Category Archives: literature

Let’s talk about love. Insta-love.

Almost all my characters suffer from what I understand is a fatal flaw in romance novels.

Almost all my characters have a tragic slant towards insta-love.

Now, I don’t actually write romance, as far as I would define it, although Driftwood Deeds
comes pretty close. I think, I write novels with love stories in their side or main plots, usually some kind of genre cross-over, because that’s what makes me happy. But there is still that romantic connection, the nod to everybody who does like to read about love. Like me, like you – like almost everybody it seems, considering that even very male-oriented staples usually feature some kind of love story, love interest or love-related motivation. And why wouldn’t it?
medium_2834306912After (and often enough before) the basic necessities for survival are satisfied, love seems to be one of the forces in our lives that creates the most change, the most flux, drama, happiness, anxiety and contentment, all at once. It’s a literary gold mine. What would 1984 be without the strange, crooked love story between Winston and Juliet? Or even Fight Club, without Marla Singer? It surprised me at the time when I read that Chuck Palahniuk categorized his novel as a love story. It made a crazy amount of sense, when I read it again.

So this insta-love business. I understand why it’s a somewhat hated trope. It smacks a little bit of neglect, of giving your characters something good too easily. And maybe that’s true. Sometimes. But avoiding insta-love completely, would also remove my personal experience of love from my writing. And I don’t want to do that. I want my writing to be real, and honest. Not so personal that you can read some of my stories and feel like I just put my life’s story on your shoulders, but personal enough to transport truth.
For me, love was always quick. And it takes a while to understand that my personal experience is not everybody else’s. So for a long time, the idea of insta-love baffled me. Do we really need reasons for falling in love? Do we need conflict and emotional back and forth? It’s never been that way for me – the reasons and the drama came later.

I’ve read a lot about introverts and emphatic and sensitive people recently, ostensibly in order to put a nicer spin on a lot of my character traits, redefining them for myself as assets. But I came across something interesting, which was that highly sensitive people often report falling in love really fast and head-over-heels intensely. Maybe because there is something about our nervous systems that is easy overwhelmed in general (loud parties, a problem, that news report about the suffering after an earthquake) and of course love can be the most overwhelming of all.

Maybe it’s the romance novel expectation: when the plot is the love story, why throw the prize away a few pages after they meet? I understand that rationally, but in every other way I find that hugely problematic.
For one thing, why is that the prize? Surely the prize is actually being with that person, and realizing you can actually make it work.

It also bothers me, when (usually) the girl doesn’t like him at first, thinks he’s a bit brutish or arrogant or stupid or whatever, and then we spend a novel reading about how she was wrong and he got her anyway. Why do we insist on telling women not to trust their instincts? Instincts are good! We should foster them, try to divide them from our prejudices, hone them and allow them to influence our decisions.
Another way love is oven deferred in books, is due to pride. And again, I understand about not giving away the prize and all, but I actually like reading about people who are open and generous about their feelings. Who don’t hold onto them like little old misers with their pennies. Who are open to falling in love, even if it hurts; who laugh, even at slightly stupid jokes; who cry when something is sad rather than refusing to feel. Why do we so often look down on people who feel.

So you fall for someone and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out, you get rejected, you find out he isn’t really that great… yeah, that stuff hurts. And we can learn to deal with that. Especially when we are open about that pain, too.

BTLOTM -- color240x360In By the Light of the Moon, Moira and Owain, once they find a connection, fall in love hard and fast. And I never considered that this might be insta-love. Especially because she is a 19-year-old who’s never been in love before. Isn’t that how we fall in love for the first time? Hard and fast, without reason or pride, absolutely at the mercy of this avalanche of hormones and joy and panic that spreads through our bodies at the sight of his smile, at the feel of his first touch?

I still fall in love like that.

I’m a grown-up now, so I know not to say it. I know that I can only say I am in love with someone when I am ready to make a commitment and, better yet, when they have said it first so I know they are ready for a commitment – but all that is just my head talking, my cultural programming, the knowledge of acceptable word usage. So I use different words, but the feeling is still there.
The truth is there isn’t one way to love, or one definition. Love can be all sort of things, and go through all sorts of phases – but that first flutter, the overwhelming feeling that this person could be someone incredible, why is that so underrated anymore?

Of course it’s not as stable, it’s not a promise, it’s not a guarantee, but isn’t that beauty in it? Isn’t that something that can grow? And isn’t the growth an interesting story, too?
I love Pride & Prejudice, but I still want to shake Lizzie and Darcy because they are wasting so much precious time, so many moments together. They even manage to almost destroy the sweet insta-love between Jane and Bingly with their pride and rationality. And I want to shake them for that, too.

And yeah, I hate insta-love too when it’s about superficial stuff. When love comes from the way someone wears their hair, or the cocky smile on his face. But that’s not all we perceive. I think after even evening together, we can see so much in a person. In their opinions, their jokes, their reactions, the little nuances in their voice, especially in their voice.
I think we should pat ourselves and our characters on the back and trust a little more, give some weight to first impressions and instincts, to sudden rushes of feeling.

Sure, they’ll lead us astray sometimes. But that’s no reason to stop feeling.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren and mohammadali via photopin cc

Strong Female Leads don’t Cry… or something.

Writing for women is tricky. I don’t want to take away from writing for men or writing for all genders, but in the perfidiousness of patriarchy, we  women seem locked eternally in the act of policing each other and that does add an extra component.

We do this constantly, almost without realizing it. We police ourselves – our bodies, our eating habits, our emotional expression, our sexual experience; and then we do it to the women around us. We write blogs that call for J.K. Rowling to stop writing, stop clogging up the market — while we leave the men and their bulky bibliographies alone. We say this one is too fat, and that one looks too anorexic; this one seeks too much attention and that one just shuts herself in – how can she ever hope to find a man?; this one is a prude and that one’s a slut. Of course all it means, is that the woman polices herself differently than we police ourselves, she has sex differently, cares for her body differently, engages with men or other women differently than we would (or can) – than we have internalized as the right way to behave. And we forget how many strings bind us, how deeply we have permitted ourselves to be locked in the simple struggle of being ourselves.

IMG_6989smallI don’t think men do that. Not like this, not many of them, anyway. Lily Myers in her poem “Shrinking Woman” said something that stuck with me. To her brother, she says “We come from difference, Jonas, you learned to grow out, and I learned to grow in.” We filter, we listen, we modify ourselves and analyze because we were taught to do so from birth. Even my mother – a liberal, a hippie, a stout feminist who struggled all her life because she raised us as a single parent – admitted to me once, after I pressed that she treated us differently. That while she made my brother coffee when he was sleepy, and cut him up vegetables so he’d have something healthy with his pizza, while she left him alone to study (because it’s more important and he was busy), I was expected to eschew pizza altogether (and received sighs and looks when I didn’t), to cook healthy, to be part of the household, to do the dishes and mind her feelings. All of those are good things – but there was no proportion: my brother got so little of these admonitions and I got all the rest. And I don’t blame my mother for this. She only learned from my grandmother, who still does the same to every woman around her. I listen to her talk, and every single one has something wrong with her – from her sister, to my mother, to me, to her neighbor – of my brother she only speaks kindly, tolerantly. And how could she not? My brother is wonderful, he’s the best man I know (and he took all these pictures of me) — but she doesn’t know him at all.

Every single friend of mine has a mother who policed her food, her weight, her sexual identity, the volume of her voice – or any of a million things that we now police in ourselves, the women around us, probably our daughters one day and definitely, definitely the fictional women we read about. And here we are at the reason why writing for women is tricky.

Fictional women have to be just flawed enough not to strike us as too unrealistic, as so much better than us that it becomes uncomfortable – but they also can’t be too flawed or our teachings kick in. She has to be “strong” but not arrogant; she has to be able to accommodate our own ego without leaving us behind.

In what I’ve read and what seems to be well received – this leaves us with two basic archetypes. One is the “least offensive woman possible”. She’s the girl with very little character of her own and  who every reader can project herself into – the Bella Swans, basically. As far as I can tell – and have seen expressed in this way a lot – she is just necessary to play out the fantasy of the perfect guy, but she should be almost negligible in her effect. It’s all about him, the less the reader has to think about her, be confronted with her the better. She can be seen, but not heard, basically.

IMG_7112smallThe other archetype is the “strong female lead”, the fighter chick, the one who won’t cry a tear over some idiot, who knows how to play with her sexuality to get what she wants or eschews it altogether. These girls are tough, confident, sometimes even brash and they yeah, they kick ass.

I like a girl who can kick ass!

But we also ended up, yet again, in a strange position where we constantly pit these two against each other, and that ended us up at a very strange idea of what strength looks like in women, and reversely what weakness is.

In an author group I attend, someone recently proudly reported that she realized how much her character cried in the novel and promptly fixed it all as to not make her look so weak. Another large sheet comparing all the recent YA heroines with each other, marked almost all of them as having “poor self-esteem”.  Talking about feelings, having feelings and expressing those is becoming whiny and annoying and that makes me uncomfortable.

We live in a world in which guys are under this strain all their lives. To show emotion, they learn this from their fathers (and if they have better fathers than that, they learn it hard at school), is to be a girl, a sissy, a momma’s boy. And so they shut it down. We are faced with a generation of men who have no idea what they are feeling, because they were bullied into shutting it down. Men who can rape unconscious girls not because they are cruel, but because they have been taught that compassion and pity and kindness and sweetness is an unacceptable trait in their social circle.

And I don’t want that for women, and I certainly don’t want it for female leads.

That’s not what strength is.

 

I think I’m a pretty strong woman. I have ambitions and I work for them. I stared at a razor IMG_7125smallblade and stepped off the ledge and got help instead because of the people I love. I do things that scare me every day, I am loyal to my friends. I have convictions and I stand up for them.

But I also cry all the time – from a public service announcement about equality, to a movie, to just because I got a bad review or because I’m scared of the future. I have panic attacks and anxiety; I overanalyze everything I do and everything anyone says to me. I secretly think I am terribly ugly and nobody could ever love me.

And I am still not weak. I can be strong and cry. I can be strong and be afraid. I can be strong and quaver at the thought of my crush seeing me naked for the first time. Strength is not the denial of negative, hurtful or worrying emotions. Strength is to go on in spite of them, accepting them and limiting their power.

Strength is to stick up for friends even if that scares you, even if you could never do that for yourself. Strength is to have convictions and to stick to them — but strength is also to alter them when you grow older and learn new things. Strength is to say you were wrong and that you’re sorry, more sorry than you could ever say. And strength is to love and to trust and to be alive and open and vulnerable every day. Strength is to let people in and to show yourself to them, for who you really are.

That’s the kind of characters I want to read about.  Strong women who cry.

Episode 17: October Reading Wrap-Up

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in which Laila and Lorrie wrap up their reading month October and chat the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth.
(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? What do you think about Divergent?
And what did you read last month?

Credits:

Divergent hc c(2)
The books mentioned and discussed in this episode were 
Divergent - Veronica Roth
Insurgent - Veronica Roth
Allegiant - Veronica Roth
Free Four - Veronica Roth

The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 16: Rewriting

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the difference between editing and rewriting, when the latter is necessary and how to do it.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? Do you have any good rewriting stories?


Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 15: Book Beginnings

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss hooks, book beginnings and the complicated issue of trying to give writing any rules at all.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you?
What kind of beginnings make you excited to read on?
Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 14: September Reading Wrap-Up

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in which Laila and Lorrie wrap up their reading month September and chat about Janet Fitch, Haruki Murakami and Alice Sebold and the strange experience of reading disappointing books by authors you love.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? Have you read any of these, what did you think?
And what did you read last month?

Credits:

The books mentioned and discussed in this episode were:
Paint it Black -Janet Fitch
White Oleander - Janet Fitch
Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
Sputnik Sweetheart - Haruki Murakami
After Dark - Haruki Murakami
The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Lucky - Alice Sebold
Wonder Boys - Michael Chabon
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Enduring Love - Ian McEwan
A Child in Time - Ian McEwan
The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling
Slam - Nick Hornby
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 13: Writer’s Block – Myth vs. Reality

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the term Writer’s Block, why it’s so destructive and how to deal with it in ways that helps to keep writing anyway.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you?
How do you get rid of Writer’s Block?
Have you found any root causes you were able to combat?
Credits:

Helpful programs discussed in this episode are:
Write or Die
Focus@Will
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 12: Writing sensitive male characters

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in which Laila and Lorrie talk about writing nice and sensitive men in fiction and what to look out for and why it’s nothing to be afraid of.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? How do you write male characters? Do you have a favourite male character that you’d describe as sensitive or having some non-traditional male attributes?
Credits:
101 Everyday Ways to be Allies to Women

Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 11: The Issue with “strong” Heroines

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the term “strong heroines”, where it comes from and why it has become somewhat problematic.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? What are your favourite female heroines and why?
Credits:

The books mentioned and discussed in this episode were: 
The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Divergent - Veronica Roth
The Vampire Diaries - L.J. Smith

Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 10: August Reading Wrap-Up

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in which Laila and Lorrie wrap up their reading month August and chat about Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby and The Hunger Games.
(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? Have you read any of these, what did you think?
And what did you read last month?

Credits:

The books mentioned and discussed in this episode were: 
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes