Sunday, March 30, 2008

Writing for Me! And only for Me!

As of last Friday, March 28th, I handed in my absolute FINAL essay for my English degree -- it was an essay for History 297: History of Christianity. It was on the ideology behind the Second Crusade as expressed in The Song of Roland, and compared to the ideology of the Second Crusade promoted by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. But now I'm done - NO MORE ESSAYS! I am writing only for me!

Yes, yes, I still have that Comp Lit exam I have to write for my Romance class, but as my exam is going to be a work of romantic fiction that rewrites Chretien de Troyes' The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot), and it's turning out to be one of the prettiest things I've ever written, it's much too fun to write to consider it really work, and once I'm graded on it, I'll probably submit it hither and thither as it should count as both a fantasy and a romance.

Even though I'm finishd with that final essay, it certainly wasn't the easiest to write. It's as if God, or Fate, wasn't quite finished screwing with me and didn't want to left me off that easy -- the day before my essay was due (and at that point the essay was only half typed) the transformer on my old laptop that was a high school graduation gift abruptly died on me. I bought a thumb drive and managed to get most of my work onto it before the battery life on the old thing sank into Hibernation mode, but it was still terribly inconvenient. I now had only half a day to finish a 3000-word essay. For the first time ever, I actually stayed up until 1:30 finishing it. I've never had to do that before, so I find it kind of funny that this sort of stereotypical "university scramble" had to happen to me on my last essay.

The good news is, I handed it in on time, and today my parents decided to give me my University graduation present early: a shiny new laptop, which I am writing on right now! The keys are all in slightly different places so I'm going to have to get used to that, but I can make my windows bright pink if I want to and choose a new beautiful background and still write all of my stories. I have a feeling that transferring all my iTunes is going to be a chore, but I'll get it done.

My writing (for ME!) is also full-steam ahead - with most of my focus being on the CompLit exam and Reading The Willow King. I will make myself work on my screenplay, I will, but currently it's the hardest thing to work on nowadays because I'm still not 100% sure of the format and nothing I write feels right for it - it's just bits and pieces of scenes. That's probably because I haven't been focusing on it - I always need to write a few crappy sentences for my creativity to warm up and really get cooking - but with such a new format (and one that I plan on using to provide me with my career), I'm having less tolerance for those first few crappy sentences.

But I'll keep working on it -- my parents also bought me a beautiful pink bound journal notebook from Notables, so that's a huge encouragement for me to scribble my way through the tiny fat scribble notebooks I have now so that I can start writing in that one. It would be lovely to have all my longhand drafts collected in beautiful bound journals, don't you think? It'd be terrible for my budget, but once I start doing it for a living, maybe I can write them off as tax deductible, hmm?

"Order of Protection," Kathleen Creighton

The Chick: Joy Lynn Starr (yes, that's her real name - and she has siblings with worse: Jimmy Joe and Sammi June apparently show up in previous novels), a five-foot-nothing forty-something wannabe mystery novelist, believer in psychic powers, and all-round selfish, air-headed moron who can't get anyone to believe that her fashion-reporter friend has gone missing (what?? A cop won't believe that her friend is an "infant soul" because she's an Aries? What is this world coming to?).
Shady Past: 3 miscarriages, 2 failed marriages, and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Dude: Scott Cavanaugh, a sheriff's deputy who is charged by Joy's brother Roy to take care of his "ditzy sister" (thankfully, his own words), to keep her from flying off the handle. He's also a father to a 14-year-old son who insists on acting like he's ten.
Shady Past: His ex-wife divorced him because she couldn't stand the attention he paid to his job and not to her -- but still calls him once a day to get him to do her housework.

The Plot:

Joy: My psychic powers tell me my friend is in trouble! WHY WILL NO ONE BELIEVE ME?

Scott: You are a moron, and manipulative to boot.

Joy: Moi? That's impossible! *sexy eyes*

Scott: ...I feel a sudden urge to investigate your concerns! *investigates* Looks like your friend shacked up with a Latin mafioso's son, and is probably on that private island that they own, that is heavily guarded because they have more money than God, along with several shady ties to international terrorism and drug-running.

Joy: Great! Now I can go rescue her all by myself because I'm way too cute to get hurt and the cops are big stupid meanies!

*island explodes*

Joy: Oopsie, my bad!

Scott: I want to love you, but you DO SUCH STUPID THINGS!

Joy: I want to love you, but my karma's out of whack!

Scott: We found your friend, but let's let the FBI handle it. Just to make sure... *handcuffs Joy to toilet*

Joy: Handcuffs are no match for my totally natural, non-manipulative, perfectly-morally-okay wiles. *sexy eyes*

Ryan, Scott's teenage son: Will you be my mommy? *unlocks cuffs*

Joy: *rescues friend*

Scott: Wow, and they would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you meddling woman!

Romantic Convention Checklist:

1 Hot Cop

1 Mafia Connection

2 Moments of ESP (fer real)

3 Heroine Rescues by Hero

1 Romantically Lackluster Ex

1 Southern Drawl (used intermittently)

The Word: I had low expectations for this book to begin with -- this was literally a book I picked out at random from a black garbage bag my Romance Literature prof provided for his class. Last week: romance comics. This week: harlequins! Or to put it more accurately, Series Romances - mine's a Silhouette Intimate Moments. The writing was actually a bit better than I was expecting -- I dunno, I guess I was expecting something egregiously bad that would make it instantly recognizable as different from Single Title Romances (i.e. Nora Roberts - Lisa Kleypas territory). As I kept reading, though, I definitely saw a LOT of flaws.

First of all, Creighton uses similes way too often - such as ALL THE TIME. I don't mind a good simile, and I don't mind people who use them all the time if the similes match the mood or the job or the thinking patterns of the character in some way (i.e. an accountant describing a mysterious hero like an "algorithm she couldn't solve" or something). Creighton's, however, are just plain inane - she plasters lame, obvious, or weird similes as descriptions all over the place (worst example: "her heart melted like a chocolate bar in the sun"), which has always been an indication to me of lazy writing.

Secondly, her CHARACTERS. As you may have guessed from my previous descriptions, I absolutely despise the heroine. She's an annoyingly self-centred nutjob. I guess it must be one of my pet peeves, but I can't stand stories where some feather-brained twit with no forensic experience defies everything that trained law enforcement officials tell her to do and ends up saving the day. I HATE those. I don't mind characters who contribute to a case with their natural intelligence or ingenuity, but Joy puts herself in harm's way for absolutely NO reason other than selfishness.

Her character (who, hilariously, wants to write mystery novels but hasn't bothered with ANY research other than watching CSI once a week - yeah, good luck with that honey) believes her roommate is missing. Fine. She has this sort of extra-sensory intuition that her friend is in trouble, and her friend said she'd call but she didn't, so Joy is worried. That's fine and reasonable. Her concern is understandable, as is everyone else's skepticism.

However, she INSISTS on rescuing her friend, Yancy, herself - even after things blow up to the point where nearly every law enforcement agency in the country is looking for the same thing she is: she doesn't care that she has no training, she doesn't care that she's putting her best friend's life at risk, she doesn't care about the hot cop who cares about her - this book is all about her and her own pathetic problems. Wah, wah, her daddy died, wah, wah, she's had miscarriages - boo hoo, that totally gives her an excuse for doing inexplicably idiotic things that endanger other people's lives to satisfy her own personal missions, because if she isn't the one who saves her friend, personally, by her own hand, than by some measure she's failed. I have no idea where such a narcissistic character acquired the delusion of grandeur that convinced her that she is in a better position to save her friend from a CRIME SYNDICATE other than FBI agents and cops.

Joy's not only annoying, however - she's poorly written. All her plans for rescuing her friend are: "Wander onto restricted Mafia area. Play stupid. Jiggle my boobs. Use my psychic powers to grab friend and ride into the sunset on my magical unicorn." Not only that, but the author TELLS us about Joy rather than shows us - and she tells us poorly. We're told Joy believes in psychic powers - but it only really comes up when it's important. It doesn't affect anything else she thinks about, and seems to be put there just to be a sickeningly cute irony ("Oh! She believes in spirits but she doesn't believe in love! How adorable!"). We're told Joy is an aspiring mystery writer - yet she doesn't show any interest in writing, any creative thought, or any desire to research. If I was an aspiring mystery writer and found myself being babysat by a cop for three days, I'd be asking a shitload of questions - who knows when I might get another chance? Nope - Joy's "writing" aspect only comes up when it's convenient to the storyline, and then vanishes. There is no aspect of her character that SHOWS us she's a writer.

The worst thing, though, is that we have to be TOLD that Joy is 42 years old. I didn't know she was 42 until she explicitly said so 50 pages into the novel. That's 50 pages of me believing she must be in her early twenties because there's no way such a basketcase who acts so irresponsibly and is so self-absorbed could survive to be 42 and still have friends. All the descriptions that Creighton lavishes on Joy show her to be younger than the book tells us she is - and that's a BAD thing, by the way. Joy is descriptively compared to babies, children, and kittens (at least 9 times in the novel she's compared to a kitten - ugh) -- all young, small, vulnerable, cute things. Give me a break. Either she's a cute, vulnerable, doe-eyed naif or she's a go-get'em rescuer, Creighton. You can't have both.
The only redeeming factor of this novel is Scott -- because, for one thing, he actually calls Joy on her sexually manipulative bullshit. From the get-go, he outs her for using the seductive gestures she "unconsciously" uses to have men do what she wants (like looking out at people from under her lashes - a move she uses about once every two pages). Secondly, after the first time that Joy breaks her promise to him to not get into trouble by grabbing onto a ludicrously arbitrary loophole, Scott isn't retarded enough to fall for it again. My favourite part of the novel is when he actually handcuffs her to a toilet to keep her from running off and ruining the FBI's stakeout, because he knows that if left unchecked, she'd go and do it because (say it with me) it's all about her and no one else matters because she's the one with the boo-hoo personal demons.

Still, he ends up loving her anyway, and I can't imagine how. Joy Lynn Starr disrespects everyone she meets and has no consideration for other people's training or intelligence and endangers other people to fulfill her own needs and everyone just shakes their heads and chuckles, "that's our Joy, it's just her nature, ain't she a cute free spirit?" Gag me with a tarot card. D+.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Devil in Winter," by Lisa Kleypas

The Chick: Evangeline Jenner, a voluptuous redhead whose beauty is buried underneath terrible-fitting clothing, awful maternal relatives, and an almost complete lack of self-esteem. Kept under lock and key by her deceased mother's family, the only thing she has going for her is the enormous fortune she stands to inherit from her dying gaming-magnate father. However, she decides that if she wants to be free of her relatives' clutches once and for all in time for her to see her father before he dies, she proposes to the only man powerful enough and yet desperately poor enough to consider marriage to her at a moment's notice -- Viscount St. Vincent.
Shady Past: Um, how about neary twenty-five years spent locked up in a house with relatives willing to beat her, insult her, marry her off to her own morbidly obese cousin, and very possibly murder her for her inheritance? Shady enough for you?

The Dude: Sebastian St. Vincent -- after making an abysmal hash out of his attempting to kidnap and forcibly marry Lillian Bowman in It Happened One Autumn, he's not only cut off from his spendthrift Duke of a father -- now he's broke and friendless, because, well, the Earl of Westcliff has a weird thing against people who try to steal his girlfriends. So when Evie shows up, willing to trade control of her soon-to-be-inherited gambling fortune in return for the husbandly protection of his Viscountcy, how can he say no?
Shady Past: A lifetime of debauchery. Oh, and "lady issues" stemming from the deaths of his mother and four sisters during his childhood to spice up the mix.

The Plot:

Evie: I'll trade you One Inheritance in return for a Quickie Marriage, please.

St. Vincent: Done and done.

Evie and St. Vincent: *Scottish Elopement! Och Aye!*

Evie's Daddy: *dies*

Evie: *MONIED*

Evie's Evil Relatives: You can't have her!

St. Vincent: *punchedinface*

Evie's Pox-Maddened (Possible) Half-Brother: Die, Evie, die!

St. Vincent: *shotinback*

Westcliff: The cure for bullet wounds - a renewable of friendship!

Westcliff and St. Vincent: *friendship renewed!*

St. Vincent: *somewhat better*

Evie: I've got a better idea...

Evie and St. Vincent: *sickbed sex!*

St. Vincent: *REVIVED!*

Romantic Convention Checklist:
1 Righteously Redeemed Rake
1 Delightfully Debauched Virgin

1 Miraculously Vanishing Speech Impediment

1 Family of Eeeeeevil Relatives

1 Inconveniently Large Inheritance

1 Inconvient (pox-ridden) Bastard

1 Quickie Wedding

1 Romantic Use of Protagonist as Human Shield

1 No-Sex Agreement Doomed to Failure

1 Fake-Out Sequel Setup (Daisy + Rohan = NO WAY)

The Word: Aaah, I've heard so many raves about Devil in Winter. At first I thought I would enjoy this even more than It Happened One Autumn. One of my reasons for loving Autumn was because it was an especially well-written example of the complete-opposites attract combo, and so I assumed Winter would be even more so. I mean, St. Vincent actually threatened to rape Lillian in the last book (although in this novel he and Evie conveniently come to realize that his character would never have allowed him to do such a thing) -- now, imagine him being paired up with the almost pathologically-shy and abused Evie? Shouldn't this be awesome?

Don't get me wrong - for the most part, the novel is wonderful. As usual, I love Lisa Kleyas' dialogue and description, but there were parts of the plot and characterization that seemed a little...easy, if you know what I mean. Evie shows a little spunk in the earlier novels, but for the most part she was kind of the weak link sandwiched as she was between the fiery Bowman sisters and the can-do Annabelle. However, she recovered a lot of spunk very VERY quickly for this novel that seemed a bit at odds with her supposed history of near-constant abuse. I don't doubt that with the gumption borrowed from her fellow Wallflower friends, she would have proposed marriage to St. Vincent, but I kind of doubt that after that she would keep calling the shots as confidently as she did and was so ready to trust a man so obviously sexually threatening.

The book also picks up plot points only to discard them rather quickly -- there's the ill-fated attempt St. Vincent makes to convince Evie of the dangers of germs that's quickly abandoned, her evil relatives vanish after only one attempt to get her back which seemed kinda lame considering the lengths they'd gone to to break her spirit and steal her money, and Evie's whole "no sex after marriage cause you're a mean libertine who's not gonna break my heart, oh no, oh no" deal is pretty easily (and very willingly) set aside after a very short amount of time.

That's not to say this book didn't contain its own charms - Evie in many ways is the perfect match for St. Vincent - her moments of fragility throughout the novel serve as potent reminders of just how much of an ass he's been with women his whole life, and his humour serves to keep her from falling into a pit of despair. Also, the fact that St. Vincent isn't just redeemed, but finds a job that he does well and enjoys doing well, also contributes mightily to his character development. Plus, the reaction of the fellow Wallflowers to Evie's quickie marriage is almost worth the price of the book itself. B.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rejected Again

This time I just got the vanilla "not for us, thanks" rejection from Strange Horizons for my story "The Middle Child." I'm starting to feel the perfectly normal but no less painful writer's frustration. Does NO ONE like what I write? Am I completely DELUDING myself into thinking I can write? Am I going to have to WAIT until I'm OLD (like 35!) for me to be finally GOOD ENOUGH to be PUBLISHED? I mean SERIOUSLY. How many times am I going to have to try?

Maybe I should find a better writer's group - the one I'm in, I get maybe two critiques per story, and one is always this idiot newbie who responds with an e-mail that says, "wow, yur really good u should have it published!" Like, really? How about something actually constructive?

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Ideas at Bad Times

If you check my "Projects I'm Working On" Column, I've added another novel - Dark As Night, a fantasy-romance idea I dreamed up over the last few days. I'd love to start writing a romance novel, but first - I have another novel to write as well (Reading the Willow King, which will not die on me, thankfully), and secondly, this is also DEATH MONTH.

I'm taking History, English, and Comparative Literature in University, which means once a semester (November in Fall, March in Spring) I have a bunch of enormous papers all due at the same time, so I have to try and focus all my creative energies on that.

I don't want my creative enthusiasm for Dark as Night to die out before I'm finished, but it's something I have to do. This is my last Death Month, after all (I graduate this year), and after that I'll have loads of time to write when I'm not at my day job.

This also means I won't be posting for a while, even though I have several Romance Reviews to post.