Monthly Archives: January 2018

On Redemption Songs and Romance

On a recent episode of my new favorite podcast: Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, the hosts discussed romance fiction as resistance. They pointed out that many people belittle women’s escapist literature, romance and cozy mysteries, but not men’s, sci-fi and thrillers. (Of course, I know that many women enjoy sci-fi, etc.)

Why is one type of reading frivolous and contemptible while another is harmless or even admirable? Why is literature is only serious and praiseworthy when the ending is sad, depressing, miserable? Don’t we face enough defeat in daily life without having to fill our bookshelves with tales of ennui and gloom?

These women have a point: falling in love and being loved in return, despite our flaws and our beloved’s, that’s redemption, a peak experience available to all. Love is a victory, something even the goon squad in Washington, D.C. can’t take away from us. Holding onto hope, love, connection in troubled times—that’s an act of resistance. It’s not sufficient to defeat the evil in our midst, but it’s fuel for the fight.

The type of peak experience offered in sci-fi and fantasy stories, rounding up a motley band of resistance fighters to defeat a might sinister force—or the type in thrillers—using whiles and guile to penetrate a criminal organization and lop off its head—that’s available to few of us in real life.

Is only the unattainable worth reading about? Romance readers say no—and roll in that vicarious pleasure like horses rolling in the dust.

Another aspect of romance fiction that feels like resistance is the joyful celebration of women’s sexuality. In another episode of SPTB, one of the hosts posited a response to critics of romance fiction: “What is it about the female orgasm that bothers you?”

“Oh, romance novels are really just porn,” critics say. Nope. The good stuff revolves around determined, smart, problem-solving women, and the men who love them, treasure them, and give them earthquake orgasms. And yes, there are romance stories for everyone on the gender spectrum. Sex is part of finding one’s mate, for the vast majority of people, but it’s not the whole story, just like armed combat is not the whole story in, say, Star Wars.

So, yeah. There is something to reading romance as an act of defiance. To those who say I can’t be a woman of substance and still enjoy these tales, I raise my middle finger—and turn the page.

On Pity Parties, Book Reviews, and Carol Dweck

Thunk.

That’s the sound of another romance novel landing in my Did Not Finish pile.

As a reader, I want to see triumph of some sort, and not just in the form of a sad, scared woman being rescued by some guy. Give me a heroine with spunk, not just a tender heart, and a hero with substance, not just toned pecs.

This week’s discard goes something like this: Horrible people have done horrible things to the heroine and her siblings. She flees, casting herself in the role of their protector, but she’s a dithering, nervous wreck, making near-fatal mistakes at every turn. And something horrible has happened to the hero. He’s really sad about it, and angry, and spends his time brooding. There’s a dog involved—that’s what caught my eye on the library shelf. Who doesn’t love a good dog story? But in this novel, even the dog is sad, mourning the death of his former master. What the author didn’t accomplish by the end of Chapter Six was to give me something to relate to, something to care about, other than pity.

My Did Not Finish pile contains several works of romance fiction, literary fiction, and women’s fiction that adopted this strategy: Look at this poor protagonist! Such terrible things have been done to her/him! Don’t you feel sad, reader?

Ugh.

But then, I don’t like people like this in real life, either. “Hi, my name is X. Thanks for welcoming me into your writers’ group. I have fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression.”

Why do people do this?  I don’t know anyone who’s reached the mid-century milepost without some physical affliction, emotional scarring, or other heavy baggage. And I get it: women have been taught to bond over shared misfortunes. But a blatant appeal for pity right off the bat?

What impresses me, in real life and in fiction, is meeting a person who’s making the most of life, enjoying it as much as possible—and then finding out that she’s dealing with some heavy baggage. That sparks sympathy and admiration. That’s what’s missing in books like the one above: I want to admire the protagonist in some way.

I didn’t write a book review about this novel because A: I didn’t finish the book, and it’s not fair to review a book under those circumstances, and B: I’ve finally accepted that it’s bad karma for an author to leave bad reviews–though I always read the bad reviews before buying a book. This lets me know whether a story is full of my pet peeves, a probable waste of my time and book budget.

Speaking of book reviews, if you work in education or have kids in school, you’ve probably read, or at least heard of, Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck outlines the concept of a growth mindset, the belief that you can change and improve through effort, versus a fixed mindset, the belief that your abilities are unchangeable and beyond your control. Guess which mindset leads to success and happiness? This book should be added to recommended reading lists for authors, especially for those tempted to make pity their main appeal to readers.

How about you? What problems send a book to your Did Not Finish pile?

IWSG January 2018: Schedule? I need one?

Once again, it’s the first Wednesday of the month, time for our Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. The awesome co-hosts for the January 3 posting of the IWSG are Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Speaking of the many fine resources on the IWSG site, I got so much value from the December 11 article by Angela Ackerman, author of The Emotional Thesaurus. Take a look here:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/2017/12/writing-about-emotional-trauma-without.html

January 3 question – What steps have you taken or plan to take to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

Schedule? What is this schedule you speak of?

A big, fat blessing bomb fell on my head at age almost-52, when I was able to take early retirement from my teaching job. At last, I had time to write! Teaching is freaking exhausting, and it ate up most of my creative energy.

But my adjustment to retirement involved a few years of stubborn push-back against schedules of any sort. Throughout my 27 years of teaching, I hated, hated, hated having to get up so early to go to work. (Why do we do that to our teens, anyway? They’re not fully awake until mid-morning, so what are they going to learn at 7:30?) A lot of my first few years of freedom involved lounging in bed just because I could, or taking long, aimless walks around my new town.

About a year ago, I started treating writing as a real job, albeit a part-time one, and developed the habit of writing from my very civilized wake-up time of about 7:30 until early afternoon. I do this every day I’m able, and get cranky if appointments or visits rob me of my writing time. What a treat to devote my high-energy hours to my own goals, rather than to tasks assigned by someone else.

Now that I’ve received my first publishing offer (huzzah!), this shit’s getting real, as the youngsters say. My intention is to devote the morning to my writing, take a break for errands and/or exercise, then devote the afternoon to correspondence, queries, marketing—the business side of things. But I’m sure there’ll be days when business chores gobble up most of my writing time.

Ah well, such is the writing life. And I love it. Here’s wishing you lots of productive writing time in 2018.

What does your writing schedule look like?