Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The best books I read in 2013

So here's something you probably don't know about me: I'm really terrible at making "best of" lists. I always forget things, even when it's something I've had on the brain for months, and I'm so hideously indecisive that it can take me a week to decide what to list. Fortunately when it comes to books, I use Goodreads, so all the books I read this year are organized into a neat list, divided by genre and rating. Where would people like me be without electronic organizational devices?

1. A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files

This book is the first in a trilogy, all of which I read this year (in extremely rapid succession, i.e. "oh my god it can't end like that! I have to read the next book RIGHT NOW even though it's one in the morning and I have class in six hours!") so it's kind of difficult to decide which book to put on this list. Do I put the first book, which is missing several of the key characters but also sets up everyone's emotional arcs? Do I put the second, where the bulk of the plot solidifies? Or do I put the third one, where you get the emotional catharsis that the first two books demand? I eventually put down the first, not because it's necessarily the best (although to be completely honest, I'm not sure I have the emotional distance to quantify "best") but because when I read it, I really had no idea what I was getting into. About five hours after I started, I finished reading whilst lying prone on my bed in tears and yelping at friends over instant messenger: "THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING! I'M SO UPSET! WHY ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING THIS TO ME!"

The Hexslingers trilogy is immense and tangled and complicated, so I won't spoil the details for you, except to say that it's about an alternate universe Wild West where magic is used, and what happens when a magician ("hex") raises powers better left along. It's also populated with beautifully diverse, emotionally devastating characters (almost all of whom are not straight- seriously I can count the heterosexuals in this series on one hand) and story arcs about identity and faith and love and recovering from betrayal and learning to stand on your own. It's about being a hero even when no one would ever have expected it of you, whether because of your gender, your race, your sexual orientation, or simply who you are. In a lot of ways, it's about growing up, and by the time I finished book three (bawling all the way) I felt like I'd grown up with the characters, even though it took me all of two weeks to get through the three books.

Hexslingers Omnibus (all three books plus three post-trilogy short stories): Amazon |

2. The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan

Sometimes I get a little worn down by reading mainstream fantasy/sf/horror because after awhile the parade of identitical, safely heterosexual couplings all blends into the same vague, bland oeuvre. That's probably a big reason I enjoyed Hexslingers so much, and it's definitely a reason I enjoyed The Red Tree. The book is a sort of Lovecraft pastiche set in rural Rhode Island, which leaves any number of questions floating at the end- what was real and what wasn't? Who, or what, was behind it all? What happened to Sarah Crowe? (The reason I mentioned mainstream SFF earlier is because this book is relatively mainstream- that is, it's published by Roc and I bought it at Chapters- and both the main characters are queer women. As is the author, I believe. Solidarity!) It's a very spooky read, and that's exactly why I like it. I'd also recommend Kiernan's The Drowning Girl, which has a similar eerie tone and cast of intriguing characters, but a happier (ish) ending- as happy as you can get with horror, anyway.

The Red Tree: Amazon

3. The Witch Sea by Sarah Diemer

Sarah Diemer is an author who deserves to be breaking the NY Times bestseller list and getting her books optioned into movies. Unfortunately she's not, mostly because she self-publishes in the name of having her books more accessible to the people who need them. The Witch Sea (which is really more of a novella than a novel) is a gorgeous, haunting romance between a young woman who's been tasked with keeping a gaggle of sea monsters prisoner and one of the monsters who wants to free them both. I won't say much more, besides the fact that Diemer packs more of a punch into 708 Kindle pages than most can in a hardcover book of the same pagecount.

The Witch Sea: Amazon, where is costs exactly zero dollars.

4. Her Majesty's Will - David Blixt

Lord you guys, this book was SO MUCH FUN. As a history geek, as a Shakespeare nerd, as someone who loves to speculate about the love lives of various historical figures, this book was pure candy to me. Will Shakespeare, an unfulfilled schoolteacher in Lancashire, stumbles across cross-dressing spy Kit Marlowe on the road one day and decides that this is as good an excuse as any to flee to London and try to ply his trade . . . in spycraft. Hijinks, most assuredly, ensue. The dialogue is well-crafted and period-appropriate, the banter is ticklishly funny, references to Shakespeare's life abound for anyone interested in playing spot-the-cameo (hi Robert Greene!) and the relationship between Will and Kit (often speculated upon, never confirmed by any historians. That I know of) is a rocking good time. Also: crossdressing. Did you know Kit Marlowe made a very pretty girl? Well now you do.

Her Majesty's Will: Amazon

5. The Steel Seraglio by Mike, Linda, and Louise Carey

Chizine Publishing (the company that also published Hexslingers, above) is rapidly becoming one of my favourite indie publishers. They're a horror/sff company running out of Toronto, and they pride themselves on releasing the kinds of titles you couldn't find anywhere else. Hexslingers is one example (gay magic cowboys save the world!) and The Steel Seraglio is another (rogue harem saves a city using matriarchy!)

In Bessa (a fictional city set in what will one day become the Middle East) a coup takes place, as a religious fundamentalist slaughters the sultan and his entire family. The sultan's seraglio (harem) of three hundred and sixty-five women escapes into the desert, and from there have to decide how to survive from this point forward. I won't spoil what happens next, but suffice to say the premise expands to cover ideas of history, myth, and fiction, the idea of family- how it can be created from nothing- self-sufficency, and memory. I don't want to compare it too much to Hexslingers, because they're tonally very different, but a lot of the themes- about outsiders surviving and thriving and building their own community and selves- are similar. Maybe it's a Chizine thing. Or maybe I just got fantastically lucky with the books I read this year, and stuff with the themes I wanted to read about fell right into my lap.

The Steel Seraglio: Amazon |

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and have a fantastic New Year. I have an announcement coming up in the next few days that I hope you guys will enjoy hearing; in the meantime, I hope you're all enjoying the season.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Why I won't be watching Bitten, as a devoted fan of the books it's based on

A thing you should probably know about me is that I am a huge, huge fan of Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. I read the first book, Bitten, when I was fourteen and finished the series with Thirteen last year at the age of twenty-one. I grew up with these characters- in some cases, quite literally. I know some of them probably better than I know members of my extended family, and the books have helped me through some really tough times. So when Bell Media announced that they were making a TV show based on the first book in the series, saying I was thrilled is a bit of an understatement.

Then they announced the casting. One of the main characters, Jeremy Danvers, is being played by this guy:

Now I've never seen this actor in anything before; I have no feelings on him as a person. But in this case, I am gravely disappointed by his casting, and the racism shown by the showrunners in their choice of him to play a character textually described as Asian-American.

You could argue (I mean you shouldn't, but you could) that since Jeremy's backstory and heritage aren't explicitly referred to in Bitten, then the production team simply didn't know that he was not white. I might be inclined to agree- I don't want to believe that the production team intentionally whitewashed a character, after all- but the excuse doesn't hold water. SPACE, the channel producing and running the show, also posted this image to their Facebook page. It's a family tree of the character who appear in Bitten- including Jeremy. This information could only be discovered by reading the novels and novellas in which his parentage, race, and appearance is described in-depth. If they cared enough to do that extra reading and find out what everyone looked like and who their ancestors were, there's no excuse for not offering the role to a talented actor of Asian descent rather than erasing this important part of Jeremy's character.

It's not like issues of representation in the media haven't been at the forefront for the past few years; there's a whole website,, dedicated to raising awareness of these issues. And the long and the short of it is, the industry is incredibly rough on actors of colour. You don't need to take my word for it- check out the local movie listings. How many movies playing at your local multiplex star non-white actors in leading roles? And why, when so few roles are offered to nonwhite actors, would Bell Media make the decision to take another potential role and give it to a white actor?

So I'm not watching Bitten. I'm pretty sad about it, to be honest; I was so excited when the series was first announced. But I can't in good conscience support racist casting practices like this. I love the books as much as I always did, but for me, the cons of watching the show simply outweigh the pros. Casting practices like these may proliferate in the entertainment industry, but I don't need to support them. Sorry, SPACE and Bell Media; you've lost yourself a viewer.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The discussion fallacy

Whenever something controversial passes through the media cycle, there are inevitably a variety of responses. Some people are outraged; some people are outraged by the outrage; some people really don't care either way; some people want to examine how the media cycle is manufacturing the outrage in the first place. (Those people are generally sociologists.) And then there's another group: the ones who think that the outrage is fodder for a roundtable debate. I'm sure you've heard it at some point: "I'm glad this happened, actually, because there's a really interesting discussion to be had."

And, well. No there isn't.

Should controversial things be discussed? Yes, absolutely. But the thing about "discussion" is that is generally implies that there are "shades of grey" to be found in the issue being discussed. Depending on what the issue is, maybe there is. But when the issue in question involves violating peoples' human rights- or giving money to people campaigning for the violation of human rights- then no, I don't think there is a discussion to be had. 

Ender's Game comes out this weekend. For those who haven't been following the coverage of Ender and the man who wrote it, the author- Orson Scott Card- has a long history of not just opposing same-sex marriage, but advocating for government overthrow if same-sex marriage was passed at a federal level. He's called gay people victims of child molestation and sexual dysfunction. (He's also a racist.) So in general, he's a pretty foul human being. He's also listed as a producer on the movie. That means that a percentage of the revenue generated by the film will be going into his pocket- and presumably, donated to the National Organization for Marriage, of which he was a member until recently. There isn't any discussion to be had about whether or not supporting the movie supports Card because it's a bald fact. He gets money if the movie does well. Your ticket purchases support him. There aren't any "shades of grey" here.

Now there've been a few other issues raised by people who want to support the film. Some people have said that they want to support the movie because it has prominent female characters. (Note: prominent straight female characters.) Others say, well, what about other authors who hold intolerant views and still have adaptations of their work brought to the big screen? What about SHAKESPEARE? To which I say: Shakespeare has been dead for six hundred years. The man is not recieving any kind of monetary compensation for new productions of The Merchant of Venice. (Although as far as repairing the text goes, it would be pretty hilarious if the big-screen adaptation of Ender's Game featured Ender in a loving, romantic
Apparently the movie also added a romantic subplot.
But they don't support heterosexism or anything!
relationship with another boy. Just to see the look on Card's face.) Absolutely the question of mounting productions of literature that propogate harmful racist/homophobic/sexist isn't clear-cut; but it's not comparable to the Ender issue, because Orson Scott Card is very much alive, well, and spewing vitriol. And if your issue with the boycott is that the representation of female characters is more important than Card's bigotry- well, that's your decision to make. But don't pretend that the harm done by supporting the movie is abstract. You can see the author-cum-producer's views for yourself.

(The studio has also announced their support for LGBT people, and offered to hold a benefit on the night of the movie's release. That's nice of them, but since they're still paying OSC, I'm not really sure how that rectifies the main issue here: that Card is still getting money from the movie, which then may very well be paid towards homophobic organizations like NOM.)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Here comes the sun, and I say it's all right

I don't read dystopian fiction.

I realize this is a pretty broad statement, especially considering that the market- especially the young adult market- is absolutely saturated with dystopias right now. For instance:

"IN A WORLD WHERE [x] IS OUTLAWED, OUR [straight/white/non-disabled/cisgendered] HEROINE DARES TO BREAK THE RULES!" - half the YA section of my local bookstore

There are two reasons I'm not a dystopia reader. First, it's BORING. Not that I begrudge you if you do enjoy dystopias- and I know people who do, and who have very valid reasons for doing so- but there's only so any retreads of Anthem I can take before my eyes roll out of my head and go bumping across the floor. (Also, has anyone else noticed the distinctly Ayn Randian slant a lot of dystopias have taken these days? Where our hero is the only one smart and special enough to realize that the world is messed up? This isn't just me, is it?)

But disliking/not being interested in various aspects of the genre isn't unique to dystopia; it's the same reason I don't read hard sci-fi, or literary fiction, or romance novels. There's one very particular thing about dystopia
that keeps me from reading/enjoying it, and while it might say shallow when I say it out loud, it's very true.

Dystopias are sad.

Moreover, dystopias are cynical.

Look, I get that a lot of people see sad, depressing, nihlistic works of art as inherently holding more meaning and value, and they can . . . well, they can think that. I don't agree. But that's not why I avoid dystopian fiction. The reason I avoid dystopian fiction is very simple: I'm sad enough already. I don't need my fiction making it worse.

I have OCD. Depending on the season (all through fall and winter) I also have depression. Depression convinces me that life isn't worth living and that I shouldn't bother to get out of bed in the morning. OCD tells me that I'm an awful person who should just kill herself right now to spare everyone else the trouble. I take medication for both these conditions; they help. But there is an ever-present danger of something tripping me up and sending me down a self-loathing spiral that can last for MONTHS. I have been down those spirals before. They are not fun. They are, frankly, something I'd like to avoid when all possible. And you know what has the potential to set them off? Reading or watching something that happens to push just the right buttons at just the wrong times, especially buttons that say things like "the world sucks!" or "nothing is ever going to get better!" It's like the opposite of taking anti-depressants. I don't like it. I don't enjoy it. And the other side of that coin is- well, my life as someone who deals with mental illness is not always an easy one. I'm not trying to perpetuate the idea that people with mental illnesses live in a state of constant despair, because it's not true, but what IS true is that we face challenges that neurotypical people simply don't, including a sometimes-skewed image of what the world is. This makes up enough of my day-to-day existence that I don't need to see it reflected in fiction.

The Toast has been doing a series of posts called "femmeslash friday" (highly recommended, by the way) and today's post is on Sansa and Brienne in Game of Thrones. GoT is (arguably) not a dystopia, but the writer of the article, E.M. Freeburg, neatly summed up a lot of what I'm trying to articulate here:

“If I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept magic and dragons, then you are overestimating my restraint if you expect me not to smuggle happy ladies along with them. Fantasy breeds fantasy, and if we’re building worlds than I’m going to build myself into them . . . Cynicism and skepticism and an assumption of the worst-case scenario for people like myself is for every other waking moment of my life, thanks.” (x)

Freeburg is writing about popular depictions of queer women, which is a dicussion for another post, but it's also extremely applicable to all groups who live in a society that treats them like crap. I've had enough of endless reminders that I shouldn't expect anything better. Society tells me that. My own brain tells me that. I don't need it on my fiction, too.

(P.S. if you attempt to insinuate that I- or people like me- are just don't understand art for not enjoying sad books, you're kind of an ass. Actually, strike the "kind of." You are an ass.)

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

An ode to my new favourite person in the world

I moved into a co-op complex at the start of September, which is essentially my first time living in an apartment with roommates. There are positives and negatives to this. Positive: I now have a kitchen that I share with two people as opposed to ten! Negative: one of my roommates introduced herself to me by describing her room as "r*tarded." (Me: *rictus grin*) Another negative: I woke up this morning to find my roommates already gone and a note on the toilet that said "don't flush, broken."

Now, there is one (1) toilet in our apartment. There are three people living here. Obviously, this is not a livable state of affairs. So I took a plunger to the toilet, because I am a mature responsible adult who does mature responsible adult things like cleaning out the toilet. Unfortunately, my toilet plunger skills are underdeveloped, so my attempts weren't cutting it. Time to call in the big guns.

*Handel's Messiah plays*
I have never actually seen a toilet repairman before. The toilets at my parents' house have a remarkable track record of not breaking (though they did once have to call a plumber after I clogged the sink by cutting my Barbies' hair over it) so I didn't actually have a definitive idea of what toilet repairmen actually DID. As it turned out, the guy who showed up to fix my toilet- I didn't get his name, so we'll just call him Awesome- brought both a plunger of his own and some kind of high-tech toilet de-clogger called a "snake." When his plunger proved as ineffective as mine had been, he inserted the snake into the toilet bowl and twisted it until the toilet was successfully unclogged. I won't burden you with the gory details, but suffice to say, I'm pretty sure someone in my apartment has been eating at Taco Bell. (Sorry, Taco Bell.)

I feel like the most important lesson of this experience is that toilet repairmen are gods among men. No, I'm serious: how long would you last without a functioning toilet? You wouldn't, would you? No, you would camp out at whatever local business had public washrooms until someone came along and made your bathroom usable again. If the world did not have toilet repairmen, WE WOULD ALL DIE. Do we really need ad executives? Do we need members of Parliament? (Apparently not, if you live in the States.) The answer, my friends, is that we do not truly need either of those things. What we need is more toilet repairmen. I'd start training to be one myself, if I weren't destined to be an unemployed arts graduate.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

70135 / 50000 words. 140% done!

So, that happened.

Finishing a novel- or rather, a first draft, because this is nowhere NEAR ready to be read by anyone who isn't editing it- is a weird process. After a certain point, I think I was just hurling myself forward with my teeth gritted, detemined to FINISH THE DAMN THING ALREADY. It's a good motivator, if nothing else; I was logging up to five thousand words a day towards the end there because I'd reach my daily goal and think "well, I'm only five hundred words away from the NEXT thousand" and just keep plugging ahead.

And again: this book is not even remotely close to being readable. I'm not sure how long the editing process will take; probably longer than it would otherwise, because I'm in the ensemble/crew of my university's fall production of Richard III, so I have four and a half-hour rehearsals every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in addition to three other classes. By the time I stagger home at night, I'm generally too wiped to do anything but fall into bed and scroll tumblr with my eyes glazed over. I have a writer's group meeting on Sunday; I'll be looking for potential editing partners there, and after that, I'll probably be doing schoolwork during the week and editing on weekends. I don't have any deadlines on this book except the ones I set for myself, so I have time.

What I really feel about this project- more than anything else at the moment- is a drive to keep going. After frantically writing for so long, not having any immediate work to do on it feels incredibly strange. I'll probably feel like this until I send it out to a beta reader and get it back; on the bright side, this is certainly good preparation for waiting on agents and editors.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Where do we go from here?

50140 / 50000 words. 100% done!

The good news: good god y'all, I wrote fifty thousand words!

The also-good but slightly more complicated news: that doesn't mean I'm done.

Fifty thousand words is the minimum generally given to people who want to write a novel- that's why it's the stated goal for NaNoWriMo. But it's not like you just hit the 50k mark and toss your pen in the air crying "TOUCHDOWN!" I've written by wordcount before, and what I inevitably discovered is that writing rarely fits into pre-ordered wordcounts like that. This one I'm working on right now is going to be- by my estimate- another ten thousand words at least, in order to resolve the main conflict and wrap up all the subplots. The challenge going forward is going to be writing in order to fit the plot rather than meet my goal for today. With the fifty thousand baseline reached, I no longer need to be concentrating on making sure the book is long enough, and instead the focus will be making sure that everything is being wrapped up properly. Up to this point, I've been measuring my daily goal by word increments; one thousand words is the minimum, and then if I go over that, that's a bonus. Obviously, since the wordcount is no longer my primary goal, that's not going to be the benchmark for a day's accomplishments anymore. And even when I do finish this draft, it's just that- a draft. There's  long, hard road of editing waiting ahead of me.

But you know what? I still wrote fifty thousand words.

Bottoms up!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Write what you know, so they say

32080 / 50000 words. 64% done!
Dear readers, I am afraid I have a confession to make. The last time I updated you on my writing process- back in April, holy crap- I said that I was in the process of completely rehauling my novel's plot and setting, and in doing so felt confident that I would soon be back on track rather than stalled at 16k.

Famous last words.

The change of scenery did help . . . for a few weeks. Then I sunk right back into the quagmire I'd been in before: I could not write these characters. It wasn't writer's block, because writer's block is generally broken by spells of time that you can actully write. Could I put words down on the page? Well, sure; but none of them were especially good words. They were okay. They were the kind of words I'd find in a book that I would mildly enjoy while reading, and then completely forget about as soon as I turned the last page. Now, obviously not every single word you put to paper has to be GEENIUS!!!!11!! but if you don't have any passion for the subject material, you know and your readers probably will too. So while you can technically write a whole book like that, it's a pretty boring, thankless experience.

So while I was staring unhappily at my unfinished rough draft, trying to figure out how to mount the unsurmountable barrier of ennui, I decided to start a "side project" of a novel idea that I'd had on the back burner, just for something to look forward to while I was slogging away at Project A. Just a fun little dark fantasy/horror novel, a bunch of my favourite cliches tossed in to make a big ol' soup of magic and death, no big deal. I wasn't planning on making it a Big Thing, or even a Showing To Other People Thing.

Again, famous last words.

I'm not going to counsel that you should give up on your current project whenever something new and shiny pops up, because that is terrible advice. What I WILL say though is, if you struggle to break 10k on a novel and hate every minute of writing it, and then you get an idea for another one that pours right out of you and that you really like working on and are really enthusiastic about . . . well . . . sometimes your subconscious really is trying to tell you something. In this case, the message was "stop messing around with a project that's making you miserable and writing the book you want to write." Which, all things considered, is not the worst advice I've ever gotten.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Female suffering and the myth of "realism"

There’s a scene in Martin McDonagh’s film Seven Psychopaths where Christopher Walken’s character confronts Colin Farrell’s screenwriter on his terrible handling of female characters: “None of them have anything to say for themselves, and most of them get shot or stabbed to death within five minutes.” Farrell’s character (named “Marty-“ yes, we see what you did there, Mr. McDonagh) defends his creative choices by claiming that he’s trying to show how terribly the world treats women, but Walken scoffs “yeah, it’s a hard world for women, but most of the ones I know can string a sentence together.” I found the placement of the scene to be a little eyebrow-raising- suffice to say that as a writer, Martin McDonagh shares more than a name with his character- but it’s funny, and it’s true. And it ties in to something I’ve been thinking about lately: the idea of “realism” and how often it seems to tie into “we’re going to beat the ever-loving SHIT out of our female characters.”

I’ve been watching AMC’s The Killing lately, because someone described the main characters’ dynamic as “Mulder/Scully-esque” and it piqued my interest. I really should have remembered that “Mulder/Scully-esque” generally implies “season upon season of unresolved sexual/romantic tension until it finally descends into weirdness with alien babies” and fled screaming into the night before watching the pilot, but hindsight is twenty/twenty, and I’m the kind of person who finishes every show she starts. (No, really; the only show that’s managed to break my streak is Hemlock Grove, because even I had to bail after the angel pregnancy started.) The Killing is- well, really not a good show, in terms of writing. A third of the screentime is taken up by a storyline that could be best described as “The West Wing: Municipal Politics Edition,” and another third is given over to watching the family of our main murdered girl slowly going to pieces. Sad, yes; compelling, not really. The remaining third is given to Scully and Mulder- er, Linden and Holder (look, it’s a tiny redheaded no-nonsense officer paired with a snarky, pop-culture-spouting partner; SOMEONE had to say it) trying to navigate the central question of “who killed Rosie Larsen?” And something this show really loves- something I didn’t notice until the latest season, but which was impossible to ignore when I DID notice it- is beating their female characters down. Over. And over. And over.

Now this is what you call a “hyper-realistic” show, which usually translates to “incredibly depressing,” because many writers (not me) think that the real world is dark man, dark, and the only way to show this is to make the most miserable shows possible. I may not agree, but hey, it’s their prerogative, just as it’s mine to take Craig Ferguson as a writing compass. Point is, this show glories in realism; despite my X-Files references, there are no aliens, nor any hint of them. Despite the obvious Twin Peaks comparison (teenaged girl is murdered; show revolves around reactions to and investigations into her death) there is no BOB or Black Lodge or Bookhouse Boys. The colour palette is drained nearly to the point of black and white (it’s set in Seattle, and filmed in Vancouver.) But the most salient issue is, everyone on this show is miserable. These people don’t have skeletons in the closet so much as they have entire mortuaries. Holder, the main character’s partner, is a recovering meth addict who is estranged from his only remaining family after stealing from his six-year-old nephew while on a bender. Our main, Linden, fares slightly better at first (although really, “no meth” is kind of a sad standard of “better”) but over the course of the show to date, she loses custody of her son- after being investigated by child services- gets dumped by her fiancĂ©, gets tossed in a mental ward (under false pretenses, of course, because it’s that kind of show) loses her job, loses ANOTHER boyfriend, gets kidnapped by a gun-wielding street preacher, has an affair with a married man, discovers that- spoilers!- said married man, another police officer, is actually the serial killer she’s been chasing and is driven to murder him in cold blood, after his coverup leads to an innocent man (who she arrested) being executed.


Now I’m not going to argue that nothing bad should happen to Linden, ever; this show is called The Killing, not My Little Pony: Murder Is Magic. I’ll allow the kidnapping, and even the psychiatric commitment (though in general I am sick to death of the “BUT THEY’RE NOT REALLY CRAZY” trope, seeing as how rarely actual people with actual mental illnesses are seen on TV.) Hell, I’ll even allow for the lost custody; the character had to be gotten off the show SOMEHOW. What bothers me in all this is that she’s so rarely given something good to counterbalance the bad. I didn’t mention, by the way, that all of this is preceded by her frequently alluded-to miserable childhood in foster care, which is implied to have damaged her ability to hold functional relationships; thanks for that, show. But let’s tally it up- three (3) lost love interests, two of who were lost in fairly traumatic ways (the fiancĂ© dumped her after the false commitment incident, literally taking off so that she could come out of her room and find that she'd been abandoned), a lost child, a lost childhood, murder, more murder, and frequent abuse at the hands of her suspects. Shit, if I were her, I would have crawled into a blanket fort and refused to come out by this point. I suppose it’s arguable that bad shit happens to Holder, too- see the aforementioned methhead backstory. (By the way, has anyone ever seen a meth addict who looked like this guy? Yeah. Yeah, no. Check out what meth does to a person's face sometime; I garuntee you will be scared straight for life.) But the thing about Holder’s story that’s so lacking in Linden’s is that he gets actual happy endings to balance out all the crap. As of the end of season three, he has a girlfriend who knows about and accepts his status as a recovering addict; he’s on the road to reconciling with his sister and nephew; he’s edging towards a promotion to police sergeant. God knows there’s still plenty for him to angst about, but there’s also an incentive to get out of bed in the morning. Linden’s long since lost that; the fact that she’s still functioning at all is not much short of a miracle.

"I have a good luck charm. It's called 'being a cismale.' You
can't have it, sorry."
Realistic? Well, maybe. Plenty of crap DOES happen to people who don’t deserve it, and they DO keep on dragging themselves through the day, because what the hell else can they do? Watching the narrative constantly heap abuse on Linden isn’t fun, but I can’t argue that it couldn’t possibly happen in real life. But then there’s the way the rest of the female characters on the show get treated: we have poor dead Rosie Larsen, her aunt the unwitting murderer (as the result of a chain of events that severely stretches this show’s claim of realism), her mother the bereaved parent, the political campaign aide who, it’s revealed, was molested as a teenager . . . it goes on and on. And that’s just the first two seasons. The third and latest season, which revolves around the disappearance of a series of (female) street children, features Kallie, our primary victim who doesn’t even get the dignity of a confirmed death or a proper burial; Bullet, Kallie’s friend who is tragically in love with a straight girl and is eventually fridged to give Holder manpain; Kallie’s mother, whose name I don’t remember, who is condemned repeatedly (and not entirely unfairly) as a Bad Mother and is last seen still desperately searching for her lost child; multiple nameless victims who suffer the added indignity of being mutilated pre-mortem (“he took my left finger,” one surviving victim says pitifully, “what if someone wants to marry me? Will it matter?”); the past victim who had her throat slit “so deep he nearly cut her head off;” and, of course, Linden, who loses two boyfriends, one of whom ends up being The Killer. I have neither the inclination nor the patience to count down the female versus male body count of this show, but I can tell you right damn now, the former outweighs the latter. Because . . . realism?

Look. Women face a lot of violence. Women face constant questioning regarding their parenting skills. Women are vulnerable to sexual assault, especially when homeless and queer. (Oh, I forgot to mention; Bullet, Kallie’s friend, is also raped early on in the season for reasons that remain a total narrative mystery to me.) And yeah, sometimes cops and other authority figures turn out to be bad guys; remember Russell Williams? But if you try to tell me that a serial killer cop AND a secret web of political corruption that lead to a teenager being unwittingly murdered by her own aunt AND an evil Native American chief colluding with the corrupt City Hall politicians (did I mention this show is racist? Yeah, it’s really super racist) AND a guy getting mistaken for a murderer because he was trying to smuggle a potential female circumcision victim out of the country AND the primary investigating officer turns out to have been unknowingly schtupping the secret serial killer cop is totally realistic . . . but a woman having something nice happen to her for once is just out of the sphere of reality, I kind of have to wonder what version of reality you’ve been living in. Mostly so I can make sure to never, ever go there.

(Another repeat offender in this category is A Game of Thrones, which is so terrible to its women and in so many ways that I couldn’t even begin to list them here. “But it’s based on the Middle Ages! Things really were awful for women back then!” Yeah, you know what they didn’t have in the Middle Ages? FUCKING DRAGONS.)

Friday, 3 May 2013

The value of cleaning out my desk

1413 / 50000 words. 3% done!

No, you're not misreading anything. A lot has happened with The Novel since last I updated you on it in . . . September? Geez. Anyway, school caught up with me and my writing lay dormant for several months, over which period I came to the conclusion that the novel as it was progressing really did not work. Not that the plot did not make sense, exactly, but the prose was sluggish and the characters dull. It's far from the worst thing that ever happened to me as a writer; rewrites happen. Moreover, I'm far, far happier with the novel as I've plotted it now than I ever was when I was struggling to jam it sideways into a broken mold. Am I more or less back at square one? Yeah, kind of. But it's a much more fulfilling square one than it was before, so I can't really feel bad about it.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Scraping the burnt part off the toast

So, apparently it's Autism Awareness Month? Well I guess I'll contribute then.

*ahem* Hey guys! Autism exists!

Are you aware now?

Sorry, that was snarky of me, but what does "awareness month" even mean? Knowing that autism exists? I'm pretty sure most people do, even if they aren't informed as to the particulars. Looking at puzzle piece ribbons? Uh, thanks, that's really helpful. Telling everyone about how they Totally Understand Autism (Because My Friend's Cousin's Niece Is Autistic?) Please god, no. 

I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder when I was eight; I wasn't told about this until I was sixteen, because my parents decided that I would be better off if I didn't know I was "different." Here's the thing about this mindset, and the midset surrounding people with autism in general: the idea that we don't know we're somehow "different" is just plain wrong. We know. We might not know why, but when people edge away from us or lower their voices when we're around or whisper that something's . . . different about us, we notice. Autism does not mean being wrapped in cotton, walking through the world with no awareness of what's going on around us. Understanding and awareness are not the same thing.

Point the second: there isn't a cure. And even if there is, I wouldn't want one.

A lot of high-profile autism organizations like Autism Speaks put the focus of their "awareness" campaigns on the need for a "cure." They walk low-spectrum kids across the camera's line of vision and tell everyone how these children have been "kidnapped" by autism, how there really is a "normal" kid in there if only they could dig deep enough to find it. Their mission statement is to wipe autism off the face of the earth so that no parent ever has to deal with having an autistic child. Often they have the parents saying this while standing in front of the kids. (x) This kind of rhetoric isn't just damaging to people with autism (see what I said above about knowing that we're being treated differently) but it's just factually incorrect. A "cure" for autism isn't going to magically reveal the person underneath, because that person is fundamentally tied to their autism. It's part of us in the same way that our hair or fingernails are. I can paint my nails and dye my hair, and I can pretend to act "normal" in a crowd, but the fact is, my hair is brown and my nails are pink. And I have autism.

What people who advocate for a "cure" for autism really want is a way for their autistic child/relative to act and communicate "normally-" i.e. like a neurotypical person. They want the autistic person to stop stimming or repeating themselves, or hyperfocusing. They want to be able to communicate with the autistic person like a "normal" child instead of having to decipher echolalic thought or repeating themselves. They want an assurance that their child will grow up and have a life like they expected them to- going to college, holding down a job, maybe getting married and having kids. The thing is though, a disability- or discinclination- to doing these things isn't unique to autism. Lots of people either aren't capable to or just don't WANT to go down those particular paths. It doesn't make them deficent; it makes them individuals, same as autistic people.

I may sound like I'm knocking parents of people with autism. Believe me, I'm not. I grew up with autism; I know that it got hard for my parents at times, especially when I couldn't force myself to eat more than five foods (sensory issues are also associated with autism, and I have them to his day- restaurant outings are difficult for me, especially when people ask why I'm not eating) or throwing tantrums, or sobbing inconsolably because one shoe felt tighter than the other. I can't imagine they enjoyed my endless monologues on whatever TV show I was obsessed with that year (I can trace much of my early development to what show I was watching. "Oh, I was into Relic Hunter, so I was twelve then- The X-Files, so that's when I was fourteen . . .") or the struggle to get my teachers to understand that I needed extra time and patience. But there's two things I want to point out:

  1. Plenty of people without autism have these problems,
  2. The solution is to offer support, not try to force the autistic person into a broken mold
It's no secret to anyone with a learning disability that the school system is pretty damn broken when it comes to neuroatypical kids. That's not to say that there aren't good educators out there; I have some absolute heroes in my school career, without whom I would never have finished high school, and the only reason I'm not naming them here is because I don't know if they'd be comfortable having their names on the internet. But overall, there's a binarism that faces kids with learning disorders- AND people with autism- that makes getting through to teachers and other students a struggle. My mother told me a story about me being in tenth grade, and discussing my performance with one of my teachers. My diagnosis wasn't in my student files, and when she mentioned it to this teacher, his whole demeanour changed: "Ohhhh, she's IDENTIFIED? I didn't know that." Being Identified turned me from a student who wanted to learn into an object of pity- no need for her to try and keep up with the others, she's IDENTIFIED. (Of course, I ended up graduating as an honour student, so I think we can safely say that that teacher didn't know what he was talking about.) But I did graduate. I graduated because the special ed teachers were willing to put in the time to work with me and my teachers (well, some of them) were willing to recognize me as a person and not a dignosis. So if you want to be supportive of autistic people, here's what you do:
  • stop penalizing any behaviour that deviates from the social norm. If they're actively HURTING themselves (i.e. banging their heads against a wall) that's one thing, but stimming and echolalia never hurt anyone. 
  • work to understand US instead of making us struggle to understand YOU. See above re: fitting us into a broken mold
  • start including us in conversations about autism instead of assuming we have nothing to say. Even those of us who have trouble with verbal communication still have minds.
  • support programs intended for autistic adults. You would not BELIEVE how difficult finding assistance is for autistic people over the age of eighteen. You're not a kid anymore? Sucks to be you, you're on your own! But autism doesn't vanish upon legal adulthood, and the needs involved don't either.
  • don't assume that anyone with a specific set of behaviours is autistic and anyone without that set isn't. Autism is a VAST spectrum, and one autistic person is just that- one autistic person. No one of us represents the whole spectrum. We can't.
  • instead of talking about "curing" us of our autism, start embracing it as part of who we are.
See, that's the thing about autism- it's not like a cancerous growth you can cut out, or a burnt part you can scrape off a piece of toast. I wouldn't be the person I am right now if I didn't have autism. I wouldn't be the person I am, period, if I didn't have autism. And, unlike toast, we're not made to order. "Curing" autism doesn't mean eradicating a disease; it means wiping us out. And I don't think that sounds nearly as appealing.

Further reading:

Friday, 5 April 2013

How hating a movie sent me to film school

I follow Film Crit Hulk on twitter, and if you're at all interested in film, you probably should too. Hulk is hilarious, erudite (well you kind of have to be, on twitter) and almost always on point, even when I disagre with him. Earlier today, Hulk tweeted an article he had written for Badass Digest, entitled "Never Hate A Movie." I have to admit, when I saw the title, my eyebrows went up- never hate a movie? Even the offensive ones? Even the ones that hurt me deeply in my feminist soul? But when I actually read it, I found that I agreed with a lot of what Hulk had to say. But not quite all of it.

We say "oh, I hate X" fairly frequently, and not always with a lot of venom behind it- "I hate snow!" "I hate cats!" "I hate broccoli!" Often, it's shorthand for "I don't like this very much," but the thing we say we hate doesn't consume us unless we're brought into contact with it. Thus is it for me with most movies; even if I spend the entire time in the theatre groaning and rolling my eyes, like I did with Ghost Rider, I rarely think about them after the credits roll. Like Hulk says, it's not really worth the emotional effort. I have so many movies I LOVE, why would I want to waste time hating one? I can only think of one film I ever watched that stuck in my head like a burr for weeks afterward, itching and rubbing at me whenever I tried to sleep. And as it turns out, that film may have been the instrument that got me to apply to film school.

I love movies. I always have. I'm one of those weirdos who insists on arriving to the theatre at least ten minutes early so I don't miss seeing the trailers. I dissect movies after I've seen them on Livejournal and Tumblr. It's not just something I do for fun- it's practically a reflex for me. As a writer, storytelling is something that inherently fascinates me. Why did the filmmakers chose to write it that way? What was the purpose behind that word choice? And as an actor- not anymore, but almost all the time in my child and teenhood- the way the casting process and the acting craft functions fascinate me. Movies are a culmination of many, many things that fascinate me, so it's no surprise that they fascinate me as a whole.

In the fall semester of my third year of undergrad- this past fall- I had a chance to take a class called "Religion and Film" at my university. It was taught by Douglas Cowan, and if you haven't read his book Sacred Terror, what the hell are you doing wasting time on my blog? As the syllabus promised us, we were going to look at a variety of movies in a variety of genres, some of which you'd never think to associate with religion- our first two movies, War of the Worlds (the original, none of that Tom Cruise shit) and The Day the Earth Stood Still come to mind- but about midway through the course, he introduced us to a little film called Stigmata.

I had never seen this movie. I had never heard of it. I had only the vaguest ideas of what it was about. But sitting in class while the film rolled, I felt an emotion. A deep emotion. A powerful emotion. Watching this film play out on the projector, I felt very deeply, and that feeling was hate.

I fucking hated this movie. I hated everything about it. I hated the aesthetic. I hated the hammer-on-the-nail blue/orange colour contrast between the two main locations. I hated the direction. I hated the painful symbolism. I hated the weird habit of using voiceover to remind us of dialogue that had been spoken not five minutes earlier. I hated the ridiculous Da Vinci Code plot, which was actually written several years before DVC came out. At various points, I was actually grinding my teeth with rage. When the movie was over and the lights came up, Dr. Cowan turned to us and said "This director will never be accused of subtlety."

"He'll never be accused of talent, either!" I shouted. (This was the kind of class where we were actually encouraged to yell our opinions, which is probably part of why I enjoyed it so much.)

When I got home that night, I tweeted about this awful, stupid, rage-inducing film I'd just watched, and a friend of mine responded. "Oh my God, Stigmata? I love that movie!"

"WHAT" I said.

"I know, it's awful!" they said. "But it's so much fun! Watch it again and see!"

I agreed. I kind of had to; I had to write an essay on it. Alongside the class discussion, this was probably the part of the course that benefited me the most- writing an essay on the films we watched every week meant I had to hash through what I'd felt while watching it and come up with why it had affected me the way it did. The catch being, of course, that we couldn't just vomit inarticulate rage all over the paper; we needed to back up our conclusions and ideas. Also, it was based solely on our personal reactions, so we didn't need to do research or cite sources. If you've ever taken a university course, you'll know what a relief that was. And as I was raging my way through this essay ("EVOLUTION DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!1!!" my notes screamed in all-caps) I came to realize something: I hated this movie so deeply and angrily because, had it taken maybe five steps to the left, it could have been a movie I loved.

The themes! The idea of God coming to an atheist and how the atheist would deal with this! The corruption of organized religion! The function of love as a way of growing closer to God! I might have set aside the voiceovers and the colour scheme and the symbolism- all of it- if the movie had just made a few choices differently and put the emotional focus on the character who should have been the lead- the stigmatic herself- and not the priest character, who should by rights have been the secondary lead, I would have walked out of class that day singing this movie's praises.

I did not, naturally, write any of this in my essay. Instead, I wrote about the idea that the budding romantic relationship between the two main characters was an expression of the idea that love was a better conduit to God than organized religion, slapped my name on it, and handed it in. I got a 17/20 on that paper, and I'm pretty sure the hard copy is still floating around my room somewhere. Boom, bang, done. Dust yout hands off and move on to the next movie. It's over.

BUT IT WOULD NOT LEAVE ME ALONE. Like a cut that you keep poking open, I went back to the movie again and watched the scenes that infuriated me the most. "Why does the film not address this?" I cried as a highly non-consensual attempted sex scene took place. "WHERE IS HER AGENCY?" I howled as the main female character lay unconscious in bed while the male characters ran around punching each other in the face and having spiritual debates. I went out to look for other exorcism-themed movies to see how they approached similar material, and ended up writing a whole blog post about it. I think at one point the friend who'd told me she loved the movie might have been concerned for my mental health. I know my tumblr followers were. But I'd discovered something, in all my movie-watching and hate-blogging: for all I despised this movie- and I did still despise it- this movie fascinated me. I wanted to take it apart piece by piece to see how they fitted together, and then polish the individual pieces and put them back together, better. What I wanted was to make a different movie. A better movie.

I'd written scripts before- I spent most of eleventh and twelfth grade writing a Robin Hood TV series that I was never able to sell because a) I was a sixteen-year-old with no credits to her name, and b) Canada has this thing called the CanCon, or Canadian content rule, which says that a certain amount of Canadian TV has to be set in Canada. A period drama about medieval England clearly didn't qualify, as every agent that replied to my queries told me, so I sighed sadly, put the script in a drawer, and went back to writing novels. My newfound fascination with a terrible horror movie wasn't going to change CanCon. But . . . that didn't mean I couldn't write something else, did it? I could try to write a horror movie, couldn't I? I'd seen just about every exorcism movie I could find. I knew how to write dialogue. I knew the tropes. I knew the themes. I knew what I wanted to write about. I opened Scrivener and started to write.

Writing wasn't the only thing that occurred to me in the wake of that movie. I'd been struggling for years to figure out what I was going to do post-graduation, with a vaguely-named Liberal Arts degree and no applicable skills I could offer to an employer. There were film schools in Canada, weren't there? And if I wanted to write- and maybe direct- movies, I should learn from the pros, right? I sat down and started researching film schools.

I'm still not finished my undergrad, so I can't end this story with a happy "and then I got into film school and graduated with honours and won a million Oscars!" But I can say that watching this terrible, terrible movie set me on a path I might not have realized I wanted to be on. I want to make movies. I adore movies. I want to spend my life working on movies. And whatever else this course and this film did for me, I'm glad I realized it.

The movie still blows, though.

And this is gonna get really awkward if I ever meet the
director at a film festival.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Chewer versus the Canada geese

My dog Chewer is very elderly now, but when she was a puppy, there was no greater joy in her life than chasing other animals. She was a pound puppy first, so we still don't know what her breed is- the vet guessed "border collie/German shepard cross-" but whatever it is, she is undoubtedly a herd dog, with the a herd dog's instincts, and has been merrily herding me, my parents, and my cats for the past fourteen years.

Now, when we moved to what is currently my parents' house, the area had been a farm until very recently, and most of the neighbourhood was a field of mud and grass. Nowadays, it looks like any recently-developed suburb, but at the time, we were more or less living in a marsh. The animals- two cats and the dog, at the time- were in heaven. They spent their days roaming the field, hunting mice (many of which appeared, headless, on our doorstep) and getting sprayed by skunks. Chewer wasn't well-behaved enough to be let off her leash in the residential area, but once you got outside the neighbourhood and far enough away from the highway that she wasn't in danger of running in front of a car, my dad would unclip her leash and let her run free. She was ecstatic.

At the end of the street- well, what we considered the street- there was a steep hill, and at the end of that hill, there was a fairly sizeable pond. During the spring and summer months- when we moved there- it was home to a flock of Canada geese. Those of you who have never encountered Canada geese probably assume that they are fairly docile, noble creatures- the swan's slightly uglier cousin. This is false. Canada geese, like their cygnian counterparts, are evil. They are vicious. I have never gotten close enough to one to try and strangle it, but if I had a reasonable amount of alcohol in my system, I am sure the prospect would look like a good one.

Chewer, herd dog that she was, adored those geese. As far as she was concerned, they were not only her flock- they were her own personal playmates. There was no greater joy in her life than charging down that hill and watching the geese scatter in every director, honking indignantly. It was her own personal nirvana- a dogvana, if you will. So when the geese decamped for the winter, she was a little sad, but there was snow to roll around in and other neighbourhood dogs to wrassle with, so she got over it soon enough. She didn't forget those geese, though.

In the spring, the geese returned, as geese are wont to do. But, also as geese are wont to do, they hadn't just come back to swim in the pond. They'd come back to lay eggs. And the one thing testier than a Canada goose having its habitat disturbed is a Canada goose having its nest threatened. You do not go near wild animals who are protecting their young, especially when they are long-necked, sharp-toothed, avian animals. Unfortunately for Chewer's sake, her "wild animal" instincts had faded in the face of spaying, regular meals, and a fireplace to sleep in front of, so she had no idea that the geese were on the offensive. As far as she was concerned, her playmates had come back, and it was time to party.

My dad unclipped the leash. Chewer began her sprint down the hill, as usual. The geese looked up. They stood up. They puffed up their feathers. And then, as one, they leaps forward into the air, charging towards my hapless dog with a great war cry of "WAWK-WAWK-WAWK-WAWK-WAWK!"

I was not witness to this personally, but my dad was, and he's told the story so many times that I can picture exactly what happened next. Chewer skidded to a stop, paws splayed forward. She took stock of the army of geese bearing down on her. Now, I don't know how smart my dog is- she's been known to stockpile treats for future eating, but she's also been known to be defeated by the puzzle of a beaded curtain. But somewhere in that doggy hindbrain, instinct kicked in. She recognized a threat when she saw it. She turned around and dashed back up the hill, angry geese snapping at her tail all the way.

The pond was filled in about a year after we moved there, in order to make way for a high school football field. The field was fenced off and locked, so there was no way to take the dog for walks there. The geese, berefit of their pond, took their goslings off elsewhere. I assume that the geese Chewer terrorized have long since died, and the story of the suburban predator is but a gleam in their great-great-goosechildren's eyes. But what I do know is that from that day on Chewer has never been known to go on the attack against a Canada goose. She learned her lesson that day. Dog or no dog, some predators are too dangerous to tangle with, and there are none more dangerous than the proud. The majestic. The deadly. Canada geese.