Not really a joy

I’ve been sick for nearly two weeks now. I was never very sick, just enough to mess up my voice and sinuses and make everything I did an exercise in annoying myself and everyone around me. My voice is still recovering, much to my continued annoyance.

Along with this, a mood settled over me that I haven’t shaken yet. I sat down trying to write my positive posts and totally blanked. Which doesn’t make sense because I have plenty of things that I love and which bring me happiness. But thinking of one and writing an interesting post about it is apparently beyond me right now. And last week because I know I missed that update.

I don’t know why I feel this bad, so I don’t know how to make it go away. I’m going to do what I can and hope it improves soon. That’s all I can think of.

Pride and Judgment

I haven’t made a big deal about my sexuality. My impression of a coming out post on social media was my sexuality being relevant to a point I wanted to make, so putting it in as a piece of necessary information before diving into what I actually wanted to talk about. I tell people if they ask, but I don’t walk around waving a flag.

I’m working on a new idea, and went with some character decisions that appealed to me. One of which involved making the MC bisexual. She doesn’t make a big deal out of it, either. It’s not even actually mentioned as her sexuality until long after it’s demonstrated that she’s attracted to both–crushing on a boy, then getting in a relationship with a girl. Even then, it’s mentioned because someone questions it.

Part of why I’m not so vocal, I think, is because I didn’t have a revelation moment. In fact, I spent the better part of a decade not even entirely sure. After all, it’s part of female culture to compliment the appearances (or trash them, depending on what kind of women you know) of other women. It seemed to be a trait of my gender to be able to appreciate the beauty of my own gender. And after all, I definitely was into men. I labeled myself bicurious, and left it alone until it mattered.

So, I find myself in a strange position of feeling both like an ally and part of the community. I’m not vocal. I’m often not even recognized as really a part of it. I don’t appear to be. I’ve been called “very straight” by someone who hadn’t asked before. Not just straight, but very. I identify with the confusion of trying to realize something about yourself you always thought was different and everyone around you said was different. But a lot of the oppression that the community receives has passed me by for the above reason: I pass as not part of it. So well that the community doesn’t notice me, either, unless I make myself known.

With Pride Month happening, I don’t entirely know where to stand or what to do. I’m certainly queer. But a lot of the experiences that are shared and being fought against aren’t my own. I recognize how incredibly lucky that makes me, and I’m not in any way saying I wish I’d been oppressed or violated or beaten. But they’re fighting something that’s actually attacked them. Even being queer myself, what do I have to contribute to the conversation other than, “What they said”?

Quite fortunately, I have several other friends who also identify as bisexual or similar. So, I have my own little miniature group that I can retreat to if I feel the need. Sharing memes that validate bisexuality while laughing at how invalidated it usually is so we can laugh together.

It’s so interesting to me–in a frustrating kind of way–how marginalized groups in turn marginalize others that they decide don’t fit into their group. None of my friends do this to me, but it’s not exactly unknown that some people think bisexuals are making it up. That we’re confused or going through a phase or we’re trying to keep one foot in the closet or we’re looking for attention. Bisexual experiences are labeled as just that by most major media: experimentation, phases. Not just from the straight community. Crossdressers get it, too, as if their lifestyle choices somehow invalidate the sexuality of complete strangers. Plenty of people don’t even know what asexuality is or think it’s a myth.

It’s like US history in a way. Our country was built on people not fitting in where they were and going somewhere else to build their own community. And every time they did, they found someone else to reject, so that those people needed their own community. Our entire history is about displacing or being displaced. And yet, when people invoke the name of the Founding Fathers, it’s not to welcome the displaced but to repel them.

I can’t fathom the disconnect between experiencing oppression and using that experience to oppress others.

My wish for Pride Month is for it to be for anyone who wants to participate. No matter how widely you wave that flag or for what reason. And for everyone waving the flag to accept the others who take it up alongside them, be they queer or ally. You don’t have to agree on anything except this: they know more about their own life and self than you do. Let them be the judge of themselves.

What do you Take for Granted?

Privilege has become kind of a controversial term. Some people use it to defend themselves. Others see it as an attack. Some are merely trying to inform. Others see it as a lie. It’s a hard term to listen to. You hear you’re privileged, and you think of every way in which you’re not.

So, instead of labeling you with that term, I want to ask you a question. What do you take for granted?

Personally, I take a lot of things for granted.

  • I’m short, so I take for granted I can walk through doorways without banging my head.
  • I’m small, so I take for granted I can fit in bathtubs.
  • I’m not threatening, so I take for granted I can walk up to anyone I like and strike up a conversation.
  • I speak English, so in the US I take for granted I’ll be able to understand the language around me anywhere I go.
  • I’m cisgender, so I take for granted I can use any bathroom labeled “women’s” without a problem.

Most of those were pretty mild, inane things you might think–unless you’re someone who has to remember to duck every time they go through a doorway so they don’t get a concussion. I didn’t realize I took it for granted until I made a friend who had to duck through every doorway he came across.

I also don’t take some things for granted. Actually, I can’t. I’m reminded every time I try these things. The safe assumptions from above don’t apply. And they can be the same things in different situations.

  • I’m short, so I can’t assume I can reach things on the top shelves in grocery stores.
  • I’m not intimidating, so I can’t assume when I speak, my words will be heard.
  • I’m bisexual, so I can’t assume I can make comments about appreciating women without meeting hostility.
  • I’m a woman, so I can’t assume I can go out alone and be safe.

I propose to you that when someone calls you “privileged,” what they’re really doing is asking you to pay attention to something you take for granted. Because I can rewrite all of these sentences using that hated term, and it doesn’t change their meaning at all:

  • I’m privileged to be short, so I take for granted I can walk through doorways without banging my head.
  • I’m privileged to be small, so I take for granted I can fit in bathtubs.
  • I’m privileged to not be threatening, so I take for granted I can walk up to anyone I like and strike up a conversation.
  • I’m privileged to speak English, so in the US I take for granted I’ll be able to understand the language around me anywhere I go.
  • I’m privileged to be cisgender, so I take for granted I can use any bathroom labeled “women’s” without a problem.

I propose to you that when someone is asking you to “check your privilege,” they’re trying to point out that they can’t take some things for granted, something that you do, and they’re asking you to notice, to acknowledge it:

  • I’m not privileged to be tall, so I can’t assume I can reach things on the top shelves in grocery stores.
  • I’m not privileged to be intimidating, so I can’t assume when I speak, my words will be heard.
  • I’m not privileged to be straight, so I can’t assume I can make comments about appreciating women without meeting hostility.
  • I’m not privileged to be a man, so I can’t assume I can go out alone and be safe.

I saved the most controversial for last: what I take for granted because I’m white. It’s a long list. These are some of the more petty ones that are just as true, but maybe not so hurtful to listen to.

  • I’m white, so I take for granted most people around me are, too.
  • I’m white, so I take for granted most role models around me are, too.
  • I’m white, so I take for granted I can find doctors, hairdressers, and cosmetics that know how my body works.
  • I’m white, so I take for granted “flesh” color is the color of my flesh (or near enough).
  • I’m white, so I take for granted I can create a video game character that resembles me.
  • I’m white, so I take for granted people compliment my unusual name instead of complaining about it.

Every one of these, once again, could be rewritten to say, “I’m privileged to be white,” and the meaning of the sentence not change at all. Calling myself privileged is just the word that’s been chosen. It means taking things for granted. Needing to check your privilege means you’re blind to what you take for granted.

Not a single thing on this list is a crime. Not a single thing is something I need to apologize for or feel guilty about. Not my privileges nor my disadvantages. Having privilege doesn’t make me a bad person. Everyone is privileged in some ways, and everyone has disadvantages.

However, there’s a world of difference between being unaware of what I take for granted, and refusing to admit that I take anything for granted at all. It’s an honest mistake if I use a term I thought was descriptive that turns out to be racist. It’s racist if I continue to use it after someone makes me aware. It’s an honest mistake if I use the wrong pronoun to describe a trans* person. It’s bigoted if I continue to use the wrong pronoun after being corrected. Honest mistakes are a product of my privilege, but not acknowledging it makes me an asshole.

I don’t need to apologize for being ignorant. But once I’m not ignorant anymore, I have a responsibility to not be an asshole.

Next time you’re asked to “check your privilege,” before you say something angry back, before you turn off the internet and walk away, take a moment and ask yourself, “What am I taking for granted right now?”

Yes, I’m Sensitive. So What?

If you don’t think “sensitive” is an insult, I’m not talking to you. But if you do, lend me your ear for a second.

I’m not mad at you. Or accusing you of anything. Or talking down to you. At the very least, none of that is my intent, but you’ll take it how you take it. All I’m asking is you hear me out. Okay?

If you’re still here, beautiful. Thanks.

On one level, I get it. I do. You say something, someone got hurt, and you don’t have a clue why it happened. Clearly, they’re just being sensitive, and you didn’t do anything wrong. They took it wrong.

Some people, they intend to hurt those around them, but most people, we don’t. Words happen, feelings get hurt, and you don’t want it to be your fault. Especially if it happens often. I do it all the time. Yeah, I’m terrible about it. Stupid falls out of my face, and the next thing I know, people I love are mad at me. Hell if I want it to be my fault.

Just as often, if not more so, I’m on the other end. It might be a friend trolling me as a joke and going too far. It might be one of my students trying to get a rise out of me. It might be a fellow teacher who doesn’t want to listen to me. It might be an off-hand comment that mashes that big red button in my thick skull.

Why doesn’t matter so much for this point. My feelings were hurt. Because I’m sensitive.

I am. I’m all kinds of sensitive. The thing the negative connotation of the word doesn’t represent is emotional sensitivity is the whole range. My favorite high is an emotional one. And I can make it to space on it. I’ll be driving home from a good day at work and bust out in giddy laughter at how amazing it was. One second, I’m singing along to Barenaked Ladies, then I’m giggling for five minutes. I’m so damn pleased with myself.

My emotions leave a huge impact on me, too. If you leave a consistent good impression on me, I’ll continue to believe that good feeling about you for a whole slew of bad stuff. I’ll doubt any bad thing said about you. I’ll emotionally take your side in a fight. (If it’s against another friend, that doesn’t mean I’ll actually take your side, though, because dragging other friends into fights that make them jeopardize their friendship with someone else is a dick move. Don’t do it. Plus, I’m probably on both sides, in that case which is emotionally totally possible.)

You leave a consistent bad impression on me, though, I’ll be upset at the mere mention of you. I’ll acknowledge you’re capable of being a good person, but I won’t want any of it near me. Whatever good you might do, whatever you might think of me, go do it somewhere else, thanks. I might hate you, but that’s rare. Usually, all I want is for you to stay away from me so my entire existence near you doesn’t suck.

That’s what being sensitive is. It’s everything amplified. The hurt is amplified, but the joy is, too. So, when you say, “you’re too sensitive,” you’re damn right I am. I feel everything. And when the getting’s good, there’s nothing like it. It has the side effect that, yeah, sometimes I get a bruised heart at the turn of a phrase.

You know what’s way worse than the fact you hurt my feelings, though? The fact you won’t admit it. Calling me “sensitive” when it happens is blaming it on me. No, you didn’t mean to, I believe you. I do it on accident all the time. To the people I most want to never see hurt. I’ll get over it, maybe even as fast as it happened, if you don’t try to pass off the blame.

Sit down. Let’s talk about what happened. What you said. Why you said it. If you mean it. What you meant, if it didn’t come out right. If it’s true, why I need to hear it. Because if you don’t sit down and tell me these things yourself, my brain will come up with answers on its own. My brain’s answers probably won’t match yours. And either: A) you’ll come out the worse in those answers, or B) I will, further damaging my self-image, and making my heart bruise even easier.

No one wins if I answer those questions for you. It doesn’t have to be right that second. Cool down if you need to. Preferably, tell me you need to instead of storming out without a word, but hey, you do you.

So, look, being sensitive is just as much a good thing as it is a bad thing. Don’t use it like you’re calling me names. I can be very forgiving, but I’m not interested in forgiving something you won’t admit you did. I’m sensitive, remember?

Do I Have My Own Voice?

This question has started haunting me.

I’m a mimicker.

I have one friend who sends messages online in a series of short sentences or fragments, never all at once. When chatting with him, I do the same.

With another friend, “eww” replaces dislike for anything because that’s a thing she does. “It’s cold and windy outside.” “Eww.” “I hurt my ankle.” “Eww.”

I was rewatching Lie to Me recently, and immediately started overusing “oi,” using extraneous sentence endings (“You’re a jerk, you are.”), and saying “pull the other one.”

I never saw this as a problem growing up. It was fun to adopt my friends’ speech patterns. Partially because I felt more accepted when using something I knew they approved of. Partially because I usually feel like my friends are more creative, witty, and clever than me, so using their unique speech patterns makes me feel more creative, witty, and clever despite that making zero sense.

Age really has nothing to do with my current problem. It’s that I’m a writer, now with a goal of publication. If I don’t have my own unique voice, I’m screwed. The internet says you absolutely, one hundred and twenty percent, nothin’ but net must have a unique, compelling voice. (As we all know, the internet is always right.)

If my voice depends on who I’ve been talking to that week, am I doomed to never have a consistent voice? And thus doomed to always land in the reject pile?

I’ve heard that some professional writers can’t read while they write because the voices of others mess with their voice. But it’s not just books that do this to me. It’s literally any words I consume. Who I talk to. What I listen to. Music. Conversation. TV. Books. So, what, I have to isolate myself from life while writing? That’s not gonna work out.

Also, I notoriously try too hard. I want to impress people. I want to be liked. I want to sound as creative, witty, and clever as I see my friends are. And I often impress myself with these stupid little phrases as alternatives to cliches, and watch them go completely unnoticed at best. Meanwhile, my friends say something, and everyone laughs. I’m probably right that they’re way cooler than me. Damn I’m lucky they put up with someone as lame as I am.

And how do I separate someone else’s opinion from mine? Quite often, I hear writers say that they hate their first draft as they write it or upon looking at it again after some time has passed, even as little as the next day. For me, it’s after hearing an opinion about it. If I write something I really like (let’s be honest with myself here, I’ve got an ego the size of Sirius–Black’s or the star, they’re about the same size–so I pretty much love most stuff I come up with. Also, I’m hilarious), I don’t change my mind upon further reading. My “damn I’m good” feeling doesn’t vanish.

Then I get a critique, someone points out a flaw, and then it looks like it belongs in the plastic bag in a dog walker’s pocket.

I’m not going anywhere with this. I don’t have a solution or a point. Merely fretting, which is a beloved pastime of artists everywhere. “Dog with a bone” doesn’t even do it justice.

Death Doesn’t Come with a Refund

I’ve gotten crabby about death. Character death. I don’t trust it. A character dies, then I spend the rest of the book (episode, movie…) waiting for them to come back to life. It sometimes even ruins the impact of their death scene, I’m so convinced it’s meaningless.

It can be done properly; I’m not denying that. Sometimes, the natural course of the plot makes it not only acceptable but satisfying. Maybe there’s an afterlife portion of the story, or maybe another character gives up their life to bring the other back, or they just couldn’t die yet because they needed a pint of some damn good cider to ply St. Peter with.

Without diminishing the impact of those who can pull it off, then, back to how crabby I am. Most fictional deaths involve meaning. Sacrifice. Nothing else mattered to them as much, so they kept going until it killed them. Not if it killed them, until. There’s power in that.

The moment the price they paid is given back as a full refund, that meaning vanishes.

Not all of it, I suppose. They were willing. But there’s virtually no difference between alive-but-slightly-crispy and dead-but-just-kidding. It cheapens the emotions of the audience and the other characters because it’s a fake out. Why bother being sad they’re dead? They’re not really. Give it another ten pages/five minutes.

Side character reactions can be quite valuable. Who’s broken into little pieces? Who’s holding everyone together? Who Hulks out? Their reactions to rebirth are much less telling. Virtually everyone is relieved/overjoyed/fine again. Of course they are. They didn’t want the poor sap to die. But unless the reason is, “of course they are, they’re [specific character],” it’s not terribly interesting of a reaction, is it?

Doing it every now and then isn’t so bad. I probably won’t throw my book out the window. Until it’s clear my emotions mean nothing. (Okay, being honest, it’s more like “gently set the book down then scream my rage out the window.” I wouldn’t mutilate a poor, innocent book like that.)

Even better: make it a whole story that takes up time, brings up new sacrifices and struggles. Key word: new. They paid for their life back; it wasn’t a refund.

You can bet, though, that I don’t believe a single one of the deaths in Supernatural anymore. Especially of the main cast. There’s no way they’re going to stay dead. Often, the stories of how they come back to life are interesting and rife with sacrifice themselves, but there are full refunds, too. I’m sure some people find the “God did it” explanation to be moving, but I don’t. I see the hand of the writer. “God works in mysterious ways” is practically a requirement of the kind of story that revolves around Him. Direct intervention of one tiny character’s revival is cheating. If God wants them to win, He makes sure they have the tools to do it; he doesn’t jump in to do it himself. If He does, it’s not a freebie. There are (should be) consequences.

Song of Ice and Fire was great for a while about killing and staying killed. It was a harsh story to read, losing beloved character after beloved character, but they were powerful deaths. Character mistakes, greed, recklessness, bravery, the whole spectrum. It was glorious in its brutality. And then the fake outs started. Rumors of death that weren’t true. Okay, that’s fair, medieval-type setting. I can dig it. Oh no, look! That character totally died! No. No, wait, no they didn’t. They’re fine. Them, too. And them. Oh, that confirmed death was a fake out, too. Sorry not sorry. When the fake outs outnumbered the deaths, I quit. Yank me around all you wish, but with purpose. Don’t take advantage of the fact that I’ll believe you because of your body count, then quit delivering because it’s more fun to make me dance.

I don’t trust you anymore.

That’s what it boils down to. Back to life on a budget isn’t fair storytelling. What did they pay to get their life back? What problems did it cause? How did their death and their rebirth further the story? If all of these questions don’t have good answers, I’ve lost faith in you, author. You get a few freebies, and if the rest of the story is compelling enough, I might hang around anyway, but is that a risk you want to take for cheap storytelling?

Good storytellers then have to suffer at the hands of my mistrust before I know better. I read a book recently that had a main character die, and it hurt a bit. I liked her. She was in danger because of (1) plot complications, (2) character decisions, and (3) her own moxie. Great build-up. Hell of a gut punch to the main character. But hey, it’s got fantasy elements to it. I don’t know this author. Maybe she’ll be back in the next couple chapters. After all, she’s a great addition to the main cast. Great foil for the main character. Had to be fun to write. Must’ve been hard to let go. Yeah, she probably comes back to life.

She didn’t. The author immediately got my respect. And the funeral hurt a lot.

More of that, please.

On Perseverance

In August, I subbed my MS to PitchWars, crossing my fingers that it was good enough to attract the attention of mentors, and dreaming of agents loving it or going on to querying shortly thereafter.

Instead, I rewrote the MS in November. I had some good ideas for it. It was hard, but I ended up with a better book. I sent it to a new friend I made during PitchWars and crossed my fingers she would love it,  point out places to tighten it up, and then I could go on to querying after a while of polishing.

Instead, I started working on another new outline for it.

I don’t really have a happy ending for this story. It’s near the end of December, I haven’t finished that outline. I’m in the middle of writing a totally different outline with the same characters, same magic rules, but different situation. I hope this outline works better than the reworking one that wasn’t reworking out right.

I’ve thought about throwing it in the trunk and focusing on the other WIP I’ve got in the fire. But what good is being able to finish drafts if I don’t have the perseverance to make it through the process of turning those drafts into good books? Each time, I’m happier with the book.

Eventually, I’ll be confident enough in it to actually start querying. And by that point, I’ll have learned a lot more about revising and how good books work that it won’t be such a struggle to complete the second book.

It’s worth it. And I can do it.

守破離(しゅはり)Shuhari

I was recently introduced to the Japanese process of going from being a student to becoming a master (shuhari). There are three stages.

The first stage is to “keep.” You watch the master and copy them exactly. Deviation is strictly prohibited. You are there to learn, and learning means doing what the master does. For example, in tea ceremony, the exact pattern of when to do each step, where each tool is set down, how each movement occurs, are all set. The teacher tells you how to do it, and you absolutely do not argue that doing it another way is better. It doesn’t matter. There’s a specific way it’s done, and that’s the end of it.

When it comes to something like tea ceremony, that makes perfect sense because it’s an art form. It’s not about efficiency (although, once you get the movement into muscle memory, you’ll find that most of them actually are quite efficient, while others prioritize beauty over ease). For something that’s less about the art form, perhaps something like carpentry, the arguments make even less sense because you’re learning how to build something. You don’t know what you’re talking about yet. Why would you know the best way to do something? You do what the teacher says because you don’t know the right way to do it.

I’d like to pause to make a point that arguing and questioning are different. Asking for reasoning why so you can understand what you’re being told to do is not the same thing as telling the master that they’re not doing it right. But also understand that talking back to your teacher when given an instruction is even more frowned upon in Eastern cultures than in Western.

This would be equivalent to the “apprentice” stage of learning a skill back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, for my fellow history geeks.

The second stage is to “break.” You now have a basis of knowledge from which to work, and you’re free to experiment. Things that maybe you disagreed with during the first stage, now you can see if they, in fact, are better, or if you were wrong all along. Maybe you have new ideas now. Maybe you realize some of the arguments you had before are stupid now that you have more information. But the whole point of this stage is to take what you already know, and take your teacher’s guidance, and start building your own ability to do things on your own.

This would be the “journeyman” stage. You’re passable at what you do enough to charge money for it and make your own practice. You’re skilled, but not an authority among others who practice your craft.

I’m sure these stages make perfect sense to artists, especially those who draw or paint and the like. Everyone I know who can draw beautifully started out copying pictures as closely as possible. Then, they could modify the images they looked at to be more what they wanted them to be, but they still had a model. That then leads directly into the third stage.

To be “away.” No longer dependent on a master or teacher of any sort, you are your own authority. Anything you produce or do has come from you and you alone. Rather than copy models, you are the maker of models.

As to be expected, this would be the “master” stage.

This made sense to me on a very deep level. Long ago, I internalized a lesson about writing: to break the rules, you must first know them. While writing doesn’t exactly have the same process (directly copying written works is plagiarism and teaches you very little), it does have the same ideas. At first, there are writing “rules” that You Must Follow or your writing will be Bad. The reason is not because these are the Way Things Are Done, but because they’re, in fact, very easy to do badly. Breaking those rules is a master level feat because only masters know how to pull off those situations. When you don’t realize this reasoning behind the Writing Rules, it can be very frustrating to read books and see the very things you’re told not to do displayed on the page in front of you. Not just any page: a published page. But these are things you’re supposed to avoid, and yet they got published. Therefore, it must be fine to do them, after all.

But the writers thinking this are still in the “keep” stage. They’re still learning the rules. And they haven’t realized that, of course, it’s fine to break any and all of the rules, but you must do it well.

Now, that’s become something of a cliche in the writing world. Pretty much everyone has heard that if you do it well, you can do anything. But there’s a difference between knowing that, and knowing what it means. In recognizing it. In looking at your own work and seeing that you didn’t, actually, pull off what you wanted to achieve.

When writing, it’s important to recognize when you’re in which shuhari stage, but it’s more difficult than with a standard skill that’s more physical. Every writing teacher has something different to say, and writing is a solitary action, anyway. Unlike with martial arts or dancing, you don’t have a teacher standing over your shoulder telling you when you do something wrong. At best, you get an opinion from someone else about what worked or didn’t work, and that has a heavy personal bias almost always (there are cases when things are objectively Not Good, but for the sake of your confidence and drive to write, always assume there’s a bias or you’ll drive yourself nuts).

It’s also important to realize that reaching the “break” stage is when you start writing stories people want to read. In the “keep” stage, you’re writing things people have read a million times. Nobody cares about those stories, I’m sorry to say. They can read them anywhere, and they can often find them told better. Those are the stories agents say they find in their inboxes constantly and skim right on past.

What agents are looking for are “break” stage writers. Writers that have taken the foundation of skills they’ve learned from writing things everyone has read before, and changed them a little, put their own spin on it, made it their own. Agents don’t at all expect debut authors to be in the “away” stage, or they’d never get new clients.

The good news is, if you’re not getting responses from agents, it’s not that you’re a failure or a bad writer or can’t do this publishing thing. (I say this as an unpublished writer, by the way.) It’s that you’re still learning. Keep working toward that “break” stage. Once you’re there, it’s just a matter of time before the opportunity comes along if you keep trying. Because it isn’t a Talent that you either Have or Don’t. It’s shuhari. And you’ll get there.

Why do I hate women as characters so much?

I don’t like women as much as men.

I don’t like that the above statement is true, especially being a woman myself. I’m not particularly masculine. I’ve come to quite enjoy making myself look pretty. I don’t wear skirts often, but I love an excuse to wear a fancy dress. I like mountain climbing and martial arts just as much as I like reading. I don’t enjoy romances, but I love shirtless men in tv shows.

Yet, the problem persists. Particularly when it comes to enjoying characters in stories. These days, I’m blessed with many fantastic women friends, but my trend of preferring male characters continues.

I’m not entirely sure what causes it. I’d like to say it’s simply a matter of sub-par writing. Take, for example, a show often lauded for its writing: Firefly. There’s not a single character I dislike in that show (dislike as a character, since there are many dastardly villains I love to hate), including all of the women. Mal is still my favorite character, but I love Kaylee to bits, and I want to cosplay Zoe one day, skin color be damned.

It would certainly be arrogant to say that, though, wouldn’t it? Because I have an intense dislike for otherwise beloved characters, such as Rose from the first two seasons of the return of Doctor Who. I despise her with a fiery passion, and refuse to watch the story “Father’s Day,” where every decision she makes is the wrong one that leads directly to the screwing up of everything, including the Doctor’s death, and only her father making smart decisions saves everything. I hate that she got what any fangirl who falls in love with the Doctor could want–a guaranteed future with him for the rest of her life–and she said it wasn’t good enough.

My theory is that I have higher standards for women characters. If a woman is portrayed as a useless screamer, crouching in a corner wetting herself while the men–or even other women, really–save the day, I automatically hate her. If a woman needlessly has half of her skin showing in wildly impractical ways during fights, I automatically hate her. (I say “needlessly” for a reason. If there is a function for the skin showing–such as using it as a highly effective distraction against her male opponents, then I applaud her instead of hate.) If a woman’s only existence seems to be to spread her legs for anyone she can convince to stick a hand up there, I automatically hate her. (“Only” is in that sentence for a reason. I’m not slut-shaming here. But she needs more than one reason for existence.)

In contrast, if a man is portrayed as a useless screamer, I love it. Mostly because when a show wants a screamer, they automatically reach for women 9 times out of 10. (For proof: watch Supernatural. How many times, if the body is discovered by a woman, does she scream? How many times, if the body is discovered by a man, does he scream? They’re not remotely proportional.) If a man needlessly has half of his skin showing, I scoff at the impracticality while enjoying the view. Because most of the time, he started out with his clothing intact, at least, while the woman specifically dressed for partial nudity.

However, if a man’s only existence seems to be to get his pants around his ankles as often as possible, I automatically hate him. Because, I’ll say it again, people need more than one reason for existence. The sad fact is, though, that I can think of far more characters that have this trait as a part of their character, and not the core of their character, that are men than women. I still love those men; Tony Stark, Dean Winchester, and Zelos Wilder come to mind. But at this moment, I’m having trouble thinking of women examples at all. Black Cat qualifies, but she’s often a villain. Faith from Buffy, another villain. While the men examples are all heroes (though that could be argued in Zelos’ case).

So, there’s something wrong there.

I thoroughly rejoice when I meet a woman character I can fall for, even better if they’re my favorite character, over a man, because that’s incredibly rare for me. In the video game Tales of Zestiria, my favorite character is Rose over the main male hero. In Doctor Who, I almost love River Song more than the Doctor himself, and she is my all-time favorite companion, though Jaime from the Second Doctor’s reign has a special place in my heart, too. (Over the plethora of female companions, since most companions in the show are female, and I despise at least half of them. Over the course of the entire show, not just since 2005, mind.)

I don’t know the reason for it, really. I hate that it’s true. I feel like I’m hating on my own gender just by my fictional character preferences, but it’s not a conscious decision. For the longest time, in my own writing, I could only write two types of women well: masculine women or annoying women. (Annoying in the sense that they’re meant to be that way, and it serves a specific function for them to be annoying.) But I couldn’t write a likable woman unless she was a tomboy for most of my life.

That’s why I specifically made my main character in my projects lately into women. To prove to myself that I could do it. To improve my ability to write good, women characters because we desperately need more of them. And as a woman author, my women should be well written if for nothing else than to honor my own gender instead of further stomp on it. I do that enough just by liking men characters more.

Why I can’t wait for an edit letter

I’ve spent my writing career chasing the elusive creature that is an Honest Critique.

There have been glimpses. An honest opinion or two about how the story progresses, a throwaway, “I didn’t like this part,” in among the praise. I’ve tried to wheedle more opinions out of my readers, only to hear that they’re “not good” at critiquing, or (worse) they don’t want to hurt my feelings. Which is worse because then you know they have things that they think could be fixed, but they won’t tell you no matter what you say.

Readers might not think much about how the story is put together except as far as what they liked or didn’t. Other writers might have been burned in the past, lost a writer friend to their honest opinion. That makes me mad every time I hear about it. It gives writers looking for help improving their stories a bad name. It makes, “I want your honest opinion,” into such an overblown trap that it has the comedic potential of, “Does this dress make me look fat?” You can’t convince them of your sincerity until you react to their opinion, and you can’t react until they give it to you. But they won’t. And I can’t even blame them.

At the beginning of this month, I had exactly two writer friends I could work with. One is my alpha reader and “whiteboard”–she lets me bounce ideas off her because talking to myself only takes me so far. The other is my beta reader, and the only person to give me decent critiques over a whole manuscript. Her strengths lie in line editing and pointing out where things don’t make much sense, but overall building blocks of the story haven’t seen much commentary. Does the plot work, are there holes, how’s the pacing, are the characters distinct and complex, is this scene even necessary, there should be another scene here, etc., none of that gets much attention. Great for final polish, but not much for finding the places that need an overhaul.

I’m still learning how to revise. I’ve finished four novels to date, but only extensively revised one. The one I submitted to PitchWars, the one I’m now hoping to get at least brief notes from mentors for, and at best get to spend two months working on with someone who will see me through the edit letter. Honestly, I would’ve dived into this contest with the same enthusiasm even if there wasn’t an agent round. When I first heard of it, I got so excited by everything else in the explanatory blog post that I missed the one line about how there’s an “agent round”.

A published author will work with me on revising my manuscript? Sign me up!

Oh, agents will look at the pitch afterward? Even better!

I was all set to take my revised manuscript and query it starting in November. Probably do that, anyway, because even if I don’t get picked for the coveted 101 mentee slots (*strokes Twitter* That’s right, precious mentor, favorite my tweets about my MS, favorite them all, love me and my writing…), I’ve found some CPs (critique partners) to work with, anyway. I’ve also learned a lot about what to look for when polishing an MS, and I know that at least one of the mentors I submitted to is planning to send out feedback to everyone who submitted to them. More are willing to send feedback to anyone who asks–and oh, I will ask.

I will covet every scrap of feedback I get. I will read the emails, pout over things I disagree with, let the critique hurt, then do absolutely nothing with the feedback until I’ve had at least one night’s sleep. Then, I’ll read them again. And find how the suggestions fit into how I see my story. How to make them mine. Where they fill in chunks that needed it, and where they add something new I hadn’t expected–and whether I like the addition or not. If possible, I’ll probably have questions and clarification. I think best when words are coming out of my brain instead of percolating inside it, which means dissecting a critique with the person who gave it, if they’re willing. If I like something but don’t know how to fit it into the story, I’ll possibly explain some framework that doesn’t actually appear in the book, but which still creates the context in which the story happens.

After carefully sorting the feedback into what I want to apply and what I don’t, after clarification, I’ll finally buckle down and change things.

And I can’t wait.

On Facebook, I belong to a group that discusses Doctor Who. We made it a private group, invitation-based, so that we could discuss spoilers without all of our walls erupting into riots. I’m a critiquer. I pull things apart and think about them, see how they work and how they don’t. I’m cultivating that reaction all the more so that if I can recognize it in other works, hopefully I can avoid such mistakes in my own.

One of the first threads we had in that group, someone jumped into the discussion of what we saw as the flaws of the episode and ripped us all a new one. He couldn’t stand that we were talking about what the show had done wrong, what it wasn’t good at, when none of us had accomplished anything near as amazing. He condemned us for sitting back and ripping apart someone else’s hard work rather than making our own. He couldn’t see how loving something and criticizing it could exist together. If you criticized it, you must not love it.

love Doctor Who. I’ve devoured every DVD of the classic series that I could get my hands on. I’ve written silly fanfiction, and spent hours and hours discussing the merits of each different companion and Doctor. I’ve never met a Doctor I didn’t like (yes, even the generally despised Six), although I’ve met plenty of companions I can’t stand (yes, even the generally adored Rose).

I wouldn’t put so much effort into picking apart every episode if I didn’t love it. I wouldn’t spend so much time on it if I didn’t love it. If I hated it as much as my criticism seems to suggest, I wouldn’t watch it. There are better ways to spend my time.

So, yes, the edit letter is going to hurt. Of course it will. We don’t call it ripping up for nothing. Those are wounds to my precious book baby. But they come from a place of love. Too much time goes into those letters for them to be worth it if there wasn’t passion, and that’s what I want going into my MS: passion.