Women on the Shelves, We Need More

If you’ve been on twitter lately, and you follow lady writers, you may have seen a hashtag pop up.  #thingsonlywomenwritershere.  It accompanies the comments, and experiences, that women writers face every day.  Even today.  When I saw this movement pop up, I couldn’t agree with the sentiments posts from fellow lady writers more.  Though my experiences are “smaller,” in that I am an indie writer and not navigating a corporate publishing world, it is no less filled with the prejudices that society has placed in our minds.

Women have always had to fight to be heard in a “serious” manner in the writing world.  Whether it was writing under a male, or gender neutral pen-name, or writing in a manner that would appeal to male readers, we have had to cater to the prevailed societal pressures: that men drive sales in certain genres.  Women were only successful in romance, and “chick-lit” (a genre title I don’t much like).  Only a few women were “allowed” into the “all boys club” of fantasy, sci-fi, and action and adventure.

That’s insane.

Luckily, we’re in a time where women are flooding these genres.  And that’s fantastic.  Especially as a woman who loves those genres.  But the hardest part is this:  I’m hearing people, under their breath, saying that every book is about a female protagonist, and that it is overdone.  Overdone?  How many decades have we endured millions of books with male leads?  And I have enjoyed them, immensely.  A few years where girls are in the spotlight does not make up for decades of being sidelined as a poorly written damsel, love-interest, or random assassin girl who has little personality of her own.  Don’t just give us a sword, give us a story.  Women are CRAVING it.

I’m not saying we don’t need male centered stories.  We do.  Inclusivity and diversity doesn’t mean shoving the former aside.  It means opening the door and letting everyone play on an equal shelf, WITHOUT prejudice about whether it deserves to be there or not.  I want my new paranormal fantasy shelved with the likes of George R.R. Martin (not saying I’m on that caliber, only giving a male author example), and I want it sitting next to an Asian women’s story, a black man’s, a latino’s.  I want people to look at the story, not the gender or ethnicity of the character.

It’s a lot to ask.  But I’m going to ask it, because having people say that I’m a woman writer, writing female protagonists, that my books are only for girls, is a discrimination we’re led to believe is okay.  It’s not.  And that hashtag, #thingsonlywomenwritershere, needs to be looked at by everyone, men and women alike, and realize what we are doing… so we can stop it, and open doors for everyone.

Sequel? What Sequel?

I tell people, when they ask, and I’ve mentioned it here before, that writing Turned/Red didn’t just happen.  I didn’t just sit down one way with a story ready to pour out of me.  There was an idea, one I toyed with for months, a whim almost.  But that’s not unusual.  I’ve found that artists toy with ideas, pouring over them time and time again, molding and reshaping.

The actually writing of said ideas?  I wish that came faster.

People who know me as the girl who can sew a 1860s dress in a day (sewing, yes.  Research?  That’s months in the making, but I digress), were shocked, maybe even confused when I said that I had at least three versions of my story, all of them vastly different.  None of them making it past the third chapter.

That’s a lie.  The first one went to the sixth, I believe.

The point is, I tried writing this story enough times to think that it wasn’t going to happen, not in the way I wanted.  And I was right.  It took a late night drive after a long rehearsal for the opening words to pop into my head.  From there, everything fell into place.  That was about 1.5-2 years after the initial concept web/family tree.  Years.  Of hard character building, world crafting work.  I was just very hush-hush about it.  Tentative.  At least until I knew it would take.

So when people have begun asking for a sequel?  Well….

Sitting down to the write the sequel?  Let’s just say that it’s following in the footsteps of its predecessor.  I, naively, thought that since this world was built, the characters created, and the pivotal moments conceived, that I’d have it.  Naive.  But…  This is the first sequel I’ve ever written and I suppose I should give myself some space for that…still… when people ask about how soon that sequel is going to come out, I have to be honest and say: soon, but not this year.

I want to do it sooner, but that’s not how this one wants to work.  Now, I can say that I’m working on novellas, and I had a fun concept to do short, 1000 word one-shots of different moments, characters, etc. to keep the juices flowing.  Maybe post them on WordPress and later compile them.  It might yield the sequel.  Or not.

Granted… that paranormal fantasy I keep working on?  That’s not going away any time soon.  I’m actually excited with my own patience with letting this one un-fold.

Let’s Be Real: Balancing It All

I sat down this week to write up a blog post and you know what happened?  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  I stared at the wall for a while, binged This Is Us (which I’m in love with, and it’s not even something I usually watch on TV), and found myself all over my local zoo’s website (I love penguins for some reason).  Usually, this ADD sort of thinking produces something, but not this week.  Could it be burn out from an amazing production week/run of a performance?  Could it be I’m using it all up in drafting my Wonder Woman outfit for con?  Or because I hit this weird, but good-weird spot in my recent novel and I’m busy working it out?  Or maybe it is all of those things.

Maybe I needed to talk about how to balance being an indy (independent) writer, performer, seamstress, pin up girl, AND working a regular-if-only-it-was-full-time job.  That’s the reality a lot of us face as we start out trying to carve a little spot for ourselves.  So few of us get to sit down and write, or perform, full-time.  I’d love to do both.  That’s my goal, a completely reach-able with LOTS of hard work goal, but one filled with the ever persistent balance problem.  I have to feed myself, therefore, I had to make money by working.  I’m committed to events, which require my sewing skills.  I have to make sure my soul hasn’t gone crazy, so I work on finding the next fabulous show to perform in.  It’s a lot.  On top of the need to write down these stories bubbling in my head.  It’s not wonder people thing us, artists are a little off-beat.

As spring rolls around, I realize that I will have less and less time to write.  It’ll be about chiseling moments of time in order to do so… and to be honest, that’s difficult for me.  I get ideas, need to try them out, and end up side-tracked.  It’s the ENFP life at its purest.  It’s brilliant but I have to remember to keep at it.

I, also, have to remember, that I’m not failing if I’m not writing every day.  Not if I’m composing in my head, thinking about it, then I’m not failing.  And yes, I repeat that to myself every time I beat myself up over it… and I do it every time.  I remind myself that everyone works differently.  Some have to write every day.  Some don’t.  Some binge.  Some trickle.  Some plan chapters a week/word count a week.  Some don’t.

But balance, that’s what I need.  I need to make sure I am feeding all of my artistic outlets.  And take the time to regenerate those juices.  It also means, to me, giving in to my artistic impulses when they occur.  And that just because it isn’t happening at that moment, or even a day or two done the road, doesn’t mean it won’t suddenly happen again.

Patience.  It’s a virtue, or something.  I’m not very good at it, but I’m trying.

And I pose this question: how do you balance it all?  I’d love to swap tips, stories, etc.  You an always learn from someone else.  Always.

World Building: Where the Muse Strikes

Breaking away from Turned/Red to look at a new project I’m working on: my epic paranormal fantasy.  You read that right.  Paranormal.  Fantasy.  A “I see dead people” meets Tamora Pierce world.  I’m very excited; the characters are starting to come into their own, and so is the world, which is never easy.  World building is very difficult, in case you didn’t know.  This world has been particularly interesting.

Dubrovnik, Croatia. Places To Travel Before You Die:
Dubrovnik, Croatia

When I started out, I knew I didn’t want a typical European-like medieval fantasy.  Oh sure, it is pre-gunpowder, so there are a lot of swords, and knives, and staffs.  But there’s no “winter.”  There’s no wool.  It’s all silk and cotton.  There are veils, and gold coin jewelry, leather armor, and sandals.  The air is sweltering most of the time, but the nights are cool.  The food is Croatian, or Slavic.  There are droughts in the plains, trade routes being block, and border wars.  And it’s a lot to organize, but so much fun to build.

There’s always a gateway for me into world building.  Sometimes it is an image I find on Pinterest (we don’t want to know how much time I spend on Pinterest), or a recipe, or a phrase a friend of mine says.  In the case of my new project (I’ve lovingly titled Ghost Crown), it is my little known Croatian heritage.  I’ve spent so much time investing in the Irish/Scottish side, that I wanted to dive into the Croatian, and the more I did, the more the world built itself.

It started with an image of the Grand Palaiska (the royal palace) where it had this very Roman feel with stone pillars, silks draping about, the dress code is delicate, draping about them, silks and cottons, leather and studs.  Everything is open.  The moment that image solidified, the moment I knew I had a place, a time, and a story.  I knew I was taking my love of Roman architecture, and mixing it with Croatian, or sometimes Slavic words, foods, names.

Then I drew a map.  I hate maps.  Half-way through a story, I ignore them to re-write

Ivy covered arcades at Mirogoj  Zagreb, Croatia - Beautiful long outdoor corridor !
Mirogoj Zagreb, Croatia

them how I want/need them to look.  But I did it.  I drew a map with town names, and mountains, and lakes, and neighboring countries.  Oddly enough, this time?  It stuck.  So far.  I’m only 30k words into the story.  There’s still plenty of time for me to chuck it out the window.

But the world is there now.  I know my country’s name: Srebrov.  I know their neighbors.  I know there are docks that my POV character can see from her balcony.  I know there are mountains, and plain-lands where food is grown.  I know there’s a bit of land in dispute between my country and their rival/enemy.  I know the south could care less about the north.  I know these things, and once I know them (and it takes some time.  It isn’t over night), suddenly, I have a story.  The people show up and populate them.

My stories are character driven, but I have to create their world first.  And it’s fun.  Creating a world from scratch means you get to make it up.  You get to decide.  I mean, once the characters show up, I lose all the control, but at least I made their world…  I can still pretend like I did something.

Characters of Turned/Red: The Snow

I’ve looked at the hero: Hunt, and the passion: Mal, but what about the character that draws its influence from one of the most well known fairy tale princesses: Snow White.   Turned/Red saw at least two or three different versions before it settled, and my “Snow White” changed dramatically in each one.  She always seemed to be a reactionary character beside Red, until the moment I realized that we needed to discover her, not be “told” about her.

SNOW WHITE AND ROSE RED illustrated by Barbara Cooney.: Solene White, the Imperial Princess of Faeree, remained “Snow” in all of my manuscripts up until the last edits.  Even now, when I think of her, I call her “Snow.”  It is, after all, probably the most accurate description of the character, and one of the most fun to write.

From the first moment I read Grimm’s Snow White and Rose Red, I always had this idea that Snow was the more mature of the two.  Certainly, she is the more introverted of the sisters.  She never raises her voice.  Or steps out of place.  She is the quintessential princess.  But that is also very two dimensional.  For a fairy tale meant to caution its readers at the time, it is perfect; but for a modern story, it falls very flat.  My “Snow” had to be something more, and she was, from the beginning.

In the early drafts, Solene and Red were the sisters of the fairy tale: they grew up together, trusted each other, were a well-oiled team.  When it became clear that they were separate characters with their own tale, Solene blossomed.  And so did Red.  They no longer had to be so intertwined.  They had permission to be their own person.

Solene became mature, intelligent and well-spoken, a quiet force of nature, rather than a roaring fire.  When she walked into a scene in my head, it was with razor-sharp focus.  Truth-be-told, I loved when she showed up.  She commanded the space like only an Imperial Princess could; and she was no longer a reactionary character.  She drove her own story.  Her own country, really.

Actors often say: “A villain doesn’t believe they are a villain.  They believe they are the hero of their own story.”  That doesn’t just apply to villains.  Change that word for “supporting character,” or “anti-hero” or “side-kick,” anything.  Each character has their own story.  When I made room for Solene to do that rather that push her aside, it made the whole story stronger.

Now, I’m thinking not only does Mal get her own Novella.  Maybe Solene needs one too.

Characters of Turned/Red: The Fire

In continuing with talking about characters, in particular, characters of my book: Turned/Red, I move on to talking about one of the more difficult (but not THE most difficult) character to write.  Why talk about them individually?  Well…  I’m a character based writer, rather than plot based.  What I mean by that is: I write from and for the character first, with the plot second (though I don’t start off plot-less).  A lot of epics are plot first, and character second.  That isn’t to say that either one is less developed or complex, it’s just a difference of approach in telling the story.  Secret:  I love both types when I read.

Anywho… I digress…

On to one of the more difficult characters: Mal.  Mal is Red’s badass BFF who wears glasses, has caramel skin (in my head she’s a badass Latina, but I don’t like to label so people can craft their own image), and is probably the character I most want to BE.  And maybe that’s where my first challenge fell: I wanted to BE her, so I became jealous and found it hard to write her.

She, also, almost falls into Hunt’s category: the beloved character that can take over the story at the drop of a hat.  However, she’s very far from Hunt.  She takes over partly because of the rampant passion and fire I instilled in the character.  Mal burns everything she touches, including a scene.  I loved that about her, and never sought to turn it down a notch, therefore, she was hard to write.  She could easily have overpowered everyone and everything.  (Which makes me think she deserves her own spin-off/novella/something).

Not only that, but Mal became a knife point; a plot point necessary in the story.  The trick with that is: I know it.  I know who she is, what she is, why she is.  I know all the dark and light spots of her.  It became a challenge to leak out bits and pieces of her without revealing it all until the right moment… and I would challenge that even then, you still don’t know even a quarter of her story.

Thinking about it now?  THAT’S why she was so hard to write: I know this wealthy of a story is living inside this character, and I couldn’t let it out.  This wasn’t Mal’s story to tell, even if she was dying to tell it.  Needed to tell it, in some respects.  That fire in her, though, was a fire I needed to help light Red, and in that, Mal became absolutely necessary.

Mal is fire… and fire… is incredibly difficult to control once you give it fuel…

I really should write her novella…