Three Things That Have Pushed My Happy Buttons Recently

Thing the 1:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Okay, sure, fitzsimmons. FITZSIMMONS. Oh, man. But besides that, the whole business of Skye/Quake/Daisy’s powers. Every time they get into the stuff about quantum physics and resonant frequencies, my piano-tuner self just SQUIRMS with delight. Seriously, I do physical flailing. It makes me So. Damned. Happy.

Thing the 2:

The Martian.

Yes, yes, everyone is going ON about this movie. But not without reason. I expect it to sweep the Oscars. More than that, of course, was the book. And Andy Weir himself. I mean, his personality really kind of made that book, because it gave that snarky, witty, but not too presumptuous edge to the character voice. Layer that on top of the frankly brilliant science-splaining and epic problem solving of the whole plot, and it’s golden.

Still, that’s not my major happy button. My big, giant, sparkly silver happy button was the feeling of communal enthusiasm in the audience and in everyone who’s read the book. It woke up the little girl in me that dreamed of being an astronomer, or even an astronaut. It rekindled the wonder and love of the study of outer space that I think has been kind of lost for a while, now. Happy. Button.

Thing the Final, which made me super-happy-squirmy just last night:

Dreams of Gods and Monstersthe third book of Laini Taylor‘s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series.

I’ve been intentionally taking forever to read this, because I’m pretty deeply in love with this series and I don’t want it to end. Okay, also because I’ve frankly been in a serious reading slump for like, a year now. But I’m “letting” myself read at a snail’s pace, anyway.

Last night, though, I was in bed with everyone around me sleeping, and I reached a point in the third book where she started getting all complex and pretty about multiple universes and reality and just – YUM OMG I LOVE THAT SHIT SO HARD. SQUIRMY SQUIRMY HAPPY.

Seriously, Laini – you already had me with your gorgeous prose and world building and magical creatures, but you had to go THERE, too?! Marry me, please.

Other shit:

NaNoWriMo is coming up, and it’s apparently turned autumn here in Georgia (knock wood. Seriously, I don’t expect this shit to stay). Time for hot tea, hot coffee, hoodies, and fuzzy socks. And pleading with myself to get my shit together and seriously tackle my word count issues. Are you doing the NaNo?

I finally womaned-up and got to the pool today. I think the last time I swam actual laps was when I was learning to swim at the tender age of five? What the hell took me so long, though? People at the aquatic center are largely there for the same reason I am – because their bodies don’t want to cooperate enough to do other exercises, and because swamming is great. Somewhere along the line, however, I seem to have forgotten how to handle submerging my whole face, breathing, and swamming at the same time. It’s okay, I worked around it today, but man. Derpiness.

That’s about it for now. I’m sure I’ll have something to say once we go see Crimson Peak.

xox,

CC

Mish to the Mash Update: Rants and Raves

Been a while, I know. I’ve been working on a few large things, both in authorland and pianoland. Which means a lot of head-down working and a long stretch of nothing to show for it for the foreseeable future. I’m a-okay with that. Hopefully it’ll pay off in the end, and the happy part is that I’m actually excited about both writing and pianos again, despite the overwhelming parts.

Apparently, this is the year of Steinway for me. It’ll be interesting. Fingers crossed.

It helps my focus that the internet is so full of shit lately, I’ll say that much. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe stepping away from the internet and all its commentary and bitchery has made me less tolerant of it. I don’t know. What I do know is that, for me anyway, there are bigger things to advocate for and against than author bullies and problematic fiction.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a great thing that so many people (myself included) have been educated and changed for the better with regards to racism, bigotry, sexism, and just general human kindness and understanding. But lately, the few times poke my head in on the blogs and tumblrs I usually follow, I get this feeling of stale disgust.

The two main issues I personally have are:

a) We’re really still whinging about GoodReads meanies? I swear to christ, some of these authors and their boohooing need to spend three active years immersed in a large and critical fandom, be put through the wringer multiple times on fanficrants and fandomfail, and have to submit their work to sites like Petulant Poetess. When you put your shit out there, whether as an author, blogger, musician, artist, whatever – you are putting a product out that is no longer in your hands. And when it’s in the proverbial hands of a consumer (reader, listener, whatever), they have any and every right to respond however the fuck they want. Also? That fact is NOT “victim blaming.” Your publicly sold/posted material isn’t akin to “wearing too short of a skirt,” and blog trolls are NOT “rapists.” Jesus fucking christ. That was easily one of the grossest things I’ve seen in a month, and no, I’m not going to link where I saw it.

b) Fictional characters are fictional. And frankly, as a reader, I don’t want to read about or watch perfect people who never say, think, or do anything problematic. While I think it’s important and valuable to point out the problematic shit, the characters and stories are not the author. Just as a story is no longer “our baby” when it goes out to readers, the story a reader gets isn’t the author. That said, I’ve seen both reviewers and authors lose sight of that. All I can say is: if/when I publish a story with some sexist, racist, homophobic, and/or slut-shaming character flaws, when that criticism comes, I will be happy to agree that said characterization is problematic, and that’s kind of the point. No one is perfect – even the best, most socially conscious hero or heroine would be fucking boring and unrealistic as fuck if they didn’t have their idiot moments. And said idiotic moments absolutely should be criticized, not celebrated.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, RAVES.

OMG, y’all. The Martian by Andy Weir. Can I tell you about this? I discovered Andy Weir, not from the bestseller hype, but from a tumblr meme that spoke to my agnostic self. Unfortunately, I can’t find the actual jpeg that went with it, but it was basically his short story, The Egg. Go ahead, read it.

…right?

Anyway, I was so blown away, I looked into his other stuff and nabbed The Martian. Funny enough, I haven’t actually finished reading it. Because it’s so damned good, I don’t want it to end. So I keep stopping myself and setting it aside. Seriously. Just read the first page, and you’ll see.

More exciting, it’s being made into a movie for release this fall, with a slew of awesome actors, and I CANNOT FUCKING WAIT OMG OMG OMG. Seriously, THAT CAST. and THAT STORY. GUH.

Speaking of Jeff Daniels, the husband and I just recently finished binge watching The Newsroom. More fantastic writing and acting. And yeah, yeah, typical middle aged white male hero, blah blah see point #2 up there.

I also finally broke into Orange is the New Black, which again – fantastic writing and acting. So many monologues, and they’re all good.

Game of Thrones? What is that? I don’t want to go there. We’re still watching it. I’m not happy about several obvious turns it’s taken, but no one is. It’s all been said, and whatever – DRAGONS.

Okay, that’s about all I have to throw into the void for now. Time to get back to job estimates and time travel. ❤

Shifty Beasties in Lurve

Shifters!

No, duh – I mean SHAPE-shifters!

Paranormal Romance has been at or near the top of the genre’s popularity for a while now; romance seems to be mostly composed of Contemporary, Historical, and the Paranormal catch-all. Of course, we can also break P-Rom down into its sub-genres – vampires, weres/shifters, magics, angels/demons, time travel, zombies, fae, goblins, gods and goddesses, elementals, ghosts, and well, any number of mythos and magical creatures you can think of. Pretty awesome, and largely the hub of Common Grounds around these parts.

This week, we’re looking at weres and shifters, and various interpretations of them. What works, what doesn’t, and why. Of course, much of that is subjective. Some readers and bloggers take issue with storyverses that fail to really address pack dynamic in werewolf societies. Are they meant to mirror real wolf-pack behavior? If not, then does the story establish its canon of pack behavior?

There’s also been criticism of stories that depict big cat shifters, because they usually have them mating for life, and/or living in packs, which is contrary to many real-life big cat mating patterns. It’s enough of an issue that some authors address that inconsistency within the story (Ellen Connor’s Midnight is a good example).

Then, of course, there are the more creative animals authors have chosen as were or shifter material: Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy group is evidently reading a story about dinosaur shifters this month (What about those tiny T-Rex arms??). And there’s so much more than that out there (cuttlefish, anyone? Yes, it exists. Instead, though, have a link to a story that involves pseudo-merman-dolphin shifters.)

The popularity of shifters begs the question, though – why? What draws us in? Is it the ‘one true mate’ trope (although, there are shifter stories that don’t go there, thankfully)? Is it the pack mentality and badassery that comes from the more formidable animals? Maybe it’s the more literal take on the ‘alpha’ male characters (although, I love me some female alphas – thank you, Nalini Singh). Or, dare I ask – is there a darker sort of appeal that touches on fantasies and suggestions that are far more taboo? (Hey, there is nothing wrong with furry fantasies as long as they’re just that – fantasies. Recommendation: Nancy Friday’s books on the topic of women and sexual fantasies.)

So far, this is a pretty heteronormative line of discussion, so by all means, open the floor for wider topics in romance and erotica. Shifters are plenty popular in m/m paranormal (*cough*cuttlefish*cough*), and there is the whole business with adult male cheetahs living in pairs. But there’s also the machismo that is implied in the alpha trope, and that makes for great plotting and conflict when brought against the unfortunately-still-present stigma against homosexuality. But, these are still unfamiliar grounds for me-the-bloggess personally, and I would be at risk of making an ass of myself if I went much further. If you’re out there, however, and you have recs and/or discussion on gay, lesbian and bisexual were and shifter romances, by all means – bring it to the comments!

In the meantime, to everyone: what are some of your favorite were and/or shifter p-roms, and why?

I’m a big fan of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, which melds shifters and sci-fi and politics and intrigue all together. I’ve really enjoyed Ellen Connor‘s previously mentioned Dark Age Dawning series so far, although more for the post-apocalyptic world-building than the shifter elements. Again, even with shifters, Eve Langlais is kind of a go-to for me, when I’m looking for a good time, an easy, sassy read, and a hot romp. I especially loved The Geek Job, which had a female alpha-type were and a nerdy guy. Ilona Andrews and Shelly Laurenston are both givens, even if I’ve personally only read a few books between them – I tend to save the really good stuff for when I’m hard-up.

Finally, although it’s not p-rom, I have to have to have to rec Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar. The characters in this book are just too much fun. TOO MUCH FUN.

Leave your recs below!

Space Monkeysex

I meant to write this last week, and of course it would have been super-timely, given the landing of Curiosity on Mars. However, it was my birthday, and I had my awesome mommy visiting, and other real life stuff. But, we’re still on Mars (Y’ALL! We built a fucking robot-car and LANDED IT ON MARS! How fucking cool is this??), and it’s still super-fuckin’-awesome, so it still applies.

Today’s Common Grounds: Sci-Fi Romance. Smut in Space. Love Amongst the Stars.

I re-embraced romance for the first time back in the 90s. (My first embrace was as a teen/pre-teen.) This seems, to my memory anyway, to have been a great time for time-travel and sci-fi romances. At least, according to my fixation and small collection of books allowed on my college-student budget.

Sadly, that romance phase was short-lived due to a broken heart and subsequent bitterness toward all matters of love excepting bitterness, anger, and Nine Inch Nails. The result being that the handful of beloved romances I had from that time got sent away to goodwill or something, forgotten for many years.

When I re-embraced romance for the second time, one of the first things I did was go on a weeks-long mission to find my old favorites. Hey, it wasn’t easy, considering I remembered neither the titles nor the authors. Thank you, eBay! My then-live-in-boyfriend/now-husband was bemused and amused.

Sadly, not many of those old favorites survived the test of time. The couple that did, however, were the sci-fi romances.

What is it about sci-fi romances that specifically appeals (or doesn’t, for that matter)? In a way, it’s similar to fantasy-romance or paranormal-romance, in that the author gets to write their own universal rules. Things like STDs and unwanted pregnancies can be a non-issue with the press of a button. Power dynamics between sexes can be whatever the writer makes them. And the kinkier, more questionable lines in sexuality and sexual practices can really be played around quite a bit, what with the unlimited room for inventing humanoid species.

At the same time, some of my favorite sci-fi romances are really not so different from earth-romances. Similar male/female power dynamics, everyone’s human, really not much so totally out of the norm. Except, you know, friggin’ OUTER SPACE, man.

I really do love a good sci-fi-rom. What can I say – I was a space geek as a kid and that never quite died. Anyway, here are some of my favs:

From the Old School, Crystal Fire by Kathleen Morgan, and Ascent to the Stars by Christine Michel (which has been re-released in eBook format, woohoo!)…

Collision Course by Zoe Archer (who can pretty much be counted on for great action-romance no matter what sub-genre)

Eve Langlais’s Alien Abduction series/bundle is smutty alien FUN, which I love.

And finally, I couldn’t possibly go without pimping my girl Rhys Astason and her debut novella, Water of Life.

How about you? What makes a sci-fi romance appealing? What do you wish there was more of in sci-fi? I know Rhys pines a bit for something more space-opera-esque, but like science-fiction-regency, which would definitely be cool. Do you like aliens, or just space cowboys? And finally, if you had to pick, which would you choose:

Or:

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

Heroines Who Kick Ass

Let’s face it – there’s already a pretty solid platform of voices ranting critiquing educating the public about the dangers of weak heroines in fiction and media.

Not to misunderstand, mind, because there’s definitely a time and place for damsels in distress. There’s a reason bodice-rippers were so popular. And, much as I might hate it myself, there is also a reason why so many women want their own Edward or Christian. This is a (mostly) judge-free zone.

But today’s Common Grounds topic hangs out on the other end of that spectrum: kick-ass heroines who don’t need saving. They don’t need a man to show them how to enjoy sex, nor do they need ‘help’ feeling worthy or attractive. Now, that can seem like kind of a tall order. After all, we don’t want a Mary Sue on our hands either, do we? Neither do we want a heroine so strong, so tough, and so independent, that she emasculates the hero, right?

…hold up a tick on that last one, actually. Because wouldn’t it stand to reason that if our heroine is made of super-napalm-awesomeballs, then our hero might just be equally as awesome, thus resulting in a megaton duo of amazing? Why isn’t there more of is? Or wait – maybe there’s actually a LOT of this, but it’s currently eclipsed by the media-blitz and popularity of weak, vapid, shallow, so-called heroines.

Well, rather than ranting about it, let’s discuss it. What makes a heroine really awesome? The list of qualifications is actually pretty subjective.

Take BBW-land, for instance. Ooooh, that’s a controversial one. Which is the stronger heroine – the woman who overcomes her eating issues and challenges herself to become fit, thus losing all the excess weight and going from ugly-duckling to swan? Or is it the woman who accepts her body, flaws and all, and celebrates her curves? (My personal answer: it depends on other personality traits in said heroine, but both can be pretty kick-ass options.)

Some of it just depends on how you look at it – that’s one of the many great things about fiction, in general. I’ve seen reviews of books I hated because I thought the heroines were TSTL, where the reviewer felt that the heroine was particularly strong for other reasons. (This is where diplomacy and a lack of free time helps out tremendously. I simply close that tab and mentally agree to disagree.)

So, what makes a heroine kick ass in your mind? Who are some of your favorite kick-ass heroines? This is going to be a recurring theme, btw. Probably about once a month, Mondays will be taken up with certain heroines who kick ass. Could be in books – romance or otherwise, movies, television, even non-storytelling-media (hello PJ Harvey!). And yes, even in real life.

All that said, this month’s kick-ass book heroines are:

Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels
Kate Daniels from Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series

Eve Langlais's Aylia from Intentional Abduction
Aylia from Intentional Abduction by Eve Langlais

Vin from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn
Vin from Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson


Miranda Rohan from Anne Stuart’s Breathless

Other kick-ass heroines:

-Ellen Ripley
-Princess Leia
-River Tam
-Katniss Everdeen
-Buffy Summers

Okay, so the list goes on, and it’s no good to blow the whole load in one week, yeah? Unfortunately, the list is a little image-light due to copyright concerns, but you should get the gist. Who are some of your favorite kick-ass heroines?

Down, Down the Rabbit Hole!

It seems like 2012 is the year of the fairytale remake. Well, in mainstream media, anyway. We’ve got it on TV with Once Upon a Time and Grimm. It’s in theatres with Mirror, Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, and upcoming works like Maleficent, and Oz, the Great and Powerful. And that’s not counting Disney-esque movies. (I’m not touching on *cringe* Disney’s retelling of The Snow Queen.)

BUT, it’s been in romance and erotica for quite a long time. Oh, sure, there are the fairy tale tropes that populate much of the romance genre (Cinderella and Beauty and Beast are the two immediate ones that come to mind). There are also blatant retellings that are quite popular.

It’s impossible to delve into the ‘why’s of this practice without coming off as sexist. But the plain truth is that romance is a genre that’s dominated by women. Just as, for generations, fairy tales have been most popular (although not entirely), with little girls. Personally, I fucking love it – I love that, as both a reader and an author, I get to play in these worlds that were ‘just’ fairytales while growing up. Even better? They’re rife with so much erotic potential!

Some of my favorites, in no particular order:

The Pearl at the Gate by Anya Delvay is a sexy, little short with a BDSM-BlueBeard theme to it. Double-kudos for nailing the short-story format, which is kind of a bitch to do well, if you ask me.

Glass Slipper by Abigail Barnette (who is actually Jennifer Armintrout) not only nails the erotic, novella-format, fairytale retelling, but it’s a lovely, yummy May/December romance.

Loved A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James, of course, which is another Cinderella retelling. That’s also the first in her Fairytales series. The rest are on my TBR.

There’s also Petals and Thorns by Jennifer Paris, a Beauty and the Beast novella which was more erotica than anything, but I enjoyed it.

And, of course you can’t go without mentioning Nancy Madore, here. She has several anthologies of erotic fairytale retellings that should be in any fan’s library.

Finally, who can forget Anne Rice’s well-loved/well-hated Beauty and the Beast trilogy? Heh.

The fairytale craze also hits the paranormal subgenre pretty frequently. What do you expect, what with the Djinn (‘Genies’), and shifters (Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Red and the Wolf, yeah!), and magic all over the place. Hey, I’m not afraid to admit that my very first ebook purchase ever was the Kings of Wonderland series by Cheyenne McCray. *fans self*

It bears noting, however, that this resurgence of fairytales seems to be less one-sided in gender appeal, which is awesome. Mainstream media is definitely a win on that end; I know just as many men who are addicted to Once Upon a Time and Grimm as women. And they’re all going to the theatres for the big screen retellings.

Even more awesome, however, is that it’s happening, even just a little bit, with books. My husband just finished Cinder by Marissa Meyer, of his own volition. It’s still a bit farther down my TBR list. What’s more? He’s impatient for the next book in the series.
It’ll be a while before I can get him hooked on Abigail Barnette, however.

So, what are your favorite fairytale retellings? Hit me up with some recs!