September 16, 2016
This week I got to see Labyrinth on the big screen for the first time since it came out. At least, I’m assuming I saw it on the big screen when it was new — I actually don’t remember. But I’m assuming I did since I’ve always, always loved it.
This is such a special movie. Not just because it’s simple and yet filled with depth, but it’s a collaboration between so many creative geniuses, who are clearly enamored with the project, and all that magic comes through.
I understand this is a cleaned up/restored version, and it shows. The colors. The lining of Jareth’s cloak is a deep sparkling blue, and I never noticed that before. The goblins’ eyes glow red when the light hits them right. Much of the landscape of the Labyrinth has this sparkling sheen that’s been muted for 30 years, and now isn’t. There’s apparently a 30th anniversary Blu-ray available. I might need that. (Even though I already own like three copies of this movie.)
And Jareth. My God. The audience cheered at his first appearance. He fills the screen. But what struck me this viewing (besides the fact that I’m always seeing new and wonderful things in the movie) is how much that character is a warning. This is a coming of age story. A big part of it is Sarah leaving childhood behind and growing up. And yes, there’s a sexual component to that, and it’s almost entirely driven by Jareth. But he’s a warning: there are beautiful, beautiful men who will promise you the world. But they steal babies. They’re not good. Parse that sentence: “Let me rule you and I will be your slave.” Which is it? Can’t do both. Yes, this beautiful powerful man is offering to give you all your dreams. And it will only cost yourself, your own will. Sarah, just entering adulthood, will recognize that, now.
I love Jareth because he shows us that villains can be beautiful. They aren’t always ugly. They aren’t necessarily destructive. But they’re still villains. I got to thinking: Is there anyone now who could play Jareth? Who could get across that sense of beauty and power and danger and charisma? Has there ever been anyone who could play that character like Bowie did? Hollywood has lots and lots of pretty boys. But how many pretty, powerful men are there? The mature fae?
(Pause for much weeping and grief for the loss of Bowie.)
Sarah is also a really great character, and another data point on how I think in many cases the 80’s did just fine with women characters. She’s smart, driven, motivated, has agency, learns, and is generally wonderful. At some point I also really want to talk about grief in the story — part of Sarah’s coming of age is moving through grief and letting go of her mother. The film’s hints of this are so, so subtle — the clippings in her scrapbook and on her mirror show a beautiful dark haired woman who is clearly an actress, and I think the one who imparted a love of costumes and fantasy and make-believe to Sarah. But she’s gone now. Did she die? Did she leave? We don’t know. But at the end of the film, Sarah starts pulling those clippings down and putting them away. The movie never talks about this thread explicitly. And I absolutely love that it never does. I don’t think it’s the main part of the movie — it’s just one of many threads in Sarah’s life. I like that there’s a puzzle to figure out.
Gah, yes, I could talk about this movie for ages. I loved that there were parents with kids in the theater. I hope it means that love for this movie will be around for a long long time.
September 14, 2016
So the word around writing and publishing circles over the last couple of years is: urban fantasy isn’t selling anymore. Publishers aren’t buying it. What was hugely popular five years ago is now done. That ship has sailed.
I’ve seen some commentary about this being some big publisher conspiracy to kill the genre — just as I also saw commentary that the popularity of the genre was a publishing conspiracy in the first place. But I’m here to tell you, as an urban fantasy author and someone who worked in a bookstore twenty years ago, publishers are highly reactive and not very good at manufacturing any kind of popularity. They react to sales numbers, and they’re usually chasing trends rather than creating them. (One of my favorite statements ever about publishing trends: everyone was looking for the next Harry Potter, which turned out to be Twilight, then everyone was looking for the next Twilight, which turned out to be The Hunger Games. They’re still looking for the next Hunger Games…)
However it happened, the results have been increasingly clear: authors are having a harder time selling urban fantasy, and readers have had a harder time finding a good series to follow.
Here’s what I think contributed to the crash. Note: this is my perception of the situation, based on my experience as a bookseller and author. A lot of this is subjective experience, so make of it what you will.
–The bar for success in the genre became really high. Sales numbers that would be decent in any other genre didn’t meet expectations for urban fantasy, where publishers were looking for the next #1 New York Times bestseller. If an author didn’t hit the list pretty quick out of the gate, they were dropped.
–Publishers weren’t willing to stick with new authors to let them develop. This led to “series” with only one or two books in them, and if they didn’t hit big right away, they got dropped. Readers often wait until a series has several books in them before they start reading, but if the first books don’t sell, there will never be a series. This happened to dozens of authors.
–At the same time, for a stretch there publishers were buying anything with a hint of vampire/ shapeshifter/romance in them. They were throwing things against the wall to see what might stick — as above, hoping for the next bestseller. (Six years ago I was telling people: it was pretty easy to get a first contract for an urban fantasy novel — and really difficult to get a second contract.)
–As a result, quality became uneven. Readers started to notice the same kinds of characters, the same kinds of storylines, the same tropes. The genre got kind of predictable and boring and they moved on.
–Readers started getting frustrated, both because quality was uneven, and because they’d discover a favorite new author who would vanish within a year or two when their series never had a chance to get off the ground. (Hint: they might still be writing under another name, or they might be e-publishing.) So once again, many readers moved on.
–Sales of mass market paperbacks in general have tanked over the last couple of years. Since most urban fantasy has been in mass market, it’s fallen victim to this trend. (Lots of discussion about why the trend is happening. Are people buying e-books instead? Are nice trade paperbacks simply more economical, since mass markets are almost up to $10 now? I don’t know.)
So, basically, the market became oversaturated with urban fantasy, and various market forces caused a noticeable drop in the sales of urban fantasy, and publishers stopped publishing so much urban fantasy, and so on.
I also think a bunch of authors just got worn out with writing the same series for 10+ years, some of us on 2 book a year schedules. I’m fascinated that a bunch of UF authors wrapped up their series in the space of a couple of years — Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, Charlaine Harris, and so on. This is all part of what let me know that I was making the right decision to wrap up Kitty. Plus, I was at the end of the contract, the storyline was close to the end, and so on. It really was time.
The thing is, and the thing that I’m constantly telling people, especially new authors who are trying to sell urban fantasy novels: urban fantasy isn’t dead. It’s still out there. New UF and UF-adjacent novels are being published all the time, just maybe not in the numbers they were before. Vampire and supernatural fiction has always been around, from the gothics of two hundred years ago on up. It changes, but it never entirely goes away.
Are you an author shopping an urban fantasy novel? Try calling it supernatural mystery or thriller. Or dark fantasy. Or contemporary fantasy. Or find your own term. The thing is, “urban fantasy” of the last 10 years was only ever a marketing term. It was co-opted to describe a kind of fiction that was already happening, and it was only later that people and publishers started looking for fiction to fill that niche, after the niche was already well established. Marketing terms and categories change all the time, in the endless quest to sell books. Don’t let that change how you write or read.
August 26, 2016
When I drove home earlier this week, it wasn’t particularly late but I was very tired because I’d already been on the road ten hours. So I put on the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” from Guardians of the Galaxy, which has become my go-to driving while tired album. It’s big, brassy, danceable, and keeps me awake. As often happens with a good soundtrack, I got to thinking about the movie, especially the last montage during “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and I think I might have hit on something.
Guardians is all about family, right? Finding a family when you’ve lost yours, fighting for your family, coming together and supporting each other. But then — isn’t the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe about family?
I know as themes go that’s super broad and kind of all encompassing. But I went character by character. Thor dealing with his place in his family and his contentious relationship with his brother. Natasha having all access and possibility of family cut off — and so she adopts Clint’s, and protects her fellow Avengers like family. Steve Rogers struggling to replace families that keep getting taken away from him. Bruce rejecting family — for their own protection, he thinks. And even Scott Lang doing what he needs to do to get back to his family. And Tony — Tony, who can’t seem to keep a family together no matter how much he wants to.
I don’t think this is something the filmmakers necessarily thought about ahead of time, beyond the fact that “family” as a theme makes for really powerful storytelling more often than not. But I so like the idea of this one theme or concept tying all these movies together, even beyond the interlinking stories. It gives me some ideas of where the MCU might go from here, and gives me some confidence that the movies will continue to hold together.
August 1, 2016
I’m going to be spending a big chunk of August on the road, so my posts might start getting a bit light for a couple of weeks. Worldcon is in Kansas City, MO, and I’ve decided to DRIVE there! I may yet regret that decision, but I think it’ll be fun and different. I’ve already got a list of books to pick up in the dealer’s room, since with a car I can actually bring home a ton of books. I’m hoping to get my schedule soon so I can post it, so those of you going to the con can find me.
For SCA peeps: I’m also going to Pennsic for the first time in a dozen years. I plan on having a bunch of fun with my new decked-out canvas tent and mostly just relaxing and enjoying the environment. I’m trying to work out a specific time when I’ll be hanging out with a friend at Merchant’s Row where people can find me if they want to come say hi. More details later if I can work out the details.
In the meantime…ADVENTURE HO! I hope to come back with many fine stories.
July 11, 2016
I’ve finished knitting a third pair of socks:
Most complex yet. I used a pattern from The Enchanted Sole by Janel Laidman, and the yarn is “Stone Walk” from Western Sky Knits. Pretty darned fancy, all told. I’m also told I’m super-successful because I’ve actually done both socks on every pair I’ve knitted so far. Heh.
I don’t think I’m really a fan of knitting socks. Hand-knitted socks are super-comfy, but they seem to take me a really long time to do. And then you have to do it all over again. Tiny stitches, tiny needles, and stress about whether it’s all going to fit when you’re done. I really like knitting scarves — much more meditative, I think, and they always fit. So, I’m going to take a break from socks for now. Go back to knitting a few Jayne hats, with big chunky yarn.
June 29, 2016
You might recall, I got my very first smart phone last January. How are things going, six months on?
I’m trying to use it to go paperless, as much as I can. I’ve used mobile boarding passes for nearly every trip since I got it, and I’ve been using it for movie tickets, which is really convenient — no more forgetting paper tickets in the printer. I’m playing around with a couple of apps to see if I can make all my travel paperless — no more printed reservations, etc. That’ll be nice.
I’ve been using it for navigation quite a bit, though there’ve been a couple of cases where I would have been better off trusting my instincts. I’m still ambivalent about the GPS navigation thing, but I’m easing into it.
I haven’t used the camera all that much. One thing I am using it for: taking pictures of wine labels that I like. Theoretically, I can take the pictures to the store to figure out what wines to buy. It’s a nice thought, anyway.
And what about the instantaneous, ubiquitous communication? Still not happy with that part. It’s amazing how that little dinging notification garners an immediate response, like a pavlovian kick to the brain. Must check phone now. . . And this is why people text while driving, still, after all the warnings. Because we’re like rats pushing the button for little food pellets. The phone dings, must check. Except, of course, we don’t have to. I can turn the ringer off. I can just ignore it. I still prefer making plans ahead of time — messaging should be for changes in plans, not for making them at the last minute. I’m training all my friends not to expect instant responses from me. Hardly anything we deal with requires an instant response. The smart phone age seems to have made everything seem urgent, when it’s really not. I don’t keep my phone next to me 24/7 — it usually lives in my bag on the counter in the other room. I usually don’t get messages right away.
But it is quite nice having a phone available anywhere, just in case. And I have now been that person who looks something up in the middle of dinner at a restaurant to settle an argument. Then, I put the phone away.
I’m pretty sure I’m still not using the thing to its full potential. I’m also not really sure what its full potential even looks like. So, it’s a work in progress.
June 24, 2016
Somewhere in all my recent birding I realized my field guide was 30 years old. (Which, believe it or not, actually matters as biologists revise various species, combine previously separate species, etc.) So I got a new one.
This thing is, according to my research, the current definitive go-to birding guide. It’s huge. And so far I really like it, because it has pages of comparative pictures for every species grouping (so helpful! Which warbler is it? Here! On one page!) plus both top and bottom views of hawks in flight.
I got a new toy, yay!