It’s been a busy year. Two? No, just over one. But now I work a night shift, so on nights off perhaps I’ll actually write something here.

First up: Buckwild and Catfish, because fast edits are easier to follow at 3am when I’m trying to keep my eyelids up and everyone else in the house is sleeping.

I never fell for Jersey Shore, the most obvious parent of Buckwild, I just didn’t really have much frame of reference for the show-even though I do watch plenty of crappy reality TV. I admit I tuned in because I grew up in a small mountain town where people were born, lived and died without much escape. The reason I have watched every episode so far this season is that beyond the drinking and hooking up, the characters on the show are experts at inventing their own fun. How many other shows can I think of (short of mythbusters?) where young adults make their own fun in ways that don’t include going to a bar or buying something (including an experience). Mudding, dump-truck swimming, jumping off rocks, truth or dare, riding a lid behind a four wheeler and other shenanigans may not be safe, but they show a certain level of ingenuity. For some reason I find it a little inspiring, though I can’t say I’d want to try those particular activities or want my kid to give them a go.

Next up, Catfish. As someone who started meeting “internet people” in real life in 1999, I find it a little surprising both that online relationships are so normal in our culture now, but also that people engaging in them are still so easily misled. In 1999, before cell phones or webcams or skype were common it wasn’t surprising people met up after having very little offline contact. It surprised me that there are people who go an extended period of time and build a very elaborate relationship without video chat. It doesn’t surprise me that people create elaborate personas online, or that people fall for the lie… just that people are able to maintain this state for such a long period of time.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how well the show treats each week’s subjects. It could easily have been more exploitative of shock factors (She’s a he! You’ve known her all along! The international model is really a small town dreamer). The internet is such an excellent place to practice being yourself, even if your insides don’t match your outsides. Stories where young people see each other’s true selves and still love one another are so encouraging and make me tear up.

In 1999 I met “internet people” who are friends to this day, I even eventually married one of them. At the time “internet friends” were assumed to be organ harvesters, or basement dwellers, but the people I met were just in search of community. That need still exists now, but there are so many more tools to help, and having an online footprint is so very normal. Yes, the show has featured bullies-a hazard online and off, but contextualizes them as only one facet of online living.

Finally listened to the Once and Future Podcast, so good! (10 minute intermission while I revisit the Teen Girl Squad).

Here are 5.5 reasons I loved it:

  1. Listening to smart people talking about interesting things is one of my favourite pastimes, especially when it is an interest I share.
  2. I am more likely to read an author’s books if I have a sense of his or her personality. Blog posts, twitter interactions, and this podcast are an excellent way to learn more about an author. Conversations between authors are a twofer!
  3. O&F episode 1 combines news sections with interviews, one blogger, and two authors, at just over an hour, this feels like a substantial length, but is easily listened to in shorter sections if that’s how you enjoy your podcasts.
  4. Best character naming advice I’ve heard so far.
  5. Though this is a first episode, Strout has a good format for the show and the interviews sound like conversations between friends that also include useful information and advice.
(5.5 I listened while at the gym, and it made the time fly by!)

I’ve gotten back in to podcasts, especially on my quiet 10 hour Sunday shift. This week I was listening to old episodes of Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan. In one of the episodes they mention liking shows set in closed communities with a focus on conflicts, relationships and rules created by a result of the characters being stuck with one another. Examples of TV shows include Battlestar Galactica (few humans left, stuck in space together, old society destroyed), Sons of Anarchy (motorcycle club in a small town), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (only a few people know about the supernatural side of Sunnydale). Somehow I hadn’t identified this specifically as one of the forms I LOVE.

On a personal level, this theme resonates with me. For most of my life I lived in very closed communities, the first was a small town over two hours from a traffic light, the second was a community centered on the religious schools where I studied and later taught. The internet changed my life as the online communities I joined were larger than the ones where I lived. My most important discovery was learning that if I didn’t get along with someone, I didn’t have to find some way to maintain a forced friendship.

When thinking about the Urban Fantasy I enjoy reading, there are certainly similar closed worlds, but I can’t think of many with an ensemble cast along the lines of the shows I mentioned above. I would imagine it is difficult to keep a novel focused if there are as many character arcs to wrangle as a multi-season television show manages. This may also be a result of the types of UF I tend to pick up-the ones with a chick sporting tattoos or a weapon on the cover. Does anyone have recommendations for closed community UF with an ensemble cast? Most of the series I can think of either have one lead character and a supporting cast, or focus on a different character each novel, though protagonists from the past may show up again, they often haven’t grown or changed much from the last book.

I’ve generally thought of consent as a positive term, but in chatting with a friend I discovered she thought it had a bit of a negative slant. Her take is that agreeing to something you might find unappealing, but you are willing to do, is consent. You might consent to let the in laws stay with you for a month.  I think of consent as something actively agreed upon. The makeout session didn’t just sortakinda happen ish, you actively agreed to lock lips.

Together we agreed that we prefer books where there is enthusiastic, active agreement between characters knocking boots. What is your take on the word consent? Is there a term you prefer? A better way to describe an active yes?

(I wrote this post and then went over to browse my google reader, this was the first post I read. Coincidence?)

(note: repost from original blog, written errrr 16 months ago?)

Perhaps I set myself up for disappointment. The novel begins by describing how Guardian society is different from that of eighteenth century England, namely that Guardian women have more equality with men than their “mundane” sisters. “Interesting,” I thought to myself, “perhaps this alternative history, including magic use, is a way to re-tell the story of war and include more female participation in historic events.” Sadly, it was not the case.

I read fantasy/paranormal romance with female protagonists because I enjoy the strength of these women. Generally there is an emphasis on team-building and problem solving, combining smarts, strength, and the heroine’s specific (usually unusual) powers. Many of the television shows and movies I watch undermine female characters, women are sidekicks, victims, fit the Hollywood mold of attractive appearance, etc. Female protagonists in paranormal novels often have powers that both make them unique and contribute to their successes. Reading about characters facing down demons, vampires and automatons successfully, and rising to meet the challenge as they confront their fears, is a powerful metaphor for me as I face much more mundane challenges of insecurity, complex relationships and job hunting. Another positive in several of these novels is that if the heroine is in a relationship it is a) on equal terms or b) ends as she will not deny her own power/instincts in order to please the man. A vast difference from most TV/movies I’ve seen.

Thus, A Kiss of Fate disappointed me on several levels (spoilers ahoy). Gwynne was raised a Guardian, but believed she had no powers, fortunately she is a scholar, which is valued in Guardian culture. Fine. I like a smart protagonist in my novels. However, after sexxytimes with her new husband they discover she is an enchantress, whose powers are not awakened until having intercourse. Really? REALLY? I get it, her powers are related to sexuality, and thus it makes sense they are awakened by having sex. But of all the powers to have, that’s what she gets?

From her first kiss with her soon to be husband, Duncan, Gwynne knows his destiny is linked to destruction and the Jacobite rebellion, a few kisses later she knows she will betray him; She marries him in order to mitigate the potential harm he will cause. As a point of conflict this one’s pretty lame; There is absolutely no doubt she will betray him. How does she betray him? By attempting to reach him body, mind and soul while he is following the Jacobites, this does not work, so she remembers that her powers are of the body. When she reaches out to him with her power of the pussy he arrives in her bedroom and they sex it up (she gets knocked up in the process). She then locks him in the castle dungeon to keep him from helping the Jacobites win. Though Putney writes that there is no possible way the hero and heroine will reunite, it is absolutely clear to the reader that they will. How do they do this? She leaves, he follows her, they sex it up “letting down all their barriers” and see each other’s intentions of course they are reconciled.

My three primary problems with the novel are as follows:

  1. After emphasizing equality and Gwynne’s intelligence, Putney gives Gwynne stereotypical feminine-wiles as a superpower.
  2. Gwynne could have had no powers and reached the same results: her husband loves her intelligence and sexuality and feels a connection to her even before she has sexxaysuperpowers.
  3. Including a magical element, or rewriting history, should bring something new to the story, for example, this is often an opportunity to re-examine class or gender roles, this novel does neither, though the set up lead me to believe it might do both.

If this was a basic romance novel I probably wouldn’t complain, though, I also probably wouldn’t have read it. Unfortunately, the premise of the novel included mages with the ability to change the politics of their day, and then didn’t deliver. It was clear from the beginning that Putney wasn’t writing a fully alternative history-the Jacobite rebellion would not succeed-but if that is the case then *something* else in her alternative history should have been fundamentally altered by the addition of magic.

My favourite uncomfortable world to date is described in Carolyn Crane’s Disillusionist trilogy. I admit, in life and in reading I like to know the rules, and this world had me off-balance from the beginning. The entire time I was reading I felt like I was wearing my shoes on the wrong feet, or sporting 3D glasses instead of my normal prescription. And I mean that as a compliment.

Though the blurb for Mind Games accurately frames the novel, everything felt off from the beginning. The restaurant, characters, city, situation were all just enough different from modern American life that I couldn’t quite predict what would happen next, or what the rules might be.  On panels at Authors After Dark, Crane explained that she likes including little details to make the world richer, as a reader I certainly noticed this in her novels. For example, in describing the complicated roadways of Midcity, she takes something familiar but makes it just strange enough to remind the reader we are in a different world and we can’t assume our rules apply. Her descriptions of disillusioning someone also twists something we experience, changing moods as we interact with others, and provides an alternate, darker, explanation for why this might happen.

As Justine, the protagonist of Mind Games, learns more about disillusioning people the rules and her role are explained to her-and thus to the reader-but does she really know what is going on? Do we? I kept reading because I believed that Crane knew what she was up to, and would tell us what we needed to know, when we needed to know it. Though the third book is not yet released (or titled!), in the first two Crane has balanced information with mystery very well, thus my feeling of wearing shoes on the wrong foot-but in a good way.  If nothing is explained, everything is a lie, or I feel the author is toying with me just because she can, I can’t get comfortable in a story; Instead I was willing to let Crane take the wheel and guide me through her world. As a friend pointed out to me, “mind games” doesn’t just apply to disillusioning, or Justine’s situation in the novel, but to the author/reader relationship as well. Overall I feel my trust was well earned.

In Double Cross, readers are double-crossed, but I did not feel misled or betrayed by the author; Within the context of exploring morality and Justine’s questions about her role as part of Packard’s disillusioning crew the plot makes sense. My metaphor for this book is: thinking I’m about to drink a glass of milk, only to discover it’s orange juice. Both are tasty, and though the difference is a surprise, I will keep on drinking.

Midcity may put some people off because there aren’t shortcuts to figuring out what is going on. In many Urban Fantasy novels there are quick reference points to get the reader started: This book is about Vampires and Assassins, I will read in order to find out how this author has tweaked the roles to make it uniquely her own; or This book is about figures from Celtic mythology walking around in modern America. It may be that I’ve missed an entire grouping of UF novels that play with projecting one’s hypochondria in to another person in order to reform criminals, if so I am glad I encountered the disillusionists first.  Readers who enjoy exploring the unfamiliar and uncertain, who don’t mind getting comfy in the uncomfortable, and who love characters with layers (parfait? onion?) should definitely give this trilogy a try. Start soon, the third novel is soon to be released by Samhain! (ooh, and audible too, if goodreads is to be believed).

(apologies for potential semicolon misuse-it’s the devil’s punctuation)

One of my reasons for (re)launching this blog at last was my experience of readers, authors and bloggers at Authors After Dark held in Philadelphia Aug 2011.

A friend mentioned AAD to me last December and I immediately agreed to go along, even though I knew nothing about it: Philadelphia is one of the cities I think of as home and there were several authors on the list of attendees that I knew I’d love to meet. There were a few elements of the convention that could have improved the overall experience, but ultimately I am glad I went.

 

The improvements:


  1. Keeping the convention website live until after the event ended
    . Last winter the information moved to a yahoo group, which I did not join (who wants to create yet another online ID in order to follow a one-off event?) Fortunately my friend followed along with the group and kept me updated. In the meantime, the website for AAD2012 went live. Why not keep both websites up? In addition, having a website that listed the bloggers attending along with the authors (I understand this was available via yahoo group, but that’s not as helpful as a website) would have been useful to all attending.
  2. One official twitter hashtag. #AADPhilly and #AAD2011 were both used for the event, which kept information and interactions somewhat scattered. Advertise one hashtag and I’m sure we’d all follow.
  3. Updates posted at the hospitality room and under the designated Twitter hashtag. There was a lot of confusion as events and panels changed times and places. This confusion could have been mitigated with designated spots to find more information. The welcome event was delayed, the farewell event seemed nonexistent, and by the last day even the authors were having trouble finding the room scheduled for their panels.

 

There are plenty of other posts discussing positives and negatives of the convention, but for me communication would be the easiest problem to fix, and would make a very positive difference for all attendees.

I haven’t attended conferences/conventions for fun before, just work related ones. This one exceeded my expectations. Authors, bloggers and readers mixed freely and there were many surreal moments for me (Nicole Peeler and Carolyn Crane, two of my favourite authors, showing up in the registration line behind me set the tone of the weekend). The blend of professional and informal was also very enjoyable: Panels were rather free-form, and encouraged interaction between readers and panelists; elevator, hallway and dinner conversations were a mix of amusing and inspirational. I am especially thankful to the authors for treating readers like part of the family. Though there were authors I knew I wanted to see while there because I was already a fan of their books (Peeler, Crane) or followed on twitter (Jennifer Estep, Dakota Cassidy), I also discovered authors I couldn’t wait to read thanks to their comments on panels (Anton Strout, Nancy Holzner, Mia Watts, Jennifer Armintrout) and excellent swag/promo items (Kristen Painter). Others are now on my To Be Read list because they were so engaging during conversations of convenience (Delilah Devlin, AC Mason, Megan Grooms) and willing to take pictures with the wonky androgyny bunny I use as an avatar on twitter (Brynn Paulin, Bronwyn Green).

AAD was a very enjoyable reader/writer immersion experience. As a result of the con my brain was racing with ideas about what to read and how to write, that was certainly worth the ticket price. If AAD gets its communication sorted out, and if it’s scheduled for another city I’d like to visit I may attend again, though I will probably sit the next one out to see what happens.
AAD/Recap Posts:
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