Strong Female Leads

I’m very definite about what I like in characters. I will very often put down a book without reading all the way through if I don’t like the main character/s, and I’ve been known to verbally remonstrate with TV characters who are doing stupid things. This holds true for all characters, but is more stringently applied to female lead characters I read/watch (mostly because I’m female and dislike seeing females made ridiculous without good reason. Men can mostly be as ridiculous as they like without upsetting me unduly).

If the female lead is, for example: a) Always relying upon the hero to save her, b) Always belittling/snarking at the hero, c) Making stupid decisions because the book/movie needs it for angst/danger, d) Always having sex because she’s a strong female lead who don’t need no man/rules/standards ETC, ETC, ETC-

I WILL BURN THAT BOOK/MOVIE.

(Actually, I won’t: I’ll probably just make a face and donate it to the op-shop/bin/a friend. But still. Ya get me. If I get really hot under the collar, I’ll compose snarky reviews in my head that will never see the light of a computer.)

There’s a lot of angst about Strong Female Leads. Someone is always trying to make sure that movies have enough Strong Female Leads, or that a book has a Strong Female Lead. It’s one of those things that you’re forever hearing about on the ‘net. I mean forever. There are tantrums and jumpings up and down, and accusations of misogyny etc, clouding the air and making things generally difficult to see.

I’ll admit, I used to roll my eyes about it a lot. (Actually, I still do at some of the more tantrum-like outbursts.) And then, the matter having been brought to my attention, I started noticing stuff.

It was most often in movies. (Books have weak, annoying, and/or stereotypical female leads, but they have an equal amount of weak, annoying and/or stereotypical male leads.) I’d be watching a movie, enjoying it more or less depending upon which one it was, and then BAM- there was a female lead wearing next to nothing. FOR NO REASON. Cos, trust me, if you’re a ninja/knight/samurai/whatever, you’re gonna want as much body surface covered. The male counterpart would be fully clothed. And then the female lead would fall/trip/get bashed and have to be rescued by one of the blokes for the seemingly sole purpose of being clutched to the well muscled chest of whichever one happened to save her.

So basically, the female lead was there for looks, and for the rush that the male ego gets for having saved a damsel in distress. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a female in a movie/book having to be rescued. But when it’s already established that she’s apparently the best/strongest/fastest, it’s really annoying to find that she has to be saved by the male of the piece simply because she’s female.

That’s not cool. It’s not cool to see female characters used in tv shows/movies simply for the purpose of eye candy. It’s not cool to see them always berating and/or sleeping with the male counterpart simply to prove that they’re a strong female lead who don’t need no man. C’mmon dudes, there has to be some middle ground here. And it’d be kinda nice to see female action figures, too (I’m looking at you Avengers. Yanno, while I’m on the subject).

It’d just be nice to see more interesting, reasonable females (action movies, I’m looking at you) who have their own stories and react to events/people/etc on their own terms and not merely with relation to the storyline of the main male character. I love action movies, but they’re the ones most guilty of female stereotyping (yeah, Taken.  I love you, but Liam Neeson’s wife needed to be murdered a lot sooner).

That’s all. That’s all I’m asking.

Scams And Gullibility

Yanno, like Sense and Sensibility, cos it’s . . . oh, never mind.

At some stage in your writing career (well, in almost any career), you’re certain to run into a scammer. Where there are writers desperately hoping and trying for a breakthrough, there are always going to be schemes like PublishAmerica and the like, ready to prey on the hopeful and uninitiated.

In my original quest for a publisher, I ran into three of these. The first was PublishAmerica. I’d sent a blurb and a sample chapter or two before I knew enough to check them out on the internet. They sent back an effusive email missive that said they would like to publish my book FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. (And yes, they did capitalize that.) Once I’d come down from the high of reading that someone wanted to publish my book, a few things snagged uneasily in my mind.

#1 was that capitalized assurance that publication would cost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. A genuine publisher has no need to tell prospective authors that they won’t charge for publication. Money flows to the author.

#2 was the fact that they hadn’t even read the full manuscript. I got this message after sending only a few chapters to PublishAmerica. So yeah. If a publisher hasn’t read your full manuscript and is already offering to publish it, run. Run for the hills. You might be that awesome, but my bet says you’re not.

#3 was the info I found on the internet after belatedly checking out the ‘company’. If you’re looking for information on almost any publisher out there, scam or legit, you can’t go past Absolute Write and Preditors and Editors.  I can’t stress enough the importance of checking your facts before even approaching a publishing company or agent. The less bait you are for scammers, the safer you’ll be. There will always be the cold-call, or direct approach, but at least you won’t make a mark of yourself.

More insidious was the supposedly reputable publisher who received my application (blurb, chapters, etc), asked for the full manuscript, and then sent an email back to me some months later, indicating that they could publish me under one of their imprints- which turned out to be a vanity outfit that wanted to charge me $3000-$6000 to ‘publish’ my book. This was after I’d checked them out online and found them to be supposedly reputable. It was only later that I learned this particular publisher had a ‘traditional’ side and a ‘vanity’ side. I sent them back an email indicating that I would wait until I found a publisher who felt they could support me in every way. As I said before (and many have said before me): Money flows to the author.

Pic from http://lifeissavage.com/2012/06/21/microsoft-study-solves-why-email-scammers-say-theyre-from-nigeria/

Pic from http://lifeissavage.com/2012/06/21/microsoft-study-solves-why-email-scammers-say-theyre-from-nigeria/

Most recently, a friend of mine was emailed out of the blue by someone who claimed to have read her fiction online, and who was interested in publishing her. Now, my friend is a great writer. However. This person purported to run a certain company with a name almost exactly the same as a reputable company. They were so similar, in fact, that every google search turned up the other publishing company instead of his. The reputable company has been around for some years, and is connected with many reasonably well-known names. The ah, entrepreneurial company has been around for two months. I still don’t know whether it’s a determined scam (though I’m inclined to think so, based on the name game), or whether this guy with no proven publishing experience/contacts just isn’t awake enough to himself to know how publishing works. Either way, it’s not a safe bet. Your writing might be that awesome. But it’s not likely.

There will be stuff you learn along the way – hopefully not through bitter experience – but what I’ve learned is that:

*Money flows to the author

*If a ‘publisher’ contacts you, check them out very carefully before signing anything

*Suspect everyone, and check out everything

*The internet is your friend

*If it seems too good to be true, it probably is (Actually, I got that from Hustle, but it’s true)

Inferiority Complex

We’re writers. We’re meant to be at least slightly neurotic. But there’s that day, every so often, when we’ll be reading a good book. I mean a really good book: solid to fantastic plot, fascinating characters we fall in love with and weep for, and the absolute perfect pacing; all wrapped in a superbly crafted structure.

You take a thought break to bask in the gloriousness of it, grinning foolishly to yourself. Then it hits you.

I’ll never be this good. This is the Van Gough of books. If I live until I’m fifty and keep writing better and better, I’m still never gonna be as good as this bloke.

And you know, that can be good. I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s damaging to the human psyche to admit to actual inferiority. You’re never gonna be as good as at least one girl or bloke out there, and sometimes that knowledge spurs you on to do better. Anything that gets us in front of that computer/notepad/whatever to write and grow, is a good thing.

But it’s also good to remember that writing is a growing thing. The first books of at least two of my favourite authors, had I read them first, would not have inspired me to read more of their work. I can literally see the growth as I read through those early books. You’re not going to be the best you can be right now. You’re going to have to work on it. Your first book is most likely not going to be your best. You’ve still got so much to learn. I’ve still got so much to learn- and practise, and put in to practise.

Who knows, one day we may be that good. But if we never had anything that spurred us on to be better, we’d probably never get there.

Embrace the inferiority. Just don’t let it stop you from being better.

Sound And Fury

I couldn’t really think of a blog post this week. Yanno: work, the dog, the hubby . . . a new tv show . . .

So you’re going to get 250-500 words of sound and fury, signifying nothing* about my week so far.

#1 on my list of nonsense is that my husband makes a great roast.**

#2 is that my dog stinks. I mean really honks. Can’t give her a bath because a.) no time and b.)when there is time it’s too late in the day for her to dry without leaving the whole house smelling of wet dog.***

#3 is kept for the smug, happy thought of the book I’m planning on reading next.****

#4’s job is to mention that I’m dying for a cuppa.

#5: Did I mention I really want a cuppa? A cup of tea is the best medicine. And I won’t say no to a couple of scotch fingers with that.

#6 would like to offer up the proud knowledge that I’ve figured out the kinks in a story I’ve been thinking about for years, making it properly writable at last *****

#7 is, happily for you, the end of this nonsense. Go do something productive with your day. I’ll be over here having a cuppa.

*Yup. You got it. I’m the idiot. You’re very clever.

**By this I mean that he cooked me a great roast, not that I cooked and ate him.

***Yes. Stinky dog smell is infinitely preferable to wet dog smell. Wet dog smell burrows into stuff.

****Re-reading Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, in case you wanted to know.

*****I have no time to write said book, of course. I have a schedule of four publications for next year, one of which I have yet to write, one of which is yet to be quite finished, and the third of which is on its last edits. The fourth is done, though. Go me!

Milestones

Milestones are a big part of a writer’s life. From the first short story or novel that we finish to the first book signing or reading we give, life seems to be measured in tiny increments of success. I still remember the first novel I ever completed. It’s almost entirely rubbish and needs to be extensively rewritten, of course, but at the time it was a massive achievement for a fourteen-year-old writer who had never completed a manuscript.

Then there’s the first successful short story I ever wrote. The first time someone was excited to read something else I’d written because they enjoyed the first Thing. The first full ms request from a publisher. The first personalised rejection from a publisher (well, actually gutting rather than good, but it was no form rejection).

My first paperback sale felt amazing. Yes, it was someone I knew, but it was the first. And the other day, my first reply from a book reviewer, who said that A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend sounded interesting, and that she’d added it to her list.

Today, my milestone is the 1000th visitor to my blog. 6 months, and 1000 visitors.

stats

Bloggers out there, you know what it’s like. Even if you’re a mastodon, you were once a pygmy like me, delighting in that 1000th visitor. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Milestones aren’t the be-all and end-all of a writer’s life, but they are a lovely reminder that life isn’t entirely always slog. Sometimes you actually get somewhere. And that keeps you slogging on until the next milestone.

The Saga Of Cat

This is the saga of The Cat; who was Possum, became Henry, then The Cat, returned to Henry, and at last became Possum once again.

It was The Husband’s idea to get a cat. It was a sudden brain fever, I thought. I assumed it would wear off. I quite like being a writer without a cat: I struggle hard to avoid the worst cliches in my writing, and I see no reason why I should succumb to them in real life. Besides which, I’m mildly allergic to cats. Well, allergic to most animals, actually, when they live exclusively in the house.

The fever didn’t wear off. In fact, it burned brighter and brighter- and The Husband wore me down. He was so enthusiastic and pleading and persistent. I found myself agreeing to find him a cat plus accoutrements, thus making myself the stereotypical Writer With Cat. A friend of mine had recently been trying to get rid of some kittens she’d been ‘gifted’ by her affectionate cat, and my sister suggested that she might still be trying to give away the last few kittens. They wouldn’t be more than a couple months old, thus making them still technically kittens, but being a few months old would mean they were litter-trained. I questioned said friend, found that they were still trying to give away the last three kittens, that they were willing to give one to me, and that they were litter-trained, dog-friendly (I have one small dog) and extremely affectionate. They did not eat furniture. They did not run away. They came when called. They preferred cheap dog food! I was eager to have one of these paragons.

The Friend sent photos, which I duly showed to The Husband. He pointed to the last one and said without hesitation: “That one. Get that one. He’s so beautiful! I will call him Henry.”

Fast-forward to the next day. Turns out that paragon kitty is called Possum, and is Friend’s favourite. She expresses hesitation in passing him on, though her children seem glad that it will be Possum to go. I’m disappointed, since The Husband isn’t remotely interested in the other two cats, but assure the Friend that all is well, and that I’ll be able to find Hubby a cat elsewhere if she really doesn’t want to part with Possum. She ums and ahs, and shows me all the cats again. A very long time later, after repeated assurances that I can easily find another kitten for The Husband if it’s at all inconvenient to them all to lose Possum, Possum has been pressed upon me and a sum of money pressed upon them, since I don’t like feeling indebted. The children are excited. The Friend asks if she and the children can come and visit Possum in a few days to assure themselves that he’s getting along okay.

At home, Possum has become Henry, and The Husband seems quite pleased with him. I am finding that, in addition to being a little more allergic to cats than I thought I was, I am decidedly not a cat person. I hate the meeping noises he makes at me for no reason. I hate the way he’s always underfoot. I hate the evil little glare he shoots at me just before he buries his claws in my leg. A sign of affection, apparently. It turns out that I can’t go anywhere without him following me, and that if I shut myself in a room from sheer desperation, he will sit at the door and meep in distress until I come out again. I can’t even go to the toilet in peace, because Henry the cat knows how to open the sliding door to the ensuite! I’m woken in the middle of the night several times by Henry deciding that he must sit on my head, or shove his nose into mine, or lick my ear. At two in the morning I find myself sobbing hysterically: “I don’t like you! Leave me alone!” as I push Henry off my face for the twentieth time. The Husband awakes to find me crying, after having shut The Cat out of the bedroom, and considerately consents to cuddle me until the tears are gone.

He’s a little miffed: he wants Henry to stay, despite the gouges in his shoulder from The Cat using his shoulder as a launch-pad a little earlier. He says he would like to give The Cat a decent trial- at least until The Friend comes around to see us: and then if I really can’t bear it, we’ll give him back. I agree, but Henry has temporarily become The Cat to me.

The next day, The Cat becomes Henry again. He still gives me headaches, but he gets on well with The Dog, and The Husband is very fond of him. I have been trying to get over my new but extreme dislike of having a cat as pet, and partially succeeding. Then I get a call from The Friend, who has called, it seems, for the sole purpose of telling me tearfully that the children have been crying all day and that they all miss Possum. The other cats have changed. They’re not the same without Possum. Over the next few days there are more calls and texts, each one building the guilt I feel, until between the guilt and the allergies, I’m feeling that I’ve made the single worst decision of my life.

At last I tell The Husband that I think we’ll just have to give Henry back. Greatly to my relief, he agrees. It turns out that a cat was more work than he remembered it being from his childhood, and Henry hasn’t entirely endeared himself to The Husband, who has more scratches than fond memories by now. My headache is entering its fourth day of non-stop misery, and I can’t wait until The Friend comes to take Henry away.

I’m really quite fond of Possum. Now that he’s someone else’s cat again, I feel free to pat him and think he’s quite sweet really. But it turns out that I am not a cat person. Guys, does that mean I can’t be a writer? I’m still part of the club, right? Guys?

cat eyes

Getting An ITIN

Well, I’ve been gathering together all the paperwork for my ITIN application. For those who don’t know what an ITIN is, the acronym stands for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, and it will mean that I only have to pay 5% tax in the US instead of 30%. A moot point, you may say, since I have not in fact sold any books yet. I counter by declaring that I haven’t published any books yet, so yah boo. (As a matter of fact, I have a short story on Kindle at the moment, but I don’t count that because I like to set it as free, and I can’t really claim ‘sales’ for that.)

I’m choosing to Indie-Publish my first book with Kindle, Kobo, the iBookstore, and perhaps in time CreateSpace, with a publication date of October 1st. Naturally, I wanted to make sure that I had the ITIN before then. Because, yanno- more money. I’m beginning to doubt it’ll be done quite by then (though I think it’ll be close) since I hadn’t really considered how long it takes to research the how to, get a passport notorized, find and download the appropriate forms, fill them in correctly . . .

You get the idea. Admittedly, half the time has been due to sheer laziness and the idea that ‘Oh, I’ve filled out the form. That’s enough for today. I’ll rest until next week.’

Now, at length, I have my apostille’d passport. I have my W-7 form, filled out in blue ink. I have my letter from Amazon. I even know where to send it all, and I know better than to send it express post with signature required. I think I’m about ready to go. Wish me luck!

Oh, and if you want to read a really good blog post on how to obtain an ITIN in Australia, read MummyK‘s account. There are others, but this one was really helpful to me.