Women in Urban Fantasy, and Mistreatment Thereof

I love urban fantasy. I have for years. I started out with Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series, then discovered Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, and longed for more. For a long while, it just didn’t exist. Annnnnd then it boomed.

Unfortunately, there’s a pattern in urban fantasy that I have a huge problem with and has been turning me off the genre more and more. And that’s the treatment of women in urban fantasy. You would think this wouldn’t be an issue. After all, most urban fantasy these days features a tough, competent, kickass heroine. What could go wrong? Well, a lot of things.

Most prevalent is the overwhelming tendency to completely defang women. Hear me out. Most modern urban fantasy has a heavy romantic subplot and borrows heavily from romance tropes. Being a writer myself, I follow a lot of writing circles, and I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I have this awesome heroine, but she’s so capable, she does everything! And I need to make the hero sexy! And nobody will find the hero sexy if the heroine can do better than him!”

Ignoring the obvious solution of having the hero and heroine have completely different and complementary strengths, far too many writers go for the TSTL solution. If I had a penny for every time I saw a heroine do something completely out of character… *sigh*

Like, oh, storming off for no good reason and doing something utterly stupid that nobody competent in their field would do. Usually because, well, the hero suggested it, and thus he must be wrong. And if there was a good reason for the heroine to disagree, great! But that’s often not it at all. It’s a matter of cutting off her nose to spite her face. It’s a plot device to put the heroine in a position where the hero has to come to the rescue and save her from her own stupidity — and frankly, this is just insulting. And it’s common. Ridiculously common. And it’s lazy writing.

It’s one thing if, hey, the heroine runs into odds that she can’t beat, or an enemy that’s stronger than her, or gets outwitted by someone equally as capable. But that’s not what’s happening. These are situations the author is forcing the heroine into by making her act out of character for the purpose of giving the hero a moment to shine. Why not put the characters in situations where both their skills are needed? But, that wouldn’t allow the heroine to be the damsel in distress, now would it?

One of the other major issues in urban fantasy in regards to women is how the heroines relate to other women. In a genre that is so focused on strong female characters, it is pretty shocking how few heroines actually have relationships with other women. Often, other women are not friends and allies, but the enemy. Often, the heroine looks down on other women. And you see the same trope over and over again — the leather-clad dark and tortured gun-toting heroine whose strength is all physical or perhaps supernatural.

This is really just the whole “girl in the boy’s club” thing rearing its head. Femininity is derided while masculinity is put on a pedestal. Rarely do we see women who enjoy feminine things, and when we do, it’s usually a slight touch rather than an integral part of the character. Even Anita Blake, with her stuffed penguin collection, dismisses and derides other women. It’s been a long time since I read the books, admittedly, and I haven’t read the recent ones, but of the early series, all the characters that I recall her being close to were male.

(Mind, the problem is not that masculine-leaning heroines exist. The problem is that they are the sole archetype that we see commonly in urban fantasy heroines.[1])

Very few urban fantasies actually pass the Bechdel test (two women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man). For a genre that is supposedly woman-focused, that’s just sad. Where are all the relationships between women? Most of us have friends who are women, mothers, sisters, aunts, etc. Where are they?

So what’s the solution here? It comes down to writers being aware of the social implications their fiction will have. Because words have meanings, and stories have power. If they didn’t have power, Piers Anthony’s Mode books wouldn’t have helped me when I was a suicidal teen, and Mercedes Lackey’s books wouldn’t have helped me come to terms with my bisexuality.

When even supposedly strong heroines are undermined at every turn and cannot succeed without the aid of a man, the underlying message is that of Well, if $awesomecharacter can’t do it, why should I believe I can? Women are already at a disadvantage in society, with all the negative messages lobbed at us. We should be able to read fiction that empowers us, not reinforces that we are nothing without a man.

I am not saying that heroines should be all-powerful, because that would be boring. But if you’re writing about a top-notch FBI agent, you don’t have her forget basic gun safety. You don’t have her barging into trouble without thinking about it. You don’t have her so distracted by the hero’s good looks that she misses the villain’s move and gets trapped (and yes, I have read this). It sends a very negative message.

So how do you get around it when you need the heroine to screw up somewhere? Well, make it a believable screw-up, not something that a rookie would do (unless your character is a rookie, but most of the heroines I’ve seen in urban fantasy are purported to be some of the best at what they do). Or, hey, maybe she doesn’t have all the information, makes a decision on what she knows, and then finds out that she was missing a vital piece of the puzzle.

But you know what I’d love to see more of? I’d love to see more heroines who get themselves out of that pickle, rather than heroines who have to be rescued by the hero. But, how do I manage an alpha hero and heroine and their power struggle without having one or the other knuckle under? Not everything has to be a power struggle, although they can be fun to write. The best alpha heroes I’ve read have been adept in their own field but respected the heroine in hers and listened to her opinions. But what if they’re both experts in the same field? Well, hey, they’re probably going to argue — but the automatic reaction shouldn’t be for the heroine to be the one who’s wrong. Mix it up a little. Or hey! Maybe they’re both wrong.

There’s a lot of focus on alpha heroes in urban fantasy and a need to make them sexy. You know what? The sexiest heroes I’ve read aren’t the ones who are always rescuing the artificially created dumbass heroine — they’re the ones who respect the heroine, her abilities, her strengths, and love her for who she is. The ones who aren’t threatened by a strong woman. The ones who know when it’s appropriate to take a backseat. The ones who know when it’s time to stand their ground, and when it’s time to say, “Hey, you know more about this than I do”, or “I don’t agree, but let’s compromise.” It’s not an all or nothing situation.

I’d love to see more women who have relationships with other women, too. I’d also like to see a greater breadth of heroines — heroines of color, heroines with disabilities, queer heroines, etc! Or hey, maybe not the heroine but a lady friend who is one of the above, or someone deeply involved in the story. I’d love to see more focus on this, because the lone uber!heroine surrounded by a sausage-fest is getting old.

This is something that writers have the power to change. Let’s change it.

[1] I know there are exceptions to this. Please do not focus on them. This is a widespread issue, and the fact that there are exceptions does not negate that the overwhelming majority of urban fantasy heroines fits only one archetype.

Okay…

When I’m reading through romance author’s blogs on my Google Reader… nekkid baby pics is not what I want to see. Not that I have a problem with kids, but… um… when you’re also posting hunky dude pictures… no, just, no.

Okay, so…

(cross-posted from the Livejournal)

I had to do my annual bra-and-underwear shopping today. Usually I don’t do it more than once a year, because it is a pain in the fucking ass. But, things get old, cats and kittens shred them, gremlins steal them for transvestite parties… end result is: Nonny needs to buy more.

Underwear isn’t that bad, really. The main problem is finding something in black. I have no idea why white and cotton candy pink seem to be the most popular colors considering that most women bleed once a month. And, y’know, pads and tampons are great and wonderful and all that, but they aren’t 100% protective. Blood leaks through and stains undies (if you wear them).

So why, by Lucifer’s navel lint, do people feel the need to stock 90% of women’s underwear in pink or white???

Of course, size 6 underwear in the brand and style (Hanes Body Creations microfiber, bikini style; most comfortable panties evar!) also seems to be the rarest. I could find plenty of panties in size 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and above. Hell, there were even several pairs of 0 and 2 underwear. 6? Apparently someone got confused about the Number of the Beast and thinks it’s “6” and not “666,” because I had to dig like a puppy dog on crack to find any in the style I like. (Oh, if only I could stand to wear regular cotton…)

Since I’ve lost a bit of weight since the last time I bought underwear, I bought a size 5. Hopefully those fit well enough. *sigh*

Now, bras … um. Forewarning: Profanity abounds. (Like this is any motherfucking news.)

It is apparently fucking impossible for a woman with 36B cup tits to find a bra that isn’t a cocksucking push-up bra. (Yes, they’re selling talented multi-tasking bras these days.) If you’re a C, D, DD, or above cup, there’s fucking plenty of non-padded, non-pushup pretty lacy bras. WTF do they think, that anyone who has a fucking B rack is insecure and needs to fucking compensate?

I like my tits the size they are. I don’t need a push-up bra to make myself look good. Hell, I had enough people comment on the cleavage from my wedding pictures, and I wasn’t wearing a bra then. The only fucking reason I buy the goddamn things in the first place is because I have some nice shirts and dresses that don’t look right without them. 99% of the time, I don’t bother to wear the things. (Ask Morgan if you don’t believe me.)

Sure, they had sports bras that would “fit” — as much as any sports bra ever does. They fucking crush my tits and hurt my back. Supportive, my ass. I could probably go to a specialty store like Vickie’s and find something, but I don’t want to drop $50 on a piece of clothing I never fucking wear. It’s not that important.

After scouring the racks, I found two bras that might be acceptable — non-underwire, shaped like a normal bra; I think the fabric probably won’t agree with me, but I’ll give it a try. Then I thought about it and decided to look in the girl’s section. I used to find 36B there before, and I thought there was a decent chance I’d find something more acceptable.

Okay… am I the only person who thinks there is something FUNDAMENTALLY FUCKING WRONG when the only thing I can find in the GIRL’S SECTION is push-up bras??????? They didn’t even have the little training bras I used to get; just a few sports bras, and the rest were all push-up or padded.

I am deeply disturbed.

And I am fucking glad I don’t have to do this for another motherfucking year.

Multi-genre Authors + Pen Names = We Can’t Win

I read a post earlier this morning on Romancing the Blog, Genre-Jumping Authors: Love ‘Em Or Leave ‘Em? Basically, whether or not readers like authors who write in multiple sub/genres or not. The comments, to be frank, fucking disturbed me.

Several people said outright that if an author they considered “auto-buy” deviated from her norm and published a different book than they expected, they would drop her like a hot potato. If the book in question is not a romance but is labeled as one, then they have every right to be fucking pissed. But some of these people were saying that romance writers should use different pen names per sub-genre, much less for other genres like mystery or fantasy. WTF?

I’m not understanding how somebody can not realize that a book isn’t a romance.

  1. If you’re in a bookstore or library, the book very well may be shelved somewhere other than romance. This ought be a dead giveaway.
  2. The spine will usually say something else besides “romance.”
  3. The back cover copy should also be a clue.
  4. If you mainly order online, most romance authors will mention books are in different genres on their website.

If both the publisher and the author are deliberately misleading, then yes, you should be pissed. But I truly do not understand the thought process behind “use a different name.” People say you can cross-promote, but it isn’t always that easy. Promotion for one pen name takes a lot of time, much less multiple. If you’re print published, most readers are going to pick books up based on author name or cover art. If you’re using a different name, readers aren’t going to recognize your name. As far as they’re concerned, you’re another new author. Very few writers who use pen names get to put “Mary Sue writing as Dora Delany” on the cover. What you’re left with is people who read the bios in the back of the book, and those who read your website.

What about authors like myself, who have a setting they use for multiple genres? The Twilight Deception is a paranormal romance, but I also have an urban fantasy novel (in progress) and an epic fantasy (on hold) in the same setting, along with many other stories. It’s going to look very damn odd if what appears to be two different authors reference things from the same setting.

And for all the readers who complain about authors who don’t use pen names, there are readers who complain about ones who do.

We can’t fucking win.

So much for compulsively Googling myself…

Yeah, I know everyone says you shouldn’t Google yourself for book reviews. (Though I have to wonder how many of those people actually follow their own advice. ^_^) I don’t do it that often, myself. Maybe once every couple of weeks or so. But there seems to be a rule that if a new review is available, the website must be down as soon as I find it.

Seriously. This is, like, the third time it’s happened. I’m beginning to think this might be the Powers That Be giving me a hint whapping me upside the head with a clue-x-4. 😈

Review Whinery: Quit Bitching and Suck It Up

This has been pissing me off for awhile now, but I haven’t gotten to ranting about it. Today, I read Holly’s post over at Sanctuary’s Finest (and the RTB post she linked), which brought the subject to mind again. Obligatory warning: If you’re easily offended, stop reading here.

All right, look. I don’t know a published author out there who likes reading negative reviews of her work. (I’m sure there must be a few sick people out there, so I’m sticking the “I don’t know a…” on there in case someone decides to speak up just to prove me wrong. ;)) Really, who likes to be told that something they spent long hours on sucks ass like a cheap whore who can’t figure out which end to blow? Yeah, I thought so.

But I see a lot of authors whining about reviews on blogs and boards. Of course, people have a right to say what they want, but so do I. 😉 I’m constantly annoyed by people who post a long “woe is me” whine about a glowing review that had two lines of minor criticism. “I wished she had spent more time on… [whatever].”

Author’s response: “OMG! She HAAAAAAAATED it!!!”

Other people’s responses: “Oh, poor baby, the mean reviewer!”

Me: *mutter*growl* *wander off to kill virtual zombies* (Because there aren’t any real zombies to kill instead…)

Seriously, that’s annoying, but it doesn’t bother me as much as some of the other stuff. I try to have patience for new authors/writers, even if I don’t always succeed. At least I usually succeed in keeping my trap shut. 😛

What really cooks my goose are the authors who say that readers shouldn’t ever say anything negative about a book they read. Um. HELLO? If the reader paid her hard-earned cash to buy your book, she is fucking entitled to post her opinion on her blog. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. Sure, I’d love it if everyone who read my books loved them, but that’s not realistic. Some people are just gonna hate them, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s not the sort of book they expected. Maybe the tone isn’t one they like. Maybe something in the book is a “hot button trigger.” Or maybe they just plain don’t like it. Do you like every book you’ve ever read? I thought not.

The issue is a bit squidgier when you’re talking about reviews blogs/sites that function mostly based upon author submissions. Places have different protocols. For example, at Evolution’s (poorly tended) book reviews, if one reviewer hates a book, we hand it to another. If the second also hates it, the two reviewers compare notes. We then contact the author, explain succinctly why the reviewers disliked it, and ask if the author would still like the review posted.

I don’t think I need to say what the answer usually is. LOL.

Other places don’t give such an option. And they have every right to do it the way they want.

Ironically, the people that have complained the most have been authors who sent their work somewhere for review and then had it trashed. Look, if you send your book to a reviewer like Mrs. Giggles, you had damn well better expect it. Reviewers like that are hard even on the books they like, much less books they don’t.

Of course, then the response is, “Reviewers like that should only give out complimentary reviews or close! It’s mean to be snarky!”

Dot. Dot. Fucking. Dot.

Yes, because newspapers and professional industry publications so work that way. You’ll never see a negative review come out of someplace like Publishers Weekly or your local newspaper. Nope, it’s just full of sugar and spice and everything nice, and you’ll never have to deal with that there. /sarcasm

I don’t really have words to explain how stupid I think this attitude is. This is the real fucking world, people, not a everyone-play-nice sandbox. Sure, negative reviews hurt and make you doubt yourself and what you’re doing–but if you’re going to bitch, do it to your crit partner, writing buddy, whatever. Don’t sit there and throw a public temper tantrum because someone “trashed” your “baby.” (Who the fuck came up with that crazy book-as-baby idea, anyway?)

Shit happens. Get over it and start writing the next book.

I was going to write a rant…

… about Holly Lisle’s recent Chain Bookstores Are Evil post, but the Ja(y)nes at Dear Author said what I was going to far better than I could. *applauds*

And before Ms. Lisle sees the trackback ping and comes to bitch me out like she’s done to the folks over at Dear Author, when you say the following:

To understand why chain bookstores are the Villians of Bookselling, first you have to understand how books are sold right. So we’ll look at the Heroes of Bookselling, independent (or indie) bookstore owners and booksellers.

You are insinuating that the chain bookstores are “evil.”

… hell, I still might write that rant.

When Promo Backfires…

This has been bugging me for awhile, but I haven’t said anything because I understand why writers do it. But, speaking as a reader, it annoys the hell out of me.

Okay. First off. I follow over 200 blog feeds via Google Reader. That’s not including the people I keep track of on my LiveJournal. That’s a lot of reading, but I skim a lot of the stuff that doesn’t interest me, so it really doesn’t impact my time as much as you might think. (Now, when I have stuff I want to comment on, that’s a different story. ;))

Over the past six months or so, there’s been a growing trend in promotion. Instead of or in addition to shameless self-promotion, get your friends, readers, relatives, whatever, to post your book info on their blog, group, etc.

I understand why writers do this. It’s important for them to get their names out, especially new writers (in the case of print publishing, they need to make a certain number of sales in order to remain published). I’ve posted promo for my friends before, too. (Though I’m bad about remembering to do so… like blogging in general. >_<) But I've seen authors who already have several books out doing it, too. Why does this annoy me? The other day, I scrolled past what must have been over twenty blog posts that were exactly the same thing. All promo for one specific book. Now, it’s a book I intended to pick up anyway, because I liked the first and am very interested in seeing what the author does with the follow-up, but Lord and Lady… when I’m scrolling through some fifty-odd posts, it’s bloody annoying for them to all be the same thing. I’m still getting posts in my Google Reader for it.

Sure, you’re getting your name out in front of people, but I’m not so certain it’s in a “good” way. Speaking as a reader, if I’m annoyed enough at the constant promo spamming (and at a certain point, yes, I do consider it equivalent to “spam”) my feed reader, by the time the book comes out several months (in some cases) later, I may not remember why I was annoyed… but I’ll most likely remember the negative connection. It’s possible I might assume it was a bad advance review I read; my memory isn’t the greatest.

I also have to question the effectiveness of this method of promotion. In many cases, I can point to the vast majority of people posting these stock promotions to a single group of writers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but how many people outside that group are you going to reach? I’ve noticed that the promotions don’t tend to pass beyond the first circle of people doing them; that is, say you have the Original Author posting the request. Circle A (let’s say about 20-40 people) posts them. Unless there is some significant prize for posting the promotion (such as the case of Dear Author’s viral blog experiment a month or two back), it won’t advance to a Circle B.

Certainly, there are exceptions to this, and perhaps I’m wrong. If so, I would appreciate someone pointing out such, along with links. I don’t follow the entire blogosphere of romance writers; I don’t have that much time! 😆

On the other hand… when J.R. Ward’s Lover Awakened came out, I saw a lot of people blogging about how excited they were about the release, or how much they loved it when they read it. I saw probably as many posts about that as I have with the stock promotions. Again, speaking as a reader, I’m much more likely to pick up a book based on posts by people who have read the book vs. people who are posting for a prize. If there’s that many people getting excited about the book, then there’s probably a reason for it.

Frankly, I’d rather see that sort of promo in my feed reader, both as a reader–and as a writer.

Just my opinionated 2c, as usual. 😉

Grrr!!!

Some days, I hate computers.

This morning, my computer was running as slow as molasses in midwinter. I couldn’t figure out why, but Firefox was using 70-150MB of RAM. It should use between 30-50MB. Open Office, the word processor I’ve been using, was taking up around 50MB, even when it wasn’t open. Combined with the miscellaneous other programs I keep open, my computer was moving at a snail’s pace.

Granted, I need to defrag, but it was behaving very oddly for it to be just that. So upgraded Firefox, shut down a couple programs, and installed AbiWord.

AbiWord, however, lagged like a motherfucker when trying to do simple functions like word count. Then, after writing several hundred words, it crashed while I tried to turn off widow/orphan control. >_< Of course, autosave isn't a default function. 🙄 Me = pissed. So, I'm back to Open Office and trying to rewrite what I'd written before. Thankfully, I'd snippeted part of it in chat. And I'm probably going to reinstall Word and see if that works any better. *sighs*

Quit Shoving The Elephant In The Closet!

I’ve read several posts (read: rants) over the past few weeks regarding alpha males. General theme: Alpha males don’t have to be assholes!

And they don’t. I’m behind that 100%. There’s nothing that pisses me off more than a “romance” novel that reads like Domestic Violence for Dummies. Let’s see, an “alpha” male who’s testosterone-poisoned “dominant” to the point of pitching fits over every petty little detail, puts the heroine down at every turn, has absolutely no consideration for her, period … and we’re supposed to think this guy is a hero because he’s 6’+ and has a big dick? Oh, right, cause the heroine, in the end, loses her fucking mind, decides she wants to give up her career and life, settle down with Ye Olde Abuser, and pop out dozens of his spawn. (Note: I have nothing against heroines who want kids. I have issues with “epilogues” where the heroine who has vocally opposed kids earlier in the book changes her mind after marrying the hero. Gag me with a fucking porcupine.)

Yeah. Agree all the way on that.

But I’m very disturbed by the recent trend of calling alpha males who are sensitive and considerate of the heroine “gamma males.” I have a serious problem with it, because doing so misrepresents alpha males as abusive assholes. They’re not supposed to be and they don’t have to be.

Look, I like alpha males. A lot. When they’re done well — go read J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood novels or Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels trilogy for examples. To me, there’s nothing hotter than a strong guy who can take charge and lead, who is man enough to not be threatened by a strong, dominant woman. The heroine should be his
partner — not his fucking lapdog to sit on the sidelines while he Saves The Dayâ„¢.

Calling true alpha males “gammas” is, IMO, ignoring the entire issue altogether. “Okay, there’s too many assholes wearing alpha suits running around, so we’ll just call them gammas.” Uh. No. I don’t think so. It doesn’t help that I’ve seen several alternate definitions of “gamma,” so how the hell is anyone supposed to know you’re talking about a decent alpha male? Really, now. Shoving the elephant in the closet isn’t going to do anyone a damned bit of good.

Where do you stand on the issue?

(Note: A random person who comments on this entry will win a free copy of my e-book, Waking the Shadows.)