Don’t Break My Heart

An acquaintance on tumblr recently asked for recommendations for a tv-show to watch that won’t ‘break my heart right away’.

I gave some thought to this. Avatar? No. Firefly? God, no. Sherlock? Ever so much no. Battlestar Galactica? Frak, no. Supernatural? HELL, no. Most shows, especially if you’re inclined to get emotionally invested in the characters, will break your heart sooner or later.

So I suggested one from what is, bizarrely, one of  the emotionally safest genres – murder mysteries.

No, really. Someone dies in every episode, sure, but it’s quite rarely someone you actually know! The drama comes from the murder of unknown characters, while the known characters – police, detectives, what have you – are completely safe. They might seem threatened now and then, undergo a bit of trauma, but you know they’re going to be okay in the end. I’d never thought about it before, but when I’m feeling shattered I tend to watch either murder mysteries/cop shows or a nice medical, where the doctors are likewise pretty safe. I don’t mind people dying right and left, as long as it’s no-one I’m personally attached to. (My attitude to blood is much the same – I don’t care about anyone else’s, but come over all queasy if I see too much of my own)

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, especially if an actor wants to leave a show. But emotionally speaking, the shows where someone dies every episode are often easier than the ones where it comes as a horrible surprise. So if Supernatural or Sherlock have broken your heart, why not pay a little visit to Midsomer? The deaths won’t be surprising at all!

For the record, the show I recommended was ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’. I haven’t seen all of it, so heart-breakage is still a possibility, but it features a sassy lady detective in 1920s Sydney, who’s gloriously self-assertive and witty and there are also grumpy cabbies, charming policemen and sexy bits. I recommend it.

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Time Off

So I figured I’d take a couple of days off to deal with offline stuff and then I turn around and it’s been a full week. I don’t even know how that happened. But I’m going to stop taking time off now, because I don’t want to give up on this blog. It’s fun and people are actually reading it and I love that, so I’m back!

Real post to follow!

Narrative Reality

Things have not been going well for me lately, what with one thing and another. Bills, medication adjustments, and the like.

And some higher power is trying to comfort me with sales.

The seat of the ninja’s pram is giving out? HERE MASSIVE CLOSING DOWN SALE AND WHEN YOU GO THERE’S A NEARLY BRAND NEW REPLACEMENT SEAT FOR YOUR PRAM FOR A QUARTER OF THE USUAL PRICE FOR YOU.

You want a new couch? HERE IT’S LESS THAN HALF PRICE BECAUSE IT HAS A LITTLE HOLE IT JUST WENT OUT ON THE FLOOR IT’S FOR YOU.

New desk? EIGHTY DOLLARS OFF FOR A FEW SCUFF MARKS HAS TO GO TODAY FOR YOU.

Now that I’ve gone into debt to buy a couple of reasonably necessary pieces of furniture (we didn’t have enough seating for everyone in the lounge-room and my desk is developing a serious wobble), though, the sales keep coming.

That pizza you like? Super sale!

Computer games on sale for you.

Five dollars off your next book purchase because we love you.

Shoes!

Clothes!

Household items!

A TV that’s less than twenty years old!

And I have no money left, and yet I keep being offered things I love – and things I need – at vastly reduced prices. Which is kind of helpful, because it means I can buy some things I couldn’t otherwise have, but is also frustrating. It’s sweet that you want to make me happy with my very favourite thing, higher power, and I do love shopping for bargains, but it would be so much better if they were spaced out a little!

….

So I drafted this the other day and left it half-finished because it was kind of personal and boring and I just did the thing about the new desk instead.

So guess what?

A Daiso Japan store opened in Brisbane. Full of all sorts of things that I want, like rice molds and cheap but sturdy plastic containers and useful things like that.

And everything in it is AU$2.80. Prices even the unemployed can afford.

And it’s open just in time for me to go there when I go out for Free Comic Book Day and the Buddha Birthday Celebrations, so I can do it all on one train fare.

If I wrote my life as it stands now, it would be ridiculously unrealistic. Magical Sales coming to comfort the suffering and impoverished? And it may, of course, all be coincidence. But it’s a very nice coincidence, and one that’s making me feel a lot less overwhelmed. It’s as if someone’s coming to my rescue in the nick of time.

Missing Milestones

I had intended to make some sort of note of my hundredth post, but apparently I missed it, as this is my hundred and second. This is absolutely typical of me, as I am notorious for missing important milestones (including my own birthday).

I mean, not the *really* important stuff. For example, Free Comic Book Day is this weekend, I know that. And it therefore follows that the Buddha Birthday Celebrations are also on. This is a family tradition for us – we go get lots of free comic books and cheap manga (my favourite store usually celebrates FCBD with a manga sale) and then we cross the Brisbane River into South Bank for vegetarian food, bathing of the Buddha and other fun.

The Buddha Birth Day Festival is a big deal here in Brisbane. It’s not only the biggest multicultural festival in Brisbane, it’s also, according to its own website, the now recognized as the biggest celebration of the event in the world, with hundreds of thousands of people attending. There is dancing, a Baby Blessing Ceremony (which the ninja underwent two years ago), dozens of vegetarian and vegan food stalls, calligraphy lessons, activities for kids and a hundred other things. If you’re anywhere near Brisbane on this or any other first weekend in May, I really recommend going.

I’m trying to come up with something witty and interesting to say, but Angelina Ballerina is playing beside me and that little dancing mouseling is a brain-sapping idiot.

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting a lot lately. Life outside the computer has been taking a fairly massive dump on me of late. But I’m still hammering away at it. And I’m kind of proud of making it to a hundred posts. Thank you to every single one of you following me – it means a lot!

If there’s any subject anyone would like me to write about, or something, let me know! I would love to get requests!

New Desk!

I have a new desk!

I went out yesterday to buy a new mattress for the ninja’s new Big Girl Bed (she’s three, and loves getting into grownup beds, so the cot is being retired) and bought myself a new desk as well. It’s much wider than the old one, with drawers for putting important things in, and a little socket for putting the hard drive into, and it doesn’t have a hutch like the old one so it will be much less cluttered.

See how pretty it is?

See how pretty it is?

This was a big step for me. Losing my little shelves and all my clutter will be hard, and I hate change.

But being reasonable about it… I don’t *need* any of this stuff. All these CDs have been ripped to mp3 and are safely stowed away in my computer and backups. I don’t need fifteen-year-old game disks or the belt to a cardigan I lost years ago or extra cords that I don’t even know what they’re for or the old remote for the DVD player that broke or the sleeve I always forget to put my tablet into and holy crap there’s a lot of stuff up here.

All the things in my desk that I actually need – my tax information, my address book, my current games and so on, will fit perfectly well in the drawers of the new desk. And my working area will actually be clear and useable for the first time in a long time.

I think this is a good thing. I think this is progress.

And honestly, the pain of change is greatly eased by the fact that I got $80 knocked off the desk because it was a scuffed floor model. I don’t care if it’s scuffed. A white desk is going to stay pristine about eight seconds in this house. It will get its first baptismal coffee ring within the first 48 hours, I know this to be the case. So who cares if it’s scuffed, it was cheap!

A Place In The World

Something that drives me right around the bend, especially when reading fantasy, is blank-slating the protagonist. Killing off the parents is very popular. Brothers and sisters too, if they exist – and it’s sad how often they don’t. If the protagonist is the long lost heir to something or other, then – like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru – the foster-family will usually bite the dust by the end of the first chapter.

Unless they’re evil, of course. There’s the Cinderella trope, where the protagonist has no ties because her family/guardians/whatever just hate her even though she’s sweet and wonderful and beautiful and all that crap. Or the protagonist could be a loner for one reason or another, living by her wits, thieving or hunting or whatever it is she does all alone with no family ties to interfere with the story….

No, no, and hell no. This is the absolute laziest, least original protag-starter there is. It’s easier to write a tie-less character setting off on an adventure, yes, this is true. But easier is not better.

Look at Katniss. She volunteers because she loves her sister, because she has a life and ties and someone she loves enough to give up her life for. And that is so meaningful and important and the story would be utterly different if she didn’t have that intense, personal love and motivation. (I haven’t even read the damn book and I know this)

People want to connect to other people. Our herd or pack or group or whatever instinct is powerful. The NaNoWriMo group I belong to is full of people (including me) who come to regular writing events and drinking-get-togethers despite a whole rainbow of social and anxietal issues, because even the most anxious shut-in sometimes wants to hang around other people, and fellow shut-ins are kindly and safe people to hang out with who know how to cope with a panic attack.

It is vanishingly unlikely that a protagonist would have no ties at all. There are exceptions – Anna from the ‘Alpha and Omega’ stories starts out having been deliberately isolated from all outside ties by her pack, and that forced isolation is clearly presented as abusive and wrong. Nevertheless, she has made a friend whose phone she can use to call for help, and the isolation is ended in the course of the story because it’s an awful thing to do to someone. Don’t do it to your protagonist!

Dorothy Gale has a loving family she wants to get back to.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie have parents they are forced away from by circumstances.

Spock loves his parents, but leaves to pursue a career that is meaningful to him.

Miles Vorkosigan loves his parents, as far as I know.

Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez have parents and siblings who are part of their daily life.

Yet somehow, their authors manage to pitchfork them into adventure anyway.

A protagonist does not and should not exist in a vacuum. Unless you’re writing a very fresh post-apocalyptic, in which whole swathes of the human population have been killed in some way or another, they shouldn’t be functioning alone – and if they are, then there needs to be a good reason for it, and a history behind it. There are ways to get rid of the family tie – youthful dedicates to a religious organization, for example, young apprentices sent away from their homes, there’s loads of ways to put parents at a distance or out of the picture. But don’t strip your protagonist of human connections altogether.

Give them friends – not just one, who can be killed off at the beginning for motivation and manpain, but more than one. Acquaintances, teachers, that annoying guy who hangs around with your group and you don’t like him but you can’t tell him to fuck off or everyone else will get mad. Nothing humanizes a character – and gives you a basis for them not being a raving sociopath – like having a place in the world. Ties to people – and to places, such as Harry’s deep love for Hogwarts – gives them that. Makes them more, for lack of a better word given that not all protagonists actually are human, human.

A good protagonist doesn’t leap from the page, blank and empty, without ties to place or person and ready to be filled with purpose. She needs to be uprooted, gently or harshly, from her place so she can move forward, but she must have roots to begin with. (And if you must kill off her family, for heaven’s sake, let her be upset about it. That kind of loss is devastating.) It’s not quite as easy, but it’s a lot more interesting.

Getting Started

I’ve heard it said that the hardest thing about a new endeavour is to get started. Make a commitment.

This is utter bollocks.

Getting started is easy! Anyone can start writing a book, or reading a book, or cleaning their bedroom, or eating healthier! Anyone can produce two hundred words, or a load of laundry, or a lettuce!

Finishing, now. Finishing is hard as hell. There are many hurdles between you and your finish line. Here are some (not all) in no particular order.

Hurdle One: Later. “Meh, I don’t feel like it any more. I’ll do it later. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Two: Lost Inspiration. “Where did all my ideas go? Man, I’m tired from picking up all these clothes. Cooking from scratch is hard. I’ll leave it just for now. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Three: It Sucks. “Everything I do sucks. I might as well just give up and watch a movie while I balance a pizza on this pile of dirty laundry.”

Hurdle Four: Equipment Failure. “I don’t have the right research books, and the vacuum cleaner is making a funny noise and I think the broccoli’s gone limp. I’ll have to pick this up again when I have all the stuff I need to do it really properly.

Hurdle Five: Haven’t I Done Enough? “Well, I’ve got half the first draft, I can see the floor, and I ate a vegetable just yesterday. I think that’s enough for now. Hooray for me!”

Hurdle Six: I Am So Very Busy. “Well, these other things really are more important. I’ll have to get back to that side project of all my hopes and dreams and also my bodily health after I finish alphabetizing these paid bills.”

Hurdle Seven (optional): Perfectionism. “My first sentence is terrible! I think I saw a cockroach poo in one of my drawers so the whole house needs fumigating! I’m still putting sugar in my coffee! I CAN NEVER BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT.”

Side note: I quit processed sugar once. Turned me into a raging harpy for three straight months. My husband eventually begged me to give in and eat some chocolate, if I loved him or our daughter at all. It turns out that while I can give up coffee and *almost* all forms of sugar relatively painlessly, I am hardcore addicted to chocolate and the sugarless kind doesn’t do the business.

There are lots more hurdles, of course. A lot of them are personal ones (a major one for me at the moment is the fact that sitting down at the computer makes my kid think ‘ooh, lap’ and come over to sit on me, which makes typing quite hard), but these are a few that I’ve discussed with others and know are at least somewhat common. All you can really do about them is get to know them well enough that you can see them for what they are – a trap and a snare, not the voice of reason they pretend to be – and go around them instead of being tricked into trying to jump and winding up flat on your face on the track wondering why you even bother.

You can’t always do it, of course. Three and Five still get me on a regular basis. But knowing your enemy can help!