Monday, February 27, 2017

Defending Disney: Beauty and the Beast

Hello, all!

It's currently snowing outside. That's the bad news. The good news is that this morning I beat the snow on my run and even had a 7:07 mile!

(It was my one and only downhill mile and I had to stop a few times, and I paused my timer when I did. But still. I'll take my half-wins where I can get them.)

Even better news: I got my ticket to the live action Beauty and the Beast film this March!

On that note, I feel like it's time to do a "Defending Disney" post that I've been planning for a long time.

Beauty and the Beast.

I love this movie. In fact, it's my favorite Disney film. So, when I found out that Disney was giving us a live-action reboot, I skipped around the house, I was so happy.

However, I feel like I'm always defending this movie against the argument that the whole thing is "Stockholm Syndrome." I don't like this statement because not only is it false (Stockholm syndrome is a lot more negative and complicated), but I feel like it ignores all the reasons why this movie is so powerful.

This is going to be a long post, but I have a lot of pictures to keep it colorful. Let's begin:

Let's start by looking at the character of Belle. She is intelligent, brave, and kind...and a bit of an oddball in her town. I'd like to point out here that Belle doesn't try to fit in; she accepts that she's different and likes herself. The only reason we see for her feeling down with how the village ostracizes her is this:

Belle is strong and confident in herself. She doesn't stop reading and loving books because the others in the village treat her poorly as a result. What she wants is someone she can "really talk to." Someone who understands her, doesn't think she's odd. And I'll take it one step further.

Every Disney protagonist has an "I Want" song, in which they state exactly what they want. They all end up getting this thing. Ariel wants to be "part of that world." Rapunzel wants her life to begin. Hercules wants to be where he belongs.

Belle is no exception. I think we all agree that Belle wants "adventure in the great wide somewhere." And she gets it, for sure. But there's more.

Belle states right here, in her "I Want" song, that she wants someone who understands her and, even, puts her plans above their own.

Which brings us to Gaston.

Gaston wants Belle. Not loves, wants. He sees her as another trophy, a prize that he deserves because he's the best-looking man in town. He has no consideration for the things she likes, what she cares about, or her plans.

This shot comes right before Gaston literally throws Belle's favorite book in the mud. So much for understanding. If it were up to Gaston, Belle would give up the things that make her "odd" and give him what he wants.

Belle is never going to have any kind of meaningful relationship with someone like Gaston. If he were the one in the castle, the story would have a different ending.

But in the castle, we have the Beast.

The Beast, on the surface, seems a lot like Gaston. He's selfish, brutish, and violent. However, the Beast differs in the respect that he has been humbled. Severely.

Gaston is the king of the town. The Beast, however, is isolated and alienated by the curse. He is an oddball, even more so than Belle is in her town. This is why a relationship that could never happen between Gaston and Belle can happen here. It's not Stockholm syndrome. It's understanding.

Granted, the circumstances in which Belle comes to live in the castle are negative. It seems like kidnapping, but remember: Belle is no damsel in distress. She chose to stay.

In fact, she chose it twice:

In this scene, Belle has been at the castle for no longer than a day, probably less than that. She has eaten one meal and we have proof that she's even slept. Her interactions with the Beast are limited. She has just run away, scared for her life, when the Beast comes to save her from the wolves. Which brings us to this moment.

Belle could have left. No one would have stopped her; the wolves were gone. She was already running away. The Beast had just saved her life, but he was responsible for holding her prisoner in the first place. But she didn't leave. In this moment, I think she sees the Beast as someone, not something. He came and rescued her, fighting the wolves instead of just grabbing her and hauling her back. He wasn't a monster threatening her. He was someone capable of kindness who needed her help.

So she goes back, and she stays. She chooses to do this; attributing this to Stockholm syndrome diminishes Belle's compassion and courage.

Another reason this is more than Stockholm syndrome is because the human-to-human connection continues and Belle finds in the Beast what she never found in the village: someone to talk to. While Gaston throws her book in the mud, the Beast encourages Belle's love of reading.

He gives her a library. They also read together.

The Beast respects and encourages what makes Belle unique. Belle in return doesn't "shudder at his paw," and makes her own allowances for what makes the Beast unique. These two "oddballs" grow closer as they understand each other and consider each others' needs. I'd also like to point out that as the movie progresses, Belle brings out the Beast's human side, as proven by the clothing he wears.

First shot: minimal, torn clothing, animalistic behavior.

Later, with Belle: full dress, more human behavior.

She brings out the best in him, and he celebrates the best in her. Which is why it's so powerful when the Beast lets Belle go.

I love this moment. The Beast is there with Bell and the wilting rose. He knows that he doesn't have much time left to break the spell, but he chooses to let Belle leave anyway. That's what she wants: to leave and help her father. He understands how important Belle's father is to her. In this moment, the Beast is deciding to put Belle's plans above his own plans to break the spell.

And that what she wanted from the start, right? Someone who understands that she wants so much more than they've got planned.

Meanwhile, Gaston is planning to harm her father to get what he wants: Belle to marry him. He continues to put his wants above hers, which is why he's the villain and the Beast is the hero. In the end, Belle chooses to go back a third time, going to the one who understands her, who she understands, who she can talk to, who puts her needs over his. It's true love, and the spell is broken.

This movie is not about Stockholm syndrome. It's about two people who don't fit in anywhere else finding the one person who understands them best. It's about caring about what makes each other special and bringing out the best in each other.

Thank you for reading through to the end. Here's the tl;dr for the rest of you:

Beauty and the Beast is not about Stockholm syndrome because it shows a loving, caring relationship based on understanding and putting others' needs before their own. Gaston is also a jerk who throws books in the mud.

And here's the trailer for the live action film, because AAAAAAAHHHHH!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Carter Higgins - A Rambler Steals Home (2/28)
Mary E. Lambert - Family Game Night and Other Disasters (2/28)
Pete Begler - The Fearless Traveler's Guide to Wicked Places (2/28)

Young Adult:
Tricia Levenseller - Daughter of the Pirate King (2/28)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: Frostblood by Elly Blake

Hello, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful week and that my post about bad romantic writing tropes didn't bring down your Valentine's Day.

I've had a good week. For one thing, I got my book swag this week. A couple days ago, I got my sunglasses:


I feel so cool when I wear them.

I also just today got my bookmarks!

Hooray! Now I have things to give out at my release and other events!

Speaking of events, this past week I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Utah "Life, the Universe, and Everything" Symposium. It's a good little science fiction/fantasy writing convention. I've been before, and it's always good. I wasn't able to attend many panels I wanted to see because I was working, but I visited a good one about hacking and I liked learning what it's like working a convention. With any luck, I'll attend more writing conventions, and it's a good thing to learn how hard people work to make the convention happen.

But on to the main attraction. Another thing I did this week was read an ARC of Elly Blake's book Frostblood.

Yes, I said I read an ARC. However, this is the good news: this book's already out! It came out in January!

So, I can tell you all what I thought and you can go on out and read it for yourselves! No wait!

Frostblood takes place in a fantasy world where Frostbloods, people with the ability to generate and control cold and ice, reign. Firebloods, the opposite power (generating and controlling heat and fire), are hated and hunted. The main character, Ruby, is a Fireblood. She's caught and then rescued by Frostbloods who want her to help them end the terror of their current king. Ruby doesn't trust or like the Frostbloods, but by helping them she has the ability to hone her skills and get revenge on the king who has taken so much from her.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, as this was a gripping read. I really enjoyed the story and it pulled me along. Blake doesn't pull any punches with the emotions in this book, but they feel real. She's just really good at allowing things to get so bad it feels like a shot to the heart. However, the interactions between the characters, especially Ruby and the enigmatic Frostblood Arcus, are enjoyable, especially as the book progresses.

I also liked the other characters, such as Brother Thistle. There are a lot of good characters who are so likeable, which is a must in any book I read, but especially in YA. Ruby's character is fiery (appropriately) and at first I found her a little annoying and too irrational, but as time passed her character developed, just as Arcus starts too cold and distant and "warms up."

My favorite thing about this book was the powers the characters have and how they use them. Honestly, this book reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with the elemental powers and how one kind of power has control. Except, it's in reverse: the fire users are the hunted, not the hunters.

 There are a lot of things in this book, not just the powers, that reminded me of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I'll let you discover them for yourselves!

I really did enjoy the book. If I had any critique, it would be that the "revenge" theme seemed a little heavy-handed at the end, but I enjoyed the story so much it didn't pull me out of the book that much. Besides, I like more subtle themes; that's just my preference.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the book, and would recommend, especially for lovers of Avatar. I'm grateful and glad to have been able to read it.

We have one debut this week:

Young Adult:
Lilliam Rivera - The Education of Margot Sanchez (2/21)

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Sins of Romantic Writing

Well, it's Valentine's Day, once again, so I thought I'd write about one of my biggest pet peeves: romantic relationships in writing.
Don't get me wrong; I love a good, well-written swoonfest. I am fond of happy endings and romance. But, as much as I like it, I hate it when it's not done well, and I stop reading books like that. To make a comparison,

So, romance. It's highly sought after; romantic novels are bought in staggering numbers. Other genres, from realistic fiction all the way down to teen fantasy, often include romance in some form or another. With all this romance writing out there, it would make sense that there's a lot of really good stuff out there, and a lot of really bad stuff.

In the spirit of the holiday, I want to talk about the kind of romantic writing that sets my teeth on edge and makes me want to throw the book, so that I and perhaps other writers may steer clear of these tropes. Let's begin:

- Romance where one or both of the couple is abusive and manipulative. 

I'm looking at you, Fifty Shades! This is NOT LOVE! Let's say it again: THIS IS NOT LOVE!

Love is about caring for another person and treating them with respect, putting their needs above your own. This is about power and domination and is super-unhealthy. This can range from physical abuse to controlling behavior, belittling each other, stalking, and generally anything else we would, in real life, distance ourselves from or even call the police over.

When I find this in a book, especially in a teen book (I'm looking at you, too, Twilight and City of Bones), I cringe. I know that I'm supposed to find this romantic, but sitting here, writing this, I can't think of a single reason why physical, emotional, and mental abuse, stalking, and controlling behavior is even sort of romantic. I don't buy it, and I won't buy it.

- Love triangles. 

I see these mostly in teen fiction, and to be honest, I'm sick of them. I pick up a book, and as soon as I'm introduced to the female lead, I'm introduced to her friend, a cute guy who she sees as a brother, and soon after, to the smoldering hottie who makes her blood sizzle. (Guess which one is often the abusive creep?)

The reason I hate these is because they've become so cliche. Going into a love triangle, I know which one the female lead will pick: it's the abusive creep she's attracted to. It's almost never the opposite, though I did find one, Illuminated by Aimee Agresti, in which (SPOILER ALERT!) the good guy wins out. That book was refreshing in so many ways. If the book has a love triangle, I want it to feel real. I want there to either be a clear-cut favorite and a good reason why the protagonist is not cutting the other one off, or I want them to each be such positive choices that she (or he, as it may be) can't make a clear and easy decision. Please don't keep using the above stereotype; there's no drama in it anymore.

- The gay best friend.

Okay, before I get a lot of hate for hating this trope, let me just say I hate it as a trope. I like it when a character's qualities are used to either further the story or because it's an unbreakable part of who that character is, like if a character has red hair just because he does or if she's a math whiz just because she is. I don't like it when it's done to corral the readers' expectations.

Here's what I mean: the female lead has a male best friend to show that she's a "guy's gal" and to add some gender balance to a book. However, the writer doesn't want the reader to ship the protagonist with the best friend, so the best friend is designed to bat for the other team. It doesn't add to the story, and there's no reason for it other than to keep the reader focused on the real love interest.

I dislike this because I see it used so much that I recognize the trope as a trope and not as a real character, and because it assumes that men and women can't just be friends. There are plenty of real, platonic male/female relationships that can happily not lead to love, and I'd like to see those explored more. Let the readers ship whatever they want; you're the one in charge. Keep the characters real.

- Emotional manipulation or melodrama (for the readers).

Can't stand this. I'm reading a book, and the characters are falling in love, and then BAM! One of them is dying. It does nothing for the story other than make the readers cry. It's manipulative to the reader, and it doesn't provide a real kind of tension.

Tension between characters is best when it relates to them and how they see and interact with the world. I'd rather see characters split apart for a time because one wants a career and the other always assumed he'd marry a stay-at-home kind of girl. Then the characters have to work through their own plans and desires for themselves and each other, leading to growth and a more real relationship. It will be more emotional because the emotions will come from how each character would really feel. This can work for fatal illness or injury, or cheating lover or anything else, but it has to feel real to the characters and they have to respond in realistic ways.

Throwing in something huge and weighty and overdramatic that's there only to sock the reader in the heart is not real, and it doesn't feel real, and I put the book down. This goes for all kinds of writing, by the way. Emotions should come out of the characters, not used as a weapon against the reader.

- Relationships that make no darn sense.

We see them. The couple that falls in love in two minutes and would do anything for each other, including die.

 I call this the "Romeo and Juliet Syndrome," and we've been programmed to think it's romantic. But here's the thing:

Why are these characters in love?

What qualities and traits do they admire in each other? How does he help her grow? How does she change the way he sees the world? How do they compliment each other?

Or do they just have a romance based purely on physical attraction?

These romances bug me so much. It's a more harmless version of the "abusive creep" trope, so it gets overlooked, but I think it deserves some discussion. Why do two people fall in love, in real life? Attraction is certainly part of it, but unless you live in isolation or only meet one hot person in your whole life, there has to be another part of it. I think we fall in love because the other person fills some kind of need in us, beyond the physical. Finding this out takes time and effort, and it doesn't just happen in an instant.

Often this insta-love leads me, as the reader, to have no idea why I should care about this romance. Why should I root for them to make it against all odds when I don't even know what they see in each other? Extra credit goes to fictional couples where one or both is so boring or repugnant that I can't see why anyone would want to be with them. As the reader, I have to fall in love with the characters, too. I have to get to know them and see their relationship flower or I won't believe it. I dislike the movie Moulin Rouge for this very reason: I don't like either character as a person, and I don't understand why they're so in love.

 That concludes my list. I want romances, but I want romances where the couple is equally balanced, shows care and affection for each other without abusive habits, where relationships are real (including platonic ones), where the writer doesn't emotionally manipulate the reader, and where readers like and fall in love with the lovers, understanding why they're together. I realize that many people may like the tropes I hate, and that's fine. But, for me, the kind of romance I want to read more of is found in books like this one:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

This book and the rest of its series are wonderful romantic reads. They have a lot more than romance; they're science fiction adventures. But, they're also retellings of fairy tales which means ROMANCE!

The romances in these books are as healthy as any I've seen in books; the characters love and respect each other and actually seek the other's happiness over their own. They are well-balanced and it's clear what each one sees in the other. For example, Cress is a character who has been isolated most of her life, and she dreams of experiencing things and traveling. Her love, Thorne, is a captain of a space ship, someone who also likes to travel and can take her to see all the things she wants to see. There are also deeper, more emotional reasons they balance each other, but I won't spoil it for you.

There are no love triangles, and I never wanted one. The platonic relationships feel real and are perfectly acceptable as such.

I highly recommend this book series as a good romance.

Here are the debuts for this week:

Young Adult:
Jamie Meyer - Painless (2/14)
Ibi Zoboi - American Street (2/14)
Jilly Gagnon - #famous (2/14)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sleeping Is Actually Pretty Bonkers

Hello, all!

I hope you've had a good week. I have! Aladdin's MAX line website is up and running, so I'm thrilled! UNDER LOCKER AND KEY is part of this line of books for middle-school boys, so it's great to see the website and the whole gang in one place. Also, the website has excerpts of the books, so if you'd like to see more about the line or read part of my book, follow this link to the Aladdin MAX page!

I finished another bunch of edits on a draft of my work in progress, so that book is finally in a semi-finished, readable state. Semi-finished is an interesting place to be when you have to give your book to your writing group. On the one hand, I want to get feedback before this book is so polished it's hard to incorporate it. On the other, though, people will be reading this book that I KNOW is imperfect and they'll see all the mistakes!


Anyway, the book has been fun to write. It's about a seventeen-year-old boy named Ian Nightshade who can't dream on his own so he goes into other people's dreams, hijacking them so he gets the health benefit. He sees what other people dream, which leads him to a mystery involving a serial killer and, of course, a girl his age.

The book relies a lot on actual science, as Ian tries to figure out his sleep and dreams. So, I've been researching a lot about sleep and dreams. I did before starting the book, but I've been updating my information. Because I find this stuff cool and because you're a captive audience, you get to hear what I've learned!

So here we go. Try not to fall asleep. Unless you need to, in which case, go to.

- Scientists don't know why we need sleep, but they know we do. We will die if we don't sleep.
- There are 5 stages of sleep: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4 (deep sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement).
- Sleepers in the REM stage are paralyzed. Only their eyes move. A disorder in REM sleep can lead to people acting out their dreams in real life.
- The longest recorded amount of time going without sleep was 264 hours, or about 11 days. This was done by 17-year-old Randy Gardner. He was unscathed physically but cognitively dysfunctional by end, experiencing blurred vision, involuntary eye movements, and hallucinations.
- Dreams occur in both REM and non-REM sleep.
- Non-REM dreams help us retain memories and learn. People who learn material and sleep remember it better the next morning than those who don't. Subjects woken during non-REM dreams report better self-esteem and more positive emotions.
- REM dreams are 5x longer than non-REM dreams. They're wild and fanciful and have heightened, often negative, emotions. Dreamers woken during REM dreams report more negative emotions.
- People suffering depression have more REM dreams than the average.
- However, if we don't get enough REM sleep and dreams, our brains will "make up" for lost time the next night.

- Some people who have had strokes no longer dream. They wake up and/or experience blackness instead of REM.
- After 1 sleepless night, a person may feel more energetic and positive. The brain starts to shut down the regions of the brain used in planning and decision making, leading to impulsive behavior. Emotions run high. After that, exhaustion sets in, leading to reduced reaction time and cognitive functions. After 2 days, the body loses the ability to properly metabolize glucose and the immune system weakens.
- Complete sleep deprivation, when extended, can lead to paranoia, memory and speech problems, hallucinations, and death. Poor sleeping habits can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
- A genetic disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia is a progressive insomnia in which a person develops insomnia that worsens until the person gets dementia and then dies. This usually takes about 18 months from first symptoms.
- About 1/3 of dreams are negative.
- Humans use about 10% less energy while sleeping than while awake.
-  The pineal gland creates melatonin when it's dark, which is why we feel tired at night. Bright lights, though, can prevent this and cause insomnia.
- Good foods for people suffering insomnia are dairy products, like milk and cheese, nuts, rice, greens, tuna, lean proteins, whole-grain bread, and cherry juice.
- Coffee and sugary foods and drinks are terrible for sleep. I don't think I need to explain this.

Thanks! I hope this was interesting and informative for you. I bet you can see what I got out of this research the most:

Get a good night's sleep. The benefits are too good and the risks are not worth it.

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Wendy McLeod MacKnight - It's a Mystery, Pig Face! (2/7)

Young Adult:
Rhoda Belleza - Empress of the Thousand Skies (2/7)
S. Jae-Jones - Wintersong (2/7)
Sheryl Scarborough - To Catch a Killer (2/7)
Diana Gallagher - Lessons in Falling (2/7)