The Convergence Trilogy

Three and a half years and almost 512,000 words later, I’ve finally finished my first trilogy. Well, a trilogy in five parts, anyway.

I was living in Redmond, Washington at the time, deeply depressed and trying to come back from the worst time of my life. I wasn’t just broke, I was depressed. I had been fired from my job and narrowly avoided jail time because of some stupid, stupid choices. I lost half of my friends. I had to move out of state (California) and start over from scratch, sleeping on my friend’s couch. Things weren’t great.

I flew up to Alaska for a week to see my best friend’s baby son right after he was born and found myself out bar-hopping that weekend to say hey to people I wasn’t friends with in high school like things had changed after graduation. I found myself walking the streets by myself, mind clear and taking in the way the streetlights bounced off of the snow with the kind of focus only the truly, deeply lonely have.

It was February and it was cold, so I ducked into The Anchor, a now-closed sports bar, to warm up and maybe grab a drink. The dance floor was packed and clumps of friends hung on each other, taking pictures they could or would only share a fraction of, screeching at each other in decibels only be heard by dogs and drunk white girls.

I wanted a clump, too, but I was clumpless. Dejected, I decided maybe I’d be better off finding a drink somewhere else and started to turn away. Through the crowd came one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen and she headed straight for me. She embraced me and told me that she believed in me and that she thought I was a talented writer from the stuff I had put up on Myspace/Facebook.

Now let’s back up a second. The first time I had ever seen this woman was seven years prior to our bar conversation. I was a sophomore in high school and I was in my United States History class. It was towards the end of the year and she was graduating, so she poked her head through the window from outside to say goodbye to my teacher and I was immediately taken by her. I made it a mission to say hi to her the next time I saw her and introduce myself. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t another opportunity before the school year ended.

I would see her around town from time to time after that but I figured it would be weird to stop her out of nowhere just to say hi, me being this kid she’s never seen before. What would I say? How would I say it? I felt weird for even wanting to do it, honestly. But then a day came that she popped up as a mutual friend on MySpace and I said, “Fuck it” and sent her a friend request. To my surprise, she accepted.

I still didn’t say hello.

For over a year we were friends online, our only communication being my sending her a message for the holidays as I did to all of my friends, and her appreciative response.

So it surprised me that she would recognize me in person at The Anchor. It surprised me even more that she would take the time to come and say hello and that this relative stranger, one who I had admired and been intimidated by for years, would tell me that she believed in me, that she would tell me she felt my writing had promise. I was surprised she even paid attention.

I’m not big on God or fate or destiny, but I do like playing the long odds. I like the idea of luck, good and bad, of high and small percentages, of chance. I don’t know what the chances were of my being in town that week, deciding to go out, deciding to go downtown, deciding to duck into the same bar she was in at the same time she happened my way, for her to recognize me or choose the words she did, but I needed it bad. That one interaction changed things for me in a big way.

I went back to Washington a renewed and inspired man. She and I started a dialogue via email that would lead to our having a long, strong friendship. I started to write.

I dug out a few shoddy chapters I had written the summer before that had been inspired by a dream (not something that happens to me often, as it turns out). A lot of what I had already done was garbage, but there was some stuff worth salvaging there.

For the next six months, I hammered out Waypoint, my first novel and the first part of what would become the Convergence trilogy. The words came quickly and easily. I had developed some severe bronchitis around that time, too, so a large part of that could have been because of the codeine cough syrup I had been prescribed and was using semi-irresponsibly.

Along the way, I picked up a couple friends who volunteered and agreed to read and edit as I wrote (my friend Ben and his wife, Karina, who I didn’t know too well at the time, which actually worked out perfectly because she was very blunt about her opinions). At the end of those six months, Waypoint was finished and I found myself new problems to have: I was terrified to release it.

What if it sucked? What if nobody liked it? What if they made fun of it? What if my friend from the bar was wrong about my writing? What if I was a fool for wanting to pursue writing as a career (this last question still plagues me)?

Ben and Karina insisted that I was wrong, that the book was good stuff, that it would all be fine. Gradually, I gave in. Tentatively, I self-published and released the book online. To my astonishment and relief, the general consensus has been that it is, in fact, a good book. The reception was so positive and the enthusiasm so high in regards to discussing the characters, the world they lived in, and the plot twisting through it, that I decided to split the second and third novels into two halves so I could get my readers more material faster.

Death Worth Living For came next, and it was around this time that I gained arguably my two biggest fans: a pair of traveling jewelry salespeople who would host a couple events a year at the jewelry store I worked in. They would read as they traveled, one of them speaking my words aloud while the other drove. When we saw each other, they would pelt me with questions about the characters and their motivations and actions. They would theorize what would happen next (often, they were wrong. Sometimes, they would give me an idea I hadn’t considered before).

I was most of the way through As the Earth Trembled Part One when my grandparents – for all intent and purpose my parents, as they had adopted and raised me since I was five – both passed away and the woman I loved left me for someone else.

I was able to finish and release that half of the book, but it took a long time for me to get my confidence, my inspiration and my wits back. Longer than I’d like to admit, but I was able to work through it eventually and yesterday I released As the Earth Trembled Part Two for the Kindle, finishing the Convergence trilogy (in five parts) once and for all.

Three and a half years. Over half a million words. I’ve sold almost three thousand copies of the books, which is not a lot, really, but I’ve paid a bill or two and bought a drink or ten with what I’ve made. I’ve accrued some four and five star reviews that I’m proud of, and though I got some separation anxiety regarding my characters as I finished up, it’s so rewarding to see other people, friends and strangers both, grow equally as invested in them.

If you, my faithful, wonderful readers, would like to check out the books yourselves, refer them to a friend who might like them, or get them for someone as a gift, here’s where you can find them:

For the Kindle:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

In paperback:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

For the Nook:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

And if you’ve read these books so far, if you’ve taken a chance on my work – whether you enjoyed it or not – or suggested them to friends or family, or even lent a copy to somebody: thank you so much. Your support means the absolute world to me. I may write to get the ideas out of my head, but it’s an audience that gives those ideas their first breath of life.

As for me, I’m on to the next one.

The Pro In Productivity

Recently, I had two separate friends ask me to lend an editing eye and input towards some letters they had written. I was flattered, because the contents of the letters were immensely personal, and they trusted me enough to reveal that side of them, and also because they trusted me enough to catch any kinds of errors or to suggest an alteration to better the flow when reading it.

One of my friends said jokingly, “Because you’re a professional writer”. When I say jokingly, I don’t mean flippant; she wasn’t being sarcastic. I meant it in the sense that it wasn’t as serious as, say, someone commissioning me to write a speech or a business proposal. She meant it in a light-hearted manner, but she meant it.

I immediately shot back with a “Hardly.” Anyone can self-publish a novel with enough time and patience. Anyone can market themselves or talk non-stop about the project they’re working on and how far along they are. Anybody can fire up a blog and talk about their sex lives and their drinking problems.

I wasn’t published through a traditional publisher. You couldn’t get my books at a bookstore. I have to work 40+ hours in a retail job to survive. I can’t say the word autograph without hating myself. These are not things a professional has to worry about.

She said to me, “If you have used the money you made from the sale of your work to pay a bill, then you’re a professional.”

That… that kind of made sense. I wasn’t ready to fully commit to that mindset, but it got me thinking.

I have a friend (who is also my current roommate) that I’ve known for a long, long time and who I often disagree with but whom I always listen to because he’s an intelligent man who has lived through a lot… he told me once that he wouldn’t consider me a writer – and I shouldn’t call myself a writer – until I actually had something published.

I can get that, to a degree. There are a lot of people who claim to be writers who never get around to the writing part. Others start but never finish. My friend’s point was that the desire to write and even the act of writing do not in themselves inherently make one a writer. I think that mentality also detracts from people who write every day in any number of ways. If someone writes poetry and posts it to their blog or their Tumblr instead of an anthology or a bound collection, that doesn’t make them not a poet. They might be a shitty poet, but they’ve got the idea down and the content is posted.

All the same, I finished my first novel and self-published it through Amazon, and when I asked, frustrated, if that was good enough for me to call myself a writer, he shrugged and said, “Yep. Well done.”

So why, I wonder, do I feel vindicated by that, and yet when someone introduces me as their friend, a published writer, I hasten to correct with “self-published”. My books aren’t as professionally edited or as put together as books out of a big publishing house. They’re not available at the airport or even the Wal-Mart book bargain bin (did you know that’s a thing? It’s totally a thing).

But they are available for the Kindle and the Nook, and print-on-demand via Amazon. I have sold over 2,000 copies of my novels to people all across the United States, Canada, England and Ireland, to men and women from 18 years of age to 60, and received four and five stars across the board for my trouble. I’m no Best Seller. There are no blogs written about my books (beside my own, natch), but that’s something, isn’t it?

I reached out to another friend whose opinion I respect a lot and asked her opinion. She said, “It feels too important to call it a hobby. People pay money to read what you’ve slaved over. You’ve become a commodity, an item to satisfy a want or need. That’s professional.”

There’s a truth to that. If someone took oils to a canvas or pen to a paper, or piled up a bunch of trash that looks like two people kissing from the right angle, under the right light, or they fling paint at something (looking at you, Pollock), and someone purchases it to put in their home, you would call that creator an artist. It doesn’t need to be a lot of money (the term “starving artist” exists for a reason), but enough to help get by. Enough to pay a bill.

A lot of educators have a second job to help them get by, especially during the summer. I had an Advanced Placement European History teacher work at a supermarket while school was out, but I didn’t consider him a clerk. His focus, his passion, the thing he considered himself to be and spent most of his energy being was a teacher. He taught. He gave teachings to others and he got paid for it. I’m a writer. I write. I give the product of that writing to others, and I get paid for it, sometimes quite a bit.

There are a lot of published authors who take offense to the categorization of a self-published author as being in the same league as they are, or to be lumped in the same category, even. To be fair, like I said above, it is painfully easy to slap something together, draw up a cover (or don’t), write up a description of what it’s about (or don’t), set a price point and unleash it on the market via self-publication. This fucking sucks for me, because there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of books out there now to wade through. It’s easy to sink in and get lost amongst all of that, and the bulk of those works aren’t…very good…

Yet I don’t feel that the way the book is released should be an automatic detractor from its quality (even as, again, I am quick to correct people about my publication status). Hugh C. George’s Silo series, starting with Wool, is very good and got a lot of acclaim.

There are a lot of reasons to go the self-publication route, and just as many to go the (much harder) traditional route. I would honestly prefer the latter, but I haven’t been able to set aside the time and money to start really delving into agents and what publishing houses haven’t already turned me down. Self-publishing is quick, convenient and simple. It suits my needs, but only for now.

Still, the books sell. Not a lot, but they do. Does that make me professional? What doesn’t make me professional? Is it because I don’t have a degree in English? Is it because a recognizable name doesn’t circulate my books through stores?

More and more I’m starting to view self-publication as less like a loophole and more like a self-owned business. I own a copyright for the art I create. I profit off it and pay taxes on it. The quality of the work is dependent on how much time and effort I put into it, as is the case with a business.

I don’t know why I wrote this blog post. I’m certainly not trying to convince you that I’m the next great American novelist, deserving of acclaim and millions of dollars and a never-ending supply of high fives (though all of that would be nice). I would be content if you read my books and, if you liked them, told a friend. I think, though, that the words my friend said to me about what qualifies me as a “professional artist” gave me a lot to think about concerning the way I take the wind out of my own sails and downplay what I’ve accomplished.

I’m proud of my books. Why aren’t I proud of myself?

I am starting to take my writing schedule more seriously. I’m putting in 2,000 words or more a day, even after stressful shifts at my day job, even if it means staying up until six in the morning and getting four hours of sleep. I’m starting to feel less ashamed at being called a “self-published” anything as if that means I should be less respected as an artist when the basis of that respect depends on the work I crank out. It takes time, money and effort to find an agent and a traditional publisher. In the meantime, I’ve taken advantage of a process that allows my novels to get out there and be available to readers, and I’ve gained followers and, God bless, actual fans that will engage me on characters and motivations and scenes and the world I’ve created.

Am I fulfilled? Not really. Not entirely, I mean. I want writing to be my full time job. I want to write all day and have what I earn from that pay all of my bills, not just a phone bill or a storage unit bill. But am I a professional writer? Maybe, kinda. And that’s 200% more than I was before Waypoint went on sale. I could dig it.

Recap Redux

I’ve written or shared a hundred posts now, and it has been an absolutely rewarding experience so far. From being able to experiment via short stories set in worlds I plan on exploring in more detail later to reflecting on my life/my relationships/my family and friends, what started out as sort of a trial outlet for my thoughts and creative endeavors has turned into a cathartic routine.

Even more so, by sharing it online and via Twitter and Facebook, I’ve received a number of comments and personal messages expressing a wide variety of emotions. That’s good! That has been the point of this. I want you to be able to experience my type of art. I want you to think and to feel things, and if you’re going through an experience or feelings similar to something I’ve gone through,  I want you to be know you’re not alone.

Every fifty posts or so, I’ll create one of these as sort of a recap. With so many posts coming out of me and with no real regular schedule,  there’s a chance you may have missed something that pertains to your interests. This is meant to act as a quick guide to the posts, separated more or less into different categories.

If you read something you feel particularly thought-provoking or touching or infuriating or garbage, I encourage you to share it with others.

First off, you can find a quick recap to the first 49 articles here: FIVE OH.

Then:

About Me:
My Own Worst Enemy
I’m a Man Who Was Raped
Oktoberfest, Or That Time I Crippled Myself
Vagabond
Distilling Who I Used to Be
The Metal That Gave Me Mettle
Hundo
I Fell In Love
Playing the Doldrums
Kisses Have Pictures Beat
Office Space
Story Time With Grampa Jered
Just Plane Silly
The A Word

Family and Friend Profiles:
Go Out and Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note
Mama Mia
Blondie
Father Of Mine

Writing Tips and Opinion Pieces:
Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t
Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy
Getting the Gang Together
Things I Love: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas
No Place Like Home

Miscellaneous:
The Best Medicine
The Beautiful Last Breath of Day
Remembrance
The Wedding Bells Are Ringing
The Carolina Reaper

Fiction:
A Nice, Slow Day
Satori and the Key
The Wrong Kind of Flop
The Velvet Anchor
Love and Bullets
The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story
The Owl Part I: A Curious Shoppe
Trixie: A Flatliners Story
Yellow
The Lost Journey of the Stalwart

Poetry:
Shadow Hurt
Stoke the Fire
She, Of the Pale Stars
You Know
I Could Write
The House In the Ocean

Guest Entries and Shared Posts:
Life Is a Coping Mechanism by Jessica Michelle Singleton (follow @JMSComedy)
10 Tips and Tricks For Creating Memorable Characters by Charlie Jane Anders (follow @charliejane)
As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders
How to Create a Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story by Charlie Jane Anders
Cars. Booze. Central Oregon. by Robert Brockway (follow @Brockway_LLC)

So there you go. Hopefully you’ll find something you haven’t seen before that you like, or you’ll have a convenient way to link a friend.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, shared, commented, read, or even encouraged since Word Whiskey has started. It means the world to me.

Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy

I was asked by a friend to list ten books that have meant something to me. I wasn’t going to do it because I wasn’t sure I could come up with a full list. Then inspiration hit me (and I needed to update my blog, besides).

1. The Hardy Boys series by the Stratemeyer Syndicate/The Indian In the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks: I don’t remember which came first, but these were the books that really kickstarted my love for reading. When I was young, my grandparents would take me to their home in small town Red Lodge, Montana for a month or so at a time. I would get homesick after a week or so and found myself in the nice old library downtown. It was two stories tall and filled with rows of scratched and faded bookcases easily fifty years old. The building smelled of old books, vanilla left on a sunny lawn for a generation of happy summers.

Whether it was the first of Banks’ five entry series or a random selection from the Hardy Boys’ many mysteries, they transported me from the loneliness that comes from being too far from home to worlds of magic and intrigue.

2. Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This is the book that kicked off the world of Krynn, one that I visited many times over many years and which has been built upon, expanded, devastatingly changed and rebuilt by dozens of authors. While it doesn’t hold up as well now as it did in my youth (it’s based on their tabletop experiences and it reads in places like a recounting of their session instead of more natural storytelling), it is still one of my fondest series.

Not only that, but my love for that setting eventually led me some text-based role-playing chat rooms set in Krynn. It came during a rough patch in my life, led to a ton of very important friendships, and let me experience a ton of adventurous stories. But that’s a blog post for a different time.

3. Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Obviously my love for the Dragonlance saga led me to find other things that the duo had written. Dragon Wing is the first novel in the seven book Death Gate Cycle. Each of the first four novels explore a different world, each rewriting the rules of magic and societal structure of the three typical fantasy races (dwarves, elves, humans). It also opened my eyes to complex characters. While the protagonists in Dragonlance had distinct personalities, doubts and backgrounds, they each more or less fit an archetype and stuck with it. At their core, they were also all good people (except Raistlin, who really is just a dick).

In the Death Gate Cycle, Haplo is our protagonist and he has an agenda, but he’s not a great guy. He’s racist (he was brought up that way), he’s cruel, he’s petty and he’s self-absorbed. These things all change through the course of the series as he realises nothing is quite the way he was brought up to believe. You learn with him, feel his frustration and his betrayals and his fierce protectiveness. Plus his powers are so fucking cool.

I also felt special reading these because nobody else I knew had ever heard of them.

4. Attack of the Mutant by R.L. Stone. I devoured all of the Goosebumps novels, the Goosebumps 2000 novels (meant for teenagers), and the show. I played the little video games on their old website and bought t-shirts. They were fantastic horror stories for kids with a wide rang of monsters and settings. Above all, though, Attack of the Mutant was my favorite due to its mixture of horror (which I enjoy) and comic books (which I love).

5. The Invasion by K.A. Applegate. This book is picked specifically by sheer virtue of introducing me to the Animorphs series, though it wasn’t my favorite from that series overall. There’s an excellent little piece about the quality of the series over at Tor Publishing House’s site.

6. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Like the book above, this one served as an entry point to the author’s series (Sword of Truth). This was also one of the better entries and while there were more mediocre books and repetitive themes throughout the series than good ones, it ended with three very strong novels. I haven’t read any of his newer books set in the same world as sort of a second-act, but the initial series was pretty awe-inspiring to me.

I was 11 when I read Wizard’s First Rule and, well, I shouldn’t have been reading it. Don’t get me wrong, my dad let me watch R-rated movies and my step dad owned strip clubs and nude magazines, so I was far from some end-user innocent, but this book is a far cry from even the most brutal parts of Dragonlance. This was fantasy for adults and it was awesome. It made me realize just how far the genre could go.

7.The Stand by Stephen King. This book was on my friend’s list also, because he has good taste. I have read quite a bit of Stephen King and enjoyed most of it, but this isn’t just my favorite book of his, it’s one of my all-time favorite books period.

It isn’t just the bleak apocalyptic world. It isn’t only the excellent soundtrack or the many varied characters. It isn’t the overall creepy supernatural battle between good and the corruptive force of evil (the amazing Randall Flagg). It’s that King took his time with this book. I read the ridiculously long restored version of this book, but man… he really develops just about every character in this book in ways he usually doesn’t. Every long stretch of existence leads to a major event or turning point. It was a simmer that led to a series of boiling pops until it finally all explodes.

I fucking love this book. Oh, and if you like it, go read Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon.

8. The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais. I was a huge fan of fantasy and science-fiction growing up. I liked the spectacular, the impossible, the unbelievable. It didn’t occur to me that there was excellent stories told in a grounded, realistic way, too.

This book – and I don’t know who recommended it or how I stumbled across it – was my first foray into crime/thriller fiction. Elvis Cole and his less seen (until later novels) partner Joe Pike are private detectives. Cole’s investigations are interesting, his wit is hilarious and the action is tight. Robert Crais is who got me hooked on writers like John Sandford, Lee Child and especially Michael Connelly.

James Patterson can sit and spin, though.

9. Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Let me be clear: I know this series has a lot of fans and I’m glad you like what you like

I do not like this book. I think it’s dumb, I don’t think it’s particularly inspired, I don’t think Eragon being one letter from “dragon” is more coincidence than sheer laziness, and I own the movie anyway. Everyone was talking about the fucking thing, so I had to read it. Once I read it, I had to see if the movie was any better.

Meh, I say. Meh to both.

I also freely admit that part of my distaste is because of sheer, petty jealousy. Paolini became a best-selling author at 19 years old with a book that I didn’t find particularly compelling. I wanted that success. I wanted people to buy my stuff. I was absolutely frustrated.

Eragon is on this list because it made me absolutely sure that writing was what I wanted to do.

Which leads to…

10. Wired by Skyler Martin and K. Jered Mayer/Waypoint by K. Jered Mayer.

This is absolutely a cop-out, but the request was indeed for books that meant a lot to me.

Wired is a novella that Skaz and I wrote my senior year of high school. I wanted to do something special for my best friend Chelsea, so I thought, hey, why don’t I write a romantic-comedy? Girls like that. I can make people laugh.

Then I thought, hey, I’ve never written a romantic-comedy or anything over ten pages before HAHAHA WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING? So I asked Skaz for help. I don’t know why. He had never tackled the genre before, either. I just knew he was also a writer.

Well, he and I hit it off quick. He’s the best co-writer I’ve ever worked with and our senses of humor and intuition played off each other really well. We ended up cobbling together a 40k+ story that I was able to send off to Chelsea to hopefully enjoy.

That book needs to be polished up some and released for sale at some point, but I haven’t found the time to do it yet because I got inspired to work on Waypoint, a story of my own creation.

I’ve talked about that book at length in other posts, so I’ll leave it at this: I wrote that book at one of the lowest points of my life. It was the longest piece of work I had ever completed. I was terrified when I finally released it for sale. It’s been received exceptionally positively since then and reaffirmed my love for writing. It’s my baby, and I’m a proud mother.

That’s it for me, for now! Feel free to leave your ten books in the comments!

Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t

A couple years ago, I tried to write an article for Cracked about a SUPER HOT TOPIC at the time. They weren’t biting and I dropped it. But with the release of the 50 Shades of Grey trailer and the fact I have a blog now, I thought I’d resurrect it. Here’s the original article:

Straight up: before writing this article I read both Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, I did it sober, and holy shit was that the worst idea I’ve ever had. But once the migraines subsided, I tucked back my man-bits, took some Midol and pretended these books were marketed towards me. This is how I came to my conclusions. Note there are spoilers to follow:

1) It’s Fan-Fiction!

For those wondering why I bothered to read Stephanie Meyer’s abortion of literature for a 50 Shades article, let me enlighten you: 50 Shades of Grey started its rags-to-riches fairy-tale life as a rip-off of someone else’s fairy-tale life. Because of that, it’s impossible not to draw a few comparisons. They’ll pop up. I had to be educated.

The fact remains, 50 Shades of Grey was once a humble, smutty, Twilight fan fiction titled Masters of the Universe and I can’t begin to tell you how pissed I was when searching for He-Man/Fisto slash stories and coming across this bullshit.

image

Fuck with the universe, the universe fucks back.

Now fan fiction is not a new thing. If you don’t believe me, Google it! Actually, maybe don’t. There’s a lot of dark shit on the Internet. But while it’s not uncommon, the attention this one got was insane.  What’s more surprising is that it hasn’t happened before. There have been thousands of stories at least of Harry Potter getting Bunghole Expanidicus’d and none of them have come close to drilling the oil of Hell and making the author a veritable tycoon.

But it happened with this. 50 Shades of Grey got kick-started by Edward dark-fucking Bella and thousands of people liking it. It’s like a porn parody that doesn’t know it’s a parody.

But it’s not so bad because…
           
Once Stephanie Meyer’s people started shoving Cease and Desists so far up E.L. James’ ass that her off-brand Wheaties tasted like law, she took down Masters, took a second to reflect, and overhauled the whole damn thing.

Seriously. 50 Shades is almost completely different. All you need to do is read them both to see. There are some similarities. Edward and Christian both get their Elton John on with their own pianos and serenades. They’re both abrasive, distant and thrumming with danger. They both rescue their loves from a speeding vehicle (Anastasia’s was an eager cyclist; Bella only had to worry about a truck).

image

I vampired the shit out of that truck with my glitter-pecs.

And that’s about it. The relationship is different, save for the “I’m not right for you, so pick someone else, but I won’t really let you” cliché that exists in every romance with a “bad boy”. But in Twilight, you have Edward, a 107-year old vampire who’s been hanging out in high schools because… who the fuck knows? He’s like the Van Wilder of statuatory rape. On the other hand: Christian Grey, a mid-twenties ridiculously rich entrepreneur who has equally questionable tastes but is far from an undead confessed murderer. Their relationship is not predator-prey, but master-servant. There’s no real danger, unlike Edward’s overt threat that he will murder his lady friend and ditch her body in a different state. (Page 214. And 255. Romance!)

And unlike Bella’s repeated carelessness and indifference in the face of danger, Ana feels, recognizes and addresses her fear. There’s no super-nature, there is thinking characters, and a mostly private romance with a public figure as opposed to a public relationship with a mostly private figure. At most, it’s close to a total opposite, like a picture negative. The same, but different, and that’s no worse than anything already being vomited and re-digested in all forms of media.

2) The Pacing

The cadence of this book is more bi-polar than a sexually confused penguin. It starts out at a pretty speedy pace, devolves into sexy hijinks that are… dubious… and then it fucking draaags for a good third of the book. My god, once you get to the banging, how can you just write a hundred pages of, uh, not banging?

The most egregious example of Rapidash-level plot advancement is our opening. After Anastasia Steel interviews Christian Grey, we’re met with a “the rest of the week” style fast-forward. Using context clues, we can deduce that, at the earliest, Ana interviewed Grey on a Sunday. Assuming that’s the case and following the narrative from there, it is twelve days at the most before 21-year old Anastasia- who has never wanted to kiss a man before in her life – lets Grey be her first sexual partner.

What?!

The only things that could drop a virgin’s panties faster than Christian Grey are gamma hydroxybutyric and the Rapture. Maybe the Flash, but he’s a real hero… and the friction burn would be terrible.

But it’s not so bad because…

E. L. James wanted to leave her mushroom print on literature, so she introduced us to naïve but willful Anastaia and cold-but-sexy-hot boner owner Christian quickly, a little faster than we’re used to. It felt wrong at first, but… so, so right. Then she blew our minds, hard and enthusiastically, with the sex. Then sure, it went slower, but we knew it’s because she was going deeper.

See, the pacing is a little jarring at first only because James hooked us by jumping right into the deep end with no floaties. We got our characters, our basic set-up, our hard sex, all at once. We’re not used to it happening so quickly with anything that doesn’t have “co-ed” or “turkey baster” in the title. But once it’s out of the way, we can slow our thudding hearts, take our hands away from our parts and get to the juicy meat of the story.

3) The Story

But the story fucking sucks. We’re not just talking about the plot, though we doubt the verisimilitude behind a prudish virgin rocketing towards nymphomania at a speed so fast Mr. Fahrenheit would finally let someone stop him. The book is essentially the film Eros zip-tying Never Been Kissed and taking her to Pound Town.

But more than that, the writing style is atrocious. It just hammered home phrases like “Don’t bite your lip”, “inner goddess” and “baby. Oh, baby.” I haven’t seen so many unconvincing usages of the word ‘baby’ since Little Man, most memorably after he romantically removes her tampon, slips it in and says, “That’s right, baby.”

image

No it’s not ‘right’, baby.

I haven’t swooned so hard since The Notebook. And by “swooned”, I mean “recoiled” and by “The Notebook”, I mean “Ichi the Killer”.

The crowning achievement of this masterpiece comes after Grey gives Anastasia Steele a laptop so they can e-mail each other and she’s flustered when the first one arrives. “I got an e-mail from Christian Grey.” Gasp. First off: Lady, you deep-throated the man in his bathtub after less than two weeks of knowing him, you can stop being surprised. Secondly, here are what some of those e-mails entail:

CG: I do hope you had a good day at work.
AS: I had a very good day at work.
CG: Delighted you had a good day.

Fuck you, E.L. James!

But it’s not so bad because…

Like a Rubik’s Cube with Asperger’s, the characters and underlying plot are surprisingly complex. Christian Grey’s disposition and predilection for rough sex are a result of his being seduced (read: statuatory raped/dominated) by an older person at the ripe age of fifteen. No, it wasn’t Edward Cullen.

A big chunk of the book focuses on Anastasia’s sexual curiosity, the chances she takes and her growing experience all while wrestling with the commanding nature of aggressive sex and Christian’s mood swings. They talk to each other, a lot, and in those conversations, they learn about each other and begin to build a connection that starts the crumbling of Christian’s walls. Ultimately, the book even closes on a downer, which is a little unconventional, even for the first book in a trilogy.
 
And yeah, some lines are groaners, but let’s look at some other romance novels:

Lora Leigh’s Nauti Deceptions: “…sent a shard of sensation tugging at the forbidden entrance to her lower body.”

Roxanne St. Claire’s Barefoot In the Sand: “Still looking up, still holding him with her eyes and her mouth… and her heart.”

Laurell K. Hamilton’s Narcissus In Chains: “It was tight, thick, like he plugged a hole with his body…”

ROMANTIC.

Compared to Twilight, which reads like a blind spastic was flailing frantically at a keyboard, 50 Shades is fucking Shakespeare. Plus it has the term “just-fucked pigtails” and the sentences, “I don’t remember reading about nipple clamps in the Bible. Perhaps you were taught from a modern translation,” and that shit is gold.

4) The Misogyny

Do a search in any engine asking if 50 Shades of Grey is misogynistic and the results will come back as an overwhelming “Fucking Duh”.

image

Christian Grey’s whole thing, his schtick, is that he likes to dominate and control women. He orders them around, refers to them as his property and physically abuses them. He wants to make Anastasia sign a strict contract on what she can and can’t do with her own body, including her diet, sleep regiment and masturabatory practices, like the Hitler of handjobs.

He makes Anastasia cry on multiple occasions, spanks her – one time with a belt! – chastises and demeans her. And she takes it. And she doesn’t tell anyone about it because he made her sign a non-disclosure agreement, meaning she has to ask permission before she can ask her best friend all the new sex questions she’s got running through her mind. Anastasia is Reverse Rosie the Riveter, a stunning sample of alliteration that will stir the loins of any chauvinist readers.

But it’s not so bad because…

Misogyny: noun: hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.

Hatred is a… pretty harsh word. And while Christian Grey mistrusts women, he mistrusts everybody, but there is little in the book to support a claim that he hates Anastaia or even dislikes her or even likes her discomfort and distress.

And as far as the distrust goes, the entire book is about how he learns to love and trust her while she trusts in him as he frees her of her sexual inhibitions. So it’s more about the removal of misogyny, if anything.

Shit, if we’re definining misogyny as being wary around people or making them cry, any man who’s ever hurt his girlfriend’s feelings (or vice-versa, you femisogynists) is guilty!

If it’s about the fact that he likes to control and smack her around… I can see how that can be taken the wrong way. But while I would never condone domestic abuse (except in the case of the Muppets and the Flintstones), that’s not what’s going on here. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s analyze the book a bit.

Christian Grey’s got the personality of sexy sandpaper, probably because his mom was a crackhead and he was burned by cigarettes as a kid. But beneath that uncaring visage is something more humane, something that makes him protect Ana from her would-be date-rapist/friend Jose, take care of her when she’s black-out, Exorcist-expulsion drunk, bends over backwards to provide for her, frets for her safety, showers her with gifts, confides in her and makes exceptions with his lifestyle that he’s never made with anyone. Hell, I want to have sex with him now.

The abusive stuff, the debasement and bondage and spanking? The only things that happen outside of her contract signing are asked for and verbally encouraged. The non-disclosure agreement was only to protect Christian Grey’s image, probably because – for some reason – he doesn’t want everyone to know he’s got Marquis de Sade’s wet dream in his penthouse.

The sex contract on the other hand is detailed in pages 165-175. Ten pages. The thing reads like a dissertation and outlines their relationship, the length (a three month trial period) and everything else that will be involved. Anything she doesn’t like or feel comfortable with, she negotiates away. And the debasement and abuse she’s agreeing to? Here’s a list: spanking, whipping, biting, genital clamps, hot wax, paddling, caning, nipple clamps, ice.

Now, while the genital and nipple clamps seem rough (she denies them and he agrees), the rest of that is pretty fucking tame…. wait a second…..

Ice?!

image

You sick bastard.

5) The Sex

Here it is. The most talked-about aspect of the book. That’s because when it comes, it is graphic. Believe it or not, that’s partly why it sucks. It’s not a book so much as literotica (from the ancient Celtic phrase “book porn”). And while it’s detailed, it stays just vague enough to be kind of bad.

There are a whole lot of “down there’s” that make it almost sound like she’s getting her ankles fucked, and the “babys” and “inner goddess” references keep on coming and kill the joy faster than John Wayne Gacy. That fucking inner goddess… she grates like Fran Drescher.

image

Imagine sex with her voice. You’re welcome.

And it’s all so… weird. Hell, Grey’s completely indifferent to de-flowering his new toy. He approaches taking Anastasia’s virginity in the same manner one would use when scraping the ice off of their windshield before sticking their dick in the car.

The bondage aspects are talked about but only weakly explored. Zip-tied, for God’s sakes? The guy who shoplifted a box of lamb-skin condoms got that far when security fucked the center of his back with a knee.

Dispassionate and unambitious, it’s a watered down Penthouse letter with a plot written by an angsty ninth-grader who sees it as the only way to get the senior prom king to fall for her… and she still imaginary-begs for it.

But it’s not so bad because…

Clumsy sex is still sex. That old phrase, “It’s like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still good”? It’s true here, too, if you’ve got the imagination for it. And there’s a reason soap operas have been around for decades. They’re addictive because there’s that dramatic relationship, and in 50 Shades, that same relationship makes each new sexual encounter more passionate, more exciting, especially as Ana’s inhibitions lessen. It’s “Shades of Our Lives”.

That’s actually why this book is so great with sex. Remember when we said earlier that it wasn’t misogyny but something else? That something is the BDSM fetish. It’s been around for a long, long time, and it stands for “bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism” and you should be able to gather from that it’s all about the master-slave thought process. And guess what? It goes both ways; plenty of men like to be “punished” as well.

BDSM has already been portrayed in plenty of movies (Pulp Fiction, Eurotrip, Secretary, to name a few), but the book has done tons for exposing the fetish on  a mass scale simply by virtue of the millions of copies sold. And for those who like being spanked, choked, cuffed, scratched, bit or called filthy things (whore, shitheel, Tila Tequila) during sex… this is part of that. 50 Shades lets those people know, if they didn’t already, that it’s okay to have a fetish and it lets the inexperienced live a fantasy vicariously through Anastasia Steele.

Just don’t get carried away and kill someone.

6) The Lack of Vampires

Do you know why everyone’s writing about sexy vampires who learn to love? Because who doesn’t want that? Vampires are handsome, charismatic, dangerous, mysterious, like to bite and are powerful. Despite that last thing being the only quality separating vampires from Jeffrey Dahmer, the not-quite Draculas just open the goddamn flood gates. Hell, Anne Rice made a kajillion dollars off of it.

image

           
Lestat de Lioncourt. Edward Cullen. Eric Northman. Angelus. Jerry….you know, from Fright Night. What the fuck kind of vampire name is Jerry?

Whatever. The point is that they’re alluring. They’re surreal, something more than the average Jerry, er, Joe, and when they so gently nibble on your neck, it’s easy to forget they’re capturing your heart in a more literal sense as well.

50 Shades, despite being a Twilight rip-off, has no vampires. It’s just a handsome, mysterious, powerful, dangerous, charismatic guy who likes to bite but is ultimately just a man.

But it’s really okay, because…

Yeah, just a handsome, mysterious, powe… look, you get it. He’s all the great qualities that make vampires appealing, but his “danger” comes from his aggressive sex acts and not the fact that he’s trying to EAT you.

Romanticized vampires are done to death. Twilight was the worst offender when Stephanie Meyer wrote out the vulnerability to sunlight and added diamond sprinkles. That’s not even a fucking vampire! That’s a, a… a glampire!

Even having sex with them has grown stale. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake has been slutting up literature for ten years to the point that she’s not so much a vampire investigator anymore, or even a “fang-banger” as True Blooders would say, but a depository for the supernatural as a whole.

What happened to Nosferatu? Dracula? Dhampir? Do you remember the last movie that made vampires terrifying? No. No one does. Not even Josh Hartnett’s abs could save that movie from flopping so hard it snapped its own spine.

image

“’I can smell your blood.’-sexy when Edward says it, apparently.

By keeping Christian Grey human and giving him a whole different and completely regular fucked up mental issues, the story is more relatable and all-around better for it. And as a planet, we can start trying to inject some fear back into our kids with real monsters.

So does 50 Shades of Grey suck or not? I don’t know. I thought I did at first, and it’s certainly better than Twilight, and there is this:

image

A Christian Grey rendering, apparently. “Don’t bite your lip.”

But comparing the two is like comparing paraplegia to quadraplegia: you’re still not walking anywhere. What do I know, though? I’m fifty shades of fucked up.

Against “Against YA”

Full disclosure: Slate is not a magazine I read. It isn’t a website I frequent. I don’t know what the bulk of their content is or what demographic they’re targeting, but the article Against YA by Ruth Graham was brought to my attention and it stirred in me a discontent that could not go unanswered. I don’t know Ruth. She writes well, seems smart, but I firmly believe that she’s missing fundamental details about the purpose of Young Adult fiction and all the things it brings to the literary table.

I think part of the problem is that there is some sort of mistaken understanding that just because books are in different genres and fitting different grades in terms of content that there must then be a segregation in its readers. If you don’t think that’s the case, look no further than the opening caption of the article: “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”

Am I… being book-shamed? Read-bullied? What is this? Why should anybody be embarrassed by things that bring them joy? There isn’t a rule that says I have to enjoy Game of Thrones because I’m over 18. I don’t need to throw away the stories and themes I liked when I was younger as nostalgic detritus that somehow reached an expiration date once I was legally allowed to vote. Or drink. Or get reduced car insurance.

Some of the scariest, or most insightful, thought-provoking, romantic films have been rated PG-13. That is a rating that is entirely predicated on the assumption that it is acceptable for young adults and yet grosses a ton of money based on the fact that it appeals to older audiences as well. Film, by the way, has the added advantage of being a visual medium. When you read, you’re suddenly privy to the deeper understanding that comes from internal dialogue and descriptive narration, though the mind is still engaged because it needs to create the visuals itself.

There is this idea in Ruth’s article that the enjoyment of young adult fiction instead of “the complexity of great adult fiction” is somehow a fault of the reader’s. To her credit,  there are deep, rich, layered stories that reach back hundreds of years that are certainly considered better literature. However,  not everybody wants to read The Canterbury Tales or The Maltese Falcon or Carrie or whatever.

Here’s a key point: just because someone finds value in something simpler than you, it doesn’t make it less valuable.

There are a ton of issues in regarding YA fiction as exclusively for “children”, not least of which is that 13-18 year are not the same as 8 and 9 year olds. They are learning about violence and language and sex and adult themes. I touch on that a lot in Sex and Swearing In Writing (WARNING: Language). There is a lot more complexity in young adult novels than I feel Ruth gives them credit for.

And what’s wrong with that? We don’t put lessons in young children’s books to instill in them morality at a young age? We don’t have thirty articles online every day about things that we can learn from children?

The next logical step is for teenagers and young adults to be exposed to and understand those subjects taken to the next extreme. You know how many bodies and curses were being thrown around Goosebumps books? How about a little older: how many people were enslaved, tortured and murdered in Animorphs? That’s what I grew up with. It’s only gotten more intelligent since those years.

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy deals with famine and poverty and oppression. It deals with mortality and rebellion and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rowling’s Harry Potter septology is a realistic portrayal of a coming-of-age story. The innocence of youth growing into responsibility and obligation, sticking to your beliefs, loss and perseverance.

Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, which Ruth described as “trashy” deals with sacrifice and the internal conflict that comes with loyalty to self over expectations. Like Hunger Games, it shows that good and evil are not as easily defined as black and white and it depicts sacrifice.

These are important themes and qualities and realities that are inherent in YA novels. To dismiss them as something base or lesser because of the lighter way they’re structured is insulting to the authors writing the books and the audience reading them. To insinuate that they are poor quality because they’re YA: I will gladly direct you to 70% of literature tailored for adults and 99.9% of the Literotica, er, Romance section that is just as bad.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This was pointed out in the comments that the romance jab was a form of book shaming, which is true. I was trying to be flippant and came off hypocritical. Romance and erotic novels are not my type, as YA aren’t Ruth’s. I understand the types of wish-fulfillment and escapism this genre provides is the same as any other, and I’m sure there are plenty of well-written novels in this genre as there are in any other.)

There are so many rich stories in the YA community. You need look no further than James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, which starts off with an atypical labyrinth story and branches out into so much more. Ruth stresses that people who read YA are missing out on the concepts and storylines of adult fiction. I posit that the river flows both directions in this case.

Here, though, is my biggest issue: Ruth Graham is not congratulating YA fans for reading, she is shaming them for not reading the “right” thing. “We are better than this,”, she says.

I think that adults reading young adult fiction will convince far fewer young adults not to read than insinuating that YA fiction isn’t “good enough.”

The invention of the digital reader makes carrying a library with you convenient. The invention of tablets and smartphones and the ability to have social media and Google and sites like Slate and blogs like mine, however, means attention spans are shorter than ever. You don’t see as many people curled up in chairs for hours with a dog-eared novel. It’s more like getting your reading in on the run. I’ve been tearing through the Dangerous Women collection in twenty minute bursts on the bus to and from work.

When people do read, they may not have the time or inclination to get through something as layered as Cloud Atlas or as thought-provoking as anything Alastair Reynolds writes. They want something easily digestible, equally accessible and providing just as much an escape from the drudgery of the day-to-day.

You cannot judge a genre based on the quality of a few, and there is just as much quality and fun and as many lessons in YA as there are a dearth of those in adult novels.

Instead of shaming or embarrassing someone because of what they read, try saying, “If you like this, you might like this” or “One of my favorite books is this, I’ll let you borrow it sometime.” Keep in mind, too, that different people have different tastes and they take away different things from different books. One of my friends lives and dies by Ender’s Game. I like it okay, but I much prefer The Stand. I have a healthy respect for the classics, but I would much prefer reading Michael Connely’s latest than a reread of Robert Louis Stevenson.

As readers and writers, we should be encouraging people to read and write, regardless of genre. We should be offering suggestions and discussing the stories so we can better understand why these things are enjoyable and what we’re getting out of them.

We absolutely should not be shaming anyone for their tastes.

Although, Ruth Graham, if you like fiction for adults and you haven’t read my books, then shame on you.

Bloghopper

I have no idea what the official title for this thing, but Bloghopper is as good as any as far as I’m concerned. Sounds like a cool spaceship or something,  right? Or some kind of vagabond title.

It’s obviously not either of these things, of course.

I’ve been on Twitter (@the_kjm) for a couple years now. It has documented my writing, my relationships, my break-ups, my break-downs, my sex talks, my drunk rants and so much more. I’ve probably sold more books via Twitter than anywhere else, I’ve been supportive of people and had people reach out to me. It’s been nice.

Anyway, one of the friends I’ve made on there (Julie Hutchings; I’ve linked her before and I’ll do so again) reached out to me about this little three question “About the Artist”-style questionnaire and wanted to see if I was willing to do it, as if I didn’t love talking about myself. So of course I agreed.

The idea is that you plug the person who picked you (go check out Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel’s Deadly Ever After blog for posts on writing,  humor, spookiness and awesomeness) a week after their post. So last week, for example, Julie filled this out.

Then you answer four questions. They’re always the same questions. I’ll get to them in a minute.

After your four questions are answered,  you pick three more bloggers to, a week from when you post, do the same thing on their blogs. Pretty basic, yeah? Yeah. Alright. Let’s get down to it.

1. What am I working on?
Hoo boy. Well, the second half of As the Earth Trembles (and final part of the Convergence trilogy) has been in the works for some time, but it’s paused at the moment because I was commissioned to write a fantasy novel. So that doesn’t count (although you can pick up Waypoint, the first book, to get an idea of my writing style).

This fantasy novel is untitled and a giant pain in my ass. It’s set in a brand new fantasy world with a very middle-eastern/Indian feel to it. A very by-the-books investigator is sent to find out why the capital city hasn’t been receiving shipments of the leader’s favorite wares. He, along with his lifetime friend-turned-mercenary gradually assemble a small group of diverse individuals as they uncover a much greater threat than they could have possibly imagined.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Seriously, go check out Waypoint for a genre-buster. Now, this fantasy novel I’m working on is supposed to evoke a tabletop game kind of feel. To that end, there are certain aspects that are bound to feel a bit formulaic (Ohhh, of course there’s going to be a band of differing personalities and types coming together to stop a threat).

Thing is, that’s how ensemble pieces work. So my focus instead is on making the characters as real as possible. I want real relationships, flaws, failures, dreams and frustrations. I want people who don’t like each other in the same group. One thing so many write-for-pay style books get wrong is that they don’t have the kinds of development that make a book breathe.

So that’s a focus. As far as really doing things differently, the world is something brand new. Primarily deserts with a smattering of other region types. Taking the traditional fantasy races and subverting their roles into something new and unexpected. Practically eliminating the standard for arcane magic and replacing it with a style of imbuement. It should be neat.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Short answer: I write all kinds of genres because I’m a fan of all kinds of genres. I think about what I would find cool or exciting to read about or see on the big screen and then I try to create those things for others. I’m writing this particular project and genre because it’s a potentially huge opportunity for me and I read more fantasy than anything else growing up.

Long answer: Behind the Curtain: Why I Write

4. How does your writing process work?

I typically spend 4-6 months conceptualizing and writing notes down for a project before I ever get started writing it. It took me half a year before I started writing Waypoint and during the course of that time, I sprung up several other ideas I would think about and develop little by little over time. This way, by the time I get to it, I’m familiar enough that I can write up a comprehensive outline to follow and deviate from as I see fit.

That’s part of why the book I’m writing now is so frustrating: the concept was more or less given to me and I’ve had maybe a month to try and piece it together. The bullet points are there but my biggest struggle now is structuring it in a way that feels natural. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to pantsing it (as in “by the seat of your pants” or writing as you go).

So, yeah. Normally I spend a few months mulling it over and slapping notes down. When it comes time to write, I’m usually able to piece together an outline in a couple days.

And after I outline,  I follow Jered’s 3 1/2 Magic Rules For Writing.

And now that I’ve done all that, check out these folks:

I’ve known Brianna Dowdy for over a decade now and she is an absolute delight of a writer and musician. Check out her and her talented friends over at Wenches’ Cauldron. Fun fact: she also tagged me in this Bloghopper, but I woke up to a message from Julie, so. They both deserve your attention anyway.

Anna Bays is a relatively new follower to my blog,  but it says she writes erotic romances and frankly, I want to know what her answers are to these questions. You can find her blog RIGHT HERE.

Christine Fichtner is also new to me, but she includes the songs she’s listening to while writing and I think that’s pretty damn cool. Her blog is here: “From my mind to your eyes.”

And lastly, Jace Tan is a good guy to follow and he loves board games. His blog is HERE and is described as the cat’s pajamas and can you just imagine cats in pajamas? It’s the best.

That’s all from me for now. You know what I’m up to and you’ve got new people to read!