The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey and Peter Gross
These two were cool to read together, because they're two takes on the same theme: real people who are connected to popular and powerful fictional characters. But one has no edge, and the other, part of a long series, has the capacity to spin completely out of control.
SPOILERS FOLLOW: Secret Identity follows a boy from Kansas named Clark Kent through his lifetime. He was named "Clark" as a joke -- because his family name is Kent and they live in rural Kansas. He turns out to be a literary nerd who is bullied for his name. When he's thirteen, though, he disc0vers that he suddenly has superpowers like Superman's. His main issue is feeling alone and keeping his secret from his family. He uses his powers and is burned by a woman journalist who creates a disaster to out him. So he goes underground.
Later, when moves to NYC and works for the New Yorker, he is set up (as a joke) with a woman named Lois and they hit it off. During this time, he is briefly captured by the government, who puts him in a lab for testing. He escapes when he realizes they plan to dissect him, and finds the dead bodies of other test subjects, including children and babies. He finally shares with Lois his powers and the fact that he's been using them secretly, and somehow she doesn't have a problem with it.
From this point on in the story, his main conflict is his fear of the government and the media and how their fear of him will cause them to harm him or his family. But he handles it and, for the second half of the book, it isn't really a problem. The story mirrors the maturation of an individual -- his developing sense of self and increasing ability to handle the problems contingent upon every life and the problems specific to each individual's path. And it's true that people get more able as they get older. But it's also true that they get more infirm, lose attractiveness, attention, and respect, and find that some of their personal problems are intractable, and this never shows up in this novel. It's a friendly read, and nice, but it's not very suspenseful or exciting, because all problems are easily overcome and half of them are in the hero's head anyway. And many opportunities to explore the irony of the situation are completely missed.
The Unwritten is an ongoing series about Tom Taylor, the son of the writer of a Harry Potter-esque series of children's wizard novels featuring Tommy Taylor, a character based on him. His father disappears when he is a boy, leaving him with no access to his father's fortune, so he makes his living on the con circuit, signing books and being generally accessible to the public. Then, through a complex series of incidents, he runs afoul of a shadowy organization that appears to be controlling the collective unconscious by promoting the fictional narratives of writers whose written content they direct. (Like Rudyard Kipling, natch.)
The premise of this series is much more fascinating and rich than Secret Identity, and the movement of the plot is more twisty and complex, featuring stories from different points of view and different protagonists. There are also a LOT more characters. But it alreadys shows the capacity to get too twisty, so I hope it tones down in future installments. But it's terrific so far! I don't have much to say about this yet, because the first book doesn't get far enough into the story to evaluate said story. It's just the pilot, so to speak. But more to come.
Okay, I haven't done a reading update at all this year, I think. I'm still doing a lot of re-reading, especially since so many latest installments of my UF series have been coming out and with my CFS memory, I have to reread previous books. So I'm going to leave re-reads out. Here's what I've got so far:
Touch of the Demon Diana Rowland
When Lightning Strikes Meg Cabot
Code Name Cassandra Meg Cabot
Safe House Meg Cabot
Sanctuary Meg Cabot
1-800-Where-R-You Meg Cabot
Prophecy Ellen Oh
The Crown of Embers Rae Carson
Mountain Echoes C.E. Murphy
Frost Burned Patricia Briggs
Midnight Blue Light Special Seanan McGuire
Altered Jennifer Rush
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne
Kitty Rocks the House Carrie Vaughn
All UF and YA. I love Meg Cabot series, even though they're pretty lightweight. The Ellen Oh book is a promising new series set in an alternate historical Korea. Altered looks like the first of a series. Not bad, rather fun, but with a bit of an I Am Number Four hit. The Rae Carson is the second in the series, and not nearly as fundie-esque, thank oG. And The Love Song of Jonny Valentine got a review in the NYT Book Review, even though it really should be very good YA. A little too lite for adult fiction, a little too despairing for YA. Everything else is updates of UF series.
I also spent some time in February doing some research reading for my own (stalled, of course) UF series. I'll list the titles here, but none of them were read to the end.
Nagualism: A Study in Native American Folklore and History Daniel G. Brinton
It does not help to beat myself up for having no energy today, although I "feel fine."
It does not help to wonder if I just got up and put on street clothes would I feel differently.
It does not help to wonder if I'm just being lazy.
It does not help to reflect on how "curious" it is that sometimes "fatigue" means nothing more than a complete lack of will, and all the while secretly think that it's a cover for laziness. (Isn't it?)
It does not help to force myself into the presence of others when I'm in a "bad mood," thinking that I should just "get over myself."
It does not help to know intellectually that a "bad mood" means I'm tired today, but not to act appropriately on that knowledge.
It does not help to behave as if I'm not sick.
It does not help to be stoic. I do not have the energy to be stoic.
It does not help to second guess the decisions I make about being tired. I know when I have energy, and I equally know when I don't.
It does not help to waste time and brain space "regretting" that this time in my life is wasted. I have nothing to regret. I haven't done anything wrong. This is just a more subtle way of calling myself lazy.
It does not help to feel badly about not writing today, this week, this month. I do what I can.
It does not help to think that this is not who I am, really. This is really who I am, now. I am not my disease, but I am my responses to it, among other things.
... and yes, I am acting, slowly, on things that might help. Suggestions, and especially referrals, would help.
I don't really have much to say. Haven't lately, which is why I haven't posted. But I did promise (myself) that I'd post weekly, and I'm way overdue. So here's what I've been thinking about:
Was told recently by a friend trying to sell an urban fantasy series that the agents say UF is over. It's a depressing thing to say when you've just told somebody you're working on a UF series. Also: do I care if the industry says "UF is over"? If I do actually finish this book and nobody buys it, I'll just post it on the web.
If I got well again, would I go back to being an arts administrator, especially an executive? I have no idea. I know the first thing I would do would be to go away somewhere and get da nobble finished. In fact, my first priority would be to get my writing habit reestablished (something I'm trying to do now.) But would I go back to a regular arts admin job and let it potentially swallow up my writing practice (again)? Hm.
I'm going to cut my hair short this week. This is what I'm thinking. I need a short haircut that doesn't read "guy," and that works with wavy hair. Thoughts?
Trying to get it through to my parents (who are in town for a month) that I can't see them every day. If I do, I can't do anything else. Sigh.
This kerfuffle makes me tired. This fight was already fought. Why was it unfought? Why are we fighting it again? Argh! I love this, which is Kate Harding saying basically: we all have to live in this world and make compromises with the institutions that run it. Being a good feminist doesn't mean you never compromise; it means, rather, that you cop to your compromise when you make one, and admit that you're contributing to the status quo, even while you're explaining why you did it.
Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.
In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.
And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.
By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer
relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a
single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film
franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories
containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.
It seems my "damned if you do, damned if you don't" post about white writers writing about POC has been Tumblred and hit some sort of critical mass. It even reached people I know who missed it the first time around. Someone even emailed me today for permission to use it in a presentation. (The same day I deleted a comment calling it "reverse racist." I don't allow that term to be used on my blog.)
So I went to the original Tumblr post and read through all the comments (I still don't get Tumblr. Why make it so difficult to see people's responses?) and I find I have a couple more things to say.
This is a "shut up and deal with it" post. It's not a post telling you what or what not to do with your life. It's a post telling white writers who have been fortunate enough to complete a book, find a publisher, find an audience, and have a public discussion happen about their work to "shut up and deal with the negative criticism in the midst of your good fortune." Shut up and deal with it.
Dude, you don't know any of these people who might be criticizing you. Why would you let my saying that a few nameless, faceless (literally, this is the internet) POC will criticize you stop you from doing anything?
Yeah, that's pretty much all I had to say. Beyond that, whoever doesn't get it, doesn't get it. Maybe someday they will.
I've been trying to read what I can about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome online but when I google the words, I get a lot of Mayo Clinic and WebMD stuff. Unfortunately, those medical sites only post what can be substantiated by studies, so the nuance is missing. Also, they only use scientific language, so you might not be able to recognize your symptoms.
It wasn't until I googled one symptom "post-exertional malaise" for my last post that I found a series of articles on About.com by a woman with CFS and Fybromyalgia (they often go together, although I only have the one), which is well-written, easy to understand, and describes what I have in a way I recognize. Finally!
Chronic fatigue syndrome can take someone who is educated, ambitious,
hardworking and tireless, and rob them of their ability to work, clean
house, exercise, think clearly and ever feel awake or healthy.
It's NOT psychological "burn out" or depression.
It's NOT laziness.
It's NOT whining or malingering.
It IS the result of widespread dysfunction in the body and the
brain that's hard to understand, difficult to treat, and, so far,
impossible to cure.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a serious, life-altering, frustrating,
often misunderstood illness. What people with ME/CFS need most of all
from those around them is emotional support and understanding.
Exactly. That's what I keep trying to tell the new folks at KSW (where I worked/work on the board). I think they get it, but it's really hard to be getting to know new people when I'm like this. I feel like I'm coming across as moody, whiny, difficult, flaky, etc.
I was always "difficult," but I used to be more energetic than everyone else, passionate, dedicated, able, profoundly competent. I used to be the one who picked up everyone else's slack.
It's possible now that no one new will ever see me this way again.
It's one of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and it basically means that after you exert yourself, you have a CFS flare-up -- a symptom flare-up. For me, it means getting really tired, or just getting really no-energy.
I had a really good three days the past three days. I got up at a reasonable hour, without too much dragging, made myself breakfast, did yoga, went out to a cafe or, on one day, the library, to do research/writing on my UF novel, walked there and back, made myself dinner, and stayed within my calorie limit (I'm trying to not gain any more weight.)
Today started out the same: reasonable get-up, breakfast, yoga, shower ... and then, yeah, I trailed off. I kept trying to get myself ready to go to the cafe and write some more. The cafe has good salads and that was going to be my lunch, and I sat at the internet and surfed and got hungrier and hungrier. But as I got hungrier, I also got more tired ... until I finally realized that I was having the latter half of a bad day. I considered making lunch but realized I was too tired, so I went to the Mexican place two blocks away, doing the CFS shuffle the whole way.
The CFS shuffle makes me look (in my imagination, I don't really know how I look) like a junkie on the nod trying to walk down the street. Have you ever seen that? Where they're so high they can barely put a foot in front of the other? That's me on a bad day. I'm walking, and my brain is going at close to normal speed, so I can tell that I'm moving too slowly, but I simply can't make my legs move faster.
Usually post-exertional malaise happens pretty soon after exertion. (And it's all exertion, not just physical. Having a two-hour meeting can knock me out for the rest of the day as well. So can having dinner with friends, or writing intently for a few hours.) Generally, the malaise comes because I've used up all my energy with the exertion.
But this time, it seems I'm PEMing for the past three days all at once. Interesting.
Also! I found this article from a lupus sufferer that explains how you have to get through your day when your energy is limited. It's called The Spoon Theory. From a website called "But You Don't Look Sick.com" Indeed.
I've been watching the TV show Smash and, although it's really not a big issues show, the latest episode this week -- which features sexual harrassment heavily in the plot -- got me thinking a lot about prejudice.
Smash is a musical drama about a broadway show. Yeah, it's the about the show and everything that goes into making a show, from the creative team coming up with the idea for a musical, through writing it, finding a producer, finding funding, casting, rehearsals, etc.
SPOILERS FOLLOW: The first season got the show -- a bio-musical about Marilyn Monroe called Bombshell -- through its initial run in Boston. Along the way, the two actresses competing for the lead succeed in destroying each others' relationships (and pretty much everything goes wrong for everyone involved as well.)
The director of the show, Derek, initially makes a pass at one of the rivals, the ingenue Karen, during the drawn out casting process. He invites her to a late night audition at his apartment, tells her she needs to be sexier, and then sits on the couch while she gives him what is essentially a lapdance, while "doing" Marilyn. Then she leaves and goes home to her boyfriend. (When the boyfriend finds out about this later, he punches Derek out.)
Then Derek makes a more direct pass at the other rival, the experienced Ivy, and she not only goes for it, but they end up in a serious relationship, where the "L" word gets used.
Throughout most of the season, both characters are up for the role. First one gets chosen, then the other, then a Hollywood actress who can't sing gets cast for a while (and has an affair with Derek while she's doing it, putting a strain on his relationship with Ivy,) then they're both being considered again. Roller coaster. Finally, Derek makes the call and he chooses Karen, i.e. NOT his serious girlfriend.
The second season starts with the reviews coming in and the show getting ready to make its first run on Broadway. But everything is going wrong: the producer is accused of using mob money, the librettist's marriage is falling apart, and ... dunh dunh duuuuuuunnnh ... the Hollywood actress accuses Derek of sexual harrassment.
And this is where things get interesting. In the second episode, apparently emboldened by the Hollywood actress's accusation, six chorus girls from other shows that Derek has done come forward and accuse him of sexual harrassment as well. In many other shows, this would be presented as just another trial of Job to be heaped onto Bombshell, i.e., not something worth exploring for its own sake. And I never would have suspected Smash of having the heart or intelligence to make something more out of this.
But then we get this scene (s2, ep2, starts at 11:20 in the video above) in which Derek seeks out and confronts one of his accusers, a chorus girl named Daisy. He mansplains to her that she doesn't understand the term "sexual harrasment" and says he never touched her. She counters that she never said he did, and then outlines exactly what he DID do, which was hit on her through four callbacks and then refuse to cast her after she definitively turned him down. He insults her talent and says that's why he didn't cast her. Then this:
Derek: Since when is it harrassment to ask someone out on a date?
Daisy: You don't get it. You're a big-shot director. You're in a position of power from the minute you wake up in the morning, and you don't treat that power with respect. Or did you really think women say yes because they actually like you?
Being a decent show and not a great show, Smash goes on to blunt this incredible scene with a cheap musical number ("Would I Lie to You") in which Derek gets pushed around by a bunch of chorus girls, plus Karen and Ivy, dressed identically:
Although the identically dressed girls could be said to be a comment on Derek's view of women, it looks too much like that's actually the show's viewpoint (and not just Derek's) for that point to come across. It looks too much like this:
So there's that. There's also the rest of the episode, which has Ivy letting a mopey Derek off the hook. But just for a moment, the show's understanding of the world and one of its characters opens up, and you get to see some of the underlying dynamics of this world, and how this fictional world connects to the real one:
The Hollywood actress is actually lying. Her sexual relationship with Derek was entirely consensual and welcome, and, in fact, she had the power there, because her star power got her a role that Derek didn't want to give her. In fact, his affair with her was partly intended to boost her confidence so she could sing better, i.e. he was "servicing" her. (Of course he was also just dogging and star-fucking.) Her accusation was made so that she could save face. She quit the show because she couldn't sing, and she wanted to quell the rumors.
Even though she nominally has the power, because she's a woman and he's a man, his opinion of her abilities is still important and still has power over her. Note that her attack on him was, in essence, for her to take on the role of victim.
This is a common (and largely unwarranted) fear of women: that women will take power over men by falsely accusing them of exercising their power.
The show is just good enough that it can't quite make itself depict the Hollywood actress "playing the harrassment card." That whole thing happens offscreen, frankly because we wouldn't believe it if they put it onscreen.
Derek is a huge sexual harrasser, although clearly not a sexual assaulter, and his power has prevented anyone from stepping forward before.
The Hollywood actress's accusation, although false, is what finally allows Derek's real victims to come forward, because sexual harrassment is entirely about power: who has it and who doesn't. Only the powerful Hollywood actress can make such an accusation without negative repercussions, and the chorus girls require the shelter of her power to do the same.
Since the real accusations are enabled by the false one, this lets Derek off the hook in his own mind; the real accusations are just copy-cats of the false one, and equally false.
Until Daisy breaks it down for Derek, he genuinely doesn't understand what sexual harrassment is, and genuinely doesn't believe he's doing it. When she says "you didn't really believe all those women liked you?" the look on his face says it all: yes, he did really believe all those women liked him. He really didn't have a clue that it's his power, and not his attractiveness, that makes the women accessible to him. It's equally never occurred to him that his relationships have all been with women who want something that he has the power to give or withhold.
I think it was this last one that really opened something up for me. Yes, it was fiction, but it felt real; rang true, as they say. It was that Derek genuinely believed that he wasn't doing anything wrong that got to me. Because, when it comes to -isms, I always tend to look at things from the oppressed pov, and not from the -ist pov. Or at least to try to.
I understand that privileged white people think that they have a right to a spot in a university that a person of color got "through affirmative action." But I always thought that that was more about the white person thinking that POC can't possibly "deserve" a spot in a university. It had never really gotten through to me that white people think that they DO deserve the spot, have earned it, etc. Although I never thought it through in those terms, I might have thought that, were there no affirmative action, the same white complainer wouldn't complain about not getting into the school of their choice because "their" spot went to another white person. But now I'm wondering if the white complainers wouldn't complain anyway, find other reasons why they were denied their just deserts.
Now, obviously, privilege requires a lack of privilege to be privilege. If there's no lack of privilege, there's no privilege. But privilege is self-referential. It bounces off the Other, but doesn't refer to the Other.
Without the power differential, Derek wouldn't have all these willing chorus girls for his bed. And without all the willing chorus girls, he wouldn't have learned to think so well of his attractiveness. But his view of sexual dynamics is entirely self referential: girls say yes because he's attractive, not because they're afraid to say no. The latter conclusion requires you to refer to the other person, to be aware that the other person has needs and fears and other mechanics. The former conclusion is all about you.
Which leads me to clarifying for myself that prejudice is not just -- and in many cases not even primarily -- prejudice against someone, but rather prejudice for oneself, and by extension, one's own group. This should be obvious, but I've never seen anyone break it down this way (I'm sure others have, I just haven't seen it.) In antiracism we focus so much on the prejudice against, that we never end up talking about the prejudice for. But prejudice for is much more prevalent in the world, simply because the people with the power still control the media, the narrative, and the world's voice.
And this might be why the antiracism/feminist/lgbt/intergenerational/body-positive messages are so often ineffectual: because most people genuinely don't recognize that being prejudiced in favor of you and yours necessarily means that you're prejudiced against others.
That's the end of this thought for now, but I might have more to say about this in the future. Still processing.
I had a strange and unusual thought yesterday: this whole dizziness thing is unfair.
It's strange because I've been sick for three years and have, bit by bit, been losing my physical conditioning, cognitive ability, ability to work, relationships, and pretty much everything I value about myself or my life. But I guess because it's all been bit by bit, at no point have I stopped and thought: wow, this is unfair.
But yesterday I thought that the dizziness was unfair. ... not on a global scale; nor even on a personal global scale; but rather with reference to the fact that it came now, in January, a couple of weeks after my expected CFS "remission" finally came, and three or four months late at that. I finally was getting some relief -- some energy, some ability back -- only to have it swatted away by the worst symptom of all the symptoms I've had in the past three years: vertigo.
It's funny that that seems unfair to me, but nothing else has struck me as particularly unfair in all of this.
Of course, I've always -- well, always in my adult life -- been aware that all my privileges in this world are unfair in the other direction. Surprisingly, I've never been harshly bothered by unfairness that benefits me (/sarcasm.) I have been struck now and again -- and increasingly as I get older and more aware that I'm not the center of the universe -- by how unfair things are for other people. Maybe that's why I don't usually think "unfair!" about myself.
Or maybe I'm wrong. I can't think too well right now because I'm dizzy. :P
Whatever the reason, thinking about the world being unfair to me is a strange and unusual thought for me. I wonder how many people out there genuinely think "unfair!" about their personal circumstances with any regularity.
So I promised to post at least weekly and today's the day or I'll have failed in my resolution while still in January.
And I was really feeling better this month, for a whole three weeks or so, but then I got dizzy a couple of days ago. Sigh. That's what my life has been for the past three years: a few good days, followed by weirdness and scaryness. Or scariness.
I've been dizzy before: three times in fact. The dizziness is one of the things that really made me completely consciously aware of how doctors work: according to protocols mostly, and not by really paying attention to patients and taking cases each one at a time. I had the same kind of dizziness (mosty "lightheadedness" not spinning) three times, and each time I got a different diagnosis. Well, the first time it was a virus, and the second time BPPV. The third time I self-diagnosed it as allergies when the BPPV exercises didn't work.
This time, it's spinning, as well as lightheadedness. And it's worse all around. I have the lightheadedness a lot more, PLUS spinning when I tilt my head in particular ways. It might even be allergies, since my nose is a little bit, a tiny bit, runny. But that's it.
Anyway, this isn't very interesting, even to me, but it also does kind of fill my attention and leave room for nothing else. I think I'm gonna go do something. Maybe if I get outside I'll feel better.
Also, I'm realizing that, for UF and mystery series, the usual conflict formula doesn't apply. For standalone novels, it's the protagonist's DESIRE + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT that drives the action. And in UF and mysteries that's still true at the most superficial level. The protag is the detective and desires to solve a mystery. That's the structural conflict. However there's not any development of this desire or the characterization or world around it.
The real, underlying motives and desires are those of the murderer/criminal, which the protag is trying to uncover. So that's why mysteries have to be series ... because the protag's underlying stuff can't be displayed over the course of just one book. You need a series arc to do it in. Hm. This is why mystery novels are more intricately plotted. Hmmmmm ...
There's a funny interaction between having nothing to do and having no energy to do it with. It's Saturday night and I have nothing to do and nowhere to go because I've had chronic fatigue syndrome for three years and can't reliably go out and be with people. So I've stopped looking for things to do, staying on mailing lists, exporting evites and checking my FB events, and making dates with friends and dates.
There's a feeling of relief when I survey the night and realize it's Saturday and I have nothing to do and no one to do it with. I'm not sure if the relief is that I have nothing to do because I wouldn't have the energy to do it if I did and then I'd feel like I was missing out ... or if I'm relieved that I don't have the energy or desire to do anything because I wouldn't have anything to do or anyone to do it with if I did. Not sure it matters.
How do you maintain friendships when you can't do anything social?
I'm thinking about this because I'm feeling better and actually have a little bit of energy right now. I could:
MAYBE go to the gym for 25 min.
do some yoga at home
go out for something specific: a movie or theater show, if it was nearby or somebody picked me up
spend 30-60 min at a party if I could get home again right away afterwards
But just thinking about doing any of this (except the yoga) makes me tired. It would have had to be planned ahead of time. And I don't need to do anything. There's a kind of satisfactory balance to this, that's the only kind of satisfaction you can get from this illness.
Part of me dreads getting better, because when my will and desires come back with my energy (if they ever do), having nothing to do on a Saturday night will drive me crazy.
Urban fantasy is pretty much the only genre today exploring not only the
ethics of power and consent, but also serious questions of violence and
gender relations from a primarily female point of view.
And then, this:
The responses of female protagonists to violence lies at the heart of the moral and ethical ambiguity that makes for good urban fantasy. Our culture is horrified at the idea of the Dark Feminine--the woman who demands for herself the right of violence and doesn't feel bad about it.
The simple move of violating our expectations by placing a woman in the
position to dish out the hurt introduces a lot more gray into areas
normally considered black and white. Questions like When is violence acceptable? or What is justice, and can it be administered personally? become questions with no right answer, questions we must re-examine.
Which I don't really agree with. It would, if most UF didn't present female violence with the same lack of thoughtfulness with which action presents male violence. But it's not often reflected on, so it's often just transferring the violence over into hot wimmin bodies. Even Buffy did a lot of this.
But then, this:
The use of magic in UF is also particularly telling. Magic in fiction is the time-honored way of slipping a hand up the skirt of convention and giving her something to smile mysteriously about. It's a way to frame deep questions without getting boring; a way to explore what-ifs. Every urban fantasy novel worth its salt has magic that costs something, whether it's cash, blood, innocence, or just plain physical energy. Magic also allows more gray spaces to be opened up, so the ambiguity can breathe.
Again, word, but only if it actually DID that, instead of knee-jerkingly imposing magic on the proceedings because that's what the ladeez wants.
"There is simply something fascinating about
vampires and werewolves. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many
movies about the damned things. Or so many books. Or legends. There is
something about the notion of great power coming with an awful curse,
the notion of a man becoming both more than a man and less of a man at
the same time that inspires the imagination. Whether it be the horror a
man experiences as he loses the very things he never knew he held so
dear and having to suffer that loss for all eternity, or the notion of
becoming something so uncontrollable that a man would want nothing more
than to die, if only for that single moment of peace. Talk all you want
about those 'cheesy old Universal monster movies', but by god, those
movies had heart. Those movies had soul. Those movies dealt with the
very essence of what it was to be human.
Those 'cheesy old monster
movies' managed to understand the very essence of what those crazy old
legends were really all about.
But maybe that isn't what you like about
Vampire/werewolf lore. Maybe
you simply love the sheer fright of the notion of these once human
beasts prowling the night, with the ability to suck a person dry of
every last drop of blood whilst they slept or tear a grown man limb from
limb in a heartbeat."
From here. Gotta remember this. But change "man" to "woman." This reviewer was right in saying that Underworld was structurally flawed because it was The Matrix told from Trinity's point of view. This is only ridiculous if you don't completely commit to telling The Matrix from Trinity's pov. If you do (and Underworld didn't, it's true) then you have something pretty damn cool, very urban fantasy-y, and dealing with WOMEN's issues and not men's, the way The Matrix did.
So I'm starting to see if I can put together an urban fantasy novel (and/or series) entirely by pre-plotting it. If it doesn't work, I won't write it. But I want to try writing this way, since I've never tried it. (I always start with a concept, a basic plot, even possibly an ending ... and nothing else. Then I start writing and see where it goes, leading to spending three years on a short story and ten years -- and counting -- on a novel. Trying something new now.)
So right now I'm investigating the urban fantasy novel formula. And I'm reading stuff I wanna respond to. Let's start with Carrie Vaughn's series of short posts on this (in which she never lays out the actual formula.) She does enumerate annoying clichés, though, and also says this:
I can’t help but look at the popularity of urban fantasy and ask,
What is this symptomatic of? What anxiety in our culture is being
expressed so eloquently in these works that they’re striking such a
powerful chord in the readership, leading to phenomenal popularity?
The answer is pretty simple: these books are symptomatic of an
anxiety about women and power. We have made so many gains over the
last few decades. Women really can do anything, pursue nearly any
career, become influential and powerful in any area. And yet. Women
are still ostracized for appearing powerful. Women are still told that
their role is to be deferential, nurturing, humble, self-deprecating,
and they’re still criticized and marginalized when they don’t fit
conventional images of femininity. Women still have to fight for
acceptance in so many areas. You think this dichotomy, these mixed
messages, aren’t real? Look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s (aka
The Bitch) and Sarah Palin’s (aka Caribou Barbie) runs for office and
get back to me.
So many of my pet peeves are symptomatic of this conflict:
these aggressive yet conflicted women characters who are
simultaneously strong yet exhibit low self esteems, who kick ass with
violence but submit to the sexy alpha male. Another symptom: so many
of these books only have one strong woman character, and many
other female characters are stereotypical and inconsequential. Maybe
lots of urban fantasy isn’t really about strong women, but
about one special, chosen woman. (Thank you, Suzy McKee Charnas, for
articulating this so well at Bubonicon.) There’s still anxiety about
toppling the status quo. It’s possible in these worlds to have a
strong woman, but not strong women.
I have to say that it's interesting to see her looking at the anxieties these fictions work on from the outside (i.e. NOT from the pov of the writers and readers.) But I think you also have to look at them from the pov of the people whose wishes are being fulfilled, i.e. the writers and readers, who are all or mostly urban professional women of childbearing (read: dating/marrying/relationships-with-men-having) age. And it's clear that these books are dealing with the confusion and anxieties of these women themselves, who want a number of conflicting things. Among these conflicting things are:
Personal power: the power to be and do what you want in life and in the world.
Negotiating power in your relationships; equality with your partner.
Kickassedness: the ability to protect yourself against exploitation, violence, oppression; but also the ability to appear very cool, to protect yourself in cool-looking and -seeming ways, not in gross or questionable ways. (e.g.: directly kicking someone's ass rather than being manipulative.)
Desirability: to men, that is. Most of these novels give very little thought to being a desirable friend/coworker/associate, much less lover, to women. Yes, sexual desirability. But only to men. This is heteronormativity, yes, but it's also about the kind of desirability that is the most problematic for urban career women. The wish being fulfilled here is to be desirable without negative consequences. (ETA: reading over this now and realizing how this sounds. I meant: sexual desirability to people with whom you have a massive, society-wide, gender-based power differential. And wanting to be desirable to them without incurring the negative consequences of being less powerful than they are. That's all.)
Competence: in life, but mostly in career. This never crosses over into desirability, i.e. being a desirable worker to employers and coworkers. That desirability is taken for granted, interestingly. Our heroines never have to stress about applying for a job, or even for a promotion. However, the wish fulfillment is to (grudgingly AND willingly) be acknowledged as competent/great by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly or entirely male.
A traditionally masculine man, who wants a contemporary, powerful woman: HA! The biggest crock, but also one of the biggest wishes being fulfilled. This one is the most regressive, but possibly the most understandable. It's wish fulfillment for women who were raised to desire the traditionally beautiful and masculine alpha male -- women for whom alternative masculinities have never been effectively promoted -- but were also raised post-second-wave-feminist, i.e. raised to take advantage of and expect to be treated as equals. This item is the one that shows up the biggest failure of second (and third) wave feminism: its failure to not just conceive of, but also actively promote, alternative masculine roles that work with the alternative roles for women we've essentially pushed through.
Outsider status: although all these conflicts and anxieties and desires are common and mainstream, there's still the desire to stand outside of the mainstream, to be special and also be to be a bit oppressed. This is partly adolescent, partly American (wherein our entire identity hinges on overcoming challenges and being individual), and partly guilty-white-girl. The last one is why so many urban fantasy heroines are mixed race (never just poc, though.) In this post-civil-rights-movement era, outsider status is most quickly vouchsafed by being a person of color. But, of course, no white woman REALLY dreams of being black, so it's always American Indian or Asian (although the half-Asians are usually the sidekicks.)
There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones jumping out at me. No conclusions right now. More soon.
Just had brunch with Praba this morning (at Brown Sugar Kitchen!) and it was the first time in a minute that I'd seen her. That's the suckiest thing about being sick: you don't have the energy to keep up with friends. And with Praba dealing with health issues too, it's even harder for us to keep up. (Although, I have to say, we keep up better than some well friends I know ...)
So we talked about how to maintain -- health, sanity, relationships -- and I told her about how I've been considering lately how to reach out to my friends in a way that actually works for me in this illness.
The first thing is to let everyone know that I'm sick and what the sickness is. What it does to me.
Then I have to figure out what kind of interaction I want with my friends. This is the big problem. Because I lose touch with people precisely because I don't have the energy to talk on the phone, or email, much less meet with them. I want to let my friends know that I need them to take responsibility for contacting me regularly, because I can't be relied upon to do that. But I'm not sure how capable I'm going to be of responding to their contacts.
The entire Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series (reread)
Seanan McGuire Discount Armageddon
Robin Hobb Assassin's Apprentice
Robin Hobb Royal Assassin
Robin Hobb Assassin's Quest
The entire Carrie Vaughn Kitty Norville series (reread)
Robin Hobb Fool's Errand
Robin Hobb Golden Fool
Robin Hobb Fool's Fate
Holly Black Black Heart
The Hunger Games series (reread)
Kristin Cashore Bitterblue
Patricia Briggs Bloodbound
The entire Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series (reread)
Faith Hunter Mercy Blade
C.E. Murphy Urban Shaman
C.E. Murphy Thunderbird Falls
C.E. Murphy Walking Dead
C.E. Murphy Coyote Dreams
C.E. Murphy Winter Moon
C.E. Murphy Demon Hunts
C.E. Murphy Spirit Dances
C.E. Murphy Raven Calls
C.E. Murphy Heart of Stone
Ilona Andrews Gunmetal Magic
Ilona Andrews Magic Dreams
Carrie Vaughn Kitty Steals the Show
Saima Wahab In My Father's Country
Faith Hunter Cat Tales
Kalayna Price Grave Witch
Kalayna Price Grave Dance
Kalayna Price Grave Memory
And this is where I stopped updating, sometime in ... August? In August, I think. The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was worse this year than the previous two years and didn't let up when the summer was over. Also, I had to work through it so I was even more exhausted. So I did a LOT of rereads (which are comforting and unchallenging) especially of urban fantasy series (which are comforting and unchallenging) so it didn't really seem worth mentioning. But here, in no particular order and with no guarantee of completeness, are some of the new reads I completed since then:
Seanan McGuire Ashes of Honor
E. Lockhart The Boyfriend List series (four books)
Diana Wynne Jones The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (five books)
Mira Grant The Newsflesh Trilogy (three books, obviously)
Seanan McGuire Velveteen vs. the Junior Super-Patriots
Rachel Vincent Stray
Stacia Kane Unholy Ghosts
Lilith Saintcrow Night Shift
I know among my rereads was Harry Potter, Temeraire, all the Kristen Cashores, and the Ellen Kushners ... sigh, oh well, I'm not gonna remember. And it doesn't matter.
I seem to have torn through all the good woman-centered urban fantasy series and am now scraping the bottom of the barrel: series involving wish fulfillment about men controlling women in (apparently to others) sexy ways. Yuk. Stray was like that. And ... there was another one, whose title I've forgotten. No other female characters, but lots of vampires and werewolves telling our heroine what to do and she not objecting very much. Ugh. Oh well.
It's occurred to me this past week that something productive should come of reading (and rereading) so much urban fantasy: I should be able to write some. I've decided to see if I can come up with a good series -- but not in the usual organic way I write fiction. Rather, I'm going to try to outline a series, book by book, in detail; structure it from the ground up. And only write it if I can figure out the whole story beforehand. I don't know if I have the energy for this, but I'm going to try. Fun!
I'm going to write in this here blog every week. I've been too unmotivated -- lacking in energy -- to write. But I'm going to do it, even if I have nothing to write about. And I'll write short.
Get on top of this stupid disease: go to the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome clinic in Palo Alto. I forget what it's called. But I'm going to go. And I'm going to do what they tell me. And I'm going to try every stupid California new age acupusher thing that crosses my path.
ETA: After reading a bunch of "How To Write A Grant Proposal" articles online, I realized that the grantwriting landscape for other sectors must be different. So please note that this post is written from the point of view of a grant writer and grants panelist in the nonprofit arts sector specifically. All such grants I've encountered so far have very specific application forms and sets of questions, which is why I didn't include a format for the grant narrative here.
I wrote this post at Hyphen magazine in 2005 after I'd sat on a couple of grantmakers' review panels and seen the horrific mistakes so many people make when they write grant proposals. Then Hyphen switched platforms and the formatting got all screwed up so you can't really read the post anymore. And in the past few years I've wanted to send people to this post because I think there's some good info in here. So I'm reposting (most of) it here, with proper formatting. I'm also adding some new info, so it's not exactly the same post. Oh well.
HOW TO WRITE A GRANT PROPOSAL:
RESEARCH FUNDERS: DATABASES. Find a database of funders/grantmakers and research the ones who make grants in your geographical area and in your field. If you're a complete beginner, go to the Foundation Center's website.
They have lots of resources and tips and hold grantwriting seminars all
over the U.S. Webinars, too. They also have a database you can use online for a fee (or in one of their locations for free.) Once you've made up a list of funders you need to whittle this list down. Look at specifics, including: what kinds of programs do they fund really; how many grants do they make each year (i.e. do
they hand out enough grants to include new orgs?), how large are their
grants (i.e.: is it worth your while to write this grant for the amount
of money they're giving?), which specific organizations have they funded
recently? (i.e.: do they fund organizations like yours?), what is their
schedule? (i.e.: if they don't have a deadline, when is the best time
for you to submit your grant?), etc. If a funder's guidelines fit you perfectly, but they only
give out three grants a year to three orgs which are 10 times your size,
then this is not a realistic prospect. Look for the ones who give out
lots of grants of different sizes to orgs of different sizes. Look for
the ones who specifically are looking for new orgs to fund.
RESEARCH FUNDERS: FUNDERS' WEBSITES: Once you have a more realistic list, go look up each funder's website and read all the information there. Often, their website will give you a lot more to go on, including: their mission, their intentions with specific grant programs, more about whom they've funded in the past, etc. They'll also usually have their actual grant application available for download on their website, which you need to read thoroughly.
FIND OUT WHAT THE FUNDER'S REAL CRITERIA ARE. I cannot emphasize this
enough. A lot of grant application questions are worded vaguely. Do not
break your brain figuring out what information they want from you. Find
it out from them directly (see #4). If your programs do not fit in with their criteria, don't write the proposal.
Do not convince yourself that you should try it anyway. There are
always more applicants than money and the funders will be deciding among
the applicants who clearly fit their criteria. The ones who clearly don't fit their criteria will be the first into the circular file. Which leads us to:
CALL AND TALK TO A PROGRAM OFFICER IN DETAIL. That's what the program officers are there for. They would vastly
prefer wasting ten minutes of their day running through your programs
with you on the phone and finding out right then that you don't fit in
with their criteria, to having to spend a few hours processing and
reading your grant application and making the whole panel read it only
to discover the same thing. Save yourself and everyone time and work and
talk to the program officer first. In detail. On the phone. Don't wimp out and email them. This is an opportunity to get the funders on your side. CALL them.
FIND OUT WHO IS ON THE REVIEW PANEL. Are they the foundation's board
members? Are they your peers (people who run similar organizations)? If
your program is employing orphaned street kids in Atlantis, and the
panel is made up of wealthy New York professionals, then you might have
to explain to them the background and implications of your cause, and
argue saving street kids over, say, saving whales. But if the panel is
people who also work with third world street kids, you don't need to argue the relative value of saving street kids. You will,
however, need to make a really good argument for how well your
particular program works. Make the argument your audience needs to hear.
GIVE THEM THE INFORMATION THEY WANT. If they want to know how your
employing the orphans program fits in with their mission of saving the
environment, tell them that employing the orphans who are cutting down
trees for fuel will save those trees. Don't tell them that
saving the orphans will cut down crime and poverty in Atlantis and
bolster the self esteem of a whole generation. They may appreciate this,
but they won't fund it. Answer their specific questions thoroughly and
convincingly first. Then, if you have space, give them the other strong
elements of your argument. But only if you've answered their questions
DON'T BULLSHIT. Even the most naive funder will be able to tell
bullshit from the real thing after reading a hundred proposals.
Applicants who fit their criteria exactly will tell them so in specific
language. Applicants who don't tell them so in specific language,
clearly don't fit their criteria exactly. If you don't match one of
their essential criteria be honest about it and tell them why you don't.
They might be willing to overlook it. But if you try to cover with
obfuscating language, you will be wasting their time and they won't give
you the benefit of the doubt.
BE SPECIFIC. Don't just tell them that you "save the environment by
saving the orphans". Tell them exactly how you save the orphans
("We employ them in one of our twenty partner businesses and
organizations as paid interns and then train them up to be full staff
members") and exactly how this saves the environment ("The main
threat to the rainforest in Atlantis is clear cutting by orphans. 90%
of the children we work with were formerly engaged in illegal tree
cutting. All of them learn a new, sustainable skill which takes them
away from environmentally unfriendly practices for life.") Break down
the elements of your program for them. Walk them through it, so they get
a real, vivid idea of how your program works. The more they understand,
the more they will like you.
BE CLEAR. This means employing good writing techniques. Give them an
overview, break it down, and then give details. Make sure your argument
is clear and all the details are there to support the argument. Don't
throw in extraneous shit. Stay on track and on target. Make your
sentences short. Don't use lingo or big words. Funders aren't stupid,
but they do have a lot of grant proposals to read. The easier
yours is to read and understand, the more they will like you. And the
reverse is also true. Oh yeah, and get the damn thing proofread before
you send it off.
GIVE THEM HARD DATA ON HOW YOUR PROGRAM/S IMPACT YOUR CONSTITUENTS.
The best designed program ain't shit if it doesn't have its intended
impact. If your grant doesn't show that your program is working
then no one will give you money. Anecdotes are great, but evaluations
are better. If you're not collecting data, start doing it now! Start evaluating your
programs, and then be sure to put in a few sentences about your impact
into the grant, whether they ask for it or not. "We train young people
in environmentally sustainable job skills" sounds pretty good, but "We
train young people in environmentally sustainable job skills. 89% of
them are still in environmentally sustainable jobs 10 years later. The
rain forest around our target area has recovered by 12% in the last 15
years" sounds very fundable.
TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY THEY OFFER. If they offer a workshop on how to
write grants for them, go. If they let you send them supplementary
materials, get some supplementary materials together. Your goals here
are two: 1) to get as clear a picture of their process as possible and
2) to give them as clear a picture of your program as possible. Don't be
brief, be complete.
ASK WHY YOU'RE REJECTED. If you get rejected, call them and ask them
why. Ask them for notes from the grant review (if these are available
to you). Get as much detail as you can from them. Be friendly and get
them on your side. There is always next year, and the year after that,
and the grantseeker who does his/her homework is the one they like and
This is about writing organizational grants.
Also, keep in mind that every grant panel is different and every funder
has a different process. Some of these things just aren't going to apply
always. Good luck!