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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Horny Yet Awkward

I had a revelation yesterday. A revelation that was simultaneously obvious and obscured. That is both dramatic and irrelevant.

See, I finally figured out why I care about project A, why I had to force myself to write project B, and why project C, an amazing idea that almost everyone responds to, holds so little appeal.

And the revelation occurred in the form of a ridiculous anime sex comedy.

You see, this show was so ridiculous it has some poorly translated slang name, and I would have almost no hope of finding it on Google if it weren’t for the power of Netflix remembering what I’ve watched. I will spare you the trouble. It is called (I dare you to remember this in five minutes, much less an hour) B Gata H Kei and it is about a teenage girl who wants to have sex with a 100 men, well, teenage boys. Only she is totally clueless about all things sex.

It is everything I ever wanted out of screenwriting (even if it engages in all sorts of shameless fanservice).

See, when I finally got good coverage (*cough* no thanks to the first blcklst reader *cough*) on project A… I guess we can call it High School RomCom (although that really does it a disservice), I was delighted. The score, a six, was not amazing. Fair enough. But the reader called it a unique take on teenage sexuality (I’d like to thank the academy…) and praised my protagonist as awkward yet horny.

And, holy shit, did this weird anime encapsulate awkward yet horny, turned up to 11. If you watch anime, you know good anime turns everything up to 11 or 12. Everything is ridiculously, wonderfully over the top, making great use of its conventions, even as it breaks them. I’m thinking mostly of my perennial fav, Death Note, but also of my lesser fav, Ouran High School Host Club.

It’s not that I didn’t realize I love writing about awkward sexuality. I did. But I didn’t realize how much it appealed to me. I still love High School RomCom, despite not having touched it in over a year. And I’m still lukewarm on Projects B and C, despite knowing they are better written.

I just don’t care. I don’t care about the characters or their problems. Objectively, the scripts are better. The dialogue is better, the story is tighter, the concepts less convoluted. But I don’t care.

Even though they deal with sexuality. B is all about sex, even more so than A, but it doesn’t have that glee, that youthful exuberance. It’s so pragmatic. It’s real, and it makes a good point, but God does it lecture.

Now, it’s possible that distance makes the heart grow fonder. That HS RomCom was a beast to write. I was still in the phase where I had no idea what I was doing, and made a million lateral changes, and rewrote everything to death. By the time I declared myself done with it, I never wanted to see it again.

But I miss its je ne sais quoi. My current projects are lacking whatever it had, and that’s draining my motivation. I’ve got no real desire to be funny anymore, though I don’t know if it’s burn out, depression, or something else entirely.

I don’t know if– gasp–part of the problem is actually that my sex life is unfucked or that I’m sick of writing about sex period, what with writing smutty books for 20 hours a week.

And I don’t really care.

Except, that I have this weird feeling I used to recognize as inspiration. I think. And I actually WANT to write something for the sake of it, as opposed to because my schedule says I must write it.

I’m sure, that this slutty new idea is a tease, that once I tangle with it, I’ll realize it’s just as difficult as anything else I’ve ever written. And I’m not really planning to devote much, if any, time or energy to it.

After all, I don’t see much utility for another teenage romantic (sex) comedy script, even if I write this one knowing what it is, instead of figuring that out after a bajillion drafts. I already have the one. It’s not great, but it’s pretty good.

It’s not likely this will actually help my career. Or that I’ll ever have a screenwriting career.

Still, I might entertain it for a little while…

The truth is, I’ve been pushing this aside, shoving it where it can’t hurt me. I’ve told myself I don’t care what I write, as long as it’s in the ballpark of what I like to write. And that’s true, to some extent, but it hurts to think about not writing the awkward female sexuality stuff.

It’s literally painful.

I really do enjoy writing my angsty romances, even knowing I’ll have to write a little more to market, but I like them for different reasons. I still need that outlet, that opportunity to get into the weird and funny of sex, and especially of burgeoning sexuality.

But I can do both.

Sure, I won’t be able to devote a ton of time and energy to the latter, especially not if I go through with my plan of devoting myself to self pushing romance novels for 2 years in the hopes of making it into a career.

I’m 25 and I’m on track to make less than 20k this year. I want to have a career.

I guess, what I’m saying, is that there will be a screenplay D after screenplay C, and it will be another take on awkward teenage sexuality.

Or maybe I’ll write a YA novel instead.

Or maybe this is a random assortment of thoughts that lead to nowhere.

I’ve figured out what’s missing in my life (my writing life at least). That’s a solid first step.

Even if I’ve got no plans for a second.

A Passionless Marriage

It’s funny. A few days ago, I was getting ready to write a post about how I’m not quitting writing. But, now, I’m unsure again. No, scratch that. I am not quitting. Not right now at least.

But it’s starting to feel like it’s all work and no play. I don’t mind work, and I expect writing to feel like work some of the time, but I’m starting to dread it.

I’m not excited about my projects anymore. They feel like time and energy sucks instead of artistic fulfillment.

I guess a side effect of trying to make money off of something is that it becomes work.

But let me back up.

I wrote a book. I didn’t have much of a plan when I wrote it. I wanted to try out this whole novel thing. I did a little research and learned that romance is a popular genre. And, hey, I always write romanceish screenplays, so why not a romanceish book? And why not a sexy book too? I’m always taking stuff out of my scripts because it’s too sexy.

Then, I did a little more research, and I bought a cover and paid and editor and I published the book as the start of a trilogy. I failed at some marketing stuff, and I totally failed to move any copies.

Apparently, this is normal for most. But it’s still depressing.

You’ll notice that I failed to accomplish a critical step in this process–to properly understand the genre. I never read romance until I got the idea to write this book, and I only read a dozen or so books. Certainly not enough to give me a feel for what the readers want.

And, well, the thing is… I might hate what the readers want. It’s mostly alpha males and billionaires (no, really, it is) and I fucking hate alpha males. Just. No.

No, no, no.

And, now that I’m finally doing some proper research, I’m realizing exactly what this book publishing endeavour might entail. I’ll need to publish 3-4 books a year, in a series, that really cater to reader’s expectations. A breakneck pace that would surely leave no room for screenwriting (not that I’m particularly excited to do that either).

No room for enjoyment really.

I get so caught up in making these writing and publishing plans. My ambition skyrockets. Then, it all crashes around me and I have to ask myself–would I actually enjoy this life?

And, at this point, I just don’t know.

Maybe I’m just in the downward part of the swing, but I’m starting to feel like it’s just not worth it. It’s too many compromises.

Yes, I want to be a writer. And, yes, I’m willing to mold what I write to some degree in order to appease whoever…

But sometimes I get the distinct sense I’d have more luck if I tossed my integrity out the window and just copied what’s popular.

And that’s depressing.

Or maybe I’m just depressed and nothing would really stimulate me.

This time, I mean it

Something inside me snapped last week. I’m not sure exactly what it was or what it means, but I feel myself pulling further and further away from writing.

The more progress I make, the farther away I feel. 

It hurts too much to put so much of myself into my work only to have it fizzle. It hurts to much to work so hard for nothing. And it hurts to much to feel like I’m not a productive member of society.

Once upon a time, I felt like I have so much potential. Now, I feel like I’m squandering it.

I’m increasingly unhappy by the products of my efforts. Not by the actual act of writing, though that’s never really been about being happy, more about being fulfilled. But by what comes after the writing and editing and perfecting.

And the problem is that so little comes after it.

The last few months were, arguably, my most successful ever, but I’ve never felt more like I’m wasting my time. Screenwriting is so whatever. And my novel is so not getting the response I hoped for.

It’s not that no one likes it. It’s hovering around a solid three and a half stars on Amazon, is (barely) scraping by at 3 on Goodreads (I gave a way a bunch of copies in exchange for reviews on Goodreads and using a Netgalley co-op)… but so many members of my intend audience are simply not interested in something anywhere outside of the contemporary romance box.

You wouldn’t believe how many reviews basically amounted to — It’s not exactly what I expected, I hate it. The characters aren’t likable enough. I hate it. The main character thinks too much (it’s too literary). I hate it.

I mean, it’s possible I’m making excuses for my own failure, but I don’t think I’m too far off base.

I’m proud of my work. I worked fucking hard to write something that is a great fucking book about fascinating characters and not just another formulaic, mediocre romance. An interesting fucking book, not interesting for a romance.

You know, the standard advice–write the book you want to read that doesn’t exist yet. And this is what I want to read– a contemporary romance with 3-dimensional characters, plenty of sex, and literary appeal.

And I think I succeeded.

But, apparently, I’m one of the only people who wants to read this kind of thing.

So many readers (apparently) just want the same damn thing. Over and over. I feel like they would have liked my super tropey first draft more than the polished, insightful draft I published.

Like I’d be doing better with something that, by my standards, is crap.

So, it’s not that I feel like I’m not good enough. I’m getting there. But I feel more and more like it doesn’t matter that I’m good enough. Trying is pointless.

And it hurts too much to see your marketing effort has created no sales, that you’re asking the wrong people for reviews, that so many people don’t actually want something thoughtful. When I saw my Goodreads score fall to just under three, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.

And it only makes me feel worse that Bared to You has a better rating than To Kill A Mockingbird (insert other classic here). Are the readers as tasteless (no offense to Bared to You, it’s good for e-rom, but it’s not TKAM) as everyone suggests? Is romance a crap genre? Is writing a more literary book a big fat waste of time?

By all accounts, it’s looking like a yes.

I spend half my weekend actually thinking up an alternate career path.

I could never give up writing. I love it too much. But I’m starting to feel like all this time in front of my computer is only making my depression worse. That throwing myself out there in the world to be torn apart is too fucking painful.

See, in college, I took a lot of animation classes. A big waste of time, but studying film was a big waste of time. Back then, I was vegan and very passionate about animal rights. (Long story). In one of my classes, I spent the entire semester on a painfully earnest project about a guy adopting a pig. And, after I presented my final, my teacher made a joke about how bacon is tasty.

I never took another animation class again.

I was just done.

I’m starting to feel done.

Not with writing, but with ever trying to make anything resembling a career out of it.

I think I’ll be happier if I get a 9-5.

I’m not ready to call it quits just yet. I’m going to see my(school) year of tutoring and my trilogy through.

I’m going to keep writing in my spare time.

But, sometime in the next year or two, I’m going to be learning a new skill or going back to school. I’m going to work towards an actual career. (Probably teaching or programming)

Writing for a living is a pipe dream.

But worse, it’s stressful and depressing and utterly suffocating.

(Of course, there’s a good chance, I’ll be making this claim again sometime next month. Hope is a real killer).

Chicks on Whatever

It’s weird. Despite caring very much about the issues of female representation in film and lack of female writers in hollywood, I have no interest in girl writer meetups.

One of my usual groups is hosting a writing meetup specifically for female writers. And I have no interest.

I’ve never had good experiences in groups based on gender. Inevitably, it feels like we need to talk about our gender and the experience of being a woman and sexism and all that. I have a friend I met through her feminist blog, and whenever we get together, it feels like we have to talk about feminism and women in TV/film. It’s exhausting!

I mean, I don’t want to be here screaming about shitty female characters. I don’t LOOK for them. I just find them everywhere.

I try to mind my own business, but I can only watch Orange is the New Black so many times before I have to take a chance on something that might be sexist.

Honestly, I just want to watch a movie and NOT think why don’t the female characters do anything? I want to be able to watch The Princess Bride and not wonder why all the interesting characters are dudes. I think it’s a satire. Right? So Buttercup being useless but pretty is the point… maybe? Don’t get me wrong. I still love the movie. But I’d rather not have to question why there are, say, 10 important characters and only two of them are women.

I want to go to REGULAR screenwriting meetups and happen to see women there. I don’t want to go to special women screenwriting meetups.

I don’t really want to talk about writing at all.

Can’t we talk about Death Note or something?

(But, you really can’t talk about Death Note without talking about sexism).

Cheating on My Wife

I feel strange lately. I’m finally confident in my screenwriting abilities. I finished my latest feature and it kicks ass. I know I can write shit that rocks. I know I’ve finally started to figure it out.

And I am losing interest in the whole thing.

Now, this wouldn’t be the first time I lost interest in something as soon as I had a handle on it, but I don’t think it’s anything like that. I still love the act of screenwriting (and we are only talking about screenwriting here, not prose writing), but something about it has turned me off completely. Is it all the dumb people on the internet? The feeling of impossibility? The desire to change my life and get out of Los Angeles? The utter difficulty of a real job in the real world–working in a restaurant is fucking exhausting–making me flee to something easier? Is it all the stress about my mom/family problem? I don’t know… the best explanation I have is that I am tired, stressed out, and over-stimulated. The thought of getting off my ass and producing something is utterly exhausting.

What’s the point?

Am I too mercenary? At this point, I feel I am a good enough writer that I deserve compensation for my work. I don’t want to write things just for fun. I want to write things that will lead to me making a living. Because, now that I work 20-30 hours a week, and I have to give up work days to scurry my mom to appointments, I don’t have any time. And I want to use my time to build a career.

Will screenwriting ever be a career?

I don’t know. I do feel like there is a different part of myself who does screenwriting. The girl who writes comedy is different than the girl who writes drama. But they’re both me. If I gave up either, I would feel weird and unbalanced. And, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been drowning in drama world lately. It’s a little much, spending so much time in the head of a character with distorted thought processes…

I love my silly, weird, girl-focused scripts. I wouldn’t trade them, or working on them, for anything. Even if I’m usually miserable while I’m writing them because something is just not working. But that’s writing in a nutshell. When it’s working, it’s awesome. When it’s not working, it’s utter annihilation.

Maybe I am getting ahead of myself. Again. Just because I can no longer stomach even an episode of Scriptnotes or a few minutes on a screenwriting forum doesn’t mean I’m over screenwriting. It means I’m tired of hearing the same retreads of three-act structure and likable characters. And, though John and Craig seem like really nice guys, they are clearly out of touch with what it’s like to be broke and tired and trying to carve a career out of nothing… and, for my money, they take far too lenient of a stance on sexism/sexist tropes in movies.

Or maybe, after listening to 50 something episodes, I’m just tired of listening to them.

I don’t know. I’m going to publish my novel in about four weeks. I have a release date. A cover. It’s proofread. I still need to format it and do more press and do more marketing, but it’s quite the accomplishment. And I’ve never accomplished ANYTHING like this with screenwriting. Ever.

Now, being the mercenary girl that I am, I am more than willing to pull back on my publishing plan to take paying screenwriting gigs. Say, if my script was a finalist in Nicholl and I got a bunch of attention… I’m publishing all this stuff myself. I can put out a book a year and still do tons of screenwriting. But two books is another thing entirely.

Am I just sick of the entertainment industry? Unfortunate for me, cause my protagonist is a TV actress, and this book is only the first in a TRILOGY. Lord help me.

Am I just sick of Los Angeles?

Am I just tired? I feel tired.

I have to remember. I’m not even 25. I have plenty of time to build a career or build a second career. But, still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m cheating on my wife. We don’t have the same spark we used to have, and I’ve turned to some new thing to wake me up.

Or maybe I am overly dramatic.