Friday, April 28, 2006

Cross-Genre Fantasy... the title of a panel I'll be on at WisCon 30 (at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday, no less). And, I am currently wondering how the hell the three of us are going to fill an hour and a half.

Luckily, I'm on the panel with interesting people – Elizabeth Bear and Cynthia Ward.

I extremely hopeful that one of the other women involved will bring a list of titles (other than, no doubt, what we all write), but my problem with this topic is that there’s nothing inherently interesting or controversial about it. I mean, And?

Aren't most novels these days some kind of genre blend? Maybe this is still news to someone out there, but, guess what? You can find books with angels AND computers, private investigators AND werewolves, romance novels WITH vampires! Whoo! It's a damn news flash.

No one is going to be there.

And the bar isn’t even going to open yet.


Just so you know... I got all the hot panels. I'm also on "Feminist Fiction is So Five Minutes Ago," which would probably be extremely interesting to me if I, say, read feminist fiction. I'm not even entirely sure what, exactly, qualifies as feminist fiction. My last panel on late Saturday afternoon is "Feminist Romance," which I think I may actually have something to say about.

I'm actually kind of distressed how many of my panels have the word feminist as part of their description. It's not that I wouldn't consider myself one of THOSE, but I'm so not a theory grrl. I'm absolutely certain I haven't read the manifesto, even though I was, in my senior year at high school, voted the "Biggest Women’s Libber" (no joke -- and, man, does that date me, or what?)

I'm not entirely sure I qualify, you dig? There are certain aspects of my life that would neatly fall into "feminist" check-boxes. 1, I'm a woman. 2, I like other women. 3, I read books by women. But, after that, things fall apart. I really have never read any of the classic works by feminists, except I may have been required to read A Room of One's Own by Virginia Wolfe as part of my English degree. If you asked me to name a feminist, I would hard pressed to list even one. Bella Abzug? Harriet Tubman? Sojourner Truth?

I don’t know.

Thing is, I certainly wouldn't call what I'm writing right now feminist. I am writing romance which is a much-maligned genre particularly because it is written by women, for women. Even other women want to disparage it and marginalize it, despite the fact that it represents almost 55% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America, which is 1.2 billion dollars in sales (in 2004) (see RWA statistics)

Recently, when I was asked to be a guest speaker at an informal meeting, I was surprised by how many people there tried to convince me that romance had, in fact, a formula, which all romances were required to follow. Hey, I said, no one sent me the memo. And, your memo? It's about two or three decades out of date. Harlequin is not the same publisher it was in 1980, kids. They have so many lines now – even an erotic one.

And that kind of trash-talkin' gets my hackles up. And, I suppose, my desire to take on all comers makes me a kind of feminist.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Supernatural's Vampire Episode—Dead Man’s Blood

First of all, why is it that vampires always seem so cheesy on the big (or in this case, little,) screen? I love reading about them, but the instant someone bursts through a glass skylight or their eyes reflect, cat-like, in the headlights, my brain thinks, "duuuuuuuuuu-mb.

I'm a big fan of WB's series "Supernatural." The story follows two brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they X-Files their way across the country hunting down various spooks and things-what-go-bump-in-the-night. I've watched this show since its very first episode, and, for horror-TV, it's usually a hit rather than a miss. I was a bit nervous on Thursday night, however, when it seemed pretty clear we were dealing with vampires in "Dead Man’s Blood."

I should have trusted "Supernatural." They're usually very good at making what should be dumb monsters (possessed trucks?) into at least entertaining, if not downright creepy creatures. They solved the cheesy-vampire phenomenon deftly -- by acknowledging it. About five minutes after confirming that we're, in fact, dealing with vampires, Dean (played by Jensen Ackles, can you say: "yum?") says, "Vampires. Every time I say it, it sounds sillier."

That helped tremendously.

Also, they were willing to mess with the vampire mythos (while staying true to the folklore vampire.) The vampires in the "Supernatural" universe can go out in the daylight, ala Bram Stoker's very own Dracula (if you don't remember it, go read it again). They're transformed humans, which makes them potentially sympathetic. Oh, and, as the title suggests, they can be poisoned by arrows dipped in blood from someone who died (presumably by natural causes – or at least non-vampire induced trauma, otherwise dealing with the corpses of their own victims becomes somewhat problematic.)

Some things annoyed me. I am _so_ over vampires dressed in Lost Boys leather. I mean, I know vampires live forever and can be fashion victims just like the rest of us, but the whole eighties Goth thing is kind of been done to death (pun intended). Time to update your wardrobe, vamps! What I wouldn't give to see a vampire in the suburbs! Or dressed like a dork. No one would suspect the dude with the buzz cut, pocket protector, and the horn-rimmed glasses to be a bloodsucker. Step into chess club and I'll drain you dry! Bwah-ha-ha-HA.

Also, the whole vampires living in a nest together seems like a remarkably bad idea, especially given that in this universe there were people who were actively hunting them. Sure, crows rook to keep themselves safe from predators, and, in a sense, that is how this worked. The vampires turned one of their victims, so that when Dean came to rescue her, she acted as an alarm. But, still... a "nest?" It makes me think of that horrible John Carpenter movie called Vampires.

However, generally I was well pleased. I even ended up like the head vampire, Luther. I also really liked that in the "Supernatural" universe, vampires mate for life. They didn't say whether or not vampires lived forever in this universe, although Luther had been around when Colt was making guns, but I thought that was mightily fascinating, especially given that these are turned humans (not an alternative species.)

Another fascinating clue to the vampiric nature was that at one point, when the vamps are decided who's for dinner, the lead vampire looks into the eyes of the woman they've captured and says he sees something interesting. Later, as they turn her, he says, "Welcome home."

Creepy. Cool.

Does that mean there could be a potential vampire in all of us? Is it a potential for darkness or something insipid like midiclorians? (Me, I'm voting for the former.) Either way, THAT was worth the whole episode as far as I'm concerned. I absolutely love the idea that vampires chose who they turn based on a potential they see in that person's eyes.


Might have to steal that.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Go Placidly Amdist the Sales Rankings

Geek Alert!

When I was younger, I had an album (actually, two,) recorded by Leonard Nimoy in which he (among other things, including, yes, singing,) read the poem "Desiderata."

The poem has a line that goes like this, "Do not compare yourself to others, for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself." Ah, if only I could listen to that most excellent advice. It would spare me the heartache (and carpel tunnel) of constantly checking my sales ranking and comparing it to that of other writers I know. (And then doing the evil dance of glee when mine is better.)

My biggest problem is that my powers come from the Dark Side of the Force. Fear, anger, and jealousy motivate me, particularly my writing life.

If I may talk seriously about this for a moment. Fear is something I think every creative person should experience. Why? Because if you're not a little bit afraid, it means you're probably not challenging yourself. It means that you're sticking to what's safe.

Jealousy... well, that's just my evil Scorpio nature. When someone I know who is also a professional writer does something I wish I were doing (selling more short stories, writing a better book), I find myself deeply inspired. I want what they have. This desire tends to light a fire under my butt. That can be a very good thing for me.

Anger. There is a part of me that wants very much to "show them, show them all" that I can rise above whatever box it is I feel I've been shoved into. The anger I have over my past publishing life gets turned around into this burst of "you'll never defeat me!"

But compulsively comparing my sales ranking to other writers? Not very helpful.

I know a lot of writers who get get caught up doing this. We try to figure out what it means... oh, look, I've gone up 1,000 -- will I be the next Dan Brown??

I think the reason we do this kind of "reading the entrails" has to do with the fact that so much of a book's success is completely out of our hands. Fate has, it seems, a lot more to do with whether or not a book does well than writing a good one. I know lots of good books (not just my own) which have languished and died for the lack of an appreciative audience. What can a girl do? Not much other than pray for a miracle it seems.

And, of course, dust off her Leonard Nimoy vinyl and listen carefully to the words that begin, "Go placidly amidst the noise and haste...."