Girls Don’t Read or Watch Fantasy?

For the past few months I, like many, many other self-professed geeks, have been anxiously waiting for the premier of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  This is quite a turn for me as when I first attempted to read Game of Thrones years ago I put it away, dissatisfied.  And now that I have read Ms. Ginia Bellafonte’s review perhaps I know why.

It’s because Mr. Martin didn’t include enough sexy scenes to capture my interest.  Apparently I can’t read or watch anything associated with the fantastical genre without at least one pants dropping incident every few minutes.  HBO knows this and so out of a fear that their action filled, heady political drama where bad guys turn into good guys and good guys into bad guys would be scorned by all the womefolk leaving their poor husbands and boyfriends to watch alone in the dark, they added all this extra bed jumping. 

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Forget the fact that when I first put down Game of Thrones I did it precisely because I had reached the moment where a certain blonde haired queen and a certain blonde haired boy were canoodling inappropriately.  Nevermind the fact that I’ve watched Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Never Ending Story, Legend, and other sex-free fantasy films many, many times over and never once thought to myself “You know what this needs?  Nekid people.” 

And forget the fact that I stopped reading Laurell K Hamilton because what started off as a kickass urban fantasy series with tightly woven plots turned into porn. 



No, apparently I am to blame for all the sex that turns up in fantasy and sci fi films.  All those fanboys would have been perfectly content for Princess Leia to wear a 3 piece suit and a parka sitting on Jabba’s pedestal but women would have stormed out of the theatres.  I am absolutely incapable of sitting through complex plots and subtle politics unless there is at least one bare chested man humping a girl in the corner.  I’m sorry men.  I didn’t realize I was ruining your cinematic experience.  Had I banded together with the rest of the fairer sex and agreed to watch James Bond, Total Recall, Lara Croft and Pirates of the Caribbean even if it only appealed to your sensibilities, perhaps I could have saved you the trauma of watching all those pointless one night stands, the parade of breasts, and Keira Knightly in a corset.  Oh if we had only known!  I am so sorry that Brad Pitt hooked up with Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club, that Labryinth’s producers decided to put David Bowie–

Hmm.  Actually, Bowie’s pants probably are our fault.

And now that we know that women don’t read or watch fantasy–that we’d rather read Lorrie Moore (for all the gratuitous bird sex?) I suppse you men are safe to come out of the closet.  You are the true readers of Twilight afterall .   Twilight Moms?  You mean Twilight Dads, right?  All those Patricia McKillip books, the Lois McMaster Bujold, the Catherine Asaraos–written by men for men.  Apparently my brother puts them in my library for me in case he ever randomly drives 500 miles to come peruse them. 

Ender’s Game, The Name of the Wind, Dragonriders of Pern–I merely use them to throw at my TV whenever they pre-empt my planned viewing of Buffy the Vampire Layer with something stupid like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Bastards.

Disclaimer: Ms. Bellafonte does admit that there are ‘some women’ who read Martin’s books, she’s just never met one.  I don’t know who she hangs out with, but I wonder if even they would state that they only watch Mad Men for the f***ing. 

Writing Advice

Dear Potential Writer,

             My [neighbor, parent, co-worker, grocery store check-out person] told me that you are working on a novel and could use some advice.  Because I am a [very famous, little famous, not at all famous, my own mother can’t remember my name] writer, they asked me.

            Maybe your novel is finished, and you want someone to read it and tell you whether it’s any good. Maybe you’re almost done, but not sure whether it’s worth the effort.  Or maybe you just have an idea and want me to write the novel for you for a ½ share of the profits.  Whatever the case, there’s a limit as to what I can do for you.  It’s not because I don’t like you, your novel, or your idea.  It’s not because I am too busy signing autographs.  And it’s not because I am jealous of your talent and want to eliminate my potential competition.  It’s because it’s for your own good.

            A lot of other writers, better writers than I am, have answered this question before:  glibly, honestly, intelligently.  They use comparisons to plumbers, lawyers, and other professions for whom you would never think of asking for free advice.  I’ve read these responses and passed them on to my writer friends because when we read them we sigh and say, ‘Yes, that is it exactly.’ But that’s not what you want or need to hear right now.  You want the sufficient and necessary conditions to publication.  You want to make sure you don’t make a fool out of yourself through ignorance of the rules of etiquette.  You don’t want to spend ten years doing x, when it turns out you should have been doing y.

            I know; I’ve been there. 

            I could tell you all the advice I received along the way (there wasn’t much), and about the mistakes I made (there were many), but in the end… writing is a solitary life.  It’s you, your keyboard and endless supply of caffeine.  It’s about tape recording conversations in the car, keeping notebooks handy, and getting over your fear of writing about the people you know and stealing the most intimate details of their lives.  It’s not a club you can join with a secret handshake where Ursula K Le Guin pours you cognac, Kevin Brockmeier and Stephen King beg to join your charades team, and JK Rowling slips you a packet with the personal email addresses of all the editors and publishers in the world.

            I know you want gratification.  You want people to like your work, and by extension, you.  You want to know that you’re talented or at least ‘good enough.’  But I can’t tell you that.  I might be able to give you my opinion on certain basic elements of craft, the way an orthopedic surgeon could tell you that the bumps on your arm might look like some disease he or she studied in med school, but in the end I’m a writer: not the spokesman for the general public or an otherwise licensed professional.  I’m neither an editor nor a publisher.  I am not your path to success.  In fact, I’m probably an offmap detour that leads to an alligator infested swamp. 

           You’re the one who has to figure out what you like and what you don’t, what works and what doesn’t.  There are things to learn in terms of craft, and if you want to know them, pay for them: books on writing, workshops, creative writing classes.  Different strategies work for different people.  I could no more tell you that you need to apply X method or Y plot device than I could pick the winning lottery numbers out of a hat. 

            But wait, you say.  There are critique groups and blogs and communities.  Writers get together and help each other out all the time.  They critique each other’s work and bounce off ideas and do everything that you’re refusing to do for me right now!

            Yes.  Yes to all those things, but you only get to join in when you’re a writer. 

           But that’s what I’m ASKING, you say?   You want to be a writer and I won’t tell you how? 

           Because there is no how.  One day you’re not a writer, and then you decide to become one.  You begin by writing more and more every day.  You join when you finish the things you start, revise the things you finish, and submit the things you revise.  You join by being rejected again and again and by biting your tongue when you think lesser work is published in your place.  You join by making mistakes, stepping on toes, and learning to apologize with grace—and often.  You join by thinking yourself in circles regarding your work, your brand, and your aesthetic. 

           You want even more practical advice?  Here: 

1)                  “You are a terrible writer.  I don’t have to read anything you’ve written to know this.  You don’t read enough, you don’t write enough.  Fix both.”

2)                  “Dare to write a miserable, sprawling, horrible failure.”   

            You become a writer by writing.  You learn by damaging your ego, and giving more of yourself than you take.  By a thousand revelations, by millions of words you improve.  It can take years, decades.  You learn to deal with it.  You lose a few relationships; see earlier note about solitary life.   

           If you survive to the end, you end up being a writer as if by accident. There’s no salary, no benefits, and the hours are terrible.  The writer’s life is unglamorous and boring; no one makes an action movie about the time the author had a deadline to meet. 

           P.S. I lied.  There is a secret handshake:         

           One day a [relative, co-worker, neighbor, grocery store checkout person] asks you for advice on their [finished, not yet finished, idea for a] novel.  You tell them to shut up and write, and you do the same

Resources (if you think you can handle it)

SFWA’s List of SF/F Writing Workshops: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/links-to-writers-workshops/

Short story markets: www.duotrope.com; www.ralan.com

Standard Manuscript Format: http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html

Agents, Novel Queries, etc: http://misssnark.blogspot.com/

How to Steal Like an Artist: http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/

John Scalzi’s What To Know Before You ask; http://whatever.scalzi.com/2007/01/23/what-to-know-before-you-ask-me-to-read-your-unpublished-work/

The Dining Room that is Lonely

Every few weeks for the past two years, the Dining Room has sent out invitations for a night of haute cuisine, genteel conversation, and lighthearted frivolity.  With the utmost care it gathers its embossed stationary and mother-of-pearl pens and writes in a sophisticated script with minimum frill:

You are hereby invited to a dinner party.

You may bring one guest.

The guest must be human.

And yet, week after week, no one responded.  No cards were sent, no one called to leave apologetic messages with the Secretary.  This did not deter the Dining Room’s ambitions; it was resolute.  It stared into its reflection and reminded itself: You have value to add.  It spoke to the other rooms of the house, ones that did not have to beg and plead for guests.

The Kitchen stated that the trick is to offer what people want: chocolate, liquor, or chocolate liquor.  The Bedrooms chorused that people will show up when they will; there is no herding them about.  The porches offered nothing but the creak of chairs in the wind.

The Dining Room listened out of deep respect for its colleagues, but they said nothing that the Dining Room did not already know.  It amended its invitations:

The guest does not have to be living.

The air in our salon is freshly minted.  It soothes the nerves, and rejuvenates the liver.  Patents pend.

One person responded.  A young girl with a scruffy animal hanging at the end of a blue leash.  The animal did not act pleased, nor the girl when the Dining Room reminded her of the species restrictions.  When she left, the Dining Room sank in on itself with the sigh of mahogany wood, the swish of silk as the draperies pooled on the floor. Our first guest, and I sent her away.

It was later revealed that the girl was a ruse, a hired hand paid for by the porches.  It was the best they could do on short notice.

To the invitations the Dining Room returned:

You are one of few.  Tell no one, hoping that the lure of exclusivity would be enough.

It was not.