seanan_mcguire: (coyote)
A few months ago now, I made a trip to my local Half-Price Books and found one of my favorite re-reads in a shiny new paperback. Oh, the joy of finding an out-of-print book for a reasonable cost! Oh, the glee of having a fresh copy for the loaner shelf! (I passionately adore a bunch of 1980s science fiction that isn't widely available, and often thrust it on people.) I snapped it up.

When I got home, I commented on Twitter that I'd found the book, and @-checked the author, who I thought might be pleased by my delight. It's nice when someone reads something I realized a while ago, and my clock only goes back 2009 (unless you have some of the ElfQuest 'zines I did in high school). The author, someone I have adored since middle school, responded.

"Trigger warning: dangerous ideas."

I sat there for a little while, stunned.

I am simultaneously very sensitive and very thick-skinned. Most of the people I know are. There are things that lance right past my armor and knock me on my ass, and then there are things that I can take for a long time. In the third category are the things I just need to be warned about, so I can choose whether I'm in the mood to deal with them. But here's the thing:

Most stories come with their own trigger warnings. They just aren't called out blatantly as such.

When I pick up a Jack Ketchum book, there will be language on the back about "horrible things" and "terrible crimes" and other coded comments that don't come right out and say "this book has rape in it," but which absolutely say that to someone who has been reading in the genre for a little while. And when I was getting started in the horror genre, I was largely operating on recommendations from friends and librarians--people who would say, when they handed me something, "this may be disturbing." They called out the things that might make the book difficult to read.

Movies are rated. PG, PG-13, R. I've seen a screenshot of a Facebook post going around recently, with a mother saying they had to leave Deadpool with their nine year old, and "why don't we have a labeling system?" Well, we do. It's called "this movie had an R rating." But R-rated movies get edited for television, and we don't think about that when we ask ourselves whether Little Bee enjoyed that film. "Oh, they've seen _________, and it was rated R, so they're ready for Deadpool." Movies get rated R for different reasons. Maybe it's language, maybe it's sex, maybe it's violence. When I was a kid, I tended to just tune out sex: you could take me to a lot of movies rated R for sexy innuendo and mild nudity, and I'd just be bored. But violence could still scare me.

(Note that this is "rated R," not "rated XXX." The fact that I saw a lot of boobies as a kid does not mean I was ready for a bunch of actual porn.)

Video games are rated. T for Teen, M for Mature. Yet everyone I know who works at a video game store has had the angry parent demanding to know why their kids have violent video games. Be...cause...someone didn't want to look at the ratings? Which are also, in some ways, the trigger warnings? Look at what's listed after a rating: those are the triggers. Maybe they're not intended for the person actually consuming the media, but once they're there, they're for everybody. I know people who only play T games, because they got tired of the casual misogyny and violence of M games. Why is that bad?

In the case of books, you're less likely to have a direct rating or label (although Angry Robot does a decent job). At the same time, if the back cover text is halfway decent, you should know what you're getting into. And yes, I am angry when a book promises me one thing and gives me something else. It's not a fun surprise, especially when the "something else" is a nice big bucket of rape and murder.

People who say they want trigger warnings are not necessarily asking to be coddled. They're asking for warning. They're asking for the courtesy that good fanfic writers afford to their readers. They're asking to be allowed to relax into the story. But saying "trigger warning: dangerous ideas" doesn't help anyone. My not wanting to read romanticized, eroticized rape in the middle of my zombie fiction doesn't mean I don't want to read exciting, complex, interesting books; saying that your book is just as triggering as something about child abuse or rape or graphic animal death does a disservice to both your work and your readers.

It can go too far: anything can go too far. I met a reader who told me that they refuse to read any books which include descriptions of food that they are allergic to, and that there should be food trigger warnings (I'm still not sure whether they were trolling me, but they seemed serious). If my book is called Spider Attack, I shouldn't need to warn people about the spiders. But common sense still gets to come to the party.

I have rarely felt so dismissed or talked down to by an author I admired, especially since I had not said or done anything to indicate that I was seeking a trigger warning; I had actually referenced reading the book before. It was a failure of kindness.

We have got to be kinder.
seanan_mcguire: (editing)
Welcome to the forty-ninth essay in my fifty-essay series on the art, craft, business, and occasional weirdness that is writing. All fifty of the essays in this series are based around my original fifty thoughts on writing, which means I only have two more essays to go. Almost there! Our thought for today:

Thoughts on Writing #49: Leave Reviewers Alone.

And now, because context is king, our expanded thought:

Try not to argue with reviewers in public places. It makes you look petty and it makes them feel attacked, and that's going to start a vicious spiral leading all the way down into the deepest, darkest depths of Hell. Feel free to whine at your friends if that makes you feel better, but don't make public scenes, and don't make huffy comments where other people are going to find them. Also, if everyone who's known to be a friend of yours starts attacking the reviewer? People are maybe gonna catch on. Play nice.

This one isn't very complicated on the surface: reviews are for readers. Now, most of us are readers. Sometimes, reviews are for us. When are the reviews not for us? When they're reviews of our books, or of books written by our friends. When those reviews come to the party, we're not invited. And sure, it can seem like we're invited, especially when those reviews are posted publicly on the internet; after all, it wouldn't be public if everyone wasn't allowed to comment, right?

Wrong. Today we're going to be talking about reviews, why they're not for us, and why you don't want to know what happens when you engage.

Ready? Good. Let's begin.

My thoughts are not your thoughts; my process is not your process; my ideas are not your ideas; my method is not your method. All these things are totally right for me, and may be just as totally wrong for you. So please don't stress if the things I'm saying don't apply to you -- I promise, there is no One True Way. This way for my thoughts on reviews. )
seanan_mcguire: (me)
So I was just a featured faculty member at the Pike's Peak Writer's Conference (where there was no air). I delivered the Sunday keynote speech. I got a standing ovation, which was pretty awesome. Anyway, here it is for you to read.

Thank you.

Cut-tagged because speeches are long. )
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
So I have just finished my guest editor slot with Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, the latest special issue from Lightspeed Magazine. It's a follow-up to last year's Women Destroy Science Fiction!, and I am so excited for all of you to read it. So very, very excited.

I am going to have a longer post about the experience of editing and the things I observed (with no "and then this person did this thing," because that is not helpful), but this is a distinct thing, and so I wanted to talk about it first, in isolation. And here it is:

The other night I was out at dinner with a bunch of friends and friends-of-friends, which meant that some of the people there didn't know who I was. Arley, who was one of my editorial assistants on the issue, was there, and he and I started chatting a little about QDSF. At which point someone else at the table, who didn't realize I had been the editor, said, "Oh, I was told not to bother submitting unless I knew the editor."

Someone told her, straight up, that she would not make it into the issue if she didn't know the editor—which is to say, me—personally.

Um.

I did not burst into tears or throw a chair, but I thought of both things. I thought it loudly enough that any local telepaths were probably frightened.

There are eleven stories in this special issue, selected from more than four hundred submissions. Of those eleven, two were solicited, because you need "marquee names" before you can expect people to support a Kickstarter. One, Amal, was (and is) a friend of mine. The other, John, is someone I know in passing and am professionally friendly toward, but he's not a friend. Of the remaining nine stories, one was written by a friend of mine. Before I was willing to accept it, I asked both my editorial assistants and one slush reader to read it, to make sure that I was not unduly favoring someone with whom I had a social relationship. The other eight stories were by people I don't know. People I've never met. Some were by people who have never had a sale before. I was able to help people accomplish their first sales, and that's something that I'm really, really proud of.

John Joseph Adams, who is the publisher and editor of Lightspeed, knows me. He considers me, so far as I know, a friend. He buys my shit all the time. You know why? Because it's good, and because my name sells magazines. Not because he is my friend. When he first started buying my shit, it didn't necessarily sell magazines, but it was good (she said, modestly). He has refused to buy some of my shit. Why? Because it was not good enough, or because it didn't fit the guidelines, or because he needed something different to fill that space. Because despite being my friend, he is also a professional.

No one got into Queers Destroy Science Fiction! with a story that was not good, or did not fit the guidelines, just because they were my friend. No one got in just because they were my friend, period. Because I am a professional, and I wanted to put together the best issue possible. That was my job.

Telling people "oh, you've got to know the editor" is completely counter to the purpose of the Destroy projects, which are all about throwing the doors open and encouraging the underrepresented group in the title (first women, now QUILTBAG individuals) to come in, since so often it's felt like the door said "keep out." That would be completely undermined by a policy that required the writer to know the editor in order to make a sale. That sort of policy would break my heart, and would definitely have kept me from accepting the position.

The submissions periods for Queers Destroy Horror! will end May 1st; the submissions period for Queers Destroy Fantasy! will open May 1st. Both will be edited by professionals (Wendy Wagner for QDH; Christopher Barzak for QDF). Anyone who makes it into those issues will be there because they wrote good stories that fit the needs of the issue, not because they have an "in." There is no one with a secret "in."

I can't help but be somewhat hurt by the idea that writers may have thought this was the case, or have been telling people that it was. I've been struggling to think of what I could have done to give this impression, and I've come up with nothing. I can promise you that the doors were wide open for QDSF, and that anyone queer-identifying was welcome. The same is true for QDH and QDF. If you fall within the QUILTBAG and you have a story for them to consider, please submit. Do it whether you know anyone at the magazine or not.

We need your stories.
seanan_mcguire: (midway)
Thomas met us at the door last night, tail puffed out, already singing the song of his people. Alice shunned me for about an hour, skittering from room to room, refusing to let me look her in the eye. When she settled, she announced it by crawling on top of me and purring for an hour solid, making it impossible to sleep.

Home.

I always think, when I'm traveling, that I'll come in the door and be stunned by how much stuff I have amassed. "I'm finally going to see the mess for what it is, and be able to get rid of half of it with no regrets," I think, and then I get into my room, and crawl into the mass of plush toys that is my bed, like a Pokemon into long grass, and I remember that this is why I have so much stuff: because it defines the borders of my space. It claims the space in a way that is very precious to me. It's not careless clutter. It's careful assertion of my right to exist, safely, in this space.

Home.

I am so tired that I can feel my bones, and I'm working my way through a dozen slow to-do lists, some of them time-sensitive, others that just need to be accomplished. I am where I belong, at least for a little while, at least until I have to leave again.

Home.

There's no place I'd rather be.
seanan_mcguire: (me)
Welcome to the forty-eighth essay in my fifty-essay series on the art, craft, business, and occasional weirdness that is writing. All fifty of the essays in this series are based around my original fifty thoughts on writing, which means I only have two more essays to go. Almost there! Our thought for today:

Thoughts on Writing #48: Step Away From the Pen.

And now, because context is king, our expanded thought:

If you find yourself critiquing the comma placement in published novels, it is maybe time to step away from the editing process for a little while.

Most of us became writers because we were readers. People who hate books don't devote their lives to writing them, any more than people who hate happiness go to work at Disneyland, or people who hate sugar decide to open wedding cake bakeries. We are drawn to do what we love. One of the dangerous consequences of this, however, is that sometimes this will begin to erode the love that brought us here in the first place. What are we supposed to do when our critical eye for our own work starts spilling over onto everything else?

Today we're going to be talking about turning off the editorial mind, why it can never happen completely, and why a little critical thought is good.

Ready? Good. Let's begin.

My thoughts are not your thoughts; my process is not your process; my ideas are not your ideas; my method is not your method. All these things are totally right for me, and may be just as totally wrong for you. So please don't stress if the things I'm saying don't apply to you -- I promise, there is no One True Way. This way for my thoughts on doing the hard stuff. )
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
If you are a creative professional, it is a sad reality that self-promotion is a part of your job. Maybe that wasn't always true; maybe there was a time when you could emerge from your creative chambers, hand your latest piece of deathless art to your agent, and then retreat back into your office fastness to keep creating. But alas, we do not live in that possibly mythic world, and if you work in the arts, at all, you need to be willing to sell yourself to whatever degree, and in whatever manner, you are comfortable.

Maybe it's social media updates. Maybe it's occasional blog posts. Maybe it's setting up a mailing list. There are a lot of ways to do self-promotion, and since I consider sincerity to be the most important thing of all, there's really no wrong way. As long as you're comfortable and happy and not drowning in your update links, you're probably okay.

But here's the thing. There is a line between "self-promotion" and "spam," and while that line is usually pretty visible, it's also easy to cross, even without intending to. I schedule Current Projects posts; make Inchworm Girl posts once a week at max; and try to do sales announcements and convention announcements when it will have the greatest impact. It is thus possible—not likely, but possible—that all three of these things could happen on the same day. That would seem a little spammy, and take away from all three. It would also still be confined to my space, which you can read at your leisure, if you read it at all.

The same goes for Twitter. On and around book release day, I get very "OMG BOOK" for about, oh, 80% of my Tweets. I lose a few followers every time I have a book come out, since the rest of the time, my Twitter is very much "here are pictures of my cats and snarky comments about my doll collection." (Most of those followers come back again about a week later, when the book stuff dies down.) And that's fine! I am shouting and running around within my own space, they aren't interested, they go to the corner store for some milk and bread and come back when things are back to normal. This is all totally awesome.

The trouble, for me, comes when self-promotion begins going into other peoples' spaces without being invited. An example:

Last week I tweeted about how my sister is a nervous flier. Within twenty minutes I had received an unsolicited tweet from a retired commercial pilot who does not normally follow me, with a link to his book on calming fears of flying. Now, this may seem like he's just being helpful, but again, he does not follow me, and I did not ask for advice. This is a stranger who clearly has some standard searches coming across my comment and deciding that he can use it to profit.

I told him that what he was doing was spamming, and he asked why I was making such a fuss. The reason is simple: because he came into my space, without my asking him to, and tried to sell me something I had not asked for. He was spamming.

Something I see with much more frequency, although also on Twitter (and, in a modified form, on Facebook), is people @-checking random groups of authors/fans/whatever with "Hey, think about it, Soviet steampunk [link to book]." Again, this is not encouraging me to buy your book, or even to look at it. This is spamming.

It's different when you're doing it in your own space, or when you've been solicited. If I Tweet "What should I be reading?" and you give me a link to your awesome Shakespearean detective erotica, we're all good. If I click over to your feed and it's two-thirds self-promo, that's cool too. But once you come into my space, you'd best be sure you were invited. By the same token, if I'm coming into your space, I'd best be sure that I was invited.

Anything else is likely to turn my serious message into a piece of unwanted lunch meat.
seanan_mcguire: (marilyn)
Happy Halloween, everybody, and Happy New Year's Eve to those of you who share my particular calendar. May the Great Pumpkin smile upon you tonight, bringing you candles which burn brightly, candy that never goes stale, corn mazes as complicated as the twisting choices of the heart, and costumes that are inventive, interesting, and warm enough to keep you comfortable through all the long, dark hours of the evening.

I measure my life from Halloween to Halloween, instead of in candle-ends and coffee spoons. It's odd, but it works for me, and it's been one hell of a year, hasn't it? I left my day job (and still have no regrets; the tighter finances are more than balanced by the fact that I can finally sleep, I can finally be productive; it's amazing). I roved through Europe, eating all the cheese that I could get my hands on (and losing twenty pounds in the process, all hail the lack of high-fructose corn syrup in European breads and deli meats). I announced several awesome projects, and pursued several more.

I buried some beloved friends. I don't know that I'll ever stop wanting to call them, or reach for them. Lilly has joined the legion of cats that I try to cuddle in the middle of the night, when my dreams turn melancholy. Human or animal, I wasn't ready to let any of them go. Yes, death is a part of life, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

I hope that all of you out there are ready to have a happy Halloween, full of all the thrills, chills, spooks and spills that you desire. I hope that you've had a glorious year, and are looking forward to a wonderful holiday season. Most of all, I hope that you're well.

Thank you for sharing this past year with me.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
As of today, it has been six months since I quit my day job to become a full-time writer.

In those six months, I have traveled all over the country; I have seen and spent time with friends I hadn't really spent time with in years; I have finished writing multiple books; I have made word count more days than not; and I have slept. I have actually slept. It's hard to make people understand how important that is. I really had not been sleeping for several years. Slow sleep insomnia + things I had to do in the evening if they were ever going to happen + a 5am alarm all combined to = half my sick days were literally "I have pushed myself to the point where my body will not allow me to get out of bed." And now I am sleeping.

In the past six months, I have been seriously ill once, and that was a twelve-hour stomach bug that came on like a wrecking ball, and had me throwing up so hard and so consistently that I actually pulled muscles on both sides of my ribs. That may not sound like a good thing, but it was the sort of illness that fells whom it will, and doesn't care about your overall health. It wasn't brought on my exhaustion. Prior to quitting my job, I was literally coming down with a cold, flu, or other illness once a month. I am no longer losing my health to exhaustion.

I have to be a little more fiscally careful now, just because my income isn't as certain. I have to learn not to overcommit myself (I traveled a wee bit too much in the first part of the year, just out of the joy of freedom). I need to get better about finding anthologies, rather than waiting for them to come to me every single time, just to keep my finances moving in the right direction. But.

I am not sorry.

This was the smartest choice I ever made.

I can sleep, and that is worth everything that is more complicated than it used to be.
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
It's no secret that I spend a lot of time thinking about fanfic. (And those links are just "fanfic as a general concept"; they don't touch on my frequent crankiness about the concept of the Mary Sue, or connect to any of my actual fanfic.) I think fanfic is a hugely important part of the way we interact with stories as a society, and that it's really so much older than anyone wants to admit. Remember that Shakespeare was, in many ways, writing fanfic. Remember that the Brothers Grimm changed the stories they collected to better suit themselves, which is part of the definition of fanfic. It's an ancient tradition, and it goes back to the first time someone told a story they'd heard about a friend, but modified it to be a little bit more interesting.

I am not saying that everyone in the world needs to write, read, or adore fanfic. For one thing, I don't think there's any truly universal "everybody has to do this" experience, except for maybe peeing. Everybody pees, right? For the purposes of this essay, everybody pees. (If you do not pee, please don't tell me.) So no, if you're not into writing fanfic, I am not judging you. I am not saying you're not awesome. If you're not into reading fanfic...I think there's a very good chance your definition is too narrow. Shakespeare, as I have said, wrote fanfic. Virgil. Bridget Jones's Diary and Wicked are both alternate universe, or "AU," fanfic of other people's properties. 10 Things I Hate About You and Easy A, also basically fanfic. Any company or studio-owned property where the original author is no longer in charge? Kinda fanfic, on a lot of levels.

You do not have to read Harry/Draco romantic coffee shop Little Mermaid AUs to be reading fanfic. Fanfic is everywhere. The fact that some of it is based on things that have slipped into the public domain does not make it any less fanfic: it just makes it fanfic that can be sold for a profit.

In recent discussions of fanfic, I've seen several people say things along the lines of "but all fanfic is about sex" and "it's not okay when people write relationships that don't exist in the canon." (Neither of these is an exact quote: I am paraphrasing from multiple sources, in part because I'm not trying to call anyone out in specific, and in part because these are sentiments that I've seen repeated on almost every discussion of fanfic. I think that it's something we need to talk about.

First up, "all fanfic is about sex."

This is patently untrue. A huge amount of fanfic is about things other than sex. I read a novel's-worth of fanfic every week or so, and I very rarely read explicit sex unless it happens in the context of a long, long story about other things. Most of my favorite fanfic would not be rated above an "R." Much of it wouldn't get above "PG-13." But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that 50% of fanfic is purely about the sex. 50% of fanfic, however well or poorly written, is only there for bangin', clangin', and bringing down the house. Okay.

And?

Erotica is a big deal. Porn is a big deal. There's a huge amount of it out there, and there's a whole industry dedicated to making porn parodies of popular properties. XXX-Men and the Anal Avengers and Wet Dream on Elm Street, these are all things that exist. They're basically thinly veiled visual fanfic, much of which is incredibly male-gazey and heteronormative and gives us the superficials ("A dude dressed like Giles is going down on a chick dressed like Willow in the latest installment of Muffy the Trouser Slayer!") without giving us the things that draw us to the property in the first place. "Porn with plot" is a huge fanfic category because people want to write some fun erotica, but want it to actually be about characters, not cheap cosplay with enormous primary and secondary sexual organs.

Some of the pairings fanfic authors pursue will make some people uncomfortable. I used to be heavily involved with Supernatural fandom, and I hated the most popular pairing, which put two brothers together in sexual situations. But the nice thing about fanfic is that responsible fanfic authors will tag their smut. So if I clicked a link for a piece of fic and saw "M/M, Sam/Dean, Incest, NC-17" as the tags, I knew that I needed to nope on out of there. The authors, who hurt no one, got to have their fun; their readers, who hurt no one, got to read some awesome smut; I went and found stories about Dean and Jo being awesome, often in a fully platonic way. Not everything is for everyone.

But okay: some people don't want to read about non-canonical sex. That's cool. Just don't click that link, and you'll be safe from all the porn. Porn cannot in fact follow you home.

Note: I am not saying that you need to start reading fanfic porn. No one is required to read anything, unless they're taking a class. (If you do not want to read fanfic porn, avoid courses titled "Tranformative Erotica in the Copyright Age.") But using "there is porn" as a way to shut down all fanfic is reductive and unnecessary, and what it shows is not a clean-minded commitment to the canon; it's a refusal to consider that there could be depth and meaning to something that is hugely important in a whole lot of lives.

Secondly, we have "it's not okay when people write relationships that don't exist in the canon."

I want to tell you two very important things that it took me a long time to realize. The first is that if you're talking about something like a TV show or a comic book or a movie, the odds are very good that those characters, and that canon, were created by committee. You will have multiple people putting words into the same mouths, and while there's generally an effort made to keep characterization relatively straightforward, at the end of the day, each of the real people will have a different version of that fictional character in their heads. Take, for example, Usagi Tsukino, better known by most people as "Sailor Moon."

Usagi's role on the show is to love. It is to be a soldier of love, a warrior of love, someone who will die for love. She is love all-encompassing, love without limits. Yeah, she's a little immature sometimes, but that's okay, because she loves you.

My friend Nikki is doing an end-to-end rewatch of Sailor Moon. In a recent episode, there was a scene where Usagi, upon being presented a love letter from a girl, said "I'm taken," which is totally great and good, and then "But you should fall in love with a boy, it's way better" (paraphrase). Um, what? This is a girl who has died and been reborn for love, who is in awe of the relationship between two female friends, and who has never said anything like this before. It's just a little dagger of heteronormativity coming unexpectedly from the mouth of the living avatar of love. (Nikki points out that Usagi did say something similar once, about a hundred episodes earlier, before she really got to know Haruka and Michiru, and that both times, it was done purely for comedic effect. So take that as you will.)

It's canon. She said it on the show. But it's not a thing my Usagi would ever say, and it may not be a thing that Naoko Takeuchi's Usagi would ever say. Naoko Takeuchi created the franchise. She did not write that episode. Do you see where I'm going with this? It is entirely possible to have things in the canon that contradict the character as it was intended.

The second is that creators can be wrong. I have written scenes in various books and stories that were pointed to by my beta readers (thankfully) as being incorrect. Sylvester wouldn't say that; the Luidaeg wouldn't do that. Because I have good betas, I can fix those things, but there's always the chance that someday I will go entirely off the rails. I will kill a character because I am mad at a real person who loves the fictional person I have created. I will write a final chapter before I actually begin the series, and refuse to revise it. I will do something that makes my most loyal readers go "whoa, fuck, back it up babe."

Some of them will back it up with fanfic.

Note that this only addresses creator failure. With shows and movies, there's real life to be considered as well. I know a lot of Glee fanfic authors who have gone fully AU following the deal of Cory Monteith, who played the romantic lead. They don't want to continue the series without him, and I can't blame them at all.

Now that I have told you these two very important things, and their sub-things, here is another thing: who cares?

When I watched Kim Possible, I always expected Kim to wind up with Shego, not Ron. I believed that Myka and H.G. were meant to be (I still do). I looked at Parker and Hardison and Elliot and saw a family unit that was never going to give a damn about who was sleeping with who (although Elliot would probably tell you that Hardison had a very distinctive snore, while sleeping with Parker was like sleeping with an abnormally large housecat that hogged the pillows). In the first, it was a cartoon; never going to happen. In the second, I'm not sure why the writers made the choice they did. In the third, I got my wish. But if I hadn't, the way I viewed the show would have remained entirely valid.

I get checking out when someone is writing a pairing that doesn't work for you. My dislike of Sam/Dean in Supernatural has less to do with them being brothers than it does to do with the fact that I just can't buy them as a couple. But sometimes couples have surprised me. I just finished reading an epic-length Harry Potter fic where Neville/Padma was a primary pairing, and I would never have expected it to be awesome, and it was awesome. There is room for beauty outside the canon, especially when the canon is the work of many hands.

Especially with older fandoms, or with pairings that involve a lead character, straight is an assumed default. Well, statistically, that's not right. One in ten. So that's one Ensign, one Companion, one whatever in ten, minimum, who shouldn't be straight. When I'm writing fic about a show that didn't give me the representation I needed, what's wrong with wanting to see it? (Before the inevitable question: the reason writing Buffy/Faith is applauded, and Tara/Xander is likely to get you a frowny face, is that same issue of representation. One in ten. Currently, we have less than one in fifty on a canonical level. Taking it away because you want to show that it's an equal playing field is not creating an equal playing field. It's being a jerk. Unless that is the only story you want to write, please, consider the numbers, and don't.)

I'm not expecting to convince anyone who's already decided fanfic is awful that they should give it another try; some ships have sailed. But I am asking that you consider the arguments you hear about it, and consider why they might be flawed. There's nothing wrong with writing a little smut. There's nothing wrong with having your own view of the canon, especially when that canon goes on for more than a single book. And there's nothing wrong with seeking representation where there isn't enough.

These are all reasons that fanfic is glorious, and that I am so, so glad to be a part of the fic community. I always will be.
seanan_mcguire: (coyote)
People ask me "well, did you have fun?" a lot. After conventions, after signings, after anything that would have involved me appearing in a professional capacity. I generally smile and say I had a very nice time, but that's not always enough. Some people want to know, for sure and for certain, that I had fun. That I am riding my giddy inner parade float off to Candy Mountain, land of sweet sugary joyness, and not counting the minutes until I can take off my shoes and stop trying to interact with humans.

This is difficult for me.

Here is what I do for fun at a convention: I cruise the dealer's room, sometimes for hours, looking at things I have no intention of buying, spending too much money at the same time. I go back to my hotel room and eat M&Ms while watching cartoons on whatever kid-oriented channel the hotel includes as part of its cable package. Sometimes, when I have a few hours of downtime, I attend a concert or get someone to drive me to the nearest Target, where I buy cranberry juice and Diet Dr Pepper and more M&Ms.

Here is what I do not do for fun: everything else.

I love being a guest at conventions. It's one of my natural environments. I grew up at cons, I'm good at cons, I always have a nice time. I always have a good time. Even at the con where I had an allergic reaction so severe that I spent literally three hours in my hotel room huddled around the toilet bowl and crying, I had a good time. But I don't have much fun. Fun is not the reason I am there. Like the girls on reality shows who aren't there to make friends, I am not there to enjoy myself: I'm there to work.

When I am a guest at a con, I am there to help you have fun. I'm there to listen and speak and sign and sometimes give hugs. I'm there to hand out ribbons and admire tattoos and do whatever is asked of me, because I'm working. I am at work. My job is awesome and enjoyable and I am so, so lucky to have it; sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to have it. I wouldn't change it for anything. But every time I do something I consider "fun" (latest example: chasing lizards around the rocks at Disneyland), I am reminded that no, I am not at conventions to have fun. And that's a good thing.

I am making more fun for you.
seanan_mcguire: (zombie)
Stephen King is my favorite author.

He has been since I was nine years old and first convinced my mother that I should be allowed to read him openly, not under beds and in back corners of the library. I have devoured everything I've ever been able to get my hands on, including the introductions he writes for his short stories (introductions that went a long way toward convincing me that short stories were an art form that should never be neglected). One of my favorite stories, "Home Delivery," was written for an anthology called Book of the Dead—an anthology of ZOMBIE STORIES. A whole book of nothing but ZOMBIE STORIES.

To my pre-teen mind, this was the ultimate of delicacies, the dessert to end all desserts. I already adored zombies in all their forms, and the idea of a whole book about nothing but zombies was just...well, it was staggering. But alas, for all that I had won the day on the topic of King himself, I had not yet convinced my family to buy me horror anthologies, and Book of the Dead passed outside my reach forever.

Or so I thought. I was rummaging through the books on the free book table at this most recent Boskone (and did I mention that my NESFA Press book, Letters to the Pumpkin King, is available now as both a hardcover and a gorgeous signed, slipcased edition?) when a copy of Book of the Dead literally fell into my hand. Oh happy day!

It's taken me a month to read my long-awaited treasure. Not because I was savoring it: because that was how long it took me to fight my way through. What a difference a quarter of a century makes.

The table of contents for Book of the Dead is made up entirely of male names. Some of them are unfamiliar to me; it's possible that there's a woman writing under a male pseudonym lurking somewhere in that list, camouflaged and content. But since they're all male names, and this was an invite-only anthology, I think it's reasonably safe to say that the first zombie anthology was very much a boys' club.

Most, if not all, of the stories in this book were written specifically for this book. When King talks about "Home Delivery" (I think in Nightmares and Dreamscapes), he indicates that there were questions about how much flexibility the modern zombie really had. Each of these authors really worked to find a unique take. And that unique take is so overwhelmingly straight, white, and male that it's actually jarring. Multiple stories—as in, more than one—focus on the plot of "try to rape a woman, zombies will eat you." Like, that is the core moral of the story. "Rape = zombies." It'd be sort of neat if it worked that way in the real world, but...

Of the stories in this book, two have female leads; one of the female leads is Chinese-American (she's also one of the only characters who shares POV with more than two other people). There are more rape stories than stories involving women with agency. (Interestingly, one of the two female leads, who is also one of the women with agency, was written by Stephen King.) There's one story about a little girl that made me uncomfortable in that "this book would have been taken away from me, and rightly, when I was twelve" sort of way, and I was reading Clive Barker at that age.

It may sound like I'm being overly harsh on this book, and in some ways, I am. It's a very simplistic, borderline sexist view of the zombie apocalypse, and for all the "unique takes" it contains, most of them didn't seem to work too hard to show us anything different that wasn't "oh boy oh boy I can get away with showing naked dead people." And at the same time...

This is where we started. These people weren't writing Yet Another Zombie _______ Story, they were writing, in many cases, the first story of its type. They were building a foundation. And I wonder how many people read this book, said "I could do so much better," and turned around to start constructing what would become the modern zombie obsession. I wouldn't call this a good collection now, because we've gotten so much better than most of these tales would have allowed us to be. But it's a foundational collection, and I'm glad I read it, even if I would recommend The Living Dead or The Living Dead 2 (and Zombiesque and about a dozen others) before I would recommend it.

We've shambled a long way, baby.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
(Note: The following post discusses depression and suicide, quite frankly. If you want to skip it, I will understand. Also, I am calling a preemptive comment amnesty, because I don't know that I can get through whatever comments may be left. Thank you.)

***

I have a pretty good life.

That's not bragging, really. I mean, my life has its problems—it's stressful, I'm tired a lot, I'm a woman in the age of the Internet (which is unfortunately code for "I get some really disturbing hate sent my way for the crime of being outspoken and visible while existing as a non-male"), my foot hurts almost all the time, I worry about my friends—but there's no measuring stick that doesn't put me at "pretty good." I am financially secure enough to do things like take off for Disneyland at a moment's notice, to hug a woman standing as avatar for my favorite cartoon character. I have amazing friends who love me despite myself, and I struggle every day to be worthy of them. I have incredible cats. I sleep in an orange bedroom packed with dolls and books and Disney memorabilia.

I get to write books. I get to tell stories, for a living, and have people read and enjoy them. It's everything I ever wanted my life to be...

...and I spent more than half of 2013 wanting my life to stop.

I have been suicidal, off and on, since I was nine years old. I made multiple suicide attempts when I was a pre-teen and teenager; some came closer to success than others. I have my scars. My last active attempt was made when I was in my mid-twenties, and the friend who drove me to the train station has never forgiven me for making him complicit, in any way, in the attempt to take my life. I do not blame him for this, even as I know that I didn't mean to involve him; I just needed to get to the beach, and thought "hey, I can get a ride," and never stopped to consider what that might mean when he'd found out what I'd done, or worse, if he'd found out that I had succeeded. I couldn't see that far ahead. All I could see was the need to stop, to be over, to not need to do this anymore. Any of it.

A very dear friend of mine described suicidal urges and ideations as a narrowing, and she's exactly right, at least for me. It's not selfishness, not at its heart, because when things get that bad, it's virtually impossible to see continuing as an option. It's like climbing a very high mountain, and then running out of trail. You can't fly. It's not selfish to refuse to sprout wings and try. It would be selfish to stay where you are, to block the trail, to prevent others from climbing on without you.

It seems so much easier to just jump, and get out of everybody's way. It seems like the only logical choice. Selfishness doesn't really enter into it. I sort of wish it did. It would be easier to argue with the little voices, or at least it seems like it would be easier; we're all trained from childhood not to be selfish, and that makes selfishness easier to refute than narrowness. "I won't be selfish" is an easier statement than "I will continue to exist, even though there are no options, even though it will never get better, even though I am a burden to all those around me, even though I am unworthy of love, even though I do not deserve this skin, this sky, this space that I inhabit." And easy is...easy is easy. We want easy. When everything is hard, easy becomes incredibly tempting.

Writing this down is hard.

I didn't tell most people how depressed I was, because I didn't think I deserved my own depression. I have a pretty good life! I have all the things I listed, and more, and saying "I want to die" when I have a pretty good life felt like bragging; it felt like trying to claim a sorrow I had no right to. But depression doesn't give a fuck how good your life is. Depression is a function of fucked-up brain chemistry, and brain chemistry doesn't say "Oh, hey, you made the New York Times, that's cool, I better straighten out and fly right from now on." You can be depressed no matter what is happening around you, rags or riches, perfection or putridity. That does not make you wrong. Depression is a sickness. You can catch the flu at Disney World, and you can be depressed on your wedding day. No matter how good your life is, no matter how much people say they wish they had your problems, you are allowed to be unhappy. You are allowed to seek help. You are allowed to express your needs.

I did not actively attempt suicide in 2013, but that was only because I have had a lifetime of learning how to trick myself. I begged my agent to get me new book contracts. See? Can't die! I have deadlines! I cajoled my best friend into going to Disneyland with me. See? Can't die! I have to make faces with pixies! I accepted anthology invitations and convention invitations and let a lot of television build up on my DVR. Anything to create obligations that I would feel compelled to meet, but which weren't the kind that can overwhelm me. I made a lot of lists. I check-marked and itemized myself through the worst of it, and it worked, but it...it wasn't easy. I don't think it's ever going to be easy.

I am telling you this because I want you all to understand, at least on some level, that depression is not a thing you have to earn: it is not justified by tragedy, it is not created by grief. It can happen to anyone, and everyone has a right to seek help. Everyone has a right to be cared for, and to find a way to widen their options back into something that they can live with. Everyone. Even me; even you.

I would be very sad if I were not here to share 2014 with all of you. I hope—I really, truly do—that all of you will be here to share this beautiful year with me. Even if I don't know you, even if I've never met you or never will, I hope. Selfishness is easier to refute than narrowness, and we need to be here for each other, or those walls will crush the life from us.

I hope none of you have to deal with what I dealt with this past year. If you do, please, remember that you can seek help. You deserve help.

We all do.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
So it's about six hours to midnight where I am, and I just woke up from a necessary and restorative nap; I think about half the last week has been spent in similar circumstances. I'm starting to take shorter naps, however, and I'm actually beginning to feel halfway rested, which is of deep importance to me.

2013. Well, that happened. In 2013, I made the New York Times List twice, and didn't make it once; I wrote more books than I really care to think about; I wrote more words than I can possibly count. I became the first person to ever receive five Hugo nominations in the same year, and learned how much hate mail that achievement generates (a lot), but didn't so much care when I got my five little silver rocket pins and my one big brass one. I won my second Hugo.

I nearly lost the ability to walk. I'm still getting it back a tiny bit at a time, and the whole process has been painful and upsetting in the extreme. For those of you who have never spent time with me in person, I love to walk. It's my primary exercise, and it's something that I usually do when I need to focus. Having it taken away from me has been horrible and upsetting. Here's hoping 2014 sees me finishing my recovery.

There were no major medical crises in either my family or my home. The cats are doing well, and apart from my foot and one bout of flu in January, this year has been one of my physically healthiest in a long time. I guess that's balanced by mental health; I spent much of 2013 incredibly depressed, and around six months actively wanting to die. Please don't respond to this post with "I'm so sorry" or "oh honey," because I know; there's a reason I didn't talk about it while it was going on. I'm doing better now, for the most part. So, you know. Yay recovery.

In 2013 I released four books: Midnight Blue-Light Special, Chimes at Midnight, Parasite, and Velveteen vs. The Multiverse. I released nineteen short stories, some through anthologies, others via my website. I got self-published fiction onto the Hugo ballot. I started writing poetry again. I didn't write enough fanfic.

I went to Disneyland. I went to Disney World. I hugged my cats. A lot.

So that was the year; it was productive but hard, and I'm ready to be done with it. Roll on 2014, if you would be so kind. I hope you all have the sort of night you dream of, and please, if you do anything, remember to be kind.

We're all we've got.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
So Chuck Wendig posted his thoughts on spoilers recently. I agree with many of them. There are entire media empires I have chosen to have no truck with because they were spoiled for me so thoroughly before I could start embracing them, as often through the intent of the people doing the spoiling as by accident. There is a whole subculture on Tumblr dedicated to bootlegging new movies the day they hit theaters, so that the very first spoiler-laden animated .gifs can be created. It can get really, really frustrating. While I understand the joy of having an open and enthusiastic discussion of a thing you love, part of me goes "not everyone can go to every opening night, watch every show the second it airs, read every book in ARC form three months before publication." It's just not possible, and in those cases, spoilers can steal a lot of the joy in enjoying a piece of media.

(Not for everyone, naturally. I know people who adore spoilers, and find them an exciting roadmap to what's ahead. I am just as likely to go "welp, that was the greatest hits version of the story, let's go enjoy something new.")

But saying "spoilers are bad" and "spoilers are wrong" seems very...I don't know, privileged? At least to me. I have friends who cannot watch rape. Cannot watch any threat of sexual violence. Cannot handle the use of date rape drugs or other such devices in fiction. I know people who are so severely afraid of spiders that even spiders in movies are not safe for them, or who can't deal with certain forms of bodily harm (eyeballs, sure, but no fingers, no teeth...). Most, if not all, of these people have really good reasons for their fears, and if they don't go around wearing shirts that list them off for your comprehension and enlightenment, that's because it's nobody else's business.

So they seek out spoilers. They look for them everywhere, because a little loss of surprise is worth it for the comfort of knowing a piece of media is safe. I was lucky enough to see Thor 2 early (I love you, Disneyland Annual Pass), and while I refused, for the most part, to be a source of spoilers, one person asked me a very basic "this thing will be triggery for me, does this thing happen" question, and got an answer. Because my desire not to put spoilers out into the world is not stronger than someone else's need for mental peace. I knew why she was asking. Refusing to answer at that point would have been policing someone else's choices, and saying I knew what she needed better than she did.

I will absolutely roll with "involuntary spoilers are bad": I don't want to get spoiled for everything in the universe the second I turn on my computer in the morning. I will roll with "there is a statute of limitations," and while we haven't all agreed on what it is, I stop getting grumpy after a week or so for minor things (it takes longer for big, shocking, "this changes everything" revelations). But we have to remember that for some people, spoilers are safety and self-defense. Spoilers are what makes it possible for them to enjoy media, just like everybody else.

Sometimes, providing spoilers is the only kind thing to do.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
There's a trend I've been noticing lately: everything is suddenly everywhere. I think this may have something to do with the emails I receive daily that are literally checklists of every social media site in existence, complete with a handy "be sure to like this here! Be sure to tweet about this here! Be sure to make a witty Tumblr post complete with reaction .gif here! Be sure to..." and I don't know what comes after that, because I have already deleted the email and gone off to interact with something less exhausting. I have enough trouble remembering to promote myself; I can't take on the responsibility of promoting everything I come into contact with.

It feels like the signal to noise ratio is getting skewed; everything is a sea of signal boosts and endorsements and link-backs and that's lovely, if they're things that you support and believe in. I try to post and tweet and yes, Facebook and the rest about things that I care about. But I don't care about everything in the universe. That would be exhausting.

I wonder if we're just all drowning, and thus all afraid of being overlooked. Whatever it is, I admit I'm getting a little tired of being told how to use my social media. "People will be more likely to notice this if you tweet it!" Well...yes. But then they're less likely to notice my awesome Pokemon.

Everything's a trade-off.
seanan_mcguire: (indexing)
...do not let it grieve you. No one leaves for good. You are not alone. No one is alone.

Well, here we are: the first season of Indexing is over and done, and the book has been closed on Henrietta Marchen and her friends, at least for a time. I can't tell you yet whether there will be a second season: that decision is in the hands of greater minds than mine. I can tell you that the best way to help that second season happen is to either buy the now-complete Kindle serial (available internationally), or to pick up the print book when it comes out in December (I know that I'm looking forward to having a copy on my shelf, where I can brag about it).

A lot of people have asked me about my experience with 47North and the Amazon Kindle Serials Program, and why I chose to do it. Now that the season has ended, I thought this would be a good time to talk about those questions.

First, and easiest, is "why did you do it?" I mean, in some ways, doing a Kindle Serial goes against a lot of what I've said about the digital divide, and my unending desire to have print editions available for everything, always. I never want anyone to be left in the position of "cannot possibly get a book." At the same time, the print edition was always a part of the plan, built into my contract; it was just going to come after the ebook editions. While that certainly isn't ideal, it was about the only way something like this could happen, since a week-by-week physical serial would have been way too cost-prohibitive for any book publisher to commit to. As for why I went with the Kindle program, well...they asked me. They also offered to pay me. I am very, very fond of getting paid, as it allows me to feed my cats and keep my lights on and all those other silly things. So when someone contacts my agent and says "we want to pay you to do something cool," my attention is assured.

But the main reason I agreed was because I hadn't done anything like this before. I was a universe author for The Edge of Propinquity in 2010 (when the original Rose Marshall stories were written), but that was very different than having a tight "once every two weeks" schedule, and this was a much bigger challenge. I like challenges. I like finding out whether I can meet them. In this case, I definitely did.

In terms of "what was good about this project," well, there was a lot. I got to write a serial novel in a setting I never thought I would get to expand upon (the ATI Management Bureau began in a short story I wrote years ago); I got to see a lot of people try my work because of the low price point and the easy entry point; I got to have fun with fairy tales. Fun with fairy tales is a huge draw for me.

In terms of "what was bad," there were a few things. The nature of the project meant that I didn't have time to write all twelve segments before things started going live, and that meant that if I wanted to change something after the fact, I really couldn't. I don't think any major contradictions or errors got past us and into the published chapters, but it made the whole experience a little more nerve-wracking than it otherwise might have been. The short, fixed schedule also meant that if there were any unexpected delays on either my part or the publisher's part, I could wind up with a much shorter turn-around period for copy edits and changes. Also not so easy on my nerves, given how tightly I tend to schedule myself. And of course, there was the fact that the Kindle Serial program is currently US-only, and my audience is international, which I know was frustrating for a lot of people. (Now that the serial part is over, the finished ebook is available wherever there is Amazon.)

On the whole, this was an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I would be open to doing a second season if the stars were right (and the holes in my schedule lined up, since again, I am very tightly booked). To any authors considering the program, I can definitely recommend it, as long as you work well under pressure and don't mind sometimes needing to turn things around with little to no notice. I hope to see you all again at the next once upon a time.

Now rest, my dear, and be at ease; there’s a fire in the hearth and a wind in the eaves, and the night is so dark, and the dark is so deep, and it’s time that all good little stars go to sleep.
seanan_mcguire: (coyote)
I love reviews the way that I love snakes. I am glad that the world is full of them; I enjoy the company of a great many of them; I have been a snake keeper and I studied snakes in school; I do not particularly feel like snuggling up to every snake on the planet, thanks. Many of them have sharp fangs, deadly venom, and little fondness for hugs. While a bitey review won't kill me, I don't feel like hugging them, either. But—and this is important—I am genuinely glad that they exist. The only way to have something universally well-reviewed is to make that thing out of calorie-free vegan zero-cruelty Wonka Fudge that magically changes to taste like whatever it is you love best in all the world, and even then, I bet one person would pan it on the basis of "this has no personal integrity."

Negative and critical reviews are essential. They make people think about what they're consuming. They provide necessary information that a glowing review might skip over in favor of going "yay yay yay" a lot. They matter. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to link them, because this is my space, and it doesn't mean I'm going to wander into the terrifying depths of the Amazon rabbit hole, where "this book contained the letter 'c'" is considered a legit reason to pan something. I have a vague sense of self-preservation, and while I may be glad those reviews are out there, I'm not going to go seeking them out.

But here is the thing. Many people @-check me on Twitter. "Just finished the new @seananmcguire," or "Wow candy corn @seananmcguire must be thrilled." And this is great, this lets me talk to people and see who's talking about what. I enjoy the closeness of conversation engendered by use of the @ system. Except...

Except some people seem to forget that the people you @-check can actually see what you're saying about them, because you're saying it to them. I've had to stop clicking review links on Twitter, because there are two conventions colliding when someone @-checks me on a negative review: the Twitter social contract, which says that "Thank you!" and other interaction is appropriate, and the writer/reviewer social contract, which says that I will not engage with a negative review in any space. I don't really want to thank people for negative reviews. It seems disingenuous. I also don't want to get flagged as an "attack author" for saying "Well, I'm sorry you felt that way" whenever someone links me to their one-star take down of my latest work. But at the same time, I feel like I was invited to the conversation; after all, including my Twitter handle guarantees that you'll show up in my feed.

I actually spend a lot of time feeling faintly awkward and unsure, because people will @ me the weirdest things. Someone decided to tell me via Twitter that they felt like one of my books had been phoned-in. Um. I'm sorry you feel that way? But I have no place in this conversation. Everyone's feelings about media are valid, period. Everyone has the right to like or dislike things, even problematic things, and not need to defend themselves. But there's a big difference between a negative review, or a conversation to which I am not invited, and walking up to me and announcing "I hate your work." I am not allowed to respond in any substantive way. It's not my place. I don't get to dictate how you feel about a thing. So it winds up feeling attack-y, in a way that a simple bad review does not.

I think it's important to remember that when you @-check a person, you are inviting them to the conversation, and you may consequentially be inviting them to respond. They have been tagged; they are a part of the discussion now. And it's a little unfair to invite them in if you know they're not allowed to join. It hurts.

I am powerless before the terrible intimacy of @.
seanan_mcguire: (rosemary2)
Today is the last day of September, 2013.

The first October Daye book—Rosemary and Rue—was published in September, 2009. It was not my first publication, thanks to a few anthologies that managed to speed through the publishing process (Ravens in the Library and Grant's Pass), but it was my first real sale, and it was the book that opened the door that led to those anthologies. Without Toby, I don't know that I'd be in either book, even though both were edited by friends of mine, because no one really thought of me that way. Not yet.

Since September 2009, I have published fifteen books, ranging from Toby to Velveteen. I have appeared in enough anthologies that I honestly can't tell you how many; not without counting them. I have experienced the soul-crushing terror of the Hugo Awards as viewed from the front row (which is a flavor of fear that I never truly appreciated until it was wrapping its arms around me and squeezing me tight). I have written more than a million words of fiction. Possibly more than two million words. And while I have been stressed and strained and stretched too thin, I have never lost sight of how incredibly lucky I am. I get to tell these stories. I get to see my name in bookstores, which is an honor and joy beyond compare. It's never not exciting. I hope it never will be.

Thank you. Thank you so much, for reading, for talking, for reviewing, for helping, by your very presence, because without people, there would be no publication. A book that is unread is a book that falls into obscurity, and has no sequels, and has no future.

I am very tired, but I am very grateful. The last four years have been amazing. I wouldn't trade them for the world.

Now let's go steal me four more.
seanan_mcguire: (princess)
Friday, The Zoe-Trope posted a really interesting piece titled "Real Girls, Fake Girls, Everybody Hates Girls," which I highly recommend that you go and read before you continue with this post. It's both the background material for some of these thoughts, and more importantly, it's a really solid, thoughtful article about the issues that we, communally, are having with female characters right now. She also coined the lovely term "Sarah Jane" as the opposite of "Mary Sue": an ordinary, flawed, perfectly reasonable character who doesn't warp the universe around her.

Meanwhile, the New Statesman has posted an article titled "I Hate Strong Female Characters," taking the position that male characters are allowed to be flawed, complex, and infinitely interesting, while female characters are expected to stop at "strong." Woo! That character is strong! Flawless feminist writing!

Groan.

I've talked before about the concept of "the Mary Sue," and why I think she is both unfairly maligned and non-existent. You can find that post here, which I think officially makes this the post with the most "required background reading" thus far this year. A lot of people have pointed this out recently—it is not an original thought—but I'm going to put it here anyway, because I think it's salient:

1. Mary Sue is the best she is at what she does.
2. Mary Sue has a mysterious and tortured past, and is probably an orphan.
3. Mary Sue is physically attractive.
4. Mary Sue is either rich or somehow never has a problem with money.
5. Mary Sue develops powers to suit the situation, because she always wins, unless she needs to lose for the sake of beautiful angst.
6. Mary Sue doesn't have to follow the rules of the story she's in. Ergo...
7. Batman and Wolverine are both Mary Sues.

(Pointing this out to people who are piously explaining how only female characters can be Mary Sues, because only female characters are ever that unrealistically written, is hysterical. And by "hysterical," I mean "a really good way to get yelled at by enraged nerds who don't want to admit, even a little bit, that their magical dick-lords could be just as much wish-fulfillment as all those violet-eyed sixteen-year-old ensigns flying starships.")

So. Let us begin.

October "Toby" Daye was in many ways my first "real" protagonist. She was complicated, she was sad, she was bruised and refusing to break, and she was not afraid to put her duty ahead of her desire to be liked. She bullied her way through the world she was created to inhabit, looking at every complication that stood in her way and saying "No, you move." After a lifetime spent moving dolls through stories, it was like I finally had a real person to follow and document. I started writing her adventures, and sending them out to people I trusted to read and review. Midway through either the second or the third book—I don't remember anymore—I got a note from one of my proofers saying "You can't have Toby do this, she's always been a little bitchy, but this makes her a total bitch. No one will like her if she does this."

I panicked. I couldn't write a series about an unlikeable character! I'd never get published, no one else would ever meet my imaginary friends, and everything I'd worked for my whole life would be over, all because Toby was unlikeable.

Then I took a deep breath, and wrote back to the proofer requesting that they do a find/replace on the .doc, and plug in the name "Harry Dresden" for every instance of "October Daye." They did, and lo and behold, what had been "bitchy" and "inappropriate" was suddenly "bold" and "assertive." A male character in the same situation, with the same background, taking the same actions, was completely in the right, justified, and draped with glory. He was a hero. Toby? Toby was an unlikeable bitch.

The proofer withdrew the compliant. I have never forgotten it.

Female characters are expected to be perfect without being perfect, a contradiction that is as nonsensical as it is impossible. There's a full list in the article I linked above ("I Hate Strong Female Characters"), but these are the ones that really frustrate me. Female characters have to be:

* Thin and conventionally pretty, but eat only junk food/eat constantly, and never, ever worry about gaining weight;
* Incredibly sexy but unaware of their own sexuality ("You don't know you're beautiful!").
* TOTALLY SURPRISED when a push-up bra or pair of leather pants changes the way people look at them.
* Convinced that every woman around them is a bitch, slut, or whore.

That last one...yeah. See, there's this huge narrative of "I'm not like the other girls" that runs through a lot of these critiques, and it's not "I'm not like..." the way that, say, Harry Potter is not like the other wizards in his year group. No, it's "You Belong With Me"-level "she wears high heels, I wear sneakers" shit, totally denying that the other girls could have anything of value to bring to the conversation. It's like being a member of the Disney Princess collection. You can't let those other princesses steal your spotlight, no! Ignore them, shame them, refuse to make eye contact. Call a girl who wears the same thing you do a skank, it's okay. Call a girl who's had two boyfriends a slut, even as you dance at the center of your own love pentagon. It's all fine, because you're not like those other girls. By creating a single focal point of "not like" that it's okay to care about, you place the rest of the world's female humans in a box labeled "icky." Not-like girls are great. They're strong female characters, they kick ass and take names and eat cheeseburgers and don't give a damn what the world thinks of them. All other girls are gross.

The amount of slut-shaming, fat-shaming, you-name-it-shaming that I see coming from these "strong female characters" is horrifying, because it requires that othering aspect be front and center. Your character must be above reproach, and since everyone knows that women are disgusting, horrifying, alien skin lizards wearing pretty makeup and hair dye to deceive and entrap men, she can't be like them. She can never be like those other girls.

I flip out when I meet a female character who's allowed to have female friends, because it's so damn rare. The upcoming Disney film, Frozen, has sisters in it. Sisters. Who get to be the same age and talk and stuff. I am ecstatic, because even if the movie turns out to be a sack of problematic eels, we got sisters on the goddamn screen, and that's even rarer than friends.

Where does this come from? Well, in part, it comes from the things we surround ourselves with. Books and movies where the Smurfette Principle is in full effect, which means that one woman must stand in for all women, and thus can't have a personality beyond "the girl." Series where you have the one sensible, sympathetic female, and every other female character is there to cause trouble or gasp no oh no panic, steal her man. Series where the female characters are killed off to further male pain, or because the male characters are "easier to write" (a statement that often matches up to an all-male writer's room).

It needs to stop.

Female characters should be people. Flawed, glorious, interesting, enthralling people. Let them dye their hair and pierce their ears without going "wah wah wah I'm so bad at being a girl wait hey look suddenly I've gotten a makeover and I'm gorgeous." Let them have female friends. Let them fuck up. Let them have bad days, and swear, and be snotty, and be people. Stop shoving them into these boxes where anything less than perfect adherence to a set of ticky-boxes means failure. They are better than that. We are better than that.

It's time for everybody's standards to look the same.

September 2017

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