The trouble with Bad Boys

Aka: the Twilight phenomenon.

Acknowledging that I was a wee middleschooler when the Twilight books first boomed kind of dates me — as either Too Old To Be Cool or Very Much A Young’Un — but hey, I have an insider’s point of view. Yes, I was Team Jacob. Hold on, this is actually relevant.

The fact that Jacob was a werewolf was the main reason I was Team Jacob, but there were other reasons too. (Hold on, I’m getting there.)

My sister was very much Team Edward. One of the mutual friends we had at summer camp was also incredibly Team Edward. And naturally we had big arguments about who was better and, naturally, which of us was right and which was a soppy idiot. Ah, middle school. Preteens are savages.

In fact the main reason I was so firmly Team Jacob and so anti Team Edward was that Edward was a creepy vampire stalker who literally wanted to drink Bella’s blood, but Jacob, on the other hand, Would Never Hurt Bella Ever.

Yes, I believed this even after reading New Moon. You know, the one where Jacob forcibly kisses Bella and she punches him to try to make him stop, and then he tells her it’s her fault her wrist is broken.

So romantic, right?

</sarcasm>

But this whole Girls Liking Bad Boys, whether the boys in question are vampires or leather-studded bikers or powerful demigods hellbent on conquest, is a bit of a puzzler. Loki murders hundreds of people on the screen and girls swoon? I mean, really? I was fourteen and embarrassing once too, but really, younger self?

I think I’ve figured it out, though. Here it is, the Theory of Awkward Antihero Obsession:

“Bad guys are attractive because they have the ability to do bad things to other people BUT, and this is the important caveat, they would never hurt ME.”

Makes sense, mostly. There’s a sense of self-preservation in there somewhere, so that’s alright.

The problem with the Twilight books, while we were mid-craze, is that our definitions of the word “hurt” varied so much. Now, of course, we’ve grown up a bit and we can recognize that both Edward and Jacob are creeps.

Pete and Repete were on a boat

I have a friend who can only watch a movie or read a book for enjoyment once every few months, and even then, it’s iffy. Over the years that we’ve known each other, we’ve had the following conversation more than five times:

“Do you want to watch x?”

“We already saw that.”

“Yeah, six months ago!”

“Yeah! We already saw that. Can we watch y?”

And sometimes, you know, once every six months is more than enough when it comes to a book or a movie. The Water Diviner with Russell Crowe, you know, I’m glad I saw that but I could happily never see it again in my life. And if I never see Repo!: The Genetic Opera again, well, I think that’ll be alright too.

But mostly the idea of not seeing a movie, or reading a book, just because I saw or read it a few months ago, drives me slightly bonkers.

I may be biased because one time my sister and I watched Pride and Prejudice (2005, the one with Keira Knightly) four times in a row and enjoyed it each time. But, well. That’s an extreme case.

The fact is that I can watch the same movie once a day every day for a solid week (or longer) and still enjoy it. I did it so many times in college that I can’t possibly count them. Movies like Kung Fu Panda, The Mummy 2: The Mummy Returns, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, Captain America: The Winter Soldier … the list goes on for a while. And for each of these movies, I’ve now gotten to the point where I can comfortably recite lines of dialogue for an embarrassingly long amount of time. What can I say? Repetition is good for memorization.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the Discworld books, or Good Omens, or the Resurgam trilogy by Joan Frances Turner — to say nothing of the musical soundtracks that I listen to during the daily commute.

But the thing is, although repeating a word or a song often enough saps it of all meaning, I can experience the same book or movie a thousand times and still want to experience it again. I don’t know if that’s due to the greater amount of time it takes to experience those forms of media, versus a song that only takes up about three and a half minutes. But these movies and books are like old friends.

Some of them I only want to re-experience every so often. The Chronicles of Narnia are one such series, as is the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. But others, they’re like coming home after a long day.

Cursing in YA

On the one hand: You need a relatively good imagination to be able to insult people without using a curse word, and if you cram enough multisyllabic words in there it can be quite satisfying in and of itself. Shakespearean insults are nice for this sort of thing, but pull out a thesaurus and I guarantee that you’ll find something that not only came from one of the past two centuries but that sounds pretty impressive. SAT words! Yay!

On the other hand: There’s no substitute for the pure simplicity of saying a four-letter word. It gets across your meaning exactly.

On the other other hand: Characters who want to swear, but who can’t swear for one reason or another, are freaking hilarious. See Calhoun in the Pixar film Wreck-It Ralph. Now there’s a lady who wants to cuss a blue streak.

On the fourth hand: Characters (and people) who swear all the time, at the drop of a hat, can also be funny, but it’s a fine tightrope between “okay that was hilarious” and “dude, what the heck, you use these words so much that they’ve started to lose all meaning”. See the Melissa McCarthy movie Spy, where every single scene contains at least three four-letter words.

And YA is a touchy subject because, you know, kids are involved. Teenagers. I shudder to think what teenagers would do with the knowledge of swear words! Swearing in their literature! They’d start swearing in real life!! Oh the uncouth youth!!!

Yeah, I went to public school, and I guarantee you, they already know all of those words. They just don’t say them in front of you.

So when it comes to YA — books written for and about teenagers — it doesn’t really make sense to cut out swearing altogether. Like I said, they already know the words; a lot of them use them like they’re going out of style; frankly it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. And to quote from Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day:

“I didn’t hear you swear.”

“Yes I did. I said ‘damned’ and ‘hell,’ and I meant them.”

“Oh, that’s not swearing. They came out of the sinful category an age ago!”

I’m not going to tell you that you have to swear. Sometimes coming up with alternatives can be way more fun, a way to flex your creative muscles. But let’s keep the pearl-clutching censorship to ourselves, shall we?

Homebody

I really like to travel. I’ve been doing it longer than I can remember; apparently I’ve been to Canada before, but I was too small to actually have any recollection of it. (Gives me an excuse to go again.) Studying abroad in France for a semester in college gave me the opportunity to travel to a handful of countries by train. I really like visiting Europe; the food of course is good (praline hazelnut ice cream is The Best), and there’s a sense of age and history running through everything. Also, there are castles. I love me a good castle.

Funnily enough, I haven’t really traveled that much in the US. As a family we’ve traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and out to the Midwest for family. But my last trip, out to Utah in the beginning of June, is the farthest west I’ve been in America that I can remember. Altogether I’ve been in 17 states and was born in an 18th. (I was born there, but we left when I was two or three, so I don’t really count that one.) Seventeen sounds like a lot all by itself until you remember there’s fifty of them. I’ve just gotten started.

When I tell people I got a degree in French, sometimes they ask if I’m going to live there. Having stayed for five months, I guess I know my answer. Europe, and France in particular, is a nice place to visit. There’s a little restaurant in the northern part of Paris that does a mean salmon tagliatella, and it’s not too far from a cozy second-hand bookshop. The people there can be kind and patient, the architecture is lovely, and nostalgia puts a pretty shine on everything (even the time I got hopelessly lost in Toulon). Really, it’s amazing, and I’m so glad I went. If you read carefully, you can see the marketplace in Arras is very close to the marketplace in Tomelin City. Yes, I do miss Europe, and France in particular.

But it’s not home.

And home is vast.

I know there’s a lot of people, both abroad and at home, who talk about how horrible America is. Okay, bully for you, you’re allowed to speak your mind. That’s one of the inalienable rights those dead white men kept wittering on about. Yeah, America isn’t perfect (don’t get me started), but what country is? And if you want to fight about it, hey, we’re back-to-back world champs.

I love to travel. But my home is big enough for the world. We’ve got all the geography you could want; we’ve got history and breathtaking architecture of our own; and a thousand different cultures elbow to elbow. It’s amazing, and we made it ourselves. And yes, I’m proud to be an American.

I don’t need to leave home to travel.

Characters in Real Life

Sometimes people you meet are really good at being antagonists, even if they don’t know it. Sometimes people you meet are wise mentors. You find a cliché, and you can probably find someone you’ve known who will fit the basic requirements. After all, those clichés and stereotypes have to come from somewhere, right?

It’s a little more complicated, a little more interesting than that. Of course it is. Real people are all sorts of tangled contradictions — and characters in books should be complicated too, unless you’re writing a ten-page picture book. So you can take certain aspects from people you know and put them in your characters. And even if you’re not writing new characters, you can still recognize aspects of old friends in new ones, the same mannerism between two people who probably have never and will never meet, or find that two people in two completely different situations irritate you in almost exactly the same way. Or, even if they have absolutely nothing else in common, sometimes a new person you meet will look almost exactly like someone you already know. (It’s weird. It’s uncanny. It’s cheating when you put it in fiction, I’m afraid, because coincidence tends not to exist in fiction, where the world actually makes sense.)

What sort of people do you meet again and again? Antagonists, friends, mentors, that weird person in the corner? What kind of stories would those types of people be suited for? Tell me in the comments!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

“Too much traveling on the railway could turn you into a philosopher, although, he conceded, not a very good one.” (Sir Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam)

I’ve been traveling by plane, train, or car since I was very small. I don’t remember a lot of those childhood travels — cassette tapes were a big factor on long car trips, as I recall, and that’s about it. But as a slightly older person I remember a lot more, not least because I wrote some of it down.

The first time I was on a plane I was too young to have even the slightest shred of a memory. But the first time I remember being on a plane was for a family trip down to Florida with the grandparents. It was a two-hour flight, and the sheer novelty of being able to see the tops of clouds was amazing. If I had had a camera phone, I’m certain I would have taken a million pictures. (And later, on a plane with a smart phone, yes, I’ve taken a million pictures.) On one level, the fact that a whole bunch of people have been crammed into a giant tin can and are zooming through the air at high altitudes might be ho-hum; after all, we’ve been doing it for just over a hundred years.

It’s interesting to think about all the technology that we’re used to, that people two hundred years ago would have boggled at. But the fact that we’ve constructed these tiny worlds that go far faster than we ever could, on pavement or on rails or in the air, I think that’s pretty neat. I think, however we get used to it, we shouldn’t forget a little of that wonder.

All of which goes to say two things. The first — whatever you write, put some kind of wonder into it, no matter how familiar you are. The second — this post is a little abbreviated because, well, guess who’ll be flying in a tin can in a few hours?

See you on the flip side!

Gross Corporeality

I write my blog posts after workouts in the morning — part of that whole time management thing I was going on about earlier. So here I am, trying to stop sweating in time to go take a shower and maybe smell better than the inside of a goat.

It’s gross. It’s grossly corporeal, mostly. This is my body at work, the one that I’m living in, with sweat rolling down my temple and sticking my hair flat to my scalp. I don’t really think about typing, except for the words that I’m trying to write, because my body is mostly stationary; but boy do I think about the rest of me when I’m working out. You’ll notice that it sounds like I haven’t worked out much in my life — that’s true. I’m good at stationary. I’ve been stationary most of my life (usually because I thought reading, writing, drawing, etc were more interesting than anything else out there), much to the consternation of my sister, who is the very opposite of stationary. It’s only pretty recently that I’ve decided to do a lot of things, consistent exercise being one of them, except that writing and exercising make me aware of my body — the way I take up space, the way my physical form exists in the world, I mean — in very different ways.

I’m sure, if you’re reading this, you’ve seen at least one amusing comic strip about the various ways that writers or readers configure themselves in order to properly go about their business. (My favorite is the RubyEtc comic.) How many times can I sit cross-legged on a couch and not have my leg fall asleep? How many times can I sit cross-legged on a couch, then go to stand and promptly sit down again because all of my leg has fallen asleep? The answer may surprise you!

But writing is still my body, stationary. Sitting curled up on a couch, crouching over my laptop and reaching out every so often for a mug of cocoa, that’s one thing. Cardio with sweat pouring down my face, or climbing a huge flight of stairs and feeling my legs start to holler at me, is something else entirely.

Honestly? The main satisfaction that I get from working out is the fact that I’m doing something to actively affect the world around me, specifically the organism that people call by my name. Digging a hole in the dirt to plant a flower is similarly very cool, because I was able to physically affect my surroundings. Groundbreaking! (Holding a printed proof of my book was really cool, you guys. I made this thing, and it’s out here in the world. I can only imagine the heady feeling Michelangelo felt.)

It’s little stuff, I know, but we only live once in this weird wide world, and every little bit counts. So get out there. I know how comfortable it is inside, but go. Do something. Make something. It’ll be messy but maybe it’ll be fun, too.

Mark It Up

Ebooks have a lot of good things going for them, not the least of which is that they are portable. The same library that would be several pounds’ worth of print books, bulky and taking up valuable room in the luggage, is easily stored in my tablet or phone; and if I’ve downloaded them to my device instead of leaving them in the cloud, the books are just as accessible, if not more. I call that pretty useful.

I do like print books. Most of my life I’ve read books printed out in paperback or hardcover, occasionally getting crumbs in the spine when I just couldn’t put them away for a food break. My copy of Good Omens has a cracked spine from the fact that I’ve opened it to my favorite scene so many times (the drunk conversation between Aziraphale and Crowley, by the way). There’s a sensory feeling tied to print books that you just can’t get anywhere else.

But maybe because of that singular sensory feeling, I can’t bear to so much as dog-ear a page. The idea of scribbling notes in the margins of pages, let alone highlighting or underlining, makes me wince. The only non-textbook that I’ve done that to is Les Mis, and that’s because I’ve argued about his characters often enough that Victor Hugo can begrudge me some blue highlighter.

Ebooks, on the other hand, don’t offer that sensory experience — so I feel no compunction about marking them up. I highlight my ebooks in blue and pink and orange, I yell at characters in the notes or groan at puns, I bookmark favorite scenes. And if I’m in the mood for a particular book but I don’t want to read the whole thing, I can skip to the “notebook” function (handily available in the Kindle and Google PlayBooks apps) to reread my favorite parts.

That’s something that I missed, before. It’s an amazing kind of freedom to be able to yell at characters and plotlines and fill a note with exclamation points when I see the foreshadowing in a reread. (Can you tell I’m the kind of person who talks during movies?) Listen, I love interacting with media. It’s all sorts of fun. Whether you scribble in your print book or not, that’s great — you do you. I’ll be over here with my phone and the highlighter tool.

Having published a book, I think being able to read the finished product in ebook form is pretty darn neat. Somehow I know I won’t believe it’s  real until I’m actually holding a print copy in my hands. But I don’t care whether you mark up the copy in print or in the ether of the cloud; just so long as you mark it up.

Little Black Book

I have a small black hardcover Moleskine that I keep in my purse. Sometimes I write down funny things that people say, sometimes I make to-do lists, and sometimes I write down excerpts from books or songs that I really like, or scribble notes on why x book that I just read or y movie that I just saw is interesting. Sometimes story ideas make their way in there too, but mostly it’s just whatever happens to be on my mind at the time.

I suppose I could call it a journal or a diary, but those words have connotations that don’t exactly apply to my little black book, I think. “Journal” implies that it is a daily chronicle of my life (and I only update mine when I remember to or when I feel like it); and the last time I wrote the words “Dear Diary” I was seven years old. Haven’t done it since. So yeah — “little black book” suffices.

I’ve been writing in little black books since I was in high school. The first was a gift from my father before a family trip for spring break — and some eight years later, I am now on my thirteenth little black book. Mostly I’ve written them in pencil, sometimes in ballpoint pen, and one book I wrote entirely in glitter gel pens of various colors. Fabulous. One of my little black books is a stained-glass Paperblanks journal (bought at the MMOA), one of them is soft green (a gift from a friend); some of them are lined and some of them are grid squares; I have two new ones with the cellophane wrapping still on them that have Tolkien’s Smaug embossed on the covers, and when I finish my current little black book, Smaug is up for number fourteen.

Rereading the high school little black books is a study of second-hand embarrassment. It’s one thing to remember the things I did as a teenager, but seeing those thoughts spelled out on the page is different. On the one hand — cringe-worthy, it really is. On the other hand — I remember being that kid, and the last thing she would have wanted was someone telling her to take a deep breath and relax. And it’s nice to have a record of how much I’ve changed. I can only imagine what I’ll think of Book Thirteen in five more years.

I haven’t been meticulous about this. I only just started dating the entries as I write them. But there are things that I wrote down that I probably wouldn’t remember otherwise. Watching the sun rise by increments on Myrtle Beach; sheep grazing on a sheer cliff edge just past the guardrails of the twisting road; the rolling green landscape as seen from the window of a train. I remember them better because I nailed them down with words, pinning them like butterflies to cork, imperfectly preserved but still here. And that’s the point, isn’t it?