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.

That’s My Job

book-2The other day, over coffee in a café with a writer friend who lives around the corner from me, the topic turned from our writing to the great mystery of promotion and the elusive magical unicorn that leads readers to your books. We discussed when your new book comes out strong, gets well-reviewed, and then…slips into something like a zombie-like state where sales shuffle along, taking an occasional bite here and there. My friend and I wondered how much promo can you do for yourself, how can you market your work and get it noticed, get it ‘discovered’ without being annoying or spending a fuckton of money by hiring a marketing & PR firm.

Fun fact: Did you know fuckton is a now a standard unit of measurement?

The two of us talked and talked — and didn’t come up with any answers, had no suggestions to make, and we went back to sitting side by side drinking coffee, wearing headphones and writing. Because that’s what we do. We meet,we write, and drink coffee.

book1Like my friend, I’ve followed the advice I’ve been given, done blog tours, sent my books out for reviews, peddled my publications on Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad, Pinterest, in newspapers and local magazines, and radio, on my website, on other’s websites. I’ve gone to conferences, presented workshops and papers, and my books continue shuffling along. What I can say is that, while we spent quite some time discussing what to do, I don’t worry about my books doing a zombie shuffle. I set my focus on writing books. I write because THAT’S MY JOB.

I will be totally honest. I don’t write to make money. You may call bullshit on this, but  I have a great life and I do not define myself as a human being by the amount of dough my books do or do not bring in. As a pragmatist, I know this business is a crapshoot, that there are a shit-ton (slightly smaller than a fuckton) of writers and books out there, and very, very, very few make any real sort of money from the work. Making lotsa money would be nice and I’ll admit that royalties are kinda awesome, mostly because they keep me able to sit in a café, drink coffee and write, but as pleased as hell as I am when someone reads my work and buys me another cup of coffee, I do not write my books FOR anyone other than myself. I’m my own audience. And I know what I like

I started writing because I couldn’t find what I wanted to read, which, by now, all of you probably know that’s stories with women over 40 as the lead. Some of you out there happen to like what I like, and like what I write, and that’s totally bitchin’! Thank you for buying me coffee!

While my next two books continue my placing a 40+ woman as the heroine, they are a sligantonellicoverssmallht departure from my usual romance snark, and I still wrote them for myself first. I also wrote them for my friend Elle because she shares my love of coffee and the Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Cult status, coffee money, and Elle aside, what I’m pondering again today is this:

  1. How soon is too soon to market and promote a new book? If I begin this Friday, as I had planned to last week, will it be overkill of the fuckton of promotion?
  2. Is it too early for promo, considering that one of the books has garnered a little interest, but no publishing deal—yet.
  3. Is it too early for promo if I indie publish it and become a hybrid author, and if so see question 1?
  4. Is it possible to overfeed the elusive unicorn and kill it before it has a chance to become a zombie book?

The point of all this is that I am a writer. I am not schooled in marketing or promotion—I don’t even know if there’s a difference between marketing and promo. I am a writer and a coffee drinker.

Maybe one of you could mull this over and get back to me while I’ll carry on writing to please myself, drinking coffee, because contemplating the path to ultimate promomojo sure does get in the way of my job.

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.

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!

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.

When Your Work of Fiction Meets A Disturbing Reality

You know why there are seasons don’t you?

Zeus’ granddaughter Persephone was kidnapped and taken to the Underworld by Hades, the God of the Underworld. Hades he rode a chariot from a crack in the earth’s crust, saw Ms P and snatched persephher. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, the Goddess of the harvest, was devastated that her daughter had been kidnapped and went looking for Miss P, searching all over the earth. of course she searched alone because in Ancient Greek mythology there was no FBI, and Grandpa Zeus preferred to go around the world disguised as a swan so he could boink pretty women instead of helping with the investigation. Meanwhile, since Demeter spent so much time looking for Miss P, she sorta forgot about being the Goddess of the Harvest, which meant the crops withered, died, and it became winter.

Forever.

OH MY GOD WHAT A FUCKIN’ NIGHTMARE!Leda

Yes, I said that exactly like Marisa Tomei did in the movie My Cousin Vinny.

Then, one day Demeter figures out Hades, who it turns out is Miss P’s UNCLE, was persuaded to give up his niece Persephone for half of every year. So yeah, that’s why was have spring and summer. Part of the year Miss P is down with her Creepy Uncle, the other half of the year she’s making rainbows, drinking lemonade, and having a BBQ.

The point of this is, myths once gave explanations for what we now know to be scientific fact about the ear’s orbit around Mr Sun and blah blah blah.

It almost feels opportunistic of me to write this post, considering I have a book with an albino hero about to come out, but HOLY SHIT I read an article today that made me feel sick.  It was about African country Malawi, where people with albinism are being hunted for their bones because myths and superstitions say the bones will bring success and wealth, are made of gold, or have special powers, or can cure HIV. 

None of that is true. We have the scientific facts about albinism, but those bizzaro myths about the condition still exist. In the twenty-first century.

I feel very much like William Murphy standing on his soapbox today. I know tired to make light of something horrific. It’s the way I cope, or explain it to myself since I wrote a work of romance fiction with an albino hero who’s really just an ordinary great guy in a great suit. I tired to show William Murphy as a regular Joe with a skin condition that gives him fair skin and not so fabulous vision. But there are other fictions out there, like in Malawi, that continue to perpetuate myths about albinism–twisted horrifying myths. And they need to end. 

Shyness and The Art of ‘Verting’: Intro, Extro, Ambi

Shyness is not introversion. There are those who mistake introversion for shyness.

NextToYou CoverfinalShyness often occurs in new situations or with unfamiliar people. There’s a sense of apprehension, awkwardness, and a lack of comfort. Shy people may avoid social situations entirely.

In Next to You (see what I did there? A COVER REVEAL) It’s easy to mistake Caroline for shy. She has a sense of apprehension about moving back to Chicago, feels awkward, displays a lack of comfort, hesitates in social situations — and for good reason. No, I’m not telling you why because spoilers. However Caroline is anything but shy. Caroline is an introvert — like a lot of my fellow authors.

I’m not an introvert. I’m not an extrovert. I leave extrovert to my husband. He draws energy from social interaction.  So then, what am I? What is Caroline?

Moetball

  Move over Grace Kelly

Story time! Last year I went to the Moet and Chandon Black and White Ball.  I got all dolled up in strapless black satin, did my hair like Grace Kelly, and put on eye makeup. I even wore a pair of pantyhose that were supposed to give my shapeless, flat ass shape. I looked good and I was ready to have a glamorous evening with men in dinner suits and women in splendid finery.

The fun of going to the ball with my dashing Dr Shrinkee husband lasted seven and a half minutes–the length of time it took us to get from the front of the building, have our photo snapped by some local magazine, and ascend the grand staircase to the ballroom.

Don’t know about you, but the word ballroom fills me with images of high ceilings, chandeliers, a dance floor, banquet tables… Despite the lack of a high ceiling, all those other things were there. Also present in the ballroom were seventy-five bajillion guests. It was wall-to-wall people and three bands, all using giant speakers, meaning it was crowded AND loud. No, wait. It was deafening.

After twenty minutes I was overwhelmed. My husband was IN his social butterfly element.

I’m what you’d call an Ambivert. I’m comfortable with groups and social interaction, but I need time away from the crowd to renew my energy. To be honest, my comfort level with groups reaches its limit at 6 people. I don’t like loud noises. A crush of seventy-five bajillion people and a wall of sound (not disco-ball-727116_1920the Phil Spector music kind) wiped away my ambivertedness and transformed me into an introvert. It was loud EVERYWHERE. People were everywhere. Even the ladies room was packed. There was no place I could go to restore my psyche. For the rest of the evening, I did the only thing I could to save what Carl Jung would have called my my ‘mental energy’. I stood with my back to the wall, behind a speaker, with tissue stuffed in my ears, a deer in black satin caught in the twinkly, spinning lights of a disco ball. Acquaintances shouted small talk in my face. Nice men in dinner suits tried to get me to dance. People stepped on my feet.

This was an extreme case where I became an introvert, and for the next week, my very extroverted husband had to answer questions or field comments regarding his ‘shy’ wife at the ball.

Again, shyness is not introversion.

While being in such a large crowd of people made me apprehensive, while I was so far out of my comfort zone it surprised my husband, like Caroline. I do not have a social phobia. Sure, my social skill isn’t the greatest, and I can be awkward when there are more than 6 people at a dinner party, but I don’t fear rejection. I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t worry about being humiliated. I do not avoid social contact. I have friends. I enjoy the company of others. I can carry on a conversation. Although my ‘vert’ may shift in some situations, like when there are seventy-five bajillion people, I am not shy.

Neither is Caroline.

Next to You comes out on 25 July. You can read the first chapter on Wattpad for free.