Why It Might Actually Suck to Live in the Harry Potter Universe

Some of you may regard this post as rank heresy, but I assure you, it’s all meant in good fun.

My husband and I like to play a silly and very geeky game I affectionately call, “Would You Live In That Universe?”

Okay, I don’t actually call it that, and it’s not really a game, just an ongoing discussion we pick up every few weeks or months, usually when we’ve read or watched something new and interesting. It basically just involves analyzing whether or not we’d live in a particular universe and why. Neither of us would live in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica universe, for example, but we’d both consider living in the xxxHolic world. We’re iffy on the Star Wars universe, and we’ve agreed to steer well clear of Westeros. I’d pick up and move to Hyrule, though, and Drew would probably tag along.

But the Harry Potter universe is a point of contention.

harry-potter06

I, with my Deathly Hallows tattoo and yearly reread of the books, would obviously be down with living there—at least, if I got to be a witch and not a Muggle. My husband isn’t really in favor of it, though, and after my most recent reread… well… I’ll admit he has a few points.

  1. Wizards have a shockingly lackadaisical approach to basic education and real world skills. How on earth did someone like Ron learn to read? And Mr. Weasley can’t even identify basic British currency by the numbers written on the notes? That’s some frightening ignorance, right there. We get the impression that wizard children don’t have much exposure to the Muggle world, and while I’m not a huge fan of public education, I can admit it has its values. Socializing children and teaching them to recognize basic numerals and, you know, LETTERS, is pretty important.

    And it shows, guys. It shows.

  2. Every single witch and wizard is packing. Seriously. Think about it. Wizards describe guns as a sort of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other. Wands = guns. Every single person in this universe is carrying concealed (or waving the damn thing around in the air). At any moment, someone could hook you into the air by your foot or stupefy you or silence you or much, much worse.. If that’s not a recipe for disaster and serious bullying, I don’t know what is.

    “Oops.” Yeah, right.

  3. Animal cruelty has been institutionalized and is taught in schools. We don’t hear a lot about what happens to those hedgehogs that are getting transfigured into pincushions, but we do know they feel pain—a poorly transfigured pincushion will curl up in fear. How sick is that? And what happens to the disembodied rat tails and vanished kittens? How do we know that tail isn’t feeling unbearable pain? I don’t know about you, but I’d feel really uncomfortable transfiguring another living creature without its consent or a confident, scientific assurance that it’s not feeling any pain.

    totslly barbaric

    Killer chess pieces? Barbaric. Disembodied rat tails? Totally fine.

  4. A huge percentage of wizards are classist or ableist or racist. Okay, this one isn’t that much different than our world, but it’s still disappointing. Ron is constantly bullied for being poor. Hermione is called Mudblood how many times? Squibs are essentially disowned and banished to the Muggle world. And Muggles are regarded as precious oddities at best and disgusting animals at worst. I’ll admit that our heroes are far kinder to these subgroups, but a huge number of wizards we encounter take a very poor attitude to people who don’t look and act exactly as they do. Birth is everything in this world. Pity the Mudbloods, man, but pity the Squibs even more.

    Manners matter, Malfoy.

  5. The government is everywhere. Everyone is magically tagged until they reach the age of 17, and after that point, the magical government is still watching to make sure you don’t take one step out of line. Characters are imprisoned at the drop of a hat, or just to make people feel better (Hagrid in Azkaban? SERIOUSLY?), and the government has a hand in everything from education to medical care to journalism. I know the books are set in a time of war, but the whole question of the Trace makes me feel a little iffy about just who would be watching me.

    …because we’ll sure as damn hell be listening!

  6. Everyone seems to get married, have kids, and die really, REALLY young. Lily and James were, like, 20 when they had Harry. And in the epilogue, Harry is 36ish with three kids. That’s awesome, and great if it’s what you want, but where’s the magical birth control? Are witches and wizards at least being taught how to practice safe sex? And while it seems like Hermione and Ginny go on to have interesting careers, we don’t hear a lot about what other generations are doing. What’s Fleur doing after her marriage to Bill? What did Lily Potter do? And where on earth are Harry’s grandparents? Life expectancy in this world can’t be much more than about 50—and that’s with people like Dumbledore and Bathilda Bagshot throwing off the curve. I’d be a little concerned about burning the candle at both ends, if I lived in this universe. I’m 30 and I’m not an Auror OR a parent yet. What am I even doing with my life?

    With middle age comes… bags under the eyes?

See what I mean? Would YOU live in this universe?

Kristin’s Big Announcement

There’s a big announcement and a dancing Ewok at the end of this post, but first I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while.

Most of the books I’ve written have been, somehow or another, about hope.

The stories I’ve told have been about learning to believe in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us—sometimes literally. My characters find themselves or land themselves in dark places, and then claw themselves back up, because that’s what stories do: stories take us apart, with a character as our stand-in, and then they put us back together, brick by brick, until we can stand up again, even if what’s inside of us has changed a little.

Fiction shows us what we are and what we can be.

tatooine

When I set out to write SHAKEN, the very first book I queried, the book that got me my first offers of representation, I wanted to write a dark-but-funny urban fantasy about a wealthy addict, a woman named Mitzy Maddox, who has to learn that privilege and luck only get us so far. In the end, our hard work and our friends and our passions are what drive us toward our goals, and Mitzy has to discover, through fire and tears, that expecting things to happen and making them happen are two very different ways of living.

Maybe that’s not quite what I set out to write, but that’s what ended up on the page. Over the last two months, I’ve been rereading SHAKEN for the first time in more than a year, and it’s spoken to me in ways I never expected.

Most of us, over the course of our lives, will reach a point at least once when we no longer believe in ourselves. When our dreams seem like they’ll never come true and hope is fled and the Dark Side has won forever. And it doesn’t always take the extermination of a lawful good monastic cult to cause our personal universes to crumble into chaos. Sometimes the Dark Side wins because of the small, insidious voices inside of us that say, “You’re not good enough. You don’t deserve this.”

saw dark side

Mitzy faces that. I’ve faced it, too.

Luckily for both of us, we have people in our lives who pick us back up and tell us that we are good enough and we do deserve good things. Sometimes getting through the day requires a conscious choice, every second, to believe those people. When we can’t believe in ourselves, we can trust people we respect to do the believing for us.

Traditional publishing (with an agent and an editor at a big house) is good that way. Ideally, your agent is the person who believes in you every step of the way—and most successful agent/author relationships work that way. I don’t have an agent right now, but that’s a result of circumstance and not because of an unsuccessful relationship. I’ve been flying on my own for awhile now, and it’s been damned scary, like flying an X-Wing down a trench with my eyes closed. (Somehow, this post about Serious Business became an extended Star Wars metaphor, but I’m pretty okay with that.)

luke-leia-star-warsLuckily, I have people in my life who have held my hand and kept me going, and, when things got really bad, bundled me up in a warm blanket, gave me a cup of tea, and told me that they had never stopped believing in me, not even for a second.

Every single day of my life, I am grateful to those people.

But ultimately, it’s belief in ourselves that gets us from Point A to Point B on the road called life. Sitting on the sidelines of our own lives, waiting for things to happen—well, that’s the road to madness. I am the only one who can actually change my life. Han and Leia can tell Luke he rocks all day long, but Luke’s the only one who can master his anger and fight Darth Vader and… Yeah, okay, the Star Wars metaphor fell apart a little.

The point is, sometimes we have to take a chance… on ourselves.

And that’s what I’m doing. dancing

On October 13, SHAKEN will be available to the world. Yep, I’m joining the wonderful world of indie authors! In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to see the cover, find out where you can read a snippet or two of the book, and even get a chance to receive an eARC! Wooo! But for now, if you want, you can hop on over to Amazon and pre-order the ebook.

So what’s it all about?

Inspector Mitzy Maddox is one of the lucky few: she can see other people’s magic, use her trust fund to buy any shoes she wants, and drink her way through a fifth of vodka in the time it takes a fairy to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

But when a serial killer surfaces in the Bay Area who drowns wealthy women in the bathtub and drains them of their magic, Mitzy discovers she can’t use any of her gifts to track the murderer. With a tight-ass half-fairy for a partner and the less-than-legal help of a sizzling reporter, Mitzy sets out to find the murderer—and to discover how he’s stealing his victims’ magic.

Now Mitzy must learn to stay afloat without her magic and her flask long enough to catch the killer—or she’ll be the next to drown.

Available October 13, 2015: preorder now!

 

 

The Other Side of Writing

I wrote this blog post a few months ago. It wasn’t easy to write, and it’s not easy for me to read now. But I think it’s an important topic, and one we don’t like to talk about simply because it’s not easy to discuss. There’s a chance, though, that my words may speak to someone else, that I may help someone who is struggling. And if there is a chance, and if my words reach someone who needs to hear them, it’s worth a few minutes of vulnerability. For those having a hard time, remember this: you’re not alone.

I want to talk some truth here today, dear readers.

I haven’t been around much lately, have I? I started a new job, I’ve been through a lot of changes in both my personal and professional life, and I’ve been trying to find my feet again. But that’s not all.

I’ve honestly been wondering whether or not this whole writing life thing is meant to be for me.

This is not the pretty side of the writing life. This won’t be a happy, reach for the stars kind of post. I want to talk honestly about just how difficult this business can be, and I don’t want to sugarcoat issues that real people struggle with every day: depression, anxiety, fear, stress, heartbreak.

Writing is hard. The act of writing itself is difficult, and the process of getting published can be nightmarish. No writer enters this field without considering these things. We all know that every writer will deal with rejection, that you have to develop a thick skin before you even try to submit. And we all know that persistence is often the key to getting published. “A writer writes!” they say. That’s how you can tell a real writer: she writes. She keeps going. She does the damn work, even when the work is damning her right back.

But what happens when the stress gets so intense that the act of putting one’s butt in the chair and hands on the keys causes physical symptoms of anxiety? What about when the depression is so intense that looking at one’s email is a crushing burden? How about when the sadness cuts so deep that the thought of bleeding onto the page makes a writer feel like she just might shrivel up and die from the loss?

Does it mean, if she doesn’t have the psychological energy to continue, that she’s not a real writer? If she needs to take a break from the persistence, from the constant effort that is the only thing that will get her published, does that mean she doesn’t deserve to one day see a reader enjoy her work? Have we even thought about what we’re telling writers who are suffering from depression?

We offer pep talks and butt-kickings, but we don’t always think about the circumstances of the person listening to our words. When we say, “You have to keep going,” we might just be saying to some suffering artist, “Taking a break means you’re failing.”

Depression is not an excuse. Depression is a real disorder, a whale of a disease that can swallow a writer whole. Acting tough is not a cure. Brazening it out is not always an option. Sometimes our suffering is so real that we cannot fake it until we make it—sometimes there is no “making it” beyond getting out of bed in the morning and continuing to function as a human being. And when that struggle goes unacknowledged, and the other struggle, the struggle to stay tough in a business that rewards tenacity, is emphasized by the people around you, it’s not easy to win the Battle of Getting Out of Bed.

As a whole, the writing support network I’ve built for myself is amazing. I have talented, compassionate friends who get up every morning and work harder than anyone else I know, all in pursuit of a dream that just doesn’t always come true, at least not when we need it the most. For some it will never come true.

I might be one of those.

I might not be.

Either way, I’m struggling.

All around me, writers keep writing. They produce thousands of words every day—amazing words—and I stand by, helpless and completely unable to write. I’m petrified by fear and anxiety, and when I see others continuing to fight while I cradle my bleeding heart in my ragged hands, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I don’t deserve to ride into battle at their sides.

I am not alone. Hundreds, thousands, millions of others suffer just like I do, though I’ll probably never know their stories.

Few people talk about this side of writing. We glory in the knowledge that J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and a hundred other best-selling, award-winning authors could have papered their office walls with rejections before they even got a second glance—but when we do that, we fail to acknowledge the painful truths that our bravado often hides. Commiserating over shared rejection does not equal true acknowledgement of the emotional struggles artists face.

That’s especially true because no writer’s path or process is the same as any other writer’s. My process is not your process. And my path to publishing may very well involve taking a break, giving my heart and my mind a breather. Just because J.K. and Stephen and all the others kept running even when their soles were ragged, that does not mean I must follow in their bloody footsteps.

Even though it feels like saying, “I am not okay, I need some time to nurse my wounds!” is really saying, “I am weak, and I cannot make it,” I am not admitting failure. I am not admitting weakness. I am acknowledging an actual struggle, one I cannot hope to win without taking care of myself.

But it doesn’t feel that way.

Maybe tomorrow, when I win the Battle of the Bed again, and I drag myself home, exhausted, at the end of another day, I’ll feel like writing. Maybe I won’t. In the mean time, though, I will give myself permission to take another step down my very own path.

And if your path looks a little like mine right now, and it leads off the battlefield and into a safe, quiet space in your mind, know that it’s okay. Or maybe it’s not okay, but that’s okay, too. We can sit here, together, and let our wounds start to heal.

The Game Console Dilemma

There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on right now, guys, for me and my friends. Bad news, terrible news, excellent news—real life stuff, you know?

So, naturally, I want to talk about video game consoles. This is serious business.

I didn’t have every new console when I was growing up. We had (I think) an Atari, then an original Nintendo, and then nothing. If we wanted to play Super Mario World or Donkey Kong or Final Fantasy VI or Sonic or any other game that was popular in the mid-1990s, we had to go to a friend’s house. And believe me, we found all the right friends with all the best game systems.

Then the late 90s rolled around and the N64 came out. I didn’t get the opportunity to play one until I was visiting a friend in Missouri in 1998, and she introduced me to Donkey Kong 64 and Zelda: the Ocarina of Time and a dozen other games, and I had to have one. I begged, I pleaded, and I finally convinced my parents to let me buy an N64 with my Christmas money.

What a glorious day it was. My mom and my brother were going to Abilene (yes, when I was a young lass in Texas, Abilene was the big city), and I sent them to whatever store had the best sale, and they returned with my sleek, glorious console with the giant controllers and those awesome cartridges that must now give millions of 30-somethings warm-fuzzy nostalgia.

I spent most of 1999 listening to No Doubt and playing N64 games. Zelda, Super Mario 64, Perfect Dark, the Star Wars pod-racing game… Good times.

Then I hit high school and I lost interest for awhile. Computer games, with their rich worlds and varied stories, were where it was at for me. I had a brief, torrid affair with a friend’s XBox, but that never went anywhere, and it wasn’t until college that I got to play PlayStation 2 games with my now-husband and was hooked all over again. This time it was Spyro and Kingdom Hearts and Champions of Norrath, but I realized my love of console games had never faded. It’s more immersive, somehow, just you and the controller and the screen, and you can lose hours and days in another world, jumping, racing, fighting, exploring, playing.

So when Nintendo Wii came out, hyping The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and a whole new method of play, I was intrigued. But it cost, like, $300, and I was a broke grad student and then a broke intern and then a broke reporter, and my husband said we just might be past the stage in our lives where we should buy console games, so I never bought one.

…until I had a steady, salaried job, that is. In 2010, in Santa Fe, I used my new smart phone to find Target. I went in, I went straight to the electronics section, and I picked it out: my Nintendo Wii, my secondary controller (hot pink!), and that (I thought) most glorious of all the gloried games: Twilight Princess. I rushed home to our 200-year-old house in New Mexico, I got it all set up, and my husband and I played Wii Sports for about two days straight.

Sort of. Well, we tried.

You see, that revolutionary new method of play wasn’t quite what we expected. It was tricky, and games often required fine movements to be performed with a controller that really had no precision. Aiming was tricky. Drawing was damn near impossible.

I played Zelda, but somehow I wasn’t hooked. I didn’t like having to position myself perfectly to be able to swing my “sword,” and the chicken-herding mission in the first five minutes of the game just didn’t do it for me, especially when it was so hard to aim the freaking horse at the freaking birds.

Eventually, the Wii started to collect dust, and then it became our Netflix player. More time passed, and it became our secondary Netflix player, relegated to the bedroom, where, unless we stood on the bed, we didn’t even have room to play the games.

So, yeah. The biggest purchase I’d ever made for myself, and it was a bust. It was years before I ever bought myself anything that cost more than $100 again. I toed the party line: no more video game consoles for us.

But the last few years have seen so many tempting systems. Xbox One with Kinect. PS4. And now… that freaking Nintendo 3DS with its cute design and its fancy 3D and its promise of access to dozens of old games.

As you’ve seen, I have rather rocky history with Nintendo. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. And once burned, twice never-gonna-cough-up-hundreds-again, right? I’m not going to buy one. I’m not.

But it’s difficult. I feel like Charlie Brown, continually swinging at console systems and missing because my stupid controller just doesn’t have enough precision to make contact.

What do you think, readers? Where do you stand on video game consoles? Do you keep buying?

Anime and Me: Part 2

Remember how I’ve said I don’t like anime?

Well.

So much for that blanket statement. Like so many sweeping claims of its kind, it has proven completely false. It has taken ten years and a lot (a LOT!) of trial and error, but my husband has finally helped me find some anime I seriously enjoy, and I’ve even branched out into manga. (Me! The girl who used to get confused by comics!)

Note: If you’ve read my post on Spellbound Scribes, you can scroll down through this bit and check out my recommendations at the bottom of this post.

There are a few things I’ve learned along the way to finding anime I love. The first is that saying, “I don’t like anime” is a little akin to saying, “I don’t like animated feature films or television, regardless of content.”

Okay, that’s exactly what it’s saying.

My first exposure to anime was when I was probably twelve years old, and a friend of mine fell in love with Sailor Moon. She watched it, she carried the lunch box, she wrote fan fiction, she tried to turn me on to it. She failed. Again, in high school, a friend loved The Power Puff Girls. I tried it, I scoffed, I moved on. By the time I got to college and landed a roommate who loved anime, my experience was enough to give me a sinking feeling when we met in person. “Oh. She likes anime. Nope.” She tried it on me (I have no idea what we watched), I didn’t like it, she moved out.

Ha. No, she didn’t move out over anime. But it felt that way at times, like my dislike of anime was a dogmatic schism between me and people who could otherwise have been my friends. After that experience, I settled happily into a cozy, sheltered world of disliking anime, with friends who never even gave it a moment’s thought.

Cue meeting my husband. He likes anime, and cartoons of all colors, genres, and levels of satire. While he pretty quickly realized that I’ll never like anything in the Family GuyFuturamaArcher, and, yes, The Simpsons oeuvre (it’s to do with the colors, animation style, and voices), he insisted that there did exist anime I would like. He just needed to find it. It became his quest, and I continued stubbornly stumping along, dismissing most of his suggestions.

Eventually, guilted by his continual efforts, I set three guidelines for finding Kristin-Approved anime:

1. The artwork needs to be pretty.

2. The cast needs to include strong female characters OR, at the least, the male characters can’t all be sexist a-holes.

3. A fantasy or fairy tale element is preferable, but not strictly necessary.

I asked that his suggestions meet two of those three criteria. We’ve crossed the eight-month mark on those guidelines, and we’ve found a handful of anime that I really like (see below).

But I’ve also discovered that anime is not always super heroes, creepy monsters, or giant machines, though I’ve enjoyed series that fall into all of those categories! And watching shojo anime does not in fact make one a connoisseur of creepy schoolgirl things, though there are also anime and manga targeted at older women. In fact, not only are there romance stories, “slice of life” stories, and some pretty serious erotica stories, there are historical stories, folkloric stories, hard-sci fi stories, and mythical stories.

Bottom line: anime cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a vague assumption about girls with pink hair. I hereby humbly eat my words. Again.

So if you’re interested in following me down the anime (and even manga) path, here are some of those Kristin-Approved series* I mentioned. Mild spoilers follow.

1. Princess Jellyfish: This is hands-down my favorite anime so far. It spoke to my heart, and I binge-watched it in mere days. It tells the story of a group of otaku women who live in the lone holdout building in a neighborhood targeted for gentrification. The story actually manages to parallel the women’s feelings of awkwardness and isolation with their love for the “retro,” eccentric old building they inhabit, and their push-pull relationship with the outside world is crystallized in their reluctant friendship with a “Stylish” who has acceptance problems (and secrets) of his—I mean, “her”—own.

2. xxxHolic: This one meets the pretty artwork and fantasy criteria, though the relative strength of the female characters is debatable. The show follows the story of Watanuki, a teenager who can see spirits, who agrees to work for a wish-granting witch in exchange for having his powers dampened. I’m not gonna lie, this one and the creatures in it have been an influence on my own fiction.

3. Mushishi: Gorgeously animated (seriously, incomparable artwork), this series is about Ginko, a man who protects people, usually rural villagers, from supernatural creatures/spirits called Mushi.

4. Noragami: Teenage girl Hiyori Iki is transformed into a half-phantom after a near lethal accident, and she works with struggling god Yato to, well, have adventures, fight spirits, stay grounded in the physical realm, and redeem Yato himself. That’s not a great description, but I’ve just started watching/reading this one and it’s fantastic so far.

5. My Little Monster: Scholarly loner “dry ice” girl Shizuku Mizutani becomes involved with “monster” boy Haru Yoshida, and together the two learn how to socialize and even love in a world that seems to neither want nor respect them. Meant for a younger audience, this one I could have loved when I was a shy and awkward pre-teen.

6. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Need I describe this one? Yes, it’s old. Yes, it’s incredibly successful and popular. Yes, I’m a late-bloomer. No, I haven’t watched it all the way through yet. Mecha, teens fighting the apocalypse, kids thrust into grown-up responsibility in a really adult story. I’ll pre-approve this one.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle: Yes, this one is also old(er) and well-known. No, I don’t know if a Japanese adaptation of an English book counts as anime: that’s way beyond the scope of this post. But I freaking LOVED this movie, and I want everyone I know to watch it. A witch’s curse turns a young girl into an old woman, and ends up seeking help from Howl and his cursed-demon friend Calcifer. That description does not do it justice. Go watch it now.

8. A Bride’s Story: Psych! This one’s not an anime. It is, however, my very first manga, and I love it. Set in central Asia in the late 1800s, this historical romance tells the story of an arranged marriage between a 20-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy. Yes it does. And it’s not even a little creepy. Instead, it’s a nuanced exploration of cultural norms in an often unrepresented time and place, and it follows lovable, thoughtful characters in their personal journeys. The books focus as much on the side characters as they do the bride and her young husband, and every volume is worth a read. Check it out if you’re at all into historical fiction. (P.S. This one is also N. K. Jemisin-approved!)

So there you have it. Consider these series Kristin-stamped, and I highly recommend you try them out. Have you seen any of these? Based on this list, do you have any more recommendations for me?

*Most of these are manga as well as anime, but, except where mentioned, in this list I’m really referring to the anime. I plan to read Princess Jellyfish and NoragamiHowl’s Moving Castle is a different beast altogether.