Do I write like a woman?

I’ll go ahead and say it since you’ll probably either find out or figure it out eventually: I consider myself a feminist. Now I’m sure I’ve lost a few of you with that statement alone, but for those of you still listening, I’d like to get a few things out there.

  • I do not hate men. In fact, I love men. The majority of my characters happen to be men, actually, which causes mixed feelings.
  • I believe in equal rights for all people – gay, lesbian, queer, straight, bisexual, transexual, extraterrestrial, lens-glare white to mahogany brown. I understand that there has on occasion been friction between the feminist community and the LGBT community, so I want to be quite clear on that point in particular.
  • I’m not looking for a fight. I’d like to believe that all of us have more in common than we have differences.
  • I define who I am. Although I believe in a lot of feminist principles and loosely categorize myself as “a feminist,” I refuse to be defined by the actions of others under the same title. Do not ask me to defend the questionable actions of others. I speak for myself, and myself alone.

Now with that all out of the way (or so I’d hope), I’d like to continue on and discuss this article (blog post?) that I read earlier today. “Michelle Rodriguez Made Me Cry at Comic Con” by Kate Conway relates Kate’s personal experiences at Comic Con, specifically a panel called “Women Who Kick Ass.” The women on the panel recounted several stories about how other males on the set treated them, at times, with a lack of respect, and how the writers seemed to have difficulty writing believable scenes for them. Maggie Q described a classic scene in which her character was performing kung fu in high heels (and anyone who has ever worn high heels will tell you that there is nothing you would rather do less than perform fast, athletic movements in heels). This kind of ridiculous scene is rampant in all manner of fantasy and science fiction.

Tangent: Seriously guys, why in the world would someone as “efficient” as Seven of Nine wear something as frivolous as high heels and a catsuit? As minor and somewhat irrelevant as it is, that kind of thing has always bugged me. Fortunately Joss Whedon and whoever he works with proved that women do not have to be seen in only fancy shoes and tight-fitting outfits by choosing reasonable clothing/shoes for the characters in Firefly.

Digressions aside, the following quote from Kate Conway’s article inspired this post…

In that moment, though, I didn’t know any of that. As the moderator started wrapping things up, apologizing for having to leave “right as things were getting good,” Michelle leaned forward to her mic again.

“We gotta start writing,” she said again. She meant women. “Writing, and directing, and producing the kind of content we want to see. Because otherwise, nothing’s gonna change.”

I’ve seen this kind of sentiment expressed a lot lately amongst the growing subset of feminist nerds on the internet. Anita Sarkeesian is perhaps one of the most high-profile feminist nerds, and she frequently brings up topics which either directly or indirectly lead to the conclusion that the media at large needs more fictional women as lead roles/main characters/playable avatars, and more real-world women in creatively powerful positions. These assertions are surprisingly controversial, and Anita, among other public feminist nerds, has faced a pretty severe backlash as a result.

On the writing side of things, close to half of all fantasy titles are written by women according to Slate’s Alex Heimbach, while only about 1/4 of science fiction authors are female.  The more equitable distribution of women writers in fantasy is certainly something to be happy about, and it’s equally pleasing that many of the most successful fantasy writers of the last couple decades have been women (hello, J.K. Rowling). Unfortunately, most of the data will show that there is still a disparity in female representation in general media, particularly when you look at Hollywood writers and female characters. This infographic pretty much speaks for itself:

I’ve been reading feminist philosophy, data and what have you for a long time – I’ve done enough research to firmly establish my opinion that yes, we do need more strong female characters and yes, we do need more women with creative power (and more trans* and non-binary people, for that matter). I’m not saying we should stifle the creativity of males, but merely the position that it would be good for women and people in general if we were better represented both in print and in films. Women in the United States and in many countries all over the world still face a culture which is silently permissive of rape, perpetuates a substantial wage gap (especially if you are both female and a minority), and attacks our reproductive health choices. Portraying strong and capable women in media is one way to push society towards a world where women are viewed with complete parity to their male counterparts.

Ever since I started this journey towards actually publishing works of fiction I’ve had to evaluate my own work from a different perspective. If I’m going to stand up for my beliefs and “be the change,” as it were, it would make sense for me to put a little thought into what kind of change I hope to represent. One conversation in particular brought me to this realization.

Several years ago during an interview for a scholarly position, one of my interviewers noted that I listed “writing” as a hobby. She proceeded to ask me about what I write, so I told her: I was, at the time, working on a novel about a girl named Zikaly –

“Do you always write stories with heroines?” my interviewer interrupted excitedly.

The question caught me off-guard. It seemed a strange thing to ask – almost every story I’ve ever written has included a woman as one of the primary perspectives. It had always been my natural instinct to first write from a comfortable perspective (in this case, a female one) and add on more ambitious perspectives as the story progresses. My characters tended to (and still do) evolve pretty organically, regardless of gender. Gender was something that I typically assigned on reflex, with no conscious intent. It wasn’t until this interview that I realized that these seemingly small creative choices could potentially make a profound impression on my prospective readers.

The way that I approach gender, race and sexuality in my writing has been changing since that encounter as I’ve started to accept that someone else might read what I’ve written. With Tragedy more than any other story, I’ve tried to be as gender- and race-inclusive as I can. I will be the first to admit that I fail at those goals in many ways. My two main characters are pretty light-skinned (though I do describe Teveres as “honey-skinned” because my gods he is delicious). Most of my POV characters, and really most of my characters as a whole, are male. I do have a gay man and a bisexual man in the story, though they are not usually in the spotlight. It might be hubris that I believe I am decent at writing about other genders – and maybe hubris again that I think I can write well for women when I, like so many others, fall into many of the creative traps that are all around me in the media.

All of this leads to my question, and the title of this post: Do I write like a woman? Does my gender make my perspective as an author somehow different from my male counterparts? I’m not sure. I can’t read my book the way you can; what I’ve written will never be new to me. I do know one thing for certain – none of my characters, male or female, will ever willingly enter a fight wearing heels.

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An author, or something like one

“Author” is a title I always associated with something very official. An author, well, they publish. Once I would have said that they necessarily have published through a traditional publishing house, but I can’t say that anymore – I view Lindsay Buroker and other authors like her as “official” authors. They create work that someone reads… you know, someone other than their friends and family. They’re professionals.

I can say that indeed, someone other than friends and family has read and liked my work. Am I a professional? I don’t know, to be honest. I am a professional in the medical field, but in writing… I guess if professional is someone who stays up to all hours in her nightclothes writing on her laptop from an unhealthy posture, then sure. I could be persuaded to be a professional. And finally, yes, I’ve published. As of July 25th, 2014 I am a published… author?

Am I an author now?

According to Webster, I might be.

Definition of AUTHOR

a : one that originates or creates : source <software authors> <film authors> <the author of this crime>b capitalized : god 1

: the writer of a literary work (as a book)
I don’t know how I feel about branding myself an “author,” alongside all the artists whose work I have read and respected over the years. I’m not sure I’m ready to take on that mystical shroud that I’ve wanted to wear since I was 10 years old. I would, however, like to invite you to check out my short story… my first published work of fiction.
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“Garren has spent many years building his home in the Kaldari border town of Plen. A satisfied husband and father, he is known as one of the best scouts in all the provinces despite his identity as a half-Kaldari bastard. Although he tries to ignore the war brewing between the Kaldari and the Children of Elseth in the north, one man’s mistake brings that war to his doorstep and changes his life forever.

This short story told from Garren’s point of view is a prequel to Sydney M. Cooper’s upcoming novel, “Tragedy.” Look for “Tragedy” on Amazon Kindle later this summer.”

If you are indeed out there, theoretical reader, let me know what you think. 🙂

What does it mean to be a writer, anyway?

I’ve a mind to talk about something more philosophical today, so I’d like to discuss with you a little bit about writing as an activity. I’ve had enough of talking just about myself and my work. Shameless self-promotion, while necessary, is not actually something I’m very comfortable with. For as much as I write, I’m not actually very comfortable writing about me. As a writer of fiction, I habitually create a comfortable shield around myself in the form of my characters. They do the talking for me. They show emotion, some of it mine and some of it not – they express opinions, a hodgepodge of things I do believe, once believed, or have observed others to believe. When you read my fiction, you’re seeing a broken glass reflection of me. There are pieces there which are whole, some of which fit together. There are jagged edges and deception in what you see. It’s an illusion, really, but it’s based on something quite real.

When I said I wanted to discuss writing, this is the kind of thing I was talking about.

Every person who writes, even if it’s just a page of prose or a verse of poetry now and then, writes for a different reason. While many people find writing to be a chore, I think most of us who write do so to start with because it is fun. Before this most recent move I had a roomate who would occasionally run into me in the halls, pale-faced and sleep deprived from spending my limited free time on Tragedy. Our conversations typically went something like…

Roomate: “So, how’s it going?”

Me: “I just wrote 2,000 words… I’m out of words…”

Roomate: “Wow, that’s rough.”

Me: “Rough? No, it’s… it’s great.”

My roomate, of course, was not a writer. To him the idea of spending hours in front of computer screen with a word document and music blaring might be some kind of torture. For me, though… for me that time spent in another world so far from the hospital was my escape (still is my escape, I should add). The adventure of writing and the challenge of marrying the right characters with the right story is as enjoyable if not more so than sitting down to play a videogame. Lord knows I only have so much patience for The Sims.

Beyond the recreational aspect, writing can take on a more profound meaning. Naturally I can only speak for myself (is that not the point of a blog, anyway?), but my writing has most always been about communicating the stories of the characters in a way which evokes sympathy from the reader. I’ve always enjoyed reading stories that are character-driven, the kind of work that explores the motivations of people in a provocative fashion. I enjoy writing the same kind of stories I enjoy reading – I can’t say with certainty that I am always successful, but I do know that writing has opened my own mind in many ways, helped me test the boundaries of my own biases. In my humble opinion, a great story is one which helps the reader learn something about themselves or about the world that they didn’t know before.

Really, the same can be said for any form of art. Creative endeavors can be tremendous tools for personal betterment and even social change. It communicates with us, normalizes behaviors, and gives us the chance to expand beyond our sometimes-limited perspectives. Exposing ones self to creativity is just as important as playing the role of creator, as we humans learn the most from those around us.

I do apologize for the rambling nature of this post, but nonetheless hope you found it entertaining. To close, I’d like to leave you with a few artists who have expanded my mind over the years, odd as they may seem on first glance: Richard Bach, author of Illusions; Anne Bishop, author of The Black Jewels Trilogy; The Barenaked Ladies, the band which kept me sane through my adolescence; and Lindsey Stirling, whose music played in the background during most of the draft of Tragedy.

What artists have inspired and enlightened you?

Previews and Updates

Hello again theoretical reader! It’s been several days since I’ve had a chance to update this blog, so I’ll just get right to it.

Currently I am doing some tweaking of the manuscript while I wait for the cover art. The cover is being designed by the lovely and talented Raechel Gasparac. I am thrilled with the design and can’t wait to share it with the world! It should not be long before it’s finished, and after that it’s just a matter of getting things uploaded and formatted properly.

In the meantime, I have posted parts 1 and 2 of the prologue to Tragedy on createspace. Part 1 features Aiasjia, the female protagonist of the story, while Part 2 follows Teveres, the corresponding male protagonist. I encourage you to click the links, read the chapters, and leave comments if you feel moved to do so.

Moving has been a bit of a chore as always, but now that I’m starting to get settled in I should be able to update this page more frequently. If you are more than just a theoretical reader – dare I say an actual human being at the other end of this internet tube – I would love to hear your comments! Are you out there? Are you intrigued? Is there anything you’d like me to write about in the future?

Hopefulness

One of the authors who inspired me to take a chance on epublishing is Lindsay Buroker. The writer of the Emporer’s Edge series (which you should absolutely pick up here!), Lindsay also maintains a blog about self-publishing. She has mentioned several things that helped her get started in the self-publishing business – one of those things was publishing a short story. On that advice, I’ve decided to put a short story prequel to Tragedy up on Amazon to see what happens. That process is currently in the works, and I will update you when it is officially on the market.

Fathers and Sons was something I wrote both as a sample of my work, and also as a way for me to better understand Garren as a character. Most often I write in third person limited, but for this I went with first person present-tense, which very much matches Garren’s… utilitarian mode of thinking. I would like to write a couple more short stories from the perspectives of my main characters, if only to learn more about them for myself.

If I’m very lucky I will manage to make a little bit of progress on this promoting-the-book thing each night. I’m going to call tonight a win in that category. Back to packing up boxes… four more days till the big move!

Message in a Bottle

Me again, writing to you future readers who may or may not exist. 😉 It’s the 4th of July, and I am completely exhausted from non-writing events this week. I didn’t even bother with the fireworks today, though I did have a lovely time shopping with the mom in law. Rather than sitting outside with the Texas mosquitoes, I decided I would try to update my much-neglected blog.

Much has happened since the last time I wrote. A good friend of mine – the artist from my earlier post – convinced me to send my work to a traditional publisher. The response I received was interesting, and even though it was a rejection, I see it as a necessary part of my own self-publishing journey.

The publisher (who will forever remain nameless as a courtesy) got back to me promptly, and it seemed the editor I was in touch with quite liked the work. It got all the way up to being discussed with the marketing team, at which point they sent me a peculiarly-worded email stating that while they’re rejecting this book, they encouraged me to keep submitting, and to submit other stories to them in the future.

It’s clear that someone in that company did like the book enough to push it forward in the process, but that somewhere along the way not enough people were convinced. The thing is, I did not write this book for the benefit of anyone but myself. This creation of mine, which I would like to share with others on the off-chance that it will be meaningful to them, was not drawn up to be focus group fodder. Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more reasons I came up with for why the book might have been rejected (other than the possibility that a large number of people at the company just didn’t like the writing itself). Among them were my portrayals of religion, drug addiction, mental illness/suicide, sexuality and abortion.

I would like to state that much in the same way that I did not write this novel for the sake of other people, I did not write it with the intention to address controversial issues. My characters reflect my life as someone who has seen a lot of things and loved a lot of people who society found unlovable. Though the book is not meant to be a political statement, I did very intentionally write flawed characters, each of them uniquely important to me. I dearly hope that you, my theoretical reader, fell in love with my characters too.

With a rejection in hand, I am actively embarking on my adventure in self-publishing. I will continue writing and publishing whether my work is loved or hated by the masses in the hopes that the stories resonate with even one person.

All of that said, I am going to conclude this post. I have some more editing to do, along with preparations for a cross-country move. Change is good!

Corners embrace you, friend.