Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Dragon Tamer - First Edits Done!

I just got The Dragon Tamer back from the editor at Dreamspinner Press. I'd barely glanced at the manuscript since the day I originally submitted it, and it was nice to review it with fresh eyes. The DSP edits were about 99% formatting edits. It's funny; some authors get touchy over having their writing altered, even if the changes are minor. I think I'm kind of the opposite. The less changes there are, the more nervous I get. That means that I really have to take accountability for the quality of my own writing, and as a first-time author, that's kind of a scary thing!

Aside from the matter of quality, a lot of my fear comes from the fact that my first story is "bittersweet," as in no "happily ever after." (And no, I'm not hiding this behind a spoiler alert; it's being published under DSP's "Bittersweet Dreams" line after all, so there's no secret.) I understand that a lot of readers don't want anything to do with a bittersweet story, but I think these stories still need to be told. At the same time I do admit that I hesitate to write or read a full-length novel that I know will end sadly, only because a novel requires a bigger investment, emotionally and otherwise. I find short stories easier in this case.

I wouldn't say The Dragon Tamer has a "sad ending." I think it has the right ending. But I'm not the final judge; rather, I'm the one on trial.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Little Bit About Ana

Before anyone has a chance to wonder who I am and why I'm here, I thought I'd take the time to post about...well...who I am and why I'm here.

Who are you?
First off, my name is not Ana Bosch. But that's what we'll call me as long as I'm writing m/m fiction. I'm not hiding any deep, dark secrets here, and it'll honestly be pretty easy for anyone to find out my real name. So why the pen name, if it's not a deep, dark secret? Simply because I don't want my work in this genre to get mixed in with my work in other genres.

What do you write?
I write stories that I think are fun. Most tend to be in the fantasy and paranormal genres. As a youngster, I had grand aspirations of writing Literature (with a capital "L"), but I've since realized that I'm nowhere near as serious as you need to be in order to write Literature. Having chosen a career in illustration, writing is now my hobby. And what's the point of a hobby if it's not fun? So I've decided to focus on writing what's fun.

The vast majority of my writing is casual, perhaps a bit eccentric, perhaps a bit campy. My upcoming short story release, The Dragon Tamer, is at the opposite end of my spectrum. It's about as serious as I can go. It's an m/m fantasy romance, to be released in Dreamspinner Press's "Bittersweet Dreams" line.

What writing experience do you have?
I learned everything I know about writing through observation and osmosis. While I took several creative writing classes in college, they were at an art school. So let's face it, they weren't challenging. Fun, certainly. But I can't say that I learned. My last challenging writing class was back in high school, when they had a class that was one step above honors. That was an awesome class.

I read a lot. I write more. I absolutely love typing, so sometimes I write just so I'd have an excuse to type.

What do you read?
I love mysteries, even if they do tend to be a bit formulaic. But my true love is the classics. My favorite books are A Separate Piece, The Catcher in the Rye, The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaardner, and As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann. Oh, and of course the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Clearly, I don't write what I read.

So why m/m fiction?
The long answer:
In real life, I'm just about the least romantic person you'll ever meet. But at the same time, I do enjoy stories of people making real connections with each other. (I think I save up all my romantic notions for the theoretical rather than the practical.) However, I absolutely can't stand the artificial and damaging portrayals of gender roles in most heterosexual romantic stories. My feminist nature usually prevents me from enjoying stories of heterosexual love because the depictions of the women just don't jive with me. I'm more picky and critical of female characters than is probably healthy.

One of the things I enjoy about m/m fiction is that you have the freedom to explore a relationship between two equals, without having to convince half your audience that they are in fact equals. (It's one of the most unfair things in the world, but it's the way I feel.) But of course, that's not the only reason.

I do plan on working on some fiction with powerful and compelling female leads, but chances are there will be little to no romance in those stories. Whether in m/m or heterosexual fiction, whether in romance or other genres, I love characters who don't follow a gender stereotype.

The short answer:
Every time I write a story, the dudes always seem to end up together, through no fault of my own. ;)

With all that being said, I'd add that my stories are more plot-driven than romance-driven.

Do you write porn?
I would have to say no. The way I define porn is if the sexual content of a story overshadows the characters enough to turn them into objects. To me, sex scenes are only interesting if I know and care about the characters and understand what's at stake for them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How To Read A How To

As some of you may know, in early October I received my first short story contract. Since then, I've been in contact with many other writers and have had the opportunity to learn a lot from them. In a recent conversation with a more experienced author, she told me about her unpleasant experience reading a "how-to" guide to writing. The guide was written by another author whose work I enjoy, and although I knew he'd put out this how-to guide, I never felt inclined to read it. The conversation made me think about why I'd avoided his book, and why I actually tend to avoid most how-to's in general, both in writing and in art.

Would I read a tutorial called "How to use the curves tool in Photoshop" or "How to use an airbrush"? Absolutely! Do I read the Chicago Manual of Style and check out the style guides of any publisher I plan to do business with? Definitely. These are technical skills and guidelines that anyone can share, and I'm always interested in learning them.

But when it comes to creative endeavors--i.e. how to write a novel, how to paint a webcomic page, etc.--I believe that the words "how to" in the title of any book or tutorial should be replaced by "how I." I love checking out step-by-steps and process work of other artists; it's fascinating to see how different we all are, and how other artists' brains work. And sometimes I learn a thing or two that could make my own art better. But when "this is how I do it" turns into "this is how you should do it," there's the potential for trouble.

I'm speaking as someone who loves looking at unique and one-of-a-kind art, and someone who loves reading books that don't follow a formula. I get disheartened every time I see a clique of webcomic artists who share the same style and every time I read a book that I feel like I've already read.

In the field of illustration, there are many valid professional reasons for emulating someone else's style. But the beauty of webcomics, self-published comics, and most novels is that they represent the creative vision of their individual writers and artists.

Unlike the big comic book publishers that choose a story based on marketing directives and hire people with good technical skills to churn them out, webcomics and self-published works come from a more natural origin. They are individual works of art; therefore I believe they shouldn't look like they came out of a corporate cookie cutter.

So technically, the title of this blog should be "How I read a how-to." And the way I do it is I treat it as an autobiography. If there are elements of it that are inspiring, I give them a shot. But I don't follow them step-by-step. I want to draw and write like me, not like the lite version of someone who wrote a tutorial.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lame Female Characters

Types of lame female characters:

---The damsel in distress - comes in a wide variety of disgusting flavors.

---The damsel in imminent danger (she doesn't need to be saved *yet* - but she is a target, and the story revolves around the men keeping her protected. Lite version of the Damsel in Distress.)

---The woman who "stays at home" while the men go off to have an adventure (fyi, this includes the ever popular woman who insists on going with the men, is told to stay back, goes anyway, gets in trouble, and then has to be saved by the men)

---The static female character who exists as a foil so the dynamic male character can grow, develop, and find himself.

---The woman who exists as a pawn and/or bargaining chip to be used by the men of the story.

---The woman who is talented and useful - but NEVER as talented or useful as the men of the story

---The woman who is the constant supplier of fan service for male readers/watchers

---The woman who's included in the story just so the story would have a woman

---The token female in an ensemble. Descriptions of the main characters are usually along the lines of "shy and bookish Dave, charismatic overachiever Jon, witty slacker Steve, and sexy Valerie" - because "sexy" is the only character trait that many writers care to ascribe to women

---The woman who's dead before the story starts and is an idealized memory that symbolizes the male character's previously happy life.

---The lead woman who blindly and unconditionally supports/follows the lead male and doesn't have any aspirations of her own.

---The woman who falls in love with the hero, but the villain wants to marry her. (Sometimes female characters become sucky not just through their own personalities, but through the situations that the writer decides to put them in. See also: damsel in distress)

---The hysterical girl who does nothing but shriek and throw fits

---The woman who is a "female version" of one of the male characters

---The "sweet and gentle" girl. (She's good with children and animals. That's usually the extent of her character development.)

---The one-dimensional nurse/healer/nurturer (similar to the above)

---The fragile woman who breaks easily (always crying on the man's shoulder, seeking reassurance, unable to support herself emotionally)

---The woman whose sexuality is her main weapon. (Any woman for whom sexuality is their main weapon clearly doesn't have any other worthwhile talents.)

---The sheltered woman who waits around for a man to show her a "new world," an adventure, true love, etc.

---The woman whom aaaaall the men in the story have a crush on. (Usually the hero gets her; after all, that's why he's the hero. It's all about trophies and bragging rights.)

---The woman who represents negative female personality stereotypes - catty, manipulative, PMS-y, sets "traps" for the men, etc. - rather than *real* character flaws that aren't so misogynistic

---The beautiful woman who belongs to a society that's under attack by the male lead, who then falls in love with the male lead and convinces him to spare her people. (It all boils down to the woman being at the mercy of the man, and the woman only has an impact on the man because she's sexually attractive.)

---The beautiful and/or popular woman who's out of the male lead's league - but he gets her anyway. (Because men are supposed to win the prize, and women are supposed to settle.)

---The super awesome chick who, through the course of the story, transforms into any of the above. To me, this is the worst of all!

General Comments:

---For the most part, female characters are infinitely cooler, more realistic, and more capable in children's/young adult stories than they are in stories with an adult audience. I think one reason for this is because the characters themselves are often underage, so the writer doesn't have the option of turning them into sex objects. Also, many of those stories are actually written for a female audience. In the end, it's nice that so many children's and young adult novels teach girls that they are talented and capable, before they grow up and Hollywood tells them that they're worthless unless they're sexually attractive.

---Too often, when writers want to tell a story about a universal human condition, they use a male lead. When they want to tell a story about a female/feminine condition, they use a female lead. I wish more writers would use female leads to tell stories with universal meaning.

---Along those lines, movies with female leads are often automatically labeled "chick flicks." It suggests that regardless of theme, too many men have no interest in hearing about a woman's point of view. (For example, I don't know why so many people call Erin Brockovich a chick flick. How is it a "girly" story?)

---The women I know and like in real life are universally cooler than any fictional female I can think of (because so many female characters are written badly and are not based on any form of reality)

---There is a difference between a "cool woman" and a "cool female character." Interesting characters are not necessarily people you'd like or admire (or want to sleep with!) in real life.

---It's a lot easier to find cool female characters here on the ground level (self-published works). Somewhere between here and Hollywood/Marvel/DC/other major publishers, the cool girls get weeded out.

---Just for the record, there's ALSO a lot of really crappy male characters out there. But I'll let the guys talk about which male characters do them a disservice.

---In my opinion, it's better to have no female characters than to have only crappy female characters.

SUPER RARE and awesome things I'd like to see more of:

---Female leads who are not "girlfriend material." Books, movies, and comics have a wide variety of male characters, but it seems like all leading ladies are required to be cute, sexy, sweet, or otherwise the kind of girl that the average guy would want to sleep with

---Female leads who actually provide a unique talent or point of view to an ensemble, other than just providing the token female point of view

---Female characters who are realistically flawed. (And I'm talking about flaws other than "dumb blond," "sex worker," or other stereotypical crap.)

---Female anti-heroes

---Dynamic female characters who grow and go through a mental/emotional journey that has nothing to do with romantic love

---A female lead who doesn't have a crush, fall in love, have a significant other, or have a guy who's crushing on her

---A female character who is presented as a human rather than a woman

---Female characters who are as unique and varied as the women I know and talk to in real life

---Adventure stories with female leads - or basically any depiction of a woman having an actual adventure (that doesn't involve becoming a damsel in distress or needing a man to *give* her an adventure)

---Lesbians who are neither (a) villains out to destroy men, nor (b) essentially straight girls who kiss other girls just to turn guys on. (FYI, "lesbian" isn't a personality trait in and of itself. Too many writers think it is.)

(originally posted on my art blog)