Friday, November 07, 2008

Ruining Childhood Memories

Oh, the new pillow worked like a charm. Normally, it takes me a while to get used to a new pillow, and I wasn't sure I got the right kind, considering there are now dozens of very specific kinds of pillows, depending on how you sleep (and there must be a lot of side sleepers because all the specific side-sleeper pillows were sold out except in king size), but it worked well enough that I slept ridiculously late (I must have been short on sleep) and woke up with full range of movement in my neck, which hasn't happened for a while.

I found out yesterday one of the reasons why I don't manage to write three books a year. Not every day works out to be the kind of writing day when I can easily dash off a couple of thousand words. I did have the hour of writing time, but when the rest of the day is spent dashing about and taking care of Real Life, it's a lot harder to summon the mental energy to write. I might have been able to hit my target word count if I'd done that plotting/planning, but I reached a brick wall a thousand words in and knew I needed to do some thinking before moving on. But I did do a thousand words, and because I've been ahead of my target every other day, I'm still ahead of my planned pace. That just means that today I need to do some brainstorming, and the only bit of Real Life I have to deal with is the post office.

Last week I mentioned finding the final two books in Joan Aiken's Wolves series. I kind of skimmed through them then (along with the one I own that comes before them) just to see what happened, but now I've actually read them, and I think I'm even more disappointed. I believe I said in response to a comment that my problem wasn't that the books got dark, since they started pretty dark, with the first book being about children in a workhouse. I take that back. The next-to-last book involves some pretty graphic discussion about sadistic torture, plus some gory on-stage deaths, some of which are utterly senseless, and one of which was rather disturbing, in that it was treated so callously. The person who died wasn't really a good person, but was the kind of person who never really had a chance to be good. She gets killed while saving the life of one of the good guys (somewhat inadvertently -- she's not planning to sacrifice herself, but she does step between him and the bad guy and gets hit instead) and yet the good guys are all "well, no big loss" and even tell the one whose life she saved not to worry about it because she was basically useless. Mostly, I think she was a Mary Sue victim, in that she wanted the same thing the book's Mary Sue wanted, and therefore she deserved to die. And all this is in a children's book. I'm not one of those people who thinks the precious darlings need to be shielded from everything icky, but I'm 40 years old and was freaked out by this stuff, so I'm guessing it's a bit much for the under-twelve crowd. Or, it should be. I hate the idea of kids that age being okay with this sort of thing.

There may be spoilers in the following rant. I'll try to keep discussion of the latest books vague, but it's hard to discuss the later books without getting into the major revelations that came from Black Hearts in Battersea, so if you've read the earlier posts and were intrigued by that book, move along, there's nothing to see here. And I do still love that book. I'm just planning to negate the existence of the later books.

I'm going to have to assume that the last two books were written when she was rather old and not entirely all there (I think the last was published posthumously) and that the publisher was just glad to get a couple more books out of her before she was gone because I have a hard time imagining an editor not going, "Uh, what?" We've definitely gone from alt-history Dickens-lite to all-out quirky fantasy, now even with made-up kingdoms, flying monsters, magical creatures, and a witch who rides a golf club instead of a broom (which I wouldn't be opposed to if the series hadn't started much more realistically). The plots for the last books more or less consist of the good guys wandering around with no purpose, and then the bad guys tripping over their own feet, so that the good guys win. The main plot for the final book is a quest that is resolved after some wandering around with one of the characters getting a letter telling them where to find what they've been looking for.

Continuity goes right out the window. Granted, timelines were never her strong suit. In the good books she even managed to have conflicting timelines within the same book, which makes me wonder where the copy editor was. Martha the Super Copy Editor would have totally put in a comment to the effect of "You say here that he was eight when this event occurred, yet on page X you say it happened five years ago, and on page X you established that he is now fifteen, which would mean it happened when he was ten. Which is correct?" But by the end, she moves around events that happened during previous books, probably because if you pay attention to the number of years that would have had to pass, all of the main characters would be well into their twenties by this point (and yet, in the final book, she has Simon clearly remembering an event that earlier in the book was said to take place 25 years ago).

And, yeah, Dido remains a Mary Sue, even gaining super special psychic powers. As an author, I can understand wanting to write about the character who most interests you, so she had every right to entirely switch the focus of the series, even if it did disappoint me (however, also as an author, I can't imagine completely changing the life of a character at the end of a book and then having all the consequences of that change take place off-stage without dealing with them at all. Seriously, take a guy who's been living in a cave in the woods and raising geese, who's barely getting used to the idea of sleeping indoors, and have him discover that he's a viscount and heir to a dukedom and send him to live in a palace, and you don't even write that story?). I can also see wanting to pair up your two major series characters, no matter how improbable that pairing is (though if you really want us to feel like they belong together and that it's a real tragedy that they can't be together, it might help to have them actually be around each other for more than five pages per book).

But in the next-to-last book (Midwinter Nightengale) she committed the unforgivable sin, from my perspective: she Marty Stued (or Gary Stued, depending on which term you prefer) Simon. He's one of my lifelong favorite literary characters, one of my biggest literary crushes, one of my Book Boyfriends. I'd just been thinking after re-reading the second book that this was a textbook example of how to write a character who's pretty much a paragon of virtue without him being a Marty Stu, which isn't easy. He's a nice guy who is kind, clever and brave, just about everyone likes him, he can do almost anything, he's good with animals, he has a particular special skill, and he turns out to be the long-lost heir to a dukedom. But he still comes across as a real person. He has very human reactions to things -- he snaps when he gets frustrated, he has a temper that occasionally shows up, he can be smug and cheeky when he's outwitted someone. He's also not the only person who is allowed to have virtues. Sophie is just as nice and kind as he is, maybe even more so (and for good reason, as it turns out), and he does run into a lot of other nice people, and people like him because he's nice to them. He has a lot of skills because he's been fending for himself most of his life, doing a lot of odd jobs, and that tends to lead to a broad skill set. He is a gifted artist, but he's not really Magically Special at it. He still has to go to art school, and the teacher is pretty rough on him in making him work to live up to his potential. He's good with animals because he's probably spent more time with animals than with people, so he understands how to deal with them, and again it's not a Magical Specialness because the animals still act according to their natures around him. He gets attacked by wolves just like everyone else instead of the wolves turning into gentle lap dogs around him. But in the later book, suddenly he's become the flipping Pied Piper, where animals just flock to him and follow him around, killer bears become his friends, his pet owl intercepts carrier pigeons and brings them unharmed to him, and sheep just magically do stuff to make things easier for him. All the while, he never has to make hard decisions, people who threaten him just conveniently fall off cliffs, and he's suddenly next in line for the throne. The last book didn't bother me quite as much because he was so different it no longer felt like it was even supposed to be the same character, but in the next-to-last, he still had moments of being the guy I remembered, so it bugged more.

Now I have to erase those last couple of books from my brain so I can hold onto the memories of what I loved. I used to mock the more rabid Star Wars geeks who claimed that George Lucas raped their childhood in making the special editions and prequels, but now I can kind of understand.

Note to self: Start putting more money away for retirement so I don't have to try to keep writing past the point when I'm not really mentally up to it.

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