Check out Episode Two of the Can’t Talk Podcast, this time about whether your favorite movie passes the Bechdel Test:
Hey, I got excited and made a thing! Introducing the Can’t Talk podcast.
In case you haven’t heard me wax positive about Megan Hart enough, I do a little of that. Also, there’s a lot of talking about semen. Like you do.
So… how’d you do? Did you cross the finish line yet?
I made it on the 25th with 50001 words, no kidding. The story is… I don’t know yet. I have half a mind to redraft it with a different concept, and half a mind to finish it as-is. There are bits I *really* like. There are bits I can’t stand. So, pretty much all first drafts, heh.
Today I’m pleased to host my friend Bella Leone for a Can’t Talk, Reading post. She has a new book out herself, one with boys and kissing. No down side. Enjoy!
Why haven’t I been writing?
Well part of it is because I’m making a human, and that shit is some serious energy suck. My baby will be a ten pounder if my exhaustion has anything to do with it.
The other reason I’m not writing?
The Bloggess to most people.
She has an amazingly hysterical blog at www.thebloggess.com. I read her posts and snicker at my desk trying to pretend I’m working hard when in all actuality I’m reading about taxidermied rodents, wine-slushies, and sloth hugs. I also follow her on Twitter to see what her daily shenanigans entail, usually medication and robots.
I’d like to be Jenny Lawson when I grow up. She’s delightfully fucked up in a charming and adorable way. She makes me feel…not as crazy.
And she now has a book of her childhood and young adulthood adventures!
I thought her blog posts about giant roosters named Beyonce and all the other fabulous ways she’s causing her husband grey hair would be just enough funny to kill the average person, but then I bought Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.
Holy crap. I laughed so hard at the first chapter, I thought I was going to scramble my unborn child. I’ve giggle-snorted so hard I’ve had to take pee breaks. I haven’t been this entertained, second-hand embarrassed, and delightfully delirious about a book in a very long time. Maybe ever.
Jenny has a way of stating things so plainly and simply and with just enough sarcasm that you have a hard time believing her “mostly true” memoir, but you also can’t help but imagine it all. No one could make this shit up! It has to be true! There are some poignant moments, especially when she was writing about her infertility. That struck very close to home, but she also dealt with it with humor and grace or ungraceful spazzing, but it worked and it, again, made me feel less crazy. I really recommend you read this book.
In Jenny’s own words, why you should buy her book:
I wrote a book and it only took me 11 years. (Shut up, Stephen King.)
You should probably go buy it right now, because it’s filled with awesomeness. And cocaine. But only if you hollow it out and fill it with your own cocaine. I’m not buying you cocaine. Because I love you.
And that’s why you should buy my book. Because I’m saving you from yourself. And from cocaine.
And you will be glad you read it, I promise! And I won’t buy you cocaine either, but I did just give you a great book rec, so it’s kind of the same thing!
Check out Bella’s new release from Loose Id, Downpour:
So, a few months ago I invited anyone interested to write a guest post for my Can’t Talk… series about whatever they were enjoying at the moment. I don’t know about you, but I rely on the recommendations of trusted friends to fuel my entertainment consumption.
Here’s the first post, which is written by my best friend and all around gamer genius, Bell. She runs the blog Razorblade Sammich, which you should read. Enjoy!
Cinders and Games as Art
A few months ago, I started hearing about a game called Cinders. Until I started seeing tweets and Tumblr posts mentioning it, I’d never heard of it, so naturally I was intrigued. I like to get in on the ground floor with things. I’m like a video game hipster, really. (Not really.)
Cinders, as it turns out, is best described as an “interactive storybook”. It’s an attempt to re-imagine well-known fairytale (I bet you can’t guess which one!) (That was sarcasm. You can totally guess which one. Because, you know, the name), and while I don’t think it was entirely successful in regards to the story, it was successful in introducing a new kind of gaming experience.
The graphics are simple and the animation is sparse (although the artwork is gorgeous), and all of the dialogue is provided in subtitles instead of voiced by actors. It’s a game without what I would think of as “actual gameplay”. You know, jumping, shooting, and solving puzzles- things we might refer to as “playing a game”. These are all things that modern gamers expect and even demand. Loudly. (Because gamers can be whiny, entitled babies, but that’s a post for another time.)
Cinders has none of that, and people loved it.
When I was a kid, we had these things called “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I don’t know if they’re still around (I hear kids these days with their newfangled devices aren’t familiar with old-school reading technology) but before video games really took off, these books were like paperback single-player RPGs. (Um. That’s a “Role-Playing Game”, in case you’re not familiar; games like Dungeons and Dragons inspired an entire genre of video games in which you get to play the hero, and often making decisions that effect the outcome of the story.)
Cinders reminds me a lot of those old “Choose Your Own Adventures”. When the story begins, you’re introduced to the main character and her sisters, and the first thing that you have to do is determine Cinder’s feelings toward them. Does she pity them or resent them? Is your Cinders compassionate or bitter?
This theme continues throughout the game, with the player choosing dialogue options and actions that effect the attitudes of the people and events of the people around her. Sometimes the changes are quite subtle, but throughout the story your character grows and her relationships change, all in response to the player’s choices.
If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I wasn’t blown away by the actual game as much as a lot of people I know; I would have liked more depth to the choices and more choices than were offered. (Also, there were occasional grammatical errors in the text and that is a terrible immersion-breaker for me. But that’s just nitpicking.)
What blew me away was that this was a game that relied entirely on storytelling and succeeded, and this has the potential to change the way we view games and the way we play them.
When you talk about video games to “grown-ups” (that’s what I call people who don’t play games and who don’t understand why I do; I endeavor most earnestly never to become one) the image that a lot of them get is this one:
That is how they remember gaming, and the exposure they have to the games being made today isn’t all that positive. Advertisements flaunt shocking violence and explicit sexuality; news reports talk about how kids spend too much time playing games, how this murderer or that one played games, or how OMG THERE’S SEX IN THIS GAME.
If that’s all they know about games, it’s no surprise that they might have a negative attitude towards games and the people who play them. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve mentioned that I played games and had people look at me like I’d just picked my nose in front of them.)
What people don’t see is that games have evolved past mindless platforming (games where you have to jump a lot) and gratuitous violence. Games have become a medium for story-telling; much like movies and books, they have detailed plot lines and relatable characters.
Imagine your favorite book or movie; now imagine you get to play the lead role. It’s like that. (Don’t believe me? I cried harder during Mass Effect 3 than I did during The Deathly Hallows in either its print or cinematic form.)
Game writers and developers are gaining as much fame in the gaming community as writers like Suzanne Collins or Neil Gaiman do in writing communities. If you ask a dedicated, informed gamer who David Gaider or Cliff Bleszinski is, there’s a good chance they’ll know.
Many gamers aren’t playing games just so they can shoot aliens in the head. (It’s fun, though, not going to deny it.) They’re playing so they can experience grand adventures first-hand. I’ve been to Jerusalem during the Third Crusade and roamed Constantinople in the 1500’s. (I learned more about world history from the codices in the Assassin’s Creed games than I did in school and from watching the History Channel combined. Although the History Channel did teach me that Nostradamus was an alien Bigfoot that built the pyramids or something like that, so good work, History Channel!)
I’ve saved all galactic life from extinction. (I’ve done that one a lot. Best. Game. Ever.) I’ve fallen in love over and over again and made sacrifices that broke my heart.
Just like books or films, games are art. They inspire the same dedication and passion because they can make you experience things you hadn’t, feel things you never expected, and even reframe the way you think about life.
And you get to shoot aliens in the head while you do it.
It’s a fascinating look at what happens to us after we die. Not the parts of us that may or may not travel on to other things, but the parts of us that are left behind. Our cadavers.
So far, she’s visited a gross anatomy class, a refresher course in face lifts (heads in roasting pans, people), a body farm and an embalming school. She’s described all of this in great, personal detail. Her reactions, the smells, the fluids. I’ve just entered the “crash test cadaver” section of the book.
I am LOVING THIS BOOK. It’s fascinating, and viscerally disgusting. I know what happens to the brain when we decompose (spoiler alert: it liquefies). The author is forthright and honest about the things that bother her and the things that don’t, and very open about what we all can expect to happen to our bodies.
Life is temporary, and our mortality scares the everloving shit out of us. What, after all, are most of our greatest stories about if not the fear of death or the love of sex? Often both!
There’s something both voyeuristic and also brave about reading Mary Roach’s book. She’s pulling back the curtain on what we all worry about in the dead of night (HAR HAR). I find the experience calming, to be honest. I’d rather be fully informed, because information takes away fear. When we pull out what we’re scared of and examine it, know it intimately, we become less afraid. Well, I do, anyway.
I realized a while ago that I worry about things a lot. I’m a natural worrier. I can tell you the worst-case option of any scenario. I started writing in part to explore that. I like to write about things I’m afraid of. The story Worse Things is in part a story of being completely out of control of one’s self. Of watching yourself hurt people and having no power to change it. That is a fear of mine, deep seeded. Death is another–the extinguishing of my life is a scary prospect. I kind of like me, and I’ll be sad to see me go. The loss of others is also terrifying. I hate to see other people I love disappear. Reading this book is a great way to look at that fear head on. We just die. The rest is unknown. What we do know is that our bodies can go on to save many other lives, and then will simply vanish themselves back into the nothingness they came from. I’m comforted by the cyclical nature of it.
I might be a bit Ood. But that’s okay. If you’re a bit Ood too, I think you’ll like this book. Just don’t talk about it at the dinner table. Your family, like mine, may be irritated with you. Now quit bothering me! I’m reading.
So, I’ve been travelling and doing a bit of working on Caroline’s edits (not enough, by far). I’ve also been making a concerted effort to read more. Here’s a quick run down of my Can’t Talk, Reading list for the last couple months, with mini-reviews:
On audio (audible hates me and wants my children to starve, btw. Their sale emails are bad.)
And interview myself! Actually, I thought it might be fun to talk about books in a different way, and this set of interview questions from Shelf Awareness peaked my curiosity:
On your nightstand now:
Currently reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is super intense.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I read so many books as a kid, it is hard to pick out a favorite. Elfquest, for one. The Martian Chronicles, also. Oh, The House with the Clock in its Walls. Gods I loved that book. Bunnicula. A million others, generally creepy or weird. Anyone remember Christopher Pike?
Your top five authors:
Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Preston and Child, Thich Nhat Hanh, Douglas Adams (one of these things is not like the others). Actually after the fourth one it is a many-way tie for several of my favorite authors.
Book you’ve faked reading:
I don’t fake reading. I don’t pretend to like books I don’t, even if everyone else does. Whatever, I’m not an intellectual reader I’m someone who likes to be engaged by a book. I don’t have to pretend to be smart.
Book you’re an evangelist for:
Fuck It, John C. Parkin. Seriously, read it.
Book you’ve bought for the cover:
Kusheil’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey. Well I read it for the cover, then bought it because I really loved it.
Book that changed your life:
No Death, No Fear, Thich Nhat Hanh. First thing I picked up on mindfulness and Buddhism. It made me go “woah.”
Favorite line from a book:
“The man in black raced across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Stephen King, The Gunslinger
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Definitely see above. The first time I read The Gunslinger I felt like everything changed in my head.
Book on your coffee table:
I have a giant sparkly-covered version of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but usually what you’ll find laying around my house are knitting books, the current book I’m reading and the current book my oldest is reading.
One last note: DEAR HEAVENS there are so many books on my to-read list. I wish I had infinite time and money. That’s what I think the afterlife is. All the time to read all the books. And also pie.*
*I TOLD you Dean Winchester is my spirit animal
I want to talk about Supernatural though. Supernatural, as defined by my friend Bella Leone, is basically boy Buffy. Brothers hunt supernatural things. Snark and silliness interspersed with serious and tender moments ensue. There are monsters of the week and big bads. Not screwing around, they go with the biggest of big bads–demons, angels, even Lucifer. Stakes are high, like end of the world high. Each season outdoes the last until I can’t imagine how season six and seven go (I’m only halfway through season five right now).
I watched the first episode of Supernatural when it originally aired, years ago. I wasn’t impressed. It seemed derivative of Buffy without adding anything new. It was sort of hack and, if I’m honest, boring. I felt the same way about the show the second time I watched it. Now though, I had the perspective of about a million screaming fans to keep me watching past episode one. I’m glad I did. I think the show hits its stride somewhere halfway through the first season, and then just keeps on going until you can’t quit those Winchester boys.
The best part of the show isn’t the story lines although they’re good enough to keep you guessing (the last episode of season 4 totally blew my mind, for example). The best part is the brothers themselves, the actors that bring them alive and the amazing writing that gives them character. Dean and Sam are consistently written, believable and changing as the series progresses. We’re not talking one note characters who will make the same decisions each time. I hate that. Sam’s the smart one and Dean’s the bad boy so each time Sam is cautious and Dean is reckless, right? SO NOT TRUE. They are well developed, powerful and evolving characters with intricate relationships and personality quirks.
In short, they are characters I love to love. I’m a character-driven writer, and reader too. I like to see how people change, I like to get to know them and when bad things happen to them I want to feel as terrible as they do. I rarely project myself into a story because I want to see how the character in the story will do things. I know how I would do them! The writers of Supernatural focus as much on character as on story, even spending whole scenes on character building rather than plot advancement. I love this.
One other thing I absolutely love about this show. The men cry. This seems ridiculous to even have to talk about, but I do because in so much media things are stereotyped, even to this day (although it isn’t as bad. Someday I’m going to talk about Stargate’s antiquated feminist character.) We’ve seen advancements in the way women are portrayed, but I don’t think men have come as far. They’re still either super strong alphas or super laughable fat dudes in sitcoms. The Winchesters are neither. They are strong, both of them in different ways. They are also loving–they love each other and their family. When something bad happens, when they hurt, they cry. Like normal people. I’m talking the pain of broken hearts, of self-betrayal, of shame, of loss. They feel things as people should feel them. They also get angry and punch each other. They tease each other mercilessly. Their relationship is powerfully bonded and when it comes apart, it comes apart hard. The emotional depth of the show is very believable, and very real. This is NOT something you see in male leads, and it pleases me very much.
The heart of Supernatural beats strong, the humor and the sadness and the excitement and even the scare factor. I highly recommend a watch of the show, now available on Netflix instant streaming. Until you can get to it, here’s one of my favorite Dean moments to entice you (I’ve started asking myself What Would Dean Winchester Do?):
Now quit bothering me, I’m slaying demons with the Winchesters!
If you read enough of my blather, you’ll know I’m a die hard King fan. But the truth is, lately, I’ve been lukewarm on King. I didn’t love Cell (I liked it, I didn’t love it.) I liked Lisey’s Story but didn’t love it, either. The real disappointment, though, was Under the Dome.
I couldn’t finish it, people. A King book I can’t finish? Unheard of. But it was… I don’t know. Boring? Predictable, certainly. I felt as though I’d read the entire thing before, and I could predict the move of each character. By a third of the way through, I gave up caring about any of the characters. I can’t say exactly why, I wish I could pin it down to one thing or another, but the book just bored me. I was very disappointed.
I did love Full Dark, No Stars. King’s short stories are unbelievable. So many people skip them and they are missing out on some of the most amazing writing there is to be read. Amazing, captivating, intense. He tells a tale as skillfully (and as weirdly) as Bradbury, but in the singular King voice. Go. Read. I recommend Everything’s Eventual and Nightmares and Dreamscapes, but any of them will do. My excitement about this novel can wait until you’re finished.
Back? Mind blown? Great. Anyway, the point of all that preamble is that I was nervous approaching 11/22/63. I didn’t preorder it or run out as soon as it was published. I waited to see what other people said. I wasn’t sure I would read it at all. I’m glad I changed my mind.
11/22/63 was fantastic. Character driven spec fic with that tinge of WTF that King has perfected. I’m struggling to write a review without spoilers, but he gives you a take on the early sixties that is rich and full. Diving into the book feels like being there with Jake Epping as he embarks on a mad quest to stop the assassination of JFK. The past, though, doesn’t want to be changed.
King’s skills lie in writing characters you give a fuck about. Even the smallest of side characters, you root for. Or against, depending. This book is no different, with a main character so achingly “every man” that you can easily put yourself in his shoes. His struggles are yours, his questions are yours. You’re there, in his shoes, driving his Sunliner. I jumped into this book and in 14 pages I knew I was going to like it a lot. I did.
Bottom line is, go read this book. And stop bothering me, I’m reading.
Today’s edition of CTR is brought to you* by Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey.
Carey writes a series of books that I lovingly call the “Kushiel” books, although I’m not sure that’s what they’re actually called. There are nine of them set in the same world, a vast fantasy alt-earth. The most recent installment took us to a fantasy version of Central America that left me very disturbed whenever I pass an ant colony. But I digress. I love these books. They are the first fantasy novels I can recall enjoying since Mercedes Lackey’s Fate series when I was a youngster. There are parts of her world that I believe in so strongly I’ve found myself sending prayers to her gods. That’s good world building.
Santa Olivia has nothing to do with this world, these novels. So I was a bit nervous going in, as you can imagine if you’ve ever had a passion for a series of books.
I was wrong to be worried. Carey is an amazingly talented author. She has a lot of strengths, but her female characters might be at the top of that list. She creates women I want to be, to hang out with, who are realistically flawed and full of depth. Carmen and Loup Garron are no exception to that rule. Strength, grim resolve, powerful emotional resonance but not in the “drama queen” sense at all. Amazing women.
You might have guessed from the name “Loup” that there are wolves in the mix. Werewolves. Kind of. Put the ablicious kind out of your head and consider–if we tampered with human DNA, added… things, what would we get? We get Loup. We get a dystopian future US where some kind of superflu (captain tripps anyone?) has wiped out a lot of folk. We get a fascinating, believable situation wherein people are hurting and dying but not as much from the flu anymore as from a government with too much power and too many secrets.
I am loving this book. I was reading in the hot tub** and turned into a giant prune yesterday because I couldn’t tear myself away from it. I love the way she takes tired mythology and turns it into something utterly new (in these and the other books she’s written). I love her voices, her worlds. This is a good one, highly recommended!
This reminds me–feel free to friend me on Good Reads. I’d love to see your reviews of Santa Olivia, or other books. I’m always up for a recommendation!
*not with actual money. More like in the Sesame Street style of”brought to you by.”
**world’s tiniest violin, I know. Trust me, the hot tub is a luxury I NEVER take for granted.