Thursday, July 30, 2009


It just occurred to me that my birthday is a week from tomorrow, and I've made no plans whatsoever. It's not that I forgot my own birthday. It's more that I've lost track of where I am in time and hadn't realized it was coming so soon. There is a gathering planned the next day that has nothing to do with my birthday but which includes the people I'd invite to a party. Not that I'm really up to putting together an actual party for a week from now. Maybe I'll see about getting together with some friends for something more casual. I guess I won't have Larry Niven serenading me this year, since I'm not going to Worldcon.

Still doing that self-assessment stuff as part of the Ongoing Quest for World Domination (who knew world domination required so much work?) ... I've done the exercise before of listing everything that appeals to me in fiction as a reader, but I hadn't ever done the opposite and listed everything I dislike or that turns me off, and I had a few good discoveries.

My vampire aversion is no surprise. I especially don't like vampires as the good guys, and I've reached the point I can barely deal with the idea of them as the bad guys.

I also don't like bad boys, but I think I've figured out why. It's the "boys" part, because there's something kind of Peter Pan/arrested development about the standard tattoos, black leather, rebel without a cause type bad boy that reeks of perpetual adolescence and a rebellion against adulthood. I've never really been into that James Dean type. I was a child of the 70s and didn't get why Fonzie was such a big deal (my Happy Days crush was Potsie). I don't like it any more when that type is female -- I didn't get all the furor over Faith on Buffy. The real revelation here is that I think this goes back to my vampire boredom. The way vampires are often portrayed today as romantic heroes, they're basically the James Dean types, with that live hard/stay eternally young and pretty, never grow up, remain stuck in youthful rebellion attitude. I don't like it whether or not the guy has fangs or drinks blood. And it's also why, even though I love the idea of urban fantasy, I don't read that much of it. I know I'm in the minority on my tastes, and the packaging is designed to sell books, with the knowledge that the bad boy/girl image with all the black leather and tattoos is a cultural icon that really grabs a lot of people, but that packaging makes my eyes roll so hard I can barely read the back cover to see what the book is actually about. (But then I'm the one working on an urban fantasy with a heroine who wears mostly pastels.)

However, I have figured that I'm not opposed to all "tough" characters. I'm quite drawn to what I might call "Bogart tough" -- the hardboiled detective type character in the trench coat and fedora with street smarts who doesn't take sass from anyone. But that seems like a more mature expression of tough. That's a tough man, not a bad boy.

On the other side of that coin, I also don't like the wimpy or airheaded heroine, especially the gleefully shallow heroine, the kind who doesn't mind admitting that while she knows the full spring line from every designer and who every celebrity is sleeping with, she's not entirely sure who the current president is (one reason Sex and the City bugged me). That type was rampant in chick lit and shows up in some of the more chick-litty urban fantasy. If the heroine mentions more than two designer names in the first chapter and she's not working in a clothing store, the book will likely hit the wall.

I'm turned off by stories that focus on gambling because that's very stressful to me (the plot almost always seems to involve getting ahead and then losing it all, and I'm too cheap/poor to enjoy watching people lose money for no good reason), and I'm very uncomfortable with false accusation/framed for a crime stories. I don't like it when characters feel utterly helpless and up against something that feels too big for them to handle for an extensive part of the book. I guess that fits in the systemic/institutional injustice category. I'm not fond of lawyer stories (haven't read a single John Grisham novel), and I don't like books that spend a lot of time in the point of view of the villain, especially a really icky, sadistic villain. I guess that's why I prefer mysteries to thrillers. In mysteries, you're usually trying to figure out who the villain is, but in thrillers, you often know and even spend time with the villain, and the suspense is in how the hero will catch him or escape from him. Even on cop shows, I prefer the ones that start with the discovery of the body to the ones that start with the actual killing, so we know who did it.

I've got a couple of pages more on my list, but the bad boy thing was the revelation for me because it's showing me how I can find my own way to write tough guys that I like. It's possible for someone to be tough without being a bad boy.

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