Monthly Archives: July 2012

Fifty Shades of Feminist Anger


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Being tantalizingly close to completing my revisions of Unveiled, I had planned to write a quick review of the Fifty
Shades of Grey
trilogy and call it a week.
I had considered blogging on a related topic, how our society likes to tear down
anything that becomes too popular, but decided that was a blog that could wait
another week. Then I checked my Twitter feed. Now, I feel the need to write a response to a blog tweeted by the Huffington Post, also about
Fifty
Shades of Grey
.

As readers can gauge from my review, I don’t disagree with
the criticisms that these books are poorly written in parts.  I also understand that for some people
they are too graphic. My inclination is to tell those people they
ought not to complain, since no one is forcing them or anyone else to read these
books (they won’t likely appear on your child’s summer reading list any time
soon), however I can accept these complaints being voiced in public forums. What I have
a harder time accepting is critics who make judgments about the women reading
and enjoying these books.

In a blog written by Pastor Douglas Wilson, entitled “Fifty Shades of Prey,” the novels are condemned for giving women the wrong idea about
love and relationships. He voices concerns over Ana Steele’s confidence and
self-worth issues, worrying that women who read these books will be more likely
to put themselves into relationships with men who view them as prey.

First, let me thank the good Pastor for being such an
advocate for women. What would we all do without a man to tell us of the
dangers of our fun and erotic reading choices? Next, let me remind him that these
books, unlike the Twilight books he also
condemns, are not being sold in the YA section of bookstores. Though they may
have started as fan fiction for Meyer’s books, they are written by an adult
woman for adult women–literate women who are intelligent enough to know the
difference between fiction and reality, women who on occasion might like to
fanaticize about a dangerous and exciting sex life. Gasp and get over it.

Pastor Wilson also writes about the dangers of the
role-playing and sexual experimentation in the books. He worries that, “It is
dangerous to play rape in a world with real rape. In short, don’t start what
you can’t finish.” Are. You. Kidding. Me? Totally disregarding the factual
error that there is rape or play rape in these books, this statement is utterly
appalling.  The Pastor seems to be
implying that a woman like Ana, who opens herself up to untraditional sex, is
asking to be raped. So much for his concerns about oppressing women.

He continues to argue that clearly no woman would enter this
type of relationship without having had previous abusive relationships. Yes,
only a battered woman would want excitement in her sex life. Finally, the
Pastor ends with his take on readers of these books, stating that these books
could only be enjoyable for “women with daddy issues, for women already trained
or currently training, to view themselves as prey.” There are a few possible (piss-poor) excuses for these statements. The first is that Pastor Wilson never read beyond
book one to see that Christian was the one who had been abused (yes, men can be
victims, too) and that Ana develops into a woman capable and willing to make
decisions for herself. Or perhaps Pastor Wilson did read all three books, and
his real issue is with how she accomplished that, by taking the reigns of her
sexuality, freeing herself of the societal bonds that told her enjoying herself
sexually in certain ways was wrong.

Regardless of his reasoning, I’d like to correct this
misinformed reader. I read and enjoyed these books. Like most readers of these books, I am a well-educated,
well-read woman. I am not now, nor ever have been in an abusive relationship. Nor will I ever be. I have a black belt in karate and, like Ana
when she was inappropriately touched by her boss, I would not hesitate to
defend myself physically against a male attacker. I have no ‘daddy issues’, and the only thing I’ve been trained to view myself as, by both my parents and by the strong women whom I admire, is someone strong enough to say no when I mean it and to say yes when I want it.

If you want to elevate
women’s status in our society, stop deciding for us what is good, safe, and
right. We are capable and willing to make those decisions for ourselves.

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Drinking with Dante and Wilde: The Nightmare of Revision


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Writer Oscar Wilde summed up the final stages of revisions
aptly when he said, “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put
it back in again.”  What he didn’t
explain to non-writers is that in the hours in between those decisions he had obssessed over whether such a minute change would drastically alter the
effectiveness of his sentence, which could determine the outcome of a scene,
which would ultimately make or break the entire plot.  Yup, the final stages of revision suck.  They suck the joy you once had in your
characters, your plot, your style. They suck your confidence in your ability to
write anything more interesting than the back of a cereal box.  Actually cereal boxes seem quite
entertaining compared to some of the scenes I’ve revised recently.

In the early stages of a draft, the solitude of writing is
joyful.  It’s just the writer with
their characters and ideas.  It’s a
happy little secret that no one can spoil.  The ideas as well as the writing might be rough, but they’re
also virginal, untainted by the harsh voices of critics, editors, and readers,
which will eventually all creep in–long before a critic, editor, or reader ever
gets his hands on it.  Whoever
originally dubbed these pieces “shitty first drafts” had obviously
left the Neverland of writing and had fallen hard on their rump in the land of
revision.

That’s not to say that my first drafts aren’t indeed
craptastic.  When my pudgy smudgy
hand pens the final line of my handwritten draft, there is dire need for
revision.  I’ve even grown to like
these early stages.  I love how my
brain works differently going from paper to screen than it does when I
initially scratch out my ideas.  I
love fixing an awkward line, only to reread it and think, damn, I’m good.  I’ve
even gotten to the point where I can cut major scenes without mourning over the
loss of a great, but unnecessary, one-liner or superfluous character
development.  Revision in the early
stages is rewarding.  You know
what’s wrong, so you fix it.

Revision in the later stages is a lonely, maddening head
game.  You’re driven crazy by the
feeling there is more to be fixed, but you no longer know what that is, or
worse, you do, but haven’t a clue how to fix it.  Those imaginary voices that crept in and taunted you during
your initial revisions have all gone mute.  Instead of enjoying the silence, you desperately hope
they’ll return.  Because no critic,
real or imaginary, can be more severe, more crushing to your self-esteem as a
writer than your own voice at this stage. 
You second-guess every decision, wondering if it’s possible that you’re
actually making the draft worse. 
You spend more time with your finger lingering over the delete button
than you do actually rewriting. 
You become Oscar Wilde, pondering punctuation for hours, truly believing
the placement of a comma could make or break not just this one book, but your
entire writing career.

This is where I’ve spent the last week and a half.  Writer’s hell, the final stages of
revision.  I’m beginning to see why
so many of the great writers took to drinking.  Fortunately, I have managed, so far, to get by on lesser
vices, the caffeine in my mid-morning iced-coffees and the sun of my
mid-afternoon walks.  Sometime
midweek, I turned off my inner-critic and slipped back into writer mode.  Problems suddenly had solutions.  Cut scenes found a home in a separate
saved document where I feel less sad and guilty about leaving them. Back-story
finally fit in polite unobtrusive places later in the story.  And character development learned to
play nicely with plot.

My sanity is mostly in tact.  My draft on book two, Unveiled, I hope, is starting to resemble something
publishable.  When I can manage to
make it through breakfast without worrying that my opening pages aren’t worthy
of the back of the Fiber One box, I’ll know it’s time to move onto to my next
favorite stage of writing: submission, otherwise known as Purgatory.  I wonder who drank more, Wilde or
Dante?

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The Tug of Twisted Tales


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In
the last few years the popularity pendulum has swung back from realism to
fantasy.  In literature, the genre
is topping not just YA, but also adult best-seller lists.  Every network and cable television
station has added at least one new fantasy series, with everything from urban
to epic fantasies appearing on the small screen.  In just the last year, though, a new genre has overtaken
both: fairy-tale based fantasy. 
Though present in literature for a while now, twisted fairy-tales have
just recently exploded on screen, in blockbuster movies and hit new television
shows.  I have to admit I was
equally intrigued and leery at first, wondering how creators would make
children’s classics into something that appealed to adults.  Visions of sexed-up Disney movies
swarmed my brain.  But the writers
and producers of these works proved to be far more creative.

When someone from my generation thinks
of fairy tales, we picture a parade of animated Disney princesses with pearly
white smiles and puffy-sleeved gowns. (The more feminist tales like Mulan
weren’t out until we were well past our Disney-watching days.)  Even the old picture book of Grimm’s
fairy tales that my grandmother read me, with creepy trolls and haggard witches
were still relatively mild with happy endings for the heroes and glossed-over
fates of the more wicked creatures. 
There’s a reason for that: censorship.  The original book of Grimm’s tales, titled as a work for
children, was deemed too violent for the innocent youth of the time, so the
tales were revised.  After numerous
versions, what was left were the slightly more acceptable tales we were read as
impressionable kids.  (Did it not
bother people that Hansel and Gretel burned an old lady to death?)  The new twisted tales go back to the
roots of these stories, which examined the darker side of human nature:
jealousy, power, lust, and evil. 
They are not the stuff of bedtime stories, but they are terrific tales
for a more mature audience. 

The
real magic of these stories, though, is not what the modern creators maintained from
these tales, familiar characters and timeless themes, but what they added.  Some like NBC’s Grimm or ABC’s Once Upon a Time use a modern setting to suck in today’s audiences,
while Hollywood maintained more traditional settings in
Red Riding
Hood
and this summer’s hit, Snow
White and the Huntsman
.  Setting aside, though, all these
stories delve deeper into the back-story of the tales from which they are
derived.  These new twisted tales
have done for fairy tales, what Gregory Maguire’s
Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz, bringing them to life by adding layers of
sophistication and depth.  They
examine characters’ motivations and histories.  They explain why witches turned wicked and how pretty
princesses are anything but innocent. 
They turn the tales we thought we knew on their heads.  What these new versions add to the
well-known canon of the fairy tales of our childhoods is what makes them
terrifically entertaining as adults. 

As
paradoxical as it may seem, it takes an extraordinary amount of creativity to
re-envision tales the whole world knows into a new story audiences will watch
or read with baited breath, wondering just how it’ll all turn out.  Although I’m sure some who just want to
jump on the bandwagon will deliver some mediocre renditions, the tales out
there now are well worth reading and watching.  So next time you see Snow White on the big screen or flip
through the channels and come across a version of Rumpelstiltskin, don’t be so
quick to pass it off as child’s play. 
The world of fairy tales has been reclaimed by the adults!

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