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Strong Female Characters – John Konecsni

*Mike Barker suggested I write a post on “Angels of Workshops” and I will, but I’m REALLY (REALLY REALLY REALLY) trying to finish Through Fire before the end of the year (or before it finishes me.)  So, I twisted John Konecsni’s arm into writing a post for me.  Give him a warm Mad Genius Welcome, please.  (No, that doesn’t mean you set fire to his socks.  Remember the talk we had?  Right.  Just be really nice, because he’s a nice man.*

Strong Female Characters – John Konecsni

In private correspondence, I once had a reader and interviewer – an interesting fellow named Stuart West – tell me that he appreciated how many “strong female characters” I have.

 

I was a little thrown there because it took me a moment to figure out what he was talking about.

 

In my novels, I have Manana Shushurin, who’s a spy that’s more James Bond than George Smiley.  She reads, likes music, has a degree from Wittenberg university …. has no social life, and technically, lives with her mother (technically, I say, because she really lives in her office). She also has a secret that’s eating a hole in her life.

 

I also have Maureen McGrail.  She’s an Interpol detective, local Dublin cop, relentless, tenacious, and she knows about three martial arts.  She’s also pining for a guy who came into her life, swept her off of her feet (just by being himself, really) and disappeared, without showing even a hint of romantic interest in her.

 

Then there’s Wilhelmina Goldberg, who is 4’11”, computer nerd, daughter of two esoteric languages nerds. She likes science fiction and fantasy, programs her computer to talk like characters out of Lord of the Rings, and has a subscription to Security magazine. And her biggest fighting ability is a handgun.

 

In Codename: Winterborn, I have an antagonist / sort-of love interest named Mandy, who is a mercenary, hired to hunt the protagonist, and respects his skill. She’s a bit of a daddy’s girl, but she was homeschooled by her mother, which included how to shoot.

 

So every time I hear about “strong female characters,” all I can think is “if your protagonists aren’t strong is some way, how are they going to survive?” Who the bleep cares if they’re women or not?

 

In context, I should point out that Stuart was using the strong female character comment as a segue into a completely different point, an issue he found in my writing.(Apparently, I shouldn’t be putting in bust size as far as describing a female character.  I neglected to tell Stuart that if I knew anything about clothing, I would probably include men’s jacket sizes to paint a clearer, more accurate picture of them, too. But I don’t know any men who are the sizes I need. Me? OCD?  Nah….)

 

In any case, the SFC term struck me, and stuck with me.

 

And then there was this article, entitled I hate Strong Female Characters.  If you read through it, you might find a few points to agree with, and a few problems.

 

Now, I agree with the author on the initial point.  I also have problems with the SFC label. I really do, because it tends to detract from, oh, the point. In the example they used of Buffy– she was smart, witty, with outside the box solutions to non-vampire problems (shall we start with the fertilizer bomb or the rocket launcher?).  But “Strong” is the only descriptor one can come up with?

 

In my own work, I spent so much time on developing characters like Manana, Mandy, Wilhelmina, etc, their quirks and habits and hobbies, that I feel a little awkward if the best description anyone can come up with about them is just “strong.” It’s like people are just jamming the well-crafted and well-designed characters I made, and jamming them into a box labeled “X,” where Buffy and Xena are right next to Black Widow and Mandy.

 

Though you want my problem with this author?

 

1)  “I want good complex characters!”

 

…. And then the article focuses completely on Buffy, because she’s the STRONG character…. and ignores Willow, who saves the day repeatedly, but is physically as strong as your average anemic? Faith, who’s as physically strong as Buffy, but a broken character? How about Cordelia, who starts out a vacuous California mean girl, and becomes more interesting within the first half of season 1? Or Anya, who goes through a fairly strange character arc of her own?

 

And, while they’re talking about complex characters, they boiled Buffy down to only “SFC.” How about witty? Smart? Creative? The example used in the article was the end point of a two-episode arc exposing just how vulnerable Buffy really is. Yes, she’s got superpowers, but she’s still a teenager, with all the problems that comes with it, in addition to waging a constant war against everything that came to kill her, swallow the Earth, etc. The author managed to ignore the entire point of a two-part story!

 

Who demands good complex characters! and then ignores them when s/he gets them?  If this article had said that the “SFC” label shoved a character into a box and left them there, then I could agree to some degree.  But this author seems to be guilty of doing just that.

 

2) I want a 1:1 ratio of complex characters, male and female! 

 

The author prattles on about Peggy Carter of Captain America: The First Avenger, complaining that she was unbalanced and cartoonish, making a lot of assumptions.

 

The author mentions that Peggy Carter shooting Captain America’s shield is a temper tantrum that no guy would have gotten away with. Obviously, this person never saw the 100 generic Stupid People Tricks that are on cable, and mostly male.  The author assumed that in firing, Peggy had been too stupid to not be listening to the toymaker Stark prattle on about his cool toys for however long she’d been in his general orbit. The author also assumed that no one in the entire room knew that the shield was bulletproof– which is kind of like people in Q’s lab not knowing to duck on a regular basis.

 

The author then insists that this “over-the-top” reaction is because she’s one of two women with a speaking part, and there be more women on screen to counter stuff like this. (Which is odd, since I counted four — which included a grandma with a tommy gun, and a SHIELD agent at the end of the film).

 

My real problem?  First, the author makes these above assumptions and then kvetches that they could have shoe-horned in more women. Why? Just to shoe-horn in more women. So we could have a 1:1 ratio of women in the film. Really?

 

Hey, maybe we could have put in more cardboard cutouts. Besides, if you really want equality, then Captain America: The First Avenger, was perfectly equal. There were only two complex characters in the whole film.  Tommy Lee Jones was playing….Tommy Lee Jones…. Zola was Mad Scientist #2 … The Red Skull was Psycho Villain #6 … Eskine was “Dr. Littleoldmun” from Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety. And Stark was very much “Howard Hughes Carbon Copy #1.”  Outside of the sidekick Bucky (Plucky Sidekick #9), are any of Captain America’s team even referred to by name?

 

In short, Carter and Rodgers were the only two characters of any substance in the film. This isn’t a complaint. I’m sure they were plenty deep in character design, but there was little enough of it on the screen. Not to mention– it’s a movie. If you’re Peter Jackson, you get nine hours of films for develop all of your characters. If you’re a Marvel film, you have, at most two hours and thirty minutes.  If you have two well-written and developed characters, you’re ahead of the game.  I feel fortunate to have one, some days.

 

But for the 1:1 ratio this author wants?

 

Maybe this author would have liked more 2D characters. As she suggest, let’s gender swap…. Dr. Zola?  So we can have a weak, simpering little woman be bullied by Tommy Lee Jones? Dr. Erskine? So we can have a little grandmother figure play the martyr?  Hey, we could gender swap Tommy Lee Jones, and have him played by Kathy Bates! Why not have the Red Skull played by Angelina Jolie?

 

Now, a reasonable argument I got from fellow author Karina Fabian is from the point of view that, there were certainly a heck of a lot more women in the WW2 military than were seen in the film. There were secretaries, WACs, women who transported planes, codebreakers, nurses, etc.  That way, we could have had a lot of women…. but they would have been in the background, and probably would have completely boiled away this author’s argument.

 

3) Women are at the back of the bus…um, movie poster, like Black Widow.

 

 

“Strong women are supposed to kick ass and keep their mouth shut.” Really?

 

How about, oh, that Black Widow WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO OUTSMARTED LOKI?  IN THE ENTIRE MOVIE! GAAAHHHH!!!

 

How about that BLACK WIDOW WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO COULD CLOSE THE PLOT DEVICE DESTROYING NEW YORK?

 

How about the fact that there were maybe five deep moments in the entire film, and Black Widow was in two of them (The five moments were Stark and Banner in Lab, Stark and Rodgers reconcile, Coulson, interrogating Loki, and Black Widow and Barton, post-brainwashing….six scenes, if you count Black Widow and Bruce Banner in India, giving her half the deep moments in the film).

 

Oh, hey, how about Sam Jackson? Maybe we should say The Avengers was racist, because he was in the back of the poster?

 

I’m sorry, but unless you’re Iron Man or Thor, you’re in the back of this poster.

 

4) Where’s Thor?


Seriously, where’s the movie Thor in this discussion?  You know, the movie that was mostly Kat Denning and Natalie Portman handling Chris Hemsworth as he was enduring culture shock? With some occasional exposition from Mr. Skaarsgard? Portman’s character, astrophysicist Jane Foster, isn’t “strong,” in this sense, is she? Because last time I checked, most of my female friends could break her like a toothpick. Foster is instrumental in Thor’s change from prick to hero, but is she thrown on the bonfires of the blogger’s vanity because she doesn’t come with a complete bio and genealogy?

 

Or does this author consider her merely as a damsel in distress?  Which would be odd, because if you were in the New Mexico town in Thor, you were in distress, up to and including the three beefy supporting characters and the Valkyrie that (quite literally) drop down out of the sky.

 

Or does this not count, because the end of the movie involves the Warriors Three, Odin, and Loki? Making it three more male characters on screen than women?  Do we count Freya, who tried to stopped three assassins coming to get Odin? Or because she wasn’t on screen that often, should we throw her aside?

 

While not physically strong, I thought Jane Foster was very well written. She was the love interest, sure, but that love motivated both of them to be better.  He was motivated to be a better person, and she was motivated to continue pursuing interstellar/inter-dimensional travel.

 

Am I wrong? Or, as I asked, does she just not count?

 

Conclusion: Equality!

 

As I said at the beginning, I don’t like the SFC label.  If you can shove my characters into a nice neat little box, I’m going to be pissy — either at you for demeaning my characters, or at myself for making them cardboard cutouts.

 

I would have liked this article more if it were less obvious. It’s clearly pushing an agenda — not about creating good characters, but numerical “equality!” for “equality’s” sake. By the end, I felt like I was reading a review of 300 that insisted that there should have been 150 female Spartans at Thermopylae (this is not a joke, I did read one of those).

 

I honestly couldn’t tell you the ratio of my characters if you dared me to.

 

In Pius Man, I’ve got Maureen, Manana and Wilhelmina named above as main characters. Is the ratio 1:1 if I include Giovanni Figlia’s wife, the forensic specialist?

 

Is the ratio no longer 1:1 if I count the three priests in the background?

 

Is it all right if I have Scott “Mossad” Murphy, who can’t shoot, is pale, anemic-looking, and pair him up with the sexy gunslinger Manana?  Does that make him weak, even though he will take gunfire and is a pivotal part of the book?

 

Does Wilhelmina Goldberg not count if she doesn’t shoot anybody, but is a key part to hunting down the bad guys by the end?

 

At the end of the day, the SFC label is too simple. But so is reducing “equality” to numbers of people on screen and counting lines.  If you’re keeping score with 1:1 ratios, exactly what will satisfy you? I have no idea.

 

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have to go write a scene where Manana has to save Scott. Again.

Oh the whining and whinging

I do so love how some folks have to hunt to find some sliver of something that might, in some faraway galaxy, be construed as ill-will by Amazon. Once they find it, they run with it, doing their best to make it into a “big” deal, never considering what the actual facts might be. After all, it’s Amazon they are condemning, so why worry about such minor things like facts? The haters are going to hate, no matter what.

The latest example comes from the New York Times. Yes, yes, I know. It is a bastion of journalistic integrity. How could I doubt it when it hosts headlines like this: Amazon Offers All-You-Can-Eat Books. Authors Turn Up Noses.

The article starts out by saying that authors are mad — again — with Amazon. It goes on to note that “[f]or much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.”

Now, the teacher in me would take the reporter and the editor who approved the article to task for that sentence. After all, it implies that all mainstream novelists were “furious” with Amazon over the Hachette issue. Funny, I don’t remember it being every mainstream author. In fact, the only ones who seemed to really be furious were the favored few and those who felt it necessary to align their names with those same little darlings of the Hachete world. Most of the other so-called mainsteam authors — and what is a mainstream author? Could the article actually mean traditionally published authors? — were busy doing what writers do. They were writing. Note also how the article doesn’t mention once the suggestions made by Amazon to help these so-called furious authors, suggestions that would have put money into the pockets of the authors and that were summarily tossed aside by Hachette. But I digress.

According to the article, there is too much competition out there for writers now. Without the gatekeepers to limit the number — and “quality” — of books available, there are just too many choices for the poor reader to choose from. This is a variation of the argument that is also going around that Amazon is a purveyor of lettuce and shouldn’t also be selling books because, duh, they sell lettuce.

But the real issue the article has with Amazon is the new Kindle Unlimited program. For those of you not familiar with the KU program, it works like this. From the reader’s standpoint, you pay a monthly fee of $9.99. In return, you get the option of downloading up to 10 books at a time for free. These books have to be enrolled in the KU program, so most will be indie books. There is no time limit on when you have to read the books. You can’t loan them and you don’t own them. Think of it as a for pay library. You are paying for the ability to borrow a book for an unlimited period of time.

From the author’s point of view, you have to enroll your title first in the KDP Select program. That means you cannot sell your title anywhere else. Then, if you want to go into the KU program, you check the little box and your book is now enrolled. But don’t get your knickers in a twist — yet. You will get paid for those loans.

Maybe.

At some future point in time.

The problem with KU from an author’s point of view is two-fold. The first is that you don’t know how many times your book has been downloaded. You only find out about a download when it is read to a certain percentage of the book’s length. When that magical number is reached, you get your share of the common “pot”. And therein lies the second issue.

As with the Kindle Only Lending Library (KOLL), authors get paid out of a monthly fund set up by Amazon. The fund can vary in amount from month to month. Worse, there is no limit on the number of books that can be in the program at any one time. So, the more books downloaded and then read to the magic percentage point, the lower the monies paid out per download.

But the real problem with KU is the fact that there is no payment tier based on title price. Someone who puts up a title that normally sells for 99 cents will get the same amount of money per download as that $9.99 title gets. What that means is that those who are putting up titles that fall under the 30% royalty structure normally will get more money per download than they would for a straight sale. Conversely, depending on how much a title sells for you might make close to what you would for a sale if your title is priced at $2.99 but you will make substantially less for those books priced higher than that.

Now, how you look at that is up to you. Amazon is not, contrary to what the article says, making e-books an all-you-can-eat proposition. Most folks aren’t going to pay basically $10 a month just to maybe be able to download 10 books every 30 days or so. Some will, of course, but the average reader will quit the program after realizing they aren’t getting their money’s worth out of it.

But, as an author, you need to look at your sales stats — and that includes returns as well. My personal experience has seen a dramatic decrease in returns on the romance/paranormal romance novels. As I’ve blogged before, other authors I’ve talked to who write in the romance genres have complained of higher return rates for those books than for other genre novels they write. It has nothing to do with quality — usually — but more to do with a certain set of readers. Don’t get me wrong. Most romance genre readers are wonderful fans who would never think about buying a book, reading it and then returning it. However, there is a subset of readers who have no problem doing just that. It isn’t unusual for romance genre authors to have a return rate of 10% or more. Since KU premiered, my return rate for those particular novels has dropped dramatically. It is now at the same level as my other books, below 1% for most novels.

There is something else I’ve noticed. With the exception of my science fiction novels, sales — and borrows — of the other novels have picked up since KU began. That is a good thing. It means money in my pocket and kitty kibble for Demon Kitten and Her Royal Pussiness. Would I like a better way of accounting for the number of downloads vs reading to the magic number? You bet. Just like I’d appreciate knowing how long the average is between download to reading. But what I am finding out through reviews and emails is that a number of those who try a book on KU will then return the book and buy their own copy. Better yet, they will buy other books in the series. I know I am getting sales from KU that I might not otherwise because people do hesitate to buy from an author they aren’t familiar with.

I do wish Amazon would restructure the payment for KU to make it more difficult for authors to game the system. I don’t think something that normally sells for 99 cents should get the same payout that a $2.99 novel does, much less a novel that sells for $4.99 or more. For the system to really work, there needs to be modifiers based on price and length of the work. Without the latter, you will simply have those who want to game the system changing the price of their 2,500 work story from 99 cents to $2.99 (or whatever) to get the larger royalty payout.

The way I look at KU, however, is much like I look at the Baen Free Library. It is, in a way, a loss leader. People get my work for “free”. I don’t get as much money for their borrows but I do, hopefully, get sales out of it in the long run. Am I leaving everything in the program?  I’m not sure. I think I will tweak my offerings a bit over the next month or so to see what happens. But, for now, I’m not going to completely abandon it. Not when I do see positive results from the program.

Now if Amazon would only adjust it so the payout was based on price and length of the work, I’d be a happy camper.

Forcing the Changes

‘tis the season to… by golly!
Regulate the Christmas lights you got for little lolly…

Yes, apparently because there have been IIRC 250 deaths (since 1980) in the US which have fallen away to 1 per year… Nanny needs to pass new regulations, which will, inevitably be expensive, onerous and um… put the price of Christmas lights up. Maybe make it impossible for Joe Sixpack to waste his money on pleasing the kiddies. Now, the chances Joe will be struck by lightning and die are (on this year’s stats) 26 times higher than your chances of death-by-Christmas lights. With even the chances of death by lightning at 26/about 350 000 000, make the odds on a Darwin-award Christmas Decorator about as likely as a Hugo Awards going to anyone but yet another set of outspoken PC far leftists SJW this year (yes, they’re approaching infinite improbability). Yet, most certainly the regulations have only a slightly lower chance of occurring than the usual situation in the ‘It’s absolutely fair and un-politically unbiased’ Hugo awards.

It is in general a losing proposition for the ordinary consumer – of lights or Science Fiction. It’s pretty certain to be a losing proposition for the producers of both too (yes, even the ‘best’ winners and expensive light producers that comply fully with regulation ridiculous ad absurdum). It’s rather like taxation… too much is counterproductive. If Christmas lights become ludicrously expensive to keep that one potential Darwin-Award winner safe… people will find alternatives. LED’s run off 12 volt batteries. Or quietly decide that the regulators to stuff themselves in the orifice now available in a frozen supermarket turkey. The income, jobs and taxes the regulators (and their chums who probably paid some lobbyist to make sure their lights sold well, at premium prices) hoped to generate for themselves vanish… and such an attitude rapidly spreads. And yes. More Darwin-awardees, and even some who are not, die. In Zimbabwe where they made the rules impossible to survive, they now have a situation where disregard and distrust of regulations is the norm. No one obeys rules unless they think they’re being watched, or it suits them at the time. People who once would never, ever, deliberately flout even the silliest petty law, even if they knew they had no chance of being caught, had to, to survive. The black market, illegal currency trade, smuggling, and buying smuggled goods were all that kept starvation from winning. Everyone still alive in that country broke the law, with intent, regularly, largely with impunity, because there were too many to stop, and people knew that they had no choice.

Spin that attitude into publishing’s gate-keeping, or the various awards, and you actually see much same thing happening right now. The awards lose credibility, people buy self-published books. Once I automatically bought a Hugo or Nebula winner. Now I automatically don’t. Publishers once held automatic loyalty, and were the imprimatur of quality. Self-pubbed books were to be scorned. Only, if you stop publishing much I’d (and many others) like to read, and those pesky self-pubs are, well it could just end up the other way around. And if you somehow managed to shut self-publishing down, look to the death of the novel reading (as bounds get narrower) and professional writing (as the rewards get smaller still).

The short-term gains are not worth very much. That should be obvious to even the stupidest observer. That didn’t stop the dumb bunnies in their anti-sad-puppies campaign this last year. It hasn’t stopped most of traditional publishing outside of Baen going on down the same course they’ve been losing readers on for a generation. It won’t stop nanny calling for more and more Grinch regulations, even if she fails on this attempt.

Because it’s about control (and possibly short term reward and money). This is how they work. This is the only way they know. They cannot see otherwise.

In the meanwhile, we’re going to continue working around them.

We know we can!

And in the New Year I resolve I will.

Art!

There has been a long productive discussion in a private group I belong to on what defines art.

For the SJWs it means “be socially relevant in the ‘right’ (left) direction.”  For me, no, it doesn’t.

However they are historically ah justified, since historically art was used to support the church and state that defined the society.  And this day as far as the elites are concerned, the theology is marxism, which supports them in their technocrat “we know better” position and their pretense of working for others and therefore deserving rewards.

So before we can combat them, we need to create our own theory of art criticism.

I propose three legs to support art

Intention — what effect you achieve must be intentional.  Some branches covered in frost in the morning are beautiful, but not intentional.  (Well, maybe G-d amuses himself making mini-masterpieces, but we don’t know that and a lot of it seems to be random. Also, if this is G-d’s work of art, it would be beyond our ability to perceive or critique.  Moot.)  So — without intention and creating will there is no art.

Skill – This is slippery territory because we don’t know where skill ends and genius begins.  However, SOME skill is needed.  A writer needs to know the language he is working in.  A musician needs to be able to play his instrument, be it a stick and a bucket or a piano.  A painter needs to know how to draw basic forms and how colors interact.  (Yes, I know there’s a whole theory of noble savage art, particularly in plastic arts, which I think aren’t really, just a manifestation of utter decadence.)

Emotion – the ultimate effect of any art is emotion, whether it’s good emotion, bad emotion.  It is however a controlled emotional experience leading to catharsis.

And the ultimate test of art is whether it speaks to people through the centuries.  It is possible to be immensely popular in your own time for other factors, such as social signaling or heavy supporting of the elites line, and to be despised or, worse, ignored, in the future.

However, if you’re not popular in your own time — if you’re not entertaining enough to sustain interest, then you’ll ONLY be read for social signaling and your chances of ever achieving the emotional effect in your own day, much less the future, is zero.

So — discuss it.  I’m trying to come up with a coherent theory that leads to a book, or at least a monograph.

Oh, and why should we care as writers?  Good heavens — if we’re trying to improve, we need to know in which direction.  Beyond “make mo’ money” — though mind you I’m totally behind that too.

Tempus Fuggit

As I sit here, the sun refuses to peek over horizon. Well, over the trees and “hills” (I’ve seen what the East Part calls mountains, and I remain unimpressed) surrounding the Kilted Homestead. Frost is thick on the grass, the fence, likely the cars ringing the cul de sac, and likely the roof, as well. And I hear sirens. (They must have discovered my pending Minion of the ELOE status. Look like I’ll be spending New Year’s at Fallback Position Gamma-9) It seems like just yesterday that Wee Dave took his first coughing breaths and gave me his first dirty look (there have been plenty of both since) and I’m minded – as an ambulence goes past – that there are any number of people who won’t see the sun come up tomorrow. At least not on this world.

As the days march past, I’ve been watching my fellow genii from afar. Words are worked, projects begun, pounded at, finished, and announced (not necessarily in that order) and I wonder what I’m doing with my time. And then I remember: I’m the primary on a (now) seven month old. Plenty of people have suggested (gently; they understand the fragile state of mind of the new parent) that I’m doing just fine, but there’s that niggling part of my mind whispering poisonedly that I haven’t finished a story since July. Which is true, but the conclusions it’d have me draw are off. Or at least I tell myself this. It’s all part and parcel of the Fake-It-‘Til-Y’Make-It Method (copyright, patent pending, thought-banked at First Rigel).

Christmas is just past (unless you’re Catholic. Also, Merry’to’yer, Joyous Yule, Happy Hanukka, and an exciting Hogswatch!) and New Year’s is coming round the corner with martini glass in one hand and rattle in the other, the lush, and it’s the time when people think about transitions and turning points and what they have and haven’t accomplished during the year, and hope to during the next. As writers, we tend toward the morose and maudlin (or so I’ve noticed, and I don’t think I’m just projecting from my own experiences). The weight of books unfinished drags while half-formed plots and characters tease at the edge of thought. It’s quite distracting, really.

And that’s on a normal day. Any number of us have had the pleasure of what Kris Rusch and Dean Smith call “life rolls.” Birth, death, marriage, divorce, wild success or abject failure. Moving (I’m really learning to hate that one) or health that can only be called complicated. All of these, and more (can be had for four low, low payments…) fall under the Life Happens category, and most of us have experienced at least one such in the past year, it seems.

I know Wee Dave has drastically impacted my ability to get anything accomplished. Writing is something that happens very occasionally when I steal time from the normal routine (which suggests a solution, right there) and almost always when I have some kind of deadline, like when I realize I have a post to write as I’m getting ready for bed. That kind of thing. Fiction is harder, at least right now. I’m told things ease as the small creatures become more independent. I hope this is true, as writers write, and right now, I’m not so much with the writing, as the wanting to be writing.

But that’s just where I’m going with this. Life happens. It keeps happening all around us, and to us (without permission or blessing! the nerve!). It’s verges on the discouraging, but that seems to be how this particular vocation rolls. Oddly, and with much jouncing and bounding about. I’d like to have a few words with the Author about the whole set-up, let me tell you.

As we look toward the coming of a new arbitrary division of time, we get the pleasure (for lack of a better term) of a stew of emotions, reactions and anticipations. Will Bezos the Conqueror choose 2015 as the Year of the Great Darkening, as the publishing prophets have foretold? Will relentlessly advancing technology unseat the Lords and Masters of this place from their positions of power? Will Skynet (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) arise? Or at least, will the world, and my part in it, settle just enough that I can knock out that multiple best-selling story and set my parents up in the manner to which they would like to become accustomed? Right now, I don’t much care, as it’s early, yet (lazy sun is just now getting with the program) and I haven’t had coffee, yet, much less the remains of last night’s eggnog and bacon-wrapped roast for breakfast. Not together; that would be odd.

I’m uncertain I’ll ever truly acclimatize to the shifting of the seasons, and I’m equally unsure that I actually want to. At the least, it keeps life a little more interesting. I wonder how true this is of humans, in general. Are we, as a species, always playing catch up? Regardless, the thrust of history can really only be determined with hindsight, regardless of the thoughts coming from certain quarters. As for me, I’ll be taking the new year as it comes. There’s already plenty on my plate, and I can’t see the portions getting any smaller. Which is oddly comforting.

Twas the Night Before Christmas as Edited by a Social Justice Warrior

(with abject apologies to Clement Moore)

Twas the sleep-preferred diurnal period before the non-denominational winter celebration, when all through the dwelling place

Not a life-privileged thing was stirring, not even a member of the species mus musculus.

The gift receptacles of choice were placed by the designated location with care,

In hopes that a culturally appropriate giver of gifts soon would be there.

The people of youth were nestled all snug in their sleeping places,

While visions of diverse comfort foods danced in their heads.

And the female caregiver in her gender-neutral attire, and I in my gender-neutral attire,

Had just settled our brains for a long cold seasonal nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my sleeping place to see if I needed to call the local law enforcement officers to negotiate.

Away to the window I flew like a very fast thing,

Tore open the shutters and opened the window.

The moon on the non-binary-gender chest analogy of the new-fallen snow

Gave the brightness of midday to objects below

When what to my wondering eyes should appear

But a miniature cold winter transportation device and eight reindeer of diverse size.

With a driver endowed with age but not stature so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be the cis-male quasi-religious figure associated with the non-denominational winter celebration.

More rapid than speed-privileged things zir reindeer they came,

And ze whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

Now Runner of Speed! Now, Mover with Grace! Now, Performer with Fancy Footwork and Fox with Femaleness!

On, Comet! On Pagan Love God, on Donner and Blitzen! (and I wondered if reindeer had orgies, for surely this was an invitation to one)

To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As leaves of low moisture that before the non-hostile extreme weather fly

When they meet with a non-hostile obstacle, are drawn to the sky,

So up to the house-top the reindeer they flew

With the cold winter transportation device and the cis-male quasi-religious figure too.

And then, in a non-binary-gender twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each non-size-enhanced hoof.

As I drew in my head and was turning around,

Down the chimney the cis-male quasi-religious figure came with a bound.


Ze was dressed all in the skins of murdered animals, from zir head to zir foot,

And zir clothes were all smeared in a non-judgmental manner with ashes and soot.

A bundle of age-appropriate items ze had flung on his back,

And ze looked like an itinerant seller of items just opening zir pack.

Zir eyes they were twinkle-privileged! Zir dimples how merriness-enhanced!

Zir cheeks were like roses, not that zir cheeks being like roses is a bad thing, zir nose like a cherry!

Zir mouth of smallness was drawn up like a non-violent bow,

And the cis-normative male beard on zir chin was as white as the cold season precipitation.

The stump of a pipe ze held tight in zir teeth,

And despite the danger of lung cancer the smoke it encircled zir head like a seasonal garland.

Ze had a broad face and a little round belly from eating too much fatty food,

So it shook when ze laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

Ze was chubby and plump, a cis-male normative old white elf,

And even though it was disrespectful I laughed when I saw zir in spite of myself.

A wink of zir eye and a twist of zir head,

Soon gave me to know I need not be fear-enhanced.

Ze spoke not a word but went to zir occupation of choice,

And filled all the gift receptacles, then turned with a sharp motion.

And laying zir finger aside of zir nose,

And giving a nod up the chimney ze went!

 

Ze sprang to zir cold weather transportation, to zir team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

By I heard ze exclaim ere ze drove out of sight,

“Happy non-denominational seasonal festival to all, and to all a good night!”

In other news, if any of you should chance to find what passes for my sanity, please send it back. I miss it.

 

Update: Welcome to Instapundit readers!

The Demon Up close – Novel Workshop addendum

 

As I said before, I thought some of the workshop demons deserved a closer look than the list I gave.

This time we’re going to go over people, be they in a group or in beta reading, who can derail your writing for months, particularly if you’re a beginner and insecure.

I find it necessary to go over these, even though I named their types in the last post because frankly these are the ones who tend to derail me. PARTICULARLY if they’re well intentioned.

Now, in almost every one of these categories there is an element of malice, but often the person him/herself has no idea he/she is being malicious, and will be wounded to the heart if you tell them they are. They honestly – most of them, some more than others – think they’re helping you. So to confront them with what they’re really doing will just break a friendship and probably a group and accomplish nothing. It is best to be aware of what they’re doing and say nothing.

Unless of course the person gets frustrated at being balked and becomes more and more openly malicious, in which case you have a problem in your hands if it’s a close friend or a valued group member. We’ve had to disband a group, form under another name and change our meeting date and place to get rid of one man who would start EVERY critique with “To begin with, this didn’t work for me.” (My late friend Alan spoofed this the rest of the time our group was together by always starting the critique with that and giving us the fake critique first, “To begin with, this doesn’t work for me. Why are there these Good Men? Where is Starfleet, Uh?” For that alone, that annoying twit of a malicious group member was worth it.)

So, last week, I named the following “demons” which hinge on people/personalities rather than technique. These are important and difficult, because technique you can say “Look, I found this in a book” but if the problem is personality and you’re stuck with this critique for reasons of friendship or group dynamics you’re going to need a better understanding of THEIR mechanics, so you can either get rid of them or ignore them.

 

  • The person who never wrote/can’t write a novel and who will do his/her best to discourage you out of inadequacy, though that’s not what they say.
  • The amnesiac. If you’re bringing in a chapter a week, he’s forgotten the previous chapter and will query everything he doesn’t get.
  • The expert. Your novel is a nail and he has a hammer. My favorite of this was the guy who yelled at me for using burner and how I should give the make and model of the gun – completely missing the (described) fact it was a laser weapon.
  • The moralist. This critter confuses your characters with you and tries to tell you you’re all wrong. For instance, a story in which a man was so neurotic/confused, he lets a woman be dragged off in front of him got me accused of “supine cowardice” by one of these critters. (He also inferred my character was gay, which he wasn’t, but that’s beyond the point. Oh, and that was wrong, wrong, wrong too, and how dare I.) These people often belong to the traditional religions and sometimes to new credos. I’ve gotten blasted for using “ecologically unsound” materials in a novel. (No, seriously. Hey, the only trees killed are to print the novel, and that’s if it’s not an ebook.) I’ve gotten yelled at for having characters in high heels. (Females, even.)

 

We’ll go into the others later.

Let me first start by saying that yes, you might be muffing the book badly; that your words aren’t sacred; that someone saying “I don’t like this” or asking questions ad-nauseum, might in fact be absolutely right.

The only way to be sure it’s not you but the critiquer are a pattern of behavior, either because he also critiques other people this way or because he contradicts what trusted people say.

Also, I should point out all of these, often, flow into each other. Even the can’t/won’t can be an “expert” who in this case has several books written.

You see, the malice in both those cases is attempting to slow down someone who is doing what you can’t. And yes, it is possible for a writer to be envious of another writer producing, even when he/she has produced in the past. Mostly because he/she isn’t producing now. I’ve felt it myself and stopped it, hopefully before damaging anyone.

Now, even if there isn’t a pattern, there are critiques that, while valid, won’t help you. Sometimes it’s because you’re trying to do something quite difficult, fell on your butt, but changing it to what the critique sees will kill it. I’ve had awful critiques, of all people, from my husband, who is normally spot on. He loathed the voice in DST on first reading. Then it grew on him. I think it was where he was at the time, but if I’d listened, I’d have killed the book.

It’s always a judgment call, and I can’t make it for you.

There are occasions too when critiques hurt like hell, but they’re right. Look next week for “When to shut up and take it.”

First though, let me tell you when not to take it. Take the can’t/won’t. If they’re in a writers group, they’re writing something. (If they’re not, kick them the heck out.) Presumably they either write shorts or they never finish anything.

You’ll see why they never finish anything as they take your book to pieces on “logic.”

“But if little Red Riding Hood knew about the wolf, why go to grandma? Why shouldn’t her dad go, instead, armed with a shot gun? Why???”

If you write like I do, the details fall in place as you write, and you sometimes go back and fix things. If you’re being questioned every step, you’ll block hard. (And if you’re doing this to yourself stop it already.)

So. Here is the key: no story was ever told that wasn’t internally inconsistent. No, not even stories from real life, which is often the most inconsistent of all. It’s the way the human brain works. So next time someone says “So, they have anti-grave and still use screws? Why?” tell them “we have computers and still use open fires to cook. Why?”

Then finish the dang thing and fix the more glaring issues in post if you have to. And unless the can’t/won’t is openly malicious, try to get this through his/her skull and set HIM free, too.

The amnesiac – usually not openly hostile. They might just have a lousy memory. I really don’t have anything to say to this except that after showing someone three chapters – to test the hook – you should just wait till you finish the novel. (And if you have to bring something in write short stories or short shorts. What the heck, a story a week will do more for your writing than all the workshops in the world.)

The expert… ah, the expert. Now SOME experts are useful people. Take me. I speak several languages and even though I can make bone-headed mistakes in them (it’s been almost thirty years) in general I can tell you “Why are you writing that in Spanish? Brazil doesn’t speak Spanish.” (Ran across this, recently in a published/acclaimed mystery. Never mind.)

I’m useful to have in a critique group if you need to have your character say a sentence in another language. Check my grammar in French, though. It’s apparently in fast decay. When the guys move out, I’m going to spend a few months brushing up on French again. Useful, French. (And I have a ton of research from the time of the musketeers that’s ONLY in French.)

However for my money the MOST damaging expert is the one who is ahead of you in his/her career. The ones that slowed our group the most were one who had taken a well-respected workshop, and one who had published a novel ten years before.

The problem in these cases was worse back when we didn’t have the internet. Anyone slightly ahead on the road was a respected source.

The problem is both of those people – horribly well intentioned – knew only ONE path. So the first tried to teach us “the way of the workshop” which is fine, except that I’ve noticed unless they have a strong personality all graduates of that workshop read like boiled oatmeal. (I had a small press magazine and could guess a graduate without looking at the cover letter. Impeccable grammar, rigid ideology, and… well, bland.)

The second tried to teach us to write “publishable” except that publishable to her was “as I do it” and she hadn’t been published in ten years because her first book didn’t sell all that well. Also, she hadn’t moved with times and both style and approach to publishers CHANGES in ten years. (Less than that now with indie.) She MEANT well. And she set us back two years, at least.

She wrote (pretty good) adventure SF but she had these internal barriers. Any thought-monologue for instance was right out – which is fine, unless you ARE writing first person, which she didn’t – and she approached stories from “problem to be solved or mcguffin to find” not from “character needs to change.” All character based plotting to her was Romance even if there was not a wiff of love interest on the page. (Which tells me she ALSO never READ romance.)

We drove ourselves nuts chasing our own tails for years…

What is the cure for this? Easy: if someone wants you to change everything about your writing to be another kind of writing, they’re probably wrong. Unless, of course, you’re writing in Martian or its English equivalent.

Look, once past the very basics, there will be good stuff about your writing, and you shouldn’t need to change EVERYTHING.

Also, check your experts. How are they doing career wise? Ignore those who are no longer WORKING writers. (I did a good imitation of that the last two years, but it’s mostly being very ill very often. Never mind.)

The point to remember is there is no magical bullet. No expert, descended from heaven, will hand it to you. If someone says “what you have to do is start with” the plot, or the mcguffin or whatever, be VERY suspicious. Every writer I know has different methods of approaching the story. If you’re comfortable with yours don’t go trading them in on the “expert’s.”

Now, the MORALIST – this is the hardest one. At least he is the hardest if you were brought up decently as I was and if you’re afraid of writing something that will “corrupt” someone else (Well, I used to be.)

They’re not all traditional morality, of course. I’ve had people object because my characters were not using ecologically friendly materials. But what they all are are people who will try to shame you for what you wrote on grounds other than the execution.

For instance the above, right pain in the neck, who started everything with “to begin with, this didn’t work for me” once blew his top because I had an hermaphrodite alien (actually modified human) in a story. (The short story is Lost. It’s up for sale, and gosh, does it need a new cover.) He blew his top because I was glorifying the gay lifestyle. Look, with the best intention in the world, I don’t get it. There’s nothing vaguely gay about the story, except this alien was living as a male (for reasons of looks) on earth. But the story is told from the POV of his sister and there’s NO SEX and certainly no gay … community if you will.

Not that there would be anything wrong if there was, mind you. There just wasn’t. But it must have been one of his triggers because he ranted on for half an hour about what a horrible person I was. (Next week all of us had gay characters. Some very badly written, because some people felt uncomfortable. When that failed to unload him – though it did make him unhinged – we had to resort to other things.)

Mind you, he was blatant. Some people are more … subtle. Some will approach you after the meeting (ALWAYS bad news) put their hand on your shoulder and say “I know you’re a good person. But that story? It will make people think you eat babies for breakfast.”

How to ignore them?

Unless there really is something in the story that disturbs you, remember you aren’t the story and the story isn’t you. If you’re a GOOD writer things come from so deep in your subconscious that they often have nothing to do with you. They’re just a way to make the story work and say what it has to say.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. And yes, some fools might think you eat babies. But they’d probably never read you and were only looking for something to beat you with. Ignore it.

When I wrote A Few Good Men I was afraid the characters’ orientation would offend people. It probably did, some people. But I tried to change it (to give the book wider appeal) and it simply wouldn’t work. So I rolled with it. Yes, it will offend some. But some will like it because it is a war story with gay characters. (NOT battle front. If you haven’t read it, chill.) Win some, lose some. I kept it clean, mostly because my characters tend to close the door in my face, but also because it widens the audience.

And that’s what you need to be sure of – don’t offend unnecessarily. If the story will still work without the threesome with the Martian, remove the threesome. If it won’t, leave it in. At best, you’ll have people like it despite it. At worst some of your fans will forever refer to that story as “Oh, [insert your name here] no!”

Next week: When to shut up and take it!