Consent is everything: let’s fix fiction

My social media accounts have been genuinely depressing this weekend. It seems that almost everyone I’ve ever met has been posting #MeToo to say that they have been subjected to sexual harassment and assault.

It’s horrifying. Before this, I’d known of several friends who had been assaulted. Those were simply the people who confided in me–I knew the likelihood was that more of my friends and acquaintances had suffered from various forms of sexual violence and had not talked about it to me. Now I know.

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I have stories of being made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe, of course, but I have been luckier than most women of my acquaintance. In fact, that’s the only difference between the women saying #MeToo and me. That’s it.

Nobody should have to say #MeToo. Assault shouldn’t happen to anyone. Harassment shouldn’t happen to anyone. Which means we need to change the culture that accepts this as a part of life.

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And going full Amazon on creeps isn’t really doable

There have been a lot of people talking about how to change the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. This article calling on men to picture “The Rock” in situations with women in the office was funny, but the apparent need for it is disturbing in the extreme. Why is it so hard to realize that women are human?

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…with few possible exceptions

Since fiction is part of our culture, our fiction needs to change too.

3 Places to Start

#1 Create worlds without violence towards women

Game of Thrones has long been accused of gratuitous violence, particularly violence towards women. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is even worse in that regard. I started reading the series my senior year and stopped once I realized how much rape was involved. (Seriously, my thesis was less depressing.) He’s tried to defend its inclusion by saying the story is based on The War of the Roses.

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Yep, 100% historical accuracy

Particularly if you are making a historical drama with fantasy elements, why include rape and assault at all? There are many historical terrors you can pull on to show that life is awful if that’s what you’re going for: disease, famine, war, terrifying medical care, dangerous traveling conditions, ice ages, natural disasters….

#2 Don’t use sexual violence as a plot device 

Outlander is the name of an enormously popular series of books and a very popular series.

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I have a few theories why….

While it flips some of the more overused tropes in romance novels–the man is the virgin in this one when they meet instead of the woman and it shows that woman can also instigate/want/enjoy sex–it does have a serious stumbling block.

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Although the problem definitely isn’t chemistry

Rape, or the threat of rape, is virtually ever-present. Sexual assault is trotted out as a way to show that people are bad, that the main characters are desirable, gives characters a chance to be heroic, or is used to drive the story forward. (There are also some very strange and disturbing homophobic undertones as well, with gay men frequently serving as villains.) It is used so often that it becomes repetitive, which is disturbing all on its own.

Yes, sexual violence was even more prevalent and entrenched in “ye olden days,” but that isn’t an excuse to use it as a plot device.

#3 Remember the rules of consent 

Romance novels, particularly of the historical variety, often depict a virginal female character meeting some hyper-masculine character who sweeps away her protests and introduces her to multiple orgasms. (Oh, and she’ll probably be pregnant by the end, because he almost never introduces her to contraception.)

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This is one of the tamest covers I’ve seen

It’s easy to make fun of historical romances. They’re derided as “bodice rippers” and have ridiculous covers 9 times out of 10. The disturbing tropes aren’t limited to that part of the genre:

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Here’s looking at you, kid

Now, romance novels are primarily written by women, for women, so what’s with the horrible message? No doesn’t mean “convince me.” No doesn’t mean “yes.” No quite literally means no. It’s one of the first words most children learn. It really doesn’t have multiple meanings.

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The idea of romance novels is a healthy one. At their best, they provide a safe space to explore fantasies. But reinforcing the idea that women have to be the voice of sexual restraint and never say yes is not even remotely healthy for anyone.

There has been pushback against some of those major tropes and consent is being more widely discussed in romance novels. To recap:

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Changing our fiction is one small step in our battle to change the world, but it is important and it does matter.  We know sexual violence is a problem–let’s stamp it out wherever it appears. Nobody should have to say #MeToo. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s getting hot in here: fight scenes & terrible proposals (3 Pride & Prejudice adaptations to watch this month)

Jane Austen has been inspiring people for centuries. While the dances are different, her characters and plots have never gone out of style.

Case in point, I just finished reading a modern take on Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid. It wasn’t the best–it developed a weirdly homophobic vibe at the end there–but it got me thinking about other adaptations I’ve seen.

…there have been a lot of them. They haven’t all been fabulous–looking at you strange Mormon version of P&P–but some of them are amazingly good.

Here are three of the best:

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies  (2016) 

I finally saw the movie this week. I’d never wanted to read the book–it was written by someone who inserted zombies whenever they felt the story was slow–but the trailer made me think the movie would be better.

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What makes the movie different?

The characters are great! Sure, this Mr. Darcy sounds like he’s been gargling gravel…

…but he makes for a fun, leather-clad version of the character.

There’s also a terrifically campy Lena Headey as Lady Catherine–the best zombie hunter in this world–as well as restrained performances from Charles Dance and Sally Philips as Mr & Mrs Bennet. (This is actually the most realistic version of  Mrs. Bennet I’ve ever seen.) Matt Smith creates a hilarious, less oily, but still unpleasant version of Mr. Collins.

The Bennet girls are wonderful. I’d have happily watched a miniseries of this to see more of all of them. They whole group is great and Lily James plays a beautiful & badass Elizabeth.

Dancing. Slaying zombies. All in a night’s work.

The moment he sees her fight, Darcy starts singing her praises.

 

This also features by far my favorite version of the first proposal. After Darcy insults her entire family and brags about breaking up Jane & Bingley, Elizabeth kicks him into a table.

Then they have a hilarious & sexually charged fight

Screaming, “SHE’S SHY!”

The writing is funny and it’s truly an homage to the story. In fact, most of the best moments in the book are present here and there are lots of nods to long-time Austen fans.

Just two girls getting ready for the dance….

It isn’t perfect and would probably have made a better mini-series than movie so they could have expanded the plot a bit more, but it’s definitely worth watching.

Austenland (2013)

This is another one where the movie is better than its book counterpart. (The Austenland book, not Pride & Prejudice.)

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A woman, named Jane, is obsessed with Pride & Prejudice. So, she uses her savings to travel to the Austenland theme park in England.

There, she discovers that stepping into her fantasy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She also has a sweet love story with the resident Mr. Darcy, decides to take charge of her own story, and gains some perspective along the way.

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Oh, did I mention it’s really funny?

“Hot in Herre” by Nelly. The perfect period-appropriate song.

It’s another movie for fans of the original stories. (JJ Field was even in the BBC version of Northanger Abbey.) It offers amateur theatricals, dances, and lots of silly fun.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

This is one of my all-time favorite Austen adaptations.

Helen Fielding famously wrote her Mark Darcy character with another Mr. Darcy in mind: Colin Firth from the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice. When her book was adapted to the big screen, he actually played the character! #lifegoals

Bridget isn’t as put together as her inspiration, but she’s fun and relatable.

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Yes, there are cringe-worthy embarrassing moments–and one hilarious fight scene set to “It’s Raining Men”–but it also contains a truly sweet love story.

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*Swoon*

It’s a fun movie to watch with friends. (Side note: Sally Philips, Mrs. Bennet from Pride + Prejudice + Zombies, also plays Bridget’s foul-mouthed friend in this movie.)

So, there you have it. That’s my list of the three best Pride & Prejudice adaptations…ones that don’t strictly stick to the book anyway.

What’s your favorite adaptation?

 

3 steps to take when you’ve made a mistake

I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

Sometimes they’ve been big–like choosing the wrong place to live, accepting a job that’s not a good fit, or hurting someone I love. Other times they’re little–like ordering the weirdest dish on the menu or spending all night watching TV when I know I should be doing something else.

Hell, I’ve made a lot of mistakes lately.

Unfortunately, without the benefit of a crystal ball, there’s no getting away from the fact I’m going to make more of them in my life.

It’s scary to realize you’ve made a mistake.

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Luckily, it’s your decision.

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….hiding under a rock is rarely the right answer

So, what can you do?

Step 1: Own up

Admitting it is the first step. (Isn’t that a thing people say in AA? Or is that just what people say in movies/ TV shows where they go to AA?)

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Nothing will get better if you keep pretending nothing is wrong.

So you screwed up. You’re human. You’re also alive if you’re reading this…which means you have the chance to fix it.

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I’m quite sure Winston Churchill made plenty of mistakes

Happily, that’s not why we remember him

Step 2: Make a plan 

Have you heard that saying: “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” I can understand the idea behind that, but there’s no reason to wallow in it. To belabor that bed analogy…wake up. Find a new bed. Build a better one.

Recently, I was looking into getting a story published. It’s one that I love and believe in, even after several rejections. As a was researching agents, I stumbled across this handy post  all about the mistakes to avoid making at the beginning of a story. Apparently, they’re really common for new writers.

Well, my blood ran a bit cold when I realized I’ve made all of them. (Go big or go home, right?) Not in the same story, but stories written across several years. Turns out I was probably turning off my audience (agents) at the start, before they even got into the good stuff.

Realizing I’d made mistakes that big and for that long…I’m ashamed to admit, but I let derail me for a while.

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I’m either the train or Ant Man in this gif, take your pic Continue reading

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever slept?

I spent two night in an active convent last week. Really. The nuns wore habits and everything.

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Although not quite like these^ and there was a regrettable lack of singing.

I’ve been trying to find a place. In this area it’s surprisingly difficult to locate a space that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. So, when the nuns at the Catholic school where I just started work offered, I took them up on it. I spent one night in a guest room that’s usually reserved for visiting nuns and another on the couch of a room in the dorms.

It got me thinking.

I’ve slept in a lot of unusual places. Continue reading

Diversity in fiction matters: here’s why

Disclaimer: this is not comprehensive by any means.

This wasn’t what I planned to write this week. With what’s been happening today–and most days–it seemed like a good time. (There’s a lot that can be said on this subject, but I’ll keep it brief today. I am appalled and angry. I am also starting a new job tomorrow and desperately need to make sure I’m prepared to teach.)

The stories we read and watch matter 

Fiction acts as a mirror. It gives us a way to examine new thoughts, to live new lives, to look critically at the world around us. It teaches us empathy.

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If fiction is a mirror, what happens when that mirror is distorted? When the society it purports to reflect is missing huge swathes of the actual population?

Everyone loses.

Children miss out when they don’t get the chance to have heroes who look like them in books and movies. People also miss out if they don’t see heroes different from themselves. If you only hear about an event or time from one perspective, you miss out. Our world is so much more interesting and varied than one color or one community.

There have been lots of stories about how social media acts as an echo chamber, simply echoing your own beliefs back to you. Fiction shouldn’t be that way.

If you’re tempted to say the following: “But historically….”

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If you’re telling a historical story, it’s easy for your readers to believe the people missing from your story weren’t there at all.

But people have traveled and traded and emigrated for thousands of years. (Australia has been continuously inhabited by Aboriginal groups for over 65,000 years. Polynesians and Vikings were master navigators. Travel is hardly new.) Reprehensible things like slavery and imperialism have also shaped our world. After all, slavery forcibly relocated millions of people from Africa across the globe. On a more positive note, gold rushes in Australia and America also brought people from all over.

Historical dramas can, and should, contain POC.

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This was another beautiful movie I watched with my grandmother.

I want to hear, and read, and see history from everyone’s viewpoint. When I saw the movie Dunkirk with my friend a few weeks ago, I kept thinking back to  this BBC article .

Two Two members of the BEF (British Expeditionary Forces) Indian Troops who have just arrived in England from Dunkirk. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

Two Indian soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk–photo from the BBC article above.

People are good at spending time with people who look just like them. There are many stories that could easily be all white, all black, all Chinese, all Indian, etc. But why should they have to be? There are decades of stories out there like that. Why not tell something else? (As the success of Hamilton shows, it’s not as if there isn’t a market for it.)

History is not merely black & white. History is every shade, every story. It absolutely matters whose stories we hear and whose faces we see.

It’s dangerous not to tell stories with diversity 

It is so much easier to dehumanize people you don’t know.

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And how can you know someone when you’ve never heard their stories?

It’s shockingly easy to lean on stereotypes when you don’t see people as individuals. No single person can accurately represent their whole ethnic group or their entire community.

Unfortunately, when there is only one character in a story that’s different from the rest of the cast–especially one who is there as a “token minority“–that’s often exactly what they’re forced to do.

This really came home to me when I started watching Bollywood movies and K-Dramas (Korean dramas.) After all, when the entire cast is Indian or Korean and the stories are written by people from those countries, nobody is relegated to playing the part of the “noble savage” or “model minority.”

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One my friend wanted us all to watch in college. I was hooked.

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I also made two friends because we were all watching this.

So pick out a movie whose leads look different from you. Pick out a story with main characters who are different from each other. Try one that is written by somebody from another country or cultural background. You may be surprised at how it makes you look at the media from your own country.

Fantasy without diversity is lazy 

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. You’ve created a whole new world. It only exists because you’ve brought it into being. What do you mean it’s all white? Why???

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Tolkien was born in 1892 and published The Hobbit in 1937. What’s your excuse?

If you are writing now, what reason could you possibly give to not include POC? Your fantasy world can be whatever you want it to be. Characters with different skin color don’t have to be analogous to Earth cultural groups. I can’t fathom why so many white writers are content with creating an entire world in their own image.

(Even setting aside the issue of race for a second, I can’t count the number of books I’ve read where male authors literally forget half the species exists. Dude, it’s not that hard to write women. Start with the idea that we’re people and go from there. But that’s a post for another time.)

Now, it can be daunting to write a character that’s different from you. It’s drilled into us from the start. “Write what you know.” So know more.

Start by reading and watching diverse stories. Pick up a book by an author who is Latina/ Latino, Black, Chinese, Japanese, Indian….you get the idea. Watch movies from different cultures. Watch movies and TV shows that were absolutely not created with you in mind. Listen to the people in your life who don’t look like you.

Writers can also be scared of doing or saying the wrong thing. There are lots of dos and don’ts. (I read an amazing article years ago and can’t seem to find it again. One idea in it that I found thought provoking was “if you don’t have a reason for the main character in your story to be white, then don’t make them white.” <–although it’s easier not to screw this up if you are writing fantasy and working hard to stay away from stereotypes. I wish I could find it again.)

For more reading 

There are many people who’ve written more eloquently than I have on this subject and with lived experience of what it’s like not to see representation that doesn’t reek of appropriation. These are a few I’ve seen today:

Offensive mistakes white writers make with good intentions

White authors writing characters of color 

More things to stop doing if you’re a white writer 

Why you should stay away from writing POC protagonists if you’re white 

Writing people of color as a person of another color

In conclusion, we are part of a diverse world. The stories we consume and the ones we create should reflect that diversity. We have the ability to learn and do better.

If you have stories with excellent representation in mind, or stories/ articles you love, please share! I’m always trying to expand my reading list and learn more about writing.

 

 

Reasons why I have no self control….

There are many things I should be doing.

I should be washing my car, or working on finding a place to live, or doing one of the things on my growing to-do list.

All of that may have been easier to handle if I’d spent more time sleeping this week.

If you’ve read my blog before, you will know that I have periodic bouts of insomnia. Of course, there are other reasons not to sleep…. Continue reading

Escape to the past: books and movies for when you need to get away

This one is about historical dramas. It’s also about love and loss. The reason all of that is on my mind this week is because of my grandparents.

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My grandfather died on Monday. I sat with him near the end, trying not to cry as I read the words in the hospice pamphlet the hospital dropped off when they brought him home. I knew it wouldn’t be long.

Not more than an hour after I left, my aunt called to say he’d slipped away.

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He wasn’t perfect. Grandpa was bipolar and had a complicated relationship with my dad. He was the most stubborn person I’ve ever met. (Stubbornly refusing to eat is why he died when he did.) His jokes could be odd and more than a little embarrassing in restaurants. He liked to lie in his stories–you could rarely believe half of what he said–and conversations frequently turned into a test.

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Of course, that isn’t the whole story.

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Grandpa was very sweet to me for all but the last nine months. He loved cars, even lending me the rest of the money I needed to buy one of my own. I know that he loved me and wanted, more than anything, for me to be happy. He was completely and utterly devoted to my grandmother.

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Who told us that she wanted to come back as a pelican because she liked to eat^

Grandma died a little over a year ago. They were married for 57 years and it’s hard to think of one without the other. While I’m glad Grandpa is no longer apart from her, I’m sad that I’ve lost all three of my grandparents in less than five years.

So, I’m trying to focus on happy moments. Neither one of my paternal grandparents was a big reader, but one of the ways I spent time with my grandmother was by watching historical dramas at the movies.

In honor of her, and the love my grandparents shared, I’m going to go over some of my favorites:  Continue reading

Choose your own adventure

I wanted to give some background information before I delve into my topic. They connect, I promise, but feel free to scroll down if you only want to read about books.

Personal note: 

I haven’t written in a long time.

Reasons

It’s mostly down to stress. Not only have I been interviewing for jobs–a fun activity at the best of times–but my grandpa is dying. (He’s entering hospice care this weekend.) My current job hasn’t exactly been helping.

But wait, there’s more! 

As a result, I’ve been getting tension headaches. (Which have been nearly continuous for a week now.) They’ve either been causing or exacerbated by my insomnia.

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Ah, insomnia. It’s horrible to go to sleep early enough to get a good night’s rest and then spend half the night lying awake. I’m too wound up to sleep, but too tired to do anything else.

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A couple of nights like that and I feel like this:

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Side note: why are there so many disturbing images in a kids’ cartoon?

My insomnia stems from stress as well. It almost always shows up around the time I have major life choices. Which brings me to my topic:

Have you ever seen a “choose your own adventure” book? 

They’ve been on my mind lately.

At my elementary school, they were the most popular books in our library. There was a mad dash for the best ones during reading time. Even when you promised your friend they could have a turn too, it was hard to give up once you’d started.

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The crack cocaine of third grade Continue reading

3 types of books to read when it’s too hot to think

I always have the best of intentions.

When it comes to reading, I pick out a lot of books that sound fun. I also usually try to get a couple nonfiction or literary books to balance out the sillier fare I love.

But this has felt shockingly accurate lately:

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It’s awfully hard to focus on books “to improve your mind” when you’re pretty sure you’re about to melt. Continue reading

Good God(s): Wonder Woman vs. Mythology (pt. 2)

In my post yesterday, I started comparing the Wonder Woman movie to the mythology that inspired her world.

Now, let’s see how Wonder Woman does against the gods.

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Children of Zeus

Movie/Comic: It’s later implied/stated that Diana is the daughter of Zeus. Honestly, I think this is an incredibly boring twist and preferred the earlier women-centric origin story. At least it’s different.

Myths: My biggest problem with this is that Zeus raped, seduced, and/or generally screwed almost every woman in ancient Greece. (And carried off a young boy once as an eagle, presumably with less-than-honorable intentions.) The idea of Hippolyta sleeping with him is…icky.

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Seriously, it’s harder to find a hero who isn’t Zeus’ kid. Continue reading