Weekly Words 06-12/05/2019


So I opened up the revision note document for Mark and Jessie. It’s 20240 words long.

Y’know, I feel when there’s half of a master’s thesis worth of notes made on a zero draft manuscript, it’s maybe a sign that there are issues with said manuscript.

I am not reading this shit.

Yes I am because THIS IS WHAT I GAVE MYSELF TO WORK WITH BECAUSE I AM A FUCKING MORON but them’s the brakes let’s hustle.

Ugh these revision notes need their own set of revision notes …


Okay, that’s quite enough masochism for today.

On the upside: I do actually have the beginnings of a plan now, and it’s even keeping some stuff – not necessarily writing, but stuff nonetheless – from the manuscript. Go me.

No seriously, fucking go me. I deserve twelve concurrent lifetime stipends for making any sense of this useless jumble of notes on this useless jumble of a manuscript. I regretted not moving on to the revision/reboot plan last Monday, but now that I’ve started I think I actually needed the break to get a clear perspective on what it is that I’m actually working with.

Thus, this week is off to a decent start writing-wise. Now for the rest of the week.


Writing: 533

Hey, more writing.

This Wolf Gang prequel novella – I still like the idea, I still want to tell the story, but it’s not remotely tropey enough for my liking. Which in turn is making me think that I might be right after all in being worried about Wolf Gang losing its, dare I say it, identity if I follow through with my current revision notes as a revision plan. I think I’ve thought of some neat stuff, but I also think that I need to try and keep it feeling pulpy and trashy to some extent, because that’s kind of all that it has going for it in my mind – unless it’s a full reboot.

To that end, now that I’ve gotten started on making a revision/reboot plan for Mark and Jessie, I also think I’m getting a clearer sense of judgement as to which option is better for a given project. And to be honest, I don’t think Wolf Gang is due for a reboot. But I do think I’m a little more interested in telling a new werewolf story, one that’s not just a writing exercise. One where I put in, like, effort and shit.

Yes, last week any and all thoughts of putting effort into a writing project filled me with dread and despair and utter apathy to boot, but the more I think about what kinds of stories I want to spend my time telling, I don’t think I have a lot of room for stories like Wolf Gang – at least not where werewolves are concerned. I actually really like werewolves, and the more I learn about the stories and legends the more awesome I think they are. Trying to express my love of lycanthropes by focusing all of it into a trashy-but-fun YA urban fantasy novel series just feels like a wasted opportunities – actually, more like several wasted opportunities.

At the same time, though – fuck it, I do love pulp. I want to get good at writing it well; I want to push the limits of that type of storytelling and what it can be used to accomplish. And since I’ve already got a project in that vein with Wolf Gang, it seems silly to write it off entirely as a glorified writing exercise just because my first revision instinct is to try and turn it into a “respectable” story. I mean, pulp doesn’t have to be “respectable” to avoid the pitfalls of all the old problematic cliches and narrative devices, does it? Surely I, with my Ubermenschian mindbrain, can devise a solution to this seeming mutual exclusivity.

And in the meantime, perhaps I can use this prequel novella as a testing-ground for how to do exactly that. Because at the moment, this prequel is … well, it starts as sort of pulpy, but then devolves into dry-as-sandpaper … stuff. Stuff’s happening, the plot is progressing, theoretically at least, but it’s just so dull. I had the same issue with Wolf Gang initially; that’s why I decided to skip the boring stuff I knew I would have to eventually write and got started on the second half almost immediately – though it did then take me another year to write the final 4 chapters. 2 of which were already using bits and pieces I’d written and not found a place to put at the time.

I would ideally like to use the Suicide Squad-inspired project for this, but being real I haven’t had a great track record with getting it written, and going hack-mode on it hasn’t produced results that I liked. I ran into a wall and couldn’t get over it; now over a year later I’m still stumped, and besides a few quick writing sessions to try and get the ball rolling again it’s just ground to a halt.

Maybe I need to take more of my own advice than I’ve been doing so far; maybe I need to skip ahead in the story. I mean, that’s actually the part of the story that I feel the most confident about …

God, are all of my problems this stupidly easy to fix? I hope not. I hope I have legitimate reasons for not being able to figure basic shit out.



Okay. My ambition, starting at 3:19pm today, is to complete my revision notes for Wolf Gang by the end of the day. I have 160 pages left to read and make notes on; I finished about that much across 2 days with Mark and Jessie, and could have done it in 1 if I’d really put my mind to it …

The difference, though, is that I was skim-reading with Mark and Jessie, and Wolf Gang is very simply a better-written manuscript that I won’t need to skim-read just to remain sane. Although, having said that, it might be good enough that I don’t need to make a ton of notes, either.

Okay. Let’s revise that ambition in light of this dawning realisation: my ambition, starting at 3:22pm today, is to see where I get to by 4:30pm and take it from there. I’d also like to do some writing today, but my revision projects are my main focus right now, so if I don’t have enough time to write without cutting into my revision momentum then I will forgo writing today.

All righty, parameters set – let’s revise this thing.


So, taking a break now at 4:27pm because I’ve finished reading and making notes on a chapter.

I’m lost.

This chapter is where the core tension of the story comes to light, which is good – except for the fact that there are, like, 5 different ways I could take the story in, and all of them work. Just not together. In addition, it also tells a bunch of interesting story elements that are never shown or even hinted at (because the previous 4 chapter were written about a year after this one), and they’re distracting me, like an enticing field of wildflowers waiting just off the beaten path through the forest. So, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do between this and the previous chapter in terms of what direction to take this project going forward, and a lot of potential darlings to smother in their sleep – or build a reboot around.

The good news, though, is that I’m pretty sure the remaining 4 chapters are incredibly straightforward and actually probably don’t need to be changed so much as tidied up. I’ll still read them because there’s no need for me to assume when I can just read them, and I can probably read them really fast, too.

I might just be able to fit in my writing today after all.

Writing: 1711


I didn’t bother skipping to later chapters, either; this glorified Suicide Squad fix-fic is continuing from where it left off, and I’m becoming excited at the prospect of completing another zero draft this year, the last one being Wolf Gang at the start of 2017. It took waaay too long to write Wolf Gang though, and the main reason for that was that I left the least-fun stuff to write until last. This time I’m going to try and power through it – for now anyway – and let the Hack guide me.

Which is the general gameplan with the Wolf Gang revision notes, too – I was torn between “pulp” and “good” yesterday, but reading that chapter today made me realise that if I want a “good” werewolf novel, it’s not this one, no matter how many scenes I shift around or pieces of dialogue I de-problematise. Which is not to say that I don’t want to write a “good” werewolf book – at some stage. Maybe even this year, concurrently with Not Another Suicide Squad and Mark and Jessie‘s reboot/revision pass, but definitely not a priority for me right now.

Well, I think I’ve managed to sustain the momentum that I gained last week pretty well so far; I’m feeling good right now. And tomorrow is Thursday, which means I get to read scholarly writing on werewolves, which has been one of the highlights of my week ever since I started. Last week though the chapter I read – for most of that day – was super long, so I think I went from about 40% to 70% in that one session, which means I’m almost done. Which is sad. But, I did buy more than one werewolf book last Christmas, and I’m interested to find more after reading through this one. Regardless of whether or not a PhD comes about as a result of all of this time invested into researching werewolves, I think I’ve found myself a new hobby.



79%, as it turned out.

And now I’m done and I feel a little bit sad. That was a fun book. I will definitely return to it.

Until then, I have other werewolf books to look at – 2 others, to be exact, one of which contains 2 books, one of those 2 books being the same as the other book I have on werewolves because I should never be allowed to buy anything online ever. Maybe just not on the Kindle story; they looked like different books, but are in fact not. One has nicer formatting than the other; sadly it is the book that only contains one book, so …

Bottom line: I have more werewolf shit to read, and I’m interested in finding more to add to my collection.

Speaking of having werewolf shit to read, I am continuing with my Anita Blake read, and this book (The Killing Dance) is, so far, very much about the werewolf side of things. A lot of what differentiates one brand of urban fantasy werewolf/shifter from another boils down to what, exactly, they can transform into, and under what conditions – but in effect, the difference tends to boil down to character names. The Anita Blake shifters, however, have a couple of characteristics that set them apart from (what I can remember about) their UF kin. For one, alphas can control their shape-shifting so perfectly that they can alter their body more subtly. Not sure if there’s going to be an instance of them using this to, say, impersonate some political figure or something, but it’s neat nonetheless. Also it’s an idea that my friend and I came up with for our co-writing project long before I got around to reading Anita Blake so that’s kind of funny and I hope not a copyright issue.

For another, bloodlust and plain old lust seem to be one and the same for shifters. At the very least, the sight of violence turns them on, and when they’re in the mood they also become more violent.

Given the extent to which urban fantasy explores the intersection of sexuality, violence, and power, this is a pretty fitting characterisation for UF shifters. It also means that, unlike a lot of modern depictions of “good” werewolves, they’re not just humans but stronger and furrier: these are monsters, and I appreciate that a lot. Sure, our werewolf love-interest Richard hasn’t really done anything monstrous to date (that I can recall), and has huge, infuriating compunctions about taking a life, any life, including those of people (well, actually, other shifters) who repeatedly and unrepentantly abuse, torture, and murder the people around them, including people that Richard has sworn to protect. I say “infuriating” in the context of this being fiction, of course; the fact that a person isn’t willing to take a life shouldn’t be a sign that they’re weak – but in fiction, it often comes off as sanctimonious and selfish, especially when expressed by people who supposedly want to protect the innocent from those who would do them harm.

However, Richard does eventually explain why he’s so hesitant to take lives: it’s because he’s a werewolf, and he’s afraid that if he starts he won’t be able to stop, because he’ll like it too much. Which, I mean, you could say that of certain humans as well, but given the unique psychology and biochemistry that lycanthropes in the Blakeverse possess, it seems more like a physiological concern than a moral one – or at least as well as a moral one. And more to the point, it means that the Blakeverse werewolves are, like, monsters. This isn’t Teen Wolf, where any threat werewolves pose to humanity by virtue of being werewolves is hand-waved away by season 2. Yes, that is my favourite TV show of all time, but I never said it was perfect. Losing the monstrous aspect of what it means to be a werewolf, to me, loses a core part of the appeal of werewolves: engaging with that monstrosity – which Anita Blake does, and I am very appreciative.

However, I am a little leery, let’s say, of the fact that this is how the story offers Richard a valid reason to not want to kill people: it being immoral isn’t enough of a justification, especially since the people Richard has made enemies of are serial killers, rapists, and abusers of all shades (and are also shifters), and much is made of the fact that he has sworn to protect the people they’re victimising, yet is unwilling to do the one thing that would guarantee their safety. He’s also challenged the current alpha and defeated him, but not killed him, which according to werewolf law means he isn’t now the new alpha, leaving the pack in chaos – and antagonising the alpha and his (of course) more dangerous and sadistic mate, putting Richard’s allies in danger. He puts me in mind of a protest voter back in 2016: ideals over reality, and fuck the consequences. As far as the events of the story go, I’m not on Richard’s side here.

But that’s a problem in the sense that the story frames Richard’s reluctance to kill a bit like Superman’s in Man of Steel, like he should want to kill because don’t you know genre tropes dude? The tension is less what’s going on in the story and more what’s going on, and has been going on, in the entirety of the Western literary canon, every time the good guy refuses to take the life of the bad guy and makes some self-righteous speech about “sinking to your level” or “there’s a better way” or “revenge isn’t justice”, while the audience knows that the bad guy is going to come back, kill more people, be caught and not dealt with in any kind of permanent way, rinse and repeat until it’s no longer profitable. It’s a very meta problem, and it’s a bit transparent – and a bit concerning that it’s so pro-killing-people. To be fair, though, Anita takes this opportunity to reflect on the fact that she feels literally nothing when she kills people, and I’m interested to see if/how this develops over time.

I’ll say this: everything I’m reading at the moment is definitely holding my attention. And it is nice to be reading some dark shit for a change. It’s been a while.

Weekly Total

Writing: 2244

A quiet week, all told, but I think maybe I needed it.

I am writing this on the 13th, which I will outline in the next post, but it’s been a day off. I’m planning to compensate by migrating my schedule for this week forward by one day, starting tomorrow – I think today was basically an extended weekend for me. I had a pretty shit night mental health-wise on Saturday, and I don’t think I recovered as well as I thought I had. Generally I just wake up the next morning/afternoon and actually feel better for having ridden out the dark wave, but this time not so much.

And no, I still haven’t followed up with the whole psychologist appointment thing that I said I would definitely do this week, and yes, it is definitely continuing to take a toll on me the longer I leave it. The joys of looking for help dealing with mental illness while living with mental illness are pretty fucking indescribable, and if I don’t want to feel any worse than I already do, they’ll stay that way for the time being.

Ugh. Whatever. The week is over, and overall I am happy with what I accomplished. This week started on a bit of a low-energy note, but I do think that I needed it. And now I need to take advantage of it.

Also, the little bits of writing that I did this and last week remind me that, actually, I do miss writing regularly, as much as focusing on reading and revision-notes has been good for my mindset. Time to get back into the old habit, I think.

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 …

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.


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.


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.

Boneshaker & Storm Front (a 2-4-1 book review)

Since I can’t exactly update you on my writing because [insert incredibly valid and relatable excuse here], I may as well update you on my reading. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is one that I picked up because the premise sounded cool and I’ve always wanted to check out some steampunk, while Storm Front by Jim Butcher is Storm Front by Jim Butcher, and as it seems the book ideas I’m coming up with lately fall broadly into the urban fantasy genre I may as well know what I’m dealing with. In short: I didn’t like Boneshaker that much aside from some stuff right at the beginning and right at the end that I wanted to hit me in the feels and I guess it did, just not as hard as it could have; and while Storm Front was pretty fun and I appreciated how tight and Chekhov’s Gun-y the storytelling was, it’s also one of the more misogynistic books I’ve read lately. Which is saying something, because I’ve been reading a lot of YA paranormal stuff in the past couple of years. In the end, though, nobody does misogyny quite like men.

In fact let’s just start with that and get it out in the open: when I saw Thor: The Dark World I was incensed at how many misogynistic cliches they managed to stuff into the story, from Frigga getting Fridged, to Lady Sif being a Strong Female Character, to Jane Foster being literally reduced to the status of an object (not even the MacGuffin, just the object containing the MacGuffin). Part of why I found that so unpalatable is because it was made in 2013, a full year after Katniss invented feminism and destroyed the patriarchy. Storm Front was published in 2000, when the word “feminism” was very much still an f-word, and misogynistic shit like putting women in refrigerators, the virgin/whore dichotomy and a super-tasteful rape joke here and there were just seen as hallmarks of storytelling.

I will say this: I like Harry Dresden in the sense that he is a total loser and he knows it. The only problem is that he’s a very, how shall I put this, male character, and while some of his flaws make him interesting and even a little bit original, he also has flaws that the book goes out of its way to excuse. These latter flaws are, as you might have guessed, his views on and attitudes towards women, and the story’s treatment and casting of women make them so much worse than they would be on their own. I am pretty sick of the whole “he doesn’t understand women” character; I am super sick of the male hero having women throwing themselves at him in one form or another, whether it’s for sexual reasons or because they need somebody to save them, and Dresden ticks all of these boxes. It’s a shame, because the pacing is pretty good – this is a first novel so I’m going to cut Butcher some slack on that one – there are a lot of little incidents that end up paying off later on in the book that make the whole thing feel very well put-together, and aside from the rampant sexism is a pretty rollicking good time, especially for a first novel. It’s nothing particularly deep; it’s written to be read quickly and effortlessly, and if you can ignore the misogyny … well, if you can ignore the misogyny then we probably can’t be friends, but you might enjoy this book more than I did. And I did enjoy it. I just really, really wish it had been, y’know, not misogynistic.

I feel like I would read the rest of the series, or at least the next book or two, just to see if it gets less sexist, because it if does then the rest of it is great and I’d be very into that. The fact that it was written over a decade ago, by a man, and the fact that the series is still on-going and has 15 entries to date are not excuses for the sexism in this book, but I don’t think it’s a guarantee that just because this book was honestly quite foul in a lot of places, the rest of the series won’t get better. But when I eventually get around to reviewing the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman I will have a lot to say about the difference between a sexist character and a sexist story, and that was a trilogy that only got worse in that regard as it went along. I am dreading the same thing for The Dresden Files. I’m nowhere near as hateful of this book as one Goodreads reviewer, but I honestly wouldn’t disagree with them on many of their points, either. Maybe the one about it failing “on almost every technical level”, because while the writing wasn’t amazing it was absolutely fine, and for me it was the pacing and payoff of little things throughout the book that sold me. Also maybe the comment about Harry being nothing but another smug asshole chauvinist main character, but only because I think the story is far more guilty of being un-critically misogynistic than the character, and to me that’s what matters. I’d forgive a story for having a misogynistic character, easily, if the story made it clear that they are, in fact, misogynistic, and that this is a bad thing.

Sadly, for all of its good points, Storm Front is emphatically not that story. On the surface, it is actually startlingly refreshing that the majority of the supporting cast is female, but it’s a pretty transparent and flimsy surface. There’s a woman in this book who serves no purpose other than to be the butt of a date-rape joke about halfway through – don’t worry, “nothing happens” so that makes it okay – and to be a sexy lamp the rest of the time. There are no less than three women who are completely defined by being abused by men and unable to do anything to protect themselves, two of whom end up dead, one at least partially because of Harry (and at least he feels responsible for it, which is more than I was expecting). The two women who end up dead are also suggested to have been lovers, so there’s some good old-fashioned homophobia as well, and they were both sex workers, so throw in some casual whorephobia to top it off. The one “strong female character” is constantly belittled in Harry’s narration, shown to be near-hysterical when things don’t go her way, and ends up getting Damselled – again, at least Harry cops to the fact that it was his fault for not being more forthcoming rather than doing the tough guy thing of blaming her for “sticking her nose in”. He’s more progressive than he could be, but sadly he’s in a story that is, in places, scarily misogynistic.

This book has problems is what I’m saying. It’s the kind of story I was fully expecting to tell when I was still writing my shitty YA werewolf book, and you know what, I wouldn’t have regretted it, because I was focused on the story. And again, this book has tight, snappy pacing that, while it could have been tightened up (the majority of the filler in this book is also where a lot of the misogyny comes from, so cutting it out would have killed two problematic birds with one stone), was very enjoyable to read. The only thing is that, after I wrote my shitty YA werewolf thing, I would have revised it. And yes, this was written in 2000 when feminism was still struggling to even exist in the public consciousness, never mind be as accepted by mainstream society as it is today, and it really is hard to overstate how much things have changed between then and now, but my point is that this book reads like somebody writing as fast as they can with no thought to the consequences because they just need to get the fucking thing written. And to be fair, that’s exactly what this book is; that’s how publishing works, and how this sort of writing goes. You are expected to write fast and often, and inevitably certain things are going to be sacrificed as a result. We’re still at a place where feminist values are things a lot of us have to actively think about, rather than automatically defaulting to them, and so in that sense I absolutely understand why this book is as sexist as it is. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is as sexist as it is, either, and so if I do read more in the series, maybe I’ll skip ahead a few issues.

Boneshaker was notably less misogynistic, perhaps because it was written by a woman, perhaps because it was written by somebody who didn’t have as much chauvinistic baggage to work through, perhaps because it was written about a decade later, perhaps because of the genre – I don’t know, and it wasn’t enough to make the actual story very enjoyable. I loved the premise; I loved the prologue that sets everything up, and I usually hate prologues; I liked the idea of the two main characters, the fact that it was a mother and her son on society’s blacklist because of the dead husband/father’s crimes (which provide the premise), and the interactions between them were the best parts of the story.

Sadly, those interactions came right at the start and right at the end, because the rest of the story has the two of them split up. The rest of the story also suffered from consisting of: running away from “rotters” – perhaps because Cherie Priest is aware that “zombies” are part of the Vodou religion and did not want to contribute to the ongoing appropriation of the term, perhaps because she couldn’t be bothered coming up with something actually original and so just changed the name – meeting ambiguous allies; running away from zombies again; running into more ambiguous allies or sometimes the same ones; running away from more zombies again … it’s repetitive, it’s long-winded, and the characters are just really flat. I couldn’t care less if literally every single character had died at the end. There’s a twist at the end, and the twist is not important or meaningful or climactic; it’s just a twist. There’s a second twist afterwards that explains it and that one is better, but still. Also the actual steampunk part of the story just kinda seemed incidental; I was expecting a lot of innovative technological concepts, and there really weren’t any (aside from using the not-zombie gas to make beer and narcotics, which I must admit is pretty awesome). I don’t even know what the main focus of the story was, and perhaps Priest didn’t either, because it honestly felt like a solid first act split in two and bulked up in the middle with monotonous filler. There was a lot of potential in this story that came to nothing, and while I’d consider reading more in the series just to see if it does eventually come to something, I’m kinda not looking forward to the prospect. This didn’t have the snappy pacing of Storm Front to redeem it; at least with Storm Front I can learn a few things about storytelling technique to emulate. I can learn from Boneshaker as well, but only in terms of what not to do. Both of them have filler, but with Boneshaker the filler took up most of the story.

It’s just a shame that the “actual content” of Storm Front was so fucking sexist.

All in all, a pair of problematic texts. I definitely enjoyed Storm Front, but with huge reservations. I’m kind of ashamed that I enjoyed it. It’s that bad. And as for Boneshaker – I just wish it had been good. It had good ideas, it really did. It just didn’t follow through with them.

I get the feeling that Boneshaker is not really supposed to be a stand-alone story, that it’s setting up the world so that you can get used to it as the series builds on it, and that’s why I’m willing to give it a pass, in the same way that I’m willing to give Storm Front a pass because it is a first novel, written in a different time, and it has other elements to recommend it on. They both have potential, but it’s potential that, if it ever pays off, will obviously do so further down the line. They’re kind of polar opposites, in that while Storm Front was simultaneously very engaging, snappy and well-put-together it was also seriously fucking toxic, to a truly disturbing extent, while Boneshaker was neither offensive nor dynamic enough to really hold my attention. It took me about two weeks to read Boneshaker, and three days to read Storm Front. So if I had to pick a series to follow just on those grounds, it’d be The Dresden Files.

I have decided, though, that I do want to start getting more into urban fantasy, although from what I’ve heard Jim Butcher is hardly the only urban fantasy author guilty of rampant misogyny. I like the idea of steampunk, but maybe somebody can recommend me something more, I dunno, meaty to cut my teeth on.

And worst of all: I didn’t want to rip off either of these books. Although I might go back to my cyberpunk-fantasy series that I was super excited about three-ish years ago and then just nose-dived into nothingness. I feel like there’s some potential there.

Or I could work on my thesis. That thing I’m going into debt for as I try to prolong my assimilation into the adult world.

Or my current novel that I had a huge brainwave for the other day and was all inspired to follow through with. For the thousandth time.

And still haven’t.

Also for the thousandth time.

I think I might have a problem.


Throughout 2014 I would find books I Wanted To Read through the library’s search engine, dutifully pick them up once they arrived, and then let them sit on my dresser for a month without touching them. Eventually I stopped even picking them up, though every time they stopped being held for me I re-requested them immediately. Maybe I should be on that show Hoarders. I think it would be interesting for viewers to ponder the psychology of a man who hoards things he never actually has in his possession at any time.

Today, I forced myself to start reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which is ‘A masterpiece, utterly exceptional in every way’ according to Harpers & Queen.

I have learnt two things since I started reading it: it has lovely language, and I fucking hate Literature.

Like, hate. I cannot fucking stand the type of book that tells you how good it is instead of actually showing it. So far I am reading The God of Small Things with a sense of unwelcome dread, because everything that’s happened so far has been dancing around The Point to build tension, set the tone, let it sink in for you how Profound this whole pagebound affair is and how very sophisticated you are for continuing to read it while absolutely nothing the fuck happens. To be fair, I kinda like it because it works really well for the story, because it’s a story about trauma and memory and unfulfilled, unrealised desires. It’s not like it’s done badly, and Roy’s prose is absolutely beautiful.

It’s actually less that I dislike The God of Small Things and more that I dislike this particular vein of writing, the writing that smells like pedigrees and judging panels and an announcement that this won the Booker Prize (which it did, and I can see why), and I think it’s because I made myself read some winning and runner-up entries into the writing competitions we have here, and there’s a certain, shall we say, pattern when it comes to what the judges like. It’s Literary, and it’s Clever, and it Has Meaning, and I just …

I just fucking hate it.

I don’t want to hate it. I want to allow for the fact that people write the way they write, that it’s okay to play by the rules and work hard to be linguistically adroit and succeed at it because you win the approval of literary critics. I don’t actually dislike The God of Small Things. I just dislike what it reminds me of, all the way through, even as I’m reading it and thinking “man, I like how this is written and I want to know what Really Happened in this story”. I hate the way I’m invested and yet dreading what my investment will bring, all the while telling myself that this is how it’s Meant To Be Read and so it’s Actually a Good Thing.

I requested this book because I saw a quote from Arundhati Roy on Tumblr that made me give Arundhati Roy my Official Certificate of Badassness, for whatever that’s worth. A great deal to me, because I like finding that influential inhabitants of my cultural consciousness have said things at some point in some context that I agree with. I would love to find an interview with her. She seems fierce and intelligent.

The God of Small Things makes me re-think my already diminished ambitions of Being a Writer, because there is only so much that writing can do for a story, so many ways in which it can be a useful medium through which to express and make manifest one’s artistic vision. I do sometimes complain about how badly-written the YA novels I’ve been making myself read for the past year or so are, how the storytelling is atrocious and the characters range from sterile role-models to uber-privileged power-trips in character form to the kind of romanticised abusers who make Heathcliff look like Jane Bennet. Even when one thing is good, there’s a host of other issues that balance things out. Thus far the Vampire Academy series has set my gold standard for such undertakings, and I have a lot of issues with Vampire Academy, much as I adore it.

But at least it’s direct. I dunno, I like using a lot of simile and metaphor in my writing just because I’m pretentious and myopic, and I can live with that. Beautiful prose makes me want to write beautiful prose of my own, and if nothing else The God of Small Things is very much a beautifully-written story. If you can call it a story. It’s a meticulously calculated ramble, a perfect representative of the Literary Tradition I have discovered I hate so viscerally.

I’m being far too mean to a book that I’m less than 100 pages into. I honestly do not hate this book, or begrudge it for being what it is. I’m just resentful of how freshly the most obvious comparisons I can conjure up are conjured up, and how much I hate them, and how that hate reflects so clearly onto The God of Small Things.

And okay, yes, it does bother me on its own terms. It’s not all second-hand dislike. But I’m invested enough to keep going.

I think it was a good idea to start with this book, too, because it’s so heavy and because it’s causing me a lot of internal conflict. It can only go up from here, right? I’ve got Cinnamon and Gunpowder to follow it up with, which will serve as the bridge between it and Primary Colours, which I am mostly reading because I want to know how American presidential election campaigns play out – in fiction. Also in reality, but the one I’m planning on writing about will be fictional.

And since semester starts in 2 weeks and I have done almost nothing that I wanted to do with my four-month break from study that comes every year, I’m not exactly sure how to spend these last two weeks of freedom. Should I get a head-start on academic responsibility and go read some articles that seems applicable to the shit I’m studying? Should I live as though I’m never going back to study and start up a whole bunch of projects that I’ll never finish because two weeks is nothing and academia is a full-time gig? (When you’re studying full-time, that is.) Should I keep doing what I’m doing and drag out the hours with distractions and procrastination until it’s time to Get Serious and I find I’ve left everything too late to be enjoyed at all?

That last one sounds horrible, and historically is the one I’ve defaulted to. I think I’ll do one of the other two.

I still have yet to force myself to write the uncomfortable, moral-offending things I want to force myself to write, like clearing a gutter of dead, suppurating leaves so that rainwater can run freely again. I don’t know if I will. I hope I will.

I’ve found it harder and harder to focus on the here-and-now rather than the if-and-when, mostly because of the distractions I’ve been indulging in. I found out that I hadn’t actually cancelled my World of Warcraft subscription like I thought it had, and therefore it will not be running out just before semester begins like I thought it would. I might have to uninstall it entirely. Which would not be a bad thing, just a big, commitment-making thing.

As my counsellor said to me, I underestimate myself far more than I worry about worst-case scenarios. Put in my own terms, I am the worst-case scenario.

I need that to change.

So I’m going to finish The God of Small Things, or read it until I can’t stand it anymore, and then do the same with Cinnamon and Gunpowder and Primary Colours, and I’m going to finish my first draft made of chapter summaries, and I’m going to find a way to watch season 1 of both Girls and Orange Is the New Black and maybe The 100 because it sounds like yet another idea that Hollywood has stolen from me, and I’m going to make myself write things I’m uncomfortable with being the one who wrote them, so that I can progress to the things that I can be proud of being the one who wrote them. I’m going to start my first YouTube video, on my shitty laptop webcam and unflattering natural lighting and really muted build-in microphone, with the knowledge that once semester begins I will not have the time nor the energy to finish it.

And then semester is going to start, and I’ll find out if that’s actually true, or if I can handle more than I expect of myself.

Man, I’m actually a little bit excited about this. I don’t know what to make of that.

I guess I’ll just be excited about it.