Friday, February 22, 2013

Pre-Internet Fandom

Sometimes, Tumblr is all about pictures of cats and Benedict Cumberbatch. Or, you know, Benedict Cumberbatch with cats. But sometimes, it results in the most fantastic conversations. I'd just link this, but it's hard to read on Tumblr because of all the nested quotes, so I'm going to pick it apart and hope I manage to credit-link everyone correctly. Trust me, you want to read it!

how is it possible to love fictional characters this much and also have people always been this way?

like, did queen elizabeth lie in bed late sometimes thinking ‘VERILY I CANNOT EVEN FOR MERCUTIO HATH SLAIN ME WITH FEELS’

was caesar like ‘ET TU ODYSSEUS’

sometimes i wonder

And then anglophile contributed a hysterical picture:

the answer is yes they did. there’s a lot of research about the highly emotional reactions to the first novels widely available in print.

here’s a thing; the printing press was invented in 1450 and whilst it was revolutionary it wasn’t very good. but then it got better over time and by the 16th century there were publications, novels, scientific journals, folios, pamphlets and newspapers all over Europe. at first most were educational or theological, or reprints of classical works.

however, novels gained in popularity, as basically what most people wanted was to read for pleasure. they became salacious, extremely dramatic, with tragic heroines and doomed love and flawed heroes (see classical literature, only more extreme.) books in the form of letters were common. sensationalism was par the course and apparently used to teach moral lessons. there was also a lot of erotica floating around.

but here’s the thing: due to the greater availability of literature and the rise of comfy furniture (i shit you not this is an actual historical fact, the 16th and 17th century was when beds and chairs got comfy) people started reading novels for pleasure, women especially. as these novels were highly emotional, they too became…highly emotional. there are loads of contemporary reports of young women especially fainting, having hysterics, or crying fits lasting for days due to the death of a character or their otp’s doomed love. they became insensible over books and characters, and were very vocal about it. men weren’t immune-there’s a long letter a middle-aged man wrote to the author of his favourite work basically saying that the novel is too sad, he can’t handle all his feels, if they don’t get together he won’t be able to go on, and his heart is already broken at the heroine’s tragic state (IIRC ehh).

conservatives at the time were seriously worried about the effects of literature on people’s mental health, and thought it damaging to both morals and society. so basically yes it is exactly like what happens on tumblr when we cry over attractive British men, only my historical theory (get me) is that their emotions were even more intense, as they hadn’t had a life of sensationalist media to numb the pain for them beforehand in the same way we do, nor did they have the giant group therapy session that is tumblr.

(don’t even get me started on the classical/early medieval dudes and their boners for the Iliad i will be here all week. suffice to say, the members of the Byzantine court used Homeric puns instead of talking normally to each other if someone who hand’t studied the classics was in the room. they had dickish fandom in-jokes. boom.)

And then there were some random OMG comments, and then this, which is what made me need to share this with you guys:

Ancient Iliad fandom is intense

Alexander the Great and and his boyfriend totally RPed Achilles and Patroclus. Alexander shipped that hard. (It’s possible that this story is apocryphal, but that would just mean that ancient historians were writing RPS about Alexander and Hephaestion RPing Iliad slash and honestly that’s just as good).

And then there’s this gem from Plato:

“Very different was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus - his lover and not his love (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far)” - Symposium

That’s right: 4th Century BCE arguments about who topped. Nihil novi sub sole [Nothing new under the sun] my friends.

This entire discussion fills me with a ridiculous glee, and I had to share it. And in case you're wondering, I stumbled on this via the always-marvelous snakewife.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Recently, I was cleaning out some old folders and files, re-organizing and clearing away the cruft, and I found myself looking, once again, at a story I wrote some years ago called "Human Aspect".

Its original incarnation was actually sort of a fan-fic response to a novel that Lynn was writing, a high fantasy piece in a world of her own design. At one point in it, the main character meets, for the first time, his paternal grandmother -- a feisty old woman with once-red hair and an eyepatch, who had run away from her home village to be with her lover, a non-human from a race of shapechangers that most humans considered little better than brutal beasts. (Think orcs. But with shapechanging.)

It was a tantalizing bit of world-building, and I desperately wanted to know more about this old woman and even moreso, her lover -- why had he run away to be with her, if these shapechangers considered humans to be, essentially, prey?

And so I wrote this story about a shapechanger who could turn into ("Aspect") a mountain lion and his rival cousin and the human woman he became obsessed with. I pestered Lynn about it endlessly, forcing her to invent details she hadn't even considered so I could plug them in. I invented a lot of my own, as well, and when it was done... I had one of the best stories I'd ever written, actually.

Good enough that I really wanted to see it published. Of course, since Lynn was also seeking publication for her novel, and since fanfic is generally prohibited, I had to go back and change a lot of those details that I'd pried out of her into something else of my own devising, so it would still be my story.

And even then, finding a home for it was a challenge. It's high fantasy, half coming-of-age, half-romance, but it's rather dark, and the main character is, arguably, the bad guy. At least, right up until the end, anyway. It's not short enough to put in an anthology, but it's not long enough to make into a standalone novel. Very difficult to place. So I shelved it.

But when I stumbled across it again, I recalled that Torquere had opened up their Prizm (young adult) line to allow for m/f pairings in addition to LGBTQ ones, and every genre. So I took a chance and threw it over the fence... and they're going to take it!

In celebration, I offer a glimpse and a snippet:
The humans had not ventured deep into the forest or far from their settlement; by the time Dauch caught sight of them, the scents of tilled land and crowded livestock were thick in the air. Dauch crouched in the lower limbs of a nearby tree -- humans never looked up -- and watched.

They were two, a male and a female. The female seemed nervous, almost as if she could scent Dauch, though he was upwind and humans were all but noseblind. The male intrigued him -- perhaps a few years older than Dauch himself, he was short, but his shoulders rivaled Morah's for breadth. Their garments were absurdly restrictive, though the male's sleeves had been rolled up to display bulging, rippling muscle.

He could not understand their speech, though its tone was clear enough. The female was uneasy, and the male attempted to reassure her. He wheedled, the woman resisted. Dauch wondered why he didn't just strike her into submission.

But he kissed her instead. After a moment, the female gave in, relaxing into the male's embrace. Their scents grew warm and strong with desire. The female sank to the ground, and allowed the male to loosen her clothes.

Dauch watched, fascinated. Beneath her ridiculous clothes, the female was plump and smooth. Her limbs were sleek and strong, her hips set broad. Her scent fairly begged for a child to be planted under her copper-colored mound. Dauch could not understand how the male could be so close and not obey its call.

But the male only kissed her, again and again. Dauch's hands curled and uncurled. Even without scent, could he not see that it was time to mount? Not even dumb animals were so stupid!

The male lowered his mouth to suckle at her breast like a hairless babe. Dauch nearly snorted his contempt, but the female tossed her head and cried out like no nursing mother Dauch had ever seen. What peculiar human ritual was this? Dauch crawled further out on his branch, curious.

The branch nearly gave way under him, shifting with a loud crack! Dauch froze.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Memory Music

Lynn and I have been friends for well over 20 years, and we only get more similar to each other with each passing year, it seems. But one way we continue to be different is in music. Lynn is an audiophile; the sort of person who goes to estate sales and buys trunks full of old CDs just to see what's there. I think she told me once that, if played straight through, beginning to end, her music library would run for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 months.

My library, while moderately diverse, would only run for about 10 days, or so iTunes tells me. I tend to only collect music after I've decided I need it, rather than getting music first and then deciding whether I like it. (And I mean need -- liking a song isn't enough; I have to think I'll still like it years from now; it has to be the kind of song I want to close my eyes and sing along with at the top of my lungs, and to hell with anyone present who doesn't happen to be tone-deaf.)

I don't attach to music quickly or easily, but once in a while, a song will resonate in me so hard that I'll have it on heavy rotation -- or continuous loop -- for days, even weeks on end. And forever after, hearing that song will call up memories of what I was doing or feeling at that time.

For instance, when I was in high school (just to date myself) one of the songs in heavy rotation on the radio was Chris DeBurgh's Lady in Red. I still associate it rather strongly with N., a dear friend who nurtured a rather desperate -- and, alas, unrequited -- crush on me.

I also tend to link songs to characters or stories.

Light as the Breeze, sung by Billy Joel but written by Leonard Cohen (I understand there's a version of Cohen singing it, but that's not the version I have) -- I was in this roleplaying game, playing an older character who had long since accepted that she'd had her turn at romance and was done with it now, only to have a romance spring out of nowhere and completely sweep her away. For various reasons, it was a tragic story -- there could be no ending, even in a fantasy story, in which everyone would get what they deserved -- and this song is now inextricably intertwined with that story. On its own, it's a song of hope and triumph, but I can't hear it now without at least a touch of melancholy.

I'm never going to hear Alannah Myles' Black Velvet without thinking of Diya, a character of Lynn's in a game we were both in; and Sting's Desert Rose belongs now to Kevil, who was my character in that game, and Diya's lover.

Switchfoot's Dare You to Move brings me to Dawn, aka Rafe from Safe Harbor (though the story's first few iterations predate it by several years, and were much darker). The song, for me, is about making yourself get up and keep going, even when bad things have happened, even when you have screwed up, even when you've been hurt, even when you don't want to. It's about facing and accepting who you are, acknowledging that your past shapes you, but refusing to let it rule you. In short -- it's about how, every morning when he wakes up, he's still Dawn; he still has to fight to own himself and become Rafe again.

I had a whole playlist and soundtrack when I was writing Of One Mind, but at the end, the song I put on infinite repeat was Bent by Matchbox Twenty. It really seemed to capture Caris' sense of pain and frustration with Jereth's hesitation. And there's an echo of Shame by Stabbing Westward in "The Sinner's Star", my story in Ink. I always wanted to write a story to go with My Immortal by Evanescence -- not the surface story of the song, which is kind of pathetic and whiny, but something that would load the history so that the song became truly poignant and heartbreaking, the way it sounds. (It's either about vampire lovers or a mother having to watch her child leave; I haven't decided.)

What are your favorite significant songs, and what do they say to you?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Taste Test

Well, I did tell you that I'd have a snippet for you this week. In fact, I have two! And for an odd twist of fate, they're both m/f pieces.

The first is from my latest submission, "The Dancing Princess", which is a (mild) BDSM story about what happens after the "happily ever after" ending of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses". Though my story has the soldier marrying the youngest, rather than eldest, daughter, and the Wikipedia summary fails to capture the version I grew up with, in which the invisible soldier uses branches from the magic trees to whip the princesses as they run past him on their way home, a detail which has always stuck with me as particularly strange -- but which sparked this story when I saw the anthology call. That said, here's a little taste:
Numbly, I let them lead me through the rituals and pageantry; I waved and smiled at the thronging crowd, I followed meekly to the church, I repeated my vows for the priest, I sipped from the cup of wine (why, why had I not stayed to watch the man drink his sleeping draught?).

It wasn't until the priest pronounced us husband and wife that I began to awaken. My new husband took me in his arms and I steeled myself for the touch of his lips. It was no chaste kiss he gave me, there on the steps of the altar. Soldier that he was, he thrust his tongue into my mouth like a battering ram, and before I could begin to understand this intrusion, it was gone and instead his teeth closed on my lower lip hard enough that I squeaked in surprise and the beginning of fear. When he released me, the look he gave me was possessive and dark, perhaps even cruel. My innards fluttered and shuddered at that look.

The feast was a blur. My husband's eyes were on me constantly (did he think I would try to flee? I had more dignity than that) but he spoke to me only once, to introduce an old woman of his acquaintance. She patted my hand, cackled wordlessly, and nodded to him as if sealing some marketplace bargain.

Despite the limp in his wounded leg, my soldier led me through the dance well enough. If he was lacking in the smooth gentility of the courtiers who had taught me or the hectic joy of my lost partners of the Realm, I must admit there was something in the coarse grip of his hands at my waist that offered up a dim echo of the excitement I'd once felt, following in my sisters' wakes as we hurried toward our pleasures.

Eventually, the festivities were done, and we were shut into the bridal suite for the consummation, the moment I had been dreading. Clever he might be, but he was a soldier, a brute. My lip still stung from the kiss with which he had wed me; I did not dare contemplate what sort of assault he would mount on my other, more tender, parts.

Aw, don't worry about her too much. It ends well. ;-)

My other snippet for you is from my prompt story for this week from the project I'm doing with Lynn. I've been rather lax on these stories, I admit -- our self-imposed deadline for each week's story is Wednesday, but lately I've been squeaking in under the deadline and posting my story to our Dropbox folder late Wednesday night, rather than having it ready to go Wednesday morning. But yesterday promised to be a little slow, so I called for some prompts on my Facebook page that morning. The day did not live up to its promise of slowness, but I squeaked out my prompt anyway, when I was in between tasks and waiting on someone else for something urgent.

I'm not posting the whole thing here -- it's best not to post whole things if you hope to see them published, which is what Lynn and I are after. But it's called "Carnival Corners" and here's a nibble:
The crowd was applauding -- the band had finished their set. Belatedly, Jason joined in, summoned a smile and shifted his gaze so that when Caroline looked up at him, she would not realize he had been imagining the taste of the skin at the nape of her neck. But then she did look at him, that half-amused smile she nearly always wore when they were together, and he swallowed hard, suddenly aware that "lost in her eyes" had never been a poet's fanciful turn of phrase but the truth, the honest to God truth.

"What should we do next?" she said, and tucked her arm casually through his. Jason shivered inwardly. Four months now, or was it four and a half? -- and it still rocked him to feel her warmth so close, her body pressed against his. It made him want more, made his cock stir and his blood fizz. He couldn't wait to be alone with her again, to taste her skin, to kiss away that teasing smirk, to make her gasp and moan and finally cry out in passion and then bury himself in her still-quivering flesh and sate his own increasingly hot desire in her...

She was watching him again, amused. Was it wonderful or terrible that she found him so transparent? Sure enough: "We can't do that here," she said. "They'd kick us out of the carnival. Besides, a little anticipation is good for you."

His balls were already aching, but he thought she enjoyed making him wait nearly as much as she liked the sex itself... and God help him, he was beginning to enjoy it, himself -- the flirtation, the knowing looks, the taunts. It was as much an aphrodisiac as any perfume or striptease. Still, not all the barbs had to be hers. He bent to murmur in her ear, "Too bad there isn't a Tunnel of Love. Imagine how much fun that could be."

Caroline laughed, but Jason thought he had struck a mark: she liked playing with fire, liked slipping her hand surreptitiously under the table to touch him, and if she could make him stutter in the middle of a sentence, so much the better. She chastised him if he groped her ass in public, but it was with a spark in her eyes and a smile on her lips.

I admit it's inspired -- a very little bit -- by my own recent dating. I haven't been to a carnival in years and I'm not nearly as bold as Caroline, here, but I do like to tease. And, in fact, to be teased in return.