Monday, December 28, 2009

movies in brief: Holmes, Zombieland, and "Karate Kid" trailer

I started writing this massive review of Sherlock Holmes last week, woven through with a rant about movie critics, but it got too long and depressing and I quit.

However, the comments section of my last post yielded some interesting fodder, and I do still have a thing or two to say about Holmes, so here goes:

Shirley wrote: "I heard very good things about Avatar from my friend in Seattle, slight political message aside. So I might actually go see that one in theater, since 3-D won't be as good, IMHO on a home screen.:

I agree, if you're going to see a movie renounced for its visuals, 3-D on a movie screen is definitely the way to go. I admit I wanted to see Holmes in the theater, in part because of its sets. But I think I'll give Avatar a pass; I've never been able to overlook story flaws in favor of whirligig visuals, and a couple sources I trust have told me things that suggest Avatar would annoy me.

SG wrote: "I am wondering what your take on "Zombieland" is, if you went to see it."

I did not "go" to see it, but I did watch it. I'm glad after all I did not "go" to see it. It was wearyingly lazy. There were a few chuckles, but the whole thing had an amateurish feel; characters and plot were stock. The trailer was definitely the best part of the movie.

Speaking of great trailers, did you know they've made a "Karate Kid" remake? This one is set in China, stars Jackie Chan and Will Smith's kid, Jaden, and presumably will involve Jackie teaching the kid kung-fu instead of karate. Internet chatter implies it will be called "The Kung-Fu Kid" instead, which is awkward but a relief to hear.

Nevertheless, the trailer makes all of this look fresh and exciting. I'm sure there is some kind of industry-given award for Making This Sow's Ear Resemble a Silk Purse, and the guy who pasted together this trailer probably deserves it.

Now, about Sherlock Holmes.

We were snowed in the day before Christmas. As a result, we had one of the nicest holidays ever: we spent four days in the house: reading, watching movies, and eating ourselves silly. In tandem with the gorging and soaking up heat from the wood stove, I read most of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (nine stories and part of a tenth), and then about half of A Study in Scarlet.

By Sunday, the roads were somewhat clearer and I felt suitably briefed for the movie, so we got into our tweeds, vests, and bowler hats and went to see Sherlock Holmes. (Side note: Going out in public in semi-costume is vastly entertaining. I wore my brown tweed vest and skirt with an ivory silk blouse that gives me a distinct 1890's air. Little girls love that outfit. Kids just stare and stare; their parents pretend not to see.)

In comments to my last post, Freyalyn said about the movie: "Very impressed, unexpectedly so. Looked fabulous, clothes and rooms and streets and big vistas. Women in far too much makeup though. Jude Law actually managed to act! And Tower Bridge was constructed correctly."

I have to agree with all of that, especially the part about the makeup on Rachel McAdams. Very weird to see her in all that eyeliner. Also didn't like the pink satin gown they had her in for a major sequence--hideous color. But when Holmes first spies her, she is in a red velvet suit that I would happily sacrifice small children for.

I enjoyed the movie quite a bit and will definitely add it to my collection in future. The characters are fun, the action is exciting, and the overall look of the film--the sets, costumes, and mood--are simply awesome. The story is tolerable: it all holds together in the end, but the SP and I agreed that the movie was lacking a sense of urgency: there was never a real sense of danger to our heroes or the world in general.

Now, having seen the movie and read a fair amount of the source material, I am more disgusted than ever by the vast majority of critics who don't seem to know what they are talking about.

"Moriarty" over at Ain't it Cool News is even more right than I imagined about the movie's adherence to canon, right down to Holmes shooting "VR" ("Victoria Regina") in the wall, which is lifted verbatim from "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," which, moreover, begins with an account of Holmes' slovenly housekeeping habits.

The one thing in the movie which may not be canon--at least I have not yet found reference to it--was the implication that Watson had a weakness for gambling. But at this point I am not about to say that tid-bit is wrong.

So: I am disgusted with critics who cry foul without doing their homework. I should be used to that, it happens to me all the time when "peer" critters report on my work.

Then there are the critics who cannot separate their own biases from what is actually on the screen. Because they prefer the Basil Rathbone version of Holmes, they cannot judge anything new on its own terms. This, in my experience, also stems from willful ignorance (I know what I like ergo I shan't allow for other points of view, ergo everything else is wrong). This crew gripes about the martial arts in the movie (which, for the record, I thought were very well done), and Robert Downey Jr.'s slovenly appearance and manic tendencies. I will concede that Downey's casting was a bit questionable; Holmes is described many times in the stories as tall, thin, and hawk-nosed, whereas Downey looks rather like a dissolute leprechaun.

Thirdly, I am exhausted with critics who can't see past fashionable tropes to what is actually on the screen. I am specifically thinking of the repeated assertions that Holmes and Watson are gay.

Folks, men (and women) can be fast friends for their entire lives, and may even love one another, but that does not mean they are homosexuals. There is brotherly love, and there is the love for comrades-in-arms, and there is the intimacy that two roommates will have that is as close as any found between a husband and wife--and none of that need be sexual in nature.

On the other hand, same-sex friends may have a sexual relationship with one another and still not be "gay" in the sense that they want to share a life with that person. They still see themselves pair-bonding with someone of the opposite sex. It's impossible to categorize all the possible permutations of intimacy--both physical and emotional--between two people, and it's probably impossible for a 21st-century American to understand the bonds between two men of the Victorian Era, a time when close friendships with women was virtually impossible.

Furthermore, at several times in my life, I have been the sole female in a circle of male friends, and we all got along fine until I started dating one of them, at which point all the other males fell away in jealousy and resentment. Some of them wanted me for themselves; some of them merely resented the fact that two members of the former "gang" were splitting off without the others. People get jealous when their friends abandon them for new pursuits, and sex need have nothing to do with it.

All of which leads me to wonder if the finger-pointed and labelling of "gay" by certain critics is a reflection of our current times, when people like to have everyone categorized in neat little boxes, or a projection of the critics' own prejudices or proclivities. Mr. Critic, does it make you nervous when two men live together? Are you privately offended by the increasing acceptance of gay lifestyles and portayals in fiction? Or are you, yourself gay, and you are eager to find yourself role models in classical fiction?

Whatever. The supposed "double entendres and sidelong glances" were invisible to me. Roger Ebert even asserted that Jude Law was wearing lipstick when he promoted the movie on Letterman--what does that have to do with the price of tea? I guarantee Law and Letterman were both wearing makeup for the camera, but that is unrelated to the movie and certainly unrelated to the sexual orientation of the fictitious character played by Law in said movie.

Gah. This is getting long and depressing again. The movie was cool. It was a tad too long and too Hollywood-formulaic in structure; some of the fight scenes were pointless and should've been tossed. But I still would like to own it. Also, the Holmes stories are pretty good reading and I'll keep consuming them.

What I need to stay away from are critical reviews.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ok, ok! I'll go see it....

Stellar review of Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes by "Moriarty" from Ain't it Cool News. And by that I mean the review is stellar--descriptive, analytical, and informed. He makes his case convincingly.

Oh, yes... the action scenes. This is probably the most controversial choice made with this new run at the character, and it shouldn't be. After all, Conan Doyle himself wrote the ultimate confrontation between the genius of Holmes and the genius of his arch-enemy Moriarty as a fistfight above a waterfall. Doyle has always been clear about the fact that Holmes was trained in Brazilian martial arts and the rules of boxing, both Queensbury and street, which makes sense. Why wouldn't a genius who frequently puts himself in harm's way learn how to handle himself physically? And in particular, why wouldn't he learn martial arts, where how you think is as important as how strong you are?


Well said, my good man. Now I'm actually eager and hopeful about seeing this. And I may well pick up a Doyle book before I go. I'm ashamed to say, although I've always lived in a house that contained a Holmes adventure or two, I've never read one.

And for the record, I will humbly admit that my gorge-heaving reaction to the trailer was based on ignorance. Ah well--now I have more enticing research to look forward to!

Monday, December 21, 2009

it wasn't his child

By this time of year, most of us are full to the back teeth with Christmas music. We get treated to the same twenty songs over and over again, and every year the renditions get shriller, faster, and more mutilated. The smooth croons of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole have given way to back-beats and distorted warbling.

But this song still gets me. As with every other Christmas ditty, there are many, many covers of this song, but the one by Sawyer Brown was the first I ever heard, and the one I prefer.

I can't call myself a believer in anything these days. At best I can say I have an open mind. But the family dynamics of the Mary and Joseph story, the pure dirty bloody humanism of it, gets to me.

The little, uncelebrated ways in which people do good by each other: that's what I still believe in.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

sex and the kung fu girl

Despite the title this post is more theoretical and contemplative than sexy. If you are prudish or smarmy please go read something else.

For some years now I've been contemplating the relationship between Chinese martial arts and women's reproductive health. Even done a little research from time to time, although I came up with nothing conclusive. If you Google "women's kung fu" you get articles about how to become multi-orgasmic and my interest is a little less prurient and a bit more practical than that. So I've decided to simply write about my own experiences and cast them out into the aether, and see what kind of answering pings come back.

As my long-time readers know, my husband and I have been studying kung fu and tai chi with the same teacher for a number of years. I can confidently say that martial arts does good things for my health overall. I've been doing tai chi for 10 years now, and I still wear the same size clothes as I did in college. My blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall health are exceptionally good and look to stay that way for the next 10 years. I am usually strong, fit, and flexible for a woman in my culture.

The one health problem I've always had is with my menstrual cycle. I had terrible cramps when I was a teenager, to the point where I was basically immobilized for the first 6 or 8 hours of my period. This continued up until I was 25 or so--which also happened to be the year I started tai chi.

I don't think anyone will doubt that being physically fit is going to make your body run more smoothly. But I had been a daily runner for a couple of years at that point and it never seemed to make a dent in my cramps. The tai chi did. I can't say for sure how long it took, but after a year or so I realized that there was a definite pattern. I still got weak and crampy, but I was no longer incapacitated.

Also, it deserves to be said, about this same time I learned I could dose myself heavily with ibuprofen when I started bleeding and that would lessen a lot of the pain. Furthermore, that same summer I quit drinking soda. I was a Pepsi addict before that, downing at least 3 a day. They made my bladder burn. So I quit drinking them, and quit eating french fries, and lost 8 pounds in 3 months. I don't think I was exercising any more than previously. I probably was not running as much, because I always hated running and the tai chi was much nicer to practice in the evenings.

Furthermore, I discovered that when I *had* cramps, I could stand in a horse stance, do my qigong (chi kung) breathing, and the pain would lessen. So it wasn't merely an accumulative process, it was an active treatment.

After about three years in tai chi, I progressed to Chun Man Sit's class and started kung fu. This was more physically demanding than the tai chi. It involved a lot more kicks, lower stances, a faster pace. I began to notice my thighs and butt firming up, and my belly flattening. Billy Blanks had it right--martial-arts kicks are the best exercise a woman can do.

And the cramps lessened still more. Enough so, in fact, that I could and would still go to class when I had cramps. As long as I kept moving, I didn't feel too bad.

I'm sure it helped that around this time I started reading about low-carb diets, and took steps to reduce the amount of wheat and simple starches I ate. I have noticed a definite connection between what I'm eating and my PMS symptoms.

Eventually, karma being what it is, my classmate Tony and I started dating and then married. Since neither of us was the other's first sexual partner, and we were both in the best shape of our lives at that point, we were pleasantly surprised to discover each other's--shall we say--resilience and stamina.

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that the seat of health is in the kidneys, and one measure of health is a strong, fulfilling sex life. A number of the qi gong exercises I have been taught are intended to strengthen the kidneys. Whether they do or not, they certainly strengthen the auxilliary plumbing.

The horse stance is a particularly good example. It's common to virtually every martial arts style, and there are plenty of demonstrations of the horse stance on the web, so I won't rehash it here. But I will point out, when it's done correctly, the tailbone is tucked under, the lower back (lumbar region) is stretched and rolled outward, the hips are open, the belly is relaxed, and the perineum is taut. How can the pelvic muscles not be involved?

In other exercises, such as Six Healing Sounds Qigong, the anus is contracted as the breath is expelled. Sounds like an old-style Kegel to me!

Once I was discussing this subject with my mom. She confirmed that the horse stance felt very much like the Kegel exercises her doctor showed her. My mom is post-menopausal and she said the Kegels helped stop occasional urine leakage. When she told me that, I remembered that I, too, had had minor leaks when I was younger (during my too-much-Pepsi days!). I understand this is fairly common in women, but I haven't experienced it at all for many many years.

Another post-menopausal woman, a long-time tai chi teacher, repeated these observations--lessened menstrual problems, no "dribbling" and better sex--in connection with her practice. I even know of one woman who managed to conceive a baby--after years of disappointment--after several months of focused qi gong practice.

I wish I could create a wide-scale study of women to measure how their sexual and menstrual health might improve as a result of kung fu or tai chi practice. I suppose I should start with myself: my practice habits have been abysmal this year and, predictably, my PMS symptoms have worsened, I've put on a couple pounds and my libido has dozed off.

For now, I'll just release this post into the wild and invite other kung-fu babes to share their stories. Got an anecdote to share? Got questions? You can post anonymously, just know that I moderate everything before it goes up.

Related articles [added as I find them]: Adrenal Fatigue and Chinese Medicine

Friday, November 13, 2009

autumnal

The bruises from the Halloween wreckage are fading and I'm feeling the need to inject some theatricality into my own life.

Exhibit A:
John Steed and Emma Peel, our own Halloween tribute to The Avengers....



I made my jumpsuit. I must admit I kick butt when it comes to patterning these days, although that pleather was ultra-cheap and probably wouldn't survive a second wearing. But it was $10, so who cares? Oh, and those white booties? Actual vintage 60's footwear, made in France. Took me two months of hunting online to find them.



My honey looks amazing. All the women we met kept commenting how how yummy he was. All the guys who have seen this pic comment on what a shame it is that no one dresses up for day-to-day anymore...

... Which brings me to Exhibit B:

This Just In From the 1890's, an article in the NY Times about the influx of late-Victorian influences in fashion and interior decorating. Wow--where have you guys been? You know what they say, when the mainstream takes notice, the trend is over. Nevertheless, after I read this I ran straight to my fabric stash and pulled out a couple of the wonderful woolens I've been hoarding for the past two years. I think a new skirt is in order. Sherlock Holmes is coming out in December and I want something appropriate to wear.

Exhibit C:
Emilie Autumn. I know I'm coming late to her party, but I don't think I'm exactly mainstream, and I hope this chick isn't Over--she's only, like, 30. I've been peripherally interested in Emilie for a while, but you know how sometimes you're not ready to process a sound or a flavor (like the first time I ate Indian food) because it's too unfamiliar, but the unfamiliar is also interesting, and stays with you until one day you say, "Hey, let's try that again," and it turns out to be exactly what you were in the mood for?

I'm especially digging on "Swallow." Not that it's indicative of my general mood, but I've been there. Periodically.

This song intrigues me because it seems to be talking about her bipolar disorder (I'm assuming that it's literal and not just a metaphor) and how she wishes she were a little more normal--to the point she's willing to medicate herself. Myself, I sometimes wish I were a little bit crazier, which is why I'm drawn to artists like Emilie and Amanda Palmer--and Alanis and Tori, back in college.

Sometimes I consider dying my hair pink. But never long enough to go through with it. It amuses me to let people think I'm normal.... I can observe them at closer range that way. That's why the Avengers appeal to me: Steed and Emma Peel look like a couple of posh mainstream folks, but beneath the tweed and leather they are subversives who can destroy you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

superheroines meta

Excellent short story by Cat Rambo in Strange Horizons ezine: Ms. Liberty Gets a Haircut. Both celebrating and dissecting the superhero(ine) mystique, and the fanboys/girls who power it. A touch of Michael Bendis' "Powers," perhaps by accident. If this were a monthly serial, I might even buy the TPB.

Go. Read.

Monday, November 02, 2009

define irony

It never ceases to amaze me how many pop songs come out that lyrically crucify either the music industry machine or the pop stars who power it.

The latest example I've found is OneRepublic's "All the Right Moves." I dig the video, for reasons that should be obvious to you regular visitors, but the lyrics are positively vicious.

See, the lead singer/songwriter, Ryan Tedder, has written for some of the biggest pop stars out there. In fact, earlier this year there was a flap in which Kelly Clarkson accused him of providing the same backbeat track to both her and Beyonce.

She may be right. If he did, it was unprofessional. And Clarkson has a point that the fans are going to accuse her of ripping off Beyonce. Fans are stupid that way; it doesn't dawn on most of them that the artists they love are patched-together composites: puppets assembled to represent the talents of many different people.

My sympathy is with Tedder. I'd think if you had an ounce of self-esteem, making art for other people and watching them get the credit would tend to eat at your soul. And if one of them came back and spat in your face because you didn't make her famous enough, or not famous in the way she wanted... well, let's just say I find this embittered rant of a song tremendously satisfying.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

chimps trade meat for sex

There's no reason to mention this article, except after I read it, I had the burning desire to say to someone, anyone, "Duh! Why do you think 90% percent of dates involve men taking women out to dinner? The man is proving he can provide for a mate and offspring!"

I don't care what anybody says: we're all animals at our core. Being human means you have evolved a superego to make up lies to disguise the fact that you're driven by your id.

And that's exactly the reason I always insisted on going dutch, during the early phases of dating someone. Although in retrospect that may have backfired, since I tended to end up with guys who wanted to be taken care of.

It's a delicate and difficult thing, balance of power.

Friday, September 25, 2009

grumpy old men/fried green tomatoes

I have a tomato cage in my back yard. Tony built it. It's a raised bed with chicken wire all around, to keep out the squirrels and neighborhood cats. I don't really have enough sunlight in my yard to raise produce; the plants grow just fine but they bear little fruit.

This year the tomatoes I planted were indeterminate heirloom varieties. That means they grow and grow and grow until they stick out the top of the tomato cage. Once there, they were actually tall enough to grab a little sun, and one of them threw out some late fruit--two large green tomatoes the size of softballs, just beginning to turn pink. I hoped there would be enough sunny hours left in the fall to let them ripen.

I came home last night to find two of my herb pots had been knocked off the fence-rail next to the tomato cage. The biggest terracotta pot was cracked, but still intact. That was annoying, but it could've been a cat, could've been a squirrel.

Then I noticed my two big green tomatoes were gone. I thought that was weird--squirrels don't usually go for tomatoes until they are ripe. And it was weird that the stems looked splintered, instead of chewed. I looked around for the tomatoes on the ground.

I found them inside the cage.

Somebody had climbed up on my fence, knocked my pots off, picked my tomatoes, and apparently felt bad about it and put the tomatoes back in the cage, on the soil, at the base of the plant.

Grr.

I suspect one of the neighbor children. I'd seen her in our yard previously, last week when I was home sewing. I went over and knocked on their door, showed her and her mother the fruit and asked if she knew anything about it. The kid denied it, of course. Her mom was sympathetic but said she had seen an unfamiliar child's bike in our yard the day before.

I have no problem with the kids playing hide-and-seek in our yard, but when they start tearing up my stuff.... I may have to put down bear traps, tripwires with tranquilizer dart guns, attack bunnies....

Anyway.

I decided to make the best of it. I've tried to make fried green tomatoes several times before and failed miserably. Tomatoes are bitter when they're green, they turn to mush when you cook them, and they're so wet the breading doesn't want to stick.

But this time it worked. The tomatoes were very green and still hard, just blushed on the inside when I sliced them. I salted them twice, once with sea salt and once with Pensey's Seasoning Salt, which has a bit of sugar and herb flavoring. I also dusted on Herbs de Provence and some black pepper and let them sit on the cutting board for a bit while the oil heated. I used a 12-inch nonstick skillet and about 1/2 inch or less of Pomace olive oil.

When the oil was quite hot, I double-breaded the slices: first in masa harina (corn flour), then in egg/milk wash, then in a mix of masa and whole-wheat bread crumbs. They fried up quick and crispy and were startlingly good--light, mealy, and tomato-flavored without being bitter. EXACTLY what I'd wanted in a fried tomato--which is weird because I'd never eaten any but the lousy ones I'd made myself, years ago. We had them with ham steak and sauteed spinach.

I didn't offer any to the neighbors.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Screw you, Jar Jar. Screw. You."

Linking to this cuz I've reached a point where I have to get my snark on vicariously.

Great White Snark WonderCon 2009 Costumes

Part 1

... and Part 2

Also because it's LMAO funny.

Bonus snarky goodness: Comicon 2009 Roundup!

Monday, September 14, 2009

listen to the cookie

Last week I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen for a while, and in the course of conversation he asked me why I wasn't writing anymore.

I thought of all the baggage of the last three years, and I said, "Well, I got divorced, and then I got remarried... and now I'm not angry anymore." And then we both kind of laughed, because although it is funny, it's also peculiarly true.

I had been blaming my lack of writing fire on being busy, but the simple fact of it is, in past years I had refused to take on other jobs, other projects, because they would get in the way of my writing.

I know, too, that if I sit down and concentrate for a couple of days, I can reboot the writing muscle.

But I have no real desire to do so. Partly because the writing never made me as much money as the sewing has. But also because I look at my old stories, and I look at the fiction books I used to enjoy, and I find them cloying. Such melodrama. Such pandering. So formulaic--even well-done books rely on certain assumptions about the way people behave--which are, for the most part, inaccurate, or at least inconsistent.

A fortnight ago I had a real bad week. Everybody on my periphery seemed to be conspiring to piss me off. All of it was petty shit, which in some ways is the most aggravating of all, because there's nothing you can do to fix it, you just have to simmer at the injustice. I spent the whole of Labor Day weekend stewing about it all, and somewhere in the midst of my dark thoughts I got a jolt--clean as a lightning strike and heady as lust--I wanted to write something.

I even had a couple of fresh ideas leap into my mind--that Quinn Taylor thing on the collapsing space station, and a couple of Trace/Fairweather scenes that I've been composting for a while. For the next hour or so I had the fire burning in my brain and heart--the machinery roared to life and began cranking out plots, situations, mood, sensory images--but of course I wasn't in a place where I could do anything about it, and besides I had a whole pile of sewing waiting for me at home.

I have mused over that flash of inspiration for days--that straight-line connection between the need to bash somebody's head in, and the drive to channel that aggression through the keyboard. I'd made jokes about it, the past couple years--about not needing to hide in my fantasies anymore. Apparently it was more true than I knew.

I feel sad about it. I feel as if I've lost something.

I got a fortune cookie last night that said, "Some more art in your life at this time could make you feel better."

I think maybe I should listen to the cookie. But it's hard--when I look ahead at the next three months, I only see the weekends on which I could be sewing for money.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 1968

The day my honey came into the world.

Happy Birthday to my sweet husband!

Monday, August 24, 2009

pincushion, dammit

I hate those tomato pincushions that come from the fabric store. You know what I'm talking about, right? If you sew you probably have one, or you remember your mom or grandma having one. In fact the first one I had was handed down from my great-grandmother. I hated it, but I used it until the cotton cover started to disintegrate from sheer age.

I was very poor at the time, but one must have a pincushion, so I scraped together some change and bought a new crappy tomato at Joann's. Probably used a coupon for it, too--that's how poor I was. The crappy thing developed a hole within weeks of my buying it, but it was all I had, so I put up with it.

The last couple years I could certainly afford a new one, but I've either been reluctant to buy another crappy one, or unable to find a good one that I liked or was willing to spend money upon. There are a LOT of pincushions for sale on Etsy.com, but most of them are decorative rather than functional. The best functional one I have seen was filled with glass beads for weight, and cost $45.

That kind of inspired me to make my own.



The black-and-white fabric is a rather thick, tightly-woven cotton. I bought it to make a handbag, which is not likely to happen any time soon, but anyway I had enough to sliver 4 inches off the end for a pincushion.



The back is a scrap of fine black suede I've been hoarding for years.

This sucker is about the size of three crappy tomatoes, about 4x8 inches and a couple inches tall in the middle. It's filled with polyester stuffing beads and a bit of craft polyfill. It's heavy, and slightly grippy on the bottom so it doesn't slide around when you grab or stab at it.



This should last me a while. The only funny thing is, my eye hasn't yet learned to identify it as "pincushion." I keep overlooking it, in search of the crappy red tomato.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

G.I. Joe Fashion Followup

Turns out I wasn't the only one who dug Scarlett's leather jacket in the movie. I've had a couple hits by people shopping for it. So here's what I could dig up:

Bagatelle Scuba Jacket, $268 at Nordstrom's. (Scuba jacket? Who goes scuba diving in a leather jacket?)

Hinge leather biker Jacket, $298 at Nordie's.

Tan leather motorbike Jacket, also by Hinge: $298. Based on my fuzzy memory, this is probably the closest of those I found to what Rachel Nichols wore in the movie.

For something more upscale: Forzieri Brown Italian Leather Motorcycle Jacket, $648 at Amazon.

I'm feeling rather smug, because I already have a tan jacket very much along these lines, which the SP bought me at Gap about two years ago. I think we paid $80 for it on clearance. But then I've often been ahead of the curve.

What if you'd rather dress as a bad girl? Depends on how bad you wanna be (and I'd rather not know, thanks):

El cheapo jumpsuit from questionable source: $149. (Privately? Ick.)

Custom-sized fetish gear from a slightly-less questionable source: $189. (Now with Triple-zipper Action!)

Nicer construction but still fetish-oriented, also via Ebay: $255.

Bespoke leather jumpsuit suitable for a Baroness: about $1600 U.S. Which is plumb reasonable for custom-fit leather, if you ask me.

Someday when I'm bored and rich enough I may make myself a leather jumpsuit (or more likely, a two-piece suit, which is more comfortable) just to say I've done it. Don't know where I'd wear it, though. My international spy career has been less appealing since I married the SP.

Monday, August 17, 2009

costume review: G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra

I had no interest in seeing this movie. My husband bribed me with popcorn, an action he probably regretted, since I spent the movie spewing it at the screen.

I'll be up-front: I was a Joe fanatic in my pre-teen days. But I got off that train a long time ago, and I could tell by the trailer that the movie was a loud, frantic, emotionally immature, sloppily-scripted, overly-CGI'ed wankfest. I wasn't wrong.

The casting was fairly highbrow for a movie of this caliber, and the actors did the best they could with the material. Channing Tatum has taken critical flack for being wooden, but he didn't bother me. Damon Wayons also failed to annoy me for the first time in his career. The banter between the two of them was relaxed and natural, if not terribly original.

Arnold Vosloo, who I have only ever known as "The Mummy," was a dead-on Zartan--intense, gleeful, and slightly twitchy--and I sure wish there had been more of him on the screen. His "Mummy" costar, Brendan Fraser, gave me the biggest (and only) fangirl thrill of the movie when he appeared in an uncredited cameo as Flint (on IMDB.com the character is called "Sergeant Stone" but I know better). And Sienna Miller was a perfect Baronness, insomuch as the writers allowed her to resemble the Baronness of old.

Dennis Quaid, on the other hand, was just BAD. I had expected him to be a worthy General Hawk. But he approached the role as if doing a mid-afternoon stage performance for a group of kindergarteners--blustering, growling and over-the-top. Every word that came out his mouth made me wince.

The costumes were a real mixed bag in this movie. On a set where everything is over-the-top, the costumers were under real pressure to make the characters stand out visually. And they succeeded, but not always in a good way.

First, the bad:

Scarlett: Hair too red. Makeup too bright. Curls too tumbling and artful. Where did she find time to apply the curling iron? No woman with long hair knowingly goes into battle without some ponytail holders. And what was with the molded breasts and thong on her black body armor? Weren't these people present for Batman Forever a/k/a Nipplegate?

Snake Eyes: Ridiculous molded lips on his mask. Visor protruding from his face like the prow of a battleship. Appalling polysterene body armor with fake muscles which I'm quite sure are not as impressive as Ray Park's own physique. Hey guys--let's take one of the most physically impressive guys in Hollywood and swaddle him in black rubber. Awesome.

The Doctor/Rex/Cobra Commander: Joseph Gordon-Levitt spends the whole movie buried under latex scarring, breathing mask and plastic neck-corset. To compensate for the loss of any means of physical expression, he gasps and groans and chuckles menacingly. Gordon-Levitt is supposed to be this renouned actor, but I kept thinking that David Bowie wouldn't have needed all the aparatus to pull off a crippled madman--nor would he have allowed it to get in his way.

Storm Shadow: Rendering his white ninja suit in leather was a bad idea. It was bulky and weird. The coattails were stupid--remember Edna Mode's diatribe against capes? Plus he looked kind of like an Imperial Storm Trooper on Hoth.

The Good:

Storm Shadow's white three-piece suit: Delicious. Sleek, leonine, classic. Byung-hun Lee was so stunning in white with his dark hair and catlike features I immediately wanted to see him playing an amoral but conflicted Tong crimelord who'd decided to go straight. Heck, maybe he's already done that role. Be right back....

The BARONESS. A fairy-gothmother collection of decadent leather catsuits with assorted details and texturing. I particularly liked the one with the black crocodile V-inset at the bust and the low-slung leather belt. Her constant costume changes made sense for the character--she was essentially a Bond villianess--wealthy, plush, and hedonistic. The only time she failed to look stunning was in the hospital scrubs at the very end. Sienna Miller should seriously consider keeping her hair black.

Destro/McCullen: Impeccably tailored wool/silk suits. Pinstripes. Silk ties. Slurp. His acting wasn't bad, either. I could've been quite happy with him remaining as the lead bad guy and Cobra Commander blowing himself up.

Scarlett's civilian garb whilst in Paris: Perfect. Can we have more of this, please? Rachel Nichols is a gorgeous woman and probably not a bad actor. When she was in a sleek tan leather jacket and jeans she looked fabulous. There was no reason to tart her up.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

now THAT's niche

Call for gay erotic steampunk fiction. Joy, are you paying attention?

(I guess I could rewrite some Trace/Boz stuff as slash.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bernina geekery II: the addiction

I just went to my friendly local Bernina dealer and spent over $350 on sewing machine feet.

That's the cost of one PVC Harley Quinn costume. And none of the stuff I bought, ironically, is to help with the construction of those costumes.

Bear with me for a minute, I'm still experiencing vertigo.

Okay. Better.

Y'all may remember last September, when I detailed all my recent sewing accessory acquisitions?

Now I have more.

  • The one I originally went looking for was a "lap seam" foot, for making flat-felled seams. I'd been planning to do those on my upcoming Power Girl costume, to build some structure and visual interest into the front of the bodysuit (note the irony of anyone noticing how Power Girl's costume is constructed). I've been so pleased with the results of the narrow-hem foot, I figured this would be a good timesaver, too. Not too pricey: $28.99.

  • Another thing I've wanted for a while: a sliding buttonhole foot. This has a little gauge on it so you can set it to the desired buttonhole length, and grippy rubbery stuff on the bottom of the sliders so the fabric can't slip. Of course, I don't have an automatic-buttonhole-making machine, so I can use all the fabric-guiding assistance I can get. I have a vague memory of using one of these on my grandmother's old machine and it was awesome. I didn't intend to buy this today, but the shop had one out of the box so the clerk sold it to me for about half price: $25.

  • Something I ran across while doing research on the lap seam foot: The "wide ruffler" foot. Simple. Elegant. Efficient. Relatively cheap: $21.99.

  • This is where it gets painful. Have you ever bound the edges of anything in bias tape? I have a bias-tape maker, one of those metal things you pull the fabric through and iron as you go, but that still means I have to cut, press, and stitch twice to bind an edge. This little doodad does the folding and stitching in a single pass. I don't remember what I was stitching, a couple weeks ago, but I distinctly remember thinking there must've been an easier way. And Lo and Behold, Bernina comes out with this new gadget for home sewers. And boy, are they proud of it: to the tune of $246.14. $264.13, if you count the foot number #94 that it must have to ride piggyback on. And I suppose I must count it, since I paid for it.


Still, I'm not complaining. I look at these little hunks of metal and I see time saved. Money for time: it's a fair trade. Plus, the girl in the sewing shop was really impressed with my business cards.

Friday, June 05, 2009

wheat vs. rice

An ongoing question I have had about low-carb diets is why the traditional-eating Chinese don't seem to get fat off rice.

Whole Health Source has a post from a year ago that points to a study I hadn't heard about, and he draws some fascinating conclusions from it.

It's one of these epidemiological studies where they try to divide subjects into different categories of eating patterns and see how health problems associate with each one. They identified four patterns: the 'macho' diet high in meat and alcohol; the 'traditional' diet high in rice and vegetables; the 'sweet tooth' pattern high in cake, dairy and various drinks; and the 'vegetable rich' diet high in wheat, vegetables, fruit and tofu. The only pattern that associated with obesity was the vegetable-rich diet. The 25% of people eating closest to the vegetable-rich pattern were more than twice as likely to be obese as the 25% adhering the least.

[...]In other words, wheat flour had replaced rice as their single largest source of calories.

[...]Wheat seems to destroy the metabolism of cultures wherever it goes. [...] Only in a culture transitioning to a more Western diet can you find a robust association like this.


Go there for more details.

*Sigh.* There's no getting around it. I'm gonna have to start baking my own bread. I don't know what the hell I'm going to bread my fried chicken with, though.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

twenty years

When I was fourteen or fifteen, a freshman in high school, there was a girl in my English class named Elisha. Pretty, in that easily-bruised way girls have when they grow up too fast. She wore a lot of black--acid washed jeans, suede fringe jacket, slouch ankle boots, oversized hobo bag of the type that is in style again. Lots of fake, flashy silver conchos. Feathered, frosted ash-blonde hair. For some reason I can see her face plain as day, when I've forgotten a lot of other people from that time. She and I were not close, but we got along well enough. We were on different tracks in life. I was a goody-two-shoes, headed for a Baptist college. She was a model, the rumor was. Maybe a groupie. I don't know. She started skipping class around the time that I'm thinking of. Being a goody-two-shoes, I was assigned to take roll for the class. She was gone a lot.

She died not long after that. At fifteen. Drug overdose, was the rumor. At a party, took too much. Stomach pumped. Too late.

Kids have an alarming tendency to kill themselves at that age, before they learn the limits of their own bodies.

I don't know why I think of her sometimes. We weren't really friends. I guess her death was the first proof I had that kids really did die--kids in my world, not just in movies or pop songs or public service announcements.

Twenty years ago. When I was fifteen I kind of unconsciously expected that time would just stop at 1992--the year I graduated high school. It didn't, of course. I'm still here.

Elisha is gone--or mostly. I find myself wondering how airtight modern caskets are; what kind of shape a body would be in after twenty years. For some reason the thought of her sweet, melancholy face rotting away in the ground makes me sad for her lost time. I think of what *she* might've done with twenty more years. I probably would have never seen her again after graduation, but still--it's as if one person being robbed of time leaves less for the rest of the world. I don't even know if that makes sense. I'm just sitting here writing ghost stories and having morbid thoughts about a dead girl I barely knew.

Monday, May 25, 2009

anime-kimono

Sewn by me, for Melissa at Evil Pawn Jewelry:

One Kimono~


Two Kimono~


Three Kimono!


Am highly curious to see the photo shoot for this one!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

throw it at the wall, see what sticks

I have deliberately avoided reading about the publishing industry for about three years now. I can't take it. I can't go into bookstores without degenerating to sputtering incoherency about the dreck cluttering the shelves.

Now, here, is Jonathan Karp at Publisher's Weekly addressing this very issue:

For all of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the publishing industry—from the poor economy to the painful layoffs and restructurings in the wake of the digital transformation—to understand what's really hurting us, all you have to do is visit your neighborhood bookstore.
[...]
On sale now: A History of Cannibalism. Illustrated! A gift book! The subtitle is stupendously, kaleidoscopically all-encompassing: From Ancient Cultures to Survival Stories and Modern Psychopaths.
[...]
The best-packaged sex book portrayed a scantily clad woman perched on a saddle—Ride 'Em Cowgirl: Sex Position Secrets for Better Bucking. The most unusual was Vibrators, featuring 100 of the best devices in the world, all artily photographed. I had assumed this was published by some outré left coast indie house, but when I looked on the spine, I found the HarperCollins logo. My wish for this book is that Oprah will name it one of her favorite things, and NewsCorp will be compelled to print illustrations of vibrators in its next annual report.
[...]
We are acquiring and publishing too many books. We buy them opportunistically, and at times thoughtlessly. We edit and launch them too quickly. We market them carelessly and ephemerally. Too often, we abdicate our responsibility to be filters, guides, guardians and gatekeepers. And now, as in many other industries, we are suffering the effects.


Ay-men, brother.

This is precisely why I can't bring myself to write, much less submit and publish, any more. I cannot submit myself to the dumbing-down of the publishing industry in the hopes of catching the next wave, the next quirk, the next Tweet. (BTW--I read about #agentfail on Twitter. I hate Twitter. I will have nothing to do with Twitter. Don't ask. I won't. It seems to me Twitter is a microcosm [wordplay intended] of everything that is wrong with American culture.)

I won't play. And I'm not coming around where the other kids are playing, either. It makes me hostile.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

a moment of silence

Oh man, this is so sad... Lorny-tunes is dead.

Andy Hallett, who made his mark playing green-skinned, good-guy demon Lorne on the TV series "Angel," has died of congestive heart disease. Hallett was 33.

Hallett was taken by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after having problems breathing and died there Sunday, following a five-year battle with the heart condition, his agent Pat Brady said Tuesday.


I had wondered why a guy with such obvious talent and charisma hadn't been showing up in other shows, or at least on the Con circuit. I feel for his family.

Friday, March 20, 2009

wedding dress wizard

This story makes me happy. It's about an old guy in the dry-cleaning business who specializes in cleaning and restoring wedding gowns.

He began his dry-cleaning career in Canada sweeping floors at a dry-cleaners, back when brides spent $50 to rent their gowns and rarely bought them. He taught himself how to press, and later how to remove stains, by practising on leftover scraps of material, and eventually with museum curators, who he met through grateful clients.

He loves nothing more than to rescue damsels on their wedding day. Once, he closed his shop on a Saturday to rush to the home of a bride who got black oil down the front of her gown after hanging it against a door hinge. Another time, he dried out a wedding party that walked into his store after getting caught in a downpour.


I could see myself doing that for a living. I'd be a really good museum restorer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

it's only money

It's amazing how the mind can contort itself to justify satisfaction of the inner child.

Yesterday I found myself drooling over a $200 piece of leather that would be perfect for a particular costume I have planned. (I'm not saying what, just yet--we'll see how it plays out.) Do I have $200? Yes, but I'm supposed to be saving for tournament. And I don't dare bank on any money I might make at the Comicon, to which I would wear said costume. I'm already betting against making back the registration fees.

Yes, by the way, I will be attending Planet Comicon on March 28-29th. Come as you aren't.

But back to my mental contortions: $200 is not the most I've spend on a costume. The original Harley Quinn was about that much, when you factor in the retail costs of spandex, the fact that I wasted a lot of fabric on developmental mistakes, and buying the makeup and foundation garments.

The most I ever spent on a costume was about $600. That was the green velveteen Darla costume. Everything about that was new and expensive to make, in part because I demanded the best and most authentic materials: corset, petticoats, bloomers, stockings, fabric, trims, boots, wig and makeup. I spread out the costs over about six months, but it was still a chunk of change. I still wear the boots, of course, and the Victorian underthings have seen use with other outfits. So it was something of an investment, but after that I vowed never again to fork out so much money.

Most of my other stuff has been super-cheap. I tend to buy fabric at a discount anyway. I think my silver-blue Victorian dinner dress was maybe $70, but it took forever to make--all that pleating on the skirt.

The Gold Gown cost maybe $30 in additional corset parts, since I made it over from my first wedding gown and its leftover fabric. (That wedding dress itself cost less than $300.)

My "Armand" costume was so cheap I don't even remember. I bought that red velvet off the clearance rack at Wal-Mart while I worked there, the shirt and shoes I already had; the vest fabric was a cheap nasty seasonal acetate I got a Sew-Fro back when Sew-Fro still existed--altogether? Maybe $35. I'm not sure why I still have this thing. Maybe I'll sell it.

Wonder Woman has been a little pricey, mostly because of the trial-and-error. I always overbuy on new projects; I try a lot of different things and discard half of them. I've bought five pieces of blue and/or star-spangled spandex, trying to find a shade and pattern I like. One, maybe two of them will actually get used. The first red pleather I bought for the bustier was not pleasing at all, so that was wasted making boot patterns. The red satin I actually used was very cheap, I got it as a remnant at Hancock Fabrics. Altogether I'd guess I've spent about $70 on it, so that's not bad, although it has been taking a long time and feels very wasteful. It will probably run another $30-$50, depending on how I handle the boots and metal parts.

The Black Cat costume I started and did not finish has been VERY wasteful. I just can't bring myself to wear PVC. I hate it. I got the suit put together, I put it on, and I hate it. I can't even make myself finish it. $30, down the drain. I'll probably cut it up and make gloves out of it, because PVC gloves are actually kind of cool and I can sell them for small profits, recoup the loss. ETA: I did take this apart, and reassembled in into a Catwoman costume. Beginnings of one, anyway.

Huh. Looking back over this list, now I'm thinking I should mark down some of the stuff in my Etsy shop.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

mind/muscle

I've been watching Whedon's Dollhouse for the past three weeks. Enjoying it. It's a little slippery to get a grasp on a bunch of characters who are only tangentially related to each other, and whose common link is a girl who changes personality from one episode to the next. By the end of the third episode I realized that Echo is actually not on-screen that much; there are at least three concurrent plotlines developing, aside from the mission-of-the-week, and although they all revolve around Echo and the Dollhouse, the girl herself is more of a McGuffin than a character. There are hints that she will become a character, in time, but for now she's just a Magic Mitten that everybody wants to possess for their own assorted reasons.

Anyway, the SP and I were talking about Echo's fighting skills on the show, and although she is a small woman, not possessed of any superpowers, they program her brain with all these practical fighting skills, and they generally make them look feasible.

The SP said he didn't believe that imprinting somebody's brain with fighting skills would make them automatically able to fight--he says the body has to be trained, too.

I said first that I thought it was possible--the mind, after all, controls the body, and I know from experience that once I figure out a move in my head--i.e. juggling--I can do it with my hands.

But then I started thinking about how a trained athlete's muscles will develop additional nerve pathways to better react to the brain's signals. And I thought about the fine-tuning of small muscles I have seen in my own body. For instance, although I still know how to juggle, I am out of practice and clumsy. And although I still know how to sing--to position my throat and support from the diaphragm--my range will be rusty until I've practiced for a couple of weeks and recovered my old muscle tone.

Calligraphy, too--I've been thinking about it a lot lately, because the frustration I feel with my tai chi skills now is very like the old frustration I used to feel with a pen in my hand--why was it so hard to make my fingers do what my brain wanted them to do? And why wouldn't my brain stay with my fingers as they moved?

What do you think? If the brain had the knowledge, and knew it had the knowledge, would the body then follow? Or do the two have to be conditioned in tandem?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

a glimpse of the future

Y'all might've noticed I'm not posting so much any more. That's because I'm BUSY. I am trying to write a book, sew samples for an upcoming comicon, practice for the tournament in July, work a full-time job, and prepare for the coming collapse of society and government as we know them (which is clearly where the Press and Wall Street, not to mention all the up-and-coming third-world dictators in the know, believe we are headed). So when I'm on the internet, I'm usually searching for survival gear, multiple methods of purifying water and starting fire, and insulating, water-resistent, cut-proof clothing.

But one site I still check out regularly, when I need a dose of (un)reality is Go Fug Yourself, and its accompanying column at The Cut/NYMag.com. Which is where, today, I found this:



I want to know where I can get one of those. And will it fit into a Grab-and-Go backpack?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

the ache of perfection

I read so much bad fiction online that I'm always a little surprised to find something good: a contemporary fairy tale, with more than a hint of Margaret Atwood.

This is "The Red Shoes," by Genevieve Valentine, via The Journal of Mythic Arts.

Good stuff, this Journal: fiction and analysis both. And of course I find it after it's gone.

It's not a perfect story; I thought the ending was a little weak. Although the pace and style were consistent throughout, I would have preferred a more definite ending. Nevertheless, the writing is clean and efficient, the story predictable but satisfying--there's a hint of doom that makes the plot inevitable, rather than pat.

And the story resonated with me--that strife for mastery, to integrate the body and the spirit in skill and artistic expression. The frustration of seeing the long road ahead; the torture of fearing you'll never get back to where you once were.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

how to piss away a critique

Well, it didn't take long. I dropped out of Authonomy today because it was driving me crazy. If I could envision a level of hell specifically designed to torture writers, Authonomy would be it. You are forced to read other people's bad fiction, but you're not allowed to critique it honestly or effectively--for one thing you can't copy & paste text from their story to do line edits, and for another thing everybody is too busy circle-jerking each other to actually read or critique.

The gimmick of the site is that Authonomy takes the top five peer-ranked novels and provides a review by one of their professional editors. Mostly these reviews involve describing why the thing isn't good enough to publish. So you get the torture of watching your novel climb into the single digits, only to be slapped down at the top.

Don't get me wrong, here--I'm on the side of the editors. It's not as if they WANT to destroy every writer whose hopes and aspirations waft across their desks, but having seen more than enough amateur fiction myself, I can't blame the editors for getting a bit terse. In fact I wonder why the hell they agreed to this experiment in the first place--transparency? To show all the writers out there how bad the slush really is? (And the stuff on Authonomy is actually amoung the better efforts out there. I didn't see anything on the site that was actually incomprehensible, or suggestive of mental deficiency.)

The problem with the transparency plan is, no writer believes that *her* work is as mediocre as the stuff she's reviewing. Every writer up there undoubtedly believes that *her* book is the one that will break the mold, despite seeing the top five get shot down week after week after week. And after weeks of artificial buildup, to be brought back to cold hard reality--as I said, a special hell just for writers.

======

Last week, one of the top five was a SF thing written by a woman named Patty. Patty is popular on the site--posted to all the forums, read and promoted like a madwoman; had a thousand friends. She played by the rules. I didn't read her book, but I read the editor's remarks, which Patty was brave enough to make public. They told her, in part:

"[your novel's] take on science fiction is naïve and simplistic ... reads like a book from the 1960s or earlier."

"SF has moved on from cheesy concepts [such as] “Nations of Earth”, “spacefarer’s dialect” and the “Union of Galactic Entities”. Moreover, the political descriptions do not convince. I was reminded of old thrillers like The Man from UNCLE, and found it confusing when reading them with an informed, up-to-date world view. [...] the author, although setting the book in the future, has done little to update the world from our own times – the settings are straight from central casting."

"...there is nothing wrong at all with referencing the styles of older pulp novels – [which] at their best can have a tremendous joi de vivre and embrace some truly mind-boggling concepts. But I do not believe that the intention here was to deliberately pastiche that sort of science fiction to make a particular point or create a specific effect. If that was the case, it’s not worked."

"falls far short in bringing anything new or original to science fiction."


Of course, Patty promptly went to the forums, and her blog, and posted a rebuttal--and what did she seize on? The last line--"does not bring anything new or original to science fiction." Her bitter rant was familiar to me--I'll paraphrase:

"How can I write anything new when all the new stuff is about quantum physics and nanotechnology? How could any non-scientist keep up with that? And why would I want to write about bleeding-edge tech anyway? I don't want to read all that technoporn! I want to read about people! Star Trek and Star Wars are still popular despite being outdated and cheesy!"

So many wrong notions, so little time. When somebody tells you that your scientific and political tropes are out of date, that means you need to do research, pure and simple. Science fiction is probably more demanding than any other genre in terms of research. You need to know what has been done before, what is being done now, and what will probably be done tomorrow. If you're going to write far-future space opera you need to be thoroughly versed in contemporary astronomy, physics, space exploration and sociological theory, just as a start. Even if you don't intend to USE that research in your book, you need to know what's happening in those disciplines and accommodate it, because otherwise the fans will nail you as a poseur in a heartbeat. There is nothing SF fans love better than to tell you you're wrong.

But beyond that--surely you've heard this one--SF is a literature of IDEAS. The trappings of space ships and ray guns are not enough; you have to provide some new way of looking at the human condition, via an extrapolation of its inventions (whether mechanical, biological, sociological, artistic, etc.).

=====

Lemme tell you a quick story: When I was twenty-six I joined the writer's group I am still a part of. Rob Chilson was nice enough to read my space opera novel, the one I'd been working on since high school. He said pretty much the same things as the editor told Patty: Decent writing, but the technology and the sociopolitical stuff were cheesy and unsophisticated. He even used the same "central casting" reference--it's a familiar phrase among SF editors.

I was furious. I was wounded. I was frustrated to think of all the work I'd put into the story and now Rob wanted me to tear it all apart again? Who was he to judge? Clearly he didn't get the point. My story wasn't about politics or technology.... etc., etc.

I said all this to my mother, who read both my book and Rob's review. My mother, who has never been one to apply superficial sympathy, said matter-of-factly, "Actually Holly, this is a pretty good critique."

Stopped me dead in my tracks. Made me realize how childish I was being. Made me stop and look at the thing with a cold, clinical eye, and envision how the book might be different--and stronger--if I took Rob's suggestions seriously.

I never did rewrite the book. Oh, I fiddled with it for a couple more years, in-between working on other things. But once I separated myself emotionally from the words on the page, I realized that the problem with the book was in its conception: it wasn't built on a solid foundation. It was, to exhaust the metaphor, merely cardboard scenery on a semi-lighted stage. And I realized that to make the book work I'd have to start from scratch, re-conceptualize it. I might keep the characters and their basic conflicts, but it would be a different book when I was done. And I realized I just didn't care that much about the story anymore--I'd moved on to new loves who were less maintenance.

My husband says it's far less work to build a house from scratch than to gut an older house and rebuilt it from the inside; the same is true for prom dresses and novels. I may, someday, rewrite Escaping Ariston, but it will probably have a different title and it will undoubtedly be about something very different than I was writing about at twenty-five.

======

I mention Patty's review and rebuttal in the larger point of demonstrating how to piss away a good critique. Yeah, your ego is going to smart when you read the bad news, but push it aside. Really *read* the damn thing and take it to heart. Everything that a reviewer can say about your story is a little bit true, no matter how off-base it may seem--from their point of view it is true. And their point of view is valuable insomuch as they are a potential reader that wants to be pleased by your story. Accomodating their desires doesn't make you a whore, it makes you a good lover.

I made a list of responses a writer tends to feel (or say) in response to a critiquer who has panned their story. If you find yourself thinking any of these, banish the thought from your mind: they are obstacles your ego throws up to prevent you from learning. And for Pete's sake don't actually *say* any of these things to the person who burnt a few hours of his life to read and comment on your story.


"You didn't get my story because this isn't the kind of thing you usually read/write/publish/edit."

Unlikely. Most critiquers will tell you right up front if your work isn't the kind of genre they normally enjoy, but it's largely irrelevant. Outside of certain genre tropes and conventions, good writing is good writing. Confusion of speaker tags, inconsistencies in pacing, tedious prose--these are universal.

Furthermore, most readers--and all editors-- read a wide variety of stuff. Even if a genre is not their favorite, they have a certain sense of how that genre should read. In fact a reader who is inexperienced in your genre is likely to be *more* lenient with your mistakes than someone who really knows what to look for--as witness the SF example above.

"Who cares about all that grammar and punctuation stuff? It's the true *soul* of a story that matters. Besides, that stuff is for the editors to clean up."

Wrong. In the first place, bad mechanics will discourage most readers from ever discovering the true soul of your story. Which gift would you rather unwrap, the plain brown paper sack sealed with duct tape and smeared in offal, or the pretty shiny gift bag with the bow on top? Presentation counts, doubly so because publishing houses can no longer afford to pay for extensive editing and copyediting services. They want manuscripts that are in near-publishable condition.


"Well, you did the same thing in *your* story!" or "That famous author did the same thing in *his* story!"
That famous author may have used the same technique as you, but he did it skillfully. You didn't. Also, to a lower level of skill two techniques may *look* the same but really aren't. For instance, there is a difference between one character making a descriptive statement about another, and the author inserting "tellisms" to describe his viewpoint character.

"Well, you're not so great a writer, either/You're an editor, what was the last thing you wrote?"

In the first place, the work of the critiquer is not at issue. We are talking about *your* work. Secondly, one does not have to be a renowned artist in order to be a master craftman. It can help sometimes, but it's not a prerequisite. What counts is skill acquisition. It's the difference between talent and hard work.

There are some very fine teachers and editors out there who are not the greatest writers. They're not trying to be; that's why they are teachers and editors. They know that the writers they are looking to publish are far more gifted than they will ever be. It takes a great deal of knowledge and experience--and humility-- to recognize where one is in terms of skill. People with the least skill/knowledge/experience invariably overrate their own abilities.

"What right do you have to say nasty things about my story?"

Not to put too fine a point on it, but you ASKED for an opinion. Don't EVER slap back at a reviewer or editor who gave you an honest answer. In fact, don't respond to critiques at all, except to ask a question to clarify something. Unless the critique was personally abusive, always thank the reviewer for their time. Leave it at that.

"Well, that's only your opinion."

Correct. However: your goal as a writer is to win as many readers as possible. That means you should accommodate as many weird little quirks and prejudices as possible, within the parameters of your genre and ideal audience. Clarify every point of confusion, no matter how dumb. If one person says it and another one disagrees, try to find a compromise. Take into consideration all the opinions you can get. They are valuable. Don't discard them.

"Being so blunt is just rude!"

Not deliberately, it isn't. A blunt critique is a heartfelt critique. Sometimes reviewers see the same mistakes over and over again, or they get frustrated because a work is *so close* except for that one glaring shortcoming. If somebody hauls back and slaps you in the face, swallow your pride and consider it a wake-up call.

"Well, you're only saying that because you're jealous/mean/ greedy/ignorent/etc."

Whatever you do, don't read psychological subtexts into the reviewer's words. They are probably not tearing you down to build up their own egos. They are certainly not tearing you down to promote their own work (how would that serve, anyway?). Peer critiquers will review your stuff either because they are hoping for reciprocation, or because they love writing and reading and they understand that critting somebody else's stuff is the best way for them to learn to be better writers. Professional editors, on the other hand, genuinely want to find good stuff. If they tell you you suck, it's because they want you to improve. Even if it seems they are being brutal, it's to crack open the notorious writer's ego and allow a little reality in. You will never improve if all you hear is praise.

Well, 500 of my closest friends think this is a great book and said they would read it!

Um... who are these people? Are any of them writers or editors? Are any of them good writers or editors? Do you secretly think you are a better writer than they are? If so, why would you trust their judgment?

Did they pay for the priviledge of reading your book? Did they come looking for your book? Or did they only read it because it was handed out for free? People will consume honey-covered pig shit if it's handed out for free. Try asking those 500 people if they'll contribute $10 to help you self-publish the thing.

"Well, there may be some truth to what you say but I consider this story finished and I won't be changing it."

Might as well add "nyah, nyah, nyah," to the end of that--it's about as mature.

So what do you say to a negative critique?

"Thank you for your time."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

despair; vitriol

Ok, now I remember why I dropped out of Critters--because I just plain couldn't find anything positive to say anymore. How could I go on pretending to give a shit about the same overwritten prose, the same bad pacing, the same tired storylines?

Authonomy is already setting my teeth on edge. Spam from other writers whose sole purpose is to get my attention and ask me to read their hackneyed shit. Mamby-pamby mealy-mouthed "oh, I loved this!" praise from people who can't put together a coherent critique--so you're going to trust their opinion that your work is actually good?

Oh, I know there are good editors/critiquers out there, but they are as few and far between as good writers. The rest are delusional.

I tried to say a couple of constructive things to a couple of authors. In the first place it was difficult to find anything I wanted to read. In the second place as soon as I started reading I wanted to say No.... NO! Write like you $&#^%*ing talk, for God's sake! Prologues are for amateurs! Ever hear of commas? Why are there twelve modifiers in a fifteen-word sentence? You think this is new? Original? Intriguing? Suspenseful? The answer is NO. And your foreshadowing sucks, too.

It is better, far better, for me to say nothing at all. I'm just going to leave the story up there and see what happens. If nothing, then I'm no worse off than I was before.

On a slightly more positive note, I followed a link through the blog of a fellow spewer of vitriol, and landed on this guy's page: 6 Pieces of Fiction Writing Advice Often Ignored. The first paragraph sums it up in a nutshell.

Writing fiction is hard. Bringing to life a series of manufactured events with pretend people in a world that only exists in your head—it’s a kind of mental origami that takes years to master.


Mental origami: yes. That's precisely what it feels like. That's the first time I've seen anyone succinctly describe what goes on in my head.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

running the gauntlet as a form of self-promotion

I'm sick. Not very--just got a thickness in my throat and a general feeling of malaise. The SP has it too, but he mega-dosed himself with vitamin C at the first symptoms and he seems to be fending it off. My gut doesn't tolerate raw C very well, so until we get some buffered stuff I have to make do with tea, oranges and sleep.

But I'm up now, it's Saturday and I skipped class to sleep in; now I'm a bit bored. I was perusing the blogs on my sidebar, some of which I haven't visited for a week, and Danger Gal had up a bit about Authonomy.com (--sorry guys, but lousy title), a sort of public-filter Pop Idol-esque reality blog for aspiring authors, sponsored by HarperCollins. It's similar to what Baen's Universe was doing with their message-board submissions: authors post their stuff, other members get to read, comment, and recommend; if a work garners enough attention, the first readers ferret it out and pass it under the nose of a real editor.

I still have mingled scorn and admiration for this kind of system. The scorn comes from the idea that anyone should let the public-at-large be arbiters of taste in anything. And a bit of self-hatred for wanting to post there and be voted Most Popular.

On the other hand, scratch a reader and find a writer, right? And this is truly trial by one's peers--you have to be registered to comment and promote. Furthermore these are people nominating what they like and enjoy, and I'm a firm believer in the highest common denominator; the cream will rise to the top. And, uh, "End of the Line" got selected and bought via this method. So it must work, right?

Anyway, it's free, and the fact is I've got The Curse of Jacob Tracy half finished, if I can just work out the second half of "Printer's Devil." The first four stories, Sikeston, EOTL, Parlor Games, and Horseflesh together total 71,000 words, and Printer's Devil is looking to be another twenty thousand; 90k is enough for a skinny novel, if I and my hypothetical editor decide to break it in two volumes. I figure I'm about halfway through the plot, so figure 140k, maybe 160? That's a little fat, but these days the publishers like them that way.

And like I said, I'm bored. So I slapped "Sikeston" and "Parlor Games" up there for public consumption. I may put up Horseflesh, too, since it provides a sort of resolution to the first half and a lead into the second half.

The difficult thing about Trace is what genre to put him in. "Supernatural Western--?" Whoever heard of such a thing? I selected four categories: fantasy, science fiction, horror, and historical novel. That about covers it, hm? I'd have selected "Steampunk" if that had been an option.

I was intrigued to notice how many of the featured novels were cross-genre works. Editors have a hard time with cross-genre works because they're difficult to market--at least I say that based on a couple of rejections I've had. So even if Trace wins popular acclaim, it doesn't mean anyone will buy it.

Hmm. Now that I look back at my title I'm struck by the aptness of my sarcasm to describe contemporary celebrity, or at least wannabe celebrity--people getting infamous from reality TV and so-on, usually by offering themselves up to ridicule and slander. Again I say, is it really a good idea to let the public arbitrate taste?

Call it the Mencken principle: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. So maybe HarperCollins is onto a smart thing, here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

*headdesk*

Just when I think people can't surprise me anymore, I get a note like this via my Etsy inbox (in regard to the Harley Quinn Costume Pattern).

$29.00!! Sheesh, the economy is in a rut and you want $29.00 for paper? Could you make the costume for me? I would pay you for your labor or at least bring the pattern down to $17.00, I'm a college student on a budget. The convention is in February...okay I'm babbling. Sorry, finals are next week.

Felicia.

p.s. I even [opened] this account for this pattern.


========

Hmm, where to start? First off, the $29 is not for the paper--it's for the pattern, and the skill that went into making the pattern, which you apparently do not possess or you wouldn't be looking to buy a pattern and/or a costume somewhere else. If you did possess a modicum of sewing skill you wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the work of others.

Second, my regular fee for making a costume is $330, but since this is a rush order (my schedule is full through January, and orders take at least 4 weeks to fulfill) it will be an extra $100. If you had done a little research instead of being so quick to tell me off you would already know that.

Seriously, were you drunk when you wrote this? This is the rudest, most ignorant letter I've received in the two years I've been doing this.

I've got no sympathy for you and your budget. This is a JOB for me. A SECOND job, at that. I do it in part because I am STILL paying off my college loans. Budgets do not magically go away after you graduate.

And by the way, I'm assuming you're not an economics major or you'd have some sense that demand regulates prices. I sold well over a hundred of these patterns last year, to people who seemed to feel that the price was quite reasonable. This is because it's the only such pattern available, and people who want something nice see the value of it. And I have no sympathy for you wanting a lower price on something you don't NEED anyway. If something means that much to you, expect to pay more for it.

I hope to God you don't use your new Etsy account to insult other crafters the way you have me. People like you are the reason why skilled crafters can't make a living wage. Grow up.

hrm

p.s. Do not bother to order from me--I will not sell you a pattern or a costume. Good luck finding what you want elsewhere.

=====

You know the funny thing? It doesn't even really make me angry--just sort of righteously indignant. And tired. And slightly incredulous. Even though it shouldn't, by now. And the sad part? This chick had no idea how rude she was being.

Monday, January 05, 2009

an hour a day

I don't make New Year's resolutions.

This year, however, I am making a plan. You see, I have 28 weeks until the Legends of Kung Fu Tournament next July. Sit wants me to try for Grand Champion. Basically that boils down to beating 30-something other women in my division, and beating the winner of the men's division.

No pressure, there.

I've never been much for competition. I have this weird superiority/inferiority complex. I know that I have certain natural gifts--athleticism, flexibility, smarts... and, um, a certain lack of humility, shall we say--but I feel somewhat guilty about them, because they aren't anything I chose or earned for myself. Nevertheless, I know that with a certain amount of discipline and practice I can beat 98% of the people out there. I know this because I've done it, time and time again in my life.

The problem is, I also have a long history of coming in second. Often for stupid reasons--internal politics, for instance, or because I seem *so* capable that the judges thought the other person should be given a break, just this once (I kid you not). And that has made me somewhat gun-shy. So I sabotage myself, either by not being prepared, or by not trying at all.

Pathetic. I know.

Nevertheless, I have decided to compete. And I am going to make myself prepared. Partly because Sit deserves it; he's a skilled, generous teacher and he doesn't deserve to have his students blow off competition year after year, or blow him off to go teach--badly--in another part of town. He's made a plan of his own, to start teaching an evening class one day a week. My plan is to make myself ready to teach at his school in the next two years--and help him start a school, if necessary.

It would make both of us look good if I had a Grand Champion under my belt. But that's not why he wants me to do it. He wants me to try for it because like every other teacher I've had, he's exasperated with me--in his silent, Taoist way--because I'm such a chronic underachiever. See above re: pathetic.

"It doesn't matter if you win," Sit has said, to me and others. "Winning is karma. You might have good judges or might have bad judges. It's about training for it. So you have a goal."

It's also, in my mind, about doing one's personal best. Not in a namby-pamby "we're all winners!" kind of way, but in a "let's see what this baby can do" kind of way. I want to test what I know. I want to test my body before I start thinking I'm too old to do it. I want to re-establish good habits before I lose any more ground to indolence.

So I have made the decision to work. I used to be pretty good at praticing on my own after work every day, and it's not as if I can't push myself to finish what I've committed to doing (Hello? Six Harley costumes in seven weeks?). It helps to have a deadline, too. You can push yourself to do an awful lot if you know there's an end in sight.

Sit says that to prepare for a tournament you need to do your form at least three times a day, every day. A single form repetition is 3.5 minutes, max. That's 10.5 minutes for three reps. Simple. Nothing.

I plan to prepare six forms for the competition. That works out to 63 minutes of forms practice per day. It's probably more like 75 minutes a day, by the time you work in warm-ups and water breaks, but that's still no big deal since I do it all in my living room.

There are 28 weeks until the tournament, give or take a couple of days. I have class 2 days each week, so that leaves 5 days a week to practice on my own. In 140 days I can do 420 repetitions of each form. Times 6 forms, that's 2520 forms done between now and then.

An hour a day. For two thousand and a half forms in half a year.

Someone--I think it was Rudyard Kipling or one of his contemporaries--said you have to write a million words before you can begin to claim to know what you are doing. I once calculated I had arrived at that landmark somewhere around the time I graduated college, at age 25. There was definitely a leap that took place around that time.

The old masters say you have to practice a move a minimum of ten thousand times before you can use it in application. It's much harder to tabulate that threshold but I figure I'm getting close in some things--Brush Knee, for instance, and Single Whip. The next six months could put me over the top.

Sigh.... Cue the Rocky Theme.