rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-30 02:09 pm

Recent Romances: The Heiress Effect, Summer Campaign, The Other Side of Us

Catching up on book notes; spot the theme!

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister), by Courtney Milan. Heiress Jane Fairfield has tons of money and suitors, but is determined not to marry; in my very favorite part of the book, she fends off her suitors with a combination of social obnoxiousness and spectacularly hideous dresses. Her sister Emily is shut in by her guardian due to epilepsy, but sneaks out and meets a sweet Indian law student.

A very enjoyable romance distinguished by excellent characterization, including of the minor characters, plenty of comedy, and good banter. I liked all the characters individually, but the heroines were much more interesting to me than the heroes, so this worked better for me as a novel than as a romance. It's the second in a series, but I accidentally read it first.

Look elsewhere for historical accuracy, though Milan does often use snippets of actual history: the hideous dye which plays a role in the story actually was a recent invention. Anjan could have been doing what he was doing in England at that time, but I don't think everyone would have been anywhere near as accepting of his romance with an English woman. The discussion of colonialism, the rights of disabled people and women, and other social issues are all important and true, but also a bit anvillicious. That being said, in terms of the actual portrayal of people with disabilities, both mental and physical, Milan is outstanding.

The Other Side of Us , by Sarah Mayberry. A woman filmmaker still recovering from disabling car crash injuries moves in next door to a man with an adorable dog. She too has an adorable dog! It must be fate. I liked the realistic treatment of her disabilities, but there were too many stupid misunderstandings for my taste.

Summer Campaign, by Carla Kelly. Genuinely heartwarming romance between Major Jack Hamilton, just returned from years at war and struggling with PTSD, and the bizarrely named Miss Onyx Hamilton, who is illegitimate and so considered lucky to marry anyone, let alone the vicar whom she doesn't love. (The name is explained, but still.) She is set upon by highwaymen! He is shot rescuing her! She does such a good job nursing him that he asks her to come nurse his dying brother. And their relationship slowly blossoms.

The social situation probably isn't historically accurate, but the medical details are. The characters' emotions and the slow growth of intimacy and love are very realistic and believable. If you're tired of insta-love and relationships driven by lust, this is the book for you. Kelly is one of the few romance writers who has heroes who are not particularly handsome, out of shape, etc. Her characters are ordinary people who value each other for their personality and kindness.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-01-24 10:06 am

Day 24: How to Find a Therapist

Sixbeforelunch asked about this. (Yes, month meme answers will spill into next month.)

I won't go much into logistics because those are so localized. However, I will mention that therapists frequently have dreadful websites, so I take those with a grain of salt and just look for giant red flags (for me) such as phrases like "holistically incentivizing inner growth via process-oriented 'out of the box' thinking" or "we shall dance together in the inner sphere of oneness" or "Byron Katie."

Statistically speaking, the most important predictor of the success of therapy is the rapport between the therapist and the client. So the most important questions to ask yourself are, "Do I like this person? Do I think this is someone I could come to trust? Do I think I could talk to this person about the stuff I want to talk about?"

If you hate the therapist on the first session, don't go back. If you're not sure, maybe try one more session. You should feel at least reasonably/tentatively good with them by session three. It's not just about how competent they are; it's about chemistry and having a good match. You can do OK with someone you don't bond with (especially with some very skills-oriented therapy like CBT) but if it's not skills-oriented or you actively dislike them, you probably won't get much out of it.

That being said, rapport alone will do just fine for life problems. It will also often do just fine for life problems plus mental illness or trauma that has already been treated and that you already have a reasonable grip on. If you have a mental illness or trauma that you're addressing for the first time, or have never successfully addressed, there are a lot of very specific treatments that not all therapists will know about or use. This is where experts come in handy.

(Including but not limited to OCD, ADHD, specific anxiety like phobias or social anxiety, and PTSD. If you have serious specific anxiety and you've never tried CBT, an anxiety specialist who uses CBT can be life-changing.)

Think about what's important to you and what you're worried will be misunderstood. What are your dealbreakers?

I had a phone conversation with my current therapist before ever meeting him in which I interrogated him at length about his opinions about the internet. Only when I was satisfied that he would treat internet-based relationships as real relationships and not judge me for caring about online interactions did I go to see him. I also sounded him out about certain issues involving being a therapist that I'd previously clashed with other therapists I knew over. Only when I was satisfied that we were on the same page about that did I go to meet him.

Feel free to ask questions!
rachelmanija: (Fowl: Evil Chicken)
2015-01-18 09:22 am

Day 17: Most Ridiculous Plot Twists

This is for bookelfe/skygiants. Of course. (Yes, I'm out of order.)

I’m sticking with books here. A lot of manga and anime operates on different narrative rules, so the bizarreness makes wacky internal sense. I do have to mention, though, the complete works of Kaori Yuki if you have any interest in things like random flying Heavenly whales, apocalypse by army of flying zombie angel embryos, and people getting turned into masses of writhing tentacles and kept in the bathtub.

Even so, it was very, very difficult to narrow this down to five. There are bizarre premises (“I will break every bone in my body because then they’ll grow back stronger and I WILL BE INVINCIBLE”), the sheer weight of ridiculousness in a single book (the bone-breaking book also featured the near-death of the hero’s milk-allergic brother when the hero’s cheating girlfriend ate pizza, then kissed the brother), the sudden intrusion of absurdity into a previously non-bizarre book (two-thirds sensitive exploration of sketchy power dynamics, one third EVIL BALL OF MASKED S&M SMALL PRESS POETS), and unwanted intrusions by the author’s peculiar id (of course the most desirable whores have hooves.) Not to mention Terry Goodkind's infamous evil chicken. How to choose?

I have so many contenders that I was forced to name winners in categories.

Most Stupid Protagonist

Runner-Up: Oscar, the hero of Myke Cole’s Control Point. When faced with the difficult decision of who he should get help from— a) his best friend, b) a friendly acquaintance, or c) the sociopathic supervillain who is currently locked up after going on a mass slaughter rampage but who promises to help him out if he’ll only release her from the magical wards laid on her to stop her from slaughtering everyone in sight— guess who he picks?

Winner: Summer in Mary Brown’s Master of Many Treasures, for failing to get rid of a traveling companion whom she easily could get rid of, after he repeatedly and deliberately endangers her and all the rest of her companions, including trying to kill a friend of hers in a random fit of temper. Also for ignoring all advice by people who clearly have her best interest in mind, and taking all advice by people holding up HI I AM EVIL signs, and for failing to learn from very consistent consequences, like falling into quicksand full of rotting corpses because she couldn’t bear to take her best friend’s advice that the left-hand path led to the Swamp of Rotting Corpses. Also for believing that a good excuse for stalking her dragon ex-boyfriend is explaining that she actually fell in love with him when she thought he was a flying pig.

This doesn’t have anything to do with her intelligence, but I just want to mention that during the course of the book, she lays an egg.


Once Is Tragedy, One Million Times Is Hilarity

Crazy-Beautiful, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Gee, if I'd known spilling my orange juice was this effective, I'd have spilled it in Dad's direction every day when I was younger. Then maybe he'd have made time to do things with me like, I don't know, play catch in the yard. Not that I'm complaining or playing the neglected child card. I'll never do that. I know what I've done. I know who's responsible for everything in my life, past, present, and future. Still, a little catch would have been fun, when I still had hands.



And what of me and my hands? Or, I should say, lack of hands.



I finish loading the dryer, hookload by hookload, use my hook to set the dial at seventy minutes, use my hook to depress the button.

Most Ridiculous Plot Twists

Runners-Up:

All books by Sheri Tepper. Future ones too. Every Sheri Tepper book in which infanticide is presented as the solution to the problems of the world. Also the one where the heroine turns out to be a de-aged squid-person. She might lay an egg too, I forget.

The indie gangster movie, name forgotten, in which the screenwriter’s poorly thought-through desire to add on one more surprise reveal meant that the entire action of the movie consisted of a drug lord hiring people to steal his own drugs.

The Isobelle Carmody books with the love quadrangle between two humans and two transformed dogs.

Dan Simmons’ The Rise of Endymion. The climactic revelation of the entire series is that quantum strings are made out of love.

Frank Herbert’s God-Emperor of Dune. It makes sense in context, but I still find it hilarious that the climax consists of the main character becoming a million worms.

Lord of Legends, by Susan Krinard. I still have no idea why the heroine’s housekeeper turned into a talking fox.

And finally… drum roll… the winner!

Spider Robinson’s Starseed. The heroine is paralyzed via drugs, has multiple bad guys holding guns on her, and isabout to be killed. As her last request, she asks for a moment to meditate. When they grant it, she achieves enlightenment. This enables her to become telepathic, overcome the effects of the paralyzing drug, and slaughter the bad guys with kung fu.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-15 11:18 am

Taylor's Temptation, by Suzanne Brockmann

I usually enjoy Brockmann's books a lot, but she can be uneven and has written a handful of stinkers. Unfortunately, this, an older book in her "Tall, Dark, and Dangerous" series, was one of them. It had the single least convincing romantic obstacle I've encountered in romance so far, and that's including Brockmann's own "Because I'm your boss... in this civilian temp job that you don't even need."

Navy SEAL Bobby Taylor, on leave after being wounded on a mission, is dispatched by his teammate and best buddy Wes to convince Wes's civilian little sister Colleen not to stupidly go to a war zone to try to rescue orphans. Wes, who comes across as creepily controlling AT BEST, is dead set against anyone dating his sister. Ever. Especially not Bobby, his best friend and a completely stand-up guy. If Bobby dates Colleen, Wes will feel terribly betrayed, punch him out, and never speak to him again. Colleen, by the way, is 23.

I gather that "no one is good enough for my little sister" is a known trope, though thankfully this is the first time I've encountered it so hopefully it's died the death. But it's a trope that only makes sense if the hero has an (undeserved) bad reputation or a shady past, so the brother has legitimate reasons for wanting to protect his sister from him. It makes NO SENSE if the hero is a completely great guy who is also the brother's best friend. Wes goes so berserk over the thought of Bobby dating his adult sister that it makes him seem creepy and batshit and possibly incestuous. (Luckily I read Wes's own romance first (it's much better) or I never would have picked it up.)

Then there's Bobby. He's a tough Navy SEAL, so why is he so cowed by his buddy's nutso fixation on nobody dating his sister? He's completely inconsistent, too, bouncing every five pages from kissing her to telling her he wants nothing to do with her because, horrors, Wes wouldn't approve. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kept thinking, "Grow a pair!" But sadly, he mostly only manages to be assertive when forbidding Colleen to do anything dangerous.

And Colleen. I actually mostly liked Colleen. At least she knew what she wanted and went for it. Except that I wanted to back her belief that if Bobby was allowed to do dangerous things he believed in, so was she, but her orphans in the war zone mission actually did sound like a terrible idea. I also lost a lot of sympathy for her when the orphan she had meant to adopt was killed, and she was boinking Bobby about two hours later and thereafter mostly seemed to forget about the death of her nearly-a-daughter.

There's an accidentally hilarious climax where Wes appears, goes berserk upon finding out that Colleen is dating a man even though he doesn't know who it is and forbids her from dating whoever it is, finds out that it's Bobby, goes even more berserk, punches Bobby, declares that the reason Colleen shouldn't date Bobby is that Navy SEALs are never home, says she can date a military man as long as he's an officer (Bobby and Wes are enlisted), says it's terrible if she and Bobby are dating casually but it would be fine if they were married so they must MARRY IMMEDIATELY, then suddenly and for no reason decides it's fine if she dates Bobby. If I was Wes's commanding officer, I would have sent him for a mandatory psychological evaluation. Also drug testing.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-14 12:10 pm

Reading Wednesday: Agatha Christie

I have been re-reading Agatha Christie mysteries. In some cases, the last time I read them was thirty years ago (I was very fond of them as a child) and so I might as well have been reading them for the first time. Or maybe I am reading some for the first time. Who knows.

The flaws in Christie are pretty obvious: stock characters, mostly serviceable prose, sometimes mechanical plots, and problematic views of the period up the wazoo. (Not just racial stereotyping, sexist opinions, etc, but also jarring bits like offhand references to a dessert called "N-Word in his Shirt.") Also, while even her less-good books are reasonably amusing if you like that sort of thing, the quality did vary widely.

But obviously, I like her writing or I wouldn't be reading, so I'd like to talk about what's good about it.

Though she gets criticized for writing the same book over and over, she actually experimented quite a lot within the basic form of the mystery/thriller. A lot of her innovations have since become standard, but they weren't at the time. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express are famous for unexpected outcomes, but the little-known Endless Night is a creepy, atmospheric Gothic that gets a lot of mileage over breaking various Gothic rules. Death Comes as the End is a very well-done murder mystery set in ancient Egypt that benefits from the characters being completely unaware of the existence of murder mysteries. And Then There Were None, the one with ten horrible people trapped on an island, has been imitated many times but never done better. It's genuinely scary.

She did cold cases and bottle stories and purely psychological mysteries, and played a lot with tone, writing books that varied from tragedy to farce. A Murder is Announced is hilarious for much of its length, but also contains one of the most affecting and tragic deaths she ever wrote.

If you want to learn how to introduce a very large cast of characters and make sure that the reader always knows who everyone is and what their relationships are with each other, you could do a lot worse than studying Christie. She was great at that, and did it so easily that you barely notice that you're reading a short novel with thirty distinct characters whose plot hinges on the reader remembering who's secretly in love with who.

Some of her characters are stock types, but others, though lightly sketched, are more than that: Miss Marple, the sweet old lady whose very dark worldview doesn't spoil her enjoyment of life; Lucy Eyelesbarrow, the charming and efficient young housekeeper-entrepreneur; Henrietta from The Hollow, the sculptress who can't help loving her art more than any human being; Elinor from Sad Cypress, desperately in love with a man who will only stay with her if she never reveals the depths of her feelings; Miss Hinch and Miss Murgatroyd, the dog-loving lesbian couple from A Murder is Announced. I could go on. Christie's characters may not be fully rounded, complex characters, but they're often believable and memorable.

Re-reading now, one thing that I didn't notice before was how precisely placed in time the books are. You always know exactly when they are in terms of WWII-- during, with rationing and many men are off fighting; just after, when lots of items are still scarce and people illegally trade coupons for butter; years after, when there's always men who are young but prematurely aged, adrift in a world they no longer belong in, changed forever by the single year they spent on the front. I wasn't surprised to find Christie sensitive and accurate about veterans' various reactions to war, from what we'd now call PTSD to the men who loved the excitement and will now never find anything to equal it. I see that in fiction of the period quite a bit. But she also writes about something I've seen less, which is what happened to the women who went abroad, and have similar reactions with the addition that no one thinks a woman should feel that way.

Even if you don't like mysteries, I highly recommend her Autobiography. It's idiosyncratic in the very best way, shamelessly (and fascinatingly) recounting the stories she imagined for her dolls, then skipping ahead to noting that her great-grand-daughter seems to tell similar stories to her own dolls. As a portrait of a time and place, it's wonderful. The childhood sections are especially good. She remembers not only the facts, but a child's perspective. (It also confirms that yes, all those women living together in cottages in her novels are supposed to be lesbians. She mentions basing those characters in her books on women like that whom she knew as a child and only later realized were couples.)

Please rot13.com spoilers at the level of "this is who the murderer is." I've read most of Christie's books, but don't always remember. ;)
rachelmanija: (X-Men: Best day ever)
2015-01-11 11:52 am

Day 11: Emergency Preparedness

Vass asked about emergency preparedness, which is an interest (and former occupation) of mine. If you click on the tags, you will find a number of stories in which cars and other objects burst into flames (this seems to happen often in my vicinity), and in which I locked myself in my bedroom, set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet, etc. (Moral: Do NOTHING before coffee.)

Information about the physical aspects of emergency preparedness (what to have around, where to store it, what training to get) is widely available and also localized. What you need depends on what you're likely to face. I have no idea what to do in case of tornados, because we don't get them where I live; a resident of Louisiana doesn't need to know about earthquakes. So I'll skip that part and instead discuss psychology, which is universal.

My experience is that not very many people are interested in emergency preparation, on any level, but that the people who are interested are very interested. And also that the people who are not interested tend to think that the people who are interested are deluded - that there is no actual value in being prepared, but that it functions as a mere security blanket of false comfort. I can't tell you how many times I hear, "Well, if it makes you feel better..."

Naturally, I find this quite annoying. I have used my training and equipment many times, and have very likely saved at least one life. It does make me feel better, but that's not its sole purpose. I also find it aggravating that the security blanket implication suggests that anyone who needs it is a coward. People interested in emergency preparedness frequently either have dangerous jobs or live in dangerous areas - that's how they got interested in the first place. If you ever take a class geared toward people who are there voluntarily, rather than being required for work, there tends to be a heavy emphasis on not being foolishly heroic. That's because the people taking the class tend to rush toward the danger, rather than running away. You don't need to warn people about things they'd never do anyway.

(Those of us who are interested can also annoy those who are not. That tends to go in the direction of "Just wait, you'll come running to me to save you when things go south.")

The most important aspect of preparedness is psychological. The place you start is believing that bad things happen, that at some point they will happen in your vicinity, that you may well be capable of doing something that will have positive results, and that you want to do so. People often don't believe (or don't want to contemplate) any or all four of those ideas. But once you consciously believe all those things, everything else follows.

(Number three is conditional because there's always the possibility that, for instance, the first thing that happened in the earthquake was that a brick fell on your head.)

The first time or first few times you're in an emergency situation, it's natural to freeze. It's also natural to freeze if something completely unexpected happens, no matter how experienced you are. If you deal with similar situations regularly, you stop freezing. However, the important thing to remember about freezing is that it's normal (so don't blame yourself) and it's temporary (so don't panic).

The freeze reflex is there, I believe, to force you to evaluate the situation rather than blindly plunging into counterproductive action. If you recognize it as that, you can use it to your advantage. So you're standing there thinking, "Oh my God, what's going on?!" Remember that this is the freeze response. Stay where you are (or take cover, as relevant) and see if you can figure out what's going on and what you can and should do about it. You only need a few seconds to evaluate. Take those seconds.

Many emergency situations are simple. Many useful and lifesaving responses are simple. Call emergency services. If someone's bleeding a lot, stop it. If someone's in danger of being hit by incoming traffic, stop the traffic and (if they don't have a possible spinal injury) remove them to a safe area. If someone does have a possible spinal injury, don't let them move. If things are falling, take cover. Stay away from live wires, including any conductive substances the wires are touching. If someone's having a psychological crisis, stay calm, listen, and let them see your sincere concern. Don't be afraid to ask if someone is suicidal. If someone says they intend to harm someone, believe them. If you're not sure whether or not someone is in trouble, ask. Etcetera.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-01-10 12:04 pm

Day 10: My favorite fusion food

Anglerfish07 wanted to know about my favorite fusion food. Though I live in the city of Korean tacos and sushi burritos (NO I am not going to try the latter without a sincere personal recommendation), there is one clear answer. It is, of course, Asian-Western pastries and other related desserts.

The form is Western (usually but not exclusively French), the flavors are Asian, and the presentation is exquisite. For instance, black sesame cream puffs, kinako (sweet soy powder)-dusted donuts made with just enough mochi dough to lend a delightful chewiness, mango pudding, white sesame panna cotta, and so forth.

While I enjoy both traditional Western and Asian desserts and pastries, their fusion incarnations lift them to a whole new level. Western desserts are often too sweet for my taste; fusion desserts are just sweet enough. Asian pastries can be too heavy and dense; fusion pastries are typically very light. I'm not that big on chocolate, so a wide array of alternate flavors is nice. Also tropical fruits are objectively superior to temperate fruits.

Japanese pastry chefs in Paris

Behold Chantilly!
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-01-10 11:08 am

Japan photos

[personal profile] telophase is on vacation on Japan, and is taking some amazing photos. Go check them out!
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-09 09:59 am

My Real Children, by Jo Walton

I read this when it first came out; please correct and forgive inaccuracies of memory. (Appropriate to the story!)

Patricia, an Alzheimer's patient, is in a nursing home. The nurses think that she recalls living two completely different lives (and is slipping between realities now) because she has dementia; we, the readers, know that she's recalling alternate timelines.

In 1949, she agreed to a marriage proposal, or not. The woman who agreed became Trish, trapped in a miserably abusive marriage... but also living in the best possible world as far as the general good is concerned, with peace, prosperity, and a moon base. The woman who declined became Pat, who falls in love with a woman, travels, and has a life full of love and self-fulfillment... in a world that slides into nightmarish total war, and seems to headed straight for Armageddon.

Though there are plenty of full scenes with dialogue and so forth, there's also a lot of summary narration. This works surprisingly well; my interest only flagged in the last fifth or so, when I started losing track of the multiplicity of alternate children and grandchildren and their significant others. It's a book about two largely mundane lives that inexplicably has the narrative grip of a thriller. I credit Walton's writing skill for this, and I'm still not sure how she did it. Between the depressingness and the summarizing, by all rights I should have bounced off this book rather than reading it in a day.

I didn't write about the book till now because I had such mixed feelings about it. Artistically, it's very well-done - an unusual use of tell-not-show that succeeds in (mostly) being compelling reading. However, I also found it excruciatingly depressing. It deals centrally with five of my top ten most depressing subjects: Alzheimer's disease, agonizing death by cancer, nuclear war, domestic violence and emotional abuse, and being consigned in a nursing home where you're helpless and mistreated and cut off from everything that makes life bearable.

Regarding the alternate timelines, the ending strongly implied that it was Patricia's choice of who to marry that led to sweeping changes between the timelines. I assume it was a "butterfly effect" in which she made one small change that led to several other small changes that ended up having a gigantic domino effect, but I would have liked to be able to see some of how that happened. I couldn't figure out what it was she did that was important. If I recall correctly, history started changing in big ways right after she either got married or didn't. Trish did get involved in political volunteering, but if I recall correctly, history had already changed at that point. Am I misremembering when history started to change, and it was the volunteering after all? Or was there some other crucial action that I missed?
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-09 09:48 am

Awards eligibility

In case anyone would like to nominate my work for anything, here's what I published in 2014:

Stranger, by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. (Viking, November 13, 2014.)

Prisoner, by Lia Silver. (Melusine Press, June 30, 2014.)

Laura's Wolf, by Lia Silver. (Melusine Press, March 5, 2014.)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-08 11:18 am

Day 8: The Best and Worst Things About Collaboration

And as if to celebrate our collaboration, Stranger has been nominated for YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. The final list will be announced in February.

The way Sherwood and I collaborate is that we first sit down and discuss the plot of the entire story, taking notes. Before we write a chapter, we discuss what will happen in more detail. Then we sit side by side at a computer and write the chapter. Usually Sherwood types, with either of us or both of us actually writing. (I would be dictating.) The result is a book where any given sentence was probably written by both of us together. When we have a first draft, we pass it back and forth for rewrites and polishes and additions.

Sherwood thinks on a much larger scale than I do, in every way. I tend toward intimate scenes with a few people, shorter lengths, and less lavish description. She goes for epics, LONG epics, and more description. Our work together tends to split the difference: medium length, medium description, a large world but we only see a small part of it.

We think differently about worldbuilding. Sherwood creates entire worlds from scratch, with economies, ecologies, and cultures. I tend to start with our world, make a few changes, and extrapolate from there. The werewolf Marines books are typical of my general tendencies in that direction. I didn’t create a new ecology or economy, because werewolves exist secretly within our own ecologies and economies, but instead focused on how werewolf culture might have evolved alongside all the other real cultures, and the details of how their powers work. How might pack dynamics (actual wolf behavior, not the alpha male bullshit) translate into human culture, is there a limit to how much transforms with them when they shapeshift, do they have origin myths, etc.

Sherwood tends to start with an image. I tend to start with “What would be the most interesting/dramatic path that follows logically from what we’ve already got?”

The best part of collaborating is that it’s impossible to get writer’s block. If I go blank, Sherwood will provide something, or vice versa. It’s also just fun – a bit like playing a role-playing game. We’re different enough to keep things interesting, but similar enough to have infinite fun inventing creatures, mutant powers, difficult situations for our characters, etc.

The worst part is that we’re both absent-minded and not very computer-adept, so we have repeatedly lost files, accidentally copied old versions on top of new versions, etc. It can also be hard to find the time for both of us to get together.

I’ve tried collaborating with a number of people. It doesn’t always work – sometimes our prose styles don’t mesh, or our working styles are incompatible, or we argue in a way that isn’t fruitful, or we have wildly differing visions, or we plain don’t get along.

When I saw the movie Pacific Rim, where giant robots can only be operated by a pair of pilots who are capable of working so smoothly together that they can make one mecha move as if operated by a single person, I thought, “Sherwood and I are Drift-compatible.” Call us if a giant monster appears and you need pilots.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-07 09:22 am

Unbound, by Cara McKenna

Merry lost a hundred pounds, but achieving that goal made her feel unmoored rather than triumphant. She leaves America for a hiking vacation in Scotland, swims in a bacteria-tainted loch, gets sick, and collapses on the doorstep of hot, haunted Scotsman Rob Rush. He takes her in, takes care of her, and they begin to flirt. (Implausibly soon, in my opinion, considering how sick she is.) Turns out that he has some deep, dark secrets.

One is a sexual fetish. Not just a preference, a genuine fetish of the can’t-truly-enjoy-sex-without-it type. Between that and its odd/squicky aspects, his shame and secrecy about it made way more sense than similar plotlines involving more mundane preferences normally do. (“I can never have a relationship with a woman because she’ll be horrified to learn that I enjoy bondage!!!”) Luckily, Merry finds the very extremity of Rob’s fetish exciting—if she gives him what he wants, he’ll be incredibly aroused in a way that she’s never experienced before. This part of the book was nicely done, plausible and slightly dark and weirdly hot.

Unfortunately, there’s also his second secret. This one did not work so well. It’s alcoholism— the reason he’s lurking on the moors to begin with. The self-hatred that fuels his alcoholism is completely believable, but so much so that he does not remotely seem ready for a relationship. Which would be fine in a novel where a happy couple ending is not required, but this is a genre romance. They break up, she returns to the US, and then she gets a letter saying that he got into therapy and now he’s ready for a relationship, will she please come back? She does, he seems fine now, yay totally unconvincing happy ending!

I know I keep ranting about this, but I wish that if authors are going to take such care with showing the trauma and the psychological damage, that they also take the time to show some psychological healing rather than shoving it off-page. I would much rather they either break the writing rule that says that the decision to seek help is the climax and nothing can happen after the climax but a quick wrap-up, and instead have a long denouement showing some healing, or that they have the healing occur via emotional growth during the relationship rather than via off-page therapy, so you see it happen throughout the book. The “Hi, I fixed everything in therapy” ending is the worst of both worlds.

The novel is rule-breaking for a genre romance due to Rob’s fetish and the unusual genuineness of his self-hatred, and the sex scenes are hot, interestingly weird, and well-characterized. The ending is terrible. If you hate books where the heroine loses weight, you will certainly hate this as her pre-book weight loss comes up a lot. McKenna’s Willing Victim had similar virtues (unusual, very real-seeming sex scenes that were hot despite being something I normally find a huge turn-off) but a more likable hero and a much better (though still abrupt) ending.

Unbound: (InterMix) (Only $4.00!)

Willing Victim (Only $3.00!)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-06 08:55 am

Why we self-published the sequel to Stranger

Hostage, the sequel to Stranger, is out now. The e-book is $4.99; the paper book will be released in a few months.

Sherwood has put up a detailed post about why we chose to self-publish Hostage. It’s well-worth reading in full, but the short version is that we finished Hostage a year ago. If we stayed with Viking, it would be two more years before it would be released. (Stranger also took three years to come out, counting from when Sharyn November first told us she wanted it; two and a half years if you count from when we actually got our contract.) We decided that being able to control the price and release dates of the series was more important to us than the prestige and resources of a traditional publishing house.

Feel free to discuss here or there; feel free to publicize and link anywhere.

I welcome comments on your own publishing experiences. I ask only that you refrain from put-downs of individuals or general statements that anything is evil. Amazon included. Criticize all you want, just don’t say stuff like “Amazon is trying to enslave us all, like STALINIST RUSSIA!!!” or “You’re just self-publishing because no one wants your politically correct tripe!!!” or any other statement that naturally lends itself to three exclamation points.

Hostage at Book View Cafe (the writer’s collective). Hostage (The Change) at Amazon. At Barnes and Noble At Apple. At Kobo
rachelmanija: (Unicorn emotions)
2015-01-05 10:05 am

Day 5: Favorite and least favorite literary (romance) tropes

There are so many tropes that I have opinions about that I could discuss this topic all month. So today, for Tonapah, I will just discuss romance tropes.

Before I start, I just want to say that fantasies are fantasies. I never assume that people who write or read tropes I dislike literally want those tropes in their real life, any more than I literally want to have a hot bodyguard because I'm on a mafia don's hit list. Enjoying romance novels with asshole heroes does not mean you masochistically want to date real life assholes. Okay, on to the tropes.

There is a certain romantic hero type that has become very popular in straight genre romance. It is the arrogant, asshole, controlling, domineering, sexually dominating billionaire. Sometimes he is just one of those things, but often he is all six. One is fine if done well, but the rest are the opposite of sexy. This dude is my least favorite trope of the day.

Billionaires are not sexy to me. The essential thing about a billionaire is that he has lots of money. If the most attractive thing about a man is his wallet, that implies nothing positive either about him or women who are interested in him. When I think of a billionaire, I think of Donald Trump and Gordon Gekko (“Greed is good.”) I think of asshole bosses who exploit their workers. I think of men who are totally out of touch with real life, men who buy their way out of problems, men who have never faced adversity and wouldn’t last five minutes in any sort of crisis situation, unattractive men who have beautiful girlfriends who are in it solely for the money. My image of the billionaire is of a shallow, narcissistic, bloodless wuss who has to bribe women to have sex with him. Not sexy.

Arrogant characters can be entertaining. But it’s not an attractive trait by itself. I mostly enjoy arrogant characters if they’re regularly deflated. Similarly, asshole characters can be entertaining. But they’re not appealing as romantic heroes. I can’t root for them to get the girl, because I always think the girl would be miserable. I sure wouldn’t want to date one.

Some arrogant asshole characters are sexy, but on a “hot one-night stand” level. Mal in Firefly, for instance. Mal would be fun for a weekend, and might make a great platonic friend afterward. But Wash is the one you’d want for an actual relationship.

I don’t get the appeal of the control freak. I imprinted on Han Solo, who’s cool and confident enough to take things as they come and trust that he can handle whatever might arise. That’s sexy. A man who must control everything is a man who lacks confidence, spontaneity, sensuality, and a sense of fun. Uptight, buttoned-down men are probably bad in bed. Domineering men are obnoxious dicks. Men who try to control women are jerks at best and abusive at worst... and they’re often at their worst. None of this is sexy!

Sexually dominating men can be sexy; it depends on the writing. However, I have to be sold by the writing, because if there’s going to be BDSM at all, my personal preference is for femdom.

On that note, one of the most annoying tropes of all is the assumption that of course the hero will dominate the heroine, in and out of the bedroom, whether or not either of them are specifically into BDSM. Barf.

So a whole lot of recent contemporary romance has heroes whom I find both unlikable and unsexy. If I’m going to read contemporary, I prefer military romance or romantic suspense. Those are more likely to have blue-collar heroes (soldiers, cops, bodyguards, etc) with a more rough-and-ready attitude – John McClane rather Christian Gray.

For romantic heroes, I like rogues with a heart of gold, genuinely nice guys, tough guys, battered idealists, warriors and soldiers, scholars, and wizards. I like tricksters and pifflers who use their powers of deception for good. I like self-sacrificing men. I like men who don’t need to prove their masculinity, whether it’s because they aren’t traditionally masculine and don’t care or they’re so badass they don’t care. I like old-school gentlemen who aren’t sexist. I like men who’ve gone through hell and still aren’t assholes. I like pretty much any sort of romantic hero who’s brave, honest, and kind. I would probably like a billionaire with those attributes, but billionaire heroes are a different archetype that lacks those traits.

Probably my favorite romance trope is partnership. I love it when the hero and heroine fall in love while working together toward a common goal, and keep working together after their relationship is established. For instance, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, or Sam and Alyssa in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters, Ki and Vandien, or early-days Vlad and Cawti, or the main couple in the “Queen’s Thief” books, or any of Barbara Hambly’s romantic couples. Trusting each other with their lives, guarding each other’s backs, rescuing each other, tending each other’s wounds, fighting together, bantering together, figuring out a difficult problem together— now THAT is sexy.

A couple of these are enemies-to-lovers stories, which I like if the reason they’re enemies is that they start out with opposing goals or are on opposite sides. I’m a hard sell on “I hate your personality” enemies-to-lovers stories, because they tend to go in the direction of “asshole hero puts down heroine; bitchy heroine is mean to hero.” I find that unpleasant to read, and the resulting conversion is a hard sell.

I like to feel that the heroine and hero are compatible and enjoy each other’s company and will make a good couple once they’ve overcome whatever obstacles lie in their path. A surprising number of romance couples seem to have nothing in common and don’t actually like each other that much.

I almost never see this, but I love it when the heroine must choose between two or more romantic options who are both attractive and appealing but flawed, her choice will say something important about her, it’s not obvious who she’ll choose, and any choice would be valid. Offhand, I can think of exactly two examples of this: Patricia McKillip’s The Changeling Sea and Agatha Christie’s What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw. (Possibly also Legend of Korra, whose romantic endgame I know of but which I haven’t seen yet.) A lot of love triangles start out like this, but resolve by making one of the choices clearly the wrong one. Then the heroine doesn’t make a true choice. Suuure, she’s going to pick the guy who turned into a ruthless killer who was indirectly responsible for the death of the person she loved most in the world!

One of my very favorite tropes in any genre is lovers or friends on opposite sides of a war. It contains so many things that I love and which are dramatically juicy: conflict arising from honor and idealism rather than petty or stupid or jerkish issues, tragedy, angst, difficult choices with no right answer, and grand battlefield melodrama optionally followed by moving reunions. I imprinted on the Mahabharata as a child, and probably nothing will ever top its version of this trope, with brothers, cousins, uncles, teachers, and friends on both sides of the battle lines. I rarely see this in genre romance, unfortunately, and can’t think of any examples offhand.

I like moments of tenderness and the hero and heroine being gentle with each other. I have a whole post coming up just on hurt-comfort, which is all about this.

I like realistic portrayals of PTSD. That’s now not uncommon in genre romance, which is nice. I don’t like PTSD used solely as a plot device or as a shallow nod to the concept of realism. I see this a lot in military romances, where the hero has nightmares that are solely there so we can see what happened to him in the war, but is completely fine otherwise. That’s not how it works. At the very least, he should feel lousy the next morning.

Also, PTSD is not an excuse to be an asshole. I see that mostly in contemporaries, where the asshole hero eventually comes out with some melodramatic tale of childhood abuse, witnessing his father murder his mother, first girlfriend died tragically and he blamed himself, etc. Guess what, we all have problems. Still not an excuse for being an asshole!
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-01-04 01:17 pm

Day 4: Media I'm Looking Forward To (Orphan Black)

Welcome to the question-a-day month meme! You can still add questions. Check the LJ version for the most current schedule.

Lokifan asked what media I’m looking forward to. I look forward to Orphan Black, season three. This is one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen: great characters, great dialogue, consistently unpredictable and well-structured plotting, and one of the very best performances I’ve ever seen on TV.

I thought for ages that this was an anime because the title sounds like one, but it’s actually a contemporary sf series. Sarah, a down-on-her-luck young woman whose child is being raised in foster care and is fleeing an abusive boyfriend, sees a woman who might be her double commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. She grabs the dead woman’s purse, finds her bank account and keys, and steps into her life.

That’s the first half-hour of the first episode. Things get complicated from there. Very, very complicated. Sarah finds out that she and the dead woman are clones… and there’s more clones out there. Some know what they are, and some don’t.

I don’t want to reveal too much, because as I said, the plot is consistently surprising. But Tatiana Maslany is extraordinary playing the various clones. They are all so distinct and convincing that you can tell when she’s one impersonating another – and are all also fascinating, complex characters. Great supporting cast, too. I especially like Sarah’s foster brother Felix and her own foster mother, Mrs. S. The characters have fascinating relationships with each other, and the show is often very, very funny. (I almost died laughing at some of the scenes in the rehab, not to mention Alison’s musical.)

Highly recommended. Contains some graphic violence and disturbing themes, including but not limited to children in danger, sexual violence, and non-consensual medical experimentation.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments, where I am happy to discuss in more detail. If you have not yet seen the show up to the end of season two, DO NOT READ COMMENTS. It’s best watched as un-spoiled as possible.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-03 10:13 am

Day 3: First Yuletide

Sholio asked me about my first Yuletide. I have no idea how I heard about it or what made me decide to try it out. All I remember is that it did not go well. I offered too many fandoms and offered to write any characters in them. This is a classic beginner’s mistake. I got an assignment for two characters who don’t actually meet in canon, with no details and no letter. I banged my head against the wall for a while, then defaulted.

To get back in for next year, I wrote The Story of Marli-Hrair and the Black Rabbit of Inle for Watership Down as a New Year’s Resolution. It’s still one of my favorite stories. (You probably don’t need to know canon, other than that they’re rabbits.)

The next Yuletide – my second signing up, but my first actually participating – was a huge improvement. I was less free with my offers, and got a wonderful, inspiring letter. I wrote The Taste of Honey for Sandman, which is probably my very favorite of my own fanfic stories, if I had to pick just one. You don’t need to know canon, other than that Dream and Death are siblings who rule over dreams and death.

I also snagged a pinch hit, Blood and Ink for Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark. You do need to know canon for this one. And I wrote a treat, The Rose of Naamah for Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. You don’t need to know canon, but don’t read unless you’re cool with major sexual masochism involving consensual pain infliction. Way back in this era, authors couldn’t edit stories once they were posted, so I had email Elyn Ross, the mod, a frantic note asking her to insert a line in which the heroine takes off her panties. She very kindly inserted it.

That was 2007, and I’ve been doing Yuletide ever since. It has transformed Christmas from a rather dull holiday to one of my favorites. I like the challenge, the inevitable wank, the stories I get written for me, the treasury of others' stories to read, the community, the inspiration, and the opportunity to give presents to friends or acquaintances or strangers.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-01-02 10:35 am

Month meme, Day 2: The Process of Publishing A Book

Welcome to the question-a-day month meme! You can still add questions. Check the LJ version for the most current schedule by clicking on the month meme tag.

Dhampyresa asked about the process of publishing a book, from first idea to publication. There’s actually several different roads for this, depending on whether it’s traditional or self-publishing, or whether I write solo or collaboratively. For this, I’ll assume you mean solo, because I’ll write on collaboration later.

In the beginning is the idea. I have lots of these. If I stuck just to the novel ideas I have right now, I’d have enough to keep me busy for the next ten years. So it’s not so much getting an idea as prioritizing an idea.

Due to laziness, I tend to prioritize the ideas that won’t take extreme amounts of research or worldbuilding. (This is why the lesbian dragonriders book got pushed back – it requires both. Anyone have good, vivid references for WWI-style dogfighting and aerial strategy?)

So, I’ve got my moderate-worldbuilding, moderate-research idea. I then contemplate and outline, then start writing. Eventually I have a manuscript. Here’s where paths start diverging.

If I’m going to self-publish, I polish, proofread, write a blurb, and create keywords. I get other people to do the cover and formatting. I usually solicit some reviews from bloggers. Then I publish. Ta-da! Once it goes live, I send out a message to my mailing list to let them know I have a book out. If it’s a sequel, I update the previous book to put a link to the sequel at the end of it. I will probably also put the first book on sale, to lure new readers. Once the manuscript is ready to go, the rest of the process takes anywhere between a week to two months. The difference depends on things like whether you had the cover done in advance and your formatter’s schedule.

If I traditionally publish, I send it to my agent to submit to publishers. This part takes between one month to one year, but could be longer. (If an agent can't sell a book in a year, it may not sell at all. Submitting without an agent takes far longer.) If a publisher or publishers wants it, they send a contract, which I and my agent ponder. It usually goes back for revisions/requests. Contract negotiations can take six months. Then the editor asks for revisions. I do them and send them back. The editor will usually do at least one round of that. This part takes between three months and two years. If it takes longer than four months, most of that time is spent after I’ve sent back my revisions and am waiting for the next set of notes.

Eventually, the manuscript goes to copyediting. It will be sent back to us with a bunch of corrections, from typos and grammar errors to questions about word usage and catches on continuity errors, like characters’ eye color changing. I fix the problems, answer the questions, and send it back. Then it goes to proofreading. I again get the proofread manuscript to check and do my own proof. Then it goes to ARCs – Advance Review Copies. These are sent to reviewers, and may have errors. My first book’s ARCs had a MISSING CHAPTER. (Usually errors are not that bad.) This part takes about three months, I think. Finally, the finished book comes out, and everyone rejoices.

As you can see, a big difference between traditional and self publishing is time. You do most of the same things either way— writing, editing, proofing, formatting, getting a cover, sending out review copies, etc— but because there’s so much less waiting between tasks with self-publishing, the whole process is significantly faster.