Being Aware of Gender Bias in Stories

A reminder that St. Martins Press is hosting this amazing sweepstakes for Romance Awareness Month! It goes through August 16, 2020, so jump over there to win this awesome collection of romances in a variety of subgenres!

A bit ago on the podcast, I was discussing how “we” – as a culture – tend to give active roles in a story to the male characters. In a story where the male and female protagonists have equivalent roles, or even when the female protagonist has a greater role in the overall story, it tends to get described in terms of the actions he takes. This tends to be unconsciously done, and not intentional – but it IS a reflection of our overall culture and deep programming.

As an example, I mentioned reviewing the catalog copy for THE PROMISED QUEEN. This is book 3 of the Forgotten Empires (THE FIERY CROWN in the sweepstakes is book 2) and for those of you who’ve been reading the trilogy so far, you know that the story is evenly split between Queen Euthalia (Lia) and Conrí (Con). If one of them has more emphasis in my mind, it’s Lia. But when my editor, Jennie Conway, sent me the catalog copy (this is what goes to bookstores for ordering, etc.), the story sounded to me much more like Con’s. Here it is:

Conri, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has claimed the hand that wears the Abiding Ring, but the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled. He and his bride, Lia, Queen of Calanthe, are safe on her island kingdom – for now. But Calanthe isn’t the haven it once was. Now that blood has been spilled on the island, the truth of Lia’s powers—and her deep connection to Calanthe—will be revealed. As the threat of Emperor Anure intensifies, Conri and Lia will have to put their trust, and love, in each other to stop the emperor once and for all. In the thrilling finale to the Forgotten Empires trilogy, the fate of the world hangs in the balance as Con, Lia, and their allies sacrifice everything to save their kingdoms.

Now, there is a hard limit for characters and spaces, but can you see the subtle ways the copy points to Con having the most active role? One flag is the reference to “He and his bride.” Why doesn’t it start with Lia and mention her consort? Then Lia’s powers are revealed – but it doesn’t sound like she has anything to do with that. So, I revised it to read:

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, claimed the hand that wears the Abiding Ring, but the prophecy remains unfulfilled. Queen Euthalia of Calanthe returned to her island kingdom, but broken in mind and body. With the blood of war unleashing ancient terrors, Calanthe isn’t the haven it once was. Lia must use her magical bond with Calanthe to save their people while Con fights to hold off the vengeful Emperor Anure and his wizards. Con and Lia will have to trust in each other—and in love—to fend off ultimate disaster. In the thrilling finale to the Forgotten Empires trilogy, the fate of the world hangs in the balance as Con, Lia, and their allies sacrifice everything in a final bid to destroy the corrupt empire.

See how I gave both characters equal weight in the actions of the story? Editor Jennie loved this version – and I’m so appreciative that she gives me the opportunity to make these changes. I think if we all become more aware of these unconscious biases, we can begin to rid ourselves of the programming that created them.

Using the 8-Scene, 3-Act Structure to Tighten – plus Snippets from THE PROMISED QUEEN!

A tease for you all, of the cover for THE PROMISED QUEEN. It’s mostly final, but I don’t know when we’ll do a cover reveal. The reveal for THE FIERY CROWN cover wasn’t until October so… it might be a while. It’s lovely, though, and I think you all will be delighted!

I’ve been working on developmental edits on THE PROMISED QUEEN. When I turned in the draft to Editor Jennie, it came in at 118,489 words. That’s 426 pages in Word (12pt Times New Roman, 1″ margins, double spaced) for those who don’t speak wordcount. It was long. So long that I didn’t add the final scene I really wanted – it was more of an epilogue, anyway – and some of the ending went faster than I wanted. Fortunately, Editor Jennie found some places to condense – mostly in the first 200 pages, a lot in the first 100 pages – and she wants those final scenes added/fleshed out, too. She’s asking me to aim for 112-1115K.

That means a lot of cutting. My least favorite kind of revision, alas.

But it’s going okay. I’ve cut 4,568 words so far, and have the draft at 113,921. I’ve also figured out that if I trim the chapters in Act 1 by ~6,600 words, then the Act 1 climax falls at the right place for the book to have the right 8-scene, 3-act structure to be complete at 115K. That tells me my mission is to trim and tighten Chapters 2-7. (Because Chapter 1 is already the shortest and as tight as can be.) This is one reason track chapter wordcounts and apply the math to discern where unhealthy padding is distorting the story structure.

A couple of posts you can read to learn more about this are Geeking Out Over the 8-Scene, 3-Act Structure (resurrected from a guest post on a now defunct blog) and Learning My Own Lessons, which references the first post.  (Incidentally, I wrote Learning My Own Lessons in May 2015 as I was working on THE PAGES OF THE MIND, my RITA(R) Award-winning book. Many of you – especially those who listen to my First Cup of Coffee podcast – will recognize the same process angst in it that I have today.)

Some of the cutting was easy – snippets that Jennie highlighted as bits that could go. They’re not even big enough to count as deleted scenes. They’re mostly just bits of conversation that made me smile.

So, as promised on the podcast, and as requested by those of you who don’t use Facebook, where I posted one. Here are a few snippets to tantalize you, ones that aren’t too big of spoilers. Likely this will be the only place they’ll survive.

*****************

Lia sighed out a breath on a murmur of sound, and turned toward me. I lifted my hand and she burrowed beneath my arm, tucking her head against my chest and curling into me like a kitten seeking warmth. Carefully, I adjusted the covers around her again, and laid my arm so as not to crush her with it.

And finally slept.

*****************

He released my shoulders, shrugging. “Not the first time. What would be weird is if we weren’t.”

“Argh!” I growled incoherently and, making a fist with my good hand, hit his chest with the meat of it. It was like punching a wall.

His grin widened and he rubbed the spot. “Hey—that was pretty decent. You’re already stronger.”

Not strong enough, though. I’d been at my peak before Anure got ahold of me. If that happened again when I was so weak, I’d collapse even faster. I nearly broke down just thinking about it.

*****************

She snorted. “As sensitive as a stone wall.”

I must be more sensitive than she thought, because that stung.

*****************

None of them would’ve shown such a lack of manners with Lia on the throne, and I felt like the substitute tutor having to get mean with the kids who thought they’d get away with bad behavior.

*****************

“It would be useful to know,” Lia agreed.

“You don’t know?” I asked, somewhat surprised. Lia had spies in Yekpehr, and elsewhere, no doubt.

She shook her head minutely. “Not precise numbers, no. Their existence isn’t spoken of openly. I’ve been guessing that Anure has them, and discovering Princess Rhéiane may be there has added weight to the theory.”

“Just Rhéiane, Your Highness,” Sondra corrected.

“Pardon Me?” Lia raised a brow but seemed unoffended.

“Rhéiane, like my name, carries the honorific with it,” I explained.

“Ah, of course.” Lia nodded. “Conrí and Rhéiane. Your parents named you with their ambitions.”

“Or hubris that tempted the gods to prove them wrong,” I muttered, making her lips twitch in a smile.

*****************

Sondra sidled up to me. “Good idea to drink the water or no? What’s this ‘if you dare’ thing? Give it to me straight.”

I nearly laughed, but managed not to. “It will only show you the truth—but you know as well as I do that the truth can be difficult to take.”

“Truer words,” she muttered, then gave me a salute. “Good luck, huh? Taming the monster and all.”

*****************

 

A Story about the Audio Book of THE FIERY CROWN

The audio book of THE FIERY CROWN is now available! Narrated by the fantastic Gabrielle Baker, I’m super excited to listen to it!

Some of you might note that this is a different audio book narrator than the one who did THE ORCHID THRONE. One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many audio book narrators couldn’t do their jobs. Unless they had home studios, they were out of luck. I don’t know if that’s what happened with my previous narrator, but when Editor Jennie contacted me and said the Tantor team had let her know the narrator for book 1 was unavailable for book 2, I wasn’t surprised. I also wasn’t too broken up about it, as the previous narrator – while having a wonderfully rich voice – hadn’t handled the two different first person points of view (POV) as well as I’d hoped. The books present a real challenge that way, in that the chapters in the POV of Con, the male protagonist needed to be narrated in a deeper, growlier voice, along with his spoken dialogue.

I greatly appreciated that Jennie and Tantor asked if I had narrators to suggest, because I immediately suggested Gabrielle. I’d listened to her narrate Tanith Lee’s THE SILVER METAL LOVER, one of my all-time favorites, and thought she did a bang up job. She also did the audio book narration for bestie Grace Draven’s RADIANCE and EIDOLON, so I knew Gabrielle was great to work with. Finally, I knew Gabrielle had a home studio! Tantor checked with her, and – to our mutual delight – she was available! (I learned later that Tantor really shifted stuff around to make this happen, for which I’m so grateful.)

So, I’ve downloaded my own copy and anticipate many delightful hours listening to the book! I’ve received developmental edits for THE PROMISED QUEEN, so I’ll be finishing my listen of THE ORCHID THRONE and THE FIERY CROWN to prep for that final revision. And yes, I actually shelled out to buy the Audible versions of my own books. I get author copies of them, but on CD, which means I can’t listen on my phone. At least I can deduct that!

I also have finished copies of the paperback of THE FIERY CROWN !  You can order a signed copy through my website store for $5 and I’ll mail it to you. (Sorry, US only on that deal.) Be sure to note if you want it personalized.

The Alphahole Conundrum

My books! Spotted in the wild at George R.R. Martin’s Beastly Books.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Sex on the Beach & Sand in the Wrong Places: What’s your favorite bit of pop-culture fiction doesn’t work well in reality?”

For the record, I’m going to put out there that you CAN totally have sex on the beach without getting sand in the wrong places. It’s not even that difficult. Are these other people rolling around in the sand with sticky parts first?? I can’t even.

Anyway… Come on over for my thoughts! 

A Spoilery Story About the Ending of THE FIERY CROWN

A reminder that tomorrow night is my rescheduled event at Mysterious Galaxy. Come on by and hang out!

For those of you who listened to the Beastly Books interview with Melinda Snodgrass for the release of THE FIERY CROWN – and if you didn’t, you can watch it here – you’ll know that we discussed the ending. (Also, Beastly Books is a great Indie Bookstore where you can buy signed books from me.) Melinda asked me why I ended the book where I did, instead of where she thought I would. I explained that I did waffle on the ending, and my editor ultimately weighed in and I went with her suggestion. After we stopped recording, I asked Melinda where she thought I would end it – and it was an even worse point than I’d contemplated! Then she told me how she’d frame the closing shot in the screenplay. (Melinda started out writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation and still writes a lot for Hollywood, along with her excellent novels.) And, damn people – I want this woman to write the treatment for the miniseries! Because it’s such a cool idea, I wanted to share it.

But, obviously, this spoils the ending. Read on forewarned and so forth.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

.

..

….

…..

Okay, so!

What I waffled on was, I very nearly had Con go back to the citadel after delivering Lia’s corpse to the boat. He’d go on his suicide mission and Lia would awaken on The Last Resort thinking him dead. Very Romeo and Juliet – which, tragedy, I know – and because I had book three to fix it all again, right? But Editor Jennie said, weeeeellllll…. since it’s a Romance, we need a happy ending in this book, too. Since I wasn’t committed to my tragic R&J ending, I agreed.

But Melinda!

SHE thought I would’ve ended it when Lia dies! That’s where she’d end the season, she said, with a closing shot of the orchid ring on Lia’s finger withering away as she dies on the wizard’s slab.

There’s a reason this woman is besties with George RR Martin!

Also, I can totally picture this closing shot and how I’d be bouncing out of my chair about the ending of Season 2 and how I had to wait forever for Season 3. Clearly she also knows her business.

What do you all think of these alternate endings? Would you have come after me for either of those? 😀

 

On Shutting My Mouth for a Day

Yesterday, June 2, 2020, many of us observed Blackout Tuesday to show respect for the Black Lives Matter protests. This followed on a weekend of protests, particularly in the US, over police brutality and the resultant deaths of black people in police custody. The peaceful protests were deliberated escalated by white nationalist groups hoping for violence, and culminated on Monday afternoon with Trump ordering tear gas and bullets to disperse a peaceful crowd demonstrating in front of the White House so he could appear to part the crowd like Moses and pose in front of a church with a Bible.

I was supposed to have a book event at Mysterious Galaxy on Monday evening – one already moved from an in-store event due to the COVID-19 pandemic to an online party via Zoom – and I’d been wondering about how I could pull off a fun and engaging event when the store coordinator reached out to me via Facebook. We agreed that it wouldn’t be right to have a book celebration under those circumstances, so we put out a statement to that effect. And we rescheduled for Thursday, June 11. I hope you’ll all still attend!

It was easy to reschedule. I was happy to step back on talking up my book for the evening as we wrestled more important matters. And I felt strong emotions the following morning when I changed my social media profiles, banners and top posts to black squares. I didn’t post a podcast interview I had planned. I also took down all of the ads I could think of. That was me, shutting up for a while.

And no, I didn’t use any hashtags, or even any words, because I was shutting up for a while.

A few hours into the blackout day, people began sending around cautions that the blackout posts were flooding the hashtags needed to convey information, and many people hastily pulled those off. Much later in the day, an author friend tagged me on Facebook telling me I shouldn’t be doing it at all because the world needed my voice (and those of the other people she tagged). I explained that’s why I hadn’t used the hashtags. I refrained from saying that the world could do without white voices for 24 hours.

That was the point: to step back, shut up, and allow black voices to be heard.

That’s why I didn’t use any hashtags to begin with, because I didn’t need to make this about me. I saw so many white authors using this crisis to elevate their brand and visibility. Seriously? Can’t we just STOP for 24 hours?

Anyway, I’m clearly back to yammering about Me and My Book. But I also hope to be aware of allowing others to speak. Right now, listening and letting others speak is the best thing we can do.

Naming Fantasy Characters, Places, and Things

The upside of me not being in San Diego on June 1 is that my event at Mysterious Galaxy will be available to all of you via Zoom! Would love if you all joined in!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Names: What’s your favorite source/method for naming your characters, places, etc? Come on over to learn my secrets.