My SUPER Unpopular Opinion

Have you seen the #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion hashtag on Twitter? People use to it “confess” positions as wildly different as disliking The Legend of Korra (WTF?) to liking certain Presidential candidates (…..). Sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s really appalling.

I’m not sure which category my opinion falls into, but here it is: I’m not really wild about the Marvel Universe franchise.

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*pause for reaction*

I found the Thor movies cheesy and mildly irritating, in spite of an abiding love for Tom Hiddleston as Loki. I absolutely cannot stand Iron Man/Tony Stark (read: he annoys me so much, I hate myself if I laugh at one of his jokes). Captain American makes me want to lie down and take a nap, he’s so dull. I don’t really give a flip about the X-Men.

I know. It’s pretty upsetting for a geek.

It’s not a hard rule, though. I really liked Jessica Jones! The Ms. Marvel comics are quite charming, and I think they’re doing great things for comic books. But overall, I’m just not into the franchise, and I think a lot of my friends may find this pretty disappointing.

I used to think that I just wasn’t into superheroes, but that’s not quite it. I love Buffy, and what is she but the superest hero ever to slay a vampire? Maybe I only like female superheroes, which I don’t think is an entirely unreasonable position. I do like Guardians of the Galaxy, though, and that’s not all girl-power.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to diagnose myself for why I don’t care about these series and characters. Is it that I often don’t find the plots believable? Maybe. Or possibly because I like my villains nuanced, and they often feature flat bad guys? Could be, but the quality of story-telling really has improved over the years. There’s definitely something to the female-superheroes-only theory, but I suspect I might enjoy the Netflix Daredevil series if I gave it a chance.

I’ve also spent a lot of time hiding my lack of enthusiasm. I somewhat enjoyed The Avengers, so I talk that one up when tackling the subject at all. I’ll discuss Jessica Jones until innocent bystanders fall asleep. Mostly, though, I go quiet when the topic arises, because the Marvel franchises, in particular, are having a Big Moment right now, and I feel a little left on the sidelines. I don’t judge anyone for their enjoyment, or anything like that, but I will say I don’t quite get it. Whatever magic these films and series hold for others, it doesn’t seem to work for me.

And that’s fine, I guess. Opinion is opinion. My love of sexy vampires makes no sense to some, but I’m clearly not alone in that love.

Am I a lost geeky cause?

 

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Rut, Kick, or Growth Spurt?

General writing wisdom holds that writers need to read. It’s like cross-training for the brain, I guess, working muscles that support the muscles we use to write. New stories fill the well, give us new ideas, make us think about different ways of telling stories. And I’m totally behind that advice—I love reading, and I’ll probably be reading books long after I stop trying to write them.

The really ambitious wisdom-giver might also tell writers to read outside of their chosen genres: the sci-fi writer should read mysteries, for example, to give them new ideas of how to build suspense. Thriller writers should read romance to learn how to use emotional connection to enrich character development.

That’s all well and good. Grand, even.

But what happens when a little healthy cross-training becomes an obsession?

For the last six weeks, I have been reading almost exclusively Regency romances. And not, like, artistic, historically accurate Regency romances. We’re talking anachronistic, sex-with-strangers, totally trashy Regency romances. The kind with gorgeous, glistening men on the covers, or sometimes with lovely women in three-quarters profile looking wistfully out at the sea. The kind they sell in airports and at grocery stores. Those romances.

It started innocently enough. It was almost Christmas. There was an anthology of Christmas-themed Regency romances on sale on Amazon. I bought it. Some of the stories were good. Some of them were appallingly bad. One of them I couldn’t finish.

Somewhere around the third story, though, I was hooked. Right around that time, writer of extraordinary, artistic-contemporary-romance-erotica-all-around-badass writer Tiffany Reisz tweeted about a Christmas Regency romance she loves, one she said was filled with hate sex. 

I couldn’t not buy that, now could I?

So I bought it, I read it, and by that time I was a goner. And I can’t tell you exactly why I’ve become so obsessed. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the stories, and the guarantee of a happy ending. Maybe it’s the escapism of a world where a prostitute can marry an earl and then be accepted by “society.” Maybe it’s my own need for low-pressure, commitment-free reading that asks no comparison to my own work. When I was a teen, I spent a month or so around finals reading Danielle Steel novels (I’m so ashamed), so apparently this is a lifelong pattern. With great stress comes the need for bad reads.

Christmas has come and gone, and I’m still reading the darn romances. I’m not using the added seasonal element to excuse myself anymore. I have better things I should be reading, friends’ books I should read, fantasy books I’ve been meaning to read. Hell, I have books own my own to read, edit, and even write.

But I’m not going to stop. I’m going to ride this rut until I crash. I spent months in 2015 not reading at all, simply because I didn’t have the mental energy to pick up a book or follow a plot, and I didn’t have the psychological energy to invest in anyone else’s troubles, fictional or otherwise. The fact that I’m reading now is a very good sign, regardless of what I’m needing. Writers and readers alike sometimes need the mental vacation that comes with consuming lighter media. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And who knows. Maybe I’m learning something, growing as a writer. If the general wisdom says it’s true, I can believe it, right?

Where Stories Live

I think as often as my books begin with a character or an idea, they begin with a place.

Sometimes it’s an epic place, like the Chimayo Badlands in New Mexico:

Sometimes it’s an amazing place, like San Francisco, California:

And sometimes it’s a familiar place, like the historic building where my husband works:

All three of these places have inspired stories, served as places where my characters can live and laugh and love. While other people may see, well, a desert and a city and a shopping mall, I see a cursed land and a world of magic and a gamer’s playground. These places, which have, at different times of my life, been my home, now belong to me as much as I ever belonged to them.

It’s not a one-for-one exchange, though. I pick and choose what parts of the place will appear in my fiction, and I corrupt them, changing them in big ways or small, while the effect they’ve had on me is permanent and complete. I will never be the same, for my time in San Francisco, while the city itself is untouched by my fictionalizing influence.

When I wrote SHAKEN, I wanted to make magic a physical part of the landscape. That gave me an excuse to play with the city’s historical quirk: my San Francisco never voted to stop burying the dead within city limits, and the remains of the dead are magically important to the city’s atmosphere.

Hmm. It sounds creepy when I put it that way.

Magical pollution by the dead aside, the fact remains that my San Francisco means nothing to the city itself, and has changed nothing for anyone living there. It’s my city now, and has less to do with the actual city than that city has to do with my creative influences. Landscapes alter our dreamscapes, and that in turns shape the way we write our stories.

Where do your stories live?

 

Kristin’s Big Announcement

Kristin McFarland

There’s a big announcement and a dancing Ewok at the end of this post, but first I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while.

Most of the books I’ve written have been, somehow or another, about hope.

The stories I’ve told have been about learning to believe in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us—sometimes literally. My characters find themselves or land themselves in dark places, and then claw themselves back up, because that’s what stories do: stories take us apart, with a character as our stand-in, and then they put us back together, brick by brick, until we can stand up again, even if what’s inside of us has changed a little.

Fiction shows us what we are and what we can be.

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When I set out to write SHAKEN, the very first book I queried, the book that got me my first…

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Five Reasons to Watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I recently watched and was completely floored by an anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a well-known and highly, highly praised series in anime circles (to which I really don’t belong), but I came across it because Netflix thought I would like it.

Well, Netflix was right.

The plot centers around a young girl named Madoka and her friends—and what happens when a magical creature offers them one miraculous wish in exchange for signing up to become a witch-fighting magical girl. Sounds simple, but naturally it gets oh-so-complicated.

I’m not an anime expert by any means, but I gather that this show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre. In that way, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, it succeeds because it’s both the culmination and a critique of the typical genre stories. The beauty of Madoka, though, is that it’s an artistic triumph, quite literally beautiful, and it stands on its own merits as an excellent piece of storytelling.

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So here’s why you should watch:

1. The show revolves around the power of female friendship. So many shows center on romantic relationships, whether gay, straight, or something in between, that it’s easy to forget the most important relationships in our lives aren’t all about sex. While some might argue that Madoka contains romantic relationships, on its face, it’s really about female friendship: the depths of our hearts to which friendship can reach and the heights to which it can drive us to achieve.

2. It’s a masterwork of feminism without being about feminism. There are almost no male characters in this show. The magical girls aren’t special because they’re girls who are powerful. Rather, they’re special because of the sacrifices they make to protect the human race. Neither sex nor gender is an issue. To see a show like this beloved by a geeky audience is a huge triumph, particularly when women’s right to enjoy any kind of geekery, whether written works or visual, is constantly under threat. Plus, the juxtaposition of “girly” visuals and genre-elements with true darkness and despair is gloriously true to realities of human nature, let alone womanhood.

3. It’s visually stunning. I have never seen an anime as gorgeously and triumphantly experimental in its animation style. As the characters shift between worlds, the world literally shifts and becomes Other. Each witch has her own style of magic, and it’s hair-raising to see the differences between them. While the human world is beautifully drawn, the supernatural elements are phenomenal. (Sidebar: the music is also incredible.)

4. The plot twists will gut you. Any time a magical bargain is struck, there’s bound to be a price. In this case, the price is so heart-breaking that you’ll feel devastated halfway through the series—and that’s before you even get to the meat of the central story. Despite what may seem like a played-out premise, the story told here is not a simple one. Prepare yourself for heartbreak.

5. Every character is well-drawn, but Madoka and Homura could walk out of the screen. The two main characters have layers of depth that put both onions and parfaits to shame. The timid, girly-girl who initially wants power for its own sake, just so she can feel special, shows herself to have more true compassion than a Catholic saint. And the journey she takes to finally own her power traverses roads through fear and doubt most stories never touch.

And Homura? Well. You’ll just have to see.

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Bouncing Back From Burnout

Burnout.

Rarely spoken of but universally experienced, burnout is probably the reason the statistics about writers look so bad. Hundreds start writing, dozens make it to submission, and only  a few end up getting published—and much of that elimination process is actually self-selection: the “strong” survive, while the “weak” gradually fade from the pool.

It’s that binary there that’s sticky, though. What makes one writer strong, while another writer is weak? General wisdom says that writers write, and a successful writer is one who never stops writing, not even for birthdays and national holidays. And if you get sick? Well, sit down, shut up, and write about it, because writers write, damn it, and that’s how you can tell who is serious about this work. If you’re not serious, well, you’d better go home, because you won’t make it if you don’t treat it like Serious Business.

There’s some truth in it. Publishing is serious business, and if you don’t recognize that, you probably won’t get very far. But the ‘never complain, never quit’ attitude might be hurting us as much as it helps us. In the last year, I’ve seen several writer friends disappear off the face of the internet. I’ve had friends leave publishing altogether. I’ve had others get seriously sick or seriously depressed, and I’m sure there are still more I don’t know about because they haven’t publicly admitted that they’re struggling.

I’ll say it here: I’ve struggled.

The last year has been incredibly difficult for me, career-wise. And it was no picnic in the six months before that. I stepped back from blogging, I went quiet on Twitter, and I started wondering if all this heartache and struggle was what I actually wanted.

It is, but it’s taken me awhile to realize that. And recovering from burnout is a process, not an event: I have yet to magically wake up one morning and say, “Ah-ha! I feel good about my creative life once again!”

But I’m reaching the point where I want to write again. I realized recently that I miss writing, and I found myself thinking about a new character’s life choices, wondering why she wants to make the choice that will instigate a whole new book. In short, I was tending tiny plants that will, one day very soon, become a towering tree of a project—and I’d planted the seeds, without knowing it, in the dark winter of my burnout.

So how did it happen? Well, I’m not an expert, and I’m certainly not fully recovered yet, but I have noticed a few things that have helped me start to recover.

1. Put a timeline on it. Tell yourself, “I’m on vacation from writing (or a particular project, or a friendship that’s troubling you, or WHATEVER) until X date. I won’t do it, think about it, or feel guilty about not doing it or thinking about it until that time.” And then hold yourself accountable. Whether that date is one day or one year from now, give yourself that time to actually recover. Don’t spend your free time worrying about how much you’re not getting done.

2. Cultivate another part of your identity. One trouble with recovering from writing burnout is that, as writers, BEING a writer is such a big part of our identity. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. And if we’re not writing, we’re not just failing as a writer, we’re Failing with an emphasis on that capital F. We’re neglecting a vital part of our selfhood, so that when we do take time off, we feel adrift. But the truth is, each of us is much more than a writer: we’re friends and lovers and painters and bikers and who knows what else. Take your time off to develop some aspect of yourself that makes you happy. Discover another side of yourself.

3. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing. And don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up about writing. The key here is to cherish yourself in your time off. Take time to do things you might not do when you’re not on vacation from writing: take a bubble bath when you get home from work. Do yoga in the morning when you’d normally be writing. Go to a movie on Saturday instead of staring at a blank white screen. Actually use the time you now have to recuperate and relax, and don’t just use the time to make yourself feel worse.

Those are the things that have helped me. Have you experienced burnout? And if so, how did you recover?

The Things I Never Thought I’d Do

Sometimes I stop what I’m doing, look at my life, and say, “Wow. Of all the things I never thought I’d be doing… well, this is one of them.”

I don’t mean only bad things or exciting things. Some of them are really mundane, grown-uppish things, like paying my HOA or going to the hardware every single weekend because we still don’t have the right part for the stupid broken garbage disposal. Some of them are pretty cool, like selling jewelry on Etsy. A few of them are really freaking bad, but we don’t need to talk about this here. This isn’t a post about bad or sad things. It’s a post about exciting new horizons.

Every year, instead of a resolution, I try to pick something I want to learn in the coming year. One year it was spinning (fiber, not one of those stationary bikes), another year it was guitar. This year it’s dyeing fiber, though I have so much going on that I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t get to it. I don’t look at a new year as a chance to stop doing something, or a time to reinvent myself; rather, it’s a new opportunity to grow and learn. I don’t want to stop being me, and that’s so often what resolutions are about. But I can help me to become more like the me I’ve always wanted to be.

That sentence got away from me a little.

Here’s what I mean: once upon a time, a sixth grade girl liked wearing jewelry and listening to Celtic music and reading about Arthurian queens who spun their own yarn. While I’m not still her, not completely, I still like all those things. And every day, I like to try to do something that helps me satisfy that core me. I still like Celtic music. I make some jewelry now. And by golly, I do spin my own yarn.

But at the same time, I’m now a 30-year-old woman with a mortgage and a house that needs decorating and repairing. I need to satisfy her needs and wishes, too. So maybe instead of taking Irish dance lessons, like that sixth grade girl would want, I take a class about color in design, and that applies both to the jewelry-making and the house decorating.

Do you see what I mean? Sometimes doing the things we never thought we’d do—and never doing the things we always thought we’d do—is a good thing. It means we’ve grown and changed, that we’ve lived long enough to develop new wishes and dreams. And it means that every time we do one of those things, we’re taking a chance and making a new opportunity for ourselves.

And that’s pretty exciting.

What do you do now that you never thought you would?