20 April 2011

TBR challenge April - The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

Hardcover, Carolrhoda Books, 2010

Disclosure: I didn't buy this book, I won it in the draw for contributors to Maureen Johnson's Next Little Shelterbox campaign on twitter.

High school student Loa suffers a series of losses, one after the other. One of her few friends is killed in a road traffic accident, another leaves the country, her father loses his job, and most profoundly, her disabled sister dies. Caring for Loa's sister is the glue that binds the family together, and when she dies, grief affects them all.

The main thing that stood out for me in this book was Loa's voice. The author has nailed the sense of isolation and suppressed pain that carries Loa through her life not quite caring about anything that happens to her in the face of all the things that already have. Death is the Bony Guy, and he is never far away from her thoughts, which she expresses with a certain wryness. Despite this she never disconnects completely. She works to deal with her losses and keeps going using her own unique outlook on life.

Her family's new poverty makes even the simplest things difficult, and I found the lack of a safety net for the family quite shocking. This makes the book sound depressing, but it wasn't. Things get better for everyone, and I finished the book glad I had read it, even if I did wipe away a few tears in the middle. Loa felt very real.

Not my normal genre by any stretch, but a welcome change, and a book I would recommend for anyone wanting to read something a little different.

13 April 2011

On werewolves and packs

Photo by Harlequeen, used under Creative Commons Licence

I find the concept of werewolves very interesting, although I read my fill of them some time back and they are more likely to make me put a book back on the shelf these days. I certainly don't plan to write a werewolf story to join the hundreds out there, but they still exercise my imagination when it comes down to social organisation. How much werewolf social structure would come from the animal, the pack and how much from human society with its complicated, messy dynamics?

It interests me because for quite a long time I had a three dog one bitch dog pack at home, not including us humans. We are down to two dogs now. I have seen three pack leaders, and for the sake of argument I am going to exclude the people. Yes I know The Old Git is technically alpha dog and I am alpha bitch, but I want to look at the relationships between them with as little of that human misunderstanding as possible. Looking at canine behaviour in a household gives me a picture of what it means to be pack leader.

One of my dogs was what I would describe as a true alpha. He was a mild-tempered border collie, lovely to live with, but the other dogs didn't cross him on food and you didn't threaten his family. I remember once we had a new arrival, a very traumatised young border collie, and out for a walk one day someone else's dog decided to go in on him. I never saw our alpha move, but as this dog came steaming in on the youngest, suddenly the alpha was there. The aggressor bounced off him and changed his mind about the attack and headed off in the other direction. Likewise, any rough and tumble at home and this dog was there, interfering and making it difficult to carry on.

And yet, I never saw that dog fight. He maintained everything through sheer presence. The others automatically deferred to him.

His two successors are what I would call wannabe alphas. They got the job because no better candidate was available. Huge difference, which showed as aggression. They wanted the job and they worried about keeping it. They exercised control over the lower dogs with an iron fist; they were bullies.

Did the pack benefit from it? No. The pack was more uptight and more likely to misbehave. There were frequent spats, and when one matured and became stronger than the other, the pack balanced on a knife edge until the older dog died because he would not relinquish control.

I also have a natural omega dog. You can see he doesn't want the responsibility of a high position, but that doesn't mean he will be bullied. When he arrived, the wannabe alpha of the time rushed in to bully him and omega dog saw him off with a full display of the pearly whites, and settled down to being just that. Nobody's whipping boy, just not the boss.

Back to werewolves, where the human factor comes into play. I have spent some time looking at the men in my office, and how they fit into their roles at the office (the women are much trickier, possibly because I am looking from the inside). I can see the natural alphas, the wannabe alphas, the oh-crap-how-did-I-end-up-alphas and the natural omegas.

That being the case, where the boys are concerned at least, I see a werewolf pack working much the same as a dog pack. A strong pack would be characterised by a mild natural alpha showing little overt control. Omegas in that pack would not necessarily be weak, more horrified at the prospect of taking responsibility. Where a pack didn't have a natural alpha, they would be more aggressive to each other and show more dysfunction in their ranks.

The girls, now that's a whole 'nother story.

08 April 2011

Waiting to hear

Time of stress in Rosieland. I just sent the big scary book project off to beta readers. This is where I start to lose the plot in a very short space of time. I always mislay a few marbles at crit time, and this one is really messing with my head. It goes something like this:

WORRIED ROSIE: They hate it. They all hate it and they don't know how to even start telling me all the things that are wrong with it.
SENSIBLE ROSIE: They haven't even read it yet. People have lives.
WORRIED: But it's been two days.
SENSIBLE: And when was the last time you looked at something somebody sent you in under a week?
WORRIED: But I can't concentrate on anything else. I'm biting my nails.
SENSIBLE: You were the one whining about needing a break. Think of the calories and write something on the blog.
WORRIED: Nooo, not the blog. Anything but the blog.
SENSIBLE: Okay, not the blog. How about any one of the three open projects from writing group. Or, and this is just a suggestion, get out the spade and flamethrower and clean your house.
WORRIED: I hate you.
SENSIBLE: Just shut up and write something else. You're making me tired.

Worried Rosie needs a slap upside the head, to be honest. One like in the old black and white movies where Foolish Woman gets hysterical so Manly Man has to slap some sense into her.

... Okay, maybe not quite like that. The Old Git would have a life expectancy of about ten minutes if he tried it. He favours the Turtle method of dealing with wife-induced trauma. He will just be waiting, ready to talk to me when all the marbles are back in their rightful places and he doesn't have to hide sharp objects away from me any more. Wise, wise man.