Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Restless Reader Syndrome

The other day, in the break room at work, I deleted a book from my Kindle... the fourth in a row. What had been billed as a romance quickly became two characters who, though in a state of mutual loathing at first sight, could not stop fantasizing about each others' stereotypical hot bodies. These are utterly incompatible sentiments... often jammed into the same sentence. People may do this, lust over someone they despise, but simultaneously? While dealing with other, immediate emotional issues unrelated to chemistry or rampant hormones? No.

Before that, I killed a story in which every single person was an idiot to some degree, one of them (the main male lead) possibly even sociopathic in his inability to deal with emotions or consider the long-term ramifications of his actions. The only way the plot could possibly play out was for them to continually do the dumbest, most short-sighted thing possible in a given situation - and they'd have to have grown even less intelligent to facilitate the romance promised by the blurb.

Before that, I tried reading a middle-grade fantasy. The concept was interesting, and the world had intriguing points, but I felt like I was reading a checklist rather than a story. Lone, picked-on protagonist boy: check. Meets a friend on the way to Hogw- er, their new boarding school: check. An eccentric adult turning up in a way designed to let me know this man will figure in heavily with future adventures: check. Drawing out what's "different" about the main character until intrigue became annoyance: check.

And before that was a by-the-numbers light fantasy romance which not only failed to explore anything truly original or amusing about the potentially great set-up, but had an added touch of objectifying/belittling women that set my teeth on edge.

There was also a Western with an idiotic heroine and over-the-top antagonist, a fantasy starting with a wall of description like a wrought-iron fence, so ornate and solid I couldn't make it past the first page of the prologue, a young adult fantasy with such a tired opening and unremarkable main character I just walked away and didn't bother looking back, and that string I hit a while back of three titles in a row with the same exact opening: a picked-on boy sneaking down an alley/back path to avoid bullies, being caught by the bully henchman who demands the in-world equivalent of lunch money, the boy dropping the money on the ground (to demonstrate cleverness) and getting away when the henchman lets him go to grab said money - only to run head-first into the main bully during his escape. (I swear, somewhere there must be a writing course handing that opening out as a freebie...)

I didn't used to do this. I used to make myself finish every story I started. I may have ground my teeth and clawed my eyes, but if it was intriguing enough to start, I figured I should try finishing it. I still remember the first time I failed to finish a Kindle title: in the work break room, where I do much of my reading on the device. I won't name names - I still have a policy of not reviewing anything I haven't read cover to cover, so deleted books get the dignity of anonymity - but I remember that feeling: I was staring at the screen, trying to pick my way through another sentence, and it struck me that I did not care. This was not a world coming to life, characters becoming more than mere contrivances of a plot, questions I needed to know the answers to before I could walk away. It was a wall of words to which I could not, for all my efforts, form an attachment. It must have held meaning and feeling to someone, as it had gotten some excellent reviews, but for me it was empty. When I finally gave up and it vanished into Kindle oblivion, it was a tangible relief. Now, I only push myself to finish if it makes it far enough to rate mention on my book review blog's Currently Reading section - generally, 10% in, though I've been known to pull the plug a little later.

Am I getting too picky? Sometimes, when I go through cold streaks, I wonder if I'm losing it: the sense of wonder, the ability to immerse in a story, to go along for the ride. I wonder if I've become too critical, too mindful of nitpicks and flaws - the problems I try my best to avoid in my own writing efforts - to see the forest for the trees, or the book for the words. I feel restless, looking for something and wondering if I'll ever find it. I don't honestly consider myself that difficult to please; a quick look at my reviews should be ample evidence that I am hardly a literary elitist... but, then, why does it sometimes seem impossible to find something that satisfies? Does it stem with my own ongoing dissatisfaction with my writing efforts? Am I judging others more harshly because I can't seem to get the words right myself, can't seem to grow my own story-forests into anything more than a scraggly copse - if that? Am I doomed to keep deleting titles, even possibly good ones, until I manage to satisfy my own creative urges... maybe never?

Then I find a story that draws me in, words that reach that elusive, ever-shifting itch - at least, for a time. And I decide that, like so many things, I'm likely just overthinking it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a book to read...

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Time Flies, Regardless of Fun Level

And so it's been a few months... time for a little cathartic whine.

I'd wanted to have at least one story finished and making the rounds by now... but I can barely open a Word document without cringing anymore, and my freewriting exercises turn into me yelling at myself to write something. And I know I need to stop doing that, but there's nothing else in my head right now but the yelling. That, and the escapist daydreaming I use to escape the yelling.

I'd wanted to get my website overhauled... but the inspiration well ran dry while I was trying to figure out HTML 5. I need to give the thing a nice facelift, or at least cut the deadweight I'm not maintaining.

I'd wanted to get some art projects finished... but between them fighting me and various demands on my time, I don't expect it'll ever happen. And I have projects coming up I need time and space for.

I'd wanted to make some manner of plan or headway for a future beyond slinging books, but education options are still prohibitively expensive, and my only other employment option is the retail trap.

I'd at least wanted to get away from the family for a little vacation... but then most of the state became a fire zone, the rest got damaged in a windstorm, and it turns out I couldn't have gone anyway because of car issues in the household. Even though I really, really need a break from my family, and they need a break from me.

Guess you really can't get what you want. Or even what you need...
Logically, I know I've done a few things.

I did the usual camp logos this year, which always makes me feel like I've accomplished something even though I really haven't.

For a while, I had a beta reader buddy, which counts as a bravery test.

I've taken several small day trips.

I've read many, many books... some of them even good ones.

That health issue - some tingling and weirdness in the feet and lower legs - seems to be mostly gone; the rest I'm pretty sure comes down to poor posture and standing for so long at work.

I got some nice new toys to play with.

And I shouldn't be complaining anyway because I have a job and a roof over my head and family and all that other stuff I know I'm taking for granted as a sheltered, spoiled rotten citizen of a First World country.

Still... is it so wrong to wish just one thing I wanted would go right? Or is the best I can ever hope for simply "I suppose it could be worse - and probably will be, soon enough"?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

And Suddenly It's March...

Just a quick I'm-not-dead-I'm-busy post for the much-neglected blog. (I've been slightly more active on my Facebook page, which is still terminally dull.)

For once, though, I actually have been busy - comparatively, at least.

I've taken more day trips this year than I think I took most of last year, and 2015's only two months old, give or take a few days. Losing Grandpa made us all a little more aware of how fast time slips past when you keep scheduling everything for Somedays. So, I've been to several parks, a small fantasy convention (which was less impressive than we'd hoped, but at least got us out of the house), a couple beaches, and a special exhibit on Pompeii, all of which have been more or less worthwhile. (The Pompeii one especially - quite fascinating, with some amazing stuff on display. I'm even glad I sprung for the audio tour.) My camera's been getting quite the workout.

I'm also making more of an effort to get Something Done on a creative front. Aside from cutting into my reading time, so far I have made little tangible progress, but I'm under the delusion that I'm slowly climbing out of the creative ditch I've been slumped in. Hopefully I'll get to the point where I can not only finish stories reliably, but start filling sketchbooks again... or maybe make more things to sell. (In my wildest dreams, I find the ambition to overhaul my websites - not just the book reviews, but the stagnant stuff. If nothing else, I ought to pull it if I'm not maintaining it.)

About the only real downside thus far has been a carryover from late last year - a minor health issue that has defied definitive diagnosis, yet which seems to slowly be resolving on its own. Fingers crossed that it continues to do so...

I suppose I've wasted enough time tonight. Best get back to doing something Useful.