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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.