How Far Does Author Loyalty Carry Us?

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Warning: this post will contain spoilers for no fewer than two book series and three TV series, and will make reference to sexual violence in fiction.

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Last week, George R. R. Martin released a new excerpt from The Winds of Winter, simultaneously breaking the internet and all of our minds. The excerpt called, simply, “Mercy,” contains sentences like: “Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered,” and “It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.”

The language of rape continues through the chapter: Mercy, the main character, has to hurry or she’ll miss her own rape, and there are repeated allusions to sexual acts with the character who seems to be her boss.

There are two twists. One (and this may be the biggest) is that Mercy is in fact Arya, our child-heroine. An intrepid (okay, frustrated) reader  who is upset by the first paragraphs will scan to the end and see this fact, compounding the upset: not only is this character an unwilling prostitute, but she’s also one of the few non-sexualized female characters in the series. When I saw this, I was devastated, and almost didn’t read the whole chapter.

Of course, you could argue that the other twist is more important: Mercy is an actress, and the rape she’s referring to is on-stage.

When I realized this, and realized that Martin knew that he was deliberately using inflammatory language, teasing us with a fictional act he’s constantly criticized for, I felt hurt. Relieved, but hurt.

He was trolling us, you see. Upsetting us deliberately, and then he took it away. He’s aware of the criticisms about his books, the accusations of constant rape and sexual violence, and he used our sensitivity against us to achieve a shocking reveal.

WTF?

I was almost more upset by that use of a real problem with his work than I was by the apparent sexualization of Arya. I’ve been reading Martin’s books since I was 14, since before I even really fully understood just how violent against women the books are and just how twisted this world’s view of sex is. I’ve struggled with my love for the books, feeling like I shouldn’t be able to read them, like I shouldn’t love them, because I now recognize just how troubling Martin’s treatment of women (and sex generally — this isn’t just about women) is.

The same thing happened in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when main character Claire is raped (in a fair amount of realistic detail). I’d come to terms with the rape of Brianna, Claire’s daughter, but when it happened to Claire I was stunned. And hurt. And I felt almost as brutalized as our protagonist.

Why did this have to happen? In what way did Claire’s rape further her character development? We’ve been in Claire’s head for something like 20 years. I read Outlander when I was in SIXTH GRADE. What if I had read these later books then, and seen the two female main characters dealing with this problem? Would it have normalized sexual violence for me?

I realize that neither of these series are really intended for 12- and 14-year-olds, but adults become immune to the things they see in fiction as well. And it’s worse in some ways, because we have the capability of drawing our own lines and seeing where society has failed to draw lines for us. When we continue to read these books, to purchase them and enjoy them in spite of the sexual violence, are we becoming part of the problem?

When I watch a TV show, I will turn it off if there is any sort of sexual violence in the first few episodes. The new season of American Horror Story? Gone. Never finished. The Americans? Dead to me. But Buffy? Or Battlestar Galactica? I kept watching, because the sexual violence didn’t happen until I was already in love with the characters and invested in their stories, which in some ways makes it so much worse.

So how far does our loyalty take us? Should I give up on books I’ve been reading for most of my life? Should I wave away fictional characters I love, because their creators crossed a line? I really don’t know.

I do know that someday, when I’m published, I don’t want to put my readers in this position. I don’t want to create a dilemma for a woman who grew up on my books or normalize rape for a preteen girl. I may have undeserved loyalty for certain authors and series, but I also have loyalty to myself, my someday-readers, my characters, and, above all, my principles.

So I ask you: How far is too far? How do you react when sexual violence bubbles up in your favorite series? What’s the right answer here?

Hard Lines and Social Media

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Image by Michael Gil

It’s time for Kristin to take off her whimsical hat and put on serious hat, because we need to talk about something real today kids. *waits for you all to put on very serious hats*

I, and many of you, dear readers, are on social media a lot. Between Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and all the rest, we all put ourselves and our words out in public—for the whole wide world to see—on a daily basis. While in theory you can lock down your privacy settings, it may take a NASA engineer to figure out how to do it: posts and photos sneak through to the wider internet regularly, even from my fairly-private Facebook page.

Between my writing-self, my ADF-self, and my SDF-self, I’m in public almost nonstop. Whole areas of my life are shared with folks who look to me as a colleague or even a leader, and I take that responsibility seriously. Because I serve as lay-clergy, I try to make myself accessible to folks who might need me—but because I also use social media for personal communication, I have to take care what I say, when, and to whom.

As always, there’s a flip side to rules of personal conduct. Just as people can see me pretty much any time their little hearts desire, I’m seeing them, too. And in the past few months, I’ve discovered that I have some hard lines about what I will and won’t accept in my social media feeds.

That’s right, readers. Let’s talk etiquette.

I’ll preface this post with the following warnings:

Yes, these lines reflect my personal politics. But these lines aren’t about those politics: they’re about how we all express our personal beliefs, and how we interact with those who don’t share those beliefs. Please keep that in mind.

This post will contain some unpleasant language. I’m making a point about how people behave in public, and it’s difficult to do that without being specific. Get your smelling salts or avert your eyes if you’re not comfortable with R-rated language. Like I said, I’m serious about this stuff, readers, and it’s time to get real.

Kristin’s Hard Lines of Social Media

The following behavior will earn you an automatic unfriend, unfollow, unpin, or even block: no saving throw, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

1. Calling someone—anyone—a faggot, for any reason. See also: nigger, cunt or any others you can think of. Nope. No way. Don’t do this. No need to elaborate. However, this goes right into…

2. Using someone’s race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or anything that makes them unique as a shorthand insult. If you and I are arguing and you call me an ignorant, judgmental know-it-all, that’s not great, rhetoric-wise, but it’s still fine. It may even be accurate. But if you call me a dumb cunt, that’s unacceptable. Telling me to check my privilege would be more effective, particularly if you’re trying to say that I’m letting my unconscious race/class/whatever biases unjustly influence my thinking. Telling me I’m a woman (or reducing me to my sexual parts) and therefore stupid and uninformed, well, that’s not okay.

This rule extends as a soft line out to using gay/queer/retarded/whatever as bigoted shorthand for pointless, stupid, laughable, or whatever you’re trying to express. If you’re a teenager or other young adult and you’re using these words as slang, please—oh please—stop and think about what you’re saying. And then, as my parent-friends are always telling their two-year-old, use your words. There are clearer, more accurate ways of expressing your displeasure with something

3. Describing a politician or other public figure as a Nazi, Hitler, or any variation on this theme. I see this applied to President Obama pretty regularly, but this extends across the board from left to right. Once again, use your words. If you think the President’s policies are unfair and overpriced, and extend beyond the bounds of what you believe the government should be able to do, SAY THAT. If you think Michele Bachmann is an atavism of a sexist time when women were treated like chattel, say THAT. Hitler is not an appropriate synonym for oppressive or “does not share my beliefs.”

4. Using language of rape as a scare tactic to make a point about any other issue. Rape as rhetoric is just another exhibition of rape culture. Do NOT do this.

5. Forcing violent or bloody imagery on me as a way to further your cause. Even if you’re advocating for something that should be a basic human right, don’t take away my right to CHOOSE what media I consume. I know that people are suffering in nations far from here. I know that abortion is bloody. I know that abuse of children and animals occurs right around the corner from me. But language is a buffer between the individual and the world at large, especially in the text-heavy universe of the Internet. If you want to share these images, please use your words to draw me in. Make me care before showing me images I would never pull up in a public place.

This one is going to be a squidgy for many people, and I did hesitate when putting it here. I know we need to care about bloody and horrific causes, and I know it’s a form of whitewashing to ask people to erect an artificial barrier between social media and real-world issues. But we can’t always know what will trigger those we’re forcing to look at these images. We don’t know the story of everyone who follows us on Twitter or Facebook. When we share an image publicly, we are forcing every individual within range to not just acknowledge but also to WITNESS what is portrayed. Think very, very carefully when putting these things up for the world to see, and do not use this privilege to promote a personal agenda.

6. Behaving like a bot. This goes for self-promotion, politics, jokes, horoscopes, or any other automated content. If all I see from you is pre-scheduled or third party, even if it’s wise or funny, I’m going to unfollow you. Act like a human person if you want me to treat you like one.

Kristin’s Soft Lines of Social Media

These will earn you a reduction in following: an unsubscribe or a shift to a list I don’t often read. 

1. Daily promotion of your beliefs. Religion, politics, or your own awesomeness: if you’re posting daily Bible verses or politic rants or self-congratulations, you’re starting to act like a bot. Lighten up, shake it up. Share a cat meme or a photo of your lunch or something.

2. Too-frequent sexy, fish-lipped selfies or reflections of your awesome muscles in the mirror. If I wanted you to pout at me every day or if I wanted to fondle your man-boobs, I’d be married to you. This rule may just be one of my own, but it annoys the crap out of me to see close-up photos of someone I don’t know very well first thing every morning.

3. Using social media as a bridge into my personal or private life in a combative or inappropriate way. This one would (and probably should!) be a hard line for many, but since I’m acting as lay-clergy, I don’t draw as bright of a line as many of my friends. Emailing me at my SDF account for clarification on a subtle point of druid belief is fine. Emailing me when you have a fight with a friend is also good. Texting or calling me when you feel like you just can’t carry on is GOOD. DO THAT. Texting me at two a.m. to discuss ogham is not okay. Initiating arguments with me or challenging me at my personal accounts is also not okay.

Respect my boundaries, please.

What do you think of these lines? What are YOUR rules for social media?

The Big-Balled Squirrel and the Fairy Princess

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Last Saturday, this fairy princess woke up late. I’m never an early-riser, and I’m not at my best even at 11 a.m.

Especially when I pick up my phone and instantly receive a message like this one:

Emmie Mears: Drew just sent me a picture of a squirrel with big balls and said it was him as a princess. O___O LOL

Picture me looking at my phone kinda like this:

…whut?

I said nothing, just tried to process that combination of words with my sleep-brain. I did not succeed in making it make sense.

Emmie Mears: I told him that Princess Drew has illustrious appendages.

At this point, I had to speak up.

Kristin McFarland: What on earth… I’m still in bed. LOL

Emmie Mears: HAHAHAHA. Whoops. Good morning?

I was also so completely bemused that I said out loud to my husband…

“What on earth did you do to Emmie?”

He quickly came to his own defense, and appeared in the bedroom.

Spouse: Remember last night, you said I needed to learn to be a princess? Well, I sent her a picture of me as a princess!

It all came screaming back to me then. Part of why I slept so late was because I was up late, talking with Spouse and some Twitter-friends about how Drew doesn’t like his birthday and needs to learn to be a princess and celebrate like a man. (Those might have been my exact, nonsensical words.)

One of our friends—and between you and me, internet, I’m not even sure it was Emmie—demanded a picture of Drew as a fairy princess. I said I’d do my best to oblige, and promptly forgot about the whole thing when I went to bed.

But Drew remembered, and sent Emmie a picture.

Kristin: She says you sent her a picture of a squirrel with enormous testicles.

Spouse: What? No! I sent her a picture of a guy in a princess outfit!

At this point, I turned back to my phone.

Kristin McFarland: He is puzzled. I think perhaps you got the wrong picture.

Emmie Mears: LOL. Oh, it is an error. Apparently that’s their default error picture…….a big balled squirrel.

And then she sent me the picture. This is what I saw:

No, I can’t read the Russian caption. I don’t think I want to know. And no, Drew does not look like this guy.

Kristin McFarland: …I get a chubby guy in a pink fairy costume.

Emmie Mears: Awwww, why can’t I see it?

At this point, I lost my shit, as they say. I was laughing so hard I could barely type.

Kristin McFarland: I am laughing so hard. I want to see the big balled squirrel!

Emmie Mears: This is the pic I got.

Illustrious appendages, enormous testicles… This, friends, is a big-balled squirrel.

Emmie Mears: This morning is off to an awesome start.

Yes. Yes it was. Four days later, and I’m still giggling about it.

Welcome to my life, internet! Chubby fairy princesses and big-balled squirrels abound.

A Writerly Proposal: Collectives

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This opinion piece from The New York Times, called, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” has sparked a small Twitter revolution this evening (one of many, I’m sure), and got my husband and I chatting once again about publishing.

Writers and readers like Colin Robinson, author of that post and—dare I say it—elitist reader, likely detached from “average” readers like myself, the voracious consumers of genre and commercial fiction, argues that the digital ADD of contemporary readers has led to the death of the midlist and the popularization of writing and reading generally, the so-called “displacement of literary culture’s traditional elite.” He says that current publishing models are leading to the death of the midlist author and a general decline in quality, both of written works and engagement of readers with books and each other.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the “article,” and I’m quite sick of seeing opinion pieces bemoaning the sad state of readership and fiction.

Yes, yes, anyone can self publish on Amazon, and yes, yes, cheap prices may be cheapening content. Yawn. I’m sick of the bitching and ready to start seeing some positive action to make things better.

I’ve gotten myself away from the point I wanted to make—you see, this is the drivel written by easily distracted, untrained female writers like myself!

*grin*

Anyway, husband and I were talking, and my recent infatuation with the marvelous and magical anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made me think that I’d love to see collectives of writers in similar genres and with similar styles producing serialized novels and/or collections of short stories in digital format.

Writers like, say, the Spellbound Scribes, could work together and release a monthly e-zine of fiction that readers could subscribe to for a low fee, and we split the revenue among contributors. Readers get to read writers they love and meet new authors, follow novel-length stories month by month, and read shorts from writers who aren’t contributing a long work at the moment. If an author I knew I loved joined in on such a project, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Voilà. A new model, right there, one that benefits readers and indie writers. Yes, it’s a commitment. Yes, we would have to police our own quality, and yes, we would need to recruit an artist or two to contribute. But that’s why it’s a collective: authors work together to write, market, and publish their own work.

Easier said than done, but I’m nothing if not a dreamer.

 

Happy Holidays

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Tiny kitten can’t wait, either!

Last night, I got to dance early and got to spend some time chatting with one of the full troupe members. She asked how my week was, and I said, “SLOW!” She laughed and said she knows what I mean—the week before the Christmas/New Year break seems eternal because we’re all just WAITING for the holidays, the time off, the presents, Santa Claus, whatever. We’re cramming in the last few hours of work before family arrive, or we’re running around like maniacs trying to fit every last bit of preparation in before the stores all turn into pumpkins on Christmas Eve.

…I may be mixing my metaphors here.

Anyway, we have to pass the time, whether it goes too quickly or too slowly, and I thought I’d help you all out with that. Since it’s Friday (and since it’s almost vacation time!), I thought I’d share a few things that have had me giggling madly or saying “AWWWW!” lately. Enjoy…

Moon Moon! (For best effect, click the link and see the whole thing.)

I, too, must dance. At least at dance practice twice a week.

Aaaah! A goat!

Nope. I have no idea why. But I have a friend who owns goats, so this photo let me goat-bomb her Facebook wall.

The Oatmeal: How Different Age Groups Celebrate Christmas

Yep, sounds about right. Except I love Christmas.

The fairies have decorated for Christmas.

Please excuse the crappy Android photo. I’ma bust out the good camera later.

The cats discovered television.

Another crappy Android photo. I may have gotten into a lazy-photo rut.

And finally…

Romantic penguins!

Have a terrific weekend, everyone!

Don’t Discount Yourself

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Dear self,

I’ve noticed a habit you have, and I want to talk to you about it. It’s not a good habit, or I’d be congratulating you for being awesome. It’s a bad habit, but not one I want to slap your wrist for, because, knowing you, you would just apologize.

And you already apologize too much. (Don’t apologize.)

This habit is similar, because it makes me so sad for you—and it’s such a hard habit to correct, because it comes from a place of genuine modesty and even kindness. It’s a habit many women share, a habit we’ve all developed because we don’t want to overstep ourselves or seem bitchy or whatever it is we’re all trying to avoid.

Have you figured out what it is yet?

It involves a few words and phrases that seem innocent enough. Only. Not really. Just. Well. Words we use to prevaricate, words we writers systematically eliminate from our books because it means we’re not sure what we want to say. But. Sort of. Kind of. Enough. Yet.

Still confused?

It’s the habit of discounting yourself, of evading compliments, of not taking ownership of your accomplishments, however small you may think they are. You think you’re being modest—and most of the time you really do feel that your accomplishment is not worthy of praise. But you’re selling yourself short. You’re telling whoever wants to compliment you (and the rest of the world with them) that you do not deserve praise, that you have not created or accomplished something worth noting. You are saying to the world, “No, I am NOT worthy of your praise or even your notice.”

I’ll stop now, because you’re giving me that look that says, “Well, I’m just being honest, and I’m really not that—”

Well (I can say well, too!), JUST STOP IT. Just stop and listen to yourself.

“I’ve only been dancing for about a year.”

“I’m not published yet.”

“Well, it’s not really that hard to make.”

“I haven’t done enough reading to make me an expert, but…”

“It’s sort of goofy-looking.”

“It’s just the pattern; I only knit it.”

You see what I’m getting at here, or shall I go on?

You’re not the only one to do this. Many of your friends do the same thing. It’s something we’re trained to do, I think, though I’m not sure when the indoctrination starts. As kids, we’re taught to say “please” and “thank you” and all the rest. But when are we taught to deny compliments all together? Was “thank you” not sufficient for expressing gratitude, and we decided we debase ourselves in acknowledgement of praise?

Trouble is, when you bow out of a compliment, you’re essentially saying that the giver has no taste. Think about it:

Person A: “Wow, you made that?! It’s gorgeous!”

You: “Well, you can see that some of the wires are loose, and I was really just following a pattern.” (Subtext: “You’re clearly blind, and anyway, this is something so commonplace, a monkey could make it.”)

Person A: “Whatever, think it’s nice.” (Subtext: “And here I thought it was pretty. See if I try to compliment you again!” Or, worse, “And here I thought it was pretty. I must have horrible taste! Now I question my entire belief system…”)

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but no one wins in this situation.

I can see you feel bad now, so let me give you a little advice. You won’t want to hear this, I know, but try to listen and accept what I’m saying without trying to dismiss it or wave it away with the rest of the nice things I tell you. So listen up:

You are talented. You are skilled. You are worthy of praise and deserving of notice. You work hard and earn the things that come to you. You are amazing, and you can say, “THANK YOU!”

Now you’re rolling your eyes and telling me that’s not advice. So here’s your mission:

Accept praise. Express gratitude for compliments. Stop trying to deny your own worthiness, skill, and creativity. Take responsibility for the good that you do, as well as the bad. The next time someone says something nice about you, smile, and say your thanks. You can do it—you’re a talented and gracious woman.

So, there, self. I hope you listen to me and take my advice. This is one of those instances where you’ll want apologize for something that’s not that bad and pretend none of this ever happened, but I know it’ll light a little fire somewhere inside you. Maybe the next time someone compliments you, you’ll think of this moment and offer thanks.

Maybe you’re saying thank you right now. Telling me I’m wise and you should listen to me more often.

And you know what I say to that? THANK YOU.

Sincerely,

Your self

Linky Things

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I haven’t been around these parts much lately, have I?

It’s not because I don’t love you. I do. Mostly, I’ve just been lots of OTHER places, plus, you know, being sick, which is time-consuming and anti-productive.

But, if you miss me, you can check me out in these spots!

Spellbound Scribes
In which I write about spin-offs!
I also talked about Samhain recently.
I also wrote about how my husband and I read books together. (Aww.)

Solitary Druid Fellowship
I write about druid-things pretty regularly at the Solitary Druid Fellowship, so if you feel curious, you should check that out as well!

Searching for Superwomen
While I’ve been neglectful of blog posts over there, too, you can see my face almost every week on their YouTube channel, talking Supernatural or running our wild-n-crazy Magetech RPG.