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Monday
May042015

"Casual" Doesn't Equal "Lazy"

It's been a while since I've published a ranty post, and I really hope this doesn't come off as too ranty, but... I can remain silent no longer on something that has been bothering me for a while. For people who claim to be writers and lovers of the written word, some of us aren't representing ourselves very well on social media.

I get it's an informal "setting." I get that we're posting from mobile devices and are often the victims of the dreaded autocorrect. I get that we're humans and don't have editors and proofreaders on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever the latest thing is. I get all that. And I'm not claiming everything I post online is perfect (far from it). I also understand there are legitimate challenges some people face that make spontaneous message-writing a nightmare (e.g., dyslexia).

But those things aside...

What the heck, people?!?!?!?!?!

Social media is both a beautiful and scary thing. Beautiful because it's FREE. Scary because it's free; therefore, people think they can toss any old thing out there and call it good. You can show people who you are and give them a taste of what they'll be getting from your writing for absolutely no cost. No cost, that is, except to your reputation, if you come off sounding like a drunk kitten who couldn't conjugate a verb if your life depended on it. (Who's going to buy a book from that person?)

Here are some routine mistakes that damage your credibility online:

1. Routine grammar and mechanical mistakes. Maybe you routinely use "that," instead of "who." (Ex. "I know there are some lovely people out there that would like to buy my books.") I see some lovely people WHO do this all the time, and it makes me stabby. This is just one (very petty) example, of course. More egregious is the use of text-speak ("U"? Really? You can't be bothered with the two other letters in that word?), a refusal to use capital letters and punctuation, and blatant misspellings.

2. You don't know the difference between your homophones. (Or don't know what homophones are.) (Ex. "I am to lazy to put to o's on the word that means 'also' or a 'w' in the number. Its to much work, and I don't no how to be smarter than autocorrect.") Ay-yi-yi. Your editor doesn't live online. Learn how to do some things for yourself. And show autocorrect who's boss!

3. You often leave words out of sentences, so they make little to no sense. (Ex. "I could gone back and proofread this before hitting 'post,' but it too much trouble, and anyway cares?") I care. Your readers care. And your readers want YOU to care enough to read something before you send it out there for everyone to see.

This brings me to a valid question you may be asking at this point: "Does anyone except this nit-picky hag actually give a darn about any of this?"

Maybe if you polled people, the nicest, most relaxed of the bunch would say, "Online, I've learned to filter typos and mistakes, and as long as I can get the gist of what they're trying to say, it doesn't bother me." But do you want to be the person who requires other people to constantly filter and interpret what you mean? Is it really that hard to get one to three sentences or 140 characters correct? If you consistently post "kind of correct" statements, aren't you sending a comprehensive message you'd rather not send, specifically that you--a writer--don't have a firm enough grip on language to effortlessly converse online, much less write a book that someone would be willing to purchase and read?

Whether you like it or not, everything you write is an advertisement for you as a writer.

So what can you do? SIMPLE STUFF.

1. Proofread. Boo-boos are still going to slip through, sometimes even after you read something several times, but fewer mistakes will go public, and the ones that do will be anomalies, not, "Oh, Brea's posting on Facebook while on the riding lawn mower and inhaling exhaust fumes again. For the fifth time today."

2. Spell check! Please, for the love of all things holy, utilize the built-in spellchecker.

If you stump the spellchecker, then GOOGLE it. When all else fails, use a different word. Preferably one you know how to spell.

3. Correct mistakes. If you notice something after it's out there (I always do my best proofreading after I hit "publish" or "send" or "comment" or "enter"), take advantage of the "edit" feature. It's there. Use it. If it's not working or not available on the platform you're using, copy and paste your post into a new one, fix your goof, and re-publish it. Then delete the old one. Too much work, you say? Maybe it's too much work for readers to slog through your next release, hmmm?

Listen (or read). I'm not saying we should speak the Queen's English in social, casual settings. This post is a good example (I hope) of writing that breaks a few rules here and there for effect and for the sake of conversational style but is still coherent and mechanically correct. And it may sound like a stream-of-consciousness rant, but I proofread it and edited it before I hit "publish." Maybe some typos still slipped through. It happens. Maybe you've resolved to never buy a book from this infinitives-splitting, angry hack. Okay. (No, actually, that makes me really sad and a little panicky, but... I accept the consequences of my compulsion to air this latest grievance of mine.)

Bottom line is this, though. I like to support fellow authors. Sometimes that means reading their books and recommending them, but I don't have time to read EVERY book by EVERY author, so the easiest way to vet someone is by looking at their social media posts. If I see too many sloppy, half-baked, semi-literate offerings by that person, I hesitate to recommend them to anyone. I've worked hard to build trust with the [admittedly few] readers I have. If those readers, based on my recommendations, regularly spend their hard-earned money on books that fall short, quality-wise, they're going to get a bit pissy with me. And rightfully so.

You may say, "Big whoop. One stuck-up grammar nazi won't share my links or retweet me or whatever," but I guarantee I'm not the only person using this shortcut to measure the quality of your writing. People much more influential and possibly vital to your future success (i.e., agents and publishers and paying READERS) are doing the same thing. You can bet on it.

So don't be a social media slouch. If it's worth posting, then it's worth getting it right.

*drops microphone and walks away*

*comes back and puts microphone in its stand, because it's not cool to do that to expensive audio equipment*

When I'm not wasting time on social media, I write novels of the chick lit variety. Check them out on the "Books By Brea Brown" tab on this site. You can also follow me (and feel free to nit-pick my posts and tweets, some of which are written before 6 a.m. and are bound to sound like that drunk kitten I mentioned above) by clicking on the icons above (I think they're on the upper right of each page on this site).

P.S. I like parentheses. Don't hate.

Monday
Apr272015

Sneak Peek of OUT OF MY LEAGUE

In the weird way that writing--and publishing--sometimes works, my September release is ready to go (minus a cover... minor detail, right?), while the book I'd like to publish in June (less than two months from now, for those keeping track) is still with beta readers. Because I like to make things as difficult and stressful as possible. After all, having a book all ready to go months before its release is so... professional. And pedestrian. And I don't have enough to stress about in the next two months, with my oldest son graduating from high school--in less than two weeks, actually--and moving across town to a different neighborhood and getting my younger kids enrolled in different schools, plus all the other stuff and expense that comes along with moving.

BREATHE!!!!!!

So, whatever. It'll all work out. LET'S BE REAL is close to perfect, I'm sure (ha!) and will require minimal rewrites, unlike its precursor, LET'S BE FRANK, which I re-wrote from scratch TWICE. That's not going to happen this time. Because... God doesn't hate me.

Plus, I just went through something like that with OUT OF MY LEAGUE. I didn't quite start from scratch, but I overhauled the book and wrote about 50% brand new content after receiving beta feedback, which was largely positive, believe it or not. It's just that the things they weren't most fond of required MAJOR changes. They were worth it, though.

And I'm so proud of the result that I'm sharing a sneak peek of the very first chapter of OUT OF MY LEAGUE, below. It's a fairly long excerpt, so settle in with a nice cup of coffee (or the beverage of your choice... or no beverage, because I'm not a control freak like that) and enjoy!! Oh, and thanks for your patience. I've been yammering about this book for nearly a year now on social media (but not here... crickets on this blog, right?), and now I tell you to wait until September for its release? What a(n) [insert your favorite insult here]! Hopefully it'll be worth the wait, though, and you'll be in a fall/football/whatever frame of mind when it comes out. And it won't seem so random for me to be talking about football in September. And I'll have some marketing tie-ins... You know what? Just trust me, okay?!?! Huh-huh. See what I mean about the pressure getting to me? Count yourself lucky that you don't live with me.

So here goes...

OUT OF MY LEAGUE

CHAPTER ONE

If this were a movie, something big would be about to go down. Something bigger, that is, than that enormous linebacker doing The Running Man on the dance floor in front of me.

No, I’m talking something epic and life-changing. The ordinary woman invited to an exclusive NFL Christmas gala as the plus-one of her best friend, one of the Kansas City Chiefs’ trainers, would look across the dance floor and meet the eyes of Keaton Busch (a.k.a., “Mr. Tight End,” which describes both the position he plays and my sexist assessment of his fine figure). The rest would be filler until the happily ever after.

Or, if it were an action film, someone would come in here right now and shoot this mother up. Considering how the evening’s gone so far, and the fact that Mr. Tight End is nowhere in sight, the latter seems much more likely.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a movie. So nothing exciting is happening at this party.

I sit, abandoned, at a table for eight in one of Arrowhead Stadium’s premier event venues, watching huge dudes—most of whom I don’t recognize—gyrate to the pulsing music on the makeshift dance floor with their dates.

I don’t recognize anyone. Well, I take that back. I knew Coach Dick Bauer when he got up and addressed the attendees, back at the beginning of the night, when it held so much promise. I also recognized the Wise brothers, the team’s owners. Everyone else here… they’re a different story.

Despite being an avid fan of the team, I never realized how much I rely on the names and numbers on the backs of jerseys to help me identify the players. Here, in their formal wear, they look like clones at a giants’ convention. I guess they’re not quite identical; there’s an impressive array of skin tones and hair styles (very multi-culti). But none of the guys are wearing under-eye black or sporting their helmets, and seeing them in real life is totally different than seeing them on camera, standing among other players, where they appear to be relatively normal-sized humans.

They’re not. They’re mahoossive. Even the kickers and punters, who usually seem so tiny on the field, are my height (5’11”) or taller. In this setting, my friend, Rae, at 5’6”, looks like an extra from The Wizard of Oz or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is the only place in the world I can wear three-inch heels (which are killing me, by the dubs), and still feel tiny. So far tonight, I’ve seen a lot of nose hair. I defy the most dedicated fan to claim he or she can identify any of these guys based on that feature. I suspect second- and third-stringers and support staff make up the majority of the attendees.

How disappointing (says the girl who’s the least of the nobodies here)!

Obviously, not one of the players has given me a second glance. Part of that may be due to the fact that I’m attending the party with an openly-gay woman. They all assume I’m Rae’s date-date, not her straight friend who would love to dance with one or two ripped, rich guys. And since Rae doesn’t seem eager to introduce me to any of these “sex-starved a-holes,” and none of them will approach me to talk to me, there’s no way to tactfully get that message across. A blinking “Straight” sign around my neck would come in handy right now, but it would ruin the lines of the red, beaded, one-shouldered number I’m wearing.

When Rae first texted me, asking if I’d be her “plus-one” to this shindig, I was thrilled. As a lifelong Chiefs fan, it was a dream come true for me.

It was too momentous an occasion to discuss via the text conversation she had initiated, so I called her to accept her invitation.

“Before you go all fangirl on me,” she warned, “this isn’t just a social outing. These are my new co-workers. I need you to play it cool at this thing.”

“Uh! I will be the epitome of cool.”

Following the past few months of lengthy silences and stilted conversations—usually in written format—I was surprised she was asking me to go with her. The last thing I wanted was to add more strain to our friendship. So I resisted squealing in her ear when it became clear she wasn’t playing an elaborate joke on me and was truly inviting me to something so amazing.

The squealing impulse remained close to the surface throughout that call, every time I thought of another player who’d be there that I’d have a chance to meet (Keaton Busch!) or dance with (Keaton Busch!!) or even drunkenly make out with but not go any further, because that’s groupie behavior, and I’m so above that (Keaton Busch!!!). I knew any hint of a squeak or mention of the player she claims is a “doofus” and a “douche,” and she’d rescind her invite, so I kept all noises in check.

If I’d known it was going to be like this, it wouldn’t have been as big of a challenge.

My “date” disappeared a few minutes ago, following one of the players toward the locker room after he approached her to complain about his painfully-pulled groin muscle. Ever the workaholic, Rae readily agreed to massage it for him. Anyone else, and I’d think they were speaking euphemistically, but the literalness of the situation is much more depressing.

I’m so over the entire night that when the air next to me moves as someone sits in Rae’s abandoned chair, I refuse to look away from the sight of Giant Running Man. (The floor is shaking from the impact, and I don’t want to miss when it finally gives way and swallows him.) That is, until I catch whiff of my visitor, like a rainy forest in the fall, and can’t resist turning my head to see who belongs to that intoxicating smell. An equally mesmerizing smile is my reward for finding my manners. It’s so pretty that I’m almost okay with it not residing on the face of Keaton Busch. (Dang it, where is that guy?)

“Hey, there,” says someone who doesn’t require a jersey for me to instantly recognize him.

Starting quarterback Jet Knox’s face is plastered all over the city, most notably on the billboard I pass every day on my way to work. Plus, I’ve seen him plenty of times with his helmet off. Somehow, his grin is more dazzling tonight than in any of the retouched photos of him I’ve seen in print. And sweaty post-game interviews don’t do this guy justice. Close up, clean, and in person, he’s… a god.

My fluttery hands and twitchy mouth betray my nervousness at his proximity. He’s no Mr. Tight End, but… judging by my physical response right now, I’d probably faint if I came face-to-face with my biggest crush, so maybe it’s a good thing he’s MIA.

“Hey,” I manage to squeak back softly enough to require the QB’s ability to read lips in loud stadiums.

He leans closer to be heard over the thumping music. “You’re Rae’s friend, right?”

“Yep. Just friends!” I shout back. “Friend-friends!” Screw subtlety. It’s too late in the evening and noisy in here for that.

He laughs loudly. “Okay then. Thanks for clearing that up. But I already know.”

I manage to keep my vocal chords steady, hopefully sounding more flirtatious than desperate, when I say, “Oh, good. Word’s getting around.”

He either doesn’t notice his effect on me or does a good job of pretending not to. In fact, he does his own share of squirming when he explains, “I passed Rae and Joaquin in the hallway, and when I teased her for leaving her pretty date alone, she snapped my head off and said you weren’t her date, and maybe I should come up here and keep you company.”

I blush at several of the things he says, not least of which that he called me “pretty.”

“You don’t have to do what she says,” I reply, hating myself for not knowing how to graciously accept a compliment or muster a more characteristically sassy response. But… but… it’s Jet Knox! I’m officially star-struck. So much for playing it cool.

He smiles. “Yes, actually, I normally do. But it’s our bye week. Which is why we’re having this party before Thanksgiving. And the only reason we have decent food and booze.” Nodding toward the mountain of a man on the dance floor, he says, “And Jackson, there, wouldn’t be allowed to attempt those dance moves. I’m pretty sure he’s about to hurt himself… or bring this whole place down.”

I laugh, relaxing as Jet also seems to regain his social footing.

Looking relieved that I’m loosening up, he holds out his hand. “I’m Jet.”

I allow my hand to be consumed by his and pretend it’s not hilarious for him to be introducing himself to me, a nobody job counselor from Overland Park, Kansas. “I’m Maura.”

“Nice to meet you, Maura.” He plunks his massive mitt on the table and drums his surprisingly nimble fingers. “You don’t look like you’re having a good time. And I feel bad about that.”

Quickly, I reassure him, “Well, it’s not anyone’s fault. Especially not yours. But it’s surreal—and intimidating—being here. And Rae’s busy, so she hasn’t had a chance to introduce me to anyone, that’s all.”

He cocks an eyebrow at me. “Rae needs to get a life. No offense. I know she’s your friend and all, but… she’s a little intense.” At that, he chuckles nervously and scratches his eyebrow. “Don’t tell her I said that, though.”

I narrow my eyes. “She’s one of the first ones on the field when you’re hurt, right?” Grabbing the spot where his shoulder meets his neck, I imitate a trainer who’s trying to diagnose a problem and pretend to squeeze maliciously. “Does this hurt?” I ask, wearing a serious expression and assuming a grave tone of voice.

He winces, sucking in a breath as if I’m causing him great discomfort, even though I probably couldn’t hurt him if I tried. “Not until you did that. Gaaaaah!”

We chuckle at our dorky playacting, and I remove my hand from his rock-hard muscle, suddenly hyper-aware I’ve touched someone I’ve only ever seen before on TV and in print.

I look down at my hands in my lap. “Anyway… I won’t tell her what you said.”

He stands, and I figure he’s going to return to socializing with his teammates now that he’s done his duty tour of the room, but his hand enters my field of vision, and he wiggles his fingers. “Come on. Let’s dance.”

Immediately, I stand and comply with his request, too grateful for the break in the monotony to play coy. Plus, I’d have to be in a coma to turn down an opportunity like this, if for no other reason than to brag about it to my brother.

After the song ends, the DJ plays an R&B request from one of the players to his “new, hot wife,” so I step back from Jet. It occurs to me he probably has a bleached, buffed, waxed date wandering around here somewhere. And a glance at my table tells me Rae’s back from giving Joaquin his holiday rub-down… and she’s glaring at Jet and me.

“Forget her,” my dance partner demands gently, stepping forward and grasping me around my waist.

Instantly done.

Near my ear, his cheek pressed against mine, he says, “It’s boring over at that table. And there’s no way I’m going to let you walk away from this party thinking we’re boring. The NFL has a reputation to uphold, you know.”

As he returns to his full height, his face glides across mine like satin against velvet. He pulls me closer so the beads on my dress catch on his silk tie. Someone capable of an emotion close to “worry” would step back to prevent snagging the accessory that probably cost half of my bi-weekly salary. I’m too tingly, warm, and loose to fret, though.

Plus, he doesn’t seem worried about his tie, so why should I be?

All I can possibly think about is those hands. And those eyes. And that chest. I’m vaguely aware of the song playing, but I won’t remember it when it’s over.

I smile dreamily. Wait until I tell my brother about this.

 

Well, there it is. The first 3/4 of the first chapter. So, what do you think? Are you intrigued? Will you be joining Maura (and Jet... and others) for more in the fall, when the book releases? I hope you do. In the meantime, feel free to check out my other books by visiting the Books by Brea Brown tab on this site. And if you're not already following me on Twitter and/or Facebook, I'd love to see you there, too. Links are on the upper right of this page.

 

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hopapril-2015/

Tuesday
Mar032015

Things Said in Jest... I Think.

By now, if you're following along on this blog, you know I'm sensitive, I often feel like a fraud, I take a tough love approach to... everything, I have a bad habit of comparing myself to others, I'm a Type-A perfectionist, I'm a realist, and I don't like waiting. Among many other things. I also take the things people say to me to heart, even when I tell myself it's not worth it. I can't help myself. If someone says something that could be taken negatively, I have the following thoughts, sometimes within a matter of seconds, other times over several days:

  • "Hmmm... is that a compliment or an insult?"
  • "I think that may be an insult. I'll pretend it's a compliment."
  • "No, that was definitely a dig."
  • "But I'm sure they're just teasing."
  • "Yeah. They're kidding. They forgot that little winky emoji that says, 'Just kiddin', not really,' but okay."
  • "I think I've become too dependent on emojis to ascertain the intent behind the things people say."
  • "Oh, well. Even if they did mean that as an insult, who cares? They probably misunderstood the thing I orginally said, which led them to say what they said."
  • "I should ask them what they meant."
  • "NO, I SHOULDN'T. That violates Section 3.9.3012 of the Non-Confrontational Code, which supercedes all other codes of conduct in the Life of Brea Brown. Der."
  • "Got it. Moving on."
  • "But hang on. What do they mean by that word? It doesn't fit in this situation as a compliment or an insult."
  • "Even so, am I [fill in blank with the word]? I don't think I am, but maybe I am."
  • "Maybe I'm not sure what that word means." *looks up word and spends embarrassing number of minutes looking up synonyms of the word*
  • "No. That still doesn't fit. I'm pretty self-aware, too."
  • "But doesn't everyone think they're self-aware?"
  • "Hang on! I bet they were being facetious." *goes back over conversation and applies ironic tone to other person's statement*
  • "Hmm.. Now that really doesn't make sense."
  • "Or maybe autocorrect is to blame here. Maybe they didn't mean that word at all. Stupid autocorrect!" *looks at computer and phone keyboards to analyze what intended word may have been* *scratches head*
  • "Maybe they think that means something else. Like, 'amazing.' (Or, more likely, 'neurotic.')"
  • "Okay, never mind. I'm just going to laugh it off and forget it. It's not worth it."
  • "What do they know, anyway? I'm not [fill in blank with word]. Am I? No. Well, maybe a little. Sometimes."

Inevitably, it emerges that the person misspoke (or mistyped) or says, "Oh, I always get that word confused with [word that doesn't mean remotely the same thing or rhyme or have any relation whatsoever to the word used]." Or they were in a bad mood. Or that was on their word-of-the-day toilet paper, and they had a bet with a friend that they could use it in a sentence to thoroughly confuse and/or bring about an identity crisis in someone. Or maybe they know exactly what the word means and what they mean, and they think based on two seconds of knowing you on social media, they have you pegged.

Or whatever.

In some cases, you'll never find out what the hell happened there. [Cue horrified shriek]

What's my ever-loving point, you must be wondering (or you wondered 500 words ago)? Hang on; give me a second to remember. Oh, yeah. The point is... thanks to technology, we can have thousands of interactions a day, which means there are thousands of opportunities for not only misunderstanding but needless belly-button staring brought on by a carelessly typed word or phrase. And for those of us prone to allowing others' perceptions of us define us, that's a lot of opportunity for paranoid brain ramblings.

In case you were wondering, I don't really think all of those things above (yes, I do), and I'm not that concerned with what people think of me (yes, I am), and I can totally laugh at myself (actually, I can, oddly enough), so you shouldn't tiptoe around me like I'm judging everything you say, because I'm not (most of the time). Someone did once say I was pedantic, but I'm pretty sure she thought that meant, "pedagogical," which I totally take as a compliment, so I never stare into space wondering, "Am I pedantic, like so-and-so said that one time... two decades ago?"

(Anyway, I already knew I was before she said it, so the joke's on her.)

In all seriousness, although it shouldn't be our only source of information about ourselves, other people's perceptions of us are important. If nothing else, they tell us how we're presenting ourselves--consciously or otherwise--to the rest of the world. I really do try not to let things that people say to or about me take too deep a hold, but only a fool disregards every observation. That suggests an uncomfortable level of arrogance.

On the flip side, we'd all do well to remember that words are powerful, and it's always good to think before we toss a word at someone that could stick with them for the rest of their lives.

So, what (good or bad) did someone call you at some time in your life that has stuck with you--even defined you--the most?  Share it in the comments!

Monday
Feb232015

How [Female] Characters Should Be

People (writers, causual readers, reviewers, writing teachers, bloggers, etc.) have a lot of opinions about female characters. Here are just a few ways I've seen such people finish the following sentence: "Female characters should be...

  • ...strong."
  • ...likeable."
  • ...good role models."
  • ...more prevalent."
  • ...determined."
  • ...relatable."
  • ...leaders."
  • ...feminine."
  • ...less feminine."
  • ...agents of change."

And on and on and on. We have very definite opinions--sometimes contradictory--about what we expect from female characters.

I call poppycock on the lot of it.

Here's how that sentence goes in my mind: "Female characters should be...

...REAL."

Real. That's it.

I'd also like to rewrite the sentence altogether, because that's kind of what we writers do. We tweak. Here's the new, improved (in my opinion) sentence:

"Characters should be real."

What's the deal with everyone's obsession with nit-picking characters with vaginas? When you pick up a book with a male protagonist, do you have definite preconceptions about what that character needs to do or how he needs to be for your reading experience to be a positive one? Do you say, "Well, here I am on Page One of this random book about a random guy, and before I even read one word, let me tell you this: this main character better be physically and mentally strong, gorgeous, smart, funny, sensitive, good at everything he tries, nice to animals, sure in his opinions about everything, a leader, a fighter, likeable, and morally upstanding... or else the entire book is trash"?

I'd wager you don't. (And if you do, you probably don't walk away from very many books with a high opinion of the work.)

But for some reason, there's a lot of talk and some very high standards when it comes to female characters. And when female characters don't fit nicely into our preconceived notions of what female characters should be, we get kind of pissy about it.

"I didn't like this book, because the main character wasn't likeable."

Interesting. How many of you can say you like/liked the following characters:

  • Hannibal Lecter
  • Holden Caulfield
  • Patrick Bateman
  • Frank Underwood
  • Paul Spector

None of these guys are particularly warm and fuzzy. We have three serial killers (Bateman, American Psycho; Lecter, Silence of the Lambs; and Spector, The Fall), an entitled young adult (Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye), and a dirty politician (Underwood, House of Cards) on that short list. Yet, the stories in which they feature as the main characters are no less compelling as a result of their despicability. On the contrary, the stories are more fascinating because these men are so flawed.

Female characters don't get that same benefit of the doubt. If they're unlikeable, that's often one of the main criticisms of an entire work. "Relatable" seems to be a broader, more encompassing trait, but it's just a fancier way, in most cases, for a person to say "likeable." "I couldn't relate to her at all." Therefore, the entire book/show/movie stank.

I'm not the first person to point this out. I won't be the last person to point this out. But I still felt it was worth pointing out.

One of my favorite quotes about writing female characters comes from George R.R. Martin (the author of the Game of Thrones series, in case you just crawled out from under a rock). When asked how he writes such compelling female characters, he responded:

"You know, I've always considered women to be people."

Exactly, George. Exactly!

As someone who's written books from both the male and female points of view, I can tell you, I feel a lot less pressure to make my male protagonists "likeable" than I do my female protagonists. Nurse Nate in Let's Be Frank is allowed to be Nurse Nate, warts and all. As a matter of fact, the more warts, the funnier. Peyton Northam in the Secret Keeper series, on the other hand... Her inner monolgues have garnered plenty of critisicm and have resulted in more than a couple "I couldn't relate to her" reviews. One person even called her a "horrible human being," probably for thinking something the majority of us have thought a thousand times. When I write female protagonists, I definitely find myself pausing a lot more often and asking myself, "Is this a socially acceptable thing for her to do/think/say?" Now, is that bowing to a societal pressure I should be resisting, not indulging? No. Just because I feel more pressure to make female protagonists more anything doesn't mean I actually do it. But the thought process is definitely different.

My biggest pet peeve is the call for "stronger" female characters. What the heck does that even mean? Like, she can lift a car off someone, in a pinch? Or she knows exactly what she wants and how to get it? Or she's kick-ass with a pair of nunchucks? If, by "stronger," we mean in a well-rounded, well-fleshed-out, strongly-written sense, then okay. But I think there's a place for "weak" personalities under that same description. Because life is full of all types of people, not just strong people. In addition, real people are strong in some ways but not all ways.

As long as an author writes a character so well that his or her weaknesses and strengths and flaws could just as well belong to the reader--that's how REAL those traits become--then I think the author has succeeded. He or she has written a REAL character.

So can we please stop having the discussion about what makes a "good" female character? Even further, can we please stop discussing our preconceptions for any characters--male, female, transgender, young, old, wealthy, poor, healthy, sickly, educated, ignorant, etc.--and simply allow writers to tell us how their characters are?

Tuesday
Feb172015

Cost Versus Value

Every few months, I'll see or hear someone brag that they don't ever pay more than a buck for a book. "If it's not free or close to it, I don't buy it." Of course, they're mostly referring to e-books, and with so many free or nearly-free downloadable works out there, they'll never run out of reading material (subpar or otherwise), no matter how long they live.

However, if they keep boasting about their unwillingness to pay authors a living wage in the presence of authors, they may not live as long as they'd like.

I have to say, this relatively new (to me) attitude toward art really shreds my wheat. For one thing, it seems to be based on the completely ignorant idea that electronic books are cheaper and easier to produce and are, therefore, disposable. They're just ones and zeros in the ether, right? WRONG. Guess what? It took just as long to write that e-book as it did to write the paperback version. It's the same book! On top of that, have you ever formatted an e-book? If you have, raise your hand, so we can see the bloody stumps that now rest where your fingers used to be before you gnawed them off in frustration because, "That damn character return in the middle of every tenth to thirtieth paragraph--it varies, just to keep things interesting--won't go away!"

I'm not here to argue the merits of paperback/hardback versus e-book. To me, books are books. I have some of my books available in paperback but most only available in e-book for now. That's not a politcal statement on my part. It's a logistical issue. One that I don't feel like going into right now, in this post. Maybe, if you're good, I'll bore you with that some other time.

What I would like to argue is that somewhere, somehow we've decided as a readership that the same work of art is worth less, depending on where it exists. And since manners have flown the coop a loooooong time ago, we've decided it's okay to tell someone (from behind the safety of a computer screen, usually) that the works they spend hours, days, weeks, months, years, sometimes DECADES crafting and that will--in theory--provide hours of entertainment and a range of emotions in the consumer aren't worth as much as a cup of putrid coffee at that trendy place you go to drink water poured over burnt beans.

"I'd buy your books, but they're too expensive for e-books."

Because that makes perfect sense.

And it's totally okay to tell someone that. Not at all gauche.

I wonder how that would go over with other professions. "Hey, Mr. Financial Advisor... I'd pay you for your hard work and services but since I access your services on the telephone and through the internet, forget about it." "Hi, Mr. Heart Surgeon. Thanks for the successful bypass surgery, but since you used state-of-the-art equipment and not just a scalpel and thread, it was probably easier for you to achieve this result, so I think I'll pay you less. If that's okay with you."

Good luck with that, folks.

This isn't about how much or how little you spend for the books you read, either. Please, do not get me wrong there. You like to buy your books at flea markets or charity shops? Great! You're giving a book a new lease on life. You enjoy getting a bargain and taking advantage of the sales authors occasionally have on their books? Wonderful! The author put his or her book on sale so people would buy it... on sale. You live on a fixed income and love to read but don't have a lot of extra money to work with at the end of each month so you take full advantage of your local library? I love it! I love libraries. They're amazing resources. This isn't about your book budget or even the max you're willing to spend on a new book. I have a budget, too, and it's probably smaller than you think. But that's private.

I also admit that how much I'm willing to spend on a book depends on the author. I'll splash out on my favorites when they release a new one, because I know I'm going to love it. It's a risk versus reward exercise, to be sure. However, it's pretty rude to basically tell someone they're on the "too risky to risk more than $4.99 a pop" list, is it not? Remember that thing called discretion that we used to all have? We should pull it out of the closet, dust it off, and use it again in some situations. I think this is one of them.

There's a reason so many of the authors you know and love don't write books as fast as you may want them to write books, and it's not because they enjoy teasing you or stringing you along. It's also not because they view writing as a "hobby," and write whenever they feel like it (and whenever they feel like it is on weekends... maybe). Many of them have day jobs (sometimes more than one), not because that's what they want, but in order to support their families by earning a living wage, a living wage that many readers aren't willing to pay them. In some cases, the writers can't hack it. I'll grant you that. In other cases, it has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the finished product and everything to do with the fact that consumers don't want to pay for the things they consume.

I'm not asking you to single-handedly provide financial support to your favorite authors. I'm asking you to decide that you value the service they offer and the entertainment they provide and lend your support to them in a variety of ways, one of which is ensuring they can continue to afford to write the books you love, because SOMEONE is willing to pay more for a 350-page story that a person birthed from concept to publication (not an easy feat) than they would for a candy bar at a Kum-n-Go service station! (Seriously, those are a real thing in my neck of the woods.) Maybe you can't--or won't--pay more than a dollar for a book. That's your business. But maybe you can help your favorite author find other readers who can and will.

And if you can but won't... for the love of all things holy, keep that information to yourself, especially when you're talking directly to someone who would prefer not to be told their hard work means so little to you. That's just common courtesy, a not-so-common, dying art in itself.