What Happened in June?

My state has been burning, both in terms of fire and record-breaking temperatures. This has made for an interesting start of summer, although one that requires this pregnant writer–who, along with many people in her typically cool climate, doesn’t have air conditioning–to lie around like a half-drugged bum during the hottest periods of the day.

My pregnancy is going well. A minor health concern (on my part, not the fetus’s) seems to be resolving itself with doses of willpower, and we’ve acquired many of the supplies we’re told we’ll need once our baby is out in the world. In the meantime, my husband and I are listening to bits of advice from other parents and caretakers, and enjoying the newly converted nursery, especially the lovely room-wrapping mural painted by a friend of ours.

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I’ve continued working out of town, though I’ll soon have to cut my hours. Working a full shift has become more difficult as my belly expands so far that I can’t even look at my own knees without contorting.

At home, there are more challenges. The nursery was easy; my husband cleared the piles of fabric, stacks of sewing and art supplies, medieval-style clothing, miscellaneous mementos, and furniture out of the room, our friend painted the walls and ceiling, then my husband and I arranged new furniture and supplies into the neatest and best decorated room in the house–an admirable state that lasted for less than a day.

My sister and her family moved into our house later that day. My toddler nephew is now occupied in our nursery, and our entire home has been overtaken by piles of stuff that needs sorting and storing.

With regards to writing…well, progress has been measured in terms of plot-directing thoughts, stylistic realizations, and temporary sentences jotted down before I fall asleep atop the page. Maybe after our baby’s birth, I’ll produce more?

Here’s hoping.

Is there anything you want to share about June?

Studies of Changing Words

I know, I haven’t completed a “Weird Science in the News” post in a very long while. However, I have continued to collect links to science-related articles. Two of these I wanted to share today.

The New York Times’ article “Your Brain on Fiction” is a two-page opinion piece that discusses the neuroscience of fiction. In summary, researchers are finding that fiction expands upon the real-life experiences of its readers.  Confirmation is nice, isn’t it?

In “Color-coded text reveals the foreign origins of your words” on i09, you can see how words from various places have formed into modern versions of the English language. My favorite part of this article is where it mentions Kinde’s future Website. His analytical program could really help when writing historically based fantasy and historical fiction. Maybe when it’s available, some of us will spend less time looking up the origin on every suspect word for such stories.

Further Reading

Papers from The Mar Lab

“What are the origins of the English Language?” answered by Merriam-Webster

Regarding Twilight

In a comment on my previous post, Jennifer Neri asked how Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight surprised me. Here’s my answer.

Cover of Stephenie Meyer's TwilightWell before I read the novel, several people gave me bitter rundowns of the saga. For example, during one night of filming for a short student film, while waiting for the director and cinematographer to work through intensive changes to a scene, a few members of the crew gave me a long synopsis of each of the four novels. None of the crew members were fans.

I’d expected a miserable trudge through Twilight.

Read quickly and learn what you can, I told myself. And try not to let other people’s biases color my reading.

Still, I couldn’t help but expect immature writing and a clingy, weak heroine.

Was the writing immature? Yes, it was. Inconsistent, too. It looks as if it took Meyer a few chapters to figure out how to write stronger (bearable) dialogue and to show conflicted thoughts without an overuse of em-dashes.

Was Bella Swan (oh, what a name) as clingy and weak as reviewers describe her? Yes, yes, she was.

However, I saw aspects of her personality from the beginning that no one had mentioned.

Bella’s Forgotten Trauma

Bella Swan from graphic novel
Bella Swan, from the graphic novel

Meyer didn’t explain why, but Bella shows signs of emotional trauma before she meets the vampire hero.

She’s a loaner, distancing herself from people with the intention of causing herself emotional distress. She moves away from her ditzy but supposedly loving mother to live with her busy father in a place she knows she loathes. Although she had no friends from Arizona, she shows little desire to develop the friendships offered to her in Washington. Frequently, she categorizes the people around her as either those who will ignore her or those she can use.

While most readers wouldn’t recognize the effects of trauma when they see them, those traits in my mind contributed to Bella’s motivations.

Bella would be more inclined to attach to someone likely to hurt her if painful relationships were already normal for her.

Of course, if Bella never in the saga thinks back to the causes of her initial low self-esteem and tendency toward anti-social behaviors, she becomes in retrospect nothing more than a shallow Juliet character–as gullible and weak as Shakespeare’s original but without the excuse for ignorance.

For now, I’ll give Meyer the benefit of doubt.

Oh, Edward

Edward, the vampire hero, also surprised me, but certainly not in a good way.

Robert Patterson as Edward Cullen
Robert Patterson as Edward Cullen

I’d expected a backstory for him that would draw readers to his side, yet he barely had a history.

His human life was sadly typical, he became a vampire for no unique reason of his own, then he refused to develop relationships with anyone outside of his family for about a hundred years.

In the novel’s present, he fixates on Bella because she’s tasty (as if we’ve never seen that in a vampire story) and swings between moods faster than a crazed monkey could fling himself between walls of a cage.

Why are his moods so mercurial? Because he’s had no experience with desiring someone? In a hundred years of hanging around human teenagers, he never developed a crush or hunger for another girl? That’s hard to believe.

Lacking backstory, he comes across as shallow. Edward exists in Twilight simply to be Bella’s love interest. That makes him a filler character rather than a believable love interest, doesn’t it?

Poor guy. His vampire father is more memorable. I think the reason so many fans fell for Edward was because of Robert Patterson, not because of the Edward in the novels.

Sparkle, Sparkle

At least the sparkling which annoyed so many readers/viewers was tolerable. That surprised me. A clip I’d seen from the Twilight movie made Edwards skin look like it was mysteriously implanted with sizable crystals that could blind the eyes when reflecting sunlight.

Descriptions in the novel made for a less unnerving effect.

This wasn’t the biggest surprise regarding the sparkling. What surprised me most was how I liked that the Twilight vampires sparkled.

Maybe in self-defense while I read, I pretended that Meyer might have done research on vampires and demon myths (although she admitted she hadn’t).

Under the delusion that Meyer wanted to avoid clichés, her explanation that vampires don’t go out in sunlight unless they want to draw attention from prey seems to twist the “vampires burn in sunlight” and “attract with hypnosis” tropes. Such an explanation makes the vampires more realistic, to me, than those who burn to ash.

Rural Washington Has Personality

One other good surprise, and and one in which Meyer could probably be honestly credited for, was the accuracy and depth of the initial setting description. This was much appreciated by this gal who was raised in the States’ Pacific Northwest.

Your turn: Have you read Twilight? What did you think?

Reading Review – Winter of Women

Cover of Kristin Cashore's FireOnly men made my 2011 summer reading list. When I noticed this, I attempted to compose a list for the Fall of Females. That was more difficult than I’d expected.

I am very selective, and I was still in the mood for novel-length hard science fiction, which doesn’t seem to include many female authors.

On my shelves already are books by Octavia E. Butler, Deborah Chester, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Anne McCaffrey. My personal library also includes J. K. Rowling, Carrie Vaughn, and a handful of fantasy authors that aren’t as well known. A few novels by Diana Wynne Jones and Mercedes Lackey are still sadly on my wish list.

So, whose works did I still need to read?

I looked at CJ Cherryh, Connie Willis,…and Mary Shelley. The problem was that I started in autumn with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Wow, was that painful. No one had warned me about Frankenstein’s loathsome personality and the amount of time that his monster spends admiring perfect people. I learned there’s a reason more contemporary authors have rewritten the story several times.

I didn’t take home another novel by a female author until January, when I decided to forgo Stephenie Meyer‘s The Host for Twilight with the goal of better understanding RITN’s target audience. I then moved on to more books in the fantasy romance and young-adult genres:

Fire and Graceling by Kristin Cashore

The Game (novella) and Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones

Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey

Steel by Carrie Vaughn

Inside Job (novella) by Connie Willis

Twilight surprised me, Fire was a delight (and a stronger work than Graceling), Beauty and the Werewolf was a disappointment, and the rest were about what I’d expected.

What am I still missing out on? I’d love recommendations, especially for science fiction and young-adult romance.

Hey, It’s 2012!

I’m sorry my last post was months ago. At first, I didn’t feel like posting, then I was waiting for something…good enough…for blogging. Whatever “good enough” means.

Maybe a status update is good enough. If so–

I’m currently working on RITN, my young adult science fiction novel.

Almost all of the rough draft was in longhand, but my sister graciously typed up 200 pages and gave me the draft as a Christmas present. I immediately started reading through the typed/electronic version, changing aspects that my sister didn’t know to change, and noting what I need to add, move, and otherwise rework.

For the first couple of weeks, all of the fears and annoyances from two years ago, when I last seriously worked on this novel, plagued me again. Then, the characters re-settled in my head. I realized I’d missed them. I also realized that my chances of completing RITN within this century are better than those for completing DeCo, my tortuous, militaristic science fiction novel.

What has also happened since last October is that a friend kicked me into submitting short stories that have sat around doing nothing useful for a couple of seasons. I’ve already received three personalized rejections from semi-pro and pro markets for 2012.

Between these accomplishments, a new job, and…um, well, my first pregnancy, this year has started well for me.

How about for you?

Cool Down from the Summer of Sci-Fi

Hello! I’m alive and kicking. I’m anxious about blogging again; however, it’s officially autumn and time to talk about the results of my Summer of Sci-Fi.

Back in May, I chose nine, well-known science fiction books to read by the end of September. How did I do?

I faced a couple unexpected challenges, mainly with acquiring books. My city’s sole library announced that it’s infested with bed bugs, making all of its books, in my mind, potential carriers of the parasite.

There’s a library near where I work that has a surprisingly tiny offering of science fiction. Even when I was able to walk (despite a sprained ankle) and willing to pass by the disturbing regulars in the area – such as bored cat-callers with uncomfortably creative pick-up lines; lonely, drifting, drunken men who mistake my wary smile for an invitation to converse; and those especially annoying people who enjoy smoking on busy, public sidewalks – I still wasn’t able to get my hands on a few of the books from my list.

Fortunately, I did read:

Out of these, Fahrenheit 451 is easily my favorite, followed closely by A Canticle for Leibowitz. The Time Machine is probably the least impressive of the group–but then, I’m not fond of Victorian stories.

Still to be read:

The Forever War is next on my reading list, if I can find a convenient copy this week.

How about you? What was your favorite book this summer? Are you looking forward to reading a particular book this season?

This for That

Every decision in life requires a trade-off. As the cliché goes, for every door of opportunity that opens, another closes. That’s especially true when there isn’t enough time to turn around.

Door MazeAs usual, I’m racing through tight corridors.

I’ve been exchanging writing for sleep during my bus commutes for the past month. This has helped me get through the workday as my body struggles to heal (from a sprain, overworked muscles, migraines, etcetera) but leaves me feeling a bit unsatisfied by the time I arrive home.

Choosing to work on DeCo (my adult sci-fi novel) at night after fight practices, I use up time for house cleaning, socializing, and blogging.

More complicated trade-offs are made with changes to the novel. For every new direction in a scene, I must rewrite other scenes. Of course, a few of those scenes are “darlings”, favorite passages that I want to retain even when they no longer fit with the overall story.

Obviously, I’m not great with world building, character design, and plotting; otherwise, I wouldn’t realize half-way through drafting that the supposed good guy acts badly too often, the characters’ living arrangements aren’t believable, and I’m missing essential transitions between major scenes early in the story.

I can’t trade off DeCo for a simpler project, unfortunately. By doing so, I would lose something indescribably important. I’m learning about myself from this project in addition to learning about how to write fiction. I’m certain that a simpler project would not give me enough opportunities to grow.

I’ll stay in the maze until a better offer comes along.