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!

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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 Take a Mary Sue Test!

This week, instead of calculating payments on my student loan debt, I’m going to submit one of my novel characters to a Mary Sue test, and you all get to watch. Sound fun? No? Then go read something else.

For the purposes of this test, I will be using a free litmus available here: http://www.springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm

I do not own nor did I make up any of these questions. Someone else did that, the someone who created this website, and I’m grateful for them. If you’re unfamiliar with what a Mary Sue is, be sure to visit that website and find out. They’re a potentially hazardous character type in original fiction.

Before we begin, I want to tell you all why I’m doing this. I primarily use this Mary Sue test when working on flushing out characters that I think are somewhat one-dimensional or did not get enough depth the first time I tried to write them. Creating living, breathing characters in a story is hard because we like to rely on previously established archetypes as guidelines. Everyone loves the badass cop, the innocent young maiden, the secretly badass maiden. These are all typical tropes, and while a trope is great for quick payout, the character who is that trope usually lacks any meaning or depth beyond what defines that trope. They’re flat, in other words.

I will be running Taylor Morgan from Dark Horizons through the Mary Sue test this time. Taylor has long been a favorite character of mine, and she originated all the way back in 2010 in a short story I wrote for a college class. She’s evolved since then, but her debut onto the public scene was a little lackluster, I feel. I have such a rich canon involving Taylor in my head, but I don’t think I spent enough time putting that into the story for readers to see, thus giving the audience a character who did not shine as much as the one in my head. Putting Taylor through a Mary Sue test highlights those important things about her I should highlight in the sequel, or perhaps give me a slap across the face and tell me she’s a little too boring. Either way, there’s only one way to find out, so let’s begin. If you really want to see every answer available, you can follow along with the actual test in another browser window. For sanity’s sake, I will be skipping over questions that are answered with a “no” for my character.

Part One – All Characters

1. Is/does your character’s name:

The question lists a lot of things, like is the name odd, do you want to name your children with it, does it have unique spelling? That kind of stuff. Taylor Morgan is about as plain as they would get, though, and I did not take it from my name at all, and no, I will not be naming my children after her.

2. Did you deliberately base your character’s looks on your own?

God no. Taylor is my opposite as far as looks go. Well, maybe we’re close in height, but not much else. I actually tried something different with Taylor in that I made her half Japanese, something I have no personal experience being, considering I am a pasty white Alaskan. While I mention this characteristic once in Dark Horizons, I do not really call attention to it because I have no freaking idea what it means to be part of that culture. Thusly, Taylor kind of didn’t either. And that works. A lot of people from cultural backgrounds only know the default they grew up in. Still, it sort of feels like a cheap grab for brownie points by making her “different” but not at the same time. Thoughts?

3. Does your character look like how you wish you look?

No. I love my tousled mane of curly hair. It’s very in right now thanks to HBO’s portrayal of Robb Stark.

4. Is your character depicted as effortlessly beautiful, cute, or handsome?

…Yes. Maia’s all over that shit. But it is a romance novel. It comes with the territory.

4d. Does anyone see your character’s attractiveness as a threat?

Does it count if Maia sees it as a threat to her freedom in the first book?

5. Does anyone want to adopt your character?

No. Well……… no.

7. Does your character have a great body/physique, which you describe, show, and/or illustrate in detail?

Yes, but it’s a romance novel! And Taylor’s in the army. You don’t get more fit than that.

9. Do you use poetic and/or creative terms to describe your character, but virtually no-one else (aside from your character’s love interest, perhaps)?

9a. Do you frequently describe your character’s beautiful/handsome/cute attributes or point out how sexy your character is?

Yes… I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

13. Does your character have a particularly attractive scent that doesn’t come from xir perfume, cologne, or shampoo?

Yes, though humans all smell different to Maia.

14. Does your character have a scar or other small “flaw” that is noticed by someone, but does not actually detract from your character’s appearance from your point of view?

 

Yes, and Maia finds her scars sexy. It’s an erotic novel, though. I mean… Am I expecting more of the character than I should?

16. Does your character have a particularly piercing (EG, “can stare straight into your soul”), haunting, captivating, or dazzling gaze?

According to Maia, yes.

59. How many languages does your character fluently speak?

Oh god, I have no idea!

78. If/when your character has sex, is it absolutely perfect and beyond amazing?

Yes. Though who wants to read about bad sex?

83. Has your character otherwise lost:

A close friend, check. A whole squad, actually. Taylor angsts about it for a while.

87. Does your character angst about something that she did in the past?

Yup. Kinda. Does getting your squad obliterated at the beginning of the book count?

87c. Does your character eventually learn that it wasn’t her fault? 

Yeah, or at least stops blaming herself for it.

Part Two – Original Fiction

5. Are most (if not all) characters who don’t like your character merely mean, shallow, spiteful, and/or jealous of her?

Yes, but… that changes in the sequel.

7. Does anyone who doesn’t like or respect your character by the end of the story end up beaten up, humiliated, miserable, and/or dead?

Oh for the love of… yes.

Part Five – De-Suifiers

2. Has your character ever been honestly selfish, petty, lazy, shallow, or pointlessly cruel?

And she regrets it.

15. Does your character ever seriously question the morality of her actions and/or is left with a lingering doubt that she may not have done the right thing?

Oh Taylor. Yes. She has a lot of doubt about her life choices.

18. Has your character ever misjudged someone else and discovered she was completely wrong about that person?

Yes. *coughspoilerscough*

19. Does your character ever admit to being wrong, even if she doesn’t really mean it?

Though Taylor does mean it, yes.

24. Do you view your characters more like tools than friends/children?

While I occasionally joke that my characters are my babies, they are first and foremost a means to an end. They are the story, they reason someone will love or hate it, and the only thing any book has going for it, ever. Characters are your story, never forget that.

25. Did you spend days, if not months or longer carefully and thoughtfully researching the traumas/hardships/handicaps/disorders your character has so you could write them as realistically and sensitively as possible?

Yes, I honestly do. I might not achieve this, but I do try.

End of Test

So my overall score, according to the website, was 7. This is considered a “safe range” by the site’s little blurb, but I’m not so sure. What this quiz highlights for me is that Taylor gets talked about and viewed in terms of her physical appearance a lot, and while she does suffer from various traumas and has a complex past, it’s not necessarily pulled to the surface, yet.

Dark Horizons was an erotic novel, however. It’s supposed to focus on the physical. That is to be expected of a story that features the characters banging more than anything else.

So why did I subject Taylor to this test?

Because I like her as a character. She’s grown on me a little bit, so much that I hesitated before answering that my characters are less like children and more like tools. As Rae and I start writing the sequel to Dark Horizons, I keep wondering what I can do to flush out Taylor and give her the same liveliness that she has in my head. I know characters are tools to convey a good story, but the most beautiful characters often become “people” that you can identify with, and Taylor isn’t quite there, yet, though I think she can get there.

What I hope this exercise has shown you all is that writers, even published authors, need to stop and reflect on their characters. We try to write these unique people into the world, and we struggle to keep them from being too cliché or too boring. Often, we don’t see what is salient in our characters until we step back. I didn’t think that Taylor’s physical attributes would be the most profound characteristic she possessed until I plugged her into this test. If you’re a writer looking to work on improving a character, do yourself a favor and use this test. It’s a fantastic source for writers everywhere, especially those of us working in genre fictions like fantasy or science fiction.

If any of you are interested in seeing this Taylor character (and reading about raunchy lesbian sex in a sci-fi setting) you can read all about her in Dark Horizons, or not. It doesn’t matter to me.

Leave a comment! We’ll chat it up! What did you think of the test?

Exciting News!

Well, this happened a little while ago, but I suppose I should make some official announcement for it.

I am happy to say that I am now publishing with Desert Palm Press, a small publishing company devoted to quality lesbian fiction. My new book coauthored with Rae D Magdon will be released in March for purchase through Desert Palm Press. I’ll have more details about that closer to the release date, but for right now, let’s talk about small press publishing.

It’s a tricky business, getting published. I found it to be so tricky that I took the quick route and self-published. Despite my wild success at that (our book did fabulously; thank you all, my amazing, wonderful fans!), people were more excited to hear I got a book deal from a small, independent publishing press than they were to hear about how well my self-published book was doing. Why is that? Why is there something immediately more special about be acknowledged by someone else who lives off of judging writing?

Some would say it’s an honor, but I think there’s some monetary prestige built into it.

Now, I haven’t made an insane amount of money off my writing. I didn’t do bad, mind you, but I wasn’t JK Rowling or anything. Neither will I be with this small press. The way I see it, I’m taking a slight pay cut to reach a broader audience (and work with some wonderful writers and editors, never discount that experience). Yet why do people value this move in my career more than when I was doing all the work myself? That was pretty impressive, mind you.

I think there’s a nasty association of wealth with “publishing”. If you’re in with a press, you’re gonna be rolling in it, or at least that’s what the urban myth tells you. And people are welcome to believe that and to benefit off their writing. They should, actually.

What bothers me is when a writer loses sight of what they’re writing about and focuses on just money. This is a fairly idealistic, rose-colored argument, but I like to think that writing, good writing, should be about the conversation between a writer and a reader, not the overall monetary gain at the end of the day. I bring this up mainly because I see writers fall into the trap of seeking the perfect publisher for their story, but then never sharing anything because they’re worried they’ll miss their opportunity for “the big break.”

When a writer holds back from an opportunity to have readers see their work, whether it’s at a local contest or in a national magazine, they’re allowing themselves to think that the amount of “good” writing they can accomplish is finite. We as writers have so much to say and so much to give. That is simply human nature. Share your ideas. Share your drafts. More will come. Part of the publishing process is spending time in those little nooks and crannies of writing. Publish with the local anthology. Apply to that short story contest down the street. Get yourself writing to interact with others, not just a faceless agent. That is what the writing process is about, communication, a dialogue between writers and readers.

I suppose I’ve waxed poetic long enough, already. Before I end this post, I’d like to let you all know that if you’re looking for some interesting lesbian fiction, check out what Desert Palm Press has here: http://www.desertpalmpress.com/

AJ Adaire is fabulous, as are Stein Willard and SL Kassidy. As always, thank you to my readers who support my fiction, wherever they find it. If you’re curious Rae and I are releasing a sci-fi romance in March. I also have a fantasy novel on the table, but that will be released some time this summer. Chronicles of Osota deserves my full attention, which I cannot give in the middle of completing graduate school.