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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Writing Women, Part 2: Stand Alone Complex (Girlcember 5)

Hello hello!

Welcome back. So! How does all the gender/sexuality/identity stuff play into crafting a female character? Well, the basic point in my previous post is that a female character should not be built around or crippled by her vagina or her gender. (Or presumed vagina. Or whatever the species has that represents your character being sexually female.) This means that building your character solely around her romance with someone else is probably a bad idea.

Source. Fiona sees your shit, and she ain't having none of that.

Second, it also means that your character doesn't have to have physical limits. Boobs, hips, waists, and other things come in various shapes and sizes. You can have a flat-chested heroine who still identifies as female and likes pretty dresses. Boobs are not a requirement. As intimated above, a vagina isn't even really a requirement. They also don't represent a personality, or even magically grant one.

"But men and women are different!" I hear you cry. Well, yes, but in the ways people are different. If you're struggling with your female character, try making her male. Do her traits hold up, or do they seem silly? Does she cry and mope and whine a lot? Cling to other characters, especially men? Is everyone fine with this, or treat it as a normal thing for women to do? Conversely, does she go out of her way to do the opposite? If she does, she's probably a stereotype, and may not reflect reality very well.

How do I girl?

Think of your female characters as normal people. Believe it or not, even with the hormones and the terrifying complication of a vagina, there aren't actually many differences between women and men. They're mostly social. If they are rebelling against the standard gender roles of their world (which you might want to rethink, since it's a boring cliche to have wimmenz in the kitchen/hospital and menz in the battlefield/everywhere else), does their rebellion make sense? Consider Arya Stark from Game of Thrones. One of the things that works about her cliche character is that the rest of her personality lines up with her actions. She is cranky with her sister, conforms poorly to other norms, and pays the price for it.

Another important thing with creating women is making sure their behavior and ethos fit their period and setting. It's okay to have an obedient daughter if the situation calls for it; modern soap-box characters do not fit in historical settings, and are often jarring as hell. If you must have a woman with modern opinions in an anachronistic setting, there needs to be a price tag for those opinions. Do your research! It's fine to defy conventions, but it's also a good idea to abide by them when the situation is necessary. What are the social conventions of your world? How did you come up with them? (This may involve self-examination. I'll wait.)

See you next week!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Writing Women: Part 1, Or: THE VAGINA! IT DOES NOTHING! (Girlcember 4)

Hello hello!

So, it's common knowledge that in addition to writing my own books, I'm an editor. Obviously, I also like to read. I try to avoid writing about, well, writing on my blog, but I've been sitting on this topic for a while. Literally, if you like--because the thing I've been meaning to talk about since December is writing women. Depression, migraines, and a nasty flu have interrupted that, but I figured better late than never. So! Writing women. Let's talk.

One thing I've noticed a lot with male authors (or people who identify as male, anyway) is that they don't seem to 'get' female characters. This is often an excuse cited when the dearth of active female protagonists outside of romantic fiction comes up. "But women are hard to write," I hear, with much hand-wringing and sorrowful moaning. "How do you write a woman?"

Similarly, I find that female authors are actually just bad at women. Overly-idealised, often thin characters who are supposed to be rebellious but end up bland wish-fullfilling self-inserts...well, I've criticized Mary Sues in the past, and I'm not re-treading that. I'm not saying self-insert Gary Stews (the dude version) don't exist; they're just as obnoxious. However, female characters get the brunt of the difficulty, and I like writing and reading about women, so that's what I'm focusing on. Please note that this is mostly targeted at sci-fi/fantasy/cross-genre works, but the advice still applies to romance.

Source.  'Ensign Sue Must Die' is the original source and is now on my to-read list.

What's a woman?

Let's be clear on my definition of gender first, though. For most intents and purposes, people usually have either a vagina or a penis. Some people would prefer to have a different bit between their legs than they do, some would prefer both, some could do without either, etc, etc. Most of the time, the stuff between someone's legs lines up with how they see themselves. For example, I have a vagina (shocking, I know) and I see myself as a woman. This is called your sexual identification. As you can see from the link, most people don't get to (or need to) choose the bits they'd like to have. Believe it or not, it does not always line up with having XX or XY chromosomes, as chromosomes don't determine sex as neatly as we used to think. Sex is assigned based on what's between a person's legs, and one's identity may change with time or become fluid, but assigned sex does not define who a person is. 

However, the bit between your legs and what you choose to do with it (your orientation is the 'what you choose to do with it') may not be related to your gender role (stuff you do, according to society) or self-perception (how you think of yourself).

Right, so, still with me? If you're not familiar with some of these terms, there's no harm in asking. I can wait for a research break. Meet you back here in five for part 2!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Quick Update--The Night Circus

This is not an analysis, it's a tantrum.

Okay guys, I just...NEED...to flip a table about this book. I have touched on the lack of black people, people of colour, queers, variously abled people, and etcetera before; it's bothersome. Diehard fans might want to cover their ears. This is going to be a three or even a two-star review for me because the feels are so mixed.

I need to preface this by saying that I am a professional freelance editor and that it has kind of ruined all books for me because I understand how they're made. At least, I don't look at them the same way as civilian readers or even writers do.

And this book was not edited well enough. The contractions that are nonexistent in dialogue really tipped me off. There were a few funky commas, which I can permit, but CONTRACTIONS! ARGH! Normal people use them.

I love Poppet and Widget and Bailey. I love the descriptions of the circus and the dreamy atmosphere. I like the food and the sensory descriptions.

But I can't stand Marco and Celia. They're BORING, and have no personality other than to want each other. What does Celia *like*? Isobel was a more interesting character in every way, and Marco treated her very poorly, which I always hate. Then there's the whole gimmicky time travel thing with the chapters, which was awesome at first and is now annoying the living piss out of me. I will probably do a more in-depth analysis on my blog, but I'm frustrated. And then there's the stupid Game, which is a war of attrition, for...reasons?

I want to love this book so hard. I really like it. I just wish it was about anyone except Celia and Marco--in fact, about everyone *except* them.

*pant pant* I will let you know what I think when I finish the book.
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Breaking News; The Underlighters

Hello hello!

So, I've been talking to a few people about this book, and just, the reactions...I can't even...

I mean, intellectually I knew that representation was important because people need to see themselves in books and on screen...but the impact on actual human beings is just...it's earthshaking. The reaction from some people at hearing that someone cared about putting queers, people of colour, and physically challenged people in a book...well. The gif is there for a tongue-in-cheek attempt to cover the heartwrenching feelings. I expected mild interest; I didn't expect slightly teary notes of gratitude. I really didn't expect to be cutting onions myself.

So yeah. Expect my books to be loaded with actual human beings, not just the minority of white straight people that we paradoxically see on TV most of the time. I'd resolved to do it anyway...but now that I know how much it means to people? Consider it set in stone. (Hope this doesn't bite me later. I'll do my best for it not to, though.)

Here's Underlighters again, of course.

And here are some books involving diverse characters (by diverse authors, too) that have shaken my worldview. These are all the ebook editions--because I want you to go shopping but I don't want to break your wallet.

Neon Lights (ZigZag Claybourne) http://www.amazon.com/Neon-Lights-Zig-Zag-Claybourne-ebook/dp/B004UH0ORI

Whores (Nic Wilson) http://www.amazon.com/Whores-intended-factual-account-gender-ebook/dp/B009FLCJ18

Ghost in the Machine (Corinne Kilgore) http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Machine-Corwint-Central-Agent-ebook/dp/B009UFHA0O

Brown Girl in the Ring (Nalo Hopkinson) http://www.amazon.com/Brown-Girl-Ring-Nalo-Hopkinson-ebook/dp/B00AG0P5VS

Wolf at the Door (J Damask) aka blackwolfchng​ http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Door-The-Adventures-Volume/dp/9810713258

On the same note...I'm reading "The Night Circus" by Morgenstern right now. I want to love it, but apparently Tumblr has just broken me, period. I like it, don't get me wrong, but it's the 19th century (and early 20th century) and it's a circus with no damn black people and one Asian; our main characters are basically all straight, too. Considering that the book makes a point of showing that these characters are people who don't quite fit in society, I'm annoyed. It's well-written and all that (though in third-person present tense, which I dislike), but where the hell is the diversity?

Anyway, thank you all for your love of my book. Y'all need to go shopping and check out those authors.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work onAmazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Toys, Toys, Toys: Gender Roles, Performance, and the Holidays (Girlcember Part 8)

Hello hello!

So, at the beginning of December, I was working at a company on a temp assignment (this is how I pay the bills when editing is slow) and I decided to help out a bit extra by wrapping presents for the company's Christmas party. They were all children's toys, from Toys'R'Us, and it was an interesting experience. When someone hands you a bag of toys and a couple rolls of Tinkerbell and Spiderman wrapping paper, gender is hard to ignore or set aside.

My childhood involved a lot of pretty gender-neutral ideas. Generally, playtime involved coming up with outre fashions for Barbie, making crafts, playing with Legos, and coming up with stories involving small rubber and plastic animal figurines. Oh, and watching a lot of educational programs, reading, and watching Disney cartoons while the rest of that was going on. So, my understanding of gender roles was slightly off-kilter from day one, and it fascinates me endlessly to reflect on the way they are shaped for kids now.

I started off writing the genders as well as the contents on Post-it notes, but then I realised that was stupid, and stopped writing the genders. Anyway, what about the toys themselves?

Source. Bracelets and makeup. Definitely what I wear when I'm about to physically exert myself and whoop some ass.

Here's what I noticed:

1) Toys for very young kids are mostly either not-gendered, as with animal toys and blocks, or cement basic ideas of gender, such as with the pink and floral bathtime tea-party set designed for babies. I'm just going to mention that I never had tea parties with my dolls as a kid, and I only have them now as an adult.

2) Toys for older kids, about twelve and up, are generally boardgames and are somewhat less gendered, Toys involving science (a robot kit) were delivered in a deliberately gender-neutral way--the box was purple, as was the case for the Cranium games, but the fonts and visual design were somewhat masculine in style. This generally held true except for something I'll be noting in a minute.

3) Toys involving kids between about age 5 and age 12 were heavily gendered--trucks, alien Bratz dolls (no, they were actually aliens, the logical evolution of Barbie-type figures), and nerf guns.

4) Toys that are marketed to boys are somewhat more gender-neutral in appeal. They usually only have boys (and white ones, at that) on the box art, but there's a sort of silent acceptance of the idea of girls possibly owning them.

5) Toys marketed to girls, on the other hand, are explicitly and almost offensively feminine. Think sparkles, pink, purple, and girls on the front of the box art (whereas not all boy-oriented toys will have a boy on the front of the box). There is no suggestion that boys 'can' play with these toys, and the toys *for* boys would still have worked for girls in a lot of cases.

6) The Nerf 'Rebelle' gun has a chick in makeup and jewelry on its cover. I was pretty interested in a Nerf gun with feminine styling--it was actually cute--but my excitement faded when I read the back text. Summarized, it was basically, 'this gun is for girls! Really! We promise it won't turn them into a boy or make them do anything that's not cute and feminized! Please, redneck dads, don't be scared of buying this!"

7) Girl's toys are not designed for boys under any circumstances. I'm going to explore the way that divide is bad in my next column, but this still disturbs me. There's a silent penalty imposed on the masculinity of any boy playing with something sparkly. Remember, this is 2013 we're talking about, and gay rights and gender ideas are still stuck in very rooted traditions.

8) Toys are designed to give kids an idea of gender roles and 'what boys do' and 'what girls do' from day one of opening the box.

9) Just once, I would like to see people wrapping the Rebelle gun in Spiderman paper or the Scooby Doo Swamp Rover in Tinkerbell paper. Just once. If you immediately recoil at the thought of putting a 'boy toy' in 'girl paper', I'd like you to think about that for a minute.

What about the rest of you? Have you noticed anything disturbing or, conversely, positive about modern kids' toys these days?


Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. More interviews and witty commentaries are coming. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Captured Minds: Blog Tour!

Hello, hello!

 This one is a treat--I am so proud to present a book I had the opportunity to edit, a really unusual work--Captured Minds by Rebecca Odum!

Provided by author. 

Captured Minds

Living a peaceful life is supposed to be ideal, but what if it’s what makes you the perfect victim? For the last decade, famine has had the thriving land of Zoar in its grip. With money and food dwindling, seventeen-year-old Raven Montgomery longs for something more than working in the library. Driven by her love of learning, she enters a competition hosted by the Other World, where she will test her knowledge in order to win supplies Zoar desperately needs.
Before she can do so, Zoar’s ruler is killed, and hours later the Other World closes its door. Raven can’t believe the two events are connected. Yet, when she stumbles across Other World technology that holds classified information, she learns there may be more to the competition than meets the eye. Sure that her ruler’s death is somehow linked, she now faces the challenge of revealing the truth behind the Other World’s sinister ways before both lands are changed forever.

Union City, Zoar

“Imagine never opening a textbook or sitting at a desk. Imagine having the information you learn in school being handed to you without lifting a finger. For the kids of today and tomorrow, this can be a reality….”
The words blurred together and Raven Montgomery rubbed her eyes. No homework? No tests? She squinted at the tiny writing in the right hand corner. New York, it read.
That’s in the Other World. Maybe it’s magic after all.
On the bedside table, her mirror flashed green. She snatched it up and found a new message. She touched the screen, and the Ruler’s face appeared.
“Good evening, Zoarians. I am pleased to announce that starting at nine tomorrow morning, the Competition Board will be accepting applications.”
Raven turned off the mirror and took in her wall-to wall bookshelves. In less than an hour, she’d gather with kids who owned as many books as she did.  Today she wasn’t the lone girl no one understood, unable to control her need to voice the information running through her head.
Bet everyone there can pick up one of their books and recall every single word of information on every page.
She slowly moved to her chair and was halfway to the closet when her bedroom door opened.  Her older sister, Kate strode into the room, already dressed in a white short-sleeved dress, a black belt around her waist. She'd pinned her long, straight red hair in a bun.  What stood out most was the red lipstick, almost like blood next to her whitish complexion. Raven bit back a laugh. She looked like one of those women in the magazines she’d found in the attic once—perfectly put together.
“What?” Kate cocked her head to the side. “Stop looking at me like that. I want to look my best.”
Raven’s giggle died, and she put on her signature pout, used only in the presence of her family. Since when did Kate care about looking her best?
 “And I don’t? Gee, thanks.”  She glided her hand along the row of dresses. “I have no idea what to wear. Where’s Ava? She promised she’d help.” She usually threw on the first unwrinkled dress, much to her other sister’s dismay, but today was important. 
 “Ava said to wear this.”  Kate tossed a solid blue short-sleeved dress onto the bed.  “Hurry! Mom said we gotta leave in an hour.”  She patted Raven’s shoulder and walked out of the room.
Raven peeled off her nightshirt and slipped on the dress. She ran a brush through her long, straight black hair, pulled it back into a high ponytail and dug out her heels from the back of the closet.  With the folded application in her pocket, she made her way into the living room. Ava, Kate’s twin, sat on the couch with her best friend Maggie Tisdale,who was clad in her favorite red dress and black heels.   Maggie’s long blonde hair wasn’t in its usual braid, but flowed freely down her shoulders.
“There you are.” Ava said with a smile. “You both look beautiful. Blue is the perfect color on you. Brian says there’s already a line.”  She wrapped her flowered robe around herself, her red hair in a messy bun—a far cry from the usual dresses, makeup and fancy heels she wore every day.
 “Let’s go! We’ll be waiting in line until next Tuesday,” Maggie said, tugging on Raven’s arm. “I want to get there before I lose my nerve.”
Raven started for the door, but a sharp pain slicing through her temple and down her right arm and leg made her freeze. In all the excitement, she hadn’t anticipated pain this early.
How stupid can I be? Mom will probably make me take my chair, too.
Tears prickled her eyelids, but she refused to let them fall. She stood at Kate’s waist. People already jumped to conclusions.
“Here, honey.” Her mother’s hands were steady as she injected Raven with the needle and took a step back.  “Let me get a picture of you two.”
Raven sighed and  put her arms around Maggie’s shoulders, their heads touching. There was no one else could she stand next to and not feel like an insect. Since Maggie’s family had moved in across the street four years ago, the two were inseparable. She was grateful every day to have someone to share her unusual height, brittle bones, pain that felt like  needles down her legs and arms and headaches with. Not to mention the need of a wheelchair.
I better not need it today.
“Okay. All done. Go have fun.”
“Thanks!” Raven followed Maggie outside. At the end of the drive a carriage waited, its doors open. Brian, Ava’s fiancĂ©, stood next to it clad in his green Guard’s uniform. His light brown hair was slicked back, a mischievous glint in his brown eyes.
“You’re the best guy Ava could’ve picked to marry,” Raven said. She dangled the folded up piece of paper in his face. “You think your new job can get me instant results?”
Brian laughed and patted her arm. “Not a chance, little lady.” He opened the door and helped her and Maggie inside. “I’ll be up front with the driver.”
She took in the familiar scenes of the city as the carriage bounced down the street: people walking along the sidewalks past the one-story brown houses that lined the street on both sides, children holding hands as they walked to the schoolhouse, parents on their way to work. It wasn’t hard to pick out those that were turning in their application. People dressed up for the occasion. To have your name picked to take the exam was an honor, and everyone took it seriously. The square already swarmed with people when they approached the palace and the carriage stopped a few blocks away. The line ran down the sidewalk, past the diner and clothing store.
The early morning breeze blew a strand of hair into her face as Brian lifted her out of the carriage. Once Maggie was down, the two linked arms and made their way to the back of the line. The sun radiated intense heat from a light purple sky, and Raven fanned her face.
“I’ll see you shortly.”  Brian waved and disappeared through the gate to join the other guards. The line inched forward and Raven could not hold back a grin. In a few short minutes they’d deliver their application.
“I’m so nervous,” Maggie said, twirling her hair around her left hand. “Why did I let you talk me into this?”
Raven gently took Maggie’s hand in her own. “You’ll be fine. We both will. We can do this.” The line started to move and she pulled Maggie after her.
“Everyone, please hand your application to the nearest guard and be on your way,” a guardsman shouted.
Murmurs floated through the crowd as Raven searched for Brian. He’d know what the announcement was about. He arrived by their side seconds later, his expression grave.
“What’s happening?” she blurted.
“The Ruler was found dead.” 

Author Bio

RA Odum grew up and still lives in Georgia. Her love for writing and stories started in her grandmother’s attic and never stopped. Born sixteen weeks early and loss of vision in one eye, RA faces obstacles head on.  From the time she was very small, she has had a host of characters in her head, screaming for their stories to be told. When she is not writing, she loves to spend time with her family, sing and read. She also enjoys learning and teaching others American Sign Language. She hopes her novels will inspire and make a difference.

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/RAOdum

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Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!