“The main character is an—”

“The main character is an—”

I was looking at a goodreads bookshelf and noticed that one of mine was on the shelf. I also noticed it was on a few other selves, including one labeled “Main-character-is-an-asshole.” My first response was to argue with it (just in my head, because if there’s one thing I know about being an author, it’s don’t argue with the readers), because first of all, I try to never write assholes, and secondly, I was pretty sure the main character of this particular piece was a sweetheart. A complete and total sweetheart. I could not imagine how anybody would characterize him as an asshole.

Fortunately for me, I was thinking about this in the bathtub, which always puts me in a pleasant meditative mood. Especially with our “exceptional drought” going on! These days, I only do spongebaths most of the time, really only doing a proper (but reduced) bath a bit more often than every seven days. So when the time rolls around for a real bath, I am very relaxed and thoughtful! So I laid back in the hot hot water mulling over what makes a character an asshole or a sweetheart…

And then I realized I had an even more interesting question in front of me, because the fellow I was calling the main character is probably not the same person that the reader was calling the main character when they shelved my book. And that was intriguing. Because although the story does shift points of view, I was pretty certain that the person whose opinion the reader was most likely to identify with was the total sweetheart’s and not his somewhat grumpier, less eager love interest.

So how had the reader come up with a different assignment from me? And what constitutes a main character anyway?

Romance readers and writers like to speak of the main character (often abbreviated MC) and the love interest (often abbreviated LI). They speak confidently of these two story roles even, in my experience, when the points of view carry equal weight in the narrative, take up equal space on the page, have equal billing in the blurb. Is there a rule about how these roles are allocated? Probably, but I did not find it in my navel. I came up with rather flimsy notions like “the main character is the one whose story we are most invested in” and “the main character is the one whose construction of the world they live and romance in is the most real and interesting to the reader.” I almost said the main character is the one who grows in the story, or maybe the main character is the one who overcomes the most interesting obstacles in the story, but what about the story where a person is being courted by a lovable and reforming rogue? I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen a story like that where the love interest is very clearly the rogue and the main character is very clearly the straight-arrow that the rogue reforms for. But how was it clear to me?

And if it was so clear to me there—well, if it was so clear to me in my own story that the love interest was the more difficult person in that case, but it was apparently equally clear to at least one reader that that character was the main one—what does that tell me about the characteristics of these two story roles?

I’ve got no answer for you. However! I can remind you that you still have till October 24th to comment on this thread over here to enter into a drawing for a free copy of my book Outside!

Just Plain Wrong

There’s a complaint I keep noticing about some stories written by women about men who have romantic affairs with other men. It’s nearly, but not, symmetrical with the complaint women sometimes have about stories men write about lesbians. It’s this: the accusation that the characters are not men, that they are women in men’s disguise (or “chicks with dicks”). The nearly symmetrical but not really complaint is that men write lesbians who are not real women—they are fantasies. So, (some) men complain that (some of) the unrealistic characters they are reading about are the wrong gender, and (some) women complain that (some of ) the unrealistic characters they are reading about are not real. That’s a subtle difference, but I think it is significant, especially as I think that the thing they are reacting to in the writing is, in fact the same thing.

edit: I missed a crucial paragraph of this when I posted, so here goes:

“Chicks with dicks” is a hideous phrase, insulting to just about everyone: women, men, gay men, men whose mannerisms are more “feminine” than average. I’m not sure that “feminine” men should be called that, because the aspects of their behavior and character that mark them this way are not, generally, behaviors and personality characteristics that actually predominate in women either. I’m not sure that the label is completely wrong, though, as it sometimes seems to go with men who see themselves as rejecting aspects of masculinity they see as offensive. But I am interested in what drives the complaint behind it.

First of all when a man complains about “chicks with dicks,” I don’t think he’s reacting to characters who have physically or socially feminine markers. I think the aspects of a male character that throw men out of identifying with them, and which they identify as female, are not usually really feminine, but just wrong, and the men are grasping for what is wrong about the characters. Gender comes to mind because gender is the salient issue at hand in these stories written by women and purporting to be located in exclusively male sexuality. It’s not that the men are wearing the wrong clothes or using the wrong kind of hairbrush or deodorant. If they had those details or something like them, you’d think it was deliberate eccentricities on the part of the character. It’s more likely to be something about the character’s emotional presence, their expressions of self, the intangibles that you can stay up all night arguing about. But what these male characters are doing on the page that is wrong wouldn’t be right if you tried to make a female character do them, either.

But why do (some) male readers perceive this as feminized characters? I think, partly because they know that women wrote the stories, so the explanation “she doesn’t really know men because she’s a woman” is easy to come by. Of course it isn’t correct. But it’s an easy answer, so it almost has to be wrong.

Problematic influence: H G Wells

I got reminded about HG Wells today: his birthday was a few days ago. Here are some of the H.G., Wells stories that haunt me from early childhood (from when I used to literally crawl around in front of my parents’ bookshelf and sniff out things to read). Some of these are kind of science fiction, some are kind of fantasy, and some are horror stories. I don’t love them all, but they all stick with me the way that not much else does. These are from this site: it looks like it might be an uploading of part of the big fat anthology I read when I was a kid.

The Crystal Egg this is the story that my journal title “peeking into the rock” refers to. How much I’ve loved this story I cannot even express.

The Door In the Wall Another story fo the same type: mysterious glimpse into another, possibly better, world, eventually consumes a person’s imagination and everything else.

The Flowering of the Strange Orchid When you’ve read this plant-phobic horror story you don’t need to read any of the ones that came after.

The Diamond Maker lone inventor and his troubles

Aepyornis Island Large birds and a castaway orchid hunter

The Magic Shop The literal grandaddy of this kind of story, which I never get tired of. Why haven’t I written more of them myself? The only one I wrote was about a place trhat sold porn. The story wasn’t actually porn itself, though.

The Moth scientific rivalry and madness

A Slip Under the Microscope the most agonizing horror story of a student and the conse quences of an innocent mistake

There’s one at the same site called “A Deal in Ostriches” whose narrator is the coarsest racist (unecessary even for his time, thank you, though since I’ve seen plenty of not-racist and anti-racist and barely-racist material from his time I do not give that “for his time” argument much credit) which combines large birds and diamonds. I’m not sure if the narrator of “A Deal in Ostriches” is supposed to be shockingly horrible in his racism: if he is, I think the point might be lost on much of his readership. Given that there are so very many stories set in “exotic” locations which seem to turn on the superior faculties of the English narrator or the inferior faculties of the indigenous people, I am afraid I can’t excuse Wells. I tended not to remember these like the ones without this device in them, though when I face them now I get a belly-punched feeling that is way too familiar: yes, I noticed the racism as a child, and I recoiled from it. But I must have read the few stories without such content first, because those are the ones I can remember without trying.

Actually, now that I have wasted the morning on this little sentimental journey, I’m thinking that a lot of the terrible writing in the speculative fiction world is people rehashing HG Wells without advancing a step farther than he got, as if they didn’t have HG Wells behind them.

(reposted from livejournal)

You’re almost the first to know

My novella, A and A Salvage, is up for pre-order already!

AASalvagesmWhat do you want to know about it? It’s an alternate-worlds science fiction story about lesbian mechanics who have a quaint little repair shop in the coastal mountains and their lives are disrupted by a car that is not from this world . . . involves secrets and lies, of course, and a carjacking, and some crazy driving in the canyons, and 60’s nostalgia and someone else’s civil war . . .

How do you describe a book?

It’s vexacious to try to summarize a book, whether you’re putting together a query, or writing a blurb, or trying to get someone to review it. It makes me want to throw my hands in the air and just go back and write some more stories and forget the finished ones.

This afternoon I submitted requests to a couple of online review sites that take them, though, and in the process I coined a nice fat name for the genre I declare I have created: The science fiction workplace buddy romance. I’m maybe a bit too smug about this. I immediately tweeted this, and then told my friends in chat, and now I’m telling everybody. I may email my son later so he can share in the deliciousness of that genere label.

As I’ve already told everyone who will listen and quite a few people who probably would rather not, I am not ashamed of piling up four adjectival nouns in one descriptive phrase. It’s positively Anglo-Saxon poetry. Anyway, now I want to go through my “stories to write” file and see how many of them could be called that.

Reminder: you can still sign up for a free copy of Outside right here.

And now that I’ve done some obligatory promotion of that book, I have edits to work on in another science fiction buddy workplace romance-this one is about lesbian mechanics who discover how to get to a whole new world through carjacking-and a manuscript I need to write, about something completely different. I’m sure I will tell you all about them when the time comes.

Would you like a free ebook? How about mine?

Happy Autumnal Equinox everybody! In my Mediterranean climate, that means we have some hoOutside coverpe for luscious rain and green hills in a couple of months. (I suppose it’s Vernal if you live in the southern hemisphere, though. If you do, happy Spring to you)

I enjoy the softer air and the promising clouds and the pretty autumn light, but I must admit that the shorter days knock me off my procrastinating butt. Speaking of time . . . it’s been almost two weeks since Outside came out, and I think it’s high time for me to give away a copy of it to a deserving commenter!

I have a free copy of Outside to give away. I’m going to send it to one person who comments on this post before October 21 (you have a whole month!) I’m going to do this in the simplest way. Replies will be assigned a number in chronological order and I’ll use random.org to pick the number of the winner. Just make sure your comment includes a way to get hold of you if you win!

Here’s my lamp, coming out from under the bushel

I have some stories already published and a couple coming out soon.

First, here’s one you can easily find and read: a short story called “Wink,” in which a bit of a misunderstanding arises between people who can choose their gender at will, and sometimes don’t choose one at all.

PrintSecond, on November 11, Less Than Three will publish an anthology edited by the marvellous Tan-ni Fan. It’s called Missed Connections and it contains my (not science fiction or fantasy) story “Rab+Rob 4evar” about a young environmental stiudies graduate with a terrible memory.

Somewhat later (I don’t have a date yet), Less Than Three will also be publishing A and A Salvage, in which a pAASalvagesmair of lesbian mechanics discover a whole new world at war with itself, reachable from the backroads of the coastal mountains.

In the past these stories of mine were published, but good luck finding them in print(links are to the Internet Science Fiction Database):

“Thorri the Poet’s Saga,” with S.N. Dyer in which Njal of the sagas works out a solution to a murder mystery.

John Brown’s Body (an alternate history) in which I see what might have happened if things had gone differently at Harpers Ferry.

The Boulder in which an archaeologist witnesses the resolution to a family legend on an Icelandic farm.