An interesting chat about women

cover girl in grey.pngI was talking with my husband the other night about tropes in fiction.  You see, I really like to muddle with the typical “expectations” and breaking a trope is as exciting to me as a roller coaster is to a normal person.  In the end, the topic came around to popular presentation of women (by him, not me!)

In his esteemed opinion, men are typically attracted to strong, capable women.  Shrinking violets and dainty, demure damsels are an affectation of women – in today’s world.  While sure, there’s still a segment of the population who thinks women should be seen and not heard (and probably always will be, sadly) he insists that men like a woman who is sure of herself, no matter what that self might be.  His proof: Katy Perry over Zooey Deschanel.

Now, I’m not saying he’s right.  I do find his opinion to be interesting from a writing standpoint.  How often do we present our female leads as quiet, overlooked, obedient little ladies?  If not, do we default to snarky and brazen?  Where are the women who can kick ass while wearing designer heels?  Never mind how hard that would be, I mean, there still should be a few, right?

Which kinda brings this back around to writing.  Every time I create a female character who is proud of her sexuality, unconcerned with social norms, or otherwise deviates from the standard “bookish girl with high intelligence whose beauty has been overlooked due to her shyness” I wonder if my readers will hate her.  So far, they have always enjoyed the characters who inhabit my mind.  When I wrote the first Wolf of Oberhame book, I was sure that Leyli would be scoffed at.  She is too girly.  She is too calculating and manipulative.  She is too stereotypically a GIRL.  Never mind that she promptly takes the damsel in distress trope and craps all over it.  She’s most certainly not “masculine”.

But, she is very VERY strong.  When her world turns upside down, she doesn’t break a heel and freak out.  She SURVIVES, because really, that’s what most normal people would try to do in her situation, right?  And I’m still getting emails, direct messages on twitter, and facebook inboxes from fans who adore the story.  She’s sexy because she is confident in who and what she is.

From tomboys to fashionistas, evidently “sexy” is defined by the comfort a woman has in her own skin.  Thick, thin, short, or tall, a little self-confidence is ten times more attractive than some photoshopped ideal that is impractical.  And the more I thought about this, the more I realize how very true it is.  From my little fan girl crush on a certain guy who streams my favorite game to my husband’s “perfectly respectable” appreciation for a rather deviant music star, we all find personality to be much more appealing than any physical trait that exists.

So I’m taking this as a challenge.  Can I make a character more sensual than their physicality?  Can I write love interests who society would not typically find “appealing”?  Can I convince the reader to fall in love alongside the characters in my stories?  I think so, and I plan on proving it.

I’m also feeling really inspired to write another book.  Oh, this is going to be a lot of fun.

 

What if the trolls knew where you lived?

smartphone-friends-internet-connectionA few decades ago, setting up the perfect chance for things to go wrong in a book was easy.  One girl, one dark alley, and she’d be isolated.  Today, not so much.

Everyone has a cell phone.  Most have GPS locating apps, find friend/family, or such.  Walking home?  I’d be shocked if the girl didn’t have a flashlight app on, while texting to her bestie.  This is the constantly connected world we live in, and portraying it in literature makes a few things a bit… less easy.

Now add in social media, video games, mobile games, voice to text, blue tooth, and more.  It’s exciting.  It’s amazing and common place all at the same time.  So how do you keep the feel of the stories we loved, while embracing the modern world that is consuming us?  It’s a question I’ve had a lot of fun playing with.

You see, the internet offers a lot of anonymity.  Games offer a break from reality.  The massive amount of tech that most people carry on them is staggering, but it offers authors a chance to look at old problems in new ways.  And THAT is what I have done with the Eternal Combat series.

Gamers living like real people

shift9441PopAs I’ve said many times, we’re all gamers.  From Solitaire to Call of Duty, almost everyone I know has a game to whittle away the time.  Maybe they play it on their phone while riding the bus, maybe they rush home after school to log in with their friends in WOW, or maybe the Wii counts as exercise.  We all do it.

Then there’s the dark side of this hobby: sexism.  Oh, it’s not all inclusive.  It still exists, and the more male dominated the genre of games, the more likely someone is to run into it headlong.  Even my husband has suffered because of it – while running one of my characters around.  Private messages to do disgusting things, random pictures sent to the email address I used for guild forums (yeah, I did keep that picture of your penis for future blackmail, bud!) and the threats.  Oh, there’s always the threats.

I’d say that 95% of the guys I know online are great.  Maybe 20% of those  are protective of the girls in their guild/friends list.  Then there’s that special group of idiots.  Doesn’t matter if it’s the guy who says he’ll rape me because I got a good kill, the one who keeps telling me to shut up because I should be seen and not heard, or the butt-munch who heard me on the guild stream and now stalks me across the map wanting to be friends.

Imagine what would happen if that last layer of anonymity was stripped away.  What if the world knew that QQ was named Riley Andrews, lived in small town Texas, and her face was plastered everywhere.  What happens when being a “girl gamer” means you suddenly have to do twice as good to prove a guy isn’t carrying you through the game?  How do you combat this?  How do you fight back?  Do you even bother?

And what would you do when the threats become real?  How can you tell the difference between some troll mouthing off online and the guy who honestly wants to see you die?  How can you be sure that “I’m gonna rape you!” is a joke and not a real threat?  When the harassment crosses the  line from virtual to real, and the privacy protections of the internet provide your attacker with one more layer of protection while isolating you from the support systems that were meant to keep you safe, what do you do?

What if it was your daughter that had to deal with this?  Your mother?  Your best friend?

Because it happens all the time.  Sure, it’s usually a joke, but sometimes it’s not.  The Eternal Combat series mixes the joys of our virtual lifestyle with the horrors.  Love, friendships, and stalking are all a part of the new world we’re immersed in.  The old threats have adapted.  The dark alley is a place we gleefully log into, to see what our friends and family are doing.  All across the world, teenagers are harassing each other, stalking, bullying, and destroying people while sitting comfortably at a computer in the safety of their homes.  The atrocities I grew up with have been given a healthy dose of steroids.  The virtual world has become both the best and the worst of society.

I think it’s time for storytelling to take all of this into consideration without setting it up as a far-flung future that we will never see, because it’s real.  It’s here.  It isn’t the AI in those games we should fear.  It isn’t the companies that make them.  It’s the handful of mentally deranged sociopaths who are cloaked in anonymity, handed their victims on a streaming virtual platter.

Sexism in Literature

Heros.pngRecently, literature has gone crazy with feminism discussions.  Big women can be pretty too.  Women shouldn’t be treated as objects.  Women deserve…

You all know what I’m talking about.  Now, when was the last time you heard a rant about fridging some guy?  Why not?  Why is it “acceptable” to knock off some male character to inspire vengeance or purpose in his female (or male) family/lover/friend?  Why does no one complain when all the “hot” guys are also rich, built, or otherwise unrealistic?  Why is no one protesting the covers featuring males who are heavily photoshopped or air brushed to portray unhealthy body ideals, like 6 pack abs when completely relaxed?

Granted, some of this is human nature.  A strong man is just sexy.  Humans are kinda programmed to think that.  Does that mean that every single romantic hero has to be an alpha?  If so, why don’t we delve into his inner turmoil of coping with the backlash of such arrogance and heavy-handed mannerisms?

I think you all can see where I’m going with this.  Why are there two sets of rules, and do YOU as a writer (professional or just for fun) fall into the tropes?  Do you take the short cuts to make it easy, or do you stop and think about the men and women you’re creating, and what they tell the readers is “normal”?

Should you?  Should I?  While, yes, we have the RIGHT to write what we want, are we doing more damage to our own causes because it’s so easy to be lazy?

Just food for thought.

The danger of reading my own books

OMD teasingI’ve been going through One More Day, looking for quotes to make teasers.  Advertising tools, basically.  This is the life of an Indie Author.  We don’t have a publishing machine to do it for us, so you’d better learn a little photoshop, 3D modeling, marketing, layout design, and so much more.

But that’s not the rant I want to have today!  No… Today I want to talk about what happens when I read a novel I wrote.  I want to write the next one!  I always think about what happens next, about where the characters end up.  In this case, my problem is a supporting character named Colby.

He’s cute, he’s quirky, he has a mouth like, well, a tattoo artist, and he’s stuck between overconfident alpha male and insecurity.  Getting used by women has a tendency to do that to a guy, I’d think.

But Colby is a great guy, under all the rough edges and ink.  He just isn’t that lucky in love, but he deserves to be.  He deserves to face his demons, beat them down, and reign victorious over his own life.  He also sounds like a character that is going to be a LOT of fun to write.

But, When We Were Dancing is at the top of my list right now.  I can’t do anything until it’s on the shelves – even though I wanna.  To pacify myself, I’m spending my time away from the computer (you know, when I can’t be writing) debating his plotline.  Now, my only question, is if he ends up with the girl he met in One More Day, or if she breaks his heart, too.  Hmm…

Strong Female Characters

Have you ever noticed that a “strong” woman is one that’s almost as good as a man?  Oh, I’m not saying that women are the same as men, but equal doesn’t mean identical.  I’m a strong woman.  I can’t lift much more than 50 pounds at a time, but I can run my own business.  One is not better than the other, but both types of strength deserve to be valued for what they are.

I’m a voracious reader.  In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of female leads.  The Hunger Games, Divergent, and so many more.  Angelina Jolie played Salt.  Ghost Busters is being redone with an all female cast.  Someone has figured out that women can actually do more than wear bikinis and be available for easy sex.  Oddly, that hasn’t resulted in a lot of STRONG female characters.

A lot of “not weak” ladies doesn’t mean they should be called strong.  Here’s how I see it:

A weak female character is the typical damsel in distress.  She’s picked up and held in the tower to further some man’s storyline.  She has no agency of her own.  She isn’t allowed to do anything that might have any effect on anything.  Her only job is to have some nice boobs and fall madly in love with the man who rescues her.  She’s a prop.  She’s no more human than a vase sitting on a shelf, but there’s a good chance that she’s awfully nice to look at.

Then we have today’s modern women characters.  Some people call them strong simply because they have agency.  These ladies can make up their mind and have unique ideas.  The problem is that they can’t do anything about them on their own.  When they are kidnapped and taken to the tower, they say, “I need to get out of here.”  The man in the cell beside them tells them how to do it, then proceeds to hold her hand the entire time.  Without HIM, she never would have managed to get a thing done.  Oh, she’s capable, but only as a part of a team.  She’s the ever present sidekick.  The Harley Quinn to their Joker.

After them are the Strong Female Characters.  These women get kidnapped and placed in the tower, work with the man to form the plan, and then do exactly as much good as him to get free.  They are strong.  They are capable.  Yet, they are never allowed to do a single thing BETTER than their partner.  She kills the exact same number of evil villains as he does.  She frees exactly the same number of people.  If he unlocks the door to their cell, she unlocks the door that gets them out of the tower.  I love reading/watching these ladies in modern stories.  To me, they are wonderful, strong, and such a refreshing change of pace.  But they aren’t MY strong ladies.

When I write stories, I like to make insanely strong female characters.  If the bad guy does kidnap them and lock them in the tower, she’ll be the one that breaks out the hottie in the cell beside her, probably making him worship her in the process.  Then, she’ll save all the slaves, show her boy toy how to get out, using the strength of the person most capable to do it, and send everyone off to live happily ever after – but she’s not done.  As soon as her friends are safe, she’ll blow up the tower, ride to the villain’s lair, kick his ass, get revenge for every wrong, and take part in not only overthrowing the corrupt government, but also instilling a new and better designed one.  After which she goes home to cry on her daddy’s shoulder, introduce the hottie to her mom, and maybe have a wonderful family.

In other words, I don’t think the ladies can never be better than the man.  Sometimes she’s the brain and he’s the brawn.  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  Just like men can be the hero, so can the women.  You see, I grew up playing games, watching movies, and reading books, wishing that I could be bad ass, too.  The world told me I wasn’t pretty enough (no matter how pretty I was, it wasn’t enough), I couldn’t be smart enough unless I was pretty enough, and I would never ever be as good as a man in the same field – unless I wanted to specialize in raising babies.  Problem is, I kinda hate kids.

I would hate to see another generation of girls who grow up thinking that they are almost good enough to save the world.  My stories may not appeal to everyone, but if just one girl reads one and thinks, “Hey, if I put my mind to it, I can do it!” then I’ve done my job as an author.  If one boy reads my books and thinks, “Wow, women are just like me.” then I’ve changed the world – one mind at a time.

Being strong isn’t about how much a person can lift.  It’s about something so much deeper than that.  It’s the strength to fall down seven times and get up eight.  That’s it.

What’s in my Head

Some authors have another world living in their head.  I have a universe.

These range from contemporary romances, like One More Day, to flights of fancy, like Black and White.  I dwell in urban fantasies where djinni and undines mingle with earth elementals called humans, then move to ancient times where Roman-like  citizens learn they are the bastard children of gods.  From princess gladiators to science fiction corporate monarchies, I wallow in them all.

To me, they are all important.  I love strong female characters.  Not “men with boobs” but real women, with real women’s issues, who do real girly things (uh, whatever that is).  I write about ladies who kick ass and ladies who get their asses kicked.  I write about winners and losers, brave people and cowards.  My beta readers never know what will hit them next.  Sometimes they are good guys, and sometimes they aren’t.  It doesn’t matter.  All that matters is the way a story makes you feel when you reach the last line.

And I love them all.  From Riley to Khellian, my characters take on a life of their own, and I must help them tell the world their history.  For a moment in time, they live in my head, and I have to be true to them.

I never thought I’d be an author.  As a child I liked to draw.  As a teen I loved music and dance.  In college, I tried hard to do what I “should”, so studied biology.  I worked with animals and people.  I had jobs in offices and at home.  For the most part, I was never happy, until I started writing this stupid little story, just to get it out of my head.

And now, I can’t stop.  I typically manage between 4k and 15k words a day (average is about 10k, unless I need to do research).  I let the characters live, usually with a cat on my chest and a dog curled up at my feet, because this – telling their stories – is my job.

Nice Guys are Sexy

One of my biggest pet peeves in Romance are the jerks.  The alpha males who treat women like dirt, and female readers eat it up.  We’ve all (probably) seen the complaints about a specific BDSM book, but it’s not the only one.  Stalking, harassment, verbal abuse… all of this is treated as male dominance, and portrayed as “proof” that a man is interested.  Thanks, I’ll pass.

Where are the compliments, the sweet gestures, the steamy teasing that is really, truly, and honestly HOT?  Sure, it’s a lot harder to make that broke college guy into a sex pot, but are we really trying to convince the world that being a douche canoe with bucks is better than being broke with a kind heart?  Trust me, I’d be much more likely to jump into bed with a guy that makes me coffee every morning than one that told me what to wear.  And if that sweet man remembers that my dog likes this brand of treats over that?  Oh yeah!  Makes my heart pitter patter.

My mother’s generation read books where hunky barbarians raped women – who then fell in love with them.  Yeah, not sexy.  When I was a young thing, the men were workaholics who ignored their women, until they needed some sexual fulfillment.  Nope, don’t think so.  And so, I’m doing my best to write REAL men.

Sexy isn’t just about looks.  I’ve seen some pretty nice looking guys who are a complete turn off when they open their mouths, because it’s nothing but misogynistic comments that fall out.  Hey, bud, I don’t wanna be your little rubber fuck doll, kthxbai.

What gets me swooning are the men who can be the nice guy.  Those guys who get sweaty palms and try to play it off.  The men who may be powerful and worldly, but are reduced to blushing and dorky smiles by the attention of THEIR dream girl.  The men who want to protect their woman, but know that she doesn’t necessarily NEED them, and find a way to do it without treating her like a pet.  I want to read about the man who cries at chick flicks, or the one that sends flirty texts – not kinky ones.  I want to see these guys treated as sexy, not as the wanna be dorkus who won’t ever be getting a piece.

Nice guys finish last because we women put them there.  We reward the assholes (and idolize them IRL) then wonder why men treat us like shit.  Uh, DUH!  Sure, nice guys are easier to make into a pushover, but that doesn’t mean they are.  Nice guys are nice.  They fall in love, romance their dream girl, and treat her like a treasure, not something they deserve.  We need more men like this.  If I read another book about some dick that abuses his girlfriend until she falls madly, I’m gonna scream.