Mar 8 2014

#FOGcon – Night One

Trigger Warning: General mention and discussion of rape.

When I pulled into the hotel parking lot this evening, all I wanted to do was sneak up to my room and hide. I knew there were still FOGcon panels and such going on

It happens. Sometimes the idea of being social is just too much and I just need to be alone in a quiet room disengaging until I’ve recharged.

So, I spent the first hour just relaxing and looking through the panels to see what I wanted to do tomorrow. Along the way, I learned that there was a late night panel, called “When is Your Heroine Finally Going to be Raped?” with Seanan McGuire, Sasha Pixlee, and Karen Williams, with Alison Moon as the moderator.

The panel was inspired by this blog post by Seanan McGuire, in which she describes her reaction to one of her fans asking the above question — her answer: never.

I remembered reading that blog post when she first put it up (I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of rape culture) and I was curious about the discussion.

Also, it was based on the desire to see and possible meet Seanan McGuire that I gathered myself up to come to FOGcon in the first place this year, so it seemed like such a shame to sit in my room. So, I found myself finding the energy to get out of my pajamas and back into real clothes, so I could go to the panel.

It was a heavy topic for my introduction to this year’s con, but it was fascinating and everyone on the panel was great.

Here are a few thoughts and quotes that came out of the discussion:
Continue reading


Nov 15 2013

Three Things I Would Like to See in More Novels

Book of love

As a reader, I can’t help noticing patterns that emerge in the stories I read. Sometimes these stories are spot on, and sometimes I find myself longing for different kinds of stories than what I see on the pages. Here are a few tropes or plots points I would like see occur in more books.*

1. Books That Start with the Characters Already in a Romantic Relationship

So many stories, from romance novels to YA fantasy, begin with two strangers meeting for the first time, having instant attraction, and ultimately finding their way to love. These stories are great, and I enjoy them just as much as the next person.

But these stories seem to stem from the idea the Falling-in-Love aspect is the only interesting or challenging part of a relationship. If our two heroes can just get past these hurdles, then they’ll realize it’s True Love and they’ll be guaranteed their happily ever after.

The reality is that relationships are hard work. It involves day-to-day acts of compassion, understanding, and compromise in order to stay in love.

Staying-in-Love has the potential to be just as compelling and romantic a trope as Falling-in-Love, and would be great to see more stories begin with characters already in a relationship, which they have to hold on to through the storm.

2. Non-Romantic Relationships

Again this is me not so much turning away from romance, but wanting an addendum to it. Many stories, particularly in YA books, focus on the love story to the end that other relationships fade to the background. Sometimes that happens, a person falls in love and is so wrapped up in the feeling, they can’t make the other valuable relationships with friends and family fit in.

But I think life tends to be more multilayered than that and with all the levels of relationships and love — mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, cousins, etc. — there is a lot of room for emotional complexity. I’m not saying ditch the romance (though I kind of am with my book), but alongside falling in love, lets have some of the other kinds of relationships, too.

3. Quiet Moments

Roger Ebert talked about quiet moments in an interview he did with Hayao Miyazaki:

I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

“We have a word for that in Japanese,” Miyazaki said. “It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”

Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?

“I don’t think it’s like the pillow word.” He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.

Reading this, I thought about how many stories just power through to the ending in one action sequence after another without allowing that space to breathe and feel something.

Placing a quiet, still moment into a story seems easier in a movie, because it’s a visual form. But I think it’s possible to achieve in books, too, and I would like to see more stories, normally rife with action allow a space for the reader to feel about the characters before plunging in again.

What are tropes, plots, ideas that you would like to see appear in more novels?

*And, as I long to see these things, I find myself drawn to writing them in order to fulfill that desire.

 * * *

Since this is supposed to be a Friday Five post, here are two more unrelated Things you may be interested in checking out:

1. An awesome blog post analyzes the concept of the “Man Card”, which basically a way of metaphorically and jokingly measuring a person’s manliness:

“The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.

This is dangerous.”

2. Check out Malinda Lo’s Guide to YA. Malinda Lo is the author of a great Cinderella retelling, called Ash, and she’s writing a multitude of posts YA novels, particularly those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters or issues. If you’re a writer at all interested in writing about GBLTQ characters or issues, then I highly recommend working your way through this reading list.


Sep 10 2013

The Gun-Toting Macho-Babe: A Review of Riddick

Trigger Warning: mention of violence and rape.

Another Fair Warning: This post contains spoilers for a couple of movies, including the Riddick, which released this year.

I loved Pitch Black (2000). The story involves a ship full of passengers that crash lands on an unknown planet. As they are trying to find their way off this world, they discover that something much more sinister lurks beneath the surface.*

In addition to having a cool, fast paced story with awesome and stylish use of lighting, as well as fantastically scary creatures, the movie also had a diverse cast with three awesome women — Shazza Montgomery (played by Claudia Black of Farscape fame), a free-settler who easily pulls her own weight; Jacke/Jackie (played Rhiana Griffith), a kid who becomes digs on Riddick’s bad boy appeal and tries to emulate him; and Carolyn Fry (played by Radha Mitchell), one of the ship’s pilots and the lead in the movie. Carolyn is especially interesting as she’s the most complicated, starting out as a coward by wanting to jettison the passengers at the beginning of the movie to save herself and then growing into the leader of the group, one willing to risk herself to save others.

The movie also introduced the audience to the bad-assery that is Riddick and made Vin Diesel a star.**  Riddick was presented at first as the villain, a criminal and murderer, who later turns out to be less of an evil than Johns, the bounty hunter who tracked and caught him. In the first movie, Riddick is far from perfect, but has some depth with his own sense of morality (he refuses to kill a kid and leave her for dead in order to protect the group from monsters, as Johns wanted to) and his own perception of god.

Following Pitch Black, came two sequels (one of which is animated), each of which was of far lower quality than the first movie, and neither of which I saw. So, I went into the third sequel, Riddick, with very low expectations. We really only went to see it, because both my friend and I love Vin Diesel.

Following right after the events of The Chronicles of Riddick, in which he apparently had become some sort of king, Riddick starts with his being betrayed and left stranded on a desert planet, at which point it eventually becomes a sub-par rehashing of Pitch Black and Vin Diesel grumbling out some of the same lines from the first movie. The bigger threat this time is small, mud creatures with scorpion-like tales that seemed like less-intelligent versions of the creatures from the Alien franchise, once the rain started and released them en-masse. The story itself may have been redundant, but, in and of itself, it was entertaining enough.

But I really, really didn’t like the way the movie treated the women, of which there are two. And, in fact, as I’ve thought about it more over the past couple of days, I’ve come to realize that I’m actually rather pissed off about it.

The first is a nameless black woman (played by Keri Hilson),*** chained inside the bounty hunter Santana’s ship, who has clearly been abused at the hand of the bounty hunter (and based on his later behavior, also raped). Santana decides to let her go on the grounds that he has more important things to deal with, only to shoot her in the back as she is fleeing. She locks eyes with Riddick, who is hidden from the bounty hunters behind a rock, and he stares at her passively as she takes her last breath. It’s just so clear that her only role in the movie is to show viewers that Santana is a bad, bad man. And it’s gross.

The second is Dahl (played by Katee Sackhoff), a gun-toting macho-babe. She saunters in leather-clad, carrying weapons, and sporting an attitude. When some dude, like Santana, says something she doesn’t like, she punches him and makes him bleed. Other than that she doesn’t do much, stand around looking sexy, and taking some choice shots with the sniper riffle.

Now, I don’t inherently have anything against the Gun-Toting Macho-Babe. She can on occasion be awesome, providing there is more to her than being a gun-toting macho-babe. It depends on the level of power she’s actually allowed to have and how the men around her treat her and her response to that treatment.

At one point, the scum that is Santana, propositions her. At which point, she punches him again, and says, “I don’t f*ck guys, but I do occasionally f*ck them up.” (And I thought,” Oh, okay. She’s gay. Cool.”)

In the continuing interplay between Dahl and Santana (she rarely interacts with anyone else), he throws her to the ground and tries to rape her. After she escapes his brutality and is asked why there’s so much blood, she explains with a smirk, “I had to kick his ass again” — because rape is obviously something to laugh about.

Later, Riddick explains to the group that he’s going to go “balls deep” in Dahl. Her response is to roll her eyes and essentially say that that’s never going to happen. (And I, after grimacing at his awful and sexist dialog, prayed that she wouldn’t, all the while knowing better.)

Because what happens at the end when she lowers down on a wire to extract Riddick? She straddles as she straps him into the harness, smiles sweetly, and says, “Let me ask you something sweetly…”

Apparently, his manliness is so manly that Dahl could not help herself and had to f*ck him. It was just so “oh, look, Riddick, you won the impossible prize that none of the other less manly men could win!” that it made me want to gag.

I don’t understand how the same writers and director who did the original managed to work their way into creating this mess of a movie without any layers. I can picture them sitting there, talking about what a strong woman Dahl is, while smugly smiling at how awesome they are.

Which reminds me of Sophie McDougall’s excellent New Statesman article, “I Hate Strong Female Characters,” in which she expertly explains the problem with the concept of Strong Female Charaters. She says, “Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”

As I think back to Pitch Black, I would describe the women there as intelligent, capable, complicated, brave, cowardly, disciplined, troubled, conscious-stricken, honorable, and/or dishonest, depending on the woman. They are closer to people, closer to being layered.

Not one of them was a gun-toting, macho-babe (which is not to say that the women in Pitch Black never carry or fire weapons, but that they do so out of necessity, not as a matter-of-fact).

Not one of them is a hot sex bot in leather.

Not one of them is a nameless victim, either.

Not one of them is reduced to an one-dimentional object for the men to play off.

Like Sophie McDougal, I want a women to be more than strong, more than the what the writers and director of Riddick reduced both the nameless woman and Dahl into being. I want more, because I know it’s possible for writers and directors and creators to do better. I’ve seen better. And I’m sad and disappointed that more creators don’t seem to even try.

Comments are welcome, but try to be constructive.

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Recommended Reading: “Somone Like Me,” by Cindy Pon is an article about diversity or lack thereof in fiction and movies. She writers, “I play “Spot the Asian” when I watch movies. I remember doing this for The Avengers recently, and feeling disheartened near the end of the film when I had yet to see an Asian American face on the big screen. The movie redeemed itself in a montage of post-conquering-the-bad-guys scenes in New York City, where I saw Asian faces as extras in the background and even a brief cameo of an excited Asian American boy with actual lines to speak. For those who are not people of color (PoC), this might seem an odd ritual. But imagine growing up and rarely seeing someone who looked like you in the media—not even in commercials, much less on television shows, in films, or in magazines. I was a voracious reader as a child, but it was only as an adult, looking back, when I realized that I had never read a book with a character who looked like me.”

Read the whole thing. It’s a great post and includes a list of books at the end that the author recommends.

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*This btw represents one of my favorite horror movie tropes. Put people in an already scary situation (crashed on a plant with no sight of help and no easy way off), then escalate the situation by having something worse crawl out of the woodwork.

**Well, Pitch Black, along with his followup roll in The Fast and the Furious a year later in 2001.

***There is a separate, but equally important discussion to be had about race, and the fact that the nameless victim was a black women, as well as the fact that yet again, the only survivors were white folk.

****It should be noted, by the way, that while Riddick never seems to be bothered by Santana’s continuing attacks on women, he finally gets angry and kills Santana for the crime of killing his dog.