When Your Heroine is a “Nasty Woman”

Stella Blunt is not an easy character to like.

While some people admire her instantly for her snark, and identify with her easy anger, many others are put off by her. Who can blame them? Stella starts the story by yelling and swearing in front of her parents. One of my reviewers called her “rude”, “inconsiderate”, “judgmental” and “selfish” – and that was from a positive review!

It isn’t unwarranted criticism, either. It’s just TRUTH. And that means that a certain number of people are going to read the opening pages, and close the book forever.

But it’s not something I would ever change.

The problem of Stella’s personality is the heart and soul of Chemistry. It is the first topic of conversation as the book opens.

“What’s wrong with my F***ING ATTITUDE?”

“Do you want the short list or the unexpurgated version?” snapped Dad.

Her own best friends are quite open about the fact that Stella is a difficult person to like.

“You are going to have to try and change a bit if you want to have the slightest hope of making people like you.”

“Like her?” said Jeremy, “How about just not hate?”

“You two are so good for my self-esteem.”

“We love you, Stella, but you’re about as friendly as a hungry cobra. Do us a favour and try not to beat anyone up on your first day, okay?” Jeremy folded his hands together pleadingly.

Stella swears compulsively. She uses anger as a defense mechanism. She’s so used to being rejected that she’s swift to reject people before they can even get around to rejecting her. Stella carries such a massive chip on her shoulder that it’s probably visible from space.

This is the heroine that I’m handing to my readers. I’m not giving them an easy task, and I know that.

But the world of fiction is already full of shy, caring, likeable heroines. They’re indecisive. They’re easily manipulated. They’re afraid to speak up. They’re riddled with guilt, often unnecessarily. They’re everything that society wants and expects from a woman.

I wanted to give the world a different kind of heroine. Stella swears. She’s assertive. She doesn’t take any crap. She makes demands. She expresses her feelings loudly and clearly. She takes up space, and she doesn’t offer any apologies for it.

Stella, in summary, has a lot of traits that are considered masculine. Assertiveness, swearing, and aggression are considered more acceptable in men and male characters. But assertive, aggressive women will be dubbed “bitches” – they are the kind of woman that Trump would call “nasty”.

But if women want to survive in male-dominated fields, they need to develop some of these features. Analysis of female CEOs has found that they share certain personality traits, like assertiveness and aggression. They have also found that accommodating people who work hard to please others are actually less likely to become business leaders.

I think it’s important for young women to meet female characters who are comfortable being assertive and aggressive. Even supposedly “strong” heroines like Katniss Everdeen tend to go where they are pushed much of the time.

I also think it’s important for us to learn to look past someone’s outward behaviour and get to know what makes them tick – once people learn more about Stella and understand her better, they get to like her. And Stella is only seventeen. She has a lot to learn, a lot of prejudice to overcome, and some insecurities to be defeated. She has a lot of growing to do.

Stella’s journey is at the heart of Chemistry, and it continues on through the series. I think that’s how things should be, when you start a book series. What point is there in reading about a character who doesn’t have flaws to overcome? Who wants a Mary Sue? Aren’t there enough of those?

So if you looked at the first few pages and you didn’t like Stella Blunt, that’s okay. You aren’t alone. But give her a chance, and she may surprise you.

Nasty women often do.

I’m So Excited Right Now

Chemistry has been available for pre-order on the Amazon kindle store for the last month and a half, and I’ve been watching it rise in the rankings as the pre-order sales come in. The pre-order finished tomorrow (Wednesday) and I guess all of the people who have been on the fence about getting the Kindle version have decided to bite the bullet while they can still get it at the pre-order price of $0.99. The book will go up to $3.99 next week.

My rankings have skyrocketed. Chemistry hit number one in its category (Teen Self Esteem fiction) in Canada first, and that was exciting enough. But yesterday I hit number one in the hot new releases section of Amazon.com for the category, too! Pretty good, considering I haven’t even published it yet!

chemistry-best-seller-in-tiny-category

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I think I have those great goodreads reviews to thank. If you left me one of those rave reviews, thank you so much! Once my book is published on Amazon, people can start leaving me Amazon reviews, too. I’m so excited right now.

If you haven’t managed to grab Chemistry at the pre-order price, you might want to do it now. Prices go up soon! And if you’re waiting for the print edition, don’t worry. That’s coming next week.

The Continent: All Kinds of Nope

[Background for those who are unacquainted with the drama surrounding The Continent. If you already know this stuff, feel free to skip to the meat of my post]

The Continent is a young adult fantasy novel slated to be published by Harlequin Teen in January 2017. Some advance reviewers have called out the novel for racism. For a detailed breakdown of all the problems, check out this review and this twitter rant.

I haven’t read the book myself, but basically the novel, among other things, involves a wealthy privileged white race, and a variety of other races – one of which is red/brown and uses bow and arrows, and another which has “almond shaped” eyes and Japanese-sounding names. The Mary Sue, who is white, of course, sails in, learns all about the cultures involved and somehow saves everything.

This is all a summary of what I have read in reviews, again. I am not speaking first hand and for more correct details I refer you to read reviews written by those who have read the book.

Anyway, reviewers pointed out the racism, and they were immediately attacked by fragile whites with death threats and such. Then people turned on the author and sent HER death threats and such. Both reactions are very uncool. Death threats never made a person less racist, or less offended, and therefore don’t solve anything.

The author posted a response basically saying that death threats are uncool (which I agree with) and saying that her book isn’t racist because she didn’t intend it to be. In fact, she intended it to have an anti-racist message.

These are my thoughts.

First of all, I completely believe the author when she says that she didn’t mean to be racist. I know racism is woven into the very fabric of our culture’s unconscious. I know that it’s possible to consciously believe that all people are equal and that racism is bad, while still mindlessly following the racist scripts that we were raised on, from the “magic negro” to Asian fetishism.

HOWEVER.

If you are white, and you have not devoted yourself to ferreting out these subtle, unconscious assumptions, and stomping on them, then you are part of the problem.

It is not the job of POC’s to constantly point racism out to us (although it is certainly helpful when they do). If you are caught being accidentally racist, it’s your job to say, “I see. I’m so sorry. I’m an idiot.” You cannot make excuses, because no matter what you think your reason is for being racist, the real reason is simply that you didn’t ferret out your subtle, unconscious racist assumptions and stomp on them well enough.

Keira Drake failed on the first point. She clearly didn’t make the slightest effort to check her story for racism, otherwise she would have known that the shining-white-saviour-who-saves-the-other-races is a storyline that POCs really, really, REALLY dislike and for good reason. It doesn’t matter that the white saviour usually learns to love and embrace these other cultures. It’s still considered a racist storyline, even in fantasy genres *cough*AVATAR*cough*.

She also failed on the second point – while she is, at least, apologetic about her offense (rather than pulling a Trump and doubling down as so many fragile whites are wont to do), she made excuses. Because the arrow-shooting, savage red/brown people aren’t based on NATIVE AMERICANS! Oh, no, they are based off of Tolkien’s Uruk-Hai. You know, the dark-skinned, flat-nosed race from Lord of the Rings that has sparked accusations of Eurocentrism and racism against Tolkien? That one. So, totally not racist.

And that other race? It isn’t meant to be Japanese or any other Asian race. It’s a FANTASY race that just HAPPENS to have ‘almond shaped’ eyes. And she made their language sound Japanese because she thinks the language is really beautiful. It’s all just an unfortunate coincidence!

“They are a fantasy race: brave, intense, flawed, invented.”

I believe that she didn’t mean to be racist, but I find it a lot harder to believe that she didn’t think that her fictional races didn’t bear a passing resemblance to real life peoples. Does she genuinely believe that the eyes and Japanese-style language were completely unrelated? Does she really think that she created something unique in that combination?

And this is where I really go from just frustrated/annoyed to completely astounded.

Because I know that unconscious Eurocentrism plagues our society, and that many, many otherwise good people have committed similar errors. I know that this isn’t okay, but it happens. And while it frustrates me, I can’t say that it surprises me.

Here’s what really surprises me:

Even if you are a person who suffers from unconscious prejudices (as most of us, including I, surely are), surely, as an author, your goal should be to avoid stereotypes?

I mean, who wants to say, “I’m an author! I wrote this book which uses a tired plot line and includes races blatantly similar to ones already created by other authors and/or cultures which exist in real life. Basically, I have created very little which is truly original!”?

Fantasy isn’t really my genre, but if I were to make a fantasy story about a young saviour who manages to resolve hundreds of years of interracial war, I would want to mix it up a bit. Maybe make the saviour brown, or hell, purple or something. Maybe have white people shooting arrows or something. It’d be different, you know?

That’s what really gets me. Even if you can’t understand why stereotypes upset the people they represent, surely you can at least understand that a stereotype is – at the very least – a story which has been told too many times.

For example, take the controversy around Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You.

The disabled community was very upset by this book/movie, because it is chock-full of the kinds of stereotypes and tired storylines that they are trying to overcome. When you point this out to fans of the book, they will protest and point out that many people do become depressed and want to kill themselves after a disabling accident. But that isn’t the point. The point is that it has been DONE. It has been done, quite literally, to death.

What about the other people? What about the people who adjust to their new circumstances and continue to find value in life? Why doesn’t someone tell that story? Surely, even if you can’t understand why stories like Me Before You, Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Inside and their ilk bother people with disabilities, you can at least understand that suicidal quadriplegics are hardly original.

As authors, we should strive to tell the stories that are still untold. Do we really want to dress up old tropes and trot them out again with fresh ribbons? Isn’t it better to create something new?

And yes, I realize that all of this sounds ironic, coming from an author whose upcoming book started out as a parody of another author’s work.

But you see, I wrote Chemistry because I wanted to take a tired story-line and make it fresh again. I wanted to jumble it up, and turn it upside down, and reverse the parts that bothered me most. My particular target this time was sexism and abusive relationship tropes, not race or ableism, but I hope my point still stands.

Authors, make something different. Everyone benefits.

And publishers, for heaven’s sake, even if you’re too blinded by your own privilege to spot an offensive stereotype, at least ask yourselves, “do we really need another book like this?”