Let’s Talk About Writing Groups!

 Before we get to the discussion today, I’d like to thank any readers who purchased and commented on Warrior, my newly released novel. For those of you who don’t know what it is, you can check it out here. If it looks interesting and you read it, be sure to leave some feedback somewhere. I love hearing from readers.

Anyways, I’d like to talk about writing groups today. They’re an important part of any person’s development as a writer, whether they take place online or face-to-face. Why? Writing groups get you in touch with other people, writers and readers, and people are good for your writing.

We need audiences when we work on our writing. A single person is not capable of looking at their work and seeing all the necessary revisions needed. More importantly, our best work happens when we write with others, not alone.

We’ve all had that one misconception of a good writer. They’re that person who sits in a room lit by candlelight. They peck away at a typewriter for hours, agonizing over each line, and everything they write is golden because that person has something special that no one else has.

This is a false notion. All great writers have a great editor, or a horde of them, that help out during the writing process. When there’s a group of people reading your work, you have the benefit of multiple perspectives on your writing. One person can read your work and have a problem with something. You might not change it. If four people have a problem with the same thing and actually talk their way through what specifically troubles them about it, then you actually have something to work with.

Writing groups are essential for this reason. Your story will never please every single person on the planet, but it can become something incredible by working with the people around you. And writing groups are a great way to get free editing and consulting on your work 🙂

The next big reason you should join a writing group: you will read other people’s work.

Reading and responding to another person’s work will not only let you experience a broader scope of writing, it will make you a better writer. I’m serious. A 2003 study by Jay Simmons examined several classes of high school and college students over the course of three years. Their collective data showed that students who had the opportunity to respond to peer writing the most often also scored higher in writing assignments.

So do yourself a favor and get a writing group together. Make a google doc, meet some locals. If you’ve got an internet connection, there’s really no excuse for writing alone. Try out some websites like fictionpress.com or wattpad.com. If you’re not writing strictly original fiction, join the communities at fanfiction.net or archiveofourown. They’re all great sources for writers to make connections with one another.

So audience, what have your experiences with writing groups been? If any?

Let’s Talk About Attention Economy!

Yeah, that’s a pretty big, fancy phrase I’m throwing around – attention economy. Fear not! It means pretty close to what it sounds like. 

The attention economy is the coined term used by some to define the economic system of the internet. Michael Goldhaber points out in his 1997 conference presentation that the internet primarily funnels information to people. In this sense, information is a product of the internet, an abundant one.

Why do we care about this? Well, that’s what I’m selling right now, information. Hopefully it’s in an entertaining and digestible format so you, the reader/viewer/audience, can understand what’s going on in the world.

I’m not really charging for this information, though. There’s no reason to. You could go google and read up on attention economy just as easily. There’s something else I’m (and every other internet user) is after with this blog: your attention.

Attention is the currency of the internet, or so attention economy theorists claim. It’s something I’m inclined to agree with, and it’s important that you understand this economy as a struggling young writer/blogger/youtuber because it’s what makes your paycheck. That’s right. Attention is what makes the money thing happen. Why else do we pay Facebook to generate likes for our pages? If you’re an independent writer, there is nothing more valuable in the world than other people talking up your book, mentioning it to others, or generally just posting a link to something related to your work anywhere on the internet.

Generally, people need to be entertaining in order to hold onto that attention. Something boring and educational like this little blog probably won’t generate a lot of interest (sorry reader who finds this fascinating!), but is good to get out there when the creative mood strikes you.

So! What can you, an indie writer, do to get some interest generated on the internet? Well, there are a few immediate options. My favorite one is fanfiction.

MeGustaFinal

Yes, fanfiction is a very good way to generate attention as a writer, and it’s so freaking fun! It also lets your readers share a fandom with you and brings you down from that “untouchable paragon” status that a lot of writers get awarded. I don’t really like being an untouchable paragon. I wrote my original fiction because no one else was writing epic fantasies with lesbians and I WANTED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT THESE FEELS! It just so happens that along the way, someone else decided I was kinda worthwhile as a writer and rolled me up into their little publishing company. Still, you see me out here, shouting into the void at you guys, begging for your attention.

All internet celebs do this. Every blog, tweet, vlog, or tumblr post is an attempt to connect with another human, and some of us just happen to make money out of making those connections possible. More often, I see community builders getting rewarded for providing a public space of interaction. Livestreamers on twitch.tv can get donations from subscribers and people in the chatroom while they play their games. Artists solicit donations for comic panels and site maintenance. These creators, comedians, and entertainers are making an epicenter for human interaction.

So, dear writer, I suppose what I’m saying is that you should make yourself an epicenter, put yourself out there a little bit. Give people something to discuss and stop hoarding away every story you write in the hopes that some agent will pay you for it one day (spoiler alert: I kinda dislike the concept of agents). Share a short story, write a rant, post that fanfic you had an idea for, make photo collages for tumblr, be part of a community! Give your readers your attention. Have a conversation with them. Listen! They might just give you some of their attention in return.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Talk it up with me! I love responding to comments, I promise 🙂

What do you all think of this new internet economy?

Also, I’d like to thank my readers for keeping Warrior in the top 100 for lesbian romance all week now. Y’all rock. Leave a review when you’re done!

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!… In Fiction.

What is your fiction saying about sexuality and relationships? Probably a lot more than you’d think, and I want to talk about the choices we make as writers when it comes to this. No, I’m not talking about how well-endowed you make your characters, or giving people unrealistic expectations about how mind-blowingly amazing sex will be on the first time, every time (but we should talk about that, too… eventually). I’m talking about the gritty stuff: the relationship. The ways in which two characters interact and how that is received by the world. I struggled for a long time thinking of how to start this conversation, but I finally settled on relating an experience to you all from my earlier years as a college student.

A friend of mine wrote an amazing short story about a young man who ends up giving shelter to a woman fleeing her abusive boyfriend. She waits at his house for a friend to pick her up, and then thanks him and heads out with her friend.

When I first read this story, I thought it was amazing. I still think it’s amazing. The emotion and the raw display of humanity in this story felt just perfect. It was a snapshot of real, gritty life, and it just captured so much about our generation (us 20-somethings) in the small details of the story. More importantly, it captured something distinctly human in the characters.

While it was well received by many people in the class, three young men took issue with something: the guy did not get the girl at the end of the story.

Let me break that down for you. The guy (a random stranger to this woman) does not “get” (as in a kiss, a good fuck, a phone number, a date) the girl (the woman who was just beaten by an abusive ex). This bothered them.

Just the thought of turning it into a love story made me go a little berserk. Why? Because the main character, the guy, and this woman were not meant to be in a relationship. For one, the story was not about that. It was about what a painful, messy experience life can be, and sometimes we can actually be a decent person for someone else.

How would letting the guy “get” the girl ruin that message? For one, it has the chance of reducing the female character to a “prize”.

What is probably the worst part, however, is that it cheapens the main character. I liked him as a character, a lot. He was written to be a decent human being, and the reader got to see him struggling in a dilemma of what the right thing to do is. For him, he questioned whether or not to call the police, whether to take the woman back to his house in the first place, and whether or not to confront the much larger and scarier guy she ran from. These are all feasibly real-life problems someone may have to confront, and this character, while he may not have been the most supportive or helpful, did try to help this woman. If his only incentive for helping her is that kiss, or date, at the end of the story, it warps his actions and the audience’s perceptions of what to expect in these situations.

What does it say about how sexuality and relationships are portrayed in media if three guys in my writing class wanted the main character to get the girl in the end? In reality, the last thing a person fleeing abuse wants is to be ravished by a stranger (think about it for a second, you’ll get the ‘creepy’ vibes). Not one of these guys in the class would (hopefully) try to get with a random lady fleeing an attacker. But for them, the story felt incomplete without that promise for intimacy at the end.

I don’t blame them. I blame the formula people establish for so many books, shows, and movies out there. Most fictional works involving a guy and a girl have them get together at the end. Hell, even the gay stories do it. The hero conquers evil and the protagonist wins the heart of their true love. It’s how it goes. It’s textbook narrative structure. I even happen to like this structure, but I think there are some social problems we need to be aware of when we write in it, and that’s what I want to talk about, after that very long-winded introduction.

I recently finished up a novel for publication (Warrior will be out in July! Lesbians and fantasy adventure awaits! Tell your friends) and when revising it, I noticed something… annoying about the main character. Can you guess what it was?

This girl cared way too much about ending up old, alone, and a virgin, and it wasn’t even in a comical way. Why did I write her that way? Why did I make the main character’s drive something as simplistic as “to get the girl”?

I can’t say for sure, but it made me realize that I was saying something with my characters. I was saying what I expected people to act like, I was showing what I expected the hero to act like. And it wasn’t necessarily the best message.

To give the short story, I found redeeming qualities everywhere, and the character was not so far gone to save her. One thing I did pay a lot of attention to in the story was the portrayal of gay and lesbian relationships (the main characters are lesbians, come on guys).

Here is where I break out the pet peeves. I am very, very tired of seeing lesbian relationships portrayed in stories where the entire plot hangs on the acceptance of that relationship as something socially acceptable.

Why? It raises the question of whether or not LGTBQIA relationships are acceptable, and the only answer to that is yes, they are. I understand a need to explore prejudice and struggle, but seeing it played out every time and in every story can make the audience feel as if there is something deviant about these sexual relationships.

And it does not have to be an LGTBQIA relationship. Portraying the female character as the passive damsel, the male character as the sexually dominating force, both of these are perfect examples of how a story’s portrayal of relationships can set a standard for those reading it. These portrayals are not a standard, they are not a norm, but we can begin to see them that way if we are not careful about how we write our worlds, especially fantasy and science fiction universes, where any construct of relationship is truly possible.

I made sexual relationships between characters of any gender a norm in my universe, save for the royalty who are expected to pop out a baby because, you know, babies need to happen. And even then, there were ways around that minor detail that the characters discussed. There are so many other ways to explore relationship dynamics between characters, however. It never just has to be, “the hero gets their true love.” Yes, that’s an important part to a lot of base fantasy narratives, but it does not have to be the defining aspect. Like the main character in my friend’s story, the quality of writing does not have to hinge on the character’s sexual conquest.

What I am trying to get at here is that writers set up what is “normal” in their worlds, and readers pay attention to that. Not every story needs to break out of these molds we created, but all stories featuring a strong romantic relationship should contain some level of awareness.

I’m going to leave my thoughts on the subject there, because any further efforts to expand have left me dissatisfied, and I’d rather tease out more meaning in conversation, if you’d be obliged, readers.

Let’s Talk About “Faking It”

Yes, I mean the new TV show that people are obsessing over a little bit. I held out for four weeks before succumbing to the tantalizing gifs scrawling across my tumblr dash and caught up on the show. And you know what?

It’s not that bad.

What I think charms me the most about the show is how it so perfectly captures the essence of my high school experience in Flagstaff, Arizona, a blue town in a red state very similar to the show’s setting, Austin, Texas. Much like the characters in the show, it was hip to be weird and “different” and there was a new protest of some sort every week. I believe we elected a man Homecoming Queen my sophomore year because we felt like it. And we always strived to buy local whenever possible. My neighbors used to be buddhist monks and owned an antique shop specializing in incense and eastern musical instruments. 

But you get the picture. I was a gay kid growing up in the one place in Arizona it was cool to be like that. I immediately found the show relatable for that reason. After I caught up with it, however, I found myself liking it for more than the nostalgic setting. 

I’ll admit that when I first saw a gif set of two girls kissing from the show, I was a little skeptical. I looked up the plot summary online and got just a little more skeptical. We’ve seen a lot of shows/concepts that toy with the “lesbian-for-the-season” idea. Inevitably, the main character finds her true love, and it’s a guy. There’s nothing wrong with those characters. They’re written as destined for that one dude from the beginning. What I like about this show is that the main character, Amy (though one could argue Karma is the main character as well), is trapped in the dilemma that she’s gay. And while she does attempt to solve her problem by spontaneously kissing a lot of people, the show does not stoop to the pedantic plot device of giving her a boy to try and cling to for a season. Her default is “ladies” and that’s a refreshing change.

It also gives her character arc longevity, because we know from the first episode that she is in a doomed romance. Her love interest will not return those feelings, ever, but it will be a fun ride to watch her get over that initial heartbreak, because that’s something a lot of us dealt with growing up. The character Amy is interesting because we know she will fail to win Karma’s love in the end. What happens after is a mystery.

What I think I’m getting at here is that I’m relieved to finally see a show that does not hinge on the “OMG I’M A LESBIAN AND NEED TO COME OUT TO MY PARENTS, WAAAH” schtik. They got over that in the first couple of episodes. This show happens to be about a teenager handling her feelings for someone, and it’s very refreshing so far. Don’t get me wrong, I am paranoid over television in the first place, and am convinced this show won’t last in it’s glory for more than a season or two, but I’m going to enjoy it for while I can.

In the meantime, I hope that creators will still push for shows that accept being part of the LGTBQIA community (can we switch to spectrum? It’ll be easier) as a norm and then build their characters from there.

And now for some unrelated writing matters – the book I coauthored with Rae, Dark Horizons, will be available at the Golden Crown Literary conference in Portland for purchase if you’re going there. You can also meet our editor, a lovely person. I won’t be able to make it this year, sadly, but some day! My first solo novel, Chronicles of Osota: Warrior is set to release the first week of July. I will be making some frantic edits to it between now and then, but it will be well worth it, I assure you. Me and the editors have been making some tweaks to it over the past couple of months and it’s really coming together.

Anyways, that’s all from me now. Thoughts on the new show Faking It? Spectrum characters in television in general? I’d be happy to discuss in the comments

Writing Lesbian Characters

First of all, a huge thank you to my readers who have helped make All The Pretty Things a huge success. Rae and I would be nowhere without you all.

Now that thanks are out of the way, let’s get on to talking about writing.

So, mainstream media is slowly seeing an introduction of more and more lesbian characters. On the whole, I think this is a good thing. When I was a teenager, I often felt angry at the lack of lesbian characters in mainstream media because I had nothing to relate to. In reality, there were quite a few. The television shows Degrassi and South of Nowhere were accessible for me, though late in the game considering I was entering young adulthood before these shows moved anywhere within my sphere of knowledge. And at the same time, those shows still did not really have a “lesbian” character. They had female characters that exercised their right to heteroflexibility from season to season. To be fair, I hear South of Nowhere ended on a better note concerning it’s “lesbian” characters.

Still, this whole conundrum points to a sticky situation with the inclusion of lesbian characters into shows, mainly that most of these main character are not true “lesbians”. And then we get into the whole discussion of the fluidity of sexuality – down with labels! And yes, this is all good, but at the same time, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth when I am hard-pressed to find within the mainstream media a good example of a straight-up lesbo couple, or just two women in love. I think the best example that comes to mind is the long-standing relationship between Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who.

But am I even entitled to push for the inclusion of more lesbian characters in mainstream media? Why can’t Rizzoli & Isles be a couple? Why not Myka and Helena? Why can’t we indulge in these feels rather than tease? I know lesbians only make up a small portion of the population, but I believe less than 1% of television characters represent a healthy homosexual dynamic, and while many dramas present a certainly less-than-healthy heterosexual dynamic, there are still vastly more well-written, wonderful heterosexual couples that I adore, and all I’d like to see is perhaps a handful more to add to my Vastra/Jenny ship, the only canon pairing of a lesbian couple I think I absolutely love, and one of those happens to be a lizard woman from the dawn of time.

My coauthor recently told me how she just wanted a film company that took the summer blockbusters and replaced all the sexy main male characters with sexy female characters instead that did the exact, same thing. A little unrealistic, I know, but I think this desire brings to light a very important concept. Having “lesbians”, or just two women in a  relationship, does not necessarily make the romance function any differently from the heterosexual counterparts. Perhaps that is what I’m getting at. It’s not that the entertainment industry needs more girls kissing, it’s that it needs more genuine relationships. Knock off these shallow, 3-5 episode teasers where a female character has her “lesbian” phase.

Come to think of it, Willow and Tara and Xena and Gabrielle were also good examples of two women portrayed in a relationship. While the romance was muted with Xena and Gabrielle, there was a definite, serious treatment of the relationship, and the same goes for Willow and Tara, side characters in the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.

But these characters have been retired from the media scene. We need new characters. We need to keep pushing the envelope. Lesbian characters, like every other character from any walk of life, deserve a spot in media. Any character that breaks the norm deserves a spot, and not a fleeting appearance. I’m just pushing the lesbian thing because I happen to be plugged into that scene. I think it largely informs the way I write. I create fantasy, adventure, and sci-fi novels with lesbians in them specifically because I want more books to read with these exact situations in them.

And of course, none of this is to say that something is no good without a lesbian character. There are works of literature, art, and media that I adore with no mention of lesbian characters whatsoever. The writing is just good enough on it’s own. These movies and stories can be thought-provoking, deep, wonderful, and loved for their portrayal of the love between a young couple regardless of any one person’s gender. But when it’s all said and done, I’m not always going to read or watch the deeper stuff. Sometimes I just want what everyone else has. I want the entertainment factor. I want plain. I want predictable. I want a silly romcom or 20-book sci-fi series that I can consume like junk food. And maybe I want it specifically because the audience that caters to light lesbian reading is so small. Maybe denial of a genre has made me long for it more. Or maybe I see it as a point of pride to achieve integration into the mass market of media.

Like this rant? Hate it? Leave a comment!

Published?

Where have I been, internet? Possibly living in a dark cave and writing thousands upon thousands of pages of unpublishable material? Maybe. A little bit. Basically. Yeah…

But I’m published. That’s the important part. All The Pretty Things started out as an incomplete, all-but-abandoned draft by my coauthor, Rae D Magdon. After coauthoring several short pieces with her, we decided to revisit this older, promising manuscript and revise it together. The result was a published e-book as of today, August 7.

Warning, shameless plug imminent:

All The Pretty Things is a self-published novel available to download for the kindle or any kindle reader app via the amazon bookstore. Since the kindle app goes on anything, you theoretically can read it on what you’re reading this post on. Just search the title plus the author names, either Rae D Magdon or Michelle Magly, and it will pop up.

End shameless plug.

Okay. Now to dish. How was self-publishing? Pretty great, actually. With a coauthor and horde of writing friends all armed with degrees in English, composition, or a variation on either, we had quite the editorial staff at our disposal. Self-published books have a reputation of being unprofessional. We worked hard to make it very professional. 

Formatting was also a large process. We spent hours upon hours of formatting. I read two guides on how to format properly. This story looks nearly identical to any other professionally-produced e-book, minus the extensive front-matter of legal jargon. 

Is self-publishing for everyone? No. Rae and I have an extensive following online, and we work hard to advertise our writing. It takes a lot of work and a lot of writing that you might not be paid for. It’s a tough gig, but if it works for you, it’s an excellent method of publication. Totally recommended. If you choose this path, make sure to use the resources available. Read the free information available about publishing by yourself. Smashwords has an excellent guide.

As for our story in particular, it’s primarily a romance novel housed within a crime drama. There are lesbians, and there are scenes not appropriate for younger readers. You’ve been warned. If there’s anyone with questions about the kindle direct publishing service, ask and I’ll answer to the best of my abilities. Thanks for reading.

Why We are Embarrassed about Romance Writing

The goods on WritingNot too long ago, a member of my creative writing group wrote for the first time a sex scene and read it aloud to us. Now, this person is a pretty decent writer. They were featured in an anthology before and is head of an editorial board this year. This person knows the craft. They just never wrote a sex scene before. What this writer read to us was atrocious, to say the least. When I gave feedback it was difficult to justify my opinion, however, considering I spent the whole reading complaining about the excess of cock (in a humoristic manner). I’m a lesbian and the scene was two guys going at it. Where do I have an opinion, right? How am I supposed to know what works?

Well, dear reader, hold on tight. Here comes the good stuff.

When we think of erotic fiction, what comes to mind first? Maybe 50 Shades of Grey? Or perhaps those $2 trashy romance novels at the used bookstore? Whatever it is, there is usually an accompanied sense of shame behind the thought of “erotic” romance writing. Women and men smuggle their romance books out of stores like they were loading up on bricks of cocaine or something. Decent people would not be caught reading that material, of course. And despite the social taboo, people do read it. It’s one of the best-selling genres.

With this social stigma behind the genre comes the problems for writers. Who would dare write such a thing? Usually people dismiss romance writing as an easy mark they dare not dirty their hands with or say sex scenes ae just too much for them to handle. They say they’re not qualified for whatever reason. Because the sex scene is granted this mystical status from writers, it often creates the most anxieties when people attempt to write it.

Which brings me back to our writer from the beginning. This sex scene was about 8 pages long and took place between two men. It covered a variety of activities and kept a good pace.

Despite this person’s ability, the writing fell flat. The characters were little more than body parts and the prose nothing but stitched-together buzz words meant to get a rise out of the intended audience (pun intended as well). But why did this happen? Why did the writer think it was all right or perhaps necessary to shove aside character building and meaning in the story when the characters decided to do the nasty? Another scene between the characters (not a sex scene) read beautifully. It made people cry. And the characters actually felt like characters. It’s not like they felt like two different sets between the scenes. It’s that the sex scene did not have characters.

Here lies the problem: we have somehow decided that good writing does not include the sex scene of a story. In fact, people often judge the merit of a romance novel by asking if the sex scene can be left out. If a sex scene is not regarded as necessary in any way, why bother writing it? This is where the sense of embarrassment can enter behind the writing. Somehow, this piece is just a load of fan-service, and a real writer would not bother with it.

This is wrong though. I think if a story is going to have sex scenes, they better be important in some way. The big thing about writing is to never include excess. If a scene is not essential, cut it away. Is that not the mantra of our generation’s writing style? That means the characters cannot just become body parts. Words cannot just be inserted because they are associated with pornographic images. Sex scenes should be used in stories to create a deeper sense of character or explore elements of the story the reader could not understand otherwise. Yes, we are provoking a physical response, but it should never be exclusive to a person’s sexual preference. That means there’s an emotional tie-in. We are emotionally invested in these characters, and that feeling should not disappear in the writing, ever.

Actually, I would like to issue a challenge to writers everywhere: include a sex scene in your work. Do not treat it like a shameful smoke-and-mirrors trick to garner more readers. Treat it like an important, integral part of the story that cannot be done away with and write it so that it needs to be there. It can be done. I have read stories where almost all the character development happens within sex scenes. I’ve read stories where there’s the one big sex scene, like it’s the pay-off for getting through the book. Make it more than that. Make it part of the story in a genuine way. The emotional bridge between a reader and the characters is too important to simply discard when scenes get a little intense.

So, I would also like to invite you all to share your thoughts on the subject. Did my rant make any sense? Do I have a point here? I think discussion is the only way to wade through difficult topics like this one.