Why My Feminism isn’t About You

Better livingI’m supposed to be cleaning the house today. The BF has a sports thing he’s doing, and I have several days off in a row. I’ve just finished one major writing project and am that little lull before I’m ready to tackle a new one.

I’ve also been doing a bunch of research on the 1950s as part of the background I need for a new series I’m contemplating: think of it as Ward and June Cleaver meets the X-Files.  With the emphasis on homemaking for ‘the little woman’ of that era, I might be feeling a bit guilty about the state my own home is in.

So right. Today seemed like the perfect day to tackle the house, which is long overdue for a major spring cleaning. The kind where you put on your favorite playlist, crank the music and PURGE your house of all the useless crap that has accumulated for decades, trimming it down to the bare minimum in the hopes that you will find that external hard drive you misplaced last year and now desperately need. Instead, I woke to the internet discussion of the Elliot Rogers shootings in Santa Barbara yesterday. And the ‘mansplaining‘ that had already begun.

In many ways, the need of some men to stand up for Elliot Rogers and claim that he was right to take out his frustrations on not being able to get a date by shooting up a sorority house full of women is more shocking than the fact that once again, we have *another* campus shooting here in the US because a mentally unstable person had easy access to weapons that allowed him to commit mass murder.

I began reading the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. I read this well-thought out article by skepchick on the Alpha Male/Retribution syndrome and how Rogers’s rage will be blamed on his mental illness alone and not the growing number of Men’s Rights and women-hate groups on the internet fomenting his anger. Yes, Rogers was mentally ill. So yet again, we have an example of a mentally unstable person gaining access to a gun and killing large numbers of people with it. I don’t dispute this.

What concerns me is the amount of sympathy that Rogers got post-shooting, The numbers of men who took to the Twitterverse to cheer him on and applaud his shooting spree. “Damn right, blonde bitches, that’s what you get for friendzoning us” and “If a girl had just given the guy a little pussy, none of this had to happen” being two of the most chilling comments I came across.

I read the effing *brilliant* post by Chuck Wendig titled Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men in which Wendig tackles the problem head on for what it is–the utter insanity of men’s privilege and sense of entitlement when they already have it. More than anything, I am conscious of the double standards still perpetrated, in fact, even promoted by the GOP, that women are second class citizens who must be controlled and monitored like small children because their wanton actions might trigger unfortunate behavior in otherwise ‘nice’ boys.

DeLorean_Back to the FutureLike the GOP, growing louder in its religious and social cage-rattling in an effort to keep their base hopped-up and voting blindly for them (despite the fact that their economic policies are ruinous for anyone except the 1%–don’t get me started), it seems the closer women get to true equality, the more we get laws governing our bodies passed by men who want to keep us in ‘our’ place, or deny us equal pay, or erode the civil liberties we fought hard to establish. For every young woman out there, I’d like to tell you this: civil rights aren’t a battle fought and won and something you can just accept from now on. They are something that must be defended every day. If certain political parties could figure out a way to do it, they would strip voting rights from us, too.

One of the fun facts I discovered during my research was that up until the late 1960s, it was impossible for a woman to rent a car in the US without the written permission of a male relative. Presumably, this was to prevent women from leaving their husbands without their knowledge, denying them the right of a headstart away from someone who may have terrified them.

But I digress.

Shortly after the Steubenville rape case (and please, don’t get me started on the Football Culture/Rape Culture in this country. An openly gay NFL player will bring down the sport but rapists, murderers, and players who RUN A DOGFIGHTING RING are scarcely acknowledged? Give me an effin’ break.), a very good friend of mine posted an open letter to her son on consent. This was one of many conversations she’d had with her son over the years on his responsibilities for his actions and expectations when it comes to the people he chooses to date, and the letter was posted by The Good Men Project. It has since been reposted and shared so many times that I’ve lost track of the current stats (and have asked my friend to share them here with me), and has been translated into other languages. The GMP invited my friend to be a regular contributor to their site, and she was asked if she’d be interviewed on television.

She declined both offers.

Why? Read the comments on that post. For every woman thanking her for speaking up, for speaking to her son about such an important matter, three or four men chimed in with complaints that she didn’t address the comparatively small number of men who are raped and molested by women. Okay, that occurs. No one is denying that. But that is not what the letter was about. The letter was about a parent taking responsibility for educating her son about what constitutes sexual consent between two people, and to have a stridently vocal group try to usurp the discussion away from its true purpose was disheartening to say the least. Not because these voices didn’t deserve to be heard–but because some of these voices tried to make it seem as though the subject at hand–the rape of women by young men either through lack of respect or as a kind of sport–was somehow not a real or significant problem. Worse, however, in my opinion, was the number of men who wrote in saying that she should be turned in to child services for emotionally crippling her son by even *having* this discussion. Men who likened her to a monster. Trolls who called for her death and predicted dire ends for her children. My friend responded with courtesy, intelligence, and patience to these comments, but eventually she couldn’t take it any more. And I don’t blame her. The comments enraged me. No one should have to put themselves through that every day.

Redhead bondageSo when I wake up to find that mansplaining is in full force for Elliot Rogers today, by groups who advocate making women submit to the will of a man by making them bleed, I felt compelled to share with you some of my personal experiences on being a single woman in the US. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m just saying how it is.

During orientation for college, the women in the audience were advised not to go anywhere after four pm in less than groups of two or three because of the rape problem on campus. Women were getting raped in the stacks at the library, and this was treated as a matter of course, something to be aware of, like a pothole in the street.

When I was in college, my chemistry tutor hit on me during our very first tutoring session together. I guess I should have realized something was up when he wanted to hold the tutoring session in his dorm room seated on his bed, but hey, I was young and naive. I thought he was there to tutor me in inorganic chemistry, not human biology. I was so incapable of dealing with this situation, it was so outside the ability of my teenage self to handle it appropriately, I ended up dropping out of chemistry and taking it another quarter.

Also while in college, a professor (whom I found out later had a reputation for being a rake), cornered me between two pieces of lab equipment while I was working on a project, pressing up against me from behind so that his dick was noticeable against my ass. I was a little older and wiser by this time. I pretended to be excessively startled by his sudden, silent presence, elbowing him sharply in the ribs and stomping on his instep before innocently turning and saying, “Oh dear! You surprised me! Perhaps you shouldn’t stand that close.”

Fortunately, he wasn’t *my* professor, or else I suspect I would have failed that class.

I acquired a stalker my junior year of college. I’d been out on *two* dates with a guy before I figured out he wasn’t the nice, funny, upstanding young man he’d pretended to be. In fact, he’d lied to me about everything that he said he was. He broke into my car and stole my schedule because he didn’t believe me when I said I had to be in class instead of going out with him. He became angry when I refused to pick up on his hints that he needed a place to live, or that, on our second date, he brought up the subject of marriage. He privately chastised me for ‘canceling’ our second date when all that I’d really done was suggest we meet for dinner instead of lunch as I had to go to the library. And when I refused to let him in my apartment after the end of our second date, when I told him I thought it would be best if we didn’t see each other any more as I had to keep school my first priority, I almost became a date-rape statistic. Almost.

I was forced to move, to change my appearance, to take an unlisted phone number. The fact that I could be so *wrong* about a person scared me–I no longer trusted my judgement. I made a conscious decision not to date for years. About the time I’d decided maybe it was time to give dating a chance again, I received a letter from the father of one of my best friends. Recently a widower, he felt this was the right time to tell me that he’d always admired me and that he would like to date me. Um, yeah, no. Bad timing there, dude. I went back into my self-imposed exile for another couple of years, disturbed by the fact that I could no longer enjoy my happy childhood memories of going over to my friend’s house. I was creeped out, to say the least.

When I was in my early twenties, I was followed on the interstate for over 150 miles by a man in a car that sped up whenever I did and slowed down whenever I did. I’d pulled into a rest stop earlier to get my packed lunch, never getting out of the car. I didn’t realize this guy was following me until I noticed that he’d pulled up beside me at the rest stop, and he’d never gotten out of his car, either. When I got back on the interstate, we began an hours long cat-and-mouse game that had me gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles trying to figure out how to safely lose him before I ran out of gas. This was before cell phones, so short of getting off the interstate and driving to a police station, I didn’t know what to do. What I ended up doing was speeding up until he was racing me, then slamming on the brakes and taking an exit as he passed it. I drove the back roads the rest of the way home sick with terror that he’d find me on them and I’d be at his mercy.

For the man who drove alongside me on the highway honking his horn until I looked over at him, so he could wave his dick at me, I asked my German Shepherd to sit up from where she was sleeping in the backseat. She sprang up like a spring-loaded weapon, and he hit the brakes and took the next exit.

When a man ran me off the interstate at night because I honked at him for tailgating me and flashing his high beams in my rearview mirror, I ended up zooming backward up a major interstate until I could flip the car around in an illegal U-turn and take the exit I’d just passed.

And I will never forget the night I was on-call and decided to dash into the grocery store around 7 pm to grab a few items for dinner. I say ‘dash’ because wearing a pager and planning to cook a meal is just asking for it to go off, especially when you’re stuck in line at the grocery store. So I pulled up, leapt out of the car, ran across the lot, dashed around the store picking up items on the fly, and trotted back out to the car.

When I exited the store, a pickup truck on the far side of the parking lot turned on its headlights. No big deal, someone leaving the store, right?

When I reached my car, the pickup truck was pulling up beside me.

By the time I jumped in the car and hit the lock button, a man was standing at my driver’s side door, looking at me with the expression of a tiger who’d just missed the gazelle at the watering hole.

Military Working DogsIt shook me to the core. I don’t go to the store at night by myself anymore unless I have the dog with me. And you know, there may be a reason why I keep getting German Shepherds. It’s why shows like CSI make me uneasy, as I see them as a blueprint for men who set traps for women. It’s why I always pay attention to where I park, why I carry my keys between my fingers like a shiv, why I took self-defense classes, why I don’t take up jogging. I have never been beautiful. The only thing that makes me a target is that I am female and alone. And I know that my risk of attack won’t go down with age because its never been about being young and pretty. It’s about being a target. Vulnerable. A soft-bellied gazelle that someone who wants to pretend he’s a big jungle cat can terrify and abuse.

I don’t even think about it anymore, except to warn the daughters of friends that they need to pay attention to their surroundings and that they need to be prepared to defend themselves. But daily I am appalled at the casual comments of hate my friends and colleagues report at the hands of the men who are supposed to love them. Men who belittle their creativity, their actions, hell, their very existence. Men who berate them when they try to cook healthier meals, who shove them in parking lots, who demean their opinions, their looks, their goals. I used to not be able to understand why someone just didn’t walk away from that kind of abuse, but as a single middle-aged woman, I can now understand how the fear of poverty or being without health insurance can be greater than the fear of someone’s unkind words. After all, it’s just words, right?

No, it’s your very soul. And you deserve better. And part of this culture of shaming women into believing that they deserve to be treated this way is to ensure that she’s there cooking your dinner for you when you get home from work.

I am a terrible cook. Thank god my boyfriend does most of the cooking, or I’d live off Cap’n Crunch. Thank god, too, that he believes in mutual respect, intelligent discourse, believes in my writing, and never belittles anything that I hope or aspire to. I’m a very lucky woman, living as a I do in a Red State (where daily someone is trying to pass a law to make me less of a person than I am), to find someone like him. Because if you look at my track record here, you can see why I almost lost hope of ever finding this kind of adult relationship. Believe me, it’s better than anything I can dream up in one of my romance stories.

The thing is, I don’t think my experiences are unusual. I think they are frighteningly typical of the average American woman. And that is wrong on so many levels.

One more thought before I go. I came across this article by Dr. Jill McDevitt, a sexologist. She sums up the current thought toward women and sex very succinctly. It is no longer damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s dead if you do, dead if you don’t. Read some of the comments and reactions Dr. McDevitt describes in the case of a woman who put herself out there online performing a sexual act and then was driven to commit suicide because of it.

Wow. Chew on that one a bit.

Right. Well, I’ve got a house to clean, folks.

 

 

 

 

Why We Need Heroes

Steve MedallionI’m a geek at heart, I’ll admit it.

I grew up watching Star Trek, Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica. I once won a contest for tickets to a science-fiction convention by answering a Star Trek trivia question on a radio show. I have a Next Gen costume that I made despite the fact I possess no sewing skills whatsoever. That’s what fandom love will do for you. 🙂

I graduated to Babylon 5 (which I still say was among the best sci-fi television ever on the air), the X-Files, and Firefly. When ‘television’ became live-streaming and broadband, I was there, watching my shows: Torchwood, Doctor Who, the Stargate series…

What attracted me to these shows was something I am finding scarce among television shows today. It’s the sense of Team. It’s the group of people who somehow, together, supersede their individuality. It’s the notion that this group, be it the Pegasus expedition, or the crew of the Enterprise, or Misfit Toys band of characters on Serenity, are people you want at your side and covering your back. They are better together than they are alone. I miss that in this wave of reality television, gritty cop shows, and post-apocalyptic, Lord-of-the-Flies type shows that are predominant today. I don’t want to see back-stabbing and small-minded pettiness. I get plenty of that in real life.

Peggy's CompactI know why this kind of show is the driving force in television right now. Science fiction television is expensive to make and usually has a fierce, but smaller than national average of viewers. We are a jaded and cynical audience as well. It is easier to believe in the dark universes of fairy tales and vampires than the optimistic universe of Gene Roddenberry. But there is little out there that can make me drop everything and tune in week after week. Little that compels me to weave further stories about these characters or that universe. That makes me fly across the country to meet the actors, that drives me to spend months putting together a costume.

I think it is because science fiction and fantasy lend itself more easily to people spinning off their own stories in their minds. I’ve been writing ‘fanfiction’ in my head for as long as I can remember–I just didn’t know that’s what it was called. In fact, I thought I was strange because I did this, and on more than one occasion, tried cutting it out of my life. Little did I know that I was purposely uprooting my passion and throwing it in the dust heap. Fortunately, the roots of true writers are tenacious and tough, and the little bastard of creativity kept sending out new sprouts.

But I also think it is because science fiction leads itself more to role models I can identify with myself. Strong female characters who can take names and kick ass along with the boys. Strong male characters that are a little bit better than you are. That give you something to look up to, to strive to be. I don’t want a hero who’s perfect–but I don’t want one with feet of clay, either. I don’t fall in love with characters that are like my boss, or my co-worker, or me.  I want something better than that. A higher standard to hold up and live up to. I can deal with heroes that need redemption–as long as you show me that spark worth saving is there.

Peggy Carter's ShoesRight now my current hero is Peggy Carter from the 2011 Captain America movie. She is the embodiment of everything I love in a heroine: she is tough as nails but she never loses sight of her femininity. She plays by the rules, even though she doesn’t agree with them, unless something so important comes up that she willingly breaks them. Actress Haley Atwell, who played Peggy Carter to perfection, is quoted as saying this about her: “I likened her character to that famous Ginger Rogers quote. ‘She can do everything Captain America can do, but backwards and in high heels’. She’s an English soldier through and through, although she always looks fabulous. She might stand there with a machine-gun shooting Nazis, but she’s obviously gone to the loo beforehand and applied a bit of lipstick. She doesn’t need to be rescued. That’s exciting to me – her strength. I think she’s quite stubborn, a slightly frustrated woman who struggles with being a woman in that time. But more importantly she’s a modern woman and she sees something in Captain America that she relates to, and becomes kindred spirits. He treats her very differently to how she’s been treated by lots of men, in this kind of dominated world she lives in. So she’s very much a fighter.” (Wikipedia)

Victory RedI adore Peggy Carter as a character. I loved her relationship with Steve Rogers in Captain America–she liked him before the transformation, but she was a little gobsmacked by the transformation, you could tell. Still she kept her cool and downplayed her attraction until the point at which she saw another woman flirting with him. Just after she catches him being kissed by the aggressive flirt, there’s a scene in which Rogers and Stark showed her the shield they were testing. They ask her what she thinks and she pulls out a gun and shoots point blank at the shield while Steve is holding it. She puts the gun down and says the shield seems to work just fine to her. Simply. Awesome. She is a wonderful character. I was sorry to realize that we probably wouldn’t see any more of her as the series franchise has left WW2 behind and moved into our own time frame now.

Then I heard that Marvel had made a short film with Atwell reprising the role of Peggy Carter as part of the Blu-Ray DVD extras. Well, I don’t have a Blu-Ray, and my ability to see the film was nil, but it got leaked on the internet and thanks to an eagle-eyed friend, I did get to see it. You know what? Peggy is in mourning because she thinks Steve is dead–but she is going on with her life too. She is fighting a system that doesn’t value her because she’s a woman, yet she is not only doing her job but better than everyone else too. This is what women have been doing for decades to make it possible for women like me to work in the profession that I do. And though I know she is a fictional character, wondering “What would Peggy do?” helps me straighten my skirt (when I happen to be wearing one) and lift my chin and get on with my life.

Maybe that makes me the geekiest of geeks. But I’d rather live my life with my fictional heroes to guide me than a dark, colorless existence without them.

Peggy Carter Sun-2_resizedNo, I’m no Hayley Atwell. That’s not the point. The people who celebrate International Walk Like Beckett Day are not trying to look like Stana Katic. They are embracing the power that the character of Kate Beckett gives them. For you, it might be Ivanova from B5, or Brenda Leigh Johnson from The Closer. Maybe it’s John Sheppard from Stargate Atlantis or Mal from Firefly. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that if your heroes give you the strength to make it through the day, if you are a little better at the end of the day because of them–embrace the power they give you. 🙂

 

I do think in small part the reason Peggy Carter resonates with me so much is the amount of time I spent researching WW2 and the Battle of Britain in particular, for my most recent M/M romance, The Boys of Summer. If you’re looking for a hot summer read, then you might want to check it out!

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The Devil in the Details: How Research Influenced Grace Duncan’s “Choices”

Today, I have Grace Duncan with me, as part of her blog hop tour for her new release Choices, from Dreamspinner Press. One of the things that impressed me about her explanation of the research that goes into her stories is the fact that even if some sort of fact-finding hunt fails to make it into the body of the story itself, it still goes to world-building. That’s what creates depth and lends the voice of authenticity to a story!

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But let me let Grace tell you in her own words! Grace, the floor is yours!

It never ceases to amaze me, the amount of research that goes into a story. I sat down and went through my catalog of both fanfiction and original pieces and there wasn’t a single story that I saw that I didn’t research at least something for. A quick glance at my adultfanfiction.net profile (the most complete collection of stories, though it still doesn’t have everything) shows that I’ve put some forty-one separate stories up there and as I scanned through the list, I can remember something I’ve researched for each one. Mind you for some – like my novel Choices – I have researched quite a bit more than one thing for it.

Some stories require more research than others, obviously. For instance, Science Fiction— a genre I hope to write in someday —would, in my estimation, require a lot if the science were to be believable. Historical fiction is also like that, if the writer wants to make sure that the world is at least reasonably historically accurate. We all will still take some (even small) liberties with the worlds we write because some things just aren’t feasible within our stories. However, the research is still a must, no matter what liberties we take and the list of different items to look into can be quite long.

For Choices, in fact, the list of things I’ve researched seems endless. I remember looking into everything from food to clothing to transportation (horses, royal conveyances, and travel time) . I spent more time than was likely necessary researching deserts, desert peoples and the climate of those parts of the world. I have a folder on my computer with countless pictures of palaces, horses, food, you name it.

I also researched technology. In fact, at one point, I was about to write something on the passage of time and it occurred to me that during the time period in question, my characters might not actually know what a “few minutes” felt like… since “minutes” might not have even been a concept to them.

Choices takes place in the fictitious country of Neyem in the late 11th century. Even though the country is made up by me (and, in fact, the entire map is), I still wanted most things to be as accurate as I could make them for a late 11th century Middle Eastern-type of nation. So, to the Internet!

What was the Middle East like in 1095 AD? What technologies – specifically time-keeping devices – would have been around? Well, fewer – and yet more – than one might think.
When we think of clocks in this day, we often think of our small watches, probably our cell phones or some other digital device. Those of us who remember big hair in high school will undoubtedly first think of classic clock faces and their internal gear workings. But the earliest spring- and gear-driven clocks were actually only referenced in the 15th Century. One such instance is the chamber clock that the Duke of Burgundy was gifted with in the early 1400’s.

Okay, well then, those were out, right? If we’re in 1095, obviously we can’t use spring-gear-driven clocks. So what did they use? Surely they kept time, right?

Most definitely. There were clocks (actually known as horologia – a Greek word meaning ‘hour’ and ‘to tell’) possibly as old as the 2nd century BC (though its exact date of construction seems to be contested). Called the Tower of the Winds, it was built on the agora in Athens and has a quite a long history of changing hands and being buried and later dug up.Tower_of_the_Winds

But as famous as the Tower of the Winds was, it was quite unusual, which is undoubtedly what lent to its fame. So it was also quite rare. Not something a small-ish Middle Eastern country was likely to build. So, then, what did the more common royals use?

Believe it or not, something that is occasionally still in use today and yet dates back as far as the 16th century BC (and possibly even earlier, though with no written records, we can’t know for sure). Yet again, when they first started to be used is in contention (like most of history, it seems), but they are all sure that the water clocks were first used at least by the 4th century BC in China.

As one of Neyem’s neighbors is based (somewhat not-so-loosely) on China, it would make sense that they would have these and possibly many. But what surprised me quite a bit was to find out that it was actually an Arab inventor & scholar (among other things, basically an earlier, Arab version of Leonardo daVinci), al-Jaziri, who was instrumental in advancing the water clock. He lived about 40 years after Choices takes place, but remember those liberties that we authors take? Well, I figured it was close enough.

So, what are water clocks? They are, essentially, a measured movement of water from one place to another. As the water moves, the person looking at the clock knows – again approximately – how much time has passed. The simplest water clocks were two pots – one higher than the other. The upper pot had a hole in it and the water flowed out into the lower pot. The level of the water in each of the two pots would indicate the general time.
The design drastically improved as time went on and, in fact, it was al-Jaziri who was very instrumental in their change, becoming much more intricate with large gears, moving parts and more. When I started reading about them, I realized quickly that unless Mukesh paid to commission one or he was gifted with one in an effort to impress him, he wasn’t likely to see one built. (Mind you, Bathasar might just inspire something like that. Mukesh… not so much.) So they would have them, though they would likely be more simplistic.water clocks

I didn’t actually use a water clock specifically in Choices. Instead, I simply assumed that would be the time-keeping method of preference. Some countries had measured burning incense that I could see the Neyemen people using along with other time keeping devices like measured candles.

In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth making a point of. Teman would have known how to tell the time by the sun and used that. Bathasar, as a royal, would likely not have cared what time it was, specifically. And the situation I was concerned with – Teman on the floor waiting for his turn to be presented – would have felt infinitely longer than any actual time passage, anyway.

It’s still interesting to see what all is researched in the name of writing fiction. I know that I often research things that I end up leaving out entirely. And, in fact, I even researched medieval toilet options and decided I did not think people wanted to read about it!
Historical fiction, I think, is worse than most other genres because there is a need for accuracy. It’s often under the microscope as many people like to read history and want it to be as close to real as possible. This is, undoubtedly, why so many authors turn to alternate worlds so that they can have some freedom in what they do.

I’m lucky in that I love research. Most often, I get lost in it, clicking from one place to another. It’s something I find myself having to rein in quite a bit or I will never get my book written! I do hope, however, that it lends a fullness and realistic quality to Choices.
Please note: Yes, I used Wikipedia in my links above. While I was researching, however, I can assure you I read many, many more pages. I would never actually depend on Wikipedia for all of my research. It’s a good starting point, though and there are many great links if the above really interests you.

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Thank you very much to Sarah for hosting me today! Please don’t forget to leave a comment. Ask me anything, tell me what about historical fiction you like to read or even just say hi! You’ll be entered to win a swag back full of goodies from Choices!

My buy link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3611

You can find Grace online at:
Website
Blog
Facebook
Twitter
E-mail: duncan.grace.r@gmail.com

Blurb:
Born and raised a gypsy in the late eleventh century, Teman values freedom over everything. He and his best friend, Jasim, are thieves for hire—until one night they’re caught and their precious freedom is revoked. Given the choice between the dungeons or palace pleasure slavery, they become slaves, but Teman vows to escape someday.

Bathasar doesn’t want the throne. He supports his brother instead, which suits their sadistic father, Mukesh. When Teman, the handsome slave Bathasar has secretly been watching, saves his life, Bathasar requests a slave for the first time. Before long, Bathasar and Teman fall in love. But all is not well. One day Mukesh brutalizes Teman before the court, angering the empress of a neighboring nation. To appease her, he then offers her Jasim as a gift, and Teman decides to stay with Bathasar for now—despite the abuse he may suffer.

The peace doesn’t last. Mukesh plans to invade Jasim’s new country, and Bathasar must find a way to stop the destruction. But if he succeeds, he’ll ascend to the throne and have the power to grant Teman his liberty. Then Teman will surely leave him. What other choice could a gypsy make?

Choices is now available on Dreamspinner Press! DSP-2x3

Jumping Ship: Will switching genres sink your writing vessel?

 

78812398_8I’ve been contemplating having an affair for a while now. No, not that kind of affair–in fact, my boyfriend is the one who put this idea in my head. For several years now, he’s been suggesting that I consider branching out into the M/F romance genre.

Interestingly enough, not because he is ashamed of my work. We met online, and because he is a geek extraordinaire, he actually discovered (and read) some of my slash fanfiction before we ever went out–and he still wanted to go out with me. But from the beginning, every now and then, he’s suggested that I should go for a bigger brass ring. It’s his feeling that I’m limiting myself by staying with M/M romance, despite the fact that it is currently one of the fastest growing genres in the romance industry today.

I’ve resisted the idea for many reasons. Not the least of which is, ironically, there were so few good strong female role models on television when I was growing up. I know, that sounds kind of backward, but back then, the men got all the cool parts on television. They were the ones in the thick of things–solving crimes and kicking ass, taking names and making us grin with their snappy comebacks and devil-may-care attitudes.  I was a tomboy as a kid. Well, to be honest, I still am. I entered a profession that was so male-dominated that when I first applied to school, only 15 applicants from my area would be considered–and 14 of them were men.

For me it was muddy boots instead of killer heels, a bulky-but-warm down parka instead of gorgeous wool coats in bright colors with silk scarves. Serviceable, practical haircuts instead of magnificent bedhead hair, and so on. Because it was worth it to me to be in on the action: to get the meaty roles. To have the best lines.

But hot boots are very cool...

But hot boots are very cool…

I detested the shows in which the the hero was presented each week with a temporary heroine that was Too Stupid To Live. She was pretty, feisty, and supposedly smart, and yet each episode we were given an example of how this apparently brainy woman-of-the-week would make stupid choices in the name of being independent, in order for the hero to conveniently swoop in and save her. Oh, yeah, and he wouldn’t stick around for the following week because he was off to save someone else. With his best bud/sidekick. Nice object lesson here, Hollywood. Smart, independent women have bad things happen to them and need rescuing. And wind up alone.

You know what one of my favorite movie scenes of all time is? It’s in the Drew Barrymore Cinderella Story, Ever After. She and the Incognito Prince have been taken captive by gypsies. They have been stripped of all their belongings, and a plea is made for her release. The gypsy ringleader tells her that she can leave, taking with her only what she can carry. She gets this gleam in her eye, walks over to the Prince, and hoists him up across her shoulders. She’s buckling with the weight of carrying him, but she faces the gypsy leader down with a gimlet eye as she staggers away under her burden.

The leader bursts out laughing and begs her to come back–and in the next scene, everyone is carousing around the campfire. I love it. Even at the end of the movie, when the Prince is rushing to save her from the nefarious (and ubiquitous) bad guy, he runs into her coming out of the palace where she has just rescued herself. Brilliant. Utterly brilliant. And not something we see very often in today’s storytelling.

Don’t get me wrong. It is getting better for woman in movie and television roles. I loved this scene from the Avengers when Black Widow gets a phone call from Agent Coulson. She’s being held captive, things look bad for her, but from the moment she answers the phone, you can tell she’s in control of everything happening in that room. And when Coulson tells her that someone she cares about is in trouble, she busts her way out of the situation that only moments before looked incredibly dire for her.

But what happened when the cast was interviewed about their various roles in the movie? Scarlett Johansson ends up saying at one point to Robert Downey, Jr. “How come you get asked the really interesting existential question and I get like the ‘rabbit food’ question?” How come, indeed.

Why is it that Kate Beckett has gradually over the five seasons of Castle, morphed from someone who (to me) was visually believable as a sexy, street-savvy NYPD homicide detective into another fashion model? Don’t get me wrong, I think Stana Katic is gorgeous, and I myself go through frequent hair incarnations (having learned the hard way I really don’t look good with short hair), but on some level, I miss the edgy look she had in season one. And I can’t help but think she was forced to give into the pressure that Hollywood places on actresses to look a certain way. Don’t get me started, but it is rare to see an actress in my age bracket who doesn’t have long hair. Mind you, I prefer long hair myself–but I don’t have a colorist and a stylist following me around every day. I WISH.

So, you’d think that I would be delighted to tell more stories with strong, smart, savvy heroines like these, right? Well, to be honest, most traditional romance stories bore the heck out of me. I find myself yawning and unable to finish reading a story if it consists largely of two people meeting, falling gaga in love with each other, being completely incapable of sitting down and holding a ten minute conversation that would solve their communication issues, and then resolving said problems with a snap of the fingers (and some sort of rescue) to live happily ever after.  Where’s the car chase scene? The shoot out with aliens? The threat to civilization as we know it?

I know, write it, huh? If you want it, you must write it.

The problem is, every time I’ve thought about writing a traditional heroine as a main character, my brain automatically short-circuits into the ruts of characterization I’ve been force fed all my life. One of the reasons I think I wrote slash fanfic almost exclusively iwas because there was so much scope for story-telling between the two main male characters in most action/adventure shows. I fell in love with a set of characters and wanted to tell more stories about them. Why don’t I write Castle or The Closer fanfic? Because I think those shows are already doing a better job than I can with the characters I love.

The shows that are a little flawed, that present you with wonderful, compelling characters but also with great gaping plotholes and waffling storylines, or have no possibility of showing you the story you’d like to see–these are the shows that capture the fan writer’s imagination.

When I first discovered slash fanfiction (and from there, on to writing M/M romance) I felt like I’d finally discovered adult fiction for the first time. Here were the stories about characters in love with equal dynamics in their relationships. Here were the stories that were explicit and hot, not shying away into euphemisms or fade-to-black sex scenes. I spent a year absorbing the fanfic of my chosen fandom, and the next five years writing it myself. Somewhere along the way, I got the courage to submit a M/M romance story for publication, and the rest is history.

Saying I can’t do the same with a set of M/F characters is a bit of a cop-out, I know. Blaming it on the lack of good role models is a cop-out as well. The truth is, I’m scared. I have worked hard at creating the Sarah Madison platform. I’ve written a fair number of stories. I’ve won some awards and commendations. I’ve built up a social network. I have the sneaking suspicion that my stories got published in part because the genre I write in is much smaller than romance as a whole, and there was room for one more little fish in it. (I keep waiting for the Authorial Police to show up at my doorstep and demand that I stop calling myself a writer) It’s all I can do to keep the Sarah Madison Fiction plates spinning on their little poles now–do I really want to jump ships?

Up until very recently, I would have said no. Not interested. Not ready. Then, when brainstorming for a story the other night, it occurred to me that there were some very good reasons for making one of the main characters female instead of male. The character as I envisioned him/her is already pretty well-defined in my mind–a brilliant, arrogant genius with not very good social skills, yet with a vulnerable side that is aware of not being the popular kid on the block and deciding that being smart and right trumps being well-liked.

I find it interesting that character traits we tolerate and find endearing in men (think Sherlock Holmes or Tony Stark) we’d very likely bash and malign in a woman. She’s a bitch, she’s mean, she’s rude, and the worst: “She’s stuck on herself.”

And yet, I’m tempted, so very tempted. Because I think in many ways, this character would be awesome.

But it would be a big departure for me...

But it would be a big departure for me…

 

You’re probably asking yourself, what the heck is there for me to be scared about? This should be easier, right? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I bet there are some of you reading right now who wouldn’t think twice about adopting another persona and cranking out another set of stories in a totally different field. Maybe you already write erotica and YA fiction. Maybe you write non-fiction and romance stories. You have three pen names, complete with websites, Facebook accounts, and tweet like mad.You’ve got different personas for each, and you can effortless keep them straight in your mind.

Writing a heroine that I can admire isn’t the biggest part of my concern though–it is starting from scratch as a ‘new’ author in a genre where I have no contacts and in a field that is already enormous. Am I diluting my readership by expanding ships or increasing it by widening the playing field? I see that Nora Roberts maintains a link for her J.D. Robb books on her website. Interestingly enough, the J.D. Robb website does not obviously link back to Nora Roberts. So with that in mind, you know what this means: a poll! Or even more than one!

Can a romance writer successfully write in multiple genres?

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If I write in a different genre, do I need a different pen name and persona?

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Will readers of one genre be seriously weirded out by the other?

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If I decide to go M/F, what route should I take?

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I am very much interested in input from both readers and writers here. If you’d rather email me privately, you can contact me at akasarahmadison at gmail dot com. I’m interested in your experiences. Are you a reader that will read any romance, or do you prefer a specific genre? If you’re a writer, what kinds of experiences have you had, good or bad, by writing in divergent fields? Inquiring minds want to know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why M/M Romance?

I came across this thought-provoking commentary on jessewave last night regarding tropes in M/M romances and whether the genre was aimed at women or men.  I immediately sat down and wrote a long response to it–only the site ate my response and I hadn’t saved it.

You know that moment where your hand hovers over the ‘send’ button and you waffle about hitting it, which is when your brain tells you ‘if there’s any doubt, don’t do it!’ and you hit send anyway?

Yeah, I had one of those moments.

Fortunately, the site ate it, and it gave me an out. I could either sit on my hands altogether and go back to working the the WIP (which, though moving at a glacial pace, IS moving), or I could re-draft and repost my response here.

I know what the social media gurus would say: Are you nuts? Don’t make waves! Keep your online presence smiling and cheerful. Don’t do anything to offend your potential readership!

Yeah, I’m so good at that!  *eyes political ranting and frothing-at-the-mouth rage of the past year or so and has grace to look embarrassed*

I have to admit, I had a hard time even knowing how to title this post. I started out calling it “Why Women Read and Write M/M Romance” but the truth is, I can only speak for me.  It’s not like I haven’t written about the subject before. I’m not sure why I’m tentative now. Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of how controversial this subject can be now.  I dunno.

The jessewave post opens with the author describing a romantic interaction between him and his husband in the purple prose terms of many a common M/M novel. It was funny, it was ludicrous, and by the end of his demonstration, I could see where it could be called demeaning and insulting, as well.  And yet my first thought when I read this was, Yeah, so? Show me a typical romance novel that doesn’t simplify and stereotype the main characters.

Mind you, I’m not defending it because everyone else is doing the same. I think that this is part of the problem with the genre, not specifically M/M romance, but ROMANCE in general. I also think new writers learn by copying others–and it takes logging in many hours at the keyboard before you develop a strong enough style and sense of identity to step away from repeating patterns seen in other stories. Remember too, most of us write because we want to tell the kinds of stories we love to read–so breaking free from the herd can be tough at first.

As I read the article, the general gist of the complaint seemed to run along the lines of feminizing male characters in order to fulfill a traditional male/female relationship–and that the reason for doing this seems to be to sell more books in the M/M genre, which admittedly is one of the hottest subgenres at the moment.  I gotta tell you, though, one of the reasons I write M/M romance is because the main characters *aren’t* women. “Chicks with dicks” is the last thing I want to create. Also? I write because I love it. I write because it’s a compulsion (cheaper than therapy!), and it is harder to create in a vacuum, hence the attempt to market what I create in the hopes that someone else will like it too. I’m not going to Paris on the proceeds!

How do I best explain why I write M/M romance and not M/F? Maybe it is because every time we create a bad-ass awesome heroine in fiction, we find ourselves creating all these qualifiers to go along with her. If she is too tough and aggressive, then she’s a mean bitch. If she likes baking or knitting, then she’s a piss-poor throwback to the 1950s. I’ve been accused of being misogynistic simply because I didn’t like a female character and thought her ill-suited for her role in the story. When we create that bad-ass heroine, she either stands out as an exception to the rule, or else she is the clone of the last bad-ass heroine we’ve read about. We as writers just can’t win.

Now, that may sound like a weenie reason for abandoning my sex and running off to play with male characters, but it is more than that. When I was growing up, the men got all the good parts. Kirk got to go down to the planet and save the day, while Uhura sat on the bridge and announced that the hailing frequencies are open, Captain. Do I disparage the Uhura of the day? No! We needed her! We needed to see Nichelle Nichols on the bridge, depicting a black woman in some other role than a maid. Do I love the direction the remake made with Uhura? You damn betcha! I love her competence and her desire to reach out and get what she wants–what she deserves. But there was a forty year gap between those two incarnations, and it would have been impossible for us to bridge that gap without each new, slightly revised female role model along the way.  I keep insisting that one day I will write a female main protagonist that I won’t want to bitch-slap twenty pages into the story, but it hasn’t happened yet. Why? Because at this point in time, her story doesn’t grab me.

With the exception of such standout television shows as The Closer, it is often difficult to find an outstanding portrayal of a strong female character that is in some way not a caricature as well. One of the reasons The Closer worked for me was (unbelievably talented writing and production aside), that Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson was first and foremost a fully-fleshed out character–who happened to be a woman. I’ve been asked why I’ve never tried my hand at Closer fanfic. Well, damn.  How can you top that? The show provided everything I, as a viewer, could have hoped for. For me, fanfic was unnecessary.

I write M/M romances because these are the characters I most identify with and want to know more about. I identify with the marginalization and inequalities that members of the GLBT community feel, even though, as a straight, white women in the US, I have a lot less to complain about than any member of this community. I still ‘get’ being the outsider, though. The ‘outsider’ experience doesn’t usually take center stage in my stories–I’m writing romance, not gay fiction.  But it does color the actions of my characters even as it affects most of my interactions today. Bottom line, these are the characters that interest me, whose stories I want to tell.

One of my favorite authors, the creator of some kick-ass top-notch heroines, is male. He writes tech-heavy sci-fi space opera, and I love his work with a passion. Do I question his ability to write a believable heroine taking a lover for the first time at the age of 45? No, not really. I suspect it’s because his story is not fundamentally about the relationship–the relationship is but a small piece in the background of a much larger story.

Perhaps this is why the question of women writing M/M romances keeps getting raised. The fault lies in the fact that the entire story is built around the relationship, and that getting the characters together is the whole reason we’re here. As such, there is definitely a sense that we as women are inserting too much of what turns *us* on into our stories, rather than completely immersing ourselves in a man’s mentality. Or maybe I’m wrong in that impression. I can’t help but feel that if we were writing about hobbits, elves, dragons, serial killers or murderers, there would be less talk of how women can’t possibly write about something they are not.

At the same time, we need reminders of when tropes become outdated or offensive. We need reminders that what may be hot for our female readership might even be demeaning to the men we are trying to portray. We need someone to poke fun at purple prose and take us to task for falling into the trap of repeating everything we’ve read before us. Gotta tell you, I don’t see the old rape-turned-love trope as much anymore, and man, am I thankful for that! Talk about a trope to make me grind my teeth! I’m grateful for women writers, such as J. P. Barnaby, who will ask her male friends how often they really jack off in the shower, instead of mindlessly repeating what is admittedly a damn fine visual trope. So I salute Stuart, the author of the jessewave piece, for turning a spotlight on the subject.

A while back, I misread a prompt for a story, got 60 K into it, and realized I didn’t have a market for what I’d written. No problem, I decided. I’d already published with Dreamspinner Press at that time–I’d simply change the female leads into men and send it in.

There was no ‘simple’ to it. No mere matter of doing a find and replace on names and pronouns. I had to re-write every single line. Because men move differently, act differently, speak differently. Hell, they even think differently. It was a fascinating and eye-opening experience, and I’m glad that I did it. Not only that, but the story became ten times stronger for the revision. It turned into Crying for the Moon, and I can no longer imagine it in its original form.

I just wanted to state for the record that while we need gentle reminders, and it is up to us as writers to keep improving our information, I don’t want to feel as though I’m being deliberately exploitative. I just write what I love.

While I’m here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Dreamspinner Press is celebrating getting over 10 K likes on their Facebook Fan Page by offering free stories, revolving discounts, and all kinds of giveaways! Do check them out (one of those free stories is a little ‘first kiss’ story of mine!)

The Devil is in the Details

 

I love researching background material for a story. I know some people view it as a necessary evil; still others handwave around it and hope no one will call them out on their lack of factual details. I’m one of those people who really gets into a subject, wanting to know more about it, taking the research well beyond what is necessary to the story.
But there’s a fine line to walk between learning enough about the Battle of Britain in order to lend authenticity to a particular story and getting lost for hours on Wikipedia. And sometimes the obsession with getting the facts exactly right can get in the way of the story telling itself.

I’ve seen writers never progress off the second page of their story because they spent the last four hours trying to fact-check a minor bit of background detail—something not essential to the story at all, but because it was so important to the writer to get the facts straight, they never finished the story. I have to say, if you can’t find the information quickly and easily, it’s time to ask yourself just how important is it that you verify this fact in the first place? If you can’t find the answer, will the answer matter to anyone else?

I’ve also seen writers suck the life out of their own stories with a pedantic need for verisimilitude. There is such a thing as artistic license, and as long as we don’t use that as an excuse for shoddy research and bending the facts to fit our story needs, sometimes it’s better to go with convention than the actual truth. Take for example, the “murder board” as it is depicted in the average cop drama. I have it on good authority (a former homicide detective, teaching a writing course on murder stories) that the murder board—that white dry erase board where the detectives post pictures of the victims and suspects, draw time lines, and write up important facts—doesn’t exist.

Yep, you heard me. Doesn’t exist. At least, not in the form that we know it.

There are murder books, a case file where all the pertinent information concerning the crime is kept for working access, including crime scene photos, autopsy reports, and witness statements. No doubt with the ability to scan important documents and the push for more and more organizations to go paperless, the murder book will eventually be replaced by other means of record keeping. But that ubiquitous white board that makes its appearance in almost every episode of your favorite weekly police procedural television show is a fabrication.

Why use it then? Because it allows the show’s writers to share important information with the audience in a manner that isn’t information dumping. It puts names to faces and posts them in front of us. It provides a framework around which characters can ask each other questions—again, for the audience’s benefit, sometimes even having a eureka moment when they piece together the final bits of the puzzle. Not to mention creating a focus for dramatic shots of the lead actor staring morosely at the board in a half-lit room, cradling a cup of coffee.

So should we as writers, knowing that this is a convention for story-telling through television and movies, eliminate the murder board? There is one very compelling argument for continuing to use them in our stories. They are used so widely on television and in the movies that the audience expects them. To not use them feels like you haven’t done your homework. That you didn’t research your topic thoroughly enough. Ironic, isn’t it?

Because I love research, if I’m not careful, I’ll spend weeks reading and watching videos in order to get the right background for the story I want to write. If I’m not on a deadline, well, no big deal, I can wallow in my background details to my heart’s content. But I have to watch out and make sure I don’t use ‘research’ as an excuse to avoid the harder task of writing. So I’ve developed some personal guidelines which you may find useful.

1. Resist stopping every five minutes to look something up on Google. If you’re working on a first draft and you know you need to fact-check something, mark it with an asterisk and come back to it. If it is a minor background detail like what sort of weapon your hero would carry or what year penicillin came into widespread use, you don’t need to let it interrupt the flow of your writing. I know, I know! You think it will only take you a second to look it up, but seconds can turn into an incredible time sink when you are in first draft mode and your brain eagerly latches on to any reason not to finish that paragraph you’ve been working on. Focus on the story first and research second. You can do it! Resistance is not futile.

2. Determine how important the background research is to the story and allot the correct amount of time to it. If you are writing a WW2 story that takes place 24 hours before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, you’d best have all your facts straight. Getting that wrong, either with anachronisms, or factual errors, or simply not having good feel for the mindset of the average person of the time—all these things will be woefully obvious if you don’t research the material thoroughly. A good rule of thumb: the more important the background is to the story, the more time you should spend on it. Your character dreams that he’s a rodeo clown and wakes up because a bull slams into his barrel? Yeah, you can probably get everything you need to know through a quick search on Google. You’re writing a story in which the main character suffers a spinal cord injury that completely changes his life? You’d better know what you’re talking about. You’ve chosen a condition that will affect every single aspect of your character’s life now. If you aren’t intimately familiar with your subject, it will show.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The more realistic your setting, the more factual you should be, but if you’ve built a world where magic and the mundane co-exist, you probably don’t have to spend hours determining if your character can or cannot have access to aspirin unless the whole story hinges on this fact. And even then, there’s a place for some handwaving in such a world because you’ve already bent the laws of science and nature by having magic be possible.

4. You’re there to write first and foremost. When you get big and famous, maybe you can pay someone to fact check for you, but for now, you’re doing everything yourself. If you spend too much time on the non-essentials, you’re wasting valuable writing time. Mark it, come back to it in the editing phase. And remember, most people aren’t going to care what kind of shoes your character is wearing unless your story is set in a time before shoes were invented.

Bottom line: do your homework, but be smart about it. It is secondary to the story, not the story itself.

My latest story, Lightning in a Bottle, is part of the Olympic-themed M/M anthology from MLR Press, Going for Gold. I wrote about my own sport, eventing, which meant short of a few facts to check, I didn’t have to do a ton of research. Now I’m looking at writing a sequel, which means I have to learn a whole lot more about competing at the Olympic level—something I will never do myself. Which means, gosh darn, I have to do some additional research. I’ve already bought the eventing DVDs from the Games, and a book on training for the sport from my favorite eventing coach, and…

What’s the subject that you enjoyed researching the most and how did you end up using that information? Inquiring minds want to know!