Thank you for tricking me, Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey tricked me into reading science fiction.

I was twelve and combing through the school library. I had just been teased by two boys and I was upset. I wanted to read a good, fun fantasy about dragons to distract myself from my troubles.

I walked out of the library with this edition of Dragonsong, which looked very fantastical. A red-head in old-fashioned dress, lots of little dragons, and it mentioned magic and music on the back cover. Sounded great. And during my history class, instead of paying attention, I read the book under my desk (Sorry, 7th grade history teacher whose name I forget).

I was slow on the uptake. It took me a few books until I realized I was reading science fiction–it was set on another world, people had come to settle it via spaceship, and the dragons were native aliens and the Thread a danger from the stars. I was shocked. Before that point, I had refused to read science fiction. I thought it was lame and boring, though I couldn’t tell you why. I just didn’t like it, mainly because I’d never read it.

But once I discovered that you could have science fiction with a more fantasy feel, I grew into it. I read all of the Pern books and several of her more obvious science fiction titles, such as the Acorna series, although they still had a rather fantastic feel.

For about two years I read mainly Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, and Tamora Pierce, with the very slight deviation now and again. They were all so prolific and told the stories I wanted to read at the time, so I always knew what I was going to get. But out of McCaffrey, I found a love for science  fiction and was more willing to take risks with my reading, enough so that by age 16 I was reading hard science fiction every now and again.

I was saddened to hear of her passing yesterday.

So thank you for tricking me, Anne McCaffrey. I haven’t read your books in years, but they were utterly formative for me. I think a re-read of Dragonsong and the rest of the Harper Hall trilogy is in order.

NaNoWriMo: Not a “winner”

Alas, November 2011 is not the month I’ll write 50,000 words on a project. I made it a little over halfway, and I proved to myself that I could do it if I wanted to. But, unfortunately, I have to recognize that I have too many other things that require my attention for the remainder of this month. I have university assignments looming, a full-time job, and ideas for my main novels which are a lot closer to publishable standards are interrupting the ideas for the NaNoWriMo.

I was using NaNoWriMo as procrastination. I was stuck on the end of my newest Novel-in-Waiting (I heard that term on Twitter and I love it), but this morning I started working on it again and I’m no longer stuck. So I’m getting back to that one, and planning some edits on other work, and getting back into the essays I really should be further along into by now.

So now I’m a cheerleader. I’m not technically a “winner” but I am definitely not a “loser.” I made it to 30k, which is more than I’ve written in a month before, and the month’s not over yet. I like the basis of my project and I think I’ll be able to rewrite it into a pretty good book sometime in the future.

Maybe I’ll hit 50k next November. Or hell, maybe I’ll make 50k in December or January.

Film Review: The Awakening: Haunted Ghosts

“Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean that you forget about them.”

The Awakening is my favourite type of “scary” movie because it’s not that terrifying and things don’t jump out at you too often, but it’s a psychological character study and deeply atmospheric.

Florence Cathcart is a Cambridge-educated ghost debunker in post WWI-era England, where spiritualism has taken hold of many. But when a teacher named Mallory at a remote boarding school seeks her out because he thinks they have a real ghost that has literally scared a pupil to death, she takes the case (probably in no small part due to his handsome features). She appears to solve the case, but just as she’s about to leave, she sees something she can’t explain. And she has to understand it, or, as she says: “I can’t live with the fear.”

The atmosphere is palpably creepy in the remote, lonely boarding school. The large house still has echoes of the family mansion it used to be in its grand rooms and sweeping staircases where footsteps echo. Now it is filled with sombre-faced little boys who still look and act much the same as the boys of past generations did–boys who grew up to die in the war. As the present-day watcher, it’s sad, as you know that WWII is in these little boys’ future.

The film does have many often-done elements of a period ghost story, but that’s what I like about it. Eerie empty boarding houses, fog and dense trees, echoing sounds and a ghostly boy with a twisted face, a mysteriously moving doll house and dolls that echo the character’s actions, and figures seen out of the corner of people’s eyes.

The characters are similarly well-depicted. I loved how no-nonsense and self-assured Florence is at the start, as it contrasts with her hysteria, fear and possible madness later on by what she cannot rationalise. She’s armed with 1920s ghostbusting equipment–bells at ankle-height, powder on newspaper to catch the footprints of would-be ghosts, cameras and trip-wires and instruments to measure temperatures and ghostly presence. When all the students go home for half-term but one, the story focuses on those left behind–Mallory, Maud, the housekeeper and ardent fan of Florence, the groundskeeper who dodged the war, and the little pupil whose parents can’t take him home, Tom.

Each character is lonely and haunted by what they have lost. There’s only one ghost in the story, but every character is battling many ghosts and living in the past. No one can let go and move on. As the story progresses, each character is also suspect. I’m usually quite good at guessing how these films go, but this one surprised me–perhaps because I’d read nothing about it and not seen the trailer.

Judging by several other reviews online, many disliked the ending. I think people are being too harsh; it’s more complicated than some realize. Yes, there’s a main reveal that’s been done before, but then it’s further turned on its head in the coda and the ending is ambiguous.

It’s definitely one of the best ghost films I’ve seen. BBC does it justice. I’d happily watch it again to see the hints I should have seen the first time around.

If you’ve seen it, what are your thoughts?

Nostalgia: How I wrote at 15

Alas, now I’m a little behind on NaNo. Hoping to catch up this weekend, but we’ll see. I have so much on my plate that realistically it’ll be a miracle if I “win” but even if I wrote 30,000, that’ll probably still be the most I’ve written in a month.

Out of curiosity, I read a bit of the novel I wrote when I was 15. Well, the third of a novel–it fizzled out at 31,000 words, but I wrote that 30k in about a month or two. I was torn between being amused, embarrassed, and a little impressed. It’s got weather reports as first lines all over the place, and giant, rambling info dumps, twee concepts, and in some places I was obviously really influenced by the likes of Elizabeth Haydon and Mercedes Lackey. But every now and again I’d stop and go “Holy crap, that bit’s actually not bad.”

This tiny scene below really stood out to me. It’s not perfect and it’s a little pedantic, but it’s not bad. I’ve been ruminating a lot on how writing reflects our beliefs due to my current project, and so going back and reading my first stab at writing has been fascinating. And since that rambling bit of a novel I wrote will definitely never be published, I thought it’d be nice for a few readers to read what I so desperately wanted published back then.

Egan crept into the room at an unholy hour. The door creaked slightly, and he paused and listened to see if she would stir. It was a loud silence.

It was pitch black. The moon was hidden behind the dark clouds, eclipsing the lunar light. Egan padded towards the darkened bed. He perched on the corner of the bed, feeling the soft mattress sink beneath his weight.

“Hello Egan,” she greeted him softly.

“Evening. Actually, I think it’s morning,” he told her, a smile molding his lips.

“You’re probably correct.” She sat up, and the supple blanket fell in folds about her body. “No one saw you?”

“Of course not.” He moved closer to her.

She sighed. “I don’t know what we’re doing, or why we’re deceiving ourselves so. This will never last, unless we want stolen moments and secret passions forever.”

“I know. But Lesley, it can’t be any other way.”

“It can’t,” she agreed. Lesley held out her arms, and Egan moved into the embrace. They sat motionless for a great while, watching the clouds throw patterns against the stained glass window, making the dark beast look as if he were flying.

“What will you do when you leave?” Lesley asked after the long silence. She asked the question at least once a week, always hoping for another answer.

“You know I will never leave. I’m as much a prisoner here as you are, perhaps in some ways even more so.”

“If you could leave, then, what would you do?” Her voice swished against his ear pleasantly.

“I don’t even know what the world is. What are trees? We’ve read about them, in those windows we call books. But have we ever climbed one and ridden out a storm in a pine? Have we had the wind whip our faces red and the rain wash away our troubles? We’ve never walked down a path and not known where it will end. We’ve never even seen a small child. How am I supposed to know what I would do in such a world? Most likely, I fear, I would hide under a bush—which I would have never done before, either—and shiver at the vastness of it all.”

Egan felt Lesley shift slightly against his back, her breasts moving against his shoulder blades. “You’ve never spoken so before,” she whispered.

“I know. I’ve been thinking about it much recently. He gave me a book a few mornings ago where the main character truly enjoys life, and revels in every detail. He runs towards the dawn one morning. When I first read it I thought it was strange, and pointless, because the character truly believed he would reach the sun. Yet now I wish I was him, and could believe in something so completely.”

 “He gave me one on religion,” Lesley said thoughtfully. “I wonder if he wonders what conclusions I will draw from it. What I’ve read so far just illustrates the lengths people go and the spectrum of acts people do in the name of a higher power. I know he’ll pick me apart and set the pieces out in front of him, and see how he can best arrange them to his liking. I hate being another one of his experiments. I thought I’d accept it by this time, as it’s been so long. But when there’s nothing else to dwell on, I suppose it’s none too surprising.”

Egan tilted his head back and nuzzled her neck. “We’re all his experiments, just his cerebral ones rather than his physical ones.”

 Her torso rose up and down softly against him. “We are.”

 Egan kissed her, and they tried to forget about it all, about the books and their petty existence.

NaNoWriMo Day 7: The Beginning

Still a little bit ahead. I like to stay about 1000 words ahead, so that if I fall behind one day, I’m not automatically feeling like I’m scrabbling to play catch up.

I’m finding I quite enjoy getting up early and watching the dawn through my window as I tap away and drink coffee. I’m hoping this can be a trend I continue after NaNoWriMo.

For the hell of it, I decided to share my first few hundred words of my project. This is unedited and the same snippet I have on my NaNoWriMo profile. Suggestions are more than welcome, but again, this is draft zero. It’s repetitive and I’ll streamline it later. But I still think I’ve got a voice. Be gentle!

My mother shoved my face against the refrigerator door.

My cheekbone bounced off of the cold plastic. She pushed my face harder.  My cheek stung and my breath left my lungs in a rush. My mother wrapped my arm behind me and my shoulder screamed.

“Mom–” I started.

“No, don’t speak,” she hissed close into my ear, her breath smelling like an old, wet ashtray soaked in sickly sweet Southern Comfort. “They’ll hear you if they do.”

“Wh–” I tried again, my voice disappearing into the shiny, pitted plastic of the refrigerator.

“You know who,” she hissed, lowering her voice still further. “The Nunda. The people eaters. They’ll come for me, and then for you, too. They’ll creep out of the jungle, and they’ll take me, and they’ll sacrifice me to their gods. I’m the one they need. Only by hiding do I save the world from destruction. And don’t you forget it. You owe me. Everyone owes me. And they don’t even know how important I am.”

Fucking hell, Mother. We’re in Los Angeles. There are no Nunda and no jungles. That was what I wanted to say, what I always wanted to say. But I could not say such a thing to my mother. The last time I had questioned her was when I was ten and confused when I learned in school that there were no jungles in California. My mother had broken my arm. In three places.

She bashed my head against the refrigerator door again. My ears rang. “I know what you’re thinking,” she screeched. Mom’s voice rang out loud enough to carry through the whole house. Amy would have woken up in her bed just now, drawing the coverlets up to her chin and squeezing her eyes shut as tight as she could. Mom pushed me to the floor. I stared at the linoleum and the pattern of puke green flowers. Pansies, I think they were meant to be.

“I can hear your thoughts,” mom said. “They’re louder than my own. But the Nunda are coming for me. And soon, they will come for you, too. You’re sixteen, now. Any day, now, any day now you’ll see why the Nunda will want you, too. Why you’re special. What you can do. What you can change into.” She gripped my hair and pulled my head and neck up from the linoleum floor.

“All that I have done is to protect you and your sister. Don’t you see that, sweetie?” Her voice became cloying and wheedling. “I had to leave my homeland and come to this terrible place to hide from them. I don’t want them to claim you or your sister. But they will. It’s only a matter of time before they claim you, too.” She let go of my hair and my face fell back to the floor.

NaNoWriMo Day 5: Mother-Daughter Bonding and Tikki Tikki Tembo

I’m still on-target, though I haven’t written nearly as much this weekend as I’d hoped I would.

But my excitement of my project is only growing since I decided to make it a story-within-a-story. I’ve set the frame story in 1960s Los Angeles, which was when and where my mother went to high school. My mom and I have been sending really long emails back and forth with me asking all sorts of questions about that period of her life and her responding. Much of it I already knew, as my mom and I have the kind of relationship where we share a lot. But I’m asking for more writerly details now–how was her school laid out? What was the slang? What did her friends look like?

So it’s been interesting to both learn more about her life when she wasn’t that much younger than me but I also half-remember hearing some of the same stories years ago. Many years ago we also went to visit the house my mom grew up in, so I have some hazy recollections of that as well. It’s been nice to have real-life details to pepper into the frame story, which contrasts to the dreamy, fantastical tone the inner story has so far. And if I hadn’t done this NaNoWriMo project, I would never have learned these little details of my mom’s life.

I’d also like to paste the following paragraph which epitomises the potential pitfall of NaNoWriMo. How’s this a way to falsely increase my word count?

“Hello, Tikki,” I said to my cat. He purred in response. Tikki’s full name was Tikki Tikki Tembo no Sa Rembo Harry Been Brasco Peri Pen Dohicky Pon Pon Nikki no Me No Don Barico Tiger.  We named him when we were pretty young, and we hadn’t memorised the name perfectly from one of the few stories my mother read to us at bedtime, back when she wasn’t as bad. The character in the story Tikki Tikki Tembo was actually Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sa Rembo Vhari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo. I made sure to memorise that one. We called him Tikki Tavi, or Tikki Tiger.

My mother really did have a cat named Tikki Tikki Tembo et al, but this is just ridiculous. I feel like I should win some type of award for that paragraph, for the longest name in a NaNoWriMo. Though I bet someone out there has put in a longer one. Obviously, the above paragraph will probably change significantly if I ever decide to polish this thing into publication.

But today, I’ve mostly been writing about tide pools.

UK Immigration: Level Up!

I’m interrupting my NaNoWriMo blogging with a personal post.

I woke up groggy far too late in the day as I stayed up drinking until 5 am, which is very unlike me (though, nerd bonus: I went to see The Sound of Music at a friend’s house and then went to a birthday party and got into a long discussion of The Matrix, Inception, Fringe, Community, and Oz with my friend, Jo). I’ll take a moment to gloat here that I was not hungover, but I always wake up in a bit of a mood if it’s really late in the day. Then a recorded delivery arrived. In my maiden name. I knew what that meant!

I now have my Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. My passport, now safely back in my possession, has a shiny new sticker that says “Residence Permit” on it, and in my photo I look like a serial killer.

So the UK is stuck with me. At least for the foreseeable future.

Ok. Back to NaNoWriMo.