Page 2 of 2

From the Vault: The (Fictional) Women In My Life

Rachel-Weisz-rachel-weisz-120258_800_1101I’m mostly known for my male creations — The Rook & Lazarus Gray, for instance — but I’ve spent a good bit of my career writing female leads. Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming Gravedigger all feature strong female characters. I’m proud of those books, especially since the pulp field is still so testosterone-heavy. New Pulp does have The Pulptress, Elisa Hill and Callie but those are still just a drop in the bucket.

I’ve tried to add to the diversity of characters within the field while not making too big of a deal about it. The Lazarus Gray series not only features Samantha Grace as a major part of the storyline but I also have Eun Jiwon, a member of the team who is both homosexual and Korean. In Gravedigger, we’ll have Li Yuchun, a Chinese American, and Mitchell, a British hero of African descent. I’m not doing this to make any kind of point, really — I simply want to reflect the real world, which the original pulps didn’t always do.

But I’m proudest of my female heroes. I think they’re all very well-rounded individuals, worthy of standing toe-to-toe with the classic heroes of yore. They’re not defined by their gender, either. I treat them as people first — they just happen to be women. Guan-Yin is brave and daring, driven by a need to prove herself and to find out what happened to her missing father. Fiona Grace (Rabbit Heart) is part of a deadly game played by immortals, forced into an archetypal role that she simultaneously embraces and fights against. Violet Cambridge (The Damned Thing) is a tough-as-nails woman in a gritty noir adventure, caught up in the mystery of who’s killed both her husband and her partner. Charity Grace (Gravedigger) is given three years to redeem her soul, after a lifetime of sin. On the Claws of The Rook team, we have Revenant and Esper, both of whom are just as essential to the group’s success as the male members. And, of course, I could never forget Evelyn Davies, The Rook’s wife and frequent adventuring partner.

All of them are beautiful, yes — but this is adventure fiction. The women are beautiful and the men are handsome. I never try to objectify my female characters any more than I do the male ones — in other words, I do objectify them in the sense that they’re attractive and this is mentioned… but they’re far more than that. Pulp is escapism and part of the appeal is that our heroes (male & female) are larger-than-life. They’re gorgeous, they’re brave and they’re heroic. They’re idealized. Even in Rabbit Heart, which is highly charged with sex and violence, I don’t think I treat the women in the story any different than I do the males — some of them are very emotionally unstable, some are promiscuous and some are just downright nasty… but that’s true of both genders in the story. And Fiona Grace, though driven by powerful needs, is still an idealized heroine who rises above it all. Yes, Fiona’s outfit on the cover is risque — but if you read the story, you’ll know there’s a major reason why it’s shown that way. The story deals with archetypes and the way society views them — and Fiona is forced to play that part, to a degree.

The projects I have on tap for the next months are mostly male-dominated but I plan to return to Gravedigger very soon… and I promise to continue treating them with respect.

The image accompanying this post is of Rachel Weisz, the lovely and talented actress who’s performance as Evelyn Carnahan in The Mummy inspired my own character, Evelyn Davies.

From the Vault: Dangerous Curves Ahead

I gave a how-to writing class to a group of high schoolers about a year ago and one of the young men asked me how I wrote female characters. Having written several books starring female protagonists (Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming Gravedigger all come to mind), I immediately had a response. I said that you should always start thinking of your characters as people first and gender later. I told him that there is no one “type” of woman out there… there are women who cry at the drop of a hat but then there are women who are tough as nails. There are women who love to shop and wear pink… there are also women who love mixed martial arts and who can drink any man under the table. There are even women who love to wear pink, cry at the drop of a hat, are still tough as nails, love mixed martial arts *and* can drink any man under the table.

Women are people first. The same goes for different races or anything, really.

I also told him that if he were still worried, to look at the women around him — his friends, his family, his sisters. Think about how multifaceted those women are and then incorporate that into his work.

When I was creating Gravedigger, I thought of ways to make her different from my other characters — but not once did I think of her gender as being a personality trait. She’s a much harder-edged character than Lazarus Gray, because of her life experiences. Yes, she’s a beautiful woman… yes, she could be a mother someday. But she’s a human being first. I don’t need to worry about writing “women” because I know how to write “people.” I mean, I am one!

Yes, sometimes you should incorporate differences into female characters but again, if you know more than a handful of women, you’ll know how different they all can be — some poke fun at men, some don’t. Some like to smoke, drink and swear. Some don’t. Some women would never have sex with a man outside of a committed relationship. Some women see nothing wrong with ‘Friends with Benefits.’

Never assume that a woman — or a man, for that matter — can’t act one way just because of their gender. We have certain societal norms, yes, but the degrees to which we all fall inside or outside of them vary tremendously.

The (Fictional) Women of My Life

Scarlett Johansson - Masked Beauty
Scarlett Johansson – Masked Beauty

I’m mostly known for my male creations — The Rook & Lazarus Gray, for instance — but I’ve spent a good bit of my career writing female leads. Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming Gravedigger all feature strong female characters. I’m proud of those books, especially since the pulp field is still so testosterone-heavy. New Pulp does have The Pulptress, Elisa Hill and Callie but those are still just a drop in the bucket.

I’ve tried to add to the diversity of characters within the field while not making too big of a deal about it. The Lazarus Gray series not only features Samantha Grace as a major part of the storyline but I also have Eun Jiwon, a member of the team who is both homosexual and Korean. In Gravedigger, we’ll have Li Yuchun, a Chinese American, and Mitchell, a British hero of African descent. I’m not doing this to make any kind of point, really — I simply want to reflect the real world, which the original pulps didn’t always do.

But I’m proudest of my female heroes. I think they’re all very well-rounded individuals, worthy of standing toe-to-toe with the classic heroes of yore. They’re not defined by their gender, either. I treat them as people first — they just happen to be women. Guan-Yin is brave and daring, driven by a need to prove herself and to find out what happened to her missing father. Fiona Grace (Rabbit Heart) is part of a deadly game played by immortals, forced into an archetypal role that she simultaneously embraces and fights against. Violet Cambridge (The Damned Thing) is a tough-as-nails woman in a gritty noir adventure, caught up in the mystery of who’s killed both her husband and her partner. Charity Grace (Gravedigger) is given three years to redeem her soul, after a lifetime of sin.

All of them are beautiful, yes — but this is adventure fiction. The women are beautiful and the men are handsome. I never try to objectify my female characters any more than I do the male ones — in other words, I do objectify them in the sense that they’re attractive and this is mentioned… but they’re far more than that. Pulp is escapism and part of the appeal is that our heroes (male & female) are larger-than-life. They’re gorgeous, they’re brave and they’re heroic. They’re idealized. Even in Rabbit Heart, which is highly charged with sex and violence, I don’t think I treat the women in the story any different than I do the males — some of them are very emotionally unstable, some are promiscuous and some are just downright nasty… but that’s true of both genders in the story. And Fiona Grace, though driven by powerful needs, is still an idealized heroine who rises above it all. Yes, Fiona’s outfit on the cover is risque — but if you read the story, you’ll know there’s a major reason why it’s shown that way. The story deals with archetypes and the way society views them — and Fiona is forced to play that part, to a degree.

Given the announcement earlier in this week — that I’m adapting a Liberty Girl graphic novel published by Heroic Publishing into prose format — I’ll once again be spending a lot of time with a heroine. In this case, Liberty Girl isn’t my creation… but she fits the mold of most of my creations. She’s intelligent, brave and always willing to do the right thing.

Dangerous Curves Ahead

I gave a how-to writing class to a group of high schoolers about a year ago and one of the young men asked me how I wrote female characters. Having written several books starring female protagonists  (Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming Gravedigger all come to mind), I immediately had a response. I said that you should always start thinking of your characters as people first and gender later. I told him that there is no one “type” of woman out there… there are women who cry at the drop of a hat but then there are women who are tough as nails. There are women who love to shop and wear pink… there are also women who love mixed martial arts and who can drink any man under the table. There are even women who love to wear pink, cry at the drop of a hat, are still tough as nails, love mixed martial arts *and* can drink any man under the table.

Women are people first. The same goes for different races or anything, really.

I also told him that if he were still worried, to look at the women around him — his friends, his family, his sisters. Think about how multifaceted those women are and then incorporate that into his work.

When I was creating Gravedigger, I thought of ways to make her different from my other characters — but not once did I think of her gender as being a personality trait. She’s a much harder-edged character than Lazarus Gray, because of her life experiences. Yes, she’s a beautiful woman… yes, she could be a mother someday. But she’s a human being first. I don’t need to worry about writing “women” because I know how to write “people.” I mean, I am one!

Yes, sometimes you should incorporate differences into female characters but again, if you know more than a handful of women, you’ll know how different they all can be — some poke fun at men, some don’t. Some like to smoke, drink and swear. Some don’t. Some women would never have sex with a man outside of a committed relationship. Some women see nothing wrong with ‘Friends with Benefits.’

Never assume that a woman — or a man, for that matter — can’t act one way just because of their gender. We have certain societal norms, yes, but the degrees to which we all fall inside or outside of them vary tremendously.

From the Vault: My “Favorite” Bad Review

It’s inevitable.

At some point as a writer, you’re going to receive the dreaded Bad Review. I’ve gotten my share over the years but the one that stands out the most in my mind was posted on Amazon.com by a fellow named John Mondrian. He later removed the review from Amazon but it’s still up at Goodreads. The reason I remember it so clearly was how over-the-top some of the comments were.The review was for a novella I wrote for Wild Cat Books’ Pulse Pounders line, which were short tales priced at $4.95 or so. The title was Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island and it featured a female pirate in pursuit of her lost father and a fabled treasure. Along the way, there were ghosts, betrayals, and a giant ape. Fluffy fun.

Or so I hoped.

My favorite quotes from John’s lengthy review:

“…one of the most amateurishly written books I have ever read.”

“The author shows less knowledge of pirate life and seamanship than he would have gained by watching a season of THE PIRATES OF DARKWATER… ”

“This is pirate fiction at its most stereotypical, uninteresting, not well written, and not well thought out. It’s not even good pirate pulp fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not holding this book to a high literary standard. It’s just bad even for a simple little pirate story.”

and

“I hate movie novelizations but I’m sure the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN books are a thousand times better than this.”

The Pirates of Darkwater thing made me laugh out loud. That’s classic.

So — how did I react to the review? Well, of course, for the first few moments, I was a bit sad! 🙂

But I took to heart a few of the criticisms and the rest I had to laugh at — I showed it to quite a few of my friends, in fact. You can’t let haters get you down. Quality is very subjective and some people love things that others hate. Art Sippo, for instance, loved the book — and as the author of the excellent Sun Koh stuff, I respect his opinion. John paid for the book and has the right to express his views on whether or not it was worth his money — I respect that.

You’ve got to have a thick skin to be an artist of any type — because not everyone is going to love what you produce.

New Reviews!

Doctor Panic posted the following review on Amazon.com, covering Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island: This was a fun pirate story, with a good amount of action. I would have liked to see a little more depth,as it got a little predictable at the end, but still very enjoyable. It reminded me somewhat of Conan’s Belit, or at least that is who I myself pictured, though Guan-yin is no where near as big a cut-throat. It was fun, and the characters stood out. I could definitely stand to read more of Guan-Yin.

Thanks, Doc! I had fun writing that story, which was one of Wild Cat Books’ “Pulse Pounders,” a series of novella-length digests, similar to what Pro Se is now doing with The Pulptress and other titles. Nancy Hansen has expressed an interest in reviving Guan-Yin so maybe there are more stories to be told with that character!

Over on Twitter, Jose Rivera posted this about Die Glocke: I just finished Die Glocke (the story, not the second volume) and that ending with Miya was very touching! Just looking to clarify… where did she jump to? Another Earth or back in time?”

I’ve gotten several interesting comments about the ending to that story! I’m glad that it worked for you. To make it clear: Miya’s actions created a separate timeline, one that was shaped to her wishes. The final scene with her is set in that timeline and is not the “main” Lazarus Gray universe.

Thanks, guys! Not just because you liked the stories but because you took the time to post your comments. Writing is a lonely vocation at times so it’s always good to get feedback (both positive and negative).