Strong women

So this is a post I’ve been thinking about for…months? At least. Strong women. Strong female characters. I’m writing this Sunday after the marches around the world yesterday, which, great, now what? And what does that mean? And whole lot of other stuff. This is going to be a messy post. I’ll come back and edit later, and it will still be messy so be warned. And crabby…I get crabby…

A story about strong women

We Can Do It woman flexing poster (Rosie the riveter)
We Can Do It poster

I’m sitting having dinner with a friend of mine. She would tell you that she is more feminist than I am. (I’m not 100% sure that’s true, but splitting hairs either way.) We are talking about books and I’m trying to get her input. She’s a reader, not a writer. She reads in the genre I write and in others. We are talking about romances. I bring up some questions about books I’ve read and their audiences. Let’s say we are talking about 50 Shades of Grey (we weren’t, but it will work for this) and who the audience is for it and what they like about it.

I was trying to explain the plot and some of the key pieces. She kept trying to simplify it down to just a thing.

Her: Oh it’s about money.

Me: Well not really, or only only, because a big part of it is rejecting the money, she doesn’t want the money, she doesn’t want him for the money, it is important, but not as in he buys her a whole bunch of stuff, that’s not the focus of that.

Her: It’s about sex.

Me: Yes, a little, but not entirely. If it was just sex it would be just sex but in this tome there are only like 3 scenes. And the sex isn’t the story driver, and isn’t the character driver.

Her…: I’m not sure, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. I like strong female characters.

Ahhh there’s the rub isn’t it.

But that character, and …quite frankly? Most of the female leads in most of the books I read will tell you they are strong. My friend is not the only one who says she wants strong women.

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a character a strong female lead. The problem seems to be, to me at least, that we start stacking these. You can’t just be one thing. You have to be ALL OF THEM.

Strong Women

Some of the examples from books I was reading at the time that I brought up to her, each one she sort of shrugged and eh but’ed.

  • Woman who takes care of a child on her own, single mom, handles shit from others who think that’s bad, makes the kid turn out fantastic
  • Woman who likes sex, knows what she wants, goes after it, isn’t afraid to say yes or no loudly and frequently
  • Woman who works really hard and has an amazing career and is well respected in her field
  • Woman who overcomes extreme anxiety to become a singer

I could go on and on and on. So you stack them up and you have a single mom who spends a ton of time with her kid, a ton of time at her career, has a very active and healthy sex life, and is going to be a breakout star.

Fuck you.

No seriously, why does a character have to have all those things? And you know what happens when you stack them up?

Mary Sue. Which are 2 words I could 100% live with never seeing again.

So you can’t be strong because then you are too strong and you can’t be only one thing because then you aren’t strong enough. (And yes, heaven-for-fucking-fend if you have any intersectionality.)

I have seen a few things about complex female characters, which sounds a lot better than “strong” and even might include some intersectionality in there. But I don’t know how to really get across that…I don’t want strong women only. I want a range of women. I want a range of people. I want people who aren’t only one thing and who aren’t all things. And I’m going to keep calling this friend(s…this is actually a compliation of a few people, I love my friends, we are all always learning) out on this shit and seeing if I can keep shifting opinions. One beer or coffee at a time.

And in the mean time I’m going to do my damnest to write them and read them and share them.

Romance and no more guilty pleasures

I’ve been seeing another round of smack talk about things. Because of course there is. This time it seems to be Romance. (You will recognize YA, paranormal romance, and many other genres/things in this, romance just happens to have it’s turn in the spotlight right now.)

MY PEOPLE

There is a lot of desire in these conversations to say “These are my people!” or to scream it from the rooftops. A lot of this is trying to create in-group identifiers, but these are often created through out-grouping others. 

“Romance people aren’t my people and if romance people aren’t my people then you are my people.” That’s not actually that bad. Where it gets really bad is when someone goes on a screed to outgroup, to exclude some group of people so that they can show you that they are …whatever they are trying to demonstrate they are.

Cynical

I think this is a very cynical and self protective way to go about things. Declaring your unabashed love for something requires being more revealing. A loudly declarative statement of affection is like stripping down and saying I’m vulnerable here and here, please don’t kick me there. 

And yes, wonderfully, much of the time those declarations get hugs and support. But even a few kicks can really hurt. Sure you get 50 hugs (if you are lucky) but just 5 kicks will take you way, way down. 

So why would you do that when you can declare how something is bad. Not even that you personally dislike it, but that it is “objectively” (which is nearly always how these things are set up) bad or wrong. That is basically putting up a coat of armor. Even if someone kicks you, you are wearing armor. You are ok. You won’t be hurt. 

Punching

Often when these things come up they are for groups it is easy to take potshots at. Who reads romance? Who reads YA? Who watches rom coms? I’ll give you a hint. Not people with all the power. I believe the fancy term for this if it was a joke would be punching down. 

It is really easy to go, “Oh those – people who aren’t like me or you – and their – thing I don’t like!” Now you and me? We belong together. Look at us all buddying up. But I didn’t have to take a swing at someone with giant mech boots, I only took a swing at someone who wouldn’t hurt when they tried to kick me with my armor. 

But I have the right to hate things!

Good for you. So do I. We all do. But why would you spend more time talking about the things you hate than the things you love. I know I’ve done it, and I will do it again in the future. I’m so far from perfect I can’t even see it’s shadow. But I do try. 

But…I still want to be a part of an in group. As much as I’d like to believe it, I’m not immune to wanting to be loved. To wanting to be a part of a group. Wanting people to include me. I get the same little rush everyone else does when someone says that they like me, that I’m like them (if I like them of course!), that I belong with their group. 

So yea, I’ll still say I don’t like things. I’ll still bash things. But I’m trying to be better, and I hope other people are too. 

The Perfect Mattress

A flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. Two subgenres mashed up. Mine? Fairytale and parallel words. Sort of the princess and the pea across the worlds. Sometimes you really, really just want a good night’s rest.

I’ve been working on the studio so I did a quick round of audio for this story to test it out. (Check out the podcast for lots more audio!)

The Perfect Mattress

I woke up from another rotten night’s sleep and peeled apart the layers of reality. None of them looked all that different. They usually didn’t. The ones that changed everything slipped away from me pretty quick. I found one where it seemed like I’d gotten an extra few minutes of sleep and slipped into that reality.

I let the layers slip back into place and stretched. The mattress was fine, it was my fourth in the last year. I’d gotten really good at making sure the mattresses I selected had trial periods and good return policies.

In fact, I was pretty sure today was a day for returns. My phone reminder popped up. Sure enough. I could return this mattress today and go mattress shopping this afternoon. A new place, The King Of Mattresses had opened up, I figured I’d check it out.

One of the other versions of me might use the ability to jump to parallel worlds to win the lottery or grab power or become a celebrity. I just wanted a good night’s rest.

***

The King Of Mattresses went all out on their theme. The cement on the walk up to the door of the store was painted red and textured to look like a carpet. The pillars outside the standard strip mall were painted up to look like round towers.

Inside the store, I glanced around and peered through the options. An old man with a crown walked toward me, a girl and her mom bounced on a bed, an empty store, I picked the reality with the cute guy and a crown.

“I am the Prince of Mattresses, welcome to my castle.” He bowed in an obviously preplanned maneuver to keep the crown on his head. He winked and waved his arm around. “How can I assist you fair lady?”

“Nice speech.” I grinned. At least looking for mattresses here could be fun. “I need a mattress. One with a good return policy and a guaranteed good nights sleep.” Some places got suspicious when I said that, I was much better off just saying it up front. Good stores took it as a challenge. I hoped the prince would take it as a challenge.

“We can find you a mattress, have a guarantee and a return policy. What have you already tried?” He took and took a step toward me. He even smelled sexy. I definitely picked the right reality.

“Everything up to and including hammocks. Not good. Only room for one.”

He waved to a nearby bed. “Start here and tell me what you think.”

I flopped on the bed. It felt like I flopped onto the cement red carpet out front. “Too hard.” He offered me a hand up and I stood. He raised his eyebrows at me and then stepped away and pointed to another. I might as well have flopped through a bag of cotton candy. “No. Ugh. Way too soft.”

After eight flops I was tired. The prince had shown me the priciest model, the high-techiest model, the model absolutely everyone loved.

“I’m usually better at this. Usually, I can get it right in three tries.” He frowned and walked over to one near the back. He sat on the edge of it and I sat next to him.

“Don’t worry. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve never really gotten a good night’s rest.” I shrugged and flopped back. “This one feels like it has a boulder under it.” I shifted uncomfortably.

He seemed frustrated and got up and came over, waving me to stand. He hoisted the mattress up, clearly determined to prove I was a crazy person. I sighed. And then something golden glinted under the bed. I reached past him and grabbed it. “Not a boulder, but I doubt it belongs there.” It was an old-fashioned pocket watch.

He grabbed it from me. “Wait…please, wait here, this…” He nearly ran to the backroom, not even stopping when his crown flew off. I picked up the crown and set it on the bed next to me and flopped back down on it.

It wasn’t nearly so bad without the watch underneath it. It was actually quite nice. I glanced through my options. Most of them seemed about the same. I closed my eyes for just a moment.

***

I woke to a hand shaking my shoulder. An old man with glistening eyes. I sat up confused. Out of habit, I looked through the options of reality. In some, I was still asleep. I considered slipping into one of those. In one the prince was smugly asking me out. I decided to find out what the old man wanted.

“You found the pocket watch.” His voice was shakey. I sat up on the bed and he sat beside me. “It was my grandfather’s and I thought I’d lost it. I had lost it. It means everything to me.” He took my hands in his. I noticed the prince, hands shoved into his pockets and with a sort of sad smile on his face watching us.

“We have had so many people come through here, looking at mattresses, buying them, cleaning them. No one until you. You are truly a princess to have felt the watch, this I will never forget this moment. Anything. You can have anything, any mattress, anything. You’ve done an amazing thing today.” A couple tears fell down his face and he turned the pocket watch over and over. He finally stood and walked away, stopping to pat the younger man on the shoulder.

“My grandfather’s been looking for it since we opened. I swear I looked under every single mattress. That was really a miracle.” The young prince sat down close.

“This one. I think I take this one.” I laid back and he laid next to me. “I still get a guarantee though right?”

have a sleep on the perfect mattress
have a sleep on the perfect mattress

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Romance Planning

No not planning a romantic getaway, but romance planning for plot or story. I’ve had some troubles hanging onto my romance arcs. They seem to get shuffled to the background, which is frustrating when sometimes they’ve started as the primary point for the spark of the idea.

Every time it has shuffled to the back it was ultimately the right choice for the story. But I also wonder if I’m just not as strong at writing it so it is easier to shuffle than to strengthen.

So I took some time and read some stuff. Because reading!

Finding your Romance Arc

by Susan Warren

This talks about the Why/Why not vs the Why not/Why…I’m a little worried I don’t entirely understand it. But it sparked a few valuable things.

Make the Romance the Story Arc

by Scott Eagan

This is completely my problem. So I’m going to try something in the future that takes this plan the romance and backdrop the other thing approach.

The Seven Story Beats

by Kaye Dacus

This was really direct. I think my issue is that I hate hate hate #6! So I have to struggle through writing it to bring back around to #7.

Suggestions?

Does anyone have any suggestions or tips for planning a romance or having it not get lost behind the other stories?

romance roundup
Sunset is romantic right?