Feminism, Initials, JK Rowling, and Me

533642_552932778076373_588861722_nA writer friend posted this picture on Facebook this morning and invited my comment. You really don’t do that unless you mean it. I don’t like to get political and I don’t really like the term “feminism.” I’ve always joked that women who seek to be equal to men are underachievers.

The fact of the matter is that I strongly believe that each gender has its strengths and both male and female should support and encourage each other. The traditionally “male” role complements the traditionally “female” role and one is neither superior nor inferior to the other. I also believe that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to and my gender has less to do with it than my determination and skill.

I believe that the term “feminism” is insulting to me. It implies that women cannot gain true equality to men without the help of enlightened men making adjustments and setting the bar lower so we poor, weak creatures can reach it. That’s not equality. It’s condescension.

Growing up in a home with three brothers and eight male cousins, there was very little doll-playing going on. When playing with my brothers, I crawled on my belly taking the beaches of Normandy with my stick rifle across my forearms along with everyone else. The taunt of “You can’t because you’re a girl” always resulted in “Watch me!” followed by my doing just what their friends said I couldn’t.

Of course my accomplishments were declared a fluke and I was shoved aside and told to go play with dolls while they went off to do “important” boy things.

My mother once told me that boys didn’t like when girls beat them, so I needed to let the boys win.

Screw that!

No power in the verseWhy should I hide who I am or pretend to be less than I am to make someone else feel better about themselves? By the same token, why should I expect someone else to lower the bar so I can reach it. If I want it badly enough, ‘no power in the ‘verse can stop me’ regardless of how high it sits.

I’ve been called a “femi-nazi” an “Amazon” and several obscenities that my brothers would have decked them for using. I knew going in what I was in-for by working in a male-dominated industry. Some men are intimidated by women and feel the need to denigrate them just to make themselves feel better.

Buffy_CheerleaderI’ve got news for you, some women are intimidated by strong women who don’t fit into the typical cheerleader mold and feel the need to denigrate them just to make themselves feel better, too.

I don’t feel that’s an issue that falls under feminism. That’s an issue that falls under some-people-who-have-a-sense-of-power-over-others-fear-those-who-will-not-fall-in-line-with-their-world-view. That’s not being a feminist. That’s being a free-thinking, intelligent human being. If there is an obstacle in the way of my goals, I will overcome it on my own, thanks. I don’t need a group of condescending men and women in power legislating it away for me.

Whether we like it or not, prejudice against women writers is alive and well. I see it with SF more so than with Fantasy, mostly because I’m most active in that genre. The stereotype of the SF fan being primarily male, between the ages of 13 and 30, socially awkward, living in his parents’ basement is still strong, but oh-so-outdated.

Recent scandals of sexual bias and harassment have rocked the SFWA. Women in the genre are marginalized and often vilified. Unless one is writing SF Erotica or SFR, having a feminine name on the cover does reduce sales.

When it first came out in my town that I’m a novelist, the local editor/owner for the free newspaper asked if I wrote about “trips to the grocery store.”

upwords-board-730x485Rather than start beating my chest and crying over the unfairness of it, I considered the source. He’s a condescending blowhard with few friends in town who is still angry over the fact that I beat him like a red-headed step child the one and only time he challenged me to a game of “Upwords.” I tried to warn him that I play cutthroat Scrabble and tend to make my opponents cry, but he just had to challenge me.

In case you’re wondering, I looked at him in disgust, told him to stop being an ass and said I was writing a SF series filled with political intrigue following a military officer wanted for treason while she tries to find her kidnapped father, clear her name, and prevent an assassination plot that will plunge the galaxy into civil war. I doubted she had much time for grocery shopping.

Women and girls are less likely to care about the gender of the author. Men and boys have preconceived ideas of what women write. It may not be right, but the fact remains that it *IS*.

We can stubbornly stick our given names on the covers of our books and whine about pathetic sales and wonder why men don’t buy them. We can also suffer the ridicule of males threatened by intelligent women while we’re tilting windmills over it.

ChewieMen in power are like wookiees, they don’t like to lose and tend to get upset and pull people’s arms out of their sockets. Let’s face it, it’s not about prejudice as much as it is about a group of people in power over an industry who are loathe to relinquish said power.

For now, that is the nature of the industry. Ideas do not change overnight. In the decades that I’ve been writing, I’ve seen many, many changes within society and within the industry. When I first began, the strong, kick butt heroine was anathema and completely unheard of. She was the kiss of death for a manuscript.

Xena Thanks to Xena, Buffy, and Charmed, or rather Sam Raimi, Joss Whedon, and Aaron Spelling, the female action hero is no longer a thing of the past, although I doubt without the male of the species putting his weight behind the notion, women writing and producing these characters would ever have gotten past the elevator pitch. Right or wrong, it’s the nature of the industry.charmed_season_1_promo-2

Feminist? Perhaps. Capitalistic? Certainly. I’d be willing to bet that these men who produced these cutting edge women saw the potential fan-base for strong female characters in the rising numbers of young men of the 90’s having grown up in single parent households and tended to view their mother as provider and protector.

I’m jaded enough to attribute their choices to dollar signs rather than any sense of social justice or feminist responsibility.

The gatekeepers of the industry can’t argue with sales. While the traditional SF/F publishers are less inclined to give shelf space to women writing in the genre, it *is* a business and sales are the bottom line. When the sales of female authors match or outstrip the male of the species, you’ll see change. To first get those sales at this point in time, one must play the game.

For the time being, women using initials or a male pseudonym in order to be taken seriously in a male-dominated genre is simply the way things are done. In time, with networking, the rise of self and indie publishers more inclined to take a chance on women writers, that will change.

Our daughters and granddaughters will thank our initialed nom de plumes for paving the way for them to use their own names on their own SF/F covers.

Big Damn Heroes

Repost from March 26, 2012:
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love nothing better than a real, honest-to-goodness hero. There is just something about a larger-than-life, two-fisted, rootin’ tootin’ good guy who beats up the baddies and rescues the girl that appeals to me on a primal level. I’ve got my favorite heroes from film, television, and literature and there are several qualities they all have in common.

Unconventional
My favorite heroes are men who follow their own star. While some, like Indiana Jones, may superficially appear to conform to societal standards (Archaeology Professor) they have a rebellious streak. You realize that, while they appear to conform, they have found their own way to gain acceptance within the system while operating outside its constraints. Another favorite hero who fit into this mold was Fox Mulder from the X-Files. He was a brilliant FBI profiler whose obsession with the paranormal landed him in the basement of the J.Edgar Hoover Building.

Others openly flout convention, like Daniel Day-Lewis’s Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans. He is the adopted son of Chingachgook, and though white, he eschews the ways of the white settlers in favor of living off the land like his father’s people. Paul Newman and Robert Redford brilliantly portrayed this kind of hero in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Still others are forced from their conventional lives, like Errol Flynn’s Peter Blood in Captain Blood, or Robin Hood, or Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, or the Science Fiction icons Han Solo (Star Wars) and Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly). These heroes are usually princes among thieves, men of honor and integrity who are forced into a society devoid of these things, and as such, they rise above their circumstances, holding to their own code and earning the respect (and often animosity) of those around them.

Which brings me to the next quality of a Big Damn Hero…

Integrity
No matter the mores of the society in which they operate, the Hero will always hold to his own code of ethics which is often in conflict with that of his society, but inviolate. Once the hero decides that something is “wrong” it’s wrong and nothing can force him to compromise his values. This often keeps the hero from finding success by the standards of his society, but he measures success differently.

Rugged Individualist
It only goes to reason that the unconventional man with integrity tends to be self-reliant and not in need of validation from others.

Resourceful
One of my favorite things about the Big Damn Hero is the creative ways he finds to save the day. I don’t care if it’s reprogramming the Kobiyashi Moru, raising an army of the dead, using himself as a diversion, floating away with the garbage, or setting his ship to self-destruct while he and his crew make their getaway in the bad guy’s War Bird, the hero is clever under fire. He is ready to sacrifice himself, and the things that mean the most to him, in order to save the day.

Invincible
Okay, maybe not really invincible, because Superman leaves me cold. It’s more the attitude than the actual invincibility that I love. One of my favorite lines comes from Galaxy Quest. “Never give up, never surrender.” That’s the attitude of a hero. No matter how bad things get, the Big Damn Hero never sees failure as an option. He’ll rescue the girl, save the world, stop the bad guy or die trying. I think that’s why I never saw Luke Skywalker as a true hero. He gave up too easily. Han Solo was the one who never stopped looking for a solution, a way out of whatever intergalactic pickle he’d landed in.

That’s one of the draws of Doctor Who for me. The Doctor isn’t invincible, but he is clever and resourceful and he never stops looking for the solution. He knows it’s there, he just has to find it before he runs out of time.


Impeccable Sense of Timing
The Big Damn Hero doesn’t save the day when trouble starts. He shines at the darkest moment when all hope is fading. The swashbuckling hero will burst onto the scene, swinging in on a rope from the rigging, swooping in from out of nowhere, with guns blazing and a heroic fanfare with lots of staccato strings and the entire brass and woodwinds section of the London Symphony Orchestra.

He’s got a determined glint in his eye and a crooked smile that asks the audience, “Did you miss me?” As he so handily manages the bad guys and the disaster with a quip and a flourish, I usually feel like batting my eyelashes, clasping my hands together. “My HERO!”

Heroes Gallery

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How Old Is Too Old For An Idea?

If you follow me, you know I’m devoted to participating in Science Fiction/Fantasy Saturday. This past weekend, I included a snippet from a book I started writing twenty-five years ago. One of the authors who commented on the snippet pointed out that he wouldn’t develop an idea that was twenty-five years-old. I have to say the comment got in my head and won’t leave me alone.

How old is too old for an idea?

I have many completed novels that for one reason or another never got published. I think cyberpunk was all the rage at the time. One is a romantic thriller, contemporary in the early 90’s, and very reliant on the prevalent technology of the time:  pay phones, floppy disks, slow modems, fax machines, 35mm photography negatives, and that’s just off the top of my head. Drawn from my experiences writing for the Tampa Tribune newspaper at the time, the story itself is pretty good. It’s paced well. The characters are well developed. I could publish today… except for the fact that the dated technology is integral to the plot. Perhaps I’ll publish it at some point as a period piece.

My  point is, that it’s an idea I wouldn’t make a priority out of developing due to its dated content. But the science fiction romance I posted on Saturday is another story entirely. Drawing inspiration from Terminator, Flash Gordon, and Total Recall, it was an idea I’d toyed with, off and on, since 1987 before it got archived with The Black Wing Chronicles in 2002. For that matter, I first conceived of The Black Wing Chronicles in 1980. Sovran’s Pawn only published this year. That’s a thirty-two year-old concept that got developed.

If a story is compelling and interesting to the writer, shouldn’t it see the light of day? A good premise is timeless and resonates. Sure, Star Wars was exactly what sf fans everywhere needed at the time. Most sf of the period had become painfully socially conscious, with accusatory messages of total annihilation and the inherent evil of humankind. Star Wars was a breath of fresh air — a lighthearted adventure. It was the Hero’s Journey. Would it be successful if released for the first time today? If you take into account how very groundbreaking it was in special effects technology, I believe it would be. No one had seen anything quite like it. Star Wars made science fiction fun again, taking it out of the hands of the ivory tower bunch and putting back into the hands of adventurers, pirates, cowboys and damsels in distress. Would it be a blockbuster? I don’t know, but if the cult success of Joss Whedon’s Firefly can be used as a measure, Star Wars would find a devoted audience.

How old is too old for an idea?

I suppose that for every writer, that’s a personal decision. For myself, I believe that good ideas are timeless. As far as The Lost Domina is concerned, I’ll let YOU decide. Here is the blurb. Tell me what you think.

***

Riding high on the sale of her first novel, science fiction author Analise Trujold tries to rescue her failing marriage with a trip to the countryside with her husband to watch a meteor shower. A close encounter with an alien hit squad who murders her husband, and the sudden appearance of Admiral Faran Hagon, the hero in her novel, ensnare Analise in a hotbed of interstellar intrigue. Characters from her book are more real than she ever could have believed and her mundane life on Earth has been nothing more than implanted memories to keep her safe during her exile.

The Universal Congolmeration of Systems is under attack from within.  As the Lost Domina, Ana is the only one who can hold it together. But with her memories suspect, she’s not sure who she can trust. Even though she’s drawn to Faran, she can’t help but wonder if he isn’t somehow angling to rule in her stead. If she hopes to survive, Ana must rely on her wits and creativity to uncover the truth behind the fiction.

VERA (Firefly Cocktail)

This comes from The Drunken Moogle

Since Blade tends to spend a lot of time with a drink in his hand, this sounded like something he might have tried at least twice.

Ingredients:
2 oz. Bourbon whiskey
1/2 oz. Bacardi 151
1/2 oz. Sake
3/4 oz ginger syrup
3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Instructions for Ginger Syrup:
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup fresh diced Ginger
In a pot or large pan, add the water, sugar, and half of the ginger in the beginning.  Boil for 1-2 minutes while mixing. Then add the other half once the first batch gets mushy. This makes it nice and spicy.  Let sit until everything is nice and syrupy, then remove from the stove and let cool. 

Directions: Add ginger syrup and bitters to an Old Fashioned Glass.  Next add the rum and whiskey. Fill with cubed ice then float the Sake on top. Before drinking, give the glass a quick swirl to lightly distribute Sake.

Note from the creator:

I figured if Jane would drink a cocktail, it would be one of the original and manliest of cocktails, and Old-Fashion. But in the Firefly universe, American and Chinese cultures have mixed, so I felt it needed an Asian twist. This is where the ginger syrup and Sake comes in. The Bacardi 151 bumps the manliness factor of this drink up by giving a much higher alcohol content, plus the Bacardi gives an extra spicy, smokey flavor. Enjoy yourself a Vera.

“This is my very favorite gun… I call it Vera” -Jayne Cobb 

Drink created and photographed by Eddie Strickland.