Thursday, December 19, 2013

Romance This: Women's So-Called Liberation and Romance Literature Genre

[photo: Reading on the 4 Train, by
Jens Schott Knudsen (pamhule) via Flickr]
It’s ridiculous that women's satisfaction with their state of liberation can be called into question based on a choice of literature genre.
How can any rational human even assume today’s women are liberated when subject to
  • Criticism — Women can't choose reading material freely without criticism of their personal lives or their gender’s condition;
  • Demeaned — Their reading material's quality is deprecated, treated as not-literature with scare quotes and non-literature description (“guilty pleasures”);
  • Denied information autonomy — Women's reading privacy is violated as if women are not entitled to acquire any information they desire for any personal reason;
  • Privacy violated — Physical personal space in a public commons can be freely breached to satisfy any man's curiosity without pushback.
Women’s selection of romance literature is marginalized, in spite of the fact that today’s content categorized under this genre is little different from that deemed LITERATURE! — the big caps, award-winning men-bestowed curriculum-worthy literature like Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing or Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.
Women and romance literature are denigrated in spite of the fact romance literature is a thriving business proposition, first as published and then as adapted into other media. Just ask Nicholas Sparks how things are hanging these days.
But we women who are the preponderance of romance lit readers don’t need some whiny op-ed to question our liberation and our satisfaction, let alone a poorly researched, self-selected, unaware answer, or subsequent suggestions about reading material alternatives. We put up with more than enough crap already.
Our culture expects to see we women as taking less space due to our under-representation in film and TV roles. We women are too infrequently behind the camera as well.
The science and technology that impacts our lives is too rarely designed and made by women; our research is commonly ignored.
Given these existing conditions at a minimum, it’s no wonder at all why we seek a particular genre of literature when we’re not working. We simply want to be entertained — Calgon, take us away! In this respect, the impetus and outcome are little different than the urge to watch sports, and business journalists aren’t criticizing anyone’s enjoyment of that relatively empty pursuit.
As bestselling romance author Susan Elizabeth Phillips put it, "Romance books are the only books you can read where the woman always wins, and that's very powerful to women," a point hard to argue with after a long day slogging it out for 77 cents to every man's dollar in wages.
It might be that the male-borne criticism takes unconscious issue with another less obvious attribute in romance literature:
“Romances are, in fact, subversive literature: They encourage women to be dissatisfied with inequality, and to set higher expectations for themselves, and they show them ways to achieve those expectations, largely by taming men and, in a way, usurping their power. Romances are arguably the only art form of any kind that portrays women as equal partners with men.” (Source: Dave Pollard, How to Save the World)
We can’t have 51% of the population seeking out literature that undermines the male-dominated status quo, now, can we?
Let’s recap: Some guy with a 20-plus year career  in business journalism got paid to write an evergreen opinion piece to fill out a thin holiday schedule. He questioned women's satisfaction with their liberation, based on his ability to invade some unsuspecting woman's personal space to determine what she was reading.
To him I say this: Take a number and get in line behind all the other absurd inequities women have to put up with every damned day, buddy — then fuck off and stay out of our books.
Count yourself lucky we’re reading and not overthrowing your world and its comfortable illusions.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A New Kid on the Block: Fan Fiction Writers' Newest Platform Poses Questions

I noted a sudden spike in my timeline of fan fiction writers discussing and moving to a relatively unknown fan fiction publishing platform. Naturally I had to take a look to see what the fuss was about; after taking a look around, I have more questions than answers.

In the last year we’ve seen new efforts to capitalize on fan fiction’s popularity;, which appears to have been started this spring and opened this summer, is one of the newest.

The site's home page is very spare, stripped down as if it was built from a free template in a matter of an hour. I didn’t register, though; perhaps there’s more backend, but the homepage is incredibly lean.

And then I noticed this next to the logo: it’s a beta. This is NOT a full production site. Why would fan fiction authors get excited about a relatively untried beta platform?

Many fan fiction writers migrated to Archive Of Our Own (AO3) last summer, when the mac daddy of fan fiction publishing platforms, (FFn), started yanking down thousands of published stories for violations of terms of service due to reader complaints about mature content. AO3 was launched in 2009 as a nonprofit site, but it had been in beta for quite a long time and had not experienced an explosion of growth like that of 2012. Service disruptions happened frequently, which should be expected for internet sites with a sudden vertical growth curve. The disruptions aggravated a number of users, who had been used to the more stable and much older FFn; consequently, there has been a mild frustration among some fan fiction writers waiting to be relieved.

Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds (AKW) did not provide that relief at its inception earlier this year. It offers writers a chance to be paid for their works, but the range of content it permits is ridiculously narrow, based only on a handful or two of Warner Brothers-based programming. It’s not clear whether Warner Brothers will view content published through AKW as an informal slushpile that might be used for extending their franchises.

Wattpad, an online self-publishing platform encouraging both original and fan fiction, has also not satisfied the frustrated fan fiction faction. The site, launched in 2006 and funded by both advertising revenues and venture capital, appears to suit the needs of young authors focusing on original rather than fan fiction.

AO3 and Wattpad both, though, are seasoned now; they’ve been around a few years and have already weathered steep growth curves while responding to users’ concerns. AO3, as a subset of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works, also offers a commitment to furthering writers’ rights and their fan fiction craft through legal representation, a fanlore wiki, and preservation of other historical fan content. Wattpad has also encouraged indie writers through their Watty Awards; the backing of big name published author Margaret Atwood is manifest in last year’s Atty Award. While Wattpad’s emphasis has been on original versus fan fiction, their support for non-traditional online, serialized publication serves fan fiction writers.

Perhaps it’s merely because FictionPad is new that so many fan fiction authors have expressed interest in their platform. It is its newness, however, combined with little concrete information about the platform or its originators, which should give fan fiction writers pause.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Goodreads, After the Buyout

For those not already familiar with them, Goodreads is an online community for readers to keep track of books they want to read, are reading, or have read. It also allows them to interact with other readers and authors. Authors can also use Goodreads to promote their own personal brand and books while interacting with readers.

To the best of my knowledge, Goodreads was built as an independent entity using venture capital funds (and not a subsidiary or affiliate of Barnes & Noble NYSE:BKS). The entire business may originally have been “built to flip” given its rather thin monetization on a sketchy business model up to its acquisition in March this year by (NASDAQ:AMZN).

I have three Goodreads accounts serving different purposes, including an author's account. It’s handy for keeping track of my books, but its user interface could use a lot of improvement; I hope Amazon will spend the money to do so. I don’t use it for community interaction about books. but a number of acquaintances use it extensively for tracking their reading, interacting with other readers interested in the same books, and for promoting their own works.

[Hereafter follows lengthy business discussion, skip as desired.]

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Video On Demand: Film and Television's Blind Spot

[Theater in which you are playing]
Missing the VOD Forest for Movie Trees

Scott Myers at Go Into The Story asked this past week why film studios are not making more movies for the largest demographic groups.

What struck me as odd when looking at the Nielsen data provided in Scott’s post: the remarkable stasis in movie audience over the three-year period, when we know that the video-on-demand (VOD) market has changed dramatically during the same period. Consumption of VOD movie content nearly doubled between 2009-2012. (It had already doubled in the preceding three-year time, according to a Pew Internet and American Life study.)

We’re looking at this form of entertainment called film or movies, based on content delivered initially at an external location in approximately two-hour long chunks. But this product and industry appears to be benchmarking against itself when it has other more challenging competition or an entire market in the form of VOD.

This may be one of the answers in itself as to why the industry pitches to the same market; they either cannot get a bead on VOD due to its newness and volatility, or they are blind to it.

Take a look at this presentation [PDF] by the American Advertising Federation (AAF). The numbers are quite different and are extremely fluid, changing substantially over the last three years. Think Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and YouTube as primary examples; how much have their audiences&rsquo consumption patterns changed?

The movie industry’s favorite demographic is the one most likely to watch VOD. At some point, traditional movies as currently formatted will not sync with their lifestyle.

Why is it that the film industry does not appear to be targeting the audience least likely to shift?

Why is it that the film industry is not encouraging development of products that are inherently more flexible in response to their current target demographic before they screen in a traditional theater?

Or is the film industry relying on its traditional products aimed at young adults to continue to appeal through traditional outlets, in spite of the dramatic shift in digital delivery? This approach leaves a more mature market under-served at both the box office and at home.

In theory, advertisers should be pressing the film industry to do better by women with hybridized VOD-movie products as they are the largest group of VOD consumers in terms of consumption of both entertainment and attached advertising. We can see AAF has the numbers, but we can’t yet see any shift in how financing of films may be changing in response to advertisers’ understanding of the marketplace.

There’s a disparity and tension here not fully articulated. Entertainment industry creatives, whether attached to film or VOD, would do well to position themselves for an earthquake when the tension releases.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Case of the Missing Web TV Critics: There's No There There

Aymar Jean Christian at Televisual asked, Where Are The Web TV Critics?, noting traditional outlets for media criticism including New York Times, The AV Club, New York, Slate, The Los Angeles Times, and Variety have yet to establish a regular column evaluating web TV content.

There are several problems with Christian’s criticism:

What is this thing you speak of? —  
A single nomenclature as well as definition for the visual entertainment content streamed over the internet has yet to be developed. What exactly is “web TV”? Is it the same as “video on demand”? “streaming video”? Is it “social TV” or “second screen content” as covered by TVNewser’s sister site, (which doesn’t provide criticism but news of the same)?

The lack of a cohesive, uniform identity encourages marginalization of the content and delivery format. It's easy to discount it because there's no aggregate accruing critical mass for lack of identity and definition.

What the existing outlets for criticism do know is that whatever it is, it’s not Film or Television, both of which they continue to critique.

Why ask the past about the future of entertainment? —  
If this unnamed and undefined entertainment content has not yet found a home after all this time in traditional outlets, perhaps it’s because these platforms are still tied to a dead-tree, brick-and-mortar analog concept of entertainment.

Why not approach newer, internet-only venues like HuffingtonPost, Flavorwire, Gawker, or other outlets which are not tied to print media formats while focusing on internet content?

Further, why approach traditional, mainstream outlets with requests by email, rather than contacting their critics who use social media through the same? The critics who are most wired and current are those who will best understand how the lack of criticism, published on the internet, affects entertainment content released only through the internet.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Diversity on Demand: Challenges to LGBT and Other Minority Entertainment Content

During @BitchFlick’s Tuesday chat about racism and racist stereotypes in Hollywood, @Jamiejhagen asked about LGBT rom-coms.

There are multiple barriers to increasing the number of LGBT rom-coms in video/film. The problems are shared with other minority groups who also want to see themselves represented more accurately and more frequently. Here are some of the most obvious challenges:

1)  Not enough writers who break through to traditional outlets;

2)  Not enough producers who are willing to seek, advocate, promote non-traditional content;

3)  Traditional industry outlets locked into chasing white/male/18-24 demographic;

4)  Insufficiency of ready funding mechanisms.

The first three barriers are quantified in studies like that published by USC-Annenberg’s study on gender inequality in films from 2007-2012; while the study focuses on women in film, other minority groups generally have less representation than women in the same media.

The fourth barrier is in flux; Kickstarter and other crowd- or micro-funding systems are emergent and changing the way programming is funding. The audience commits to the programming it wants upfront, bypassing investor funding compensated by ticket sales and/or advertising/merchandising revenue. Example: Funding for new programming under the once-defunct Veronica Mars series was recently obtained within 48 hours through Kickstarter.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Donating to Oklahoma Disaster Aid Groups With GuideStar Reports

Many Americans outside Oklahoma want to help the people of Moore in the wake of yesterday's horrifying and heartbreaking tornado. The Red Cross is one of the first organizations cited and on site in such domestic disasters, but for various reasons many folks would rather give to different aid outlets. Ditto the Salvation Army and other organizations affiliated with religious groups.

Here are three more alternative organizations assisting with rescue and recovery efforts in Moore; the links provide both GuideStar financial information about the group as well as links and contact information for the organization itself:

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma — they will be distributing food to displaced residents

Humane Society of Central Oklahoma — they will be caring for and feeding displaced pets and farm animals

United Way of Central Oklahoma — this umbrella organization will distribute funds to smaller local charitable organizations for relief efforts

To ensure your donations are used as you desire, indicate in any instruction field or in your check/draft notes area that funds are intended for Moore OK disaster relief if the organization does not already offer a link for that specific purpose.

If you have other suggestions for tornado disaster relief aid, please advise in comments. Thank you.

Author's note: I personally do not give funds for disaster relief to religious groups except for St. Vincent de Paul. I am concerned that some religious groups may discriminate in dispensing aid based on their beliefs, or demand prayers or other religious obligations in exchange for aid.

[Photo: Tornado as it passed south Oklahoma City, via Wikipedia.]

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cheerleading Only, All Others Reported

[photo: Br3nda via Flickr]
Being a fan fiction author by very definition means one is first a fan—that's shorthand for fanatic, a person with more than average devotion to a subject.

Fan fiction communities are collectives of individual devotees loosely organized around a shared subject of interest and hobbyist writings about the same. These folks know their material inside and out, and they are passionate in sharing information about their favorite topic; they're quick to note flaws in fiction writing because of their deep knowledge base.

And yes, I'm a fanatic. I hang with two fandoms revolving around the Twilight Saga and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. To date I've read approximately 75 million words of fan fiction based on these two subjects.

But I'm also a subject matter expert in fields not related to fan fiction. Today I experienced a collision between my fan fiction world and my real world knowledge; it wasn't pretty.

A particular fan fiction work (fanfic) now being published posits a contemporary Fitzwilliam Darcy as a hitman contracted the U.S. government. So far, so good; while this premise is on the fringe of legality under U.S. law and illegal under global treaties, the U.S. does contract "killers" who work with Defense Department's Joint Special Operations Command. They are supposed to work outside the U.S. on matters under Defense Department purview including counterterrorism and illegal drug interdiction.

However, this particular fanfic moves from a credible to incredible storyline where Darcy and his contracting firm have accepted a contract, no questions asked, at the order of the White House to target an American on American soil.

Nope. This is a hard limit for me. The premise asks readers to accept grossly illegal, unconstitutional activity; it's a concept so over the top that belief cannot be suspended. Worse, in two installments to date the piece trends toward agitprop or disinformation in its premise that a "good guy" like Darcy would naturally agree to such activity to defend his country.

Does a serious fan let this go, or do they take issue, especially if they know their American history well enough to say this fiction is over the line?

I debated for a while about it, but my conscience wouldn't let me ignore this problem. I posted a comment contesting the premise.

The comment was reported and taken down. Apparently the community only likes happy cheerleading comments and not challenges to facts when it comes to American history.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finally at Home: My Flash Fiction Collection

I've been dabbling in flash fiction at several sites over the last few months. They provide a brief change of pace from the big multi-chapter works of original fiction I've writing for months.

The restrictions vary by site, but are generally:

1) write to a specified prompt;
2) employ a theme if specified;
3) compose within word count limits generally of 100 to 300 words; and
4) submit by the deadline.

My biggest personal challenge is writing to prompts. Some prompts simply do not move me to write. Other times the prompt is so juicy I have difficulty shutting down the muse. After years of writing to mandatory prompts — write this nonfiction report to satisfy this business requirement — I'm frustrated by the whimsical nature of my fiction muse. As with so many things in life, practice helps; I'm getting better at this.

I hope in the big picture it helps me write better larger works of fiction.

I'm republishing some of the flash fiction I've written under my Fiction page (link in navigation bar at right); it's all tagged as flash fiction to ease the search.

Finally, all my little works are coming home. There's a handful of pieces left in the archives that I'll post over the next week. As I write and submit new ones, I'll cross-post them here.

Do you write or read flash fiction? What do you think of it in comparison to longer formats?

[Shout out here to NANO Fiction, a lovely journal advocating and promoting flash fiction. Follow them at]

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bad, bad blogger

I'm a bad blogger of late. I've been pouring what creative wattage I have into writing my first novel in an anticipated series. What wattage I have left I've poured into odds-n-sods of creative fiction as well as nonfiction political content for a friend's nationally-recognized website.

And this: -- some helpful stuff for noob fiction writers like me.

I promise I'll try to put something fresh up here soon.

Seriously, I promise.

Now go do something creative.