A Valentine, The At Your Service Edition: or Inside the Mind of a Novelist

There’s that thing a lot of writers do. They base a character on someone they know, or model a character on a well-know figure. For example, at the recent Golden Globe awards, during his acceptance speech for his win as best actor for his role in the film Vice,  British actor Christian Bale (You did know he was British, didn’t you?) thanked Satan for inspiring him to play a morally-dubious character– the real-life former American Vice President Dick Cheney. The Lord of Darkness was what gave Bale a model to inhabit. And trust me, Bale DOES inhabit his role in Vice.

Writers, like actors, find inspiration in someone. The character of GP in my novel A Basic Renovation was modeled on my coffee-drinking, surly, often hilarious grandpa who was born in 1906. I occasionally find inspiration in someone and some thing, be a it mannerism, a habit, a certain sense of fashion. While I don’t know any real life spies (although there is the one friend we have whose work is so complex and intellectual that when he explains the complexity of what it is he does, it makes us think he’s got to be a spy because his explanation is so obfuscated by the complexity), I do like spy novels, spy movies, Daniel Craig, Sean Connery, Jason Bourne, Matt Helm, Our Man Flint, George Smiley, and Austin Powers.

Lots of authors write about spies. Nowadays, fictional spies are, let’s face it, a cliché. By God, I love the cliché. The spy cliché is my inspiration. Mostly.

I play a lot with the spy cliché in At Your Service, the upcoming, Forever In Your Service, and the short story Your Sterling ServiceI poke some fun at the cliché-riddled superspy genre. At the same time, I wanted to take the well-known iconic superspy and retool him around the clichés without resorting to Austin Powers-esque parody, but I still wanted readers to see the self-assured, expert, erudite, womanising man trip over his own feet and emotions– and recognise him as that familiar spy figure. Yet the thing, my inspiration to make my spy, Major Kitt, human amid all the fictional clichés hinged upon two facts: Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, loved scrambled eggs and I eat eggs for breakfast every day. 

Eggs. Scrambled eggs for breakfast became Major Kitt. Eggs and breakfast became the running theme for the In Service books. Eggs are the motivation for the character, an item that makes Kitt think of things, of someone he never dreamed of wanting. Scrambled eggs (not Satan) are what make Kitt have a heart, the kind runny with emotion.

 

Calling All Readers: What Do We Call It and How Do We Do it?

For years, I’ve been writing for an overlooked audience. Now, finally, I’m writing for a slowly emerging market, one a few publishers are, after years of ignoring, only just beginning to cater to. Despite the presence of a target audience, that is readers over 40,  two stumbling blocks remain when it comes to marketing romance fiction to readers over 40: WHAT to call this subgene, and HOW to market romance with older couples.

The WHAT: The front-running suggestions for this romance subgenre (Thank you, Laura Boon Russell for reminding me to mention that this is a subgenre), from those of us who write romance fiction with lead characters over 40, have been Adult Contemporary Romance, Seasoned Romance, Mature Romance (MatRom), and Silver Romance. The new category line from Entangled is called August, which is a charming moniker, but the line is limited to stories of characters 35-45. Now, here’s where you come in. Do you have any ideas of WHAT to call romance fiction with both lead characters who are over 40?

If you do, leave a comment. Better still leave a comment about the search terms you use when you go looking for romance tales where both characters have been around the block a time or two? You as a reader have the power to pick the name that REALLY sticks.

Groovy, say we come up with a consensus on a name for this subgenre, for Romance of a Certain Age, Granny Lit or Hag Lit, (Can we agree now NOT use any of those?), but what about the HOW?

HOW to market these books is fraught with the same issues Hollywood has when it comes to marketing any film featuring a woman over 40 as the lead. Artwork and advertising, which in the publishing world means book covers, can be tricky for a tale with younger leads. A book cover, like a movie poster, is supposed to be shorthand for the story presented. Marketing departments for Romance fiction have always found a way to work around finding cover art for troublesome novel, usually steering clear of the stereotypical clinch cover in favour of something benign, such as a pair of shoes, a dog, an empty Adirondack chair sitting on a beach. In Hollywood, the usual thinking is:

  1. If the older woman appears on the advertising, be sure the image includes an object that obscures her age, such as a coffee cup in front of her face;
  2. If the older woman appears on the movie poster, ensure only a small percentage of her body is shown, no full body shots;
  3. Reduce the size of the woman’s image, place her in the background in a setting, such as on a dock, on a boat, behind Bruce Willis or Morgan Freeman. Seriously. Go look at this poster for Red, right now.

Obviously, in fiction and film there’s a similar workaround showing the ageing body, which is primarily horrifying because ageing and the bodies of older people are continually presented as ugly and something to fear. These images lead to an unconscious bias against older people, particularly older women, and that bias keeps women from appearing roles other than mother, granny, harpy, crone, or keeps them from appearing at all. ON book covers and movie posters.

The chief antidote to treating ageing as a disease is to present it as normal, as everyday, but creating a new standard and breaking down pervasive image stereotypes of age—or any stereotype—takes time. People need to ‘get used to’ something new. I understand starting small, put the aged female face behind that coffee cup a few times, or reduce the size of Mary-Lousie Parker and Helen Mirren on the poster for Red. Use those benign beach-front images that suggest peace, use the dog, the shoes. Then, slowly, because, people need time to adjust to change, get rid of the coffee cup, enlarge the size of the woman, move her to the foreground, right beside the acceptable male silver fox in that Adult Contemporary-Seasoned-Mature-Silver-August Romance.

Good News: What’s Old Is New and Still Old But Maybe Not

There are lot of parallels between Hollywood and Romance fiction and the way women and ageing are portrayed. The way ageing in general is portrayed in the media is most troubling.  I’d like to point out that things are beginning to shift. There are a few TV shows that show female characters over 40 as hot, passionate, and strong  women (Hello, House of Cards and Claire Underwood). Carina Press was looking for tales of older silver foxy people, and now, with their August line, Entangled is as well!

GLORY BE TO THE MOTHER! This is brilliant, fabulous, exciting and I am all a-tingle with the call for mature, so all a tingle I almost don’t need coffee this morning.

Almost.

However –and you knew there’d be a however– both publishers make mention they are looking for romantic tales with mature leads mid- 30’s to mid 40s. See that there? They set an age limit on their calls for tales of old.

I know I oughta be grateful for the small step, and I am. Truly. This is THE MOST EXCITING THING that has happened in the world of romance publishing, but why the limit on age?

We know why. It’s about sex. It’s that idea that older people engaging in intercourse or–heaven help us–oral sex is plain ICKY.  Everyone knows no one over 55 has sex. Oh, wait the men do because they’re silver foxes, but the women don’t because they’re all saggy, have no libido or need for intimacy, their child-bearing days are far behind them, and their vaginas are so dry that sex is impossible, even with silver foxy men their own age.

Yeah, well, I call bullshit, and again, we come to that parallel between romance and Hollywood and their block with  sex and the older person. It comes down to what I call the Ick Factor.

I stopped posting things on the Mature Content Stockpile because so much of my ongoing research simply repeated  how ageism and the Ick Factor is rampant in Hollywood, in fiction, in the media,The stereotypes of age and women over 40 are so damned ingrained in society that Hollywood, publishing, and the media are scared of crossing from anti-ageing and into the sex zone. There’s some interesting work out that that examines the ageist attitudes about sex in Hollywood, such as, Gatling, Mills, & Lindsay’s Sex After 60? You’ve Got to Be Joking! Senior Sexuality in Comedy Film.

Abstract

Representations of the sexuality of older people have been largely absent in mainstream films until recent times. Cinema as an art form has historically denied or ignored the fact that humans are sexual beings their whole lives. In this paper, critical discourse analysis is used to examine four comedy films released between 1993 and 2012 that tackle the subject of ‘senior sexuality’. All four films are explicit in representing older people as sexual beings but, unlike films about young people’s sexual activity, the details of sexual encounters are left to viewers’ imaginations. Two of the films challenge the notion of a heteronormative old age.

Cool, innit? Here’s Ms Gatling’s PhD:  Representations of age and ageing in comedy film.

Ageism is a social injustice that impacts negatively every person who lives long enough. The aim of this thesis is to raise critical awareness of ageist messages in the representations of older people on-screen in the popular genre of comedy film.

It has been generally acknowledged that society is influenced, often unknowingly, by the mass media. Film, particularly comedy film, is a popular entertainment medium that is readily-accessible, both in cinemas and in DVD/Blu ray format. Going to the cinema, downloading a film or renting a DVD from a store are relatively cheap entertainment options for many people in the developed world. Film, therefore, has the potential to influence large numbers of viewers. Many films carry ageist messages, which are often undetected and unrecognised by audiences, yet these messages influence attitudes, behaviours and opinions. Negative representations of ageing occur in films made for children as well as those made for adults, which is even more unacceptable because children are particularly susceptible to influence, and can develop inaccurate views about age and ageing that may persist throughout their lives.

As a registered nurse I have an obligation to adhere to professional standards requiring me, and every nurse, to respect and promote the human rights of all members of society. Discrimination against clients on any grounds, including age, is unacceptable and contrary to the codes of practice and ethical standards that govern and guide the profession. Unfortunately, it has been shown that health professionals, including nurses, are not immune to developing ageist views. This can negatively affect the care given to older clients and can contribute to poor physical and mental health outcomes.

A dispositive analysis approach to critical discourse analysis was used to investigate the ways age and ageing are represented in a selection of comedy films. Dispositive analysis includes analysis of actions and objects related to the topic under scrutiny as well as analysis of the language used. This approach is extremely useful when examining representations of age and ageing in film because not all aspects of the discourse are linguistic. An example of this is the following scenario: a car is seen weaving erratically along the road with just the top of the driver’s old-fashioned hat visible through the front windscreen. It is commonly assumed that the driver is an elderly woman; no linguistic signposting is required.

Comedy, as a genre, was chosen because of its capacity to perpetuate ideas and representations that, in other contexts, would be unacceptable but, using the guise of humour, are rendered permissible. Highly-exaggerated and ridiculous situations and characterisations are expected in comedy films; harmful messages, therefore, about gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and age can be disseminated freely. Were such scenes and messages to be aired in the real world, repercussions might well occur in the form of public protest and legal action.

This thesis considers a selected corpus of films in three categories:

1. films about mid-life and the concept of mid-life crisis

2. films concerning older people’s age and ageing

3. films related to older people’s sexuality.

Films that featured aspects of middle age as well as old age were considered because middle age is identified as the time in the life span when ageing becomes a subject that attracts the attention of the comedy filmmakers. The films in the dataset were chosen on the basis of their audience reach and popularity and content, which had to contain material related to themes of age and ageing.

Findings confirmed that middle age is largely represented as a time of crisis, particularly for men. Analysis showed middle age to be characterised by stereotypical behaviours related to disappointment and dissatisfaction, including infidelity, restlessness, yearning for change, risk taking and attempts to ‘turn back the clock’ by cosmetic enhancements.

Representations of old age in recent comedy films were found to be much more diverse than those found in earlier manifestations. Tentative steps appear to have been taken towards a more realistic portrayal of old age, particularly in relation to sexuality. Representations of old age as a period of asexuality appear to be fading to be replaced with a discourse of ageing which includes older people who have some level of sexual activity or, at least, an interest in sexuality. The myth of a heteronormative old age is being challenged by the emergence of older characters that are openly gay.

The thesis concludes with a discussion about strategies that could be used to raise critical awareness about the messages disseminated in film. Specific strategies for use in the education of health professionals could reduce ageism in the future workforce of this vital sector of the community. Critical thinking skills could be sharpened by giving students the opportunity to evaluate representations of older people in film. Students could reflect on their own attitudes to ageing and consider how their practice could be improved by embracing an open-minded, non-judgemental approach to the care of all clients, irrespective of age.

Find  Gatling’s PhD here. https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/39247/

The work challenging ageist stereotypes is occurring on pay television (such as Grace and Frankie and House of Cards on Netflix), there have been a few films that venture into this territory, and the call for characters over 40 from Carina and Entangled show progress on the horizon. The toe is in the door.

I hope the whole foot follows.

As an aside,  Margaret Gatling’s  PhD research on older people and sexuality on screen took place about the same time I did my PhD. Our paths have yet to cross, despite how our work overlaps, and how we both live n Australia (it’s a big country, kids).

 

Gatling, M.,  Mills, J., & Lindsay, D. (2016)  Sex After 60? You’ve got to be joking! Senior sexuality in comedy film. Journal of Aging Studies 40, 23-28.

Gatling, Margaret Catherine (2013) Representations of age and ageing in comedy film.  https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/39247/.

Being Grateful For A Sandwich Made of Love And Three Books in One!

boardbedThis comes out on Saturday. I’m snuggled between two amazeballs authors.

I’m like the meat in the LOVEWICH!

Feel the love.

Taste the Love.

Have a bite of Ainslie Paton, Amy Andrews, and me!

Here’s MORE LOVE:

I’m thrilled to be in the company of such wonderful authors. Not only are these women brilliant writers they are incredibly supportive and generous to other writers. I am constantly blown away by the level of their generosity to the romance writing community, and, personally, by how they have encouraged and supported me over the years.  Truly, they shine as writers and as human beings. I am humbled by their skill with words, but more so by their skill as human beings.

So here’s where I say thank you to Ainslie Paton and Amy Andrews, and to our wise publisher, Escape Publishing, for snuggling me in the middle of you both. Thank you. Thank you. I hope you two rub off on me.

Between Boardroom & Bedroom is: A collection of full-length novels about what happens after business hours…

Insecure — Ainslie Paton

The worst thing a man can do is not be with the woman he loves.

Jacinta was the CEO in waiting. Mace was the geek from IT. She had an office suite on the top floor. He worked in cubicle hell.

She had power, influence, her life mapped out. He had big dreams, and an appetite for risk.

They had one hot night written all over them, except the city conspired to turn that night into a weekend of unexpected passion and deep connection.

Will love be enough when Jacinta’s star falls and Mace’s dream takes flight, or will ambition, expectation and insecurity pull them apart?

Driving In Neutral — Sandra Antonelli (that’s me!)

A quick-witted romance about facing your fears — like love, the greatest risk of all.

Levelheaded Olivia Regen walks away from her car-racing career and the wreckage of a bad marriage to take on new work that’s far removed from the twists of racetrack. Her new life is about control, calm, and the friends that she adores.

But her first day on the job involves getting up close and too personal with her claustrophobic boss, alone in a broken elevator. Her unconventional solution for restoring his equilibrium shocks them both– leaves Olivia shaken.

Determined to stick to her plan, Olivia drives headlong into work and planning her over-anxious best friend’s wedding, leaving no room for kissing, elevators, or workplace relationships. But Emerson is not one to be out-maneuvered. Can he convince Olivia that her fear of falling in love again is just another kind of claustrophobia — one that is destined to leave them both lonely?

Risky Business — Amy Andrews

From bestselling author Amy Andrews comes a new romance about putting pleasure before business.

Samantha Evans’ life is going to hell. Not only has she rage-quit her beloved high-powered job, but she is suddenly afflicted by hormones, free time, and an unavoidable, undeniably gorgeous irritant in the form of Nick Hawke, her neighbor, an extreme sports star who has come home to take over the reins of his grandmother’s second-hand bookshop. Sam needs something to keep her from begging for her old job back and helping Nick at his bookstore might be just the thing.

Nick has six months to get over an injury. That means no sports, no danger and, above all else, no risks. It means playing it safe. And what could be safer than hiring a cranky, unemployed accountant to help run the bookstore? Sam is efficient and methodical and messing up her neat, post-it note world could be a fun way to pass the time…

Erroneous Beliefs and Myths Influenced by Superstition and Stereotypes

UNIn 2013, The United Nations Human Right council adopted a resolution making today, 13 June, International Albinism Awareness Day.CHIN NextToYou1920_1920x3022_1024

My book Next to You features a romantic lead with albinism and a deep abiding love of 70s Bubblegum pop songs. The book is due for release on 25 July, but is available for preorder on Amazon, review on Netgalley, and is also up on Goodreads.  Yay, right? Okay but why did I write a character with albinism?

A rather obvious parallel. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

The un.org information regarding International Albinism Awareness Day states, “The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition.” Even in the western world, images of albinism are often based on myths and superstition. Naturally, this is something William Murphy, the silver fox hero of Next to You understands. Will tries hard to educate other about the genetically inherited condition that affects his skin and, to less of an extent than many others with albinism, his vision. By the way, Will’s silver foxy because he’s 56, not because he’s albino.

I tried hard to dispel myths about albinism in Next to You, because when I began writing the story, so many years ago, I was surprised by how few accurate representations of persons with albinism there are. When was the last time you saw a person with albinism portrayed onscreen, in a book, comic, or graphic novel in a role that wasn’t a stereotype of evil or comic relief?

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Usually I soapbox about the representations–or lack thereof–of women over 40 in romance fiction. I write women of of substance, not tokens, comic foils, secondary characters, or worst of all, stereotypes: the crone, the crazy cat lady, the granny, the cougar. I write for a female audience that can see themselves, not as cat-ladies, crones, or knitting-cookie-baking grannies, but as regular women—who just happen to be older. Next to You is no different. Caroline is over 45, Will is older and just happens towitch have albinism.

Have a look at the UN’s statement again: The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition.

Modify the statement slightly: Older women (or Older people) are often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition. 

There you have my reason. Marginalised populations.

Appearances are deceiving. Myths, superstitions, and stereotypes are appalling. Like any man, Will has life baggage, but it has little to do with his skin and eyes. Like any woman, Caroline has life baggage. While Will’s less-than-perfect vision does play a role in the story, I did my best to write an accurate representation of a man and a woman finding unexpected love a little bit later in life, leaving out the erroneous myths and stereotypes of albinism and age.

The UN notes that the erroneous beliefs, myths, and superstitions about albinism foster marginalisation and social exclusion. The beliefs and myths about albinism are centuries old, are present in cultural attitudes and practices around the world. You see this marginalisation in TV, film, books, advertising. The same can be said about older people. However, stereotypes, myths, and superstitions about albinism put lives at risk, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Here is information about International Albinism Awareness Day from the UN website:

Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited difference present at birth. In almost all types of albinism, both parents must carry the gene for it to be passed on, even if they do not have albinism themselves. The condition is found in both sexes regardless of ethnicity and in all countries of the world. Albinism results in a lack of pigmentation (melanin) in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light. As a result, almost all people with albinism are visually impaired and are prone to developing skin cancer. There is no cure for the absence of melanin that is central to albinism.

While numbers vary, it is estimated that in North America and Europe 1 in every 17,000 to 20,000 people have some form of albinism. The condition is much more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, with estimates of 1 in 1,400 people being affected in Tanzania  and prevalence as high as 1 in 1,000 reported for select populations in Zimbabwe and for other specific ethnic groups in Southern Africa.  

Violence and discrimination against persons with albinism: a global phenomenon?

While it has been reported that persons with albinism globally face discrimination and stigma,  information on cases of physical attacks against persons with albinism is mainly available from countries in Africa.  

Persons with albinism face more severe forms of discrimination and violence in those regions where the majority of the general population are relatively dark-skinned. … In other words, a greater degree of contrast in pigmentation often gives rise to a greater degree of discrimination. That appears to be the case in some sub-Saharan African countries where albinism is shrouded in myth and dangerous and erroneous beliefs.

The manner in which discrimination faced by persons with albinism manifests itself, and its severity, vary from region to region. In the western world, including North America, Europe and Australia, discrimination often consists of name-calling, persistent teasing and bullying of children with albinism. Little information is available from other regions such as Asia, South America and the Pacific etc. However, some reports indicate that in China and other Asian countries, children with albinism face abandonment and rejection by their families.

The Soundtrack of A Fictional Life

William Murphy never sees It comingA mix tape, a playlist, a soundtrack whatever you call it, why can’t books have soundtracks for sale like movies? 

Because kids,  compiling a soundtrack for a movie is something of a copyright, A&R big money nightmare. For books to have a companion soundtrack would be a copyright, A&R ginormous money acid trip hallucination beyond the comprehension of mortals.

Despite that, from the very first book I ever wrote (the one that will never see the light of day) to A Basic Renovation, For Your Eyes Only (originally titled And She Was–a title I think was better–but marketing didn’t think so and what do I know about marketing?) and Driving in Neutral, every book I write has a soundtrack. Most authors I know listen to music when they write. Music can be inspiring or set the mood for a scene. Characters might have their own theme song. Some characters might even have an entire theme soundtrack, which is the case with Next to You, my upcoming July release.

The music for Next to You is so vital to the story, to the character of William Murphy. Music, Bubblegum pop and Super Sounds of the Seventies is what makes Will Will, –just like movies are what makes his new next door neighbour Caroline Jones Caroline Jones, but more about Caroline in future posts.

In the words of Barry Manilow (yes, I am quoting Barry Manilow), I am music and I write the sooooooongs, but really I am writer and I write the characters who listen to the sooooooongs, and the character I wrote listens to the songs (although he doesn’t listen to Barry Manilow) that make him the man he is.

Here then is some of what William Murphy listens to.   Next to You3coverAnd seeing as all of these songs (and many more) are in my  music library, you can be assured these are also songs I listen to. You can listen to the Next to You Soundtrack here on William Murphy’s YouTube Channel

Tell me, would you buy a book’s soundtrack the same way you’d buy a film soundtrack?

My Next Big Thing, Next to You

Writing takes time. Lots of time.

Getting published takes time. Lots of time.

Submitting queries and manuscripts takes time. Lots of time.

This book’s taken time. Lots of time.

And by lots of time, I mean this books’s taken me 12 years to get accepted for publication.

This doesn’t mean the book that took me 12 years book is published. It means it took me 12 years that consisted of 9 months of writing it, a week where a well-respected and very dear author friend of mine read it and thought it was better than the first book I wrote (Bless you, Megan for getting through that piece of shite), a year of sitting on it, a week of my very lovely one-time critique partner Gabrielle reading it, and 9 years of sitting in a box under the bed before a writers’ weekend at Rachel Bailey’s house made me think to drag it out to see if it could be resurrected, followed by rewriting, editing and rewriting, and submitting and pitching, and submitting pitching, and submitting until….

Yes, kids, my Next Big Thing is about a motorcycle-riding albino hero who loves 60s Bubble Gum Pop. it’s called Next to You Don’t know about a release date, seeing as I just got the ‘we’d be delighted to accept Next to You for publication’ email,  but you know publishing is all about waiting.

And I can’t wait for you to meet William.

NTY1