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Best Worst Writing Retreat Ever!

Last week I didn’t write any blog posts, on purpose! You see every once in a while my Mom and I pack all our writing supplies and head off to a cabin Casino in the woods and write for a few days. It’s cool because the rooms are dirt cheap mid-week in the dead of winter, there’s free soda all the time, there are shiny things to distract us when we’ve been sitting at our computers for too many hours, I have a pool to jump into when I’m fed up with everything, we don’t have to argue about eating because there’s a buffet or three, and generally all kinds of good things.

This time we headed up to Black Bear, which is a beautiful building with really decent food located in one of my favorite places on earth (Lake Superior, specifically about 25 minutes outside Duluth, MN). If the people there had been a little more welcoming I would have been in hog heaven, but they were all a bit… unfriendly and it was an issue.

I can’t write in places where I feel unwelcome. It’s why I stick to coffee shops and libraries and my apartment for writing times. I pay to be in those places, whether through rent or taxes or by buying overpriced tea, so I have every right to be there. On the other hand, I can’t write at my parents’ house or Maddy’s family farm because I am a guest there, no matter that I’m family. The Erins that  are guests in other people’s homes are not the Erins who do the writing. Maybe they will be someday, but the Erins who write are still pretty sensitive artistic types and fear rejection from friends and family. That feeling of unwelcome made me less-than-disposed to write on my writing retreat, so I did what any good writer would: I started reading.

I read my own novel-in-progress, Steamstress, which was sometimes awful, sometimes good and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Then the next day I went for breakfast with the plan of reading Tim Buckley’s Great Games Bowl novella* after which I was exiled from the room by housekeeping so I wandered the resort, looking unsuccessfully for a place to work. In the end I wound up in the lobby, reading the Steampunk! anthlogy on my Kindle and pretending it was work (I’m writing steampunk, it kind of was) then I was sucked into it and then the third Soul Screamers* book came in at the library (oh Kindle library lending, how I do love thee, how I do love thy ability to deliver books to my Kindle anywhere) and then… I read the next three books in the series, plus the two novellas. Then my Kindle died, just as I was tweeting the completion of my sixth book of the day. I got a bit done the next day, but obviously not the glorious burst through the finish line bout of writing I’d been expecting on the outset.

So, was it a waste? Should I have stayed home?

No. Because as I was falling into bed last night I was thinking about the things that bugged me in the protagonists of the last two YA series I’ve inhaled (Soul Screamers and Jessica), namely that they proved competent time and again, but would revert to hiding behind their boyfriends until it became necessary to be competent again. That’s overstating it a bit for Soul Screamers, Jessica hangs a lantern on the problem and both resolve it in a way that I find acceptable, but I realized I’d done the same thing in my book, unintentionally. That’s not the story I want to tell and that sure as hell is not my grumpy protagonist (I love my grumpy protagonist).

In the midst of this epiphany/breakdown last night I realized (and affirmed said realization as not crazy with two sources) that I would have to excise large tracts of delightful gooey romance from the book. It not only allowed Grumpy Protagonist to learn things without earning that knowledge, because the Honorable Love Interest would tell her, but also was way too easy on the Honorable Love Interest. Things happened more or less according to his plan and as we all know, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, especially when the enemy is Grumpy Protagonist (also, I, as a writer, am morally obligated to make things as hard as possible for my favorite character, especially when he’s the Honorable Love Interest, those are my achilles heel) . So, that’s a lot of editing to do and some major changes to make, including new characters to add (Grumpy Protagonist gets a BFF whether she wants it or not! BFF is awesome and comes with Polar Bears!) all of which will make the novel much stronger because I no longer have an improbable romance dragging down my character progress.

It’s a major improvement to the novel, and I would never have spotted it if I hadn’t spent my writing retreat reading.

*This is the third comic I’ve seen branch into prose fiction in the last few years and I must say that it holds its own against the Fables and Girl Genius novels.

**Loved the series, entertaining as hell, fun, really great take on the paranormal YA thing. I was describing it to a 15-year-old boy and he wanted to try them out. I think the covers might scare him, but I may find a copy of the first book, “give” it to his sister and tell him to check it out.

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Adrenaline-Fueled Super Powers

I may have mentioned once or twice that I read pretty fast. This is true, partially because I genuinely read pretty fast and partially because I read obsessively. I don’t stop, I forget to eat, every part of me that is not reading pretty much shuts down. I try to savor books, to appreciate the finer details on the first read, but I can’t. I cannot stop myself and the out-of-control train that is my brain when I’m reading a book. It only stops when it runs out of track, either because I have to interact with the world or I run out of book. You can see the obsessive nature in my audiobook listening, that’s a regulated speed, but I still get through books much faster than the average person or even the average reader. I can’t help myself.

And then there’s books I’m excited about.

There’s a handfull of them, past and present: Wheel of Time, obviously, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, any Brandon Sanderson book, Seanan McGuire books. Those books are the ones where I obsess, count down to the release date and clear my schedule in order to read all the more speedily. Something more happens to me when I read them. I get this rush from finally having the book in my hands and then…. the book’s over. In far less time than should have been possible. I don’t know how it happens, maybe I was bitten by an irradiated book at one of the Harry Potter release parties.

Today my powers kicked in good and strong. Why?

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 (Avatar: The Last Airbender Book Four) came out today (in comic book stores, it’ll hit bookstores February 7). I’m hearing about sell outs all over. Which means that hardly any of my friends have read it while I read it twice before 1pm. And that sucks.

It sucks because the book continues Aang’s story after the end of the TV series and it’s perfect and wonderful and everything I could possibly hope it could be (except long enough).

Since no one seems to have read a copy of this except me, I’m gonna say what I can without going  into spoilers. I believed every word coming out of the characters’ mouths. They sounded actually, perfectly right. The new characters, jokes, and  antagonists feel like a logical extension of the world as we know it. The art (as you’d expect from Gurihiru) is gorgeous and translates the characters from animation to comics wonderfully. Appa and Momo appear and are important. We get the rest of that Zuko “Where is my mother?” scene.

The book was good. Very good. So good that I’m ready to call it best comic book adaptation of a TV show, ever. Better than the Buffy, Firefly, or Dr. Horrible comics (which are some damn good comics). Miles better than the Heroes comics. Better even than the All Robins issue of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic (an issue that was in last year’s top 10). The Promise Vol. 1 was everything I loved about Avatar: The Last Airbender brought to life by people who seem to love it as much as I do. They expanded and grew the world in a way that made sense and kept me turning pages with that freakish speed I only experience on the rare occasions when anticipation meets quality.

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Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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To begin, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is wonderfully clever.  Seth Grahame-Smith takes an idea that would be a great 5-minute SNL skit and manages to have it carry a 300+ page book.  He weaves the Zombies into the existing work organically, placing the action where it heightens rather than impedes the plot.  Grahame-Smith works in a complete world, the zombies don’t just appear every dozen pages and wreak havoc, they are very much on the characters’ minds.  In fact, I found that I had no problems with the additions to Austen’s text in the form of Zombies, Ninjas, and Martial Arts; they work, and that is a compliment to Grahame-Smith’s very inventive mind.  Beyond simply functioning, the Zombie/Ninja stuff is hysterical.

“To walk three miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! With the unmentionable menace dragging poor souls off the road and to their doom day and night? What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum….I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.”

“Not at all,” he replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.”

This was the first passage that made me actually laugh out loud, and considering that instead of a walk through the countryside Elizabeth’s exercise was a desperate fight against three Zombies, it actually improves on the original.  Grahame-Smith manages to give many of the iconic moments in Pride and Prejudice his own twist, and I never disliked those changes.

If all Seth Grahame-Smith had done to Pride and Prejudice was add Zombies, even preserving the passages he edited to better fit the undead, this would be an unequivocally enthusiastic review.  However, he falls down in two major areas that give me pause in recommending it, especially to other Austen fans.  First, he could have used a better editor, in terms of consistency, the abridgment, and the text making sense.  Second, he adds passages that push things to the point of caricature, demolishing depth and historical accuracy along the way.  I’m saving most of my full blown ire on this subject for a separate post, for people who think they can handle me in full on I-once-aspired-to-be-the-world’s-foremost-authority-on-Jane-Austen mode.

Grahame-Smith really needs a better editor.  His spelling of Bennet, the surname of 7 main characters, fluctuates throughout the novel.  This something a word processor can fix; there’s simply no excuse for it.  He also, consistantly refers to the militia quartered at Meryton as the “shire Milita.”  In Austen’s text they are the “—-shire Militia”, a proper noun with the full name of the county ommitted.  By deleting the “—-” Grahame-Smith indicates that they are either the militia for the county, the archaic (even in the 19th century) term would be shire, or that he doesn’t understand what he’s doing by either improperly capatalizing a proper noun or ignoring the reasons for the “—-” altogether.  A better editor would have, hopefully, improved Grahame-Smith’s abysmal abridgment as well.  He cuts scenes so that, from my (Comprehensive Pride and Prejudice Awareness of 50.25) perspective, they cease to make sense.  Deleting lines for no reason other than to make scenes shorter, on at least a few occasions sacrificing Austen’s subtle humor for space to fit in his own.  Furthermore, there are actual logical errors in his alterations, places where he has characters talk about other characters pages before discovering their identities.  I’m not talking a “we haven’t been introduced” thing, this is a “whoah! I never would have guessed that these people are actually —” thing.  Suffice it to say that his abridgments bothered me, both as an Austenite and because some of them made no sense.  Simply put, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies gives Twilight a run for it’s money when it comes to bad editing. (grammatical errors intended)

Jane Austen write light satire; her characters have flaws that critique certain elements of Regency life, but her commentary isn’t blatant, at least not until Seth Grahame-Smith gets his hands on it.  I understand that Grahame-Smith’s work is satirizing Austen, I do, but I really dislike how he goes about it.  He pushes several of the characters, including Darcy to the point where they lose their depth and become caricature.  It’s painful for me to watch these characters that I know so well get regulated to two dimensions and it’s untrue to the spirit of the book.  I could maybe handle some of the satire if it wasn’t so entirely modern in character.  I’m weird and I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in lieu of a book I’m still reading: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England, a history book dedicated to bettering the 21st century reader’s understanding of 19th century literature, and I’m not learning a whole lot of new information from it either.  I know my shit when it comes to Austen, so when people like Darcy spout things like

“Miss Bingley, the groans of a hundred unmentionables would be more pleasing to my ears then one more word from your mouth…”

it actually causes me pain. 1) Darcy is, according to Austen, polite to those select few he deems his peers, which definitely includes Miss Bingley. 2) At this time period, even given certain changes for an infestation of zombies, class is still important enough to prevent Darcy and Bingley from marrying the Bennet sister of their choice so it would be unthinkable for Darcy to be so rude to his friend, peer, and hostess.  The caricaturization and historical inaccuracy persist throughout the book and while they are nitpicky details, they contribute to ruin the otherwise enjoyable experience.

In the end, do I recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?  To anyone from the Austen-hater to the casual Austen fan, yes.  It is a clever, funny, entertaining take on the classic novel.  However, if you really love Pride and Prejudice, if you’ve watched the BBC/A&E Miniseries multiple times, if you’ve read all of Austen’s other novels, then you might want to take a pass on this one, maybe take it out from the library.  I’m not saying that no Pride and Prejudice fan could enjoy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I enjoyed it quite a bit, actually.  I’m just cautioning people before they invest time and money into something they might not enjoy.

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