Archive for March, 2012

Business, then Considering Katniss

First off, business.

I believe that tomorrow is the last day that my stories Exiled, Young Blood, All Too Human and The Hunted Key will be available on Amazon via Republica Press. After that, I will try to get them back up myself, but it will likely take a few days. I have submitted these to a new publisher, but am waiting (and probably will for another month or so) for a response (the publisher had to go abroad). Thanks to everyone who has purchased, read, commented — it means a lot.

I’d also like to thank Republica for all their help and support. We’ll miss them.

Second — Considering Katniss.

I have just finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy (this is an Amazon link). If you haven’t read them, or seen the movies, you may want to stop reading now, as there are SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS ahead, both in the links I provide and in what I write. Although part of me says, if there are indeed spoilers left for you, you have done an amazing job at avoiding the media blitz on the movies and books. Kudos! 😀

I myself got suckered in. Sometimes it’s fun to resist the popular tide, but most of the time after there’s enough of a hubbub, I like to read or see whatever it is for myself. After a little debating, I bought the THG trilogy for my Kindle (too long a wait at the library for me). I read them in about 3.5 days, so perhaps I should let things sink in a  little more, but what the heck.

So I read the books. I’m sure many of you know, as I’ve stated before, that I am not a huge fan of YA books. That is not to criticize the authors or their audiences, just a statement. I prefer characters closer to my own age, in large part, and as for the “genre,” well, not liking YA is no different to me than not liking sci-fi or horror or anything else. I tried to keep an open mind going in, and I think I did all right. Also, one thing that trumps nearly any dislike I might have of a genre or style is whether it’s well-done. Collins’ books hooked me. As I said, I read them all within four days (and I have two kids).

I’ve also read a lot of the THG movie coverage, which naturally touches on the books. There are movie reviews galore; Slate.com has a section dedicated to THG, ranging from movie reviews to examinations of whether Panem’s economy is viable; and, perhaps most depressingly, jezebel.com’s article on the racism that some fans indulged in after seeing the movie.

Obligatory background: unspecified years in the future, the North American continent, or at least the US part of it, has collapsed environmentally and economically. Apparently much like in the late, lamented Firefly tv series, a centralized authority fought for command and won. The country, now called Panem, is governed by “The Capitol,” apparently located in the Rockies. The Capitol is surrounded by districts 1-12 — 13 was decimated some time ago — and each district provides a specific good or service for the Capitol. (Wiki page here.)

In an effort to keep the districts fearful and in their place, every year there is an annual contest called “The Hunger Games.” Each district provides a boy and a girl, aged 12-18, chosen via lottery on “reaping day.” The chosen are whisked off to be prepared for the games, which are something like Survivor, except more tightly controlled in every aspect — the “arena” is enclosed and controlled by Gamemasters. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen (16yo), volunteers to go in place of  her 12yo sister. Katniss is from District 12, a low-population, coal-mining region.

So what about Katniss? I know I warned about SPOILERS, and they will likely start soon. Katniss is not a terribly likable person, which is not surprising: her father died about five years before, her mother went into a crushing depression, and she has been trying to keep herself, her mother and younger sister alive. She is introverted, slow to trust, and angry, but basically decent. No problem. She may not be likable, but she is sympathetic, which perhaps is more important.

I was thinking, though, that for all Katniss is a heroine (so I read) and idol for the book/movie fans — is she so different from anyone else? Is she just someone who feels sorry for herself and keeps doing it because, well, it works? I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of her.

For example, (SPOILERS SPOILERS!!) during the Hunger Games start (aside: an odd name, although catchy; I had to wonder why they weren’t called the “War Memorial” games or something like that), Katniss goes quite a while without killing anyone. That’s fine, and she was more concerned with keeping herself from getting killed at first, which I think is a decent strategy. Her first “kills” are accidental — she releases a have of genetically-altered wasps on to a group that has trapped her in a tree. Her first direct kill is in retaliation for the death of a young girl with whom she has allied. Her second and last (as I recall) is a mercy killing of another “tribute” (what they call the contestants).

Now from a strategy point, I think allowing your “enemies” to kill off as man of each other as possible and saving your energy for later is an excellent idea. It’s basically pacing yourself. But what if Katniss had been a bit more aggressive? A bit more “pro-active”? What if she had, in fact, stalked or tracked and killed any of the other tributes? Would we consider her weaker or stronger? More or less moral?  More or less likable, or sympathetic? It’s all self-defense, after all. She’s supposed to be someone who is hardened against feelings, except in specific instances, most notably her younger sister and her best friend from District 12, a boy named Gale who’s two years older than she is. So in that sense, strictly of survival, I certainly wouldn’t have held it against her if she took a few out.

(I have to put in a quick aside — years ago I read a book called “The Cage,” and I forget the author. A woman was attempting to find the man who had years ago imprisoned her in a cage, and she had a cage all set for him when she found him. Yet, as often happens, when the moment came, she didn’t do it. I wanted her to.)

It’s a bit more of the same in Catching Fire, the second book. Katniss is forced back into the games for a special 75-year anniversary edition called the Quarter Quell. However, by this time, Katniss has unwittingly started a revolution — she and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark (who is in love with Katniss) were about to both commit suicide in the arena rather than have one return alone, which totally messed The Capitol’s plans. She didn’t mean to — she simply wanted to either go home with Peeta, or not at all. District 12 is a small place, and life would have been awful for either one of them if they’d gone back alone.

The last book, Mockingjay, puts Katniss in a somewhat less-than-flattering light. She’s fairly passive for long stretches, and I can give her a pass for some of it, but after a while, you want her to say, “Okay, this sucks, but I have to do [THIS].” Seriously — she’s only 17, and I’m fine with giving her some time to pout, sulk, be depressed, try to work things out, whatever. And she does try to get it together, let’s give her that. But at this point I have to say, I wish someone had taken her aside and told her these things — that they know it’s tough, that she can have a little time, but then, it’s time to go to work.

It may be that very thing that appeals to the books’ audience — surely nearly every teenager must feel overwhelmed and in need of direction and support at some time.

At the end, too, the book likely plays into many girls’ fantasies or hopes, in that Katniss marries Peeta, and he loves her, and she loves him, and they have children, and seem mostly happy (they can’t beall the way happy, given what they’ve been through, but that’s okay).

So there you go. My thoughts on that, at least for now. Other things come to mind, but I’ll stop here.

Was I ever a teenaged girl?

I suppose I was. After all, I was not on a soap opera and hence victim to the Soap Opera Aging Syndrome, where a kid disappears at any age, and reappears about six months later as an 18yo (or thereabouts), yet the parents and other characters have not aged a bit. No, I did indeed go through the chronological ages 13-19, so I was, in fact, a teenager.

I’m not sure I was a typical one, although I’d guess most of us weren’t (or aren’t). I’ve been reading a lot lately about Twilight and The Hunger Games and other female-targeted YA stuff and in many ways, I end up scratching my head. I don’t recall — and I fully admit that my recall isn’t perfect, because no one’s is — being a big reader of YA stuff when I was, in fact, a YA. I remember, at about age 13, reading Dune by Frank Herbert. Although the hero of the book, Paul Atreides, was a young man, this was not “young adult fiction.” This was a full-fledged sf series that went on (and on and on even after the death of Herbert) for quite a while.

The  main YA connection I remember with Dune was the movie that came out in 1984. (I beg you, dear reader, do not see this movie. If you must watch an adaptation, watch the SciFi channel’s miniseries.) I was 14, and I went with a friend of mine in my class, and there were three or four screaming peers in front of us, dying for a glimpse of Sting in a ridiculous codpiece. Aside: I re-read the book specifically because I was going to see the movie, and thanks to director David Lynch, I came out more confused than when I went in.

Sorry, I digress. My point here is that I did not read whatever the popular books for teenage girls were in the mid-80s. I confess to reading a few Sweet Valley High books that belonged to a friend of mine. They were okay. And I recall a couple of other romances. But I didn’t seek them out.

Why? All I can say is that I know, at the moment, I do not care for books with teenage protagonists. I’m not sure I did when I was a teen, and perhaps it just never changed. I think I didn’t care for those teenagers because I wasn’t like them. I was not tied up with being interested in boys. I just wasn’t. I read my books and hung out with friends and went to some dances, but I didn’t date until I was sixteen, and even then it was unexpected. My girlfriend and I had actually made plans to do something the night of the junior prom, as neither of us had been, or expected to be, asked by anyone (nor was there anyone we wanted to ask). Imagine my surprise when, in fact, a guy I knew from a school music program asked me. He told me he’d been trying to flirt with me; I hadn’t realized. (Luckily, my friend got a date, too, so we all went together.)

But I was not terribly into makeup, or boys, or any of that “typical” stuff. To this day, I have never had a crush on anyone. I just haven’t. So when I read books in which teen girls are all gaga over makeup and boys, or moping over same, it’s hard for me to relate to. And that, in a long roundabout way, kind of brings me to the current thing with vampires and gladiatorial combat.

In the library last week, while my daughter did her thing, I pulled Twilight: New Moon off the shelf. I read three or so chapters, I guess, and while I didn’t think the writing was so awful (although I’ve read a number of articles that disagree), nearly every character got on my nerves. I have to say that the first-person narration bugged me, too, but that bugs me in nearly any genre, so I wouldn’t give it any special weight here. However, after even just a few pages of Bella bemoaning how her icy cold vampire bf wouldn’t turn her into one, I was kind of done.

You probably saw this picture at some point; I originally saw it on Facebook. Again, not having read Twilight, I’d have to agree. I know it hurts to lose someone you love, and I’m willing to give a person a little fetal-curl time, but hey — get over it. There are other guys, many of them warm-blooded. And yes, I did read the Harry Potter books, enjoyed them immensely, and loved Hermione.

And on to The Hunger Games. These seem a bit more my style, although I am still wary. I’m a big sf fan, and I can get with the dystopian, bad future theme. I sense, from articles I’ve read, that I might have some logic issues, but I can also suspend disbelief and enjoy a story. I like the idea that Katniss, in these books, seems self-confident and perhaps a little cold (sounds like anyone would have to be to remain sane in Panem). The first-person narration, again, doesn’t appeal, but that’s an across-the-board thing.

What I have found most interesting about THG, at this point, are all the articles about the books and movies and pondering various themes. For example, in this article at Slate.com, the columnist looks into the economics of tesserae. At Salon.com, here’s a column about the sexual politics of THG and Twilight. Another Slate.com article looks at how environmental disaster and climate change figure into much of this dystopian theme. For those interested, here are two movie reviews, one from Salon.com and one from Hollywood-Elsewhere.com. I warn you, these are on the negative side.

What might put me off THG? Well, I can only by what I’ve read about the books. I’m not sure how much explanation is given to how the society fell to the point it is in the books, and I’d want to know. In the Dark Angel TV series from the ’00s, the US had fallen apart; blame went to an EMP that apparently took out the country, or most of it, electronically. Also, a point raised in the Hollywood Elsewhere review: is there no one among the elite who protests this arrangement of children killing children for sport? Resistance to stuff always pops up somewhere.

Like I said, I haven’t read either of these series, so my judgment is in general reserved, and any opinions have been formed by what I’ve read about them, and the little I’ve managed to read of the books themselves. And of course, if you read and loved (or hated) them, good for you — a book that can get a strong reaction out of a reader can’t be all bad.

——

P.S. You may be wondering what I am, in fact, reading. Right now, I am on book nine of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. On my Kindle, I am in the middle of The Neptune Crossing (Chaos Chronicles). On my nightstand there’s quite a pile, including Roger Ebert’s Life Itself.

City vs. country

So I was reading Roger Ebert’s review of  “Friends with Kids” today and the last paragraph caught my attention.

Yes, and we all know where the plot is headed, anyway, because if there’s one thing we know about a rom-com, it’s that conventional values invariably must win in the end.

Now, I have no intention of watching this movie, but I thought he had an interesting point there, and it can certainly apply to written romances, erotic ones or otherwise. Two specific things came to mind for me: country vs. city, and families.

1. Country > City (i.e., country life/town is better than city life)

In many stories, a citified/urban character — and it can be male or female — will have to go to the country. They will be visiting a relative, doing a business stint, going back to the town/farm/whatever that they swore they’d never come back to. They miss their concerts, their (overpriced) gourmet coffees, etc. They meet the old girlfriend or boyfriend, or the new person in town, but are adamant that they will leave and return to the city when their time is done. However, if “conventional values” must win, a Mr. Ebert says, then you know they won’t. They will decide that fresh air, wide open spaces and etc. are better for a person than the big, bad, city.

I would like to stick up for the cities. I grew up in the southern NJ suburbs, so the closest city to us was Philadelphia. We were fans of the Philly teams, and in grammar school we took a field trip to the historical area. We didn’t go there often, but Philly always felt a little like “my city.” After college, I moved to Washington, DC. I loved it.

I absolutely loved being able to do so much stuff on my own — I had no car or anything. I could walk to my school, I could take the Metro to work, I could do either to the museums on the Mall. It was excellent. I was (thanks to my aunt, with whom I lived while going to grad school) able to go to the Kennedy Center and see James Galway. A few years later I saw a play at the Arena Stage. Friends took me and my then-fiancee to the free Shakespear in the Park. I would hit the museums on my weekdays off, because the crowds were thinner. It was just fun. Even though I don’t drink coffee.

I am not trying to say that country, or non-city life, is dull. Life is what you make of it. But cities do tend to offer more things like that for a person, more cultural opportunities, more things to see and do. Yet in romances, cities are almost always the place that someone leaves. People are presented as less genuine, more harried, more self-centered, and surely there are people like that in cities. but there are also good, friendly, generous people — just as I’m sure there are less-than-perfect people in rural areas.

2. Big, nosy families > small, not-so-nosy families

I should clarify here that I’m not talking about characters who have been orphaned or are estranged from their families. I guess I should also make a disclaimer that I’m something of a private person, and like to decide who I tell what, and why and when.

So I get pretty annoyed reading stories where someone from, let’s say, a ‘quiet’ family gets involved with a big noisy family — that family is usually of Italian or Greek descent — and they are not just noisy, but nosy. Moms and aunts and dads and uncles are forever getting into the business of the younger generation, especially where romance is concerned. The Nosy Family Person shrugs and looks apologetically at Quiet Family Person and things move along. QFP is almost always steamrolled along into some Nosy Family project, such as preparing a meal or cleaning a room or house. In the course of the developing relationship, QFP is subject to subtle and obvious questioning, and generally manage to bite their tongues and be polite.

This would drive me nuts. Sure, there will be questions when you meet someone and their family and I’ve no objection to that. But you know the stories I mean. When the news that someone made a mistake, or was embarrassed, gets around faster than the speed of light within the family. When a character is surprised that someone twice-removed from the protagonist is as familiar with the situation as they themselves are, and offer a whole lot of unsolicited advice.

This is not necessarily good. There should be boundaries, and privacy, and I for one would like to see a character say, “You know, Mrs. Jones, I’m not comfortable talking about that.” Or, “Mr. Smith, I understand you want the best for your daughter, but I don’t appreciate being judged guilty before I’ve done anything.”

I just want Quiet Family Person to make the point that Noisy and Nosy isn’t always Better. That boundaries don’t mean disrespect, and respect doesn’t mean you’ll tell someone every damn thing. I’d like QFP to tell NFP, “Your family is great, but I could use a little space.”

I love families, I do. 🙂 I think whether you have a big noisy one or a small quiet one doesn’t matter, so long as there’s a lot of love and trust and support going on. But I have to say that when I read these books and see these elements repeated, I’d like to see one where NFP says, hey, you know, a quiet family is just as nice as mine.

And a quiet city family is pretty cool, too. 🙂

Changes will be coming

I’ve received news that Republica Press, which currently publishes five of my e-books, will be closing on March 31. This is a bit of a surprise and is driven, in part, by the PayPal brouhaha/controversy/debacle, whatever you’d like to call it. However, it is also because well, running an e-press is a lot of work. I’m disappointed, of course, but would like to thank RP for getting me started, and all the help they’ve given since.

I think RP’s story shows that publishing is harder than many think. For everyone who says, “Oh, you can self-publish now,” this is true but — who will get your ISBN? Who will do your marketing? Your cover art? Etc. All of that takes time, and personally, I don’t have the time to do all that, write stories, take care of my family, etc.

The situation for now is that my books are still available on Republica Press and at places like Amazon for the rest of the month. This includes the Exiled series: Exiled, Young Blood and All Too Human. Also The Hunted Key and Melting the Ice, co-written with Tamara Clarke. As of April 1, they will be not be available via RP, although I am looking into self-publishing them to keep them available. My shorter works, The Collection and Light and the Darkness are still available via Yellow Silk Dreams and Amazon, and are not affected by RP’s closing.

I will be looking for a new publisher, and may in the interim self-publish these books on Amazon. I’ll let you know.

I’d like to thank RP again, as well as anyone who has purchased my books, from them or any other vendor. It means a lot.

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