Flying By The Seat of One’s Puzzle

There are things that puzzle me. First, I’m always amazed by writers who plot things out to the tiniest detail, you know, those authors who storyboard and collage and outline their tales. I’m not like that. I try to put any structure in place and my story disintegrates. I’m not a seat of the pants writer either. I lack the pants one usually flies from.

Truth be told, I am not a fan of pants (as in trousers, not knickers/panties/ full-coverage briefs). They are restricting, twist and bind the way collages and storyboards and outlines do when I try to do them. When it comes to writing, I have a box box in my head. It’s full of puzzle pieces made up of dialogue like this:

“We’re onto disguises now, are we?”
“You don’t like my hat?”
“You look better in the cowboy hat you wore on New Year’s Eve than in that ugly baseball cap.”
“You miss my cowboy hat.”
“Go on and think that if it makes you feel better.”
“I feel just fine.”
“Which is why you took your time getting here.”
“I was being thorough.”
“Thorough. Is that what you call chatting up Ms Goedenacht?”
“She was doing the chatting up. Weren’t you listening?”
“No. The earpiece stopped working when the discussion turned to marital aids and splinters.”

No speech tags, no description, just the two leads talking. They are always talking. And probably eating. There’s always food involved somewhere. Perhaps that’s one reason why True to Your Service took so long for me to write; I was always eating, as one tends to when one has a house full of visitors, or when one was on holiday someplace that may or may not become the setting for the next book in the series I didn’t realise was a series when the two characters started talking way back in 2011.

The other thing that puzzles me is that women over 40 are treated as a conundrum by publishing and Hollywood, both puzzling over how to structure a story with a woman over 40 as the lead, and scratching their heads over what a woman over 40 looks like as the lead.

It’s not that hard to show a woman over 40 as a whole human being, but Hollywood and publishing are anxious about that and stick to the sexist, ageist structure that has, well, worked for them . Film and fiction are risk averse. Film and fiction will stick to what makes them money; franchises make them money, and something new (well, actually, something older)  scares them because it’s different, it’s not what’s been selling, and what’s selling is what gets replicated or rebooted, or remade. Repeat sexist ageism and a lack diversity across the board…

I will concede one thing. I applaud the way Hollywood has grabbed onto the empowered badass-ass-kickin’ older woman we’ve seen lately onscreen. However, there is more to being an older, empowered, ass-kicking woman than we’ve seen. Being an older empowered arse-kicking woman with life baggage can be even more complex and exciting in telling a story, and it doesn’t mean an older woman has to be superimposed onto a male action hero narrative to be ‘acceptable,’ or adhere to the ageist and sexist stereotypes we are so used to seeing. I want more. Maybe you do too.

I’m all for showing ass-kicking-badassery, only I’m gonna do it like a middle aged woman would–with all that empowering, complex baggage and life experience, possibly slower, or maybe faster and with more ass-shaking like J-Lo at the Superbowl. The point is, there is MORE THAN ONE WAY to portray a powerful, attractive, capable, intelligent, sensual, sexual woman over 40, and it’s not simply making her an action lead, which is a start, but

True to Your Service, the third of the In Service Series features a middle-aged female butler and the slightly younger middle-aged spy who loves her. It’s genre-blending and crossing with a good measure of meta, seasoned romance, sex, tulips, murder, danger, and true love.  It knocks ageist and sexist stereotypes on the head and places a woman well past 40 as the lead. It pokes fun at spies and mysteries and crime stories. And it all came from a box of puzzle pieces in my head.

You can pre-odrer True to Your Service from your favourite e-tailer here and from Amazon

 

The F*ckable Silver Fox Romance Heroine And Me

If you have a psyche of a sensitive nature, one that detests off-colour language, you may want to look away now because I’m about to drop some f-bombs.

By now you’ve probably seen it, Amy Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day. If you haven’t here’s a link to it.  Go watch it now.

If you don’t want to watch it, in a nutshell, the skit addresses the ageist and oh-so-sexist double standard in Hollywood. You know the ageist double standard I mean, don’t you? It’s that thing when an actress reaches an age grannyand is suddenly put out to pasture, or only offered stereotyped roles like mother, cougar, knitting grandma, and crazy hag cat lady, because they’ve crossed The Line of 40 and are no longer considered ‘fuckable’— or bankable. It’s that thing that doesn’t happen to men in Hollywood.

It also that thing that doesn’t happen to heroes in Romance Fiction.

In Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day, Amy and her pals, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette point out a woman’s ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date in Hollywood, the enduring stereotyped roles available to an actress of a certain age, and how their male counterparts fail to suffer the same fate when they cross The Line of 40. You see, Silver Foxes, like George Clooney, are welcome in Hollywood as much as they are in romance novels. And in romance novels silver fox heroes are a hot and sought after hero.

Like in Hollywood the silver fox romance hero is usually paired with a younger woman. Like in Hollywood the silver fox moniker applies only to men. There are those of us who are tired of this ageist and sexist double standard. There are those of us tired of being told, ‘Sorry, you’re over 40 and no one wants to fuck you onscreen or in the pages of a romance novel.‘ To that I say, bullshit, there ARE people who want to see thosCGAHe movies and read those books. There are those of us who have money we would spend to see those movies and read those books because there are those of us who think that, who know that, being over 40 doesn’t mean you’re done with love or sex or romance.  There are those of us (in spite of how much we love Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade) who’d like to see the silver foxy hero paired with a woman his own age. There are those of us who want to change things, who want silver fox to apply to women who have crossed The Line of 40.

Yes, I’m one of those who wants to change this because, goddamn it, I’m over 40 and I’m a silver fox, not a dumpy middle-aged hausfrau who’s dead from the waist down, and I’m tired of seeing women like me left out of movies and books. I’m so over seeing Daniel Craig’s late 40s SPECTRE James Bond get paired up with the then 20-something Lea Seydoux instead of 50-something Monica Bellucci.

Pardon my momentary rant. I still haven’t recovered from the missed opportunity of Bond getting the RIGHT GIRL.

I write romance fiction with silver foxy men AND silver foxy women. Yeah, no, I’m not going to call her a silver vixen because cougar is already pejorative enough and there isn’t a male equivalent besides ‘dirty old man,’ which is something more perverted than a screen hero paired with a woman half his age—which keeps getting rammed down society’s throat Antonelli coveras normal.

Sorry…sorry, ranting again. Bond should have been with Bellucci.

There are those of us who believe we need a new normal, those of us who believe that if we saw silver foxy women on a regular basis, in advertising, on the big screen, on TV, in print that the double standard that keeps women over 40 trapped by stereotypes of age might change. That’s what I am doing, changing what I see by presenting real women in romance fiction who are not trapped by a stereotype of age, who are not cougars, grannies, or crazy cat ladies. In fact, I’m going against the Hollywood image completely.NextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022

My books, all of them, feature pairs of silver foxes in romance fiction, something we are lead to believe is a younger woman’s tale, which we know in real life is bullshit.

My latest release, Next to You, features a pair of silver foxes. It’s about a Bubblegum pop loving albino man named William Murphy and his new neighbor, Caroline, a woman who’s trying to grab life by the balls.  Next to You  comes on on Monday.

Expecting Your Expectations to Meet Your Expectations

 Sterin via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo: Sterin via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Is there another time of year that sets the bar so high for how things “should” be?

Holidays are weighted with expectations, as are birthdays, and certain books and movies — you know, like the latest in the James Bond film or Star Wars franchise.

We, as in a lot of people, approach these events with preconceived notions of what we want them to be, who we want there, how we want to be treated, the kind of pie there’s going to be, and if SPECTRE is going to be better than Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, or Casino Royale.

Some of you might get cranky and snippy if no one in your family helped you to decorate the Christmas tree, like you expected. Some of you might feel all losery and friendless because no one sent you a birthday card by actual snail mail, like you expected. Some of you, like me, might get all ornery because Monica Bellucci only got a few minutes (7 min, 14. 73 seconds according to my stopwatch) of screen time in SPECTRE when she should have had more time, she should have swapped roles with Lea Seydoux and given James Bond an age appropriate and more believable ending… like I expected.

See what I mean? I got all wrapped up in expectations. I had to see SPECTRE two more times to realise I enjoyed it–once I stopped picking it apart. I sat back and enjoyed the ride.

We love something so much, like James Bond movies and Star Wars and Christmas and birthdays and books by Jo Goodman because they give us a warm, rosy glow. We love these things because they feel familiar and, for some reason we cover the things, the events, movies and books, and people we adore with a cloak of expectation.tree2015

We make comparisons.

We forget there is no such thing as perfection.

We forget that life’s what we make it.

Preconceived expectations have a way of elfin’ up (see what I did there?) the fact that decorating the Christmas tree alone meant the tree looked exactly the way I wanted it to. Preconceived expectations have a way of elfin’ up a book that was different to the author’s previous book — which was exactly what I wanted because I dislike reading something that’s the same as before. Preconceived expectations have a way of elfin’ up the warm rosy glow of familiar and full of the feels.

Yesterday, when I went to see Star Wars The Force Awakens, I tried to avoid the Bah-Humbuggery of shoulds. I reminded myself that this was a different movie. I reminded myself this was not Episode IV and prayed there would be no Ewoks. I reminded myself I wanted something different, yet familiar and full of feels. I reminded myself I was there for the fun.

I made the 2 hours and 14 minutes what I wanted it to be. I ate a crap-ton of popcorn, sat back, and had fun.

Yes, kids. It’s Advice Time! When you next head off to a holiday event you really don’t want to attend, before you pick up a new book by an author you like, or go to see a sequel or movie in a franchise, before you start reading, or watching, set those expectations aside, forget thinking this ‘should be like so.” Life’s what you make it. If you go in with expectations, then you may just miss the fun.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep drinking coffee, because I know that’s what you expect of me. I’ll also keep writing familiar, yet different smartassed books where the leads are over 40.

Sandrabooks1

 

The “Mature” Content Stockpile

The “Mature” Content Stockpile

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

The PhD scholar part of Sandra Antonelli aims to bring you “Mature” news links, commentary, and discussion about “Mature Women” in romance fiction, and the portrayal of “Older” or lack thereof in all forms of the media


9 January 2015: Jenna Goode and Sam Creighton of The Daily Mail Australia bring us further observations on Russell Crowe’s foot-in-mouth comments in the Australian Women’s Weekly regarding older actresses ‘needing to act their age’ with Jessica Chastain slams Russell Crowe for comments on older actresses needing to act their age saying he has ‘foot in mouth’ as Meryl Streep defends his statement. Chastain (37) said, “I think there are some incredible actresses in their 50’s and 60’s that are not getting opportunities in films. And for someone to say there are plenty of roles for women that age – they’re not going to the movies enough.” However, Rusty gets some support from Meryl Streep. Sort of.

Streep made this statement: “I agree with him, that it’s good to live in the place that you are.” See? It’s sort of support because Streep also said that she “…had a political reaction against the concept of witches, of old women being demonised and age being this horrifying scary thing.”

Seems to me that Streep was being diplomatic.

 

7 January 2015: In her piece in the New York Times Style section, Fashion Two Faced Relationship With Age, Vanessa Freeman tells us about “Silver Economy” Trend in fashion and marketing, how fashion house ad campaigns now feature recognisable ‘silver’ celebrities such as Julia Roberts, who’s a whopping 47. However, there are also campaigns with Charlotte Rampling, who’s 68  I last saw her on Dexter), The amazing, 69 year-old, I-wanna-be-her Helen Mirren, and Diane Keaton, also 69.  Freeman discusses Selfridges’ department store windows ‘Bright Old Things,’ the “the fashion world’s contradictory relationship with the concept of age,” and makes this fabulous final statement, “You can’t have your consumers and not cater to them, too.”

Well Duh.

Perhaps Hollywood, publishers, and the cult of youth might take more notice. Or some notice.

5 January 2015: Time online’s Eliana Dockterman talks about 22 upcoming movies in 2015 that feature women, saying, “studios are finally beginning to recognize that making movies that tell women’s stories and draw female audiences is just a good business decision.”

It’s kind of like publishing houses in Australia finally waking up to the fact that romance fiction brings in big bucks. Most of the 22 movies feature young women in roles, but, OH, MY GOD RENEE RUSSO IS BACK in The Intern! A huge thank you to Director Nancy Myers, who knows if it attracts the silver, it’ll also attract the gold.  22 Movies Featuring Women We’re Excited to See in 2015

5 January 2015: Russell Crowe sticks his foot in his mouth in the Australian Women’s Weekly (see below) saying older actresses need to quit trying to play the ingenue and “be prepared to accept that there are stages in life,” which, you know, would be great if there WERE roles that allowed for that. Amy Gray sums up Crowe’s folly nicely with her piece from Junkee Here’s Everything Russell Crowe Got Wrong About Women In Film”

1 January 2015: The New York Times‘ Cara Buckley interviews the awesome and very real Patricia Arquette, who says “I gotta get old, people, do you understand?” she continued. “I need space to grow and get old and be a human being. I don’t want to be trapped in your ingénue bubble. And I don’t agree with it either, by the way.”  Unashamedly Maturing Into Her Role Patricia Arquette, Born for ‘Boyhood’

22 December 2014: The Australian Women’s Weekly with Caroline Overington interviews Russell ‘Rusty’ Crowe, the big meathead: Russell Crowe: “Hollywood actresses need to act their age.”

21 December, 2014: Isabella Rossellini gives her two cents on ageism in Hollywood, to the Telegraph online, “I really don’t work anymore as an actress,” she tells me, with a merry shrug of resignation. “I am old, and there are no roles for older people.” Read more: Isabella Rossellini interview: on ageism in Hollywood and the fashion industry

20 December, 2014: Michael Hodges in The Mail Online brings us two smart actresses  Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson talk sex and middle aged women, and say television thinks middle aged women are dull and sexless.

4 December, 2014: Best most recent news of age appropriate hotness: James Bond, a 50 year-old fictional character finally gets a an age appropriate 50 year-old female co-star in Monica Bellucci What can I say here except OH, YEAH MAMA! And gee, I really better get Cleaning House finished in the new few weeks…

6 November 2014: Betsy Sharkey with the LA Times reviews Shirley MacCLaine and Christopher Plummer in Elsa and Fred, a romance featuring two leading characters in late life. Romance proves Ageless in Elsa & Fred. As I argue in my PhD, that the central point of a romance, of any romance, is the romance, the development of the relationship, not the age of the characters, which is what Sharkey notes. Age itself is not a character. Despite their ‘advanced chronological age,’ Elsa and Fred could be the story of any 20 or 50 year-old, as Elsa & Fred have the same highs and lows,  romantic moments, and fantasies come to life that any couple falling in love might experience.