A Downside to Research

In my current WIP, RA2, my protagonist comes from a long line of military people. She’s American and her family has long ties to the various entities connected to the Marine Corps. I am neither American nor a part of any military branch, though a fascination with both cultures has helped to keep me informed. However, from day one of fine-tuning my character, I knew I needed to bolster my knowledge.

Like any male dominated body, the military has its dark side when it comes to women in its ranks –that I was prepared for. I’m an open eyed, realistic feminist. Men’s clubs don’t come without their dangers to women.

Doing my research and reading the myriad of different material I could find that was designed exclusively for men that projects misogyny, homophobia, and hyper-masculinity was what I was not prepared for. Even as I write that down I have to sigh at my own naivety. Boys clubs are boys clubs and those three things are heavily tied to most of them.

I won’t point fingers at any specific reading material, but I’m not overly impressed by any of it. There’s one item in particular though that I find exceedingly difficult to swallow, but I have to remind myself that (some) men really do connect with their fellow men by projecting the top dog image whose core is misogynistic, homophobic, and hyper-masculine. I am very much not the intended audience for such pieces. I roll my eyes, scoff, shake my head, and remind myself of that constantly.

I’m learning a lot, that’s my positive. I’m a big believer in learning from and about people you don’t see eye to eye with (an understatement in this case) because that’s the only way you’ll ever see the whole picture. Reading stuff that offends you, makes you mad, or even makes you a little sick to your stomach is definitely the downside of research. Just make it useful in the end.

Personally, for my own sanity and satisfaction, I’m subverting all my anger onto my villainous character who is a monumental jackass. I hate him but he has more ties to my main characters than either of them knows so he’ll be around far more than they know. I feel bad for her, but such is life.

For the record, I have enormous respect for all military branches. I have enormous respect for anyone who serves and protects their country. Every entity out there has dirty laundry they’d rather the world didn’t see. I would love to see a monumental mind shift in all boy’s clubs, that’s all.

When have you experienced a research downside?

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: A Hilarious, Necessary Voyage

While at Sirens last year, I sat in a panel devoted to discussing Resources for Writing Fantasy. Even though I’ve been writing since I learned how, I haven’t been writing fantasy for long. I dabbled in the genre a bit when I was young, but hadn’t thrown myself into it until about two years ago.

In the mean time I had read my fair share of fantasy books, mostly epics, but none of the major canonical works in the genre. I’d also watched quite a lot of fantasy derived movies and television shows. The latter of which can outline so many ‘what not to-do’s’.

After reading my first urban fantasy book, Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, I knew that’s what I wanted to write. The more I read in the genre, the more attached to it I became. But I had a little problem. It would take me decades to read all the really significant urban fantasy works out there. And, the more novels I read in the sub-genre, the more aware I became of the cut-and-paste tropes constantly recycled. Some worked, many annoyed me because the whole series grew predictable.

Then I discovered I had a personal problem with the genre.

The people who work and write in the fantasy world are hard-core. Fantasy is what they live and breathe. While I adore the genre, I read outside it. Widely. And I no longer watch many fantasy shows because books are so much better. It’s no doubt nerves talking, but sometimes I feel like a pretender because I don’t know all the significant works and big names in fantasy. I easily get lost in fandom conversations.

Still, I was and am determined to write my own fantasy stories. A researcher at heart, I really wanted the list of titles the women of Sirens could direct me towards.

Thus, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland entered my realm. I am forever grateful.

The Tough Guide to FantasylandI literally just finished it this weekend and I need to gush about it. First though, as I’ve said under my Reading Recommendations tab, this post and my blurb under the tab are not intended as reviews. I want to talk about this book because it has helped me so much and I’m ridiculously excited about it.

The Tough Guide is based on the premise that every single fantasy story anyone anywhere has read all take place in the same locale: Fantasyland. Fantasyland is run by the Management, who love to subject characters and readers to the same tropes over and over.

It’s a no holds barred barrel of laughs that opens your eyes wide, like all good comedy does. Genres are built on tropes, that’s just the way it is. But sometimes those tropes get so overused they turn into cultural clichés –many of which are exhausted. Jones’s Tough Guide not only outlines 98% of the tropes, she illuminates 100% of the tired clichés writers need to stay clear of.

I didn’t expect a reference book to entertain me like this one did. I laughed throughout the journey and had many of my favourite fantasy epics flash before my eyes, mostly The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I also came away utterly inspired. Every time I sat down and read it I thought about the different aspects of my own epic fantasy work and wanted to write down notes like a madman.

My absolute favourite entry involves the infamous BATH; it’s a long entry so I’ll share the best part:

Management Rules state that no one ever steals your clothes/valuables or AMBUSHES you while you are immersed in a Bath. Any lurker will wait until you have finished, take care, however. Baths are the occasion for SEX with one or more of your FELLOW TRAVELLERS. No matter how irritating you have found her/him up to then, after or during the Bath you will find her/him irresistible. It is probably something in the WATER. (17)

Pollen is the only hint I will give about the Horses entry. Source for this image.

Pollen is the only hint I will give about the Horses entry. Source for this image.

The HORSES of Fantasyland also have one of the best entries, as do most of the ANIMALS and types of FOOD. However, I’ll have to make you read the book to find out!

Finally, with the breakdowns of each type of character found in Fantasyland, it’s apparent the kinds of roles women have been forced into across the history of the genre. The sexist tropes are changing, thankfully, but they still run rampant. For instance, the long entry on VIRGINS shows outright that male virgins are seemingly non-existent while young women shouldn’t be anything but.

The only thing I’m walking away dissatisfied with is the lack of focus on aspects of fantasy subgenres, like urban fantasy. The Tough Guide is all about high fantasy that focuses on vast kingdoms, long lost royalty, and great quests.

Still, The Tough Guide is beyond useful and I’m glad I read it. Have you read it? If so, what did you think? If not, has my excitement sent you into its arms? What types of reference books have you found instrumental?

CBC Book Sale 2015

I’m moving away from writing today to talk about a topic that is equally close to my heart: reading!

May 23rd marked my sixth year attending the annual CBC Book Sale. All of the proceeds go towards Calgary Reads, who hosts the book sale in conjunction with the CBC, a local charity that helps young readers. I get to buy books and spread the love of reading each year –what’s not to like?

The past three years I’ve managed to help with the sale by volunteering, I’ve never donated because I have an unnatural attachment to my books. Unfortunately, this year I wasn’t able to share my time. At least I shared my money?

I attended the book sale during the afternoon of the last day as that was all that I was able to manage. Adulthood keeps getting in my way. The tables were picked pretty clean, not that that stopped me from finding some excellent gems. It merely helped my self-control. I only purchased 22 books this year! And only those people who don’t know me very well have either let their mouths swing open or dropped out of their chairs.

CBC 2015Seriously, 22 books is meagre for me. My record comes from 2011 when I attended the sale from start to finish each day and found 61 books. I remember how my legs throbbed after hours spent shuffling sideways, pushing my overflowing box of books across the dusty floor.

That is one of my best memories.

The other years saw me leave with numbers a little too close to the record. What can I say? I’m a collector.

I love reading as much as I love writing, maybe even more. I can’t live without reading and I like to have a hefty supply of the written word around me at all times. And it is one of my life’s aspirations to spread this affection to all. My two best friends can attest that I happily infected them with the reading bug. And I liked it!

Every year I count down the days until the CBC Book Sale when I can combine my need to purchase books and my desire to share the joy of reading with others. Next year I will do better to volunteer and attend on the first day so I have more selection. I just can’t help myself.

I can’t wait.

Do you have an annual event that fills you with similar glee? Or are you a shamelessly addicted bibliophile like me?