Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dames and Daggers

"So, Mr. Misogynist Editor, you're afraid of strong women, huh?"  I purr the words at him, the point of my dagger resting on his nose.  Sweat trickles down his fat forehead over the pitted surface of his cheeks and drips off his chin.  "What on Earth is there to be afraid of?"

Flash of metal while I slice through his papers and plant my blade in the unmarred surface of his mahogany desk.

Ahem.  Yes, well, this is only a sick fantasy involving the idiot star of my last post.  I've cut my fingers just pulling a knife out of a drawer.  There's no way I'd use one for anything other than slicing bread. 

And that is my point.

Just to make things clear: I think YA authors are writing strong female characters  -- a backlash after the reign of characters like Bella Swan who fall for protectors/control freaks.  We're seeing a lot of warrior-type protagonists who literally kick ass and who are tougher than steaks cooked by yours truly.

Awesome.  I love it.  However...

The whole idea that having muscles and weapons makes you tough is based on the male archetype.  Wielding knives and knowing how to throw a punch may make you an ├╝bercool she-warrior, but it doesn't (necessarily) make you a role model.  Or a feminist.  Or a strong main character.  Not if the rest doesn't follow suit. 

Most of us in the real world don't know how to gut an enemy (and wouldn't anyway) or win a fight against a 300 pound soldier.  It's fun to read about.  Fun to fantasize about.  But solid strong female characters are also ones whose skills translate into the real world:  these girls stand up for what they believe in, learn to trust themselves, love themselves and most of all respect themselves (and others).  They may start the novel as strong or come into their own over the course of the book.  Doesn't matter.  What matters is that readers can identify with that character in a tangible way.  In a way they see and live day to day, even if the novel itself is fantasy. 

Those books where the protagonist cowers behind the fangs or wings or fur or over-developed pecs of her honey?  Good riddance.  I have nothing against romance and love a good pair of pecs. But now I want to see the male character as partner, not protector.  To be honest, it's not always easy to write them into that role.  And to be sure, it can be even harder to get that kind of book published, thanks to people like Mr. Misogynist Editor there.  

But it's happening.  With or without the weapons.  Girls are getting tough.

And they're coming your way.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Lion Sleeps No Longer

I am woman.  Hear me roar.

This week I stumbled across articles and tweets that woke the beast in me.  Right now, the beast is pacing and growling and gnashing its teeth.  Time to let it loose.  Or at least loosen its leash a bit.  What I want to do is rip through and tear up everything with pointy fangs.  I want to rant for pages.  But to keep things digestible I'll be nice and I'll take it easy.  Very, very easy.  One blog post at a time. 

Jezebel published an article the other day revealing one movie critic's experience with an editor who refused to publish any reviews in which females played strong leads.   In an e-mail that was heavy on the hatred, the editor basically called movies with empowered women "moral rot" and said some seriously heinous stuff that completely floored me.  If you want to go into a rage, read it here. 

Then on Twitter, writer Shannon Hale was quoted as saying, "No one ever asks 'Why do you write strong male characters?'"  An excellent point.  One that touched a nerve in me.  One that woke the beast.

And one that got me paging through the piles of YA books on my shelves, examining how authors and editors portray strong female protagonists.   I discovered that, in my opinion, even those authors I love sometimes do things that drive me crazy.  Things that don't always help the young female reader find herself.

Go ahead.  Look through your books.  Write down what makes that character a kick ass character and not a limp lettuce leaf.  Next blog post that's what I'm covering.

Until then, I'll be sharpening my claws.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Character Flaws

A while ago I sent an early (read: way too early) draft of my current novel to my agent.  A week later I got a note back saying, "You know we love love love you and your work, but--"


Okay.  The draft had some issues.  I agree.  And the biggest problem I had (and have always had) is writing the protagonist.  For some reason, even if I manage to get "in the zone" while writing my mood always bleeds through.  If I'm in a good mood, I go wild on the setting -- painting sunsets and flower gardens where there were none.  But when my mood is black?  It's the main character who takes the brunt of it.

When I get stalled in the manuscript, so does she -- suddenly she's passive.  Things happen around her and she sighs into her handkerchief.   When I have doubts about my writing and wonder why the hell I didn't become a plumber, the protagonist gets whiny.  She complains about everything.  And when ideas won't come and writing feels more like misery than pleasure, my main character gets just plain hostile and lashes out at everyone. 

Ooof.  Like me.

But it's fiction, remember?

So that's what second (and third and fourth) drafts are for.  Trying to figure out what eating me and fixing it.  And trying to figure out what's eating my character and fixing it, too.  Or not.

Because nobody's perfect.  Not even on the page.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Anatomical differences: An ode to my critiquing group.

My anatomy is a bit different from others'.  No, my head isn't screwed on backwards or anything like that (but with little kids in the house that could be convenient).  It's my brain.  From what I can tell, it has the consistency of chewing gum -- sometimes things just get stuck there and I need help pulling them out.

Thank God for my critiquing group.  To be completely honest, I don't understand why they let me stay in it.  The members have changed over the years but, regardless, the others have always been more intelligent, more worldly and well...more everything than me.  And, unlike me, their brains are normal.  They know how to force themselves to move forward. Their brains aren't made of Hubba Bubba.

I'm more than halfway through my new novel and at a pivotal place in the narrative.  All had been going well; I was whipping along at an amazing pace, feeling the wind in my hair, the bugs in my teeth, when WHAM!  A glass wall.  I could see THE END -- there, right there on the other side -- but this stupid wall was blocking me from getting there.  And because I'm me, I saw no way around it.  Instead of writing through the wall, I whined.  I complained.  I spent a lot of time on Twitter.  I opened that bottle of wine from 1999 and drank it with three greasy slices of leftover pizza. 

None of it helped.  Not even the wine.

Which is where my kickass critiquing group comes in.  Last night they sat me down. They drew me a diagram.  Threw out suggestions.  Unstuck those thoughts stuck in my bubble gum brain.  I know they were irritated with my whining and with my self-imposed helplessness -- God, who wouldn't be -- but they swallowed their annoyance and fed me ideas.  They told me I could do it.   And that I could do it well.

And I want to thank them for it.  Really, those women should be canonized.  Total saints.  Yes, they are tough.  Yes, they are demanding.  And they are brutally honest (both with themselves and me).

But their souls shine in pure awesomeness -- bright and white as Joe Biden's teeth. 

Thanks, ladies.  You are the best.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Surprise, surprise

I sat on the couch last evening with a huge bowl of popcorn and a new download on my Kindle.

And woke up this morning with puffy eyes and a blotchy face.

Let's get this straight:  I'm not a reality fiction reader.  I know that there's this backlash against paranormal in the YA world right now and everyone is pushing writers and readers to "get real", but I like paranormal and I'm not giving it up.  I stay away from reality fiction because: 1. I live reality.  I don't need to read it, too.  2. I really, really wish I had magical powers  3. Paranormal is fun!   4. Most reality fiction novels are SAD.  I don't seek out something that brings me to tears and  5. Did I mention I wish I had magical powers?

Okay, okay.  Some of my favorite books are reality based (like Looking for Alaska or Story of a Girl) and left me feeling gutted at the end, both by the excellent writing and the intensity of the narrative.  But, despite how good these books are or can be, I usually steer clear.

So I wasn't expecting my new book to make me cry.  I started reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and about ten pages in I considered putting it down.  Yes, it was paranormal, but it was for a younger audience than I'm used to.  Plus, I had a sneaking suspicion that reality was going to take a bigger role in the novel than I cared for. But I kept on and a few pages later, the story, the writing, even the illustrations, hooked me.  The book had the edge of reality along with the punch of paranormal.  Like mixing buttered popcorn with peanut M & M's -- seems odd, but the end result is awesome.  By midnight I was closing my Kindle and bawling into my Kleenex. Sobbing but satisfied with the ending.

And when I woke up this morning, I thought, YES.  There are still books out there that take me by surprise.  Books I wouldn't have picked up on my own (thank you, Goodreads), yet that touch me deeper than I would have imagined.  Books that force me to think further on what I want to read, and more importantly, what I want to write.

No.  I'm not taking the leap to pure reality fiction.  But that doesn't mean I can't learn a thing or two from it. 

And maybe surprise myself.

How about you?  What books out there surprised you?