Reading progress notes

My plan to do more reading more regularly this year is not going as prolifically as I’d hoped, for a lot of reasons. But at least I’m still doing it.

Latest book: “Neverwhere,” by Neil Gaiman

Which I swear I’ve read before. It’s been sitting on my already-read shelves for years, and if you’d asked me what it was about, I’d have told you it was about an ordinary Londoner who one day falls through a rabbit hole and ends up in this semi-magical underground London. Which is, indeed, what it’s about.

And, in fact, the only reason I decided to read it “again”* is it closely fits the genre and themes of the books I’ve been concentrating on this year, and in such a prototypical way that I would often refer to “Neverwhere” as an example of “the sort of book I want to read–and write” in my LJ posts and comments. Richard Mayhew is an ordinary human “character of invitation” who stumbles upon a hidden supernatural world on our contemporary Earth and ends up being a champion of that underworld in a supernatural struggle of good and evil.

(* I also decided to read it again because when I finished my previous book, I was on my way to Arizona and didn’t have time to wait for the inter-library loan to send me a different book from my reading list.)

But after about the first chapter, the specific events started losing that familiarity of having been read before. Which makes me suspect I read the first chapter of this book at some point in the past, and then something happened in my life and I put it down and forgot about it. It’s not the sort of book I would have stopped reading because I didn’t like the book (as was the case with “American Gods.”) I do like the book. Did.

So Gaiman really is English, is he? Because I was sitting reading this thinking, “pretty good grasp of British humor for an American.”

“A Wizard of Earthsea”, Ursula Le Guin
“Proven Guilty”, Jim Butcher
“Dreamchild”, Hilary Hemingway and Jeffry P. Lindsay
“Guilty Pleasures”, Laurell K. Hamilton
“The War for the Oaks,” Emma Bull
“Shifter,” by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
“Neverwhere,” by Neil Gaiman

Guilty Pleasures (LK Hamilton)

Latest book: “Guilty Pleasures” by Laurell K. Hamilton

This book was kind of scary. In a good way, I mean. And not really what I expected at all. I knew it was contemporary horror, so I figured it was something resembling The Dresden Files or Buffy. Which it was. Except I didn’t expect it to be so…dark. From what I’d heard, I’d expected Hamilton’s book to be the kind of horror that’s so sex-drenched it takes the edge off things that *should* be scary to anyone that’s sane. And with one of those wise-cracking snarky protagonists like Harry Dresden or Buffy. Only I didn’t find it particularly sexy at all, and Anita Blake doesn’t do much snarking. None of this is in the way of criticism, mind you. I like a heroine who takes her situation seriously and is intelligently frightened by it and keeps her head and gets the job done. And having her be genuinely menaced by “friend” and foe every other page doesn’t inure you to the dangers she’s in. The book’s not long enough for that. Plus, the main character is herself pretty dark. Re-animating the dead for a living? How icky is that? In an intriguing way, I mean.

The one thing I was not fond of in the Blake-o-verse: the fact that everyone’s aware of vampires and other supernatural creatures. When it comes to my fictional “kinks”, I want a world where the supernatural is considered debunked and its dangers lurk in the shadows, only known to a select few. In other words, I want a fictional word that by all appearances is the scientifically skeptical world we all live in. Because I read these kinds of books (fantasy, horror) so I can imagine that the supernatural exists around me in the world I see everyday. And I don’t live in Anita Blake’s America. I know that for certain.

I had another book from my shelf lined up to read next, but after getting to the third page, I realize it’s *yet* another vampire story where the whole world knows vampires exist. I think I’ve had enough of that for the time being. I will have to consult my recs list for the next book up.

“A Wizard of Earthsea”, Ursula Le Guin
“Proven Guilty”, Jim Butcher
“Dreamchild”, Hilary Hemingway and Jeffry P. Lindsay
“Guilty Pleasures”, Laurell K. Hamilton

Quirk

Taking a cue from buffyannotater, and given my own January-ish Spring cleaning urges, I’ve been going through my old VHS tape collection seeing what I want to keep and what I want to pare down. This time around (I’ve pared down before) I’m interested in what drives my choice of the “keepers.” I was “poked” by a recent post of rahirah‘s on fan fic “kinks and squicks.” She nicely differentiates author “kinks” in stories from repeated themes in an author’s stories, and I suppose what I want to talk about are better thought of as “themes” than “kinks,” but the idea is similar–what draws me to particular movies/books/TV shows, and makes me want to revisit them again and again, is that they contain elements that really push my buttons.

I added my own comment to her post in response to someone talking about books and bookstores. The original commentator noted that being in bookstores drives her crazy because she knows there are books there that include her own personal kinks, but the difficulty is finding them! This resonated with me because I have a very quirky way of choosing what books I will read. I rarely, if ever, pick a book to read because it’s by a favorite author, or recced by a friend, or any normal way of choosing books. I want the books I read to satisfy my kinks or my themes or push my buttons or whatever the appropriate metaphor is. So I find the books I will read by spending hours in bookstores (or surfing amazon) reading the blurbs on the back of book after book until I find one that sounds like it will satisfy a kink/theme/button.

Which is probably why I don’t read a lot of books, or see a lot movies, and tend to revisit the ones I already like.

Is anyone else this way, or am I entirely weird?

Exploring one’s own writing is an easier way to judge one’s kinks and button-pushing themes because you’re in control of what gets on the page. I see repeated themes in my writing. Family is one of them, but it can’t be just anything having to do with family, because there’s a zillion movies, books, and TV shows out there dealing with family that do nothing for me. Children lost to their parents for a number of years and found again is certainly a theme that pings me. Also children who inherit some supernatural talent from their parents. I used to write a lot of “half-alien girl living as human on Earth discovers she is half-alien” stories when I was a teen. Being alien (as in not-human) and what that means to one’s own personal identity is also a big theme with me. Not just as an exploration of how that makes you different and isolated from others, but, for me, how it connects you to others who share your quirky difference.

Part of this comes from being gay, I’m sure. Belonging to a relatively invisible, shunned, but assimilated minority group that has created its own sub-culture due to its relative isolation from mainstream society has its “pretty cool” side, and that gets reflected in stories I write about “groups of aliens living secretly among us.”

But on the whole, I don’t know where a lot of my button-pushing themes come from. There’s nothing in my past that suggests itself as an obvious origin of my need for emotionally screwed-up protagonists, for example, or my odd preference for broad age-difference romantic couplings. And I wonder if knowing the genesis of one’s kinks isn’t like knowing the biological basis of being in love or something similar. It sort of takes the magic out of it, the same way that therapy takes the trauma out of the quirky things that disturb us the most.

Another one of my necessary “elements” in stories is the need for strong women. Many times, I end up primarily identifying with a male character in a story, but if there isn’t any strong women in the story, the Kate Lockleys and Darlas and Hermiones and McGonnegals, I’m not going to continue with a story universe no matter how much I vibe with a male character (e.g., that’s why the LoTR movies just didn’t stick with me after one viewing.)

A few years ago, I took a fascinating writing class called “The Intuitive Voice”. The purpose of the class was to help you discover the kinds of things you should be writing about. What your best mode was, for example–fiction, memoir, non-fiction, short-story, novel, etc. And what repeated themes would supply the most energy to your writing. The instructor actually used this metaphor–that certain themes are like an incendiary fuel that once we learn how to stop avoiding them (in our thoughts or in our writing), would actually get us putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard better than any other writer’s block cure. rahirah notes that many fan fic writers write their kinks into their stories without even being aware that they’re there, sometimes to the detriment of the story, but I think the opposite is true for a lot of would-be writers. They haven’t gotten words on the page yet, or they have, but they’ve written uninspired, half-assed stories–because they’re afraid to write about the themes and kinks that would fuel them the most. Taboos, either societal or personal, block them.

I learned to get past that by telling myself that no one would ever have to read a particular thing I was writing. And lord knows I often censor my public writing a bit lest my kinks be judged. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of my personal issues in the writing I’ve put out there for public consumption, though.

In that Intuitive Voice class, the instructor had exercises that helped us discover what our most resonant personal themes were. I need to dig up my homework from that class, because the exercises were pretty cool.

Goblet of Fire

Want to know what my pet peeve is? When a bunch of icons featuring actors walking down a red carpet are (mis)represented as “Goblet of Fire” icons. Who gives a fig about the actors? OK, I guess we wouldn’t have the movies without the actors and their fine acting, but I’ve never been a celebrity ogler.

For me, it’s all about the story, and in the case of TV/film, the realizing of that story in picture and sound. So enough of my whining about how I can’t find a *single* icon of GoB spoilers

Bewitched

It’s here! My Season 1 Bewitched DVD set. 36 episodes! Boy, TV has changed a bit in the last 40 years, hasn’t it?

Well, that goes without saying. I happened to catch one of the old B&W episodes of Bewitched on my parent’s cable while I was out of town, and it was one of those *annoying* episodes where Samantha comes up with a great idea for one of Darren’s ad campaigns and he passes it off as his own without batting an eye and the episode ends with them hugging and her saying how she doesn’t want his job, she just wants to be the PerfectLittleAverageHousewife for her big super-star Ad Exec man.

WTF??

You’d be nobody without her, buddy.

It made me think twice about buying the DVD set instead of being patient and waiting for Netflix to notice it’d been released. But I’ve liked this show for a LONG time and have only caught episodes here and there in a totally RANDOM order and I wanted to see it in the order it originally aired for once. Plus, only $27.00 bucks.

I think what ultimately makes this show tolerable is despite the episode-ender “important lesson” lip-service to “You-man, me-little-wife”, the show ultimately subverts that message because Samantha’s heritage and strong personality won’t allow her to be an “obedient wife”. Not to mention the support she gets in her liberation from her family, which to a person look askance at the life she is trying to live (and not just the denying her magic, but also the submissive housewife routine as well).

I’m not saying this is a feminist show, ’cause I don’t think it is, at least not consciously. But it’s one of those shows like I Love Lucy that gets its energy and charm from the Wacky!Disobedient!Wife gimmick and says a lot about the transition in attitudes that were going on in pre-1970’s America.

The real reason I like the show is I have a soft spot for supernatural family stories.

Well, duh.

Myth-taken

I’ve decided I need to read more mythology and folktales. You know, the classic stuff from various cultures. I can’t help feeling that that’s where my next novel’s going to come from. It will be fantasy, but not historical fantasy. It will take place in the contemporary world, but will be about opening your eyes to the fantastic that’s all around us–or, at least that’s all around in the world of my fictional characters. The best fantasy, I think, builds on the classics, the way Mutant Enemy built on classic horror tales of our own culture and other cultures to create the rich landscape of Buffy and Angel. But oh, I haven’t read mythology since I was in Jr. High. I was one of those Greek-Roman-Norse myths freaks at the time, and I even forayed into Native American mythology before “real life” stepped in and I got more interested in gay and lesbian romance novels.

Now I hardly read anymore at all, which is like, doom, if you want to be a writer.

So I need to read stuff. Mythology, folktales, contemporary, ancient, fantasy. Anybody got any good recommendations to re-start my education?

Turgid supernatural soap opera

I know I should read Proust and James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and all those people, but I don’t. I haven’t read “literature” since I nodded off in American Short Story in the 10th grade. But I know I should read that stuff because I absorb what I read and it is reflected in how I write.

But *alas*, I read for entertainment. To relax, to pass the time. Anything that I perceive remotely as, “this reading is GOOD for me, it will enhance me as a writer and/or person”, I won’t touch. It’s *work*, and all the pleasure dribbles out of it.

The preceding was my long neurotic apologetic preface to my review of the Tanya Huff Blood series, which falls somewhere in that nether region between fantasy and horror where BtVS and Angel ambiguously reside. And in fact, it was the resemblance of this series, in spirit, if not in level of writing quality, to BtVS/Angel that kept me reading through five books.

Specifically, this series has (1) richly drawn protagonist characters, (2) a hidden world of the “supernatural” existing within our world that our protagonists must enter and investigate and participate in to varying degrees, (3) a writing style that is humorous and a bit irreverent and yet at the same time takes its subject matter seriously, (4) and butofcourse, soap opera. Angst and passion and relationships.

Turgid

I feel like I should bow or have honor or something – Highlander S. 3 DVD review

I don’t know why it is I feel I need to do reviews of Highlander DVD sets and not, for example, Buffy or Angel. I love these shows equally. Maybe it’s just that I figure most of my friends are already familiar with Buffy/Angel and my feelings about it. But I love DSN just as much as these others, and I don’t have a lot of DSN fans on my friends list, but I don’t feel the need to review those, either. Hmm.

Maybe there’s just something special about Highlander. It has that hidden world of fantasy in the midst of the real world, it had a basic moral message of honor and decency, it had strong female characters (and great characters in general!), it had fun flashbacks.

DVD extras