Wednesday, March 04, 2015

On White Trash Zombies

Wednesday, March 04, 2015
I am constantly fighting a battle with my personal biases, most of which have formed around an idea that I don't or won't like something.  Let's use food as an example. I don't like coconut, especially when it comes to candy. Most every experience I've had with coconut has been unpleasant. But, I've never had coconut milk. Would a different delivery system make coconut more palatable?  I don't know, because I've had enough coconut to not want to try it.  Likewise, I do not enjoy pineapple or pineapple juice. My wife made a jerk chicken in the slow cooker the other night and the recipe called for pineapple. I was skeptical. I don't like pineapple.

The dish was delicious.

For years I avoided avocado and guacamole.  I refused to eat it.  It looked gross, it just felt like something I would hate.  So I didn't try it.

Guacamole is one of my favorite things to eat and if you can sneak some avocado on a sandwich or salad, you'll make me very happy.  That bias kept me from trying one of my new favorite food items for years, if not decades.  What a loss.

Yesterday I wrote that I had a seldom examined bias against the modern day version of urban fantasy, which these days I mostly think of as paranormal romance.  To a significant point, I am being unfair right from the start in considering so many of the "vampire and werewolf" novels to be romance novels gilded with the supernatural. Actually, I am being further unfair in denigrating romance novels given that Romance is just as diverse a category as Science Fiction or Fantasy is.  I want to acknowledge my bias runs a bit deeper without actually unpacking that bias / disinterest with the romance genre. 

The thing is, I'm not quite sure where this bias against urban fantasy has come from. Is it because if we're talking in general terms, I don't have a strong interest in reading another werewolf or vampire novel?  Is it because if you look at the two covers I've included from Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series, it doesn't look like something I would like to read?  I think it is more the second, though I'd still argue that if you say "werewolf novel" I'm going to be disinclined to pay attention in the same way that other fantasy tropes will shut down my wife.

Carrie Vaughn is vital to this conversation because years ago I entered a contest to win some free books. I was happy when I found out I won right up until the point that I realized I won the first two novels in Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series (Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Kitty Goes to Washington). At that point, I couldn't figure out why I even entered the contest because these books were not for me.  Look at the covers.  I am not the audience for those books. I don't know who the audience is, but it wasn't me. If cover art is marketing and is designed to get a reader to pick up a book and buy it, Grand Central Publishing was not selling me the book. But, the books were being sent to me so I might as well read them, right?  You see where this is going?

Of course I loved them. Carrie Vaughn is one hell of a writer, I just didn't know it yet. I devoured those two books and waited impatiently for each subsequent book to come out.

The mistake I made then was in convincing myself that the urban fantasy genre was still not my thing, that Carrie Vaughn rose above the rest of the urban fantasy being written.  That it's still paranormal romance dreck, but her stuff isn't.  It's easy to do, easy to categorize the stuff we like as being better than the stuff we think we don't like. It allows us to keep a morally superior position which if we examined it at all we would recognize that it is nothing more than shame and bullshit keeping us in place.

Each time I would read a different urban fantasy novel that I liked, I would elevate it out of the ghetto of my mind's making and hold it up as being better than the others.  Maybe they are better, because I would sure as hell recommend Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville novels to anyone. I don't want to take away from those books I love, but I'm sick and tired of taking away from the books I haven't read yet either.

I don't remember what my trigger was last month, but this has been a long time coming. I decided to pick up Diana Rowland's My Life as a White Trash Zombie.  I've haven't been aware of the series for long, but I've heard some solid buzz on Rowland, enough so that in my ongoing effort to read more books written by women this year, I wanted to add Diana Rowland to that number.  I was also beginning to recognize a certain level of hypocrisy that I've been living with in how I view certain subgenres, urban fantasy being the one we're talking about right now and My Life as a White Trash Zombie fits solidly in that subgenre.  So, it was a choice to read this book.  It's a choice to read any book, but not all choices are solidly examined.  This one was.

I've now read three of the four published White Trash Zombie novels and it is probably a good thing that I only have one more to go because I may risk burning out on a good thing - and these White Trash Zombie novels are definitely a good thing.  They feature a life-going-nowhere young woman with a felony on her record who gets a second chance at life only after she's died and been turned into a zombie.  I'm not sure there I have a good way to describe the book without it sounding hokey, but the execution is killer. Pun intended.  Angel Crawford has a distinctive voice and her characterization and character transformation is outstanding. Because she is new at this whole zombie thing, any expository info dumps are as much for the character as they are for the reader. We're both discovering how Rowland's zombie America works. One small corner of it, anyway. 

One reason why I keep trying to read new (to me) authors is that you never know what is going to stick and often it is something that you didn't expect you would like. Sometimes you read a lauded novel and it isn't for you, no matter how many awards it is nominated for.  But sometimes you avoid a particular type of book for way too long only to discover that some of it is guacamole and whoops, you really like guacamole and you wish you didn't wait so long to try the guac.

What I think I'm saying is that I think urban fantasy is like dip.  Some writers are putting out some delicious guacamole.  Others may be a little bit too spicy, perhaps they've put in too much jalapeno and left the seeds and membranes.  Those books might not be my thing, but just because they aren't doesn't mean that I shouldn't eat dip with my chips. Dip can be delicious and there are all sorts of different flavors.  Maybe I should try some more. 

Is anyone else hungry right now?


Kendall said...

Heh, awesome post, I love guac, I'm afraid now I have to try one of these books, and yes, now I'm hungry.

Also, I'm appalled you didn't realize guac was amazing. On the Border's "guacamole live" (made fresh at your table) is super. Damn, I wish I had some guac now....

(BTW "my guac" is raw broccoli and cauliflower. I loathe, and I mean truly, despite them cooked. Seriously, they were invented by Satan. Some years back, I tried them raw and realized they're fine raw! Whodathunkit.)

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