Beverly Hills Torture

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author R.W Buxton and his Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance novel, Beverly Hills Torture.

Author’s description

A frantic middle of the night call jolts Gerry from his quiet, but lonely life, back into a world fraught with dangerous creatures of the night. Erin’s frenzied call leads Gerry across the country where he finds himself immersed in the luxuries of Beverly Hills and the seedier side of the Hollywood strip.

Sadness and longing grip him as he finds a blood-spattered room and Erin is nowhere to be found.  Alone in a strange city with nothing to go on can Gerry find and save Erin? Or is this the end of something never meant to be?

 

Her past has caught up with her and he’s her only hope. With a group of trusted friends Gerry takes on the impossible and gives everything to save Erin.

 

Beverly Hills Torture is the second novel in the Erin Kingsly series. Be sure to check out Capital Thirst.

How much backstory should one provide?

Noticing this is the second book in a series, I asked the author about his approach to providing information from the first book. Here is his response.

I read a lot of series. It seems that it’s the most popular format for authors to write these days. Honestly, when I started writing Capital Thirst, the first book, it wasn’t my intention of writing a series myself. But there was more story than I wanted to stuff into a single book so I did it, I started a series.

Backstory is always an issue, whether it’s the second or third book of a series or the first book. The trick is to get it in so the reader knows what’s going on, without boring them to death. I hope I could achieve that. I am reading the second book in a series by another author. I loved the first one, but in the second book the author will take paragraphs in the middle of action to cover the backstory from the first book. I tried not to do this. As a reader of the first book, I find I just skip this stuff and even if I hadn’t read the first book, I don’t need to know the details of what happened just that something did and it has an impact now.

When I wrote Beverly Hills Torture, I knew new readers wouldn’t know what happened in Capital Thirst but there are just key parts they needed to know. So if you read Beverly Hills Torture without reading Capital Thirst I tried to only include the key points that you need to know without retelling what happened in the first book.  This also means a lot of what was in Capital Thirst isn’t revealed. But I hope just enough for the reader to know why things are happening in Beverly Hills Torture.

Most of the backstory I tried to include in dialog or quick thoughts that Erin or Gerry have. There is a bit of explanation in the first chapter, but when you jump in right in the middle there has to be a brief explanation because the new reader knows nothing about the characters.

Writing a series is a progressive thing to undertake. In the first book, all you need to worry about is the backstory of the characters. In the second book, you have to worry about the character backstory and reintroducing it for new readers as well as including key elements of what happened in the first book. The third and fourth books are even more difficult to pick the details because there are a lot more of them and keeping them straight becomes more and more complicated. Not to mention deciding which ones are important and which aren’t.

It’s a balancing act, I hope I have enough, but if I erred, I would prefer to err on the side of not enough. If it’s not there, readers can make their own decisions or assumptions. If they’re curious, they can go back and read the first book. But I would rather do that than spend paragraphs writing about what happened that will bore readers that have read it and may or may not add something for the readers that have.

The facts about how Gerry became a “day walker,” and his relationship with Erin are all there. The rest, if I really felt it was important, is there.

About the Author

I love a good paranormal read, something about the un-dead haunts the fringes of my mind. Mix in romance, love, loss, and you have a great story.

I voraciously read everything, fiction, and non-fiction but always find myself turning back to the darker stories. I’ve always wanted to write and the dream became a reality with Capital Thirst, and the remainder of the Erin Kingsly novels.

I spend most of my days designing and building websites, but my free time is devoted to my wife, family, and cats. Yes three grown children and three cats. Things can be hectic.

For fun you might find me driving winding roads with the top down or out photographing nature.

Find the Author at:
Website: RWBuxton.com
Facebook: R.W. Buxton – Home | Facebook
Twitter  RW Buxton Author (@rwBuxtonAuthor) | Twitter
Other Links:
https://www.bookbub.com/authors/r-w-buxton
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19658320.R_W_Buxton
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48481089-capital-thirst
https://allauthor.com/author/rwbuxton/

Buy Beverly Hills Torture.
https://www.amazon.com/Beverly-Hills-Torture-Kingsly-Novel-ebook/dp/B0886HW69D/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beverly-hills-torture-rw-buxton/1136398689
https://books.apple.com/us/book/beverly-hills-torture/id1498346169
https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/beverly-hills-torture

 Yes, there is a giveaway.

R.W. Buxton will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt

As he stood there staring, he couldn’t accept that Erin was gone. Now he was the sole person who could save her. Turning, he left his thoughts of Erin behind with the house. He started down over the grass, with no specific destination in mind. He just wanted to wander with his thoughts, trying to clear his mind and determine what the next course of action was.

He couldn’t do anything until Vernon arrived. He hoped Vernon would have some insight about what was going on. These were his people.

Whatever was going on was serious. A life and death matter. The way her bedroom appeared told him that much. Whoever took her wasn’t messing around.

Before Gerry could return to his thoughts, he ran out of lawn. A wrought-iron fence lined with towering, thin cypress trees blocked his path. The fence itself was about ten feet high. “So, there is a limit to her property,” he said out loud.

“Helloooo?” A woman’s voice broke through Gerry’s thoughts like an ice pick splitting a block of ice. “Is someone there?”

The War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters

Introducing My New Historical Fantasy Series

It’s the 1200’s in Ilari, a small mythical realm somewhere between Europe and Asia. Peace and prosperity have reigned for generations. That doesn’t mean every citizen is happy, however.

In the outer nichna of Vinx lives a discontentedly intellectual farmer, his overly ambitious wife, and their seven troublesome daughters. Ilari has no idea how lucky it is to have this family of malcontents, for the Mongols are making their way further westward every winter and Ilari is a plum ripe for picking.  These seven sisters are about to devise a unique way to save the realm.

She’s the One Who Thinks Too Much

Ryalgar,  a spinster farm girl and the oldest of the seven sisters, has always preferred her studies to flirtation. Yet even she finally meets her prince. Or so she thinks. She’s devastated to discover he’s already betrothed and was only looking for a little fun. Embarrassed, she flees her family’s farm to join the Velka, the mysterious women of the forest known for their magical powers and for living apart from men.

As a Velka, she develops her own special brand of telekinesis and learns she has a talent for analyzing and organizing information. Both are going to come in handy.
This prince has kept meeting her at the forest’s edge for more good times, and now that she’s away from her family, she’s thinking maybe being his mistress isn’t such a bad deal after all. Then she learns more about his princely assignment.

He’s tasked with training the army of Ilari to repel the feared Mongol horseman who’ve been moving westward for years, killing all in their path. And, her prince is willing to sacrifice the outer farmlands where she grew up to these invaders, if he has to. Ryalgar isn’t about to let that happen.

She’s got the Velka behind her, as well as a multitude of university intellectuals, a family of tough farmers, and six sisters each with her own unique personality and talents.

Can Ryalgar organize all that into a resistance that will stop the Mongols? She thinks she can.

She’s the One Who Thinks Too Much will be available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle on November 13, 2020. It will be available for pre-purchase soon.

She’s the One Who Cares Too Much

Coral, the second of the sisters, has been hiding her affair with the perfect man until her older sister can get her life together. But the perfect man is getting impatient and now she’s gotten pregnant. Coral decides it’s time to consider her own happiness.

But what does she want? The perfect husband turns out to be less than ideal. She adores the small children she teaches but the idea of being a mother fills her with joy. Meanwhile, her homeland is gripped by fear of a Mongol invasion and she can’t stop crying about everything now that she’s with child.

Then a friend suggests the ever-caring Coral possesses a power well beyond what she or anyone else imagines. Does she? And why is the idea so appealing?

When Coral’s big sister loses faith in the army and decides to craft a way to use magic to save Ilari from the Mongols, she decides Coral’s formidable talent is what the realm needs. Can Coral raise a baby, placate an absent military husband who thinks he’s stopping the invasion, and help her sister save her homeland?

It makes no sense, but somewhere, deep in her heart, she’s certain she can.

She’s the One Who Cares Too Much will be available on Amazon in paperback and for kindle in February 2021.

More information about the adventures of the remaining five sisters will be coming soon.

 

Free Through Sunday!

Enjoy Layers of Light free on Kindle through Sunday night, March 15.

GET MY COPY

Here’s what reviewers are saying:

“Complex and well-researched … The author does an incredible job making it all come to life in both beautiful and horrifying ways. The detail here is astounding, and the setting truly becomes a character of its own. There are solid, loving friendships formed and [the] book tells a strong, important story. I’m glad I read it.” — Long and Short Reviews

“I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked on this series. … Sure enough the characters [are] thrown on a dangerous path, full of adventure, girl power, intrigue, and gut-wrenching moments… this is another great addition to the series.” – Sharing Links and Wisdom

“The concept was great. The plot was intriguing, and the mystical aspects of the work were described well.” — Happy Booker

What is this book about?

Celebrate those who light a candle in the darkness in this compelling and eye-opening tale.

Teddie is into country music, her old pick-up truck and getting through high school with as little drama as possible. Yet somehow her best friend, Michelle, talks her into spending a semester in Darjeeling, India. The thrilling adventure turns treacherous when she uncovers a seedy underworld in which young women are bartered and sold–including her friends.
As she fights to understand a depravity she never dreamed existed, a stranger makes her an unexpected offer. He will train her to find her missing friends, but she will need to have trust in abilities she barely believes exist and more courage than she ever thought she could summon. And there will be no going back.
Given the choice between this and abandoning her friends to their horrifying fate, the decision is simple. She must rise to the challenge.
But how can she be a superhero when she doesn’t know what her power is?

But I haven’t read the first books in this series.

Fear not. Layers of Light is part of the 46. Ascending collection of six interrelated yet stand-alone novels celebrating the superhero in us all. These stories can be read in any order as they overlap in time and compliment each other.

(Layers of Light does contains some non-graphic mature content and references to human trafficking and the sex trade.)

Can I try an excerpt?

Of course you can.

Teddie knew she should have called Amy first, but she was so excited to have a pass to leave school alone that she didn’t want to wait. The constant monitoring and need to stay in groups was one more thing she hadn’t considered when she signed up for this. She knew it was for her own safety, but some days all she wanted was to get into her little pick-up truck, turn her music up loud, and drive.

Ana, the employee at Amy’s small office, apologized. Amy had left for the day.

“She’s chasing a lead on Usha and made me promise to tell no one where she was going, for Usha’s safety.”

“Can you give me the direction she went?”

“No, but she’s left the city. She won’t be back until tomorrow.”

As Teddie headed back to the bus, she realized the school expected her to be gone for a while. She could go shopping, or go visit some of the little art galleries along Nehru Road. Playing hooky for an hour would do wonders for her outlook.

She wandered around, enjoying the street art and small shops, and on her way back to school, she stopped at the mall for a soft drink. She was sitting at a little table in the food court when she saw him.

He was at the other end, staring at her. She looked away and pretended to look for something in her purse. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him stand up to his full six-feet-plus height. Her heart start to pound. He was walking in her direction. Teddie felt dizzy with fear and looked around for a stranger who could help. She got up to talk to an older woman to her left, but as she stood up fast she felt light-headed, and then she started to faint.

Teddie stood over her own collapsed body, confused. Was this another variation of these dreams? She looked up. Everyone else in the food court was ignoring her and looking at her unconscious body on the floor. The woman to her left, the one she’d hoped would help her, was gathering up her parcels to leave, not wanting to get involved.

Only the large man was looking into her awake and aware eyes. He gave a short, solemn bow, then jumped into the air and turned a perfect double-forward somersault, landing on his feet like the girl and boy had done in the snow. Not a soul in the food court noticed him.

As the strangeness of the situation sunk in, Teddie felt light-headed again. Then, she was lying on the cold tile floor, watching a security guard hurry towards her. The large man was gone.

Now for something different …

I thought I knew what I was going to do next. It was going to be a clever combination of crime novel and speculative fiction, with a main character sleuth who has been growing in my head for over a year. I  called the project “Next” and made folders for it on my computer and in real life. “Next” was about to happen.

Then I got a day at a spa for mother’s day.

It was six hours of relaxing with cucumber slices over my eyes while people massaged my feet and poured me champagne. Yes, it was as wonderful as it sounds.

It was also the longest I’ve gone in a long time without prodding my brain to do what I wanted it to do. (Wait. Aren’t I and my brain the same thing?)

The point is I, or some part of me, went ahead and used this wonderful time to make up a story. A rather good story, really. It didn’t surprise me because making up stories is what I’ve always done when I relax, and there was no doubt I was relaxing. I was kind of surprised at how complex the tale got, however.

By the time I’d driven home, I knew what I had to do. You see, the only time I struggle with writers block is when I (okay, some part of me, let’s call her the adult manager in charge of my head) insists I write whatever Ms. Manager has decided I must.

No matter how hard Ms. Manager insists, it doesn’t happen.

The little kid in my head who makes up the stories simply stops making them up until she is once again allowed to tell her stories, in her way. I’ve learned that if I want to be a writer, I let this little kid do as she damn well pleases. The editor in me (who I suspect is in cahoots with Ms. Manager) can clean up her mess later.

And this little kid really, really wants to tell the story she made up at the spa. So ….

I’ve drawn her a map of the imaginary realm where it will take place.  She named the characters during the full body massage, but I fleshed out several important secondary characters for her, provided a rough timeline, and created a few new words to describe concepts she came up with that don’t have a word in English.

My best friend and chief research associate (who also carries the title of “husband”) has agreed to watch a few old movies with me to provide background I know I need.

Three other people I’m close to have been nice enough to listen to a verbal version of my story. I find that telling it aloud helps me clarify it and hang on to it better, sort of the way describing a dream to someone else helps move it into the conscious mind.

Now, I’m ready to start the messy, emotional process of writing a raw draft. It generally involves yelling, crying and laughing aloud on my part, so I tend not to write first drafts in public places. It’s a scary process for me, yet it’s an exhilaration beyond any I know.

Later, all the adults in my brain will take over, and hopefully turn it into a book. We’ll see …

 

 

 

What makes it a romance novel?

It happened again. I was reading along, really enjoying a novel described as science fiction. Then about three quarters of the way through, a side romance, previously hinted at, took over the plot, and much of the remainder of the story involved making sure these two hot people ending up having sex and, in this case, living happily after. Other threads were dropped or swept aside.

So. Let’s be blunt. I think sex is wonderful. I agree love is the greatest thing in the universe. I like it when people live happily ever after, or at least I’m allowed to think they will.  However, romantic love (in all its trials and tribulations) doesn’t carry a plot for me.

I like action, intrigue, and surprises. I enjoy puzzles, and profound thoughts.  So why do I end up reading so many romance novels and then complaining about it in the reviews?

It took a bad review of one of my own books to get me to understand. This reader found my novel Shape of Secrets on Net Galley. I had to pick a couple of categories for it, and I chose Fanatsy and LGBT novels. The story is about a gay human chameleon who has a romance with another man who struggles with prejudice his home country. The categories seemed reasonable. Coltostallion didn’t agree.

I’m going to start by saying that I didn’t like this book. I’m still giving it three stars because the issue is not that it wasn’t a good book, it’s just not a book I liked. I will also say that I, personally, would not consider this an LGBT book so much. Some might say any LGBT character means the book deserves this tag, but while the book contains romantic relationships I would not consider it romance and this is the same reason I would personally not consider it LGBT.

As for the story itself, it was well written and the plot is very interesting.

I understand. (I also appreciate the compliment.)

For although my main character falls in love and makes himself look like other people in order to save the day, the last part of the book … the climax if you will … is all about who murdered his boss and framed his friend. It’s about catching this person and bringing them to justice. Whether I like it or not, I didn’t write a fantasy novel or an LGBT one.  I wrote a murder mystery, and the people who will enjoy this book are people who like crime novels. The other parts are window dressing. My mistake.

I think other authors are having the same problem.

I’m trying to do more reviews on my blogs, and I wish to encourage and support independent speculative fiction writers, especially women, who historically have not been given as much of a voice. I also like strong women protagonists.

So I’ve been signing up to review any fantasy or science fiction I think fits that niche.

I know the biggest chunk of online book sales goes to romance novels. Primarily written by women and for women, they take place in ancient Rome and on Alpha Centauri. They involve murders, politics and philosophy. However, the climax (by this I do mean the most intense action in the last quarter of the book or so) is primarily about two beings realizing they are attracted to each other and overcoming obstacles so they can act upon that knowledge.

Little of that ending has to due with slave revolts, halcyon beams or lawyers’ closing statements (except as it furthers the ultimate hook-up). It doesn’t matter if they are vampires or live in feudal Japan. The emphasis makes it a romance novel, no matter where it takes place or what else the author calls it.

So why are so many women authors leaving the word romance out of their descriptions? Perhaps there is some stigma attached? There shouldn’t be, but maybe women prefer to tell themselves or others they read some romance, and some historical fiction. A little sci-fi. Does it feel more well-rounded?

Or is the story of two lovers finding each other so compelling to many women writers that they assume it is how all readers want the story to end?  Get rid of that pesky dragon revolt and let’s move on to the good stuff? The story’s not over till the two hot people f**k? Maybe it is simply how they view a story.

The sad result of this, as least to me, is that my average rating for women authors is well below my average for men. Even though I’ve sworn to read the blurbs carefully, and avoid romance novels in disguise, they keep creeping up on me.

On the flip side, I’m taking a harder look at my own novels, forcing myself to define what it is I’ve written. Sure there are blends and grey areas, but when it comes down to the action at the end, every novel reveals it’s reason for being.

What is it the main character wants more than anything? Justice? Freedom? Understanding? Health? Enlightenment? A second chance? The universe is full of things to crave, and I’ll keep seeking out books about women, men and imaginary creatures who want things that fascinate me.

 

 

Have Courage

In “Layers of Light” a teenage girl and an elderly woman join others in a daring rescue attempt. One of the themes of this book is that all humans are capable of impressive courage, including the many demographics we don’t usually associate with this trait.

I’m trying to show more courage in my own life, and for me right now that translates into being more honest about who I am. My deep dark secret? I write science fiction ….

This may seem to some as nothing to hide, but I’ve worn a lot of different hats and made acquaintances in a lot of different arenas.  In many settings, my secret life as a teller of fantastic tales would be considered odd at best.

None the less ….

When I reissued my first novel x0 as the the shiny new “One of One” last week, I decided to send an email about it to everyone in my contacts list. Everyone. I guess I saw it as a sort of therapy. Here I am. I make up stuff and I’m proud of it.

How many people are in your contacts list? I had no idea, but mine included over 700. So the first thing I accomplished was cleaning it out. Getting rid of people I knew I didn’t want in there took it down to more like five hundred, and getting rid of those I had no clue who they were got me to 434.

Then I parceled it into groups, thinking that way I wouldn’t have to hide everyone behind a bcc and have a greater risk of ending up in their junk folders. You know, high school friends. College friends. My husband’s relatives. I made my way through every category that had two or more entrants and I will say I learned a great deal about my own life and the people I’d bothered to stay in touch with along the way. Some segments are well represented, others barely at all. Interesting.

I finished it all with a category called “you’re a friend I can’t classify” and called it done.

Then I sent everyone an email saying

You know what happened? Yup, about 390 people didn’t get the email, didn’t open it, or didn’t respond. That’s not what matters. Forty or fifty people did, and they contacted me and said “wow, that’s really cool.”

Yeah.

 

Day 19. A Border Crossing

You’d think it’s be pretty easy to wake up, throw all your shit in the car, and go, but it turns out is isn’t.

I have to dismantle a 6-man canvas tent, a shade structure helpful camp mates have skewered into the ground with lag screws, and a shelving unit I assembled on site. I have countless dusty bins of what-the-hell-is-this, not to mention 3.75 unused rolls of singly ply toilet paper and more lotions than I could use in a year. Nope, I was definitely not one of those under-prepared first time burners.

It takes me about three hours to do what I allowed 30 minutes for, and that’s only because I get a fair amount of help. My noon-time good-byes are rushed and sweaty, perhaps not a fitting climax to this amazing experience, but then again, exactly what about this experience has been fitting?

Because I am leaving a day before the man burns, I am avoiding the most crowded time here (by choice) and am also avoiding the up to 12 hour exit lines others will experience two days from now.  Even then, the five mile an hour drive out is slow and long. Along the way, I distract myself by cherishing my favorite moments.

There was the deep playa at night, my happy place if ever I’ve had one. There was the humor and playfulness. The kindness that was the norm, not the exception.

How about the nearly assembled 747 blaring out Santana’s Black Magic Woman as I rode up to it at sunset? For that matter, the mix of music of all types coming at me 24/7 was surprisingly entertaining and even soothing. The soothing part is hard to explain, but ear plugs and an eye pillow remain two of the things I didn’t need to bother to bring. Burning man lulled me into a sound sleep each night, and woke me each morning.

I never visited the MOOP MAP place (MOOP being matter out of place, often referred to as trash in the default world), but it’s location pointed me home to camp each night when I was done exploring. Thank you MOOP MAP.

I spent a few early evenings over at Vines Without Borders, a camp near mine that poured wines from around the world every night, offering both a great selection of wine and of people to drink wine with. They made me glad I brought a plastic wine glass.

I know there is so much I didn’t see, and I suppose that is part of the charm. I think this place works best if you leave deciding you found the things you were supposed to, and what you missed, well, it was meant for others, or maybe for you another time. Some of the art and camps do come back year after year.

I was warned it was common to feel a rush of emotions once one’s tires first touch pavement after the exit, and when mine roll onto the asphalt, I do. To me it feels like a border crossing, leaving one reality and entering another.

As I drive through Gerlach, I slow down with the same care I showed six days ago. I don’t need a speeding ticket, so I let all the sparkly memories settle into the back of my mind as I concentrate on the road.

I realize I’ve had a crazy week, but I wasn’t in a crazy place, just a different one; one in which I got to experience joy and sorrow and wonder, sometimes all at once.

Today’s Rule of the Road: When you cross the border into another reality, cross it.

Today’s song? I must have heard this one a few times, as I rode around and as I slept.

 

Top Requirement for a Superhero

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, for some odd reason I’ve never been much of a fan of Wonder Woman.

It could have been the tiara, way back when, or the silly skirted costume. This original heroine was before my time, but her image lingered, and it made her appear to me like a secretary out of the 40’s hustling to get her really angry boss a cup of coffee.

More likely it was the goofy boots and lasso I saw as a young girl. This modernized Wonder Woman had a faintly Texas air about her, and I wasn’t big on cowboy stories. Was I judging her by her appearance? Sadly, yes. I didn’t know much else about her, though, because although I read comics and watched superheroes on TV,  somehow her stories were never there. Her image was all I had.

Then I became a teen-aged feminist, and Wonder Woman became a sex object. Well, not totally I’m sure, but her outward appearance took a sharp turn, so once again I wasn’t interested in her. I preferred my heroes not to look like that they were prepared to do a lap dance in some sort of kinky bondage strip club.

Finally, I outgrew superheros for a long while, as I tended to the challenges of life in my own real world. It was only when I picked up my laptop and started to write books that I discovered how much I had missed heroes with superpowers.

Didn’t give Wonder Woman much thought though, until I caught an interview with the director of the upcoming movie. Really? Someone is making a movie about Wonder Woman?

It sounded interesting, and I went. And I loved it. Not because she was a woman, though that was nice. Not because she was strong and heroic, which of course she was. And not because the whole rest of the movie was basically done with taste and class, though I thought it was, too.

I loved it because she had what I need to see in every hero I appreciate. She had heart. Compassion. Kindness. Ethics. Morals. A desire to make the world better. All those things that all the guy heroes I liked had all along, and maybe she had it too but if all you get is an image and an occasional bit in a fight scene, then there is no way to show that heart is there.

I walked away loving her concept of “it’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what you believe.” That’s a great way to run an army, a country, or a world. In fact, I like that idea so much that all my other blog posts this month will be about letting beliefs shape actions.

I love superheroes. And, I love it when women in fiction are strong and capable. But, my favorite hero of them all is now Wonder Woman.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Believe, It’s About What You Believe, I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them, and Believe in Tomorrow.)

 

 

And that’s the way it was, June 30, 1940

Young people will find role models where they can. I remember two of mine. The independent professional woman Lois Lane, and the fiery red-headed reporter Brenda Starr. I was eight or so, and I read the Sunday comics every week, and watched the kids program “Major Astro” most days after school.

Of course “Major Astro” had five or six programs, and the comics were full of stories, but all the other young women featured in my entertainment world seemed to do nothing but silly things. Only Lois and Brenda had adventures. They were reporters.

Ten years later I headed off to college to major in journalism. I didn’t particularly want to write for a newspaper, and in fact was poorly suited to asking anyone questions they didn’t want to answer. But I wanted to be independent and fiery and have adventures, you know, so even though I’d long since stopped caring about either of my heroes, I landed in their profession. Go figure.

I suppose it’s a good thing that Major Astro didn’t run Wonder Woman features  or I might have joined the army instead.

This year, I’ve fallen in the habit of reading about what happened today in history, because it is a calming antidote to the chaos of current events. Imagine my delight at discovering that seventy-seven years ago today, “Brenda Starr” the cartoon strip by Dale Messick, first appeared in the Chicago Tribune. More surprising to me was that Dale was a woman, and she originally tried to sell her newspaper on a cartoon strip about a female pirate. When that failed, she opted for her red-haired reporter instead, and for forty years she wrote and illustrated the comic strip, always fighting to keep Brenda as an adventurous woman. Two hundred and fifty newspapers carried her work at one time.

Lois kind of fell by the wayside for me, given how obsessed she was with superman. But Brenda, something in me still admires her and wants to be her.

(For more segments about June days from long ago, see That’s the Way It Was June 10, 1947, June 15, 1984, June 18, 1972, and June 28, 1888.)

Am I writing sexist science fiction?

daxI’ve been a feminist since I was a teenager; longer than that if you consider wanting to be the chief science officer on the star ship Enterprise as a sign of early feminism. And yet, like other like-minded authors of speculative fiction, I struggle with feminism in my writing.

My first problem is that I define feminism as the radical notion that women are people. This means that some of them (women, or people if you prefer) are foolish. Some are selfish or incompetent, and a few of them are downright mean. All of them have flaws. I believe that to make every female character, or even most of them, models of virtue is to not treat my female characters as people, but rather as carriers pigeons for an ideology.

I recently stumbled on an online group discussion about a book I read years ago. Dreamsnake (a multiple award-winning 1978 science fiction novel written by Vonda McIntyre) defied the stereotypes of the genre way back then by putting a gutsy lady hero in the middle of a broken world. I wanted to like this book so much. But I didn’t, at least not all that much.

dreamsnakeThe main character Snake seemed two dimensional to me. She was everything a feminist hero should be, which was great, and she was never anything else, which kind of bored me. The rest of the women in her post-apocalyptic world were equally unwavering in their strength and capability. There may have been exceptions (it has been many years since I read the book) but my lingering impression was of a cast of characters carefully crafted to make a point. Interesting, but not engaging.

So, my female characters are all over the place. Most of my protagonists are strong women, but my novel y1 features a gay male shape shifter, and his friends.

I remember being so excited when a blog called The Future Fire agreed to review the book, and being so disappointed when the reviewer remarked “I do have to say, I am not really impressed by the depiction of women here. Of the two main female characters, one is shown to be foolish and unstable (where have we seen those words before?) and the other a child-like creature who runs from one daddy figure to another.”

y1-final-smallNo, I wanted to scream. That’s just two of the characters. What about capable Chloe? Resilient Raven? They are just as important to the plot. But of course one of the things you have to learn when you write books is not to scream at your reviewers, even in your own head, no matter how much you think they are missing the point. You just try to make your intentions more clear in the next book.

The other problem I have with my own sense of feminism and writing, is that I want my world to feel real to my readers. Sadly, our cultural stereotypes are internalized from childhood whether we like it or not, and they color our sense of what is believable. A writer can easily have one top surgeon at the hospital be female, and I think a good story ought to have a few of them. However, if the writer insists on making well over half of the doctors female (and more than half of the nurses male) then today’s reader will struggle to settle into the plot. This works fine if gender is supposed to play part in the story, or in the world-building. But if it isn’t, then you’ve got a bright light shining where you don’t want one, and you have to choose between making your point and engaging your reader.

A while back I read a fascinating article on a blog called Mythcreants entitled Five Signs your Story is Sexist.  This wonderful and helpful post included such gems as

“Patriarchy conditions us to think of men as normal and women as special exotic creatures. That’s why in many stories, particularly stories written by men, characters are only women if the storyteller thinks they have to be.”

Excellent point. If every female in the story is someones girlfriend, sister, daughter or mother, I think a good storyteller should seek out a few other characters and change their gender. You know, the helpful bartender who notices something that saves the hero can be a girl, and no, your hero does not have to fall in love with her. She can even be an old woman.

Here is another gem.

“Because most of us have a very skewed sense of what ratio of men to women is normal, the only way to ensure equal representation is to actually count them up and tally the total.”

This is an exercise well worth doing. While I think that a writer may not be able to achieve “equal representation” without making gender an issue in a novel meant to be about something else, I bet writers of all genders will be surprised by how far we all lean towards predominantly male stories. Yes, we can lean less that way and still tell a tale that sounds like it is real.

I’m already working on the novel I hope to write after I finish my 46. Ascending series. My protagonist will be a she, of course, and I already know that she will be smart, capable and kind. That part is easy. Now I’m working on what she doesn’t do well, developing the ways in which she is vulnerable. To me, those traits will be what makes her story interesting, and also what makes her fully human.