Essay

OTW Blog & LEGO M.A.S.K.

Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu] picked up reviews at SciFiChick (“This must-read collection…”) and Romantic Times (“…a fabulous introduction to Hines’ writing, his world of goblins, and his world of Libriomancy all in one — who can pass up a 3-fer?”)

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A month or so back, I was invited to write a guest blog post for the Organization for Transformative Works. Here’s a sneak peek:

I’ve seen the whole spectrum of opinions, from “Fanfiction is the Devil’s Prose!” to “Fanfiction is so much better than that commercial dreck.” I don’t buy either view. Fanfiction is fanfiction. Some is brilliant. Some is abysmal. Fanfic authors sometimes get criticized for not writing commercially, but that makes as little sense as criticizing a fantasy author for not writing fortune cookies. For most of us, we write what we love, and we do it because we love it.

Full post is here.

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Finally, does anyone else remember M.A.S.K., an 80s cartoon and toy line about vehicles and buildings with hidden weapons, concealed mini-vehicles, and also lots of masks? Orion Pax (the same individual who built a transforming Optimus Prime from LEGO) has been working on LEGO M.A.S.K., including a working version of Boulder Hill, the good guys’ HQ.

We had these toys! I remember playing with this set. This blows my mind. Click here or the thumbnails for the full photo set.

Readership Breakdown

This is something I was mentally sketching at various points over the weekend.  (Yes, I draw graphs in my head for fun.  Is anyone surprised by this?)

It’s a representation of things I keep reminding myself: for one thing, that the Internet is not as big as we think it is.  For example, the Elizabeth Moon/Wiscon debate from last year was a huge deal in my online circles … but when it came up during the Political Correctness panel at ConFusion, we had to stop to explain what we were talking about.

Likewise, the idea that online arguments in general are going to destroy an author’s career … let’s just say I’m doubtful that the average Internet authorfail does any appreciable damage to said author’s sales.

The circles might need to be shifted a bit — there’s probably more overlap between Fandom and the Internet, now that I think about it.  And every author’s graph will be a little different.  From what I’ve seen, I’ve got some moderate name recognition online and in fandom circles, so I nudged that overlap up a bit.  Independent stores and convention sales make up a nice chunk of my overall sales, and I get a decent number of hits online.  But it’s still only a fraction of my overall readership.

It’s something I try to keep in mind when it comes to publicity/promotion.  There are a lot of readers who don’t go to cons and probably wouldn’t identify as “fandom.”  Likewise, a lot of readers aren’t hardcore Facebook/Twitter/LiveJournal users, or whatever.  I could come up with the most brilliant online promotion ever, and it would only reach a fraction of my potential audience.

I’ll continue to do conventions and hang out online, both because I really enjoy it, and because it’s still an effective way to connect with some of my readers.  But I also try to keep in mind that I’m only reaching a fraction of those readers.

What do you think?

Writing About Rape, Part II

In April of last year, I did a post on writing about rape, and how we as authors often do it badly.  Recently, I received an e-mail from one of my readers asking if I could do a follow-up on how to write about rape in fiction and do it well.

I’m not going to sit here and proclaim The Right Way to write about rape.  What I can do is talk about how I’ve written about rape in my fiction. I’m not saying I did it right, but maybe this can be a starting point for discussion.

~Spoilers for some of Jim’s fiction beyond this point~

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Marion Zimmer Bradley vs. Fanfiction

Most writers, both commercial and fanfic, have heard some version of the Marion Zimmer Bradley “cautionary tale” regarding fanfiction.  In one version, Bradley was a generous, nurturing author who encouraged fanfiction until a greedy fanfic author tried to sue her, torpedoing a book in the process.  In another, Bradley had was preying on helpless fanfic authors, using their ideas to perpetuate her publishing empire.

If we’re going to toss this story around every time we talk about fanfiction, it would be nice to have a few facts to go with the fourth-hand accounts, guesswork, and rumors. Michael Thomas and opusculus have both posted about the MZB incident lately, and provided inspiration and starting points for my own write-up. But I wanted to dig deeper, and to avoid the wiki-style sources which in my opinion aren’t as reliable for this sort of thing.

To put my own biases out there, one of my first sales was to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.  I later sold a story to Sword & Sorceress XXI.  In addition, I’m published by DAW, which also published Bradley’s work.  I’ll leave it to you to read and decide whether this influences my research and write-up.

First hand statements are in red.  I’ve included links wherever possible.

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The Great Rape Conspiracy

comrade_cat posted about an article by Heather MacDonald called The Campus Rape Myth, which takes on the “campus rape industry.”  Warning: reading the article is likely to significantly raise your blood pressure.

MacDonald spews more than 6000 words to “debunk” college rape as a ridiculously overblown myth fueled by false reports, radical feminist research, and slutty college girls.

She’s not alone in her beliefs.  I remember a response to one of my own rape posts, in which a man said he liked what I was saying, but thought I was making up the part about how many of my friends had been raped, because he didn’t believe it happened that often.

As pissed off as I was by this response, I couldn’t help appreciating the parallel … after all, how often do rape victims share their stories, only to be told they’re lying?

MacDonald targets a single article in her attempt to reveal the falsehoods of the great rape conspiracy:

“The campus rape industry’s central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years … This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm.”

She goes on to point out that many of these “so-called” rape victims didn’t identify the experience as rape, and didn’t even report it!  She also refers to a 2000 study by the Department of Justice.  I assume she means The Sexual Victimization of College Women, which studied rapes over six months and estimated that “Over the course of a college career — which now lasts an average of 5 years — the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter.”  (As everyone knows, the U. S. Government is a just hotbed of radical feminism.)

Page 23 of the study lists some reasons women chose not to report:

“…common answers included that the incident was not serious enough to report and that it was not clear that a crime was committed. Other  reasons, however, suggested that there were barriers to reporting. Such answers included not wanting family or other people to know about the incident, lack of proof the incident happened, fear of reprisal by the  assailant, fear of being treated with hostility by the police, and  anticipation that the police would not believe the incident was serious enough and/or would not want to be bothered with the incident.”

Gosh, where could they have gotten the idea that people won’t take them seriously if it was friend or date raped them?  How could they think that if they were raped after partying or drinking, that they might be mocked and treated with outright hostility?  Who taught them that unless it was a black stranger with a knife, it doesn’t count as a “real” rape?[1. From MacDonald's article, "Like many stranger rapists on campus, the knifepoint assailant was black, and thus an unattractive target for politically correct protest."]

Buried in MacDonald’s article is a valid point.  When working in rape education and prevention, I saw a tendency to toss statistics about without being able to back them up or explain where they come from.  Given how many people refuse to accept how common rape is, I believe it’s important to back up the numbers when possible.

Mostly though, MacDonald’s article is crap.  Sadly, it’s crap a lot of people choose to believe.  Because we don’t want to admit rape can and has happened to people we love.  Because it’s easier to ridicule the numbers — and the victims — than to accept we have a problem.

I’ve mentioned sitting in my college dorm with several female friends when two guys walked by, mocking the 1-in-4 statistic.  “If that were right, it would mean one of you had been raped,” said one.  Unstated was the assumption that this was utterly ridiculous.  How absurd to think that someone he knew had experienced such a horrible crime?

Of course, he was right.  MacDonald does the same thing in her article:

“The one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, millions of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience.”

Well, yes.  That’s the point.  And you can either turn your back on those women, or you can open your eyes and try to do something about it.

Racist, Sexist, and Homophobic

I posted Monday about the “Writing the Other” panel at Millennicon.  Today I wanted to address one of the comments.  Jim Van Pelt (whose writing I love, by the way — check it out) described an academic panel in which the moderator opened by saying, “If you are white, male and straight in America, you are also, automatically racist, sexist and homophobic.”  Comment link here.

This next part is scary to write. To be clear, I’m not talking about you.  I’m not talking about Van Pelt.  I’m not talking about anyone except myself, ‘kay?

That moderator is correct.  I am a straight white male raised in the U.S.  I am also racist.  I am sexist.  I am homophobic.

While on the phone with a woman from tech support a few months back about a software problem, I found myself getting fed up, angry, and aggressive.  Afterward, I asked myself whether I would have been equally aggressive had the other person been male.  I wasn’t happy to realize the answer was no. Given the same conversation, I will be more restrained with the male support person.  Because the female is someone I’m “allowed” to be angry/aggressive at.  Because I am sexist.

I feel safe walking around my neighborhood, or to and from the parking lot at work, but I try to be aware of my surroundings.  Walking down the street, if I see a group of teenagers coming toward me, I automatically assess them as more of a potential threat if they’re black.  Because I am racist.

When my kids talk about getting married, I’ve told them that whoever they want to be with, that’s fine with me.  I’ve taught them that not everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, and that’s okay.  Yet deep down, a part of me still hopes they settle down with someone of the opposite sex, because I want them to be “normal.”  Because I am homophobic.

I’m believe in accountability, and a big part of that is the need to own your shit.  This is mine.  I’m not proud of it.  I’ve been working on this stuff for years.  I’m not done yet.

Does this make me a bad person?  You’ll have to make your own decision on that, but I don’t believe it does.  I know who I am.  I know my strengths, and I know my flaws.  I could try to hide those flaws, but it wouldn’t make them go away.  And maybe by sharing those flaws, I’ll work harder to change them.

I am racist.  I am sexist.  I am homophobic.

People tend to flip out when accused of these things.  I understand the urge.  I had to stop myself from trying to explain or excuse my behavior above.  From trying to show how, even though I screw up sometimes, I’ve done a lot of other good stuff.  (The nice guy defense.)

I’m not going to tell you how to respond to accusations of racism and sexism and homophobia.  I will share that owning my flaws takes some of the fear away.  It lessens my need to get pissed off, to argue and defend myself.  I feel like I can listen.  I might decide someone’s accusation is correct.  I might not.  But at least I’m in a space where I can listen.

A part of me thinks I should delete this thing and post a picture of my cat.  But after Monday, this felt like something I needed to write.

Discussion is welcome, as always.

First Novel Survey Results

In February of 2010, I began collecting information from professionally published novelists.  My goal was to learn how writers broke in and made that first big novel deal, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist.

My thanks to everyone who participated, as well as the folks at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Book View Cafe, SFWA, SF Novelists, Absolute Write, and everyone else who helped to spread the word.

The survey closed on March 15, 2010 with 247 responses. For those interested in the raw info, I’ve posted an Excel spreadsheet of the data with all identifying information removed.  You can download that spreadsheet here.

I’ve broken my write-up into nine parts:

  1. The Data
  2. Short Story Path to Publication
  3. Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel
  4. The Overnight Success
  5. You Have to Know Somebody
  6. Can You Boost Your Odds?
  7. Survey Flaws
  8. Other Resources
  9. Final Thoughts

The Data

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more.  This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers.  No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

247 authors from a range of genres responded.  One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was a nonfiction title).  A random audit found no other problems.  The results were heavily weighted toward SF/F, which is no surprise, given that it was a fantasy author doing the study.  But I think this is a respectable range:

The year in which authors made their first sale covered more than 30 years, from 1974 to 2010.  The data is heavily weighted toward the past decade.

There’s the background information in a nutshell.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the first myth.

The Short Story Path to Publication

Back when I was a struggling young author in the late 90s, I received a great deal of contradictory advice about how to break in.  Many writers told me I had to sell short stories first to hone my craft and build a reputation so agents and editors would pay attention to me.  Others said this was outdated, and these days I could skip short fiction if I wanted and just jump straight into novel writing.

So do you really have to sell short fiction first?  I asked how many short stories people sold, if any, before making that first professional novel sale.  Answers ranged from 0 to 400 short fiction sales.  On average, authors sold 7.7 short stories before selling the novel.

Next I looked at the median, the midway point in the sample.  The median number of short fiction sales was 1, meaning half of the authors sold more than this many, and half sold fewer.

But let’s make this even simpler.  Of 246 authors, 116 sold their first novel with zero short fiction sales.

Possible Data Quality Issue: The question was “How many short fiction sales, if any, did you have before making your first professional novel sale?”  Several authors noted that they only included “professional” short fiction sales, which might reduce the numbers.  But even so, the idea that you must do short fiction first appears busted.  Not only that, but looking at a scatterplot of the number of short fiction sales and the year of the first novel sale, this appears to be busted going back at least 30 years.

I believe short fiction sales can help an author.  One author noted that they were contacted directly by an editor who had read the author’s short fiction and wanted to know if the author had a novel.  Personally, I found that short fiction helped me a lot with certain aspects of the craft.  And of course, a lot of us just enjoy writing short stories.  But it’s not a requirement to selling a novel.

Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel

For as long as I’ve been writing, some authors have been announcing the death of traditional publishing.  Especially with the growth of print-on-demand and electronic publishing, I hear that self-publishing is the way to go.  The idea is that if you self-publish successfully, you’ll attract the notice of the big publishers and end up with a major contract, like Christopher Paolini did with Eragon.

One of the survey questions asked how authors sold their first novel to a professional publisher.  The options were:

  • Self-published, then sold the book to a professional publisher
  • Published with a small press, then sold the book to a professional publisher
  • Submitted directly to a professional publisher, who bought it
  • Submitted to an agent, who sold the book to a professional publisher
  • Other

To those proclaiming queries and the slush pile are for suckers, and self-publishing is the way to land a major novel deal, I have bad news: only 1 author out of 246 self-published their book and went on to sell that book to a professional publisher.  There was also 1 “Other” response where the author published the book on his web site and received an offer from a professional publisher.  (It should be noted that this author already had a very popular web site, which contributed to the book being noticed and picked up.)

Just to be safe, I ran a second analysis, restricting the results to only those books that sold within the past five years.  PoD is a relatively new technology, so it’s possible the trends have changed.  But the results are pretty much identical.

This does not mean self-publishing can never succeed, or is never a viable option.  (I.e., please don’t use this as an excuse for a “Jim hates self-publishing” rant.)  However, for those hoping to leverage self-published book sales into a commercially published breakout book (a la Eragon), the numbers just aren’t in your favor.  For the moment at least, the traditional pathways — submitting to an agent, submitting directly to the publisher — still appear to be the way to go.

Also, please see below for Steven Saus’ graph showing the trend away from submitting directly to the publisher and more toward querying agents in recent years.

The Overnight Success Story

When I started writing, I figured it was easy.  I thought anyone could do it.  Having zipped off my first story, I assumed fame and fortune would soon be mine.  And why not?  How often do we see the movies where someone sits down at the computer, and after a quick writing montage, voila! They’re a published author.  (Generally this seems to mean big book tours, winning awards, hanging with Oprah, and living the good life.)

So how long does it take to sell that book?  Of our 246 authors, the average age at the time they sold their first professional novel was 36.2 years old.  The median was also 36, and the mode was 37.  Basically, the mid-to-late 30′s is a good age to sell a book.

But that doesn’t tell us how long these authors were working at their craft.  So the very next question in the survey asked, “How many years had you been writing before you made your first professional novel sale?”

The responses ranged from a single respondent who said 0 years, all the way to 41 years, with an average of 11.6 years.  Both the median and the mode came in at an even ten years.

You could argue that the single response from someone who had been writing for 0 years proves that overnight success can happen, and you’re right.  It can happen.  So can getting struck by lightning.

Here’s the breakdown in nice, graphical form:

I also asked how many books people had written before they sold one to a major publisher.  The average was between three and four.  Median was two.  I was surprised, however, to see that the mode was zero.  58 authors sold the first novel they wrote.  Still a minority, but a larger minority than I expected.

I’m still going to call this one busted.  Not as thoroughly busted as I would have guessed, but the bottom line is that it takes time and practice to master any skill, including writing.

You Have to Know Somebody

This one goes back to the idea that it’s nigh impossible to break in as an unknown writer.  You have to have an in.  Without those connections, editors and agents will never pay you the slightest bit of attention.

This was a little trickier to test.  I asked two questions:

1. What connections did you have, if any, that helped you find your publisher?

  • Met editor in person at a convention or other business-related event
  • Knew them personally (not business-related)
  • Introduced/referred by a mutual friend
  • Other

2. What connections did you have, if any, that helped you find your agent?

  • Met editor in person at a convention or other business-related event
  • Knew them personally (not business-related)
  • Introduced/referred by a mutual friend
  • I sold my book without an agent
  • Other

The most popular response in the “Other” category was “None” or “No connection at all.”  Ignoring the “Other” category for the moment, all other responses were selected a grand total of 162 times.  More importantly, 185 authors listed no connections whatsoever to their publisher before selling their books.  115 listed no connections at all to any agents, either.  (62 others added that they did not use an agent to sell their first book.)

Combining the agent and publisher questions, a total of 140 — more than half — made that first professional novel sale with no connections to either the publisher or the agent.

Here’s the percentage breakdown:

Met editor at a convention: 17%
Knew editor personally: 3%
Referred to editor: 11%
Met agent at a convention: 11%
Knew agent personally: 4%
Referred to agent: 21%
Did not use an agent: 25%

The “Other” categories also included a small number of authors who reported winning contests, short story sales that attracted interest, industry connections, and in one case, SFWA membership.

My conclusion is that connections can certainly help.  Agent referrals in particular — it’s always nice to check with other authors to see who represents them, and if you can get a referral, so much the better.  But the idea that you have to have a connection?  Or even that most authors knew someone before they broke in?  Busted.

Can You Boost Your Odds?

As has been pointed out (by my own agent, among others), while connections aren’t required, they can be helpful. I wanted to know what other steps authors took to try to improve their chances, and asked whether participants had done any of the following:

  • Attended conventions
  • Attended one or more writers groups
  • Earned an undergrad degree in English/Writing
  • Earned a graduate degree in English/Writing
  • Attended a weekend writing workshop
  • Attended a week-long writing workshop
  • Attended a longer writing workshop
  • None of the above

By far, the two most popular choices were conventions and writers groups, both of which were reported by more than half of our novelists.  The least popular choice?  The graduate degree in English/Writing.  (As someone who holds an MA in English, I’m trying not to be depressed about that one.)

The full breakdown looks like so:

Remember, this is correlative data, not causative.  However, I decided to take a look at a few more correlations, taking the writers from each of these categories and examining how many years it took to make that first pro novel sale.  I bolded the highs and lows.

Full Group: Average 11.6 years, median 10, mode 10
Conventions: Average 10.5 years, median and mode unchanged
Writers Groups: Average 10.5 years, and median drops to 9.5
Undergrad Degree: Average 9.8 years, median 6.5, mode 3.5
Graduate Degree: Average 11.8 years, median 10, mode 6
Weekend Workshop: Average 10.7, median 8.5, mode 3
Week-long Workshop: Average 10.7, median 8.5, mode 6
Longer Workshop: Average 11.6, median 10, mode 6
None: Average 15.7 years, median 15, mode 9

I’m reluctant to draw too many conclusions from this, or to say that any one category will definitely help you break in.  But looking at the “None” category, I think it’s safe to say that writers who are more actively trying to get out and build their careers — in any one of a number of ways — tend to break in faster than those who aren’t.

Survey Flaws

This was not a perfect study.  It wasn’t meant to be.  I wanted a large enough sample to start to see some trends, but I’m not qualified to run a full-scale, controlled study.  Nor do I have the time.  In the interest of full disclosure, here are the flaws I’m aware of.

1. Sample bias.  I’m a fantasy author.  When I announced the survey and asked for authors to participate, I knew the results would be heavily skewed toward SF/F writers in my network.  I did some outreach to spread the word to other writing groups and blogs, but the results are still weighted toward SF/F and may not apply as strongly to other genres.

2. Question imprecision. Several questions were imprecisely worded.  For example, one question asked “How many times, if any, was your novel rejected before it sold to a professional publisher?”  I received enough comments and questions about this, asking whether I meant publisher rejections, agent rejections, or both, that I did not include the final data in my write-up.  I’m also unhappy with one of the networking questions which asked if you were introduced/referred to your agent or editor.  “Referral” is fairly broad, and could mean everything from a personal letter of recommendation to an author saying “Oh yes, Bob’s my agent and I think he’s open to queries right now.”

3. Can’t prove cause/effect. This is a weakness of correlative data.  I think the data worked well for busting certain myths, but if I catch anyone saying things like “Jim Hines proved that if you get an undergrad degree in English, you’ll sell a novel faster,” then I will personally boot you in the head.  See here for a good example of correlation =/= causation re: pirates and global warming.

4. Limited scope. I restricted this survey to authors who had published at least one novel with a professional ($2000 or higher advance) publisher. Not everyone shares the goal of publishing professionally.  For those who prefer the small press, non-fiction, script writing, short fiction, or other forms of writing, the path to breaking in might be very different.

I’m sure there are other flaws.  However, it was my goal and my hope that even with these problems, the data I gathered would be useful in talking about how writers break in, and would be much better than the anecdotal “evidence” usually cited in such conversations.

Other Resources

Steven Saus’ Analysis of my Survey Data: Steven ran my numbers through some heavy-duty statistical software and came up with all sorts of info, including this graph showing the apparent trend in how submissions have moved from direct-to-publisher more toward querying agents over the past few decades.  For those who like to geek out on numbers and statistics, I recommend checking it out.

Tobias Buckell’s Author Advance Survey: Data from 108 authors about novel advances, showing trends over time and over the course of authors’ careers.

Megan Crewe’s Publishing Connections Survey: Data from 270 authors on whether you need connections to break in.  Her results tend to match my own on this one.

SFWA’s Online Information Center: Includes essays, resources, and advice for new writers from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.  (Thanks to Charlie Stross for the link.)

Final Thoughts

My thanks once again to everyone who participated in the study, who spread the links to other writers, and for all of the support and encouragement.  I’m quite pleased with the way this turned out, and I hope it’s helpful to others.

In conclusion (and in true Mythbusters style) I present you with this artistic rendering of my editor when she learns how much time I’ve spent on this survey instead of working on my next book:

Strong Women Characters

A number of people have linked to the article Why Strong Female Characters are Bad for Women.  I’ve read it several times, and while I agree with a lot of what’s said, that title makes me cranky.

Strong female characters are not bad for women (or for men). Stereotypical, cardboard, badly done female characters, on the other hand? Not a good thing. Writers and filmmakers who have no clue how to create a strong female character? Also a bad thing.

A strong female character has to be a character.  Characters are (usually) people.  They have strengths and flaws both.  They have their own goals — which don’t all revolve around a guy — as well as their own fears. They love and hate and yearn and regret.

I’ve found that as soon as the writer tries to define a particular type of character — “This shall be the black character” or “This will be the smart character” or “This will be the strong female character,” then it fails.  The character becomes one-dimensional, defined by that label and a (usually) shallow and stereotypical understanding of how to portray it.

What about strength?  Strong does not mean invulnerable.  Strong does not mean perfect.  Strong does not necessarily mean physical strength.

Strength is my daughter holding back tears after her little brother accidentally hurts her, because she knows if she cries it will upset him.  Strength is my mother calmly shoving chocolate into my dad’s mouth when his blood sugar drops too low.  Strength is Susan Boyle getting up on stage, ignoring the derision of the audience, and singing the crap out of her song.

Sure, strength can also be Uma Thurman kicking ass in Kill Bill — but that’s just one of many kinds of strength.  When that’s the only kind of strength we see, it betrays a serious lack of creativity on the part of the writers. (And Thurman’s character is far from invulnerable.  As the article notes, she is strong, but also flawed and human.)

Lastly, a strong female character has to be female.  This is a “Duh” moment, but I think there are a lot of writers who have a hard time creating realistic female characters. Sometimes women seem to exist only as sexual fantasy objects. Other times people complain the female characters are just “men with boobs.”

Dangerous territory here. I’m not about to try to lecture everyone on what is and isn’t female. Nor am I going to claim I always get it right. What I do know is that sex and gender can affect our experiences and our identity, but they don’t define who we are, and there’s tremendous variety out there.

We’re not getting enough variety in books and TV and movies.  Often we get a few narrow character types and ignore 99% of the female population. And hey, here’s a hint: if you have only a single (strong, of course) female character in your ensemble, it’s extremely difficult to show variety.

So no, I don’t believe strong female characters are bad for women. I do believe that, as a whole, we’re doing a lousy job of writing them.

Discussion and disagreement are welcome, as always.

Reporting Rape

When writing about rape in fandom two weeks ago, I included the following:

“I’m not saying there’s never a time to talk about criminal prosecution of rape and why people might choose not to endure the ugliness of a rape trial.  I’m saying this is not the time.

Thank you to everyone for not derailing the conversation.  So often when someone talks about rape, the immediate response is some form of “You have to report it!”  I saw this at a few other blogs: “You have to get the asshole arrested!”  Or on the other end of the spectrum, “If you didn’t press charges, you have no right to complain!”

Rape is a crime that rips power and control from the victim.  You know what doesn’t help you regain that sense of control?  When everyone jumps in to tell you what you have to do.  Especially if you add a heaping pile of guilt: “If you don’t press charges and he rapes someone else, it’s your fault!”

Bite me.  Rape is the fault of the rapist.  No matter how hard some people try to pretend otherwise.  Most of the time, when people talk to me about rape, they’re not looking for me to fix it or solve things.  They might be looking for someone to believe them.  They might be looking for support.  Often they’re just looking for me to shut up and listen.

That’s hard.  I feel pissed off and hurt and powerless, and I want to do something.  I want to fix it, and I want to make sure the bastard who did it gets punished.  But that’s not something I have the power to do.

Not helpful: You have to press charges! (More about satisfying my own need to punish the guy and to stop feeling helpless.)
Might be helpful: If you decide to press charges, I’d be more than willing to go to the police with you, and to court if it goes to trial.

So why would someone choose not to report rape?  Rosefox linked to this blog post explaining some of the reasons.  Some police officers are wonderful about sexual assault, but not all.  I’ve known people who reported a rape, only to have the cop refuse to believe them and threaten to arrest them for filing a false report.  Then there are the stats on how few rape cases go to trial, and how few of those result in conviction.

As for the trial itself… I’ve been through the court process for a custody issue.  It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and it dragged out for close to a year with hearings, appeals, rescheduled dates, meetings with attorneys, and so on.  Imagine going through that experience as a rape survivor, having to relive the rape again and again in front of strangers, hostile attorneys, and the rapist himself.

Do I want rapists locked away?  Of course.  So what’s more likely to help that happen?  Trying to bully a rape victim into doing what I want?  Or trying to support her (or him), letting her make her own choice and offering to support her in whatever choice she makes?

I also wonder if this insistence on “You have to report it!!!” is another facet of our attitude that stopping rape is women’s responsibility…

Discussion is open and encouraged, but once again I’ll be moderating as needed to keep it respectful and on-topic.

Cats vs. Dogs

A few follow-up links to last week’s post about rape in fandom:

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The First (Pro) Novel Survey is up to 151 responses.  I’d love to break 200 if possible.  I’ve posted information at the following sites:

  • My blog
  • SFWA (Newsgroup and Discussion Forum)
  • Absolute Write
  • Codex
  • SF Novelists

Any suggestions for places I’ve missed?  (Or feel free to pass the link on directly, if you know someone who might be interested.)

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So I was chatting with Seanan McGuire this weekend about book releases and pancakes and such when she mentioned something fascinating.  Apparently every time she posts a picture of her cat, her Amazon ranking improves.

Forget book trailers and contests.  The key to writing success is cute animals.  But it got me wondering … would a dog picture have the same effect?  Can we prove once and for all whether cats or dogs have the superior selling power? Can we finally put an end to the age-old cats vs. dog dispute?

I believe we can!  I spent Sunday afternoon chasing our poor pets around until I got the following pictures.


This is our new dog Casey.  As you can see, Casey has a lot of toys, but she’s most possessive of that copy of The Stepsister Scheme [Mysterious Galaxy | B&N | Amazon].


And this is my cat Flit, all curled up and ready to go to sleep on her copy of Goblin Quest [Mysterious Galaxy | B&N | Amazon].  (Just as soon as she gets her belly rubbed, that is.)

So there we have it.  Having posted two animal pictures, my sales should now go through the roof.  I’ll compare this week’s Bookscan numbers to last week’s for both books and figure out the percentage change.  So tune in late next week for indisputable scientific proof of whether cats or dogs are better.