Monthly Archives: August 2011

“I Like Your Waist”

One might wonder why I decided to title this blog the way I did. Very well; I’ll explain.

Today I went to the post office to mail the thank-you notes from my bridal shower, return some books from the Science Fiction Book Club that were mistakenly sent to me, and get my Netflix rolling again. While buying my stamps, the woman helping me suddenly said, “I like your waist.”

My first impulse was to say, “I beg your pardon?” I didn’t think I’d heard her right. My waist? What does that have to do with…anything? She repeated herself, and I discovered that yes, she was indeed complimenting me on my waist. I don’t think anyone has ever specifically done such a thing before, at least in regards to me. I was torn between my fascination with the compliment and a slew of thoughts that flooded me right on its heels. What intrigued me so about her little declarative statement was that it was very specific, and that it’s not a body part many people would single out. Sort of like saying, “You have lovely kneecaps” or “I admire your shoulder blades.”

It also brought up something that was sparked a few days ago when I read an article regarding how we as a society talk to little girls. How often are the first words out of our mouths something about a little girl being pretty, cute, or beautiful? How often do we comment on her adorable little dress or her shiny shoes? Her perfect hair? How often would we say most of that to a little boy? I realized that it doesn’t really change. If a stranger speaks to me, nine times out of ten it’s to remark on my looks. I can’t remember the last time I was approached with a legitimate question about the time or directions or hell, to sign a petition.

I currently work as a cocktail server. Yes, server, not waitress. I serve drinks. I am a server. It’s gender-neutral, and I prefer it that way. I know I’m expected to look put together when I work, and though I find it a little degrading (especially because I have to dress up like a Pauli girl in two weeks), I’m more or less okay with it, because I recognize that my job right now is a means to an end. It’s a way to pay the bills while I concentrate my mental faculties on getting my novel published until the time comes that I can make my living that way. The way people treat me, however, is constantly a point to ponder. There are those who don’t even use basic niceties like “please” or “thank you.” There are plenty who ask me personal questions that they would never ask someone who they didn’t perceive to be a lower social status. I’ve been grabbed, harassed, and even bullied.

I rarely get questions about my life beyond work, even from tables who try to engage  me in active conversation. Even then, it can feel very condescending. To an extent, the men I work with get it too, but the women have to put up with that and much, much more.

It all sort of ties in to how women are still viewed. I’m a writer. I’m an intellectual. I love to think, to analyze, to evaluate. Very few people bother to find out what is going on in my brain, or the brains of many women, if not most. I could read when I started kindergarten. If I can manage it, my children will too. I will make sure that male or female, my kids are intellectually stimulated at home and in the world. It saddens me that women are still viewed as being something pretty to look at. Women are beautiful; I’m not denying that or demeaning it. What I’m saying is that we’re even more beautiful on the inside. What’s in our minds, our personalities. How we try and how we learn.

My challenge to you is this, gentle viewers. Next time you meet a young girl, hold your tongue on the compliments. What’s on her head or those dimpled cheeks are just the wrapping. Instead, ask her questions. Does she like books? Which one is her favorite? Why? What makes those characters special? If nothing else, what’s her favorite movie? Why? Why is the bad guy bad? How are the good characters smart? Ask her if she wants to know what makes a rainbow. Most adults can tell a child that much science. Ask her if she noticed that her puppy grows up like she does. Ask her what she likes and why. Ask her what she likes to do, what sports she plays, what her favorite games are. She might be shy at first, but keep trying. Show her an adult who expects little girls to think, to use their insides as well as their outs.

It’s what’s inside that matters. Just like a good, well-written character has faults as well as strengths, the value of humanity isn’t in what we look like. It’s the whole picture.

I write urban fantasy. Many of my characters are vampires, shapeshifters, seers, witches. I purposely did not describe them all as inhumanly beautiful. They sometimes have big noses or awkward brow lines. Most of them age, even if it’s more slowly than those of the human persuasion. They’re not perfectly good or perfectly evil. Sometimes the good guys act awfully shitty. Sometimes the bad guys surprise you. All the ones in between act like people going through life and making choices. I wanted it gritty. I wanted it real. And I don’t want to flood the market with more perfect-looking characters none of us can really relate to.

Here’s to vampires after the glitter has worn off.

(Progress note: I am almost at the halfway mark of draft two. I will write a post about that tomorrow, I hope.)

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An Ode to Revision

I spent a long time dreading the task of revising my novel.  I think every writer has at some point dreamed of creating a flawless first draft that will liberate her from criticism and have a Pulitzer waiting as she types the final keystrokes (or scrawls the final words with aplomb).

No one really likes criticism. It never feels good for someone to point out flaws, even if they’re being constructive about it. In all the writing groups I’ve been to thus far, there has been this structure of “point out something you like so you can say what you don’t like.” I don’t think I’m alone when I say that after a while of living in that structure, the compliments all start to ring a wee bit hollow. The old ego can really take a bashing when people start digging through your words, picking some out, and tackling others with sledgehammers.

All that said, I’m fixing to add a big however.

However.

(There it is.)

Criticism is how we grow. Even if it’s put rather unkindly, the meat of what’s there could make you a better writer. I have a huge issue using the word “stare.” Why, I don’t know. So-and-so stared at other-character. A stared at B. Asswipe and Poo stared at each other. I also struggle with passive voice and that wormy little creature, the adverb. Sometimes I’m oblivious to my quirks as a storyteller, and I need someone to just say, “Dude. Knock it off with the staring contests already.” Or, “FIND A MORE DYNAMIC VERB!”

If you want to be published, you need all sorts of readers. You need the Parental Figure. They’re the one who loves whatever you wrote simply because you wrote it, and you’re the obvious choice for Best Writer Ever because you are you. They’re the ones in your corner, picking you up when someone bloodies your nose or knocks you out, telling you to get your ass back out there and write. You also need the Eagle Eye, who will go through your work with a fine-toothed comb and circle all your comma splices and thoughtless typos with a fat red pen. You need the Arrogant Richard. That’s the guy or gal who knows better than any Nobel Prize winner what makes good writing. The one who will tell you what sucks and why. Who won’t pull a single punch because they are so damned sure they know better than you do. And you need the First Fanbase — they might be the most important of all, because they read it, get to know it, tell you what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately will tell their friends to buy it off the shelves.

You also need yourself. Stephen King likes to put his manuscripts away for weeks or months after he finishes them, then goes back to read them with fresh eyes. It works. It’s shocking how it can make you exclaim, “Oh my god! I wrote that!” or “Oh. My. God. I…wrote……………that?”

The point of all of this is that revision is a great way to find out what your skill set needs as a writer, whether that’s a crash course in plot or pacing or a return to constructive dialogue and exposition. Let’s face it: that perfect first draft is the writer’s version of finding a winning lottery ticket in a gutter. Part of what makes writers great is the ability to push themselves to make their work better all the time.

So get your vomit drafts. Read them. Revise them, and love what you’re doing.

(Sidenote: I am now 180 pages into the first rewrite of Primeval. And loving it all over again.)

Late Night Rewrite

At long last, a rewarding post appears. Due to an ill-timed evening nap of three hours in duration, I found myself wide awake around the witching hour. After watching Face/Off and walking the dog we are sitting, I settled down at my trusty iBook dinosaur to work on revising the first draft of my novel. I got a solid twenty pages or so done. What that accomplished is more than just rewriting — I recently rewrote the beginning in its entirety, and today I got the new bit woven into the original, ironing out that seam a bit. It flows the way I wanted it to. I might need some cutting done, because it’s a little exposition-heavy, but that can wait. Because you know what?

HUZZAH!

I got something done!

Do you have any idea how good that feels, gentle viewers? I’ll give you a clue. AWESOME.

My character is getting where I want her. The tone is closer to what I was trying to achieve. There’s some quirk and some wit, and some grit. I smoothed out a few bumps. Filled in a few holes. All in all, I am tremendously happy with what transpired this evening. It may be almost 4:30 a.m., but by golly, I feel accomplished. If I can keep this up (When! When, Emmie!), I should be on track to start officially agent fishing this fall. Trundling right along. Thank you, gorse bush in the bum.

It doesn’t hurt that my day job (night job?) is slinging beers at a brewery, and it has been painfully slow lately. The money has not been seeking me out much. July and August are our slowest months of the year, and I’ve been feeling it. My bank is broke. As Louis C.K. says, “I’m so broke that if it’s free I can’t afford it.” Nothing like financial trouble to start pushing you in the right direction for your dreams. I will make writing my career, dang nab it.

Cheers to a night where I got some work done. Today was a progress-laden day. Hour and a half workout, finished reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and tackled my second draft with renewed vigor. I think this calls for a second HUZZAH!

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