Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Release Day and Giveaway!

My vampire Snow White is all grown up and hitting ebook vendors all over the Internet. *sniffle* *dramatically wipes eyes*

If you had told me two years ago that I was going to write a version of Snow White with vampires, I would have laughed in your face. I hate vampire lit, with a very small number of exceptions. It drives me crazy that these creatures supposedly inhabit the natural world but violate so many of its laws, everything from walking around without a pulse to keep bodily fluids from gathering permanently in the feet to getting erections without blood pressure. And the whole blood drinking thing confounds me: why do they need it? Do they digest it? Can they digest things? How do they do it? Are their fangs like syringes, or are they like enlarged animal teeth? I want to know not only how they ingest the blood, but what happens once they've swallowed. None of that even addresses the issue of how to write a vampire in our post vampires-sparkle-in-the-sun world without making people gag, or at least compare.

I'm also not a huge fan of Snow White. The original fairy tale is mildly interesting insofar as the stepmother and her bizarrely feminine murder weapons are concerned, and her fate is one of the more unapologetically painful ends to a fairy tale villain. The title character, however, leaves something to be desired. The sanitized animated version I grew up with is one of my least favorite Disney movies, and not just because Snow White sings like an operatic chipmunk. She is simply the kind of character that does not interest me: practically perfect in every way, without a magic carpet bag or a mysterious past. She's the fairest in all the land. She's a princess. The huntsman loves her. The seven dwarfs love her. The prince who happens to be wandering through the forest stumbles across her body in a casket and decides he wants her (love seems far too strong an emotion for a complete stranger, not to mention the necrophilia). Her only flaw is that she is too good, too beautiful, too innocent, too trusting. The villain has potential to be interesting, but she's generally a completely flat character whose entire personality is boiled down to "vain, jealous, evil bitch".

Then, just for fun one Sunday, I decided to write a completely silly spoof of the story for a Sunday Snuggle. Instead, I ended up with a melancholy version about 5000 words too long for a Snuggle and a revived fascination with the huntsman, whom I had killed off in my version but liked quite a bit. I tried again the next day with more success at ridiculousness, but got stuck on the part where Snow White never seems shocked or disturbed to find herself in a coffin at the end of the story. Between the two, I started thinking about the essential elements of the story and suddenly had a revelation: Snow White is a vampire. It seemed so obvious in retrospect. Deathly pale? Check. Impossibly beautiful? Check. Manages to live through attempted murder time and again? Check. Sleeps like the dead in a coffin? Check. Issues with a reflection in a mirror? Check.

There was my story: borrow the basic plot of Snow White, keep the vampire elements, explore the huntsman as a more major character--and obviously he's a vampire too, because who hunts better than a vampire? All I had to do was figure out how I could keep the evil stepmother from being a two-dimensional villain and decide what kind of creature might sneak unnoticed into the royal family yet pose a threat to a vampire. Thus was born For the Sake of the Kingdom.

To celebrate its release, I'm giving away a copy of the ebook. All you have to do is leave a comment with a way to contact you and tell me which fairy tale you think is harboring a secret paranormal. I'll pick a winner sometime on Nov. 1.

Available from Less Than Three Press. Goodreads link here.

Prince Erik's life is grand: his father has taken a new wife, a beautiful and sweet woman who charms all who meet her, the kingdom is prospering, and there is no shortage of men and women to keep his bed warm. If he wishes for the one person he cannot have, well, at least he has accepted it.

But then everything begins to change, a shroud falling slowly over the kingdom, darkness creeping in and leeching his father's life away. Strangest of all, the kingdom's artists all begin to create works along the same strange and frightening theme...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Current State of Things

It occurred to me earlier this week that I hadn't updated this blog in many a moon. A handful of times have passed since my last entry when I finally devised a topic about which to babble a bit, but each time I've found another blogger who's said just what I wanted to say, and probably better and more publicly, so I've let them slide. I'm a firm believer in not wasting people's time by telling them things they already know. :)

Writing has not come easily to me for the last few months. I've been busy and undergone a rather significant life change with the birth of my son and subsequent return to work, so time has been at a premium. But my classes are going well so far, my new schedule is actually rather nice, and I could not ask for a better baby.
Who could be upset with this face?

I have a new cover to show off for those who haven't seen it yet! My vampire Snow White story was submitted and accepted for Less Than Three Press' Proud to Be a Vampire collection, and it will be available October 23. In the meantime, I have to finish wrangling it into the story I think it deserves to be. Admittedly, I rushed my initial draft because I  first got behind schedule and then had to hurry to make up for it before my baby was born (who then had the gall to be nearly two weeks late, the little stinker). But I've had the story rolling around in my head for quite a while, so the first draft consisted primarily of alternating between transcribing what I'd already written a few times in my brain and trying to figure out what should go in the parts I'd cast aside with nothing more than a mental "then some stuff happens here" marker. I'm very nervous that the story is not going to be as good as I think it should be, but that's usually a sign that I actually have a good story on my hands. I'm hopeful it will cooperate and come out well.

This story is also a little out of my comfort zone in that, as much as I enjoy reading the occasional fantasy novel, I tend to avoid writing things set entirely outside of the real world. Part of that is my tendency toward obsessiveness with world-building (I need to know all the details and all of the whys behind the way things are; Halloween Trick gave me kittens, because I needed to know how Robbie became a ghost, why he was still lingering on earth, what it would take to banish him, etc., even though none of that was even remotely necessary for the story I was writing) and with making sure that all aspects have logical consequences, and while that's a fun mental exercise, I also find it a little exhausting to sustain. And while the titular kingdom is very much a normal fairytale place and not at all unlike the real world in most aspects, Prince Erik discovers that there is much more to the world than he realized, and part of the plot revolves around the removal of his ignorance of things like vampires and dream demons and magic mirrors. Which is another uncomfortable thing for me--I don't do sinister very well. I don't even do unhappy. (I had a middle school student once point out when his class was misbehaving that my "face looks weird when [I'm] not smiling" since he'd never seen such an expression from me before.) I like my characters, like myself and my real life companions, to be calm and logical and make things work. But in this case, the darkness comes from an external source Erik can't control, and so I've had to face it head on. I think that, more than anything, is the aspect of the story I fear ruining. So I've tried very hard not to make my villain too purely evil and entirely unsympathetic, but not to be afraid to let the Evil Stepmother character be worthy of her fate.

I'll post again about the story when the release date is a little closer, probably about the Snow White aspects that inspired me to write a story involving my least favorite paranormal creature and what elements of the fairytale I've tried to keep. In the meantime, enjoy the pretty cover. :)

Goodreads Link

Saturday, May 25, 2013

In which I wonder why everybody has to be gorgeous to be loved

Reading E. E. Ottoman's recent fantastic post on how our books' content paints a picture of a world in which whole populations of people don't exist spurred me on to write out a few of my own thoughts on a loosely related issue: our books also, by merit of what they show and what they don't show, contain the underlying implication that only the exceptionally attractive find true love. I know that this is not a stunningly original idea, but it's one I think bears repeating and reexamining from time to time. (My apologies if this post is a little incoherent. My laptop has crashed five times during the writing of it, so I'm having a little trouble remembering what I've said in which version of the post. I'd take it as a sign, but it's pretty much par for the course these days with this machine.)

Someone will put this guy in a story and give him some love.
(Creative Commons Licensing)  
Besides containing two young, white, cisgendered males built like Olympic swimmers as heroes, it seems like most of the m/m books I read also feature the improbability of two young, white, cisgendered males built like Olympic swimmers, who are just as beautiful of face as they are of form, not only meeting but also falling in love. Now there's a lot to be said for beauty lying in the eye of the beholder (don't we all think the people we love are attractive?), the fantasy aspect of reading romance, etc., but let's be honest: how many people do you know that look like they stepped from the pages of one of our books? How many of them are in love with someone equally gorgeous--and the same kind of gorgeous? I'm willing to bet the number is pretty small. For that matter, how many of you actually find that kind of man—and only that kind of man—attractive? I'll be honest; apart from Thelma and Louise, I've never seen a movie in which I found Brad Pitt remotely attractive, but clearly plenty of other people do. I fell in love with a skinny, short, redhead in high school, then a broad-shouldered, bearded blond in college, and married a balding brunet with gorgeous blue eyes. One of my best friends' husbands is a short, tattooed Korean man; another is a tall, fit, African-American man with the prettiest smile I've ever seen; another is a significantly overweight white guy who makes fantastically expressive faces. We all think our husbands are attractive. Tastes vary in real life. They vary a lot less in fiction, it seems. And that creates a view of the world, like cannibalistic llamas, that simply isn't true or representative of reality.

Yup, totally thinking about eating my young. Can't you tell?
(Creative Commons Licensing)
In real life, everybody—especially women—knows that we as a society place a huge value on appearance and attractiveness. We have a very specific idea of what a woman should look like. We're creating a very specific idea of what a man should look like. And we're definitely, by our choice of heroes, intimating that only people who fit those images get the guy at the end of the story. One of the things linked to these thoughts, perhaps oddly, is my current pregnancy. I'm 32 weeks along with my first child, and I've been sort of stunned to discover how very much this process, which I've always thought of as a womanly thing, is the polar opposite of "feminine" by modern Western standards. A good friend of mine just had a baby in April, and she struggled with the uncontrollable changes that made her into what she had been trained over the last thirty years not to be. Consequently, her entire pregnancy, she felt "gross—I'm always belching and scratching my belly in public." That's not to mention the constant farting, the inability to cross her legs, the reduction of high heels to flats, the loss of her size 0 waist, the increase in body hair, or the other delightful side effects of carrying a baby. Personally, none of those things bother me; I've never been an overtly feminine woman, and most of the time I just don't really give a shit what people think about the way I look. But it did make me stop and think all over again about what women are told about who we are—not our roles, but at our core. Any girl over the age of eight who stops to think about it for two seconds can probably describe exactly what she's "supposed" to look like, since the message is pervasive for anyone who reads magazines, watches TV, goes to movies, looks at billboards, or interacts with people who do any of these things. We're supposed to be elegant, delicate, thin but just the right amount of curvaceous (especially in places that aren't naturally curvy unless you're carrying some body fat), hairless except for our carefully arched eyebrows and the hair we've used a vast amount of time and product to make appear as though we've used no time or product at all, pale skinned but not too pale, existing entirely without embarrassing bodily functions (my husband still chooses to live under the delusion that girls don't poop, though after 8 years of sharing a bathroom with me, not to mention growing up with two sisters, the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary), ankles crossed, skinny legs, no hips... In other words, we should strive to look essentially like a prepubescent girl for our entire adult lives. Once we hit puberty and start to look like women, we should be filled with shame and try to pretend that embarrassing process never happened, so we shave off all that new hair, try to exercise away all of those body shape changes, and do our best to look like we're never going to graduate high school, much less own up to our real age. And this goes with a strong sense that we should be seen but not heard. A woman is the way she looks, because that is why she exists. She is for looking at. Nothing else about her is of value. 

This is not a new issue by any stretch of the imagination. I'm always a little startled by how many women know they're being sold this lie, and yet still do everything they can to conform to it. Listen to Annie Lennox sing "Keep Young and Beautiful" if you want a reminder of how blatantly old ads used to tell their audience about the importance of keeping up their looks if they wanted anyone to love them. Now I see it being couched in new ways, paraded as a campaign to tell women they're great just the way they are whilst still communicating the same old story. For instance, Oil of Olay still needs me to buy their products, so they still need to convince me I'm not okay the way I am, but they try to make me think they're saying the opposite by telling me to "love the skin [I'm] in." I'm encouraged to love myself and my body! Hooray!—just as soon as I recognize that there's something wrong with my skin and find the right products to help me fix it so I'm worthy of loving.
I love myself just the way I am... or at least, I will once I fix this mess of a body.
(Creative Commons Licensing)
Just recently, Dove's Real Beauty Sketches took over my Facebook and twitter feeds while women gushed about how moving the video was, but I felt vaguely queasy after watching it. It took me a few days to pin down exactly why, beyond the obvious cynicism regarding a company telling me that I'm great the way I am when they make money from convincing me that I need to control the way I look. What I realized after some thought was that a) these women weren't being told they were beautiful because people liked them the way they perceived themselves, but because they were actually thinner, whiter, closer to the accepted standard, etc. than they had perceived, and b) these women honestly believed that learning they were prettier than they realized would—and should—change their entire lives, indicating that their entire lives rest upon their attractiveness. This deeply disturbs me. I happen to think that what other people think about the way you look shouldn't mean jackshit to who you are and how worthwhile you are. I hate that I see the objectification and focus on appearance spreading to male bodies as well. Men have always been valued for their deeds, their thoughts, their contributions to society; are we really going to take that away from them rather than give it to the rest of the population?

What does this have to do with m/m fiction, or any other QUILTBAG fiction? Well, for one, there's my concern that rather than fighting against the idea that women's value comes from their appearance, and that their appearance needs to be X, we're simply broadening it to include men under the same blanket appearance = worth value system. I'm all in favor of equality, but not through equal degradation, objectification, and superficial judgment for all.
Could these dudes fall in love and be loved in return?
Not in most m/m fiction.
(Creative Commons Licensing)
 Then there's that by choosing heroes who are consistently stunningly attractive young, white, cisgendered males, we're not only excluding the rest of the population from having their stories told and their voices heard, but we're also implying that the people who have great love stories are the stunningly attractive young, white, cisgendered males. Do our main characters fall in love with the plain guy, the chubby girl, the trans* character? The older man? The person of color? Are our main characters themselves the average looking ones who also maybe aren't young, or white, or cisgendered? Or do we perpetuate the "hot guys meet hot guys, fall in love and have hot sex; meanwhile, nobody wants the rest of you" narrative? Do we continue to ignore most of the world's population, continue to tell them that in order to be loved, in order to be worth reading about, they have to be handsome because even if they are young, white, and cisgendered men, nobody cares unless they're sexy, too?
Dude, you're good. You're not white, but you're still hot.
Somebody will love you.
(Creative Commons Licensing)

Finally, I think this issue also impacts the quality and universality of our writing. I read a book earlier this year that I hated, in part because the sole draw to the love interest seemed to be that he was irresistibly gorgeous, and I am not generally attracted to any of the features attributed to him (sounded sort of like Brad Pitt, actually). It left me with no other reason to like him, and no idea why the main character was so head over heels. It's a poor romance to me that depends solely upon physical attraction, and a boring story. I wish I could say I haven't read any others like it, but that would be a lie.

Obviously there are exceptions to this. I've read some, I've tried my best to write some. But, like books in which the women are heroes in their own right, they are few and far between in this market. I would love to see more, and better, books celebrating the everyday love stories of everyday people of all shapes, colors, ages, and bodies. They might be less sexy to some, but they'll be more sexy to others, more relatable, and more interesting because they'll be more real.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Power of the Word to Create

Staff devotions at school #1 this morning got me thinking, and not just about spiritual things. The basic message was this: 

To speak is to create.

I love that. To put something into words is to invent something new, to breathe life into something that has never before existed in quite that way, if at all. My favorite part of language has always been its infinite capacity for generation. There is no need to ever say the same sentence twice, and very rarely do we repeat ourselves verbatim without doing it on purpose. An idea requires words to be fully formed and communicable. Whatever we say is the unique product of our minds, whether it be a carefully planned speech, a presentation at a meeting, or just a conversation with a friend. The things we write, whether they be test essays, grocery lists, or novels, belong to us. No one else could have written them in quite the same way as we have done. But sometimes the things we create would have been better left formless and void.

Can anybody identify what book I'm reading? 
There is also power in the things we do not say, because those are things we have allowed to remain intangible, unexpressed, unreal. Sometimes that choice is wise; sometimes it's hurtful. Particularly in this age of insta-global communication, I think we often speak when we ought to remain silent, to the detriment of ourselves and others. We create what should not have existed.

The chaplain this morning posed these questions: Do your words bring food to the hungry and healing to the hurting? Do your words support the weak? Do your words create life, or do they cause death?

It got me thinking, not only in terms of my interactions with the people I encounter on a daily basis, but also in terms of what I write and how I portray myself. Do the things I write or say contribute in some way to filling the hungry ache in someone's soul? Some lovely writers contribute portions of their royalties to literally feed the hungry, but I've chosen to interpret the issue more metaphorically since the full amount of my daily royalties could maybe, almost, manage to buy one person a meal at McDonald's. So do I feed the hungry with my words? I certainly hope so. When I write, my goal is not to make a million bucks. It's not to show off. It's not to gain fame and acclaim. It's so that someone will read whatever I write and have a slightly brighter day because of it. People suffer from a variety of hungers, but I hope my words will feed at least one of them. I cannot heal all my readers' hurts, but I want my words to provide at least a little relief from the pain of life and bring back a little of the joy. It doesn't need to be dramatic for me to have succeeded; I'll settle for knowing that what I wrote made someone smile.

Do my words support the weak? Well, they try. It's one of the things I love about the QUILTBAG genre, and why I get annoyed by people who refuse to read anything that's "not my kink"; the things I write and the things I read show support, however implicitly, for a group of people all too often marginalized or discriminated against. (That being said, I recognize the reader's right to spend time and money on whatever s/he enjoys. I just hope that there's still an element of support for all people of the entire spectrum, and not just support for the sexy.) 

Do my words create life, or do they cause death? Oh, there are so many ways in which a word can kill. But there are also so many ways that a writer can create life with words. I hope never to say something, verbally or in writing, that makes someone die a little. I undoubtedly fail at this, since I am human. But it is my goal to keep my mouth shut against those snide or thoughtless remarks that wound unnecessarily.

This question has also got me thinking about a story. Might I have read something in which this idea of speaking things into existence/not speaking things to keep them from existing is a key component, or is that just something in the back of my head clamoring to be written? Anybody have any idea?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why Fluff Isn't Just For Dessert

It's a beautiful snowy weekend here, which I'm spending with The Cold That Just Won't Die, a few new books, and my Sandy Relief auction story, which has been languishing in the exposition for a few weeks and needs a bit of a kick in the rear. Now that I'm not scrambling madly to get exams and papers graded in time for first semester report cards to go out, I'm looking forward to finishing it up. It's going to be fairly short (10-12k, I'm guessing), quite sweet, and a little bit sci-fi, which is also getting me excited to tackle the space cowboys/rustlers/pirates I promised to write for Samantha Derr this summer. Reading this article earlier in the week also got my brain spinning (slugs that have hermaphroditic sex and then discard their penises entirely? So fascinating)... but at the moment, Evan and Sean are first in line for my authorial attention.

CC photo courtesy of St0rmz
On to my real topic of the day: so-called "fluff" fiction. This is something near and dear to my heart, as there is nothing I would rather read or write. (Be warned: that means this post is going to be long!) But it comes with a bit of a reputation. Just the term "fluff" implies that it has no substance, that it's some sort of uninteresting but mildly useful polyester pillow stuffing at best and and a cavity-inducing, calorie-laden bit of sugar at worst. (My best friend refers to it as "brain candy".) And I don't know what it's like for you, but in the circles in which I live, people talk about "fluff" in fiction with condescension or in shame-filled whispers as if it's something that belongs only in the territory of the unattractive, uneducated, and unattached, and even there ought to be hidden beneath one's mattress. Even a ridiculous and offensive term like "mommy porn" often comes across as a more acceptable choice than "fluff". There seems to be a pervasive attitude that perhaps a single girl might understandably want to read about a happy couple in love, and an ugly girl might want to fantasize about what it would be like to be pretty, but every smart girl--even the single, ugly ones--know better than to think any of that fluff and nonsense is worth their time.

This drives me absolutely, bat-shit crazy.

There are so many unkind, false, and problematic things about that approach toward fiction--and toward life, and other people--that I want to stand up on my soapbox for a moment and explain why I think "fluff" belongs in a literary diet right alongside the beans and Brussels sprouts. I won't presume to speak for the world; plenty of people have plenty of differing reasons for reading what they do, most of which boil down to "it's what I like." I will, however, speak toward the characteristics I possess that seem to make people think I shouldn't read "fluff", and which I think are the very same reasons why I must.

Before addressing these characteristics, there is the question of what, exactly, constitutes "fluff": is it truly a literary piece without substance, or is it just a derogatory nickname for something that doesn't grapple with Nobel prize-winning issues? As far as I can tell, depending on who is awarding the name, a piece may qualify as fluff if it includes any or all of the following:

  1. a happy ending
  2. characters who have lived relatively average lives, free of abuse, rape, torture, getting shot, scientific experimentation, etc.
  3. a romance as its central plot line
  4. a central conflict which lacks sufficient angst or drama to please the reader
  5. not enough explicit, on-page sex to qualify as erotica

I'm sure there are other qualifiers missing from this list, but these are a few that immediately stand out to me. What I don't understand is why these qualities automatically make for less nutritive reading than their "substantive" counterparts, and why these stories should be treated with such disdain. (ETA: this post was not actually inspired by the usual "literary fiction hates genre fiction" argument, but by a few reviews of m/m works by m/m authors and readers. Just so we're clear as to where i'm seeing the disdain.) Perhaps it is simply that these things are ordinary, everyday things that surround us everywhere we look, and so they seem too common to be the topic of a good story, too obvious to teach a lesson, too easy to provide a struggle worth the reader's investment, too universal to build empathy. Personally, I think that is exactly why we need these kinds of stories: they are examples of real life when it turns out well, and that's something we all need to understand deep in that place where we store the lessons we learn from reading.

CC photo courtesy of andrewmalone
So here are the reasons I hear about why I shouldn't like fluff, and the reasons why I think that's a big ol' bunch of baloney:

A. I am happily married.

This one comes from an unspoken assumption that reading romance is a search for something we're not getting from our own real lives. That's why it's perhaps just a teeny bit okay for a single woman to read romance, or for a dissatisfied, middle-aged housewife who's been stuck at home with the kids for the last fifteen years and feels frumpy and fat and unsexy all the time. But for a thirty-one-year-old married woman who's still relatively attractive and still very much in love with her husband? The interest is baffling. The other half of this objection is the assumption that there is something akin to emotional or sexual infidelity in reading about another couple's romance, particularly if there's explicit sex involved. Therefore, I must be looking for something I'm not getting from my own marriage. Worse, I'm actively harming my marriage by reading it.

This assumption makes me sad. First, it means I'm hesitant to tell people what I read and write because of what it may cause them to think about the state of my marriage and/or my own commitment to it. Second, it reinforces the idea that it is always better to be in a relationship than not, because it implies that real life romance is better than fictional romance is better than singlehood. Third, I think this reveals a deep insecurity about trust within committed relationships. Why doesn't anyone worry about a married woman reading about the terrible, disintegrating marriages in much of modern fiction? Because no sane woman wants to leave her own marriage for one that's worse. Why do people worry about a married woman reading about happy, successful relationships? Because there's nothing crazy about wanting a marriage better than the one she already has. The sad part is assuming that wanting a better marriage is going to lead to infidelity or divorce instead of improving the relationship she already has.

Why do I think the happily married woman not only may, but in fact should, read fluff? Because I think she is exactly the kind of woman who is going to see in it reminders of her own marriage's success that will strengthen her commitment, and she is going to see faults she or her partner has and be looking for the solutions to them rather than ways to escape. I think people's fear of what reading romance does to a marriage comes from what reading romance can do to a woman who is looking for something she's not getting: she wants the romance, the spark, the whatever she's lost, and becomes more convinced her marriage is a mistake; she sees Hero/Heroine X and wonders why her husband can't be more like him, and she resents him a little more; she remembers the days of being Hero/Heroine Y and feels nostalgic for the days when she was wanted and pursued, and thinks about how she can get back there again. There is definitely danger in that. But the benefit of fluff for the married reader is when she sees the romance, the spark, the whatever she's lost and remembers how it felt, why it was there, what it was like, and remembers why she fell in love with her spouse; she sees Hero/Heroine X and sees her spouse somewhere in him, and she falls in love with him a little bit more all over again; she remembers the days of being Heroine Y and yes, remembers the thrill of being wanted and pursued, but also remembers all of the obstacles and misunderstandings she and her partner have already overcome and which she has no desire to ever experience again. Sometimes I read books, see the shortcomings that are causing friction in the fictional romance, and I recognize that I have the same faults. Suddenly I want to change them. Or I see my husband's faults, but through another set of eyes, and I have more sympathy and patience with them. My husband is my best friend and I love him with my whole heart, but sometimes he drives me crazy; a little fluff is usually a guaranteed way to get me to the forgiveness or apology I owe him. I truly believe that I am happier with my husband, and quite possibly more in love with him, because I have a healthy dose of fluff in my reading diet.

B. I have a career, and therefore better things to think about than that drivel.

Really? Because I happen to think my career is pretty awesome, but also pretty mentally and emotionally taxing, and when the work day is done, I haven't got the energy or the mental capacity to ponder the world's problems or to put myself through the wringer. I'd rather curl up with a cup of tea, the dog or one of the cats, and a book to help me relax, recharge, and refocus. You know what would not help me do that? Reading about pedagogical research. Reading about the intricacies of Latin grammar. Translating a particularly thorny passage of Tacitus. Those things are interesting to me, but they're also exhausting and do little to help me keep a sane perspective on the importance of work versus being a decent, well-adjusted human being. You know what will? Reading about ordinary people dealing with real problems in a positive way and getting a happy ending. Nothing about that will make me tired, stressed out, or out of touch with the living human beings in my life. It does a lot to build empathy, and although it may not create empathy with life experiences I will never have, it helps with the life I do have.

C. I'm smart and well-educated.

This is the one that I see kicking hardest against fluff reading. It's also the one that leaves me most in need of fluff. Here's the thing: cynicism is king in the world of the educated. Things which are popular must automatically be crap; things which are widely trusted are probably false and untrustworthy; things done by many people must be old-fashioned, bourgeois, and without merit. The better educated one is, the more one's loathing for anything put out by a major record label or major studio, and one's respect for anything produced independently should vary inversely with its popularity. Amanda Palmer tweeted something recently I found quite apt about how strange it is to live in a world in which being aesthetically pleasing is an artistic liability. Historical figures who have been widely admired are often presented in modern academia as terrible people and liars to boot; the government is at worst a corporately owned conspiracy and at best an irredeemable failure; things like monogamy, religion, and the consumption of animal products are for the ignorant and easily duped. There are plenty of reasons for this attitude, and cynicism is certainly warranted in many instances. But a diet of constant cynicism is neither a healthy one nor a happy one.
CC photo courtesy of CeresB

So why read fluff as an intelligent, well-educated woman? In a social context that constantly argues that the only thing that shouldn't be doubted is the need to doubt everything, fluff reminds me that are some things that ought to be trusted. When biographies seem to say that there is no such thing as a truly good and admirable person because all heroes have dirty secrets in their pasts, fluff reminds me that there are plenty of good people in this world worthy of my love and respect, even though they come with flaws and failures. Despite the academic presumption that emotions are unnecessary hindrances (a presumption all too easy for me to embrace, given my natural inclination toward distrusting my emotions and operating solely based on reason), fluff reminds me that emotions are good, and healthy, and even beneficial. And when other books try to persuade me that there are no happy endings, only temporal moments of happiness, or that I am the only thing in which I can believe or hope, or that the world is crumbling around me, fluff reminds me that I can forge my own happy ending. Love may not be enough to fix the universe, but it's an awfully good start to fixing my own life and motivating me to care about fixing all the rest.

So if you made it all the way to the end of this giant post, thanks for listening to my two cents. I love literary fiction too (I'd be a pretty terrible lit teacher if I didn't), and a diet of all fluff wouldn't be any better for you than a diet of all oranges, but I really believe that fluff is more than just an unhealthy snack. Someday, maybe it can gain a new name and take its rightful place as part of a well-rounded literary diet instead of being relegated to a single, guilty bite after dinner.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Birthday, Release Day, Giveaway!

It's my birthday!! :~D You can still enter my celebratory $10 giftcard + ebook giveaway here by commenting with your favorite Happily Ever After song.

It's also release day for Can Anybody Find Me, a story I started writing nearly a year ago with two entirely unrelated motives:

1. The Boring One: I had these two characters I'd created for a 100 word snippet in response to a three word prompt who wanted a story of their own, and I was dealing with some angst regarding my own thirtieth birthday, so I decided to set Will and Andrew's story against the backdrop of Will's thirtieth birthday.

2. The Silly One: I had finished reading a pile of m/m romances that all seemed to rely on the same devices and offer the same unrealistic fantasies, and I was sick of it! On my livejournal, I posted a list of a few things I wanted to see in a romance some day in reaction against what I'd seen in all of the books I'd just finished, and then several other people contributed a few of their own wishes in the comments. Here's what appeared:
--a man with a disproportionately small dick
--a man who is bad at sex
--a couple who both fall below the mean average of attractiveness
--first time sex between the main couple that is not mind-blowing, eye-watering, and/or miles beyond any other sex the previously promiscuous characters have ever experienced before; ideally, sex worse than one or both of them has had with someone else, but since the sex isn't what keeps them together, who cares?
--a "newly gay" character who doesn't immediately turn sex god
--BJ where guy doesn't like the taste and refuses to lick his fingers... extra points if the more experienced character is not blowing like a pro but is clumsy
--smaller/prettier character is the strong one who doesn't need rescuing while stoic cowboy/cop character is the one new to town and in need of assistance
--story where the sex isn't magical and mind-blowing but clumsy, sticky (not in a good way) and awkward... but the love still prevails

As usual, I looked at the list and thought, "Well, if somebody's got to do it, it might as well be me," and decided to see which of those I could work into my still-nebulous Will and Andrew story. (Undoubtedly the rest will make their way into something else in the future.) Perhaps I should have seen it coming, but to my surprise, the silly list didn't add humor; it added realism. Stripping away the Gorgeous, Sexy, and Perfect that tends to come with the territory of writing romance meant I was left with characters who were just average guys, men who love each other not because they're mystic soulmates, because the sex is so hot, or because they just look so good side by side, but because they just plain want to be together.

I have been thinking recently about why I like to read romance, and why I think that even--perhaps particularly--happily married, well-educated, intelligent women with careers need fluff in their diet just as much as they need things like calcium and folic acid. That's a post for another day, but one of the things I have realized is that my favorite books are the ones that capture something of my experience with Happily Ever After, something of what I believe True Love really is. My wish for Can Anybody Find Me is that readers will catch a glimpse of that, and smile a little at the way the smallest things sometimes make all the difference.

Friday, January 4, 2013

It's (Almost) My Birthday and I'm Celebrating with a Giveaway!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a fantastic holiday season. I certainly did, courtesy of my parents taking all of their children, children-in-laws, and grandkids on a fun, surprisingly relaxing family vacation.

Great as my break was, I'm really looking forward to the next week. Not only will I be returning to work after two weeks off (which is a good thing, I swear), tomorrow marks the beginning of my second trimester of pregnancy and end of the evil progesterone supplements I've had to take for the last several weeks (and they are, let me tell you, everything that sucks about being pregnant in one convenient daily dose), and Wednesday is not only the beginning of a serial fic I've been looking forward to immensely AND the release of Can Anybody Find Me, my short story in Less Than Three Press' Kiss Me At Midnight collection, but it's also my birthday! This calls for celebration.

<--Please help yourself to the champagne in that glass over there.

Can Anybody Find Me, more than any other story I've ever written, has a definite soundtrack in my head. Queen's Greatest Hits makes it into the story a few times, as you may have guessed from the title, since it's Andrew's favorite album. He's a fan of pop/alt rock with a definite soft spot for the 80's; I suspect he listens to Ludacris when he wants a laugh. Will, on the other hand, is a bit more of a music snob; he listens at one point to his playlist entitled "Regret", which I'm certain features some Death Cab for Cutie (Title and Registration and A Lack of Color at the very least), Janove Ottesen, probably some Pete Yorn, undoubtedly some Gotye, a little Patrick Wolf, and a handful of other acoustic tracks and/or indie artists. But even Will needs a little Freddie Mercury sometimes. ;)

In light of this, my birthday giveaway includes, in addition to a copy of the e-book (a whopping $1.99 value!), a $10 gift certificate to iTunes, Amazon, or whichever vendor the winner prefers for book/music purchasing. To enter, you must leave a comment with some means by which I can contact you if you win AND the name of one (or more) tracks you think belong on a "Happily Ever After" playlist for my two main characters (and between the two of them, pretty much any artist or genre is welcome). What's your favorite song about Twu Wuv? The giveaway will be open until midnight EST January 12. Good luck!

(If you simply can't stand to wait until the giveaway's over and need to read Can Anybody Find Me when it comes out on Wednesday, you can purchase a copy of the book by clicking the cover and following the link. If you do it before Tuesday night, you'll even save 30 cents, which you can use to size up your next latte, buy a gumball, or put in your piggy bank to save up for another book.)