To the Nay Sayers

In which I look at the denigration of genre fiction.

I met a woman once who asked me why romances could be so popular when they all told the same story. Oh, sure, some elements are the same–a man, a woman and a happy ending (and even that’s not necessarily true any more. The popularity of LGBTQ books is growing and welcome, as are erotica books)–but the journey is different in each. It’s what the characters learn on that journey and how they grow that make every story unique. She scoffed at my explanation and dismissed my notions as uninformed. I listened to her politely with a smile set on my face, then changed the subject. After all there’s no use arguing with someone who clearly had never read romance, had no intention of reading romance, yet has strong opinions on it.

All genre fiction tends to suffer from its reputation (although I would argue romance suffers more than its fair share). Maybe because all genre fiction follows formulae and for some reason people think a formula means no creativity. Heck, Joseph Campbell broke all stories down to one formula (the Hero’s Journey), which then Chirstopher Vogler laid out for writers in his best selling and fascinating book The Writer’s Journey. So it’s easy for pretentious people to dismiss entire genres of books as unoriginal or written by hacks. Those people are wrong. Yes, not all genres will appeal to everyone. I, for example, don’t like to read horror or police procedurals, but that’s a matter of taste, not a reflection of quality. I can look at the trailers for a film and know if I want to see it. A lot of times those are the films that end up winning the awards. I just don’t like that type, but as I said, that’s taste, not quality. I also don’t like red wine, black coffee, brandy, or much chocolate.

The more I think about why genre fiction is popular and why the some or the populace regards it as less than literary, the more I realize it’s about how the books make you feel and the messages they send. Even within genre fiction there is some I don’t like to read. I dislike the heavy, angsty, emotional story. I love a good romp. I love a lighter tone. Even with a high body count, I love a lighter tone (Yes, such books exist. Death and destruction with a light tone. My favorite.). It doesn’t mean that serious events don’t occur in the story; it just means I don’t need to take Xanax when I’ve finished the story. I have read some of what is called literary fiction that has made me want to gauge my eyes out after slitting my wrists. I like the romps, the adventures, the humor, the uplifting endings (doesn’t mean not sad; that means that the human spirit wins at the end. Heck, I cried at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. And Toy Story 3. Sobbed at that one.). It’s about how I felt as I read the story.cute-super-hero-clip-art-superhero-boy

And the message. Stephen King once said that genre fiction was the place where values are tested for society to ponder (Or something like that. I tried to find the real quote with no success.). I agree with him. Genre fiction is where the protagonists face circumstances that test their beliefs. If they choose rightly, they are heroes. If not, they become tragic victims. This idea is pervasive in our modern culture: “You underestimate the power of the Dark Side”; “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”;“The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.”  (That last one is Joss Whedon, in case you didn’t recognize it)

I like heroes. And villains for those heroes to fight against. Because I want to leave a story cheering, even if I’m crying. And in real life I like the heroes who do the right thing daily without fanfare or capes or parades or even fighting.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove

Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Azkaban by JK Rowling

 

The Elephant in the Room

Just because I have written Romance, why would you think I have an opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey?

I know the phenomenon that has hit the big screens this weekend. I remember it when it hit the book shelves a couple of years ago. I can’t give you an opinion on it. Why? Because I have neither read it nor seen it, and I have no plans to change that status any time soon. Usually when a book hit phenomenon stage I will pick it up. I figure that’s my job as a writer. I need to be familiar with the phenomena. That’s why I first picked up Harry Potter (back when there were only two books out there). I became a huge fan. Yes, sometimes the run-ons bothered me, but the book was so much more than that. I became one of those people who lined up at midnight to get the next volume. (Thank God I had children so I could use them as an excuse. I even made them dress up for one.) That’s why I read TheDaVinci Code (loved the concept, hated the execution). I read The Hunger Games for the same reason. And Twilight.  And then came Fifty Shades.

My Harry Potter Shelf--books in German and English
My Harry Potter Shelf–books in German and English

I didn’t read it, and I won’t. And here are the three reasons I won’t:

First, it’s just not my thing. Yes, I read and write romance, but BDSM is not my thing (I have a friend who calls herself the queen of vanilla sex. If she’s the queen, then I’m the empress.). Neither is erotica. I won’t read it. Sorry. I know I’ve excluded a lot of books from my reading list with that pronouncement, but I don’t enjoy it, so why should I subject myself to it? I will fight for your right to read and write anything you want, but in the same way, you shouldn’t force me to read something I don’t want.

Second, I’ve heard, and, mind you, this is not my opinion because I can’t give one, never having have read it, that the writing is terrible. Not just bad. Worse. This from reliable sources, friends, people I respect. My nerves become tied up in knots when I read bad writing, so I don’t want to put myself through that.

Third, I know it started as fan fiction for Twilight, and I’ve read (and seen–talk to me about the things I will do for my youngest daughter) that book. I am a fan of plot. I reached page 295 (or so) of the novel and yelled out, “Finally, something happens.” I know there are people who loved Twilight, but I wasn’t one of them. I like action, movement, not self-reflection or self-awareness. I read far too many books where the characters have so much angst and carry so much baggage I don’t believe in the happy ending. I don’t enjoy books that have so much introspection that I need therapy afterward. Thus if Fifty is basically Twilight with a twist, I don’t need to read it.

And there you have it. I truly don’t like to give an opinion on something I haven’t judged for myself. I know what you’re thinking: For not having an opinion, I sure can write a lot of words about it. I truly can’t say Fifty Shades is terrible or trite or wrong or abusive or mommy porn or whatever the heck else has been said about it, but I can say I won’t be finding out first hand.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Just about to start How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove. Still have a few more chapters to go in my last RITA book.

Just For the Fun of It

How many times have you picked up a book by an author you’ve never read before and by the end of the first page you know you’re going to love the journey you’ve embarked upon? It’s a magical and miraculous moment. You’re ready to go wherever the author leads you. Why do you think storytellers have been revered throughout the ages, accorded high esteem and regard, and treasured as no other members of society? Think of the many words you find that mean storyteller: bard, ;minstrel, troubadour, yarn spinner, fabler, novelist, narrator writer, dramatist,historian, orator, skald, author. Think of the cultures that are known through their stories: Greek myths, German fairy tales, Elizabethan England (Shakespeare), Marvel Comics.

Harrison Ford once gave and interview where he was asked if he regretted not playing critically acclaimed roles rather than the money makers. Mr. Ford’s unapologetic answer was that his goal was to entertain. If he achieved acclaim, that was fine, but he wanted people to like his movies. indiana-jones-clip-art-9TpRkqjTEWhat struck me most was the nobility of his goal. He wanted to entertain. He didn’t try to claim his work was earth shattering or would change the course of history; he simply wanted to entertain. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the idea of giving people something to take them away from their own lives and everyday problems, if only for a little while, is a goal worth pursuing.

And it comes down to the story and its telling.

I want the power to take people to other worlds. I want the power to make people laugh or cry. I want to be a story teller with all the responsibilities the job carries. I want to entertain.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Still can’t tell you because I’m judging for the RITAs. I did watch FANBOYS the other night. That was fun.

Life Philosophy…

How’s that for a scary title. But don’t be afraid. It isn’t that heavy.

Most of you know my youngest daughter has special needs. She’s an adult now, has a job, and is fairly independent, but she doesn’t drive, has real difficulty communicating, and we pretty much know she won’t be living alone for a while , if ever. That’s fine. We love having her around to watch movies with, play games, or just hang out. When she was little, she hit most of her physical milestones at the tail end of normal, but speech never came. Oh a word here or there, but no real talking. When she was four, however, she came up with my life’s philosophy. One day her older sister was crying. The youngest went up to her, put her arms around her and said, “Try happy.”

Try Happy

What beautiful words. The funny thing is they seem to work. I’m not trying to dismiss serious depression here (having been through a bout myself), and it’s never that easy,  but I’ve tried to live my life by those two words. It’s along the lines of “fake it until you make it,” another of my favorite sayings. But “Try Happy” is better. Life is too short to let yourself get distracted by awful things. I’m not saying hide from reality, or don’t get involved, but I always try to balance out unpleasantness with something that makes me smile. Thus my choice in reading and viewing materials. I am fairly political (Not here. I won’t subject you to my opinions here because I consider this blog part of my reading and viewing materials, and thus it conforms to my rules about those matters.) and the last thing I want to do when I’m trying to entertain myself is engross myself in dark, depressing stories. Yes, I watched Breaking Bad ( I live in Albuquerque, after all), and while I could admire the writing, the acting, the sheer brilliance of the show, I can’t say I enjoyed it. Nope. I want to escape in my free time. And “Try Happy” is a philosophy not used in that series. I want stories that celebrate the human spirit.

So, “Try Happy.” I’m thinking of having T-shirts made up or bumper stickers.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

I can’t tell you–I’m judging the RITAs and my reading selections must remain secret.

“I’m Your Biggest Fan”

I don’t care if you think you’re the biggest fan of my favorite book. You’re wrong. And here’s why…

You want to know the magic of books? It’s that every book is yours. Allow me to explain. When an author writes a book (I may just be speaking about myself; if so, just change the generalization to references to me), he or she is trying to give life to a story floating out in the nebula of our brains. I don’t care how much you plot, plan, or plead, the story you write will never achieve the vision you held in your head. So we do our best because we want to share our vision with the reader. And notice how I wrote “the reader,” not “the readers.” Of course authors want many readers; hell, we would all love to hit the lists, but when we speak about those who enjoy our work, we tend to speak in the singular. Yes, we are trying to reach many, but each book can only reach one person at a time.

Some (very few) of my favorite books--the ones that were close enough that I could take this pictures quickly.
Some (very few) of my favorite books–the ones that were close enough that I could take this picture quickly.

What I take from a book is different from what you take. Yes, we can both (all?) love the hero, hate the villain, but when I’m reading it’s just me and the page. When I’m in a book (and I would say I am in a book), every image is mine. Yes, the words create them, but my mind pictures are different from the author’s and different from yours. When I love a book, it doesn’t matter if someone can beat me in a trivia contest over its contents, or can name every fact. The only thing that matters is how I respond to it. Because it’s now mine. The book, its story, the characters, and my experience with them. Mine, mine, mine.

As an author I can tell you it’s hard to let your book go out into the world because part of letting others own the book is that some will not like it. Their experience will be unsatisfactory. They will think the hero stupid, or the heroine weak, or the villain too over the top. Unfortunately, those are valid responses as well. Remember, the book belongs to the reader.

And thus the magic. When you pick up a book, you bring yourself to it. Your responses are yours—you don’t have to justify them, or support them, or debate them (although if you can support your arguments in a debate and like that sort of thing, it can be fun). When a reader says he or she is the book’s biggest fan, he or she is right, even if there are thousands that say so. When I’m reading or rereading a favorite novel, it’s my book, and I am the biggest fan. Of course I’m the biggest fan (or biggest detractor), because the story I read/experience is different from anyone else’s; it is mine. It is unique.

And that’s magic.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

Honor’s Price by Alexis Morgan

“Reality: What a Concept”

…One of my favorite quotes from Robin Williams.  In which I talk about the complexity of human personality and pay my own small tribute to the man.

I have always wanted to be one of those big personality people. You know the kind–the ones whom people gravitate toward at parties, at gatherings, even in the parking lots of schools and grocery stores. They can schmooze, talk, tell a story and entertain. Put them on a panel (like at Bubonicon) and they make every minute educational and exciting and filled with laughter.

I’ve tried to cultivate and work on having such a personality. I can succeed on occasion (rare occasions and usually when I’m on stage, literally or metaphorically, somewhere), but usually I just withdraw into myself, even if I have some modicum of knowledge about the topic at hand. I can write a mean essay, but simply having a conversation frightens me.  I am terrified of making a mistake because when I do, people point it out (Look, Gabi made a mistake!–seriously, this has happened more than once), which just makes me even more afraid to make a mistake and I withdraw further into myself. I love giving presentations or appearing on panels, but a private conversation…>shudder<.

That duality in personality–the outer appearance vs the inner perception–is part of the reason Robin Williams’s death struck me so hard. I thoroughly enjoyed his work and considered him an absolute genius (in every sense of the word), but no one really knew what went on in his head. I can completely relate to it. I know I can project an image of confidence and expertise, but inside, I’m a jellied mass of insecurities. We all wear masks of sorts. We have our parent masks, our work masks, our public masks, our friend masks. You can’t know what going on behind that mask. You can guess, but unless the wearer reveals himself, you can never be sure. So never assume a smile means happiness or that silence means stupidity. Reality is a deceptive term because those masks are a part of reality. They are real, just one aspect of the complex beings we humans are. Just be careful not to look at one and think you’re seeing the whole picture.

So when I lose myself in fiction , whether I am writing it, reading it, or watching it, it’s not because I don’t like my reality. I do happen to like my life, but I make room for the dreams. I like my fiction as big as the personality I described above. I don’t enjoy small, intimate stories as much because I do enough analysis of myself to satisfy my need to explore others. I want the big stories, the ones that couldn’t happen in reality, but when I experience them, they are real to me in that moment and magic exists, as do superheroes and sweeping romance.  And laughter; much much laughter.

RIP Robin Williams

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Cowboy and the Princess by Lori Wilde

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

 

The Series Killer

No, not “serial.” That is not an error. In which I show my excitement for the supposed demise of series novels. What ever happened to the stand alone novel?

I heard from a second and totally unrelated source that novel series are losing their appeal (for romances–I can’t apply this info to other genres; please chime in if you’ve heard something). For me, this is good news. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a series (romance) and grew tired of the same setting over and over. Sometimes you can tell the author just didn’t want to write another book in this world. There are exceptions–Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons, for example, but each book had a complete story, connected only by family, well, connections–but most of the time, I enjoy a novel and then forget the details. I remember the warm feeling I got while reading it, but when I pick up a second or third novel in a series and am taxed to remember which cousin introduced the oldest brother’s mother-in-law’s grandchild to the American relation, the story loses its punch for me. Series work for me when the story in the series isn’t dependent on previous works; where I don’t have to know that this character is the niece of the neighbor’s second cousin who gave the duke’s half-brother who is now married to the uncle’s sister-in-law’s vicar’s daughter a beating when they were children. In other words, if I can’t pick up a book out of order, read it, and enjoy it, it isn’t the work for me.

I can hear you saying hypocrite right now. I have published two and a half series. The first are tied together by family, but you don’t have to read them in order, they do stand alone, and you don’t have to know the history to understand them. My second series was cut off after the first two books were published (I still have plans to finish that third one, but a few other things have to happen first before I do), but it wasn’t by my choice. And the last series are definitely connected stories that I hope can be read and understood without reading them all, but there is a story line that arcs over all three books, so you’re better off reading all three. These are also fantasies, though, which leads me to my next point.

I don’t mind series in fantasy or sci-fi. Movies or books. Star Wars was fantastic in part because of the ongoing story. But Indiana Jones are all stand alone. I love Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer series (book three appears soon this month). My only fear with series like that is that they become successful and the publishing houses want to extend them to more books. If this story doesn’t end in this book, I’ll be pissed (American sense, not British sense). You can write new stories in the series, but finish the stories first. That’s why I like Once Upon a Time. They finish stories, then throw the characters into new situations. That I can get behind. And of course, I’m still waiting for GOT to finish. Two more books to go. Ugh.

So back to me (it’s my blog, I can be narcissistic if I want). Most of my books are single title, stand-alone books. Yes, I could finagle a second book in the series, but the stories would involve different people and a different story. So if you’re tired of series and just want a fun read, try one. (Fantasy romance recommendation: The Falcon and the Wolf; historical recommendation: Temptation’s Warrior, To Tame a Rose, or one I shall be putting up soon called The Sea Eagle–stay tuned; Even Ever Yours is totally stand alone, although technically it’s part of a series, but they’re not connected in the way you think and every story is an individual story and has no effect on the next). I have a couple of manuscripts I’m working on that are totally stand alone.

And if you like series, I have those too. I guess there’s room for both.

What are your thoughts?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Paper Magician by Charlie N Holmberg

Sale . . . or the Long Versus the Short

In which I discuss voice and tone in the novels I enjoy (Yes, I mention Harry Potter again) and write, Edgar Allan Poe, Asimov, King, and my short story collection. It’s on sale now.

Smaller Preternatural High Res FINAL REV copyWhen I write my novels, my tone and voice are light, despite the possible high body count in the plots. I just don’t like dark, dark, hit-me-over-the-head-with-pain novels. I want my novels to have laughter, characters who don’t dwell on events until they are crippled, that end with the reader cheering for the protagonists. If you think about it, the Harry Potter books had high body counts (growing larger with each year), even episodes of sobbing (at least on my part), but I never felt my soul being dragged down as I read. I always felt uplifted (Yes, even through the tears—SPOILER [really, you haven’t read the books or at least watched the movies yet?]—When Snape killed Dumbledore I knew there was a reason, and even though my heart broke with Dumbledore’s death and funeral, I trusted JK Rowling to give me my answers in the next book. I was right. Book Seven was a killer, yet with every death I recognized the fight for good and that sacrifices had to be made.  Geez, a long enough aside for you?)

So why bring this up? Because I like my short stories twisted. Think Edgar Allan Poe. His “Cask of Amontillado” is my all time favorite short story, but I also like his others (“Tell-tale Heart,” “Hop-Frog,” “The Black Cat”). My favorite story in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot is “Liar!”, and while I love “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” (and the movie too), “The Breathing Method” is the novella that made the biggest impression on me when I read Stephen King’s Different Seasons.

So, again, why bring this up? Well, Preternatural is a collection of short stories I wrote that are entirely different from my novel voice (Well, sort of. I’d argue that “April Fools’” is long enough to have that light tone but just wait until the ending.). These stories are twisted, sharp (not as in smart, although I hope that too), dark, surprising, and well, different from my normal stuff. Thus the name GS Anderson on the cover. After Robot Guy read them, he turned to me and said, “I’m scared of you.”

 

They are short. Very short. The longest one is just under three thousand words. The shortest is a fable of forty-four words, but the average is around one thousand. Twelve in all, they entertain. If you like twisted.

 

And Preternatural (ebook only) is on sale now at Amazon and Nook for $.99 today through Sunday.

 

Please pick up a copy. Read them. Then think about writing a review of the book. Seriously, it’s only a buck.

 

–Gabi

 

Books I’m reading now:

The Resurrectionist by Sierra Woods

Wimbledon

Today was the men’s finals of the annual  tennis event known as Wimbledon. Djokovic won over Federer in what has been called a classic match–five sets. I don’t know if it really earned the title of classic because I didn’t watch, but just saying the word “Wimbledon” brings warm feelings to my soul.

See, I grew up in a Tennis household. My parents were jocks when they lived in Hungary. My father played volleyball and my mother was a beast in European Handball, which my father also played.  When they arrived in the USA, they looked for a sport that poor immigrants could play–something that didn’t coast a lot of money. Tennis, with free courts in almost every park, was it. They took to it with a passion. They played in leagues and tournaments, won trophies, and had more tennis parties than I can remember. They made my sister and me play as well. I had lessons for years, and I remember my feelings of triumph when my mixed doubles partner and I beat my parents in a tournament. It was amazing.

But neither my sister or I were ever jocks. Sports, while fun, was an afterthought to me and certainly not what I wanted to spend my free time doing. It just wasn’t in me. I remember my mother criticizing me once (as mothers do) saying she and my father didn’t know how to handle us because we just didn’t care about sports and this fact was their great disappointment in life. At the time I thought it funny since I have played volleyball regularly for decades, and am prepping to participate in my first Senior Olympics this year in the sport.  But she was right. I don’t look at myself as a jock by any means. I have a huge competitive streak in me and I love winning games, so you’d think I would have been more into sports, but I just wasn’t.

While other families watched baseball, or football, or basketball, our TV was on for every tennis match ever broadcast. We really had no interest in the Superbowl or the world series., but Wimbledon was the event of the year. My parents would sit glued to the television for days while it played, yelling at bad calls, criticizing the play (as if they could do better) and enjoying the matches with their whole hearts. It was pronounced Wim-bleh-done in my parents accent and to this day I say Wim-bleh-done in my head.

But these days I don’t even watch that much sports on TV. I tune in to the Olympics with a passion because it brings back memories of my father,  and while I can enjoy the occasional Padres game, I’m not much of a baseball fan. I watch the Superbowl for the commercials, and I rooted for Germany over France the other day in the World Cup, but I didn’t watch a minute. I sometimes think it’s a shame that I can’t get as excited about sports as I can, say, over a Dr. Who rewatch, but there you have it. Robot Guy will have to wait until he has a son-in-law who might like sports to have a viewing buddy someday.

But Wim-bleh-done will forever bring me wonderful memories of sitting around our house to the boisterous comments of my parents. By the way, congratulations, Djokovic.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Vixen in Velvet by Loretta Chase

Strange Little Things

We all have strange little things we like; things that really have no major influence on our lives, but we like them just the same. I get a thrill when I get/experience/happen upon these stupid little things Here is a sample of a few of my random favorites:

  •  The smell of cornmeal—I don’t know why. It gives me a warm and safe feeling. Maybe it’s because when I was a child, and I’m talking really young here, my parents owned a chicken farm that they bought with four other Hungarian couples right after they arrived in Los Angeles. One couple stayed in the little house on the farm and worked there during the week, and the others went out on the weekends to build coops, fix whatever needed fixing, and general chores. They raised the chickens for the eggs and feed them cornmeal. That smell brings back vague memories of the chicken farm. (I may have to blog just about smells; I have several that mean something to me.)
  •  Wooden ice cream spoons—you know the ones wrapped in white paper that came with those ice cream cups? I love those things. A few years ago, someone was doing some sort of ice cream giveaway and I squirreled away about a dozen of those spoons to pull out when I needed special cheering. They’re gone now, but whenever I have a chance I eat ice cream with a wooden spoon. Those new fangled plastic ones that they put in gelato just aren’t as good.
  •  Miniatures—again, I don’t know why. I have enough dust catchers in my house. But anything miniature I love. Totally useless stuff. Maybe it’s a reaction to being tall and having gone through years of teasing for my height.
  •  Staring at waves or water flowing—I don’t know. Something about the constant change mesmerizes me, and I can get lost in the images. I can’t even say lost in thought, because I’m can’t really remember thinking while I do it. Maybe it’s just a form of meditation for me. On an opposite note staring into a fire (not a candle flame—too small) does the same thing.
  •  Finding random obscure grammar facts—My learning of language will never cease. Yeah, I’m one of those people. But I get a real thrill when I discover something (It could just be the sense of superiority I feel when I know something few others do—yeah, I’m that kind of person too) In grammar facts, please include the origins of idioms, punctuation, and all matter of language, including foreign and linguistic matters.
  •  Books I can get absolutely lost in—Okay, this one is cheating. I love this, not like this. Unfortunately it happens less and less these days. I can like a book, but not get so caught up in it that I’m living it. Those are the gems, the ones that make it hard to remember or care about reality. Mostly I just read books I enjoy.

What about you? What odd little things help color in the nuances of your existence?

 

–Gabi

 

Books I’m reading now:

The Merchant of Venice

The Mark of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy