Weekly Words 23-29/09/2018

26/09/18: 960

I think I’ve figured out why I can’t seem to make myself do things that I feel like doing.

I mean, besides talking about myself like some kind of unwieldy object that I have to manipulate into various positions for maximum feng shui or something – up until about 20 seconds ago, I was on my laptop, half-watching youtube, and also had my PS4 on, quarter-browsing movies because I never saw Solo in theatres (and at the time of writing there doesn’t seem to be an option to rent it, which is irritating). I’m not really doing either of these things – not committing. Look at me having continuity and shit.

I’m also not committing to doing something enjoyable, like playing one of several games I’ve bought over the past months because they were on sale and I’ve been interested in them for a while (never mind the ones I bought with the PS4 at full price because hey Christmas), or something productive, like reading Mark and Jessie’s Christmas like I keep telling myself – and anyone who actually reads this blog, which I wish I could somehow get statistics on – I need to and will do.

And it’s because I know that, if I start playing one of those games let’s say, I will have made the decision to not do something more productive, like read Mark and Jessie’s Christmas, and if I read Mark and Jessie’s Christmas, I will have started on the path to doing things that I can’t feel enthusiastic about because it feels like an obligation and it won’t stop with just my self-appointed mission for this month/year; it will be an endless slippery slope of expectations that I have of myself that I feel incapable of meeting.

Whereas if I sit in between two screens cluttered with tasks that I don’t ever have to fully commit to, I can remain on the edge of making either of those decisions; I can be just about to make those decisions forever. Which, somehow, makes me feel like I’m meeting my quota of “doing stuff” without actually, y’know, doing it. I assume it’s some kind of internal nervous process that operates on the principle of “it’s the thought that counts”.

This is stupid.

And now that that’s out of the way: Slice of Cherry (not “A Slice of Cherry” as I said in my last post) was an overall satisfying read, and while it didn’t delight (or bother) me as much as Bleeding Violet, it did make me question why, exactly, the depiction of a girl living with bipolar disorder in Bleeding Violet troubled me more than the depiction of two girls who literally go around abducting and murdering people in Slice of Cherry. My first response to this question was a moralistic chorus of assorted talking heads saying “we are all desensitised to death and violence because media”, which yes is probably true. We all feel pretty well-qualified to discuss death, joke about death, and in art represent death – but should we? Murderers in particular, I think, are such a trope in fiction that it feels very strange to even consider that there might be a problem with depicting them in certain ways in fiction because there are also real-life murderers. Then again, I felt uneasy enough watching just one episode of Dexter that it put me off the rest of the series (which by all accounts sounds like the sort of idea I might have for a character and story, projection much), so perhaps I care more about the representation of killers than my largely positive reaction to Slice of Cherry would suggest.

Speaking of killing: I’ve finally continued reading Mark and Jessie, and even finished a chapter – it finishes with the characters getting to the part of the story that I’ve been waiting to get to, because I remember it being, if not good, then at least considerably less shit than the rest of it, and dear god the shit I had to read in order to get to this point, it was like I left it there as a test to my own fortitude when I inevitably came back to read it over for revision purposes. There are characters in this book who kill … not other characters, really, but fictional people who exist in the same book as them. It’s done really badly. I hate this fucking book. The book, not the story. The story is great, but in its current form it is told so thoroughly badly that, once again, I am questioning whether or not it is even worth reading back over this thing to try and salvage any of it …

But I feel that I have gotten to the part of the story that is worth salvaging at long last, and that there is some writing to follow that I may actually want to preserve in the form of a copy-and-paste. Only one way to find out.

And in the meantime – I actually wrote something today. One of my numerous projects that I’ve been picking up and putting down all year, one that I really want to get going but keep stalling on. I just got rid of the stall – a third chapter that ran full-speed into a brick wall – and now, while I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have momentum, the runway is at least clear. I’m looking forward to the flight.

27/09/18: 1015

This is nice.

Weekly Total: 3126

Not this week, no precious, not this week!

And that’s cool. I went to a marae over the weekend for Youthline and it was intense, overwhelming, and very emotionally reward. However, what meager sleep schedule I have managed to cobble together over the years has been thoroughly destroyed, and the last time I got this little sleep despite being tired was when I woke up with some kind of stomach bug this time last week. Which still isn’t quite gone, I don’t think; I don’t feel sick anymore, but there’s still some gastro issues haunting me.

Also thoroughly destroyed are my writing aspirations for this week. All of my energy went into recovering from the bug, then straight into having lots of anxiety about the upcoming marae event, then into the actual marae event which, while positive and personal-growth-inducing and all the rest of it, made it very impossible to give energy to anything else while it was going on.

And like I say, that’s cool. Writing is an ongoing goal of mine because it feels good when I write things that I want to write. I got other things that felt good done this week, including finishing reading my 2 library books (Hex Hall was rather enjoyable, got the sequels in transit from the library) – and hey, the writing that I did accomplish felt good, too. It’s going good.

And it’s also light out for me, perhaps for the next couple of days. Return to me, electrolytes …

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Weekly Words 12-18/08/2018

Weekly Total: 0

I haven’t written anything this week, intend to continue writing nothing this week, and it feels very correct indeed.

I’m not sure quite what the trigger was for me making this decision, but I actually think it was less of a trigger and more of suddenly realising that I’m really fucking exhausted. Like, okay, a bit embarrassing, I life about the most sedentary lifestyle it is possible for a person to live without being forced to do so by morbid obesity, but ever since that first panic-induced marking frenzy earlier this year – to be frank, I don’t think I’ve recovered. Not my energy, but my habits, my focus, my stability. I haven’t really taken the time to actually re-settle myself, get back into a healthy groove. I spent all of that time doing things that I was obligated to do, and since then have spent pretty much no time on myself.

And no, moping and feeling sorry for myself and fretting and procrastination does not count as “me time”, for what are hopefully obvious reasons. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am shit at self-care, and that is what this week has been about – or, it has been since yesterday, when after Youthline I realised I had gone 4 days without writing and that it felt good, and I was so tired after Youthline that I slept in until 12:45 PM this afternoon and it felt even gooder.

Which tells me that, at least for a little while, this is what I need.

And I’ve done some other things, anyway, important things. I completed my first mentor shift at Youthline, where I answered texts sent by real-life people and everything. No phone calls, because I probably would have had a heart attack, but the experience, while exhausting, was also incredibly empowering, and if I wanted a change from the morbid doldrums of last week then this was definitely a good start. I’ve spent this week feeling pretty optimistic, though also more aware of when I get tired; I can feel myself starting to nod off around 7 PM, and I’ve decided to start rolling with it – not to sleep, but to chill.

And by doing so, I finally finished Graceling, a book that I bought for myself 5 years ago (to memory) and, after reading 1 chapter, refused to finish it, despite having paid money to own it. Well, I’ve read it now, and while I can’t say I’m richer for the experience or that I’ve experienced any personal growth directly attributed to the content of the story itself, I do feel better about myself – and more competent at the whole self-care thing. After all, while I think my Urban Fantasy kick is well and truly over, it did put me back in touch with my love of reading, and I have to say that Graceling was actually a bit more of a challenging read than most of the UF I’ve read so far. Well, challenging in a way that I like. There have definitely been UF books that were more challenging, but not in a way that made me think so much as a way that made me recoil in anguish and horror and want to throw them across the room but stopped myself from doing it because they’re library books and also I don’t want to destroy my house because I read a shitty book.

Though to be clear, saying that Graceling made me think is a bit … strong. More accurately, Graceling proved to me that even a book that doesn’t quite successfully tell a story and has a truly toxic “romance” at its core can still have good points, and how frustrating that reading experience can be. It also proved to me that, yes, I really do love reading, because even reading Graceling was satisfying enough.

Okay I’m being a bit mean, and reflecting on most of my book reviews, honestly, I am quite glad that I haven’t done many over the past few years. I think I have the training – on paper at least – to be conduct critical analysis on texts, but not the temperament. I want to be harsh and shitty and make jokes at the author’s expense, because I’m just a bit of a tool. And I think that’s okay, honestly – I just don’t think, knowing this about myself, that I absolutely need to publish these personal expressions of my opinion to the internet.

Also there’s just not much I’d want to say about Graceling. I read it, it wasn’t great but there were good parts – I particularly liked Bitterblue, and if the whole book had been about her I would have been rather more enthusiastic – and at the end of the day, I feel satisfied that I not only got a book read and unlocked today’s downtime achievement, but also that I honoured a deal that I made with myself to start reading through books that I actually own before continuing to binge on library books.

However, I do rather enjoy the snarkings of other critics, and have been revisiting Reading With A Vengeance, which I used to frequent much more often when I actually, like, did things online, instead of just blogging and drowning out the noise in my head with endless DBFZ videos on Youtube. This has been another part of my downtime activity since I decided literally yesterday that I needed more self-care time, and it reminds me of that time I declared that I wanted to embark on an “internet world tour” some years ago – basically, to explore the internet and see just what, exactly, is out there. To be interested in things again would be an awfully big adventure. Also potentially a way to combat my rather uncurious attitude – I’ve always been aware of it, to some extent, the fact that I hear about all these writers who are known for being observant and getting really excited about little interactions that they happen to observe, people’s tics and patterns of speech and whatever other minutia us writers are supposed to be fucking junkies for, and I’m just not. But it extends to every area of my life, not just writing, and let’s just say that depression and social anxiety have not helped this habit to abate, exactly.

And as happy as I was to finish a book today and hop into bed when I felt myself drowsing out, I also want a wider range of self-care options to choose from than just “read something” and “play games I don’t really enjoy until I finally give up on finding any scrap of enjoyment at around 4 AM and fail to sleep due to over-stimulation”.

I think the main issue is that I tend to want to have multiple forms of stimulation going on at once. For instance, as I write this I have a Spotify playlist playing – I almost always have music playing, no matter what I’m doing, and a couple of years ago it was podcasts instead. I think this stems from growing up when “the internet” was a new and exciting invention, and particularly how much stuff I could find there – music in particular. I could find it, hoard it, yes I was a teenager in the early 2000’s you can figure out what I was doing. The point is that I was presented with this glut of stuff to do with as I would, too much to know what to do with, and I imagine that much like people who suddenly come into a lot of money they just want to use it all, because it’s so new and exciting and theirs, and they want to indulge in the sheer sensation of their ownership over it. All restraint goes out the window, and before you know it some very unhealthy, and potentially lifelong habits have been formed. I listen to music not because I always want to be listening to music, but because back in the day the way I tried to cope with the overwhelming availability of music was to find as many ways as I could to fit it into my everyday life, driven by a strange “use it or lose it” anxiety brought on by the fact that I could never actually run out. I dunno, brains are weird.

But that can go on the self-care list: one thing at a time. One thing that I enjoy as a downtime activity at a time. So rather than music and a book, one or the other, that sort of thing. Because I want to enjoy things more. I want to appreciate them more. And I imagine that requires focus, mental bandwidth that I have been trying to stretch between too many things at once. To the point where, like, the very idea of listening to a podcast and not doing something else at the same time gives me fucking anxiety.

All of this and more is why this week off writing is so important for me.

But also, I feel like I’ve gotten to a place with my writing where I don’t need Weekly Words every single week in order to keep up momentum – I feel like I’ve got a good enough foundation with it that I can fit in breaks and not have it completely demolish my momentum. Not so much that I feel confident about taking, say, 2 weeks off, but 1 I think will be not only perfectly fine but also pretty damn advisable, given that there are a lot of things that have been happening with me this year that I know I haven’t really made the time to properly, responsibly process.

As for saying that there will be no writing this week – that’s how I feel right now. It could change. I might mark it up next week or something; but for this week, my aim is that getting writing done is not the goal I want to have accomplished by the end of it. My goal is to get centered again, find a bit of the clarity and focus that I feel like I’ve been missing for a very long time, and make a list of all the things that helped me get there so that I can replicate the results.

And read. Lots. Hopefully lots of good stuff.

Good Reads

Well, it’s happened. I have finished reading the latest book series I picked up: the Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn, which is 14 books long, or 15 if you count the collection of assorted short stories set in the Kittyverse, which I did in fact read. This makes it a tie for first place in terms of the longest book series I’ve ever read, alongside the still-ongoing Dresden Files series.

And now, I am faced with the prospect of having Nothing To Read – which is a lie, a blatant falsehood that shall condemn my eternal soul to the burning depths of hell for my audacity to commit such base treachery to legible script; but that’s how it feels. And why? Why does it feel that way, when I still have about a dozen books that I bought during my undergrad days and never got around to even looking at, when I still have Presents of Christmas Past sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for their cue to play out, when I still have the lovely birthday present gifted to me by my co-writing buddy about the Napoleonic Wars but with dragons?

It’s because I don’t know what I’m in for with any of them. It’s the unknown. In short, it is because I am not prepared.

Preparedness has been a real theme for me this year – specifically, not having it, and learning to deal with it, or alternatively learning how many ways I can screw myself over by not dealing with it healthily. But I think when the prospect of reading a goddamn book is enough to get my anxiety up, it’s not just a theme: it’s a neurotic comedy. Or tragedy, if you happen to be the main character, which in this case I do. Tragicomedy, perhaps, because it is kind of funny how histrionic my reactions are to the circumstances of my own existence.

And yes, before you ask, I absolutely blame Urban Fantasy for this weakness of readerly fortitude. Before Urban Fantasy – and specifically YA Urban Fantasy, because my YA kick led pretty much directly into my current UF kick – I could read pretty much anything. I didn’t, because if there’s anything else I’ve learnt about myself this year it’s that I suck at doing things that I want to do because they terrify me, like reading fucking books … sigh. You get the point. I had a less sensitive palette; I was able to ingest various and sundry literature and not worry too much about what I was going to get out of it – in fact I daresay that was part of the fun.

But then YA came along, and to memory every single one of the books I picked up to read I found eminently readable, even and perhaps Beautiful Creatures, a problematic book for which I wrote a problematic review, many moons ago, but I can unambiguously state that it was one of the most grotesquely engaging reads I have ever had the displeasure of enjoying. I would say that actually the YA books I read were often more challenging reads than most of the Urban Fantasy I’ve come across. I’m particularly thinking of Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (but not the sequel), Dia Reeves’s Bleeding Violet (which I wrote a review for and then deleted it because I was speeding way out of my lane), Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover (read before my YA kick, one of the few books I’m glad I was forced to read for university study), Cate Tiernan’s Sweep (I think it counts as Urban Fantasy?), and every single thing I have read by Holly Black. All of them tackle pretty complex issues and – as far as I can tell – handle them fairly maturely and respectfully (though again, I don’t really have the knowledge to comment on Bleeding Violet in that regard, as it deals with bipolar disorder), and all are written with skill. There were definitely others written with less skill and less, I dunno, quality? But they were all very readable, and I ended up reading some really powerful stories during that time.

When I made the jump to UF, it was mostly because I had read the first book in the Dresden Files series, been pretty skeeved out by a lot of it while simultaneously thoroughly entertained in a summer blockbuster kind of way, and decided I’d give it another chance. After reading several different authors in the genre, I can say two things.

1) The Dresden Files is not representative of the genre. It’s an odd duck. Anybody who says The Dresden Files is the gold standard of Urban Fantasy has no fucking idea what Urban Fantasy actually is – they’re extremely competent and engaging books, and I’d definitely recommend them (with a few reservations), but they are simply not representative of the genre. It’s sort of like if somebody says that Star Wars is the gold standard of science fiction – I certainly agree that it’s good, but if you know your sci-fi, you also know that Star Wars is very much an exception to the rule.

2) Urban Fantasy is, bar none, the easiest genre to read that I have ever come across. Part of that is, I have to say, a lack of surprises. I know exactly what I’m getting with Urban Fantasy: a tough-as-nails heroine with relatable quirks, such as a thing for bad boys and a serious martyr complex; alpha male creatures of the night who won’t take no for an answer because they know she really means yes please shoot me now; a dearth of supporting female characters who aren’t in some way antagonistic towards the heroine; a paranormal/supernatural kitchen sink; and most importantly – also the main reason for why The Dresden Files should not be considered representative of the genre – a primary focus on social politics, particularly with regards to gender, sexuality, and relationships, as well as different supernatural factions that tend to serve as metaphors for different cultures and ethnicities.

There are no surprises in Urban Fantasy, and this is ultimately the thing that is both the best about the genre, and the worst. It’s reliable, trustworthy – it’s safe. But that very sense of security and predictability that I get from Urban Fantasy is what has turned it into a crutch for me; it’s become too easy – and don’t get me wrong, I value that ease of access. But I am starting to feel that it has definitely gone too far, because it’s making me fucking afraid to pick up other genres.

And the reason I have come to this realisation is because, upon finishing the Kitty Norville series, I realised that I was out of Urban Fantasy that I actually wanted to read. I had backed myself into a corner; the seduction of how freaking effortless it’s been to read copious amounts of Urban Fantasy drove me there, and now I’m stuck trying to fight my way back out again, and it’s just … ludicrous. The only non-UF series I managed to read – and enjoy – was the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal. I definitely recommend that one, and wish I had written reviews of the series while I was reading. It was thought-provoking and imaginative, and it was easy to ready – and that, really, is the main thing for me. The books that I have available to me are just not as easy to read. I’m terrified of the sheer amount of effort it will take for me to invest in these books. Yes, terrified, I am not joking, I am a fucking wreck, have you ever read this blog before.

But.

Just as a couple of weeks ago I was simultaneously terrified and excited to tackle a bunch of daunting life-admin stuff, I am starting to feel the same way about stepping out of the Urban Fantasy world – and frankly, I think I desperately need to. I can’t remain this … pudgy, I think is a good term; I can’t be a pudgy reader, except in the literal sense because hey I eat too much. I need to get back in shape as a reader; I have allowed my reading muscles to atrophy through a steady diet of low-fibre literature, and the dilution of my psyche is the price I have paid for my hedonistic excess. How dare I enjoy myself by doing things that are fun and easy? I have learnt my lesson.

No but seriously, I think Urban Fantasy needs to be a sometimes-food. This is going to mean a lot of big changes in my library borrowing practices, though. Generally I get out 2-4 books at a time, because they’re UF and I just burn through them. I literally read all of the final Kitty Norville book last night, save the first chapter, which I had read the night before. But now, if I’m going to get serious about my literary diet, it’s going to have to be 1 book at a time, unless I find a series that I really get into. However, for now it’s all water-testing, and I know my own limits – too much choice is overwhelming, so 1 at a time to start off feels correct.

And, of course, I still have all of these books that I actually, like, own to read, too. So while I wait for my latest library order to come through (and yes, I literally ordered it just before I wrote the previous paragraph), I can go through some of those. I don’t have to wait for something new to come in; I have resources. I can rely on my own means to get where I want to go.

And who knows? Perhaps this whole food metaphor will carry over into my actual eating habits. But in the meantime – well, I’ve talked up YA a lot in this post, and frankly, I’m starting to miss it. There was a lot of not-great YA that I read, but the stuff that stood out really stood out, and I’m definitely in the mood for more of that. I think it’s time for the YA kick to kick back off where it …

The kick to kick off where it last …

I think it’s off for me to kick the where it the time …

Why am I a writer again?

So asketh the Ubermensch …

Generic Blog Post

For the past month-ish, I have had a number of phone alarms that I’ve set up to try and get myself to do shit I’ve Always Meant To Do. These alarms have titles to go along with them, advertising their ostensible purpose. For instance, on Thursdays and Saturdays I have my 1 p.m. “Be A Responsible Adult” alarm, made specifically to make me look for jobs and consider the state of my CV with a mind to update where necessary. I have my “Walkies” alarm at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; I have my “Revision, Bitch” alarm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I have “Writing” every day of the week at 4 p.m.

I also have corresponding alarms telling me to stop doing these things, except for “Walkies”, which has its own built-in stopping-point. Occasionally these alarms go off and annoy other people in the house when I’m not there to turn them off. As a result, these are now calendar notifications instead of alarms, and will blip once like a text notification instead of playing the god-awful pre-packaged phone jingle that I can’t seem to change or customise in any way for five minutes straight, and again every five minutes until I finally arrive to turn it off.

They have not been effective.

Okay, they have been partially effective, or perhaps I should say selectively effective. “Walkies” is probably the one that works the best, which, hey, is something to be pleased with. Exercise is hard. “Writing” not so much. “Revision, Bitch” – I’ll leave that up to your imagination, because it’s probably more impressive than the reality has been. “Be A Responsible Adult” is the one where I finally started to think “maybe the reason I’ve only set this alarm up for 2 seemingly unrelated days per week is because I want to make it as easy as possible to dismiss such a repulsive notion and I’m intentionally sabotaging my efforts to make it happen because I don’t want to put effort into making it happen because I’m not a responsible adult”.

What has happened, though, is that I’ve continued coming around to newer ideas for things that I’d want to write, and yesterday while writing some outlines I hit upon an obvious problem, and a solution to the problem at the same time. The problem, as I’ve lamented before, is that whenever I plan out a story, I lose interest in it. Whenever I start devoting entire folds full of Word documents containing my plans and outlines for a story, I find that while I have ideas, I have no passion for making them come to life on the page, no desire for the story that these ideas supposedly constitute to be told. I was about to get very frustrated with myself for not having a better way of doing things, because while I knew that planning things out tended to kill my passion for those very things, I also needed a way to organise enough of my ideas so that I had a clear focus that I could refer back to if I got stuck or lost.

And then, the obvious solution came to me.

Don’t write a plan just to have a plan. Write a plan when you have a plan.

I tend to write outlines based on the idea that, if I want to be responsible about whatever story I’m writing, I need to have it planned out in advance so that I can be precise and exact and deliberate with what I’m writing. I don’t know where I got this idea, only that a lot of guilt and shame is involved in knowing that it’s not the way I operate. But the problem with that, as I now know, is that it’s not making an outline; it’s brainstorming. An outline is for when you’ve already had the brainstorm. And my brainstorms, when I recognised them for what they were, had no passion in them. I had somehow cut out the part in my creative process where the excitement of discovery and new ideas happen and gone straight to the part where I write it all down so that I don’t forget it, or so that if I do forget it I have a way to remember. And that’s the part that I want to get back.

The way to get it back, I think, is to just let myself think. To put ideas together in my head until they get interesting, and then write that down. Writing as safety netting, in a sense, rather than writing as an instruction manual – which makes sense with a new story in particular, because how can you write an instruction manual when you don’t even know what you need the instructions for yet?

So at the moment I’m just trying to let myself think, to be patient, and wait until I have something worth writing about before I get going. I am confident that this will work, but it also means that I have to be a bit more willing to drop everything and write down cool ideas when they come to me – and also to, like, write the fucking story. Which is maybe a little while down the road, because I haven’t had the cool idea that I want yet.

Also because I have a couple of full drafts of books that I do feel a responsibility to explore further, but that’s another consideration.

I’ve also been reading, though I have to confess that it got harder when I found that other people had borrowed the books that I wanted to borrow before I could, and had to put actual effort into thinking of what I’d like to read instead. It’s been good, in the sense that I’ve had to expand my horizons beyond The Dresden Files – not that I don’t enjoy that series quite a lot, but I definitely don’t want to only read that series, however easy it would be to do exactly that – and even got around to finishing up the Rebel Belle YA series that I started back in … 2014? It was right around the end of my YA kick, one of the last ones I read (and one of the main reasons my YA kick ended). I liked the premise, the lead character, and the generally light, energetic tone of the first book in particular, but when I finished the second book (not as interesting, and definitely not as memorable) the third had yet to be published, and I kind of forgot about it. The reason it ended my YA kick, by the way, is because I was so excited at how this book had things like pacing, things actually happening, characters who I was supposed to like that I did actually like – which all sounds good, until I realised that what was so refreshing about the book was that it was basically written competently, and so much of the other YA stuff I’d been reading was not. That killed the passion pretty effectively, and I haven’t gone back to YA since.

Until now. I finally got my hands on Lady Renegades, and while neither of the sequels are quite as engaging or exciting as the first book, I was happy to see what happened to Harper and the resolution of the plot. It’s the kind of ending that I wouldn’t expect to like, generally, but I like Harper quite a lot, and the fact that she ended the series happy was enough for me.

I also got around to reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which I’m trying to write a review of that may or may not ever get finished. I liked it, and it took me a while to get into it. I realised halfway through that it was a pretty perfect anti-Twilight, deconstructing a lot of the problematic tropes (but not all of them) inherent in that series, but mostly what it reminded me of was The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin, which is one of my favourite books. It has a humane balance of sadness and hope that has a strong family resemblance to Tombs, no matter how much like an overt Twilight deconstruction it is on the surface. It’s all about the emotional and thematic core to me, and both Coldtown and Tombs use metaphor in similar ways, and similarly powerful. I recommend it.

Currently I am reading, and probably not finishing, The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher, seeing as at the time I was looking at about a month of waiting before I could continue the Dresden Files series. This is a high fantasy novel about airships, a “steampunk” setting that makes me roll my eyes at the idea that what people will classify as “steampunk” has any sort of coherence to it – it’s just non-electricity-based technology, and even that’s not quite true – and while I do like the setting and find Butcher’s pacing and structure a refreshing change from the usual flavourless drivel that I’ve come to expect from the genre … I have to say, there’s something about how odious high fantasy can be that actually makes sense for the genre. The fact that it does linger on the details, rather than surging from one scene to the next in the way that your typical UA novel will, gives the genre a feeling of weighty consideration. This can often become an oppressive weight, and the purple prose that often accompanies such consideration is tiresome to say the least, but it made me realise that there are actually things about the genre that I at least expect to see in a book belonging to it, even if I don’t actually like them in practice a lot of the time. I want a slightly slower burn; I want something a little less dynamic and more deliberate. The Hero and the Crown probably falls on the opposite side of that balance for me; where Butcher’s book is a little too fast-paced where it should be steadier and more considerate of the steps its taking, McKinley’s book took me several months to read the first half of. As I said in my review, I’m very glad that I did finish it, but I definitely like my books, whatever the genre or pace, to make it a little more appetising of a prospect to me as a reader.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass also suffers from what seems like poor characterisation, with at least one chapter all about one character trying to suss out another that offers us not so much character insight as incomplete character backstory. The POV character for the chapter starts off suspicious, and ends the chapter suspicious for exactly the same reasons. The chapter, in other words, does nothing, and in a book that’s already really fucking long – over 600 pages, and I’m not even halfway through yet while the book is due back tomorrow – while it may seem counterintuitive, you cannot afford to have filler. Filler in a short book is bad enough, because there’s so little of it to begin with. Filler in a long book is bad for a different reason: it’s a real effort to commit to reading a long book to begin with, and being rewarded for your efforts with stuff like this just feels like a slap in the face.

There’s other stuff, too, like most of the characters reading like authorial mouthpieces, and when there are several main characters – so far there are seven – that shit gets obnoxious really quickly. The reason they sound like authorial mouthpieces is not because of what their political stances are and I think that’s what Jim Butcher believes or anything like that. It’s because they’re all so fucking reasonable, and they’re reasonable in the same way. It’s kind of like how all of Joss Whedon’s characters sound the same, except at least with Joss Whedon you generally have different actors playing these characters who can differentiate them, even with similar dialogue, whereas in a book you’ve just got writing, and it’s the same writing for every character. I don’t have a problem with characters being reasonable – in fact a lot of the time I wish characters in books I read were more reasonable – but it does feel in places like this is an effort by Butcher to counter that common critique of fiction in general, and it’s ended up causing a different problem altogether. It’s not even that they’re so reasonable that all the potential issues and conflicts in the story are overcome just by talking; it’s just that they are reasonable in the same kind of way, using the same kind of deductive, procedural dialogue to spell things out, and it’s really freaking annoying. I’m not sure I want to read another 350+ pages of it, is what I’m saying, and it’s a shame, because the setting is really quite awesome. I like airships; I like the idea of humanity living in floating cities (we haven’t been told why yet, and it’s not really important to me to find out). I like the technology, and I like the way that explanations of the technology and its history are pretty much entirely left out in favour of just showing it off. It’s not even like I hate the characters, at least on paper. But it is just a bit too samey for me. If I had the book for a few more days, I think I would definitely finish it just to see what happens, but I’m also not exactly brokenhearted that I have to return it tomorrow.

The one thing I will say for it is that, while this may not seem like particularly high praise, at least it got written. As a writer, that’s probably the highest praise – and most infuriating – that I can give, because writing is fucking hard. I made a decision a while ago to take the “just do it” approach, which was the inspiration for setting my alarms and shit. It hasn’t worked. It has never worked. That’s not to say that it won’t, one day, but it is to say that as of yet it isn’t working, and the long history of it not working makes it all the more difficult for me to keep trying to get it to stick.

I do think, though, that perhaps my approach needs to change. Rather than just writing for writing’s sake, perhaps I would do better devoting myself to the completion of projects, whether that involves writing, reading, talking, thinking, whatever. I do think some sort of regular writing every day or every set number of days per week is a good idea, but I do have these manuscripts that await my attention, and in the meantime, while I’m excited at the prospect of waiting for new ideas to inspire me, I don’t have any right now. I don’t really have anything new to write. So perhaps the best thing I can do is to instead work on the stuff I’ve already started writing, and see what I can do with that.

And keep reading, too. New ideas need somewhere to come from.

Libraria

I don’t think I’ve used my local library this much in over 20 years. I also haven’t read this many books in quick succession in over 20 years. I definitely don’t feel like a kid again, partly given the kind of books I’m reading these days, but still, not complaining. I thought maybe university had ruined recreational reading for me, but apparently all I needed was to discover the world of pulpy paperback novels. Also probably to not be at university while reading them. That probably helps.

I’ve finished reading 7 Dresden Files novels at this point, and thanks to other people existing in the world and borrowing the books that I want to read I can’t actually continue with the series for probably another month or so. It’s pretty frustrating. And now, anxiety-inducing, because I have to read *deep breath* other books in order to fill the time. I’m sticking with Urban Fantasy just to make sure I don’t pop a vein or something.

I need help.

And also I only picked up 3 books, and I’ve put in requests for the next parts in these series already so that, with any luck, I’ll have more books to pick up by the time I’m done with them. Gonna give that Iron Druid book another chance; I hated it the first time I tried reading it (also there was a pubic hair on one of the pages, which I found pretty fitting given the rest of the content of said pages), but having seen just how much problematic content I am able to stomach perhaps I’ll have a different reaction the second time around.

It’s so … weird. I’ve never read books in this manner before; I’m binge-reading, and while it’s amazingly fun it’s also kind of … unsatisfying. It’s like a constant stream of snacks that can’t ever make you sick, but I can definitely imagine myself getting sick of them, and fairly quickly. The little bits and pieces I’ve read online about this genre is that you can encounter some pretty lethal burnout, mostly concerning the kinds of leads that tend to crop up again and again: tough, no-nonsense, leather-pants-wearing badasses who snark at everyone they meet and never quite seem to find a challenge that actually, like, challenges them. I think I may indeed get tired of that pretty quick.

But we’ll see. For now it’s enjoyable, and I do think writing something in this genre is something I’m interested in trying out in the fairly near future.

I haven’t worked on Tallulah since the last time I wrote about working on it. I think I need to set an alarm for myself or something. I think if I can just get past this second chapter – it’s always been a difficult one to deal with, for whatever reason – the note-making process will get easier. I think the issue is that this chapter is just boring as hell, which it probably shouldn’t be, seeing as it’s where we get the Inciting Incident – or it was, anyway. Now that I’m re-evaluating what this story is about and what I feel needs to be focused on for this second revision, this chapter is starting to seem really superfluous, maybe better-suited to being chopped up and having its various parts distributed across other chapters …

But, that’s easy to say before I’ve actually finished making notes, and I’m going to make an effort to stop making these kinds of blanket predictions/assumptions about the conclusions I’m going to come to for work I haven’t even done yet. It’s a very weird habit of mine, one I’m fairly sure is born out of years and years of acclimation to utter boredom and stir-craziness. I should probably stop it.

And the books are helping in that regard. They annoy me, so much, but they’re so freaking fun to read. Kind of like Game of Thrones; the show itself is not what I’d call fantastic, especially in the more recent seasons, but by Frigg is it fun to watch. It’s got a killer hook, and these books have that as well. Maybe if I turn my brain on a little more I’ll be able to work out what it is. This power must be mine. So sayeth the Ubermensch!

In the morning, though. I doubt I’m going to get to sleep anytime soon – another thing I need to work on – but at the very least I can stop staring at my gigantic glowing plasma screen that has given me these weird involuntary facial tics for the past month.

Doing is believing

Last night was pretty rough for me. Having anxiety involves a lot of lying awake in bed and ruminating over all of your moral shortcomings and mortal shames. Thankfully, at this point in my recovery – it’s odd to think of it as a recovery, but it is, an ongoing one – I wake up from those bad nights feeling cleansed and unburdened, and even with a few solutions to deal with the various grievances aired, vented and exorcised in the night.

One of these is writing. I have lamented so many times about letting opportunities to dive headlong into a writing project pass me by, about intentionally keeping myself from taking opportunities to enjoy writing because, I dunno, toxic habits die hard, and a particularly toxic one is the “but it’ll take effort” excuse. It’s not a rational excuse, which is why I keep making it. Mental illness will do that to you.

But no more. The Ubermensch has spoken!

Because this year, I’m going to finish my god-awful fucking YA werewolf novel, and then I’m going to go back to my Christmas story. I’m going to read over it and make notes, and I’m going to read over it again and make different notes, and then I’m going to discover that I have a plan and fucking execute it.

I’m going to do this because I do have good ideas, and they deserve to be worked on – but more than that, because this morning I’m feeling optimistic and life-affirming: because deserve to work on them. To have awesome ideas and stories to be responsible for developing. It’s a good feeling.

And it won’t get done unless I do it, so I’m going to make myself do it.

It’s the same obstacle as it always is: getting started is the hardest part. I still want to finish Tallulah as well, and it’s much closer to being completed than my Christmas story, but I want to get started on this Christmas story first because, well, I wrote it first, and it’s been way too long. I’m fed up with letting good stories go stagnant; I want to get into the habit of obsessive working when it comes to stories of mine that I really like, which I keep myself from doing these days.

Of course, while I’m reading this Christmas story I can also tinker with other books I’m writing. I need to get better at setting limits on my self-directed work; I started at the end of my MA, and I can see that it needs to continue going forward, as opposed to almost every other thing I’ve learnt or experienced as an academic that has pretty much fallen out of my head. My limit with this Christmas story is reading. Writing – that’s not even something I want to think about right now. Just reading. Getting out of the fantasy of writing something or how it’s going to be when it is eventually one day written, and focusing on the actual writing process, which is always more fun.

And goddammit, it’s been too long. The werewolf thing didn’t even feel like part of the writing process; I hate to say it but, as much fun as I’ve had writing it, I can’t even remember the fun times. But working on something over a long period of time like I did with Tallulah, or the Christmas story before it – that I remember. It feels awesome. And I like feeling awesome.

It feels awesome to be doing shit, and yesterday I realised, for what is surely at least the hundredth time by now, that the reason I’ve been feeling kinda “meh” not just recently but for what is now the majority of my entire life, is due to not doing shit. So I’m going to do some shit. Reading and writing, in particular. I have an actual book to read as well: Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead, which I think I may finally be in the correct mindset to read without getting pedantic about realism in this book about a fucking Succubus was the pun intended I’ll let you decide it’s going to be a good time.

And then all the Christmas books I bought myself last year and haven’t touched since they arrived. I have a goddamn Wonder Woman omnibus, the George Perez stuff when he rebooted her in 1987, which was when I was born, that explains a few things if you buy into superstition when it’s convenient to your self-narrative, which I totally do. I have Neil Gaiman’s latest collection of short stories: Trigger Warning, which I haven’t read partly because as somebody who understands the need for trigger warnings the title just feels very exploitative, but don’t judge a book by its exploitative title or whatever. I have Clariel by Garth Nix, which I tried to read when I got it and then couldn’t because I remembered that I fucking hate high fantasy, even when it’s Garth Nix apparently. I have The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, which I got because werewolves. I have Kindred by Octavia Butler, because for some reason I decided not to buy The Parable of the Sower on the day I made these purchases, but it’s Octavia Butler and I feel morally obligated to read one of her books. I might actually buy Parable today, or at least get it out from the library again. I have the first Dragonriders of Pern book by Anne McAffrey, and the first book in the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, because aside from Harry Potter and literally 4 other books in my entire life I have read zero high fantasy written by women and that shit needs to change.

Speaking of which, I also have the Earthsea Quartet to finish, which I’ve had since 2011. I finished the first 2 stories and liked them a hell of a lot, despite obvious problematic elements, particularly in the first one. Also the rest of the P.C. Hodgell omnibus I have; the first story was very enjoyable, and it’s high fantasy written by a woman and starring a woman, and it is the last high fantasy book I’ve read that I actually enjoyed because it was about character and story – episodic though that story might be, but I like episodic – set in a rich, well-developed world, rather than about a rich, well-developed world infested with sentient life-forms that the writer feels forced to spend some time on to fill a quota, which is what a lot of high fantasy feels like to me. I also have The Swan Maiden, which is a retelling of an old Irish fairytale – a really fucking depressing one, because Ireland – and the only thing I can remember about it is that I opened the exact middle of the book when I bought it from the library and read the phrase “he hefted her pale globe in his hand”. I’m not sure why this was a selling-point for me, but I did buy it, along with Grimm Tales by Phillip Pullman. I respect Phillip Pullman quite a lot, but really did not like The Amber Spyglass and find his writing style … well, it might work a lot better with fairytale retellings than it does with child psychology.

Man, I actually have a lot of shit I could be doing.

The Ubermensch approves!

 

Reading Skills

One of the many things they teach you in arts is how to “read” a text. This is the same “read” you would use if you are suggesting that somebody is “reading into things too much”: you get taught to do this in arts. You pay to get taught to do this, with money you don’t have. And then have to rely on the degree in “reading” you got into debt to achieve by trying to get an academic job, a narrowness of choice that you might not have had if you had studied anything other than arts. Which is part of arts’ grand conspiracy to make sure that they don’t have to suffer alone in their lack of worldly experience and life skills.

Maybe I’m reading into this too much.

What I’m not reading into too much, or at all, is the pile of books I bought myself for Christmas and am still paying off. I picked them to be both stimulating and easily readable, but I think I made a bad decision by allowing myself to buy a High Fantasy book. Specifically, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it’s High Fantasy and holy shit do I not have the patience to wait for things to start fucking happening. I’m up to page 20 and everything has been in flashbacks. Not even that; it’s been one long flashback, one that starts in chapter 2 and has continued up to this point, which is somewhere in the early stages of chapter 4. Which begs the question of why this book didn’t just start with the events of chapter 2 and go from there.

Fuck High Fantasy.

But it’s Robin McKinley, and I feel that I am obligated to read something by her. I think that once I get out of the pointless continuity bullshit I’l probably enjoy it, but I don’t know when that will be, especially since I’m probably going to put it down and read something else instead.

What that probably won’t be is Clariel by Garth Nix, the long-awaited fourth installment (fifth if you count the short story) in the Abhorsen saga, and oh my god was I excited to get my hands on it last year, and oh my god could I not bear to read past the opening pages of chapter 1 when I actually did. High Fantasy, man. I can’t take it anymore.

Happily I have some other things to focus on instead. Aside from writing the next chapter of my MA (fucking finally), finishing my shitty YA werewolf novel two months after Nano ended, that sort of things. I still have Kindred by Octavia Butler, Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (not sure how I feel about that title), Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. I’m probably looking forward to The Bloody Chamber the most (after seeing The Company of Wolves and loving it), dreading (in a kind good way) Kindred, and I might flip a coin for the other two.

And after I flip that coin and decide which order I’m going to read them in I’m instead going to pick up Succubus On Top by Richelle Mead, which I was hmm-ing and haa-ing over whether to buy or not and then found it for fifty cents at the library and decided it was a sign. I like pulp. It’s probably why I liked Storm Front a lot more than Boneshaker when I reviewed them both. I think I was both too hard on and too generous to Storm Front when I reviewed it; I got caught-up in trying to viscerally render my truest emotional self instead of just saying what I thought about it. I’d read more. I’d have trepidations re the casual, predictable and weirdly self-conscious sexism, but the thing is that it’s pulpy and fast-paced (for the most part) and fuck it I enjoy pulpy and fast-paced, “hooky” reads. Books that were written fast to be read fast, which is supposedly what this shitty YA werewolf novel of mine was going to be, but it seems I can’t do anything quickly. Not even read my own books.

And that’s annoying, and it feels like a failed experiment, and goddammit I want my fast book. I want it real bad. I want to write it and finish it and then sling it off into the publishing world in, like, four months tops. I want that.

This post came to an uncomfortable end so I’m just going to leave it here.