Moving Day

I’ve changed the name I intend to write under and set up my new writing blog. Since I intend to start self-publishing in 2017, if you’re interested you should head over. There may end up being some duplicate posts, but I’m a different person than I was when I stopped writing here. I intend to keep this blog available, though, as a record—for a while.

https://amandamblake.wordpress.com/

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Up in Here

So I’m gearing up to start a bit of tidying in Fairy Tale Remix 1—which shall hereby be known publicly by its title, Thorns—followed immediately by the first and most brutal edit of Fairy Tale Remix 2—which shall be known by its title, Rose Red. As usual, I’ll probably have a few things to say about these edits, plus some comparative stats when I’ve finished with each edit.

Then we can all settle in while I tackle the third novel in the fairy tale remix series, Swan Song. The goal word count will be set at 150,000 words, although I never know for sure one way or another how long things are going to be. If it’s under that word count, I’ll definitely have to give Thorns and Rose Red another look-through to determine whether their insane length necessitates either extreme and unwanted cuts in the first two novels or more information in the third. I anticipate that Swan Song will join its sisters in achieving higher than the established goal. So far, the scope of the characters and stories just kind of lend themselves to that length, no matter what other novels of mine seem to want to do.

Also to possibly achieve this summer, depending on when Swan Song has been concluded in a satisfying fashion: I have some Nocturne nightmare novel to fix before returning to the duty of shopping it to agents. As usual, my problem children are my beginning (which Thorns also suffers from) and ending (a malady shared by Rose Red).

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This Ain’t a Fairy Tale V: All of Us

737552_86857618Miss Minchin: Don’t tell me you still fancy yourself a princess? Child, look around you! Or better yet, look in the mirror.

Sara Crewe: I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses. All of us. Didn’t your father ever tell you that? Didn’t he?

I wish I could embed the video, because the reaction of Ms. Minchin is as important as Sara’s realization. (I realize that quoting the movie instead of the book is probably sacrilege, but the movie holds a special place in my heart, too, for a variety of reasons different than the reasons I love the book. Ms. Minchin’s reaction is a big part of that, and that’s a subtlety you can only get from the movie.)

Some people say that we, as girls and women, shouldn’t endeavor to be princesses, because royalty these days (as espoused by Tim Roth on Lie to Me) is simply a bloody useless strain on the taxpayer.

And to tell the truth, when we think of princesses, we imagine it as glamorous and leisurely, the way that we think of celebrities – the A-list is our new royal family, B-list the peerage of our realm. But the truth is that royalty, like celebrity, is political – it’s strategy, diplomacy, every move carefully calibrated to avoid offense or weakness. There is little privacy, and you have to work so freaking hard just to keep up the lifestyle, the appearance, and the presentation that people expect from you.

Yet when Sara says that all girls are princesses, she doesn’t mean being waited on hand and foot, wearing pretty dresses, and marrying Prince Charming, although sometimes it seems that’s what people want it to mean. When Sara says that all girls are princesses, she means that all girls have power, no matter how many obstacles the power faces.

When Sara thinks of princesses, she doesn’t think of waiting for her prince to save her, even if the movie follows the infuriating Ramayana parallel (that incidentally ends very badly after that part of the story). She isn’t thinking of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Instead, maybe she’s thinking of the princess in Bruce Coville’s The Dragonslayers, or perhaps the princess in Patricia Wrede’s Dragons series.

This scene brings to mind one of my favorites of the Disney female protags, Mulan – interestingly, I think the only one who isn’t a princess or doesn’t become a princess, if I remember correctly. This movie probably has the best message in general for the broadest range of girls and women, because while Mulan is lovely, beauty isn’t so much a part of the story – instead, honor and courage is the main thing. She wants to make her family proud and find her place, even if it doesn’t fit with what’s expected of her. She’s willing to risk her own life to save her father, risk dishonor in order to honor her family, and willing to risk both of those things again to save the emperor, even when she’s been shunned and shamed for her deception.

All of the Disney women are fighters in their own way (I wrote this post before Brave, which I still haven’t seen), but Mulan takes it to a ten. She’s a warrior; it’s what she is. More than Triton saying that Ariel’s grown up, nothing gets me more than Mulan’s father tossing the gifts of honor from the emperor to embrace his daughter and love her for the strength that she has. Her story doesn’t have the same popularity as the princesses, but when Sara Crewe is talking about princesses, I think of Mulan.

When Sara Crewe describes princesses, I think what she means is that all girls have something that drives them forward, that can keep them going, that can make them sufficient for themselves when no prince deigns to lay claim. In knights, it would be called valor. It makes them active members of their world, not passive vessels.

When she says “princesses,” she means that all girls have value, not the value that others place on them for things like beauty, fame, riches, charm, youth, people who find her desirable – things that fade or sometimes never happen to a woman. It’s not external factors that make a princess. A princess is a girl who is valuable, full stop. And all girls are princesses.

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This Ain’t a Fairy Tale IV

I love this scene in Big Bang Theory. In fact, I just plain love Amy Farrah Fowler and think she’s a wonderful addition to the show and totally too good for Sheldon.

This felt like such a true moment. Sheldon often wants to understand why people do the things they do and feel what they feel. He doesn’t even feel human himself. But since Amy arrived, you really get the feeling that she’s got insecurities a lot of women share (Gerard and Hiram, anyone?), and Malim Byalik plays her so freaking well and with so much respect for the good and the not so good.

Whether it’s innate or whether it’s something we’re taught, I think so many girls and women want to be princesses – which can mean so many different things, good, bad, frivolous, fanciful, powerful. Sometimes, all I want to do is smash the mirror and put a tiara on, because I am a princess, and this is my tiara!

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This Ain’t a Fairy Tale III: Goodbye, Norma Jean

593156_69069051I remember a moment when I was a little girl, probably in second or third grade. I asked my mother – not in so few words – when I was going to get an hourglass figure. I was looking forward to the point at which I could wear shell bikini and have it fit right. I think I had in my mind a picture of Princess Jasmine and Ariel; I thought about my Barbies. I wasn’t exactly expecting a waist I could fit my hands around or boobs the size of cantaloupes or anything, just the general curve of an hourglass figure. I didn’t think that was something I needed to ask for, much less that it was too much to ask.

When I hit puberty, I was pretty quickly disabused of the notion that was going to happen. It doesn’t matter how much weight I lose or gain, this figure will never be hourglass without surgery, and I’m personally (meaning, for me) opposed to unnecessary cosmetic surgery.

Over the years, I’ve tried to make peace with my decidedly unhourglassy shape. I waited to get pretty (according to my definition, which is incredibly broad, by the way), and it never really happened.

I’m not unfortunate-looking or anything, and I think I have a pleasant enough face that occasionally slips into pretty under the right circumstances, but “Not That Girl” sometimes feels like my appearance anthem.

Like many women without looks to depend on, I’ve tried developing other aspects of myself. I’ve tried to be intelligent. I’ve embraced the challenge of looking interesting, if I can’t be pretty. I’ve tried to develop my various creative talents, to varying degrees of success. I’ve tried to develop my sense of empathy. I’ve tried to fix myself as a person. But it’s harder when you know that all of these will never amount to quite as much as beauty in many people’s opinions. Many people’s very loud opinions.

Of course, being pretty isn’t a picnic either. In the end, as a woman you’re sometimes stuck in the “can’t win” aisle: People dismiss your opinions because you’re ugly, and they can’t really hear your opinions (or sometimes don’t care to hear them) because they’re too distracted by your beauty.

Two years ago, I reached the heaviest I ever was, just over the line from overweight to obese in terms of body fat content (not the problematic BMI). There were things that were unpleasant about it, such as my tiny feet hurting a lot, general strain on my body, and some unpleasant GI symptoms now and then. And I didn’t like the way the fat looked, of course.

I lost thirty pounds, although not due to a radical diet or exercise regimen (because my feet still hurt when I run). Truth to tell, I just lost my appetite for six months, and that changed the way I ate and how much I could manage to eat. I was never much for eating a ton, but I’m short, so it takes less to make a big difference. So I lost the thirty pounds, and I’ve kept it off. Imagine my frustration when most of the fat that I most hated decided to stick around. I know you can’t target fat loss, but come on.

The only conclusion I reach is that there isn’t a hidden princess in this body. It will always be this general shape, even if I lose another twenty pounds, even if I add another twenty pounds on. It will keep its proportions no matter what I do. It’s frustrating to have to accept this and move on, to relinquish that dream and accept I’ll never get to experience what it’s like to have that body, that I’ll never know what it’s like for a girl to be beautiful.

The heartbreaking thing, I think, is that 98% of women probably feel this way. Many of us are beautiful and will never know it. Many of us are beautiful to the right people, but never believe it. And many of us will be humiliated and ridiculed and beaten down for not meeting an arbitrary and mostly impossible standard of beauty, as though that’s the thing that should matter. Whether or not it should matter, that doesn’t make things any easier.

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End of 2013

1420663_49872300Honestly, on a real-life, personal level, not a lot happened with me in 2013. At the beginning of last year, I had all these things that I’d accomplished and things that I’d tried, but 2013 was merely an extension of 2012, without the constant fear of dying in an apocalypse of natural and unnatural disasters. So, there’s that. A lot happened to other people: Two friends got pregnant, two friends had babies, my brother married his fiancee in the summer. But there’s a difference between things happening and sitting on the sidelines, and 2013 was a sideline year.

I didn’t advance from my 200 wpm speed level the entire year. I’m really hoping this next quarter is the one, and I’m going to add on hours to my practice, which I hate doing, but I’ll see whether it makes a difference in my test accuracy. I did, however, improve my test accuracy considerably, and by making a lot of briefs (shortening how many strokes are needed for a word or phrase, usually down to one stroke of the keys), I improved my speed. Just not enough, and it’s frustrating having been in school for almost four years and having to field questions of when I’m going to be finished. I wanted to be finished a year ago. I wondered whether I should scrap school and become a scopist (basically a transcript editor), and that’s still on the table, but it’s not very lucrative and my teacher talked me into waiting.

I continued building up my music library with all the groups I discovered in 2012, and they served me well in the writing of things. Lots of great songs for inspiration. I also got a lot of reading done of my new favorite authors, and I hope to continue that effort in the new year. I achieved my 2013 resolution of watching the last season of Angel and the one season of Firefly, which affected me just as I expected: left me wanting more and no more to be had. In 2014, I hope to watch all available episodes of Sherlock and the rest of Fringe before the end of the year. I don’t see a lot of movies in the theaters, but I watched a lot of new horror on Netflix, and I did see Catching Fire, which was amazing.

I edited FTR1, wrote FTR2, and accomplished NaNo2013 with the femme fighting novel, among other fun-writing projects for a total of over 600,000 words written in the year 2013, which is so much whoa. I wrote over a half a million words, so even if my fairy tale remix series is going nowhere and the nightmare novel can’t find a home, that’s still an amazing accomplishment.

The 2014 To Do list includes: reworking the beginning of FTR1, editing FTR2 (including a change to the ending), editing FF (including rewriting the ending so it doesn’t go on and on and on and on…), and writing FTR3. I don’t have any other books to write on schedule for 2013 of the non-fun-writing variety; however, I have a few ideas banging around in my skull, so maybe that’ll be something for this fall.

2013 was not my best year, stagnant as it was, and it ended with my body deciding that it hated me, but at least none of the issues were fatal in anyway. Just extremely uncomfortable, with my legs aching in weird ways and my neck trying to choke me. However, I got a lot of words down and a lot of words edited, and I’m hoping it pays off for me in 2014. After all, I can’t shop FTR1 and 2 around anymore, but I can shop FF when I’m finished with it. Still, I’d prefer the nightmare novel to be my debut, if I had any say in the matter. I love that book so much, and it was my first instance of serious writing way back when I was seventeen.

Here’s hoping. Good luck with all your endeavors this year, too!

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Top 10 Favorite Non-Classic Christmas Songs

SONY DSCI’ll definitely have to do these two again next year. Who knows what new treasures I’ll find by then?

The following songs are lyrics written within the last twenty or twenty-five years, and some of them might be considered classics, but they just haven’t had time to percolate into the collective in my opinion. Once again, I have a mix of secular and religious here in no particular order, because that distinction makes little difference to me. I’m easy. If the list below doesn’t prove that I have eclectic tastes, nothing will.

Top 10 Favorite Non-Classic Christmas Songs

1. “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” – Amy Grant

As I said in the last post, I’m fond of songs about Mary and from Mary’s perspective, underappreciated as she has been in my Protestant upbringing. I ascribed my love of Mary to the rich symbolism in Catholicism. They get the arts right. I’ve sung “Breath of Heaven” so many times in my former church and I sang it this year for a Christmas party with my voice teacher and some of her students. It’s historically inaccurate (like most religious Christmas songs, honestly), but that doesn’t take away from the truth of it. It always gets me that Mary’s young and scared. I think that’s why Gethsemane songs also resonate with me, but that’s a different season.

2. “Be Born in Me” – Francesca Battistelli

Another Mary song, and one of the ones sung at the aforementioned Christmas party.  Like “Breath of Heaven,” it humanizes Mary. The second I heard it a few weeks ago, I fell in love. The lyrics are fantastic.

3. “The Bells of St. Paul” – Linda Eder

I oscillated between Eder’s “Christmas Stays the Same” and this, but I ultimately chose this one because it’s such a beautiful love story, and no one belts emotion quite like Linda. I defy you not to tear up in the last verse.

4. “Christians and the Pagans” – Dar Williams

This is an exquisite song that’s very Dar, with biting wit and tongue in cheek and social commentary and compassion all in one song. It’s all about a pagan couple having dinner with their Christian family and how they briefly overlook their differences to spend time with each other.

5. “Dream a Dream (Elysium)” – Charlotte Church

It’s the amazing introduction to Charlotte Church’s Christmas album, a mix of major and minor keys and dramatic swells of music. Just…listen. It’s hard to explain.

6. “Walking in the Air” – Nightwish

I never knew this was a Christmas song until I saw “The Snowman.” It wasn’t originally the Nightwish cover, of course, because “The Snowman” was made in 1982, but THIS was how I was introduced to it.

7. “Christmastime” – Michael W. Smith

It’s hard to resist a children’s choir.

8. “It’s Christmas Morning” – Rich Mullen

Mullen died way too soon, but he had a simple earnestness that carried him well through his career. They’re the lyrics of a child without being patronizing. I can’t think of a single kid who hasn’t thought this way.

9. “I Believe in Father Christmas” – Sarah Brightman

In contrast, this song is the one of an adult remembering the magic of Christmas and losing the faith of it, wondering where the magic’s gone. It’s got some cynicism, but there’s a great message behind it.

10. “White is in the Winter Night” – Enya

This has a wonderful, bouncy beat in Enya’s characteristic Celtic style. It feels very Solstice.

Honorary Mentions: “Gothic Christmas” (Within Temptation), “Why Christmas” (Boyz II Men), “The Chanukah Song” (Adam Sandler), “The Night Before Christmas” (Amy Grant), “Christmas Stays the Same” (Linda Eder), “Blue Christmas” (Elvis), “Merry Christmas, Baby” (Bruce Springsteen), “Christmas Day” (Dido), “What’s This?” (Nightmare Before Christmas),  “A Baby Changes Everything” (Faith Hill), “Christmas Can-Can” (Straight No Chaser)

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