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What's with the f in f/m romance novels?

I keep having to abandon het romance novels. I'm het! What the heck, writers? 

Back in the day, I finished every book I started (including the Bible, just to say I did). Now, in my old age (60), I abandon novels that aren't working for me. I still review them if I see any promise in the writer's craft, because any review helps a writer's ratings. But I don't put in more time resenting them. (I save resentment for the ones I abandon later, after the author pulls one too many stupid character tricks. I review those, too, as a warning to other readers.) Since I started reading romances (because it turns out that's what I'm writing), I've abandoning more f/m than any other single kind. For awhile I couldn't say why, just that the woman did not appeal to me when so many of the men in m/m romances do.

Now I feel stupid. I should've known it was internalized sexism. Maybe I was hoping it was just me. 

It's pretty easy to spot once I contrast it with m/m. I read a variety of romances including f/f, but the hetero dynamic, ugh. The sexist cliches. Attractive but doesn't know it. Talented but doesn't know it. Lonely. Inexperienced. CRAVES THE ONE. Often has overbearing relative or ex, often hates job. Stuck, in other words. In stark contrast, male characters are rarely more than one of those, and are given that "male" drive to hide it while working to fix it. 

Yeah. 

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Romance Writer Chat on Twitter (@rwchat) asks a series of questions over a half hour under a topic once or twice a month. Hashtag: rwchat. 

Today's topic is Distractions. Which, haha. I live in a house with five other adults and an adult-ish (he's 20), and I was firstborn of four kids, with a large extended family. I'm an introvert, and quiet, so I learned early on how to create space for myself. This came in VERY handy while figuring out how to turn a 2-decade-old idea into a book.

 Q1: You're sitting down to write. What do you have to clear away (physically, mentally, etc) to get started? 

A: Over the ears headphones to kill most ambient sound, and the playlist that's currently working for what I'm writing. For the polyamorous superheros romance, youtube gave me superhero movie clips set to music. Perfect. Book two will be heavily female, so will the music. Time. A block of time. And a goal. Make sense of this chapter. Hammer out why the character would do that, want this. For me, a little alcohol is good lubrication for first draft work. But I edit sober. Experiments have proven these methods. A different project may shift results. Research ongoing. :)

 Q2: What’s your biggest distraction from writing? 

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What we leave behind.

We need to finish clearing out Mark's aunt's house (reverse mortgage, but no particular rush other than ending the power, water, tax, etc expenses). Saying goodbye to Uncle Dwight in June was a little contentious, as was his nature. He was 100.5, possibly out of orneriness. (His daughter said it first!) Saying goodbye to Aunt Margie a month later was much more emotional. Mark and his brother Don loved her like the surrogate mom she'd been, and I deliberately devoted time to her whenever needed, knowing it would end. She was, no contest, the best patient ever. 

Before she was hospitalized, she often commented on "all the mess" and apologized to me for having to clear out Dwight's office (the man never met a piece of paper he didn't love) and eyed the over-full VHS-filled entertainment center with regret. 

I knew it, but it was a reminder: comes a time the energy to deal with the stuff just isn't there. So, not only do we have to organize at least one sale to clear out what we can't use, we will take a few pieces, and that means I need to see to my stuff. Margie would've been delighted that we'll use some things.

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Now that the novel's off in the beta readers' hands, I am on a book writing vacation. It is the best version of the idea I could manage, and I cannot wait to get responses. Nervous as hell, but eager too.  I know it can be better.

I accidentally wrote a Romance. 

I didn't mean to. I was aiming for science fiction or science fantasy, depending on your definition. Back when the idea hit me (20+ years ago), it was generated by my growing aversion to the constant stream of 'lone hero' stories. You know the ones. Everyone's died or been killed and now he's off on a hero's journey or a revenge mission or whatever. 

Well, what if a family man gains powers, and his family does NOT conveniently die off? And, because I'm polyamorous: what if he's part of a poly family? How do they deal with this, with him? With danger? 

I wrote until it was clear I didn't know enough to do it justice, and set it aside while I lived and learned and grew and had a baby who is now 20...  

About three years ago, I bravely re-read the thing, and thought, "Oh. I know how this ends." 

Well, I thought I did. 

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Attention all activists: article

This is a fairly short article considering the message it contains. The tl;dr is:

"The last thing that genuine grassroots change agents ought to do is forfeit their independence to career politicians."

But if you want to understand how to focus movements and protests you are engaged in, please read. Our protest history isn't just important, it is inspiring.

http://www.vox.com/polyarchy/2017/3/3/14808532/what-protests-can-be

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Hi. Still on Earth...

I am, as you might guess, between drafts of this novel that perhaps is nearing its final form. Pondering serious shuffling of the first two chapters' contents.

NOTE: LJ seems to have no spell-check. I suck at spelling. Apologies for errors!

While I'm not writing, (which, seriously, makes my brain itchy), I am catching up on reading and then writing "reviews" (my opinions, not real book reviews) because I really enjoy helping authors by adding to their online presence via amazon and Goodreads. Find me on GR if you like; Terri Jones. And, reading Twitter and following links.

Today's post here is prompted by Chuck Wendig, one of too many authors I follow on Twitter. (Too many in that they tempt me with books.) (Apparently this post attracts paranthetical asides...) His blog is lively compared with many other authors' sites, and I even participated in one thing he had us do. So. Today's post link: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/08/09/25-reasons-why-i-stopped-reading-your-book/ which if you click it should open in a new window. "25 Reason Why I Stopped Reading Your Book"

He asked us what our reasons are for stopping reading a book. I thought about making notes. Then I thought, typing is easier. Hey. I should post to LJ for a change. Hi. :)

As with most avid readers, I used to finish every book I started. (Not counting the casual library browse/first paragraph taste thing, when a book limit was in place.) Back in my day, as a non-monied child shall we say, libraries kept me fed. Even when I could buy books, I read everything. But as life intruded, I became more picky. That's not all, though. It's life, but it is also coming to understand what works better for me, what I prefer, what I dislike. What I need.  What *I* need. At some point, I started abandoning stories that weren't working for me and for which the author hadn't earned my trust that it would be worth it. In fact, I tried to read my first Star Wars book, Aftermath, because Wendig wrote it. It did not work for me. I gave him more pages than I'd have given an unknown-to-me, but nope. Mark read it. He liked it. Good enough. :) Not everything is for me, a mantra I wish people would embrace, rather than getting all ragey about what they don't like. Let it the fuck go, guys. Move on. Plenty to enjoy elsewhere. Be happy!

Here we go.

Poor skills. A poorly worded first paragraph loses me. A cleche loses me. Repetition of words or information. Poor research or sloppy editing. I've been reading since before I started first grade. I'm 59. I expect a published writer to know English well enough to avoid errors we learned about in twelve years of instruction. I have standards, people. :) Technical ability matters to me. You can laugh at me if/when you find goofs here, I don't mind. ;) But in a first chapter, it is a huge no-no. That sucker ought to be polished like a mirror.

MAKE ME CARE. If the skills are average you need to make me care in that first chapter, sooner is better. If the writing ability is exceptional, maaaybe you can take longer. Maybe. I need to invest in your character(s) and their motivations and fears. NEED. Like air! I've read the Dresden Files and will finish the series whenever Butcher gets it done because I am invested in the characters and curious how he'll resolve things. I care. I tried to read Time Salvager (Wesley Chu) and though things happen, I had zero connection to the main character.

If you manage to bore me for a page, I'm gone. I was burned by listening to hype about Ancillary Justice, a novel many apparently found enthralling. I'm happy they did! I should've cut my losses, however. I was bored, and unrewarded at the end. Oh well. Under this also falls the failures of cleche. I primarily read science fiction and fantasy and am familiar with the tropes. Tropes can be useful. It's a shorthand for a genre. The thickest thicket of trope-laden goo I can think of is Aragon, written by a teenager. My teen loved it, at the time. That's the audience. Not for me, although I did read it, curious if he'd done anything original. Nope. I read Slaughterhouse Five because I've enjoyed other Vonnegut novels, but while I found interesting things in it, overall it's a meh. Mark and I both wanted to love one called Kaiju Winter. Neither of us could get into it. Shamefully boring. However, while I bought Alien Space Tentacle Porn because  the title made me laugh and I think it was on sale, Peter Caudron surprised the hell out of me by making me care. Which is why I'm reading another book of his now, with the even more misleading title of My Sweet Satan.

Complexity. If you make things too complex right off the bat, I'm out. This isn't the same as bored. This is actively repelled. I need a list of characters at the front? A glossary of terms? A map so complex I can't read it? Hahaha no. I am not a details person, amusingly enough. I'm more a big-picture person. I suck at remembering names. As long as the author is adept at dialog tags, I'm not easily lost even if the characters sound the same. Other people find this sameness bewildering. However, unique character voice is thrilling, and can make it impossible for me to stop even if the plot is a little confusing and even if the names are gobblygook in my head. Miss that balance, and I'm out. A prime example of this working is The Library At Mount Char. I'm still amazed I made it out of that one alive. Worth it. Another? The Red Rising trilogy (RR, Golden Son, Morning Star). The successes have to do with what I need in pacing, in puzzles-and-discoveries rhythms within the plot. Utter failure, when I really wanted to like it? Shield and Crocus. I just. Didn't. Care. Too complex, dull characters, nothing happened. For chapters. *thunk*

Personal turn-offs. I am less and less a fan of Lone/abandoned Hero stories. Start with a rape? No. Start with boring character musings? Out. Start with stilted dialogue? Ew. Start in action without enough reason for me? Nope. Begin with a character I instantly dislike? Well... Every now and then, there's an exception to these. Mark Lawrence did in Prince of Thorns, and rewarded me at the end of Emperor of Thorns. Actually, the humor despite the grimness rewarded me throughout, to be fair. Jorg is an asshole. His humor is not just funny, it feeds the plot in ways you don't really get for awhile. The trilogy is masterful in payoffs to the reader who's paying attention. A world of gods? No... Usually. Robert Jackson Bennett got me with City of Stairs. The sequil, City of Blades, just as weird, just as good. Looking forward to City of Miracles so much. I love exceptions! His American Elsewhere is also very peculiar but good.

Agency is denied a character I care about. Maybe this should be in the above, but it feels separate. I stopped watching Game of Thrones (never read the books, too complex) during the second episode, when one housemate who'd read them told another, "Don't get attached to anyone." Not what I need in fiction. A lot of why I stopped reading fantasy is due to how women are treated by too many authors. You kill off the one different character? (Race, gender identity, sexual orientation, whatever.) You lost me. The Windup Girl, another hyped novel that I just could not endure because she felt hopeless. Women aren't set dressing or a prop to your female readers. You flip genders and the male is mistreated, it still hurts, although that does make it more interesting, and he's still with us, so Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire, Empire Ascendant, and...whaterver the next one due out I think May 2017 is called I will indeed finish. I trust her, sort of.  :)

Stupid characters. Flawed, sure, absolutely. Mistakes? Yep! But driving a plot by making the characters too stupid to look something up, think for like, four seconds, ask an opinion? Out. I have no tolerance for thoughtless people IRL and even less in my fiction.

Sometimes I just lose interest. Sometimes the author's directions by the end of a novel aren't of interest to me (Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu was like that, sadly. The sequel's here in my Kindle file but so far, meh.)

What makes you stop reading a novel? Any genre. I'm currently learning/re-learning romance tropes, but I've read horror, mystery, detective, talking animals in several genres, fairy tale retellings, action-adventure, Westerns and so on. 

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This other book... (an experiment)

On the 20th, I started telling more or less this same superhero story, but from a different point of view. So, book 1 is primarily Denny's perspective. Denny has been in my head for a lot of years. Just recently (about a year), I introduced a romance for him, with Dragon. Denny didn't know he was bi, until Dragon told him he liked him. (Very Denny. Self esteem issues.)

Denny's 5'5" Latino-white, brown, a little tubby, full beard, geeky-smart, and ended up with a stupid number of super powers. Married to Karen (4'8" also Latina-white), girlfriend Jennifer 5'10' white-Chinese trans woman, Karen is mates with husband & wife Aaron and Brenda, Bren has a girlfriend, Gail. Polyamory, man. Complicates a super's life I tell you what, but Denny loves it. He looks a little like this guy, only browner.


Got all that? Okay.

On the 20th, I tweeted something like 'who would want to read a poly m-m superhero romance novel?' and got immediate positive responses. Dragon crossed his arms and stared at me until I started trying it.

He looks a little like this guy, only with long natural hair that looks like dreds but is, as one fellow put it, "spongy" in texture. Dragon's a little thicker through the chest, and has a narrow chin-hugging beard and narrow mustache.


Dragon is black-Jamaican, 5'11",hair past his shoulders, dark brown and handsome, built like a superhero, gay-gay-gay. So gay. Insecure. Passionate. Importantly, the product that created supers, Elixir, usually erases past memory. At the point Dragon tells Denny he likes him, Dragon's memory is only a week long. He is Dragon because of the red dragon tattoo up his right arm. He and three others came out of an Elixired federal prison, including his love Aries (also named for a tattoo). (Aries is a 6' redhead. Aries, except for Dragon, is primarily a swinger, and aware of it early on. Dragon dislikes this, but is too much in love. So there's that going on. Then Dragon sees Denny. Little, and powerful. And the fantasies. And the sex with Aries, and the experiments. They're so sweet, these two, with so much to learn.

This could be Aries. He laughs a lot. You'd love him, everyone does. Charm is one of his powers. :)


Also he's pretty. My Aries has lots of freckles and is white. He and Dragon are all contrasts.

Dragon is, it turns out, kinky. He wants a Dom, at least sometimes. He is Very Passionate and not always in control, but little Denny is the more powerful super. That's part of the attraction. I knew all that, but hadn't realized about the kink until Aries pointed it out. To Dragon. Via internet. While I was typing the scene.

I hear of writers who only write what they plan. Whose characters do as they're told. And I sigh. But Dragon chuckles, and nudges: Keep typing.

Writing is really weird sometimes. 

this book

Hi. I didn't actually mean to abandon LJ.

It turns out that when a long complex story wants out, but I'm still learning how to write it well, there isn't anything left to put here. Last fall I paid a freelance editor to critique & give advice, and that helped enormously. (He offered his service if we'd give the money to his friends who'd lost their house to a fire. I had money at the time. Win-win.) I removed 30,000 boring to anyone-but-me words, crochetted together what was left into a much tighter plot, and have been editing and polishing. It's still under 110,000 words, about right for this complex a story.

The initial idea (what if a poly person gained powers?) hit me over 20 years ago. I spent, I don't know, over a year, working on it. I set it aside when I realized I didn't know how to write it. I raised my son (he turns 19 on the 30th) and learned many, many things. Many. When I read that original draft, it wasn't quite as horrible as I feared. And, I knew how it ended. (Or, it turns out, I thought I did, but that's drafting for you.)

By then, I'd been on Twitter, following many writers, reading their tips and advice and tales of success and woes and learning a lot, for years. The generosity of the sf/f writers I follow on Twitter is inspiring. I've leveled up because of them, specifically. Without that "school," I likely never would've been brave enough to read that original draft.

Drafting a novel is an art form of its own. To get it done, you keep writing it. You don't go back and rewrite yet, you bull through to the end (making notes if you must). The first version took forever because I didn't know this yet. Then you rewrite. Over and over. Sometimes you cut out big chunks, sometimes you toss entire subplots, sometimes you restructure the thing. Here's my mantra: Nothing is wasted.

Every word dedicated to a project feeds the whole, informs your understanding of the characters, drives the plot. Nothing is wasted. I had to let go of "darlings" in order to get this story closer to the vision in my head. Kill your darlings. Get rid of a chunk of text that's been there through every edit. Does it matter? No? It's a darling. Leave it out. If part is needed, work that in, but don't waste the reader's time.

I plan to participate in the next Twitter pitch contests. Meanwhile, I'm not writing, I am reading "Heroes Die" and "The Immortality Game" and a short-stories-knitted-into-a-novella called "Bad Powers" and if you sense a theme, you are right. They all have to do with gaining abilities beyond human normal. None is anything like my story (which so far has had three working titles, I am bad at titles). And that's rather the point, isn't it? I write like me, not like anyone else. Each of us does.

I've also read the Red Rising trilogy and holy crap, guys. Pierce Brown is also writing the screenplay, and I am eager to see how they present Darrow even though I know any movie must be far simpler than the novels. Go read them. If you get to the end of Chapter 9 in Red Rising and don't require the rest of the story, I don't understand you. :) (Golden Son and Morning Star are the other two.) It will cost you, the reader, but you're repaid at the end, and that's all I will say.

That's the other major advice. Writers read. I read ebooks now because I can make the font large enough. My Kindle has quite the virtual stack of TBR books, and that won't change. I whittle away at it when my brain siezes up, when I need words to go in not out, and between books or edits. It really helps! I read two and three at a time because I don't always want grimdark (Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence is next in that category), sometimes I want smut with a plot (The Dirty Secret, by Kira Gold) and sometimes I want super powers stories. And sometimes I get yanked out of everything esle to read an entire trilogy (Red Rising).

One last thing, for now. There's this yin-yang thing with characters and plots. Which is more important? Both, yes, ideally. But as someone tweeted some time ago: "No one is going to cosplay your plot." It made me laugh. And then it made me work much harder at defining my characters. 

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Haircut day

Today was haircut day!

This is how short it is now:


And this is where we started this morning. Right at the edge of OMG I am going to cut you myself!
(I had actually trimmed the bangs back at least twice. Last haircut was in May.)

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Graduation

Alex walked through his graduation ceremony yesterday afternoon, though he won't get his diploma until the state grades the final he ought to have taken two years ago. (He's been sick a lot the last two springs.) But we know he passed and so it was good. :) He seemed to enjoy it quite a lot.

Except for Principal Brown, the speeches were mercifully short, and one was funny. This is an A rated five year old school with an IB program, so the first, I don't know, five or six rows of kids wore extra overlays and stuff on their gowns. There were a LOT of high achievers in this just under 500 kids, it was impressive. Something that only struck me later: easily half the kids were not white, and I think a majority of the exemplary ones were non-white. There were easily 1500 people in the audience, and I feel really good about the future, you guys. Really good.

As per usual, the silly thing that happened was, shortly before they started handing out the diploma covers, all the lights went out. And, as is tradition now, there were cheers and applause, and then lots of lit phone screens waving, and laughter. (We had good weather. During rehearsal the Saturday before, there was quite the thunderstorm outside, but no power trouble. Florida, you so funny.) Whoever got to the switches got the mic and stage lights up first, so Principal Brown continued after a few minutes, and everything else went smoothly. Short speeches, one funny. Orderly inside, chaos outside where families and graduates reunited with balloons and flowers and smiles and photos. ALAS, LJ is not letting me upload the one good photo I took. Size seems irrelevant. Anyone else having such trouble?

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