Monday, February 29, 2016

THE MARTIAN // My New Best Friend

I am writing this a little past one o’clock in the morning. Of course, I should be sleeping right now, but I can’t—not without telling you about THE MARTIAN. This is how much you need to know I loved this movie. (Also, just so you know, I will be referencing my sister a bit in this review. Since the two of us watched this movie together, I think it’s only fair.) 

The Story. In a nutshell, Mark Watney, our brilliant botanist astronaut, gets stranded on Mars when his crew evacuates the planet during a storm. Injured and alone, with limited rations and equipment designed only for a thirty-day mission, Mark must use his resourceful mind to survive until NASA can send help, which will take about four years. But first he has to find a way to let NASA know he’s alive. 

Right away, I was drawn in by the premise, because it seems obvious that Mark is a dead man. So I was curious to find out if (and how) he would manage to survive. On top of that, having been obsessed with Sigmund Brouwer’s THE MARS DIARIES as a small person, I have a large soft spot for stories set on Mars. Basically, there was really no way I was not going to watch this movie. 

Primal Fear. As my lovely sister wisely pointed out, one problem with space-related movies is that they can more easily tap into certain primal fears like lack of oxygen, complete isolation, or sudden and horrible death—legitimate, powerful sources of terror. While it can be fun to watch a scary movie, disturbing elements like these often get overused, which can reduce enjoyment and distract from the main point of the story. Movies like GRAVITY and INTERSTELLAR capitalize too much on the primal fear inherent in their stories, in our opinion, so my sister and I had worried THE MARTIAN would end up doing the same. Fortunately, those involved with making THE MARTIAN seemed to understand that life-threatening stuff—like inability to breathe, bodily injury, and the threat of exposure—are already powerful enough without needing to ramp up the tension with dramatics. In other words, viewers do not need to be fed a constant stream of immediate terror in order to understand that the characters are in dire peril. 

The Humor. THE MARTIAN has comic relief down to a science. Mark may be in a horrible position, but the well-balanced humor allows us to feel more settled when Murphy’s Law strikes again and again. If Mark feels safe enough to joke about his seemingly imminent death, then we, as the viewers, can feel safe enough to enjoy the movie. Or something like that. Of course, it certainly does help that Mark’s Watney’s sense of humor is similar to mine, which means I relate to him about a bazillion percent (numbers not accurate). 

Mark Watney. Mark is pretty much everything that I look for in a main character. He is clever and resourceful, and he has a strong, indomitable spirit. Instead of caving to depression and fear—which would be understandable, given his circumstances—he accepts the odds against him and then decides, in his matter-of-fact way, not to die. 

One of the biggest things he has going for him is his ability to think long term while handling problems as they arise, one after another. As much as his situation is unfortunate and relatively uncomfortable, he still finds ways to enjoy his work and his life, and he finds humor in even the darkest moments. Most importantly, the fact that he can find a legal reason for why he should be considered a space pirate makes him my new hero. So there’s that. 

The Pacing. Unlike GRAVITY and INTERSTELLAR, where the plots feel like a series of bad events strung together, THE MARTIAN mixes both good and bad in healthy doses. There are times when Murphy’s Law is evident all over the place, but there are also times when it’s tempting to believe there will be no further setbacks. The strength and hope of the good moments make the disasters so much more awful and demoralizing. And vice versa. This storytelling style is powerful, I assure you. 

***MILDLY SPOILERISH SECTION***The Message. Boiled down, the message of this movie is that even one life—one single life—is priceless. No one sits down and tries to decide if Mark Watney is worth the money it will take to save him. No one wonders if they can factor him into their budget and still make ends meet. Instead, those on the other end are willing to put all their time and resources into bringing him home, even if it means potentially bankrupting the space program. I can’t tell you how much I love that message, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that this message isn’t drowned out by unnecessary dramatics.***MILDLY SPOILERISH SECTION OVER***

The Side Characters. While we get to know Mark Watney very well, we also get to know a bunch of the side characters, and the movie would not be as good without them. Despite the fact that there are a lot of them, and we can’t jump into all their heads, they still feel established and human. We get to see enough of their motivations, quirks, and character traits to feel we can understand and relate to them. Also, it is enormously satisfying to watch a movie with a solid cast of frighteningly smart people who all contribute to the plot. Translation: They are my precious babies and I love them all to pieces. *hugs characters*

The Feel. I so appreciated the feel of the story. It is cerebral and powerful, clever and organic. Instead of only handing us tense action scene after tense action scene, we are given the time to appreciate the small details that make the world feel real, like the shots we spend watching Mark inventory food or make fertilizer or check on the potatoes he attempts to grow in the Marian soil. These moments make the story tangible, and they also make it so that, when we do have an action scene, it is all the more striking. But the plot also shows that tension is not necessarily correlative to loss of life or a show of blood and guts. Sometime the quietest moments are the most tense—sometimes the simplest actions and details carry the most meaning. 

Content Warning. There is a fair amount of language, including a couple uses of the “f” word. There is also a brief scene of male nudity (backside only). 

In conclusion. All in all, this is perhaps my new favorite movie of all time (aside from MISS AUSTEN REGRETS, which will always be in a class of its own). THE MARTIAN is a work of art with complex characters, brilliant gallows humor, and a stunning landscape. I highly recommend it. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you seen THE MARTIAN? What did you think of it? Have you read the book? (I've been meaning to, but I haven't had a chance yet.) What interesting movies have you watched lately? 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Q&A with Liz

Several weeks ago, I did the Get to Know Me Tag, and encouraged you to ask me questions about “myself, my writing, my top-secret heists, my devastating good looks, you name it.” Today I am finally going to answer those inquiries. 

Do you own a unicorn?

Unfortunately, someone stole my unicorn a couple years back, so now I have a pet kraken named Pip instead. 

Have you ever ventured over the rainbow bridge to Asgard?

Although I have on several occasions, I am not permitted to discloses the details of my visits. My apologies. 

Do you prefer Norse Myth or Greek myth?

Tricky question. I know a good deal more about Greek mythology than I do about Norse. So in that respect, I would have to say Greek, since I feel fairly confident discussing it. But I like what I do know about Norse mythology, and when I have learned more, my preferences could potentially change. 

What is one of your favorite Lizzy Bennet quotes?

“What are men to rocks and mountains?”—Jane Austen, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Have your read the Lunar Chronicles? 

I have read all of them, except for STARS ABOVE (which I won on Ashley's lovely blogthank you, Ashley!), and I hope to reread the series later on in the year. 

Do you ever paint your nails? 

When the mood strikes me, I will, but that doesn’t happen often. 

Do you have a favorite pizza topping? Or a favorite pizza restaurant? 

I am rather fond of bacon on pizza, although capers are wonderful as well. When I lived in Maine, my favorite pizza restaurant was Pat’s Pizza. Here in Virginia, though, I haven’t been to enough pizza places to pick a favorite, yet. 

What is your favorite fairy tale?

I’ve always been especially fond of Little Red Riding Hood. 

Do you like to write with multiple POV characters or just one? 

As a general rule, I prefer using only one point of view, but I do have a couple stories with multiple POV characters. It all depends on the book and my mood when I start writing it. 

How long does it take you to write a book draft? 

Writing the first draft of a book can take me anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending on how consistently I’m working on it. 

When you get published, how do you plan to celebrate? 

I plan to purchase an inordinate number of books and coffee mugs, like these ones . After that, I want to buy an embarrassing amount of Twenty One Pilots merch. I’d definitely do some bookish giveaways on ze blog as well. Then I would freak out because I didn’t even leave myself enough money to take my family and friends out for pizza. (Also, I very much appreciate your vote of confidence. *gives you coffee*) 

Is there a book you really really want to write but haven’t yet? TELL US ALL. (Please?) [Ashley G. asked this question as well.]

There are so many books I’ve been wanting to write for ages, it’s difficult to choose one in particular. But I guess I would have to say I especially want to finish this lame apocalyptic novel I started writing years ago. Overall, it has a similar feel to The Walking Dead, except it doesn’t have zombies—it has something else. I’m just not going to tell you what that something else is. *evil laugh* 

The one thing that’s been holding me back in finishing this particular novel (I left off at about 36K words) is the fact that I highly doubt there would be a market for it at this time. But I enjoyed working on it, and I’ve decided that’s more important. So there. 

Are you agreeable to coffee cake? 


What’s the longest it’s ever taken you to read a book? 

If I am remembering correctly, I spent about seven years on BRISINGR. But I wasn’t reading it consistently, so I don’t know if that counts. WAR AND PEACE took me about three months of relatively consistent reading (25-45 minutes a day). 

What shade of green is your favorite? 

In general, I prefer the color of new leaves, but for clothing items, I favor dark green. Blue green is nice as well. Honestly, most shades of green make me happy, so it’s difficult to choose an absolute favorite. (I’m so decisive today—can you tell?)

Who’s your favorite Star Trek character? 

It’s a tie between Spock from the originals and Deanna Troi from Next Generation. 

Do you like originals or NG better? 

As much as I love the originals, and as much as they are creative and wonderfully kooky, I have to say that I prefer Next Generation. This is partially because I was exposed to NG first, but also partially because the overall tone of NG appeals to my mind more. And let’s face it, Captain Kirk is decent, but Captain Picard is better. (Please don't hurt me, Captain Kirk fansI will give you coffee in exchange for my life.)

If you could eat one thing you’ve never tried before at no cost to you (in case you want to eat million dollar jello or whatever), what would you ask to try? 

Million dollar jello does sound rather tempting. *ponders this* But if I had to choose, I think I would try shark fin soup. *hides from PETA*

If your heists are top-secret, can we even ask about them? 

You can ask. I just won’t answer. *evil laugh* 

And that is it for today, little coffee beans. To everyone who asked me stuff, thank you so much! I hope my answers were satisfactory. Feel free to comment with your own answers to some of the questions!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Guest Post: Victoria Jackson

Today, I am enormously pleased to present you with a guest post from the lovely Victoria @ The Endless Oceans of My Mind, wherein she explains why Spider-Man is like a writer. And once you've finished reading this, I highly recommend hopping on over to her blog and browsing her archives because her writing is equal parts brilliant and fabulous.  


Spider-Man is like a writer. No, he doesn't actually, you know, write stuff (does emailing J. Jonah Jameson count as writing?) but stay with me here.

Imagine this: Spider-Man is swinging through Manhattan in an epic fashion (possibly while explosions go off in the background (which only serves to make him look more awesome)) when he notices a villain creating mischief for the poor souls on the street. (Side note: why does anyone live in New York? Seriously, HOW MANY TIMES HAS THAT CITY BLOWN UP? Granted, for a fan of explosions like myself it might be an entertaining place to live, but for normal people it's just one warzone after the other. Maybe it's just a good place for training for the zombie apocalypse?)

Let's say Spidey comes across Electro (totally not because Electro is my favourite villain). If you've seen Marvel movies/TV shows or read the comics, I'm sure you can imagine the epic fist-fights, the exploding street lamps, the witty banter, the burning electrical wires, the bouncing, shattered glass, the sharp crack of electricity, etc. etc. as the two mortal enemies battle it out.

Electro starts to get the upper hand. He fries Spider-Man's webs, gets a few good punches in and throws the web head against the wall. People sprint away and scream as their hero is beaten to a pulp, and Electro stands over Spider-Man, a sizzling ball of electricity in his hand. 

Spider-Man takes a deep breath. He pushes himself off the ground. The onlookers cheer. With one (or maybe more than one) giant swing, he punches Electro in the face. Electro flies backwards, utterly defeated, then Spider-Man traps him in a web for the police. Courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. He then flicks his fantastic hair (The Amazing Spider-Man hair, not the trilogy one, mind you (and yes, you can flick your hair when it's under a mask. Don't question me)) and swings away, off to save the day yet again. 

Now before you ask, yes, there was an actual point to this.

Spider-Man is like a writer. Writers waltz through life, trying not to trip over stuff, until they find a good story idea. They write it and an epic battle ensues, filled with character arcs and explosions and setting description and banter. 

Then there comes a point where you feel like you're failing. Maybe you recieved negative feedback, that villain got one too many punches in or you're beginning to hate your characters. For some reason, you find yourself on the ground, gasping for breath as the glass from the store windows digs into your face and you begin to wonder how you're going to make it out of this thing alive. Typing "The End" seems so far away, whether you're editing or drafting. 

But the thing is, writers are superheroes. We spin alternate realites with nothing but our words. We breathe life into people who wouldn't exist without us. We inspire and weave and destroy and create. 

Superheroes don't give up, and neither do writers. 

So go, get on your feet and give that villain, no matter what form he takes, a good punch in the face. 

What kind of villains are you fighting? Which Spider-Man villain is your favourite? (I would ask which superhero is your favourite, but it's obviously Spider-Man so I won't bother asking.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE // Excuse Me while I Die of Happiness

Rating: Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)

Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have finally read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis. It had been on my wish list for a couple years, but I had always ended up not having the money to buy it, or not remembering it when I did have the money, or not finding it in bookstores. (I know, I have a really hard life.) But, at long last, my sister bought me the entire trilogy for Christmas! So I am one happy little astronaut. 

The Premise. The idea of people cryogenically freezing themselves in order to travel across the universe (in this case, a 300-year trip) just to colonize another planet is spectacular. I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking about this sort of concept a lot. What would it be like to leave Earth behind forever? What would it be like to set out for a new and unchartered planet in hopes of finding a better life? What would it be like to be frozen that long? Obviously ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was written just for me. (But you may also read it and love it, because I am generous like that.) 

The story gets better, though, because of course things don’t go according to plan. Fifty years before the ship is supposed to make landfall (planetfall?), someone pulls Amy from her cryo chamber, nearly killing her. Unable to return to stasis, Amy must face the bitter knowledge that she is stuck aboard a ship run by a tyrant and, worse, that when they do reach the planet and wake her parents and the rest of the frozen crew, she will be an old woman. She has given up everything—her home, her possessions, her friends—in exchange for this, and now someone is set on murdering the frozens and destroying all that they’ve sacrificed their previous lives for. Her only hope is that she and her new friend, Elder, will be able to stop the killer before it’s too late. Naturally, I love everything about this—the juxtaposition of the wonder of space travel and the loneliness and separation that come with, the cozy safety of the spaceship and the horror at being stuck inside with a killer. 

Godspeed. I love Godspeed and I love that the ship has such a palpable presence in the book. Despite all that’s going on, Beth Revis never forgets to keep us grounded in the setting, almost as if Godspeed itself is a character. As I was reading, I got such a clear picture of the cultural and physical landscape inside the ship—the sad, metal, pseudo sky; the fields with the genetically modified plants and animals; the weirdly complacent, mindless ship dwellers; the cryo level with its window into space, and everything else. I felt I could close my eyes and live inside that ship. 

Racism and Monoethnicity. While ACROSS THE UNIVERSE deals with a different sort of racism than we usually face in the real world, it is nonetheless effective at pointing out one of the core problems of racism. On Godspeed, all the shipborn people (descended from those who volunteered to run the ship so the frozen crew would be ready for landfall) have, essentially, been bred to manifest similar physical characteristics. This means they all share the same skin tones, the same hair colors, the same eyes, etc. While part of this homogenization is unavoidable, since the number of humans is too low to avoid inbreeding, it has also been further implemented to prevent any sort of discord caused by differences. So, when Amy shows up, freshly awake from her popsicle slumber, with her red hair, green eyes, and pale skin, she is instantly labeled a freak and treated like a non-person. 

The issue is not that she is different but that the people around her struggle to accept differences. In their minds, it would be much easier if she looked like them. And the fact that she doesn’t means there must be something wrong with her. At heart, we humans tend to want everyone to be the same as us—to look the same way, to think the same thoughts, to enjoy the same experiences. And, even with exposure, we tend to have trouble accepting those who don’t fit our criteria. If people like the shipborns have never been taught to understand and value the differences in others, it is unsurprising that they would dislike or be frightened by those differences. I love that this aspect of the book highlights how important it is to appreciate the way cultural and ethnical diversity makes the world a more vibrant, textured place to live. 

Amy and Elder. I love their voices. They both have so much to add to the story, and I never found myself getting bored with either of them. Typically, I don’t get too excited about dual narratives because I usually up preferring one narrator over the other. I also tend to forget which person’s head I’m in if the characters’ voices sound too similar (and they often do), which can be frustrating. But that never happened with ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Amy and Elder are distinct and interesting in their own ways, and I enjoyed their chapters equally. Also, to give you a little perspective, I read most of this book while I was functioning on one-and-a-half hours of sleep. So the fact that the story could hold my attention and keep me from being confused is saying a lot. 

The Ending. No spoilers, don’t worry! Usually I find predictable stories a tiny bit disappointing, since I would like to be at least a tad surprised by the outcome. But while the ending to ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is rather predictable, it isn’t sloppy or weak. It just (at least to me) feels like the natural conclusion to the story, and any other ending wouldn’t seem right. So, while it’s possible Beth Revis could have maintained the mystery a little better, I was nonetheless satisfied with the novel’s conclusion. 

Sensitive Elements. While I am giving this book five glowing stars, I do want to warn you that ACROSS THE UNIVERSE contains some mature content. A good portion of this book is set during the ship’s mating period, and I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it makes for a fascinating anthropological study, and it adds very well to the dystopian vibe. But, on the other hand, some of the scenes do get a little bit more descriptive than I would have liked, so be advised. 

Also, just as a warning, if you have suffered as the victim of sexual assault, or you simply don’t like reading about that sort of thing, this book might not be for you. But, as I recently talked about how much I dislike the way rape/attempted rape is often used in certain stories, I did want to mention that Beth Revis handles these elements rather well, and I would like to applaud her for that. 

All in all, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a gorgeous book. It is both cozy and scary, and it contains many of the elements I look for in Science Fiction. It also reminds me a bit of THE GIVER (but only in the best ways). Basically, I love it to pieces, and you should go read it or we can’t be friends anymore

What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you read this one? If so, what are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite Science Fiction novels/stories, if you have any?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Further Gripes about Christian Romance

On Monday, I listed some of my major problems with Christian Romance. Today, I want to wrap up that discussion as much as I can. (Also, once again, I would like to thank my sister for aiding and abetting in the writing of this post.) 

See, the problem is, we get so hung up on the “Christian” label, like somehow we’re being promised a great story. At least it’s “clean”. At least it ascribes to a certain set of values. At least…etc. But writers and consumers apparently sometimes forget that “Christian” and “quality” are not synonymous. So let’s talk about this. 

Personhood. I already addressed this in Monday’s post, but I want to reiterate because I focused only on the woman side of issue, and I’d like to broaden my scope. Among other things, I mentioned that the heroines in Christian Romances often seem to exist only for their men to romance them, and that these heroines don’t have much substance to their personalities. However, I should also mention that the men in Christian Romances aren’t generally treated like real human beings either. Instead, they are frequently idealized. 

If you pay close enough attention, you’ll see a pattern. Our Christian Romance hero doesn’t have any true faults. Sure, he teases the heroine and tries to make her angry, but it’s all in good fun. He might have some emotional rough patches (for instance, he might get angry at our heroine for some, probably justifiable, reason), but he has no deep personal flaws. He, like the heroine, doesn’t have a violent streak, or a selfish streak, or a bitter streak. Or, if he does have flaws, they are highly romanticized and painted as good/desirable. He doesn’t even think like a man, usually. In essence, he’s what women unconsciously look for in men—he is a woman in a man’s body. Not to mention, he is insanely attractive and, as with our heroine’s physical appearance, we are frequently reminded of his dashing good looks. Because we all know hotness is the most important factor in a relationship. 

Ugliness. A good romance doesn’t present cardboard characters who exist only to be beautiful and in love. We are all of us imperfect, and we all have ugly aspects to our character. Pretending those facets don’t exist doesn’t give us a better romance—it just gives us a dishonest one. Sometimes I think Christian Romance writers shy away from the representation of sin in their characters’ lives because they’re writing “clean” books. How can you write a “clean” book if you have sinful characters? Wouldn’t it just be awful to show us how bad humans can be? 

I’m not saying Christian writers have to throw away their guidebooks and their morals and write about sordid love affairs and whatnot. But I am saying a Christian writer shouldn’t shy away from the truth, even when it gets ugly. It may not be as desirable to have a heroine and hero who struggle with temptation and sin, who sometimes think bad thoughts and want bad things despite their faith, who mess up again and again until they learn—if they ever learn—but that’s what people are really like. Sure, we humans have many attractive qualities about us: humor, intelligence, physical appearance, whatever. But there’s nothing more beautiful than the grace God has given us, and I wish more Christian Romances focused on that—God’s grace despite our faults—instead of squeaky-clean, perfect-looking, pseudo-humans. Love is more beautiful when it exists despite the ugliness of sin than it is when it exists only as a washed-out, untested version of itself. 

Testing Love. In my Monday post, I briefly touched on the tendency toward romanticized portrayals of roguish men. Many of the heroes in Christian Romance are presented as these reformed ruffians with just enough wickedness in them to make them interesting and exciting and wonderfully dangerous. But this wicked streak is painted as something attractive, desirable, and ultimately harmless. In other words, even his faults are good. And I’ll admit that there is definitely something very attractive about that sort of man. Otherwise, why would that character type be so popular? 

But this representation of the bad guy gone good—or worse, the good bad guy—ignores certain fundamental aspects of human nature. So let me give you an example of human nature. In LORNA DOONE (a book I adore beyond all human reason) we have a highwayman side character who is in love with the main character’s sister, Annie. Annie and the highwayman get married, and the highwayman promises that he has put his old ways behind him and that his love for Annie will be enough. He will not feel the need to go back to holding up carriages at gun point. He has found another cause to live for. Hearts and romance and all that mushy stuff. But fast-forward to later on in the book, and what do we find? Our highwayman has grown restless. After the initial excitement of his marriage has faded and domestic daily life has gotten into full swing, he has begun to realize something. He is, at heart, just not cut out for this sort of existence. At the peak of his romantic feelings, he may have chosen to change his ways, but he is still the man who found adventure and life in breaking the law—his love for Annie and his good intentions haven’t changed the core of his being. Because of this, his antsy-ness at being tied down when his soul was meant to free as a bird puts a strain on their marriage. 

I’m using this example, not because I’m saying every romance that portrays a rogue and a lady falling in love will end in hardship (and I’m also not going to tell you the end of Annie and her highwayman’s story—you’ll have to read the book for that), but I am saying that rogues don’t change completely. At some point down the road, once the excitement of marriage fades, they will want to revert back to their old ways because that’s what comes naturally to them. Even the “good” guys will not seem perfect forever. So instead of always showing us the time when the hero and heroine fall in love, with all its dashing romance and blinding emotion, wouldn’t it be great if writers sometimes showed us what comes later on, down the road? Wouldn’t it be nice if they showed our couple struggling to stay in love despite the natural tendency toward entropy? 

It’s so easy to fall in love, and it’s so easy to write about falling in love. But love doesn’t mean all that much when it isn’t tested, and I think a lot of Christian Romance writers miss that. Otherwise I don’t think we would have so many stories about falling in love and so few about staying in love. After all, we live in a culture where love ends. Often it seems that we fall in love with the secret understanding that we’re falling, but we’ll one day stop falling, and then it will be over. But real love is beautiful and messy and hard, and it is a conscious choice, not an accident. It is a war, not a vacation. The fact that so many Christian writers focus heavily on the happy aspects and shy away from representing the trenches makes me wonder how much these writers truly understand the love they’re writing about. It makes me wonder how much faith they have that the love they’re representing is strong enough to last beyond the honeymoon period. 

In Conclusion. I know there are plenty of unhealthy romances out there and that this is not a peculiarly Christian problem. But if we, as Christians, believe that God is love and the author of all love, then our Romance novels should reflect that belief. In short, Christian Romance should be better, purer, more powerful than run-of-the-mill Romance. Because we Christians should understand what romance means. 

Since I have griped so much about the majority of Christian Romance, I think it’s only fair that I share the ones that have not disappointed me. Unfortunately, the majority of my exposure to Christian Romance happened when I was a young thing, so many of the stories have melded together in my mind. I can’t be sure, now, if the books I think were fine were actually fine. I’m sorry. I do believe Janette Oke’s LOVE COME’S SOFTLY series is okay, as I remember it feeling particularly safe and real. But aside from that, I would have to do some rereading before I felt comfortable putting my stamp of approval on any other examples. 

What about you, little coffee beans? What do you think? Do you have any good examples of Christian Romance? What has been your experience with this genre?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cinderella's Ball

I am pleased to announce that Ashley @ [insert title here] is celebrating her third blogversary (fairytale style), and in honor of that, I’m joining a link-up/tag she's created. Her blog party will run until the 24th, and it's fabulous and fun, so you should go check it out. *gives you puppy eyes* 

What are you still doing here? 

What would you wear to a fairytale ball?

I would wear some sort of dress, preferably dark blue and scary-looking. (I know, very specific.)

What shoes? (I don’t mean to be tedious, but this is Cinderella’s Ball.)

Shoes? SHOES? Shoes are for the weak. I would go barefoot. (Or maybe I would wear combat boots.) 

What is the most necessary accessory? 

A. Shoes! 
B. Your royal signet ring. 
C. Wildflowers for you hair. 
D. This beauty doesn’t need accessories. 
E. A red cape. 
F. Your crown. 

I would wear a crown made of wildflowers. 

What is your favorite fairytale?

Little Red Riding Hood. Scary wolf? Dark woods? Yes, please. 

At the ball, you would: 

A. Eat cake. 
B. Dance. 
D. Find a nice quiet corner from which to Sherlock people. 
E. Spy out your rival’s resources. 
F. A combination of…

I choose option F. Basically, I would camp out near the cake table and watch people from the distance. I might also dance with myself…while eating cake. *shrugs* 

You see a dwarf with his beard wedged under a boulder. He’s mistreated your help before, so you: 

A. Leave him. He deserves it. 
B. Point and laugh. 
C. Steal his gold. 
D. Help the little folk out. 
E. Trim his beard. It’s obviously a nuisance. 

Hmm. If I answer this question honesty, you’re probably going to assume I’m soft, which won’t do since I plan to be your world ruler. So I’m just going to go with C. I would steal his gold. 

Do you know anyone who reminds you of a particular fairytale? 

Yes, but if I told you about this person, the magic would be lost. 

If someone asked to marry you when they first met you, your reaction would be: 

A. Um, yes. Nobody’s cuter than them. 
B. Depends. Do they have a lot of money? Are they are serial killer with a lot of money? 
C. RUN! They’re clearly a lunatic. 
D. Love at first sight means wed at first sight. 
F. You can’t say ‘yes’ to everyone who asks to marry you. They should get in line. 
G. You fly solo. 

As a general rule, I prefer to fly solo, but if this guy had a lot of money and wasn’t a serial killer, I could be tempted to reconsider. Of course, before tying the knot, he would have to sign a paper saying that, if he were to die under random, suspicious circumstances, I would get to keep his money and his property. 

Your true love will: 

A. Give you a library. 
B. Fetch your shoes for you. 
C. Be a shallow walnut head. They’re easier to manipulate. 
D. Find you immortalized in a glass casket. They’re too late. 
E. What is this strange concept called true love? 
F. Oh, right. You fly solo. 

I will take the library. Final answer. 

Name three big events in your life, or something that took you three tries to get. 

Well, I could be wrong, but I believe it took me three tries to make a decent batch of fudge. 

Name something you have seven of. 

If you’re talking of something I have at least seven of, I would say books. If you’re talking about something I have exactly seven of, I would say seasons of Star Trek: Voyager because I own all seven. (I’m so proud of me.)

Who is your nemesis? 

A. A step-mother. 
B. A giant. 
C. A wicked witch. 
D. A dwarf whose name is either unknown or impossible to enunciate without a glossary. 
E. The Big Bad Wolf (Not just any wolf, The BBW). 
F. That insufferable youngest step-daughter of yours.

Yes on F, most emphatically yes—that insufferable youngest step-daughter of mine is my arch nemesis. (Contrary to popular belief, The BBW and I are BFFs.)

When you meet your nemesis, you dress: 

A. As formidably as they. 
B. Innocent and sweet. 
C. Like a warrior. Let’s weapon up! 
D. Rags; it’s all you’ve got. 
E. Like a huntsman. 
F. With the intimidating superiority of an evil queen.

I would dress like warrior, but I would also dress with the intimidating superiority of an evil queen. I would be a scary, evil, warrior queen. Fear me. 

Who are your allies? 

A. Seven dwarves. 
B. Your fairy godmother. 
C. Jack the Giant-Killer. 
D. ALL the forest animals. 
E. Not to be obvious, but dragons are the way to go. 
F. Your prince charming…or knight in shining armor, your preference. 

My fairy godmother is a dragon, and she makes for a most invaluable ally. 

Do you have any retelling recs for us to either watch or read? 

For movies, I would recommend watching EVER AFTER (because it’s my favorite Cinderella retelling of all time) and HOODWINKED (it’s a humorously reimagined version of Little Red Riding Hood). For books, I would recommend CINDER (and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles), ELLA ENCHANTED (Cinderella but cooler) and FAIREST (the Gail Carson Levine FAIREST, not the Marissa Meyer FAIREST, although that one is interesting as well). 

What is your favorite song from a Disney princess movie? 

It would take an entire post to explain why I like this song so much. Eventually I will probably write that post, but in the meantime you will have to wait in awful suspense. (Cue evil laughter.)

And there you have it, my little coffee beans. What would you wear to Cinderella’s ball? What are some of your favorite fairytale retellings? What is your favorite Disney princess song? Are you going to join the link-up? (The answer is yes.)

Monday, February 15, 2016

SWEPT TO SEA and My Problem with Christian Romance

WARNING: This post contains potential triggers—if you have trouble with discussing rape, I would advise you not to read further. Also, this post contains a couple mild SWEPT TO SEA spoilers. 

Rating: One star—Ick

Last month Opal @ Opal Swirls wrote an insightful post on why she doesn’t like Christian fiction, and it echoed a lot of my opinions on the subject. But since I am a very opinionated person, and since I want to discuss my issues with SWEPT TO SEA, I’ve decided to share my own thoughts on Christian Romance. You’re welcome. (Also, I would like to thank my sister for aiding and abetting in writing this post.) 

Just as a disclaimer before I begin, I in no way intend to imply that all Christian Romance is garbage or that you’re doing something wrong by reading that genre. Even with all my negative experiences, I have still encountered a few authors whose books are well-written, well-balanced, and worthwhile. But I have read enough problematic Christian Romance novels for me to distrust the genre as a whole. 

It demeans women. Of all the genres I’ve read, Christian Romance is the worst in this category. Sometimes it’s not obvious—sometimes it is. Often the women follow the same poorly developed character pattern. They are weak and helpless without the men in their lives. They are easily teased/offended; they are judgmental, narrow-minded, and prone to foolish bouts of passion. (For instance, in SWEPT TO SEA, Eden often acts like a child and starts beating Caspian’s chest when he says the slightest thing to annoy her.) They are prone to tears—and I’m not talking about deep, emotional tears, which I have no problem with—I’m talking about temper-tantrum tears. These women tend to be rather low on the intelligence and maturity scale. And in the end, despite whatever levels of character development they do have, for the purpose of the story, they exist only for their men to romance them. Were it not for the romance, their stories would not be worth telling. 

Women get treated like sex objects. This bothers me a great deal more than the last one, and I have read too many books where this was the case—including SWEPT TO SEA. Your typical Christian Romance heroine is going to be extremely good-looking, and the author is going to remind you of this fact quite often throughout the story, even when it isn’t essential or even relevant to the plot. The hero of the story is going to notice, rather frequently, how attractive this woman is—her buxom chest, her curvy hips, her soft lips. Just watch for it. Here's the thing, though. If the hero is noticing the attractiveness of the heroine’s lips, he’s going to be thinking about kissing her—that’s just how a guy’s mind works. Okay, you say, so what? Well, let’s take that a step further, shall we? If the hero is noticing her curvy chest and her curvy hips, what do you think he’s thinking about now? Hmm? 

The types of men described in Christian Romances aren’t the cold, feelingless types who admire women as works of art but never cross that line in their mind. So if we’re going to be perfectly honest with ourselves, the hero in our Christian Romance is spending a good deal of his time lusting after the heroine. That’s not okay. Since these books are supposed to be Christian stories, you’d expect them to be reasonably clean. But I would think twice before giving this sort of book to my (non-existent) teenage girls, considering that it would be teaching them, in subtle terms, that it’s okay or even desirable for a guy to lust after them. 

The Sexual Tension. First, let me just say, there’s nothing wrong with two people having chemistry. But I have a very serious problem with some of the ways Christian authors introduce sexual tension. Let’s start with the big one first—the rape trope. As in SWEPT TO SEA, our lovely, helpless heroine gets attacked by some sort of ruffian with the express intention of deflowering her (bonus points if this happens more than once in the novel), and it is the hero’s duty to save her. Of course, there’s nothing objectively wrong with this sort of set-up, if it’s handled correctly. But it so rarely is. 

For one thing, it always makes me feel icky because it seems like a channel for the sexual tension that the author wants to create. She (or he) can’t write an explicitly inappropriate scene, like a love scene between the hero and heroine, because that would be scandalous—so she (or he) writes an attempted rape scene instead because, hey, rape isn’t inappropriate like that. But rape is still sex, and you’re still thinking about sex when you’re reading about it. And these attempted-rape scenes are often written in a way that seems designed to arouse the reader—instead of, you know, a way that would communicate the full horror of that experience. Which means the rape scene gets used to create the same level of sexual tension in the story as a sex scene would—and that’s disgusting. 

That’s not all, though. When the hero has saved the lovely damsel in distress, who has often been reduced to a rather scantily-clothed state, this often serves as a channel for further emotional intimacy between him and his darling. Except, excuse me, but that’s not how that works. When a women has just barely escaped something as violating and violent as rape, she isn’t going to recover that quickly because even though she was saved (hurrah!) she still has to deal with the feelings of helplessness and despair that come with realizing that she is powerless to stop someone from raping her. She is still going to feel violated and dirty. She will need comfort yes, but she will not want physical comfort. So using this trope as a way for the hero and heroine to come to a deeper romantic understanding, with kissing and cuddling involved, is completely inappropriate and insensitive. I’m going to say it again because I really want to make sure I get my point across: Rape is serious; rape is not just a plot point; if you use rape as just a plot point, I will stab you with a spork. 

Another trope that gets used is the “rescuing the heroine from drowning” trope, which also makes me feel sufficiently icky. So our heroine, who is incompetent at most things—including swimming (surprise surprise!)—ends up in the water, drowning. How unfortunate. And this means our hero must showcase his brilliant swimming abilities and his strength. But, lo and behold, Little Miss is just a bit too heavy with that billowy dress she’s wearing, and our dashing hero has to cut most of it off her to keep her from dying. 

Now, I get that this is a reasonably sound rescue tactic—I’m not arguing that point. My problem is with the motivation that seems to be behind this. It’s not appropriate, for a Christian novel, to have our hero undress the heroine under normal circumstances (gasp!), so instead we find a way for the hero to undress the heroine where it isn’t considered inappropriate. Except that it is, because invariably, the hero is going to narrate all the lovely details about her body as he saves her, like her curviness, her softness, etc. Gag me. My problem with this is that, if you want to introduce sexual tension to a story, then just be honest about it and do it. But don’t do it in underhanded ways because it’s still the same thing and it still has the same effect. And if you feel the need to be underhanded about it, what does that say about you? *points finger accusingly*

Unfortunate Messages. In another book I read, from a well-respected author, our heroine gets a horrible sunburn and, for comfort reasons, has to wear a tube top that makes her feel very immodest. The only point this scene has for the story is that now the hero gets to see more of her than she would ordinarily show. Consequently, he gets the chance to realize how sexy *cough cough* I mean, desirable she is. It doesn’t serve to further develop her character, or anyone else’s. It literally only happens to create more sexual tension. And, like the rape trope and the drowning trope, it also communicates the unfortunate idea that women aren’t attractive as potential partners unless they are showing more skin than they ordinarily would. Forget having a wonderful personality or great strength of character. It’s more important that Mr. Right finds you lust-worthy. Listen honey, you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable to get a guy—just saying. 

Poor Story-Telling. To have a good, sound story, your plot should read like a line of dominoes. When one domino falls, it knocks down another, which knocks down another, which knocks down another. It’s a chain reaction. Everything meshes together neatly, and it reflects the world more honestly—life is based on cause and effect, and every event has meaning. If you can remove a scene (like the above-mentioned tube top scene) without changing the outcome of the story, it means the writing is sloppy. This applies to the rape and drowning tropes as well—they are sloppy writing (in most cases) because they are usually used as short cuts for furthering emotional intimacy without having any more bearing on the plot. And if your romance hinges on a sketchy rescue or a show of skin, how strong is your romance really? 

A Matter of Conscience. Quite often, the male love interest is a rather roguish individual who isn’t hugely concerned with conventions and the distinction between right and wrong. Consequently, this leads to situations where the heroine compromises her own morals. (He clasped her in his arms. She knew she shouldn’t let him take such liberties. It was inappropriate, and if anyone saw her now, they would be scandalized. They would think she was a loose woman, and her reputation would be ruined. But she couldn’t bring herself to pull away. Yada yada.) 

This gets painted as an attractive thing—it’s hot for the roguish hero to make out with the heroine, even though she considers making out wrong, etc. Except this totally ignores a huge side of the issue. I’m not saying I think kissing is inappropriate, but I am saying that, when you feel like you are going against your conscience, even when you are not doing something expressly inappropriate, you are still damaging your conscience. And if you go against your conscience too many times, it becomes hardened. Which means I have a problem with stories that portray going against your conscience as attractive. Your conscience is what keeps you in line—it’s what clues you in to the boundaries you should not cross. Once it’s damaged, it doesn’t necessarily recover. And I’m rather disappointed that a lot of Christian literature implies that a good love story involves sneakily damaging your conscience. 

Again, I’m not saying all Christian Romance falls into these traps. As with every genre, you are going to have your good eggs and your bad eggs. But I am saying that I have read far too many books like SWEPT TO SEA. Believe me, I could go on for another whole post about some of the other problems I have with Christian Romance (if you asked me to, I totally would—I might anyway). When it comes down to it, though, all of these issues are just symptoms of a deeper problem. Bottom line: As a Christian writer, if you can’t write romance without finding devious ways to toe the line and compromise your professed morals, then there’s something wrong with your understanding of God’s plan for love and marriage. (Yup, I’ve decided—I’m going to write a sequel to this post.)

What about you, little coffee beans? Do you have any problems with Christian Romance? Do you agree/disagree with me? Can you give me some examples of good, clean Christian Romance? Also, if you would like to read an alternate viewpoint, I direct you to Tessa's lovely post in favor of Christian Fiction

Friday, February 12, 2016

Snazzy Snippets: Valentine Edition

In case you haven’t had your fill of romance yet, today I’m participating in Snazzy Snippets, a (normally) bi-monthly link-up hosted by Alyssa @ The Devil Orders Takeout and Emily @ Loony Literate. (If you are unfamiliar with Snazzy Snippets, here is a link to the explanation.) The prompts for today are:

A heartwarming snippet that makes readers go “aww!”
A kissing snippet
A snippet where love interests first appear together
(Applicable for both future or established relationships)

Since, as we covered on Wednesday, I am not a hugely romantic person, I don’t spend a lot of time attempting to write romance. This means whatever happens happens, and I just try to roll with it. However, I do have two characters, Jude and N, who will eventually be a couple. So once more, I shall be shoving them in your faces. (In case you’re new, welcome! These characters are from my Fantasy novel, DRACONIAN, also known as DSS. It features dragons, murder, revenge, and more. And if you’re wondering why I only include the initials for most of the names, it’s because I don’t like sharing my made-up names online.) 

I won’t be doing all three prompts this time, and I’ll be cheating a little on the two I do tackle. But you know what? It’s been a while since I’ve bent/broken the rules on my blog, and I’m feeling rebellious. 

This first snippet could (maybe?) fall under the “heartwarming” category. But it’s more a portrait of Jude and N’s relationship (in case I didn’t give you a good enough one in my Beautiful People post).

A smiles. “It’s a beautiful morning, is it not? Just listen to the birds sing—they know this day is wonderful.”

“All days are wonderful to you,” Jude observes, approaching from a half-hidden path. Just for a moment, I think I catch the faintest hint of sadness in his voice, yet I am unsure. 

Laughing under her breath, A leans over and grabs a silver decanter and a stack of wooden cups. An odd combination. With deft hands, she dispenses tea, straining the leaves out as she pours. “Help yourself.” She indicates the array of dishes on the table—boiled goose eggs, dark-brown bread stuck with seeds, piles of fresh greens—and my stomach rumbles. 

“Where is everyone?” I ask after the silence has held sway too long. 

A frowns. “Most are resting, I’m sure. After dancing till sunrise, they’re always tired. Others—” she coughs uncomfortably, “are biding their time. It may take a while for them to warm up to you. I’m sorry.” Her hands falter, and a teardrop of tea runs down the smooth side of a cup. 

“It’s okay,” I say, finding it difficult to make eye contact. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t intend to stay much longer. I only came because…” I’m not sure how to end that sentence. I’m not sure I want to. 

A clears her throat a couple times, seeming to struggle with her voice. “You don’t…have to leave just yet. You could wait a while.” 

“I’ll consider it,” I assent, only half-heartedly, wishing the wounded look on her face would go away. Clearly I do not belong here.

“Where do you plan to go?” Jude asks, seating himself beside me. I hadn’t noticed he was still standing, watching us and thinking indiscernible thoughts. I see them arranged beneath his bold brows, but I do not know what they mean. 

“I’m not sure,” I admit. “Just…far—far from here.” 

“Are you running away?” he asks yesterday’s question again, a little too innocently, like a dove with a snake in its eyes. 

“No,” I lie as I push away from the table. The ground is spinning, and my head is numb; I need to be alone.

“N,” he calls after me, but I ignore him as I press forward with the world all blurry around me and the air heavy on my shoulders like a mantle of lead. Despite the pain in my body that reminds me I am not well, I run for ages. Finally, though, I stop and fall to my knees on the verge of a dried-up stream lined with half-hearted blossoms. When I glance up, I see him—Jude. He must have followed me. 

Sighing, I pull my knees to my chest and hug my legs, shivering. If only I could tell him—if only I could tell someone—of the blood on my hands. Perhaps then it would ease the burden on my soul. But I can’t. 

Dried clay crumbles to dust beneath his boots as he joins me, lowering himself to the ground by my side. For a long while he just sits there, staring at the woods and the creek-bed and the marbled sky. Finally he turns to me. “You’re safe here, N,” he murmurs. “You know that, right?”

I pick a wilting flower and rub the limp petals between my fingers. “I’m not sure I’ll ever be safe,” I say. At least, not from myself.

This last snippet could fall under the “kissing” category, but, as you’ll see, it’s not actually a kissing scene. It’s the closest I have though, so we’re just going to go with it. (And in case my beta readers are confused, I’ve abbreviated it to remove spoilers.)

When I wake, it’s still too bright out for us to travel. Under the fading sun, I sit and study the others—the way Jude sleeps with his hands clenched into fists and the way K manages to curl herself into a tight ball, the way they breathe in and out in unison as though they are one entity. Maybe it’s my muddled, sickened mind getting in the way, but I feel a strange pang at this, when I see how peaceful Jude looks next to K. Lines of fatigue mark my face, and my boyish hair conforms to the will of the wind—I could never hope to be as beautiful as her. K may not be overly kind, but at least she is not a murderer like me—at least she is acting for the good of her people instead of for her own personal gain. In comparison with her, I struggle to believe anyone will miss me when I’m gone. 

Carefully, I fasten my cloak around my shoulders and stand, pausing a moment to get my bearings, to let the dizziness ebb. Then I lean forward and kiss Jude on the forehead, quickly, before I lose my courage. I don’t think I’ve ever told him how much I value his help, how much I truly have needed him all this time, how he’s always been there for me even when he has had no reason to be. How his loyalty and kindness baffle me. I’m not sure if this is true friendship or not, but I know I don’t deserve it. And I hope he will be able to understand why I have to leave without him. 

Allowing myself to stare at the two of them one last time is a mistake, I know, but still—I cannot deny myself this final glance. I want to imprint their faces in my mind—I want to memorize Jude’s black hair, his sharp jaw, the bronze gleam to his skin. I want to keep K’s unruly curls tangled around my thoughts. As I go to meet my death, I want my friends to come with me, but only in my heart. 

There you have it, my little coffee beans. Have you participated in this link-up/are you planning to? What are some of your favorite romances of all time? Are you doing anything exciting for Valentine's Day?