Monday, March 30, 2015

I Want More Non-Sexualized Female Characters, But I Don’t Want to Read about Them

So, it’s not uncommon for people to be obsessed with who your female characters are sleeping with. My senior thesis in college was a script called Molly Aire and Becca Ette Do Theatre, about two women watching a play and making fun of it.

My professor was obsessed with “proving they aren’t lesbians.”

There was nothing romantic about their relationship, other than some bickering. Maybe they were an old married couple. And honestly, if a director wanted to make it a date, by all means be my guest. I am an advocate for gay acceptance and I don’t feel like that little detail changed the play’s point or remotely mattered.

I did, however, find it incredibly sexist that my professor was obsessed with my characters’ sex lives. It wasn’t the first time either. No matter how much a play, a short story, or a manuscript was not about romance, when its point has to do with some bigger, alterative picture, if I had a female character whose love life I did not discuss, it freaked people out. If I had two female characters with no obvious love interest, especially if those women talked to each other a decent amount, people—men and women alike—believed they were gay, and they found it very important I confirmed one way or another.

People always want to know who the women in the story are having sex with. It’s not the same for men. While I would argue that telling an entire novel from a man’s point of view and never discussing a sexual thought seems unnatural, when my male characters didn’t end up with anyone, no one cared. Not unless there was an obvious female option left over.

My professor harped on me long after I assured him that you can’t prove a character isn’t gay once people assume they are. It’d had been a repeated experience for me by that point, and I’ve yet to find a way to refute it that doesn’t actually encourage the belief. Like in real life, the more you press how straight someone is, the less people are convinced. And, considering that I didn’t care whether or not people thought it was a date, it wasn’t something I was going to waste my time with.

He wanted me to talk about their boyfriends or add in a third character. Talking about their boyfriends would be an irrelevant divergent—they were supposed to be funny, unobtrusive characters, like Mystery Science Theatre or the two old men from the Muppets. Adding in another character with a unique personality that fit into their dynamic would mean a complete rewrite.

I want more works that feature women whose romantic lives aren’t discussed. The more works there are, the more normal it seems, and therefore the more works there can be. Because the entertainment industry is so obsessed with romance, every woman ends up being paired off at the end. It’s expected. When they’re not, the audience feels ripped off. And while I would like to see more gay characters, I am so sick of movies that force two women together because there aren’t any guys around to fill the void. (I know you may or may not be aware of this trope, but I assure you that after you read this, you’ll start seeing it more and more. It happens a lot.)

Romance novels with love triangles that end with her not picking either guy because “she doesn’t need a man,” fight its own point. It’s really just a cop out because good romance novels contain a lot of conflict, and most drama in a relationship is considered unhealthy. Which means that they’ve been building up this storyline with a male character who any good feminist can’t actually have the woman end up with, and so, in order to avoid accusations of sexism, they pretend that the whole point is that happiness does not come from a relationship. However, when you’ve made thousands of dollars off of a love story, you’re not really convincing its readers that joy doesn’t come from love. For the last few days, all their joy has been coming from the idea of romance.

You want a story that proves a woman doesn’t need a man? Have a story that doesn’t involve a man. Have a female protagonist whose objective is to save the world, get vengeance on the people who killed her family, or help slaves escape imprisonment. Whatever. Normal movie plots.

We need more female characters whose life doesn’t revolve around love, movies featuring women with motivations outside of romantic stories. Female protagonists in thrillers, mysteries, or even adventures. Women whose main objective is important and failure has high stakes. We need more stories in which we don’t bother to discuss the woman’s sex life.

The problem? I don’t want to read that shit.

Even though I highly desire more diversity in how women are portrayed in entertainment, I’m not the target audience. I don’t care if your character is a man or a woman, I want romance, damn it. It’s often the only thing I care about. Either romance or at least a deep emotional bond like Lilo and Stitch or Calvin and Hobbes.

Even in Molly Aire and Becca Ette, the play they were making fun of? A love story. It was supposed to be a fully immersive (with some distraction) farce about a man and a woman trying to deal with his disapproving family. The appeal was their love.

So while I didn’t want to go into Molly or Becca’s sex life, it still focused on a woman’s sex life for entertainment.

My main goal in life is to be a successful writer, and it’s pretty much my entire focus ninety percent of the time. But I love love. I love love stories. I love being in love. I love talking to people about their relationships. I want to know all the gossip why they broke up, who cheated on who, who got together and how did they know it was love. I’ll often surprise new acquaintances who’ve been married for the last hundred years by asking them how they met, which apparently no one does. No, I’m not really into flirting or the dating scene, and I’m not the kind of girl considered boy crazy by my friends, but love and romance fascinate me more than anything else. And when I eventually do fall, I fall hard. If a story doesn’t have romance, I have a hard time caring.

It’s kind of a funny conflict for me. I think the world needs more female protagonists with non-sexual objectives, but I don’t want to be writing them. I don’t even want to be reading them. And if they came out, I probably wouldn’t be the one buying a ticket.

I don’t know what the solution is here. Other than to recognize that two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a guy doesn’t make them lesbians. Quite frankly, that’s true in real life too… It’s possible I may have just stumbled upon the reason behind some of the rumors about me.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Twitter is a Harsh Mistress

I try not to talk too much about my love-life here for the sake of their privacy and my ability to look moderately sane, but Twitter isn’t exactly a subtle being, and I know she loves to be talked about.

Yes, in my world, Twitter is a girl. I don’t know. It just seems right.

Over the last week I’ve been sick. I mean, really sick. It wasn’t all that painful, unique, or terrifying, but it was thorough. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. Not to write, not to draw, not to sew, not to even play video games or find something remotely interesting on Netflix. It was completely unproductive, depressing, and boring.

For the first time in the last year, I didn’t bother with social media. No posts, no blogs, no comments or favorites or following. I just lied around, staring at the ceiling. I was so freaking tired I couldn’t move. It was the least active I’d ever been, even on trips where I lacked internet or a real computer.

Twitter forgot about me in my absence.

I actually didn’t think that being active every day had such an effect, but as I tried to ease back into it, I found all my work diminished drastically. My blog hits were 25% of what they typically have been for the last few months. My favorites and retweets down from twenty per post to five.

The hits weren’t so surprising as the topic of the blog wasn’t something especially click-baity, and I do have my lulls in people’s interaction with me. What is important isn’t that Twitter forgot about me, but rather that the amount of work I’d been putting in—the work that I didn’t see immediate results for—actually was effective.

Twitter and Facebook are the primary forms of advertising for my blog, and my blog is the primary identification of how many people are looking into me. It is, by far, my more successful medium. My website, where The Stories of the Wyrd and my web comic are, doesn’t have an easy means to track hits, and honestly, it’s far more enjoyable to me to not focus on how many people are actually reading and just have fun providing content.

In any case, I’ve always argued that you shouldn’t define successful marketing as being immediate and obvious rewards, but rather put out little seedlings to lure people in when you least expect it, such as having a content-filled Twitter account. My week away from the internet has proven to me that while your comments may seem ignored, your favorites garner nothing, you wouldn’t believe how much traffic you can get by just being friendly and letting people know you exist. Which, apparently, I don't when I'm dying.

(Also, don't post a comment about dying when you have a decent number of followers from Hungary. Apparently, they don't have sarcasm there. I swear I'll return the flowers.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

No, You Don’t Have to Write about Yourself

If you’re into gossip (and who isn’t), there was recently a huge to do about the hate-reviews author Ella Fox was getting from a particularly pissed off fan. Fox, who gave a status update informing her followers to illustrate how bad online bullying can get, revealed she was being fat-shamed by some (alleged) reader. Well, the insulting one-star did the opposite of its intention and lured in all kinds of new eyes to Fox’s books and websites which already had a high number of five-star reviews. (Five star reviews these days can mean nothing, but a lot of them still does.) The negative review spurred me, at least, to buy one of her novels, out of singularity, but also simply because it brought me to the site in the first place. So I think the lesson here is being a dick helps their sales.

The reviewer was leaving one-stars everywhere, but the main offending quote was, (sic) “You would think a plump Author would write about girls like herself. It disturbs me that all there is is skinny chicks. It’s like she loves her life through them. Not for me,” and “I guess I only like pretty authors. I just couldn’t get into the book knowing what the author looks like:(”

Now, trolling on the internet is a huge issue at the moment, but that’s not really my point. After seeing this, I started to notice a lot of reviews reading pretty much the same way.

“Fat writers should write about fat characters.”

Hmmm... sounds familiar.

My college was primarily Hispanic students (I stood out like a white thumb) with white faculty members. We had a few whiteys and some African Americans, but for the most part, it was probably about 60% Latinos. It was also about 70% women. (Yes, I’m guessing.)

My professors, whom as any long term readers know I just love, had this bad habit of informing the students that they needed to write things “closer to home.” And by that, they meant:

“Hispanic writers should write about Hispanic characters.”

“Female writers should write about female characters.”

Or, as they told me, “You need to write what you know. You should write about being an outcaste.”
I also remember during college being told a particularly irritating story of similar ideals. Back during the 1950’s or 60’s, Richard Wright, an African Amercian novelist, trashed the work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, because it was written by an African American woman and did not promote political activism. It was a love story, a love story that he claimed pandered to the white impression of blacks.

Which, honestly, that last part may have been legitimate. Keep in mind that at the beginning of Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, he murders a cat and you’ll see that I have a hard time being remotely objective about him or his opinions. I don't like Mr. Wright the Cat Killer, and so I tend to side with Ms. Hurston.

And, no matter if Zora Neal Hurston’s execution of the characters’ dialect may have been promoting a racist view on black people, (which is a different issue, and one that could very well be true, or very well Wright being competitive) her decision to write a romance novel featuring black characters that did not discuss “black empowerment” was completely up to her. Just because she's black doesn't mean she has to write political works, or even about black people at all.

As a woman, I want the right to write about whoever I want, and while I retain the right to discuss any feminist mentalities I have, I also retain the right to not write a novel that focuses or even mentions equality. If a woman wants to write a romance novel with a female character whose main objective in life is to be loved, so be it. If she wants to write an action movie with a female protagonist and no romance what so ever, she should write that. Sure, both of these scripts might be hard sells, but that’s her choice and criticizing her for not writing about your values, or even the values you just think she’s supposed to have and calling it “constructive” is completely ignoring the benefit of different perspectives.

Forcing someone to write for the characters and on the subjects you think they should write on is unbeneficial to everyone involved. Part of equality is about not forcing your presumptions on what they should or should not be doing on them simply because of their superficial characteristics.

The problem is, of course, that if people of the minority/perceived minority (women make up 51% of the population, so they’re technically the majority), and they’re not willing to have diversity in their characters, who is?

I will say the flaw in my logic of “we shouldn’t shame people for not writing about people like them,” is that those character do need to be written about, and social shame is the best way to make writers branch out of our little boxes.

I personally hate the lack of diversity in characters, but I can unconsciously submit to it as well. It often has to “occur” to me that, “Oh, my characters don’t have to be white!” There’s something inherently wrong with that.

Truth is, not many people are writing these “outsider” traits, including the outsiders themselves. That’s problematic. If a woman feels like she has to write a male character for her book to be successful, what makes us think that a man—a person who it is less evident and important to—will pick up the slack? Someone needs to branch out, so why wouldn’t we encourage those who know the situation best be the ones to do it?

Of course, it falls back into my argument against this whole forcing authors to write for people “like them,” because those on the “inside,” are often belittled and discouraged from writing about people on the “outside.” Men are less likely to write about women because they're more likely to be criticized for doing so.

We’ve all heard some reader complain about a straight author writing for a gay character. Sometimes it has to do with the actual context: “You put in a gay guy and he dies halfway through? Nice.” But sometimes it’s just this mentality of, “You don’t know what it’s like!”

I once had a guy in a writers’ group constantly insist that men couldn’t write for female characters because “we’re not them.” This pissed me off. Is it that hard to relate to a woman? You think we’re so inhuman that you can’t even find a basic common ground?

I find this to be bullshit for several reasons, partially because I think men can understand women if they just believed they could. It's like Shakespeare; if you walk in thinking you're not going to get it, you're going to shut down long before you heard the first word, but in reality it's actually pretty easy to get.

But also because I find men often know more about how women are treated than women do. Yes, some guys are shocked when you tell them your horror stories about a man who sends you photos of flowers every day for a month before finally delivering the penis picture. However, many have more perspective. And if he's an author, he should be even more attuned to the world around him. A beautiful woman might not be aware of how many favors she gets because she’s beautiful—she just thinks it’s basic human kindness. A man watching, however, will know exactly why she got away with cutting in line (oblivious to the fact that she was even cutting in the first place.)

I won’t claim to understand what it’s like to be black, a man, overweight, gay, old or anything I’m not. But what perspective I lack tends to be the little nuanced details, the things I can’t even predict, the exact things that a person of that “type” will be able to reveal that others can’t. It doesn’t mean that I am stripped of all empathy and relatability. Just because I’ve never struggled with weight issues doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see diverse body types on screen, or that I don’t want other people to have to struggle with the social shame. Just because I don’t have an insider’s perspective on being gay doesn’t mean I don’t see how hurtful homophobia can be, or haven’t had similar experiences, like people criticizing who I fall in love with.

Sure, an insider has a more unique and fully developed perspective on their life, but limiting that insider to only write about characters who are also stuck in that label, and restricting outsiders from telling their perspective doesn’t encourage diversity in characters. And it restricts the dialogue about racism, sexism, and basic closed-mindedness. Art is a primary communication of the issues, and censoring art slows down the process.

We need to encourage all writers to broaden their horizons to examine lives that are not their own, especially if those are lives they want to examine. Criticizing people who try to write characters different than themselves, to explore ideas and values outside of just what affects them, just promotes a narrow-minded view of reality, not a more diverse one. Assuming we can't write about people who aren't us is assuming we can't empathize with them either, which is just not true.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

So, I’m Writing This Novel: How Sexist Can I Be?

Ever ask if you can go to the bathroom and have a teacher say, “I don’t know. Can you?”

May I?”

“Can” can take on a lot of meanings, but in this case, I mean, “How sexist am I allowed to be?”

We can’t deny that sexism has become a horrific witch hunt. Or rather a communist hunt as, hell, we can catch a few real ones at different times. Anyone anywhere doing anything can be called out on being sexist, and just the accusation can destroy a career.

It’s a fear that writers, male or female, constantly have in the back of our heads. Especially when it comes to romance novels, people can be incredibly pissy about the dynamic between men and women are portrayed. Stories that exclude women all together are insulting, all female casts that feature enough dislikable stereotypes will be ridiculed. Writing a smart, strong woman can be considered lip service, and if your warrior girl ever shows any maternal, sexual, or emotional weakness you’re still open for attack.

If it sounds like I’m suggesting this is always a bad thing, I don’t mean it that way. I too am extraordinarily unhappy with the way most women are portrayed in entertainment, and voicing those problems are an important part of coming to a better understanding.

But, unfortunately, feminism and sexism are such broad concepts that it is impossible to be safe from being targeted. They are so broad, in fact, that any “hater” looking for a method to destroy your book can find something, no matter what you do. And the worst part is that it will often work (at least on a few readers.)

I often hold my male characters to higher standards. They are usually the wiser one in the relationship, standing back to make sarcastic comments as the women actively—and somewhat deliberately—dig themselves into a hole.

But recently with the last two manuscripts I’ve found them becoming much more dislikable. The character Cyrus, the youngest and most ignored brother in a noble family, is snobby, and a little bit of a misogynist. I say little, not because he hates women, but because he doesn’t trust them (or anyone for that matter), is closed off, and is exposed to his elder brothers’ successful methods of bedding these girls.

When it came out that he didn’t like the peasants and was somewhat a slut-shamer, I was a little shocked. A part of me balked against it. As soon as he started talking about it, I couldn’t shut him up. I had to stop and consider. Though I considered him kind and not judgmental, I realized that he was. Incredibly so.

As the protagonist, I wanted him to be likable. I have long known that flaws are what make a character likable, but sexism, or any form of bigotry for that matter, was often unforgivable. A part of me wanted to immediately strip the page of his anger and go in a different direction. But another part of me said that it was a common character trait that avoiding discussing would be unnatural.

Considering the girl that would appear in his life in the next few chapters, I realized that he didn’t always have to be sexist. His motivation for it made sense. His insecurity, social invisibility, and hatred for his brothers made a clear pathway for his sexism. But, it also made way for a clear character arc. As his confidence and passion grew, inversely his fear and judgment would diminish.

I did go through and make his anger less hate-filled and more self-preserving. He still struggled with his disdain for any women who would lower herself to sleeping with his brothers, but he became more aware of his exact reasons for doing so.

I was fairly satisfied with the way he turned out.

But as I started The Plane (working title), Soel immediately showed his true nature. He is, by far, the least likable protagonist I’d ever met.

He puts so much emphasis on hierarchy and classism. It’s not as though he ever respected authority, or trusts anyone no matter their status. He looks down on anyone he thinks he can, and in that, his sexism came out.

From what I see, there are two major kinds of female sexism (versus male sexism, which I do believe exists).

The first is where the man cares too much about a woman’s opinion. The more commonly thought of form, it’s where he validates himself by how many women want to sleep with him, and if he feels he is incapable of gaining women’s interest, he has immense self-loathing, and often tries to pass the blame on girls themselves. In more severe cases, he self-soothes by attacking women verbally or, in some cases, physically.

But then you have the other, much more common, much voiced issue. The opposite, it is the disrespect of women’s opinion. This can be perpetrated either gender and has little to do with sex. It comes from people who are very sensitive to the most influential person in the group and acts accordingly in attempts to win their favor and, therefore, their power.

It is typical with these sorts of people to determine that the women of the group have no influence in the situation and will actively ignore them. Unlike the first category (in which their main goal is to impress the ladies), this person does not care about impressing, convincing, or even acknowledging the female conversationalists.

Soel is of the second group, and I fear so much so that he might be coming off as unrealistically asexual. So self-involved and oriented around his own problems, he rarely thinks about women. They are completely beneath his radar.

Not only does this make him look like an asshole, but then it leads me to question if my instinct in making him that way is to not lure him down the road of the first path: the self-loathing misogynist.

Women don’t give him the time of day (primarily because no one does), and I don’t know how that couldn’t affect him, an already angry person, without being angry.

He is not, for all his faults, insecure, and he doesn’t need women to validate himself. But does that mean he has no desire for sex? Is he a virgin? I don’t know. The plot has taken so much control that I don’t know what his sex life is.

Normally it doesn’t come up. Normally I can gloss over it. But in his world, it keeps coming up, and honestly, I can’t imagine him not thinking about it. The story follows his perception of the world, so when I describe a new female character, I feel her sexiness would be a natural consideration for him. And yet, I somewhat don’t want him to think about it.

Because he’s not interested in a relationship right now. Because, from my woman’s point of view, the sexual evaluation of a person with no intent to take action is an unappealing personality trait. Yet, from a rational point of view, (strange how I determine my woman’s P.O.V. and rational P.O.V. opposites), I think it’s natural, normal mindset, especially for men, and my attempts to gloss over his sexuality makes him less of a person.

How do I keep him out of a relationship without making him pathetic or an asshole?

These last few books have forced me to examine my personal views on gender, sex, and judgment, and I’ve learned that these subjects, which I have sought to avoid, are far more interesting when I confront them. Soel may be a jerk, but mostly because he’s forced me to confront the less romantic aspects of my mind. I've spent so much time considering how not to be sexist that it never occurred to me to actually discuss it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nope. No New York

Henrik Ibsen was a playwright who focused on the concept of the pipedream and how people lied to themselves to get through their dreary lives. It’s a common theme for theatre, shows like The Iceman Cometh and Death of a Salesman hinging on the failure of those goals. The pipedream, in my mind, is different than the failed dream because the dreamer has always known in the back of his mind that it will never happen. This is why if you ever want someone to leave you alone, the quickest route is to say, “You want to write something for my lit journal/take a cover photo/act in my theatre production?” and you’ll never hear from them again. Pipedreamers won’t flee from the first step.

You know what I hate most about pipedreams? People determining that that’s what your goals are really. They don’t take you seriously when you say you’re going to do something, and no matter how determined you are, that lack of faith will always bring you down. In my life I’ve actively tried to do whatever I say I’m going to do because I want people to take me seriously.

With that, it’s very hard to admit that after all I’ve said, I’m not moving to New York. Not now anyway.

It was not a pipedream. I was actually going to do it. My stuff is sitting around me in boxes. I bought audio books for the drive. I’ve made temporary living arrangements and plans to meet with people, tepidly sold my car. I was going to go.

But shit happens.

I’m, unfortunately, not going to explain what exactly occurred that changed my mind because it doesn’t involve just me, and if I’m going to gossip it should be like God intended and kept strictly behind their backs without text-based evidence to screw me later. Believe me, if it was just my life, I’d be all over boring you with every inane and sarcastically colored detail.

Something changed, and so with it, my mind. Honestly, if you’ve read my other blogs on the subject, you will probably be able to put two-and-two together. But that’s all I’ll say for now.

But I want everyone who supported me (which I really appreciated) to know this: I am happy with my decision. There are negatives to staying, but there were negatives to going. My choice to move was based on a whim. “I’m unhappy. I need to do something about it. What are my options?” I do think I would like New York, but I’m pretty cheerful now anyway. Which was pretty much all I wanted.

And I don’t see it as being off the table. Now is pretty much the easiest time in my life for me to go, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to later if I decide to. I’m not worried.

In the end there’s only two things that bother me about this decision: One, that I have to admit that all my talk is now officially white-noise, and two, how long can I avoid unpacking again?

So this is me admitting that I’m not going and letting my readers know that I am apparently full of shit and you can’t take me at my word. But also I hope to make it just a little bit easier for other big talkers to change their minds too.

Friday, March 6, 2015

How Writers Can Overcome Fatigue

Writing seems like it’s hard all of the time, but logically we know that’s bull crap. Any author who has been working a decent amount of his life remembers, faintly, some moments in which it wasn’t so difficult… nay, actually fun!

Did we dream that? It’s that just the foggy, grass-is-always-greener hindsight we’ve learned not to be deceived by?

While a writer can rid himself of writer’s block simply by barreling through it (often the fastest and most effective method), there are other things he can do in order to make his career just a little bit easier.

I hate fatigue. I’ve been depressed and I’ve been heartbroken, and yet I find fatigue to be the most detrimental mood for my productivity, partially because, for me, depression and heartbreak stay heavy for a period of time before eventually dying off. Fatigue can hit you anytime, anywhere, and I do not cotton to it.

1. Have a regular sleep routine.

Back in college, this was difficult. During the weekdays I would go to bed at nine and wake up at seven (my more preferred sleeping schedule), but during the weekends my social activities required me to stay up in the early hours of the morning. You know, playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Which was fun. I personally loved getting together every week to play the same characters for hours, but by two a.m., I was exhausted and pissy, partially because it interfered with having a routine making me tired throughout the week.

I’ve found that no matter what time you go to bed and wake up, as long as you do it approximately the same time every day, you are more likely to wake up feeling refreshed. This includes not sleeping in on the weekends, or staying out later than you would. Not always possible, but it helps.

2. Write first thing in the morning.

So you have that groggy period early on, but after that has passed, the morning is when you will be most awake. I’ve found that whenever I planned on writing after work (which I would be excited about during the day), I’d get home and just want to slump in my chair. If you write before you go off to work or start your day, you’re less likely to feel the sleep weighing in on you.

3. Keep nuts and a glass of water available to you during the day.

There are many jobs where this is difficult, but if you can hack it, having them be accessible will encourage you to eat and drink, which will, in turn, give you longer lasting energy. I’ve started keeping a bowl and a glass next to my computer, and the hydration makes me feel more energetic throughout. If you do this while at your job, when you do come home to write, you’re more likely to not have that “off work drag” that we all know and love.

4. Drink coffee or energy drinks while leaving work.

Remember this isn’t a health article, it’s about not feeling tired when you go to write. If you find yourself exhausted often, keep some energy drinks in your car. (If you live in a winter climate, of course, they may explode, so keep that in mind.) Don’t drink them every day, save them for when you really feel like you need them, because you do grow immune. They will hit you hard and leave you fast, so you  get home, write, and then allow yourself to crash. Have some candy bars around (unless you’re on a diet, obviously) and munch down on your way home.

5. Exercise in the morning.

Exercise can be really fun, but only when you’re ready. I don’t have much of an explanation to that other than I am not an athletic person, and there were points in my life where I would never have fun, no matter the exercise.

But over the last year—in attempts to override a heartbreak—I very much got into it, and recently I’ve started doing a thirty minute dance routine every morning. Keeping in mind that I am currently unemployed, so we’ll see how long that lasts when I get to New York and have a real job, it does make for a great way to start the day. At first it’s a little boring, then you start to get it and it’s just a little more challenging, and then you do get it and you can zone out, making it almost like a meditation.

And it’s possible to find time to do little things throughout the day. I would exercise while straightening the shelves in the fabric store I worked out. It pissed my coworker off, but she was about 80 and everything pissed her off.

If you have a dog, take him for a run instead of a walk. If you’re sitting at a desk all day, do some cursory stretches. A little bit of exercise in the morning charges you up and gives you a nice buzz for most of the day.

6. Eat a full meal a few hours before you go to bed.

Now, again, this is a personal need because I am not a big eater. I’m picky, I’m often nauseated, and I will sometimes just forget to have a meal. A part of my poor sleeping habits fall in line with the fact that I’m hungry throughout the night which leaves me for a restless sleep. If I eat a few hours before I go to bed, I’m more likely to have a restful night.

7. Eat breakfast.

They say it’s the most important meal of the day for a reason. It’s not uncommon for me to go without breakfast when I’m working because too soon after I wake up will make me sick to my stomach, and also, I like to sleep in until about fifteen minutes before I have to go in.

On days that I eat a high-protein meal, I feel better throughout the day. I go for eggs, a protein shake, and some sort of wheat. Meat, nuts, grains, eggs, beans and rice, tofu, and whey products are the highest energy food groups.

8. Wash up.

Sometimes, in the middle of the day, you’re not fatigued so much as grungy. Often by going and washing my face and hands, changing my socks and underwear and any sort of article that I feel gross in, will rejuvenate me.

9. Wear something pretty but comfortable.

In the same vein, I find that if I change out of, say my pajamas, and into something that I feel looks good, but doesn’t jab, pin, or crawl up on me in some way will help me focus on my writing. This isn’t true for everyone, of course, but you might find that getting out of those sweatpants and into your new jeans suddenly changes your outlook. Feeling good about yourself naturally gives you more energy.

10. Warm up with something easy.

Now I’m not talking about exercise. When writing, you might find that something is easier to write than something else. This differs for everyone, but you probably have some form of writing that comes easier than others. For me, blogs come out like a breeze. Fiction writing is a little more difficult.

Try blogging, tweeting, writing poetry, a flash fiction short story, or anything that doesn’t matter as much as your work in progress, and you may find that continuing on into the real thing is a whole lot easier.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why Men Don’t Have to Worry about Literary Hunks

So, she’s fan-girling out on some fictional character. Okay fine, you say. She keeps talking about him. Alright, it’s a book she loves, understandable. He’s her screensaver. Annoying, but she should see yours. She begs you to read the book. Because you love her, you do. (Also because you want to have more arsenal to bitch about it.)

You find out that he is a colossal, unappealing jerk, whose only real merits seem to be his money and his looks.

Is that what women want? Really? She’s head over heels in love with this bland, personality-void, stalker?

Now you’re getting nervous.

Well, good news. It’s not as bad as you think.

1. Let’s start with looks.

I’ve come across a couple of men who complain that women want their men to look like this:

And now I have this picture saved on my computer, hoping no boyfriend finds it ever.

For me to clarify why this shouldn’t be a concern of yours, let me let you in on a little anecdote: When I was in college, my best friend was a gay man. I came to find that his interested in men was not really similar to my interest in men—we vastly disagreed on the guys we thought were cute (usually). One day I went into his dorm room and he had a poster of a half-naked guy on his door.

“Isn’t he hot?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

Guess what he looked like?

See, what I’ve come to find is that what men think women want is more akin to what men want.

The “bigger is better” attitude is not strictly limited to guys, but there does seem to be a consistency in the male culture.

Some women like that kind of thing, of course, but often body builders are not our forte. Actually, it should be noted that most women disagree on what an attractive male is. Women divide drastically in who they find appealing and who they don’t… in men. (While if you asked several different women what women were beautiful, we’d be more likely to agree.) If you study the leading heroes of female-centric films, they often don’t have a lot in common. Different hair styles, drastically different facial structures, skinny Edward to the hulk that is Jacob. I think this is simply because feminine beauty is well defined for all genders where as masculine beauty tends to be swept under the rug, talked about in only specific circumstances.

The characters usually do have muscles, I’ll admit and take their shirts off readily, but you’ll note that they are more “defined” and less “colossal.” Some guys are just stick figures with a few faint shadows here and there.

 There is a reason why women are drawn to textual books instead of visual porn. We can implant any looks we want into the character. If you read the description of these men, it usually just says “gorgeous” in a bunch of different ways, often skipping over what the guy actually look like. This makes it so that women with diverse tastes can read the same book and be entranced. It is also why an actor casted as a male-love interest will get a lot more hell then an actress adapted from the book. Seriously, when was the last time you heard, “Emma Stone looks nothing like Gwen Stacy!” (I’m sure there’s some) But check out the comments on Christian Grey or Jace Herondale and they get downright prolific and horrific.

Just like there are butt guys and boob guys, there are face girls and body girls, hair girls and demeanor girls. What a girl is primarily attracted to can be drastically different than what her friends are. And two body girls might have a totally different ideal even though they both look for guys with a good physique.

It should be noted that females tend to be more oriented around the nuances of a situation, the trees instead of the forest. For instance, a big basis of attraction for me has more to do with the way a guy holds himself than his actual body type. The same guy could be gangly and awkward one moment, and the next, gain control of his limbs and turn completely sexy. Many girls don’t look for actual features as much as attitude and personality, which is why that ugly confident guy (you know you know one) can always get laid somehow.

If you’re dating someone and she really does love you, there’s a decent chance you’re her “type,” and you’ve always been. Or, in some cases, her attraction to you made whatever is true for you attractive by association. She wasn’t attracted to redheads before, but after you, a full-blown ginger, and her have broken up, she can’t get enough of them. And if you are single and feel unattractive, there’s a good possibility that it takes just a few little changes (better fitting clothes, better hygiene, assured posture, different hair style) to make you attractive.

2. Fiction has always been about safe danger.

Some romance novels are downright kinky. Many times they can be disturbing. They can get a lot of crap for promoting abuse as love, often considered incredibly sexist and a step backwards. While I don’t condemn these complaints as without merit, it should be recognized that most fiction is about having a seemingly dangerous element in an actually safe place. Like a rollercoaster.

Take any of the popular books and movies. Do you actually want your grade school years to be tormented by a dangerous serial killer on the loose, with teachers and friends all possible traitors who too might just try to literally stab you in the back? No. But that doesn’t stop people from liking Harry Potter. Do you want to be forced into a marriage that you don’t want only to find your true love and have him die in a horrible manner? Titanic was a blockbuster hit. Taken, Saw, Lord of the Rings even movies like Old Yeller have all kinds of events that no one is interested in actually experiencing. But it’s exciting because you’re watching it from a safe place.

The main thing that makes stalkerish romance novels romantic is that the reader knows the guy truly loves the girl, and his insane actions just prove that. In real life, someone acting like that probably doesn’t love her and is more acting off of a deranged fantasy or just selfishness. When a guy stalks a girl in real life, he usually is an egomaniac or narcissist, and maybe even has certifiable delusions of grandeur. He doesn’t love her, he loves an idea of her, or just himself and the rejection is too much to accept. It isn’t safe, because while fictional characters are protected by “love” this is unlikely in real life.

The reason why these romance novels scare so many people is because, unlike most movies, they are more common in the real world. There are a lot of women subject to this exact kind of abuse, some even trying to legitimize it in their minds and allowing it to continue. Possibly because they can’t get out (financial reasons, social reasons, fear of physical harm), possibly because they don’t want to. And for that purpose, I am not entirely critical against the backlash against these books, though I do stand by the rights for these books to exist.

But what men should know about girls reading these stories is that they don’t necessarily want to date the men in the stories, or that they necessarily want the events to happen to them. There’s a decent chance that they’d love to role play it—be tied down by a man who, in reality, they love and knows respects them (safety), but pretend he’s a complete stranger (danger). What they want in the bedroom might not be want they want in real life, (a woman might love being told what to do sexually but despise it otherwise) and what they fantasize about may not be anything they actually would like to happen to them in the real world.

3. It’s porn.

That’s what you’re saying!

I don’t mean to put down the genres of either romance or erotica by suggesting it’s “just porn.” There are many books in these categories that I found to be literary works of genius. Okay, some. But I’ve also happened to find complete crap that really just did the trick.

Most times women pick up romance novels to get off. If we were to be completely honest about it. This is why crappy romance/erotica books sell better than a crappy book of any other genre. If you grab a “love-story” that happens to have developed characters, actual stakes, and ends with a meaningful, deep feeling, then that’s just an added bonus. But that’s often not the primary goal.

Think about all the times you have been turned on by something to later go, “What is wrong with me?” Think of the porn you might have watched in which the characters lacked any depth or personality. How many characters—not actresses, but characters—would you actually want to be in a real life relationship with?

It’s well known that it’s easier to get men off than it is for women. Men are primarily visually stimulated where females are, again, more about the nuance. Foreplay is important, atmosphere and emotional bonds tend to help. So of course our “porn” is a lot more complicated and requires a 30 page background story before getting to any of the good stuff. But at the end of the day, it’s the same basic formula as male-centric porn—Come up with a situation, stick two sexy people in, and ta-da! You’ve given the people what they want.

A lot of romance novels don’t have great character development. (Romance authors know that better than anyone.) That’s because often it’s the situation that’s important, not who’s in it.

4. Women don’t always see themselves as the characters.

This is important to realize from an author’s standpoint; there are two types of readers. One, those who see themselves as the characters, two, those who see themselves with the characters.

Some people fluctuate back and forth, some people don’t ever change in their entire lives. Men tend to be of the first category—seeing themselves as the characters and not diverging from that, women tend to see themselves with the characters. My speculation is that, for people who gender-identify (i.e. have a hard time seeing themselves or wanting to be someone of the opposite gender), men have more options than women.

Not only are there more male protagonists, but in most films and book, if you don’t particularly like the male protagonists, there are probably some supporting characters you can identify with. Women usually get one obnoxious know-it-all love-interest who is pretty much just a buzz kill, but with a license to kill (and that’s supposed to make up for it).

So, we are more likely to not identify with any of the characters, but rather empathize with them from a third-party standpoint.

There is not a single thing in Edward Cullen I would want in an actual boyfriend. (Okay, fine, superpowers would be awesome, but I mean, obviously.) He seems to lack passion in anything except for Bella, has no ambition or drive, he’s not particularly funny, doesn’t really have a way with words—with maybe the exception of his “romantic lines.” He’s pissy and broody, won’t go after what he wants and instead makes the “right” decision for her (I cannot even begin to explain how much I hate when a guy does that.) But, I still liked the story.

Why? Because I wanted to see Bella and Edward together. He’s not for me, but Meyer definitely had a way of making me want to see them happy, even if it was in a somewhat melodramatic way.

Same goes for Buffy the Vampire Slayer which is my favorite television show of all time. Spike I love beyond all belief, but again, not necessarily for me. I mean, he does have traits that are appealing, but on the flip side there’s that whole “safe danger” issue. Half the shit he does that makes me love watching him would be completely inexcusable in real life. You know, like murdering people.

I still have dreams about Spike. However, it’s in third person. (Which is actually fairly common for me.) Even if I’m actually in the dream, it still plays out like a new episode where I watch Buffy and Spike get together. Because I want Buffy and Spike to be together, not Buffy-mask Charley and Spike. That’s just weird.

It’s a strange form of voyeurism I suppose, but for women the romance can come from empathetic yearning, and just wanting to see those characters get what they want, not necessarily from her wanting to be that girl. (Who seriously would want to be Bella?)

5. Good fiction is about ticking readers off.

A great author frustrates the audience. He refuses to give the reader what she wants, promising that maybe, just maybe, if she’s a good girl, she will finally get the cookie in the end.

The key to a successful story is to make the reader want something, imply that it might not happen, make the reader want it more, make it look like it’s probably not going to happen, give them a little taste of what they’ve been waiting for, make it seem like it’s never going to happen, then give it to them. (Or, in some cases, not give it to them, which can be brilliant… or might just piss everyone off for good.)

I say this because no one wants to deal with ninety percent of the drama these guys put these girls through. I mean, okay, maybe a little. The chase can be fun and the pain can make the good moments feel even better. But it’s still fiction, and it’s about preventing the reader from getting what they want so they stay hooked.

I hate relationships where I feel like I have to be a bitch to keep someone interested, so I’m sure guys hate it when they have to be dicks too. The good news is that the guys in these books are often jerks more for the dramatic arc, to enhance the satisfaction when he stops being a bastard, than actually for the immediate pleasure of the readers.

6. The money…

Especially with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey out right now, some men have been complaining about how women just want billionaires.

Look, it’s fiction. It’s self-pandering fiction. It can be the worst form of self-pandering fiction you’re going to find. You can make any kind of guy in the world and give him any ridiculous sort of characteristics, why the hell would you not make him rich? These books aren’t selling because of moderation.

If I could make the man of my dreams swimming in money of course I would. And yes, there are greedy trophy wife wanna-bes; it’d be stupid to pretend they don’t exist. But there is a difference between handing your already silver-spooned character a million bucks and actively making that your priority in the real world. Truth is, if a girl is only interested in your money, then you only have to worry about it if you actually have any. Otherwise, she would have never given you the time of day in the first place. Are you a billionaire? Then the girls who only want billionaires will never bother you.

(And if you are upset about the lack of female attention you're currently getting, it probably isn't contingent on how much you make. Girls date poor guys all the time. It is more likely that the issue is somewhere else, and is honestly easier to fix. A decent number of men who complain to me about not finding women don't leave their house except to go to work, for example.)

They joke about Christian Grey only being sexy because he’s rich, but really he’s sexy because the book just says he’s sexy over and over. Picturing a toothless, meth-pocked guy following you around is very different than some flawless, confident guy in a wife beater and tattered jeans. There are actually plenty of romance novels in which the guy is poor but hot. Recently I read a book about a guy in super debt because he has a gambling problem and is being chased by the mob, the rich heiress needing to come in and save him.

It’s a fantasy, so yeah, money is often involved. But never assume that a girl is looking for a guy who can support her until she does something to prove it. It’s true for some women, and you have to be careful, but there are plenty it isn’t a priority for, and nothing is less attractive than a man who thinks women are all money grubbing whores. Except for maybe being toothless.