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The Danger of Stereotypes

Photo credit: wencor teo

Photo credit: wencor teo

I recently finished a book that had me fuming. Not in the good, “oh my god, I can’t believe the author did this to my emotions!” kind of way, but in the way that leaves you ranting. I won’t tell you what the book is, because, as a published author myself, I feel bad putting out bad press about someone else’s book, especially since reviews are so subjective, but I will happily tell you in great detail the issues I had with it.

I went into the book judging it by its cover. It was pink, and girly, and had a wonderful title that had me expecting a funny and sexy roller coaster of high heels and romantic misunderstandings. Instead, I dove straight into a drama about the breakup of a marriage that was fueled almost entirely by stereotypes. Let me name a few:

1) The husband was cheating with the wife’s assistant.

2) The assistant was a decade younger than the wife, shallow, and only in it for the money.

3) Everyone who had ever cheated in their life was a bad person.

4) The Good Guy Romantic Lead loved animals, his parents, his grandparents, his son, and his family’s business.

5) The women in skirts were devils, the women in jeans were heroes.

You get the idea.

First of all, I absolutely cannot stand being told which characters I’m supposed to like and dislike. I appreciate the filter that all POV characters give to a story, but when a character’s portrayal is so completely one-sided that there’s no room to understand him or her and his or her intentions, that’s when a book starts to lose me. No in one is entirely unsympathetic. No one. 

The cheating trope is an interesting one, and one that literature can’t get enough of. It’s a deep betrayal of trust and, much like a murder, starts long before the action itself. It’s a result of feeling unfulfilled in a relationship while also being unwilling to leave. The questions that surround the transition from “in love” to “looking elsewhere” fascinates me, which is why I get so frustrated when the reason for someone straying is simply because he’s a Cheating Bastard. But that’s what happened in this book.

The second stereotype that had me ranting (ask my husband – he heard a lot about this) was the Bad Girl. We hear that Romantic Lead’s ex-wife started causing problems the night she wanted to go to a Halloween party in a revealing costume. From there, she “descended” into drinking, flirting, cheating, leaving, getting tattoos and piercings, and, of course, being a bad mother. Oh that poor, poor husband.

Wait. Just. One. Minute.

Let’s back up to that Halloween party and look at things a little more realistically. This wanton woman made her own costume. When she danced out to show her husband, excited and proud of her accomplishment, his response was, “Where’s the rest of it?” We are supposed to perhaps feel a little chagrined at this, but the husband is traditional, and he simply hadn’t known what hit him. His response is surely no basis for the start of an affair. The author, in her heavy-handed judgment of the-ex wife’s sexuality, doesn’t leave us any room to think that maybe this woman felt trapped by the expectations her husband put on her. Maybe she was looking forward to looking beautiful – even sexy! – for her husband and the rest of the people at the party. Maybe the man she left him for connected with her because he understood that she could dress like Princess Jasmine on Halloween and still be a full, strong, worthwhile human being. Just a thought. But of course, no, because that man ended up being a lying debt-builder who left her broke and forced to crawl back to her husband, begging for a place to stay. He refuses.

Everyone loves a villain. Every story needs conflict. All of this is true. But now let’s talk about how harmful stereotypes can be.

First of all, cheaters are human. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s actually possible to want someone besides your partner and still have something to offer the world. Gasp! Yes, the act of cheating is a painful, destructive, and selfish one, but it does not make or break the humanity of the people committing the act. As writers, we have a responsibility to understand the personhood of all our human characters. If you’re going to make them just a plain Bad Person, you had better have a very good reason, and that reason can’t be “because they cheated”.

Now, I’m not saying that your protagonist has to understand this. It is a monumentally difficult thing to accept that the person you put in a place of honor decided that he or she liked someone else better. It can be dangerous to your heart to realize that they are not a bad person. They are a human person who was drawn to someone who wasn’t you. It is much, much easier to write them off as a terrible person who wasn’t worth your time. Your characters may do this. You, the author, may not.

You may also not write off a woman’s entire worth as a human and as a wife/mother/partner/friend because of a desire to be sexual. Next time you’re writing an unstable female character try this: try to communicate her instability without putting an emphasis on her short skirt, and without shaming her for wanting a man (or men!), and without her using her body solely for fulfillment of her evil schemes. Go inside her head. Figure out why she thinks she’s the heroine of her story. Because I guarantee you, she is. And I bet a lot of people would read that book.

Alright, this was kind of a long one, but this rant has been building for awhile. Tell me some of your favorite books that break cheating/sexuality stereotypes, because I need some right now.

Love to all,

— Amy

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It’s been awhile.

I could give you a list of reasons why it’s been so long since my last post (I was out of town, there have been a lot of projects going on, etc. etc.), but the truth of it is this: the more weeks I miss, the harder it is to write a post. This is true with anything, which is why it’s so important to keep up a routine. Seriously, I have a hard time reopening games I haven’t played for a week or two. And that’s one of the easiest things to do.

So while this post serves as part apology and part explanation, what I would really like to do is ask you all a question: How do you write when you are absolutely swamped?

I’ve done it during NaNoWriMo. When there’s a deadline and a word count goal it’s easy to push forward and just get the darn thing done. And it also only lasts a month. So what do you do when your crazy life is eating up your writing resources, but you want to get your next book done?

To fill you in, I’m currently working three jobs for a total of five different companies, my own book writing and promoting not included. This, while in a lot of ways an exciting and fulfilling challenge, is exhausting. I feel like my brain is in gear from morning til night, and I have to sort of force shutdown in order to get any relaxation time. I try to force it, I do, because that’s the only way anything is ever going to get done. But my pace is abysmally slow, with a total word count from last week coming to less than 300 words.

So, friends, I am here to ask for your help. What are your strategies for forcing yourself to write? When life is so crazy that you only have a few moments here or there to snag to write, and your brain protests any extra activity? What do you do to motivate yourself to close down Facebook, open up your WIP, and start pounding words out? I’m in some serious need of refocusing, and I’d love to get some of your mojo.

It’s funny, because throughout all of this I’ve actually become fairly regular in working out. I’ve always wanted to be someone who could enjoy going for a jog, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am. It’s an excellent time to be using my body, listening to music, and being outdoors instead of behind a computer. Exercise is notorious for being a tough sell, so it’s funny that it’s what I’m having the easiest time accomplishing. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s that I’ve always known I was going to have to push myself to get it done, while with writing I love it so much it’s crazy to think about it becoming a chore.

Let me know in the comments what your techniques are for lassoing your brain into even just a ten or twenty minute writing session. I need all the help I can get. Although, after talking about exercise, I’m starting to suspect that Nike’s gotten it right all along:

Just do it.

— Amy

Time to realign and get back on course.

Photo Credit: Matt Biddulph

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Places to Write: Parker House Coffee

Parker House Coffee

As much as I love being at home (especially now that I have a new couch), nothing gets me inspired quite like packing up my laptop, finding a cafe, ordering a drink, then settling in for an hour or two of writing. I don’t know what it is; maybe it’s that I went somewhere specifically to work, maybe the tasty beverage triggers the rewards center in my brain, maybe it’s just the fact that I’m not three feet away from my TV. Whatever the reason, I’m always most productive when I’m out and about, and so I’m always looking for places to set up camp. So, I’ve decided to start a series in my blog letting all of you know where I’ve been writing, why I’ve been writing there, and why you should write there too.

Let’s start with Parker House Coffee.

Located in the Noone Falls building on Jaffrey Road in Peterborough, Parker House Coffee offers a beautiful location, delicious refreshments and, best of all, free Wi-Fi. My husband started buying Parker House Coffee beans last summer when he discovered them at a local farmer’s market, and has kept it up since. I’m not much of a coffee drinker myself, but I appreciated my husband’s excitement over the quality. When we heard that they’d be opening up a physical location, my first thought was: “I can write there!” and my second was, “Will there be anything besides coffee?”

The answer to that is yes.

In addition to a multitude of coffee drinks, Parker House Coffee also offers hot chocolate made with local milk and chocolate, pastries, salads, and sandwiches. I so far haven’t made it past the pastries (so many options, so much love), but I’m fully intending to try out everything on the menu. Lately I’ve just been chocolating it up with hot chocolate, and a chocolate chip cookie. What could be better?

The cafe looks out over a river and, once we’re certain this nice weather will hold, outdoor seating will be available. I’m highly looking forward to this, as there are few things better than working outside. I’ll post some pictures once that happens.

Parker House Coffee has become a regular meetup spot for a small writing group I’m in. We’re currently on hold due to scheduling conflicts, but for the weeks we did meet, we were highly productive (a surprising fact if you take into account the amount of talking we did). All-in-all I would rate this an A+ spot for meetups, working, and just hanging out and taking a break from your day. If you find yourself there, send me a pic and tell me how you liked it.

Where are your favorite places to write? Let me know, and I might feature it in my blog.

Until next time!

— Amy

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