Saturday, September 28, 2013

Closing Time!

Guess what?

I have a shiny new website for your hungry eyes to behold.

From now on, all the blog posts will be right over here at She Who Writes Monsters. Please go ahead and follow the blog. There's plenty of juicy stuff for you.

The website's basic functions are up and running, but there will be lots of content added within the next few weeks. Not to mention I've got a line on a blog tour in late October, so please share this webpage with your friends.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

New fanart

I probably won't make a habit out of posting the scribbles I make because none of them are professional grade, but this one came out pretty good, all things considered. It's Michael the archangel and Jordan Amador, the two main protagonists of my novel, The Black Parade.

The pose is taken from that famous Cowboy Bebop picture that honestly makes me want to cry (Spike's facial expression is heartbreaking, sue me) and it seemed to work pretty well. I do this for fun, mind you, never for profit. It's stress relief. That, and I like coloring via Photoshop. There's a tiny bit of freedom in it, if you ask me, but I digress. 

Kyo out.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Things The Legend of Korra Taught Me About Writing

Do you hear that? It's the sound of The Legend of Korra being back on the air with new episodes. And, subsequently, my high-pitched fangirl screaming. 

So to celebrate my favorite hard-headed Avatar returning to the air waves, here's some things that LoK has taught me about writing.

1. You can't please everyone. Well, if you follow me on Tumblr, you know what I'm about to dive into. After the hour long premiere of Korra last Friday, I excitedly hopped onto Tumblr and entered the Legend of Korra tag in order to reblog my guts out in excitement. However, when I arrived, I found that nearly the entire tag was filled to the brim with negative comments. I was stupefied. In my opinion, it was a fair premiere--nothing more, nothing less. I couldn't understand how it seemed like half the fandom absolutely hated it, and for some pretty petty and perhaps trigger-happy reasons. It kept getting worse the more and more I scrolled down until I finally got pissed off and did something I soon regretted. I made a post saying that the premiere was better than no premiere at all. Albeit, I was being sarcastic. Boy, howdy. The post reached over 1,000 notes within an hour. Half of them agreed with me. The other half vehemently did not. I received at least five angry Anon messages in my Inbox. I lost eight followers overnight. So. What did I learn? 

Writing is subjective. If you wanted to get down to bare bones, there probably is not definitive way to decide what is "good" and "bad" writing. All we can do is weigh in and see what the general consensus is. As a result, it's impossible to write something that makes literally everyone happy. You could ask every single person on this planet what they like and try to incorporate that into the end all, be all novel...and someone would still hate it. Because we're human. Because we're flawed.

Did the Korra premiere have issues? Hell yeah. All over the place. But it's clear--at least to me, if no one else--that the writers/animators/directors actually care about the characters and the storyline and they made the best story they felt they could based on the direction the series is going. In order for Korra not to be a retread of ATLA, they are taking more risks and diverting from the source material. In some ways, it works. In others, it doesn't. This is something that every writer--myself included--will face whenever they put ink on the paper. Someone's going to disagree with you. Someone's going to hate you and your work. But it's part of the job. We aren't here to be liked. We're here to art, and art hard. 

2. Pacing can make or break you. Now it's time to travel back through time to the first season of Korra. I liked the first season. It had some truly gorgeous fight scenes, one hell of a creepy villain, and some excellent characters to explore. However, the one complaint that nearly everyone has brought up is the pacing. Sadly, LoK started out as just a mini-series. They had absolutely no indication or promise that it would make it past twelve episodes. As a result, the writers had to cram an entire season's worth of story into half a season's worth of episodes. This meant taking huge shortcuts with plot elements, character interactions, and overall story arcs. 

This unfortunate drawback imparted an important detail to me: know the length and duration of your story beforehand, if at all possible. Some writers do this very well. Jim Butcher, for instance, does an excellent job with stringing together elements from the first Harry Dresden novel all the way to the latest one. Some writers struggle with it. The writers of Supernatural, for instance, are great at bringing back certain minor characters, but they massively abuse it by simply bringing them back to bump them off, or completely forgetting a major recurring character entirely because of whatever reason. (*cough* ADAM *cough, hacks up a bloody lung and cries because at least it's not burning in hell like Adam*) 

Pacing is just as important as any other threads that hold a story together. It's important that things happen naturally, even if their nature is something irregular or bold. The story needs to have plot points that are organic, and the characters' actions should reflect such accordingly, or you'll give your audience a massive case of whiplash. You don't want to do that. Medical bills are expensive.

3. Memorable characters can make your story soar. Okay, so it's no secret that I like Korra. She's ballsy and awkward and headstrong. I also like Mako, despite the fact that over half the fandom hates his guts. Whatever. But you know who will always stick out in my mind as a great character? Lin frickin ' Bei Fong. This is yet another aspect that the writers of ATLA and LoK are really good at--developing side characters and making you love them. As a reader, you usually expect to like or want to follow your main protagonist, but I've noticed that good writers can also write great supportive characters. I'll give two examples for science reasons: Waldo Butters from the Dresden Files and Jason Schulyer from the Anita Blake novels.

Alright, shut up, it's time to talk about the Dresden Files. If you're not reading them, hold out your hand so I can smack the back of it. If you are, please email me with all your feelings about Cold Days. I need to share. Anyway, Waldo Butters is by far one of my favorite characters in the novel series, and that's saying a lot considering I am 1000% head-over-heels in love with Harry. Butters was introduced in Death Masks and later received supportive character status in Dead Beat. This was easily one of the best decisions Butcher made. He is a wonderful offbeat character who started out as an awkward dorky guy who didn't have much courage, and then turned into this hilarious, quirky friend of Harry's. There is nothing I love more than to trip over a character and fall in love with them like a cheesy rom-com. 

Jason Schulyer, however, won me over basically the first time he was introduced in The Lunatic Cafe. I mean, let me describe his character: he's a male stripper whose stage name is Ripley (yes, as in Ripley from the Alien movies), he's a werewolf who spends his nights feeding his blood to his vampire master, he's bisexual, and he's a total lecherous pervert with a noble streak. I mean, come on. Doesn't he sound like he should be the actual protagonist of the novel series? The point I want to make about Jason is that he is so entertaining that I actually kept reading the Anita Blake novels specifically for him after the series went in the crapper after the infamous Narcissus in Chains. It is completely absurd that I liked him so much that I would put up with the purple prose, horrible sex scenes, misogyny, and general unpleasantness that is Cerulean Sins and Blood Noir, but it still happened anyway. 

To circle back around to my point, The Legend of Korra did exactly that--it gave me an extra reason to tune back into the story for season two. Anytime a reader finds more help to love your series, that's an achievement. For example, my editor told me that a minor character from The Black Parade made her laugh so hard that she hopes he reappears someday. I had no intention of ever bringing him back, as he was just a one-off villain, but thanks to her, he might show his face again. Details like a well-rounded cast of characters can be that boost to an author's reputation that they never knew they needed. 

Well, I think I've gushed enough. If you're curious, The Legend of Korra premieres Fridays at 7:00pm EST on Nickelodeon. Join us. WE ARE LEGION. 

*waves hands, whispers* Water tribe.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Things 50 Shades of Grey Taught Me About Writing

I know what you’re thinking. I mean, seriously, what the hell could one of the all time worst novels ever written have to teach a young author?

Actually quite a lot.

So in light of the stupid controversy surrounding this godawful atrocity getting a film adaptation, let’s take a look at all the wonderful things E.L. James has left with me.

1.      Unfortunately, nice guys really do finish last (in fiction). I hate to admit it (mostly because I am technically a nice guy even though I’m a girl with inner rage issues), but it’s the truth. Most of the time, when there’s a love triangle present, the girl chooses the bad boy. We’ve seen it dozens of times in fiction. There is just something about the classic jerk boyfriend character that us poor women cannot resist. There is no real explanation for it other than perhaps a hard study of human biology. Maybe it’s because we inherently obsess with people who seem to not like us. I know I do. It’s annoying, like a splinter in your finger, a tiny pebble in your shoe. It irks you. And, eventually, overwhelms you. My second crush in high school was a guy who got on my nerves constantly and we ended up verbally sparring through my third year and then I was walking down the hallway one day, fuming at something he’d teased me about earlier, and then it hit me like a Mack truck spinning out of control on an oil slick—I LIKED him. Ew. Boys, right? 

But despite the billions of things E.L. James got wrong, she knew that the foaming masses of women out there prefer the handsome, arrogant prick over someone much more understanding and level-headed to fantasize about. I think it has a lot to do with fantasies in general. We often indulge in them because we know that in real life, they’d be horrific experiences. If Christian and Ana were a real couple and people knew about what he did to her, he’d be on 'To Catch a Predator' in a heartbeat. No amount of money would avoid that. However, that brings me to my next point.

2.      Jerk boyfriends aren’t enough. We love jerks. We adore them. Indiana Jones, Tony Stark, John McClane, Richard B. Riddick,  Hellboy, the list goes on and on, and that’s just for movies. In fiction, there are thousands of arrogant pricks that we can’t help rooting for as we turn the pages. However, these fellas have something in common that Christian Grey does NOT: they have hidden depths. This is a trope known as Jerk with a Heart of Gold. It’s by far one of the most popular writing devices of all time. There is really nothing better than thinking a character is the scum of the earth and then finding out he has a kitten farm out in his garage. And this is the exact opposite of Mr. Grey, who is a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk. He’s intolerable, abusive, childish, selfish, and just a genuinely unpleasant man despite his dashing good looks. While this worked for all the lonely housewives still pining for Edward Cullen, it is the main reason that 50 Shades is one of the most hated novel series to date. His behavior is wholly disgusting. It’s reprehensible. It is not accurate in any sense to the real life equivalents of couples in the BDSM culture. It’s made up and creepy and wrong and honestly, it makes the human race as a whole look bad. Okay, I may be exaggerating, but still. 

50 Shades is indisputable proof that bastard boyfriends cannot cut it in the fictional world. Sure, the book sold millions, but again, the demographic generally isn’t writers or readers with their heads on straight, it’s people who don’t read on a regular basis and so they don’t know the difference between a well-balanced story with troubled but great characters and the mindless wet dreams of a lonely woman who thinks she knows what S & M is all about.

3.      Fanfiction really shouldn’t be renamed and published for profit. Sadly, not a lot of people know that Shades is actually an AU (alternate universe, for you non-nerds out there) fanfiction written about Twilight. Oh, yes, you read that right. It’s Twilight fanfiction. All she did was change the names, a few plot details, and then she published it and made a fortune. Did she have the legal right to do this? Yes. Was it morally right to do this? I disagree. I write fanfiction on a regular basis. It’s a great way to find other creative people and to share an interest in a particular movie, cartoon, TV show, anime/manga, or novel. However, there is one huge difference between that and original fiction—it’s free. That’s why fanfiction is such a booming part of nerd culture. If you hate something, who cares? At least you didn’t cough up any cash for it. You read it for free. That’s also why they are ten times more willing to review a fanfic than to review a novel on Amazon—it’s way less pressure and cost to do so. 

I believe it’s wrong to charge people to read something many of them could have read for free, especially when the quality is as eye-ball gougingly terrible as Shades. However, James is not the only one to abuse this literary loophole. Cassandra Clare, author of the City of Bones novel series, also did the same thing, and she is an even worse offender. According to the research I’ve gathered, she used to plagiarize a lot of the Harry Potter fanfiction she used to write and then eventually took it down, changed the plot and the names, and published it. She also reportedly bullied anyone who tried to point out what she was doing, and if you Google the controversy right now, you’ll notice it’s kind of hard to find. I believe that her publisher might have found out about it and made a point to keep things on the down low, and that’s a frightening idea in itself.

 However, for argument’s sake, let’s now focus on the writing aspect of this problem. You’re borrowing someone else’s characters. You’re piggybacking off of them. You’re adding and subtracting some things, but it’s still not original fiction. This is going to hurt your writing no matter how you try to dress it up. It’s still not your property and you will have to make all kinds of sacrifices in order to make it work without alerting someone to the fact that you’ve stolen their characters. You can see so many awful Bella Swan-isms in Ana Steele that it’s embarrassing—tripping over things, rejecting compliments and gifts, being sullen for no real reason, not noticing that the guy she loves is a total creep—and that’s just for starters. I hope that in the future publishing companies take a harder look at the authors who keep doing stuff like this and refuse to let it fly. It’s not fair to the millions of fanfic writers who don’t plagiarize and it’s not fair to the readers.

4.      Conflict matters. Honestly, can you look me in the eye and tell me what Shades is about other than poorly written sex? I bet you a nickel that you can’t. Story cannot exist without conflict. Yet Shades does, somehow. The initial attempt at conflict is Ana’s reluctance to engage in Christian’s disturbing sex fantasies, but it’s null and void before we even hit the halfway point in the first book. The rest of it just drags along with a bare semblance of a plot. Putting aside the fourth grade reading level grammar mistakes, it’s just dull scenes loosely strung together. Plot matters. Conflict matters. Character actions matter. There shouldn’t be any point that I flip through a book and I can’t tell what the hell is happening and for what reason.

5.      Editing is your friend. How many times does Christian “breathe” in Shades? How many times does Ana say “holy cow?” I think some lovely person went and counted them all, but you and I both know the exact number comes out to 84545695685067986879 because E.L. James didn’t have an editor. Or, if she did, the editor was too busy typing with one hand to actually do their job. The novel has so much unintentional repetition that it makes me want to spoon my eyes out of their sockets. No one “says” anything—it’s all attributions, which are a big debate in the writing world. I personally think that it should be 50/50 when it comes to dialogue tags, but most writers are strict and enforce the law that it should be “said” 90% of the time. 

Editing is not just a masochistic way for you to kill your darlings on the page. It’s good for your work. It helps you separate the crap from the gold. It helps you catch accidental mistakes and things you repeat without knowing it, especially if you’re a novelist. Editing should also be something that happens dozens of times before one even considers publishing. Not only do I look over my work, I pass it off to relatives and friends and then to a professional. Your eyes see what you wanted to write, and don’t always see what’s there. You have to edit until the very sight of your manuscript makes you want to puke. It’s despicable, but necessary.

Honestly, I could go on and on about how much I loathe these novels, but at the very least, they have given us some of the funniest dramatic readings of all time. Here’s to you, 50 Shades of Grey. You make us all look bad, but at least you suck in style. pun intended. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Black Parade goes global

Blimey! Is that my novel on Amazon's UK listings? Bloody hell!

...I'm just kidding, British people, please don't hurt me.

In all seriousness, I would appreciate any international support. Buy, share, tweet, anything of the sort to help get the word out. I need to put bread (and Nutella) on the table.

I'll also post when I see the book pop up on other international websites so keep your eyes peeled.


Thursday, August 29, 2013