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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?

This post is part of Julie Valerie's Hump Day Blog Hop. Click here to keep hopping along and discover some other great voices on the blogosphere!

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.

Tuesday
Feb102015

Nurse Nate's Princess Persona

******CONTEST CLOSED. WINNER HAS BEEN NOTIFIED. THANKS FOR PLAYING!******

 

Good morning/day/afternoon/evening, wherever you are! Our Reluctant Blogger today is Nate Bingham, the protagonist of my book, Let's Be Frank.  Nate's here to share his thoughts and give you yet another chance to win a gourmet brownies sampler (more details below this post) as part of the Fairy Tale Fun Blog Hop. And now [cue the trumpets]... Princess... er, Nurse Nate:


When Brea posed the question, “If you could be any princess, which one would you be?” I balked a little at answering. I’ve been accused of being a queen a time or two, but I was told this is different. So I hopped right in that golden carriage, straightened my tiara, and tapped the ceiling with my scepter to get this thing rolling.

It’s not breaking news that I’m a guy who’s in touch with his feminine side. My brother would say a little too in touch with my feminine side, but he’s a dickwart, so… moving on! I’m also no stranger to princesses. Mostly the animated variety. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I hand out my fair share of pink princess Band-Aids every day, too. I know them all, from the old school (Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty) to the vintage (Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine) to the bad-ass (Pocahontas, Elsa, and Merida). We’re besties on a bunch of different levels.

But if I had to personally relate to any princess ever in the history of the world (real or otherwise), I’d have to go choose someone a little less… cartoon-y. I’m nothing if not a realist, after all. So I’d have to say I’d be Diana, the late Princess of Wales.

 

 

I can hear my brother now. “Bro, you could choose anyone, and you chose a dead English chick?” Knowing him, he’d pick the “hottest” one he could think of so he could stay home all day and do nasty things to himself. But this isn’t Nick’s show, is it? No. It’s mine. And I choose Lady Di. Here’s why.

Despite whatever else may have come to light about Princess Diana since her death (it’s easy to talk smack about someone who can’t defend herself, isn’t it?), nobody disputes that she was a kind-hearted, caring, sensitive person. When she was alive, she was a huge supporter of children’s hospitals. She also visited terminally ill people all over the world as part of her charity work, and her legacy continues due to her humanitarian efforts related to AIDS and leprosy. And let’s not forget her efforts to ban landmines. (At the risk of making a tasteless joke, I wish my family had received the memo on that ban. But anyway!)

Speaking of family, parenthood—something fairly close to my own heart—was also important to her. She loved her own children and was a caring, nurturing mother in a system that didn’t make that lifestyle very easy. She shunned a royal nanny in favor of choosing the person who would take care of her children when her royal duties, took her away from them. She also selected her sons’ schools, planned their outings, and took them to school herself as often as she could.

Source: UK Daily Mail

By now, you’re probably wondering how the heck I know so much about Princess Diana. It’s called Wikipedia, people. But the more I learn about her, the more I do feel a connection to her. I suspect we had similar personalities, for one thing, maybe prone to introspection more often than is healthy. Perhaps we both shared a bit of a hero complex, too, always thinking of ways to help, to fix things, to be part of the solution.

And something she was quoted as saying strikes me as especially poignant: “I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts.” She was a true people-pleaser, which I can totally relate to.

So yes, if could be a pretty, pretty princess, I would definitely be Diana. Only… I’d prefer to have a happier ever after than she received. If it’s not too much of a bother, that is.

Thanks, Nate, for those insights and for being so brave about naming your princess alter ego. (Yes, I just thanked a fictional person for something I actually wrote... deal with it!)

Now for the reader reward. Here's what you can win!


This fabulous Congratulations Sprites 24 Gift Box from Fairytale Brownies includes a snack-size assortment of delicious gourmet brownies. Nurse Nate cautions you not to eat all of these at once if you win, because you could send yourself into a diabetic coma--or at the very least, give yourself a major stomachache. But how delicious do they look???? Let's look at them some more before I tell you how you can win them. [Pauses to let you look and wipe the drool from your chin]

Okay, now here's how to enter.

1. Leave a comment, answering the question I will tell you at the very end of this post.

2. Include your e-mail address at the end of your comment, so we have a way to contact you if you win. (You will not be spammed by me or the organizers of this blog hop, promise!) Comments without email addresses will not be eligible to win. Contest open to U.S. residents only. (Sorry 'bout that!)

3. Continue to the other participating sites and repeat the process (see list below for links to blogs). You can earn one entry per site, so get clickin' and answer those questions!

And now... the question you've been waiting for: If you could live happily ever after with any fictional person, who would it be? Answer in the comments below to enter to win the brownies prize from Brownies.com. Remember to include your email address in your response! I look forward to seeing who you choose! (My answer is Nurse Nate. Cough, cough.)

Other participating blog sites where you have a chance to enter to win the brownies prize:

April Aasheim

Sheryl Babin

Kathryn Biel

Geralyn Corcillo

Patricia Eddy

Erin Emerson

Jamie Farrell

Hilary Grossman

Rachel Hamm

Gina Henning

Celia Kennedy

Tracy Krimmer

Ophelia London

Becky Monson

Theresa Munroe

Diane Rinella

Samantha K. Williams

Sunday
Feb012015

Why So Sensitive?

I'm a sensitive person. There. I said it. It's out there now. And it's kind of a relief that it's out there, because I've spent a lot of time and energy denying it throughout my life.

When you're growing up, it's not cool to be sensitive. It indicates you care too much about what others think, which is the epitome of uncool. In my first career, television news, being sensitive was a definite weakness. You had to be tough. There's no crying in TV!! You get the job done, and you let people treat you like dirt, because there's generally no time for tip-toeing around people's feelings when you're under a tight deadline and trying to get the news on the air. Get over it. It's nothing personal. Move on.

Now, however, as a fiction writer, my sensitivity helps me empathize and sympathize and write engaging characters with authentic reactions to various situations. Yes! Finally, being sensitive is okay!

Or is it?

Because that same sensitivity can open me up to a heap of hurt. Don't forget about bad reviews. Can't take those too personally. And while there are a lot of wonderful people in the writing community, there are just as many jerks. As a matter of fact, some writers think the only way to be a real writer is to be a jerk. Especially to other writers. Because if you're a professional, you should be able to handle it when someone treats you like crap. Get a thicker skin.

These people may even have the gall to call themselves your friends while saying brutal things to you, then hide behind my absolute favorite, "I'm just being honest." They ask you, "Why so sensitive?"

I've asked myself that question a lot. And I've finally answered it for myself. Sort of. My answer is, "Why does it matter why?" It's like asking someone why they're so brunette. Or pale. Or funny. Or cute. Or ugly. Why am I so sensitive? Because God made me that way. I just am. Why should I apologize for it? Or try to hide it? Sure, it's not socially acceptable to go around crying and taking offense to everything everyone says, but I don't do that. As a matter of fact, I've done such a good job of hiding my sensitivity to certain people that they think they can say anything to me. I've even had one person say I'm "about as cuddly as a rock," which... when said to a closet-sensitive person is not only ironic but deeply injurious.

People who do not suffer from this sensitivity "affliction" don't get it. They let insults and criticisms bounce off of them like harmless Nerf darts. Or something. Honestly, I don't know how they do it. Their ability to not take things personally is just as much an enigma to me as my tenderness probably is to them. The difference is that I don't treat other people's personality traits as a disadvantage to them or an annoyance to those around them. I admire their devil-may-care attitidues. But I also suspect they're putting on just as much of an act as I am when I pretend I'm not hurt by something someone else does or says.

As for people who say whatever they want to say whenever they want to say it to whomever happens to be in their path at that moment and couch it in "honesty," they're just douchebags posing as people with integrity. INsensitivity is lazy. When you start something with, "To be honest..." and end it with a hurtful statement, you're not being honest; you're being a jerk who doesn't care enough to filter or is too lazy to figure out a diplomatic way of saying what you feel duty-bound to say.* And that sucks.

In an earlier post, I said I've adopted the motto: "I'm here to bless, not to impress." Well, I'm adding another rhyming motto to my collection: "Say goodbye to those who make me cry." This is not about playing the whiny victim, either. This is about self-preservation and a pre-emptive defense. I'm not talking about those times when I am legitimately overly sensitive (you know... during THAT week every month) or take something wrong that someone's innocently said (I recognize there's a lot of room for interpretation in certain social interatctions and have learned to be diplomatic, because being sensitive works both ways). I'm talking about those times when it's a clear-cut case of someone choosing to be cruel or unkind. I'll be wishing that person well and walking away from their toxicity. I've wasted enough time obsessing about what I've done or said (or not done or said) to elicit mean remarks from mean people. No more. Some people are just mean. And they like being mean. They thrive on it. And when you call them on it, they get on their moral high horses and say they're simply being blunt or you're simply too sensitive.

Perhaps I am. But if you have a low pain tolerance, you avoid activities that could result in physical pain. I'll be doing the mental equivalent. And I'll be doing so just as unapologetically as the people who don't seem to understand the difference between honesty and cruelty.

I've told you my dirty secret (I'm "too" sensitive). What have you been told is your biggest weakness? What, if anything, do you plan to do about it?

 

*Most of the time, it's not really necessary to say whatever that is, anyway. Please, don't see it as your duty to point out everyone else's perceived flaws. You're not the human quality control manager.