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Adventures in Biology

August 26, 2012 Leave a comment

No, I’m not taking Bio this semester, though I’m sure it will come about sooner or later. What I’m referring to today is not the distant study of the human body, but the personal experience of when your body goes haywire and why it’s not entirely a bad thing for a writer to experience.

Unless it kills you, of course. That would suck and would totally tank your word count goals.

Don’t get me wrong, the body going nuts isn’t exactly going to inspire creativity, nor is it exactly conducive to sitting still and writing. What helps is the reminder of physical pain, vulnerability and seeing/experiencing things one may not otherwise see/experience – like the interior of a hospital (if one is not a medical professional), the repeated punctures of a needle by a nurse trying to draw blood from your stubborn veins, or feeling the peculiar effects of injected pain killers. There’s also the reminder of the drama involved in something that seems so scary, or horrible, only to find out that it’s not as bad as first perceived. There’s something in that to be utilized as well.

I got to go on one of these joyrides sometime after midnight on Wednesday. It was nothing serious, just my gallbladder trying to show me who wears the brass knuckles in my body and prove that it knows how to use them. (Don’t piss of that fucker – it fights dirty.) After the whole pain-fear-pain-stress-pain-anxiety-sleep cycle was over (which was sometime mid afternoon on Friday when I could maintain consciousness for longer than 30 minutes at a time), I got a chance to reflect on the experience and think about how this could and would likely enrich my writing. I knew a bit more about what it felt like to have internal organs get pissed off enough to send you to the ER, how a car ride that one takes at least weekly could seem to take months when you can’t sit still, the utter lack of pride when asking the nurse WHEN they were going to make it stop hurting because you just can’t take it any longer, and the utter lack of concern when laying in the same bed thirty minutes later and just not giving a fuck about what happens.

Is it sick that I’m really looking forward to incorporating this somewhere, somehow?

No, I know it is. I just thought I’d draw out the other scribblers. We’re fucked up, but damn is it fun!

Anyway, that’s my 2c for the weekend (since it is still Sunday for a little while longer). Time to finish folding the laundry so I can crawl into bed and resume my “normal” life again in the morning.

2013 – The Year of the Con

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

There are all kinds of wonderful writer-ly things I’m going to be doing through the end of next year, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it. Well…two kinds of things at least. First, getting to go and see Stephen King’s reading in Lowell, MA in December. I’m leery about going to the Great White North in the midst of Hell, err, winter, but it’s worth it to be 4 rows from a living god. Thankfully, this is scheduled to happen before the Mayan apocalypse, and I can’t say that the proximity of such an event to the end of the world as we know it (I hope I’m not the only one I ear-wormed there) is entirely coincidental. But I won’t care. After being in the same room with a man I’ve admired since I was a teenager, I will die happy.

Provided that we live through the apocalypse (given our track record so far with the raptures, I think we’ve got a shot), 2013 will be the year of the Con. For starters, I’ll be attending the local ConCarolinas because it’s local, fun, relatively cheap, and has some awesome guests. Then, a short week and a half later, I’ll be headed to the Big Easy to attend the World Horror Convention at the reportedly haunted Hotel Monteleone in the French quarter. And, because that just wasn’t awesome enough, I also have a ticket to the Bram Stoker Awards dinner. This is the moment I might actually die, just for those who may be concerned. I will be in the same room as big name horror authors and editors. I’m all but squeeing with glee as I type this out. Six weeks (ish) later, I will also be attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta. Or, at least, that’s the plan. Depends on whether I remember to scope out hotel reservations and get registered when it gets posted. Since this year’s event hasn’t happened yet, I’ll have to wait to find out the details…and that might be my undoing.

So, next year will be even more busy, chaotic and (hopefully) productive and successful. I’m looking forward to one hell of a year. C’mon Lucky 13 – show me whatcha got!

Until later…

A Rant of My Own – Lame Ass Endings

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

So, I’m following in the footstomps of the Insatiable Booksluts and I’m going to vent some vitriol in a Reading Rage of my own. I’m not gonna call it that, but call this little nod to the righteous readerly indignation that we all feel from time to time when we pick up a book and have only one possible reaction:

you know you've made this face....

This one is about lame ass endings. I’m talking the endings that make you flip through the obligatory notes at the back of a book, the thanks-to-the-people-who-didn’t-kill-me-and-should-have-while-I-was-a-complete-and-reclusive-asshole, the author bio, and all the miscellaneous pages to round out the print, just to see if there is more to the story you missed. Endings that make you think the writer is playing a trick on you, or is just being mean. Endings that make you scowl at the cover, then at the blurb, then rush to the internet to find out when the next one is coming out, not because you are dying to read it, but because the end pissed you off and you want to know how much time you have to rant and rave over it before you pointedly avoid buying the next installment.

I just had a moment of this caliber and I’m so annoyed, I had to put it in words.

First, though, a little backstory.

Even though people around me salivated over the HBO series “True Blood,” I didn’t immediately hop on the bandwagon. I didn’t really avoid it, but I wasn’t so awed by the premise that I felt the urge to watch it like some visual crack addict. When it first started, I didn’t have cable, and then I wasn’t interested enough to Netflix it or find it elsewhere on the internet in order to catch up on what I’d missed when I finally did have over a hundred channels of “nothing’s on.” The books that inspired the TV series got a good friend of mine into junkie reading mode, so I figured I’d avoid them – not because I don’t trust her taste, but I know my own personal issues with popular books. I didn’t want to read them, get disappointed with the series and have to have that conversation with her and dent her love of reading by giving a less than comparable glowing opinion.

In the end, the same friend wore down my resistance and I caught up on “True Blood” and started watching it around season3. I enjoyed it enough to get psyched about season 4, and around that time (roughly), I started my Audible.com addiction and decided I’d listen to the Sookie books. (We’re not going to talk about season 5, nor are we going to discuss the divergent path of the show. That’s a rant for another day, and another blog.)

In defense of the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, they’re not bad. They’re fun, lighthearted and colorful. They aren’t high literature, of course, but they’re a good time that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to draw your interest. You get used to Sookie’s…well, Sookie-ness, and after a bit, it even becomes charming. Charlaine Harris knew what she was doing when she developed Sookie’s voice and personality. It’s strong and it’s an integral part of the entire series. There are elements of distinct southern-ness about it and it helps bring the story into striking contrast when compared to other popular vampire books. *ahem* Around book 8, the cliches, some of the catchphrases, repetition, and pop-culture name-dropping started to grate on my nerves, but not enough to abandon the series. I enjoyed the chemistry between Sookie and her vamps and the others in her life and I wanted to know what else was going to happen.

And then I got to book 11, Dead Reckoning.

It wasn’t a terribly unique book, and there wasn’t anything I felt particularly distinguished it from the others around it. It was an enjoyable (albeit a little predictable) story replete with those moments that made me smirk and chuckle. Until I got to the end.

I finished listening to it while doing some mindless little task and was starting to get annoyed with Sookie’s introspective and repetitive “I wonder…maybe…” monologue when the words “The End” rang in my ear. I waited for the voice to tell me “you have reached the end of a part,” and to have them tell me that the “download had been broken up into multiple parts to make the download faster” but instead, I heard the familiar “Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program.”

Confused, I poked at the audiobook app until I realized that yes, the ending of the book had been that lame. Sookie sitting on her couch watching Jeopardy.

I played it again. It didn’t get any longer, and it didn’t change.

Wait. What?

How in the hell did Harris get away with this kind of ending? Even my least discerning beta reader would tell me that an ending like that was complete bullshit, that it provided no closure and no sense of it continuing into another book. Sure, there was foreshadowing for the next book in the previous chapters, but it was so broad that there is no real embedded hook to draw me into the next one. There’s nothing to compel me to pick up the final volume other than the fact that it exists and that is, in my opinion, laziness. It smacks of a lack of planning, a lack of interest in the story arc from book to book and of rushing to wind it up within page count and on deadline for the next book. I get cliffhanger endings and while they annoy me, I respect them and the passionate interest they create for the next book. I get intentionally unsatisfying or ambiguous endings; they let the story live on in my head long after I put the book down. I don’t expect a book to have a happy ending, and I actually prefer the ones that don’t have a happy ending where everything gets all tied up in a neat, unrealistic package. When I know it’s a series, I want the author to make me a junkie for the story and make me yearn for the next release date, or at the very least, crave it like a chocoholic on a diet. The unspoken power of the pen is to compel the blood to boil at the author’s whim and such power should be used responsibly. Here, it was not.

My interest in a series I’ve enjoyed has turned on one book and now, I’m annoyed. This ending didn’t feel as though it were created to be intentionally ambiguous or unsatisfying, nor did it feel like it was an integral part of a series. To me, this kind of ending closes the cover on the series, not just the penultimate book. If I hadn’t already downloaded Deadlocked, I probably wouldn’t just based on the ending of Dead Reckoning. It hasn’t ruined the entire series for me, which I have enjoyed, but it certainly has changed my opinion of these remaining books, the last before I’ve even started it. Had this been a dead tree version, it would have sailed across the room to collide with the wall. THAT would have been satisfying in a way the last paragraph was not.

I know I’m not alone in my frustration with lame ass endings. Let’s hear what endings you’d love to force the author to re-write, or that you’d rewrite in a more satisfying way.

Something Like a Review – Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

It’s time for a little change of genre pace, and time to explore a local writer. Not, you know, like physically or anything because I don’t want to be arrested. But you know what I mean.

Over the past couple of years, I have tried to overcome my book snobbery, and when it comes to genre, I usually do a pretty good job of it (though it’s a little harder to tell from my Goodreads bookshelves for the past couple of years), but I’m not going to turn up my nose at science fiction or fantasy, paranormal romance is more sparsely represented in my literary palate, but it will occasionally show up there too. One of the benefits (and drains on the wallet/reading plan) of going to conventions is meeting local authors and hearing them speak about their work. Not only do you get to see their own enthusiasm, you get to hear where the ideas came from, which is always intoxicating. Sure, you can find that kind of thing online (as D.B. Jackson has discussed at Magical Words fairly recently), however there’s something missing from the posts. The digital arena doesn’t convey the facial expressions, the energy, enthusiasm or the smiles when these authors are presenting their babies to the crowd of enthralled readers and would-be writers that have come to talk shop. There’s something missing about the experience.

Suffice to say that when I walked away from ConCarolinas this summer, I walked away with a bag full of books, and a list of those I hadn’t purchased but planned to do so. (Since only so much of my time can be dedicated to sitting in a chair and reading, I have to get creative with other solutions…) One that wasn’t yet available for purchase, but had all kinds of good buzz about already among the authors speaking on panels was Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson (aka David B. Coe). It’s not a book that would normally be on my radar because it’s simply not a genre I tend to follow, but what I heard about the story was enough to interest me and I remembered it long enough afterwards to order it on Amazon and have it in my hot little hands the day before the actual release.

The easiest way to explain the genre is, as the author himself explains it, a historical urban fantasy. It’s unique and powerful, and I daresay this may be the birth of a subgenre. What Jackson has done is take historical fact and expertly woven magic and fantasy into it. It’s not a conspicuous presence, as it couldn’t be in the colonial Americas, but it exists and those on the fringe know of it. One of the best interactions that really shows the importance of magic’s covert existence in this world is Ethan’s interaction with his sister. I promise not to spoil more than that, but pick it up, and you’ll see what I mean.

I admire the amount of research that went into this book because it contributed to the plausibility of the story. I felt immersed in colonial Boston and could feel the depth in the story even with my limited background in the history of the time. Jackson incorporates familiar names and places into the story and puzzles out the what-if’s in colonial Boston politics, explaining tensions therein, and takes it a step further and asks “what if the colonists had been right about magic, but misunderstood it?” There be witches, indeed, but not the witches the earlier colonists feared – conjurers who could help or harm by using the elements of the world around them, or blood, or in extreme cases, the lives around them.

Jackson creates rich characters and I had a great time getting to know Ethan Kaille and I hope to see more of the fiery Kannice in the future books in this series. Knowing that there are more books coming help assuage my one frustration: while I know enough of Kaille’s background to ground him as a character, there’s still some mystery around the things that were only mentioned and not explored. I’ll be as patient as I can be…for now. But 2013 seems so far away….

Medium: Old-fashioned hardback from Amazon.com

Other: Kindle version also available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely, especially before the release of the second volume

Dead-tree worthy?: I’m a little torn on this because it’s not a genre I follow passionately. I say yes, because I plan to bring it to the next ConCarolinas for an author-graph, but if it were just for my personal collection, probably not. This is not because I have anything against the book, or that I think I won’t re-read it, but only because I’ve become aware of how precious my shelf-space is, and I’m much more considerate of what takes it up. I’ll leave this one up to you, dear reader…

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