Friday, March 27, 2009

Reviews: Caitlin Kittredge

Hi all. I know I've put this off for a while now, but it's Spring Break, so even with a bit of homework, I don't want to put it off again. Purely a time and energy issue, unrelated to the books themselves.

I'm going to start with a few books I've mentioned before, but since then, more have come out in the same series. Without further ado, Kittredge's Nocturne City series:
Caitlin Kittredge currently has three novels out in bookstores, Night Life, Pure Blood, and the most recent with a February release, Second Skin. She also has a few stories out in anthologies.

The Nocturne City series follows Luna Wilder, a cop, werewolf, outcast, and a woman with relationship trouble. After receiving the bite, she ran from the pack, thus becoming an outcast, an Insoli, and considered 'less' in the eyes of most other weres. The first book opens with trying to solves a murder and having to deal with the (sexy) alpha of one of the packs, Dmitri. As the back of the book blurb says, "[Luna's] just been assigned to find the ruthless killer behind a string of ritualistic murders--a killer with ties to an escaped demon found ony in legend...until now." Dmitiri is both a suspect in the murders, and as ally as she investigates and encounters a black magician.

I sped through this. One of Kittredge's strengths seems to be her pacing. I was quickly wrapped up in Luna's character, her relationship with her cousin Sunny, and the anger and control issues that come with being a were who didn't have a pack to teach her control. As someone who accepts a romantic plot thread, but can do without them, I liked how Kittredge focused as much, or more, on the case. Luna doesn't fall into bed with Dmitri after the first time they met, and tries to resist his "wolfish charms."
After being in a slump in terms of reading novels, Night Life was one of the books that picked me out of that slump.

Pure Blood is the sequel, taking place a few months later. She returns to work, but Dmitri has returned to the Ukraine, and she has to suffer through a new captain (Captain Morgan, and no, the hilarity is not lost on Kittredge or Luna), as well as a partner, Shelby O'Halloran. This time, Luna's investigating deaths related to a feud between the blood witches and caster witches, with a powerful artifact in the middle.

I love that, unlike some urban fantasies I've, Luna's position is never static. she doesn't gain more power, but more trouble, with every book. People still hate her (some seem to hate her even more, as if with each book, there's another were pack that tries to kill her), she has more and more trouble with coworkers and bosses (Bryson, another detective in book 1, the Captain in book 2). As soon as Shelby showed up, sitting at Luna's desk, I was hooked to see how Luna would deal with her as a person, and as a partner.
(I take part of that back. She does gain an ability, Pathing, a gift acquired through her bite, but only manifesting in Pure Blood. I don't see this as part of the 'she gains a new power every book until she's unstoppable,' because she has no control over it, and it seems really painful when it happens. And while it helps her against foes, she solves the crimes with her intelligence, and a little brute strength.)

Second Skin is the third book, out at the end of February of this year. After the insanity at the O'Halloran building, and an encounter with the man who gave her the bite, Luna has transferred to SWAT, but detecting in still in her heart. Despite Bryson still being a prick, she agrees to help him solve four murders, all of them weres.
That leads her to Lucas, a Wendigo and a handsome man who knows his chilli.
With Lucas telling her one thing, Dmitri (returned as of Pure Blood) telling her he doesn't know anything, and Bryson being threatened by the packs/relatives of the dead weres, Luna has to figure out who is telling her the truth and solve the murders before she's the next victim.
So here I reach (anthology short stories aside) the current released books, and I want more. At the end, Luna's position on the police force (or lack of position) changes again. It was interesting to see how she'd interact with a team of men while with SWAT, and I wish we could have seen more of that. But it's also not a big point, because again, the story flowed so well I was more focused on reading the next scene, finding out what else was going to be thrown in Luna's way.
Perhaps the only aspect of the novels that irked me, and this was only when I read the first novel--by the second and third, I was used to it and it didn't really jump out at me--was the use of "Hex" as a swear word, instead of the "f" word or something similar.
Also, my professor, who'd never read any urban fantasy before, preferred Night Life over Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The pace was one of the reasons she gave me for that preference.
All in all, the Nocturne City series is a fast-pace durban fantasy, with a little bit of romance and sex, a lot of police work, and interesting characters that I never got tired of reading about.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Trying to get my thoughts in order about Racefail '09

I typed up one post, then thought it needed another look or two. Now, after reading one more person's posts on it, I feel like I can say a few words, that my thoughts have cemented at least a little more.

How I found out about it:

I saw one post in January, not aware just how big an issue it referred back to. Then a few weeks back, someone on my friends list on LJ posted that they weren't going to read anything by a few specific authors and editors, linking back to another post that led me through the tangled livejournal web of Racefail '09. Since then, I've been trying to keep up-to-date about it and figure out what my thoughts were on the subject before jumping in.

It felt a little bit like double-dutch jumprope--the cords are swinging and I'm rocking back and forth, waiting for the right moment to jump in, but hesitating, because of my own uncertainty, until it's too late.

How did Racefail '09 begin:

As short a description as I can make it--an author wrote a post regarding people of color (POC) in fiction, specifically sci fi/fantasy characters of color. It seems to me, her post basically said 'do your research,' but some of what she said, or how she said it, was problematic and the comment thread was very long, and there were a lot of angry people. It spread to other blogs, and some people in positions of authority (published authors and editors) apparently said some things that created more friction (I didn't see these posts and they are now locked, or the journals themselves deleted). There were issues of race, class, outing people online, and more. Every time I wanted to say something, the comment threads were already very long and I felt overwhelmed by the other opinions already stated, and in some cases, things just dissolved and some of the good, helpful, insightful points people were making fell under the weight of anger and defensiveness.

Where I want to point readers:

Some people seemed angry (I know, I'm using that word a lot, but it is the closest to how the text sounded to me, although I admit a lot of what was going on carried multiple, complex emotions mixed in) about other industry professionals who weren't speaking out. Someone brought up the topic in John Scalzi's blog, and after a few posts, he asked Mary Ann Mohanraj to guest blog. I really like what she said, and how she said it.

I think the basic issue itself of the whole situation, is that writers who aren't POC should write COC, and should do their homework. At the same time, they need to know they will get some things wrong. Mohanraj makes a similar point and breaks down Racefail '09. I encourage people to go here and read what she has to say. And if you comment, please be respectful.

My thoughts on the matter:

I love what Mohanraj says here (in one of her posts which she links to on Scalzi's blog) in relation to white authors writing POCs, "But even a slightly cloudy mirror reflecting reality is better than no mirror at all." 

In my most recently completed novel, this is an issue I'm trying to be consciously aware of. I don't like to think I'm racist, that my parents' prejudices have in any way rubbed off on me, but I worry (perhaps rightly so) that they have in ways that I haven't noticed or felt the effects of. I've grown up in Hawai'i, on an island with a plethora of different ethnicities from across the world. I've known people from Italy, Germany, South Africa, Senegal, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Japan, Korea and probably more that aren't coming to mind, and more that are of those ethnicities but born and raised in the U.S. Although my dad was in the military, at this point, I've spent more years out of the military setting than in. It's easy for me to think, 'I'm not racist, I have nothing against anyone from a particular background.' But that sounds like "I'm not racist, I have a friends who are (insert ethnic background here)." I do not want to be that person.

I'm pretty sure I don't say racist things, and I don't believe that I think anything overtly racist, so lately I've been trying to examine thoughts or behaviors that might not be so overt.

Back to the writing, this current work, my two main characters are white guys, and the protagonist's female friend is also white (tanned, but that's white skin tanning well because of some mediterranean relatives ). At the same time, I have gods based on mesopotamian-region mythologies, a couple of African-American characters, and another dark-skinned character (kind of a gypsy-like character, whose whole background I don't know yet, but I have ideas for developing her in book 2). I know it's not a numbers game, and I know I've probably not given as much attention to some of these characters versus the main two, but they are interesting to me, and I want to hear their stories, and I'm hoping that with more research and more attention to detail, I will find those stories and be able to share them with others.

I still have a lot to learn, I'm sure. But I feel like at least through the opinions and hundreds of comments on dozens of blogs, I've seen new perspectives and am looking at my own writing and behavior with even more forethought. I hope others find similar lessons.

2/5/14 ETA: Fixed some minor typos and grammar mistakes, but the message and ideas are the same.