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Thoughts

Blue

Recently I'd been thinking about talking about a bad-mood day, and got distracted thinking about colours.
I mean, the customary expression is "feeling blue " , right? But that doesn't click with me.

If depression has a colour, it's the dirty brown-grey of greasy dishwater. It stinks, it drags you down, and you have to reach inside it to pull the plug, and even if you get rid of it it'll leave a dirty film on your hand, and the sink, too.

Blue, by comparison...

The sky on a sunny day is about as clean and open as anything gets, thought the palest blue that is the sky reflected off fresh snow may get close.

There's a grey-blue of faded jeans, comfortable and dependable.

Deep indigo and midnight blue are calm and reassuring.

Ultramarine, deep and vivid... now, that's a well to the heart of world to draw strength from.

Can't say I understand where the blue = sadness association comes from.

How do you feel about blue? Or do you have a particular strong association with any other colour(family) you'd like to share?

Blog tags: Thoughts A to Z 2015

The Burning House Question

theburninghouse.com asks the question "If your house was burning, what would you take with you?" and illustrates people's answers with photos.

When I first checked it out, my reaction was to wonder how many of those people would get trapped in their burning house while they collected their favourite clothes and memorabilia. In my defense, if there were a fire in the house I live in, and I were in my room when I noticed it, chances are the fire would be between me and the door, so I should better hurry.

What I would grab, assuming I don't panic:

  • My handbag (usually includes my driver's license and car papers, purse with money, bank account card, and cash, and my mobile phone)
  • External harddrive (backups of writing and documents, photos, scanned drawings/paintings, and websites.
  • Keys
  • Some or other jacket hanging on my door, depending on season.

Those are things that are usually out in the open and easily grab-able.

In a situation where I had a bit more time, I'd unplug my laptop and take that with me. (I would NOT want to take the time for unplugging it from the network, power and any periphery that might at the moment be connected if a fire might cut me off from leaving the house.)
The cardboard box with photos, or at least grab the "historical" stuff from up top (a few photos from when my mother was a kid or earlier; her grandfather's military passport from the First World War)
My camera?

If I had a bit more time to consider, and still could carry something (big ifs), I might get the original painting by Ursula Vernon with its frame, and/or the folder with my relatively big drawings/paintings.
Though I guess the file folders with the bank and insurance papers might be more sensible? I'm not sure. Those seem more replacable.

Blog tags: Thoughts
tagged Music

Something to be said for contrast

Incongruous things catch my interest.

You know, things like taking the most badass character of a fandom to turn into a cute little chibi version.

Or Ursula Vernon's Happy Cthulhu.

Or the quick and rather upbeat rendition of The Minstrel Boy by Danny Quinn. (I'd been wanting to find out what tune went with it "officially". I first encountered the poem on a play-by-post RPG, sung by a character enthusiastically hacking foes apart at the time, and in my head it fell to the tune of "Pop Goes The Weasel". Seems topical, too.)

So, yeah, contrast is interesting. Just a thought, brought to you by my watching music videos, including some involving the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in white tie, the Scorpions mostly in open shirts, and a conductor in what looks to me like a black leather tailcoat.

(Rock You Like A Hurricane /Hurricane 2000 is maybe even more impressive, if you like your rock less gentle.)

Blog tags: Thoughts

Flash fiction - continuity or not?

Seeing Aldersprig write flash fiction with recurring characters/in firm settings (and seeing Ysabetwordsmith do something similar with poems) made me wonder about that.

As a reader, I like getting more stories about characters I like.

As a writer, I find working on one story in a series is a lot more difficult than writing a flash around one idea, because it only has to make sense within itself, rather than as part of a continuity.

In addition I wonder about the definition of flash fiction. As I understand it, a piece of flash is supposed to stand on its own. When does the label not fit anymore, and instead you have one chapter of a longer story that makes no sense on its own? Getting a short bit of fiction that is self-contained is the point of it, and using pre-existing characters and settings, I worry about not putting enough detail into the story for the "unfamiliar" reader, since with the things I know already about them, it makes sense with less.

Most of my flash fiction is absolutely one-off, built around an idea, with throwaway characters. That doesn't mean those stories don't require any context: Most of them draw on stereotypes or archetypes, genre conventions, and other things I assume people who read fantasy or science fiction to be familiar with. Then there's the fact that it's fanfiction in which drabbles (that is, flash fiction with exactly 100 words) first became popular, and while I'm not really a fanfiction writer, I imagine when you can put a fully developed character already known to your audience into your story just by naming them, the dynamic of writing is a bit different.

What do you think? What do you like to read, or write?

Blog tags: Thoughts

About 6 months of reading ebooks

Early this year I bought a dedicated ebook reader, and I thought I'd write down some of my impressions and experience.

My main reason for wanting an ereader was that I had almost stopped buying new books. I tend to keep ones I like to re-read, and even the ones I don't like so terribly much are not that easy to pass on when you're mostly reading English novels while living in Germany, so my bookshelves are close to full.

A bit of research showed that the first thing to decide was "Kindle or anything else", because Amazon uses their own file format for books, but not epub. All other brands supported epub, but not the format Amazon used, so if I bought a Kindle, I would never we able to switch to a different brand of reader. (I think if you buy books from B&N, there's a similar problem due to a variant in DRM, but I'm not sure. They don't sell to people outside the US at all.)
Between that, the $2 surcharge for buying ebooks from outside the US or UK that was still in effect for Germany at the time, and preferring a device with touchscreen to one with a built-in keyboard, I went for a Sony PRS-650.

Cue some frustration trying to find a shop that would actually sell English novels to me. While epub was (and is) the standard format in German ebook shops, their selection of English novels was tiny to nonexistent. B&N, Borders, Diesel, Waterstones, etc pp would not sell to me, because I was not in the US or UK - in some cases only telling me that when I tried to check out.

But eventually I found Kobobooks, where, since I am one of the weird people who actually has a credit card, I could actually buy books.

Only some publishers either have really weird contracts, or mess up when giving information to ebook vendors: I was interested in three fantasy series, and in two cases I was only allowed to buy the first and third, but not the second installment. (I double-checked, and the same was true on Amazon, so the problem wasn't with Kobo.)

But, well, I bought one book, and read it on the eink reader... and loved it.

A paper book I have to hold open, or it will flap shut. The pages will be bent, and I'll have to look at pages at an angle, which distorts the letters. On the reader, by contrast, I can always look straight-on at the "page". I really had not anticipated how much more comfortable that is. It probably helped that the reader I got is pretty quick; flipping a page doesn't take longer than in a paper book.

The eink display is not a backlighted screen like on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and while the background is slightly darker than actual paper, I found it quite pleasant to read on.

I think I've tried out more new-to-me authors this year than in the five years before. Quite a few of those had self-published at Smashwords. That site is rather awkward to surf, and some of the books really should not have been published without at least another proofreading pass, but I like giving indie authors a try, the usually low prices are nice, and I have found some nice reads there. I've also drawn a few books from the Baen Free Library, though have not found an author there (apart from Lois McMaster Bujold, whose work I'd known before) that I like - military seems to be not my cup of tea. Kobobooks is my usual source for books that came through big publishers.

So, in summary:

  • Geographic restrictions are a pain in the butt.
  • Ebooks are more fun for me than paper books, because it's easier to get a lot of them that interest me.

All things considered, I'd be very happy... If only the last firmware upgrade had not caused the Sony reader to act up. I should really contact Sony about how to fix that.

Blog tags: Ebooks Thoughts
tagged Ebooks

Why I don't get geographic restrictions on ebook sales

The situation is this: I live in Germany. I prefer reading books by English-language authors untranslated. I'm running out of shelf space, and space for shelves, so I'd like to switch to reading ebooks.

The problem: Most shops won't let me buy English language ebooks. Amazon is a bit of an exception, but I don't want to support them. (Short version: I wouldn't be able to read most German ebooks, since Kindle doesn't support epub files; I could never switch to a reader from another company thanks to amazon's proprietary format being proprietary; and most of their books cost an extra $2.30 over here.)

The reason has something to do with publishing/distribution rights that the general public just doesn't know about.

One bit of information what it is good for can be found in a comment thread on paksworld.com - if all publishing rights would be sold worldwide, rather than for a local market, only authors who sold well worldwide would be published, not writers who appealed "only" to the US or UK market.

The fact-of-life that disrupts my attempts at understanding the whole local distribution thing from my perspective as a reader - particularly since one argument runs on the lines of "ebooks fall under the same contracts as print books" - is this: I can buy paper books from a lot of US publishers without problems.

Amazon.de sells books from US and UK publishers for their cover price converted to euros according to current exchange rate, without any additional shipping charges. Are they breaking a contract by doing this? If amazon is not allowed to sell The Mermaid's Madness to me as an ebook, why are they allowed to sell it to me as a paper book?
If a writer sells only in the US well enough for a publisher to pick them up, why should the "too small" audiences in the rest of the world be banned from buying their books?

I don't get it.

Blog tags: Ebooks Thoughts

Horror literature

A while ago one of my online-friends, Eliza Gebow, mentioned something about asking people what scares them most, to incorporate it in her writing.

Trying to think of what that I had read in a piece of fiction scared me most, a situation from one of Lois McMasterBujold's "Miles Vorkosigan" books came to my mind.

There was a woman who got a surprise visit from two of her male relatives. Another guy had written them a letter about a supposed danger the woman was in, and they’d travelled quite a distance to talk to her about it and help her.

She told them that there was no danger. She even pointed out why their informant might want to cause her trouble.

Her family dismissed her completely.

Someone with a vagina could not possibly know better what’s going on in her own life and immediate surroundings than some guy whom she met a couple of times, and/or the word of a complete stranger is to be trusted above that of your own sister, provided said stranger has a penis.

This scenario terrified me more than the two or three dozen books by Stephen King that I read put together, because being dismissed is a whole lot closer to home.

Blog tags: Reading Thoughts

Hurtful Expectations

This is halfway an attempt to explain why I have so negative reactions to images of sexy women, partly an attempt to unload a bit of the pressure I feel I'm under. It's a summary of what has been going on in my head for years, piling up ever higher until I'm close to snapping point quite often.

I see advertisments using women as decoration. A photo of a woman's arse: Buy our kitchen knives! A woman swimming nude: Buy our margarine! A bunch of women in sponge bikinis cleaning a car by rubbing their tits and arses against it: Buy our cellphone plan!
I understand that "they" see women as things, not as people.

I see movies and comics which supposedly feature action heroines. They wear high heels and corsets, long hair and dangly accessories, clothes that consist of more holes than fabric, or that cling as tightly as body paint. They are routinely shown in ridiculous contortions to show off their tits and arses. Often they will need rescuing by a male hero, or they are killed off for the effect that will have on a male hero, or they will be made a love interest, a trophy of a male hero rather than someone in their own right.
I understand that "they" see women as commodity for men, as sex objects. Women need no brain, no common sense, as long as they are sexy. And they are not expected to have any sense.

I see an advertisment of a woman in an evening dress with cleavage well below bust line and slit sides up to her hipbones, next to a man in a suit. He is grabbing her arse, and she likes it. I see that women are expected to show more skin than men. I see images of nude or nearly nude women used as decoration a lot.
I understand that "they" want women to be exposed, vulnerable.

I see photos of women tied up and gagged, degraded and beaten, staged to look "sexy", for example, featured on deviantArt.
I understand that "they" want to hurt and rape women. That explains why they like women to be vulnerable: It makes hurting us easier.

I see actresses who all look the same, female comic figures that all look the same, all young and "sexy" (while male actors and comic figures come in all kinds of ages and shapes).
I try on clothes, and nothing fits me properly.
I understand that "they" think I (and 99% of women on this planet) have no right to exist, because I don't fit their narrow mold.

I hear someone saying "women are bad at maths and logical thinking", or "women are bad at spatial thinking and reading maps", or "women don't understand technology".
I understand that they take one look at me, and decide I must be stupid.

Then I also hear them saying anything like "women like buying shoes" or "women wear makeup".
I understand that if they knew me, they would consider me an unnatural freak, because I don't fit their mold for "woman".

I hear someone say "women are better at social interaction and empathy than men".
I understand that they think I'm a complete failure, because I'm a woman and not good in the one field women are supposed to be good in.

I hear someone saying "Women are only happy in their natural role. If a woman thinks she wants to be anything but a housewife and mother, she's just deluding herself."
I understand that they think I am a machine, a thing, without a mind, without a right to make choices.

This is what living in my head is like, on a bad day.

I don't like little children. I am interested in technology, and don't do too badly in maths. My spatial thinking is, if a recent test I took is any indication, better than that of the average man. I hate buying shoes and clothes. I'm short, and have small breasts because most fat goes to my thighs and arse. Shaving my legs gives me a rash, so I'd rather not even try what would happen if I shaved my pubic hair, and I'm not masochistic enough for waxing anything. I'm a geek with trouble socialising, and the out I looked for was taking up Friday Night Magic: The Gathering tournaments, where I'm the only woman among a dozen guys.

I am sick and tired of being told very nearly every day of my life, in many little ways, that I have no right to exist as I am, that I should either try to change myself and suffer, or cease existing altogether.

Blog tags: Thoughts

Story Likes and Dislikes Meme

There is a paragraph from Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem! going round on LJ in meme form.

"Before you sit down to write a novel, you make a list of everything you love to see in novels. When you write your own novel, you should put the stuff from your list in there. Then you should make a second list of everything you hate to see in novels. When you write your own novel, you should make sure none of the stuff from that second list creeps in when you’re tired."

I'm not immediately planning to write a novel, but anyway...

Likes

  • Language that's fun to read. Banter. A narrator or viewpoint character who doesn't take things all that seriously. I liked Raymond Chandler's stuff on that alone, and love it in Discworld, Vlad Taltos, Bartimaeus, Vorkosigan...
  • Weird aspects/concepts. It can go too far when the story-world is all out wacky and nothing else, but if it's just some elements, or the story is somehow else "anchored" so I can relate to it, it's great. Examples:
    A magic orb circles the Empress of Dragaera. It protects her from harm, enables her subjects to use magic - and also enables them to check the time "telepathically", and changes colours according to the empress's mood.
    Skullduggery Pleasant is a sixgun-toting, undead sorcerer detective.
    In The Warrior Apprentice, Miles Vorkosigan builds a space mercenary fleet of respectable size with himself as commander in chief - by accident.
  • People I can root for. Being good, at least for a given value of good... For example, so, yeah, Vlad Taltos is a murderer and gangster boss, but he does pay the family of his underling crooks if said underling gets killed in the line of duty... Also, see first Like.
  • Well-developed, strong characters who happen to be female are a plus.
  • Antagonists I can sympathise with, or whose motivations I can at least intellectually understand. This does not include "being evil is awesome!"
  • Friendship. Loyalty. Trust.
  • Optimistic basic mood.
    Despite how often I've heard them compared, that's the difference I see between Discworld ("hey, even Death is on our side!"), which I like, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ("Humanity sucks, has always sucked and will suck as long as it exists."), which I did not like at all.
  • For fantasy settings including magic (which in itself is a "like"): Creatively used magic. "Whoever can fling the biggest fireball wins" is boring. Oh, and magic used for useful things, too, rather than only destruction.
  • A bit of information on how magic works/what rules it follows feeds my inner geek. <3

Dislikes

  • "This story mostly exists to carry a MESSAGE!" Worst example I encountered being Lord of the Flies - the version I read had a preface which gave away the ending to explain its symbolic meaning. Disgusting.
  • All characters are male, apart from the trophy bride(s) (e.g. Ocean's Eleven or Lord of the Rings). Or female characters only existing for the benefit of male characters (and/or assumed-to-be-male audience).
    For fantasy races: males are monstrous, or at least unattractive, females attractive by human standards.
  • Strictly/overtly patriarchal societies, unless they're depicted as ridiculous (e.g. in Ethan of Athos) or otherwise criticised in the story. I already live with being considered a second class person, I don't need to have that shit shoved into my face in my escapism.
  • Villains. People who consider themselves evil and are proud of it, and/or are evil because they like being evil... It's insane or stupid, and on top of that lazy writing in all instances I encountered so far.
  • "All X are good, all Y are bad". Or generally splitting the world into good and bad.
  • Doom and gloom and nothing else. For example starting off a story with a list of the hardships a character went through in their life so far will most likely mean I don't read the rest, unless the tone is un-serious enough to cancel it.
  • Male dwarf considers human woman (or elf attractive by human standards) gorgeous. Different species should have different standards of beauty, and I can think of three instances of that particular constellation offhand, making it way over-used for something so stupid.
  • "You are the Chosen One of the Prophecy, so you must do this to save the world, even if you have no idea whatsoever about anything."
  • Gushy romance making up most of the story.
  • Detailed sex scenes. I really don't need to know how and how often which tab goes into which slot.
  • Sloppy writing and inconsistencies. For instance saying outright and showing through multiple examples throughout the book that technology stops working or breaks as soon as anything magic comes near, but having a major magic ritual accompanied by background music from a CD player. Writing like Wolfgang Hohlbein.

I realise that the "dislikes" list is way longer than the "likes" list. My impression is that I have more relatively specific "hot buttons" that will annoy me, and mostly wide "likes".

A small addendum to the "all characters are male, apart from the trophy bride(s)" dislike in the case of movies or comics, rather than prose: Men come in a variety of different shapes and ages, but women are all young, slim, "conventionally attractive", as if made in the same plastic doll mold.

I have less trouble liking a story without any female characters in it (even though that is likely to cause some annoyance, unless the cast is extremely small) than ignoring cardboard-cutout female "characters", or women inserted for male readers to drool over, or other nonsense like that.

Blog tags: Reading Thoughts
tagged Books

Publishing too much

I came across a blog entry, How Often Should You Publish? by a published author, I'd like to comment on. Of course I'm speaking from a reader's perspective.

The idea that the publishing speed should be right for the fanbase I can see - say, I stopped reading Sluggy Freelance because there was too much too fast being added to for me, but obviously it's great for enough other people to make it a really popular webcomic.

But as he says in his key assertion, "you don't publish unless it's good", there is objectively publishing too much. My "favourite" example is Wolfgang Hohlbein, a German fantasy author who seems to publish 7 or more books a year. The problem is that the quality suffers. To avoid anything that may have to do with taste, here are some examples.
In one book hailed as "his most ambitious novel", one of the secondary characters for a few chapters is incorrectly referred to by the name of an entirely different character that died in the prequel. Offhand I remember one other scene which didn't make sense until I figured out in one sentence he'd used the wrong name of the two characters involved.
Another was a six-part series, and at the end of one book one of the characters was catatonic, and the rhetoric of the other sounded like getting him out of it was the big quest-thing for the next volume, but at the start of that next book the poor sod was just a bit under the weather.
His last book that I gave a chance on one page said "she ran towards the forest, where she could get away since she knew every single tree", and five pages later "she had never entered the forest, only walked along its edge".

Re-reading and editing a manuscript before sending it to a publisher certainly is a good idea, even if it takes time.

Turning back to webcomics, the fun part is that there (among amateurs, of course), one piece of advice is to start your first project even if your art and all sucks, because the practise will help you get better, and not doing it means you probably won't get better.

I should take that to heart.

Blog tags: Reading Thoughts
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