Genre fiction

Caution: Slippery

Pretty, isn't it?

Pretty, isn’t it?

Even lovelier close up.

Even lovelier close up.

Now let’s change the angle. Same morning, same storm.

Ice encased trees, beautiful. The reality of walking and driving on those icy streets, something else entirely.

Ice encased trees, beautiful. The reality of navigating these icy streets, something else entirely.

No, I’m not really going to talk about the weather again. There’s a lot in the world of pop culture I haven’t read/seen/heard because it doesn’t catch my interest. 50 Shades of Grey? Uninteresting, I’ve passed tons of articles, tweets, posts, and discussions without so much as an I-wonder-what-the-fuss-is-about. But then I was on Twitter the other day and saw a link to this blog post. Women and domestic violence? This is interesting to me, worth talking about again.  So here I am, late to the 50 Shades party.  I wasn’t going to talk about and pass judgement on something I hadn’t read, so I downloaded and read the book.

Oy.

Some writers are more about the writing.  If the writing is beautiful enough, the characters richly drawn, I don’t actually care if the story has plot holes the size of Toledo, I’ll cry at the end because I’m sorry to close the book. If the story is excellent, I’ll quickly stop noticing excessive adjectives and dialogue tags, the occasional POV inconsistency, because entertaining stories are fun.  Escapism means never having to get out the red pen, after all.  Because this novel has sold a gazillion copies, I expected there to be a point where I would get sucked into the story. By page 15 I was certain all the writing wisdom I’ve ever read must be a trick to keep unpublished writers unpublished. This isn’t just seasoned with adverbs, it’s downright encrusted. By page 20 I was wondering why nobody was taking this poor girl to the ER, she had flushed and blushed so many times surely she was having a stroke.

By the time I was a quarter of the way through I was pissed off.  Recently I saw something online saying a positive aspect of the Fifty Shades phenomenon is that it opened a new world to women of a certain age.  (If you are one who believes this to be true, please do some homework and research the history of erotica.) In Walmart, woo hoo!   I didn’t think I cared if erotica is available next to the Charmin.  Go ahead and squeeze.

But I do care.  Because this is being touted as liberation (you, tender young thing, are really the one with the power since you’ve got a safe word–and once you’re uncuffed and ungagged you can go ahead and use it). Because you, beautiful young woman, can say no and leave the relationship anytime you want to–though our hero is likely to show up on your doorstep if you do–middle of the night and roommate be damned. Because this is being presented as a great love story.  Everyone knows real love involves stalking, right?  And if you use the word stalking two hundred times it’s definitely ok, hell, you can even laugh about it with your stalker.  Because nothing says I care about your well being like wanting to control what and when your partner eats. Oh, wait.  This is where we have sympathy for the hero, because it turns out he experienced real hunger as a child.  Plus, yanno, he’s handsome.  And rich.  Not just rich, uber-rich and powerful.  Before the age of thirty, so he can still get it up and fuck his partner “into submission” 10 times a night and another 8 times during the day.

I didn’t want to judge. Different strokes and all that. But in every scene where he hurts her, it’s presented as “not really” hurting her, because even though her mind said no, her body responded in a positive way, so she must like it.  And in every one of those scenes, I thought of the many instances where rape victims report feeling conflicted and wondering if they’re the guilty ones, because physiology is what it is, and sometimes the body responds.  This isn’t a story of sexual exploration, this is a story of abuse. When her friend/roommate is worried about her, and she’s afraid her roommate will say something to antagonize him, that’s a clear sign of an abusive relationship.

In the end, I think we’re supposed to admire her strength and brains.  Oh yes, of course she’s smart, we know this because she mentions having a high GPA thirty times. So smart that she finally realizes being hit with a belt really hurts–after she agrees to it, he’s done it, and she’s cried delicately on his shoulder. She’s so strong she walks away from him in the end (ok, she doesn’t quite walk away, she’s driven away by his driver/manservant/pimp who is so wonderful and discreet he never even mentions the instruments of torture in the so-called play room), and rejects his lifestyle, his lavish gifts, and his incredibly handsome face that has working class women everywhere fall immediately to their knees–while blushing, of course. This even though she isn’t incredibly rich.  She’s just an ordinary gal, who worked a part time job through college. Now she will have to suffer the pain of a three bedroom condo shared with her by her wealthy roommate, a college degree, the publishing job she wanted, and family and friends who love her but don’t stalk, humiliate, or physically hurt her.

For a little while, anyway.  Since this is actually book 1 of a trilogy, I assume they get back together.  Maybe he buys out her publishing house and shows her the joys of erotic asphyxiation while declaring his love. Or maybe the little subplot started at the end of the book, where he’s distracted by SOMETHING BIG, turns out to be something personal, and she comes back to support him through his time of need. Whatever.

I’m sad there are so many women who think this is a hot fantasy, because it makes me wonder how many will ignore early warning signs in their relationships.  This isn’t a small number of consenting adults engaging in whatever sexual activities they enjoy.  This is the mainstream, young women being told that it’s sexy to be controlled, stalking is fine as long as you label it, almost anything is ok in the name of love, and of course, just hang in there– because he’ll stop beating you eventually if you follow his rules. If you’re a really good girl, he’ll come to understand you love him enough to heal him with your magical vagina and deep throat skills. Then he won’t even need to beat you anymore. Except, of course, for when you ask him nicely.

Yeah, we need to talk about this, especially as the movie is about to be released in theaters.  Much like the first photos above, this story looks innocuous enough, until you look a bit closer.

Wake up, women! This isn’t sexy or romantic.  This is predatory behavior.

 

Justifiers and Qualifiers

The two women friends are shocked at a third w...

The two women friends are shocked at a third woman dressed as a man. But Harlequin and Pierrot are also men. From the Danish “Punch” magazine (not the British Punch), July 1876 no. 30 page 233 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel like I’ve done quite a bit of moaning and groaning here on Mrs Fringe in the past couple of weeks.  New week, I’d like to start out positive before beginning my usual obsessing musings.  While I didn’t write as much as I would have liked at this point in the month, I have worked on both my WIP and a couple of short stories.  There.  I’ve given my dear readers unicorns and rainbows, you too, can chase your tail while sorting laundry and cleaning lost bodily fluids from canines and dependents.

On to the whine portion of happy hour.  As I’ve said  in the past, I write romance (the current WIP) and literary fiction (short stories, and a temporarily shelved WIP).  None of this includes the blogging, which is another entirely different style of writing.  Everybody’s a critic.  Those who like romance,  other types of genre fiction, or even–squee–my romances, don’t understand why I write lit fic.  “Ew. Oh. It’s so dark.  Aren’t those the books where nothing ever happens?  Why do you write that?  Well, it’s not my cup of tea.”

For those who like lit fic, or even–squee–my lit fic, when they hear I also write romance.  “Really?  Why are you wasting your time with that shit?  You can do better than that.  Well, I guess it’s easy money.”

I can’t win for losing.  First of all, let me repeat, for the 8000th time, nothing in writing is easy money, or an easy path to publication.  After 40,000 years I am still, but hopefully not always, one of the unwashed and unpublished masses.  Maybe not unwashed, I bought an absolutely divine magnolia pear scented soap.

As a reader, I have a wide variety of books on my shelves.  Romance, lit fic, short stories, poems, biographies, essays, non fiction books about economics, various religions, cookbooks, thrillers, horror, mysteries, even a fantasy or two.   Some people are more focused, but I know many whose bookshelves look like mine.

Fiction Stacks

Fiction Stacks (Photo credit: chelmsfordpubliclibrary)

So why do these same people with varied titles on their reading lists sneer at me for writing two seemingly disparate styles?  Yes, the style of writing, pacing, sentence structure, word choice, these things are different.  One is more introspective and character driven, the other quicker paced and it’s true, the black moment is a lot more, ummm, navy blue.  But honestly, most (all) fiction is about exploring people, our emotions, our responses, our needs, wants, desires, connection to others, how we respond in any given situation, societal dilemmas and individual dilemmas.

I’m guessing there are slurs for every style and genre, but it feels like the two I write in are particular targets.  Romance is for frustrated housewives, girly-porn (not sure what these critics make of M/M romance, but hey), they can be knocked out in a week, blah blah blah.  And this doesn’t begin to touch the many subgenres of romance, or the different levels of “heat,” from sweet to yowza!  I like writing romance.  It isn’t easy, but it’s fun.  How do two people (or vampires, if that’s your thing) fall in love?  What makes someone heroic, or lovable, for that matter?  What makes someone with an independent, fulfilling life want to make the drastic changes necessary to incorporate a significant other and arrive at happily ever after, or even happy for now?

And literary fiction.  Sigh.  It’s pretentious, self conscious, an excuse to break the rules of grammar, there’s no plot, it can’t be literary if it hasn’t won an award, navel gazing, yada, yada, yada.  If you haven’t been following Mrs Fringe for long, let me tell you, I’m quite fond of navel gazing, and wondering why the fuck we make the decisions we do.  Yanno, the human condition.  Also, not easy to write, and for me, even the pace of production is slower than when I write romance.  Is it “fun” to write?  No, but there’s a depth of satisfaction I can’t describe, and I love it.

I wish I was like Stephen King, able to create believable, relatable characters that battle unreal creatures and situations.  I wish I was like Margaret Atwood, sculpting a marriage of poetry, brilliant prose, and speculative fiction.  I don’t have either of their levels of talent, certainly not the imaginations required.  But if I did have an imagination that leaned towards alternate realities and creatures that go bump in the night? I’d write those stories too.

Why this rant?  Because I am feeling good about working on both, I get different but definite satisfaction from working on each, but I’ve received several of  these not so sly little pinches in conversation this week.   Unknot your panties, folks.  If I’m ever blessed enough to be published in both, they’ll be in different sections of the bookstore (assuming there still are brick and mortar bookstores by then), and I’ll use a pen name for one of the styles.

“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my...

“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” Margaret Atwood (Photo credit: katerha)

Purple Prose and Heroes

Front cover of True Life Romance #3

Front cover of True Life Romance #3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A fine morning here in Fringeland.  I did the mama thing, then came home to take a fresh look at the story I finished yesterday.  I have to tell ya, I’m not being hard on myself, there’s some major suckage in there. I corrected some glaring instant-humiliation-if-I-drop-dead-and-someone-goes-into-my-Word-files mistakes, and then closed the file.  I realized two very important things. One, I meant what I’ve been saying. It’s just fine to have written a crappy story, it was an exercise in forcing myself to write again, and write fresh. I’m shocking myself with how true that feels–especially since I also spent some time lurking on the writers’ forum, reading a thread about the best short stories ever written.  Two, low sodium Wheat Thins taste like crap.

I then opened the file of the romance I started a while back.  I’m not sure I remembered I had three completed chapters. And you know what? I like it. And I was able to get right back into my heroine’s head. I always forget how much fun it can be to read or write a light romance.  And I think this is exactly where I should be right now.  So, how come I’m not writing at the moment?  Oh, that pesky life thing.  I have a dog to walk in an hour, and then I have to pick up Flower Child an hour after that.  I’m also hoping the jackhammering going on across the street will be finished for the day by the time I sit down. With a little luck and a lot of self discipline I’ll be able to block everyone and everything out later this afternoon.  I need to do a little more outlining before going further with the story.

I know some can just pick up their pencils, or open their files, and write whenever they’ve got a spare 20 or 30 minutes. I’m not that disciplined, and need at least a two hour block of time.  Trust me, it isn’t a wri-tah thing for me, I can’t get into the right head to exercise either if I’ve only got 20 minutes.

In case anyone was wondering, Little Incredibly Dumb Dog is still filthy, and Big Senile Dog is back to counter surfing.  He drank Husband’s coffee yesterday, and I had to drag both of them away from a smooshed rat when giving them a walk this morning.  I wonder why no one writes a cookbook for roadkills of the city?

NYC Rat

NYC Rat (Photo credit: zacklur)

 

Make Up Yer Mind, Lady!

Isaac Asimov Hails a Cab

Isaac Asimov Hails a Cab (Photo credit: zzazazz)

It’s said that Isaac Asimov would work on several manuscripts at once, leaving different typewriters set up around his apartment, and when he got stuck or tired of working on one, he would get up and switch to a different typewriter, different manuscript. True? I don’t know, but it does make for great writers’ folklore.

I am no Isaac Asimov. In fact, for someone with such a rich fantasy life I feel the need to write it down, I’m shockingly linear. No, I’m not one of those writers with a spreadsheet and 135 page outline before I begin the first draft, but I do start at the beginning. After the first scene I write the second scene, and so on. Sure I go back and edit; change things, delete things, add a layer throughout the manuscript, but I have never written an entire scene or chapter with the idea of “I’ll know where it goes/decide where it belongs later on.”  Maybe it’s a product of not working from a detailed outline, what I write today determines what I write tomorrow, and I can only work on one project at a time. The exception is this blog.  Yes, it’s writing, works the fine motor skills and powers of description, but apart from moments of creative license (mostly to protect the innocent), it isn’t what I think of when I feel that flash of panic and excitement looking at the blinking cursor.

The one way my writing doesn’t follow the straight and narrow path is genre. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I write short lit fic pieces, shorter than the average short story but not short shorts. I write full length manuscripts that are somewhere between lit fic and women’s fiction (so, mainstream?). And I write romance. “Write the book of your heart!”  Well, my heart is fickle. I enjoy writing all three.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: dno1967b)

Yeah yeah, insert heaving bosom and throbbing manhood cracks here. True, the cover art isn’t much better than it used to be, and the titles haven’t changed with the times, but the content has. Romance has always and will always equal a happy ending, but how you get there reflects the times. And the publishing house. There’s something fun, something…satisfying in writing within the closer boundaries and confines of romance.

You know how there are some people in your life where when, how, and the time period you met them in have as much to do with the development of your relationship as who they are?  The characters who begin to take shape in my mind, filling in and fleshing out as they “walk around” and interact other characters, are much like those real life relationships.  I’m all about characters, but some make sense in a short story, some in a romance, while others belong in longer mainstream manuscripts.

I don’t switch from one to the other in the same day, week, or month, but I do have two partial manuscripts right now; one romance, the other my as yet undefined for the shelves hybrid. I feel ready to get back to one of them, but I’m not sure which one.  This is the first time I’ve been faced with this, I’ve always known when it was time for me to work in each genre. Maybe I’m just procrastinating, throwing up a mental road block so I don’t get back to work. The hybrid needs some serious revisions, tearing apart and reconstructing before I can go forward.  Freaking out my little linear mind.

Whatever the reason is, I don’t like it.  I have periods where I write, and periods where I don’t, but this feeling of being stuck is less productive than either one.  Do you stick to one genre when you’re reading? How about my writing readers? Are you a circular writer or linear? One genre or multiple?

linear vs circular systems

linear vs circular systems (Photo credit: petercircles)

Hey Artist, Got A Dollar?

Series 1923 U.S. 1$ Silver Certificate, Friedb...

Series 1923 U.S. 1$ Silver Certificate, Friedberg #237, S/N R91110043B (Photo credit: LostBob Photos)

I love Rent. The lyrics, the music, the message, the whole package. Me and eleventy billion other people.  But this line, the title of today’s post, always resonates.

Why are creative types, artists, writers, musicians, etc, expected to be poor but happy? The scene in my head is old and familiar, a talisman and a warning sign spooning together; the gaunt, pale writer pounding away at a dinged up typewriter in a rat infested garret in Paris, overflowing ashtray on either side of her. Mmm, yeah, that was the romanticized image I had at 15.  Not working for me anymore.  Never got to France, more broke than I was at 15, a dinged up laptop, but still, I write. What I don’t do is romanticize an unsuccessful creative life. Great if you lived at the turn of the 20th century with a zillion lovers and a wealthy patron who bought your meals, paid your rent, and you didn’t mind dying of syphilis. Today, as a married mother of three who’s never known anyone to have a patron? Not so much.

Poor but happy is bullshit. Wealthy may not mean happy, but no one is happy when they’re hungry, or worried about paying the rent.

Writing, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, journalism, or blogging, is interactive. I write, you (hopefully) read. More hope, you get on the phone and tell a couple of friends about this fun or moving piece you read, and they read.

PFC Gladys Bellon, Basile, Louisiana, one of t...

PFC Gladys Bellon, Basile, Louisiana, one of the 27 WAC switchboard operators flown from Paris for the Potsdam… – NARA – 199010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so on.  Until…more hope…I make a dollar. Ah, I’ve changed the equation, made it dirty. Because  I’m not supposed to care about how many people want to read what I’ve written, or earning money. Why? My kids get hungry. This may be shocking, but they want to eat multiple times a day. And whether I like all aspects of today’s American society or not, I was raised in it, I live in it. And in our society, money is necessary, and it’s validation. Most published authors don’t earn enough to support themselves through their writing, but it makes a difference in how writers view themselves, and how others view them.

True, there are a few writers, artists, singers, and the like who don’t care about an audience.  But the dirty truth is, most of us do. That’s why, for as many books as you’ll find on the shelf about how to write, there are an equal number on how to catch an agent’s attention, how to craft a query letter, how to get published. Lots of opinions on those who are published, and God forbid, successful.  He’s a hack. She’s a sell out. She’s a tramp. Oh wait.

A real woman will die a virginal death, and a real writer will die with 6 Pulitzer-worthy manuscripts under the bed.  Both, of course, will die at the age of 27 by their own hand, because despair and depression befitting their station in life will have set in.  That or consumption.  But, they were both pure.

On the other hand, go to a party or a PTA meeting and tell people you’re a writer. Then they ask what you write and where they can find your work. Unpublished. Sneer. You’re a wannabe. Then they tell you about their prize winning 5th grade essay. Which is it? Am I pure or a wannabe? Unsuccessful? Plain old delusional? Trade secret, I’m breaking the rules here. If you are really working on, or going to pursue, publication, don’t blog or write about not having been published, the agents and editors will be scared off. Well, I’m forty thousand and I’m cranky, so I’m breaking the rules.

Yes, there are rules and guidelines. Because the publishing world is a business.  A business that likes to make money.  Yes, if you’re good enough, or successful enough, you can break those rules. But good and successful are often synonyms for profitable. Because (reputable) agents don’t earn any money if their writers don’t. And editors don’t keep their jobs if they only get behind books that don’t earn out. Those in the publishing world want writers who have talent, dedication, an ability to absorb and apply critiques and edits, and look respectable at writing conferences.

Cocktail Party At The Imperial Hotel: March 13...

Cocktail Party At The Imperial Hotel: March 13, 1961 (Tokyo, Japan) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to that party and the elegantly coiffed woman in the classic little black dress. What you write will effect the curl of her lip. Literary fiction? A delicate raise. Romance, sci fi, or other genre fiction? You’ll get the lip, the nostril, and the eyebrow.  Readers, writers, even some who are functionally illiterate, feel free to dis genre fiction. Trash, bodice rippers, pulp fiction.  Not only would this lovely lady not admit to reading any of this, she believes her chihuahua could dance across the keys of her laptop, produce one of these manuscripts and have it be publishable.  No. Writing is an art, writing is work, and marketable, popular fiction is deceptive in its “simplicity.” There’s a reason genre fiction is also called popular fiction. Quality literary fiction; also an art, also work.

Good writing produces work that people want to read. They want to read it because it has a message that hits home, a universal truth wrapped inside a character you’d like to be, saying the words you wish you’d said. It breaks your heart and performs an angioplasty because it tells the story of a pain you’ve lived, and lets you know others have lived it too. It takes you to another world, lets you be a hero, allows you to experience that first love, again.

Not all good writing gets published, but if it isn’t sold or published, it isn’t because it was too good or too pure.

One day, when a homeless woman calls out to me from her blanket nest on a cold sidewalk, “Got a dollar?” I’d like to say yes, and I earned it from my art.

Homeless NYC

Homeless NYC (Photo credit: Delusion Productions)