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"Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul."

— Joyce Carol Oates (via the-edited-writer)

(via cleispress)



(Superlong post mirrored from the other place.)

So…I almost talked myself out of making this post, but then, hey, I said I was going to start blogging again and these are the kinds of things I’m interesting in blogging about. Even though it is a little scary, for reasons the post will make…

I reblogged a quote about a recent discussion about ladies and self-promotion yesterday.

I do not think much about awards myself these days. The Lynburn Legacy is about a girl—and a girl of colour—and it’s funny (well, I mean it to be!) and it’s got a strong focus on romance because I wanted to talk about and interrogate romance in it, PLUS on top of all that I am a lady, so it is obviously T-R-A-S-H and I never expected it to be award/critical acclaim material. So I have been a bit tuned out of awards-talk and did not expect to reblog another post so soon!

But there has been a torrent of excellence on this subject and reblog I must and shall. Gwenda Bond is a babe, and also a smart thoughtful lady. The whole post is very much worth reading but I pick out a few bits to commentate upon…

Not too long ago, two fabulous YA authors I consider friends wrote essays about the experience of being a woman writer and self-promoting, about the reactions that they get and see, and how those might be different toward women than men. Here’s Sarah Rees Brennan’s and here’s Malinda Lo’s.

I watched for reactions to these pieces with interest at the time, and I meant to post at length about them, but see above, avoiding rants. While most of the reactions I saw were quite positive, recognizing their valid points, I did also see a few really clueless mansplaining and nasty ones. 

(Thank you Gwenda! *blushes*) But yes, for the record: there were some seriously nasty responses. 2013 was not a great year for me on the internet, and so I was very quiet—for me—for the last few months of it. The only big piece I did was the piece on the Toast, and that was the build-up of years of fury finally exploding. And I heard some interestin’ responses. I’m a terrible whiner! I’m in love with one of my friends! I’m, try to contain your surprise, a bitch who should shut up! 

This is another of those traps ladies fall into. Women are silent, and silent, because they’re tired of the response when they talk and afraid of repercussions. They’re silent, then when they can bear it no longer and eventually they scream with fury, every attempt is made to crush them back to silence again. This is what is going on.

What I wish as a reader is that I could find more smart writing about all those types of books I mentioned above easily, instead of the typical uninformed scarlet-rage inflammatory or blush-rosy nostalgic pieces about YA, or the terrible pieces implying women who read romance aren’t feminists and all romances are identical, or calling out the one or two SF books this year that stand above the trash heap…. 

Yes indeed. And look, I was one of those women who judged romance novels. I picked up my first Jenny Crusie going ‘ha ha ha, it’s PINK and there’s a shoe on the cover, T-R-A-S-H,’ and then flipped through it, felt weird and left the bookshop. It wasn’t until the next evening that a light bulb flashed over my head and I ran out of work and back to the bookshop, knowing that I absolutely had to have that pink book with the shoe on, that I wanted to read it cover to cover. These biases exist, they exist *in us*, and the only thing to do is speak against them.

It’s far easier to criticize her (Jennifer Weiner) for self-promoting or talk about her shortcomings—whether perceived or real—than it is to address the substance of her arguments. 

It always is. And no messenger is ever going to be perfect: and let’s face it if the one talking is a lady, she’ll be seen as twice as flawed as any dude speaking. And once someone is neatly tucked away in the ‘crappy’ box, she can be ignored at all times! So convenient.

Generosity of spirit is where it’s at. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, and stash the judging on this point. I’ve always tried to help draw attention to other people’s work I feel deserves it, but I pledge to do more of that, too.

Mostly, though, let’s all try to call b.s. like this when we see it, by which I mean the attitudes about self-promotion and other things that help preserve the percentages in the VIDA count, that stoke the inequity in certain bestseller lists, and that make women not feel okay about trying to get attention for their work. Let our self-promotion truly be shameless.

I love this. Okay I’m going to copy and paste the whole thing at this point. But I do. Courage and generosity are two things we could always use more of.

Queer and Trans Calls For Submission—Summer 2014

Queer and Trans Calls For Submission–Summer 2014

(Updated 7/20/14)

These are LGBTQ calls that are not specific to erotica. Erotic content may be welcome. Erotica calls are listed here.

Queer and Trans Calls

Skin to Skin, a coffee table magazine for the LGBTQ community is seeking submissions for their upcoming issue. (8/1/14)

The Women’s Committee calls for submissions to the fifth annual Gloria E. Anzaldua Awardfor Independent Scholars,…

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Anonymous said: HI!! I love your books & I know you write what some may consider to be "unlikable" protagonists. I do, too. Currently I'm querying my MG book that has an "unlikable" protagonist, and a lot of the feedback is love the premise, etc...didn't connect to MC. However, a lot of my critique partners have said they ended up falling in love with her. Do you have any suggestions on how to make a protagonist more likable... should I? It just frustrates me... she has characteristics many loved guy MCs do.



Hi!  Thank you so much.  I appreciate that.

The MG marketplace is not my forte, unfortunately, but I can try to offer some advice that might help re: unlikable female main characters.  If any MG writers want to weigh in with more, please do!

One thing about my books is however mean my girls end up—they always start out much, MUCH meaner and if not meaner, more detached (largely due to the crippling emotional problems I like to saddle them with cough).  This does not mean I have to soften them for publication at all, but it does often mean I have to take a good hard look at my execution… so I don’t have to resort to something like making them nicer.  Not that there’s anything wrong with nice characters.

Writing an unlikable female protagonist is a tough job.  You’re always going to come up against people who just refuse to accept them because if the character is a girl, she can’t be unlikable.  This is not a reason to shelve a story with this kind of female protagonist.  It’s a reason to write more.

That said, sometimes readers aren’t connecting because of something that’s missing in the text.  You said something interesting to me besides the fact agents aren’t connecting with your MC: a lot of my critique partners have said they ended up falling in love with… your MC.

That’s reasonable—I don’t think most readers connect with a main character RIGHT AWAY and it’s even more difficult when that character is not-so-nice.  I feel an emotional connection is something that happens throughout the course of the narrative.  You become invested in the character the more you read.  So a reader’s emotional connection pending, what does that leave you with?  What do you need from them, and what do they need from you right at the START to get to that point in the novel where they are attached to your character?


You have to make sure your readers can understand or at least have a foothold in understanding why your characters are the way they are, even if they don’t exactly like them (yet).  Even if they NEVER like or really relate to your character, if a reader can understand why that character does what they do, they can still have a rewarding reading experience with your book.

As an author, you understand your character better than anyone else.  You know—or you should know—what motivates them and how and why they respond to certain situations.  You know why they’re at their worst and you know what needs to happen to get them to their best (or not).  You can see your characters through anything because you made their hearts.  It’s not that hard for you to visualize sticking with them from page one because you wrote that page.  Your readers, on the other hand, did not.  They weren’t there for the development, they don’t know what’s going to happen and why they should stick it out.  If you toss them into this ocean of unlikability, you still have to give them a lifesaver so they can float along with it until they start swimming on their own, you know?

No one would want to hang out or be friends with my protagonists from page one.  At all.  And my protagonists probably wouldn’t want to hang out and be friends the people reading about them either.  I write characters with walls around them, who are often actively working against those walls coming down.  So there’s my first hurdle in getting people to want to invest their time with my main character.  My main character doesn’t want to communicate directly with them. 

Worse, my first drafts tend to emphasize the most negative traits of my protagonists to the point that my earliest readers, and even my editor, have felt overwhelmed by them, which means it’s overwhelming the rest of the text.  Environment and supporting characters get drowned out, which gives those unlikable traits less context, which makes it harder for the reader to get a foothold in the story and eventually understand and then connect with my MC.

This could be what is happening with you.  You might be focusing too much on your main character and her unlikability (which is understandable—she’s your main character, after all!) and not giving enough depth to her surrounding environment and the people within that environment, and how they inform the way that she is. 

Using my own work as an example, Parker, in CRACKED UP TO BE, is determined to present herself one way to the world.  She’s in such angry, guilty denial, she won’t even admit her weaknesses to herself.  It’s through the people (and one animal) she interacts with that we see her vulnerability. 

In first person, sometimes you have to be tricky in the way a character reveals the other, more subtle facets of themselves, or their reasons for acting the way they do.  Parker’s voice is over the top, her humor crude, because she needs to distract people.  I opened with her somewhat nasty voice and then I chose to juxtapose that against a guidance counselor’s office so hopefully there’s a contrast between this girl whose voice is so utterly in control of her introduction… and the fact that she’s in academic trouble for something serious that happened the previous year—which suggests she’s not as in control as she thinks.  That was my foothold for the reader to encourage them to read on.

Also look at what your character’s body language and/or quirks, say about them.  Physical tells can be a great way to give a character more emotional context.  Again, using CRACKED UP TO BE as an example, readers find Parker snapping her fingers when she feels out of controlShe doesn’t explicitly state this initially, but the action, who she’s with and what they’re doing at the time says it all for her.  These are little things but they can make a big difference when it comes to someone connecting with your character. 

So just look at your manuscript again and look for ways that you can use and/or expand on setting and secondary characters NOT to take away your character’s unlikability, but to give that unlikability more depth, more context, because that is what helps make your character and their actions to be understood, which paves the way for that emotional connection. 

Making your female character nicer/more likable is probably not the answer because even a likable character can run into this problem too.  All characters need to be understood.  Their actions, reactions, interactions and environment inform this understanding.  Look a little outside of your main character and see what you find.  Give your readers a foothold.

Also, getting readers, particularly those within the industry (agents, editors), to embrace an unlikable female MC can be hard but not impossible.  Before you dive into Unlikable Protagonist Troubleshooting in your manuscript, take into consideration you might not have queried the right person yet.  If you feel confident in your work and that—despite some agents’ misgivings—the story is the best you can make it, query more agents.  Some people are just not going to be able to connect with a character for whatever reason, no matter what.  Fiction is subjective. 

I hope this helps!  Good luck!

Great advice!

On creating fictional contraceptives.

"Flash fiction sees the human condition in a story that is usually wound around a single metaphor."

Lillian Ann Slugocki