Monday, September 29, 2014

Visual Shortcuts that Cut

As both a writer and a reader, I’m always trying to figure out why authors do some of the things we do: End scenes in particular ways, juxtapose dialogue and description, harness the rhythm of words to craft verbal songs…
Use visual shortcuts as symbols for the characters’, well, character.shortcut
Maybe it’s due to my rather colorful political sensibilities, or maybe because my dissertation focused on, in part, lookism, but I’m especially sensitive to the symbolism contained in the physical descriptions of literary characters. As I’ve written about before, I’m pretty devoted to making sure I represent under-represented physicalities, and I particularly delight in subverting traditional physical tropes. Given all this, I find it so disappointing when I read books that reinforce all the old, tired symbolism surrounding characters’ physical presentations.
You know what’s super fun and reflects a lot more creativity than relying on the usual physical symbols? Messin’ with ‘em! So, for example, in Hunted, my very first publication, I decided to make my villain a young, Japanese American woman. She’s pretty beautiful – far more so than Gray, the shero – but not in a seductive, Dragon Lady way (yawn). Instead, she’s kind of a sociopathic Valley Girl: cute, perky, deadly, and not exceptionally bright.
I pepper my stories with characters with hooked noses, mental and physical disabilities, and larger body frames. My sheroes are not beautiful. Wrinkles don’t automatically mean either wisdom or senility. Lustrous hair and white, even teeth don’t always equal fine moral characters. Fat characters aren’t representatives of greed and gluttony – nor are they necessarily jolly.
I mean, we writers create our characters from tops to toes. We decide whether they’re short, tall, thin, fat, wrinkled, smooth, dark-skinned or light-, and so on. I understand the appeal of using a visual shortcut, a cultural cliche, to do some of the explanatory work for us. Here’s the fun part: Using these cliches in order to redeploy them in more mindful and subversive ways. For example, imagine a short, White, balding man whose belly overhangs his waistband and whose toupee could use some sprucing. He’s gotta be a used car salesperson, right, or maybe a mafia don? Someone greasy, unenlightened, underhanded. Heck, he’s probably three seconds away from leering at the shero or saying he likes a spirited filly.
Take two. Now picture the man above and imagine your readers’ surprise when they discover he’s an angel in human skin (literally or not, depending on your genre). This guy with the bad rug is the embodiment of kindness, generosity, and creativity. Maybe he’s a professor of anthropology who focuses his research on the rights of indigenous populations or a worker at a nonprofit organization that collects coats and shoes for homeless children.
"Hi! Glad to meet you. I'm off to my job as a social worker after volunteering at the women's shelter."
“Hi! Glad to meet you. I’m off to my job as a social worker after volunteering at the homeless shelter.”
See, there’s a freshness, a downright coolness, in intentionally wielding common visual shortcuts — and then inserting something unexpected. I suppose my heroes could all be tall and muscular with a crop of eyelashes that weigh more than the average dust mop and their ex-girlfriends could be the icily beautiful, blonde bitch whose appeal is never quite explained. But, you know, why?
Visual shortcuts have their place, but when we start using them in place of thinking, as visual clich├ęs, we’re doing our characters and our readers a major disservice. After all, there are a lot of plump, crooked-teethed sheroes out there waiting for their Prince Charming and a number of rakish, black-haired, cleft-chinned gents plotting their next round of check fraud.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Threads: A Pretty Penny by Neva Brown

A Pretty Penny
Neva Brown

Wealthy, arrogant Clayton Brandt knows well the costs of a woman. Not until Penelope (Penny) Jones comes into his life does he know the value of a woman.
Anger at Clayton, her new boss, causes Penny to snap out of the lethargy she’s experienced after seeing her husband killed. She puts to use all her innate abilities, learned skills, and intuitiveness to cope with the overbearing Clayton and the women in his life. Penny, in time, knows she loves him, but will not become one of his women—not on his terms.
On her terms, they marry only to be parted by federal agents before they leave their wedding reception. The ensuing intrigue, danger, and antics of Clayton’s ex-wife play a part in Penny being in eminent peril. Even after their love survives all this, it is once again threatened by a letter from a vindictive woman who is dead. The letter devastates Clayton and crushes his hopes for happiness.
How Clayton and Penny find their happy-ever-after is a breath-holding adventure at times and a breathtaking love story at other times. 

Buy A Pretty Penny here!

Neva’s social media efforts still need work, but she can be found at: 

Twitter: @ NevaJLB

Neva loves to hear from her readers. Contact her.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thursday Threads: Rescued by Larynn Ford

Larynn Ford

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Heat Level: Sizzling

Fiercely independent and determined to be taken seriously in a man’s world, PI Rose Baxter will do whatever it takes to find the kids who are disappearing from the streets and bring them home safe, even teaming up with PI Marty Brown, a man hot enough to burn whatever part of her gets too close – her fingers, her sheets, her life, and her other nature’s whiskers. 
But her other nature knows whiskers grow back and will accept nothing less than this man as her mate for life, a plan Marty’s all in on. Sparks fly when she refuses to be the little woman. Besides, those kids need her and their time’s running out. But, thrown together 24/7 can she fight it?

Rose heard the unmistakable sound of duct tape stripping from its roll. Her hands, bound together behind her back and another piece loosely secured the bag around her neck. Her memory of stored scents identified Mabel and Stan even before they spoke.
“Take her to the lab. I’ll stash her car.” Mabel’s footsteps hurried away. As soon as the front door close behind Mabel, Rose stiffened her body and formed an impossible to move statue. Her arms flexed and ripped the tape to separate her hands. Stan grabbed for her to regain his grip. She spun around to deliver a kick toward the sound of his astonished breathing. He collided with the floor and skidded to a stop when he smacked into the cabinet doors. As he scrambled to right himself, the knives rattled in the butcher block on the kitchen counter.
She ripped the tape from around her neck and yanked the pillowcase off her head in time to see the man lunge toward her. She side stepped his attack.
Shouting rang out from the living room. “Let go of me!” One sniff confirmed Logan and June had entered through the front door. Mabel would cause no more trouble.
The kitchen windows vibrated. The backdoor burst into splinters as Marty stormed through. His roar rattled the dishes stacked in the drainer when he spotted Stan holding a knife on his mate. “Nooo!”
Before she could blink, Marty swung one arm and backhanded Stan, sending him crashing through the window and out onto the patio. The stunned man scrambled to his feet, hobbled around the side of the house to his SUV, and hightailed it out the driveway.
Marty gripped Rose gently by the shoulders and turned her to face him. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” His eyes were intense. “Rose, answer me?”
“I’m fine. Did they catch Stan? I heard a vehicle leave.” She turned to the living room where Mabel sat in a huff.
“Oscar just called. The SUV’s have left the park and headed west out of town. I’ve called the police to come and pick her up. I’m assuming you’ll be pressing charges for kidnapping?” Logan had handcuffed Mabel and planted her in a chair. June stood ready in case she tried to escape.
“I want a few minutes with her first.” Rose turned to Mabel. Her nostrils flared and the fire from her inner animal flashed in her eyes. No, as much as she’d like to, she wouldn’t inflict the bodily harm this woman so deserved for her part in this whole scheme. She’d like to body slam the bitch to the floor, but her daddy had taught her the self-control she needed to work this job and work it right.
Getting some answers now was her primary concern. She wanted answers. While she wouldn’t physically injure the woman, she wasn’t above scaring the crap out of her to get the information she needed.
Mabel sneered at her and rolled her eyes. “And just what do you intend to do with your few minutes? Do you think I’m afraid of a mousy little thing like you? Oh, help, the little mousy girl is going to scare me,” she humphed in a mocking tone.
“Oh hell,” Marty said. He adjusted the hat on his head, glanced Logan’s way with a y’all best look out expression, and stepped back out of the way to give Rose room to work.
“June bug. Move back, honey,” Logan said as her steered his wife to the corner by the door and positioned his body, brick wall style in front of her for her own safety, just like an alpha male. Everyone read Marty’s message loud and clear.
Mabel’s expression changed from glaring sarcasm to certain fear as she watched the woman she had labeled as little make her way slowly toward her.
Rose’s eyes narrowed and focused on the woman. Her hands flexed from tight, curled fists to stiff, extended fingers, and back again. Her nails lengthened, exposing her razor sharp claws as she stepped over to the mouthy woman. Her eyes never left her target.
She leaned down to bring herself nose to nose with the evil before her. “Where are you really taking these kids and what are you going to do with them?” She spoke in an even voice, accentuating every syllable.
An increasing layer of fear replaced the smug expression on Mable’s face. “You- you don’t scare me,” she stuttered. “I’m not telling you anything.” She attempted to bring her tough side back to the surface but was less than convincing.
Rose placed one petite hand on Mabel’s shoulder and pressed down. She held back to a mere vise-like grip. Not the bone crushing strength she was more than capable of using.
Mabel sucked in a pained breath and flinched back, drawing on her last bit of resolve. “We know you’re not normal. You’re some kind of freak with super blood. Don’t think we won’t come after you again.” She let out an injured cry from the pressure applied to her shoulder. “You’ll pay for this!”

Contact me links:
Twitter: @LarynnFord

Book Buy Links:
In My Wildest Dreams

Christmas Blessings in All I Want For Christmas Is A Soul Mate


Monday, September 1, 2014

More Politics of the Smile: Resting Bitch Face

Sometime in 2010, while driving through Hollywood, I passed a sign advertising an artistic
This was it, albeit billboard-sized.
exhibit exploring “beauty culture.” The sign featured a close-up of a White woman, sans facial expression and (much) make-up.

“Dang, that woman looks grumpy,” I thought. Then it hit me: No, she didn’t. She looked completely neutral. She had relaxed her facial muscles, and her lips rested in a gentle, natural downward arc. But why did the absence of a smile, of crinkling eyes, initially strike me as embodying grouchiness? Because, I realized, smiling has become the natural facial default for women.

In the last post, I went full-out, old-school sociology nerd in discussing expectations to smile while interacting with others. I waxed all dramaturgical, I used phrases like “social convention”; heck, I broke out Erving Goffman. That’s all fine and dandy, but I neglected one key element: power dynamics.

I do think part of the reason we expect smiles – even correct people for not giving them to us – stems from the social awkwardness of having to deal with the reality that we’re individuals, not social robots. Maybe, just maybe, we also genuinely want them to be happy and somehow think browbeating them into it will do the trick. Sure. Okay. But it also behooves us to think who we most expect to toss around smiles like confetti at a parade. Among those folks are women.

Oh, come on. You know it’s true. I could pull out the research that proves we regard women’s smiles as the yellow bricks on the road to social fulfillment. And really, is it so surprising? Studies also show us smiles frequently serve as symbols of deference, women smile at men more, and subordinates smile more in attempts to ingratiate. In addition to explicitly (if not always or even often genuinely) conveying happiness, smiles often indicate harmlessness. As such, we expect them from our immediate social inferiors, and when they don’t bestow them, we get cranky.

Let’s take an example. Picture yourself visiting a restaurant – any restaurant, from Denny’s to something with a pretentious French name -- and encountering hosts and servers who don’t greet or treat you with smiles. Pretty maddening, right? In your ire, you grouse, vow not to return, maybe even skip a tip, even though servers make $2 an hour and survive on those tips.

One of the most obvious examples of regarding women’s faces as public property can be seen in the recent hype over “resting bitch face.” For those of you not familiar, resting bitch face is the notion that when women – always women – relax their face, their resulting expression looks grumpy.

Let’s think this through. We are judging women’s faces that have allowed themselves to relax. Kinda telling, right? Not only that, but if, when stripped of the social expectation to display pleasantness, a woman’s face still doesn’t look sweet and ingratiating, we say she looks like a bitch. Uh-oh. Maybe we shouldn’t let ourselves relax too much, girls, or we may trouble peeps with our scary absence of giggling accommodation.

More than that, though, is the truly disturbing thought that any lack of pleasantness on a woman’s face equals hostility. So, in other words, we’ve so taken women’s smiles for granted, we compare their absence to “bitchiness.” But not every woman’s face, Elle, you may be saying. Just the ones whose faces, when relaxed, don’t look pleasant.

Women’s smiles have become the social coin that pays the toll for far too many of our social
When sexism and ageism collide.
interactions. So much so, we’ve created a term to demonstrate our ire (bitchiness?) at being deprived our social currency.

In the prior post, I mentioned the policing of faces. “Resting bitch face” is the ultimate policing of expression and emotion. We expect smiles from women, feel uncomfy with their lack, demand we receive our due. This is in part because all of us experience social pressures to make our social interactions smooth and seamless. But it’s a much heavier burden for women*, because smiling means deference, we expect women to shoulder the lion’s share of social labor, and a smileless woman is seen as not doing femininity right.

An unsmiling woman is a dangerous, non-deferential woman. She is a bitch.

* Yes, and others. Yes, and women with differing identities and situations. I know this topic deserves a lot more depth and finesse, but right now, it serves as a nice, introductory examination.