Writing Villains + Bigotry = Bad, Y’all

I went to a writing conference recently and attended a number of lectures. Some were interesting, some were not as applicable for me as I might have personally liked. Two stood out, at either end of the spectrum. One, by Angelique L’Amour on writing about past trauma, was amazing. I had a lot of feelings. My face might have leaked a little.

The other that stood out was a session about building compelling characters. It was less a lecture and more a question and answer, so it already wasn’t going well because she was asking us to come up with her material when she ran out of slides 20 minutes into an hour session. But then. Oh then. She talked about her characters, two princesses, one kinda evil and one good and wholesome. She discussed making even your villains relatable, to give reasons for their behavior.

Then she said her evil princess was autistic, and couldn’t understand the good princess’ emotions.

Yeah I walked out of that. I was done. That’s ableist as shit.

A word to other writers. Don’t make your good guy a privileged group and your villain a vulnerable group, and have that difference – and the associated stereotype – fuel the conflict of your story. No greedy Jews vs generous Christians, no thug or drug-riddled POC vs wholesome white folk, no shrew women vs faultless men. No emotionally troubled disabled people vs stable able-bodied heroes. Especially if you are also Christian, or white, or a man, or able-bodied.

Someone out there is already saying “But what if” or “But my art” or “Freedom of speech.” No, stop that. No excuses. You’re not giving up anything significant by being a decent person in this respect. Your freedom to write whatever you please isn’t important enough to add one more piece of bullshit to the great big pile of bullshit already leveled against vulnerable communities. Besides, relying on those stereotypes is not great writing. It’s certainly not sacred. It’s lazy, and frankly you can do better.

Guys, we all give up tiny freedoms. We do not live in a truly free world. We never did, and we cannot, as long as there are other people in the world. We give up the freedom to swing our fist exactly where someone else’s nose begins. What you put out in the world can be a fist. You need to be aware of where others’ noses begin. Demonizing aspects of people that already makes them vulnerable to oppression, discrimination, etc. is an already-sore nose. You must refrain from hitting it. Don’t make someone else be the one to stop you, then whine about how you’re being controlled. Just be a halfway decent human and stop your own damn self.


Hearth and Harvest, V2.0

I recently revised and added to “Hearth and Harvest,” a collection of short stories from way back in the day. It is now available on Amazon as an ebook, and shortly, it’ll be available as a print book, so that I can push them physically onto people, and my mom can have a copy. And perhaps also so that people can buy it. I’ll be getting the proof copy any day now, so that I can either say “Yes it’s fine, print” or I can despair because SOMETHING IS WRONG. Fingers crossed for the former.

Look! Ain’t it purdy?


Capricious, The Serial

Many of you are aware of my novel Capricious, in which a satyr in West Texas goes after a goat’s natural enemy, the chupacabras. And finds love. Not with the chupacabras. I’d call it “urban fantasy” but it’s more like “rural fantasy”. In 2014 it won the Best Bisexual Books award for romance/erotica.

My publisher, Circlet Press, is hosting it as a serial on their webpage. We’re up to chapter 14 now! That’s a good time to pick it up, you can read a nice sized chunk and be ready for the next one soon.

And if you don’t want to wait, and don’t have any money to actually buy the book (ALWAYS AN OPTION), you can listen to it on audio, narrated by Nobilis Reed. Nobilis is an outstanding audio artist, a talent I do not have in the slightest, so I am thrilled he wanted the project.

Last of all … the sequel is in the works. My working title is “Bleeding Hearts”.

Debunking the Base Model Human

There is this idea in mainstream fiction, in film, books, plays, all mediums – and therefore, to some extent, in our own minds – of a Base Model Human. The Base Model Human is, roughly in order of importance, male, white, straight, able-bodied, early 20s to late 40s, middle class, speaks English, of average intelligence, graduated high school and possibly college, is Christian or Christian-compatible … and the like. Any deviation from this model is seen as an add-on, like a feature amended to the Base Model to make them something else. For instance, I have heard some writers say that when they are developing a character, they may start with a Base Model Human and decide after the basic characteristics are set if that character needs to be a woman, or a person of color, elderly, poor, etc. More than one director has openly said they don’t strive for diversity, unless the story actively needs it, or there is an outside reason to make a character anything but a Base Model Human. This isn’t just an enormous logical fallacy, it’s substandard writing.First of all, let’s take a cursory look at what percentage of the population, just in the US, is actual Base Model Human. These statistics are from the US census in 2015, found here: https://www.census.gov . I am rounding to the nearest tenth. 50.8% of the population is female, so 49.2% is male. 61.6% are white and non-Hispanic. That gives us 30.3% of the total population that are white males. Now let’s take out anyone of the LGBT, nonbinary, nonheteronormative, etc. spectrum, which make up about 2% of the population, a conservative estimate. 29.7%. 60% of them are not minors under 18, or seniors over 65. We’re down to 17.8%. Able-bodied? Some estimates put disabilities or chronic medical conditions at 20% of the population – consider that disabilities include hidden problems like depression, bipolar disorder, autism, etc. But let’s be super conservative and say 10%, for the sake of argument. That gives us about 16%. Let’s stick with that number. And we’re not even taking into account people who live in crushing poverty, people without education, people of religions other than Christianity, incarcerated people – we’re being very generous with our numbers.

The United States has a population of about 319 million. That’s 319,000,000. 16% of that is 51,040,000, or about 51 million. That means there are 267,960,000, or nearly 268 million people, that do not fit the Base Model Human design. And yet, somehow, they are considered modifications on the default. To put those numbers into perspective … in a random sampling of the population of the United States, in a group of 25, there would be 4 Base Model Humans. They are a minority. They have just been billed by mainstream media as “the most normal”. But it isn’t true.

Humans DO NOT HAVE a default model, especially when seen in a global context, not just the United States, when the population of Base Model Humans plummets to a single digit percentage of the global population. There are three major reasons to make a disproportionate number of characters in any media – film, books, theater, documentary, whatever – Base Model Humans. One, active bigotry, naturally. Of course. Two, money – you think keeping your characters as “default” as possible will make it more popular and net you greater revenue. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” tromped THAT idea into the dirt. Three, ignorance: you really do believe in the Base Model Human. This is an indicator that you, as an artist, have not spent enough time considering the breadth of the human experience. 

The last one is surprising in how prevalent it is, which goes to show how widespread the impulse of the Base Model Human belief is. Happily, it is also the easiest to root out. When you create stories, watch for these trends in your own work. Are around half your characters women? Are some of your characters minors or seniors? Are about 1/3 of them people of color? Is there someone in your story who is non-heteronormative, neurodivergent, disabled, non-Christian, or some other manner of “different” from the Base Model Human? And most importantly: how do their experiences as a non-Base Model Human contribute to who they are? If you don’t know, then you need to get out into the world and find out, because you’re missing the one thing an artist depicting humans really needs: insight into the human experience. As the Major said in “Ghost in the Shell”, “A system where all the parts react the same is a flawed system.” And once you’ve retrained yourself to see the world in a more realistic light, you’ll stop having to intentionally diversify your cast. Your creative impulses will do it for you.

As an afternote … some people will say it is “PC pandering” or “unrealistic” to purposefully include non-Base Model Humans in their stories, or to assert that they should be allowed to create however they want. Sure, go for it, do whatever you like, no one’s stopping you. But your representation of the human experience will be more true to life, and will resonate more with a wider audience, if your cast of characters more accurately reflects the actual population. In short, when your writing is better. And, sorry, the numbers weigh out – only 16% of the United States is actually a Base Model Human. Your fictional population of characters ought to be about the same. You shouldn’t have to argue for diversity – that’s just what real life looks like. No, it’s character homogeny that is unrealistic and pandering, and requires an explanation.

Oh – and if you’re about to argue that for the setting you’re working in, like academia, government, etc., really does have more Base Model Humans than a random sampling of the population? Maybe you should consider why that is. It has nothing to do with the inherent superiority of the Base Model Human, and much more to do with thousands of years of systemic bigotry. You really want your art to be a part of that?

The Inevitability of Writing

About a year ago, I decided I should stop trying to write for publication. 

My reasoning was logical. I had very little time or energy. The likelihood of being able to support myself on my writing was slim to none. I had just gone through a divorce and been diagnosed with new and exciting health problems, so I’d had to get a 9-5 (ok, 8-6) office job, give up writing full time, give up my small textile business, and sell my small farm and all its animals in order to support myself and my children. All this with a thoroughly demolished sense of trust and a broken heart, having lost not one but three of my best friends in the divorce.

I reasoned with myself that, in light of so much change, I needed to be realistic. If I stopped trying to write for publication, I would not leave myself vulnerable to further disappointment. I couldn’t have broken dreams if I didn’t start out with fragile dreams in the first place. I only had so much emotional energy; how much could I realistically sink into something with so little chance of paying off? It wasn’t like I got emotional support from writing; feedback for writers is as sparse as the hair on a teen boy’s chin.

So I stopped. I wrote a couple of self-indulgent fan fiction stories. That was kinda fun. I wrote some short nonfiction essays. But in short order I became a more and more unhappy person. My existential crises got worse. I had moments of suicidal ideation.

Finally, I gave up. I started writing For Reals again. Novels. They’re still very sketchy, and none is even finished with the zero draft. But I work on them a few minutes a day, which is all I currently have when I am not sleeping, working or taking care of the kids. It’s not much of a life, sure. But I had it drilled into my head that I don’t get a choice about being a writer; I am a writer, full stop. Might never publish anything again. Almost certainly will never “hit it big” or even be able to support myself with it. But I’m still going to do it, because to do otherwise leads to madness.

What Scares You?

One of the themes in the book I am working on, “Bleeding Hearts”, is fear. The roots of fear, personally, culturally, biologically. 

There’s basic horror movie monster fear – in the words of Twenty-One Pilots, “Death inspires me the way a dog inspires a rabbit.” Prey fear. Fear or spiders, snakes, heights, deep water, closed off spaces, clowns, dogs, the dark. This fear keeps us safe from harm, or at least that is what it is meant to do.

There are social fears that are culturally based, such as rejection, humiliation, failure. Fear of being alone, of not living up to your potential. These fears are meant to keep us in harmony with the tribe. Interestingly, men’s fear of women is social fear, but women’s fear of men is prey fear. Or in Margaret Atwood’s words, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

Then there are the personal fears, the deeply individual fears that shake us. The fear of losing our children, our parents. Existential fears like there not being a god, or that your life will be meaningless, or that you are on the wrong tract of life altogether. A fear of helplessness in the face of insurmountable odds. These are the most interesting fears and the hardest ones to write about.

The end effect has been for me to ask myself, what are you afraid of? And the answer appears to be: everything. That would probably make me a great horror writer. We’ll see what it does for me as an erotica writer. :/

Creative Work, Post Election

It’s been a few weeks since the 2016 election. Our world, and social media feeds, are still upended. Many of us have had our creative momentum derailed by Real Life. New volunteering, more arguing, analyzing, checking the news every day with a stone in your gut. While it is vitally important we do not accept much of the current political atmosphere as “the new normal”, it IS important to balance that with daily functionality. We cannot live in crisis mode indefinitely. For creative people, regaining functionality includes getting back to the creative work.

Part of this is practicality. Part of it is self-care; the best artists and authors I know would quite literally lose their sanity without creative work, no hyperbole. And part of it is because WE NEED YOU. Yes, you, the guy who draws hot anime women. You, the girl writing porn about centaurs in space. You, who knit and make pottery and do crafts with your kids and write rap musicals about history. You are all creative gains for the world. You create tiny pieces of reality. We need you to WORK, to share yourself with us, to help inform us of who we are. We need ALL OF YOU, even if you don’t feel like you matter.

The resistance to bigotry, suppression and tyranny is not all politics, money and legislation. It is also art, the big pieces and the tiny pieces. So get back to work. The resistance needs you.

(You might try starting something different than what you were doing before The Election if you aren’t ready to dive back into your novel or your symphony or whatever. A blog post or a lullaby are perfectly acceptable projects to prime your creative energies back to capacity.)