In Which I Talk About Princesses

There are going to be quite a few new babies in my life in the next couple of months, and since at least one of them is probably going to be a girl, I’ve been spending more time than usual lately obsessing about princesses.

I’m more than a little disturbed by the current trend of trying to raise girls without princesses. Several of my siblings’ friends are taking this tack. For about ten seconds, I was kind of okay with it, and then I realized that it also excludes Princess Leia Organa, possibly the greatest princess, and example of what makes a good princess, ever written. Furthermore, it suggests that princesses have no inherent value, save as commodities in love and marriage, and that’s just the result of too-casual interpretation of their stories.

Okay, okay: it’s also the result of Disney marketing, which is kind of awful a lot of the time. But in the past few years, even Disney has become much more self-aware (not always in terms of merchandise. That remains depressing. And also not a little bit racist. But in terms of the story), and shutting down their contributions to the genre isn’t fair either.

Take Mulan, for example, who isn’t really a princess, but qualifies for marketing reasons. She is seriously awesome, and puts herself in significant risk for her family (not some dude. Well, a dude. But the dude is her father). She works her butt off, uses her brain, refuses to stop even when her death (by her comrades, not the bad guys) seems imminent, and then she saves the world with cross-dressing (like, they actually say the word). TWICE. That’s exactly the kind of princess who SHOULD be a role model.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Charlotte, one of two princesses in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Charlotte is rich, entitled, more than a little thoughtless, and occasionally a bit dim, but she is BEST FRIEND ever to come out of the Disney canon. She does so much for Tiana, without ever thinking that Tiana owes her anything. This includes respecting Tiana’s love of work (though she does not understand it), giving Tiana what she’ll accept (which is not always a lot), and, most awesomely, KISSING THE DAMN FROG on the off chance that she can save her friend, and make her happy*.

The most interesting Disney Princess, to me, is Mia Thermopolis of THE PRINCESS DIARIES, because Mia is a modern princess, in every way the others can’t be. And, more importantly, what finally, finally, gets her to decide to BE a princess is not pink dresses or frilly tea parties or the ridiculous castle she is going to live in: it is her sense of responsibility. That sense of responsibility, and the idea that she can Do Good, prompts her to give up everything she knows, leave her friends and her mother, and travel to a country she’s never seen. Eventually, that same sense of responsibility leads her to consider an arranged marriage, not because she wants to, but because it is the best thing she can do for her people**. It’s kind of amazing.

To deny the Princess story is to deny the amazing political power that these girls and women hold. There is a book called A GOLD STAR FOR ZOG that my sister was very excited about (it was just published in North America, though it has been in Australia and New Zealand for a while). In the book, a dragon named Zog is in training to be the best dragon he can be, and is aided at various times in his studies by a local princess, to the point where she allows him to kidnap her. She becomes a healer, and patches up the other dragons when they get injured during their training. When a knight shows up to rescue her, she convinces him to follow his own heart, at which point he decides to also be a healer, and becomes her apprentice, and the pair of them fly off with Zog as their transport. At first glance, I should have loved this book.

But.

But what happens to her kingdom? If she was the heir, they’re screwed. Her parents would have invested time in her education and training to rule the kingdom. If she was supposed to marry for dynastic purposes, there could be civil war, and possibly even war with another country. Being a doctor is all well and noble, but I can’t help thinking that her kingdom would have been about a million times better off had she done her duty, become Queen, and founded a medical school.

At one point, the princess even says that she doesn’t want to be a princess, because princesses are useless. And that? That means she never knew how to be a princess in the first place. And by telling children that story, we are ruining the potential for them to realize how, sometimes, what you are is more important than what you want, but that it can be a good and rewarding thing anyway.

“With great power comes great responsibility” is not just something to be said to Spiderman. It applies to princesses too, and to the girls who want to be like them. It’s what made BRAVE so fantastic. As we speak, it is being fantastically chronicled in the Teen section of your local bookstore.

There needs to be an understanding passed to girls (and boys), that whether they are like Charlotte, Mulan or Mia, there is nothing wrong with princesses. Fairy-tales have always existed to provide morals, and if we’ve let those morals become outdated, we’ve failed our children and we have no one to blame but ourselves. The only problems with girls liking princesses are the problems we give them. If they understand – really understand – what comes with the tiara, we’ll all be better people for it.

Recommendations***

THE PRINCESS ACADEMY and PALACE OF STONE, by Shannon Hale. (6+)
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, by Diana Wynne Jones (10+)
GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS and CROWN OF EMBERS, by Rae Carson (14+)
THE PRINCESS DIARIES, by Meg Cabot (book and movie, 12+)
STAR WARS (it is NEVER too early for Princess Leia. Also, include the prequels, especially THE PHANTOM MENACE because the Handmaidens are amazing)

 

 

 

*To be clear, Tiana is also an amazing princess based on her work ethic and self-awareness alone, but she falls into the Mulan category, and I was trying to spread around the credit for AWESOME as much as possible.
**It’s a  bit funny, though. Because, really, the only thing better than Captain Kirk by way of Thor and Emma Swan is Captain Kirk by way of Gimli. I will never understand how anyone could go for Chris Pine when Callum Blue was an option, but clearly I am much too shallow for this.
***It goes without saying that I can talk about this forever, right? I mean, I’ll keep it short, but if you are related to me (by which I mean “have attended a family wedding”) and want me to read things to your kids, I’m probably down with it.

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Looking Out The Window

Since I am about to plunge into my own revisions and face down decisions about what to do with things like cellphones and laptop computers, I thought it might be a good time to talk about credibility in fiction when it comes to methods of communication. Or, you know, it’s entirely possible that I’ve been thinking a lot about Middle Earth and this just seems like as good a post as any to hang this on. You pick. 🙂

Anyhoodle, one of the things I always had an easy time wrapping my head around as a kid was how BIG Middle Earth was. I know a lot of people complain about the plodding pace of the Hobbit and The Fellowship, in particular, but it’s a LONG way anywhere in Middle Earth. The movies more or less completely fail to capture this, despite the lingering shots of New Zealand. They try. I mean, Gimli has a line about how it’s been three days without sight of their quarry, but I have my doubts that the days and days in Mirkwood (without food, no less!) will make it into the movie.

And mostly that’s fine. There are nuances that simply do not translate well to modern movies, even though it does have the unfortunate side effect of making Thranduil look like a jerk because he could have solved 90% of Middle Earth’s problems, had he LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW on occasion.

(You can’t just blame the elves for this, by the way. Pretty much all of the various races of Middle Earth are equally bad at it. No, seriously. When Balin and Ori and Oin went to Moria, they sent regular updates for a while. And then they just stopped. And for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, the Erebor dwarves were all “You know, maybe we should…” but didn’t. I mean, it’s not like Balin had set off for a hugely dangerous, much contested territory, where one time Dain MADE EYE CONTACT WITH THE DEVIL*.)

But that’s the thing about epic fantasy: there is no easy way to communicate. Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain is like walking to Florida (as the crow flies, and over flat ground, neither of which are possible at the time of the Hobbit). Even when communication is aided by magical means**, there is usually some kind of price for it.

There’s a price for communication in contemporary settings too***. Technology moves very quickly now, so that even a book I wrote a year ago has somethings in it that are already dated.

The classic example, of course, is the movie YOU’VE GOT MAIL, which came out in 1998. Think of all the ways we couldn’t talk to each other fifteen years ago. I had an email address, because we all got one when we were in Australia, but I almost never used it once I got home because I had no one to email. I’m pretty sure we were still using Windows 95, and I don’t think we had the internet at home yet. And that was normal. We phoned Australia on special occasions, but it was expensive.

In the time since then, I’ve lived in 4 different countries, and the only time I had limited communication was in Jordan, when I had to walk down two flights of stairs to access the wireless. Even the workmen on site, who live in tin sheds next to the wadi, had cellphones.

So. The problem in writing stories becomes keeping technology reasonably current, without making it immediately dated. There are still a lot of ways to cheat. Your protagonist can have “old fashioned” parents, who limit them to clunky cellphone with no data plan. Your protagonist can be forced to pay for his or her own technology, thereby limiting access to whatever is available on the current minimum wage or babysitting rate. Your protagonist can have a teacher who insists on handwritten essays because he is concerned about the lack of penmanship in his current generation of students.

That’s enough for a start. But you still have to make decisions like “is there going to be a Facebook-equivalent?” and “How smart are their smart phones?” and “Why didn’t I write a book where they all live in the woods and use candles for reading lights?”

The most important thing is to be consistent. If Thranduil never looks out the window and notices that Sauron has moved in across the street, he has to keep not looking out the window. If your character has an iPhone in chapter one, she needs a good excuse to write an essay on paper in chapter seven. Ask kids, ask their teachers, and ask their parents. Someone will tell you what makes the most sense.

Failing that, keep good notes and do your best not to freak out when your editor notices a small plot discrepancy and then asks you what your take on the technological development of the world you half-invented is. Which is certainly not what I spent last week stewing over****. Keep a grip on the world you’ve built, and nine times out of ten, it’ll have an answer for you when you need it.

*Except, you know, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.
**Or magical moths. Or Brain Skyping with Galadriel.
***And Sci-fi too, I hasten to add, though usually in sci-fi you can just break whatever it is your characters use .
****Kind of is.

A Year in Blogging

Last January, when I decided to start blogging, I thought I would follow a pretty distinct schedule: a post about writing, a post about me, a book review, a short story, (possibly a guest post, if the month allowed). I did not do anything like that, but at the same time, I think I did manage to blog enough, and say what I wanted to.

When I began, I was thinking of editing and querying. Since I sold THE STORY OF OWEN in May, my goals have shifted a bit. I probably won’t post too much more often this year, but I am hoping to have a significantly more dragon/music/story themed posts when I do. Also, I hope to not fall off the wagon so dramatically once the summer rolls around. But I guess we’ll see.

My most popular post is still THE SHARPIE PENCIL, and my most popular day is the WoW when I was reblogged by Sarah Rees Brennan. I get a lot of searches for cupcakes, my own name, and “i often wonder if more girls were willing to be ladies”. I am happy to see that “LOW LIGHT”, my only short story of the year, is one of my top five in terms of hits.

There’s been a lot of talk about writing blogs this year, and whether or not they are of particular merit. I really, really doubt that my “how I got published” story will ever be of use to anyone, for example, which is why I have never detailed it here. I’ve also not talked about my process, which is largely “open computer, type”.  I’d much rather talk about other stuff, which is mostly what I do (though I try to be somewhat more professional than I am on my livejournal).

Speaking of that, I have no plans to continue my book reviews at this point. I’ll still read a lot, but I think I’ll limit them to Twitter. This year, I want to LOVE more books instead of READ more books. After three years of counting, I think I am ready for that. Also, there are a lot of things I wish to re-read, and I am very much looking forward to that.

Oh, and also I really liked The Hobbit. REALLY, REALLY. So there will also probably be a lot of posts about that, ranging from the writing to the music to my unexpected love of the dwarves to…well, everything. Ten years ago, I went head over heels with the Lord of the Rings online community, and it looks like I’m about to do the same with The Hobbit*.

As for books, well, that would be telling. I am very excited to work with my 2014 debut group (though I confess that with the insanity of Retail Christmas, I kind of forget what I promised to do), and I am looking forward to finding good pictures to use for the promotion of THE STORY OF OWEN. And, of course, there will be new books. I’m not sure of their shape yet, but I have a few things that I’ve been waiting to poke at, and I am very excited to finally get started.

January is kind of an arbitrary time for promises. There’s no real reason why you can’t do all of this in, say, July. But after working at the stores so much after Thanksgiving in October, I’m…ready to start over. I’m going to take a week-long nap (and maybe go see The Hobbit two or six more times), and then, well, Further Up and Further In!

 

 

 

*I’m not kidding. During the writing of this, I spent approximately 3 hours reading THE APPENDICES and some more time on tumblr, because that is where the gifs are.

Waiting On Wednesday

There’s no cover art for the books I’m looking forward to this week. In most cases, there aren’t any agents, deals or editors either. There aren’t any words (or there shouldn’t be), and in some cases, there isn’t even any plot.

But there’s a dream. And a goal. And a lot of stockpiled coffee.

These are books I’ll probably never read, though a few will be honed and polished and eventually see the light of day. But I’m waiting for them anyway, because they’re being written.

Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo, when thousands of writers all over the world attempt to do something ridiculous: write 50,000 words in 30 days. Most are amateurs, writing around jobs and kids and their social lives with no plan on going pro some day. Some are dreamers, like I was (yes, THE STORY OF OWEN was written during NaNo 2011), and some are pros (like I am now? I think? Technically I think I’m still doing this for fun?), but for 30 days, we’re all just writers with books on the brain.

I am on the NaNo website as grav_ity. Feel free to add me to your buddy list, if that’s the kind of thing you do. I wish you all the best if you are writing. Remember to eat and sleep occasionally, and to remind your family that this is your month, your time, and you’ll see them in December.

Mostly, though, this is the time of year when I’m reminded that I love writing. It’s this crazy thing, and I do it because it’s fun. So write because you love it. Write because you chose it. And write because I’m competitive, and if you have a high word count, chances are pretty good I’ll have one too. 😉

The Measure of Success

Here’s my secret: I never wanted to be a writer.

I didn’t plan for it. I didn’t dream of it. I didn’t set out in a calculated way to make myself a part of the writing/publishing world.

I didn’t do those things, but there was one thing that I did do.

I wrote.

Sometimes I wrote a little bit. Sometimes I wrote a lot. I wrote letters (one a week, for eight years, and then sporadically in university). I wrote a diary (grade 6 to grade 12). I wrote terrible stories. And then I wrote some good ones. But I was never one of those people who “always knew I wanted to be a writer” or “dreamed about being a writer”. I just wrote.

When I sat down to write my first book, I was flying absolutely blind. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the story (except a vague “rocks fall, people die” kind of impression of the ending). My entire method for writing was this: I went to Starbucks. I bought a coffee. I opened my laptop. The story appeared on the screen. It was like an out of body experience.

I didn’t want to tell anyone, because even though I had been writing for YEARS at that point, I knew that this was different. People would think that this was “real”. I had to tell my brother (because I was living with him, and he started to miss me when I left the house for work at 8:30 in the morning with my laptop and came home at 10PM), and he was really great about supporting me without clamouring for details I didn’t have yet. But every day, I was terrified that I would open the computer and nothing would happen. Every day, I was afraid it would be over.

At the end of November, I had 85K of novel, and immediately it started. “Are you going to get it published?”, “Are you going to write another book?”, “I always knew you were going to be a writer!”

I made the classic mistakes. I talked too much, and told my family too many things about my plans and my hopes and my dreams. That works for some people, but it really, really doesn’t work for me. I prefer not to tell people things until I know, for sure, all of the options and outcomes.

Also, I still didn’t want to be a writer. But I wrote.

At the end of 2010, with one complete MS and two halves under my belt, I was almost, almost, ready to think about being a writer. I made a New Year’s resolution to write another book, and to query that first one. I theorized that I would probably not write fanfiction, because I would be busy.

The universe began laughing almost immediately. By the end of January, I had 30K of fanfic, and by the end of February 20K more. In fact, on September 30 of 2011, I had 212, 869 words. Part of that was the second half of a book, but most of it was fanfic. And, by golly, I was getting good at it.

I wrote THE STORY OF OWEN in November, and finished out the year with nearly 300K of writing. If that doesn’t make a person a writer, I don’t know what the heck does. I had learned something very important in the meanwhile, too. I wanted to be an archaeologist. I wanted to live in Ontario. I wanted to eat all the gingerbread cookies*. I was a writer.

This year, as of September 30, I have written slightly fewer than 80,000 words. I do not view this year as less successful than 2011. For starters, I sold a book. Also, I proved that I could write “on demand”, when my editor said “Hey, I need 18K” and I realized I had 9 writing days to do it. The bulk of my total word count makes up my fourth complete MS draft. NaNo is coming up again, and for the first time since 2009, I don’t have a plan. I’m hoping to write another complete draft anyway.

And I’m not scared.

Because, numbers aside, and come hell or high water, I’m a writer. And that’s always been enough for me.

 

 

*I shared. *sighs*

Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel

I’ve decided to start blogging on Mondays. Fridays were fun, but with my new work schedules, I seem to have a lot of 12 hours days on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (and sometimes Saturday), and that’s really not conducive to blogging. So Mondays it is*!

Anyway, September is well upon us, and that means it’s almost time for regular season television to come back**. Don’t get me wrong, summer TV has really improved in the last few years, but I still get a thrill when all my favourite shows premiere in the last week of September/first week of October.

(I also think, by the way, that a large part of the reason I’ve had trouble coming up with ideas for blog posts is because there’s no new TV to watch. I don’t understand the people who say they turn their brains off when they watch TV. I turn mine up to hyper-drive. I don’t really watch TV to relax. I watch it to learn, to puzzle, to follow the story as closely as I can. That seems to lead to blogging, particularly when a show I like does something that gives me feeeeeelings.)

I haven’t always been a TV watcher. Until university, I could count the number of TV shows I watched on a regular basis on one hand (Road to Avonlea, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, Alias, Star Trek Voyager and CSI), but when I went away to school, I suddenly had all this free time in the evenings*** and, more importantly, cable. Thus, I discovered TV. And I loved it.

(We’ve talked about this before, but I am nearly always a lover of things. If I don’t LOVE it, chances are pretty good I won’t WATCH it. I’m also notoriously forgiving and defensive of my shows. That said, if they push me far enough, I do leave them. I stopped watching Supernatural in the middle of an episode, abandoned Game of Thrones because it bothered me, and Doctor Who is on my last nerve.)

My TV watching habits have changed profoundly from my uni days. For starters, I rarely watch TV on TV at all. I don’t usually have one, and thanks to my work schedule, I’m usually in bed by 8PM. Thankfully between DVDs and livestreaming, I can watch whenever I want, as long as I don’t mind CTV showing me the same two commercials every ten minutes****. The other handy thing about this is that it means I get to watch TV alone. There are a few exceptions, but generally speaking I prefer solitary viewing, because it means I can laugh and/or cry as hard as I want, and not have family members tell me that I’m sick, silly or lack basic comprehension skills inherent in other people*****.

Obviously, all bets are off when I watch things with Emma******. 😉

I still write down what day everything airs, even though my chances of actually watching on the day are slim. For posterity, here is my To Watch List for the fall/winter season of TV, 2012-13.

Sunday used to be the Dead Night of TV, but all of a sudden it got really good! This year, I have ONCE UPON A TIME, which I love because it is either silly or amazing, REVENGE, which I love because Emily Van Camp is awesome and Nolan is better, and HOMELAND, in which Damian Lewis and Claire Danes will do their best to make sure I never sleep again.

Monday night is CASTLE time. I started watching this show as my cotton candy recovery from the emotional trauma of Battlestar Galactica rebound, and it turned out to be SO MUCH FUN. And also: pretty. It’s also WAREHOUSE 13, which is already half over, but I’m still counting it. I love that show so much.

Wednesday is CRIMINAL MINDS. We’ve had our differences, but I keep coming back to this CBS procedural, because it’s just SO. DARN. AWESOME. It’s pretty much a masterclass in writing and character development (most of the time), and the continuity (and the credit they give to the audience) just owns my soul.

Thursday is THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, which was totally supposed to be one of those shows I watched twice and gave up on, and yet somehow became this BEAUTIFUL THING. I don’t even know. Also on Thursday is FLASHPOINT, my little Canadian show that could. It’s in its last season and if the premiere is anything to go by, it’s not planning to pull any punches.

Friday is FRINGE and HAVEN or, as I like to think of it, Awesome Blonde Women Take Names And Kick Ass. Because, seriously. Between them, there’s not a lot Olivia Dunham and Audrey Parker can’t do. It’s FRINGE’s last season, which makes me sad, but at least they’ve planned it, so it should end well.

Saturday is DOCTOR WHO, which I may or may not give up on. And then at some point LEVERAGE comes back, along with MY LITTLE PONY, just to make the weekends more interesting.

I don’t really have anything NEW in my line-up this year, which is unusual for me. I haven’t found anything particularly inspiring. Also, I do love reading and writing (and, you know, SLEEPING), so I don’t want to fall in love with too many things. That said, if there’s a new show you think I should watch, I’d love to hear about it in comments.

 

 

 

*I may continue New Book Tuesdays and Waiting on Wednesdays, just to really weight the beginning of the week. We’ll see how ambitious/tired I get. Also, in case it wasn’t apparent, the title of this blog post is because I’m talking about TV. I am, in fact, no longer blogging at the same time, bat or otherwise.
** I really hope you weren’t expecting something more profound.
***You know, except for classes. And homework.
****It’s worth it. Even during the Olympics when I saw that stupid McDonald’s commercial 250 times a day.
*****Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. But it’s largely thanks to them that I prefer to do things alone. Being told your emotional reactions are wrong will do that to a girl.
******One of the reasons I like Mark Watches (and Mark Reads) so much is that he has such BIG reactions. And often his reactions are the same as mine, which is always nice.