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"New futures from old horizons." Author of off-kilter sci fi/fantasy books. Fond of apocalyptic and fantastical things. Known for phuquerie. I bite. On Amazon.

Monday, 2 November 2015

When Monsters Are Friends: The New World of Romance (Part 2)

Hello hello!

Before we go any further, please be aware that I WILL be talking about abuse, mental health issues, and physical health issues in the context of metaphor and real life. Brace yourselves. This is a trigger warning of the most sincere kind; for here be monsters.

Monsters are everywhere. I knew this when I was a little girl, and I was firmly convinced of it--shadows moved at night. Edging my foot over the side of the bed would be a step too far, enough to alert the crawling, creeping horrors lurking in the darkness of my room. Seething shapes with claws and red eyes and teeth waited in the back of my mind, torturing a vivid imagination. Sometimes they looked like raptors from Jurassic Park--cheesy now, but terrifying to my childhood self. The shark from Jaws looks quite fake now, laughably so, but back then, its churning maw and darkly thrashing fins kept me shaking in my flippers when I ventured into the deep end of the pool.

The monsters didn't go away as I got older--or, they did, but just became rarer. Side effects of an over-active imagination, I knew, but it didn't make them less scary. Stringy-haired young girls in white gowns, their long black hair draping over broken, distorted limbs, crawled through my nightmares. Long-clawed shadows made me watch the windows tensely, well into my late teens--just in case something was moving out there. Something that wasn't the neighbour's dog or a wandering coyote.

In university, a visualization exercise involving a misshapen, enormous, leather-winged beast had my heart racing even as I walked the corridors in full daylight. My partner introduced me to Lovecraft, and I shuddered over descriptions of cannibalism and nameless wraiths and vile magicians. And at some point, in the middle of it all, Twilight happened.

"Sparkly Vampires"

Everyone across the internet--and off of it, in fact--seems to understand what is meant by "sparkly vampires". And while those vampires are technically much closer to mythical portrayals of fey, the concept of effete, weak, sulky, ridiculous creatures was still cemented firmly in public imagination. Say the phrase "sparkly vampires" and people will know that you're referring not only to soppy portrayals of the legendary sanguinarian revenants, but to crappy, overly romanticized monsters in general.

Except...there's a merit to softening and humanizing our monsters. By making the vampires "nice", Meyer made them accessible, relateable. The way she did it--and especially her prose--bear some critique, but the yearning, angry isolation, and discontent within a world of privilege that Edward and the other vamps express--those clearly spoke to people around the world. The vamps may live on animal blood, but their supernatural abilities and other traits make them "different"--and all those differences are for the sole purpose of predation. Even love cannot make a monster cease to exist, or fix its true nature. And yet, love persisted, even though both Bella and Edward knew it was a bad, unhealthy idea. This is what spoke to so many people, something true that even purple prose and sighing, dull, sullen teenagers could not conceal: sometimes, love is bad for you, and sometimes, one loves "not too wisely, but too well". We abandon sense and logic and doing utterly horrible things in the name of that insanity-inducing hormonal cocktail of emotion.

"Why be nice? They're monsters!" 

Going back to the sparkly monsters and complaints about wussy shifters, it's worth looking at why people express cognitive dissonance at the idea of a less violent monster. Surely, the point of a monster is to be a villain, antagonist, or threat. Monsters, by their nature, cannot be wholly good. But Not being wholly good does not actually require being wholly evil. And that moral ambiguity allows people to insert themselves in the monster's shoes. Sex without consequences, without the need for reproduction? For a lot of people, especially those from Christian backgrounds, the idea of such a "sin" is seductive and tainted. And a high, consequence-free sex drive is just the beginning.

It allows us to deal with negative or shadow traits within ourselves and other people without rejecting or denying their nature. People can do good or bad things, and not simply be accepted or rejected based on arbitrary ideas of 'good' and 'evil'--human nature and human actions are complex; in addition to all the niggling little moral arguments, there's also the simple fact that 'good' people do bad things. Winston Churchill tested mustard gas on innocent people in Kurdish villages; Mahatma Gandhi was misogynistic and racist; Hitler was a vegetarian who was kind to, and loved, animals. Unfortunately, even the worst and best people that humanity has to offer have a mix of traits which represent complexity--on a micro scale, this means that people we love, care about, and who try to do the right thing most of the time can abuse us, commit acts of assault on others, or make individually harmful stupid choices.

It also allows us to own the harmful elements in ourselves, while both externalizing and accepting them as necessary.Another case--someone may have a physical or mental illness that makes it hard for them not to harm others, such as people who have developmental difficulties or who cannot control their muscles at times. If an epileptic nephew punches you in the face during a seizure, is it his fault? Or--if a lover screams at you while xe is having a bipolar episode, is it their fault? In the second case, the answer may be more than a simple 'yes' or 'no', but one argument does not cause for dissolution of a relationship make.

Wait, so how does this relate to monsters again? 

In a way, werewolves and shifters are like people with mental illnesses--yes, those illnesses can hobble us. Like a wolf, being confined to one's home for three days, avoiding others for fear of hurting them, having to undertake rituals to control the issue, people with these illnesses and problems can feel controlled by them. But they can also be a source of identity and wholeness.

In Gestalt theory, "wholeness" is the end result; achieving it can take a variety of paths. Similarly,  Jung's famous shadow-self theories have importance. We cannot accept ourselves as we are, nor can we improve our lives, if we ignore reality and our limitations. A werewolf is disabled by bloodlust and transformation for three days out of the month--or more, depending on the mythos. A vampire must cope with physical and dietary limits as well as emotional and mental limits. Just as people with disabilities sometimes or often develop strengths to compensate for or as a result of their experiences, both magical and more realistic limitations on life leave their mark.

Obviously, this does *not* ring true for everyone with a disability, or other life issues such as addictions, or even for every "normal" (whatever that means) person struggling with a dark side. But for some of us, it does, and having realistic monsters has real value.

And finally...

When I curled up in the throes of depression this weekend, doubled over and crying in despair, the problem was mostly a lack of meds to balance out some neurochemical issues. My hair fell down around my face, and I crawled on hands and knees to a safer, darker space. I was wearing torn clothes--a ragged layered skirt and raveling cotton shirt, unsuccessfully tea-died and denuded of sleeves long ago. But in my head, it seemed like a good idea to just lie there, die, and haunt the closet until some university kid came to rent the place.  I looked like a ghost, and felt like one, and in that moment, I knew what it was to really be one of the monsters.

And it was okay--not just because I chose to fight those feelings, but because they were mine. Eventually, my partner came in, offered me a hand, and helped me climb out of the pile of blankets I'd been crouching in. We visited his family. I tried a higher dose of meds, which worked. But for a while, in the 3 a.m. darkness, I let myself feel what needed to be felt. And then I came back.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

50 Shades of Bored: The New World of Romance (Part 1)

Hello hello!

So, a while ago, a certain movie came out. I promised to review it because I love you all.

I scheduled my comments to drip-feed them to all of you, but if you've been following my Twitter, you already know what I thought about the whole thing. Honestly? I haven't done up a proper post because I was bored out of my gourd when I watched it. There was a tiny bit of kinky sex, and lots of wide-angle shots of the rainy beauty of the Northwest, but the main actors were bland and the laughs were pretty feeble. It was so bad, and so dull, that I couldn't even muster the energy to hate it properly.

Then, just recently, E.L. James' inspiration, Stephanie Meyer, released "Life and Death", a gender-flipped version of Twilight. Other journalists have tackled this sad little publicity grab. I'm tempted to pick it up so I can giggle my way through it, but frankly--I'm tired. I'd much rather read the many better, darker romances out there than punish my brain cells with the masochistic experience of slogging through Twilight's casserole made from leftovers. There are some valid and artistically interesting things that Meyer did (stop giggling), and they're worth talking about, but every time one starts feeling inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, she pulls something like this.

So instead of talking about faux darkness and incompetent echoes, let's talk about Gone Girl and dark romance and the kinds of things that you won't find in a regency paperback with lurid 80s script and fainting maidens. Let's talk about huntresses and murderesses and strange, dark, damaged characters and madness and attics. I have the most wonderful and terrifying things crossing my editing desk, and a few of those will be touched on as well.

October is a scary month, and what's more terrifying than falling in love? Get ready; we're going in deep.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 5 October 2015

In Praise of Bad Art

Hello hello!

So, life has happened, is happening, continues to happen, and I have a lot of good ideas sitting in my draft folder. But once in a while, my emotions and thoughts swirl and bubble over, and an impulsive post comes rushing out, overflowing tidy restraint.

Today, I need to complain and praise something strange: sub-par, bad, and merely average art.

Right now, I am reading a book that I know in my soul is Hugo-quality. I can't tell you whom it's by, because it's not finished yet, nor has it been published. I'm listening to Lana del Rey's Honeymoon album. It is very early, and so the world is quiet, except for this music and this book.

It is far from the only exceptional, stellar work I've had cross my plate in the last month or so. But having two superb novels to edit, having this one to read right now, and having The Brothers Jetstream on my Kindle app--having works of this quality should make me overjoyed.

But while it is not oppressive, it is overwhelming. There is so much beauty and amazingness that I need something less amazing to take refuge in. It's similar to the way I feel whenever we take a trip to the Rocky Mountains--everything is so beautiful and amazing and perfect that it becomes exhausting.

So--next time you find yourself shaking your head and lamenting the decline in culture, consider the alternative. Consider a world in which everything is so beautiful that you are struck with a kind of choice paralysis. "Precious cinnamon roll too good for this world, too pure", as a meme goes--but that stupid, amazing moment of clarity when you bite into a morsel that is perfection itself, that moment is too incredible to last. And when it does last, it's almost upsetting.

How can anything be that good? It's almost upsetting. The mind strains to comprehend real beauty. Better to have it in spoonfuls, scraps, drops, than to live it and bask in it daily. It would become boring, eventually, because brains just cannot appreciate every nuance day in and day out. And that which we called 'transcendent' once would become shlock--just because brains crave homeostasis.

So do yourself a favour, sweet reader--read some fanfiction. Grab a cheesy thriller or romance novel off a shelf. Look at some stupid cartoons. And try not to lose yourself in hunger for a world too full of beauty, because there is no way our frail human hearts could ever handle it.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Journey in Color: Dreamsicle Delight

A Journey in Color: Dreamsicle Delight: What sounds more refreshing than cooling off on a balmy summer afternoon with a sweet orange creamsicle pop? Have you tried a Dreamsicle Mar...

Sunday, 23 August 2015

How to Act Like An Editor--A Brief List (Part 3)

Hello hello!

So *blows dust from blog again* I've returned with yet another post about the world of writing--and in this one, I'm tackling my own special breed--editors.

In the event that you find yourself impersonating an editor, I have compiled a few handy tips to ensure that the deception is perfection itself.

How to Act Like An Editor

1. Frighten other writers. When you walk through a crowd, a cold shiver should run down the spine of every writer present. Doing a "murder walk" helps, but generally, people should just know that you are coming, and that you are a barely contained force of nature. 

2. Wear slightly tidier clothing than the writers--though you needn't be less weird. Red spots, ashes/cremains, and flecks of ink are allowed, as are the fingernails of the last client who pissed you off--but those last ones make better earrings, generally.

3. Alcohol and caffeine are no longer food groups--they run in your very veins. You have become the caffeine and alcohol. You bleed them, breathe them, emit them in a fragrant cloud. 

4. A cold, haughty laugh and thousand-yard-stare are a must. "I've seen things," you should murmur to yourself, whenever the topic of your work comes up. "I've seen things you cannot fathom. Are you frightened? You should be frightened."

5. Being more aggressive, blunt, and experienced than other writers is also important. Basically, you are the shit--but you don't need to advertise it quite as much as the bestsellers. When people walk into a room with you, they'll just know. 

6. Elucidate your issues with various style guides at length, even when other people have stopped listening and just want to beat you to death with the Chicago Manual of Style. 

7. Don't nitpick poor grammar on Facebook--leave the amateur grammar Nazis to do that. Save your bile for bloggers and news articles, and complain mercilessly about typos in bestsellers--but only in private. 

8. Be a hunter, not a scavenger--don't stalk authors on social media and threaten them with crappy reviews for missing a comma on page 81 of the Kindle edition, and repeating a period on page 275.

9. Let your writing career slide, because oops, work is important.

10. Be extremely forgiving with authors and writers at all levels--after all, it takes time to get this crap down, and everyone was a beginner once. Actually snobbishness has no place in the writing world. Every author deserves a second chance, and often, a third.

11. Write love letters to every punctuation mark and obsess over the effect of sentence structure on phrasing and emphasis. You alone understand how beautiful semicolons and Oxford commas and em dashes are. But that won't stop you from telling everyone else anyway.

12. No matter how many bad ones you read, never stop loving books. 

Next time--we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming of thoughtful, intellectual blog posts. Stay tuned!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie--get on the mailing list. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!