Mothers and Daughters

If you’re reading this, you have a mother. It’s an indisputable fact. It’s also an indisputable fact that here in the United States, it’s Mother’s Day. Today is a day when we honor our mothers. We thank them for what they do and did for us, and we generally spoil them as they’re never spoiled for the rest of the year. Today’s the day to thank your mom for all she’s ever done for you.

It’s also an indisputable fact that I’m a daughter. (Yup. I am female. SHOCKING.) And I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say that I invest a lot in fictional characters and their relationships. Because of this, my Mother’s Day tribute is a top 10 list of fictional mothers and daughters. Fiction, fantasy, classic, contemporary—here are some of my favorite daughter/mother pairings.

What others can you add to my list?

This list is worth reading, but lest you read something you regret, I warn you…

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10. Scarlett and Ellen O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

“It’s only natural to want to look young, and be young, when you are young.”

Poor Ellen. She’s setting a wee trend on this list: the long-suffering mother whose death forces her daughter into adulthood and maturity. Ellen is the mainstay of the O’Hara family. She keeps Gerald in check, she reins in Scarlett, she oversees the morals and health of the entire plantation. Her calm, steadfast presence is Scarlett’s rock, the safe space Scarlett longs for once the Civil War really gets going (read: impacts Scarlett herself). Although she dies, and Scarlett fails in her attempts, Ellen is Scarlett’s role model and unchanging idea of virtue. She is the daughter’s ideal of her mother.

9. Jaye and Karen Tyler, Wonderfalls

Karen Tyler, heart of the family. Sorta. Okay, maybe it’s the housekeeper. But still.

Sure, Jaye has a ‘sode, works in a tourist shop, hears/sees inanimate objects talk, and isn’t quite what hyper-successful Karen expects from her children. But Karen loves her all the same and, at Jaye’s request, grants her youngest child more words in Karen’s newest book’s bio page.

What I’m saying makes no sense? Yeah, that’s the joy of Wonderfalls. But whether or not you understand that reference, the Jaye/Karen dynamic is one of my favorites in contemporary television. They push and pull against each other, but they love each other all the same.

8. Paige and Max Connors, Heartbreakers

A typical day in conning. Yup, normal mother-daughter stuff.

I am a longtime devotee of Heartbreakers. I saw it in the theater in 2001, bought the DVD when it came out, and continue to love it wholeheartedly. (The John Lennon song from the wedding night scene—erm, one of them—was the song I walked down the aisle to!)

Paige and Max’s is about the weirdest relationship on this list. (See #6.) They compete, seduce and con men, and, well, lie generally. But when push comes to shove, Max puts Paige’s welfare above their conning success, and she encourages her daughter to come clean with the man of her dreams. If you haven’t seen this underrated flick, check it out.

7. Toula and Maria Portokalos

The horror of wedding-planning. The horror! THE HORROR!! … and the joy.

Well, she’s not your pretty, normally housewifely Greek woman. She wants a new life, works with computers, and fights against her heritage. But Toula loves her family, and the biggest conflict in her semi-unconventional life is her perceived need to choose between her family and desire to break with tradition.

In spite of that, her mother, Maria, fights on her behalf. She argues with her husband, Toula’s father, for Toula’s independence. She welcomes Toula’s “normal” husband, Ian, and his family into their Greek clan with open arms. And she loves her daughter unendingly.

6. River Song and Amy Pond, Doctor Who

Daughter and mother, and…

Mother and daughter, and…

Mother and daughter? What?

Yup, weirdest relationship on this list. Conceived in the TARDIS, River has a time-head and some Timelord qualities. She’s taken away from Amy within moments of her birth, and transformed into a girl we never see again. THEN she becomes a teenager(ish?) and insinuates herself into Amy’s life as her best friend. AND THEN she becomes the fabulous River Song, badass, role model, wife of the Doctor, and… loving daughter? What?

Regardless of all that weirdness, they make it work. They love each other. And that’s what’s important.

5. Jo March, Meg, Amy, Beth, and Marmee, Little Women

There it is, right there: mother-daughter love.

This is the go-to gold standard of mother-daughter relationships. Marmee encourages and reprimands her daughters with tender kindness; she nurses their hurts, she tends their dreams, she waits out their wacky antics. My favorite portrayal of Marmee is 1994 film starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. While some may complain about Marmee’s almost-modern sensibilities, I love her for encouraging Jo to write and “find herself, and for holding revolutionary transcendentalist beliefs. She’s a remarkable character, and what every mother should hope to be.

4. Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Mrs. Bennet and the girls, always waiting on a man.

Whatever opinion you hold of her methods, you have to admit that Mrs. Bennet puts her daughter’s futures in a priority position. Plus, she’s hilarious. She’s ridiculous, outspoken, unenducated, and a little rude, but she’s still a delight, and a wonder of forward-thinking planning. Her first concern is for her daughters(‘ future wealth).

I once read an introduction to one of the many editions of Pride and Prejudice I have lying around that argued that Mrs. Bennet is a far better parent than ironic Mr. Bennet, who openly prefers clever Lizzie to all his other daughters. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I won’t deny Mrs. Bennet’s limitless concern for her children.

Plus, the woman had FIVE daughters. Give her a break.

3. Bridget and Pamela Jones, Bridget Jones’s Diary

Ah, mothers and their gherkins.

Poor Pamela. Bridget and her father have their “grown-up club of two,” always judging and laughing at mad old mummy. But when Pam has an affair, cheating on Bridget’s dad, she does tell her daughter about the, erm, remarkable new relationship. Bridget sides with her father, of course, but she doesn’t cut her mother out.

In the end, Pam wants Bridget’s support and approval. This relationship reminds us that, just occasionally, parents screw up, too. Mothers make relationship mistakes as often as daughters, do, and sometimes daughters have to hold their tongue and let their mothers live their own lives.

2. Cora and Mary Crawley (and Sybil and Edith), Downton Abbey

Nothing brings mother and daughter together like a dead body.

How many mothers would help their oldest daughters carry the body of their dead lovers back to their rightful bedrooms?

Unclear pronouns aside, Cora is a mother among mothers. Yes, she judges Mary. No, she never forgets the awkward moments of carrying Mary’s dead lover’s corpse back to his bed. But she, too, lives for her daughters’ welfare. Cora advocates for breaking the entail on Mary’s behalf, she lives and breathes Mary’s future prospects, and she hates the thought of Mary loving a man she doesn’t love.

She also fights for Edith’s best prospects, and she lives and dies with Sybil’s choices and misfortunes. Cora is, in short, a realistic mother. She is the unconditional, if hopeful, love a mother gives to her daughters.

1. Buffy and Joyce Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Loving and accepting, and letting it burn.

“Mommy?”

You knew, YOU KNEW, this one would be on this list. Come on. It’s me, after all.

Buffy and Joyce have just about the most realistic mother-daughter relationship of them all. Joyce has to accept Buffy’s, um, quirks (“Have you tried not being the Slayer?”), to watch her daughter fight every day and night for her life, and to let her daughter attempt to become a grown-up.

And in turn, teenage Buffy has to watch her mother have her own life. She accepts her father’s flaws and the mutual reasons for her parents’ divorce. She has to release some of the centrality she assumes she has in her mother’s life. And Joyce has to trust her daughter to oversee her (Joyce’s) death with grace and maturity.

As Giles says, Joyce teaches Buffy everything she needs to know about living. And there’s nothing more we can ask from our mothers.

 

Why Write: A New Blog Project

Why write?

Wow, that’s a big question, and one I’m not going to answer today. Instead, I want to announce a new series of posts I’d like to kick off in April.

I want to explore why genre writers write the stories they do. Why, for example, write fantasy? Why write for teens? Why write romance, or why write erotica? Why write horror? What is it about these stories that compels writers to tell them, and what is it that readers love to find in them?

Genre fiction is literary, too! …though maybe not Twilight.

So, to help me answer some of these questions, I’m looking for a series of writers at all stages of publishing—agented, querying, self-published, traditionally-published—to come here to Kristin’s Fantasies and chat with me about why they chose their particular genre and what about it gives them joy.

Specifically, I’m looking for writers in these genres:

  • romance
  • paranormal
  • erotica
  • children’s/MG
  • epic fantasy
  • sci-fi
  • graphic novels
  • urban fantasy
  • Young Adult
  • New Adult
  • horror
  • suspense
  • chick lit
  • any genre in between or unlisted

Really, if your book can be put on a shelf (even an imaginary shelf, like “Literary Fiction”), I want you to talk to me about that particular shelf and what you find there.

How it’ll work:

  1. You send me a message, Tweet, or comment saying you want in, what genre you write, and an email address.
  2. I send you an email and we figure out when your post will run.
  3. I send you some questions, you reply, I send some follow-up questions, and we have an e-mail conversation like friends.
  4. Alternatively, you can write a little essay. We’ll talk!
  5. I run the post here on the date we decided.

What you get out of it:

Promotion! Connections with other writers! A chance to talk about your work and books in general! An e-hug! A blog post you can reblog someday when you don’t feel like writing a new post!

So… who wants to play??

Beta Reading 101

I’ve been doing a lot of beta reading this year.

Okay, yeah, I’ve been doing more beta reading this year than ever before, and I’ve learned a lot. I have writer friends now whose work I’m eager and happy to read. Plus, I’ve had more finished projects of my own this year, so I’ve needed more beta readers of my own—and hunting for reliable readers for your work is always a worthy challenge.

I KILL YOUR PLOT LIKE IT’S THE SHINY RED DOT.

There’s more to beta reading than just reading. If you really want to help the author, you need to keep a few things in mind. And authors, if you want to get good critique partners and beta readers, you should help them to help you.

1. Know what kind of feedback the writer wants/needs. If this is draft two of five, line editing isn’t going to help that much. On the other hand, if they’re about to submit this work to a publisher, a suggestion for a huge plot change might cause a meltdown of epic proportions. I’m not telling you not to be honest here: by all means, mention the flaw in the plot if you find one. If you find only one typo in the whole work, be sure to flag it.  But I’m telling you not to waste their time or yours by searching for edits they don’t need and won’t incorporate.

2. Read quickly. If it takes you six month to read someone’s work, you’re not helping them. (Unless they say that’s fine.) Plus, if you read that slowly, you’re going to forget details of character and plot, and you’re not going to be able to offer thorough feedback.

3. Read with the author’s voice in mind. It may be tempting to make changes to word choice, imagery, or other stylistic aspects, but that’s not really your job. Unless such an element hits appallingly far from the mark, resist the urge to make suggestions about voice. This is the author’s baby, not yours, and what you think is clever they might fine lame.

4. Read like an editor, but keep a more general audience in mind. Your typical reader of a novel pays attention to four big things: character, motivation, plot, and pace. They want to like the protagonist and her friends, fall in love with her boyfriend, and hate her boss. They want to understand why the protagonist makes the decisions she does, why the antagonist works so hard to thwart her, and root for the choices the protagonist makes. They want an exciting, surprising (but still believable) plot, and they want it to unfold at a pace that keeps them turning pages. Part of your job is to help the writer make all these things happen for their readers.

5. Be honest, but gentle. If the book sucks, don’t say, “YOUR BOOK SUCKS!” That’s like bitch-slapping a puppy. Writers are vulnerable. Be nice. Say what didn’t work for you, and why. Give suggestions for improvement. The flip side of this hot potato (yep, mixing metaphors on purpose!) is that you can’t help an author if you’re not honest, and sometimes that requires a little brutality. If something doesn’t work, they need to know so they can fix it. Just remember to be kind and helpful in your brutality. Like a dentist.

6. Explain your reasoning. Do this for both negative comments and positive. Authors need to know what works as much as they need to know what doesn’t, and telling them why you liked the parts of their book you liked will help them see what is good in their work. Likewise, explaining why things don’t work will help them improve. Plus, you seem like a jerk if you don’t explain. And no one wants to be a jerk.

7. Remember that subjective taste plays a huge role in this business. The character you hate may be some other reader’s dreamboat. This is part of why you need to explain your reasoning—it will help the author sift through feedback and determine what changes she actually needs to make, and how. Ask yourself how much your suggestions hinge on your personal taste, and alter them accordingly.

8. Don’t take it all so personally! This goes for both readers and writers. Readers, this work is the author’s baby, and there’s no way they’re going to perform every piece of plastic surgery on it that you suggest. Their ideal here is more important than yours. And writers, remember that your betas (generally!) are here to help, not to sabotage you. These criticisms aren’t actually insulting the fruit of your loins: they’re critiquing, as a potential consumer, a piece of commercial work. Your work will be better for your readers’ help.

And finally…

HUGS AND PUPPIES FOR ALL! Critique partners, generally, are friendish (not to be confused with fiendish) sort of folks. Do your work, then have a laugh and get a beer. These relationships are important. You’ll move on to another piece of work, and a good CP will be there to read that one, too.

I lurve you, CP!

Romance Fail #1: Lust as Plot Engine

Romance lesson the first: Lust-at-first-sight is not a convincing plot catalyst.

I’m reading a book that shall remain unnamed (but is visible on my GoodReads widget) in which man meets woman, man decides he “wants” woman, and crazy hijinks ensue. Of course there’s more to the plot than that, but that is the basis of the romantic relationship in this book.

As reader, I am expected to believe that a reasonable man, one I am presumably supposed to LIKE as a protagonist, can decide he must have a woman and then act like a gorilla in mating season until he gets her.

I am not impressed.

This is a similar flaw to “lust as chemistry” and “lust as defining character trait.” Neither of these sell me on a man or a woman as a main character. If we’re reading a love story, we need some reason to want these characters to get together. If we just wanted to scratch an itch, we’d eat a candy bar. There’s not enough conflict without some driving force behind the “want,” some desire to know or understand the other person.

Therefore I say, you need more to make a romance interesting than lust.

So speaketh Kristin.

Overcoming Genre Stereotypes

Yep, I said genre.

For Christmas/Yule/halfway-through-the-dark-day, my lovely spouse gave me a big stack of paranormal romances—at my request.

I’ve never really read any paranormal romance, you see.

What?! The urban fantasy writer does not know the genre’s illegitimate-half-sister, the paranormal romance?! It’s madness, I know, since the line is so fine it hardly exists. Is Laurell K. Hamilton’s work urban fantasy, or P.R.? Jim Butcher’s Dreden series is firmly (harhar) U.F., but where does Kim Harrison fit? Is Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series a romantic urban fantasy or a thriller urban fantasy?

You get my point.

You may remember that I said I’m currently writing a romance, and if you follow me on Twitter, you may further remember me saying that I’m almost a quarter of the way into the book and there have been about six fighting scenes and zero kissing scenes. Romance continues to elude me.

So now I’m reading paranormal romance, and I’m finding the hair even harder to split. But as I make my way through the twelve-book stack, I’ll be observing here some of the things I learn from each book. I hope, as readers and (some of us) writers, we’ll learn a little bit about genre, writing, and reading as I study each book with a critical eye.

The more, erm, “romantic” books, I may be less critical about because, um, the squelchy bits* only vary so much from book to book. So stay tuned in January and February, and I’ll tell you a little bit about my exploits in the paranormal romance genre.

Coming soon: Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione and Darkfever by Karen Moning. I’ll also be venturing into Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series and crossing from True Blood to The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Are there any other paranormal romances you would recommend? (They may very well already stand in my to-be-read pile, but refer away!)

*Should I drop the act readers? Is this a PG13-blog, or an R-rated blog?

Who Chooses the Chosen One?

My husband is fond of making the semi-cruel joke that George R. R. Martin may not live long enough to finish A Song of Ice and Fire, and the fans will be left with nothing but questions and the hope that some Brandon Sanderson of Westeros will be chosen to finish the series.

I dub thee, Replacement Author! ©Disney, 1963

I have faith that this won’t happen. Martin will finish the series himself.

Then again, I’m not convinced that fairies aren’t real.

Clap your hands, folks. ©Disney, 1953

Now, Robert Jordan’s wife and editor chose Brandon Sanderson to finish her husband’s work. And presumably many writers would indicate who they would like to see end the work. I’m sure editors contribute to the decision, too.

But since it’s fun to speculate, who would you choose? I’m really not sure who I’d pick. J. V. Jones writes gritty epic fantasy, but she may not have strong enough storytelling capabilities. Jacqueline Carey is well known for her erotic fantasy series, but she also wrote an epic that Martin himself enjoyed. I don’t know if she could pull off the ugliness that’s rampant in Martin’s world, though: Carey’s world is exquisitely, almost painfully (haha) beautiful, even when her character’s face truly appalling situations.

How about Stephen King? He could certainly write the ugliness, and he’s perfectly capable of writing an epic. Or Neil Asher, who writes gritty and bitterly humorous sci-fi? Asher, however, has not yet written an epic.

I’m curious, readers. Who would you pick? Have you had an author leave a beloved series unfinished?

The Battle of the Great Ambivalence

Have you ever warred with your own apathy?

Apathetic cat feels… it doesn’t matter.

As some of you may remember, I’ve been trying to read The Wheel of Time and to watch Angel.

I haven’t really succeeded at either. I get excited in individual chapters or episodes, but somehow I reach a stopping point and never go back. It’s kind of getting to the point where I wonder why I’m even bothering.

It’s not the characters, because I like some of them… though definitely not all. And it’s not the plot, at least not entirely, because sometimes I enjoy it. But feeling like I should read or watch something just isn’t cutting it anymore.

What’s your breaking point? How little can you care before you just can’t carry on?