Art and Culture


I’ve been debating over whether I should write this post or not. I’m still not sure, but–since the Internet provides us with such an easy avenue for (over)sharing of opinions–it’s happening. Why the uncertainty? Well, for one, this post was inspired by a certain movie, based off of a bestselling book, that released on Valentine’s Day and has, in a short time, grossed bajillions of dollars (I may be exaggerating, slightly…). That’s right–the both much beloved and reviled Fifty Shades of Grey. And, to some degree, I–as some of you may also be–am simply getting sick of hearing about it, period. So I will try to make this post a little more broad than just this book/movie, but I can’t ignore it completely. Secondly…if the Fifty Shades controversy has shown us anything, it’s that some people can’t engage in a critique or debate without being just plain mean. More than likely, only my friends will read this post and few others will actually come across it–and fewer still will leave a comment–but there’s always that nagging fear that someone will just respond with something nasty and counterproductive.

And, third…I don’t really feel strongly about this book either way. I read all three of them out of sheer curiosity (I jumped on the bandwagon after they became popular). I haven’t seen the movie, yet. I’m nowhere near a super fan…nor am I an extreme “hater,” either. It’s been awhile since I read them…I reviewed all three of them (you can read my review of the first book here). I was surprised when I went back and read my critiques, because my opinion has changed (somewhat) over the last several years.

I will tell you upfront what this post is not about: the quality of E.L. James’s writing. Did I feel like they were the most well written books ever? No. Did I like the main heroine, Anna? Not particularly. Like the franchise the Shades books were inspired by (Twilight, if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know that by now), Anna is sort of a bland character, if you prefer strong, vivid, interesting characters (and I hope you do)–then again, she’s the perfect character if you are seeking to “insert” yourself into the book in place of Anna for the purposes of fantasizing. Look, there’s a lot of bad, poorly written porn (even if it’s more visual rather than literary) geared towards men’s fantasies–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating this time when I say it’s probably a billion dollar industry. My point is, just because Shades is in a book form, doesn’t mean it’s required to have outstanding style. Its purpose is to titillate (and, most likely, shock).

(As an aside: That’s definitely not to say that a book can’t have all the things–be well written, with strong, interesting, dynamic characters, and also be sexy. I’m just saying that, when it comes to what may be a book with mediocre writing that is written by a woman intended for a bunch of other women to read–suddenly everyone has exceedingly high standards of the written word and cinematography.)

I’m going on off a tangent–as I’m prone to do, with posts like this–so let me bring it back to today’s intended topic: art and culture. Because, while some dissenters criticize James’s writing, and others call it a Twilight rip off and accuse her of plagiarism, much of the criticism has been over Christian’s personality, his relationship with Anna, and how that might affect impressionable readers.

I don’t think any of us can deny that art can affect us, and can do so deeply. In fact, as artists, writers, singers, performers, etc., we’d be doing our crafts a disservice by trying to argue otherwise. We’re usually willing to accept this when we find other people who consume and enjoy the art we put out into the world, but it becomes a little harder to stomach when we have to admit that it can also affect some people negatively. So I think we can all agree that, yes, art can evoke both positive and negative responses–including unintended ones–and that the culture surrounding us in turn affects art, maybe sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

At its core, art is also a very selfish activity. Before you put your art out into the world (whether it’s a painting, a short story, a book, a song, a movie)–before you have readers, listeners, viewers–it’s just you and your idea. In the case of writing, you’re writing characters and themes that are, for whatever reason, interesting to you–you’re expressing yourself and your emotions. (I’m not trying to speak for all writers when I say this, but…to be completely honest, I haven’t always worried about what others might say/how others might interpret my books, or how they might affect people (in the negative sense). Recently, I’ve started obsessing over this, but, if I’m going to get anything down on paper, I have to block it out. I’m not going to censor myself because I’m worried about what someone else might think.)

What motivates the people consuming said art can vary widely and, often, be at odds with the creator’s self-expression or intention. I’m going to try to stick to the book example because a book inspired this post, and, as a writer, it’s what I can speak to best. Fans may fall in love with the book for any number of reasons–the style, atmosphere, and characters drew them in, the characters really spoke and jumped off the page for them, they see themselves as one of the characters, the book got them through a difficult time, whatever. For some others, it may be the opposite–it could be that a situation or character reminds them of a difficult time in their life, or something about the book clashes with a believe or value they cherish–whatever the case, they find the book offensive. Critics analyze the book and, not only consider aspects like the style and quality of the writing and characters, but also perhaps what it reflects about our society–and how it might affect other readers. This is all fair. The artist also has to be aware that, once that book or painting or song goes out into the world, it’s open to different and varied interpretations.

I guess where I’m going with this is: Critique is fine. I’m not about to say that we shouldn’t critique Fifty Shades, or talk about what kind of impact our society has had on it–and the kind of impact it could have on our society or even certain individuals. Art and culture are intertwined. I’m just wondering why, as a society, we can’t seem to have a reasonable discussion about a book written by a woman, seemingly intended for and read by millions of other women, without being mean. And not just mean–ugly and horrible. (I mean, E.L. James (as other famous people have) gets harassed a lot on Twitter. Which is one thing I hate about social media–although it has its perks, it also makes it really easy for people to anonymously harass other people and say things they would never, in a million years, have the guts to say to someone’s face.)

Okay, I was going to try to keep this general, but my brain keeps coming back around to Fifty Shades, in particular. Most of the cultural criticism I’ve alluded to centers around Christian and Anna’s relationship–some interpret it as abusive (well, I guess they wouldn’t say “interpret,” they would say it is abusive). I think it’s fair to say there may be undertones of that.

But I also have to say I’m not sure why we seem to be so afraid that millions of women can’t separate a book or a fantasy from reality. Like I said, it might affect some people negatively…and, maybe to try to prevent that, we should point out and discuss the seemingly questionable material (as we’ve been doing).

There’s something about the amount of criticism we’ve been heaping on James and Fifty, though, that I’m starting to find just as disconcerting as some people find the books themselves. For one thing, there does seem to be this element to it that we’re talking about it so much because, again, it’s a sexy book written by a woman for other women…and that we usually seem to be overly concerned with, not how art is affecting us, but how art is (negatively) affecting women…because somehow we’re more prone to messages (“hidden” or otherwise) in art and the media. (I guess the flip side to this is not that we feel women are more susceptible to these messages, but that the formula in Fifty Shades is outdated and patriarchal, and that these themes are being perpetuated by the fact that the books are so popular.)

The other element I find disturbing is that I’ve started to see posts and things encouraging boyfriends/husbands to not to take their girlfriends/wives to see the movie because it’s not really “romantic,” and we don’t want them to get the wrong impression (because, see above comment)! I think that’s a terrible and counterproductive suggestion and could actually backfire. Your boyfriend does not get to decide for you what guilty pleasures or fantasies you choose to indulge in. I also read this article by some guy who went to see the movie and also seems to be overly concerned that a woman (again, I’m talking about adult women, here, not preteens or teenagers) is going to get the wrong idea about romance from watching this movie. Which brings me to what will hopefully be my last two points, because I didn’t expect this post to get so massive.

Why do women like Fifty Shades? Why do they “like” Christian Grey? Perhaps women like Christian because he sounds f***able. He’s hot, and he’s rich, and it sounds like he’s good, at, you know…doin’ stuff. 😉 I think it’s perfectly possible to like a fictional character and realize that not all of their traits are ideal traits for a mate in real life. Romance novels (we’ll get to the genre term “romance” in a minute), like those of other genres, are read for pleasure and escapism. At least when I read them, I’m not looking for the hero (or antihero) to have traits my next boyfriend is going to have. (And I don’t think anyone has ever expressed any concern or fear over whether men are going to date women like those in the porn they watch.)

And, finally, the other argument the crux of the Fifty Shades criticism seems to depend on is that it is a “romance” novel, and many of Christian’s actions are not romantic. Which…they’re not, really, but I think this is an even more complicated issue than you might think. For one thing, women in our culture are expected to enjoy stories about romance and not just necessarily those just about sex…so the couple often tends to have a deeper connection than just a physical one. If it is true that most women tend to need both the physical and emotional connection in their porn or erotica…that’s fine with me. Again, it’s a complex issue–is it true, or is it what society tells us is true?

A related issue: I know that, as a woman who writes stories with strong “romantic” themes, I feel compelled to put the “romance” stamp on it even if it’s not necessarily romantic, in the traditional sense. Romance, as a genre, encompasses more than you might think. Sure, much of it still follows the formula of your archetypal, charming, strapping hero falling in love with the sassy, buxom, virginal heroine…maybe they feel a mutual dislike towards one another at first even as they fight down their growing passion for one another…until one sweltering, starry night they give into that fiery passion…and, after a few more obstacles are thrown in their way–just when you think all hope is lost–they finally overcome all, get together, and live happily-ever-after. Formula romances are great. Often, they’re exactly what you need; sometimes you just wanna know things are going to work out for the best, and not be disappointed when they don’t.

But not all stories that get this “romance” stamp are like this–and they’re not supposed to be. Well, at least not to me. I do know firsthand that there are readers who see “romance” and expect the formula, expect the HEA ending–and, when they don’t get it, are confused, at best–and at worst, pissed. But I think the romance genre has expanded and can evoke more raw emotions than just “awwwww….how romantic!” “Romance” novels can be dark, shocking, or even disturbing–and the characters aren’t required to be cookie cutter heroes and heroines who only do good things and have sound morals. (Maybe what we really need is a new genre name.) Personally, I enjoy writing deeply flawed characters–it’s more fun and challenging to imagine what might motivate someone to choose wrong over right.

I guess what I’m trying to say is…what the heck am I trying to say, anyway? When I read Fifty Shades, I noted that Christian was controlling and some of his behavior disturbing…but I didn’t think this behavior was supposed to be traditionally romantic. To me, it was an author pushing a certain type of character–a controlling, manipulative one with some deep, dark demons and a Red Room of Pain–as far as he could go in that direction. At its core, Fifty Shades is just a forbidden lust story. Anna knows that Christian has flaws and is maybe into some stuff she’s not sure if she can handle, but she’s intrigued by this darker, forbidden aspect. Christian isn’t supposed to be a role model or dating material.

Then again, I could see where maybe a more impressionable reader might be more easily influenced by a story like this than I would be. Not everyone would share the same outlook going into the book, or probably even feels the same way about the genre. Even so, I just personally don’t think there are many types of situations or characters (if any) that are completely off-limits in fiction, although context is also important. I just take Christian to be a (rather poorly constructed) antihero who has a lot of skeletons and not too many redeeming qualities.

So some will love, some will critique, and some will be offended. And some, like myself, will be totally wishy washy and kinda understand where the criticism is coming from, but then again, not really. I just wish we could all discuss it in a civilized way. Because, really, when is the last time you’ve ever heard of a male artist, writer, or anything getting so much slack? (Robin Thicke? He’s really the only example I can come up with.) I don’t think the answer is to ban the movie, either, as others have also suggested.

What I’d hoped would be a more general post kind of just turned out to be about Fifty. For that, I am sorry…but it’s been on my mind lately, and, you know…must…vent…on…Interwebz. I’d love to hear your thoughts…as long as you can keep it rational and civil.

But I have to go, for now…actually, because I’m going to the movie…

 

What’s Next?


This is sort of my overdue update/New Year’s resolution post. Although I haven’t really made concrete resolutions so much as general goals. I don’t like making specific resolutions because then I feel guilty when I don’t actually do them, lol. In particular, I want to share with you my plans for upcoming projects. Relapse doesn’t so much end in a major cliffhanger, but it definitely has some loose ends, so you may be wondering: What’s next for the Reborn series?

The short answer is: Er, I dunno…..

But that’s not entirely true. Hence, the longer answer:

I have lots of ideas for future books (yay!). Right now most of them are still jumbled up in my head, so I have to put them down into a plan/outline. I’ve known almost since I started writing Reborn where the series was headed, especially as far as Siobhan’s story is concerned. But I’ve since realized that I also want to focus on some of the other characters. For instance, I really want to go into Anna’s story in more depth. She may just get her own book, or at least be the principle POV in the next book. I also left things hanging with Carly at the end of Relapse, so I want to pick up her story again. Siobhan’s story obviously isn’t over, either–I’ve hinted that she has some special abilities compared to the other halflings, but we still don’t know why. Well, I know why. 😉

I just can’t decide how I want to split all of this up. I could alternate a few POVs within one book, like I did in Relapse, or I might write the third book about Siobhan and then a few novellas focusing on these other characters…and then maybe release a few things around the same time. I just really don’t know how I want to do it right now. My goal over the next few months or so is to get my notes organized and do some outlining to figure all of this out.

But I’m not allowed to write anything yet, haha. I have to concentrate all of that brain power/energy on finishing up what I need to in order to graduate first. I’m so close. Between school stuff and putting the finishing touches on Relapse and promoting it, I got kind of burned out at the end of last semester. For some reason, I didn’t think I would–I guess because the editing and marketing stuff, even though it’s work in one way, it’s also a lot of fun, at least for me. But by the time winter break rolled around, I was just…done, haha. I didn’t do or think about anything over break. I had two weeks off this time, which was nice.

By the way, the reason I’m not allowing myself to do the actual writing yet is because once I get into the zone, it’s hard to get out. I get really obsessed with it. I’m obsessed with this whole thing, anyway…it’s hard for me to resist doing at least something related to it, whether it’s updating notes or the Facebook page or whatever. I also have a growing pile of awesome books to read and review for fellow indie authors, which I’m starting to make a dent in. I think one of the best parts of this has been helping fellow writers with their projects and reading incredible books I might not otherwise have gotten the chance to read. It’s also forced me to read outside of my YA/NA/paranormal romance/urban fantasy comfort zone, which is good, too.

I seem to be rambling a lot, but haven’t actually recorded any goals yet. So, here we go:

1. Finish dissertation.

2. Find a big kid job.

3. Get caught up on reviews.

4. Continue to update book-related notes and do some serious outlining.

5. Solidify details of next project. And then tell all of you about it!

I guess my point is, there is definitely more to come from the Reborn series, so stay tuned. In the coming months, I’ll have a better idea of installments and release dates and announce those when I have it all figured out. Thanks for being with me at the beginning of this journey, and for your patience. 🙂 And please feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments.

*****

Relapse on Amazon.

Relapse on Goodreads.

The Girly Heroine


The subject of “strong” female characters has been on my mind a lot lately. A few of my fellow bloggers and writers have addressed this subject, most recently H.N. Sieverding’s blog post The Trouble with Alpha Males. So this is a post that I just really needed to write. I hope we can have a thoughtful, productive conversation about it.

First off, I want to say that I think it’s GREAT that people are talking about how women are portrayed in books, on TV, in movies, etc. It’s a subject that really needs to be talked about, especially considering the way girls and women have been portrayed through these media in the past. I think it’s fantastic that we now have characters like Scarlett Johansson’s character in the Marvel franchise, Black Widow, who is beautiful and smart and can kick ass. Women haven’t always been given these kinds of roles, and I think it’s an important step for our society to show women as warriors, fighters, soldiers, “superheros.” It may be especially important for young girls to see these kinds of role models–to read about strong female characters like Katniss from The Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent and then to see them in film. We need to teach and show them that women are smart and strong and awesome.

But today I’d like to make the point that being physically strong isn’t the only type of strength and isn’t the only way to make a “strong” female character. And to start criticizing female characters for being “weak” because they are not as physically strong as a man is going down a road that I think is just as bad as not showing women as warriors at all. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but I certainly have. And I am going to attempt to explain what I mean by this in the following post.

Not everyone is physically strong–men or women. There are a lot of men who aren’t physically strong–who don’t fit the stereotypical “alpha male” mold. The alpha male is the ideal–we’re a society that reveres demonstrations of physical strength and power. And yet I think in our society there persists this idea that a man doesn’t need to be physically strong to be considered “strong” or “dominant”–there’s just something about being a man that automatically makes you “strong.”

I’m a woman, and I’m not physically that strong. I want to work out as much as I need to be healthy, but health is what’s important to me, not being “as strong as a man.” I’d also like to take some self-defense classes at some point because I think those could be useful. But I have no desire to push my body as far as the human body can go. If that means I’m not as physically strong as some other people, be they men or women, I don’t really care. There are other things I like to do that are way more important to me. Does this make me weak? If I write a female character who is like this, does that make her weak?

Fuck no.

Like I said, as a society we may look up to people who can kick ass, but physical strength isn’t the only type of strength. I’m going to be self-centered and use myself as an example again. I’m really smart. I feel that my intelligence is probably my greatest asset–my greatest strength. I know that I can intellectually do the same things “as men.” It may not feel like it sometimes, but we have made great strides since the 1930s or so when women were expected to be housewives and maybe teachers or nurses. (Again, not that there is wrong with ANY of those things. The problem is not with being a stay at home parent, but that is what was expected of women at the time–like all women are the same and should be content with that and aren’t given any other options.) I’ve grown up in a society that has allowed me to go to college and graduate school and pursue scientific research. Generally speaking, I’m pursuing something that was once really considered a man’s world (and maybe, to an extent, still is). Intelligence is another type of strength.

So is what I’ll call emotional intelligence. Going back to the physical strength thing–in a lot of ways we’re still a male dominated society, and maybe we seem to admire physical strength because that’s what men look up to. You’ve probably heard that women tend to be more helpful, more nurturing, more caring. Is that true? I don’t know–but I do know that they tend to be seen as more submissive traits, “weaker” traits, and that’s perhaps because they’re not valued as much by men. (Not all men. Or it’s that men are taught this. Again, I’m not talking about specific people, but about our society and culture.) Being nurturing or wanting to raise your children–whether you’re a woman or a man–does not make you “weak” or “submissive” or (gasp) “girly.” It’s not that there’s something inherently wrong with being this way, it’s perception–it’s the way we regard the task and why we look at it this way.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about “girly.” It’s not a bad thing to be girly. It’s not bad to be a woman that has traits that are typically thought of as more masculine–but it’s not bad to be feminine, either, and being feminine doesn’t make you “weak.” I like the color pink. I like wearing skirts and dresses. I like flowers and bunnies and unicorns. I like romantic comedies. I don’t really give a crap if this is because somehow I was taught to like pink and romcoms. Maybe it is, but they’re things I like, and I’m not going to reject who I am. I also like things that aren’t typically geared toward women, like action movies and science magazines. Yes, Scientific American still seems to be in the men’s section of the magazines, and this really pisses me off. But my point is, you can be feminine and be smart and strong, too.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m writing this. I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts criticizing certain female characters for being “weak.” Like I said at the beginning of this post, “strong” female characters is definitely something we should be talking about. I’m glad people are talking about it. But the times I’ve seen female characters called “weak” seems to usually be because they aren’t physically strong. I think this needs to stop. Yes, it’s good to have female characters that are warriors, but not every single woman needs to fit this mold.  And if she doesn’t, that doesn’t mean she’s weak. I’m afraid we’re approaching an all-or-nothing type of model–that, unless a woman is EVERYTHING, smart, beautiful, strong (but also has the type of body typically thought of as sexy), clever, then she’s not interesting or not deserving or something.

This is a theme I’m trying to incorporate into my Reborn series. If you’ve read Reborn, you know that my main character, Siobhan, is a runner, so she is athletic in this way, but she is not a super soldier. She has other types of strengths that will revealed throughout the series (and that may arguably make her a better match for the Olympians than physical strength would). She’s petite, blonde, and, yes, she was a cheerleader in high school and is a “sorority girl”–which I know bothers some readers. She likes pink and shiny stuff and dressing up. She also like scifi and fantasy and is a biology major. Her big sister in Gamma Lambda Phi, Victoria, is intelligent and clever, but also a warrior. In my book, I wanted to have all different kinds of female characters, but they are all strong, in my opinion. (But I’m sure at some point someone will insist Siobhan isn’t a strong female character…and if they do, kindly refer them to this post.)

I’m done babbling. So, what do you think makes a “strong” female character? Please respectfully share in the comments!

Monday Night Babbling


http://memegenerator.net/instance/34442510Here is yet another post about how I’m working on the sequel to Reborn. I need people to bounce ideas off of (person reading this: that means you), and, whether you’ve read Reborn or not, you may be able to help me with some of these. If anything, I think that merely getting these ideas down will help me reorganize my thoughts. Because, you see, I’m a bit stuck. Thankfully, it’s not for a lack of ideas. I have a lot of ideas (yay!), but I’m not sure how I want to go about organizing them into a series. The Reborn series was supposed to be a trilogy, but it has possibly exploded into four or five books.

Points-of-View

One of the issues I’m struggling with is that I chose to write Reborn in first person (from Siobhan’s perspective), which I don’t really regret, because I like getting inside my characters’ heads. But Siobhan and Jasper’s story (the primary conflict in Reborn) isn’t the only one I want to tell. For instance, I thought of a great idea for a book from her friend Anna’s POV. I think Anna would get her own novel, and she’s a much more perceptive person than Siobhan, so her voice would be more poetic. (Siobhan and Anna are from the same small town, so their voices wouldn’t be drastically different, but I definitely want to incorporate some distinctions.) The only problem I’m facing with this is that it would be kind of a parallel novel to Reborn, or at least the first part of it would be. It would end up being book 1.5 in the Reborn series or something. Okay, I’d round it up to book 2. My other concern is that I wouldn’t want to release Anna’s book next at all because Reborn ended in a cliffhanger, and it’s likely if readers care at all, they want to know what’s going to happen to Siobhan and Jasper.

Also related to POV: The other sequel I have envisioned would be from two first person POVs. I think I can make this work, but I’m a little worried it might be too ambitious for a second book. One of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning, has pulled this off well, but she waited at least three or four books into her Fever series to experiment with voices. (Side note: Admittedly, I used to have really weird pet peeves when it came to what I felt were “jarring” changes in POV, but I’m slowly getting over this, ha! Now I can see why authors do this. We think of other stories we want to tell along the way.) Maybe I should take a step back. Right now I have three main couples whose relationships I want to explore. Like I said, Siobhan and Jasper were the main focus in Reborn. Carly is a secondary character in Reborn, but I’ve known what happens to her character for quite some time: I’d like to introduce that in the sequel and write it partially from her POV. Finally, like I said earlier, I think Anna and her man (lol) might get a book by themselves. The problem is the events in these two books would probably overlap. I know this sounds confusing. I’m starting to confuse myself…I may just need to revisit my outlines…

I guess I could write both books and release them around the same time with a suggested reading order, but that sounds hard. In fact, writing is kinda hard. Why am I doing this again? Oh, right, because I love it! Even when my brain doesn’t want to work…

Book Titles

Okay, this is less of a confusing mess. I’m just curious to hear your opinion on the matter of book titles. Originally, every title in this series was going to be a word with an “re” prefix (Reborn, Relapse, etc). Then I thought maybe it would be better for the word “Reborn” to appear in every title so readers could associate it with the same series (Reborn, Darkness Reborn–maybe not that exactly, but you get the idea). I’ve seen both (Think Divergent, Insurgent, etc. versus Darkfever, Bloodfever, and on). To be honest, I might stick with the title Relapse anyway since it goes so well with the theme I have in my head, but I’m still curious what other writers and readers think.

*****

P. S. I made a tumblr, so follow me and I’ll try to follow back! I only say “try” because sometimes I still get confused on how to do things on tumblr. :-/ Warning: I mostly reblog all things Rumbelle, Captain Swan, Delena, and Hiddles/Loki…..

Genre-Bending


What genre do I write?

In my About page I loosely call myself a smut romance writer. But I’ve come to realize, I don’t really write that much smut -do I? Some of my fanfic ideas pretty much revolve around S-E-X, but, while there are sex scenes in my other stories, I wouldn’t necessarily say that the plot depends or revolves around them.

I’m not even really a “romance” writer, paranormal or other. Romances follow a formula: Two people meet, usually hate each other but have undeniable sexual tension, stuff happens, it looks like they’re not going to wind up together, but then they do. (I’m not saying this is a bad thing, at all -sometimes you want a predictable ending, and it doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy yourself on the journey to get there.) But while I would say that love and romantic relationships are very important themes in my stories, I don’t think they really follow this formula. So calling myself a romance writer could be misleading.

I throw around the term “urban fantasy” a lot to describe my novel-in-progress. I think it’s a pretty fitting description: It’s a fantasy or paranormal book, and the setting is in the city. My author idol Karen Marie Moning identifies her Fever series as being urban fantasy. But I’ve also heard the genre “urban fantasy” used to specifically describe stories or books that combine African American main characters and culture with fantastical elements. Most of my stories or even mere ideas for stories involve sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal themes, so I think they’re still fitting descriptions for my work. And obviously, if the main characters are of high school age, you can stick it in the “young adult” category.

I’m just trying to find a niche for myself, to be able to succinctly describe my work to other people. To be honest, I’m not even sure I want to stick a specific genre on my stories. I want to borrow elements from different genres, although as I said all of the categories I’ve mentioned above do fit. I don’t want my work to follow a formula. I want my books to be sexy, but I don’t want the whole point of the book to be waiting for the two main characters to have sex. I do love a good love triangle, though, which unfortunately has also become a popular formula as of late. This also isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just I’ve always loved this device, but now that it’s in every single immensely popular book that’s out there, it’s overdone. Now it’ll just seem like I’m joining the crowd.

My WIP The Fallen has a love triangle developing, but again, that wasn’t the point of my writing it. It’s really about this girl who is forced to confront some demons from her past and who is trying to reconcile that with her new life in college. Although the book is certainly not supposed to be anything super profound -it’s meant to entertain -I did want it to follow Siobhan’s journey of self-discovery, which is why it takes place in college. She’s trying to unravel the mystery behind these powerful new people in her life. And sure, all the while she has three hot guys who all want her: Her college hook-up Max, her high school beau and sexy punk rocker, Jimmy, and her handsome but manipulative TA, Jasper.

Sorry, I know this is a weird post -I’m just typing as I think this over. I guess I’m trying to get in marketing mode so if/when I write some query letters, I can be very persuasive. 😉

What genre do you classify your own work as? Or do you like drawing from a variety of influences? What genre do you think I write (lol)? Feel free to sound off in the comments!

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose


Let’s discuss character names.

This has been on my mind because I’m considering eventually changing (among probably many, many other things) Siobhan’s name in my work-in-progress, The Fallen. To be honest, I chose the name Siobhan simply because I like it. I’d like to name my daughter Siobhan one day. But I realize that this could potentially be misleading, since it is an urban fantasy book -at least that’s the genre I would best categorize it as. Someone might think it’s going to incorporate Irish folklore in some way. It doesn’t. On the other hand, I do like the name of Siobhan’s mysterious teaching assistant, Jasper Mars, and it holds some special meaning, as you will find out if you’re following along. 😉

I definitely don’t think it’s necessary for names to symbolize something specific, although I like to do that sometimes. Another one of my own favorite character names from another story is Celeste Lowe; I both like how her first and last name sound together, and she’s an alien, so her first name reflects her otherworldliness. Rather than be a symbol, it is important for a character name to make sense with the setting of the story, time and place, especially if the story relies extra heavily on these elements. For example, if the story takes place in nineteenth century England. Maybe this is quite obvious, but I think it’s important to keep in mind.

Also, I think that characters can have “cool sounding” names even if they’re not especially reflective of anything profound. One of my favorite examples would be J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Ms. Rowling is fantastic at character naming in general, but although a simple name, Harry Potter is just somehow catchy. Its simplicity may be purposeful on her part since Harry is supposed to be an unlikely hero (scrawny kid, brown hair, glasses), but she could have gone with something else equally as simple. John Smith and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Besides being an English explorer, John Smith just doesn’t seem to have the snap to it that Harry Potter does.

Karen Marie Moning, one of my favorite paranormal romance/urban fantasy authors, is also a name-machine. Mackayla Lane. Jericho Barrons (who owns Barrons Books and Baubles). Dani O’Malley. Adam Black. Drustan, Dageus, Christian MacKeltar, you name it. And I can’t forget L. J. Smith: Elena Gilbert, Stefan and Damon Salvatore, Julian, Faye Chamberlain, to name a few. And no matter how you feel about the Twilight saga, Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black are memorable names. From the world of indie publishing, I always thought Dmitri Maximus from Emily Guido’s Light-Bearer series was a great name.

So, what are your thoughts on character names? How do you come up with your own? (What do you think of mine?) Please share your comments below!

Isn’t it Bro-mantic?


I realized I haven’t composed nearly enough Top 10 lists on The Urge to Write. So what better time to write one than during the Scandal commercial breaks? (It’s arguably more productive than what I did during the commercials of Sunday’s Once Upon A Time, which was to watch the prior week’s episode on my lap top…..) And what could be better than a list of the Top 10 Bromances?

According to Wikipedia. a bromance is a close, non-sexual relationship between at least two men, a form of affectional intimacy. 😉

Women are usually thought of as forming closer bonds than men, but as the following duos show, fictional men, at least, can enjoy powerful, nearly unbreakable bonds with one another (although the occasional girl may come between them, as you will see). My list of the Top 10 Bromances spans decades and includes characters from my all-time favorite books, TV shows and movies of a variety of genres (fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, “dramedy”). And one non-fictional pair, as you will see…

Be sure to share your favorite bromances in the comments!

10. Adam Black and Darroc

This bromance is worth a mention since I recently devoured Karen Moning’s The Immortal Highlander. I enjoyed this back story bromance between the mischievous Adam Black (Puck being one of his many other aliases) and Council Elder Darroc. I loved this idea of two reckless Fae princes conquering Fairy and Earth together:

“Watching Adam with his little human had reminded him [Darroc] of the times long ago when they’d ridden the Wild Hunt together, when they’d hunted like brother-gods, invincible and free, ruled by nothing and no one…Mortals had been nothing more to them than lowly beasts, good for a chase, amusing to play with…”

Unfortunately, by the time the events in the book happen, Adam must stop his now arch-nemesis Darroc from overthrowing Aoibheal and freeing the Unseelie from their icy dark prison. And well, if you’ve read the Fever series, you know how that eventually turns out…

9. Evan and Cappie

Freshman year at the fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University of ABC Family’s Greek, rich playboy Evan Chambers and adorable slacker Cappie were once roommates and bffs. Unfortunately, when this show commenced their friendship had already entered rocky terrain: They’ve joined opposing fraternities, and Evan is dating Cappie’s ex, ZBZ sister Casey. Although I spent most of Greek‘s four seasons waiting for Cappie and Casey to finally get back together (and stay that way), the Evan/Cappie on-again, off-again bromance was another central conflict on the show. Fortunately, by the series finale the two seem to finally make amends, although I’m not sure they could ever truly go back to those early carefree days of freshman year.

8. Shawn and Gus

I haven’t talked about my love for Psych much on this blog, but if you haven’t checked it out yet, this show is seriously awesome and hilarious. Shawn and Gus have been best friends since they were kids and despite the fact that they are polar opposites. Shawn is ridiculously perceptive, which serves him well in his job as a “psychic” consultant to the Santa Barbara PD, but he drifts through life rather aimlessly; on the other hand, Gus has a serious job as a pharmaceutical rep and is more focused and level-headed. Nevertheless, these two are the very definition of best friends forever as they solve mysteries and get into all sorts of mischief (courtesy of Shawn).

7. Howard and Raj probably have one of the most special friendships out of the entire gang on The Big Bang Theory. But seriously, beyond all of the jokes about their “ersatz homosexual relationship,” in the earliest seasons Howard and Raj are two single nerds banding together in search of comic books and, of course, love. Of course, Howard doesn’t completely reform his  creepster ways until he meets charming microbiologist Bernadette, but I think this also has a positive influence on his friendship with Raj, making it a little less codependent but still solid.

6. Finn Hudson and Kurt Hummel

This is the first (but not the last) brother duo on this list -well, step-brother duo. Glee’s Finn and Kurt didn’t start off as allies; due to his reputation as the cute, clean-cut jock at McKinley High, Finn was initially wary of the merging of the Hudson-Hummels and of having a gay friend/step-brother. Kurt wasn’t particularly sensitive to Finn’s feelings, either. But by the end of Season 3, Finn has amassed the courage to stand up for Glee Club, Kurt and their friendship. Glee is one of the few shows (if not the only one) at least in the United States that portrays a friendship between a gay teenage boy and a straight one, period, while also doing so with tact and grace.

“In Glee Club whenever two of us got together we got a nickname. Rachel and I are Finchel. Rachel and Puck were Puckleberry. And today a new union is formed: Furt. You and I, man. We’re brothers from another mother.”

5. David Bowie and Iggy Pop

And yet again, I manage to include my two favorite people! In fact, the only reason they’re not higher up on the list is because they’re real people. I know I should have probably kept this focused -confined to fictional characters -but I can’t resist. There’s just something epic about picturing these two musicians collaborating together in Berlin -writing songs, performing, and being generally awesome. They’re even making a movie about those creative years in Berlin. (I’m not getting paid to endorse the movie or anything like that, I’m just orgasmically excited about it-so much so that I’m making up words.)

4. The Salvatore Brothers

Although many differences exist between The Vampire Diaries TV series and the original L. J. Smith books, one steadfast theme is the bond between Stefan and Damon Salvatore. Sure, they’ve fallen twice fallen for the same girl -the enticing vampire Katherine and later for her doppelgänger Elena. This show is now in its fourth tumultuous season, and it’s becoming harder and harder to see Stefan as just the “good brother” and Damon as the bad guy. Stefan’s relapsed into his dark side, the notorious Ripper, and we’ve seen Damon let his guard down as far as Elena’s concerned as well as caught glimpses of a more selfless Damon. Even through their ups and downs, Stefan and Damon know they can depend on each other and trust the other to keep Elena safe.

(Damon:) “I was hoping we could hang. You know a little brother bonding. I know we don’t actually “hang out”. We team up, we join forces, we activate our Wonder twin powers.”

3. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley

Of course, part of the true magic of J. K. Rowling’s epic series lies in the dynamic of the main trio -Harry, Ron and Hermoine -but since tonight’s focus is on bromances, we will consider Harry/Ron. These two are a team from their start at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and remain friends well into adulthood, as is evident in the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows. They follow in the footsteps of James Potter and Sirius Black, getting wrapped up in all sorts of mischief and shenanigans (or rather, the mayhem finds them, Harry being the Chose One and all). Throughout all of their adventures in and out of Hogwarts, Harry and Ron fight for goodness and peace in both the wizard and Muggle worlds.

2. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee

If this list only contained book bromances, Frodo and Sam would be number one. I mean, come on –theirs is the quintessential bromance. They leave their cozy shire to go on the ultimate adventure with a company of dwarves, elves and humans. Although they find true friends in their new allies, only Sam can help Frodo overcome his obsession with the One Ring in order to destroy it at the very end. Sam’s loyalty to Frodo is  unwavering.

(Frodo:) “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”

1. Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock

Another classic example of two best friends having epic adventures, only this time exploring space, that final frontier. Although its special effects are quite outdated now, the themes of friendship and the exploration of the unknown (I can’t seem to say what I want to say without it sounding like I’m talking about something else…)  in The Original Series are timeless. Wikipedia tells me that the Kirk/Spock dynamic also inspired a lot of sexy fanfic back in the day and has greatly influenced the development of these communities as we know them today. I am also a fan of J. J. Abram’s reinvention of the franchise (I’ve watched it so many times I’ve lost count), in which we saw Kirk and Spock’s mutual animosity blossom into the bromance we know and love.

Friday Fictioneers Take One


This is the first time I’m trying one of these Friday Fictioneers photo prompts. The photo is below, and my piece is after that. The challenge is to get it down to 100 words, although it’s not required.

I don’t know what made me want to write it from first-person-plural, but it was a fun experiment. So it’s either a group hiding out, or Gollum…..

Copyright-Janet Webb

 

Genre: Science fiction, apocalyptic

Inside

Inside we wait for the explosions to stop.

Outside the sky is thick and gray with veins of red fire. But in here everything is pitch dark. We can barely see our hands as we reach for each other.

Last night she came. We had to ask her to leave. There’s no more room and not enough rations. When she wouldn’t, we had to make her. We try not to think about it now and hope that the war will stay out.

Finally the earth stills and we can uncover our ears. When we emerge, it’s all gone.

Word Count – 98

 

Dirty Words


Soil? Soot? Mud?

No, not those dirt-y words.

I can’t even believe I’m writing this as I’m doing it. This post is rated M for Mature and N for Naughty.

I started to ponder this because I’m currently (finally) reading one of Karen Moning’s Highlander books. (I don’t know which number it is…but I know it’s not the first one. So it looks like I’m going to end up reading them out-of-order.) As much as I love Ms. Moning’s work, she uses the word “impaled” (for, you know) a lot in this book. And for me it’s just not a sexy word.

I’m not being prudish…there are other great words and phrases out there to describe sex, whether it your characters are making love or just plain ol’ fucking. Depending on what atmosphere you’re creating, a man can enter a woman, ease/slip/slide/slam into her, pump in and out of her, grind against her. (I’m sure you can think of other/better ones?) But impale just sounds painful.

And what should we call the tool with which he pleasures/takes/fills her/brings her to the brink? (She could also shatter/dissolve/unravel/come undone.) Although there are many rather obvious choices, sometimes the possibilities sound silly as you’re reading. On the other hand, for a smutty book penis sounds a bit medical. How about his cock/manhood/hardness/shaft? (I can’t believe I’m coming up with these without using the thesaurus on Microsoft Word. The smut is just pouring out of me tonight.)

Wet is of course often used to describe when the woman is ready for her man to impale her. But use its synonyms with caution because they can end up sounding icky rather than sexy: moist/damp/clammy (wait, no, don’t ever tell your man that you’re clammy for him.)

Romance writers: What do you think? What are the best words/phrases to use when writing about s-e-x?

Working Title: “Title”


Well, I wanted to keep to my Sunday, sometimes-Thursday, Friday posting schedule, but didn’t have time to write anything new, insightful or nerdy. So instead, I perused My Documents for a sample of my old writing. I decided to go with a document named “Something,” which contained the Prologue and first chapter I wrote to a planned book with the tentative title “Title.” I think it’s pretty cute…it’s another Greek myth-inspired story (which I apparently subconsciously gravitate to) and depicts a nostalgic Calypso talking to her friend, Dewdrop. (The most adorable name ever, if I do say so myself.)

***

She stood where the beach met the crisp blue water. Digging her feet into the yellow sand, she curled her toes and allowed it to seep between them, wet and rough. Beyond her, the waves rolled like sheets of blue silk billowing in the salty air. Her hair, the color of the golden beach, blew across her face and briefly obscured her forlorn expression. Then, she brushed the hair out of her face to reveal her sad, teardrop-shaped eyes once more.

“Calypso!” a high, clear voice behind her called. Calypso did not turn to acknowledge the voice and still did not turn when a girl appeared beside her. She was young and small, and her long, auburn hair was plaited into hundreds of small braids. She wore a white dress tied at the waist with a yellow cord. Noticing Calypso’s intent gaze, she followed it into the blue distance where it was hard to tell where the ocean ended and the sky began.

“Calypso, what’s wrong?” she persisted and hugged the woman’s petite waist. Calypso sighed and stroked the girl’s hair.

“Oh, Dewdrop,” she said as the girl retracted her arms. Calpyso sat down and patted the sand beside her so that Dewdrop would do the same. “No one ever comes to my island anymore. No one ever comes.”

What are you talking about?” Dewdrop wondered. “The others visit you all the time. Hera, Aphrodite, Aries…everybody loves it here. It’s a beautiful island.”

“I do not mean them,” she replied curtly and diverted her gaze to the ocean again. “They do not come to see me, Dewdrop. As you said –it is a beautiful island. The most beautiful. I’m talking about people. People used to come here.”

“People? From where?”

“From everywhere.” For the first time that afternoon, a small, wistful grin appeared on Calypso’s lovely face. “Explorers would come, travelers, sometimes men going to war –what strong, handsome men used to come here.” Dewdrop narrowed her eyes in confusion as Calypso continued nostalgically. “They would come, and we would entertain them here, give them food and shelter. And sometimes I would just…”

“Just what?” Dewdrop pressed.

“Just keep them here,” Calypso said, laughing musically. Dewdrop laughed too, although she wasn’t entirely sure what Calypso meant.

“Ah, yes, I miss those days,” Calypso confessed. “There was always excitement and anticipation, wondering who was going to come next. But then fewer and fewer came, and the ones that did come tried to hurt us and would not let us help them. And then one day, no one came. No one has come for ages.”

A tear trickled from one of Calypso’s aquamarine eyes. “It’s okay,” Dewdrop assured her. “I’m sure someday someone will come again.”

“Perhaps.” Calypso picked up the hem of her flimsy purple dress as she rose. Dewdrop scrambled to her feet as well. “Perhaps not. Come on –let’s go back.” They glided swiftly over the sand, away from where the sun broke the ocean into a thousand tiny blue diamonds. Above, the sky was clear and cloudless.