Posted in Blog, writing

Being Conscious of Your Narrative

So last week I talked about diversity in fiction, and why it’s important to have a variety of stories about diverse characters. Some of those stories should address the issues of privilege and discrimination, but it’s also important to write stories about diverse characters that don’t function solely to expose prejudice, and just show diverse people as the real, rounded individual people they are. And this sentiment is echoed by a lot of people. There’s a great discussion going on online about how important it is to include people of different race, sexual orientation, gender identities and backgrounds in stories. But what I don’t hear discussed often enough, is how it’s not good enough to just insert diverse characters into your story, you have to also be mindful of the narrative of your story, and the way those characters are used in the narrative.

A few examples come to mind of wonderfully written, complex, developed minority characters who were completely betrayed by the narrative of the story. 

1. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I haven’t even seen every season of Buffy (I know, I know) but I’ve heard enough people lamenting Willow’s fate to know what happened. The show’s creators spent years developing an amazing gay character (problematic bi-erasure aside) that people related to and identified with, and then threw everything away by having her turn evil and die, and incredibly common and harmful trope surrounding lesbian characters. (Edit: my apologies, as mentioned in the comments, Willow doesn’t die. Her girlfriend Tara dies, and Willow reacts by “going dark”. Queer characters have a history of being evil and/or dying, and the show hit them both in one fell swoop, which was disappointing after they had done such a good job developing Willow and Tara’s sexualities and relationship.)

2. Daisy Fitzroy from Bioshock: Infinite. The game goes to immense trouble to set up the city of Columbia as a false utopia, where the rich white bourgoisie live in luxury, while the poor black and Irish workers are exploited. One character whom we are led to sympathise with is Daisy, an African American maid who becomes the leader of the inevitable revolution that occurs. For the first half of the game, we are shown just how awful the situation is, and how justified Daisy’s actions are. And then Daisy is abruptly killed by, and her death used as character development for the white, female main character. To add insult to injury, the formerly sympathetic rebel group is then condemned in the narrative, and it is implied that they are nearly or just as bad as the wealthy bourgeoisie because they resorted to violence.

3. Well, just read this: Visual Representation: Trans Women in Comics

These are all fairly extreme examples, but there are also a million little ways in which minorities can be negatively represented. Female characters constantly falling for and/or being less competent than the male main character. The same female character dying to further the male main character’s character development. And even just plain old stereotypes like gay characters being interested in fashion and black female characters being “strong, independent women.” There’s a seemingly endless trail of pitfalls to avoid when writing diverse characters. And often a narrative tool or trope isn’t inherently bad, but it’s been used so often with regards to a particular minority, that it becomes a harmful stereotype. And of course there’s the simple but dangerously easy pitfall of including diverse characters, but in the end making them less important in the narrative, and ultimately sacrificial to the needs and character development of he majority characters. Like I said, there’s really no foolproof way of avoiding hitting some of these stereotypes, which is why it’s important to accept that when you’re writing about a minority you’re not a part of, you are going to screw up, and behave graciously when you do.

So why do we write these tropes? Why can’t we seem to avoid falling into these pitfalls? Well partially it’s because, like I said, there are just so many of them, you’d need extensive history and study to unearth them all. Although, here is an excellent reference page from tvtropes: Avoiding Unfortunate Implications. (Yes, that’s three external links in one post. Next you know I’ll be writing academic essays and citing my sources.) The other reason is that, unfortunately, we’re steeped in these stereotypes. A lot of the time it’s subconscious, and for a lot of authors, we rely on our subconscious knowledge of stories, plots, and characters to produce our work. I mean, yes, some authors study narrative extensively and produce best-selling books based on a perfected formula. But for a lot of us (myself included) we’re mostly winging it, allowing our experience with stories and our natural creativity to guide us. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories we experienced growing up and are continuing to experience are deeply racist, homophobic and sexist in ways that aren’t always visible on the surface. If we’re not careful, we take these deeply hurtful tropes and insert them into our work, without ever becoming aware that we’re doing it.

I don’t really have any easy tips and tricks or life hacks to help avoid putting harmful stereotypes into your stories. The number one thing is just to be aware, be critical of all the media you consume, and look for patterns that you want to avoid. It’s also really important to listen to people from the minority you’re writing about, and if possible, ask them to beta your work. And be creative, for goodness sake. Don’t use tired old tropes in your writing. Come up with new ones. Subvert the old ones. Have the girl save the guy. Make your main character a person of colour. Make the story revolve around them. In fact, write a book with no white people in it at all! Write something different. And write something real.


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Part of Less Than Three Press’s Trans Geek Out Collection
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


Posted in Blog

Tips for Writers: Beating Self-Doubt

Every writer gets it sometimes. That feeling of crippling self-doubt. You’re writing away, minding your own business, and suddenly you decide that you might possibly be the worst author who ever lived. Maybe you got a bad review, or you’re staring down a recently finished manuscript and realising how badly you missed the mark. Your writing is awful, childish, lacking in subtlety. You’re a joke, no one will ever want to read your work. You tell yourself that this feeling is normal, and irrational. That every author feels this way sometimes. But what if in your case, it’s true? What if everyone who’s read your book and said they liked it was lying? What if those reviewers were just being nice? You’re so embarrassed, you just want to crawl into a hole and never let anyone read another word you’ve written.

Okay, stop it. Slap yourself firmly in the face, and snap out of it.

It’s harder than it sounds, and there’s really no way to escape that nagging self-doubt. The only thing you can really do is ignore it and keep writing. The less attention you pay to it, the less you wallow in self-doubt, the easier it gets to ignore it. So what if you’re a bad writer? (Hint: you’re not. No, not even you.) The only way to improve is to keep writing. So, below are some tips on how to shut that little voice in your head up, and keep on writing.

1. Remind yourself that while you’re definitely not the best author out there, you’re not the worst either. The end goal isn’t to convince yourself that you’re the best author who ever lived. People who genuinely think that are almost always terrible writers. You should never be completely satisfied with your work, or you won’t keep striving to improve. But it’s also important to remind yourself that you are not the worst author in the world, by far. Look around the internet, find some examples of truly horrendous published writing. Don’t spend more than a few hours looking, and don’t be cruel about it, but get a sense of the range of writing quality that’s out there. Allow yourself to accept that you fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of bad authors to good authors. You’ll probably never be right at the top, but neither are you right at the bottom. And you can always be working yourself up the spectrum.

2. Remember that everyone likes something different. The thing is, even the most critically condemned books, the ones with godawful writing, or horrible plots, or ridiculous, cliche characters- plenty of them are still very popular. There’s no real, tried-and-true quality indicator for books. What one person finds tedious and boring, others will revere as a classic. What another person finds highly entertaining and emotionally impacting, others will write off as trite and overwrought. Those books that everyone on the internet loves to complain about? At least as many people bought and enjoyed them, or they wouldn’t be so popular. Everyone likes something different, and even if you find your own writing absolutely horrendous, there is someone out there who is going to love it. Maybe even a lot of people.

3. Focus on your strengths. No one’s good at everything. Every author has strengths and weaknesses. Some authors write such amazing characters that there could be no plot to speak of, and you’d still be happy reading 100,000 words of them just hanging around talking. Some authors are so good at world-building that the characters and plot fade into the background in comparison. Some authors have literally one character that they write a hundred different books about, but their plots are so good that people keep coming back to read them. And some authors (hint: not me) have such beautiful prose that you’ll keep reading well past the point where you have any idea what’s going on anymore, because you just love the sound of the words so much. The point is, while you may be lacking in some places, (and you should definitely work on that, because the best authors are good at everything) you probably have at least a few aspects of your writing that you’re absolutely fantastic at. And even if you’re just passable in some areas (*cough*myprose*cough*) readers who really like the stuff you’re good at will still enjoy it.

4. If you’re published, read your good reviews. If you’re not, save the nice comments your betas or friends have left on your writing. Hoard your good reviews. Keep them easily accessible and whenever you’re feeling down about yourself, go read them, and remind yourself that people like your writing, because you are awesome.

5. Write something just for you. Forget your readers, or the reviewers who didn’t like your book. Remind yourself what it is that you like about writing. Write something that you don’t intend for anyone to read. Write the kind of stories that you like, that you want to read. Actually, you should be doing that anyway. If there’s a particular author you really like and want to emulate, go read something by them, and take mental notes of their technique. Keep writing, keep improving, and enjoy yourself.

6. Write a list of tips for authors on beating self-doubt. 😉


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


I’m running low on cat pictures! I recently received my print copies of A Touch of Mistletoe, so I’ll have to take some pictures of her modelling with them. For now, here’s this one:

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Thanks for reading!

Posted in Blog

Dropping Out

Let’s talk about college. There’s a lot of pressure in life to attend college, especially if you do well in school. People say that you don’t need to study creative writing to be an author, but most of the authors I interact with do have a degree in something, or are studying to get one. I’m always incredibly impressed when someone mentions that they have a degree in something. But I also always feel a bit guilty and uncomfortable. Everyone around me seems to be this accomplished graduate, and here I am, a college drop-out. Is there something wrong with me that I couldn’t finish university? Am I not very smart? Am I lazy, or pathetic? It’s taken me a long time to convince myself that those things aren’t true. There are a lot of factors that contributed to me not enjoying or completing college. It wasn’t for me, and at the end of the day, I have to allow myself to believe that that’s okay. That it doesn’t make me any less important or intelligent. But sometimes it can be hard.

I always expected I would go to college or university. It wasn’t really a question, just something that was in my future. I assume it’s this way for most kids who do fairly well in school. I was smart, I liked reading and writing, I wanted to be an author, but I’d been told from every angle that that wasn’t a valid career goal. I knew I liked writing though, so an English degree seemed like the next logical step for me after graduating.

I was offered a scholarship for the first year of university in my hometown, but I declined it against the wishes of my parents, in favour of moving to a different town and staying with an aunt and uncle while I attended college there. At the time I was closeted, and terrified that my family would find out that I was queer and punish me. I lived in a constant state of stress and terror. I still have anxiety talking about my queerness because I was so terrified that someone might find out. Moving away seemed like a way to relieve stress and escape. Unfortunately, living with my aunt and uncle was even worse, with my aunt becoming extremely controlling and manipulative. Eventually I had no choice but to get away. I rented a basement suite with my partner and got out of there.

Of course then I was suddenly thrust into trying to learn how to care for myself, and save up enough to pay for school, all while knowing that if I somehow ended up with not enough money, I would either be out on the street or have to go back to my family. The idea of having to do so still fills me with incredibly anxiety. So I started working 24-30 hours a week, while still attending school in the next town over, carpooling in every morning and spending 8 hours a day on campus.

If you went to university and had someone paying your tuition and/or living expenses during, I can’t really ask you to understand how incredibly physically and emotionally draining it can be trying to support yourself while also putting yourself through school. You work long hours for minimal pay, only to turn around and give all that money away again so that you can do even more work for free. Maybe some people who are stronger mentally than me might have been able to do it, but I don’t handle stress well. Even now, I have to very carefully limit how much I do, so that I don’t burn out and fall into a dark chasm of depression and exhaustion that is incredibly hard to drag myself out of.

University for me was just one long haze of dark, early mornings, constantly feeling sick to my stomach, trying to force myself to be enthusiastic about the subject matter when all I could think about was how cold and sick I felt, and how much I wanted to sleep forever. I didn’t eat enough, usually just heating up a frozen lunch halfway through the day and then falling into bed when I got home without bothering to cook anything. One of the things my abusive aunt had impressed into me was that it was bad to spend too much money on food, and that buying food from a restaurant, or basically eating anything besides what she chose to feed me was bad. It took me years to get over that and allow myself to spend enough money on food to keep myself properly functioning. Sometimes I had to take the greyhound home and would walk half an hour (in the dark and cold in winter) to the station and stand there in the cold outside the closed station waiting for the bus that was often extremely late. I also often worked late hours at work and had to walk about an hour to get home afterwards, again in the cold. (I know, I sound whiny, but my point isn’t really about how horrible it was so much as how physically exhausting it was, and physical exhaustion for me, is what makes me unable to fight depression.)

In the middle of all this, out of desperation and a need to escape our reality, my partner and I started telling each other stories. When we should have been working on our school work, we hid ourselves away in one of the few pitiful lounge areas at our small community-college-turned-university and told each other sexy, fun stories about magical people and worlds. One of those stories was what would become The Fairy Gift. I told it quickly over a couple of days, and liked it so much that I decided to write an outline of the plot. Then, on a whim, I started writing it. I hadn’t written anything in years, too busy with work, too stressed to imagine anything. But I was inspired. I wrote the Fairy Gift, and then I kept writing, more cute stories, with fairies and magic and sex. They kept me going.

Then, out of sheer dumb luck, I found myself redirected from deviantart to a yaoi website (yaoifix, I think?) and saw an advertisement for Less Than Three Press, and that they were accepting submissions. I clicked through and looked at a few of their books, and thought that The Fairy Gift seemed perfect for them. I decided why not and submitted a horribly edited draft, but they must have seen something they liked in it, because it was accepted for publication. So cool! I was damn excited and even more damn skeptical. I’d had a friend who submitted a piece of poetry for some kind of publication that turned out to be a scam, and I was terrified that this was something similar. I also at the time had this idea that publication was something that only happened to one author in a million and, as I said, I didn’t believe that it was a real career goal. I didn’t realise that I’d been lucky enough to stumble into the publishing revolution that is romance ebooks. So I was skeptical up until the moment I received my first paycheck. Then everything changed for me.

I realised that this was something that I could do and make money off of. It was a real career goal. Suddenly my priorities shifted away from school, away from the dream of a degree with which I would get some nebulous English-related job that I didn’t really want. I wanted to keep writing. I wanted to publish more books. I needed to make writing my priority. I was slowly drowning in schoolwork, losing weight and falling into a depression that it’s taken me years to crawl out of. I ended up dropping out of two of my classes, and barely passing the other two. That summer I came out to my family, over the safety of the internet, and felt a huge weight lifted off me. I was still writing, and I decided to take a “semester off” school.

I haven’t gone back yet.

And I’m better now. Better than I have been for years. School didn’t work for me. Certainly I had the triple handicap of being poor, queer and mentally ill. But also (and it’s incredibly hard for me to say this, because it’s usually such a source of pride for an intellectual) I’m just not in love with learning. I’m in love with creating, and often learning is an important part of that, but it’s not the end goal. I spent so many years as a pretentious asshole, thinking I was better than everyone because I loved to read and was “going places,” and there’s an incredibly strong culture of superiority amongst students and intellectuals that encourages this. But for me it’s really freeing to finally be able to say this: I’m happy working in customer service. I’m satisfied emotionally with a simple life and a non-prestigious job. I’m not strong enough emotionally to push myself to my limits like some people are. I just want to live and support myself, and write and create worlds. Probably I’ll never write a great, thought-provoking classic. But I want to write stories that make people happy, and maybe one day I’ll be able to do it full-time.

And I want to say this to other young people who might be struggling with school: It’s okay. It’s okay if it’s not for you. Everyone might be saying this is what you have to do, but that doesn’t mean it is. If you’re truly happy learning, then that’s wonderful. If you hate it, but you really want that degree and that job, then keep going. But if you can feel yourself dying inside with every essay you write, if you feel like this thing is sucking away your life, then you have permission to stop. If you need to stop to preserve yourself, and your mental well-being, then stop. You can always go back, if you want to. Maybe you’ll want to, and maybe you won’t. If you’re happiest with a simple, low-stress minimum wage job, then there’s no shame in that. If you’re a writer, and you’re doing this because you feel like you’ll never be a great author if you don’t, please know that that’s not true. College isn’t everything. You can still be an amazing, smart, happy person without a college degree. I know I am.


This is long and dense, and I don’t know if anyone will read it. But I do think it’s important, so I’m going to post it anyway. Love you all, and if you read this far, thank you for reading! In thanks, have an advertisement for my book, and then a picture of my cat.

Cheers!

JK


To Summon Nightmares

To Summon Nightmares

Three years ago, Cohen Brandwein was “Ireland’s Favorite Daughter”, a popular teenage author and internet celebrity. But ever since he came out publicly as trans, the media’s treatment of him has been less than golden, and these days, Cohen is desperate for escape.

When he inherits an old house in the country, Cohen sees it as a perfect opportunity to escape the press and work on his new book. What he doesn’t count on is becoming embroiled in a small town murder mystery and falling for the primary suspect, a man whose reality makes Cohen’s fantasy books seem like child’s play…

Wordcount: 53,000
Price: $5.99
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Trans, M/M
Excerpt
Buy Here

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Her majesty.