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In Which I Complain About Food and Praise a Book


I’m coming to the end of a long first week of something I thought I’d never get myself involved in: the Atkins diet.

My boyfriend’s brother talked the two of us into it. Saying he would do the cooking may or may not have been a huge factor in my agreement, but I’ll admit – I didn’t think it was going to be this difficult. I now have a fridge and pantry full of food I can’t eat, I work in a restaurant that serves Italian food, and I can’t even explain to you how difficult it is to set aside the buns when I order a double bacon cheeseburger during my occasional lunch out. (I recently discovered Hardee’s has a “low-carb” option where they will wrap your sammich in a bunch of lettuce leaves, instead of bread, which is definitely helpful).

I’m keeping a stash of Atkins shakes and bars at work so I don’t feel tempted to eat a butt-ton of garlic bread in a moment of weakness, and I don’t have to give up my beloved Diet Coke or tea (although the latter I can no longer put honey in). I think if I were doing this by myself, or doing the cooking/meal planning myself, it would be a lot more difficult, but thankfully my boyfriend is a good partner for this, and essentially all I have to do is wait around for someone to feed me. I’ve already lost 5lbs, so there’s something. ^_^

My daily routine has finally fleshed itself out; since coming to the revelations that I mentioned in my last post, I’ve recognized the need for a routine, even just to keep myself mentally stable and acceptably sociable. Five days a week, I get up and make breakfast pretty early in the morning. My boyfriend picks me up on his way to work, and I walk three blocks to the coffee shop just south of ISU’s campus. The employees already know what I want and where I sit, and usually what I’m reading at the time. I tend to alternate between writing and reading, and then at noon I meet my boyfriend for lunch. Usually there is more reading, or some errand-running, afterward, and then most days I go to work at 4pm. It’s a full day – or at least, it feels like it to me – but I get a little bit of exercise, and don’t feel like I’m hiding in my apartment, which makes leaving my apartment for other things much easier. Most of my friends are gone from the summer, so the social interaction I get from the employees here is pretty crucial. also, I have a place with few distractions where I can work and be more or less left alone.

1Q84In the past week I’ve blown through Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84. I fell in love with Murakami just after I graduated high school in 2007, and I try to read one of his novels at least once a year. They’re a bit of a challenge, so I always need a lengthy break between them. 1Q84 was absolutely lovely, although at times I did find myself kind of wishing things would move slightly faster. At almost 1,200 pages, it was a bit of work, especially after having read mostly pop lit for the last year or two, but I got through it and was thoroughly satisfied. Five stars, hands down. You can pick it up for Kindle for about $13 bucks on Amazon, or just through down a little bit more for a paperback copy that will also double as a doorstop.

(Also, for the record, it is entirely acceptable to refer to this book as “1984.” “Q”, or “kyoo”, is the pronunciation for the Japanese word for “nine.” Those Japanese sure do love their puns. Haha. Stop it.)

Now that my brain has successfully been challenged, I’ve decided to let it relax with some significantly more “fun”Shades-of-Milk-and-Honey reading. I dropped by the library and picked up Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen novels (I enjoy Pride and Prejudice, but Sense and Sensibility is more my thing), and this looks like, while not particularly deep, it will be a pleasant experience during which I can let my brain relax from the Iron Man-esque marathon I ran it through with Murakami. The book currently feels like a slightly AU (alternate universe) Austen-esque novel. You can follow my progress on Goodreads, and feel free to friend me! I’m always looking to share and receive book recommendations.

I’ve chosen not to push myself on the writing, given the problems I’ve been having over the last couple of years with it. Instead of holding myself to a specific daily wordcount, I’m choosing to sit down and write as much as I feel like I can, twice a day. If it’s a sentence, or five pages, then that’s a great thing. Even this blog post will probably be most of what I can manage today, but at least it’s something. I’m hoping to gradually “work out” my writing muscle a little bit every day, until this year’s NaNoWriMo. I’ve been thinking about applying to be an ML, but we’ll see how I feel. I don’t want to push myself too hard. Like I’ve been handling my issues: do what I can, and try a little bit every so often to do a little more. No punishment or shame if the “new” thing doesn’t pan out… just try again later. My comfort zone needs to expand, but it doesn’t have to explode.

Having run out of things to say, I will leave you with this .gif I found on tumblr. I guess I should also say I loved Star Trek Into Darkness? I’ll talk about that more next time, I supposed. I’ve got a lot of things to say, but I’m still digesting, so to speak.

Here you go.

Villainy 101


I don’t care how awesome the hero is, if there isn’t something worth his time to pit him against, I just can’t get into the story. I think that’s why so many D&D games fall flat for me – I’ve created a character that is more or less epic, but the villain that’s produced for me to fight – eventually – never really seems… worthy.

I’ve always been a fan of villains. Yeah, there’s other forms of conflict – the man vs. nature, the man vs. society, the man vs. himself, etc. – but those never really, truly capture me the way that man vs. man does. Not to say that those others can’t be just as good; I thoroughly enjoyed My Side of the Mountain when I was in middle school. I loved Things Fall Apart when I read it in high school, and in college I read 100 Years of Solitude and Dance Dance Dance, instantly falling in love with both Marquez and Murakami, respectively.

But the villain, for me, is where it’s at. In high school I was, embarrassingly, entranced by Thrax in Osmosis Jones, and there’s something about Septimus from Stardust that makes me go weak in the knees.* Visser Three was my first real villain from literature that really roused any sort of reaction in me at all – that was the very first character that I ever truly, legitimately Did Not Like.**

Good villains, unfortunately, are so difficult to come by. It’s like most people who sit down to write a store come up with some fan-freaking-tastic hero and then think, “Oh yeah, I have to have someone evil for him to humiliate, beat up, and defeat later, I should probably come up with that.” What you get then is a holier-than-thou, clichéd, cardboard cut-out of a villain, and that’s… that’s not worth my time.

A villain needs just as much work, if not more, than your hero. He has to be convincing, because if the reader doesn’t really believe that this person doesn’t pose any threat whatsoever to your hero’s interests/quest/mission, then why the hell is he going to waste his time reading?

There’s a few things that every villain needs, in my opinion. I’ll use Asmodeus, the villain from deAngelis: Resurrection, as an example to color each point. I’ll try not to give up any spoilers.

They're everywharrrrr.1. Threat
Villains have got to pose some threat to the hero, somehow. Maybe not to their only physical person – he doesn’t have to be able to kill him – but the beauty of it is that some villains don’t have to kill you to get what they want. They can hurt your family. They can sabotage your work, and wreck your job. They can steal your soul, your money, your car. They can kill your cat.

If you hero is obviously stronger, better, tougher, faster, and smarter than your villain, then your villain isn’t a threat. He needs to have some advantage over the hero, whether it’s money, people, strength, intelligence – whatever. Super-powers. Ray guns. Knowledge of the hero’s severe life-threatening allergy to chewing gum. Your hero can be better than everyone else – fine – but your villain, in at least one meaningful way, needs to be better than your hero. He needs to have something the hero doesn’t have.

Asmodeus, in deAngelis, is a danger to Jenna. She’s terrified of him. He’s got the ability to warp her will to his own. He can kill her, or drag her down to hell, or shatter her mind. The longer it takes Jenna to find him, the stronger he gets, and the closer he gets to that goal. He’s a prince of Hell, and Jenna is just some half-angel with a drinking problem and a nicotine addiction. There’s a chance that Jenna can extricate herself from the dilemma and come out on top, but it won’t be through brute or arcane force – Asmodeus is better at her than that.

 

2. Goals Other Than “Because I’m Evil!”WAT. TEH. EFF.

This is possibly one of the more irritating flaws that I’ve seen in villains over the years, followed closely by, “Because I want to take over the world!” Your villain has to have a set goal, and reasons behind that. He can want money and power and all that, but unless he’s an idiot he’s not going to come right out and just TAKE it, because it’s going to be so easy to take it away again, and I don’t want to watch some moron flail about onscreen for two hours or four hundred pages like an ambulatory jellyfish with a speech impediment. If he wants to rule a country, then he’s going to have to be handing out bribes, discreetly taking out key people, etc. – and to pay for that, he’s going to have to have some trade going on, which will likely be illegal. Is he at the top of a shady drug cartel? Does he have his hands in several different monopolies? Does he assassinate people for a living? I want a villain who believes that he’s the good guy, or who can at least rationalize his actions with reasons other than sociopathy and narcissism.

Asmodeus wants to kill Jenna not because “he’s a demon and that’s just what they do”, but because he has a personal stake in it. For one, he wants revenge – he, a prince of Hell, has been essentially stuck in a human-made jail for the better part of a decade because of her, and that’s humiliating. He needs to reclaim his pride, and he can only do that by wrecking her day. What’s more, he needs to make sure that he isn’t going to have his own day wrecked – killing her father pushed her deal with Satan for her soul to the technicality line, and may in fact his mistake may be a deal-breaker altogether. If he doesn’t want his ass kicked by Satan, he should probably hand the guy Jenna Devries’s soul on a silver platter.

Now, this rule clearly doesn’t apply to people who are clearly off their rockers. One of the best villains ever, in my opinion, is Doctor Who’s The Master, played by John Simm, especially as he’s portrayed in “The End of Time.” The Master is just… insane. And it’s creepy, and it’s brilliant. And part of what makes it quite so brilliant is the fact that he has these occasional moments of lucidity, when he shows that he does have these goals, and these strengths, but they all get muddled and twisted in his own insanity and that’s what makes him a villain, is the good intentions gone awry and warped.

You have to wonder if they brought him back for David Tennant's send-off because the Season 3 finale really, really sucked.

 

3. Etiquette

There are certain things that a villain can and can’t do, and by “can’t” I mean “shouldn’t”, and by “shouldn’t” I mean “if you do this I will come hunt you down and break all of your kneecaps.”

Part of this is connected to personality – your villain’s needs to be as developed as your hero’s. You need to know what makes him tick. You need to know how to piss him off, even if your hero doesn’t.

Etiquette comes down to how the villain behaves in his role as a villain. Now, I can’t cover everything, because there’s a loooooong list of Stupidest Villain Moves Ever, but I can hit a few key points.

  • When he’s got the hero captured, he’s not going to spill all of his plans – maybe some of them, but he’s not going to brag. That’s stupid. If he’s gotten far enough to capture the hero, that’s not luck, that’s skill and intelligence and maturity. Telling the hero every intricate detail of his plans is uncharacteristically narcissistic of such a person.
  • When a villain is going to murder the hero and walk away – or try to – he’s not going to set a bomb to a count-down and then walk away. He’s going to break the character’s neck, or shoot him, or stab him. Even if he wants to have the building blown up, he’s going to make sure the hero is dead before he walks out. Similarly, it’s bring guys to shoot the hero and then leave before they do it.
  • Please, please, please don’t don’t have your villains wear black. The only place I’ve ever seen this done where this worked was in the Charlaine Harris Southern Vampire Mystery novels (known better to some via the show True Blood). Why did it work? The characters are doing it ironically. Sort of.
  • Also, one-liners? Tempting. But unless you’re going for camp, avoid them.

 

Villains are the most compelling part of a novel. There’s no tension without a good villain, and tension is what keeps a person reading.

Here, essentially, is a list of things a villain MUST be/do/have:

  • What is the villain’s goal? (something other than world domination)
  • What is this villain’s strength? Weakness?
  • How can the villain make the situation personal for the hero?
  • What is the relationship between the villain and the hero? How do they feel about each other? What do they think about each other?
  • How does he want others to see him? Not the people who work for him, but normal, everyday people. This can say a lot about a villain.

Hopefully I’ve covered everything I think’s important. Likely later in the week I’ll write about my favorite villains of all time.


* Although that may have more of something to do with the fact that Mark Strong is the most gorgeous man alive.

**Also, Andalites are frigging awesome and I will shank anyone who tries to say different.

Top 10 Favorite Books


Whenever someone asks me for a recommendation of what to read, I always recommend one of the same ten books. I really connect to novels, hold onto them, and a lot of times people love what I suggest. Here’s my top ten favorite novels – in no particular order, because I love them so much I can’t rank one over the other.

1 . American Gods Neil Gaiman

My first Gaiman book was actually Good Omens, a satire on the apocalypse that he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, an author I’d been reading since my sophomore year of high school (way back in 2003). My senior year, we took a three-day retreat to a convent (I went to a private Catholic college prep school). We were not allowed to take phones, laptops, and (I believe) iPods. I picked up a couple of novels to take with me, since we were supposedly going to have a lot of downtime, and one of those novels was American Gods.

I started out reading it with the thought, “Oh God, this is a total mind-f***.” And it is. It is definitely not for people who can’t handle a little screwing around with their brain.

2. Night Watch Terry Pratchett

Since I’ve already mentioned Terry Pratchett, it seems a good way to lead in to another one of my absolute favorite novels ever: Night Watch. The Discworld novels are all very brilliant and clever, and in most cases, light-hearted. The Sam Vimes novels are a bit more sinister, definitely darker, although there’s still those moments that will make you laugh out loud. Night Watch was the first Pratchett novel I read after Good Omens, and I’ve re-read it several times since. This is a big deal for me – it is very rare for me to read a book all the way through more than once.

It’s very noir, very hard-boiled, and was one of the inspirations, I think for deAngelis, along with American Gods. Vimes is the kind of policeman that Jenna wants to be as a steward, and if she were a little less sociopathic and a little more mentally/emotionally stable, I think she would be a lot like Vimes.

3. The Blue Sword Robin McKinley

I read this book for the first time in second or first grade and, while I was aware that I loved it, I definitely didn’t understand it — it was a little beyond my reading comprehension at the time, although later in second grade I tested as reading at a high school level or higher. I spent three years looking for this book, trying to find it again – we moved two or three times in that timespan, so I had new school libraries to navigate – and finally, in my sophomore year of high school, I tracked it down again and reread it. To this day, it remains one of my favorite books in the world – one directly from my childhood – and actually launched my interest in the bedouin culture. I think this novel in particular was a major influence on my starting to write, and as a young girl whose parents had just undergone a vicious, messy divorce, I needed a female role model who could be strong and reliable, and although I didn’t particularly follow the story at the age of seven, I did latch on to Harry. Robin McKinley, with her retellings of classic fairy tales, continues to be one of my favorite authors, and I follow her blog religiously (as I do Gaiman’s). I have loved every single one of the novels she’s published, and I suggest her to anyone who will listen.

4. Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami

Speaking of mindf***s, here’s a really good one. The story of how I got into Murakami is kind of strange. In high school, my best friend was (and still is) a major otaku. In fact, he first started speaking to me because I apparently looked just like Reki from his favorite anime, Haibane Renmei. That anime, which he had me watch, was partially inspired by a novel written by Murakami, titled Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I read it, and loved it, and started devouring his other novels. My favorite so far is Kafka on the Shore. It definitely messes with you, and, like all of Murakami’s novels, it’s one of those things that you just have to read without worrying too much what the story is about. You’ll figure it out by the time you get to the end. I would probably call his writing magical realism, or something close to it. It’s all a bit bizzare, but easy enough to deal with.

Murakami is a master of the Japanese language, I understand it – he can truly manipulate it – and the translations of his work into English seem to convey that same mastery.

5. The Caves of Steel Isaac Asimov

By the time I hit seventh grade, people had stopped giving me books because, honestly, I blew threw them so fast, and they could never quite figure out exactly what my reading comprehension level was. It was certainly very high by then, but they couldn’t see to find any novels for my mental capability that they also thought where, ah, age appropriate.

My father finally handed me a stack of novels from his personal stash of sci-fi, books I hadn’t even known he had. Most of them were by Asimov: the Foundation series, the Robot series, Nemesis, etc. The first one I picked up was Caves of Steel, and holy crap did it blow my mind. Sci-fi has always been difficult for me to digest, but obviously Asimov is among the best, if not THE best.

6. Blood Rites Jim Butcher

It’s so difficult to pick a favorite from The Dresden Files series, but I’m still digesting the events of Changes and a little peeved that the release date for Ghost Story has been pushed back, so I’m going to pick this one. I think that Lara Raith is a lot of the inspiration behind the villain of deAngelis: Resurrection; that is to say, Asmodeus. Honestly, I freaking love everything after Blood Rites, mainly because things start to get really dark and very noir, and Harry really has to grow up. Also, Thomas. ’nuff said.

Dresden Files is definitely one of the biggest influences on me sitting down to write deAngelis. I discovered the series in one of the strangest ways – Livejournal profile pics. I used to make them, hoard them, save them to my hard drive, look up ones I thought would be “appropriate” for my characters I was supposed to be writing… and I came across some that had quotes from Storm Front and Full Moon. I remember thinking, “Huh! Those are funny.” And then I moved on and forgot about them for a year. Finally, with nothing better to do, I spent four hours tracking down the pics in question, and looked up what book they were from, and it was a match made in Heaven.

7. My Year Of Meats Ruth L. Ozeki

Here’s a weird one from me. It’s actually one of the very few literary fiction novels I’ve read all the way through, put down, and said out loud, “Damn!”

This was required reading for my multicultural lit class, which is a requirement for English teaching majors at Indiana State. It was the only book assigned out of five that I actually read a word of (oddly enough, I got an A in the class), and it was the only book out of the five that I was actually interested in. Sometimes the fact-telling got to be a little too much, but the way that the story was told drew me in and held me in, and I finished the whole thing during my week of spring break last year. It was truly a gorgeous book.

Everyone else in my class hated it, and complained that they disliked it so much that they couldn’t finish it. What a bunch of weirdos.

8. The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

How could I forget this gem? I read this several years before the film came out, and while I can say that I really did enjoy the movie, it just did not do the book justice. It’s one of those things that just can’t translate well, I think.

While this is, first and foremost, a love story, Niffenegger really has such a gift for point of view and voice and style, and for knowing what it is that really makes a human being tick. Henry matures as the book progresses – you can tell by the writing style – and Niffenegger handles the temporal and POV and age shifts incredibly well. This is another one of those books that I’ve read more than once (although not nearly as many times as I’ve read Night Watch).

9. Just A Geek Wil Wheaton

Yeah, you read that right: Wesley Crusher wrote a book. And not just any book – it’s an awesome book. It reads, more or less, like a memoir – about getting back on his feet after Star Trek: The Next Generation. Most people only remember Wil as that one guy from ST:TNG that everyone hated, and he addresses that. I picked this up at the library my first week home on summer vacation in 2010, mainly because it had the word “geek” on it and because I vaguely remembered hearing that Wil played D&D every so often or something. Then I walked from the library to the nearest Bub’s burger joint, found my way (okay, fought my way) to a seat in the corner, order a beer and a cheeseburger, and got hooked.

There’s something about Wil that made me feel for him, and he’s made it onto my list of Top Ten People I Want to Chill With For An Afternoon. He was only sixteen or so when I was born, something that makes me feel that, in a way, he might possibly be that long lost older brother I hoped and prayed for every waking moment until I was seven years old, who would come save me from the fighting I could hear down the hall from my parents’ bedroom and the kids who made fun of me at school and said I was lying when I told them that I could read. Wil Wheaton is one of the faces that I remember from my childhood, and following his blog and his Twitter has made me feel like I want to really know him. So that’s on my life of Things To Do When I’m Famous: get to know Wil. Also, make other people read his book.

10. Scaramouche Rafael Sabatini

This is one of those books that I’ve only read once but have always intended to read again. If I were to write a period novel, this is definitely the book that I would write. It just barely manages to be considered Victorian lit (if it does at all, which it might not… I’m not sure). There’s the dude who goes into hiding to prepare himself to avenge his best friend’s murder, while the guy he’s planning to kill is trying to woo the woman he’s in love with but can’t bring himself to ask out, and there’s wittiness and royalty being beheaded and Sabatini being awesome. Also people where a lot of ridiculous clothing and have a lot of sword fights and I think there’s an orphan in there somewhere, too.

Other Things I Wish I had Room for on This List:

  • Sherlock Holmes canon. I might be a junkie. Seriously.
  • Queen of Glass, a novel by S. J. Maas coming out sometime this year? next year? I’ve only read part of it, and that was on Fictionpress, but when I heard that she finally got it sold I think I did the most epic Kermit-flail on the face of the planet, outdone only by the actual Kermit himself.
  • Anything written by Samuel T. Franklin, a guy who’s been in fiction workshop classes with me at ISU and who absolutely blows my mind. I don’t think he’s published yet, but trust me, when he is, I will flip right the fuck out.
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