Monday, July 29, 2013

Confessions of an Oceanophilephobe

I'm in San Diego this week, piggy-backing on a business trip of my husband's so that I can write in a hotel with a view of the ocean. It's just across the street outside my window, deep blue, mysterious, and awe-inspiring as ever. But there's a reason why I love to look at, read about, and watch movies about the ocean - as evidenced by this post, this one, this one, this one and . . . this one . . . and this one . . . I should start using an "ocean" tag, shouldn't I? - while I refuse to go in it more than a few feet. Actually, there are hundreds of reasons, but I feel justified with only a few.

You see, my fascination with the ocean has led me to research it extensively. As I've written before (also here), aquariums are one of my favorite places to visit. But I think I know too much. I know about sharks: great whites and lemons and tigers - all the usual suspects who could eat me* - but I also know about the smaller, sinister looking mako, with its huge black eyes, and the harmless but terrifying basking shark. I know about goblin sharks, frilled sharks with their countless rows of teeth, and the 30-foot-long oarfish, the long-suspected "sea serpent" of nautical mythology. I know about hagfishes and lampreys and moray eels and wolf eels, which aren't even technically eels, but they are very likely the most hideous creatures on the planet. I know about vampire squid and humbolt squid and giant squid and COLOSSAL squid (seriously, those are two different things).

*Before you give me statistics on the likelihood of such a shark making a meal out of me, let me say that I am aware that most sharks bite only to "taste", that they rarely finish humans off, and that of the few victims of shark attacks who die, most do so from blood loss. Statistics, however, are of little comfort to someone who is afraid of everything other than the garibaldi.

I've read about happy incidents where dolphins saved divers from shark attacks, but I've also read about dolphins killing harbor seals for no apparent reason (best theory: food competition) and seen pictures of orcas pummeling sperm whales to death. I've seen a live barracuda in the water (the one and ONLY time I snorkeled) and have a friend who's dumb/brave enough to dive and narrowly escaped being electrocuted by a torpedo ray on an easy dive off Catalina. A few weeks ago I saw giant isopods up close for the first time at the Long Beach Aquarium. If you've never seen a giant isopod, picture a rolly polly (those innocent garden bugs), but make it white and as big as a human head; that's a giant isopod, the albino cockroach of the sea.

I've seen elephant seals fighting for mates on the beach north of Malibu, and you can't tell me there aren't great whites in that water because Google Earth shows me the routes of tagged specimens that swim right along the coast.

My second greatest fear is dying in the ocean. Not drowning. That doesn't even make my top ten. If I were stranded in the ocean, I only hope I would drown before I see anything that would eat me. Remember that movie from a few years back about the couple that got left in the water on a SCUBA trip and died overnight from being slowly eaten by sharks? I didn't see it, but the memory of reading the plot summary and filling in the rest with my tortured imagination has kept me up at night more often that I can say.

When I tell people I write fiction about the ocean, they usually ask if I dive, to which I respond with an appalled, "NO! Why would I do that??" This leads to some confused looks and if I'm lucky, Derek will be there to explain as well as he can that I am both religiously fascinated and deathly terrified by the ocean. I can't explain it, but it's been that way for as long as I can remember. My dad has these giant atlases that are so old they still show the Soviet Union, but all I ever did with them is study the ocean maps, the topographical ones that show the various marine layers with pictures of sample creatures that live there. There's a drawing of an anglerfish in one of those books that's haunted me since I was a kid. I wish I could say there was some traumatic childhood event that caused this bizarre relationship between me and the sea, but there isn't. I remember being a kid and almost touching a dead jellyfish on the beach before my dad yelled at me not to, but I'd hardly call that traumatic.

So what's the point of these confessions? I don't know. The only message I can send you away with is, "People are weird." I'm weird. I don't think my paralyzing fear of the ocean is justified, even though I just wrote a whole post doing exactly that. My real problem is my imagination, not the sea. I suppose I wrote this because I looked out my hotel window and saw the ocean, but I also wrote it to explain myself a little. Derek isn't always there to make my fears sound charming and quaint, so to anybody who's heard me talk about ocean phobia, maybe reading this will help you understand where I'm coming from, or at the very least, convince you that I'm too far gone to save.

Oh, and if you are interested in developing an unhealthy fear of the ocean, this should help*:

Lamprey mouth (it's basically a giant leech)
Basking shark (eats only plankton, but COME ON!)
Giant isopod (ew!)
Giant squid (not even colossal!)
Wolf eel
*All images from and linked to Wikipedia

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kaijus and Writing Tools

Spoiler Alert: This post contains very vague spoilers about the film Pacific Rim.

In case you missed it, some people have complained that women were underrepresented in Pacific Rim. I caught the movie the second night it was out in IMAX 3D with my husband and while I loved it, I have to say, the people complaining are right. A common response to the complaints has been, "but Mako Mori is a female character and she was one of the stars of the film!" Here's where I'd like to offer my two cents:

Mako was a main character of the film, but she was the only female character with a speaking part aside from one other woman who I'm pretty sure was just cussing in Russian. The golden roles of the movie all belonged to men, and it's not like there were only a few golden roles to pass around:
  • Raleigh Becket
  • Stacker Pentecost
  • Newton Geiszler
  • Hermann Gottlieb
  • Chuck Hansen
  • Herc Hansen
  • Hannibal Chau
So there's that. But the bigger point I'd like to make to those who hold up Mako Mori as the thing that should silence the complainers is this: Mako had no agency. She made no decisions, was responsible for none of the plot, did nothing to change her world. Raleigh disobeyed orders and saved lives. Stacker held Mako back. Newton acted like a jackass. Hermann ultimately decided to help said jackass. Chuck started fights. Herc ended them. I'm still not sure what Hannibal Chau was doing, but whatever it was, he was following his own orders. As for Mako, she followed Stacker and Raleigh's orders, performed admirably when told to do so, was sheltered and saved by men, and that was it.

I loved Pacific Rim, but it is indeed guilty of under-representing women.

But now, on to something more exciting...

I found a new writing tool! In the most unlikely of places, too. And it's going to sound really esoteric and maybe even trivial, but I have found it to be very useful in creating visual aids to help me really see my characters.

The tool is an app that allows you to assemble a wardrobe collage on Polyvore. Polyvore is sort of an online shopping meta-store. You can search for "black tank top" and get results from department stores, chain stores, everything down to online-only boutiques based all over the world. I've found it useful because it's allowed me to take a scene from my book and dress up the characters in that scene. The process forces me to consider things like the practicality of what they're wearing (is it weather appropriate?) and what it says about them as a person (what kind of image are they trying to project to the world?). For some of my characters who don't ever wear outfits that are fully described, I've made collages of "daily wear" - things they wear on a normal basis, basically a 2D version of their closet.

Since my book is still a WIP, I'm going to hold onto my character collages for now, but I'll share with you a "set" I drew up of what I'm wearing today (roughly - only one of the items is exact):
In my character collages, I put the character's name where my name is in the collage above, and where it says, "Sitting at my desk" I write the chapter number and/or the scene where the character is wearing the outfit being shown. You can upload the completed collages to Pinterest, drop them into Scrivner, and reference them as needed. Pretty cool!