Procrastination TV Reviews

I love helping people procrastinate. One of my favorite activities. If you’re reading our blog, you’re most likely a writer (and even if you’re not, you’ll like this post), and you should be writing! BUTT IN CHAIR and all that.

…but if you want to procrastinate I AM HERE FOR YOU.

I bring you a list of my two favorite British comedies. They’re a great way to unwind after a long day and detox your brain from writing woes.

(1) The IT Crowd

Image via EnglishExercises.org

Image via EnglishExercises.org

The funniest show ever? Probably. I have made several (upwards of four) people watch this show, and to the person they have all loved it.
The show follows a tech-illiterate IT department manager and her two “employees” Roy and Moss. Slobby Roy and eccentric Moss are the reason to watch this show, hands down. Manager Jen has her funny moments, but she plays the straight man for the comedy.

Writing Takeaway: Character-driven dialogue. One of my favorite features of the show is how distinct each character’s voice is. Moss in particular. Moss is nerdy (beyond nerdy) but so proper and so British. Observe the following:

Moss: [dialing] 0115… no… 0118… no… 0118 999 – 3. Hello? Is this the emergency services? Then which country am I speaking to? Hello? Hello?
[pauses for thought]
Moss: I know…
[sits down in front of the computer]
Moss: Subject: Fire. “Dear Sir stroke Madam, I am writing to inform you of a fire which has broken out at the premises of…” no, that’s too formal.
[deletes]
Moss: “Dear Sir stroke Madam. Fire, exclamation mark. Fire, exclamation mark. Help me, exclamation mark. 123 Carrendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. All the best, Maurice Moss.”

(2) Miranda

image via metro.co.uk

image via metro.co.uk

Miranda is an oddball thirty-something woman who runs a joke shop with her best friend and tries to tolerate her mother’s matchmaking attempts. This show is hard to describe, or maybe it’s that it doesn’t sound all that funny. But the show comes alive on-screen with the performances, but more specifically the writing.

Writing Takeaway: Comedy is great at building and layering a joke in surprising and funny ways. The callback is one of my favorite comedic devices (think of the hand-eating seal in Arrested Development). Studying how this works is a great way to add comedy to any book.

I hope you enjoy procrastinating writing!

(But seriously. BUTT IN CHAIR HANDS ON KEYBOARD)

Weight-Loss Narratives and Why They Can Go Die in a Fire

I don’t really see much about fat* characters included in diversity discussions–and that’s understandable and totally cool with me when you consider that there are much larger (no pun intended) gaps in diverse representations in publishing such as race, sexual orientation, and disability. Excellent discussions for diversity in books can be found here, here, and here.

However, fat representation is something I can speak to from experience because I’m a fat woman and was a fat teenager and a fat child.

The topic is broad, and so it’s likely I’ll return to it again. For today, I’ll focus on weight loss narratives.

I HATE THEM.

Phew. Had to get that off my chest.

THEY CAN ALL BURN IN HELL.

Apparently I feel strongly about it.

It’s definitely a personal thing. Is there anything inherently wrong with a weight loss narrative? No. Is there something wrong with the fact that I could list dozens of books with fat heroines who have lost/are losing weight and can only think of a handful of stories with an is-fat-and-stays-fat main character? Yes. That’s where the problem lies.

It’s the prevalence of the weight loss narrative in fiction. It’s the fact that fat protagonists are seen as protagonists (rather than some kind of lazy anti-hero Homer Simpson) only if they’re virtuously trying to not be fat anymore. I call bullshit. Ideally, a human being should be no more defined by their fatness anymore than they are by their hair color.**

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

One of my all time favorite books is The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. I adore this book. Princess Elisa, the main character, is a compulsive overeater with some major hang-ups about her role as the Chosen One. I will keep spoilers to a minimum, but over the course of the novel circumstances are such that Elisa, by no choice of her own, loses much of her excess weight. It’s realistic given what she goes through. The larger problem of her self-esteem and inadequacy issues are addressed realistically too, and as a result, in the next two books in the trilogy she has “overcome” her emotional eating and never gains back the weight.

Although I love this trilogy like a “drowning man loves air” there is a stubborn part of me that wonders how much more awesome it would have been had Elisa not lost all that weight–if she’d overcome obstacles and been a bad-ass queen and also a proud fat woman. I hate to say it, but to me that would have been even better. (Not to mention that as more research is conducted, weight loss is shown to be rarely long term, especially weight loss sustained by hard living, starvation conditions like those Elisa faces in the first book).

I’ll give another example, focusing more on romance. I planned to “hate-read” Breaking His Rules by Alison Packard the other week but to be honest I rather ended up liking it. The characters were introduced previously in the series, and I knew that the heroine, Melissa, had lost fifty pounds before her story starts.  Melissa’s weight loss is a main focus of the book, and the hero, Jake, is her personal trainer and helps facilitate all the weight loss. It feels a bit stupid to criticize a book that uses weight loss to bring the heroine and hero together and still enjoy it, but that is who I am, friends.

Just like I said about GoFaT (I just noticed that GoFaT says “Go Fat” and isn’t that so, so perfect), I’m not sure why Melissa needed to lose fifty pounds. Did you know that there are people who exercise and are fit and are also fat? You can go to the gym and eat reasonably healthy and still be fat.*** The story makes it clear that Jake was interested in Melissa even before she lost the weight–which is nice, but feels a bit like lip service. If he liked her anyway…why does she have to lose fifty pounds in order to get her Happily Ever After? I would have prefered the bolder choice: a fat woman who works out on the regular with her hottie gym-owning boyfriend and doesn’t care that her size is a double digit number. As is, the book makes it clear that Melissa is deserving of love, fat or not, but of course…she doesn’t get it until she’s lost the weight.

I could list more books with weight-loss narratives, but this post is already going to be too long.

Here’s a character I would love to see much more of:

A fat woman who isn’t hung up on her weight. Who treats her weight as a feature of her body, not a defining feature of her self and character. A fat woman who dates, is happy with herself, exercises and eats right or doesn’t, but doesn’t view weight loss as the measure of whether or not she’s succeeding in life. Realistically, few fat women who grow up with today’s media do so without developing a few complexes about their bodies (realistically, very few women fat or not who grow up with today’s media do so without developing a few complexes about their bodies). But this is why fiction is great. As authors we can write about characters who are different than ourselves! We can write about worlds and people we’d like to see. As much as I love reading about characters who are struggling with the things I struggle with (like the best TV show ever)  it’s just as much fun to read about a character who should have some of the same hang-ups I do but doesn’t.

As a fat woman, I’m sick of seeing fat person representation inextricably tied to the question of weight loss (having lost weight or wanting to).  As if that is my number one goal in life. It’s not. The fact is that there are scores of fat people satisfied with their lives, who achieve their goals, find happiness and love and success all while being fat. To me it’s a moot point whether or not they’re also trying to lose weight. That’s a side pursuit that actually has little bearing on their value as human beings or their success in other areas. So why don’t we see that in fiction?

Why not a character who represents these successful, funny, personable ladies?

Melissa-McCarthy3

Image via Plus Model Magazine

Item0_rendition_slideshowVertical_rebel-wilson

Image via pitch-perfect-wikia.com

Adele-Laughing-adele-31520116-600-598

Image via fanpop

I’d read the hell out of a romance about a Melissa McCarthy-like celebrity.

Or how about stories where we see young professional women succeeding all while being fat? Or because they’re fat?

Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh

Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh

Maybe a story about a waitress who does competitive weight lifting in her spare time:

Holly Mangold (image via the NYT)

Holly Mangold (image via the NYT)

And what if a story mentioned the protagonist’s size only in the way you’d also establish that the main character has blonde hair or is one of five children? Why does being fat have to take over the story?

Examples of stories that do this really well.

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

Eleanor’s weight is definitely mentioned. I’m sure Eleanor at one point thinks about losing weight, but I can’t remember because Eleanor has other things in her life that are much more worth worrying about than her size, like finding a way to get a toothbrush, or where the family’s next meal might come from, or how to get away from her awful stepfather. Being fat isn’t even remotely the most pressing worry she has. Bonus points for Park being head over heels for her.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Tracy Turnblad’s weight is the subject of torment by mean girl Amber and her mother Velma Von Tussle–but Tracy doesn’t care. She just wants to dance! And girl is good at it, too. Bonus points galore for having several fat characters (Tracy, Edna, Motormouth Maybelle), featuring a fat character excelling at a physical talent, and for giving the fat girl a love interest.

Notes:

*I am deliberately reclaiming “fat” as a descriptor, not a pejorative term. Thoughts on the “f” word are varied in the body acceptance community, but personally I’m fine with it as a descriptor.

**I choose to reference my fatness much more than my blondeness though, and that’s because my society tells me one is bad and the other is neutral good. Fat activism/fat acceptance/body diversity movements are necessary and good and I love them.

***This is a point made by the fat acceptance movement. I don’t feel the need to expound upon it here since it’s easily Googled.

 

 

You Can Be in Publishing AND Be an Introvert

Being an introvert is hard. It’s harder to go grocery shopping, go to the dentist, go to school, go get gas in your car (for those of you who are from Oregon), and do anything else that involves interacting with people.

Unfortunately, most times in life, things don’t just fall into our laps. We have to make them happen. Sometimes making things happen seems so overwhelming, we think we’d rather dig our own graves instead. But I want to talk about how you can make things happen in a way that might not exactly be 100% comfortable, but at least doable. You can be in publishing and be an introvert (and if you’re an extrovert looking for ways to get more involved in the business, these should help you too).

  1. The internet is your friend. Right now it’s National Novel Writing Month. Get on the Nano site and chat with people. You don’t have to look them in the eye or deal with their body motions. You just have to type. You can chat with writers through a safe medium. You can also get on Goodreads to talk about books with other people.
  2. For those of you who already have a novel written, query tracker is another excellent website to get on and talk with other authors. You don’t have to go through the querying process alone. Chat with authors querying the same agents, chat with authors writing in your genre!
  3. Go to book signings. You don’t have to talk to anyone. Just sit in the back and listen. Or make a friend go with you. Listen to how authors got their start in the business. Stay for the Q&A after the presentation to learn even more! Sometimes authors bring their publicists or other people from the publishing company with them. Go talk to these people. Make sure they know your name. Most people in the business are easily approachable, you just have to make the first move.
  4. Networking is difficult no matter what, but you can make it easier for yourself. Go to conferences. This can seem particularly daunting. There will be lots of people moving about. They all seem to know each other. They seem to have no trouble talking to each other. It’s not fair. But you can network too. Talk to the people sitting next to you at events. Book people are so friendly. And you already have something to talk about! How easy is it to ask “So what do you write?” After you get into the swing of things, start talking to the authors.
  5. If you don’t feel quite up to going to conferences just yet, talk to people in the bookstore. Seriously, talk to the people looking for books in the same aisles that you are. You already have the same interests. Start by asking them the last good book they read.
  6. Make friends with an extrovert. Get them to do the hard stuff.
  7. It’s easier to meet people when you know what to say. Get confident in publishing by doing your research. Read blog interviews with agents and editors. Get on Agent Query and look up all the information! Use twitter to keep tabs about what industry professionals are talking about.
  8. Take creative writing classes and do internships. Learning how to edit will help you learn how to be a better writer.
  9. Form critique groups. You can meet people at the websites I’ve already mentioned and through the other activities listed. Make friends so you don’t have to go places alone!
  10. Become familiar with the business side and the fun side. Learn what the agents, editors, publicists, marketers, bloggers, illustrators, and other publishing professionals do too. When you know the big picture, it helps with your writing. Learn a little about what to expect in a book contract. You can find these by doing an online search.

Know that the more you do these things, the easier it will get.

I am not an “aspiring writer”

In the last month, we here at The Plotless have made our way to a number of bookish events—book launch parties, indie publishing conferences, teen book festivals, you name it. (One of the perks of living in Utah is that the writing and reading communities here are absolutely thriving which means we have lots of excuses to hang out at fun events.) Over the course of these events, though, I kept hearing this phrase tossed around that made me grit my teeth and want to claw at the drywall. It’d come in the form of a question during an author’s Q&A with her readers or in an introduction when we were meeting new people.

Aspiring writer.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. There is literally nothing wrong or offensive or even odd about that phrase. Plenty of people identify as aspiring writers. Plenty of people say that phrase with hope in their eyes as they gaze longingly at published authors and dream of what they can become. As far as phrases go, aspiring writer is pretty innocuous.

But I hate it. I hate it so much.

I used to call myself an aspiring writer. I used to introduce myself to people at book events that way (or I would have if I could have gotten over my crippling social anxiety that kept me from talking to strangers), but it’s not a phrase that fits me anymore.

To me, the word aspiring indicates that you’re not actually writing. You’re not actually doing any of the work that gets you from daydreaming hobbyist to published author. Aspiring indicates hopes and dreams—and those are all good things—but aspiring doesn’t indicate work. It doesn’t mean the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a book. It doesn’t mean that you’ve spent the hours practicing and honing your craft, learning to write, learning to plot, learning to revise, and learning to start all over again.

And those are things that I’ve been doing for the last few years. In the last year alone, I’ve written at least 250,000 words of fiction—and with NaNoWriMo in full swing, I plan to write at least 80,000 more by the end of the month. (I know the goal is 50K, but I’m a bit of an overachiever.) I have labored over characters and stories and words. I’ve re-written and revised until I thought my eyes would fall out and my fingers would bleed. I’ve poured parts of myself into stories that I’m proud of.

But I can guarantee to you that none of the words I’ve written in the last year will ever find their way to an editor’s desk. You won’t find those words between the covers of a book in a few years. They won’t ever be published in the traditional sense of the word.

I’m okay with all of that—it’s been a very deliberate choice on my part to flex my creative muscles knowing that the work I’ve done in the last year will never make me money—but what I’m not okay with is the idea that because those words haven’t been pruned by an editor or won’t find their way to a shelf on a bookstore that I am somehow not a writer.

Because a writer is someone who writes. That’s literally the definition of the word. Writer: one who writes. And I write. I write a lot. Now I haven’t been published. I haven’t made a single penny off the words I’ve strung together. That is something I aspire to do one day. But I don’t aspire to write. That’s something I already do. I have shared my words with complete strangers. I’ve opened up a bit of myself to them and these strangers open themselves back up to me and the exchanges I’ve had with my readers and the friendships I’ve made because of that are absolutely invaluable to me. I do not regret the year I’ve spent crafting these stories, even though most people think I’m “not a real writer” because I don’t make money off of my words.

At the end of the day, though, I don’t care what they think. It’s none of my business what they think. An aspiring writer aspires and a writer writes.

And by that definition, I am a writer and that’s all that matters to me.