Sunday, April 13, 2014

On bodies and stuff

Have I mentioned that I read a lot? I read a lot.

Some of the things I read are romance novels (boo hiss! whatever), and I've noticed a trend, both in the descriptions and cover art.

Perfect boobs. Perfect abs. Perfect hair and faces and legs and skin and teeth.

I like a certain amount of wish-fulfillment in fiction. I like reading legal thrillers where a lawyer brilliantly tears down a witness, even though I know it (most likely) would not happen that way in real life. I like political thrillers where the protagonist somehow thinks through every angle and no one catches on until it's too late. Not every book has to be lyrical and real. Some of them are exciting and funny and scary, and that's fine.

But as a lady, I have to say ... I tire of reading about ladies who are a lot hotter than me, but written by other ladies who (most likely) look exactly like me.

I've written about the weird objectification of men in contemporary romance before, and I've wanted to write this post for a long time. Part of me feels weird about writing it now, because it seems like this is something that is universally accepted in the romance-writing community.

But I know that I'm a normal looking woman. My hair is sometimes really great, but I wear glasses almost always (because I like them) and I have cellulite on my thighs (which I don't like). It's not very fun writing a romance novel about a gal with a muffin top who gets winded running up three flights of stairs (*hangs head in shame*), but I would feel much weirder writing someone who was self-deprecatingly gorgeous and athletic knowing that I am not self-deprecatingly gorgeous or athletic. Like I wasn't confident enough in myself or women or girls who look like me if all I wrote about was women or girls who are photoshopped perfection.

I think it's fair to say that I am not alone in the "looks like a real human" boat. In fact, I can be pretty sure of that--we (aspiring and actual) writers all have avatars on our twitter, links to our instagram photos. We're normal looking! And that's awesome!

And I think we'd all agree that the media portrays women and girls in an unrealistic, unnatural way, which in turn gives real-life women and girls unrealistic and unhealthy views of how they OUGHT to look. We critique magazine covers and television and movies that are designed to hide any flaw a woman could possibly have, and we feel fine about that.

But then when it comes time to write a novel that will be primarily marketed to women, it's OK to talk about impossible good looks for paragraphs on end?

Fantasy is one thing, and it's applied to more  than just how a character looks. I mean, who really has a quippy comeback for every situation? But there comes a certain point where it just feels ... distasteful. (Clutched pearls alert! Distasteful!) I don't know where that line is--I assume it's in a different place for different readers and writers.

We talk about how it's important to represent characters of different races and characters with disabilities in fiction, and I think that is important. Probably more important than what I am currently harping about.

But I think writing about chubby women (who don't get a magical makeover before the finale) is important, too. Women who are short or tall (maybe even taller than their love interests?) with gap-toothed smiles or frizz-prone hair. And you know, maybe even writing female characters WITHOUT describing their legs, their hair, their boobs, or their eyes in exquisite detail.

For the record: I don't think that writers should feel obligated to write in a particular way. I don't think romance writers are more guilty of this than, say, thriller or sci-fi authors. (It's a truth universally acknowledged that perfect boobs seem to pop up in every genre.)

But given that romance is written primarily by women, for women, I do think it's worth questioning.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On bravery

The word "bravery" gets tossed around a lot on these here Internets.

So-and-so is so BRAVE for speaking his/her TRUTH.

Admittedly, it's hard for me to take seriously the bravery of a person sitting at a computer screen. Sometimes you do read a truly brave Internet confessional, and you have to offer a tip of your hat to that particular writer. But more often than not, a person's attempt at BRAVERY is really a request for head-pats.

Internetland is a strange place, where criticism is viewed as haterade. And sometimes it is. It's easy to be mean and excuse it is as snark, to say it's funny and not cruel.

But criticism is not necessarily a negative thing. A statue only became a piece of art after someone took a sledgehammer to a piece of stone. To insulate yourself from criticism isn't brave, and it isn't cowardly.

It's just a lost opportunity.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A serious (series of) question(s) for the peanut gallery

What do you guys think of New Adult? (Honestly.)

I have written about what I think New Adult means here, some of my concerns about the category here, and why (despite those concerns) I am still interested in writing New Adult here.

But now I'm curious from you, dear friends ...

Do you guys read New Adult? Is it something that interests you? What are your thoughts and feelings about it, good and bad?

And for those of you who read LDS fiction ... do you think there's room in the LDS fiction genre for New Adult?

Here's why I ask. LDS fiction is chock-full of stories about college-aged and recently post-college kids, but in my experience, those "kids" behave very much like adults (they have a vision for their future, they are usually looking to settle down, etc.) In general, they just feature more mature, more established characters than the typical New Adult novel. I've read a few books by authors like Krista Lynne Jensen (I'm thinking The Orchard) and Melanie Jacobson (The List) that I think meet many New Adult markers ... but I would hesitate to call them New Adult, and I'm not totally sure why.

Given that New Adult has been heavily associated with steamy sex scenes, do you think tagging a book in the LDS fiction market as "New Adult" would be a mistake? Or just an opportunity to expand the idea of what New Adult is?

All thoughts and comments welcome.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Another real-world conversation between Diego and Ru

The other night, I was telling the roommate, fellow lawyer, and small business owner pal Diego that I was going to create a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.

"But what are you going to sell?" he asked.

I raised my eyebrows. "Books, Diego."

He blinked. "I don't think you have enough money for a printing press. Or room in the house."

Monday, March 24, 2014

In case you haven't heard: The Wicked We Have Done

Please don't sue me, Penguin Group.
I have been hearing about THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE by Sarah Harian for what feels like forever--on Twitter, on Facebook, people are simply raving about this book.

From the description:

Twenty-two-year-old Evalyn Ibarra never expected to be an accused killer and experimental prison test subject. A year ago, she was a normal college student. Now she’s been sentenced to a month in the compass room—an advanced prison obstacle course designed by the government to execute justice.

If she survives, the world will know she’s innocent.

Locked up with nine notorious and potentially psychotic criminals, Evalyn must fight the prison and dismantle her past to stay alive. But the system prized for accuracy appears to be killing at random.

She doesn’t plan on making friends.

She doesn’t plan on falling in love, either.

I read it last night and I think I would recommend it -- to certain readers. That's not to say I thought it was bad, just that I am pretty sure it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

The first thing you should know is that I have a thing for weird justice stories. My two biggest fears are old timey medical procedures and a loss of civil liberties (so you know how I felt about season 2 of American Horror Story, right? Sheesh.)

In THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE, the futuristic U.S. government has set up these Hunger Games-esque arenas called "Compass Rooms." Criminals are left in Compass Rooms with a sensor embedded in their skulls that measures their thought processes as they encounter various physical, psychological, and moral tests. The theory is that criminals who are truly evil will be eliminated by the Compass Room, but those whose morals are more-or-less all there (ie, those who committed justifiable crimes) will be released after 30 days.

So right off the bat, I love this concept, and the writing moves you along quickly -- I finished in a few hours. There were a few things I didn't love (for example, you don't find out the details of Evalyn's crime until more than halfway through, at which point I'm sure most readers have already concluded she was in the "justifiable homicide" camp, despite her repeated insistence of being evil -- so the big reveal fell flat for me), but overall, I think if you like dystopias, this is a pretty unique one.

If you read it, let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The To-Do List

I have a bad habit of making big plans.

It's a bad habit because, although I can almost always follow-through (eventually), I tend to get overwhelmed in the meantime.

Take my yard, for example. It's not huge, but when you break it down into it's composite parts, I have a parking strip, four flower beds, a front yard, a back yard, a rose arbor, and a garden box that I should be taking care of. And every spring since I've bought my house, I get really fired up in April and start weeding and fertilizing everything -- but as someone with minimal gardening skills, it has never really come to much. At some point during the summer, I suddenly realize the magnitude of a parking strip, four flower beds, a front yard, a back yard, a rose arbor, and a garden box, all of which look terrible, and realize there's no way I will ever dig myself out of this hole.

I am hoping I have learned my lesson this year, and am focusing my efforts on only two things: improving the lawn in the back yard and properly xeriscaping the parking strip. But even with those limited goals, it's hard not to remember all the failures of summers past and feel like any effort or money expended will just be a waste.

Organizing my kitchen, post-remodel. Eating healthy. Working out. Saving money. These are things that should be easy -- things that are, in fact, easy -- but that I can't think about too much, or else I'll realize how poorly I am doing at each of them and lose my enthusiasm. Cue a weekend of marathoning The Americans and eating Ben and Jerry's. 

Weirdly, I have no problem keeping my goals little when it comes to lawyerin. Take one thing off the To-Do List at a time, whittle it down bit by bit. First this project, then the next one. Assess the To-Do List at the beginning of the day, and again at the end. Do a few little things whenever you can, and it will result in a big thing eventually.

When it comes to my writing habit, however, I (very unfortunately) tend to fall more into the gardening camp than the lawyering camp.

I had a goal for 2013 -- finish drafting two more books. This weekend, when my busy season at work simmered down, I opened up my drafting files to assess my progress so far.

Would you like to know how many works-in-progress I currently have in various states of beginnings, middles, and ends?

(I'll warn you. It's embarrassing.)  





That is SIXTEEN ideas for novels that have been mulled over, outlined, partially drafted, and left in a dropbox folder titled simply "projects."

And in my defense, two actually are near-complete stages. If I could focus on those two, I could meet my 2013 goal, just six months late.

But those fourteen other files just sit there, like an unpruned rose arbor, reminding me that I have dug myself a hole that will be very, very, very difficult to climb out of. And (as much as I hate admitting this -- both out of personal pride, and the fear that someday an agent or editor will find this blog post and realize how pathetically inefficient I can be) the feeling of being in a giant hole makes it very, very, very difficult for me to focus on little things, whether it's xeriscaping a parking strip or completing one draft that is really only 10,000ish measly words from being done.

I know this post is a bit of a downer. I wish I had a happier note to end on.

But sometimes you just have to admit you're in the hole before you can start to climb out.