What Stace had to say on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
Good lord! I cannot believe it’s been so long since I’ve updated here. And this is not going to be a long post (sorry), but I do have some nice long posts planned for the next few months.
I’ve been very busy–mostly working (I have given myself carpal tunnel, bleh) but also dealing with some family-related things; my MIL has been ill and there’s been some time-consuming things going on with the girls–nothing bad, just time-consuming.
I know that you’re all eager for news of the sixth Downside book (which I have tentatively titled UNHOLY LUCK), and I can say that it looks like a Feb 2016 release date is planned. So not long now! I’m also working on a new project, and of course I have the next Terrible-POV book, and a few other things which I can’t wait to tell you about (and will, as soon as they’re more than files on my hard drive).
I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting the blog. See, I’m a bit of a procrastinator and a big Avoider Of Things. So I’ll post something, and for the next week or so I think, “Oh, I just posted.” Then the next few weeks are full of, “I don’t want to post some crappy little meh thing, I’ll wait til I have something valuable to post.” Then comes the “Oh, I’d love to blog about That and That and This, but I’ll write it at the weekend when I have some free time.” Then the weekend comes (and seriously, this isn’t like a one-time thing, this happens constantly) and I think, “Better to just write it and post it directly.”
Then I think of writing it, and realize it’s, like, Friday at 5:00, and think, “I’ll wait until next week, so I can post it early in the week as opposed to the very end.”
This goes on for a month or two, and then I start panicking. “It’s been So Long, so loong, since I posted, I’d better have something really big to say, or they’re gonna be so mad at me.”
Next comes, “I don’t want to come back to the blog with a big old rant about something, like I didn’t stop blogging for a while at all. I need to find a nice little thing to post, to dip my toe back in the water, so to speak.”
Oh, and there’s also the “I’d love to blog about X issue, but my blog isn’t that kind of blog.”
And the “I’ll post it on Facebook. Lots of people are on Facebook, right? So it’s an update from me but I didn’t have to go into my website, which makes me feel guilty and bad because it needs to be updated.”
All of this, btw, has a strong undercurrent of, “Damn it, Stace, nobody gives a shit about you scrubbing your floors or making window screens out of net curtains or the nest of blackbirds outside your bedroom window and how you bought a bird feeder/bath, and how stupidly enthralled you’ve been watching the birds while you wash dishes. They want news and they want book info, and you’re just going to piss them off if you tra-la-la onto here nattering on about whatever random crap pops into your head. Don’t waste your time blogging about other stuff; just get the fucking book(s) done. THEN you can blog again.”
There was also a period of “Shit, WordPress has issued like three updates, and I can’t even get into my site because I’m still running the old version, ack!”
Then we reach the big Avoidance phase, where I just pretend the blog doesn’t exist. This is where I was, until about a month ago, when I skipped back to the “I have stuff to say, just not enough time to say it,” and “They’ll want a big update,” and “I need to stick my toe in first before posting big long rants.”
So here is my toe. It is very sorry it’s been away, as is the rest of me (well, the rest of me is sorry that all of me has been away; it doesn’t really care about my toe).
And I DO have stuff planned. I have some thoughts about happy endings and moral superiority, and various other things, and I do want to prep some fun stuff that I’ve had planned for a while.
…assuming anyone wants to hear about it, of course.
I have missed you all, and am so grateful for your comments on Twitter and Facebook and all of the emails I’ve received.
What Stace had to say on Thursday, October 4th, 2012
So. FantasyCon happened. I met some awesome people there! I got to hang out with my HarperVoyager editor and a few of the other Voyager ladies; we went onto the pier and did a few rides, including the (lame) haunted house, and the “Sizzler” (which I always knew as the “Scrambler”) where the guy running the ride neglected to close the seatbelt-bar thingie before the ride started, so my editor and I had a few moment of panic before we closed it ourselves. And, of course, the bumper cars, which we all agreed was the best one.
My editor and I also rode the Brighton Wheel, that night. It was kinda scary, to be honest. The car swung a lot, and the irritating voice-recording thing kept admonishing us not to swing the car, so we sat frozen in our seats for the first couple of revolutions until we relaxed a bit. But hey, we did ride the thing, and laughed a lot, and that’s what matters, right? (Plus, it gave me a good idea for a scene.)
Mostly I hung out with some very cool ladies I met the first night there. They were there making a follow-up to the film they made at World Horror, called “She’s Behind You.” I highly recommend you watch this. I started giggling as soon as I heard “She writes like a man.”
So anyway. Those were the highlights of my convention experience, really. And the fact that my room had an absolutely gorgeous view of the ocean. (I tweeted some pics, if anyone wants to go hunt around. I am feeling lazy at the moment.)
And I’m working working working. Working on the Terrible novella, plotting a new stand-alone project I’m really excited about: something quite different from what I’ve been doing the past couple of years (read: an erotic project) that’s actually more of a gothic than anything else, with ghosts and witchcraft and murder and stuff. If anyone here has read the short story I had in the MAMMOTH BOOK OF VAMPIRE ROMANCE II a few years back, it’s sort of along those lines. Like I said, it’s a stand-alone, and who knows, maybe it won’t work or it won’t go anywhere or I’ll end up self-publishing it just for fun, but I’m excited about it just the same.
And of course I’m waiting to hear Mr. Agent’s thoughts on the new ms I just handed him. It’s a YA UF–sort of a historical dystopian, and it’s called PENNY DREAD. I am as always torn between thinking it’s awesome and being really pleased with it, and thinking it sucks and is awful and no one will ever even want to finish reading it much less buy it. So we’ll see what he says. And I’m sure once he says what he has to say I’ll be even busier revising and such.
And fall is coming! Yay! My favorite season–and probably the reason why I’m all afire with new ideas etc., because fall and winter are my productive times.
So, there’s a certain “Italian” chain restaurant in the US. I bet you know the one. I actually tended bar at one for a time, even, and although it wasn’t a great place to work for it wasn’t as bad as some. Opinions on their food are somewhat divided, but I admit I have a special fondness for it, for a number of reasons, and I’m not ashamed, either.
But. One thing I haven’t seen anyone disagree on is the deliciousness of their garlic breadsticks. Because seriously, those are some awesome breadsticks.
The other night I was making pasta. Just a very quick pasta, with some homemade bolognese I made and froze a few weeks ago. And I had a craving for some garlic bread to go with it. Lovely, soft, buttery garlic bread. (Some of you may know that I recently figured out–finally!–how to make yeast work, with the result that I’ve been a bread-making fool for the last two months. Sandwich breads, focaccia, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls…yum yum yum. Anyway.)
I Googled the recipe for this particular restaurant’s breadsticks. And found a couple that looked likely. To my surprise, none of them used actual bread flour; they used regular AP flour. They were pretty basic, bread-wise: flour, yeast, water, salt, melted butter, and a little sugar. And the comments left on those recipes were pretty good.
But I started thinking. Hmm. They don’t use bread flour, and they’re supposed to be Italian, and I *bet* the restaurant uses something a bit spiffier than just plain old AP flour. Well, Italian 00 flour works great in focaccia bread, and in pastas. And 00 flour makes breads softer; something to do with protein levels and fineness of the milling, I don’t know all the science exactly, but I do know that 00 flour can generally be used in a lot of recipes where AP flour is, only it’s a bit softer. Since soft is exactly what these breadsticks are supposed to be, and since I had 00 flour (of course; I currently have about eight different types of flour in my pantry), I figured, why not?
Next I looked at the liquid. All just water, really? I’ve done some breads with all water, some with water & milk, and some with sour cream. The dairy ones are softer. So again, I thought, okay, let’s replace some of the water with milk. And while we’re at it, let’s add a little honey, because not long ago I made some dinner rolls with honey and milk and the hubs pronounced them “So good, you could actually sell these.” They really were good.
I don’t knead for long. Dan Lepard, in his SHORT & SWEET, makes a good case for a brief knead, and I’ve had great results with his method (oh look! That link goes to the HarperCollins UK site! Look what else is there–CHASING MAGIC, which was released yesterday!). So I basically knead just long enough to bring the dough together, then give it another short knead ten minutes or so later, and then another before I shape the dough. Normally I do two other ten-minute-interval short kneads, but again, I was going for very soft here.
So. This is the dough I made. I bought a kitchen scale a few months back, an inexpensive little digital one, so these are measured in grams. Also, I use ml for the liquids, because that’s the easiest way for me to get the temperature right, as you’ll see.
500g Italian 00 flour
10g fine salt (I used regular Morton’s iodized salt, but you could use sea salt or whatever)
whisk those together in a large bowl.
In a measuring cup mix:
1 Tbsp honey
100 ml boiling water
200 ml cold whole milk (not 2% or skim, I used whole, which I usually have to bake with)
(This will give you liquid that’s the perfect temperature for yeast; 100 ml boiling to 200 ml cold. It really works. You don’t even have to take its temperature. 300ml is about 1 cup, so you could do 1/3 cup boiling to 2/3 cold. But my measuring cup has both so it’s just as easy to use ml. You could of course mix it all and microwave it to the right temp., but I don’t have a microwave. I do have an electric kettle.)
Add to that:
2 Tbsp sugar
5g dried yeast.
You can use dried active or quick rise or whatever kind, it doesn’t matter. You don’t *have* to bloom the yeast if you’re using any kind but regular dried, but I tend to anyway just to make sure it’s alive. Give it a stir and let it sit for a couple of minutes while you melt:
2 Tbsp butter.
Let the butter cool for a minute or two, until you can stick your finger in it without it burning, and add it to the liquid/yeast mixture.
Dump the liquids and yeast into the flour/salt, mix it until it forms a dough, and knead it for a minute or two until it comes together and is fairly smooth. Then put it back into the bowl–some recipes say to oil it, and you can do that, but I don’t always bother; I’ve never had a problem with the dough sticking to the bowl, frankly–cover it with plastic, and let it sit somewhere to rise.
Two things about the rise: One, all the fat in this dough means it will rise slowly. It’s because the fat does something to impede the yeast a bit. So while a less-fatty dough may double in size in an hour, this one will take maybe 1 1/2 or even 2 hours.
Two, here’s what I do to make a nice warm place for the yeast to rise. You can try a few things, actually. If your oven is on you can set the bowl on top of it, but this could get too warm. Some people recommend turning the oven on its lowest setting for ten minutes, then turning it off, opening the door a bit, and setting the bowl inside.
Here’s what I usually do, and I do the same after the dough is shaped. I set the bowl on top of the toaster and flip down the levers to turn the heating elements on. I let it sit about ten-fifteen seconds then turn the toaster off. This sends a bit of warmth rising to the bowl, but not too much, and the warmth lingers. And, as I check the bottom of the bowl during the rise, if the bowl feels too cool I can repeat it quickly and easily. No messing about with oven dials and worrying it’s too hot or heating too slow or moving oven racks about or how-far-should-I-leave-the-door-open. I just flip the toaster on for a few seconds. Easy-peasy.
I rise my dough in a really cheap see-through plastic bowl. I’ve used my nice melamine bowls, but I like these better because they’re see-through, which not only makes it easier to watch the dough rising, but also because I am always convinced I’ve done something wrong and the dough won’t rise, and with the clear bowl I can lift it up and look at the bottom. See, as the yeast starts to work little bubbles form in the bottom, little pockmarks. They start at the edges and move inward. So I can make sure the yeast is working before I actually really notice the dough rising, by looking for the pockmarks in the bottom.
Anyway. It took about 2 hours, I think, for the dough to double in size. I kneaded it a bit, shaped it into hot-dog-bun-like rolls–mine were a little too big, I only made six of them. I think next time I’ll go for ten equal pieces. Anyway. Shape them into the rolls, set them on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet, and then back onto the toaster for another forty-five minutes or so until they’ve doubled in size again.
When you set the shaped bread onto the toaster, turn the oven on to 400F.
Stick the risen rolls into the oven and set the timer for seven minutes. Now in a small saucepan over the lowest possible heat, melt about 1/2 cup of unsalted butter with 2 tsp of garlic powder. The recipe I had called for 2 tsp of salt, also, but it turned out a bit too salty, I think, so next time I’ll cut the salt to 1 1/2 tsp. Anyway, mix the garlic powder and salt into the butter and stir and stir. Don’t let it boil or color.
And yes, you can probably use real garlic. I can hear some of you gasping at the garlic powder. But honestly, I’d be worried about real garlic coloring or cooking in the butter. I’d be worried that the flavor isn’t intense enough or is too intense, or rather, that you’d have to use so much garlic to make the flavor right that it would feel like you spend half an hour mincing garlic. But you could, sure. I use real garlic for my other garlic butters and breads. But I was happy enough with this one.
When the timer goes off pull the bread from the oven and baste well with the butter. Give it a nice coat. Then stick it back in the oven for a further seven minutes (rotate it as you put it back).
The bread should be done after that (unlike other breads, because of the melted butter and the extra softness, the sticks won’t sound hollow if you tap the bottom). Take it out and baste with the rest of the butter. Baste it well and baste it thick. I didn’t use all the butter but I used most of it, probably about 4/5 of it. It’s gorgeous, with the shiny wet butter and little bits of garlic powder.
Look at that garlic butter
Eat while still warm, if you can even wait for it to cool down enough to be called “warm.” I swear this bread is SO SOFT. SO delicious. So squishy and buttery-garlic-y and lovely. I was one happy little breadmaker. I barely even wanted my pasta bolognese. I just wanted garlic breadsticks.
I have more to say about online drama etc., but I’m not going to say it today. Instead I’m going to talk about cake. Okay?
Yesterday was Mr. Kane’s birthday. And not just any birthday. His fortieth birthday (*cough* I remind you he is older than me *cough*). So, you know, that’s a Big Deal Birthday. And I wanted to do some Big Deal Stuff for it. We got him a BluRay player (well, to be fair, it was kind of for all of us) and a few other things, too.
But I wanted to do something special for the cake. First, I wanted to make a cake; well, I pretty much had to, because cakes you buy here are invariably gross and covered in fondant icing or whatever other roll-out paste icing they sell, and it tastes like shit and eating it is like trying to gnaw on the skin that develops on top of custard. After it’s been sitting out overnight. Seriously. It’s pretty much all you can find. SO gross.
So I had to make a cake, which is fine; I like making cakes. And–since we’re in Special Birthday time–I wanted to do a Special Cake, instead of just a regular vanilla cake or chocolate cake or whatever. I was going to do a pina colada cake, but since Mr. K knows I hate both pineapple and coconut he said I should make something I would like, too. So I thought and I thought, and I thought and I thought. And I thought, we miss Florida a whole bunch. And Mr. K is a Florida boy, having been born there. And this is the anniversary of that Florida birth.
And so I thought, “What about key lime cake? What if I could make it taste like key lime pie, even?”
Well. Here’s the fucked-up thing. Go try Googling “key lime cake.” Here, I’ll do it for you. Now, just look at those results. Do you know what 99.9% of them are? Boxed lemon cake mix, mixed with a box of lime Jell-O. Lemon cake mix and lime Jell-O. I ask you. Do you want to serve that to someone for a Special Birthday? Even if I could get lime Jell-O here, I wouldn’t touch that. That’s like telling someone they should eat more fruit and handing them a bag of Fun Dip. There are occasional mentions of this being great-grandma’s superspecial key lime cake recipe or a special secret old family recipe, which, you know, that’s fine if you’re a Yankee, I guess. I also found a few that were just white cakes with lime curd or key lime frosting, which wasn’t what I wanted (one that was a sort of graham-cracker cake with key lime filling & frosting intrigued me, but again, no such thing as a graham cracker here. I do want to give that one a try one of these days, though).
Anyway. Not only did the lack of recipes hurt me, the two I did manage to find called for–of course–key lime zest and key lime juice. Well. I dare you to find a key lime anywhere in England. I dare you. You won’t. And contrary to what some people would have you believe, there IS a difference in flavor and you CAN taste it.
So here I am trying to make key lime cake that tastes like key lime pie, without key limes, in England. I spent a couple of days studying the two recipes I found, and recipes for other types of cakes, and websites about the science of cakes, etc. etc.
Another complication, but a minor one: I don’t like zest, because I am very sensitive to little bits of stuff in my food. I do have lime oil, though, which I bought at Selfridge’s last month (it came in a little gift pack with lemon oil and orange oil, and I used the lemon oil last week to make the most awesome lemon bundt cake ever).
Remember, I wanted the cake to taste not just like key lime, but like key lime PIE. I wanted that particular creaminess, that sort of soft-sharp flavor that you only get with key lime pie.
All I can say about the result is that after Mr. K took a bite, he said, “It’s key lime pie!”
So here’s what I did.
In a large bowl I sifted together:
3 Cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
a slightly rounded 1/2 tsp salt
and set it aside to wait.
In another bowl, my largest bowl, I creamed:
2 Cups granulated sugar
1 Cup unsalted butter
and then added 4 large eggs one at a time (I beat each egg slightly in a measuring cup before adding)
To that wet mix I added (and mixed):
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp lime oil
1/8 Cup lemon juice (this is to add tartness to the lime to simulate the flavor of key limes. If you have access to real key limes and want to use them, use 1 1/2 Tbsp of zest and 1/4 cup of juice)
In a measuring cup I stirred together:
1 Cup buttermilk
1/8 cup sweetened condensed milk
And added the flour and the buttermilk mixtures to the sugar/butter/egg mixture alternately, starting and ending with the flour.
Now. Everyone knows that real key lime pies without coloring are a sort of pale yellow-green shade of ivory, barely a color at all. I wanted to duplicate that (all the recipes I saw added food coloring to make it really green), but my batter wasn’t quite right. So I had some green paste food coloring. I touched it with my fingertip and swiped said fingertip against the beater of my electric mixer, then, well, used the mixer. It added the very faintest greenish hue to the batter. Score!
This was enough batter to make four 8″ cakes. I only used three for the layers. You know the pan-prep drill, I assume: butter it, lay down some parchment. Or use a non-stick spray or whatever combination you like (no Pam here either). These ended up taking about 28 minutes to bake at 325F, but my oven is slow and rather wonky–it’s like thirty years old, and actually has open flames at the back–so you might want to experiment.
Now, the frosting. The batter was pretty key-lime-pie-y, but I knew the frosting needed to make up for some of the lost creaminess and tanginess and “coolness.” The recipes I found called for a regular cream cheese frosting, and I like cream cheese frosting, but I also had that can of sweetened condensed milk open, and I had whipping cream in the fridge…
This is sort of a cream cheese frosting. If you’ve ever made that, or buttercream, you know it’s not really an exact science; you sort of play with it until it’s the consistency etc. you want. Also, I had no idea how much I would need so ended up making a ton. But here’s basically what I did:
creamed about 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter with 2-3 Tbsp of cream cheese (full fat)
Added a cup or so of icing sugar (it’s what they have here; not quite the same texture as powdered/confectioner’s sugar, at least so it seems to me, but I could be wrong) in 1/3 cup batches, beating well
Did that again. Somewhere in the middle of that second cup I added a Tbsp or so of sweetened condensed milk
Yummy, but not enough. So I added more sugar. Then a splash of whipping cream. Then a dab more cream cheese when it seemed that flavor was being lost. Then more sugar and another Tbsp or so of sweetened condensed milk.
All told I used about 1/3 of a can of sweetened condensed milk, about 2 Tbsp of whipping cream (basically half-and-half), about 2 Tbsp of 2% milk, about 4 Tbsp of cream cheese, and probably 6-8 cups of sugar. But oh man, this is a yummy frosting, and it absolutely MADE the cake; it added the right creamy tanginess to make it definitely taste like key lime pie.
The cake was lovely. Not dry. Not heavy. I do think next time I’ll increase the lemon juice to 1/4 cup instead of 1/8. I’m also quite curious about what would happen if I cut down the sugar a bit and subbed sweetened condensed milk for some of the buttermilk; we’ll see. I’d originally thought of subbing cream cheese for some of the butter, but was worried about that giving the cake a too-thick pound-cake-type texture; I may try that at some point, though, too.
But all in all I was quite pleased, and Mr. K. loved it and that’s what matters.
The cake (keep in mind, I am not a professional cake decorator. At all. I fail at cake decorating):
So there you go. Isn’t it nice to just think about cake for a few minutes?
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
First…OMH, y’all, FINDING MAGIC is going to be on sale in like five days. Holy crap! And CHASING MAGIC in less than a month.
(BTW, for those curious…yes, that is basically Chess’s natural hair color; maybe not quite that blond, but definitely a lighter color. She’s naturally quite pale.)
Anyway. It just occurred to me this morning how close we are to release for that, so…eep!
But it’s not what I’m discussing. This is something I’ve thought about for a while, off and on, and I think will be interesting. It’s not meant to be advocating anything, At ALL. Especially not human or other mammalian sacrifice; for the record, let me state clearly that I DO NOT CONDONE OR ADVOCATE HUMAN SACRIFICE OR SACRIFICE OF OTHER LIVING BEINGS. PLEASE DO NOT SACRIFICE HUMANS OR OTHER LIVING BEINGS. EXCEPT MAYBE FLIES AND COCKROACHES. BUT EVEN THEN I DO NOT CONDONE OR ADVOCATE RITUAL SACRIFICE. I just thought it might be an interesting topic, and maybe an interesting discussion. Maybe something to think about as we write and/or as we read. It’s a “generic” topic, in that it’s not really inspired by any particular event (at least not in the writing world). It is, I admit, a *tad* inspired by someone I saw on a totally nothing-to-do-with-writing-or-books-at-all website. This person was claiming, with breathtaking…uh, well, ignorance…that “Ancient Wiccans” used to be PROUD when their child was chosen to be the “spring sacrifice,” killed, and its body stuffed into a tree trunk.
No, I am not joking.
But we’ll leave aside the idea of “Ancient Wiccans,” because frankly that’s not a subject I want to get into. We won’t even really get into the idea of babies stuffed in tree trunks, which is just immensely disturbing.
What we will talk about is sacrifice, because I’ve heard and seen far too many things about this, for years, where the idea of “sacrifice” is taken incorrectly. IMO. (But I’m right.) (And note that this doesn’t relate to the type of sacrifice that is literally just about death, as in several books I’ve written and many, many others other people have written. Those were not religious sacrifices.)
The thing is, a sacrifice is supposed to be–should be–a sacrifice. This is why although I love the original film THE WICKER MAN–and I do–the “sacrifice” depicted doesn’t count. It’s not a sacrifice. The residents of Summer Isle deserve to have their crops die, because they may be obeying the letter of the law but they are certainly not obeying the spirit.
Why, you say? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Because a sacrifice is supposed to be a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be giving up something of value to you, to your community. It’s supposed to be causing yourself pain and suffering to prove your loyalty or worthiness or love/adoration for your deity, to acknowledge their godhood. A sacrifice is supposed to be you giving something up.
The residents of Summer Island did NOT sacrifice anything. They gave nothing up. A sacrifice is supposed to be personal, not a good reason to grab a stranger, murder him, and walk away whistling without a second thought. A sacrifice is supposed to be one of your own, one of your community. When you sacrifice a human being (and again I am NOT advocating such in any way, shape, or form), you’re proving your love for your God is higher than any human love. You’re giving up not just a person you love but another hand in the fields, or another pair of eyes to watch the children. (You’re also confirming your belief that this life is less important than the next, and that the sacrificed soul will live in eternity with the God and all of that etc.)
If you believe such things, God didn’t ask Abraham to sacrifice some guy off the street. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, and he did that because a sacrifice is supposed to be a sacrifice. (That he stopped Abraham before the knife came down doesn’t change that proof, although I frankly wonder how comfortable family dinners could have been after that.) For that matter, if you believe such things, God sacrificed His son Jesus to prove His love for humanity. He didn’t do it because he thought it would be a hoot. He didn’t grab somebody at random or just strike Jesus with lightning while Jesus walked down the street minding his own business. He didn’t do that because that is not a sacrifice. He sacrificed his son, and he did it (or had it done) in a very big public way, because THAT is a sacrifice, and THAT proves/proved (again, if you believe such things) his love for/devotion to humanity. That sacrifice was a covenant.
And not only is a sacrifice supposed to be personal, a sacrifice is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to hurt. If you stand around beaming while your baby is taken from your arms and stuffed into a tree, you haven’t just made a sacrifice (and you’re a really cold bitch, frankly. Like, so cold I shudder thinking of you). You’ve just handed over something that means nothing to you, is what you’ve done. Because if it meant something to you you wouldn’t be grinning with pride; if it was truly a sacrifice you wouldn’t be happy. Or even calm and resigned. You might be understanding. You might be dully accepting. You might, if you’re very devout, be sort of pleased, in a, I-still-feel-sick way, that you’ve had a chance to prove your devotion. But you’re not going to feel good and happy, brush off your hands, and say, “Awesome! That’s done. Let’s go have some pie.”
What devotion does it prove, to hand over something you didn’t give a damn about to begin with? What is the point of sacrifice if after it’s done you shrug and go about your business?
The idea that understanding why a sacrifice needs to be made means it’s okay or right or normal to feel nothing about the sacrifice is ridiculous. The idea that, for example, there’s any way a woman could sacrifice her baby and feel nothing but pride and/or satisfaction is ridiculous. Animals–even cats, who are often called “bad mothers”–don’t just hand over their defenseless babies to predators with nary a qualm.
Anyone remember ROSEMARY’S BABY? Wherein Rosemary was drugged and raped–and thus impregnated–by Satan, in order to birth the half-devil child who would bring about the apocalypse? Anybody remember how Rosemary discovered this plan, and went into the nursery with a knife to kill the abomination, but then she saw him, and biological instinct or whatever kicked in and she thought, “Well, he’s half me. Half human. Maybe I can raise him right, and teach him. Maybe he doesn’t have to be evil.”
Guys, that baby had a tail and horns, if memory serves. But his MOTHER couldn’t bring herself to kill him. His mother wanted to try to save him. I’m not going to say you’re a terrible mother if you do actually kill the horned, spike-tailed baby that you know for an indisputable fact is born directly of Satan, but I will say that if you can do it without even blinking an eye or feeling the slightest qualm, I wonder about you a whole, whole lot.
And if you can do it without blinking an eye or feeling the slightest qualm–even a purely selfish one, as in, “I wasted nine months being pregnant and I have nothing to show for it”–then you have not made a sacrifice.
It is a myth that people stood around grinning when it was their turn to be or make a sacrifice. No, they didn’t. If they did it wasn’t a sacrifice, it was just murder.
Sacrifice is supposed to hurt. It is supposed to elicit an emotional reaction. It is supposed to be painful. It is supposed to be…a sacrifice.
If you’re writing, your characters need to have actual feelings about things. If you’re reading, you should expect characters to have actual feelings about things. “Sacrifice” does not mean “easy.” It should at least be a complex decision.
What Stace had to say on Thursday, January 5th, 2012
I do apologize for not updating for so long; I am fine and feeling great, I’ve just been extremely busy finishing edits on CHASING MAGIC, working on edits of the short Downside story HOME (which will be published on Tor’s Heroes and Heartbreakers website), and working on a new project, in addition to the whole holiday thing.
Which was awesome. I cooked a lot. I made chicken stock from the carcass of our Yule roasted chicken. I made our now-traditional beef bourguingnon for Christmas day. I made a lasagna bolognese from scratch–long-simmered bolognese sauce and bechamel sauce–for New Year’s Day that was so gorgeous I wish I’d taken photos. I made a couple of batches of fudge crinkle cookies; I made Snickerdoodles; I made molasses spice cookies, some with white chocolate glaze and some with orange-flavored white chocolate glaze; I made pumpkin spice cookies with a vanilla-cinnamon frosting.
And we went out, a LOT, to do all of the shopping which had fallen by the wayside because of my recovery and the fact that hubs had to take a lot of unpaid time off work when I was in the hospital.
But it was a lovely holiday overall, a more fun and relaxing one than I’ve had in a while.
Oh! And, I played Dungeons & Dragons for the very first time! See, when I was a kid my big brother was a huge D&D head, but of course he never let me play with him and his friends. And I had the occasional boyfriend who played but generally when I’d go to their games they spent four hours creating characters, at which point I was bored.
But the hubs and I have a dear friend who used to play it with hubs when they were kids and he–the friend–still loves to play (he’s a Dungeon Master, which means, for those unfamiliar, that he “runs” the game), so he and his wife (also a dear friend of course) came over for spanakopita and adventure. He’d even created some characters for us in advance, which was so sweet of him. I was Lola Dragonslut, a warrior with semi-low intelligence but great charisma, and we explored a bunch of tunnels where there was supposed to be treasure. We didn’t finish the game, but we had a blast. Tons of fun; I’m looking forward to playing again.
Also, I got lots of pretty new nail polish for Christmas, so I’m hoping to start the fingernail posts again! This week my nails are peach with sparkles.
And…this morning I had an endoscopy done, a follow-up from the whole surgery thing. I’d warned them about my horrible gag reflex, and they’d promised to sedate me since the whole idea freaked me out. The upshot of all of this was that I don’t remember a thing from “You’ll start to feel drowsy in twenty seconds or so” to “Time to wake up!” But according to the nurse I talked the whole time, although they couldn’t understand a word (she said this with a bit of a giggle, which worries me. Could they really not understand me, or was I saying horribly dirty and rude things?). And according to the “Findings and Actions” sheet I was given, the intubation was “poorly tolerated” and they had to do it a second time, so there’s that gag reflex.
The bad news is the ulcer isn’t completely healed, so it’s back on ulcer meds for Stacia for another ten weeks, and another endoscopy when that ten weeks is over. Which sucks.
But again, the good news is I feel just fine and am back in the saddle. Well, it’s good news for me, and hopefully you think so, too.
There have been quite a few rant-worthy things happening lately, and I may blog about them soon. For the moment suffice to say that readers and reviewers have every right to express their opinions about books without authors responding in comments to tell them how wrong they are. (This also goes back to my posts about how once you’re published you can no longer use the “but I’m a reader, and I’m commenting as a reader” line, but again, something to possibly be blogged about later.)
So for now I’ll just say I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and I’m hoping 2012 is a great year for all of us!
I just realized that there’s less than a month to go until the (August 2nd) release of HOME IMPROVEMENT:UNDEAD EDITION, the latest Charlaine Harris/Toni L.P. Kelner-edited urban fantasy anthology, and the one featuring–ta da!–a brand new Downside story, called RICK THE BRAVE!
I’m very excited about the story (which is a little different, and hopefully you’ll all get as much of a kick out of reading it as I did writing it), and of course *very* excited about the anthology (already getting greatreviews), which features much, much bigger-and-better-than-me writers like Charlaine and Toni, Patricia Briggs, Heather Graham, Melissa Marr…you know, people of whom readers in general have actually heard. I *may* go ahead and send a snippet of it out to the Downside Army later.
Speaking of which, there are over 500 members now! I know it’s not a patch on what other, way more successful writers have, but I’m proud of it. And I’m hoping to get some activity going on in there soon, as we gear up for the release of SACRIFICIAL MAGIC, among other things (she says mysteriously).
It’s a bit weird for me, though, the whole “street team” concept. We were discussing it on a forum I’m a member of the other day, and I thought, you know, it’s hard for me to ask or even suggest that the DA members do anything to promote the books; not to mention, what do I ask them to do? Granted, by signing up they indicated a willingness to do things, and granted, there’s no obligation to do things in order to be a member, but…I think especially given some of the issues that have been had online in the last few years with writers expecting readers to do things for them, it feels bizarre for me to ask for any sort of promo help or anything like that. But I’m trying to come up with something, because there are a few things coming along the pike that it would be great if word could be spread about (she says mysteriously again). So if anyone has any ideas, feel free to share. I have a few of my own, as well, so we’ll see.
Also…on a completely different subject…quite a few people yesterday saw my tweet mentioning that my father-in-law has died. I really, really appreciate the replies and the expressions of sympathy. It’s an odd situation, really, because without going into detail we’ve been estranged from the man for a few years now; my husband did get to speak to him back at Christmas, and we’d hoped the relationship could be rebuilt, but it wasn’t something the FIL was particularly interested in. He was often a difficult man to deal with, and a stubborn one, and he’d gotten involved with a person who would much prefer my husband and I not be around and did everything she could to make that happen. Sadly, it worked.
All of this is my roundabout way of saying we’d actually dealt with this loss several years ago, so while this is a shock, and a sad one, we’re okay. It’s another reminder, though, that life is short; too short to let petty differences get in the way of things. I know the hubs feels much better knowing that at Xmas he reached out and tried to mend things; it doesn’t make him feel less rejected, or less sad about how difficult their relationship always was, but it does mean he can take comfort in knowing that he was able to tell his dad he loved him that one last time, that he proved himself to be the bigger man by making the gesture.
So thanks to those of you who saw the tweet and said something, and to the few people who emailed me, and thanks to those of you who’ve read this little exercise in navel-gazing, but please don’t feel you need to leave a comment here or anything like that. Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me but I’m going to take your sympathy as a given (since you’re all such awesome people) and just issue a blanket thank-you, and don’t worry about commenting on it; not because I don’t care or don’t want to hear it but because I’d rather we discuss and think about more cheerful things, like new Downside stories and fun activities and being kind to people we love (and to those we don’t love, too, for that matter). How does that sound?
What Stace had to say on Thursday, March 24th, 2011
We went shooting today!
There’s a Sharpshooters shooting range maybe fifteen minutes up the road from us; I’ve never actually even noticed the place before, but there it is. And I didn’t know we were going there today; the hubs set it all up as a surprise for me. It’s been years since I’ve shot a gun–and the last time was with rifles at cans in a field–so I was pretty excited about this.
It was just as much fun as I remembered it being.
The gun range is kind of a weird place to be. Not in a scary way, but in one of those “These people are all so friendly and nice but they could drop you in a heartbeat” kind of way. Like the lane attendants who were really friendly and helpful but who had loaded guns in holsters on their waists, I guess in case somebody decided the power was just too much for them and they were going to open fire on people. It’s kind of dimly lit in there, too, and since you have those super earmuffs on everything is very subdued. It took me a few minutes to stop jumping when people fired, just because I still hadn’t acclimated.
It was kind of like stepping into another world, a little. A world where the wording of the Second Amendment is printed on the walls around the room, and people take “personal defense” very, very seriously. I don’t say that to make fun or anything, at all. It’s just that like with any other specialist kind of place, the sudden focus on one particular item or issue or whatever can be a bit jarring. But seriously, a nicer bunch of people you’d never want to meet; everyone was friendly, everyone was excited to see us and help us and everyone sincerely hoped we had fun and that we’d come back, which I totally want to do. They even have a Ladies Night, which you can bet I’m going to attend as soon as I can.
First we rented a Glock; the Glock 19, to be exact. Which was fun, but…eh. I wasn’t crazy about the Glock, to be honest. The grip was texturized even up the back, which meant it irritated the skin between my thumb and forefinger, you know that web of skin there? Firing the Glock made it reddish and kind of itchy, and I didn’t like that.
Aside from that, though, the Glock was fun. We bought 50 rounds and went through them in about twenty minutes, taking turns (we’d load 5 rounds into the clip, fire them, then hand off). What’s cool about that place is that in addition to the “classic” targets, you can also choose a burly prowler or several zombies at which to shoot.
(Most of you know Michele, I think; she’s a writer and reviewer, and someone I’m lucky to count as a friend. Don’t miss her Book Love website.)
Doin’ it All Anyway
by Michele Lee
So at this point a lot of you are wondering just who I am and why I’ve taken over Stacia’s blog. My name is Michele Lee. I’m an author (HWA qualified, but not SFWA, and an anthology featuring one of my shorts is Stoker nominated this year), a reviewer (for Dark Scribe Magazine, Monster Librarian and The Letter), editor (zombie review editor for Monster Librarian, though I have fanzine editing experience as well) and I’m a bookseller for Borders (at least until April when our store closes). About the only thing I haven’t done in publishing, other than the whole bestselling author with a three book deal gig, is agenting, and that’s because no one’s offered me the opportunity.
I’m here today because I am exactly the kind of person certain internet folk are claiming that Stacia and the YA Mafia say shouldn’t exist, and reasonably, I take issue with that. First of all, YA Mafia? Pu-lease, in the horror ghetto where I was spawned we have the Cabal, which has been ruining careers and sacrificing puppies to elder gods when they should have been writing for over ten years. I call your mafia and raise you ancient cannibal fauns, nasal parasites and zombie-fucking-apocalypses.
But I digress…much like the original discussion started about Stacia’s blog.
Here’s the down and dirty point I think she was trying to make: People treat you differently after you’ve been published. People treat you differently when you have book cred. They take your words wrong. They put intent there that wasn’t. And for some reason just because an author has a book or two to their name their opinion weighs heavier even when it’s still only their opinion and they’re still only people who don’t know everything.
That aside, let’s look at the real reason I’m here: Can authors also be reviewers?
Well, sure they can. Many of them do. Charlaine Harris recommends books on her blog all the time. Zadie Smith just took over the book column in Harper magazine and have you heard of a place called Publishers Weekly? Many authors have reviewed, anonymously and not, for PW.
Can if affect your career? Absolutely. It would be silly to assume it wouldn’t. Once you set out to have a career everything can affect it. Sitting around watching TV can affect your career, particularly if you’re not writing when you should be and Tweeting snide comments when you shouldn’t be.
Can they co-exist? Carefully they can.
I started reviewing after my second short story was published. I was looking for a way to get and stay involved in the publishing community, even when I didn’t have a story coming out. I was looking, like all budding authors, for a little legitimacy. Let me make this clear though, reviewing was always part of my plan of attack when it came to building a career.
Reviewing makes me read. A lot. Things I never would have picked up on my own. Things I loved and had to dial down the fangirl in order to assess. Things I hated and had to neutrally assess the pros and cons of.
Reviewing made me have to think, really think, about the elements of a story and why it worked or failed for me. Which in turn made me think about the elements of my own stories, whether they were as effective as they needed to be.
Reviewing for other people means I have to meet deadlines, both in actually doing the reading and in sending in my analysis.
Review editing pushes me to be more firm in my publishing presence. I have to made myself more comfortable with (or just able to fake it better) approaching authors, publishers and editors for review copies, interviews and other interactions. In short I can’t flake out when I’m feeling insecure because people are depending on me to do my job. And since those same people are the ones I work with in my personal writing I figure if I can ask them to send me free copies of books and do interviews with me I can ask them to add my query to the pile they’re already reading anyway.
Also, complete cheat here, as a writer knowing the market, supporting it, reading it helps me target my submissions better. What I’m reviewing is the same people I’m submitting to, so I can better target my submissions by sending to the places putting out work I like or am impressed by. Reviewing is market research (albeit harder than just buying magazines and reading them).
So what are some of the cons?
Reviewing sucks up as much time as writing. More if you let it because lots more people want you to read and review their work than want to read yours. And if you get stuck in a slump where you just need to feel like you’re moving forward adding more reviews to your credits and crossing things off your to do list feels a lot better than sending out another round of subs on a story that’s been out there for a year.
You have to read some bad stuff. Really bad stuff. That makes you want to cry, especially when you think about your poor rejected manuscript making the circuit, yet this is published. Also you have to read some really good stuff that isn’t going to get the attention it deserves because it’s not the current trend, or is a small press release that most people will never learn about.
Yeah, people get upset if you don’t like their work. Usually they don’t ever say anything to your face, they just quietly stop talking to you, or give you a polite cold shoulder if you meet them face to face, if anything at all. Why does being a published writer make someone not a human capable of disappointment? (Not that being disappointed means you should plaster it all over the intarnets.) You do have to consider what happens if you don’t like a book. Sometimes it’s not worth it to publicly state that you didn’t like the book. (Even though yes, negative reviews do sell books.) Other times the editor you’re reviewing for expects you to be honest. Honest doesn’t equal cruel. Usually if you treat it like a job you must be professional at, meaning mention positives as well as negative, consider who the audience would be, if it isn’t you, and avoid personal statements (“This books is…” not “this author is…”) and true nastiness you’ll be okay.
However bad reviews aren’t the only ones that can hurt you. What if publishers get hooked on the idea of you as a reviewer who is predisposed to like their work and decides to keep sending you things to review, and likewise rejects your work because they’d rather have you supporting them as a reviewer rather than having to support you as a writer? It happens, and it sucks. Just like writers can get pigeon-holed by fans into writing the same kinds of stories, reviewer-writers can get trapped in the role of reviewer and be completely unrecognized as a writer.
You can burn out faster if you’re playing writer and reviewer. You can get tired of seeing the same thing over and over. You can find yourself too tired of a genre to keep writing in it. When something becomes business, much less double business, it’s easier to get bored with it and groan when you see another zombie decorated cover with “Dead [Insert random word here]” in dripping gore letters on the cover.
Books are a solid, holdable thing, but publishing is an industry built on ideas. It is too vast., too varied, to wild a thing to be determined and controlled by a handful of people. Publishing is a sieve, and there are too many agents, editors, publishers, self publishers, magazines, anthologies and webzines for someone to be completely locked out of it by one or a handful of people.
Top that off with the insane crazy busy of the industry and expecting there to be some sort of collection of people who can be successful AND have time to blackball people is like expecting the ocean to stay still for a picture because you asked it to.
Yeah it’s easy to screw up if you’re trying to be a reviewer and a writer. The big mistake is not expecting the two to affect each other. But if they are both aspects of your job, a job you go about as professionally as you would a day job in every aspect that you can, they can coexist. The key is professionalism, and remembering to keep an eye on the overall goal, not letting the individual parts run themselves with abandon.
Someday I will probably have to make the decision between one or the other. Maybe it will be a happy occasion, because I’ll be forced to chose because I have a multi-book deal at auction and have to focus on writing. But I don’t ever expect that I’ll stop recommending the books I love to people. How and why I do it, though, is something that takes more care and consideration the more “well known” I am.
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Before I start I want to make something really, really clear. This post is NOT about any specific review outlet/magazine/blog/website. It is NOT claiming this is the case for all reviewers, in all places, or that this is a constant. And most importantly it is NOT saying reviewers can’t feel about a book however they want to, or view it through any lens they want to, or whatever else. I also want to make it absolutely, positively clear that I am thrilled beyond words at how readers and reviewers in general have taken to my books and characters; this isn’t about some sort of personal grudge on my behalf, not at all. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I’ve seen several other people discussing it recently, so wanted to stick my nose in.
I also want to mention something else, because judging from a couple of comments I need to clarify. The story about bookstore shelving was one small indie bookstore. This has nothing to do with where books are shelved. It’s about the perceptions of those books once purchased/the standards by which they are judged/the dismissal of them. But it’s not about where they’re shelved at all.
What kinds of books do women write?
I know, I know. Women write all kinds of books. But it seems–from a very extensive search I’ve done over the last few weeks/months of various bookseller sites/review sites/magazines/databases/blogs/whatever elses, that books written by women are far, far more likely to be categorized as romance, reviewed as romance, and judged by romance standards, than are books written by men.
In a Twitter discussion about this (Twitter use update: I’ve been using Hootsuite the last few days because Seesmic has a slight tendency to balk when I leave it up all the time, which I do; it’s always the second tab in my browser. I do miss the little crunch noise, though, and will be going back to Seesmic; I like switching back and forth between them, but Seesmic is the main one I use) someone told me about a bookstore near them where any books written by women that have any sort of romance subplot or whatever–including sci-fi and of course urban fantasy–are shelved as romance. Period. SFF written by men is SFF, no matter how big the romance subplot is. But if the author has ladyparts, it’s romance.
I’ve talked before here about the frustration of women’s books–urban fantasy in particular–being categorized/called/dismissed “chick books” just because there are sex scenes in them or just because finding love/romance is part of the story. And how romance is often a subplot in books written by men, too, but those books are not dismissed or judged as romances, and why it is that women’s books are denigrated as “not real fantasy” if they contain stronger romance elements but those written by men aren’t.
Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST, for example, is still called and reviewed as Fantasy, despite its incredibly strong romance plot/subplot. But I’ve seen Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series called and reviewed as Romance. Why? What’s the difference? Carey calls her books Fantasy. Gaiman calls his book(s) Fantasy. Why is his categorization honored and hers isn’t? More to the point, why do reviews of his book–including reviews written by women, too–focus on the writing and story, whereas reviews of Carey’s books focus on the romance?
It is bad faith that stands behind what I shall call Denial by False Categorizing, a complicated now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t sleight of hand in which works or authors are belittled by assigning them to the “wrong” category, or arranging the categories so the majority of “wrong” Glotolog fall into the “wrong” category without anyone’s having to do anything further about the matter.
Later, she elaborates a little further:
The assignment of genre can also function as false categorizing, especially when the work appears to fall between established genres and can thereby be assigned to either (and then called an imperfect example of it) or chided for belonging to neither.
Does this sound familiar?
Again, reviewers have every right to bring their own tastes, thoughts, and opinions to a review; honestly, this really isn’t about reviews or reviewers as such. It’s more about genre itself. But what’s happening is, every time a work of literature, or a work of fiction in a genre that is not romance is reviewed as a romance, that author is being denied her agency; she is being denied the right to have her work seen on its own merits, and is instead being forced back into a particular box. In other words, her work is being denigrated not because it isn’t a good or worthwhile example of what it is, but because it’s not a good or worthwhile example of something it never claimed to be.
This is akin to giving Schindler’s List a bad review because it isn’t funny enough, or complaining about Caddyshack because the viewer didn’t find it scary. That these films never claimed or set out to be funny or scary doesn’t matter; the work isn’t being judged by how well it is what it’s supposed to be, but by the standards of something completely alien–standards which may even be totally unknown to the filmmakers.
Is this a way of suppressing women’s writing?
How many books by men do you see re-categorized in this fashion, either as women’s fiction or romance or whatever?
I often see Lolita discussed when the topic of underage sex comes up in regards to romance. And the very correct argument is made that Lolita is not a romance, and therefore should not be judged by romance standards. But do you think the difference would be so clearly and carefully mentioned if Lolita was called Laurence, and was written by Valentina Nabakov? Do you think people would avoid mentioning how sad and saggy Humbertina Humbertina was, how desperate to recapture her youth, how sexually useless she was, being past her sell-by date?
Of course, I am chiefly talking about genre fiction here, since it’s where my experience is and what I read, so it’s what I pay more attention to. But I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels dismissed as “chick books” or downgraded in reviews because the reader didn’t fall in love with the main love interest in whatever story. I don’t remember seeing Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels treated that way either. But I see lots of urban fantasies by women being downgraded for exactly that reason.
It’s not just the romance or lack thereof, though. It’s the “unwritten rules of romance” which are applied to women’s books but not men’s. And they’re applied not just by reviewers, not by a long shot (like I said, this really isn’t about reviewers) by society in general, who insists on shoving books into certain boxes or classifying them/their main characters as “good” or “bad” according to a strict set of rules.
It’s about how male characters–in any genre–can sleep around and their exploits are cheered; it even makes them more desirable, but a promiscuous heroine–again, in any genre–is looked down upon. Not only is she disliked for her sexual escapades, but it’s automatically taken as a sign of some intrinsic weakness in her character, i.e. she obviously needs sexual approval to feel whole, or she obviously has no self-respect.
The promiscuous heroine is unlikable–and worse than unlikable, she is unworthy–simply because she likes sex, and likes to have it with whomever strikes her fancy, at any time she feels the urge. Again, whereas the promiscuous hero is applauded; he is an object of desire. Getting him to settle down is the chief achievement of the heroine in those romances or romance subplots, in fact (of course, it should be in a genre romance). Every woman’s dream is to make him settle down, and if any negative mention is made of his bed-hopping past it’s made with a sort of wink, a boys-will-be-boys sigh. Either that, or his past promiscuity is made much of, but it’s made clear that this sort of prudery is part of the heroine’s prim/uptight character. She’s generally a virgin, or someone who’s only slept with one or two men, and she generally has other very straight-laced views and thoughts.
The hero’s promiscuity is an aspect of his character, which may or may not have consequences. The heroine’s promiscuity is a flaw, one she usually must answer for.
It’s also about how male characters can be distant or cold, even in some cases borderline psychotic/sociopathic, but they’re still regarded as likable and appealing. Whereas a cold and/or distant heroine is regarded with hostility and suspicion, because women are “supposed” to be kind/loving/feeling/friendly/caring.
Male characters can be intrinsically violent; shoot first, ask questions later, and readers approve. When female characters are like this they’re called “too angry” or “flies off the handle too fast” or, again, just plain “unlikable.”
A man whose morality is relative is morally relative. A woman whose morals are relative is morally vacant.
And yes, when male characters have drinking or substance abuse problems very little mention is made of it–the hard-drinking detective is a genre staple, in fact–but for a female character to do the same makes her a bad or unworthy person, one who should be ashamed of herself.
Does whether or not the author is a man or a woman make a difference as to how these characters are perceived? What do you think?
What about if the main character is a man or a woman? I haven’t seen any reviews of K.A. Stewart’s A Devil in the Details (which is excellent, btw, and has a male MC) called romance or put down for being UF, but J.F. Lewis’s Staked was dismissed by quite a few people simply because it has a woman on the cover, regardless of the fact that the MC is a man; and some people who did expect it to be a romance judged it rather harshly because it isn’t, although, again, it never claimed to be..
How much of a difference does it make if the reviewer or reader is a man or a woman? I see far less slut-shaming coming from men/male reviewers than I do female ones, but I also see men/male reviewers as quicker to dismiss books by women unread because it “looks like a romance,” or to cast it aside as a romance because there is a sex scene in it or a romantic subplot, as if romance isn’t a valid genre in and of itself or one that may have some worth to men (again, I discussed all of that this summer, and how I don’t understand male dismissal of romance or of UF by calling it romance, or the sort of “eeew cooties” mentality which seems to often go along with that dismissal). Again, that may simply be where I’m looking.
How much of this do you think is because of the blending of genres? Perhaps because the genres have blended a bit to a certain degree, readers/reviewers/whomever are paying less attention to authorial intent/classification (although again, it seems men’s wishes/thoughts in that regard are taken more seriously and heeded far more).
I just find this all saddening, and disturbing. I find the way women tend to put down other women for not conforming to be very disturbing, and always have; it’s been an issue with a direct effect on me my whole life, quite frankly. And while I stopped caring about shit like “fitting in” or being accepted by people who were essentially unpleasant, or whose entire achievements were that they had very shiny hair, or people who were narrow-minded that anyone who had a different viewpoint or opinion on an issue was automatically worthy of insult or simply stupid/lying/whatever–people who felt they had a right to judge others and/or the choices of others based on the presumption that everyone had the same privileges, possibilities, educations, finances, lives, cultures, etc. as they did–it still disturbs me. (In fact, I read a fantastic quote the other day that summed up my feelings on it exactly. It’s from Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (which is tons of fun, btw, and the authors definitely know their shit) which reads: Acceptance from the fascist hierarchy is death of the spirit.
This sums up pretty much my whole life.)
I certainly don’t intend to blame anyone for this. My thought is more to examine it. Is this something we do, consciously or unconsciously? How guilty are we all of doing it? It’s not something isolated; it’s pretty widespread. And I believe that the person ultimately hurt by this is the reader, because they’re not being given accurate pictures of what the books are and are not; the romance reader who grabs a book from the romance shelf in the bookstore mentioned above, only to discover it’s not in fact a romance, will be pretty angry, and they have every right to be.
And is this inevitable? Are we all going to judge a main character according to our specific 21st-century Western middle-class/upper-middle class standards, with no regard for time period/world/adversity suffered/whatever else? (This is part of another discussion, actually, the one about characters in historical novels being surprisingly PC or about books written hundreds of years ago being rewritten to make them more “acceptable” to modern audiences.)
What do you think? Have you see instances of this lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts.