Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Writer and the Story

It's always crazy when you meet an author you have absolutely loved, and you find that their personality is so different from their writing.  I think, because it is inevitable that large bits of us wind up in our writing, we expect, see or think it's similar for others.

And it is, I think.  But readers are wired to spot the familiar, relate-able things in the books they read.  That doesn't mean that they have the same attitudes towards these things, or that they share their perspective with the writer.  Often, this isn't the case.

So we end up thinking one thing, and often learning that the writer's perspective of the story is completely different.

This isn't a bad a thing, but I think it's important to keep in mind while writing.  That is, a book should have room for interpretation in a way that permits the various perspectives of a reader to inform the plot.  This isn't an attempt to advocate vague writing, but to allow the interpretation of a character's tone to be on the reader.

In my opinion, this is why "he said," "she said" is still the best taglines after dialog. If the words the character is using are "right" the different readers might read in different motive and intent, but as long as  the selection of them lead the reader in the right direction about the relationship between the characters having the doesn't hurt your story for your readers (or critiquers) to not see the interactions precisely the same as  you.

This is a more recent "realization" of mine.  I used to want to court specific ideas of my characters, world, plot.  I have such defined ideas of all these things!  If people saw them differently, then I assumed that I had not done  a good enough job relating my ideas.

But no two people have the same life experiences, and while we might come from backgrounds that instill particular values, and cultural perspectives, our engagement with each other is often hindered by radically different interpretations of events, words, and ideas.  If that is part of our daily human interaction, it makes sense for us to expect the same with writing and reading.

Viewing things this way, it becomes less about courting a very specific attitude toward characters and plot as it becomes about a sort of family of reactions.  The writer courts a general attitude, and allows for room of related responses, leading the reader toward the end that the writer anticipates, but not perhaps in the method the writer intended.

I think we should do our utmost to convey specific ideas regarding characters, setting, etc, but allow for readers' varied response.  If you try to sell a very specific idea of these things, it is easy to spend years pursuing an impossible perfection.

Perfection is an idea that I am abandoning and these are my thoughts on that process, questioning the attitudes that, I think, have been holding me  back and keeping me revising and rewriting for far too long...

What realizations, rationals, or understandings have you come to to help you be pleased with a completed draft?  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should you Write With a Cause?

Since I spent the week looking at SFF relevant to its place in a feminist sort of history, I felt it was fair to clarify this point:

Should you write with a cause?


I think addressing social issues directly is more a part of literary fiction than genre fiction.  I think genre fiction has a history of playing with ideas, but I don't think it has a place in main plot because I don't believe that authors should be preachy.  That said, I think we all have our own sense of how things work, and I think that there is no way that an author can keep his/her perspective out of their stories and characters.

I don't think we should purge political discussions from books just because it isn't appropriate, or it upsets some.  It's easier to take some of these concepts through fiction, where feeling a connection to the characters drives the readers ability to consider some of the issues of the world. Readers though, I believe, do distinguish between the issues in a fantasy world and the real world. I knew a girl once who's favorite character in a novel was gay, but in real life was a staunch opponent to gay marriage, which led me to think that people maintain this separation.

But that doesn't mean that causes should be anywhere close to the driving aspects of plot or character.

Characters should drive the stories, and any issues they faces should be same as we face in our world: directly relevant and impacting to relationships and decision making.  But the character is what it's all about.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are strong Women Realistic?

Before I left a writer's group I'd participated in for quite some time, this question came up.

I was honestly horrified that a group of girls wanted to even ask this question.  It really made me wonder at the role models we have given girls.

But since I've been writing about the portrayal of women in the genre I feel the need to look into this question in more depth.

First, I established in yesterday's post that I believe strength comes from the ability to command authority, to win against some foe--internal, external, perceived--and to stand up for one's self in the face of adversity, or to undergo great trials without sacrifice of one's self, morality or ability to act on one's own mind.
I think there are plenty of examples of honest-to-goodness strong women in history.  I think there are plenty of career women who fit this description, an hundreds of moms.

To ask if a strong woman is realistic, to me, is tantamount to asking if a woman can know her own mind and act on her own decisions. I think most women can.  Pe4rhaps I'm idealistic, and I always want to see that others are capable, rather than not.

That said, I believe a woman is as capable of standing up for her convictions and acting on her own sense of moral obligation.

What does that mean for literature?

It means that we have woman who will take up arms to fight oppressors, women who will go on vengeance quests, female villains  who will seek power above all, as their moral compass might not match on to everyone else in the story.  But that does not make our bad girls weak, just villains.

But as the battles our heroes fight result from wrongs and injustices perpetuated through a chain of cause and affect stemming from interactions among our characters and their environment, we tend to back our heroes--male or female--into a corner where violence becomes the only option. They slay their demons quite literally.

I don't see this element of the literature to be a problem. To me, if women in  the books I read, or would give to a little girl, handle their problems forceful it means that they can...well...handle themselves.  That it doesn't matter what is tossed their way, difficult as it may be, they'll find their way through it.

The torture we give our characters stresses that even if the reader can have faith that the hero will survive, the  hero might not see it the same way. That internal conflict makes our characters real, but not weak.  It presents strong female characters to girls or women in a relate-able fashion.  Life isn't easy.  Not in the real world, so it shouldn't be in fantasy either.

In fact, in some ways it should be worse.  So strength needs to often take a physical form, whether or not our girl/women main characters sought to make it so.

Does Queen need to raise a blade or magic?  Not necessarily, but she has to make many hard decisions, send men--and perhaps even women--to fight on her behalf.  Her moral center is at risk of being compromised at every turn, and she is capable of becoming a very gray character.  Someone who has to allow ideals go, for a greater cause.  But the conflict, and the decision making, and not giving up--this is what makes our characters more compelling.

That is why we want strength.  As a reader, I have always felt that when I read about strong women, I found them inspiring.  I have always sought to be just as capable, to be just as persevering, and just as dedicated to the path I picked for myself.  I have done my best to work passed and through obstacles, to wait out the hardship, unflinchingly.

Strong women are a reality.  We have plenty of women real-life role models to show daughters, why not compliment them with some fictional ones too?


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Violence, Strength, and Women

I loved women's literature courses in college.  One of the most interesting things discussed in Intro to women's Lit was the classically depicted strong women.

Classically, strong women were those who endured.  City of Women, a text by a Cristine de Pizan was full of early "strong women," and then you could look at the more recent Jane Eyre. While some women in City of Women were fighters, it wasn't often.  Jane Eyre wasn't violent, but sheesh did she endure some terrible luck!

Women who endured were oppressed.  They mostly accepted their station and found their identity inside what was socially acceptable. These often were career roles limited to things associated with a maternal instinct: teaching, perhaps healing, etc.

Looking at the medieval construct of the interdependent woman, the woman had to be devoutly religious and sexually unavailable (nun, anchoress).  Having any sexual identity went against female independence, because sex and marriage were associated.  This association means that there was a power play in the sexual act, coming from the wife being in an objective role, a submissive role, to the husband. The wife was owned, so exploring her own sexuality was to put herself in a position off lesser power aqnd authority.

This power structure was shattered by the pill in the 60's. If pregnancy was dissociated from sex, then sex could be had outside of marriage and a woman need not place herself in a submissive role in order to explore her sexuality.

Clothing that allowed a woman to express her sexuality became affiliated with independence, from mini skirts to halter tops and daisy dukes.

Only, they of course backfired, and we associate these fashions now with the exploitation of women.

Women in SciFi Shows, in order to be depicted as "strong" were increasingly dressed in uniforms (Star Trek, Babylon 5, SG-1, Aaryn Sun in Farscape).   Their outfits, while perhaps sometimes tight about the chest and hips, were honestly unisex.  They were dressed the same as the men.

So what about strength?

If women were increasingly not forced to accept a submissive role, then to be strong they had to do more than merely endure.

What do we tell a little boy on the playground who's being picked on? Give the bully a punch, at least if the same media we are taking issue with in their depiction of women can be trusted to accurately depict the common American parent.  We tell the kid to stand up for themselves.

Some parents tell their kids to use words.  Thanks Mom, love you much, but that didn't work out to well for me in the 4th grade.

Just speaking isn't seen as strong in our culture.  Sass isn't seen as strength, unless it can be followed by action.  That goes for men as well as women.  

So violence, being an action, is associated with strength --across gender. So if you want a woman to be seen as strong, she needs to be associated with action.

Action is not necessarily violence, it can be political maneuvering, social manipulation, or an ability to make hard calls in a career or leadership capacity.

Then, women, like men, can be considered strong for their ability to either maintain or discover a moral compass despite the trials they are forced top undertake thanks to our plot, story line, etc.

We are a competitive society, so in order to demonstrate that a woman is strong, she, like a man, needs to beat her foe.  This can be literal or not.

But, as a competitive culture, we also use violence in a very allegorical way.

Our worst enemy is ourselves.
We fight our demons.
Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.
He beat out his best friend for the medal.

In a literal woman-warrior scenario, the fight is often allegorical.  We use SciFi to explore ourselves, the same way any art is used.  But thanks to the capacity to build full worlds and histories, the issues we take on can be much more complex, ongoing, and subtle, than is the majority of our literary counterparts.

In order to answer the question: Can a woman be strong without being violent?

I would say, yes, but she has to be able to obtain authority, power, and distinction among her community.  Strength and some measure of cut-throat-ness is associated across gender designations.  But we have examples of women who can do more than endure, we have examples of women who can stand up for themselves and rely on their own sense of morality to triumph as heroes (heroines) in movies, fiction and shows.  




Monday, August 20, 2012

Women in Fantasy

Sorry all, I hate to bring up politics, but my inspiration for posts this week comes from two sources: a lively FB topic and ongoing media installments demonstrating a massive misunderstanding of female biology.

Growing up, reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, Andre Norton's Witchworld books, and watching the ever increasing roles of women in TV: Scully, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Kira and Jedzia-Dax on DS9, Xena, Capt. Janeway, Aaryn Sun and Zahn on Farscape...

I felt that women were being given ever stronger and more complex roles.  Characters that were initially sexualized could transcend their beginnings: 7 of 9: Voyager, Six: Battlestar Gallactica, Kate on Castle--character was introduced with sex appeal, but certainly didn't stay there, same for Grace Park's role on Hawaii 50.

But I can name a bunch of non-sexulaized roles women have played in some of these shows, beginning with Laura Roslyn in Battlestar, and Gina Torres' current role as Jessica Pearson on Suits. Meaning that while strong women, I believe, first appeared in many roles in SciFi and Fantasy shows and movies, they have graduated to mainstream shows.

I feel that it started in this genre (more recent movements, because Katherine Hepburn did wonders prior to the modern feminist movement, in mainstream movies), because of what I thought of a s a feminist movement within the genre.  Marion Zimmer Bradley had written about the faults of the genre around the seventies and earlier. Much of this revolved around some of the issues she had wrestled with when starting to publish in the 50's (I believe, but if she published anything earlier, feel free to correct me).  But in the 80's and 90's we saw an onslaught of female characters in the genre.  Especially women warriors.

Mercedes Lackey gained bestseller-dom and keeps plugging on. Say what you will about the quality of her writing, but when she came out with the first few trilogies of the Valdemar series, she was building on the foundation provided by Marion Zimmer Braddley, and grew the Sword and Sorcery sub genre.  While it might be cliche now, it wasn't in the mid-90's.

As a teen in the 90's I loved seeing strong women.  I loved male writers writing strong women, because it meant that the character "type" had grown beyond its activist-inspired beginning, to become not only stories loved by geek girls, but by guys as well.

At the time I took this as a big sign that our attitudes to women were changing. I, as a girl who came into adulthood around the turn of the century, had plenty of positive role models to look up to.

Then came the era of Reality TV, of Twilight, and the battle over women reproductive rights was unleashed again.

Maybe many people will think that things things are unrelated, but to me they are symptoms of the same thing: a degradation of our cultural view of a woman's place. When we think we can legislate morality, there has to be social support if the idea first.  The social support would then be a response to other aspects of our society---

Perhaps it is even a reaction to the trend that I saw in SFF in the 90's.  Trends like that are generally not merely limited to literature.  Rather, art reflects a changing consciousness in our society.  So if the accept roles were changing, it stands to reason that a backlash was due.

The problem then becomes what literature and art will we leave girls, literature that leads them to think for themselves or permit men to legislate on their behalf? Do we teach girls to become their own individuals, or do we stress their need to reinforce patriarchy?

Have women's roles in media backslid?  Are we depicting weaker, more old-fashioned women in  literature, TV and other sources?  Or are we going to continue the trend toward complex female characters?

One of the other questions raised in the FB discussion was can women be strong without being violent?


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Not One of My Better Weeks

This week has been very slow.  I wrote a bit in the novella, made some changes to the two and a half short stories I have floating around, and began the next chapter in the main WIP.  And I've been lurking in the blogosphere :( Sorry--Will leave comments!

I hate these weeks.  No amount of coffee seems able to keep the grogginess at bay.  My focus swings between different projects, different goals, until I am spending more time trying to fit my life into little to do lists and calendars than I am writing down anything of true importance.

So I funnel more energy back into the job search and housework.  The job search depresses me, and housework makes me feel more in control of surroundings.  The balance is supposed to help me keep up with writing as I achieve these other goals.

But, frankly, I have good weeks and worse weeks.

I think part of it is because I need to spend a lot of time...just in my own head.  That makes me feel lazy after awhile.  I need it, for my writing, for my self-confidence, for knowing myself well enough to know what move to make next.  But when I have nothing solid, nothing physical, to demonstrate the progress I'm making internally, I feel like I've been lazy. I may've gotten 4 hours of exercise, pacing while I think, but that's nothing to show for writing, and it eats into the job search...and after awhile I just get tired.

So I forgive myself sleeping in more mornings than not.  I sift through the job sites' email lists.  I take yet another state exam.

I dedicate a day to catching up on housework that, when feeling tired and borderline overwhelmed, I permit to slide.

Then I write. So the writing goes slowly, but it goes.

There are times where I feel my life is either on or off track, and sometimes I'm good for whole months, and sometimes...I'm not.  I haven't completed a rough draft of a novel, or a  bunch of short stories in a number of years.  So I know plugging on will do a lot for my own sense of my capabilities.  Some days I just wish I were faster at it.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What was your Childhood Monster? Blogfest!

Thanks Christine for this exciting blogfest!  Everyone be sure to visit for more entries.

Monsters were definitely present in my childhood, but thanks to Sesame Street, perhaps, they weren't manifestations of my fears.  They were my best friends.

At a young age I developed a family of monsters that I used to understand my world and justify my dislikes. Like orange juice.  With lots of moving around in my preschool years, I didn't set down roots in any single community. I, instead, relied on my imagination.  My mother was so amused she wrote an article about this for American Baby that was published in the late 80's. Right around the time my parents' marriage fell apart, if I recall correctly.  

I had no clear idea what any of my "monsters" looked like.  I was far more afraid of people when I was a kid, but I remember that they felt like unfinished characters when I looked back on the experience after I started writing in late elementary school.

There were three kid monsters, Christmas Monster, Cindy and Todd.  Why I picked those names, I have no idea.  I thought I invented the name "Larry" as a child, and thought it was a girly name and so named my favorite stuffed dinosaur (she's magenta, and somewhere between a brachiosauras and stegosauras), Larry. Yes, I still have her, and I won't give her up for the world. A love of dinosaurs is also another likely source of inspiration for the family of monsters.

While I can't say that I remember what they "looked like," or if I ever gave them faces, I remember the artist's rendering in the article made my tiny self defensive.  That wasn't what they looked like!  I think it was because I thought of the three kids to be my sized rather than adult-sized.  There was nothing in my mind that said that monsters needed to be big and scary.  They just weren't human.  They were different.  But everything and everyone in my world as a child was new and different.  Moving didn't help, and perhaps the fact that I'd rather identify with the world through imaginary monsters--rather than imaginary little girls--meant that I already felt different from my peers, a fact of the constant movement and inability to make long-term friends at a young age, while also not being home with family, was perhaps partially responsible for.  

I was much amused at Monsters Inc when it came out, for obvious reasons.

Until I was 5, I built the family of monsters, up to the grandfather.  I can't say that I ever believed they existed, though.  Because the best recollections I have is recounting stories of the monster family to my little brother.  I think I kept them alive longer than they would've been because I could entertain him.  Just like I revisited and crafted a superhero I'd invented at 2 for my very first Halloween adventure--Superkitty--in the middle of my elementary years, in order to play pretend with 5-7 year-olds at the daycare, after school.

I was afraid of the dark until 11, but I wasn't convinced there was some specific boogeyman out to get me.  I just felt hyper-aware in the dark, and my overactive imagination kept me on edge, creating sounds and sights that weren't there.

With the light on, I was able to tell myself stories that made me content and put me to sleep. That was when my monsters comforted me, rather than scared me.  The dark itself, and not being able to see, to know, to understand--that was the scariest thing of all.

But as long as I could create something that stood between me and the perplexing and uncertain world, something to help me quantify it, understand it, and relate, then I was good.  That was what Christmas Monster did for me that a kid my age couldn't.    

I still rely on my imagination to help me cope with reality, but the nature of the relationship has changed drastically since my toddler-self reached for imagination out of instinct.  Now, it is at least a semi-conscious process. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wrote a Short Story Today :)

After being preoccupied for a week by random stuff, I'm back on the right track!  Further, I managed a story in  a day.  Lately short stories have taken me a few days and sometimes more than a week.  Then, they don't often end up as short as I want them to be.

I really want to make August better, since my birthday is early September and I'll be 29 :(

So I want to get two more short stories written, finish the burgeoning novella and get a little farther in the main WIP ( two chapters? please?)

But, knowing me, I'll get 1 short story written, the novella will hangout, untouched, and I'll get farther in the manuscript draft than I intended.  There always seems to be a trade off.

I took a break reading (still working on the book I started almost a month ago *sobs*) but I've read two chapters in the last day :) So I hope that I'll be able to post my response to it soon.

I have to admit, I haven't been keeping up with news or watching anything worth sharing or discussing--just a ton of anime.  And Stewart and Colbert randomly --hey, I need to laugh!

Still, I'd say this is doing better, and now it's just about keeping up the momentum.