Friday, June 21, 2013

I did a thing.

The amazing Kristin McFarland is hosting a series called "Why I Write..." in which genre fiction writers tell about their decision to write genre fiction. You know, as opposed to the "real" stuff: literary or even upmarket fiction.

It's a fantastic series, featuring women's fiction, paranormal romance, fantasy, dystopian, new adult, and pretty much anything else that gets frowned upon by all those "real" literary types out there. The whole point is to talk about why these genre stories are so fabulous, why we love to read them and why we chose to write them.

I was asked to contribute my opinions on epic fantasy, which is just what my series of stories happens to be classified as.

So, go here: Why I Write Epic Fantasy to read more. If you want a quick blurb, check it out:

This particular genre is the ultimate escape. It’s the fulfillment of childhood daydreams. Dragons and elves and a whole other world that feels just enough familiar to be real, but so fantastical that it might also be a dream. I have the utmost respect for people who proudly proclaim their enjoyment of epic fantasy because it says, “I want to believe in something amazing.” And we need more people who are willing to believe in something amazing, if only for a few hours at a time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What does it mean to be "Well Read"?

So, my good friend Lor tweeted this link from Book Riot: From Zero to Well-Read in One Hundred Books. If you aren't interested in clicking on it (and I actually don't really blame you) I'll tell you what it's about.

The author of this post is giving advice on how to become well-read if you've never read a single piece of literature before. He asserts that if you read these hundred books on his list, you will magically be "well read," despite claiming that there is no quantifiable definition of the term "well read." So, yes. He contradicts himself directly. Which is only the first problem I have with this particular article. Here are all the quibbles I have with it, in no particular order:

- "We have a term for 'well-read' but absolutely no one can come close to defining it." Well. Guess what? He then "defines" well-read as a person who has read the hundred books on his list.

- This list is to help a person who has "never read any literature." The person who is capable of reading and who has never read any literature does not exist. Seriously. You may have read only children's literature, but he acknowledges by virtue of having several children's titles on the list the fact that children's literature is, in fact, literature. So, if you learned to read, you've read literature. This list is void because it applies to no one, ever.

- There are several "first" books without their sequels. Who reads Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone without reading the rest? And, for that matter, if the whole point of "being well-read" is to know what the heck people are talking about when they talk about books, I would think you'd need to read the entirety of the best-selling series of all time. Just a thought.

Game of Thrones, Dune, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Anne of Green Gables, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Hunger Games, and 50 Shades of Grey all make the list, without their respective sequels. Interestingly, The Hobbit, the prequel to the Lord of the Rings series makes the list, but Lord of the Rings itself (any of the books) is not on the list. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn similarly appears as a single title from the middle of a series.

(No. I'm not going to discuss 50 Shades being on the list. It's absurd.)

- Conversely, several "collections" are listed as "must-reads." The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as well as collections from Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Flannery O'Connor. I have a hard time taking a man seriously when he lists everything written by Emily Dickinson, but only cites two of Shakespeare's works. Speaking of which...

- Two Shakespeare plays makes you "well-read"? I mean, Hamlet is good and important, but could you imagine a person who had no idea what Macbeth was about? Or The Taming of the Shrew? Or Much Ado About Nothing? Henry V?


I'm not a major, uber Shakespeare fan or anything, and I'm not one that advocates "You must read the complete works of Shakespeare to be taken seriously." But to claim that reading Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet alone will give you a functional understanding of Shakespeare and his influence on literature, pop culture, language, OUR WORLD, is ridiculous.

- This list is really, really white, with a heavy emphasis on Russian, British, and American novelists.  And that's really all I have to say about that.

- The Gospels and The Pentateuch are both listed. As a deeply religious person, I am highly offended by these being listed among ninety-eight titles of fiction. As a deeply religious person, I am highly offended by the idea that you can read the "greatest hits" of two major religious texts and call it a day, claiming you understand what more than two billion people on this planet claim as their lifeline. If you're a non-religious person, I'd think you might be offended by the claim that you must read religious texts in order to be taken seriously.

(I don't know if you're actually offended, it's just a guess.)

And this point really feeds into my last, which is really the gist of this entire rant.

- This list feels like it's less "How to Be Well-Read" and more "How to Fake Being Well-Read."

This list has some huge, gaping holes. Only the most popular works (not the best, just the best-selling) of some of the most popular authors throughout the history of the world are included. A single title from Austen, a single piece of work from any of the Brontes. A handful of fantasy, even less of science fiction, virtually no romance outside the major gothic/tragic/literary classics. A single horror title. Not a single vampire (love them or hate them, they are culturally significant across pretty much all of human history). No Hugo. No Dumas. One Dickens.

This is a list written to help people pretend to care about books.

Which is a damn shame.

It could have been a list written to help people learn to love books, to discover what kind of books they love most. I am not against lists of "Must Read" books. On my bucket list is the BBC's 100 Greatest Novels of All Time, and I'm making good headway on it (35 down!). I understand the purpose, and I understand that these lists cannot be perfect. But this one?

It's just bad.

Since this makes me all ragey-faced, please, tell me what you think it means to be well-read and what books would be on your list. Or blog about it and drop me your link. I'd like to revisit this topic in a much more positive way. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pregnancy and Childbirth in Books and Movies

This is something that has been getting under my skin for... well, since I had my first son in 2006. Pregnancy and childbirth are often represented in books and movies, and they are usually MISrepresented. Which, frankly, is really irritating. Pregnancy is a very diverse experience, childbirth is a diverse experience. Even one woman will experience multiple pregnancies and childbirths in radically different ways.

This means there are literally MILLIONS of ways to get this right, and yet authors (almost invariably male) still manage to get it wrong. So very, very wrong.

Today, I'm dispelling some of the most common pop-culture errors about pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these are pervasive - i.e. they are repeated by multiple writers, across genres, with no regard for the truth. Use this post as a general set of guidelines, especially if you have no idea how pregnancy and childbirth works.

Error #1: "THE BABY KICKED!" 
This usually is shown when the woman is verrrrrry far along in her pregnancy, visibly and obviously pregnant. She then doubles over and grabs at her stomach and everyone freaks out and she says, "NO! The baby just kicked for the first time!"

The (more common) truth: Baby is kicking from the second it has gummy-bear sized limbs to kick with. Depending on how and where the placenta and embryonic sac are placed within the womb, mom will feel the baby kick sometime between sixteen and twenty weeks. From that moment - the moment she first feels baby move - it is gymnastics meet/dance party. Some movements will be bigger than others. Some are hardly noticeable. But let's put it this way: I felt when my babies had hiccups, I could tell whether it was a foot or arm or butt that was pushing on me, and I could tell when they were "swimming" around.

It seems like most labors start with a woman's water breaking, it's a big embarrassing mess, and then she is immediately whisked away to the hospital.

The (more common) truth: Less than 10% of women experience their water breaking as a beginning to their labor. When they do, it's usually a trickle of the "Oh my gosh, did I accidentally pee my pants a little???" variety.

Most labors start with a "Was that a contraction?" contraction. And those contractions are far apart and annoying for hours. They slowly get stronger and closer together until you call your doctor and he says, "Yes. You're ready, go to the hospital." That early-at-home-annoying-but-not-really-ready-yet labor lasts for HOURS. Most women spend something like 6-12ish hours in this phase.

"Normal" labor can last anywhere from one hour to a hundred hours (literally), and the early stages are very, very boring.

Error #3: YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!
Every fictional woman in labor is screaming and blaming the world, particularly her husband, for her plight.

The (more common) truth: Women in labor don't have the energy or brainpower to spare for screaming coherently at anybody. Most women - even giving natural birth - are fairly quiet. Grunts, moans, whimpers, and crying are common. You can speak normally, except maybe through the "transitional" phase (if you don't know what that is, don't sweat it, it's not a huge deal). You just probably don't want to. The instinct is to rest between contractions, not to scream at the one person who is supporting you, both physically and emotionally.

Most women who give birth naturally report it being a very peaceful, quiet experience. This is extremely important to remember if you write historical fiction. Speaking of historical fiction...

Error #4: Flat on her back. 
Fictional characters always deliver babies while lying flat on their backs. This experience is almost exclusively limited to modern, westernized medicine, and even then it's only the norm for women who have epidurals and other interventions during labor.

The (more common) truth: 
Natural childbirth - which makes up 99% of childbirths in the history of the world - is usually accomplished in a squatting/sitting position.

Note: Kudos to Michelle Moran who managed to get the births in her historicals much more accurate.

Error #5: The postpartum body.
This one is especially bad because we have such insane expectations of a woman's body to begin with. In fiction, women are back in their pre-pregnancy jeans without so much as an ounce of effort after only a few weeks (or even days!) Scarlett O'Hara achieves a nineteen-inch waist just four weeks postpartum, and every new mommy on TV has nothing but huge breasts to show for her pregnancy.

The (more common) truth: 
It takes many, many weeks or months to get your body back. Some women never achieve it without surgical assistance. I have a diastasis, meaning my abdominal muscles now have a three inch gap between them, forcing those muscles to bow outward, forever changing the shape of my midsection.

Yes. Some women bounce back quickly. Some look better than ever post-baby. But I have a friend who is a dietitian and personal trainer and she is six months postpartum. She still doesn't look exactly like she did before (she looks great, don't get me wrong, but it's just not the same).

What are some of the more common errors you've seen in fictional pregnancies and childbirth?