Monday, July 30, 2012

Media Coverage

With the Bendigo Writers Festival coming up in a few weeks, I've been doing a bit of media work.
This week, I was featured in an article in the Bendigo Weekly, (on page 2! I was quite pleased and surprised at that). This morning I'll be attending an interview on our local ABC radio station, at 10:30 with the morning program host Ann Jones.I have no idea what we'll be discussing, I suppose my work and the upcoming writers festival. Right at this moment, I'm trying not to be too nervous since this is the first time I've ever done anything like this.
Doing these sorts of things is exciting, surreal and a little intimidating. In some ways I find it hard to believe, this was an aspect of being an writer I never really thought about too closely. But, like my husband said, I wanted to be an author, this sort of thing comes with the job.
I doubt I'll ever get used to this public, media side of things. As always, its a good reminder that I need to be ever mindful of how I present myself to the world and the things I say, especially when it comes to blogs, social media and the Internet in general. Its an aspect of the craft and industry that I think people sometimes too easily forget.

Monday, July 23, 2012

50 Shades Of Gray - So Wrong on So Many Levels

Unfortunately someone else already used the title "50 Shades of Wrong" for another article elsewhere, so I decided I probably couldn't get away with repeating it.
So, this book. I'm up to page 110, the margins of the pages have notes scribbled everywhere and the blank pages in the back of the book are filled with generalized notations. Honestly, I don't know how much more I can bring myself to read. I've skimmed ahead, and things do not seem to improve as the story goes along.
Let's start off with what I don't have a problem with:
The author (mostly. I'm going on the assumption here that she doesn't know any better because she didn't spend years honing her craft and getting rejected by publishers/agents... and that maybe one day she will look back and think "oh god, I did I really publish that?")
The sexual content, in regards to BDSM. I know other authors who write this erotic genre and agree it has its place. Those authors have spent time researching and making sure the content is correct, because as authors, don't we at least owe that much to our readers? I do have issue with the sexual content as to how James portrayed it, but we'll get to that later.
Now for what I do have a problem with...
Characters:
Honestly, I thought I would never read another heroine who frustrated me as much as Bella Swan, but I have been proven wrong. Anastasia "Ana" Steele is insipid, immature, naive to the point of stupidity. She thinks of herself as ugly, ungainly, uncoordinated (sound familiar Twilight fans? And yes, I do know that this 'book' started out life as a Twilight fanfiction), yet every single male character we meet in the story is in love with her, and of course Christian Gray is wildly jealous.
The actual characterization is inconsistent (in both characters) which makes things even more frustrating.
Besides having Bella's bad traits, its like James also decided to stick Ana with every bad, cliche romance heroine attribute.She's always irritated, or squirming, or peeping up through her lashes (my god, if she does that one more time, I will take this book to my shredder) or saying "oh my" (69 times through the entire book, apparently), or 'holy s*#t' (65 times) or 'holy f^!k' (about the same, 65-ish times), I'm surprised I haven't had an aneurism from the sheer frustration of it. And then there's the fact that she is afraid of him, of his 'punishments' and making him angry, yet she goes ahead with everything anyway. She lets him do what he wants because she is afraid of losing him. This book should actually be used as a manual on how to spot an abusive relationship. Because that's exactly what it is.
Christian... where do I start. He is emotionally manipulative, and in my opinion classically and entirely emotionally abusive. I think its a cop-out that his 'lifestyle' choice is explained away by an abusive childhood. Yes, I suppose its plausible, but its also perpetrating the bad stereo types of people who enjoy BDSM.
I don't think his childhood abuse should be used as an excuse or reason for his treatment of her. The way he treats Ana is unacceptable on all levels.
Even though he's warned her away (is that supposed to make it all better?) he tracks Ana down at her work, and even uses her mobile/cell phone to find her. Just like Edward watching Bella sleep, that is not charming, people. That is disturbing.
The Relationship/Sex
I had big issues with the relationship portrayed in Twilight. Its as though James took the worst traits of Bella and Edward's relationship and amplified them.
Relationships are my livelihood. Yes, I write romance and I make sure my characters are always in an equal, respectful, loving relationship, because THAT is what we all deserve. Even if they have dark pasts, or deep psychological issues, or don't start the relationship as equals, I make sure these issues are worked through in the course of the story, or leave the reader with the sense that the issues will continue to be resolved.
So, as I said, I had big issues with the relationship in Twilight and always questioned what sort of example that was setting for all the teenage girls who were ga-ga over it. Well, this book is even more concerning. All these people who say this book is so fabulous, do they really think this is an acceptable way for a man to treat a woman? Honestly, it made me feel physically sick.
As I also said above, this book only reinforces people's misconceptions about BDSM. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have the first clue about that kind of stuff. It doesn't interest me, but I have gleaned a small amount of knowledge from the authors I know who write it, and in reading/critiquing excerpts of people's works.
I can understand some people involved in BDSM will have a written list of rules, but the list of 'rules' Christian gives Ana is so wrong, it quite clearly crosses even BDSM lines.This is a list of rules to control every aspect of her life. What she wears, how often/when she eats, how often she goes to the gym and beauty saloon. That is not BDSM, that is abuse. It might even be some form of illegal detainment. IT IS NOT SEXY.
According to the research I've done since I started this book, unsurprisingly, real people who like BDSM behind closed doors, are mostly normal, everyday people. Yes, there are the 1% of sickos out there involved in BDSM. But like every aspect of our community, they are the few. You can't judge people by their apparent lifestyle choice.
I'm quite sure that many people who like BDSM have respectful, loving and equal relationships outside of the bedroom rules or role playing. It makes me mad that Christian's predilections toward BDSM is used as a reason for him being an emotionally manipulative, borderline stalker. 
The Plot
What plot? Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But many of these scenes are so contrived, cliched and banal that its insulting as a reader. Plus some of the scenes have eerie echos of actual scenes in Twilight... Even if it is a fanfiction, couldn't James come up with something a little more original? The storyline seems fairly meandering, and unlike actual erotic romance where every sex scene needs to move the relationship or storyline forward, the sex scenes in this book seem to be in there for no reason at all, besides sex.
The Writing
If this is the 'edited' version the publisher has put out, then I'd hate to see the original draft. Honestly, Random House, it is quite obvious this was a money-making venture only. I understand your company needs to make big bucks to stay afloat in this market that is being eaten up by e-books, and for every author like EL James who makes a gazillion dollars, you can afford to take a risk on a new, unknown author.
But is it really worth putting your name on something as embarrassing as this? Couldn't you have taken a bit more time to work with James to get rid of the ridiculous amount of repetitive writing, the cliches, the Impossible Simultaneous Action? Not to mention the places where she states the obvious. Give the readers some credit, we're not imbeciles. Hitting us over the head with it isn't going to help one little bit.
Oh, and I can't help but mention the continuous misuse of 'subconscious' which is joined by her 'inner goddess' at some stage, and is equally as annoying. Your subconscious is where your mind or body reacts at a level you are mostly unaware of, hence the 'sub'. When she talks about her 'subconscious' arching a brow and tapping her foot, it makes me crazy. Did James mean the conscience that many people think of as either an angel or devil on your shoulder, telling you what's right and wrong? Couldn't the editors at Random House even manage to fix that, or did they just not care?
I understand that the English language has always been an evolving one, and right now we're in a phase of the language changing faster than ever before. And I know a lot of people would argue that it's actually de-volving, or deteriorating. In Australia (and I assume its true for other western countries) we're having a serious problem at the moment with our younger generations not being able to spell correctly or understand the proper use of grammar and punctuation when they leave school.
I always assumed on some level that publishers had a responsibility to ensure the books hitting our shelves were at the least written to an acceptable standard. Yes, the editors may have technically fixed the spelling, grammar and punctuation, but it is still an awful shame that this extremely poorly written book has been exposed to so many people.
I cannot comprehend how so many women think this is the best book they've ever read. Its simply frightening.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Food Is Complicated - Living Dairy & Soy Free

A bit of a diversion from my usual posts...
I'm living a dairy-free life style, because I accidentally discovered after I had my second kid that dairy was the root of some health problems I'd been having for many years. Going totally dairy free at first didn't seem too hard. Okay, I miss cheese like you wouldn't believe, it seriously made up half of my diet. But otherwise I replaced everything else with soy -- soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cream (as long as it was in cooking, it wasn't too bad) etc.
Except then soy became a two-fold problem. I started reacting to it the same way I had dairy, and discovered the hard way that my oldest child is anaphylactic to it. So out went the soy products, which I wasn't too upset about. They weren't great and I'd started hearing some research that suggested soy products might have other health consequences if consumed in large quantities.
So now my diet became harder. I tried rice milk (bleh! Too sweet and watery) and ended up on oat milk. I quite like oats (esp in porridge) so the taste of the oat milk was fine to me and it actually has an almost creamy consistency. When I want chocolate milk, I discovered a chocolate flavored hazelnut milk. I also discovered coconut-based ice cream, which is very rich, but also very yummy.
I found a brand of margarine -- Nuttlex -- that is dairy free and works the same as butter in cooking.
Don't get me wrong, its taken several years of experimenting with dairy/soy alternatives to find the things I could live with, and let's face it, they're never going to be exactly the same as the original.
Going out for dinner is a nightmare. Next time you're at a restaurant, have a look at how many items have cheese, or a cream sauce, or are cooked in butter, or include milk, or likely have one of the four cooked into them, and see how few options that leaves you with.
I also worked out I can have sheep's yogurt and cheese, and goats cheese in moderate amounts. I did try goat's milk but, oh my god... have you ever smelled a goat? Well, that's what the milk tastes like. Ick!
I do have a reason for this long post, and that is because more and more (for various reasons) people are choosing or forced to go with a dairy/soy free diet. So occasionally, when I come up with a good recipe, or find a product I think is particularly good, I'm planning on putting it up on my blog.
To start with, tomorrow I plan on trying to make an ice cream out of an oat milk and coconut cream base (because the ice cream I've been buying is freaking expensive!). I haven't decided what flavor to go with yet (probably chocolate) but if it works out, I'll stick the recipe up here.
Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

When Your Vow Comes Back To Bite You

Okay, apparently I cannot escape the blackhole that is 50 Shades of Gray. Its sucks everyone in eventually, no matter how hard you try to escape it.
I had vowed quite adamantly that I was not going to read this book. I have nothing against the content, erotic fiction has its place and if I really wanted to read that genre, I know of many very good authors I would no doubt enjoy reading.
I'd read an excerpt of 50 SOG, and that was enough to convince me I didn't really want to put myself through the painful experience of reading this poorly written book. I'm not criticizing the author, this book is what it is, and maybe with a few more years practice and several more manuscripts, EL James might become a decent writer. But 50 SOG has too many writing flaws for me to want to read it.
Except now, apparently I have no choice.
In August, I'll be appearing at the Bendigo Writer's Festival, and sitting on a panel with several other authors, the topic of which is "His & Hers; do women and men write differently?" This week on Facebook and featured in an article in a local newspaper, the organizers have mentioned the popularity of 50 SOG and asked the question: could this book have been written by a man?
To quote the newspaper article: "Local romance writer Jess Anastasi will have something to say about the difference between romance and erotica at the Bendigo Writers Festival on Sunday August 12 at 3pm. She will also be discussing the difference (is there any?) between men and women's writing."
For about five seconds I asked myself "does that mean I actually have to read this book now?!"
The answer is quite obviously yes. It wouldn't be very professional of me to get up and talk about my opinion of 50 SOG if I haven't even read it cover to cover. And possibly made notes.
In addition to this, I've made a commitment to find and read as many male romance authors as I can. Yes, there are a handful out there. I've started with Leigh Greenwood and his western romances. So far, I cannot see any difference between what he's written, to what any female romance author would write. There are several more I'll be tracking down, most of whom write under female pseudonyms.
And as for my own work, I'm off to do some more on Quantum, the second book to Atrophy (sci-fi romance). I must say, I'm a very happy author at the moment. I've wanted to write Quantum ever since I finished writing Atrophy, and being back in that universe is fabulous. The words are flowing, the characters are co-operating and so far I'm extremely happy with how the plot is unfolding. I can only hope that my agent finds a quick home for Atrophy and we can launch this series into the world, where it belongs.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Just Finished Wathcing.... The Walking Dead

Not the entire series, just the pilot and second episode. And I can't decide whether or not I like this TV show. I loved how it started, with the whole Zombie-apocalypse happening while the main character, sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes, is unconscious from a gunshot injury. Yes, I am intrigued by the premise and the characters, but my biggest problem that I don't know if I can overcome to continue watching?
The Zombies freak me the heck out.
I can watch a lot of scary stuff without batting an eyelid -- let's face it, Supernatural isn't exactly PG rated and once upon a time I would never have missed an episode of the X-Files. I honestly can't remember ever seeing anything on either of these shows that scared me enough to no longer want to watch.
But the Zombies on The Walking Dead? I don't know, there's just something about them that really gets me. So I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the third episode, even though people have been raving about this show. And I'd really like to see the part where Rick is reunited with his wife, son, and best friend, who, coincidentally, is having an affair with the wife... although I guess they don't see it that way since they think Rick is dead.
Maybe if the Zombies become a less-prominent feature in the show and it ends up revolving around the characters and their survival more, I could bring myself to watch it. However at this stage, I'm not brave enough to find out.
Oh, and one other thing. I just need to know, in these types of TV shows/movies, why is the poor defenseless horse always the first one to die?