Imposter Syndrome and the Writing World

Recently, I came across a few posts about Imposter Syndrome. Along with that link, there is a very good personal essay about one woman’s experience with it over on Geek Feminism.

The short definition is “Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an imposter or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them. Usually, their accomplishments are just as good, and the person is being needlessly insecure.”[above link]

I was struck when I first started reading about this, because it absolutely describes the problems I have faced in trying to learn more about computer technology. I’ve wanted to learn various things, but feel that I’m not good enough, and I frequently find myself denying what I know I’m good at. I’m always second-guessing myself.

And then I realized that it’s not just the geeky stuff that it affects; it affects my writing, too.

If someone asks me about my writing achievements, I will certainly mention what I’ve done, but I’m quick follow up with “but.” “But I’m just e-published.” “But I haven’t sold much.” “But it’s not that good.” I don’t feel like I have made any huge accomplishments to be proud of, in part because I’m not published through a big New York house. Realistically, that is becoming less important every single year, and even if I were, I think I would still feel the same way.

It’s something I hear a lot from writers. I’ve been in a lot of writers’ groups, and it’s so very common that someone will get published, but still feel like they’re some kind of sham. That it’s not real. That they’re making it up. I suspect the “sophomore novel” blues that frequently are discussed have something to do with Imposter Syndrome — we have trouble believing that what we’ve done is real and valuable, and now that the whole world is looking at us, now they’re going to see what a farce we really are.

This year, I wanted to submit ideas for panels to my local SF convention. I went last year, and they had a wide range of panelists. Many people only had short story publications, and some were not even published, but had real life experience in what they were talking about. Despite having several e-published books, I couldn’t believe that anyone would take me seriously. I was convinced people would just laugh at me. That they’d see that I was some sort of fake, a fraud. And then came the shame, that, who the hell did I think I was, trying to present myself as some sort of expert? What the fuck was I thinking, that I had anything worthwhile to share?

All these things ran through my head, and my gut twisted and turned, and I just let the deadline pass, because deep-down, some part of me doesn’t believe that I have the credentials to speak on — well, any issue. And truthfully, I don’t think it would be any different if I were NY published. Because I have seen the same thing from NY published authors.

And it seems primarily a problem that affects women. We are so devalued by society that it is hard for us to believe that our ideas and experiences are worthwhile. It is hard to believe that there are those that would value our expertise when it is still common to run across people who tell you to shut up and demand to speak to a man instead. It’s something that is reiterated through all our lives, when as kids boys are called on more often in class to answer questions and rewarded more.

Even now, just writing this, my gut is twisting and I fear that I’ll be ridiculed for speaking about this with any sort of authority — because, after all, don’t others have it worse? Aren’t there other people better able to speak? Why should anyone believe me?

It’s part of what led to a breakdown the other night when I received a hurtful comment related to some of my writing. The comment came from someone I trusted, and the novel the commentary was about was one that I had some amount of confidence about. The end result being that I was completely torn up and questioning whether I should even keep at this thing, because, well, obviously I’m just a fake and not anywhere near as good as I think, and I should just give up and make way for Real Writers…

And I know that’s bullshit. I really do. And I suspect some people are going to be rolling their eyes here and thinking that I need to get some self-confidence. But it isn’t about that, really. It’s a cultural issue. Otherwise this wouldn’t be so common. Otherwise you would not see professional, published authors, some of them award-winning even, convinced that they suck.

It’s not generally talked about. I think it needs to be. I think that’s the only way that it will ever change — that we speak up about our fears and our doubts and these deep feelings that we aren’t good enough. Because, you know, I can’t put into words how it felt when I first read that article on Imposter Syndrome. I just about burst into tears, because, oh my gods, there was someone out there that was going through the same thing. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t crazy.

And I’m writing this, and I’m convinced that I’m going to be told that I’m crazy, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that it isn’t that big a deal, that I need to suck it up, that I’m some kind of fraud, that I can’t speak about these issues, that this isn’t a real issue, that I’m just making it up. I’m scared to the point of my gut knotting and feeling like I’m going to throw up. But I have to write this, and get it out there, because if I feel this way, there have to be others. I know there are others.

This is a discussion that we need to have. Let’s start.

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.

Working on the revision…

Finished revision of Ch1 for Stronger. I’m quite pleased. The first scene didn’t need a whole lot of work except for smoothing out the voice, because it hadn’t changed a lot from the very original scene I wrote in 2002. My voice has evolved quite a lot since then, so it needed to be updated to match.

Other things were that I finally decided to change the city the book is set in. I’d been considering doing so for awhile but when I ended up swapping Alex from male to female — which resulted in most of the primary characters in the book being bi or gay — it made a lot more sense to set it in San Francisco rather than LA. Also, it helps that I actually know a lot of people who either live currently in SF or the surrounding area.

Also descriptions from friends, including some who have been to both, sounds like SF is pretty close to Seattle in tone, which I am familiar with, and LA… is decidedly a different creature altogether.

It’s interesting to see the number of things that change both subtly and not with Lex being a woman. There’s a part of the second scene where she and Aster are arguing about how when it came down to fighting against a rebellion, Lex had just lost a very dear friend in the fighting. Her response to this was to lock Aster in her room to keep her from fighting, because she didn’t want to lose her, too. The undertones are really incredibly different with the gender switch.

And other things have a different tone, too. The rivalry between her and Eric is different — there’s the jealousy that Eric wasn’t chosen to be their leader’s protege, but there’s also resentment there because Lex is a woman, and Latina at that. And there’s doubts that she can lead the Dark Court because she’s a woman.

I kinda expected there would be differences going back and revising, but I don’t think I quite realized how strong they would be! I think the original story was good, but there is a whole different level of depth here, and I’m quite pleased with it.

It’s done!

Stronger than the Night is complete at 108k words. 😀

I am so stoked about this. This is the first full-length novel I’ve completed since 2006, when I finished A Passion Draconic. I had the novel sitting around 80k when I came back to it in mid-July. I didn’t do much on it from mid August to September because of an issue with POV in one scene (and instead of realizing it was POV, I kept attributing not working on it to other things), but… almost 30k in three months. Woohoo! That’s more than I’ve written in the past couple years!

I still have a lot of work to do. It needs a lot of editing. In part, I need to pare some scenes down, because I had this nervous twitch, so to speak, where every scene needed to be a certain length (because I was doing one scene per chapter vs. several scenes per chapter), and I think there are some that are artificially inflated. I also, obviously, have to complete the gender switch for A/Lex and that’s going to be a little more complicated than just changing pronouns. But I have faith it is going to be much more awesome because of it!

However, edits are going to wait! Because November is NaNoWriMo, and I will be doing it. Or at least attempting it. The suicide lesbian zombie story I have been planning on writing for, oh, ten years, is finally going to get written. I’m in the process of outlining it and have some 30-odd scenes. It’s going to be a different flavor of story than the rest of my work, but I’m hoping it will still be awesome. 😉

Excerpt Monday

Excerpt Monday time! 😀 The following is an excerpt from Severed Spirits Rising, a prequel to my urban fantasy / paranormal romance Shadowguard series with LSB. 🙂

~*~

I made my way to the bar, squeezing my way through the throng of people. “I hate crowds,” I muttered under my breath, strengthening my shields so I didn’t enter the TMI zone. Sometimes being an empath sucks.

Eventually, I got to the bar and let out a sigh of relief. The bartender came up to me, a cheery grin on his face. He almost had to yell to be heard. “What’s your poison?”

“None, thanks,” I yelled back. I fumbled in my pocket for the picture of Nancy and held it up to him. “But I was wondering if you recognized this woman?”

He took a closer look. “Oh, Nan! Yeah, she’s a regular here. Doesn’t dress like that, though.”

I glanced at the frilly white pinafore she wore in the picture and laughed. “No, I would suppose not. When’s the last time you saw her here?”

He held up his hand and walked over to the other bartender and said something to her. She nodded, and he came back to me. “Let’s step outside, where it’s quieter.”

“Great idea,” I said, and followed him outside and down the street a bit. I shivered; it wasn’t that cold outside, but compared to the heat of the club, it might ‘s well have been the Arctic.

“By the way, I’m Jared,” he said with a smile.

“Arielle,” I offered in return, then decided to get the discussion back on track. “So when’s the last time you saw Nancy?”

Jared rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Last Saturday. She didn’t show on Wednesday, which had some of us concerned. She almost never misses a day unless something’s really wrong.” His eyes snapped to me. “Is that why you’re here? Did something happen?”

I bit my lip. Great. Time to drop the bomb. “Nancy died Wednesday night.  The cops ruled it a suicide, but her boyfriend and I don’t think that’s true. We think something else happened.”

His face went pale as a china teacup. “Oh my god. I had no idea.”

Oh, great. Jared looked like he was about to cry. I felt awkward as an anorexic hippo performing Swan Lake. I don’t do comfort well. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I wish there was something I could say.”

His eyes snapped to mine. “There isn’t. But there is something you can do.”

“What?”

“Find out who did this and bring them to justice.” Jared set his jaw, eyes blazing with fury. “It’s too late to save Nan, but maybe you can save someone else from ending up like her.”

“That’s the plan.”

~*~

Check out a few of the other Excerpt Monday pieces here:

Mel Berthier, Urban Fantasy (PG 13)
Bryn Donovan, Paranormal  (PG)
RF Long, Paranormal (PG 13)
Crista McHugh, Paranormal  (PG 13)

Evie Byrne, Historical Romance (R)
Grace Draven, Fantasy Romance (R)
Cate Hart, YA- Paranormal  (R)

Aislinn Kerry, Paranormal (R)
Kirsten Saell, Erotic – Fantasy (NC 17)

The Twilight Deception release — and contest!

Yay! Release day! The Twilight Deception is officially out from Liquid Silver Books. 😀

When the FBI receives word of vampire-related murders, they order tough-as-nails resident witch Arielle Thompson to investigate. But the last thing Arielle expects is to have her butt saved by a friendly vampire who claims he’s tracking the master vamp responsible for the murders.

Despite her wounded pride, Arielle can’t help her inexplicable attraction to this sexy-as-sin vampire who calls himself simply “Jackson.” He reluctantly informs her that their enemy is far more powerful than reports said — and his powerbase is only increasing.

Arielle and Jackson must team up to stop him, before he grows too powerful to defeat.

I hope it sounds as interesting to y’all, because I certainly had fun writing it. 🙂

Now, the contest…

Everyone in the last contest gave me some great ideas, and I think I will be using a particular one credited to Warinbear over at LiveJournal: poetry. Or, pooh-etry, if you prefer. 😉

Limerick, haiku, sonnet, whatever. Be creative, and make me laugh. But it must match a theme: Darkness, hope, vampires, paranormal, blood, love. Mix, match, however you please. As long as your masterwork has some relation, it’s wide open for the contest.

The winner will receive a free copy of The Twilight Deception and mention in the acknowledgments of the sequel (or, a named walk-on role, if preferred). I’ll name the winner one week from today. 🙂

Have fun! 😀

Release date! Pre-contest contest!

The Twilight Deception will officially release from Liquid Silver Books on June 8th, 2009.

YAY! *pops da bubbly*

I’m so looking forward to this book being out again. It’s the first in a series about Arielle, a witch reluctantly working for the FBI, and Jackson, the alien vampire that turns her world upside down. Murder, magic, mayhem — what more can you want? 😀

(Oh yeah, hot sex. That’s there, too. Really!)

Anyway… as I do with all my releases, I’ll be holding a contest. But! I have no idea what. Yes, I’m drawing a blank. I want to do something that is creative, fun, and quick. I don’t want to stick with Ye Olde “Pick A Number” again.

So! This is where you come in.

Between today (May 30) and June 7, comment to this post with contest ideas. I’ll look them over, and my favorite will win a prize book from my backlist. (Or perhaps a gift certificate to an online booksteller, if the winner already has all my backlist 🙂 )

Just a note — I’ll be running these contests concurrently on LJ and my blog. There will, thus, be TWO winners — one from each!

Sound fun? Okay! On your mark… get set… brainstorm! 😀

New cover! and new site!

Firstly, I want to thank y’all for the comments made on Monday’s excerpt. I had a blast writing that book, and I’m glad that other people seem to like it as much. 😀

Secondly, I have a new website design! If you’re reading this by RSS, please click over and check it out, because it’s gorgeous. I owe major thanks to Ilona Andrews for the header design, and to Rowan Larke for all the work she did getting the theme worked out and colored. Kudos and everlasting gratitude, ladies!

And best for last… *drumroll* I have a new cover!

Isn’t it gorgeous? Christine Griffin did an amazing job! If you’d like to see the full size version, click here. I know what’s going to be my desktop wallpaper for awhile! 😉

Excerpt Monday

I’m participating in Excerpt Monday, organized by the lovely Bria Quinlan and Mel Berthier from Romance Divas. The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming paranormal romance novella from Liquid Silver Books, The Twilight Deception:

~*~

Jackson stared at me like I’d grown a second head, then his expression softened. “She’s beyond help, Arielle. I tried to help when I first found her, but she attacked me and would not relent. I touched her mind. There is nothing there but a frenzied beast.”

“So there’s nothing that can be done?”

He shook his head. “No. The first twenty-four hours are critical. I found her too late.”

“I don’t believe it,” I said flatly. “You’re just trying to make excuses cause you didn’t have the balls to help her.”

Jackson snarled. Faster than I could track, much less counter in my state, he grabbed my shoulders and swung me off the toilet. My back slammed against the wall, and he held me a good foot off the ground. Pissed off, I aimed my knee at his balls, but he moved to the side and slid his hip between my legs, preventing me from striking out again–and exciting me more than a little bit. Bastard.

“I am only going to say this once,” he hissed, eyes wild with fury. “If there had been any hope of it, I would have saved her. Do you think I like what he’s done? He has no respect for human lives, nor those of his own kind! She was beyond hope when I found her, yet I tried anyway. There is nothing that can be done to save her.”

I struggled against him, trying to free myself. Not like it did any good. I’m not weak by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m not a vampire, either, and he had a good advantage on me. “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”

His mouth distorted into a grimace. “Are you questioning my honor?”

Oops. “Look, I don’t know what it’s like on your world, but around here, honor’s just a dead horse that a few old geezers keep beating.”

Jackson tilted his head, blinking with obvious confusion. “Your people … have no concept of honor?”

“Oh, we have the concept. We just decided it was antiquated and tossed it out the window. We replaced it with Egocentricity 9.0.” I hesitated a moment. “Can you put me down now? This isn’t exactly the most comfortable position, you know.”

His anger given way to shock, Jackson lowered me to the ground. “I hear your words, but I … I cannot believe…”

“You really haven’t been around here long, have you?”

Jackson shook his head mutely, looking totally bewildered. Great. So not only is he an alien vampire, he’s a Klingon vampire with a bad case of culture shock. How lovely.

I clapped him on the shoulder, deciding to ignore the whole pushing-me-up-against-the-wall deal. At least for now. Like it or not, we had to work together if we wanted any chance at finding the dude. Afterwards, on the other hand … “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it. Now. About that girl and tracking Eliro…”

~*~

If you’re interested in reading more snippets of great work, check out these other Excerpt Monday blogs:

Aislinn Kerry

Elise Logan

Crista McHugh

Kirsten Saell

RF Long

and check out the main Excerpt Monday page for a full list of participants! Enjoy! 😀

Yay!

Final edits turned in, and I believe The Twilight Deception is off to the copyeditor’s. I think we’re waiting on cover art because there was a snag that took some time to sort out, but hopefully I should have a release date soon. 😀

Now, to work on Book 2…