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…

Loving the Beast: Or What I Learned From Loving the Villain

Luke Evans as Gaston. I approve.im-such-a-bad-boy

Everyone thinks the story Beauty and the Beast is about Belle and the Beast, a cursed prince, but really it’s about Gaston’s ability to expectorate, decorate with antlers, and his slide into hell.

You can keep your pure-hearted heroines and heroes. I’ve always liked fairy tale villains best. Villains give a better example of what it means to be truly human. Villains face or ignore their own shortcomings. Villains illustrate the concept of free will. Villains demonstrate human frailty, human morality. Villains illuminate how to and how not to behave if one wants to be loved, accepted, and admired. We learn more about ourselves from the villain’s actions than we do from the heroine’s or hero’s actions.

Heroines and heroes can be kind of boring, particularly if they are all goody-goody, principled types. Why I think Cinderella is boring as dry grass is that I never learned anything from her, and I never learned anything from Sleeping Beauty, from The Little Mermaid, or Snow White either—other than if you’re pretty people hate you. But I learned plenty from the evil stepmother, nasty stepsisters, and The Evil Queens: If you do something mean it will, eventually, bite you on the ass and lead to your downfall.

Best to avoid being mean.

I love a well-fleshed out villain, but what I love even more is a character who has villainous traits. For me, what makes Mr Rochester far more interesting than Mr High Morals Darcy is that Rochester has a secret, a screaming wraith of a secret that makes him deceitful. The secret is in the attic and it very nearly ruins him. What do we learn from Rochester’s villainous behavior?

Polygamy is bad and don’t keep secrets from the woman you love.

queen2Naturally, my love for a bit o’ badness points to the usual discussion about ‘niceness,’ as in how the leads, particularly the female lead in a romance novel, must be ‘nice,’ never nasty or bitchy, which points to the double standard discussion about how women ‘ought to behave,’ and how older women have been maligned for centuries, which points to a discussion on social mores blah, blah…

I want more female leads in romance fiction to be villainous, to have villainous traits the way Scarlett O’Hara and Rochester do. While Scarlett’s behavior in Gone With The Wind would never be questioned if she had been a man, she is, like Rochester, a perfect example of how good people, men and women, do bad things to protect what they love.

Yes, that is what I learned from Scarlett O’Hara and Mr Rochester.

What I learned from fairy tales wasn’t be pretty, be tidy, kiss frogs because they may be princes. My education came from the villains. I learned to never pretend to be something I wasn’t because that would get me shut up in a cask stuck with nails and dragged through the streets. I leaned to never be wicked to others because that would get me shut up in a vat with poisonous snake and then boiled in oil. I learned to be happy and grateful for what I have because, like the materialistic fisherman’s wife, I could lose it all in a flash, and its only ‘stuff.’

In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston’s utter ruin teaches us how to be human far better than the Beast does when he is transformed by love. Gaston’s transformation from man into a real hellish beast shows us that the villains are the true teachers in fairy tales and in life.

Older Broads Are The New Box-Office Powerhouses. Are You Listening Romance Publishers?

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

As part of the ongoing expansion of The “Mature” Content Stockpile of articles regarding women and age on this website, I keep track of news and other items I can add to the stockpile. When I came across this fab piece by Mark Harris from NY Mag over at Vulture you know I fist bumped myself, and OH YEAH MAMA-ed while I jumped all my about my kitchen. I was so loud, so exuberant, the builder installing insulation in my garage called out to to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself.

The article is titled Actresses Over 60 Are the New Box-Office Powerhouses.  As I read, the line that first stood out is pretty much what I soapbox about on a regular basis. Harris mentions “society’s tendency to write off older women as dear little “characters” without passions or aspirations of their own.” Then Harris goes on to discuss a 1968 study in Hollywood that examined the age demographics of film-goers.  It’s that paragraph that truly hits home; it’s what I say about a certain overlooked demographic of romance readers with an appetite for a certain overlooked subgenre of romance fiction–the Older Romance, Mature Romance, Mid-Adult Romance, Seasoned Romance, Contemporary Adult Romance. 

The audience is real, and so is its appetite. And those who get it — who don’t simply view this particular group of movie lovers as the “about to die” demographic — may, a few years hence, look like very smart early adapters. In 1968, well before demographics were a subject of serious discussion at the studios, Variety reported the results of a study that showed 48 percent of American moviegoers were 24 or younger. For the middle-aged men who then ran Hollywood and thought they were making movies for themselves, the news was revelatory. Baby-boomers — the pig in the python — were coming of age, and over the next 15 years, the way movies were conceived, made, and marketed would undergo a revolution as a result. Now, almost 50 years later, that demographic is coming of old age, and making itself heard again. And if anyone wants it, they’ve still got money to spend. —(Harris, 1 Aug 2016)

Did you notice that first line Early adapters are smart?

Did you notice the last line? That last line means I have to rewrite a small part of an academic paper I am presenting at the upcoming University of Love conference in Adelaide, Australia. My paper is titled The (Saggy) Bottom Line: Women of a Certain Age and Romance Fiction. I have to include what Harris says alongside what a few other studies and authors note. That last line is a big fat flag I wave when I’m on my soapbox, a big fat signpost that is being overlooked by the publishers of romance fiction.

In case you missed it, because romance publishers miss it, so it must be easy to miss, that big fat signpost is MONEY.

I’ve said it before, I say it in my paper presentation, and I’ll say it here again, There is a demographic of romance fiction readers  who MATCH this demographic of film-goers, and this demographic wants romance fiction that reflects the reality of their lives, not some hackneyed stereotyped bullshit about how a woman over 40 is dead below the waist, or, as Harris mentions, are people who buy “adult diapers and medic-alert systems and sit in their adjustable beds leaning forward with ear horns to make sure they hear the list of dangerous side effects in the commercials.”

This demographic wants romance fiction with heroes and HEROINES who are whole, intelligent, vibrant, active, sexual human beings, not diaper-wearing crazy, cat-loving, dried-up-old grannies with walkers. This demographic of romance reader wants a romance heroine who is like any romance heroine, only she just happens to be older. This demographic of romance reader is trying to make itself heard, and they have money to spend.

This Demographic HAS MONEY TO SPEND! What are you romance publishers waiting for? Early adapters WIN! Romance has been the Early Adapter of so many social changes regarding women– until now, and the industry is missing this goldmine right in front of them.

Thanks to Mark Harris for making me have to rewrite a small section my paper. I have to include this article because he’s given me more evidence that the romance publishing industry is overlooking a goldmine.

Next to You and An Introvert on Book Release Day

NextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022It’s BOOK RELEASE DAY for Next to You

This is the point where there are a choice of ways for me to react. Let’s examine them and break them down.

I could have a Book Launch Brunch, except… As much as I LOVE the breakfast-lunch amalgam that allows others to imbibe and relax with alcohol whilst I get hyped-up on caffeine, I’m an introvert who hates parties where there are more than six people, and no one, except me, would get up and boogie to the Partridge Family’s I Woke Up In Love This Morning from William Murphy’s Bubblegum pop classics playlist if there’s hollandaise, coffee, and booze.

I could be obsessive and check my sales rank on Amazon, today and tomorrow because it’s July 25th here in Australia, but not yet in the UK or North America. However, Amazon boggles my mind and means nothing much at all to me, except for the fact that I’ll eventually get a royalty statement showing that I made enough money from selling a few copies of Next to You to allow me to buy three to ten cups of coffee.Antonellicoffe

Those three-to ten cups of coffee—OH WHAT JOY!!

It’s a proud moment and I’d like to burst into my favourite local café and shout COFFEE FOR EVERYONE, which, for me is the equivalent of popping a cork on something, tossing confetti and SQUEEEING and stuff…except that introvert, more-than-six people thing again, and I SQUEE better on paper. So I’m gonna go to my favourite local café and continue writing my new book at my favourite table in the corner, and have 2 cups of coffee that, thanks to my readers, my royalties have allowed me to buy. And coffee OH WHAT JOY!

I’m really, really incredibly happy to have William Murphy and Caroline finally meet and have you meet them. Thank you for sharing this moment with me and, well, if you happen to stop by and see me at my favourite café, know that I am truly enjoying the coffee you bought me when you bought my book. 

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.

Pop Goes the Culture Breakfast At Tiffany’s Club

writingSometimes I get together with my writerly-type friends and we talk about writing advice we’ve been given. You non-writerly types have probably heard the cliché “write what you know.” There’s also the gem “write the book you want to read.”

I admit there are times adhere to one or both of those little pearls of ‘wisdom’ without noticing–until someone points it out to me. For instance, pop culture, I’m full of it, and so are my books. My novels are chock full of pop culture references to songs, TV shows, movies, books, public and fictional figures.  The characters I write, William Murphy from Next to You in particular, are all jam-packed and bursting wiNextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022th pop culture goodness. I write books that way because that’s what I know.

Of course I didn’t realise this was what I did until my publisher said I was “The smart-talking, quip-cracking, pop-culture addicted author” that I really noticed my books are chock-full of pop culture references.

It seems I can’t help myself. I cram pop culture into my books because pop culture is sorta ingrained in my life.  I bet it’s ingrained in your life too. Pop culture is familiar, everyday. Some see it as superficial, consumerist, and silly, but it’s the mainstream and has been since the last part of the 20th century. Pop culture has an impact, whether you want it to or not.

The interesting thing about pop culture is how it crosses generations. Things that were hot and popular in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s–from rock and roll, Elvis, Leave it to Beaver, The Beatles, John Lennon, Hippies, Woodstock, Vietnam, I Dream of Jeannie, Watergate, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angles, Punk, Disco, “Greed is Good,” Thatcherism, The Simpsons, Reaganism, Grunge, multiculturalism, Tiananmen Square and on and on, have had a cultural impact. Those people, moments, movements, TV shows and music have become part of western culture daily life, instantly recognisable, even if one wasn’t alive when those things came into being.

I’m from a generation sliver between Baby Boomers and GenX, a generation that someone, way back in 2004, referred to as ‘Cuspers.’ I don’t quite identify with either generation (See here and here for more on Cuspers), but being in between two generations means I am privy the pop cultural influences of both, and perhaps this is why William Murphy enjoys TV shows Baby Boomers watched AND has such an unshakable love for 60s and 70s Bubblegum pop music. This is what I know.

TigerbeatThe sad thing of it is, that no matter how I wrote about what I knew, no matter that I wrote a book I wanted to read, I couldn’t figure out a way to make Will a fan of reading Tiger Beat magazine.

Next to You is available for pre-order now and hits stores on 25 July!

I Can See Clearly Now: Next to You and How Come You Did That?

Here’s the question I’ve been asked the most about my upcoming release Next to You:

“Why an a hero with albinism, Sandra?”LittleWill

My answer? Contact lenses and an old friend.

I wear hard contact lenses and I have a very fair-skinned dear friend who wore an eye patch when he was a kid. That’s him over there.

Yeah, yeah, how cute and all, but what’s that kid got to do with a hero with albinism?

Know how what you see isn’t always what you get, and how looks are deceiving, and that love is blind? I’m myopic (near sighted or shortsighted if you prefer). I also have astigmatism plus, being middle aged, presbyopia. Soft contacts won’t correct my crappy vision. A soft lens won’t sit properly because my astigmatism is too severe. Glasses don’t even give me great distance acuity. Rigid contacts, however, correct my vision quite nicely. Fortunately, rigid gas permeable contacts are a special order item that last a long time, Unfortunately they’re not cheap. The thing is, NextToYou_V1_Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022twelve years ago, when I wrote Next to You, which was then titled A Simple Overexposure (if you read the book you’ll pick where I got that title), I needed new contacts, and it was getting difficult to find an optometrist to fit them and keep the cost under $400.

Being such a tightwad back then, I went online to find companies that manufactured hard contacts, so I could purchase them directly—cheaper than I could from my $400 a pair optometrist. What happened during my search for cheaper is that I came across an article discussing hard contact lenses and vision correction in people with albinism. The article mentioned the use of an eye patch for amblyopia and strabismic amblyopia. Immediately, I thought of that fair-skinned, eye-patch-wearing kid up there, my dear friend, whose name happens to be Will—or The Dread Pirate Will, as he asked to be called in return for letting me use his photo in this post.

lens

maikel_nai via StoolsFair / CC BY

After some fond memories of Will, ones that involved us fake sumo wrestling and going to Monty Python film festivals, I found myself nerding out, reading more about vision conditions like strabismus and nystagmus–eye conditions people with albinism often have.

Then, I nerded out even more and began reading more and more about albinism, about the myths, the stigmatisation, and the stereotypes so often associated with the condition. In a bizarre way the stigmatisation and stereotypes reminded me of the way women of a certain age are stigmatised and stereotyped. I thought how stereotypes are, at their very root, a vision problem that can’t be corrected with contacts or an eye patch.

Suddenly, I had this image of middle-aged man with albinism; it was William Murphy, the suit-wearing, bubble-gum pop-loving hero of Next to You, and I knew there was more to this Will than meets the eye.

Five minutes after seeing Will’s image, I saw Caroline, a middle-aged, introverted, movie-loving  heroine who isn’t exactly what she seems—because what you see isn’t always what you get, looks are deceiving, and love is blind.

Kind of like me without my contacts or glasses.

 

Next to You is out 25 July. You can preorder it now, from all the usual places:

Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay All Romance

Writing a SymPathetic Villain

villainThere’s a fine line between love and hate, between madness and sanity, between a caricature and a character. It’s easy to paint a villain with broad strokes, make her or him larger than life–like the bad guy in a Bond movie.  But how does one create a villain whose villainy is a matter of circumstance, an individual who, under normal conditions, would actually be a pretty fun guy?

How does one make a character who does awful things elicit pathos in a reader?

Alice Sebold did this in her book The Lovely Bones. If you’ve never read it (or seen the film) it’s the tale of Susie, a girl who is kidnapped, raped and murder by a neighbour. The neighbour, Mr Harvey, is an utterly abhorrent, ghastly, depraved man, a serial killer, and Sebold manages to show his desperate loneliness in how he lives alone–and builds doll houses, which is creepy…and pitifully heartbreaking.

That small thing, the man alone building doll houses, was enough of an appeal to my emotions as I read the book, and, despite all that Mr Harvey had done, I remembered the loneliness that I had once experienced in my own life–and I felt pity for the man. Granted it was a fleeting sensation, but Sebold kind of blew me away with her skill as a writer.

When I wrote Alex, the villain in Next to You, I never really thought of him as a villain. CHIN NextToYou1920_1920x3022_1024I thought of him as the redheaded actor Eric Stoltz, a good-looking good guy having a really shitty year after a family tragedy and being dumped by the love of his life.

People do all sorts of less-than-intelligent things when life goes to hell. Alex walks that fine between love and hate, between madness and sanity, between wanting to do the right thing and winding up doing the wrong thing. I know what I wanted to do with Alex when I wrote him. I wanted to pull off a Sebold and show his humanity. I wanted the reader to have a little sympathy for him–in spite of his despicable actions.

Although it’s available for pre-order and on Netgalley for reviews, with the book’s release a little over a month away, it’s too early to tell whether I managed a balance between caricature and character with Alex’s reprehensible behaviour, if he comes across as simply a villain, or if he’ll elicit pathos of any kind from readers. Perhaps readers will find his desolation pathetic rather than sympathetic. However, I am hoping that someone besides me feels, for at least a fleeting moment, pity, or recognises his frail humanity.

 

 

 

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.