Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Tracking Asian presence across mainstream romance, 2016

This is my on-going tally of what I see when I see Asian or Asian descent characters in mainstream romance.

To clarify, I do not deliberately seek out POC fiction. I read what I want, when I want, and I don’t really believe that I should have to turn to “POC fiction” to get balanced portrayals of people who look like me and who share similar backgrounds.

All things aside, the poverty of this post in comparison to the hundreds of books I read tells its own story.

 

The Principle of Desire – Delphine Dryden

Beth had never met Lin before. He was on the short side, pudgy, fussy, with a limp hank of blue-black hair dangling over his forehead. Nothing to write home about, and definitely not a likely kinkster, though she tried not to judge books by their covers. He was obviously a good dungeon master, but Beth still had trouble thinking of him as the “DM” without giggling.

Mmm. Let’s see. There’s the general emasculation there. Dude is short, pudgy, fussy, with limp hair. And the heroine giggles at the idea of him being assertive/alpha enough to be a dungeon master despite his skill at DMing a role-playing game (mostly cerebral, something Asian are good at). Oh, my cup runneth over with stereotypes.

 

Burning Nights – Julie Wetzel

Shuri – Japanese fox spirit who pretends to be the heroine’s friend, kidnaps her, and then uses her as leverage to get hero to get her out of servitude to the crazy baddie. Oh wait, it’s the highly sexualized Asian chick who is so sweet and demure and helpless and sexy – until she stabs you in the back, necessary for her to accomplish what she wants because she’s too weak to actually get anywhere morally.

Kusanagi – crazy, paranoid, psychopathic, really fucked up Japanese dude who got off on weird power plays, refused to believe the white dude wasn’t out for his territory despite white dude’s repeated assurances that he was there for peace despite the fact that white dude didn’t tell him in advance he was showing up or asking permission to land in his territory (whoa, wait, I wonder why an Asian dude would be skeptical about such things…).

The rest of the cast involving a lot of native Hawaiian people who were subjugated by the crazy Japanese dude and who needed the white dude to step in and save their collective bacon. This isn’t kinda-sorta-maybe offensive at all. Also why do the two words “Pearl Harbor” keep popping up in my brain?

 

Legal Edentity – Karen Harley

South Korean + Scottish hero. David Argeld. Civil lawyer. Descriptions: “stud”, “genius with women”, “quadruple orgasm”,   ”incredibly, unbelievably gorgeous”, “sleek, dark, and trim”.  Bit of a player, it seems. Footloose and fancy free, except when it comes to his “darling” and her “adorable knobby knees”.

Taiwanese heroine. Jeannie Lin. Descriptions: “shyness bordered on the pathological”, some self-esteem issues, “soft-spoken, with gorgeous brown eyes, midnight black hair, and the most exquisite rear end”, “sweetest, most serious, and timid creature around”. Hidden depths. Programs. High-powered brain. Waiting to be “awakened”.

Much as I wasn’t super excited by Jeannie and her shyness, the hidden fire mostly made up for it. David though, David could drop by and rock my world anytime. I cannot even begin to say how awesome it was to see an Asian (okay, half, but still good because he apparently looks Asian) dude who had game. Cannot. Even. Begin. To. Say.

 

His Road Home – Anna Richland

Marine biologist Korean-descent heroine.

Hero is the son of an illegal Mexican immigrant. I loved how this was handled. She has a son who got a Purple Heart, but she can’t take a plane to go see him when he comes home with a double amputation because of her papers.

Just, the whole thing, all the details, so well handled. It was gorgeous. At one point, hero and heroine are in the grocery store, talking about T-day and an old woman approaches them and the hero has this minor freakout because he has to remind himself that they’re allowed to be there, that they have just as much right to be making T-day plans as this little old white lady. It was heartbreaking.

The Crystal – Sandra Cox

Villain is an “oriental” named Lai. Black hair. Coffee colored eyes. Can apparently pass for sixteen with her hair up in pigtails.

Crazy psychopathic lady who splashed acid on the face of someone she thought of as a rival. Woman twisted by a terrible childhood and ended up a thief, killer, and ringmistress of organized crime. Trades upon her sexuality. (Of course.)  I assume she’s Indian since she’s from Calcutta, but I honestly don’t know because we’re given very little detail about her. She keeps being referred to as an “oriental” which was kind of …weird and off-putting and IDEK offensive because there’s so little we know about her that she’s almost a caricature of herself. For all we know she’s half Chinese and that’s where the vaguely Chinese name comes from.

 

To my surprise, 2016 seems to be a good year so far. We have more positive impressions than bad ones. Even if the bad ones are kinda horrific. 

Tally: 4 positive to 4 negative.

Still, I’ve read maybe 100 books so far this year and only 7 impressions total? Kinda shitty odds.

Useful posts for writing about blood and gore

Written in blood by Lisa Blair:

Nurse and writer, she goes into pretty specific detail about many things, from how much blood you actually need to smell it in the air as a human, and whether or not someone really will drop over dead immediately if you cut their jugular.

Also, a summary of people die (and don’t) in swordfights.

 

Finding your voice in what you love

I was reading this piece about finding your voice on Litreactor and found myself  intrigued.

Obvious, isn’t it, to think that what you consume will end up being what you become, but I oddly never quite thought of it that way. You are what you eat.  What, then, am I eating?

So the test:

Pick up a pencil and write down your five favorite authors. Write down your five favorite books. While you’re at it, write down your five favorite movies. And add to that your five favorite television shows.

 

Authors:

Anne Bishop, Anne Stuart, Anne McCaffrey (do we see a trend here?), Nora Roberts, L.M Montgomery.

Favorite books:

Dark Jewels trilogy, Home Cooking, More Home Cooking.

Five favorite movies:

Much Ado about Nothing, Cloud Atlas, Ponyo, Rise of the Guardians, the Avengers

Five favorite television shows:

Babylon 5, Farscape, Seikon no Qwaser, Gensomaden Saiyuki, Star Trek Next Generation

 

What do I see here?

Strangely enough, it appears that my consumption of media almost tends toward self-contradiction. For a writer, I read a lot of fluff, which makes it hard to find favorites. Not enough substance results in not quite being able to find anything to latch onto. I rarely venture into deeper books, something my friends laugh at me for, but the reason being that all too often it either twists one way or the other, either fluff or angst, and not much in between. If I had to make a choice, and I do, then I’m going to go with fluff. Perhaps this limits me as a writer, just as it limits me as a reader.

Movies go much the same way, it appears. Nothing too dark, nothing too gritty, and all of them happy endings.

TV shows, apparently, is where I go darker. Perhaps because having my angst and tragedy packaged in 30 minute sections is a lot more tolerable than spending an hour or so immersed in someone else’s pain. Books, are by nature of narration, that much more unforgiving. Either you dive in and experience as the characters do, or you float along on the surface, never getting to the heart. Movies can be similarly relentless, pounding their message in over the course of 3 hours, and not necessarily giving you respite at the end.

Common threads I see involve social justice, the concept of being responsible for the world you live in, sacrifice, love, and the pain of birthing a new world from a fragmented, broken one.  Home and hearth, witticisms, sarcasm, and family thread through the darker material,  creating a bolt of a night dyed fabric shot through with gold.

We’ll see if I succeed in replicating that.

 

What is love?

It’s near 6am. I’m staring at the screen ruefully, wondering why the heck I am awake when I need to be up for work  – oh, later today.

It was my own fault. I picked up the book of my one of my favorite Chinese authors, 席绢 (Xi Juan), right before I was about to sign off and go to bed, and went from possibly sleeping at a not-so-great-but-still-not-that-crazy 3am to being awake three hours later. Speaking of Xi Juan, I’ve been reading her since about 1997, and I’ve been following her ever since. I’ve slacked off on reading every single one of her books since I left China eight years ago, mostly because I discovered English fantasy and sci-fi novels and because language really is something that degrades the more you don’t use it. Also, hard to buy Chinese novels when you’re no longer in the area.

However, I found tonight that Xi Juan has grown with me. Her books have more depth than they did before. She’s moved on toward new and interesting concepts, not content to rest on her laurels. As she said in an author’s note at the end of one of her books, she gets fans who ask her to go back to writing the stuff she used to, but that’s not what she wants to do. She wants to challenge herself, and if the book isn’t well received, then it’s because she didn’t execute the idea well, not because the idea wasn’t a good one to begin with. The only reason why I’m not clapping right now is because my boyfriend is asleep and I think he’d be pretty peeved if I woke him up.  Someone remind me to write Xi Juan and tell her that she’s my role model forever and that I love her challenging herself, and me by extension, and that she should never stop.

Tangent? I love that Chinese romance novel writers almost always have a foreword or afterword by the author where they just talk about their life, their writing process, the novel, what went into it, etc. It’s lovely, intimate, and sometimes heartbreakingly inspiring. Like when they tell you that they are challenging themselves to write better books because writing formulaic stuff is dumb and retarded.

But back to why I’m awake at 6am in the morning.

The question that she spent an entire book asking, and answering.

What is love?

I love this book because it makes me think, and it’s such a good reminder to rethink what love means and how one enacts love.

Love isn’t a soft thing. It’s not made of words. It’s not a thing with feathers.

But it’s also not a weapon. It’s not cruel, or hard, or passive aggressive.

I think, too often love is about what the other person can do for me, the narrator. Love isn’t and shouldn’t be unconditional, but I think sometimes it’s too easy to wander a little too close to the other extreme, where we start thinking about if the reciprocity is balanced enough.

Love, right now, for me, is about being courageous. It means being strong, but willing and able to bend if that’s what is needed. Because sometimes the strength to bend is much, much more than the strength needed to stand firm and be broken. Because anyone can be broken, but not everyone can bend till they cannot even recognize themselves and still come back to being them. It means tenderness, soft words, an encompassing embrace. It’s also about protection, about the grit needed to go to sleep every night exhausted and still wake up the next morning ready to fight for a better tomorrow, about pushing yourself to the outer limits of your ability because it’s what is needed at the moment. It means not wondering if there is going to be a good return on investment (ROI).  It means that I’ll love until I cannot love anymore, but until the day that I don’t, I will do everything in my power to give as much, as freely, as unconsciously as I possibly can. It means that if my heart should ever be broken, that I should never consider myself a failure because that chapter of my life ended, because I will have done nothing to regret, either in giving of myself or in how much I chose to give.

Because love is a gift. It is a gift to be able to love. It is a gift to be able to give within the confines and in the name of love.

I do not mean that love can never be twisted. That love cannot spawn terrible, tragic, breathtakingly bad things — but love, true love, isn’t that. It’s never that.

Love isn’t perfect. It isn’t perfect because no one is perfect.

I also happen to believe that our current media obsession about how one person is supposed to be the plumber/chef/CEO/CFO/therapist/masseuse/handyman/maid/babysitter/sexpot submissive/ alpha male dominant/ ALL THE THINGS in our lives is completely crazytalk, but that’s another post.

It’s not about perfection.

To a certain extent, love is something you do for yourself, and not necessarily for the object of that love. Take writing for example. It’s one of the loves in my life that really make me think I must be a masochistic pain slut.

On that note, I got to thinking about it the other day, and ultimately Phoenix is about love.  I suppose it’s why I think about it so frequently now, the various meanings, iterations, and enactments of love. It’s what drives her. It’s what drives me to write her story.

What is love to you?

 

Again, November

Month of thanksgiving and also, month of madness: the vaunted month where authors everywhere try to churn out a novel of 50k words or more.

I’ve tried it twice now, and I don’t think it’s for me.

I have at least two friends-in-Boston who might be doing it this year, and at least one friend from my crit group who is interested in doing it — I have to admit, the temptation to start up again is strong. But as my boyfriend says, “Nano is that abusive boyfriend who is no-good-very-bad for you and who you keep going back to anyway”, and I’m somehow oddly uninterested in being known as “that person” who cannot manage to learn from past mistakes.

It’s started me thinking, though.

Sometimes there is just a lack of perspective and far, far too much hubris involved.

Last year, I got terribly discouraged because it seemed like everyone was easily whacking out their word count within an hour and I was struggling with a wordcount in the low hundreds. Everyone, including the writers who are multi-published and do this for a living (which wasn’t too depressing); the college kids who flood the chatroom come NaNo (not that depressing either, considering I could have written ten novels in my college career instead of leveling up a character in World of Warcraft to max level as a hobby); and what was truly last-vestige-of self-esteem-killing — the under 18 teenagers who were tossing out words in the thousands that were good.

So I quit.

Clearly, it wasn’t healthy for me and I wasn’t actually going anywhere because I spent more time being terrified of being behind than actually able to write.

Not that I’m proud of quitting.

The spectre of quitting, of being lesser than haunted me for quite a while.

It was hard, terribly hard to admit that I have a horrible issue with stress. That I was under-performing by my standards to everyone, in all age ranges, in all stages of life.

Not to be overly dramatic, but it made me question just whether or not I was actually capable (or deserving? I don’t know) of being a writer. It made me wonder, if it took me ten hours a day to painstakingly etch out less than two thousand words — was it actually even worth it for my time investment? Put another way — was my world and myself benefiting more from my taking that time out to write, or would I just be doing everyone a favor if I cleaned the house, cooked more healthy meals, and volunteered in that time instead?

I had sort of the same reaction when I started reading all my food bloggers who started getting married, had babies, had cookbooks and memoirs out and had this visceral gut reaction against being left behind.

To a certain extent, I blame our society. Everything in media fills us with horror about growing old, about under-achieving for our age range, about the terror of being overtaken by the young nipping at our heels. Popular culture expects certain things of us, and if we haven’t managed that by the age that it deems proper — nothing can save you from the scorn, the disdain, the vaguely caring, mostly catty implications of being too old to have that sort of pipe dream.

Well, screw that.

I’m twenty seven this year. That’s a respectable number. I won’t care if there are 18, 17, 14 year old publishing books and becoming famous. I won’t care if other authors are juggling a day job, a husband, and three children. I won’t care for the stupid siren catcalls of popular media telling me that I’m just a washed up old nag gone too many times around the block with no new tricks left to learn.

Twenty seven. That means at least thirty, if not forty, fifty, sixty more years to live. Seventy and eighty more years if I’m lucky and if medical advancements and money says yes.

I have plenty of time.

This year, maybe I’ll do it differently.

If I do head back into NaNo madness, I’ll have a safe word.

I’ll remember that it’s a personal journey and the only person I should legitimately be competing with is myself, and perhaps not even then.

My day job right now is grueling in ways both mental, social, and physical. To compare the word count I have when I drag myself home from work after a confrontation-laden day to the word count I get when it’s the depth of summer, there’s no work, and I can just heat up pizza for dinner is complete folly.

I can only seek to live my life in a way that makes me happy and satisfied with myself at the end of the day instead of wondering where the hours went to. And I should gag and quell that stupid little voice that nags, incessantly, about how I haven’t found a way to cure cancer through my writing yet.

This time around, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

 

The fragility of time and promises

I finished the third draft of my novel on August 11th, 2012. It was about 93k words long.

The first draft, finished at the end of NaNoWriMo 2008 was, I think, 62k, and bore very little resemblance to the plot I have now. There is a girl who finds herself in a foreign universe, but that is really about it. It’s pretty bad. Someday I’ll dig it up out of my Google Drive and wince my way through it to mine it for the little flecks of gold scattered throughout it, but not today. I am not quite that brave yet.

The second draft was finished around August 31st, 2011. It had a bit more in common with this draft, perhaps as much similarity in DNA as that between a chimp and a human and yet as different in phenotype as the same.

It’s still a bit painful to re-read and realize how much better my writing could get — but the massive difference between the first chapter, started over a year ago, and the last, which was written about a month ago, gives me hope. It gives me more hope that I do not re-read it and have a burning desire to run it through the shredder. I actually feel that it is editable. That I can actually whittle it into something that is worthy of publication.

It is done and I feel somewhat adrift while waiting for feedback to come in. I thought about it, and perhaps I should not have been so giddy as to send out so many copies of what is essentially a first draft, a splat draft, possibly using up whatever goodwill and faith my readers might have had in me. But it is done and I am awash in anticipation.

Something recently surfaced, something that prompted the remembrance of the fact that despite Twitter, blogs, chat rooms, all these many things that keep us connected — it is all a beautiful, beautiful illusion. Writing is a solitary craft. It is also, even when one is loved, a very personal and therefore solitary path. Decisions, your own. The writing, only your own. The ideas, the way you spin them, weave them, cut the cloth and sew it, then embroider it — still your own. Knowing that, it is too easy to take offense when someone doesn’t love what you’ve wrought. It is my lesson to learn how to get past that and keep on.

Whether readers love you or neglect you — all a matter of taste, of kismet, of that ineffable spark of attraction that cannot be pinned down or put to words. Even if they love one book, or even one of your series, that is no guarantee that they will love whatever you put out next. Oftentimes they will not even be able to tell you why they lost interest, why that particular book or series didn’t speak to them.

So I am trying to set up a crit/goals group. Perhaps we, as a group, can help each other accomplish goals, forge past disappointment and negativity, and keep each other accountable to our dreams. I’m hoping to have a dedicated circle of people I can bounce ideas off of, brainstorm with, and have a good beta/crit relationship going with.

Here’s hoping we’ll all find what we need in each other.

 

 

Forest fires

I haven’t been able to write much at all since November 2011.

I make no excuses: I don’t have more or less first world problems than any other writer I know and I need to decide if writing is what I truly care about and if writing is something that I am willing to sacrifice for.

There’s been drama lately. By lately I mean for the past four and something months. Amazing, horrific, breathtaking amounts of drama and yet even as I cling to the remnants of my life and wish to turn back the clock to a time before breaking up, before despair, before a quiet slide into the fuzzy dream-world of alcohol and too much sleep — today I look life in the eyes and ask how can I replant.

I’ve been reading Angela Mears. She’s all kinds of amazing with prose, a bit like my beloved Thene, and she wakes things in me that have been quietly huddling under all the drama, paralyzed and incapable of dreaming something better.

And yet I have to say, I want to be that younger self, that careless, dramatic, overwrought younger self who knew to take care of herself before all others because at the end of the journey the only person who walks the last few steps with you before you slide into the grave is yourself.

I spent the last three years in a dream, a haze, a delusion of Norman Rockwell. I thought that I could have happiness if I only cooked enough, cleaned enough, worked enough, subsumed all that I had into the idea of a  life which I had never had growing up.

No, I want no pity. This isn’t about pity, self or other. This is about looking at what I gave up my writing for and looking at it and realizing that I gave up what I considered mine for nothing.

I have nothing to show for three years of work except a devastating emptiness because I misjudged, accepting what I’ve heard all my life that I wasn’t good enough, obedient enough, caring enough, never ever enough using any benchmark, any standard.

I will re-plant.

I may have lost my house, my home, my roots, my plans for the future, but perhaps in a space with less dishes, less people to feed, less distractions to snag, less sadness to embrace, I will write more.

Rather than dwelling on coulda, shoulda, woulda and other similarly negative words, I can ponder the minute and delicate differences between push and knock and perhaps then I can submerge myself in something greater than emotions.

If I could sacrifice a vital part of my soul for an ideal of a life that I might never have, then I can sacrifice all else on the altar of what might be my art.

I am not afraid.

Where ever I go, there I will find myself. Again and again and again.

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2011: I quit

So, I’ve always had this thought of blogging about NaNoWriMo as it happened because it occurs to me that it might be an interesting meta sorta thing to do.

Unfortunately, this is one of those things where it seems like it’s a better idea in theory than in execution. For one thing, if I’m doing it, then it hardly seems possible that I’ll be able to do my 1,667 words, and then some, and write a blog post that manages to be anything more than “write all the things. write. all. the. things”. On the other hand, if I’m not doing it, then I would hardly have anything to blog about.

Well, I figure that now is as good a time as any to announce: I quit.

I did NaNo once in 2008. It was the first year since I heard of it in 2004 that I’d managed to be in a place where I could actually even think about writing that much. I’d graduated college, was working as a receptionist, and was lucky enough that I could write at work. As it was, having not written much, if at all, in four years, what I produced was 50k of unusable words. And a burnout that lasted more than a year afterwards. A burnout that was fueled by the fact that I was so intimidated by the 62k of unsalvageable work that I couldn’t even begin to think of editing much less continuing the story.

Now, it’s 2011, I have a bunch of writing cohorts, and I have almost 50k of the rewrite of Estyria done. I figure that I wanted the 50% off coupon of Scrivener and that it might be a good idea to ride the energy of NaNo to finally finish that story once and for all.

Then life hits.

Now it’s the 12th of November and I have slightly over 10k with about 10 more in the hole.

I quit.

I’m stressed; I’m grumpy, I’m a bitch.

Nevermind.

The thing is?

I was never a fast writer to begin with. On a good day, I could get maybe 1,000 words. On a bad day, it’d be 200. And I haven’t been in practice for a while now, so just doing 1667 per day is pushing the upper limits of what I can reasonably do.

I’m also hampered by the fact that I don’t want to just churn it out without having at least a little bit of “wait, is this just writing so I can write or is this actually advancing the plot in the direction I want it to go?” going on.

I already proved in 2008 that I am fully capable of creating 50k words of pure aimless dreck.

I don’t need to do it again three years later.

Alright. NaNo doesn’t work for me. I’m sure there’s plenty of people it does work for, but not me. *sigh*

I quit. And you know what?

If it’s not working out for you, you can quit too.

#nanowrimoquitters

Thoughts on posting snippets, excerpts, and so such.

Kristen Lamb on whether tossing out excerpts of your work is a good idea:

I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t even like coming in halfway through a movie, let alone a book. How are we supposed to feel vested in characters we don’t know from a hole in the ground or get hooked on a story that may take months before we can read it in its entirety? Oh, and these characters might not even be in the book and these chapters, in the end, might mean nothing because they were just extra bunny trails that were cut and put on the blog so they could serve some purpose other than taking up space in the Recycle Bin.

I’ll just be frank: I don’t read snippets, excerpts, or so such usually.

I don’t even read book series usually unless they’re all out — romantic series being the notable exception because they aren’t usually linked in such a way as to make me want to tear my hair out should the author suddenly decide to stop writing, die (god forbid), or if the publisher had a brain melt and decided that they would rather slit their wrists with a rusty razor rather than put out yet another one of the author’s books.

Fact is, I have an instant gratification problem and if I get sucked in and can’t get my grubby little paws on the book in question right. now, I will not only probably forget about the book in question once it comes out, but I actively get very aggravated because I’ve been thwarted.

Lilith Saintcrow, who still. hasn’t. written. that sequel to Steelflower? Yeah, she might have single-handedly cured me of reading unfinished series, period. Especially hers.

The whole posting snippets thing seems to work well for Ilona Andrews, but I feel like that’s an entirely separate kettle of fish entirely.

- Ilona Andrews already has a fan base. They don’t need to use their snippets to reel in more fans. In fact, I’d argue that most author sites get the majority if not all of their hits from people who have already bought and liked a book of theirs.

- Ilona Andrews’ snippets are likely not really reeling in more fans rather than keeping their current fans salivating.

- Ilona Andrews’ fans know that their books are coming out and there’s not so much of the “argh, when will this author be published, if ever?!?!” aggravation.

For all the authors who want to self-publish or still haven’t landed a book deal?

It could go both ways.

They could suddenly gain a gazillion readers because their excerpts are just that good and suddenly every agent who is anyone wants to represent them.

Or, they could fall into the pit of “that coulda gone better”:

– When authors put out shorts or excerpts that are not professionally edited, there’s always that risk of them putting out regret that will come back to bite them in the ass later.

– It’s really hard to snag a reader’s interest. Period. Full stop. Sometimes the excerpt is the wrong kind. Sometimes the excerpt comes in at a point where although the action is great, the dialogue is snappy, but the reader doesn’t care about the characters yet so it’s all moot. Sometimes what the author thinks will make a great excerpt just leaves the readers cold.

My thoughts?

If I decide to self-publish, I’ll post snippets and excerpts of the story once I’ve had it thoroughly edited and vetted.

If I go the traditional route, I’ll post snippets once it has gone the full gamut of edits and after I know for sure when it’s going to be on the shelves.

Otherwise, if it’s throwaway snippets, I’ll make sure that I’ve had them edited and vetted before tossing them on here. Even then, they’ll be in the sidebar where people will have to go looking for them and won’t just stumble across them in the course of reading my blog.

Backstory snippets of things that happened far before the story starts, yes.

Interesting scenes that were cut because they didn’t advance the story that much, maybe.

Deleted scenes that didn’t work in the story? No.

Scenes of “what might have been”? Perhaps.

It was sobering to know that search engines don’t really turn up excerpts that well and so they don’t aid in your platform building.

This means that I’ll have to go into posting snippets with the idea that it’s fan service to established fans (*crickets*) and probably won’t get me anywhere. All things considered, it might even work against me.

So what do you think? Will you post snippets of your work on your blog?

Mary Sues and various ramblings

I submitted the first page of my story at DA about five weeks ago, and yesterday it went live.

This was perhaps not my most well thought out idea, since this is still pretty much a rough draft. Granted, it’s the third version of the story, but since my eyes were the only ones that went over it before I submitted it — I should probably have waited to get someone else to look it so it would have been more promo and water-testing than rightly deserved crit-fest.

Anyways!

So, I was talking with Thene about the experience:

(6:24:24 PM) kyrias: I like how people are tired of kick-ass heroines though :P

(6:25:10 PM) thene: no one ever says they’re tired of kick-ass heroes

(6:28:16 PM) kyrias: oh, there’s a debate discussion about sues!

Disclaimer: The logic jump was pure ADD and not my intent to imply that the comments were made from the same mind-set that spawns Sue-hate.

So I’ve been sitting on my thumbs for the past few days because I’ve thought that pretty much everything that could or should be said about Sues has probably been comprehensively covered by better bloggers than I.

But! Since the topic all but fell in my lap:

Zoe Marriott:

1) A character who is based, at least partly, on the author
2) A character whom has no significant flaws (except possibly ones the other characters find cute)
3) A character to whom everyone within the story reacts as if they were beautiful and wonderful except characters who are clearly evil and/or motivated by jealousy
4) A character with whom, during the course of the story, every available character of the opposite (and occasionally the same) sex will fall in love given any contact whatsoever
5) A character who undergoes no significant growth, change or development throughout the story.

Or also, a wish fulfillment fantasy, like Bella Swan of Twilight fame.

Zoe Marriott also thinks that most of the time Mary Sue is simply a handy term for “female character you didn’t like”, perhaps because the female character is too, um, female.

Holly Black:

So when a book is about a girl who is the best at something and about the boys (and/or girls) that love her and how she defeats the bad guy, well, that’s because she’s the protagonist. It is good and right that she be at the center of the story.

For example, I have seen complaints that the protagonist always wins the love of the main male character. What’s problematic about that is, well, of course she does, because if she’s the protagonist then whoever she loves becomes the main male character by virtue of his connection to the protagonist.

Hence, applying the term Mary Sue to original characters in an original story requires a great deal of care, because some of the hallmarks of the Sue only make sense in the context of her being inserted into a world where she’s not the protagonist. The Mary Sue warps the story; the female protagonist is the story.

Holly Black also points out that we can’t hold female characters or authors to different standards and that we shouldn’t criticize them primarily for being female.

Marie Brennan:

… I don’t like the unspoken message it seems to carry. What’s the baseline problem with an archetypical Mary Sue? She’s unrealistic. So when I see the word being flung at female characters I think are kind of cool, what it says to me is, cool women aren’t believable. Skill isn’t plausible, even if she worked for it. Admiration isn’t allowed. If a woman has these things, she must pay the price with a broken psyche, a ruinous personal life; that’s the only realistic outcome.

Marie Brennan pointed out that one person’s Sue may be another’s wish fulfillment and that real life sales figures will take care of the Sues. Let the chaff lie where they may, so to speak.

I’d call that a fair point, except *cough* Bella Swan *cough*. Clearly, although Bella is about as Sue as they come, Brennan’s point about Sues not living well outside a hothouse environment is not universally correct.

Also. What about Bond? James Bond, to be precise. Someone try to tell me he isn’t a Stu. Just try. I dare you.

I think part of the problem is that we as a society have been told over and over again that women/girls can’t ________ or are not as good as males in ____________.

Barbie said “Math class is tough!”.

Girls are socialized from a very young age away from what is traditionally considered more masculine and if we think that the boys aren’t also internalizing the concepts that “computers are hard for girls” and “girls suck at math” and “boys are naturally better at sports” and other such rot — we aren’t paying attention.

There is a line, I feel, between a character who is clearly there for authorial wish fulfillment and a character who is simply too good to be true.

Because clearly, women aren’t witty, or sassy, or that courageous in real life ™.

Because it’s plain to see that women don’t go in for the kick-ass, cool, traditionally male jobs that involve politics or violence or god forbid, both.

Well, yes.

Maybe there aren’t currently real life examples of women who are presidents, who lead armies into war, who do amazing work for science or art or theatre.

That doesn’t need to stay true. In fact, it shouldn’t stay true.

People. We’re running a lovely little vicious self-fulfilling loop here.

If we keep telling ourselves that we can’t, then we won’t be able to. If we refuse to be able to identify with a female who can kick ass with the best of them, still be a human being capable of loving and other finer emotions, and who might even, gasp, be able to cook or clean — then we’re passing that message onto ourselves, our daughters, our nieces, and all the males around us.

There’s nothing wrong with wish fulfillment.

Nothing at all, especially when the author’s wish fulfillment is tapping into the wants and needs of readers everywhere.

I wonder — if we didn’t know, for a fact, that Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Indira Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth, Joan d’Arc, and Wu Ze Tian existed — would we be calling stories of them stories about Mary Sues as well?

Probably.

That, more than anything, chills me to the bone.

So ladies, gentlemen — please, could we try seeing female characters in a more generous light than we have been?