Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Writing Stigmas

The Stigma of Genre
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
We’ve been noticing a troubling trend when either we participate in Twitter pitch events or authors submit their work to us. We think it’s time to start talking about it. We’re Authors 4 Authors because we’re passionate about fellow authors and helping them succeed, and sometimes that means speaking up for them when they’re too scared or unable to do it for themselves.

What’s Happening?

Authors, friends, readers, we’ve got some news for you that you probably already know. There are stigmas against writers across every genre. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, and the list goes on. And on. And on.
Today we’re going to be talking specifically about the stigma against romance writers. Before we get too far into this blog post, I wanted to make it clear that this is written from an outside perspective. I don’t typically read romance, nor do I write in the genre. I wanted to write this post to look at this issue with a more critical eye and less of an emotional retaliation of my genre being talked about poorly.
We recently participated in a twitter pitch event where we were specifically looking for romance and romance subgenres, and we had to dig and dig and dig to find them because they aren’t marked as such. It breaks all of our hearts at A4A, seeing authors pitch their work that is clearly a romance without the accompanying tag because they’re worried it will diminish their desirability as an author, which means publishers and agents who are actively looking for romances aren’t seeing them unless they dig through everything else. And let’s be honest, most agents and publishers do not have the time to look through every pitch and play guess-the-genre.
Because romance can be its own genre and combine with any other genre, we see more examples of this stigma with romance than with other genres.  We’ll give an example of what we’ve been seeing using A4A founder B. C. Marine’s romantic fantasy, A Seer’s Daughter:
#PitMad Two forbidden lovers share the rare gift to heal others with a kiss—but at a cost. Odelia and Kennard navigate a world where power always has a price. If they choose the wrong paths, they could destroy not only their hearts but lives and nations. #F #A #SPF #IRMC
Why would a romance writer withhold a romance tag when it’s clearly a romance? Because they hear varying comments that all amount to romance is not for serious writers when they talk about their work with others. It makes authors fearful of the reactions they’ll get and hesitant to share their work.

Why is it happening?

The short answer? Patriarchy.
Who runs the world? Sorry, BeyoncĂ©, it’s not women. Especially in the writing world. And that’s something we want to change because as women authors and women business owners, we’re especially passionate about uplifting women and helping them succeed.
Romance is considered the fluff of the writing world. Why? Because it’s primarily written by women, and men don’t take women seriously. It’s seen as akin to women in the 1950s going to college and getting degrees in art history for the sake of finding a husband. They didn’t really need the degree, but they needed the husband. Their degrees were “cute,” much like the effort of women writing a book is seen as “cute.” Because, you know, real books can only be written by men.
This is particularly true for young adult romances, the most poked at demographic of all. Take Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books for example...likely, you’ve heard a wisecrack about the books and movies, no matter the skill set you think she has as an author. We’ll take this a little further and compare her to Dan Brown. Their books both came out around the same time and received backlash, but Meyer has continued to receive backlash for years after Brown’s books. Why? Because she had “teens” in love. And in the patriarchal world, there’s nothing sillier than a female teenager in love.
The content of the books aren’t that much different in their fantastical natures. Brown has a scavenger hunt for Jesus’ hidden descent and stopped just short of Lizard Men living in the sewers, while Meyer’s had a teenage vampire in love with a human teenager, with a teen werewolf in heat thrown in for good measure. When explained in plain terms, both sound, well, ridiculous. So why does Meyers get made fun of more and for longer? It’s a romance, and she’s a woman.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Throughout history, women have had to hide behind a man’s name to be taken seriously. There have been so many female authors that have used pen names or ambiguous initials to hide their sex. We do want to acknowledge that there are other reasons women use pen names, such as privacy or a dislike of their names, but historically, it’s been to be taken more seriously. Even though they’re revered for their writing skill, the BrontĂ« sisters wrote under pen names. Louise May Alcott originally published her gothic stories under A. M. Barnard before publishing Little Women with her real name.
To give a more modern example, Joanne Rowling published under J. K. Rowling because of her publisher. While they thought that the story would appeal to both boys and girls, they still wanted to hide her gender.
When even a publisher thinks that women won’t be taken seriously, there is something wrong. And it needs to be changed. Quickly.

How to stop it

This is a simple answer, but not a simple change. When an author tells you they write romance, don’t automatically say, “Oh, romance. Those are silly. It’s not what real life is like,” or, “Who reads this trash? No respectable woman, that’s for sure.” You’re discouraging people to write what they love, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Genre shaming is never okay, no matter the genre.
Romance isn’t for everyone. Let us repeat that and add a little more to it. Romance isn’t for everyone, just the same as Sci-Fi isn’t for everyone. Or Fantasy isn’t for everyone. There are so many kinds of romances, and they don’t have to just jump from one sex scene to the next. You can have anything between a sweet romance where the fiction is chaste and erotic romance where it gets hot and steamy. If you want to read more about those, you can check out our past blog posts about romance and erotica. You might even like them…if only romance were for serious writers.
Twitter has an amazing writing community, so why don’t we speak up more about this? If you see someone genre shaming—no matter the genre—say something. Call for an end to it, let the shamer know it’s not okay and never will be okay.
Own your genre
Whatever you write, you should be proud of it because it’s yours and something you love. It’s something you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into. Don’t let anyone tell you or make you feel that what you do isn’t good enough just because it’s a certain type of fiction. Fiction is just that: fiction.  It’s not entirely like real life. It’s not supposed to be. Romance is about the fantasy, the escape, just the same as any other genre. There’s just more sex—sometimes.

Next week we’ll be talking about publishing and choosing your publishing path.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Character Arc: Flat

Why Indiana Jones should have stopped after The Last Crusade as well as a look at dynamic flat arcs.
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
We’re here at the last of the character arc series (you can read here if you want to start from the beginning), and it’s time to tackle the great oxymoron of flat arcs.
Today I’ll be discussing two types of flat arcs: the classic flat arc and what I’m calling the dynamic flat arc. Yes, that second one sounds a bit confusing, and I’ll get to that, but let’s look at a classic flat arc first. Our prime example will be Indiana Jones.

Leave Indy Alone (Classic Flat Arc)

There are few action-adventure heroes more iconic than Indiana Jones. He has his hat, his whip, his snark, and the knowledge and determination to save the day. Nobody watches these movies for deep character revelations or insight into the human spirit. It’s all about the stunts and actions scenes and a crazy archeological treasure hunt.
Part of what makes it all work so well is that Indy doesn’t change. He is a steadfast character. Since the audience can depend on him not to change, the focus of the show is on all the other moving pieces. If you break down everything that happens in a given movie in the franchise, there is a ton of action packed into the runtime, and that’s possible because they aren’t spending time on changing Indy’s character.
It’s a method that served the franchise well...for the first three movies. Then The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull happened. To be honest, I could write a lengthy post on all that was wrong with that movie, but let’s just focus on the character arc of Indiana Jones, shall we?
Where it went wrong
One of the first things to notice is the aging of Indiana Jones. Yes, yes, Harrison Ford is older, and I’m not faulting him for that. He’s actually in fabulous shape for his age. However, he’s just not up to the kind of stunts that he performed as a younger man, which means that the action-adventure main character is forced to take the backseat in several scenes to let his younger co-star do more fights. So that standard, familiar, steadfast setup is automatically interrupted.
This in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad, but a large chunk of the movie is given over to Indy meeting his son and reconnecting with Marion. To be fair, Indiana Jones movies have always had romantic subplots, but they’re as shallow as kiddie pools. They mainly consist of putting a female character in close proximity to Indy for the duration of the film and having him kiss her at some point. The relationships never really change him. In The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, these subplots take over. So we’re left with an aged Indiana Jones doing less impressive stunts and squabbling with his family. Yay.
By changing the steadfast character, the movie can no longer accomplish the kind of action-adventure that made the previous films so beloved.

To Thine Own Self Be True (Dynamic Flat Arc)

On the surface, this one might seem confusing, but it’s really quite simple. A dynamic flat arc is when a character must actively fight to not change. Because of this struggle, they aren’t truly static (hence dynamic), but ultimately, they have a flat arc. For an example, I’m going to use a character from my novel A Seer’s Daughter. If you haven’t read it yet, go do that. I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve read it (or plowed ahead anyway, you rebel, you), the character I want to look at is Odelia DiOrto. When the story opens, she’s caring, intelligent, and in love with her best friend. While she has some flaws, she’s not in need of major growth or transformation any time soon. She doesn’t need to learn to embrace who she is as a queen. She’s already there and working on getting everyone else to recognize it. What she really needs is to not fall. This is what her father tells her about her future:
“You think that King Gonfrid will just hand Vist back to us if we ask nicely? To claim the throne is to provoke a civil war. He will ransom your head for all the gold he can spare. You will fight to survive, and to hold your claim will require you to become someone I never want you to be. It will mean cruel and ruthless acts and a cold heart. And when all is said and done, there will be two broken kingdoms, ripe for conquest by our neighbors because, lest you forget, Meriveria was formed for a reason. I see death. I see you wearing the crown, and alone. I want no part of this future, Odelia.”
It’s a bleak vision and a far fall from where she starts. Over the course of the story, Odelia’s given many opportunities to choose that future, and a few times, she seriously questions whether she might be stumbling into it anyway. But in acknowledging it, she actively fights to remain who she is. This is different from the classic flat arc in that the character is choosing not to change.

What Now?

Have you seen other examples of a dynamic flat arc? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook. And if you haven’t already, go read A Seer’s Daughter.

Next week, join Rebecca Mikkelson for an important article on genre shaming. Why does it happen, and what should we do about it?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Character Arc: Fall

How did the most recent film and television adaptations of Vanity Fair handle Becky Sharp?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
To review what character arcs are, see the overview article here.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Vanity Fair, it is a 19th-century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray that follows the rise and fall of Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley and their family and friends. There have been many screen adaptations over the years. It was made into a film in 2004 with Reese Witherspoon starring as Becky Sharp, and this year, ITV and Amazon Studios released a mini-series starring Olivia Cooke.

Her Fall

In the book and mini-series, which follows it closely, Becky claws her way up from being nobody to socializing with high society. And claw is the operative word. She will do anything to get what she wants. Nobody truly matters to her, not even her husband or son. She drives away her in-laws and her friend Amelia over the course of her climb. In the process of selling her soul for jewels, money, and invitations to grand parties, she betrays her husband one time too many. He takes their son and leaves her destitute. While she does get by on her wits and manages to always keep herself sheltered and fed, she has no-one, and when her husband dies, and their son inherits the Crawley estate, he asks to never see Becky again because she was such an unloving mother.
Now she does leech onto Jos Sedley in the end, following him around the world and milking his pity for her. She encourages him to take a life-insurance policy, and it’s strongly implied in the book that she contributes to his ill health and demise over the course of several months. However, Jos isn’t a complete fool and leaves very little to her. Becky will always land on her feet, but she has no real friends or love and merely subsists. She will never regain the lofty heights she reached.

Her Sort-of-Fall-But-Not-Really

In the 2004 film, it mostly follows the events of the book...on a surface level. Becky is portrayed in a more sympathetic light. She still lies and tricks her way to the top, but her affections for her family and friends are genuine, rather than an affectation she uses to suit her needs. In the beginning, when she first goes after Jos Sedley, she is in love and gushing over him instead of scheming to take advantage of a socially awkward man of wealth.
Then later, when she is showered with gifts by a wealthy gentleman, she is shocked and appalled to find that he expects her to be his mistress, and when her husband leaves her, it’s treated as cruelty on his part. (It does make me wonder how someone could be that naive while being clever enough to con her way to the top, but that’s not what we’re analyzing here.)
Becky still becomes destitute and friendless in the last act, but because the filmmakers tried to make her likable, they just couldn’t leave her down. Instead of following Jos with her hand out for tablescraps, she ends up with him in the end. The last scene is of the two of them snuggling together on the back of an elephant.

Happily Ever After Doesn’t Always Work

As a romance writer, happily-ever-afters (HEA) are my bread and butter, but that doesn’t always work in other genres. In the case of a tale like Vanity Fair, denying the charcter her HEA is much more satisfying. Despite the way the film version tries to justify her actions, nearly everything Becky does is horrible. She is a conniving narcissist in the book and mini-series, and even in the film, her greed outstrips her feelings. Her one kind act, telling Amelia to stop pining over her horribly unworthy dead husband, isn’t enough to earn Becky’s happiness.
Seeing her get what she wanted from the start says, “Hey, acting like garbage to everyone in your life ultimately pays off!” Although the book version isn’t as punished for her evil as she could have been, she at least isn’t rewarded. For a truly unsavory protagonist, a good fall arc is the most satisfying.

Next Time

For the final installment in this series, join me next week as we look at flat arcs. They may be oxymoronic, but they’re a staple of fiction!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Interview with B. C. Marine

Today we’ve got our very own B. C. Marine, the CAO of Authors 4 Authors, here with her debut novel A Seer’s Daughter. We’re so excited to see her work distributed to the public so they can enjoy it as much as we do!
What inspired you to write A Seer's Daughter?
I’ve always had vivid dreams. They’re like my own personal movies scenes in my head while I sleep, only better. At some point, I started writing them down because I figured that if I enjoyed them so much, someone else might too.

The base of Odelia and Kennard’s relationship and their destinies started there, and as I built the world and magic system to go around it I took a lot of inspiration from both fairy tale tradition and superheroes. One day, the idea struck me that true love’s kiss seemed almost like a weirdly specific power that every Disneyfied fairy tale had, and I wondered what it would be like if it actually were a superpower.

Are there any themes, symbols, or motifs in your story?
As you probably guessed from the title, destiny vs. choice is a constant theme. How inevitable are things? Is it worth it to change that?

Another is the healing. Kennard and Odelia both have this need to heal people, not just physically, but mentally and socially. However, the two of them have different methods and philosophies about how to accomplish that, and sometimes their desire to avoid or soothe pain does more harm than good.

Who is your favorite character?
I have so many favorites for different reasons. Even my antagonists have things I love about them. So I’m going to say Kennard because he tends to amplify all the other characters he interacts with. He just can’t help but ruffle somebody’s feathers. His banter with his bodyguards, Valerzan and Herman, and his spats with his mother, Melaine, were some of the most fun to write.

How did you decide on a setting? Is it based off of anywhere you’ve been in real life?
Carum Sound is based on the Puget Sound region in Washington. Meriveria is particularly special as it’s based on my home county. We have these beautiful views of both the mountains and the water—sometimes simultaneously if you stand in the right spot—and I love how close these two disparate features are to each other. And yet, throughout both sides, there is a lush rainforest full of pine and cedar tying them together. The combination makes such an apt metaphor for a romance like Odelia and Kennard’s.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have a lot of authors I love to follow, but narrowing it down, I’d have to say C. S. Lewis, Francine Rivers, and Diana Gabaldon.
Can you tell us what your favorite scene was to write?
Like I said, some of the banter with Kennard and his bodyguards is so fun, especially the hijinks it sometimes leads to. And of course, I love a good kiss scene.

But the one that surprised me the most with how much I enjoyed writing it was the poem in Eaund. Kennard is deeply offended by it and launches into this insult-laden monologue, which leads to a passionate fight with Odelia. They’re both raw and open for the first time in a long while, and writing it was very freeing.
Who is your least favorite character?
I actually love writing Melaine because she’s so fun to hate. She has no filter and says some horrible things to Odelia. While writing, I find myself taken aback by some the dialogue that comes out when I get into her character.

What can we expect next from you?
Kennard and Odelia’s story isn’t over yet. I’m preparing two sequels for A Seer’s Daughter. I’m also planning for Herman and Conora to each get their own spin-off. Fans of my fairy tale retellings might get to see more of their favorites as well.

A Seer’s Daughter is available for pre-order now and available for purchase February 10th!

Two forbidden lovers share the rare gift to heal others with a kiss—but at a cost.
Enchanted healer Odelia’s life has been a lie. Her father hid his visions of her future as the leader of a bloody civil war. When she uncovers the truth, she must decide whether to forsake her people or embrace a destiny that would pit her against the current heir to the throne...the man she loves.
Prince Kennard doesn’t want to take after his father, as a king or a man, whereas the shape-shifting tyrant sees his son as weak. With every choice they make, the spirited prince and the inflexible king pull further apart. Kennard takes an active role at court, enlisting his friend Odelia’s aid—unaware of her destined betrayal. Helping him build his royal retinue and find a bride will force her to bury her feelings and will bring his to the surface.
Amid culture clashes and threats of war, Odelia and Kennard navigate a world where power always has a price. If they choose the wrong paths, they could destroy not only their hearts but lives and nations.
And a kiss might not be strong enough to save them...

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