Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rape Culture and Misogyny

Is this a good week to talk about rape culture and misogyny? Given that this week people died because some guy blamed the pretty blonde girls for not sleeping with him, the question is why aren't we talking about rape culture and misogyny in much louder voices?

Yes, the guy was mentally ill and he had access to guns, but let's not pretend that's all there was to it. Let's not ignore the fact that there is something else going on here as well: what happened in Santa Barbara is rape culture taken to its logical conclusion.

The best definition I've seen of rape culture is that it's male privilege plus a sense of entitlement. Male privilege, in this sense, isn't a bad thing. I mean, I wish I had some of it. Male privilege means that a man's answers to these questions will probably be a lot different than a woman's:

1. When you go out with your friends, do you keep a close eye on each other?
2. When you park your car in a dark place at night, do you worry about walking back to get it?
3. Have you ever felt unsafe walking into a room full of people of the opposite sex?

It's the sense of entitlement that's the kicker. The sense that a woman owes a man sex just, well, because he's a man and he's entitled. Maybe he invited her to dinner, or he bought her that drink, or fuck her, she's wearing a short skirt so she's obviously gagging for it anyway. He's a man, and he's entitled. And no, not all men are predators. But you only need to follow #YesAllWomen on Twitter to realise that all women have been made to feel like prey.

So back to our gunman. A lot of people feel sorry for this guy. A lot of people support his actions. He has Facebook fan pages, for fuck's sake. There are people out there who feel sorry for him -- not because he was lonely or mentally ill and the world would have been a better place if he'd gotten some help instead of fixating on revenge for some imagined slights against him. And, you know what, I think in some sense it's commendable to feel pity for the guy. But not at the exclusion of the real victims.

And then there are the people out there who actually think that a girl rejecting you is a reason to get out there and kill people. Even better, that it's the girls' fault. 

So let's talk about that girl. I'll tell you right now: that girl owes you nothing. She doesn't have to sleep with anyone she doesn't want to. But while we're talking about who she's sleeping with as though it's any of our business, guess what? She's not a slut if she does chose to sleep with someone. For whatever reason. Because in the same week when people were dying because someone wanted to take revenge on all the blonde sluts who wouldn't sleep with him, another girl was getting bullied into suicide because she did have sex.

Between the slut shaming and the victim blaming, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't.

I'd kind of hoped that in writing this, I'd come up with some sort of conclusion, but I haven't. I'm still angry and upset. Not even at what happened in Santa Barbara, but at the reaction to it. And not even from dickheads online, but from the mainstream media. Because something is very, very wrong with society, and nobody is talking about it.

Well, except some very cool people like Chuck Wendig here: Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men; or Arthur Chu in Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds. And if you want to capture some of my rage, I suggest you read Erin Gloria Ryan's horrifying article, Lessons With a Day Spent with the UCSB Shooter's Awful Friends.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Self Publishing

In a little while, I’m self-publishing under my pseudonym. One thing is a sixty thousand word novel with my co-author, and the other thing is a ten thousand word short story.

Self-publishing isn’t something I would have attempted before now, and it still feels a little bit like a crazy experiment. Not the craziest experiment my co-author and I are currently attempting though. Not by a long shot.

We decided to self publish because we wrote something that isn’t really a romance. At least it certainly doesn’t come with a happy ever after. I feel like I can give a spoiler here, since none of you guys know my pseudonym: everyone dies.

So much fun to write. But a publisher would have made us change it, and we like it this way. Hopefully our readers will as well.


Anyone can upload something to Amazon in a couple of minutes, but, guess what? It’s probably crap. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. Not until you’ve done this stuff first:

Beta readers

These people are your new best friends. They’re doing you a favour by reading your book. Do them the favour of respecting their opinion.


Editing is never fun. Never. But it is necessary. And don’t be afraid to do your research on freelance editors. Make sure you know what you’re paying for: content edits only, or everything down to proofing? Don’t expect people to pay for a sub-par product. And don’t expect them to review it kindly if they do.

Proofing and Formatting

Ah, proofing. It is one of life’s little mysteries how something can look perfect on the screen, but once you print it out you suddenly see every glaring typo. Selling an ebook? Turn it into a mobi on Calibre and have a look at it on your Kindle before you submit it. You will pick up errors you never noticed on your computer screen.

Print the whole thing out.

Doing a paperback as well? Order galleys proofs. Because you will not believe how terrible a book can look if you make one tiny mistake in the formatting. And oh, the fun we had with page numbers and trying to get our names on the header on one page and the book title on the header of facing page.

Cover Art

Be prepared to pay a premium for a good stock photo if you want to make it yourself. I’m crap at making covers. Luckily, my co-author isn’t. If you don’t know anyone who can help you out, try going somewhere like Fivrr. Remember you can always say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Marketing and Publicity

Yes, we all hear the stories about the people who make a gazillion dollars self-publishing. But you know why those stories resonate so much? Because they’re not typical. At all. A lot of these people spend every waking hour online, networking, or pushing their book. Some people are incredibly successful at being engaging and approachable and interesting. However, some people – anyone on Twitter will know who I’m talking about – think that sending a tweet every thirty seconds screaming BUY MY BOOK is going to win people over. Hint: It’s not.

I am crap at marketing. Seriously. I don’t want to invest all my time into thinking of ways to make people notice and hopefully buy my book. You know why? Because it seems like it would be soul destroying. The best marketing, they say, is to follow up with another good book. I don’t know if that’s true or not, I’m choosing to believe it.

And I would never have tried to self-publish before now, simply because I know that marketing and publicity are my weak points. I didn’t want to build a fan base from scratch. But now, thanks to being traditionally published first, I do have a fan base.

 So, I’ll let you know in a few months how the great self-publishing experiment goes, but here’s one thing I’ve learned for damn sure: Publishing is hard work, and it’ll be a long time before I take my traditional publisher for granted.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sequel Panic: My Writer Brain

Usually, I write in a vacuum. No plan, no clue, and, importantly, no expectations. Recently however, something changed. Readers liked a book I wrote under my pseudonym. Enough people asked for a sequel that I thought, “I could write a sequel. Why the hell not?”

Here’s why the hell not:

Suddenly, I’m panicking. What if I can’t remember what people liked about the first book? What if this time the narrator’s voice isn’t compelling, it’s irritating?

What if I can’t figure out a plot? The whole problem with resolving the whole problem in the first book is that now I have to come up with a whole new problem. 

What if it’s been so long since I wrote the first one, that I’ve completely forgotten everything I used to know about these characters?

What if the sequel is BORING?

You know that saying about leaving the audience wanting more? I wish I’d remembered that saying before I agreed to write this sequel. But, when I agreed, I only remembered the good things about the book.

Like how I really enjoyed writing in the MC’s voice, and how it was a bit different to the thing I got published before it, and how I put it out there with absolutely no expectations at all, and was totally delighted when people liked it. (It’s still my highest rated book on Goodreads, and has the most Amazon reviews.) What if all of that was just a happy accident that I can’t replicate?

I used to have to write for one person only. The most selfish person in the world: ME! And that was easy. But it’s too late now to ignore the fact that people other than myself are invested in this sequel. They ask about it, which is incredible. And, on the flipside, incredibly terrifying.

I’m not a plotter. I’m a pantser. I’m not sure if we’re qualified to write sequels. I mean, sequels have to make sense. You’re not allowed to say, “Oh, well now this character speaks Italian because I need him to talk to this Italian person” when in that last book he almost died from an allergic reaction to shellfish when he couldn’t read the menu in that ristoranteI mean, the framework is already in place. When it comes to internal logic, I can’t just wing it. I actually have to remember the details.

Did I do character sheets the first time around? Pfft. Of course I didn’t. It’s a small miracle I remembered their names, let alone those of their parents or siblings.

I think I’m going to have to do something incredibly drastic. Something I’ve never done before. I think I’m going to have to read a book I wrote. And I’m not kidding about not doing that before.

I write the books. I edit them. By the time they get through to the actual publication part, I’m sick and tired of them. I usually have my last read of a book the day before it comes out. And then, too afraid I’ll realise it is terrible and my publisher was clearly having some sort of mental health crisis when they accepted it, I hide it away and never look at it again.

Then I smile and nod and thank people for reading it, while waiting for someone to jump out of the crowd and point an accusing finger at me: “You’re naked! You’re a giant fraud! The Emperor has no clothes!”

If you want me, my neuroses and I will be over here reading that book we wrote, and this time we’ll take notes. Just in case we’re crazy enough to write a sequel to this sequel.

Never underestimate the crazy. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

And now for something completely different…

Sometimes, you need to stretch yourself a little, creatively.

Sometimes, for example, I get out my water colours, and I paint. And – trust me on this – I really, really shouldn’t. But even if the results aren’t fit to be shown in public, and – trust me on this again – they really, really aren’t, working in a different medium is important. It exercises your brain, and forces you to approach the task in a different way. Suddenly you're not thinking about sentences and paragraphs. You're thinking about form and composition and colour. It gives you a different perspective. 


Sometimes, that different perspective is the difference between getting stuck in a rut, or finding a new burst of energy that will carry you through.

So instead of writing a scene, why not try painting it?

This will make you narrow your focus to the one crucial moment in that scene. And it may not be what you thought it was.

Or, instead of writing the scene as prose, write it as a screenplay instead.  

It’s a whole different way or working when you have to carry the entire story with dialogue, and minimal action. Do your characters always say what they mean? Do they mean what they say? And how do you communicate what’s going on under that dialogue?

How about writing the scene as a poem?

A haiku and a limerick might give very different result. As would an epic poem in the Viking tradition. But, you know, everything is better if you add in Vikings.

So, next time you hit a block, or you’re afraid you might, remember to stretch those creative muscles. You’ll find a fresh way to look at your story and, most importantly, you’ll remember how writing is supposed to be fun.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Read this book: The Wake

Sometimes, when I'm busy writing, I forget to read. This is sometimes a good thing, because it stops me from being too influenced by someone else's voice, and it also stops me from wondering why the hell I'm even bothering since I'll never write anything as awesome as the book I'm currently reading. 

Which brings me to this book: 

This is a book you'll either refuse to read altogether, or you'll take it home and hoard it and pet it under the moonlight and it will be your precious. 

Guess which category it falls into for me? 

This book + me = this guy. 

But gushing Gollum does need to provide a disclaimer. The Wake is set in England in 1066, and it's written in what the author calls a shadow tongue. Which is a sort of pseudo-Old English, tweaked so that modern readers can understand it. Reading aloud helps a bit. Here's an excerpt: 

songs yes here is songs from a land forheawan folded under by a great slege a folc harried beaten a world brocen apart. all is lic a wound unhealan and grene the world open and grene all men apart from the heorte. deofuls in the heofon all men with sweord when they sceolde be with plough the ground full not of seed but of my folc

aefry ember of hope gan lic the embers of a fyr brocen in the daegs beginnan brocen by men other than us. hope falls harder when the end is cwic hope falls harder then in the daegs before the storm the stillness of the age was written in the songs of men

so it is when a world ends

who is thu i can not cnaw but i will tell thu this thing 

be waery of the storm

be most waery when there is no storm in sight 

And now the gushing: 

You guys. If you have any interest whatsoever in reading this book, don't hesitate. It is sheer brilliance. The narrator, Buccmaster, is a fascinating character. He's flawed, he's human, and he's totally relatable. Except when he's not. Because nothing about him feels anachronistic. He's very much a product of his time. No modern sensibilities layered in here to make us feel okay about joining him on his journey. None at all. His sons, at fourteen, are men. He beats his wife when she displeases him, as is his right. 

The back of the book describes The Wake as a post-apocalyptic novel set a thousand years ago. And that's a perfect way to put it. 

Sometimes you forget that for some people, the world has already ended. 


What brilliant books are you currently reading? 


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