August 22

Writing Other Genders

I’ve seen some social media posts mocking male writers for how they write female characters. The examples I’ve read were…well, poorly written. The female characters were stereotypical and a bit archaic…heaving breasts, emotionally and physically weak, relying on men to do things for them. I’m not going to try and defend those descriptions. I agree, they’re old-fashioned and out of touch, written by men who either don’t understand women or are too wrapped up in their own machismo.

However, I think the same argument can also be applied to female writers penning male characters. In my opinion, it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing a stereotypical character, regardless of gender. It also gets more complicated when incorporating transgendered people into the mix. How does one write about another gender honestly?

It seems to me that it comes down to avoiding stereotypes. Everyone is different. We all come from different backgrounds, have been exposed to different experiences through our lives, have different beliefs, personalities, needs and desires. Those are the things that should be the basis of any character we create.

Stereotypes only pigeonhole our characters. While it’s true that stereotypes exist for a reason, it’s not a reason to use one as a mold. Stereotypes exist due to fear and/or prejudice. They sort of go hand in hand. People are afraid of something they don’t understand, or refuse to understand, so they find a few generalities that apply to a culture or a race or a gender, and they paint broad brushstrokes in order to make themselves feel better.

It’s like horoscopes and astrological signs. I’ve found that they way they are written, generic and non-specific, you can easily apply it to your own life. “You will have to make a difficult decision today.” It’s really not saying anything of substance. It’s just a broad stroke that anyone can interpret they way they want. Stereotypes are quite similar. You look at someone who is different than you and apply a generic tag to them. It takes no effort on your part, you don’t have to change the way you see them or think about them. It’s unfortunate.

When it comes to writing about gender (or sexual orientation, or race, or culture) we need to look past those initial categories. The characters in our stories are individuals. They think and feel and love and hate. They aren’t a category. They are the sum of many parts.

I used to worry about this when I created characters for my own stories. I’d think something like, “I want this character to be hispanic, and I think they should be religious.” And I’d end up getting tangled in these stereotypes about people, trying to write based on an assumption. Then I realized, I know these people, I’ve met them, had lunch and dinner with them, had drinks with them. I need to think about the individual. And it made a difference in my writing.

I only have a vague idea of who my characters are when I start a story. I like them to develop and unveil themselves as I work my way through the plot. I really don’t know who they are until I get a fair amount written. I mean, I’ll know if they are male or female (I haven’t written any non-binary or trans characters…yet), but that’s about it. I don’t think about their race or sexuality. I might consider hair color or physique. Maybe. All I really want to know is how they are going to act and react to the situations they end up in. I’m more interested in the personality, the mood, the attitude.

When it comes down to writing our characters, we need to put aside stereotypes. Instead, we need to focus on the individual, just like in real life. We have to think about the people we know, that we meet, that we interact with, and use them as the basis for the characters in our books. Write what we know, what we’ve experienced. Our characters will end up being realistic, whole, and in turn it will improve our stories. Instead of readers being distracted or annoyed by stereotypical portrayals, they’ll maybe see a bit of themselves in the characters and become more invested in the story.

We have to keep it real.

RB

August 15

E-Book Drama

I love libraries. Growing up, I spent hours in my local libraries, roaming the aisles between the shelves, inhaling that comfortable old-book smell, pulling titles that caught my eye. I researched school papers (this was before the internet, of course) and topics for stories I wanted to write. I learned how to read the Dewey Decimal System and discovered so many new ideas. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t go to the library as often as I used to. Partly because I like to own books, physical copies, and also because the internet is so damn convenient for research.

But libraries still play an important role in our society. It’s a repository of human knowledge, or art and ideas. Kids can still attend story time, people on fixed incomes can access books and newspapers they otherwise couldn’t afford. It’s a valuable resource for the community.

So I was disappointed to read that Macmillan Publishers is making it harder for libraries to access e-books. It’s interesting to note that in many communities, e-book checkouts are outnumbering physical books on loan. Despite this, or maybe because of it, Macmillan is tightening the reins on library access to non-physical books.

A post on the Toledo Lucas County Public Library blog describes the situation they’re having to deal with. Macmillan is now delaying library access to e-books for two months after release. Physical copies are available immediately.

According to the blog post, TLCPL spent $345,505 on e-books, up 25% over the past four years. That’s a lot of money, but apparently not enough for Macmillan.

The blog points out just how badly libraries are treated in regards to e-book costs. One of the examples they give is a book titled “Summer of ‘69”, which lists at Amazon for $15.40 for hardback, $14.99 for Kindle. The library, however, pays $65 for a digital copy. What?

Not only that, but the license for the e-book copy expires after two years. Double what?

And to clarify one thing, buying a digital copy does not mean the library has “unlimited copies” of the book. That’s $65 for one copy, one license. One. That’s insane.

I’m not trying to bad-mouth Macmillan here. I’m sure they have some reasoning behind this, but to me it doesn’t make sense. As I noted above, libraries often serve the less-privileged members of our communities. These are people who want to read, want to learn, want to discover new ideas. It seems that Macmillan assumes if the library customers can’t get the e-book on loan, they’ll just go out and buy it. People living on a fixed income or paycheck to paycheck and rely on lending libraries are not going to suddenly log into their Amazon accounts and buy a copy.

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, please contact your local library and ask them what you can do to help. Maybe enough angry writers voicing their disapproval will make publishers reconsider how they are treating libraries.

It shouldn’t be about the bottom line, it should be about access to education and ideas.

RB

 

August 14

Dark Journeys Update

My beta-reader got her comments/suggestions/edits back to me, so I’ve started working through them to get the manuscript updated. I’m still shooting for the end of August as my publishing date. It’s weird to be so damn close to the (self-imposed) deadline. I’m nervous, anxious, excited…I feel both wired and tired when I think about how much I’ve gone through to get to this point:  All the short stories I wrote, deciding which ones fit the tone of the collection, and creating the cover art. Whew!

I think that once I finally see it available for purchase, I’m going to take a breather for a few days before I dive back into my novel. With luck, I may have that beast ready for publication by early next year.

But I can’t get distracted by that now. First things first. Short story collection incoming…

RB

August 8

Paper or E-Reader?

I have an ongoing debate with my partner about books. Specifically, about which is better…a physical book or an e-reader. I guess this is an argument that only book nerds can have. And yes, that describes us perfectly.

I bought her one when they first hit the market many years ago. At the moment, I believe she’s on her third one. She uses them so much she wears them out. But it was a good purchase. I mean, she loves the thing. Carries it with her everywhere, tucked snugly into a side pocket of her purse. If she’s stuck somewhere for more than five minutes, the e-reader comes out and she’s entertained. I think, at the moment, she’s has close to one thousand titles stored on it.

I get it. It’s easy to carry, holds hundreds of titles, and can go anywhere. It can also be argued that an e-reader is easier on the eyes. The screen brightness can adjust for the environment and the font size can be made larger or smaller. Hell, you can even change the font itself.

Despite all this, I still like my books. I like the feeling of holding a physical book in my hands, the weight of it, the feel of the cover in my hands, the texture of the paper between my fingers. And yeah, I’m one of those people who likes the smell of books. I love to crack open a brand new book and take a deep breath of that virgin paper and ink. But I don’t discriminate. I also love the smell of old books…that musty, well-worn smell that comes from age and sitting on a shelf for years. Walking between the shelves of a store selling used books is like therapy to me. After ten minutes I feel rejuvenated and eager to read everything I can put my hands on. Same thing happens when I walk into a library. They all have that comfortable odor to them. I’m surprised I haven’t seen a specialty candle call “Olde Bookshoppe” for sale somewhere.

When I’ve worked in Communications offices, one of the great highlights was when the paper vendors would come visit. It was like Christmas…boxes and notebooks full of paper samples. All the different weights and textures, colors and smells. Pure bliss.

I know, I know…physical books are cumbersome. They can be heavy. Bulky. Hard to carry around. Your arms can get tired holding it up to read. Whatever. And sure, you can make an environmental argument against printed books. Save a tree and but an e-reader. But yet, I persist.

I’m one of those people who carries a backpack. Or as my partner refers to it, my man purse. I always have a notebook packed away, a handful of pens, maybe a few thumb drives, and I always have a book. Sure, it adds little bit of weight, but I look at it as a little more exercise. Right? And it’s just as easy to whip it out (the book) and keep myself entertained in a waiting room or sitting at a table in a restaurant.

I’ve had this discussion with other people and have found an interesting distinction – writers tend to prefer physical books, while non-writers lean towards e-readers. Of course, this was a completely unscientific study. I just ask a bunch of people which option they preferred. But it was unanimous on the writer’s side. We all want to see our words printed on a page.

I think writers put more stock in words and how they’re presented. We don’t just tell stories, we’re painting pictures with words, and because of that, we want them to be properly presented. Sort of like a painter wants their art to be displayed properly in a gallery, not on the screen of a phone or tablet. Presentation is everything.

I’ll admit, I do own an e-reader, but I also have a firm delineation between what I buy physically and electronically. If it’s what I consider a beach-read, you know, paperback material like pulp fiction or mainstream fiction, I buy it on my e-reader. If it’s a book that I’m excited about, that I plan to read more than once, and especially if I can get a first edition, I go with hardback.

And I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I like to display my books. My bookshelves are like trophy cases, as if I’m a big-game hunter (or in this case, big-game reader) and I want to show off my successful safaris. I know, it’s silly, but it makes me happy.

My partner and I have agreed to disagree on this…although it comes back up whenever I return from the bookstore with a heavy bag in each hand. I’m like a junkie in need of a fix. I need the smell of paper filling my lungs and fresh ink flowing in my veins.

At least I can’t overdose on literature.

RB

 

August 5

The Prometheus Project Podcast Episode 5 is available!

The latest episode of the Prometheus Project Podcast is live. In this episode I discuss “inspiration”. We are all inspired by different things at different times. I talk about some of the things that inspire me as a writer, where ideas come from, and how ideas morph into something new.

You can find the podcast at all the usual places: iTunes, GooglePlay, and Spotify. You can also listen to it at my hosting site, PodBean.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this or any of the other episodes. Feel free to drop me a line.

Cheers!

RB