What Happens After You Win the War?

It feels like I posted more recently than eight months ago, but apparently not. This blog was always about three imperfectly rated things– sexism in art, my personal experiences selling my charms, and my writing career. Now that my writing career is actually working and happening– I’ve been making a better than average wage at writing since last September–I haven’t got much to say about the last part.

I haven’t got a reason to angst over the will I/won’t I/why do I do this anyway. I have a successful book series. I have fans. I make good money. But it’s just like everyone says it will be. At the end of the day, I’m the same person with the same problems. I’m a more fulfilled person with a fatter bank account and more career satisfaction. I’m a person who has an actual, actionable plan for the next six to twelve months.

But I’m the same girl who simultaneously wants to be worthy of being objectified and rejects the idea wholesale. I’m the same girl who watches Death Note once a year and wonders, yet again, what the hell were the writers thinking? I have the same issues with setting boundaries and making friends. My non-writing life is less organized!

I’m having a moment. I guess that’s why I’m here. I’ve been doing well for a year now. I’ve been doing out of this world well for about six months. My life is completely different but it’s also the same. In so many ways, I’m the same person I was ten years ago. I still have the same favorite album and I still listen to it three times a week, and I still think all the same things about all the same songs. I still make silly sex jokes at every opportunity. I’m more mature, more able to adult, more able to put things in perspective, but I have a lot of the same problems I had when I was 17.

Will I feel the same way in another ten years?

There’s always something to stress over. There’s always another writing issue to solve.

There’s always something.

But my life really isn’t the same.

And I’m still not sure how to deal with that.

Jessica Jones and Power

It’s been a while. I wish I had a good excuse, but, mostly, I’ve been writing like hell.

It’s funny. Even on this blog, I hesitate to label myself a romance writer. But that is what I am, and, at this point, I’m pretty damn good at it. My books are doing well enough that I don’t need a twice month angst outpouring.

No matter what I do, as a romance novelist, I will never command the respect of a writer from another genre. No one writes AV club reviews or think pieces about typical romances. Is this disinterest or subtle misogyny? A little of both? No matter how much people pay lip service to strong female characters, women’s fiction is still considered inherently less worthwhile than men’s.

From a different angle, Jessica Jones is women’s fiction. The title character is suffering PTSD after being kidnapped and raped (by a man with mind control powers — not the most subtle metaphor but it never pulls a punch). People don’t believe her story. She copes by drinking and pushing everyone away. She’s capable and smart but she’s not a good tactician.

The villain is not out to destroy the world, the country, or even the city. He’s out to get Jessica back under his thumb. He’s dangerous because he’s impatient and petulant and willing to do whatever it takes to fuck with her.

Jessica Jones is a Marvel show. It’s funny looking at the comments on the AV Club because most of them are through the super hero lense– they compare it to Daredevil and discuss other Marvel characters. The show is cool in ways Law and Order SVU will never be cool, despite the similar subject material (that’s not sexism, of course, Law and Order will never be cool either). It’s Marvel, so it’s part of geek culture, and it gets all the neat pluses that come with being part of a culture that is somehow mainstream and indie cool at once.

4713825-untitled-3

But Jessica Jones is not about superheroes. Not the way The Avengers or even Spiderman, a much closer relative, is. Jessica Jones is about power, specifically power imbalances between men and women, white people and minorities, the super human and the average.

The stakes are personal. And they should be personal. People without power feel the imbalance in personal ways every single day.

I don’t like most super hero movies. They are too abstract with their missions to save the world, too unrelatable with their super powered heroes, too empty with their generic evil villains. But they are taken much more seriously than equivalent genre fiction (like romance) because of their geek culture status.

There’s nothing wrong with a good escapist super hero TV show with no deeper meaning. But it’s not for me. The world is destroyed– so what? We’re all dead. What does any of it matter?

I want stakes I understand. And I understand a woman wanting to punish the man who abused her.

Jessica makes terrible decisions because she’s so caught up in using the legal system to find justice. She’s not willing to kill her abuser, because that means she won’t be able to prove he manipulated an innocent girl to get to Jessica. She’s unwilling to get additional treatment for her PTSD (partially because of cost). She drinks too much. She doesn’t have any good friends.

She is not some fantastical rape survivor who is magically okay. She is not some tragic rape survivor who is horribly broken. She is most the same woman she was before she was abused, only with PTSD and a less under control drinking problem.

maxresdefault

There is a divide when people talk about “strong female characters.” They focus on stereotypically masculine modes of strength or shove women into the “feisty bad ass” box. They talk about how a female character is cool because she acts like a man, as if a woman could never be cool, powerful, or strong.

But there are other ways a person can be strong, more stereotypically feminine ways– caring for the people around them emotionally and physically, using words, charm, or sexuality, using the admiration of others, and Jessica Jones highlights many of these.  Jessica exhibits stereotypically masculine strength. She nails the wisecracking PI trope to a T. But she is not stronger for her lack of feminine traits. She is weaker for her inability to deal with her emotions. Her untreated PTSD causes her to make all sorts of bad decisions. Her insistence on doing everything herself causes all sorts of trouble.

Trisch is a smart, caring, and supportive friend (feminine) who is learning self-defensive (masculine). Malcolm is a wannabe social worker who tries to help people (feminine). Killgrave uses pleasantness and manipulation (typically feminine traits) and super powers and blunt strength (typically masculine traits) to get his way.

It is not a perfect show. There is some spotty plotting. The show occasionally hits cliches (when you hear the police detective announce he’s two years from retirement you know what’s coming). It is lacking in women of color considering the NYC setting. But, overall, it’s a great psychological thriller super hero crossover. Without going into spoilers, it never excuses the villain, Killgrave for his actions. He is a real life abuser– charming enough to convince us he is not all bad in one breath and despicable in the next.

 

Why Do We Do Art Anyway?

It’s a truism that focusing on results makes you lose track of the process. One of those things you learn when you’re older and you realize that all your best times were performing with your garage band. If only you hadn’t been so obsessed with “making it.”

That is exactly where I am.

I’ve been obsessing with “making it.” Anyone who reads my blog knows that. I’m obsessed with this idea of success. No, that makes it seem so arrogant and self-indulgent. I want to be self-reliant. That has been my experiment this year– can I turn writing into an actual, factual paying job? So far, the answer is a clear no and I feel like I’m trying to roll a boulder up a hill.

I work damn hard and no one cares.

Practically no one.

And that’s always how any kind of art (if I can be so base as to call my work art) works– when you do it for any reason other than self-expression it’s not really art anymore. It’s work. It’s still enjoyable but it’s perverted somehow. These things I’ve been working on– they are not about me, they are not my message to the world, they are not special. They are pop songs. Something that goes down easy and gets stuck in your head. Good pop songs, I hope, but still pop songs.

Catchy. Easy to listen to. Unchallenging.

I like the work, love it even, but it’s not really art. Not the way I used to do it when I was trying to say something. I don’t care about saying things anymore because no one is listening.

We do art in the hopes of expressing something true and connecting to another human being.

But that isn’t where I am or what I’m doing.

It’s nothing.

And I don’t have it in me to keep pushing that boulder up the hill.

I’m not sure where that leaves me. I committed to a one year experiment and I have six months to go. I have the funds to finish. I have two works ready or almost ready for release. They might change everything. They might keep things the same. In theory, I’ll have a good idea of where I am after I release the second (some time in September). But if I’m still nowhere… can I really keep doing this?

It’s not like I want to quit forever. But I want a break (a long break). A job that allows me to be self-reliant. I want to feel like a grown up. I want to feel competent. I want to feel worthwhile.

And that’s not going to happen if things stay the same.

And I’m not going to enjoy the process if I keep focusing on the results.

There’s no answer, I suppose. I never claim to have answers. I’m pretty sure the tagline of this blog is still “ramblings from a deranged girl.”

I can’t take six more months feeling like an utter failure. I need to grab my bootstraps and find some way to motivate myself through my two releases. Most of that work is done. It’s only the last ten percent now.

But it all feels so God damn pointless.

Let’s Talk about That Game of Thrones Episode

A.K.A. Bad writing is sexist writing is bad writing, GoT edition.

Spoilers for GoT through Season 5, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

If you spend any time on the internet, you have already heard of the horrible events of the latest GoT episode. The GoT showrunner’s D&D gave us extra servings of their favorite topping– gratuitous rape.

In the interest of everyone’s sanity, I’m not going to catch us up to this episode. Take my word for it–poor Sansa Stark has been suffering for nearly four seasons now. She has been humiliated publicly by her ex-fiance (the king!), almost raped, threatened with rape, forced to watch her father beheaded. Most of her family is dead. The family members who are alive are presumed dead. It’s not a good time to be Sansa.

Unfortunately for those of us who hate sexism and poor writing, D&D, our resident cackling villains, have taken Sansa on a journey of suffering where everyone is acting either illogically and/or out of character. All so that we can get poor Sansa to the point where she is raped on her wedding night by her new sadistic fiance, Ramsey Bolton.

Take creepy, flesh peddler Littlefinger. A bad guy, absolutely. But thus far, he has proven himself a shrewd and savvy manipulator. He has spies everywhere so he always has the 411. And he’s eeirely obsessed with Sansa. It has something to do with his love for her late mother and how he could never have her. Nevermind that. He would not marry Sansa off to a sadistic creep like Ramsey unless it was for truly great political gain. And he would absolutely know that Ramsey is a creep. He knows everything.

Take the creep Ramsey. He’s been a moustache twirling sadistic villain for a good season or two now. Not at all an interesting character. No shades there. He’s pure evil. We got the point when he tortured and mutilated Theon. And again when he sicked the dogs on his ex lover. There may have been a third or fourth time. I really don’t recall. Evil, we get it. Evil and sadistic. That’s about it. We don’t need the rape scene to teach us he’s evil and sadistic. We know. Sansa knows too– she got it during the awkward family dinner where he reminded her how she was surrounded by people who literally killed her family. Even his dad (the guy responsible for killing Sansa’s mother and brother) told him to STFU and show some manners.

Now, here’s the thing. It doesn’t make sense for Ramsey to rape Sansa. Yes, he’s evil, but he’s been respectful to Sansa so far. He seems to convince Littlefinger that he won’t hurt her (and lord knows Littlefinger would see through a lie). But even if is heart is full of evil, Ramsey is in a tough spot. He needs to stay in line. Once a bastard, now a Bolton, Ramsey is heir as long as he’s the only son around (and as long as he isn’t renounced). But his new step-mom is preggers. Oh noes! The sexist, lackluster writing requires that he ignore any bit of sense so he can rape Sansa on their wedding night.

Bad writing. Sexist writing. They’re all tangled up in each other and there’s no way of telling what came first. One doesn’t excuse or explain the other. Not really. The showrunners made a conscious decision to ignore internal consistency in favor of adding a rape scene that serves no narrative purpose. Bad writing all around. Sexist writing all around.

It’s that same chestnut we discussed many moons ago. Sexist writing is bad writing. Bad writing is sexist writing. Instead of doing something interesting with Sansa’s story, GoT subjects her to horrors we’ve seen before. We know women on the show are raped. And we’ve seen poor Sansa tortured by her sadistic fiance. This was lazy, uninspired writing. It was also sexist. Or maybe it was sexist and lazy and uninspired. There’s no telling which came first, really.

We know Ramsey is evil. We know Sansa is made to suffer. We know Westeros is not an easy place for a lady. There’s no reason why Ramsey needs to rape Sansa. It’s not new information and it doesn’t advance the narrative. It’s not as if the plot the put Sansa in this predicament is interesting and well constructed. It’s like the plot is written around the damn rape scene!

The scene itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Sansa enters the room steel-eyed, understanding the expectations of her wedding night. it’s not like she’s excited to have sex with a weird stranger, but she knows it’s expected of her and seems perfectly willing to go along with it. Ramsey acts respectfully toward her. He asks if she likes the way the room is set up and seems genuinely concerned with her well-being. For no apparent reason, Ramsey questions Sansa’s chastity (she was technically married before. How is it she’s really a virgin?) There’s no sign that her answers push him to a breaking point. That they bring out his inner evil or something. That would be bad writing but at least there would be an effort.

There is no narrative reason why Sansa and Ramsey couldn’t have consensual sex. She seems perfectly willing to go along with it until he orders Theon/Reek to watch. And even then, she starts taking off her clothes.

But, for some reason that is not at all apparent in the scene, this is not good enough for Ramsey. He rips off her dress and orders Theon/Reek to watch Sansa become a women. The camera cuts to Sansa’s face for a few seconds then to Theon’s horrified reaction.

This is the worst of it yet.

His reaction becomes more important than hers.

What. The. Fuck!?!?!

That’s bad writing– plot doesn’t happen to main characters to motivate side characters–and it’s really, really sexist. We’ve all seen movies where the wife is killed to motivate the hero (better known as fridge stuffing).

The plot went through a lot of terrible contortions to put Sansa in a situation where she was at risk of sexual assault. All of these things were decisions on the parts of the showrunners. That is how fiction works. Writers make decisions and those decisions shape the plot, the characters, the world. GoT is not based on real life. It is not based on history. There are ice zombies and dragons and 800 foot tall walls. All of these things are DECISIONS. There is nothing inevitable about Sansa’s plot. This is not about her becoming a woman or a player in the game. She doesn’t need any more motivation– she’s surrounded by people who killed her family. That’s plenty motivation. The only possible narrative reason for this scene was to motivate Theon. That is not okay.

That’s bad writing.

That’s sexist writing.

This plot was boring. It was predictable. It was repetitive. And it was sexist.

Unfortunately, GoT has been all of the above.

(And before anyone tells me not to watch if I don’t like it. Well, one that’s a stupid argument. And two, I watch so I can take part in these conversations and because the hate coursing through my veins makes me feel alive).

I’m Still Here

Funny, my opinion on this whole writing & art & business thing has changed dramatically in the last year or so. All the parts of me that are supposed to be important for artistic integrity have been chipped away bit by bit. I could see it as a tragedy, but I feel more like a phoenix, rising as something closer to a sell out than my 15 year old self would be comfortable with.

Yep, I’m a sell out, more or less. I am, in fact, writing a billionaire BDSM romance serial. How drab and unoriginal, I know. I am the picture of lame. It’s funny how I look at reactions to my stuff differently now. I’m at the beta process for another series, a new adult rock star series (less sell out and more fun for me than the billionaires, though that is growing on me too). Before, I was in a tizzy because dammit this is art, and why aren’t people willing to think about it more!?!?! But art isn’t commercial. Period, end of sentence. There’s a certain value in art and there’s another value in something written to sell.

Nothing wrong with either or right with either.

Maybe I’m phoning it in. Maybe I finally see things for what they are. I don’t know. I have all the aspirations of a sell out but I’m yet to really sell. I’m yet to publish or even finish any of the stuff I consider fit for the masses.

The truth is, I like trying to write more commercial. There’s a great challenge to trying to fit within the norms and whims of a genre. You embrace certain things you’d find utterly absurd outside it. You embrace the formula. You write ridiculous lines and wonder how the hell you ever thought of them. It’s strange. I’m working harder than I ever have before. My daily word count pushes my brain to its absolute limit. I’m sure I’ll be devastated if this stuff doesn’t hit the mark, but right now I feel pretty damn good.

The unfortunate side effect of all this (and my semi-recent decision to mostly abandon film and TV) is that I no longer relate to any of my friends. Funny thing about making all your friends at mixers and acting classes. They’re all about TV all the time. A few, I still connect with about writing. On a certain level, writing is writing. Bitching about having a lot of writing to do is a pretty serious requirement for being a writer. (I wonder. Are there any other fields where procrastination is so normalized?)

The rest, well, we were never great friends. It’s still a bummer. I feel as if I have no one to call. And I’m not up for meeting new people when all the introductory questions are so loaded. “What do you do?” is enough to send me into cold sweats. Well, I’m a writer, but I don’t actually make a living doing that. I’m living off savings right now. And off my husband-to-be. Yeah, a real great representative of female independence. My dad pays for my car insurance if you were wondering. Very impressive of me, I know. Did I mention I’m self-conscious about all this?

Talk about TMI. I suppose I could step aside from the conversation with a quick “I don’t like to talk about work,” but in L.A. everyone wants to talk about their damn projects. I don’t care about your web series or your screenplay or your monologue. I really, really don’t. It’s not that I’m a self-centered jerk. It’s just a subject that no longer interests me. It would be great to not spend an afternoon talking about movies or TV. It would be great to do anything else.

I know, there are all sorts of other ways to meet people. If you missed the casual drop in my earlier paragraph, I’m getting married next month (wooh!). There’s still a lot to do on that front. Way too much in my opinion. I hate that there is so much that doesn’t feel like it should matter–the dress, the hair, the shoes, the jewelry, the menu, the dinner the night before.

(I totally still wish we had eloped/were eloping).

But there is good about having too much on my plate. It means I’m less willing to put up with bullshit. Friend who is late all the time? Stop calling her. Weekly meeting I only sorta like? Stop going. Work routine that I don’t enjoy? Screw it, do something I like instead. It’s nice not having a lot of BS in the way, but without the BS, there’s not much in my life. I write. I hang out with BF. I talk to my parents on occasion. I watch way too much TV. I read way too little (so much research to do).

Basically, writing is another job. An awesome job. A hard job. A very, very demanding job. Unpredictable too. If you don’t treat it like a job, you’re screwed already. If you do treat it like a job, you have bad odds of meeting a lot of likeminded people. Sad to say.

It’s Not

Lately, I lose entire days to stress. I check my sales dashboard, find it lacking, and fall into a black hole of despair. I thought I was doing everything right, more or less, but I most certainly was not.

I’m not sure that I can continue on like this, feeling like my heart has been torn out of my chest every couple of weeks. There’s a lot of shit swirling around in my life. I’m trying to write a new, actually commercial, series, but I’m haunted by what I consider a failure. I’m contemplating–okay, I’m just going to say it–cutting ties with my mother. I’m getting married. I never mentioned that, but BF and I are getting married this year. That’s quite the bit of stress.

I tend to deny that anything besides writing is giving me grief, even when I’m wrecked with mom or friend or BF related stress. But I really do feel like it’s this oh so fun mix of why is my writing career so fucked and WTF else am I going to do with my life–WTF am I doing with my life. Period. I try to talk it over with friends or boyfriend, but they never get it. I feel so melodramatic explaining how much the thought of giving up on a writing career hurts. It feels like a black hole opened and sucked me inside. And that’s so ridiculous and overblown, but that’s how it feels–like that black hole opened inside of me and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

That is how I feel right now. There’s a weight on my chest and it’s so damn heavy. I’m not sure that I’m cut out for this publishing thing. I need something else in my life I can latch onto. Writing has been my reason to get up in the morning for as long as I can remember having a reason to get up in the morning (the bed really is so damn comfy).

I’ve been ignoring my blog, because I feel like I say the same damn things over and over again. My problems feel so petty and entitled. I have a nice life overall. I’m not in dire financial straights. Hell, BF claims he’s happy to support me if I want to be a writer/housewife indefinitely. But that isn’t why this hurts. It’s not the practical bits. It’s all the things inside me, this big gaping hole where being a damn adult should be. I am not a real adult. I am not responsible. I cannot take care of myself. And that is all I want–to be able to take care of myself, on my fucking terms, with my fucking money.

I need to be able to do that, and I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall with this writing and publishing thing. Maybe it’s a nut I can’t crack. Maybe it’s hopeless. Maybe it’s just not going to happen for me. Two years ago, if you told me I wouldn’t be a romance novelist, I wouldn’t have given a damn. It was never something I wanted to do. I don’t think I’d ever read any books in any romance sub-categories (besides YA). It was never something I wanted, but now it feels so awful that I’m failing at it.

I never wanted to write to market, to write bland, paint by the numbers shit. If that is my only choice, is it really worth it? Or do I just finish up my year, finish up my next series my way, and throw it out into the world (with a solid marketing plan) to sink or swim? I’d have to be okay with the possibility of it sinking, of my writing career tanking like the mother fucking titanic.

This isn’t what I signed up for, so why does it hurt so much that I suck at it?

Maybe it’s easier if I stop throwing good money and good time after bad, if I learn to program and spend the other 128 hours of my week doing whatever I want, losing none of them to the sinking feeling that I’m a hopeless fuck up?

Is This the Real Thing?

I am almost two months into my year of writing, and I feel like I did back in college. Confused, anxious, and completely unaware of where my future lies.

The whole time I was in film school, I had this sense of unease. It never fit. Never felt like it would work. I envied my friends with more practical or more intellectual majors. I hated going to class and watching movies. It felt like a waste of my father’s money. I was besieged with guilt every minute. How could I be spending so much money on an education that felt so damn worthless?

It never felt right to me. The last four or so years of wannabe screenwriter felt off to me. Don’t get me wrong–I loved the writing part. I still feel lucky as all hell that I got so much time to write. But any hint of idealist in me died a long time ago, and I can’t stand the feel of writing something just because. There should be a purpose, a reason. It should be more than a file on my computer, a sample that will interest no one.

But, still, for eight or so years, I believed I was pursuing screenwriting. From the time I was 17 up until a few months ago. It feels right to exit that chapter of my life, but there is so much of it remaining.

It’s a major shift, isn’t it– to alter the goal I’ve been chasing for my entire adult life? It’s not as if I did a 180–I’m still attempting a writing career–but this is a big fucking deal. I spend so long convincing myself (every two weeks at least) that I should keep screenwriting. That I was finally a good enough writer. That something would happen eventually. It had to. I was doing everything people said–I was writing, I was networking, I was working hard. And I just didn’t understand why success was so elusive. I didn’t have a job in my field. I didn’t have an agent, a manager, whatever.

It didn’t feel possible.

And my pragmatic self (who would never really acknowledge something as silly as feelings) is glad I’ve closed the book on screenwriting. She is proud. I mean, she’s a little miffed it took four years, but she’s still proud. Something that isn’t working isn’t working. And, a lot of the time, it simply isn’t going to work.

I’m confident about my decision, but I still feel like the rug was pulled out from under my feet. My life feels so in flux. In the span of two months I went from believing I’d spend another 2-3 years working as a tutor and attempting  a screenwriting career to embracing this idea that I had one year to make it or break it as a novelist.

And now I am wracked with anxiety. What the hell is going to happen and am I going to make it work? And what the hell am I doing with my life anyway?

When I read over the last year or two of my blog (or my paper diary, or the word doc diaries I’ve kept since high school), I see the same things over and over again. I suppose it makes sense. My questions are pretty normal. It’s not like I can ever definitively answer “what the hell am I doing with my life?” Everytime I ask myself if I should keep writing (and try hard to convince myself not to), I decide to stick with it. It’s not as if the decision is permanent. Hell, the main reason why I decided to go for a year of writing was so that I could stop asking myself this question. It’s the uncertainty that kills you.

I guess I might as well admit my uncertainty. I’m publishing stuff next month, and I’m anxious as all hell. It feels like a year of work is going into this. It’s a lot of pressure. I can’t keep thinking that I’m going to fail, that I am failing, that I’m always going to be failing.

I need to figure out a way to turn off this part of my brain, at least for a little while.