Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Author-Publisher Chat: On Women (and Zombies!) in Fiction

I was chatting, online, with my friend, fellow author (we co-authored the book Hidden Lies and Other Stories), and publisher, Vivian Zabel. We got to talking about what we liked and didn't like about some of the books we'd read lately. She mentioned that one was a little too "gritty" for her taste.

"But some of us like gritty," I said.

"I think what I don't like is women who want to act like a man and be rougher and tougher than a man but then allow their 'emotions' to override their good sense."

"True. I like strong women who are women. You know," I said, "the sort that'll take down a big man with a Vulcan neck grip rather than a kick to the family jewels."

"Yep."

"I can't stand fluffy women - the kind who trip over the carpet, land on their butts, crawl backwards like terrified crabs, and get their brains sucked out by zombies with a bendy straw. We're better than that."

"And a woman," said Vivian, "or a man for that matter, doesn't have to cuss like a sailor to be strong. Strength is often mental more than it is outward swagger."

"I agree," I said. All my female characters began knocking at the inside of my skull, clamoring for attention. To placate them, I added, "But she's allowed to cuss like a sailor under duress, in my book. Not to 'be one of the guys.'"

"Hey, every other word in anyone's vocabulary doesn't have to be profanity. Ish."

"True. But honestly, if the zombies were chasing me with the bendy straws, I'd probably drop an f-bomb on 'em before I figured out how to turn the Bacardi and a Bic into a flamethrower."

"I have tossed books because the characters, usually women, acted so stupid. And usually the authors were women. It doesn't make sense to me that women would work so hard to make women seem like dumb, emotional idiots. I can't stand the silly woman who puts herself in danger when all she has to do is call 911." There was a slight lull in the conversation while Vivian did a mental double-take. "Why associate with zombies in the first place?"

"Good point. Waste of good 151."

11 comments:

  1. There I was, sitting in my office at 2 a.m., nursing a 151 and lime. Not much happens in this Mississippi bayou hick town. But zombies have been running amok lately. At first, I thought it was the local high school kids. But high school kids don't usually look this good on a hot summer night.
    Questions? I had them. Who are these zombies? Why are they here?
    My name is Christmas. Holly Christmas. And I needed answers. Quick.

    ...maybe chasing zombies isn't the best example of women detectives in action. :)

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  2. A little attempt at humor there. Getting to the original point, a woman detective doesn't have to be hard-as-nails. What makes the good woman detective is how she uses her feminine charms to get out of sticky situations, perhaps using a specific trait learned from the men in her life (hubby is a hunter, dad was military...).
    But what makes for a good detective story (of either gender) is the background, such as a period piece (the south in the 60's,) or an exotic location (Morrocco).
    Don't leave it up to the heroine to carry the whole story.

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  3. ROFL!! Obviously, you haven't read anything by Laurell K. Hamilton.

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  4. Obviously you haven't read anything by Laurell K. Hamilton.

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  5. Part of me is itching to argue the point: Why does she have to have learned her skills from the MEN in her life? (Then again, we do learn from everyone we encounter, and even a bad example's likely to serve as a life lesson.) I'm picturing a smart, bookish, very feminine detective whose dad is an artist and whose ex-husband is an ineffectual used car salesman. Why couldn't she have gotten her creative, out of the box thinking from dad, but her inquisitiveness and deductive reasoning skills from her college professor mother? Or from reading too many Nancy Drew novels as a kid? Maybe she got into the field because she couldn't afford to hire a detective to get the evidence to build a case against her ex in divorce court. (That seems terribly cliche, though, doesn't it?) I prefer the unexpected - not only in terms of plot, but character. Not the unimaginable, mind you - characters so unrealistic you want to throw the book across the room - but quirky, interesting, unique, not-tediously-predictable. Those are qualities that draw me in.

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  6. Yep, you did it. Took our light platter, chatter and broadcasted it all over cyberspace.

    Personally, I like heroes and heroines who show intelligence, like calling 911 rather than entering a dark building because he or she saw the beam of a flashlight where there shouldn't be one. Ish. Even my cat is smarter than that. He would yowl.

    And as far as a woman using her "charms" to get information from a man, why can't she use her intelligence? If the villein is a woman, charms won't make any difference.

    I do not like fluffy women either, didn't as a girl nor now as a doddering old woman.

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  7. It's all grist for the mill, remember?

    And I beg to differ. Some men are easy prey to the "charms" of a villainess. (Just as some women are easy prey to the "charms" of a villain.) Employing those charms in a calculated manner, to achieve some nefarious end, is a sign of ruthless intelligence and understanding of human psychology. It may also be a symptom of sociopathy.

    I think after all the B-grade horror movies where the audience is shouting, "No! Don't go upstairs while the creepy music's playing!" we need really strong motivations for our heroines to put themselves in danger, or we risk turning the story into farce.

    But, as my mom once said, when I asked why Disney so rarely had movies with kind mothers and effectual fathers - "Those girls would never have found themselves in such predicaments if they'd had two loving parents with an ounce of sense between them, and then there would be no story."

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  8. Ish, misspelled villain. Fingers are naughty today.

    I know people are sometimes easy prey to "charms" of a villain/villainess, hero/heroine, but I don't like the idea of only charm being needed. Hey, being "nice" can result is better outcomes than being nasty many times, but being smart can most times.

    Remember, Midnight used "charm" to lure victims.

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  9. Those B-grade movies were written by men. They perpetuated this stereotype that women had to use their charm to get out of a sticky situation. Not intelligence, not grit, but charm.

    Love the conversation you had with your friend. Among others, I like this: "I can't stand fluffy women - the kind who trip over the carpet, land on their butts, crawl backwards like terrified crabs, and get their brains sucked out by zombies with a bendy straw. We're better than that."

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  10. Are strong, gritty and lovely women not above using Twitter to get out of a sticky situation? Just asking.

    I like this post so much I tweeted about it. In Twitter of course. If you don't like Twitter - well, never mind. It's just one of those social media thingy anyway.

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  11. Strong, gritty, lovely, and PRACTICAL women will use whatever tools they have at their disposal, to good effect. But behind it all, there is intelligence at play - a brain directing the charm, the wit, and the grit.

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