The TBR fiasco

I had cut back on book reading a few years ago, closer to a decade.  The budget was tight, and I had many great books to reread and a few I hadn’t that were stored in an unheated room.  I was deep in the timesuck that was a wonderful MMO that had no subscription.  But all things end, and I fell into writing and fanfiction.

grains falling through hourglass

In Search of Lost Time by Alexander Boden on flickr, without changes, per Creative Commons.

That takes even more time and energy.

But late in 2014, I realized that I had gotten way too narrow, reading only fanfic and the occasional ebook.  So in the early fall I decided to make a go at some I’d gotten in error or by mistake with the TBR challenge from another site.  The main problem is that most of these books had already been rejected and I wasn’t that desperate. I ran out of books by authors I liked and ones I misplaced.  They weren’t good enough to warrant a good review, and weren’t so terrible that others needed to be warned.

With the holidays, I got some gift cards, great for electronic or used although I considered something something less useful:a food processor. So far, I’m enjoying the new books added to my TBR pile.

That stack didn’t shrink much and I suspect I should bite the bullet and give them to a local library to lend or sell.  And extra irony is that some in that pile were there because they were gifts from the library used sale… and could have been donated by me when I didn’t like them when they were published 25 years ago.  I hate donating gift items, but I can’t force myself to like the stories…  I just have to do a serious thinning of my collection because trade paperbacks take more than their fair volume of space.  When a book is rejected too often and I try to force myself to read over my subconscious’ urges, it almost never ends well.

But that TBR is changing to not just read but also remove sometimes without angst. I often keep them, in case I was just in the ‘wrong mood’ or short on time.  Those condition are usually true, and a good book will pull me in, not make me crazy.   Why waste time and shelf space on books I don’t enjoy?  So, I’m ending my own TBR challenge.  I’ll read what I want when I have the time to read, and comment only if it is noteworthy or cringeworthy.  All books come from a TBR pile and time is too short.

Leaders and Archetypes

How can we talk about heroes in our culture and not talk about leaders?  We have plenty of leaders, far too many, who are not very heroic.  But what about fictional heroes? Life imitates art imitates life.  Heroes become leaders, whether they like it or not, because their admirers imitate their actions and attitudes.  Celebrities support charities.  Picketers protest a school’s abrupt closing.  Fans support a hero’s hasty and foolish tweet.  Actors and artists of every kind influence their fans in good and bad ways, it takes only a little digging to find horrible examples.  Heroes can’t help leading unless they work in total secret and none know about them or their acts.

Woman with chignon

Hitchcock Heroine by ga3lle, per creative Commons 2.0

Debating what makes for the best leaders is a long discussion by itself, but whatever those qualities are, they overlap considerably with what the best heroes display;  the main differences are that heroes work mostly alone and leaders give orders.  But you say ‘leaders’ in movies and TV and the default image, the one you’ll follow into danger to life, career, and future, that default is male: GW Mclintock, Lou Grant, Captain Kirk, Sherman Potter, John Sheridan, Nathan Ford, Don Eppes, Mac Taylor, and the plethora of current team investigative and action team leaders.  Military/Strike teams are the most common leader from most of Hollywood’s Golden Age to more recent Agent Gibbs and Jack Bauer.  Crusty editors are well established with Lou Grant, Perry White, and JJ Jamison.  Business leaders are less comrade and more short term mentor at best, or more often evil and/or buffoon, especially on TV today (look at how the butler manipulates the boss on Downton Abbey)  Moral leaders in fiction are modeled on priests, reverends, and ascetics.

But you look in the popular media it’s still men despite queens, prime ministers, presidents, governors, and admirals.  Not that real life has reached proportionate gender representation, but it’s improving. Even in futuristic settings or high tech missions like investigation, no one seems to know how to write a good leader who happens to be female.

SF females who have earned their rank always started the story with ‘peanut head’ hair styles, closely bound to their heads.  Apparently they aren’t taken seriously as officers if their hair isn’t tight against their heads.  If the show and character lasted, the hair would soften.  What became disturbing was noticing the same thing for female bosses on various detective shows.  The female boss was the second female in the cast, and often a token minority of some kind because the investigative team was majority male.

There just aren’t enough archetypes for a female who leads others.  ‘The Bitch’ is by far the most common: demanding, cruel to subordinates, clients and public, claims all credit for team effort, waste others effort, and how does it benefit them.  This is not tough but fair who looks out for juniors much, the bitch cares more for herself and advancement than others around her. She uses co-workers and subordinates.

The second archetype is not seen as much, ‘Mama Bear.’   She’s more easy-going until one of her children, or someone under her protection is threatened.  Susan Ivanova was usually ironic and funny, but she could get scarey if her base was threatened.  Delenn both spiritual and often Mama Bear.  Buffy started as a solo hero but threaten her sister?  Lindsay Messer ended the kidnapper’s standoff over her daughter.

Sadly, I haven’t seen any other specific archetypes for female leaders.  Those that started as male aren’t often used for female characters, even when there’s nothing in the story that says it must be male.  The gruff commander, coasting-to-retirement, crazy uncle, hotshot jerk-off, wise old man… why are these only men? We have grandmothers born after the big wave of the women’s movement, why is media lagging so badly?  Why do female bosses still start as peanut heads and bitches?  And more importantly why are professional women who’ve earned their rank always written as bitches, always out for themselves over everything else?  Is this some kind of lingering fear that women only got promoted without earning it? Or that a growing belief that you can’t get promoted unless you use everyone like serfs?

That may be more troubling.

As the Word Turns, pt 1

Still leaving aside the continuing drama of computers and routers (latest score: computers limping before final death 2, defective or fraud computer purchases 2, working router 1, router maker reluctant to send a RA 1) I’m trying to keep up on my writing despite these issues. I hit my goals for here and flash stories already.

I returned to work on a revision, because leaving unfinished projects gnaws at me. At issue is that I have three major revisions, one which has a July 1st deadline, the others less strict.  These revisions are jockeying for my attention and I want to work on them all.

But I can’t duplicate myself, and time is limited. I worked on one over the weekend, but while I’m not exactly blocked on it, the rewrite is not exactly flowing either. I planned to start the July one in earnest next month, as it’s copyedit stuff. The third has more extensive revisions and I want the others off the deck first.  Later tonight I may try to coax the one computer in hospice to cough up a gimp-made image for my flash collection.

That and watch Flash tonight.  It’s research… right?


Recent Reading: Ides of March edition

Wind-Blown Tree image

Wind-Bent Tree, by Garry Knight, attribution per Creative Commons without changes.

I’ve decided to change the way I comment on books I’m reading this year, simple thumbs up and down just doesn’t seem very helpful.  I want to better explain why I like or dislike a novel.  Writing a story is a bit like juggling; if you don’t know how to catch and end the pattern, the balls or clubs can end up flying in all directions and make you look unprepared at best, a fool and liable for audience injury at worst.  A story falling apart doesn’t cause injury, but it makes the reader a little more careful about the author’s juggling and if they want to throw money their way in the future…

I admit I finish a book only if I’ve enjoyed it in some way.  That is no guarantee that I will like the finished whole.  Some books just don’t click, usually because I don’t care for the lead.  Of the last few years I’ve seen too many leads in the dreaded groups ‘too-stupid-to-live’ or the lesser known ‘too-special-to-sweat.’  I’m considering a new category of ‘enough-angst-and-bad-luck-to-melt-into-goo,’ though that is too long to be snappy. (I’d be glad of any suggestions)  I start and finish more books than I’ll do longer comments on.  Any reviews for those would tend toward a bad review, but I’m not that sure why.  So thumbs up/down will remain for some.

I’ve been slightly on a mystery kick, paranormal romances (romances are my guilty pleasure) tend to be too weak for me on plot and world-building.  Regency romances seem to feature way, way too many Dukes.  Once Earls, Counts, rich commoners, and every other possible rank were in period stories.  Now it seems only Dukes deserve love.

Isn’t that special?

Then again I’ve been reading more as my work computer is still in need of replacing.  When that resolves, rec reading will slow to mostly favorite authors.  For now, here’s a recent book.

The Hanover Square Affair, Ashley Gardner (Jenifer Ashley) regency mystery series, book 1

Captain Lacey left military service under a cloud to his reputation which gives him limited prospects for income.  Still he clings to his honor in his cheap rooms.  When he agrees to look into the disappearance of the daughter of a merchant, this throws him back among people whose motives are mostly to exploit his goodwill.  Think of this as regency noir.

Now I know that writing a series is somewhat different from standalone because you have to balance setting up (or continuing the series) with some kind of accomplishment or closure for each entry. This is a mystery series during the British regency of the George who will become George IV.  Now there are a plenitude of romances in that era and little general knowledge of how restricted investigation was. (The Maul and the Pear Tree, co authored by PD James is a good intro if you aren’t a history buff)  This series slides into this period.  The problem is that so much of the book is setting up the Captain and his supporting cast of mostly dangerous (to him) women that the initial mystery is not very interesting and the lead too much a patsy.

I just don’t like the female supporting characters.  I know even the wealthy ones had limited options by our standards, but these women had few of the period virtues either.  They all want something, but don’t have honor or kind of respectability or fairness.  I’m not talking the madonna/whore dichotomy, but a step above using the lead.  I might read the next book.

But then I might not.  I want my leads to accomplish something for themselves, even if they only solve the problem, earn enough to keep the dingy low rent office open for another month, and learn something for their problems. The mystery resolution here isn’t satisfying,  Period detail is okay, but some things seem a bit out of period with Bow Street almost a proto-Scotland Yard.  The world is a bit too dark and grim, I’m not at all sure why everyone is wallowing within it.  I hear emigrating to Canada might be a good idea for the lead, better than this hopeless life.

Rating 3/5.  Not hopeless writing, but not satisfying.

Is it Soup Yet?

Technical issues aside, one of the harder things of the last few months is switching over from derivative fanfiction to original fiction.  I know a lot of authors started that way, and some recent authors have barely filed any identifying details of their fanfiction.

Now I think that dishonest, and doesn’t acknowledge or throw any cookies to the writer or people who created any beloved character or world.  World-building isn’t easy, and it can be intimidating if you see how big it is and the world is detached from the story.  That is the seductive lure of contemporary settings, the normal world doesn’t need as much description.  But isn’t that a little timid, to act like nothing fantastic existed before the story began?  You can say the old woman is a wizard who is hundreds of years old, but if they act like nothing interesting happened to talk about, it’s hard to believe they are that old.

In fanfic, it’s like training wheels, where setting, past, and some characters are mapped out.  You create a new story and new characters.  (I don’t think rehashes are nearly as interesting) and hopefully you add new stories to the foundation.  Basically, all Sherlock Holmes stories not by Doyle are fanfiction.  Some tweak things, some even add steampunk or bring him to today, but that important core must be present to be a Holmes story.

As a new writer, you play in those sandboxes, trying to do something new, something true to the original canon, and something others will like.  Eventually you want something more than putting your hard work into the ether. Fanfiction at its best gets you fast ego-boost.  Original is more hard work, but also gives you the chance of half a cheese sandwich.

Is it illegal to shoot vultures circling over you?

I’m forcing myself to write despite my severe unhappiness with my computer issues.  Not that I have issues with computers, I love the things.  Unless I’m sleeping, exercising, or eating (and I try to cheat a little there), I usually have a computer running in my lap.

But when my old HP workhorse went south it left me more than a little lost.  The only time distraction quiet a little is between midnight and dawn.  So I can sleep or spend half of my days wasted due to sleep deprivation.  At best I think I may be able to try another computer in a week and live on hope.

I’ve been writing a lot of flash stories lately, but they are much grimmer than I prefer.  I wish I knew why.  The only thing I’ve thought of is that horror and fear are quicker and easier to grab in a small space.   Does anyone have a better idea?

Hug your IT person…

Hug your IT person if you have one. 

It’s now over fifty days since my computer’s hard drive gave the shriek of death.  And after seven weeks I have ordered and had problems with three computers and two routers.  As this has been a bad drain on finances, I still don’t have a working computer until I get the most recent refunds and order another. A pro IT usually has extra equipment lying around, letting them test which part of the rube goldberg LAN died. Arguing issues, fixes, returns, and refunds is never fun.

Of course this quite disrupts most time and energy for writing.  Oh, I wrote a couple things that aren’t publishable last month but not a lot more.  At that point the snow wasn’t much of a detriment to output, unlike most years.