the ending; thanks to goodreads I’ve had that spoiled and, well, I’m hardly surprised. But just to see how it plays out.

And because, at the end of the day, readability is the most important aspect of these books for me. I fucking read Beautiful Creatures in one fucking day, and that’s not a short book, nor is it written even half as well as Dark Swan or The Dresden Files. But it was utterly captivating, and right now I just want to be captivated. Perhaps there is higher-quality captivating media that I could be consuming – but honestly, I don’t care if there is. Not yet, anyway. I can feel my internal reserve of tolerance for this shit waning, but until it’s gone completely I’m sticking it out, because it is fun. I am having a good time. And that’s more important to me than critical thinking right now.

Just hopefully not forever.

But what’s really important to me is that, while the specifics will always have issues, on the whole I can feel a shift in my life and how I feel about it – something has changed within me; something is not the same. And I’m down with that.

 

Options

I finished reading my shitty YA werewolf novel last night, and have come to a pretty solid conclusion: no way in the hell am I ever, ever going to try and make something out of this thing.

It began life as a glorious writing exercise passion project, and that is how it should end its life as well. Especially having read it. There’s so much that’s set up and then never paid off, so many unfulfilled promises, and it’s not like they’re even good promises to begin with but it just hurts. The ridiculous awfulness of those first early chapters was pretty great, and throughout the manuscript there’s a few moments here and there that I legitimately think have potential to be part of something actually pretty decent. But once I got to the chapters that I wrote during Nanowrimo 2015 – the ones I skipped ahead to write instead of slogging through the info-dump chapters I didn’t feel like writing at the time – it all just kind of descends into garbage.

And it’s salvageable. I just don’t want to salvage it. Not for any reason, really, other than that I simply don’t want to. I mean specifically it’s because the central conflict is so weak and ever-shifting, the central relationship between the main character and his best friend so indecisive and self-contradictory, that it is both very simple to fix and incredibly annoying to fix. It’s a lot of pedantic busy-work, hopping between chapters and trying to match up two different continuities so that it all gels together. If I actually gave a shit about this thing, it would be easy enough.

But I really, really don’t – other than as what it currently is, which is a testament to a year and a half of my life being spent in the pursuit of starting and finishing a book, proof that even after the passion is gone, I can get the work done (and in this case, done better than when the passion was actually there). It’s proof that if I just write, no matter how I feel about that writing at the time of writing it, I can actually produce something pretty decent.

Having said that I don’t want to salvage this thing – there are some ideas that I’m actually pretty into, lore and shit that I came up with for this world that I’m a little bit sad to let go of. Not that it was particularly good lore, but still, I did put some time and energy into it. I liked how it all fit together. I liked the overarching plot that I had for the next 4 books, and I’m also kind of sad to let that go.

On the other hand, now that this is done and dusted, I now have the opportunity to write the original idea that I had for this werewolf passion project, which was very different to this – the core premise (werewolves) was the same, and the broad plot points were as well, but it was a very different story. Most notably it was not a YA story. I’m honestly not sure I’m cut out for YA. But maybe that’s something for revisions to take care of.

On the other other hand … I did what I set out to do. The book is finished; the writing exercise is completed. I think it’s time, at last, to get back to business. I needed this reprieve from serious work, and a more frivolous counterweight to my MA, and it served both of those purposes well for a long time.

But in the end, it was a distraction from the work I’ve been putting off for 2 years now: finishing Tallulah. I was going insane trying to wrap my head around the second revision; I think now is at least a good time to test the water and see if I’ve had enough time away from it to come back with a fresh perspective. I have a solution to the biggest plot issue I’ve been having with Tallulah from day 1 as well, and I would really like to put that into action.

It’s just that it’s so much work. It was enough work to put me off for 2 years, to start an entirely new book just to take my mind off it. I’m kind of dreading starting it up again.

So, actually, maybe I could just go and fix a couple of typos in this shitty YA werewolf thing first.

And I guess, really, those continuity errors wouldn’t be too hard to sort out. A day’s work, maybe, once I have a solid idea of which continuity I actually want to pursue.

And I guess I could add in a couple of scenes that feel like they’re missing. I mean there is potential here. It could be something relatively solid. It would just take time. And if there’s one thing I definitely have these days, it’s time.

So maybe I’ll do that. Maybe I’ll just touch it up a bit, and then get started on Tallulah again.

In fact, why the rush? I wanted something to submit for publishing by the end of this year, but it doesn’t have to be Tallulah, does it? I mean maybe I can put Tallulah off for another year, get this thing out the door and then use the time to polish Tallulah to the standard I’ve always wanted it to meet.

And hey, maybe I’ll start another new book too. I mean, you can never have too many things going on at once creatively, right? Hell, maybe Tallulah was just a writing exercise too, I mean the entire reason I was motivated to write it was because it was unlike anything I’d ever written or even thought about writing before; that’s weird enough to count as a writing project instead of an actual book project in retrospect, right?

I don’t actually have to go back and get started on the third draft that I don’t know where to start with, right?

Right. I can just write about werewolves some more. Werewolves today, werewolves tomorrow; werewolves forever.

I DON’T WANNA WRITE A THIRD FUCKING DRAFT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IT’S SO FUCKING HARD IT’S LIKE I’VE FIXED ALL THE BIG OBVIOUS PROBLEMS AND NOW IT’S ALL TINY SUBTLE PROBLEMS THAT ARE HARD TO IDENTIFY AND FIND SOLUTIONS TO AND JUST ALL THE OTHER THINGS I COULD BE DOING WITH MY TIME I CAN’T FUCKING TAKE IT I CAN’T GO BACK THERE DON’T MAKE ME GO BACK THERE PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME

So Bright, So Beautiful

So I’ve decided to continue reading over my shitty YA werewolf novel manuscript. The description holds. Oh boy, does it hold.

But because of the order in which I wrote the chapters, two of the earlier ones are also two of the newest ones, and the change in tone and style shows quite strongly – the writing is better, the focus is clearer, and while I wrote these chapters in a real creative slump when I had no particular passion left for this project, these are, so far anyway, the best chapters in the book.

Especially the one I’m reading now, the Diagon Alley chapter, if you like, where our hero learns about the new world he’s stumbled into. It makes me really proud of this festering mound of refuse I have shat out of my brain, because it reads almost exactly like every other bad YA paranormal novel I’ve ever read …

Because I’m rooting for the bad guy.

And it’s exactly the same as actual published books I’ve read; this is of publishable quality, in that sense, and yes that is a real moral concern. But it’s also genuinely beautiful to behold, and for the first time makes me really feel proud of what I’ve accomplished here. In particular, I adore the fact that the bad guy, who is supposed to come across as domineering, arrogant and bullying, instead comes across as completely in the right for doing everything he’s done up to this point. Specifically, everything he’s done that has upset the main character, who is a whinging little shitstain that I want to see run over by a car and smeared across the highway like a tub of paint. Sure, the bad guy could probably do with some honest feedback about some of his behaviour, but all in all he’s not the one coming off as the problem. And that includes him shooting the main character with a gun at point-blank range.

I am that fucking good.

It’s awful; it’s despicable; and it’s the best fucking thing I’ve ever done in my life. I am so, so happy. I can’t even.

I might actually consider revising this book and, like, doing something with it, turning it into an actual writing project instead of just a writing exercise that got way out of hand. There’s something here. Passionless though I may have been during the second half of the time it took me to finish this thing, I think my writing might actually have improved because of it. And that seems like a valuable lesson that I shall strive to actually remember for future reference.

In the meantime, back to reading. I genuinely hope that it gets worse from here.