April 8, 2011

Part Two. As Promised.


A pleasing degree of chemically-enhanced hilarity has been successfully achieved, and what a good thing I have something to hang a blog post on.*

Speaking of physical aspects of heroines, I’ve always found it interesting that so many have very long hair–which is to say, Harry and Aerin do.

::Cringes with embarrassment::  Yes, I’m afraid so.  Harry in particular has ankle-length hair, as I recall.  Good frelling doodah grief.  I was very young when I wrote that, and I even knew I was being a trifle self indulgent.  That’s one of the things I would change, if I could—I don’t mean literally could, I don’t know if my publisher would let me or not, but You Don’t Mess With Stories, even your own, once they’ve gone out into the world and developed their own life without you.  Without a really powerful reason, and authorial embarrassment isn’t powerful enough. 

And I will identify EMoon as saying this:  

Characters need to be the size they are, whatever that is and I’m of the “not too much description please” persuasion. But readers vary widely in what they want/like/will stand for in physical description (I’ve had people ask plaintively why there’s not more, much more.)

. . . Because I want to agree.  Strongly and vociferously.  Characters are the size that they are.  And I too get the complaints about not enough physical description—and I also get people who want to argue with me about what this or that character looks like.  That’s fine, honey, if he or she looks like that to you.  But it’s not in the book. 

I’ve been picturing Jake as Latino. But I did get that he wasn’t all white. 

Um.  Latino is white.  It’s a different ethnic from Anglo-Saxon, but it’s still white.  And Jake’s dad’s name is Mendoza, so yes, he’s Latino—he’s, you know, recognisably ethnic.  Pause for groaning, since of course we’re all some kind of ethnic, including the Anglo-Saxon uber-nonsense.  I briefly tried—speaking of characters being what they are, and not what you make them—making Jake’s dad the one who was part black, thinking I could work in some physical description when he and Jake are having one of their rows . . . but it didn’t work.  Forcing stuff on your characters never does.   The nearest I got was that Jake had a photo of his mum that he used to talk to, but that’s one of the bits that was left on the cutting room floor. 

I personally have always had it very clear in my head that Harry was definitely tall–and as a short person myself, left to my own devices, I will make heroines shorter, if their height isn’t absolutely necessary.

Yes.  This is a kind of summing-up of what I’ve been blundering around saying in too many words.  What is necessary needs to be in the story—the rest is and should be up to the reader.  That’s how the characters go live for that reader.   And I haven’t got a problem with readers lying to themselves a little to make a character more what they want them to be.  I do it myself.  What—as an author—I do object to is when readers insist on their version as the One True Version.**  There aren’t that many one true versions in any aspect of life . . . but that’s another rant for another day.

One of the things I loved about reading “Sunshine,” for instance, was how amazingly little description there is for Sunshine, at least in the classic terms. We have a few side-ways descriptions (like Pat telling Sunshine how he’d described her for the desk assistant), but there isn’t a lot of the usual physical list and detail. And it left so much more for me to just allow form naturally, rather than trying to “force” an image to appear with all the “right” description. It’s not to say that my image of Sunshine isn’t clear enough that I could probably describe her like a friend I see often, it’s just that most of it is made up out of my own head, and I rather enjoy that.

Sorry.  Brief pause for authorial purring.  Mmmmmmmmm.

Then again, another thing I like about the McKinley heroines (and heroes!) is that they’re so rarely ever stunningly beautiful creatures, or at least not beautiful because of their “raven black hair, and emerald green eyes.”

I find the habitually beautiful stock character type a total and complete snore.  But speaking of necessary, Beauty in ROSE DAUGHTER has to be beautiful;  it’s part of the story.  So does Lissar in DEERSKIN.  That nonetheless didn’t stop various readers—including one famous author/critic who I’m still mad at—from slamming the latter book because I’d sold out my audience, blah blah blah blah, by reverting to the ‘beautiful heroine’ trope.  READ THE STORY I WROTE AND NOT THE ONE YOU WANTED TO READ.***   Arrrrrrrgh.  Although people mostly hate me for the end of Part One of DEERSKIN.  I was even braced for this and it still surprised me.  What?  You think awful stuff doesn’t happen?  Oh, my bad, awful stuff isn’t supposed to happen in a fairy-tale fantasy . . . at least not a Robin McKinley fairy-tale fantasy.  Grrrrrrrrrr.   It amazes me the permission some people give themselves to blame and be abusive.  And that’s not even touching my major rant about DEERSKIN, which is about the people who tell me in outrage that I’ve RUINED my heroine, that she is RUINED . . . hey, great, you guys, please get on the next rocketship to Alpha Centauri and don’t hang around on this planet making it harder for people who have awful stuff to get over to get on with their lives. . . .

            DEERSKIN isn’t for everyone.  No book is for everyone.  And that’s fine.  I just wish a few more people would remember that their personal opinion is their personal opinion and not the latest delivery from Mt Sinai. 

Over-description narrows the imagination. 


I’m tall enough that it’s the sort of thing that people comment on. I never forget how tall I am (since if you’re a woman I am probably looking at the top of your head), so when Sunshine didn’t have that awareness, I figured she was probably somewhere around average height. I was a little disappointed 

You realise that remarks like this are what drive authors to drink, or to getting jobs as warehouse technicians.†  We can’t be all things to all people.  We can’t write all stories for all readers;  we can’t make perfect matches between readers and stories. We can only do the best we can by the stories the Story Council sends us.  I can’t write enough tall characters to suit everyone who wants tall characters, and I can’t write enough short characters for people who want short characters. ††   Which is kind of where we all came in, since this conversation began with me tearing my hair over an email from a reader who claimed that most of my heroines were too short.

             I wanted to grow up to be Harry or Aerin or Cecily or Rosie or Sunshine or Mirasol or Sylvi.  Life, that freller, is disappointing.  But at least we do have stories. 

* * *

 * . . . having also been awakened by the phone two hours before my alarm was due to go off.  Moan.  However, the need to appear sane and coherent to a superfluous in law whose chief impression of me is that I’m American and another of these peculiar writer people^ woke me up so thoroughly there was no chance of getting back to sleep.  Which at least meant hellhounds had a nice hurtle before the arrival of Computer Archangel Raphael.  Who says there’s at least a month’s wait for an iPad 2.  There are two iPad 1s among our visiting houseful.^^  They are hideously desirable.  It’s going to be a long month. 

^ Couldn’t Peter have married an office manager or a mechanic or something? 

^^ We were playing Scrabble on one of them at dinner around the glasses of champagne.  Fortunately we were playing in teams, so I could just say, mm hmm, good idea, occasionally.  I am terrible at Scrabble. 

** This kind of thing leads to trashing a book for not being the book that reader wanted at that moment, or expected from that writer, and never mind what the book is.  Hell has a whole special subdivision dedicated to the permanent containment of these people.  The only reading material found anywhere in its smoking ravines is the backs of cereal boxes.  For eternity.  Old cereal boxes.   This infernal area is however shared with the people who read books wrong and trash them for what these readers thought they read.  

*** See previous footnote.  Did I mention the sharpened stakes in the bottoms of the smoking ravines? 

† Or office managers.  Or mechanics.

††  Or red-haired characters, or not red-haired characters;  or fat characters—I get kind of a lot of mail from women who are offended that I don’t seem to have written any heroines with weight problems;  or boys, or not boys:  opinions are divided on Jake, either I’m such a genderist and it’s about time or I’ve sold out my (female) audience again;  and I get a lot of mail from people who feel there should be more kissing.   Visible, centre-stage kissing.   Which is pretty well balanced by the people who are mortally offended by the kinky almost-sex in SUNSHINE. . . .

             I’m not listening, you know.  I only listen to the story.  I can only listen to the story.  This kind of thing is just the fire-ants a malign fate is tipping down your collar while you’re trying to work.

A Merry Mod Christmas

So a couple of months ago I found this great t shirt.  (Actually I found it about six months ago, only they were all sold out.  So I went huh, I didn’t want it anyway, stupid old t shirt.  And then in the next catalogue there it was again and I said you evil ratbags you are teasing me in an evil ratbaggy way!!!!  But then I went on line and it was available again.)  And I said HA HA HA HA HA HA I will buy one for each of my mods as a CHRISTMAS PRESENT, sort of, and I will then ask if they could each pleeeeeease model their excellent mod-type t shirt and I would then have an INSTANT CHRISTMAS POST.  It didn’t work out quite as planned.  But hey.  And since it didn’t work out quite as planned, keep scrolling, there will be a kind of Double Seventh as a gap-filler.

The team t-shirt which, given the reading habits of the mods, should read, "Whence might I procure one?"

Maren with Lola. Unites States.

Tabbs napping, oblivious to Amanda's (AJLR) cool t-shirt. England.

Southdowner with the gorgeous Louie. England.

Find the hidden ferret! jmeadows, United States.

That'll do, Bramble. b_twin_1, Australia.

Black Bear sporting sporty bear hat minus cats plus giraffes. United States.

So, like, Merry/Happy Christmas, slightly late solstice, slightly early standard new year, whatever, I’m sure you can find an excuse to open a bottle of champagne.  I mean, we’re all celebrating, and you’re reading this blog, aren’t you?



http://melissa-writing.livejournal.com/410076.html  ‘But Robin . . . he LIES to her.’ 

Yes he does.  Eventually you have to say ‘I liked this book/character;  it worked for me;  I didn’t like it;  it didn’t work for me.’  And just by the way, I find it absolutely weird, Melissa, that you think the book is fabulous but dislike Rochester so much! 

            I’m afraid this post is likely to be terrifyingly long because I’m going to make my life a little easier and quote a lot, since I also want to respond to some of the things people have said on my forum.  I suggest a fresh pot of tea and a large plate of cookies. . . .

            But first, to respond to Melissa’s post: 

Jealousy.  Sorry, this made me laugh.  I can sure see you’re not a Scorpio.  I am, and jealousy is just part of the package.  It’s also a dead common human emotion—or fault, if you prefer:  I’d be happy to be without mine—but the majority of us, I’d guess, get through without behaving any worse than those of you not so burdened.  It even provides a service—jealousy is a sign that the thing in your life that’s arousing it needs looking at.  (I can think of nicer calls for attention . . . but still.)  I don’t myself see anything in the way he tells the story—the way Bronte tells the story—to suggest that he’s going to turn into a brute if/when he falls in love—possibly again, but really for the first time, since this story of jealousy is about the foolishness of young men, and specifically of himself.  What strikes me in this scene is how clear it is that he’s already falling for Jane and already wrestling with the awful choice he’s going to have to make, and the awful situation he’s in—and how much more awful it’s going to become as soon as he lets himself realise he’s in love with Jane.  He’s not even terribly interested in this story of his young self—‘ . . . waking out of his scowling abstraction, he turned his eyes towards me, and the shade seemed to clear off his brow.  “Oh, I had forgotten [the mistress]!”’  This is not the pathological brute still brooding on the escaped possession.  And as for Jane’s not being shocked . . . well brought up young ladies, which Jane is not, are expected to pretend to be shocked . . . but wealthy men did take mistresses, and everyone in that world knew it.  She’s merely failing to be hypocritical.   Lack of ‘normal’ hypocrisy is one of the things Edward falls in love with her for.  The only scandalous thing is Edward telling her about the indiscretions of his youth:  but this is part of the (somewhat eccentric) building of their relationship.

            And, well, um, so is her listening to him.  Okay, it’s politically incorrect, if you like . . . but she is eighteen years old and spent the first ten of them being the poor relation and the latter eight at Lowood, a ‘charitable institution’ for homeless girls, which is to say jail (or gaol);  and he’s thirty-five or so and has, as they say, been around.  He is going to have more stories to tell than she is.  One of the fascinating things about Jane is just how self-taught she is:  how wholly she has created herself with precious little outside help:  that’s also part of her draw for Edward, that she is so strong a character and yet so clean and clear.  He is—it seems to me—attracted to the clarity;  he’s been banging around the world looking for something, having lost himself and his self-respect by trying to please his thoroughly unpleasant father and older brother.  It’s to his credit that he immediately recognises Jane’s worth—we’ve been told often enough how pretty she is not, as well as lacking in little items like money and family connections.    

            Moody and surly?  Eh.  I’m moody and surly, and I have one or two friends.  And a reasonably sane if long-suffering husband of twenty years.

            And ‘She’s the mirror here. He talks; she listens. He educates sweet innocent Jane’?  Horsefeathers.  I’m demonstrating a little surliness here myself.  Usually when we hear Edward monologuing, he’s talking to some aspect of the story—Adele’s background, for example.  But look at the conversations Bronte gives us between Edward and Jane:  look at their first exchange after Edward’s fall, when Jane finds out who the mysterious horseman was:  ‘ . . . are you fond of presents?’

            ‘I hardly know, sir;  I have little experience of them;  they are generally thought pleasant things.’

            ‘Generally thought?  But what do you think?’

            ‘I should be obliged to take time, sir, before I could give you an answer worthy of your acceptance . . .’

            This exchange always makes me laugh;  this is so Jane—and so not a pliant girl eager to be some man’s mirror.*  And, um, if I were watching my husband romance another woman in my house, I would certainly be tetchy, but if I set fire to his bed-curtains that would still make me a homicidal maniac who ought to be locked up, although a clever barrister might get me off on grounds of diminished responsibility. 

            I agree however that reader sympathy for Edward Rochester pretty well stands or falls on whether one can weather that he lied to Jane about the tenant of the attic.  It’s a grotesquely repulsive—and alienating—thing to have done.  I can get over it because I see him as loving her so much he cannot bear the thought of losing her—the thought of losing her makes him a little mad himself—and I see him as loving her for the right reasons too:  her intelligence and her strength of will and purpose.  Her clarity.  Her selfness.  Edward has always, from the time Jane meets him, lived rather near the edge, on account of the strain, the despair of hopelessness of that mad wife in the attic—one of the things I’m always intrigued by when I reread it is just how near the edge he seems to me to be—the same edge that the repellent lunatics in WUTHERING HEIGHTS spend the entire book over.  But it’s like:  oh, yeah, those Bronte girls, they were sisters.**  And one of the things they shared, apparently, was knowing how screwed up love and circumstances can make you.

            And Melissa . . . so suggest something.  I’m a crank.  I guarantee I will have an uncooperative take on something else we could argue about.          

And now from the Days in the Life forum.

[These are merely in the order they were posted:] 

Melissa Mead

As a person who would’ve been locked in an attic myself, though (because of physical disability), I’ve never seen Rochester as someone that I could be attracted to. 

Well, no!  Not necessarily!  Most Famous Cripple in Literature, Tiny Tim, CHRISTMAS CAROL!  And I’m pretty sure both Charlotte Yonge and Louisa May Alcott (and Mrs Ewing) have the occasional physically disabled character tucked away here and there—and the rather awful Clara in HEIDI, although she doesn’t stay disabled.  Oh, and THE LITTLE LAME PRINCE—and he does stay disabled.  I will think of twenty-seven more, better examples as soon as I post this.  Suggestions welcome.  Venturing into nonfiction, Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, went to school till he was twelve, and while his problems would get a lot worse later on, he was still clearly disabled.  (According to wiki his mum was disabled too, but they don’t know the details, and she managed to marry and have kids.)  And Florence Nightingale spent more than half her life erratically bedridden and unable to walk.

            And while it’s too late (1924) to be really relevant here, my favourite ‘disabled’ romance:  PRECIOUS BANE by Mary Webb.  The heroine has a harelip and knows she is physically repulsive and will therefore never be loved, never marry nor have children.    Wrong. 

Black Bear

. . . institutionalization at that time usually resulted in an early death, either from disease, abuse, or misadventure. Rochester’s desire to fulfill his responsibility to his wife and to care for her despite the fact that she is apparently homicidally psychotic is Bronte’s way of showing us that he IS a good guy, even when it’s to his own detriment.

This is how I’ve always read it.  I grant you the way he goes about it is less than a perfect system, but that seems to me part of his kettle of fish:  he hates the situation and is furious and despairing about being caught in it—and he is caught in it.  And, of course, it’s great for the plot of a melodrama.  One of the things we haven’t got into is the strong tradition of Gothic literature that JANE EYRE swims in. 


I feel that St John gets a great big FAIL because he misses the whole point of the faith he’s wanting to go preach in India . . . Jesus . . . said that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything you have and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, said that without love you gain nothing, have nothing, and are nothing, no matter what “good deeds” you do. In light of this, someone who pretends he’s going to go share Christianity with the heathen Indians but is cold and compassionless has severely betrayed his faith. . . .

We haven’t talked about St John either.  Poor old St John, whom everyone hates.  I don’t, actually.  He’s the polar opposite to Rochester, isn’t he?  Coldly, inhumanly perfect, and therefore imperfect?  And he also wants to marry Jane, although for the wrong reasons.  I believe in the reality of his faith and his desire to serve—he’s just not very good at it—he’s not very good at people.  He’s flawed too, just differently.  It must be significant that the book ends with Jane reading St John’s last letter.  He knows he’s dying;  the Indian climate has done for him.  “‘My Master,’ he says, ‘has forewarned me.  Daily He announces more distinctly, ‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond, ‘Amen;  even so come, Lord Jesus!’”  She believes in him and therefore so do I;  I think he got himself sorted out, just as she and Edward did—that that’s the point too.


It is precisely Mr Rochester’s flaws that make him attractive and Mr St. John’s cold, unloving, unlovable perfection that have you cheering for Mr Rochester. 

Yep.  Clever girl, our Charlotte. 

I don’t have a problem with him [lying]. It is, of course, my 20th/21st century morality in contrast to that of the writer. When reading that part, I always find myself saying, “Jane, you idiot, take him up on his offer! Go to the south of France with him and live happily ever after!”

Sorry, but this really makes me lay my ears back and prepare to kick.  I do not feel you can take Jane’s decision out of context like that.  As you say, that’s your modern morality.  I think you need to leave it at the door, and pick it up again on the way out.  If you can’t feel Jane’s fatally insoluble dilemma—exactly the same as Edward’s, from the other side—then there’s no story.  She/they wouldn’t live happily ever after!  That’s the POINT!

My big objection to him — and it’s a HUGE one for me — is his treatment of Jane when he torments her with Blanche Ingram and when he does the whole gypsy fortune-teller bit. It’s just plain sadistic and uncalled-for, and I couldn’t see myself ever forgiving it.

Yes.  I see this.  It’s valid to me too, like the fact that he lies to her—yes, he lies to her.  Yes, he plays with her appallingly over Blanche Ingram.  (Although the gypsy fortune-teller thing makes me go, What?, every time.  The only way I can buy Edward Rochester disguised as a gypsy fortune-teller is to remind myself firmly that the Gothic literature tradition allows a few flights of nonsensical fantasy, and this is JANE EYRE’s.)  I see it as another manifestation of what a mess Edward’s past has made of him—having recognised Jane’s worth he can’t bring himself to court her straightforwardly;  she is too self-contained, self-possessed;  he has to try to startle her into some expression of love.  It’s not, ahem, attractive.  I get it, but it’s not Edward at his best.  

E Moon

Intellectually, I can understand Charlotte Bronte’s reasons for depicting relationships between men and women as she does…but I still don’t like ’em. (I’m not a fan of George Eliot, either, and for some of the same reasons.)

 Love George Eliot.  Just by the way.  And I’d argue against you about this too.

Charlotte needed serious doses of psychoactive medications herself, IMO. All those harshly controlled heroines…all the emphasis on control issues, for that matter…and the stifling “squashed” feeling of the writing itself…ick. Bits of Shirley escape that but in the end our heroine is finally mastered by the stern, unyielding character of the tutor. Shudder.

 I see it as a clear-eyed demonstration of what it felt like, being an intelligent woman in that world.

. . .  it isn’t his keeping her in the attic that set me against him, but his dishonesty–not just the original Bluebeard’s Secret sort of thing, concealing who was up there, though that was bad enough (to me), but his intention to marry Jane and make her a partner to bigamy, which would give her no legal standing at all, in an age when the protection of marriage meant so much, and remove her status (small though it was) as a virtuous spinster. 

He’s half-mad with the impossibility of the situation—with loving her, knowing he can’t have her, unable to face losing her.  I don’t say no to what you’re saying, I just say that I see where (I think) he’s coming from.  I also believe that he does love her and would have stood by her.  He would know what he’s doing by making her party to bigamy;  but I’d say that one of the things Bronte has made clear both through his decision to take care of Bertha rather than dropping her in the river one night and by raising Adele is that he keeps his promises. 

Jeanne Marie

I liked Rochester – not just found him attractive, but LIKED him, in the way that Jane did on her first encounter with him. Firstly, he actually addressed her and had conversation with her, in a manner equal to equal – not common among male-female relationships of the day.

YES.  I used to keep going back to JANE EYRE when I was in college and reading Victorian literature by the yard.  I love Dickens, but his ‘virtuous’ women make me nuts.  He was good at the sick cookies—not the ones you’d take home to the family.  I loved it that Edward Rochester is even-handedly cranky.  I’d’ve liked him less—as Jane says of herself—if he’d had more ‘address’.  

Secondly, as is mentioned by Robin and others, his willingness to take in a child who might but probably isn’t his speaks volumes as to the basic quality of his character.

I think that a lot of the reveal of the mad wife in the attic (who I truly believe was mad – again, why distrust the author’s story without cause?) is, in my opinion, not only to reveal Rochester’s basic goodness of character, despite his dishonesty to Jane about it, but also to say something about the folly of youth. Rochester, in his youth, wanted to be in his father’s good graces, and saw a way to do it that wasn’t illegal nor repugnant – and, to refute another comment, no he did NOT know his wife was mad when he married her. HER family knew it, and we suspect that Rochester’s father and brother knew it, too, which argues strongly for THEIR characters as being the real Bad Guys in absentia of the story. How cruel is it to tell your child ” hey, marry this woman and we’ll accept you back into the family we threw you out of,” knowing she was mad but wealthy – clearly their motives are highly suspect. Rochester’s willingness to marry wasn’t based on anything but a desire to be welcomed back into his family. I’ve known people to do worse things for the same reason. Again, it argues strongly for his essential goodness that he doesn’t throw her into an institution when he discovers she’s mad, but has her cared for privately, in his own home, albeit secretly.

Yes.  One of the reasons I found Melissa’s take on the wife in the attic thing so surprising (okay, despite MADWOMAN IN THE ATTIC which I should admit I found rather long and hectoring) is that when Bronte finally lets him tell his story it’s almost too slanted in Edward’s favour—it’s too obvious that he was set up for ruin.  I was really rattled to find out that anyone could take it any other way.  And just in case anyone is going to say that Edward would tell his own story to the woman he loves to excuse himself as much as possible, Mrs Fairfax tells Jane early on that he was badly treated by his own family and that that is partly responsible for his gloomy outlook. 

Susan Cassidy

Robin says, “I can see no good reason not to believe the story as we’re told it…Edward Rochester’s tragedy—and Jane Eyre’s—to my eye is that Rochester is as trapped by his society as his (mad) wife is trapped in his attic.”

This is so true to me. You don’t have to like Mr. Rochester, but you have to take him within the context of Bronte’s story (where she makes it clear that his wife was locked up because she was mad). You don’t have much of a book if you don’t accept that premise.

YES.  And Susan Cassidy has now said in about a hundred words what it’s taking me a couple thousand or so to say. . . .

Diane in MN

There are obviously melodramatic aspects to Bronte’s treatment of Bertha, but she was writing in the middle of the 19th century, and as Robin and many others point out, there weren’t a lot of options for dealing with insanity. Rochester has money and could probably have afforded to set up a separate establishment for his wife somewhere else, but that wouldn’t have served Bronte’s story. There are certain givens that the reader has to accept if she is going to go forward with the book in hand, after all.

Yes.  She was writing in a specific time and a specific literary tradition.  And the bottom line for me is . . . I love JANE EYRE to pieces.  It’s one of my desert island books. 

            So there, any nay-sayers who’ve read this far.  Nyah.

 * * *

* Much as it pains me to quote Shakespeare, I always think here of Othello: 

She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,

And I loved her that she did pity them.

In my Shakespeare-resistant defense, I love them from Verdi’s Otello, not from the frelling Bard.  They’re the basis of the most fabulous love duet.  Even if Desdemona was the most lamentable wet.  Speaking of standard drippy females. 

** I need to reread TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL.  I remember it as being overtly darker than JANE EYRE but less loopy than WUTHERING, but I wouldn’t want to rely on it.  I can’t remember anything about AGNES GREY although I’m pretty sure I read it.  And yes, I’ve read all of Charlotte.

Squicky Vampires, cont


In the first place, thank you all for the tweets and comments on both the blog forum and Facebook from people who know Con is not handsome.  Let me say . . . whew.  

On Twitter, @TessaGratton said: Con being creepy and spider-like and alien is one of the reasons many of us love that book.

Oh good.  That’s the right reaction (especially the ‘love that book’ part).  If you want Con to be gorgeous and sexy and so on, SUNSHINE is really not your book.  But by all means don’t find this out until after you’ve bought a copy. 

. . . Also the pastries.  

I tweeted back here that I laughed till I nearly broke a rib when I found out that the human heroine of my vampire . . . erm . . . at that point it was still a short story . . . tale, was a baker.  A professional baker.  This was probably the first thing I found out about her—the first thing that made her her and not someone else, not some other vampire slayer [sic].  It’s pretty impossible to separate Sunshine from her bakery—or her obsession with food and with feeding people.  The scene at the end, after everything is more or less over with and Con and Sunshine are at Sunshine’s flat and Sunshine is trying to figure out if she can bear to live with what she’s done . . . and she’s just fried herself some eggs:  ‘I stood there holding a skillet with three beautifully fried eggs in it and said miserably, “I can’t even feed you”’—all irony to the fore.  But this was one of the guidepost moments for me (after I found out it was a frelling novel), one of the tiny but crucial places where the story grounds itself, where I-the-insecure-chronicler know what’s going on.  ‘“I feed people for a living.  If I don’t do it I’m a failure.  I identify as a feeder of . . .”’  Sunshine has to feed people, and she’s (involuntarily) allied herself with someone she can’t feed.  Except by dying.  I’m not sure how visible this is going to be to anyone but me, but this is very similar in terms of character tension as part of the structure of a story with the pegasi wanting human hands and the humans wanting pegasi wings.  I’m drawn to unbridgeable gaps, and to what extent you can negotiate with or around or over them, and how you go about living with them when you can’t negotiate. 

            And of course I personally love Sunshine’s kind of food.  Including that Charlie’s is a coffeehouse but it also sells champagne by the glass.  You can see why the Story Council immediately thought of me when this story thumped through their mail slot.  Or possibly they let me have the champagne by the glass detail to make me work harder.

Black Bear tweeted: My thoughts when I read Sunshine: “At last, a writer who knows vampires should be f***ing CREEPY!”

Well, we used to, you know?  I’m not sure what happened.  Stoker’s Dracula is creepy, and for all the hysterical Victorian silliness it’s still the ultimate vampire novel for me.  Maybe Hollywood’s responsible.  I totally got off on the Louis Jourdan Dracula* http://baharna.com/store/CountDraculaJourdan/CountDraculaJourdan.htm although I thought he was as icky as he was attractive—the revelation to me was that he was attractive despite knowing that this is an undead monster who’s going to ruin your life.  Shanaqui on Twitter was the first person to suggest that Con is compelling—yes.  The attraction of a vampire is a bit like a sort of fast, compressed version of heroin addiction:  you’re gonna die, but you can’t help it.  Prospero37 suggested that it’s also the attraction of the bad boy (or girl)—yes, but it’s that attraction to the wild side taken to its pathological extreme.  You’re going to die of wanting to take a few risks, of wanting to feel the adrenaline surge of danger.**

@annathepiper:  Swoonability doesn’t necessarily mean basic handsomeness; can also be intense charisma. E.g., Tom Baker as the Doctor.   

This is a line that I would like to tapdance over and back and around a bit, but not tonight.  I don’t actually like—or respond to—handsome guys.  George Clooney.  Meh.  I agree about the old Tom Baker Dr Who.  But while vampires may very well have charisma, we’re not talking romance—under which category the subheading swoonability usually appears—here.  We’re talking death.  This is why swoony vampires get on my nerves.  Sex and death, yes.  Romance and death, no.  Old Bette Davis movies to the contrary notwithstanding.

@spacklegeek I may picture Con like NG’s Sandman,*** but that doesn’t mean I want to meet either of them in real life. shudders

Yes.  Exactly. 

From the forum: 

Jabenami:  I can see where the mistake came from, I mean, aren’t all vampires tall dark and broody? Don’t they all look like Angel? (season 1 of Buffy, not season 5 of Angel) 

It’s kind of amazing, the little circles we keep going around.  Sex and death, sex and death, sex and death . . . whimper.  Want romance.  So we get romance and . . . I adore Buffy and I totally bought the story line, but you’re a teenage girl and you finally go all the way with your boyfriend because you love him and you know he loves you and it’s okay and . . . he turns into bloodsucking monster demon from hell.  What was I just saying about Victorian silliness?  Whedon does a much slicker modern take on it, but Stoker would recognise this.  And it still works.  

. . . Sometimes I wonder how many people make the mistake of deciding that the character in question is attractive because they want them to be.

Yes.  Although here we get into the definition of ‘attractive’ again.  Attractive is not necessarily the same thing as handsome or beautiful—or good.  And the scary end of attractive is compelling.  Compelled doesn’t include that you get a choice. 

SShadow:  As soon as I read the bit about Con being handsome, I thought, are we still talking about the same book here? I’ve always loved the way Con is described; his appearance is vague, but the way Sunshine feels about it is anything but. And I love that he isn’t handsome. I’m glad the importance of this point is not just my imagination.



“He’s powerful and enigmatic all right, but the kind that makes you want to throw up.”

YES. . . . I loved Sunshine the first time through, of course, but after reading more of the modern vampire mythos I came back to Sunshine with a whole new appreciation for how creepy Con is. Vampires are not sexy! If your boyfriend wants to eat you, you probably do not want to be dating him.

I think I may need this on a t-shirt.  If your boyfriend wants to eat you, you probably do not want to be dating him.

Jabenami:  I admit, I was reading the review and blinked in surprise when I got to the moment where Con is called “handsome” and then started snickering to myself as I realized what the rest of the blog post would likely be about.

jmeadows: LOL!  That is exactly what I did too. 

aperry1027:  Me too!

You all know me too well. . . .

[aperry1027 continues:]  I love Sunshine . . . Con scares the living daylights out of me though.

Oh good.  Very sensible of you.

Just cause he formed a friendly alliance with Sunshine does not mean he stopped eating (drinking) other humans…

WELL YES.  THANK YOU FOR GETTING THIS.  Cheez.  Only the lion tamer goes in the cage with the lions and it’s not exactly safe for him/her either.

. . . And forgive me but, Rhett Butler was just not an appealing person

I’m not arguing.  (And Clark Gable:  I can’t take anyone with those ears seriously.)   But this brings up another tangent:  you can have a major life-destroying case of the hots for someone you know is a total jerk.  Or a serial murderer:  think of all those marriage proposals to guys on death row.  There are a lot of vampire-versions where the vampires don’t necessarily kill humans—at least not every time—they have slaves who are addicted to being dinner.  I have more sympathy with Captain America than a lot of Buffy fans, and I thought that particular story line worked very well. 

anne_d:  Con? Handsome? Wait, what??? To quote the Elder Daughter, “What is this I can’t even”.

An excellent phrase.  And applicable to so many situations in modern life.  Well, my modern life anyway.

Con is compelling. Con might even be described as charismatic, in the scary evil sense, but handsome, no. A world of no. 

Yes.  I referred to this scene last night.  It’s from the first part, where they’re still chained up in the ballroom.

            Con is speaking:  “If you have the strength of will you can stop me or any vampire. . . . [Magical wards] will . . . prevent inhuman harm to a human.  But they can only do that if the human who bears the warding holds against the will of the one who stands against. . . . Rarely can any hold out against our will . . . looking into a vampire’s eyes is any human’s doom.”

            ‘In horror I said:  “Then they do ask you to kill them.  They do beg you to . . .”

            “Yes,” he said.

            ‘I whispered:  “Then, is it . . . okay, at the very end?  Do they . . . like it, at the end?”

            ‘There was a long pause.  “No,” he said.’


Black Bear:  Mr. Rochester OR Colin Firth’s Darcy. Two examples of characters not supposed to be handsome who get forced into it on the big screen anyway.

Again, a potential topic for another evening.  The blandification of attractiveness by making it merely handsome. 

Though I never thought Orson Welles was all that attractive, personally. His eyes are kinda weird. 

You mean the way he looks like he’s going to go mad with an axe any minute?  Yes.  He could have made a really good vampire. 

greenmother:  Con is not sexy or handsome, but he is compelling. That’s probably a useful trait for a predator, no?

Indeed.  Exactly.  It’s, uh, why we still have vampires. . . .

Cindy Marks on Facebook:  And yes, I totally got that Con was icky. Still, when she slams into him… I sort of forgot the icky… perhaps thanks to current vamp images

Well, yes and no.  Remember that barring Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake (and Buffy, of course) SUNSHINE was kind of in front of the wave.  When SUNSHINE first came out vampires were still more standard-issue icky, I think, even when the sex was pretty overt.  But the sexual aspect has always been there (they bite you in the neck!), so one of the things I think SUNSHINE is about—in hindsight;  remember that I’m not consciously making any of this stuff up, and neither of the two NSFW scenes in SUNSHINE had any conscious input from me at all—is just how hard you have to push the two north ends of the magnets together before they’ll touch.  Even if they jump away again the minute you let go.

Georgia Beaverson: I read Nancy’s review and the first thought in my head was “Con? Handsome? I think not.” . . . One of the reasons I have read Sunshine again and again is b/c Rae & Con’s attraction is, like Con, “Other.”

OTHER.  Yes.  My preoccupation with unbridgeable gaps again. 

Melissa Marr:  Sometimes I adore you, especially when you’re just a teeny bit surly.—

SURLY?  MOI?  You wrong me, madam, you wrong me . . . um . . .

On to the Con v Rochester chatter. . . Con isn’t handsome, but I guess I always feel like he’s attractive–& honestly, more so than I ever thought Rochester was. R is sullied by his actions in ways that make him seem far LESS attractive (I say as a lit-teacher-who-loves-JANE EYRE). Con is more open about who/what he is, & in the knowing is all the more appealing. “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty” yes?

And this is the point in the round-up where I say AAAAAAUGH I have to go to bed, and I definitely have to pursue the handsome/compelling/attractive-is-as-attractive-does in some other blog.  Because yes, I agree, except that I do find Rochester attractive, not least because he is so fatally flawed.  Thank the gods he’s not one of these perfect frelling heroes who watches you when you sleep GAAAAAH. . . . 

* * *

* I’m afraid to watch it again now.  I haven’t seen it since it first came out—and in those days was shiny and new and amazing—and meanwhile I’ve grown into a nasty cynical old cow. 

** Prospero37 also says:  Personally, rather have a cookie and read Sunshine.  

*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sandman_(Vertigo)

In which Tessa Gratton Saves My Day


I am still suffering Dreaded Lurgy Aftermath and it went and got all hot today.  Sweating in October is unattractive and it makes me cranky not that this takes much, especially during Dreaded Lurgy Aftermath.  Hellhounds trailed along during morning non-hurtle like polar bears in Equador . . . guys.  Get real.  And then Peter’s plumber turned up during that slot of time before my piano lesson when, if I’m actually planning on playing something, I’m frantically doing a last minute swot.  He—the plumber—was here for an hour, and couldn’t find anything wrong.  The plumbing at the mews generally is somewhat overpopulated by demons, and lately the kitchen sink has had a large fat demon squatting in the drain.  Peter chases it away briefly with various conjurations, but it always comes back.  Arguably GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG provides an interesting bass line for the thrashing I’m giving Ring a Ring a Rosie* but it’s not so good for Mozart.  Of course the drain, or possibly the demon, behaved IMPECCABLY while the plumber was here . . . and less than a quarter hour after he left . . .  GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG. 

           So, anyway, I went to Oisin with nothing to show for myself, not that he isn’t used to this, but after last weekend I had all these plans.**  There, there, he said, and started playing his fabulous Notre-Dame-in-your-hip-pocket-or-possibly-Chartres organ, and while I usually stay well across the room not only for sound and resonance purposes but so I won’t be tempted to try and turn pages, I hadn’t moved fast enough in this case and . . . I found myself turning pages because HE HAS A REALLY STUPID MUSIC STAND for the organ and he was playing something that kept falling off.   I hate turning pages.  It’s the most frelling nerve-wracking thing in the universe.  And about three page-turns in I found myself with two pages between my trembling feverish fingers and in the process of trying to RID myself of one of them without either knocking the frelling book off the frelling stand (counterproductive) or blocking his view (ALSO counterproductive) I ENTIRELY LOST TRACK OF WHERE HE WAS so when I finally successfully had only one page to turn . . . I should have turned it about thirty seconds ago.

            At this point we broke*** for a cup of tea. 

            Bell practise did not go a great deal better.

            And Peter is going away for the weekend.  I am going to have to keep myself and hellhounds amused for three whole days.

            So I stumbled and snarled back to the mews for supper†† and . . . discovered this on Twitter:

 @tessagratton Win an ARC of PEGASUS by @robinmckinley! All you have to do is pretend to love Shakespeare for 5 minutes. http://tinyurl.com/2wrrekn 

            Pardon me while I fall about.  I love this.  Shakespeare!  Me!  Shakespeare and me!  Who—ahem—does not love Shakespeare!  Who nonetheless realises that Shakespeare is a GOD and I am a bacterium in the dust under the great man’s feet, or wherever bacteria hang out!†††  And, furthermore, Shakespeare performed!  Sort of in my honour!  Mind you, I haven’t been able to watch Tessa’s videos because all the demons that aren’t infesting the plumbing at the mews are infesting my laptop, but I’ll try to check ’em out‡ on the desktop when I get back to the cottage tonight.

            Suddenly I feel all jolly and cheerful.  Thank you, Tessa Gratton.‡‡  Hee hee hee hee hee.  

* * *

* I was very pleased with myself this week when I suddenly figured out some, ahem, percussion accompaniment for my SATB setting.  This was originally going to be for chorus and organ, but then Finale packed in and I couldn’t get my head around what I was trying to do without some digital assistance so I skulked off and started writing . . . the longest introduction to a Piano Thing I’ve ever frelling seen.  Usually it’s a bar or two and we’re in business.  I’m about to be forced onto a second page and it’s still noodling along trying to decide what it wants to do with its life.  ARRRRGH.  So now I can go back to Rosie for a while and give it a chance to pull itself together.   Maybe I should give it a name.  Maybe that would help.  Oscar.  Jethro.  Frank. 

^ Hammerstein.  Tull.  Bridge.  Hmmm.  No, this didn’t occur to me when I was choosing names.  Obviously my subconscious was hard at work however.

** We did spend some time discussing Oisin’s rather-alarming-as-soon-as-I-allow-myself-to-think-about-it-so-I-am-not-going-to-think-about-it plans for future accompaniment/more-than-one-person-making-noise-at-a-time seminars.  I have totally wrecked my life by saying that OF COURSE I’ll sign up.  OF COURSE.  Gaaaaah.  It’s only because of the weather that I find myself sweating freely.  Oisin keeps saying that kids should just grow up not only with performing music but with the idea that music is something you do with your friends—which I think is also Black Bear’s community orchestra conductor’s idea.  The problem with this is that I agree.  And the eye-opener about last weekend is that something can be done even at my level.^  Now all Oisin needs is a few more fools . . . uh . . . relaxed, open-minded students.^^ I am trying not to think, among all the things I’m trying not to think about these prospective seminars, of Robin among the fifth graders.   All of whom play/sing better than she does.

^ Here I started defining my level, realised this might be construed as unflattering to the other attendees—the ones, in fact, willing to put their mouths and fingers where their money is and perform—and have shut up.  Mmmph.  But as Oisin put it, he would like to start at the level where a hopeful future accompanist just about knows which end of the piano to hold.  Okay.  I can do that.

            Have I mentioned that I told the story of my creeping over to play the piano during the break last Saturday to a friend who put herself through college playing at a piano bar—which is to say they paid her—who just about killed herself laughing.  She says that I have Crossed A Boundary From Which There Is No Return.  Piffle, I say.  The differences between, say, a jaguar and a coffee table are more important than the similarities (they both have four legs.  And if enough people have put wet mugs on the table, they’re both spotty).   There are no piano bars in my future.  But fortunately I don’t need to put myself through college.+ 

+ I still need a new front door for Third House however.  And new kitchen counters for the cottage. 

*** A significant choice of verb. 

† I may even have to roast a fresh chicken for hellhounds.  Peter had to write the instructions out because I forget.  He usually does it.  I look forward to roast chicken for hellhounds:  us mere humans are allowed a few scraps.^ 

^ Speaking of hellhound supper.  Surreal evenings chez McKinley-Dickinson:  Hellhounds are required to sit for their food.  I began this, naively, when they were tiny puppies, because this is one of the ways you slip a little training in without their noticing:  dogs will do ANYTHING for food, right?  So make it easy for yourself, get ’em when they’re motivated.  ::Hollow laughter.::  By a year or two later I’d’ve been happy to lie down and beg if that would have made them eat.  But hellhounds sitting for food, whether they then eat it or not, is still part of the way this ménage runs.  I developed the in-normal-dog-households-what-would-be-a slovenly habit of putting the food down anywhere a hellhound actually sat for it, hoping hellhound was indicating interest rather than mere patterning . . . and I continue to do this.^  Tonight Chaos sat immediately behind Peter’s chair.  I put his bowl down.

            Chaos is right behind you, I said.

            I’m very glad to hear that, said Peter.

 ^ Within reason.  Which is to say within the kitchen. 

†† Sustainably fished tinned tuna.  Not chicken. 

††† Give me a minute.  I’ll try and infect him with something.  Leprosy.  Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

‡ The videos.  I know more about demons than I want to.

‡‡ And may all your commenters be politer and more appreciative of The Great Man than I am.

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