Writing: Emotional Intelligence

It’s a weird cross-over that I want to make a professional presentation dressed as Batman’s Harly Quinn (the full suit version from the 90’s cartoon).  I want to talk to the managers in the company and stand up and say, “Hello puddin’!”

And then talk about manipulation of emotional intelligence. We all do it to some degree or another. In my professional life I talk about emotional intelligence (EI) on a regular basis. Not always in the terms of EI, but helping managers read body language and use their body language – that’s emotional intelligence. I find it harder to always apply it to my writing, but I certainly try.

And really, Joker is terrifying because he IS so manipulative.  Not just the latest iteration of Jared Leto (and whatever sick writer made him… might be my hero).  Joker has always been a sick manipulative terror of the night, and the relationship portrayed with Harly is to me just a manifestation of that manipulation. She was his shrink. She was supposed to be keeping a distance from him, but he manipulated her with his usual mixture of lies and truths and drove her psychotic (sociopathic? something where she is slightly disconnected from empathy and reality).

The best books for my taste are the books where characters have a slight level of EI (can read body language imperfectly) but they don’t dwell on it and rarely (if ever) manipulate each other. Except maybe the villain.  A manipulative villain should have crazy-strong EI.  I can cite probably 5 examples of this level of manipulation in literature, and they make awesome and terrifying villains.

Hell, Twilight could have been a million times better if there had been some of this conflict.  It felt insipid because none of the characters were liars.  Oh, there were a few who told lies – but when someone was evil they said they were evil.  No one said “I love you” unless they meant it!  A better conflict would have been for someone to say those three “precious” words and they were a lie.  And part of the growth would be learning that emotional intelligence….  just saying there could have been some realistic depth to the characters – people lie!

I am highly aware of EI partly because I am writer, but also because it’s something I’ve always struggled with.  I tend to take trust people’s words. I’ve had to learn to read body language partially because I trust too much.  It is a hard line to walk between “I want to trust” and “I can’t trust anyone” in this world and that is the knife’s edge which can make for an excellent plot.

Review: Bad Characters

Oh the irony that I got called out for “always liking the books I read” and then I read something awful.  Thanks universe. Thanks a lot. (Thanks OBAMA)

Without naming names, this book was pretty awful.  It’s the first of a trilogy and as much as I hate leaving a plot unfinished, I don’t think I want to drag myself through another 2 books with these characters.  They were terrible.

So the book is urban fantasy – low fantasy so most of the people aren’t “magical” and what magic there is tends to be brushed off and/or explainable.  And the concept of the story is engaging.  It’s the characters I have a problem with.

The main character is a sixteen year old girl with apparently no friends and not caring about it.  This is my primary beef with this book: what sixteen year old is happy when they have no friends?  Hell, any age could be (should be?) unhappy when they almost entirely isolated.  And yeah, she’s got her mom and the random women who live with her mom….

Ok, it helps to know her mom is a psychic – of course a real one.  The women who live with her are also psychic (real ones).  These women are basically the only relationships “Jane” (her name in the book is so terrible another character nicknames her Jane…) has. This caused me serious frustration in the book – there is this character who has lived in this tiny speck of a town her whole life, but apparently is friendless. I know I’m ranting.  The frustration this caused (in me) is that the character felt like she didn’t “exist” before this story.

The other primary characters, her love interest and his two friends were pretty similar.  Well, actually they had more backstory.  One of them was abused, one was a seventeen year old rich kid whose parents are loving but apparently don’t care about him (the one time the character met his parents they were decent people – but it’s like they don’t care if their son is literally just running around the world after a mythical legend….)

It was weird.  It was awful. I dragged myself through the first book and gratefully sent it back to the library.

Review: Critiques & criticisms

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about my form of critique.  I had a friend who mentioned that I’m only blogging about books I enjoyed.  Their actual comment was something along the lines of, “You like everything you read.”

That isn’t true.  I’m reading something right now I’m not enjoying very much. And there is a chance I won’t review it. And not every review I’ve put on this blog has been glowing praise. Lately (the last six months or so) it has been. Some of that has been that I’ve been enjoying most of what I read and when I consider which books I want to share – well, I tend to only share the ones I’ve been enjoying.

I considered doing a more harshly critical take on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when I watched it last week (for the second time). I could. I think the movie is significantly weaker than #1, and it’s ripe for some good riffing and critique.  Buuuuut…. is it worth the effort over something fun like Akata Witch& Akata Warrior getting bragged on?

I even said it in my recent review of Akata Witch & Warrior, I saw the plot points coming because I’ve seen so many young adult novels that follow the same pattern.  Sometimes I don’t know if I should riff on something because I know why the person did it.  It’s like a cook who chooses to salt their water when making pasta. Do I mock them for this time-honored tradition that apparently adds nothing to the making? I know why they do it. Hell, I do it as often as I don’t.

I recently saw a YouTube video on how art & video games are following a similar timeline of modern “art” and then post-modern “commentary art” with the growing trend of post-post-modern in art and how we can expect to see this in gaming. They keep saying how there is nothing new in the world. Well, literature has been saying the same thing for like a hundred years and yet… new books keep getting published!

So what makes a GREAT piece of art – or literature?  Does it have to be making something entirely new? Or can it re-examine something we’ve always assumed is true (vampires hate sunlight because it kills them OR they are actually shiny diamond-people)?  When it follows a trope (love triangle) where everyone knows the outcome is that necessarily wrong?  I would argue maybe.

I want to write a novel where the heroine doesn’t have to choose between “powerful yet brooding and hurt” and then “fun, nerdy, bestest friend” guys.  I want her to choose between powers – change the fate of nations depending on her marriage. One is selfish and she will always be treated as his rival for power but the other is stupid (like literally) and being married to him will be a battle with his advisors- because he can be swayed by a convincing turnip. So she has to choose – will she battle with one man for the power, or with all the people around the man.  Doesn’t that sound like a fun twist on the love triangle?  She doesn’t love them in the traditional sense.  Maybe she finds them both attractive in their own ways, but either way her first love is her people- and for those people she must marry a strong king to protect them.

Anyway, got distracted there.  My point is that just because it’s a trope doesn’t make it 100% “evil” or even “lesser.”  Tropes serve a purpose of the human experience.

So when I write a critique (not a criticism, which is different), I try to think about who the intended audience is.  I re-read Matilda a few years ago and was shocked at how much I read as an adult that was…. well disturbing to put it mildly, that never even seemed odd when I was a child.  So much of that book was written to an audience who needed to hear that sometimes adults don’t care, and sometimes adults are cruel, and adults lie, and adults can be wonderful in the most unexpected times and places.  To almost-thirty-year-old me…. those self-same messages made me cringe. But I also see how eight-year-old-me needed them.  Needed to hear that it was ok to distrust my teachers because they were mean.  It was ok to fear adults that “society” told me I should trust.  Damn those are good things for kids to hear!  Not so good for adults.

So when I write a critique, I am going to try going forward to focus on who I think the intended audience is, who the audience should be (whether it’s everyone or just “young adults”), and who the audience perhaps shouldn’t be (snotty people who can’t get over their own superiority of course).  I have some, but not always deliberately.

And a lot of the time this blog doesn’t see the books I didn’t like because I didn’t finish the series.  I only read the first or second book and I don’t review partial series (generally).  I make two exceptions: When I feel like I need to warn people off from something “popular” (which if I was blogging when Twilight came out I would have!) or when there is something I want to explore (like “this character development really make me think about how I develop this type of character”).  I will never rip apart another author’s work just to sound smart – I will always have a better motive.  That’s my goal in writing a criticism.


Writing: Word Breakdown – Unanimous

I was listening to the news and heard the word “unanimous” and the way the person said it my brain began playing with the word. Un-animus. Huh.

So Un means not.  Easy enough.

Animus is the root word of animosity. Meaning hostility but it also means “motivation to do something”  (i.e. The animus for change came after the accident)

So un-animus would be not-hostile or not-motivated to do something.  Am I the only one fascinated by this word now?

I used to think unanimous meant everyone agreed.  Now I am thinking it can have a lot more depth of meaning.  I know I’m going to forever have to use it with more purpose.

Think about it, congress passes stupid legislation “unanimously” are they doing it because there is no hostility or before they don’t want to come up with something better? (yes, the news story was about something that passed congress unanimously).

I know I’m never going to hear this word the same – and will probably have to work not to ask people whether they are just not-hostile or are they too lazy to present another option. Oh, and I definitely read it as un-animous instead of u-nanimous. And if I’m joining in a vote that will be unanimous.  Am I hostile? Ok, can I come up with another option? Maybe I should.

Writing: Prep’ing for NaNoWriMo

This weekend my husband asked me if I’m doing NaNoWriMo.  I looked at him like he asked if I wanted to go on a 90-day fast.  Of course I’m doing NaNo.  I will almost certainly fail but damnit I have to try. So we talked a bit about what we needed to do in order to prep for NaNoWriMo/Nov.

In some ways his work schedule will probably help – he works until pretty late so I’ll have most/all evenings without him distracting me. Now I just have to have discipline not to let anything else distract me: food, cats, books, movies, tv shows, and of course the ever-present House/Garden fights.

I also need to decide what I want to write.  Do I want to try a re-write, add-to-writing, or a fresh write ?

Re-write is the easiest of the three. It is not really the spirit of NaNo. BUT, I do have something I’ve been mulling on the world/plot and I can’t just edit it into place. It would require a 100% re-write.  But…. not really in the spirit.

Then there is the add-to-something-already-started.  You know, finish something.  This is closer.   I have a lot of half-done projects and more-than-one of the writers I admire says “FINISH it.  No matter how ugly it is, get a conclusion.” This would be fresh(ish) thoughts and a good thing as far as well – finishing something.  But it still feels a little like a cop-out on the spirit if not the letter of NaNo.

The third option is the most “pure” to the purpose of NaNo.  Staring at the blank page intimidates a lot of writers.  I’m actually not one of those (I’m weird, I know!). The blank page is exciting to me. It is limitless possibilities.  It is the perfection of those first few sentences and words that can set the whole tone for my writing.  Honestly, it sets the the tone per section – every time I sit down to write I get a little of that excitement (until I write myself into a super-painful corner).

The other big benefit to this “100% new” approach is it’s a good opportunity to try something completely new.  I’ve done this several times and gotten to explore different genres and characters and plot-styles.  Some of them I walked away hating (and not reaching 50k) and some of them I incorporate into my existing works.

At the same time, sometimes these “adventures into the new” are my excuse not to push through and finish something I’m struggling with.  It lets me avoid the painful parts of a story and by the time Dec comes around I’m so disillusioned with the old story… it’s that much harder to step back into the painful push-past-the-hurtle part of writing.  So that story might swirl and float and eventually drown and disappear. I don’t want to be the person who never finishes. And yes, I can already safely remove the “never” – I have several FINISHED pieced. Still might be crap, but they have AN ending.  Still…

So, I have these three options and about a week to decide which one to follow.  Do I take the “easy but not-quite-true way” the “harder but healthy-if-not-true way” or the “easy but true way” to participation in NaNoWriMo.  Because none of these are outside the official rules, they all are technically viable.  I’m putting my own lens on the rules, so I might be completely off base on my assessment of the ways. I feel these are in line with the spirit of the month.

Writing: Cookbook Basics

I’ve been talking about writing a cookbook for several years now (more than 2, less than 10) and I know how I want to start it:

Stocking the kitchen

It always amazes me how many people don’t keep something I think is basic and essential in their kitchen. It always reminds me of the old Bogart/A.Heburn version of Sabrina when she comes to his office to blow him off and ends up trying to cook with an egg and olives or something – it sounds like a terrible recipe but it has always made me laugh.

So what are the basics that I expect.  Well, I break it into a few categories:

Tools; Perishables; Non-Perishables; and Spices

So, I’ve started writing down the things I think are essential in the kitchen.  Starting with Tools.

Obviously everyone should have at least 6 plates, 6 bowels, and a set of silverware (at least 8 of everything – yes, you should have more eating utensils than plateware).  Cups and things too.  All of this can be substituted with plastic.  Below are the things that CAN’T be substituted (in my opinion):

  • a pot (like a 4-qt sauce pan)
  • at least a 9″ skillet
  • a large(r) stock or soup pot
  • at least 2 spatulas
  • a whisk
  • large plastic slotted spoons (yes, the slots matter!)
  • 2- (min) or 4-cup measuring cup
  • Set of measuring spoons with: 1/2 tsp, 1 tsp, 1/2 Tbl, 1 Tbl (min!)
  • either cooking tongs or cooking chopsticks
  • a strainer/colander
  • a set of cooking bowls (2 minimum) – one of which should be oven safe (i.e. metal with no plastic)
  • cookie sheet and/or pizza pan
  • 8″ or 9″ square glass or ceramic baking dish (I prefer glass personally, but I can use either)

Optional but highly recommended:

  • a wok (with a lid)
  • a meat thermometer
  • 13″ rectangular glass or ceramic baking dish
  • at least 1 bread loaf pan
  • slow cooker/GOOD rice cooker

I consider these to be a minimum.  My non-required items fall into 2 categories: can be substituted for most things by one of the required items or can be purchased as a temporary/tin foil of the type.

What do you think should be “required” and “recommended” kitchen tools?  Did I miss anything?

Writing: The Book Net

Everyone talks about the “hook” in a book, that little thing early in the book that gets readers to keep reading – an interesting character or a cool-sounding villain that needs defeat.  Good books have a quick, clever hook that is so unobtrusive you don’t know it’s there until too late.

Most people (so I am told) put down books if they don’t like them.

I finished The Lovely Bones. I had to renew it from the library. I didn’t have renew The Silmarillion.  Robopocalypse is the rare exception where I stopped reading it. And that’s because it was audio book and the audio book I was waiting on auto-checked-out, so I decided to listen to the book I wanted instead of the one I wasn’t enjoying.  It bothers me. I might try to read-read it instead. Maybe the tone won’t bother me so much.

Anyway – most people need a plot hook to get them invested enough they won’t put the book down (at least permanently).  This might be why I don’t think my work is up to par – I have no idea where my hooks might be. That’s a different post I need to muse over first.

I do argue there is a second piece to this. There comes a point in a book where the book slips a net around the reader. This is sometimes half-way, sometimes 2/3 of the way through.  This is the point where you can’t put down the book. If you do because you have to, you whine “boooook” to whoever (including the alarm on your phone) and grumble. Or turn the alarm off and decide eating isn’t as important as finishing the book.

Just me?

Well, I still argue it’s a real thing.

I think it’s what writers want, and might be why I love to indulge in the book’s net. When I find that point where I get distracted because I’m not getting the ending of my book.   I think authors sometimes aim to have the hook and net be essentially the same – the sooner it’s irresistible the more likely you enjoyed it and will consume more.  And depending on the book + person this is true.  But even a really, really good book might be a “ok, I will stop here, make dinner and come back” read until chapter 17/20. But chapter 16 set you up so that 17 is suddenly “OMG – I HAVE TO KNOW….!”

Let’s take a few big examples (spoiler warning on the following: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, The HobbitGoing Postal)

I think one of the obvious ones is HP&tSS, the hook is that is a very pitiable boy with abusive relatives who gets to be whisked away to a cool new wizarding school!  Obvious hook.  You get dangled a few juicy bits from day one of school that something is going on, but I think the net was definitely when the kids realize that Dumbledore is missing from the castle and someone is going to try to steal the stone.  It might be a bit before or during those obstacles for some people, but I think the most obvious net is that last twist “It’s all up to us, the adults are missing!”

Undoubtedly, there were fits and lulls in The Hobbit.  I remember reading it the first time and I don’t think you could have offered me anything  in this world to put that book down while I was reading about Bilbo rescuing the dwarves from the Murkwood elves. Once they reached the Lake Town I could take a breather and go refresh myself – but once Biblo went in and met Smaug – I was netted again.

Going Postal got me hooked and netted pretty early.  Partly because the world was so much fun – but mostly because as soon as Moist started making those choices that would actually improve something – I wanted him to succeed and I wanted to find out how! Besides, Prachett’s use of a Golem was one of the most creative I have ever seen in any written universe….

What other books have net-points that you remember?