Why Peggy Carter resonates with so many women today

Value2Anyone who knows me even slightly knows I am a HUGE fan of Peggy Carter. Captain America: The First Avenger is one of my favorite movies, in part because I adored Peggy Carter in it. (I also might have a thing for the time period, seeing as I wrote The Boys of Summer 🙂 ) I’ve written about why I think Steve Rogers is the kind of hero we need, and I’ve written a little about my adventures in cosplaying Carter. I’m obsessed in the way only a fangirl can be. If you search this website for references to Peggy Carter, you’ll see what I mean.

Ever since Captain America:TFA came out, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing what would happen to characters like these after the war. After their brilliant, adrenaline-driven careers were no longer necessary, and they had to meld into suburban America. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a series under the pen name Madison Dean, a kind of X-Files meets Ward and June Cleaver. I thought it would be fun, and I was enjoying the research for it. Then Agent Carter came out, and I realized that I’m going to have to change much of how I envisioned my original characters in order to prevent it from feeling derivative.

Besame 1940 PerfumeYou know what? I don’t care. Because I enjoyed Agent Carter as a television show so much, it doesn’t bother me that it might have shot down my brilliant idea for a romantic adventure series. I enjoyed it so much, it even knocked Queen Elsa off the throne for my current fangirl obsession. (Lord knows, I’ve posted a lot about Frozen, too! You should do a site search on that one if you want to read them all…)

Yesterday, I got a text from a friend off at Emerald City Comic Con, saying she had a surprise for me. Now, I’ve been running on fumes this last week, dealing with an injured horse needing round-the-clock treatment in an effort to save his eye. So when I got her text, it piqued my curiosity but I’d forgotten where she’d gone this weekend. Then she sent me a photo of my surprise: an autograph from Hayley Atwell! Those high-pitched dolphin squeals of glee you heard around the world yesterday? Yeah, that was me.

I showed the image to the BF last night at dinner, and he said he’d been looking for some sort of Agent Carter-related thing to get me ever since the series came out, but he’d had trouble finding anything he liked. Which gave me the warm fuzzies, you know? We watched Agent Carter together each week when it was on–it was our one Must See Live television show, and I believe he looked forward to it almost as much as me (given the amount of teasing I got, I’m sure of it!). The fact that he’s been looking for something Carter-related as a gift shows he *gets* me.

Besame Red VelvetWhich got me thinking this morning, why Peggy Carter? Why not Black Widow, or Wonder Woman, or Kate Beckett, or Brenda Leigh Johnson, or any of a number of excellent female characters over the years? What is it about Peggy that strikes such a chord? Why did Twitter explode with live tweeting during Agent Carter? It’s not just because Hayley Atwell is adorable (have you seen the pictures she posts of her sleeping almost anywhere on almost anything? The one of her in the suitcase is my favorite) but because Peggy Carter herself really struck a cord with a lot of viewers.

For a heroine, she’s super-feminine in a way that is disarming. She’s not in a catsuit. She doesn’t look like she could break your nose with her elbow, despite the fact she can. She is under-appreciated at work, and her male superiors dismiss her abilities while at the same time take advantage of them. I love the fact that she anticipates the mission’s needs and has the information ready to provide before her bosses can even ask for it. I confess, I was disconcerted by the scene where she takes a male co-worker to task for standing up for her–I thought she should have rewarded him for being progressive, after all! But I realized that she dressed him down for intervening because no one should have to intervene on her behalf. To have a man back her in that scenario meant that her presence and usefulness was only allowed if validated by a male co-worker. It was an interesting distinction to make, and one far more subtle than the average comic-book show.

Cinnamon Sweet resizedBut she can ditch the feminine look to get dirty in the trenches. She can knock back Scotch with the best of her male companions, the ones who know her true value and don’t question what she brings to the team. Her hand shakes when she diffuses a bomb. She’s known heartbreak, and personal loss. She’s made mistakes, ones that have gotten people killed, and she’s suffered the guilt, as well as the consequences of her actions. She eats out at restaurants a lot, because seriously, when does she have time to cook? She curses when she hits her head. She is tempted by the luxury of staying a night in Howard Stark’s townhouse, so far removed from a life sharing flats with other women. She is wonderfully realized as a character. She is human. And she is a damn sight closer to most of us than the average role model we see on screen.

One of the best moments in the series is depicted on the mug above: Peggy states clearly that she doesn’t need outside validation to know her worth. She doesn’t expect it. She’s learned to live without it. She’s learned that the only person she mustn’t disappoint is herself. Praise from others is nice, but she doesn’t need it to know she’s done her best.

Forites shoes 1That is a wonderful, amazing, empowering mindset. Seriously, it is everything we could ever hope for in a role model. No, we’re not going to be able to take out bad guys with a mean right hook, but we can look smashing while we go about our business, do our jobs to the very best of our abilities, and we can hold our heads–and our standards–high when the rest of the world would put us down. Without whining.

I sincerely hope Marvel and ABC decide to renew the series for another season. It was by far the best thing I’ve seen on television in years. We need more female characters like this in television, movies, and books. And she’s inspired me to create some of my own.

A friend, knowing my obsession, linked me to this wonderful, amazing essay on Agent Carter and the power of friendship. Do check it out. You won’t be sorry. 🙂

 

Did Remington Steele do us a disservice? The bias against women

Smith CoronaI was a huge Remington Steele fan back in the day. It was the one show I had to watch each week.

I loved the premise: a woman trying to make it as a private detective figures out that she’ll be more successful if she creates an imaginary boss–a decidedly masculine boss. She cobbles the name together out of things in her office and Remington Steele is born. In many ways, it’s a sheer stroke of genius. Young, pretty, and female, Laura Holt probably didn’t inspire confidence in the sort of people who needed an private investigator. By creating an imaginary boss, she could present herself as his representative, could defer unpleasant decisions until she could speak with the boss; she could even make the boss the bad guy if the situation warranted it. It was a great plan, right until the time a con artist walks into her life and takes Steele’s identity. Laura is in the uncomfortable situation of not being able to out him without outing herself as well–and the con man needs a place to cool his heels. As premises for romantic dramedies go, this one was more clever than most.

I wanted to be Laura Holt. I admired her gumption, her classic sense of style. I wanted her shoes. I had a crush on Remington Steele. I loved Brosnan’s accent, I loved the banter between the characters. In fact, I think it was this show that made me fall in love with banter. It was like watching Nick and Nora from The Thin Man movies, which was appropriate, given Steele’s ability to find similarities in each case to old movies that he loved to watch.

I enjoyed the show so much that I was delighted to run across it recently on DVD. But watching it again proved to be a big mistake. With hindsight, I remembered that Brosnan wanted out of his contract to play Bond (though really, he was far too young at the time–his is the attractiveness that gets better with age) and was upset when they wouldn’t let him go. Despite being good actors, this situation strained the working relationship between Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan, and it clearly shows in their romantic scenes together, at least to my more mature eyes. The banter feels more like bicker, and the plots, meant to reflect some of the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s, seem dated and cheesy now.

And then there’s the premise itself. Laura Holt can’t be taken seriously in a man’s profession without pretending to have a male boss. Despite having trained and apprenticed for her career (as she said in the opening narrative each week), it was usually Steele who solved the case, by recalling an old movie with a similar set up. So not only does Steele move in lock, stock and barrel into the identity she created, he’s better at solving crimes than she is, too.

handwriting_flickrI’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of thing lately. Recently I came across a NYT post by Fay Weldon, titled “Writer of a Certain Age.” She spoke of her long experience in television and the theater, as well as that of a writer. It was an extremely well-written and eye-opening essay.

It was also bloody depressing. In it, Weldon spoke of truisms in the various entertainment industries in which she’s worked–and in nearly all cases, the only time a women was considered important and worth listening to–be it in television, theater, or novels–is when she is young, pretty, and the love interest for a male lead.

Worse, Weldon seems to imply in her post that if you are so unfortunate as to be ‘a writer of a certain age’ and female, that you should really take advantage of the internet to lie to your fans and create a false persona like Remington Steele. Take a gender neutral pen name. Or if you acknowledge that you are, in fact, a woman, take this opportunity to pretend to be younger, thinner, prettier than you really are. Ouch.

ink pen_wikipedia_orgDiscussion of this post among my friends lead to whether or not bias still existed against women writers in this day and age. I found a blog post titled Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants, which seemed to parallel Laura Holt’s dilemma: she couldn’t be taken seriously as a woman. It wasn’t until she took the pen name James Chartrand that her freelance writing business took off–and she was able to pay off her mortgage. The discussion among my friends turned inevitably to gender neutral pen names. In the thriller/mystery genre, a gender neutral pen name is almost mandatory–just look at J.D. Robb versus Nora Roberts. I argued that this was more about branding, about allowing your audience to know by your pen name what kind of story to expect. However, J. K. Rowling was born because her publisher thought a female name wouldn’t appeal to the primary audience for the Harry Potter series: adolescent boys.

The Boys of Summer400x600Then there is my own genre. I write primarily M/M romances. At the time I sold my first story and was selecting a pen name, there was a big brouhaha about an author who’d been discovered to be female instead of male. The anger readers felt, presumably for being deceived, was so great that I deliberately chose a feminine pen name because I didn’t want there to be any ambiguity about my gender.

Frequently, the question of whether or not women should even be writing books about gay men and their sexual adventures is raised within the genre. Time and again, the same arguments come back: Tolkien never met a hobbit. Mystery writers usually aren’t murders themselves. Rowling never went to Hogwarts (I KNOW. Say it isn’t so!!) and to my knowledge, all science fiction is just that. Fiction. And yet I never seem to hear a single person take a male author to task for creating a female protagonist. This particular complaint about women writers seems to get raised every few months among my various lists and groups, too.

You will hear people say as long as the story is written well, they don’t give a hoot about the gender of the author, and since I feel that way myself, I believe people when they say this. But I have to wonder, especially in light of Weldon’s post. Of her encouragement to be anything other than what I actually am. Believe me, that post made me wonder if I’d made a serious mistake by going with a feminine pen name, and whether I should delete all my previous posts on aging and sexuality. Whether I should be someone other than who I really am. Because writing isn’t just a little hobby for me. I need it to help pay the bills.

I pretty much thought these arguments were limited to my genre (with the possible exception of the mystery genre as well). Lord knows, romance writers in general are considered the lowest of the low when it comes to ‘real’ writing. Turns out sci-fi and mystery writers also come pretty low on the ‘respect’ list, compared to the literary giants of the fiction world, which is sad because on any given day I’ll take a good mystery or sci-fi story over any self-indulgent, introspective Grand Literature novel. But I digress.

One of my friends pointed out this article to me on Literary Sexism: Still Pervasive and Real. It bears reading. While the beginning is about a critical review and the author’s response to it (which may not make a ton of sense if you aren’t familiar with Mary Gaitskill‘s essays and fiction), read it all the way through. There are some links to some searing examples of ongoing bias toward women. It’s enlightening as well as disheartening. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the pie chart graphs of the number of books reviewed by male versus female authors.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image11166602I can’t change who Sarah Madison is now unless I want to start all over again building a platform and readership from scratch, but I can certainly give more thought to creating my new persona for my projected traditional romances. Ironically, Sarah Madison would be a good fit for that genre, better perhaps, that for writing about hot men in hot water. The jury is still out as to whether or not I will actually take another pen name to write traditional M/F romances. The polling has run about 50/50 either way. I myself think, like Nora Roberts, it will be easier for those readers who don’t care for gay romances to find what they like to read if I keep the names separate.

This is certainly not meant to be a ‘wah-wah, woe is me, I’m a woman and the world is out to get me’ post either. It’s just that it seems to me that we should have come farther than Remington Steele by now. I’d like to point to one of my favorite television heroines, Kate Beckett from Castle and say we have come a long way, baby. But then I recall how much Stana Katic’s appearance has changed over the six seasons of Castle and how little she resembles a NYPD homicide detective anymore and how much she looks like a fashion model instead. And Castle usually solves the crime, too.

So it is tempting here to say that Remington Steele was a bad, wrong message to send to impressionable young women. But that would be wrong. I recall not all that long ago getting very angry over some young person’s lambasting of Star Trek: The Original Series on Twitter–commenting on how sexist, nationalist, racist, etc the show was. I tried to point out that for its time, it was groundbreaking stuff. That yes, the women wore mini-skirts and go-go boots, but it was the first show that depicted a black woman in a role other than that of a maid or a cook. That it tackled big issues. That it envisioned a future in which we’d solved so many of our problems by working together instead of trying to kill each other. The Twitter Hater wouldn’t listen and I had to drop her from my feed. She couldn’t understand that it took those very baby steps taken in Star Trek to bring us forward to the kinds of diversity and equality we see in roles for characters today.

I have to give that same kind of credit to Remington Steele. It was groundbreaking in its way as well, giving us a strong unmarried female heroine who had an interesting career and did exciting things. Laura Holt was smart and independent and I wanted to be her. She was one of the first characters I can recall to influence me that way. That’s exactly the sort of baby step that was needed back then. Today we have Kate Beckett, and Brenda Leigh Johnson (The Closer), and Rizzoli and Isles, and Captain Sharon Raydor (Major Crimes), and Peggy Carter (Captain America) and I could go on. It’s getting better. We’re seeing better roles for women, more older women in good roles. But the numbers are still pretty small compared to the good parts for men.

The fact that men got all the best parts and best lines was one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to male characters my entire life. I very much want to try my hand at writing a female character I can like and respect. The thought terrifies me, to be honest, which is why I haven’t seriously attempted it so far. But I will. Some day I will. And I have Laura Holt to thank for it.

 

 

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!)

2nd Annual International Walk Like Beckett Day!

Fandom is a funny place. I had to share this with you because, though I am a fan of ABC’s Castle, I’m not *in* the Castle fandom, as in, I don’t hang out in the fandom communities, or write fanfic for the show. I have nothing against either activity–I write fanfic myself for some other shows, but Castle isn’t one of them. Probably because I don’t think I could do justice to the complexities of the cases, or the banter between the leads.

Tonight is the season premiere of Castle, which I am looking forward to. Mondays are usually tough days at work–you get all the emergencies and critical cases that have been ill all weekend and now are truly a problem.  Mondays are usually little snapshots of heartbreak all day long.

I look forward to Castle because I enjoy the chemistry between the two stars, Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. I love the witty, snappy dialog, I enjoy the crime solving. It’s become a Monday night ritual with my BF– I look forward to it all day, especially when work is wearing me down.

That’s the beauty of fandom–the reason why I value it so much. Fandom provides such pleasure over such little things. There’s the community of like-minded fans, the excited anticipation of new episodes, the fun of finding a great picture or gif to share, the creativity of the fanfic writers, the vidders, the artists.

One of the fun things I ran across is International Walk Like Beckett Day. The idea is simple: on IWLBD, you pull out your power shoes, that little leather jacket, the colorful scarf–whatever it is that makes you feel like Kate Beckett when you put it on. You walk with confidence. You expect respect and you receive it. Watch as doors open for you, as people smile at you.

Note: this is not LOOK like Beckett day. Most of us haven’t a hope of looking as gorgeous as Stana Katic, but we can ‘act as if’. And I have to tell you, the results have been astonishing every time I do.

The first time I “Walked Like Beckett”, I stopped by my bank on a whim and successfully refinanced my house.  I went in with confidence and assurance, and things were going so well, I also asked for the equity loan I was sure I wouldn’t receive.

I got it.

The second time I “Walked like Beckett”, I impulsively made a suggestion to a business that we combine our services–and things have ended up working out better than my wildest expectations. If I hadn’t been playing WLB in my head, I doubt I would have had the nerve to make the suggestion in the first place.

I also love The Closer. I love well-written shows with strong female leads–you have to admit, they are few and far between. And while I wouldn’t want to run my personal life the way Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson does, I admire competence in the work place. Whenever I need some gumption, one of my friends tells me to get my Brenda Leigh on.

It makes me laugh every time, but it also makes me square my shoulders, raise my eyebrow, and refuse to back down from what I need or want (even as I toss in lots of ‘thank yews,’ along the way).

I know people who get inspiration from favorite characters to improve their fitness, to deal with a tough home life, to stand up to a not very nice boss. I look to my favorite characters for all of these things and more–including swallowing my anger at times and acting with grace when I’d rather blow a gasket (Thank you, Captain Steve Rogers!). This past weekend, it allowed me to calmly relocate a copperhead out of the campground where we were staying when everyone else was on the edge of panic. I should point out that the relocation process included trapping the snake in a trash can and toting it across an icy river (that proved to be deeper than expected!) to release it on the other side—so yeah, pretty kick-ass when I think about it!  It had to be done though–the snake was right in the middle of the campground, and less than 20 feet away from where the dogs were staying.

So, who are your heroes? Your favorite characters? Does putting on a certain outfit empower you with the class and nerve of Peggy Carter (Captain America)? Do you work out thinking about that boxing scene in The Avengers?  Prepare for a presentation like Tony Stark? Walk in the door like you know what you’re doing and you’re the best one to do it? With calm, cool logic like Spock?

Who do you walk like?  What do you do to give you that little boost to emulate your hero? Share your stories–I really want to know!