MORE RANTYPANTS: Writing Mental Illness for Fun and Profit

FULL SNARK AHEAD.

Yes, I’m taking my meds. Shut up. Also, it’s my birthday, so I can put on as many pairs of RANTYPANTS as I want. And maybe even go commando in them. That episode of Friends is my all-time favorite.

Sorry, where were we? All that lack of focus must mean I’m ADHD. Maybe a certain self-proclaimed expert can do a fly-by diagnosis for me.

So. Someone retweeted this, and I could not stop myself from clicking that damn link.

writing_insanity

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/09/30/9-tips-for-writing-an-insane-character

How fun was it? Let’s take a look at a few highlights:

You need to get specific. There are about a million types of crazy.

Does anyone else see the WTF in this statement? Just me?

I even took a university class on abnormal psychology….  For those of you looking to lose your fictional marbles, let me share what I’ve learned.

One undergrad class makes one an expert? I shall update my résumé! Let’s see…world religions, astronomy, statistics, juvenile delinquency (A+ in that one! I should write a book!), Intermediate German (there’s a good story about that), visual communications (in which I researched the brilliance of Cecil Beaton so I’m an expert on him too). OH! Also: racquetball! My only A in a PE class; I had a killer serve.

Yes, I changed my major seven times. Shut up and keep reading.

What flaw is splintering your character’s sanity? Is it alcohol abuse, as in The Shining?

Because mental illness is never just an illness. I keep wondering what my Deep Dark Secret or Tragic Past is, because I honestly can’t remember. Maybe I should try regression therapy. Or I could make up something, like…I was kidnapped as a toddler and force-fed mercury-tainted tuna by a satanic motorcycle gang club. That’s crazy enough to justify my crazypants, right?

I detest tuna. Just the smell of it makes me nauseous. I should write a book about that.

…obsession is a side effect of having a screw loose…

Let’s try this instead: …obsession is a side effect symptom of having a screw loose mental illness. Got it? It’s really not that difficult a concept.

Give your insane character these moments!

If only my mental illness was momentary. And deserving of !!!exclamationpoints!!! I feel so undeserving.

Writing insane characters offers a fantastic chance to use dramatic irony.

I shall endeavor to find the ironic moments in the drama that is my life.

5. He shows symptoms of a real mental disorder

Does this really need to be said? Seriously???

Most insane characters seem to have an escalated version of psychosis. This disorder is worth researching, from the early signs (social withdrawal, sleep disturbance, anxiety…) to full-blown delusions, hallucinations, and speech problems.

I don’t doubt the items mentioned correlate with some forms of psychosis (which, btw, is a generic umbrella term and not an actual diagnosis). But calling out common issues like anxiety and equating speech problems with full-blown delusions reduces a highly complex medical issue to nothing more than some potential Amazon keywords.

Insane characters are not like this.

Because all crazy is the same — even though there’s million different kinds of it. [See what I did there?]

8. He was set off by something

What triggered your character’s descent into madness? You may choose to show the trigger in your plot, or mask it as backstory.

Mental disorders have a variety of causes. Why does your character have this disorder? Was her mom bipolar? Is it drug-induced psychosis? Did she have a traumatic experience as a child? Again, use science to inspire you.

OH FOR FUCK SAKE. I just CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS. It just KEEPS GETTING WORSE. Where’s my damn Xanax?

A crazy character’s Snap moment is probably the most fun thing to write. Like, ever. In the history of time.

*~*sigh*~*

Note that an insane character doesn’t have to be doomed.

This is totally true. Insanity can be cured by some vitamin injections. Even if the character has been diagnosed with a real mental illness by a psychiatrist and has prescription meds. No, really.

If you’re preparing to write an insane character, I do recommend you study the books and movies I reference.

*RAGEFACE*

Oh, wait – I hope *rageface* doesn’t mean I’ve lost my non-fictional marbles, or that I’m “one fry short of a Happy Meal.” If it’s only in lowercase, does it still count as insane, or just cranky? What’s the threshold here?

Insanity might seem synonymous with unpredictable, but it does have patterns and symptoms that we need to be mindful of. (pardon the pun?)

Ah, finally. But..this was in response to an actual logical response in the comments.

And what are the author’s credentials, you ask?

I don’t care if you didn’t ask. You should have. Because UGH.

Yes, I’m going there. I’m a bully. So sue me. Is that stupid STGRB site still around? If so, I’m on it.

Two (2) self-pubbed YA books. And that one university class. But she’s read The Shining and watched Fatal Attraction, so she’s got that going for her.

Yes, The Shining is the epitome of batshit crazysauce. I think Stephen King is a little crazypants himself, but in a good way. He gets a pass. You, dear author [collectively, not specific to anyone], are not, and never will be, Stephen King. You’re not even Tana French. Don’t even try to go there.

HOWEVER.  I can only hope this article compels other authors to read A Beautiful Mind or The Silver Linings Playbook. As in actually read them to find all the ways Sylvia Nasar and Matthew Quick treat their mentally ill characters as actual people and not !fun! and !easy! and !lazy! plot devices.

One fry short of a Happy Meal, indeed. To which I say: Bite. Me.

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  • Title: Somewhere to Call Home
  • Author: Janet Lee Barton
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1890s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl, Private Detective, Mean Girl, Evil Banker
  • Quick blurb: Miss Mary Sue McGoodytwoshoes in the big city.
  • Quick review: I am restraining myself from unleashing the snark — but only because I couldn’t even finish it.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%, and nothing had happened. Zero tension, zero drama, and zero indication of what the actual conflict might be. There was, however, plenty to make fun of.

I’m only going Half-Snark on this because (a) I didn’t finish it; and (b) it’s an inspirational. But all the ingredients of a “This Is Why People Make Fun of Harlequins” are there. Trust me.

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Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight by Grace Burrowes

It’s only an hour or two into Twelfth Night in my part of the world, so a Christmas book is still timely. Right? Right.

I sure as hell hope so, because I still have my Christmas tree up (true story).

  • Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight by Grace BurrowesTitle: Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight
  • Authors: Grace Burrowes
  • Series: Windhams, Book 6
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($6.39 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Secrets & Scandals, War Wounds, Repressed Smart Girl, Manly Men to the Rescue, Plot Moppets, Drunken Duels, Title PØrn, Shark Jumping, Misuse of Historical Personages
  • Quick blurb: Long-suppressed secrets threaten marriage of duke’s daughter and gentleman farmer.
  • Quick review: Everything important happens off-page, leaving plenty of space for annoyances and WTFery.
  • Grade: D

He wasn’t unaffected either. There was…tumescence.

I really need to remember to take a break from historicals after reading Miranda Neville and Courtney Milan, or while anticipating a catch-up on Sherry Thomas, because everything else just seems so…so…*sigh*

Burrowes’ debut The Heir was another one of my “gateway” romances, mostly because of a certain handjob scene early in the book. But she’s never been on my auto-buy list, for reasons I really couldn’t explain. Until now.

I admire her use of language — some of her sentences are marvelous. But in between, there’s weak characterization, a lot of repetitive and Romance-O-Matic plotwork and occasionally some very ill-advised WTFery. Or, to put it bluntly, her storytelling skills leave me cold.

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Follow-Up: Fun with Fat Shaming! (Part 1)

Sarcasm AND alliteration in the same headline. This is like my best blog day EVER.  Except there’s no flowchart.

I did a pie chart instead:

Fun with Fat-Shaming Pie Chart

A PIE chart — get it? HAHAHAHAHAHA!
DAMN, I’m good.

You had to know I was going to go there, so quit rolling your eyes at me. I couldn’t decide on a subliminal-message kind of color scheme, so I just went with hot pink for Girly Girl Power.

I do have a point, just shut up and keep reading.

MY POINT:

The blatant, nonsensical, unnecessary and utterly fucking ridiculous weight-shaming in Kate Angell’s Squeeze Play  provided a BIG FAT TARGET for my Darts of Mockery — and several people who read the review weren’t shy about borrowing my metaphorical projectiles (see below) or bringing their own to the party:

Storify: The Squeeze Play Twitter discussion

Technical note:

My infamous Darts of Mockery are stocked in three different styles:

  1. Wimpy little foam thingies with suction cups that don’t stick to anything, like the cheap Nerf darts my son bemoans.
  2. The middle-grade Velcro darts that stick if you “throw” them from three feet away, but don’t present a choking hazard for dogs of less than usual brain power.
  3. The big-boy, bad-ass, biker-bar, don’t-fuck-with-me darts with actual POINTS that may cause pain and will hopefully cause intellectual stimulation when aimed properly. You know, like at BOOKS, not authors.

I tend to use the don’t-fuck-with-me darts the most. No, really.

ANYWAY:

I decided I couldn’t let this latest episode of Piss-Me-Offery go without having a bit of light-hearted fun with it — but with some honest constructive criticism as well. I’m saving up all the snark for the group project following the lecture, so here’s the inaugural Insta-Love Online Seminar for Romance Writers:

Using Body Image as a Character Trait in Romance Writing

Fat girls with daddy issues always try harder

Now remember son, the fat girls with daddy issues always try harder.

Don’t. Go. There.

Ever.

The ONLY exception to this rule is making a character’s weight issues an integral part of the story. And that’s a trope that should be touched only by a very select few authors who have the sensitivity AND skills in characterization to make it work.

Helen Fielding did it brilliantly in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Random Author, you are no Helen Fielding.

If you throw in references to pounds and sizes and scales and muffin-tops and Spanx, it’s going to come back and bite you in the ass. In more ways than one. (Was that snark? I made it a few paragraphs snark-free, didn’t I?)

It seems like a no-brainer equation to me:

Women come in all shapes and sizes.
+
Women are the ones buying and reading your books.

WHY would you take such a low-payoff gamble that is nearly guaranteed to alienate a significant number of your readers? Do the math. You’re not going to come out ahead.

And for the remaining readers who aren’t offended or annoyed, you risk kicking them out of their reading trance as they mentally grapple with the pounds:height:size ratios.

Case study: Squeeze Play by Kate Angell

While Stevie tipped the scale at one-thirty-six…
+
Her size sixes had evolved into tens and twelves
over the years, and the occasional fourteen.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I estimate that EVERY SINGLE READER will remove themselves from the story to calculate Stevie’s height knowing that she wears double-digit sizes at 136 pounds.

Don’t believe me? The official Answer According to Twitter was that Stevie is approximately three feet, four inches tall. EVERY contributor to that discussion, including me, put not just the fictional character into the equation, but herself as well.

And for what purpose? None. Nada. Nil. Null. After all that bullshit, there was no character change or growth. The weight-shaming was just a superficial and lazy and insulting attempt at defining a non-entity character. It didn’t matter. It doesn‘t matter.

It should never matter.

Fat Shaming - Twitter Discussion

But MOST IMPORTANTLY our lovability is
100% dependent on our dress size & # on scale #iwannapuke

And if you have your “hero” do the shaming….

You might as well just pack up and go the fuck home.

I made it to the end of Squeeze Play without noticeable damage to my Kindle, but I left little chunks of my brain behind whenever the dickhead “hero” offered his “blunt” and “honest” “advice.”

“Chocolate-covered strawberries are great comfort food.”

“Find comfort elsewhere.”

“Why all the concern?” His gaze darkened to jet, dropped to her breasts, then to her belly….

That crosses the line to MISOGYNY, and you’re out on two strikes.

Hey, Mr. Hero — you like it “blunt” and “honest”? Come over here so Betty and I  can give it to you straight:

"Sit down and stfu." - Betty White

STFU = Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

Thus endth the lesson for today.

Got it? Good. Because that shit is NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Now that the boring lecture is done…

Let’s move on to the Fun Group Project: Choose How You Lose!

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If you’re joining this rant in progress, don’t miss the beginning and end of all this WTFery:

  1. World Series of Romance: Squeeze Play by Kate Angell
  2. Follow-Up: Fun with Fat Shaming! (Part 1)
  3. More Fun with Fat Shaming: Group Project!
  4. Even MORE Fun with Fat Shaming: The Low-Fat/No-Fat Edition!
  5. Final Round of Fun with Fat Shaming: The Guys

World Series of Romance: Squeeze Play by Kate Angell

Just so’s you know….

This started out as a One-Quote Review, and then four hours later I found myself in the throes of a Full Snark Bitchfest.

Shh! Mom's on the warpath!

You’re damn right I am. Also, if you give me
cake to relax, it better not be made of Ivory Soap.

If you read all the way to the end, you’ll see why.

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Squeeze Play (Richmond Rogues Book 1) by Kate Angell

  • Title: Squeeze Play
  • Author: Kate Angell
  • Series: Richmond Rogues, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: First published June 2006 by Love Spell; re-released as self-pub ebook December 2011
  • Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 318 pages
  • Trope(s): Angsty Athlete, Flaky Heroine, Friends-to-Lovers, Big Misunderstanding(s), Dumped in Public, Rebound, Small Town, Plot Moppets, Weight-Shaming
  • Quick blurb: Big-league ballplayers return to hometown for charity bachelor auction.
  • Quick review: A lot of eye-rolling and some major ::HEADDESK::ing.
  • Grade: D

The first in a steamy new series of romances featuring a hunky baseball team and the sirens who challenge the players in the game of love.

I have two positive things to say about this book:

(1) It was only 99 cents.

(2) It wasn’t Sweet Jesus! Honey Dews! bad.

But it was close.

I know I shouldn’t judge an entire series by the first book, but since it had a multi-arc storyline, I figured one book was more than enough.

You don’t believe me, do you? DO YOU? Well, all I can say is READ THIS:

My nipples picked you out of the crowd.

Him: “Your first blow on my coffee turned me on.”
Her: “My nipples picked you out of the crowd.”

My first idea was to do this as a Rogues vs. McCoys box score, but I’m kind of charted-out for a while. So this is going to be a Heroines vs. Heroes play-by-play with color commentary instead.

The match-up:

  • Home: The Small-Town Girls — Jacy the Wacky Coffee Shop Owner, Stevie the Low-Self-Esteem Tomboy, and Natalie the Big City Slut Who Tries to Throw the Game.
  • Visitors: The Richmond Rogues — Pro baseball players, in town for a celebrity bachelor auction, known by their on-field nicknames of Risk, Zen/ Einstein, Shutout, Romeo, Chaser and Psycho. Collectively known as “The Bat Pack.” No, really.

The scouting report:

  • Small-Town Girls Jacy and Stevie have the home-field advantage, and they know the value of well-timed coffee-inspired innuendo-laden puns.
  • Richmond’s local-boys-done-good Risk and Shutout have history with and insider knowledge of their opponents, but mental trips down Memory Lane might weaken their defenses.
  • Natalie the Slut, unexpectedly called down from her big-city penthouse, may throw both teams off their game with her wild pitching and penchant for crowd-baiting.
  • Irrational jealousy resulting from big misunderstandings will dominate play, but players will also need to be prepared for numerous distractions from both sides of the bench in the form of cleavage- and/or ass-flashing and baseball-metaphor sexual propositions.

The pre-game show (aka the prologue):

Bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series – Rogues down one against Tampa Bay, two outs with a runner on third.

After whiffing a backdoor slider¹ and a curve, veteran hitter Risk Kincaid proves his nickname by — wait for it —  CALLING HIS SHOT (see image at right).

And of course he knocks it out of the park. But it’s not just any ol’ game-winning hit! It’s a homer to the left field bleachers aimed straight at the scantily-dressed and vividly-coiffed female fan who taunted him on the Jumbotron.

While the 80,000² Tampa Bay fans pout, cry and head out to riot in the streets, Risk makes nice with the reporters for his SportsCenter highlight reel:

“What about the girl with the pink hair?” someone asked.

“What about her?” he shot the question back.

“You nearly slammed the ball down her throat³.”

A corner of his mouth turned up slightly. “She needs to learn to duck.”

Classy, huh? But I suppose taking her head off with a line drive homer is better than yelling “TAG” in the middle of a rodeo bar.

¹ Yes, “backdoor slider.” Take a WILD guess where my dirty mind went with that one.

² Yes, EIGHTY THOUSAND fans. Which is very impressive, because the largest pro baseball venue (Dodgers Stadium) has a capacity of only 56,000. I thought maybe the anticipated crowds forced a cross-town move to the Ray-Jay, but that only seats 65,000. So it must have been a cross-country displacement to Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

³ Intentional or unintentional? You decide.

First inning (chapter one):

Oh, bloody HELL — I’m balking on the first pitch.

This stupid book has 13 chapters, and I don’t have the time or patience for extra innings. I have more angsty athletes to read about, dammit. I also have difficulty maintaining extended metaphors.

We’ll go with some obscure stats and random trivia instead.

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The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

If you’re an Eloisa James fangirl, walk backwards slowly with your eyes on the floor until you reach a safe zone. Then turn and run like hell, because this is going to be ugly. (See what I did there?)
The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

  • Title: The Ugly Duchess
  • Author: Eloisa James
  • Series: Fairy Tales, Book 4
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon Books, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via Edelweiss ($6.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Plain Jane, Big Misunderstanding, Friends-to-Lovers, Reunited, Pirates
  • Quick blurb: “Hey, my wife of two days yelled at me because I married her for her money so I guess I’ll run away and become a pirate and shave my head and give myself a flowery facial tattoo and then show up out of the blue seven years later at the special session of Parliament called to declare me officially dead and then I’ll get all pissy when my bitter bride doesn’t immediately succumb to my piratical sexiness.”
  • Quick review: Hated it. It was awful. Dreadful. Did I mention I HATED IT?
  • Grade: F

In the weeks and years to come, when she looked back she identified that as the precise moment when her heart broke in two. The moment that separated Daisy from Theo, the time Before, from the time After.

In the time Before, she had faith. She had love.

In the time After…she had the truth.

What’s not to love about such lovely romantic angst like that, right? If only there was more of the angsty romance and a lot less piss-me-offery.

Theodora/Daisy is annoying, James/Jack is an idiot and the plot is all kinds of FUCKED UP. I don’t want to recap the whole mess of crap, so here’s what pissed me off the most:

After that the duke proceeded to demonstrate for his duchess almost all of the terms he knew for the sport of Venus. He was a pirate. He knew a lot.

THAT WAS THE HEA, FOR FUCK SAKE.

The happy ending was the “hero” showing off the boinking and boffing skillz he learned and earned while fucking prostitutes during his long absence at sea. I don’t consider that to be romantic AT ALL.

The opening scenes were promising — a plain but confident heroine and the childhood friend who realizes he loves her. But the Black Moment occurs way too early in the story, and then it was just more and more incarnations of “OH. FOR. FUCK. SAKE.”

An hour later, James had a shaved head and a small poppy tattooed beneath his right eye. He appropriated a name from Flibbery Jack, the pirate captain who would no longer be needing it, and gave it too himself.

Yes, FLIBBERY JACK. I mean, come on. Was that really necessary?

When Dread Pirate Emo Whiner made his Dramatic Reappearance precisely seven years later at the special session of Parliament just as he was about to be officially declared dead, I gave up and skimmed through to the repulsive conclusion and barf-worthy epilogue. Blech.

When her characters aren’t off randomly fucking around, Eloisa James is a really good writer. The quiet and introspective moments are lovely, her wit is wicked, and she’s brilliant at showing instead of telling.

James is not without a few quirks , though — she slathers on the similes and metaphors, but they’re just ordinary purplish prose, not full-on Simile Sex:

  • …like tradesmen’s wives seeing the queen.
  • …like a fox with a clutch of hen’s eggs.
  • …like tepid milk at bedtime.
  • …a tongue as sharp as a cracked mirror.
  • …as convincing as Marie Antoinette pretending to be a shepherdess.
  • …like a hollyhock that someone forgot to stake.
  • …as if she were a dog in a fight.
  • …like a drunken meringue.
  • …as if minutes turned into drops of honey.
  • …as tightly as puzzle pieces.
  • …as tightly pressed together as ha’pennies in the church box.
  • …like a marauding Visigoth.

And of course there’s the obligatory reference to a mythological goddess:

“Theo (the heroine) is like the huntress Diana…. Beautiful and yet slightly deadly, ready to whip out a bow and arrow, or turn a man into a squealing swine. Sensual, and yet with just a snowy touch of the virginal about her.”

I can easily ignore fluff like that, and I can even disregard the gratuitous inclusion of the Prince of Wales saying “what ho!” because no one calls him “Prinny.”

However, I most definitely cannot shrug off the casual acceptance and justification of infidelity.

I’m not new to this series – I really liked When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and I LOVED the novella Storming the Castle. In fact, I’ve read James’s entire backlist, which I attribute to Everyone Else Loves Her, I Must Be Missing Something Syndrome.

But I think I’m done with this author now. With very few exceptions, her books have left me with a vaguely squirmy feeling – a sort of lingering veneer of squickiness and disgust at her repeated reliance on no-consequences adultery as an amusing plot wrench. That’s a deal-breaker for me, and I just can’t give James another pass.

Tripleheader: Fool’s Gold Summer (x3) by Susan Mallery

“This is Fool’s Gold. You can’t mess with one of the women and then act as if it didn’t happen.”

I’m going to present these in descending series order, because Book 7 is an epic Mess O’ Crazy. With goats. But not enough goats.

Goat Warning

WARNING: GOATS AHEAD

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All Summer Long

  • All Summer Long by Susan MalleryTitle: All Summer Long
  • Author(s): Susan Mallery
  • Series: Fool’s Gold, Book 9
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN, July 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 376 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Misfits, Friends with Benefits, Angst, Kick-Ass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Former underwear model helps small-town firefighter overcome her fear of men.
  • Quick review: Great balance of fun, angst and hotness, with perfectly matched hero and heroine.
  • Grade: A-

“Lesson one,” he told her.

“How many are there?”

“As many as it takes. This is going to be a full service seduction.”

Damn, that was fun – especially considering where I started with this series. And the grand gesture? OH. MY. GOD. Second only to Nev’s in About Last Night. *~*swoon*~*

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More Goat

Dude. Hang in there. You’ll get to the goats soon enough.

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