I’m building up my keyboard habit in alignment with Neil Gaiman’s advice: In the past week, I managed 1,981 words–nearly doubling my goal, and getting me to the 72% mark of The Builders. It’s helped that it’s cold and dreary here, and we’ve continued with just the several short walks sufficient to let the dogs do their business, but not so much driven by our fitness goals–aside from at least minimal daily movement. Plus, I’ve had hours to make up at the office for the pesky snow/sick days of recent weeks, meaning extra time at the office and a corresponding shrinkage of time at home. Finding the balance between work, exercise, word-herding, and family time… I suspect that will be my ongoing life challenge.
But I’ve also been seeing news this week that reminds me of some of the reasons I started writing my stories. First was a list of story issues pointing to underlying sexism. I remember reading several Heinlein stories in high school and coming to the conclusion that he really didn’t know women that well–or intentionally wrote his characters to meet his own wish fulfillment issues. And then there was a post about characterization and story weaknesses specifically from a romance editor’s perspective. Some of them parallel the sexism issues–and others point to why there’s a perception that all romance stories share the issues of the poorly written ones as outlined in that blog. This was all capped by a scifi author recently new to me documenting her experience with the NYT Bestsellers list.
The three together highlight the different ways women have typically been invisible in both storytelling and storyteller accolades. In the first instance, returning to my high school year memories, I ended up having to actively seek out female authors to get real satisfaction from my fictional heroes. In the second instance, while Anne McCaffrey, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula Le Guin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley were certainly widely lauded beacons pointing to fictional worlds where I could expect at least equitable participation from female characters, for a very long time they were also the only ones shelved in accessible book stores for easy access. Or I had to turn to romance novels, where I ran the risk of inadvertently humorous love tunnel descriptions if I weren’t equally careful in finding competent authors.
Now in the midst of working on my 8th, 9th, and 10th stories, I’m finding those past frustrations have played out in my creation of a series of female characters who are each flawed, but working on themselves. And are trying to carve their own places in worlds where experiences similar to those frequently listed at #everydaysexism and #yesallwomen (at least, when those hashtags aren’t being trolled by mansplaining. [For a longer history of that term, Salon has a good article.]). My brother commented a while back that it was a uniquely female author choice to have my female protagonist go shopping at a critical point of one of my Red Slaves books. It’s true, I’ve never read a male author write such a scene, and it’s not that I particularly enjoy shopping myself, but in this story, it was the perfect way for women to fade into the background of a safe crowd while they anticipated being stalked by the new version of the KGB, as well as contribute to the overall world building. There can be power in playing to expectations–and using them to find an unexpected way forward. These are stories I’ve never seen anyone else tell, but reflect a particular experience of the world that is too often either negated or avoided entirely. I don’t expect I’ll ever have the problem my female author colleague above did with the NYT Bestseller list–I’ll be plenty happy with a reliable mid-list readership who are interested in stories that highlight the magic available in a recognizable world we mostly don’t know. My target audience is probably mostly populated with women like me who want a realistically flawed adult female heroine who nonetheless has agency and has to overcome her own insecurities to find that place in the world where her talents can shine.
From that perspective, our choice to watch the second season premier of Agent Carter for our at-home date night seems to fit this week’s theme in retrospect. That story reflects a different era, and a different set of world-building rules that include much more overt sexism and misogyny, but the woman drives the action and the woman finds the answers. It’s refreshing and continues to be well-done at the start of season 2.
This week Gayla also found a variant on Earthships that are now my new dream for a sustainable retirement. Since writing income is part of that equation, I’ll be working hard keeping my butt in my seat and my fingers on my keyboard this week, to return again next week to report on my progress. Until then, I recommend visiting my fellow ROW80ers to track theirs.