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The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Dear Readers, I come bearing gifts.

Well, just one gift, actually. And I made it myself, and it’s not a cat sweater.

It is a writing tool extraordinaire (if I do say so myself), dedicated to my dear friend Jen and offered to all. I’ve worked on this thing off and on since May, and there’s a backstory that inspired it, but in the interest of brevity (too late), I’ll let the graphic speak for itself.

May you enjoy it, but never put it to practical use.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

DISCLAIMER #1: I do not write modern romance. This is satire, and any resemblance to any existing modern romance heroine or tag line is purely coincidental. (That sometimes happens when you’re playing with clichés, haha.)

DISCLAIMER #2: This graphic is BIG, and I am not tech-savvy. I muddled over the best way to present it but decided just to toss it up on this post. Good luck. (Protip: Click on the picture to get at the larger version, Mom. It should open in a new screen.)

DISCLAIMER #3: I do have a PDF version, if anyone is silly enough to want a physical copy of this. Sized for A2 paper. (Closest American equivalent is 18″ x 24″.) It cost me $20 to get a draft copy, but the result was delightful. Uhh… leave a comment if you’re interested?

 

Got Low Self-Esteem? Meet One Girl Who’s Had It.

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I’ve had more than a usual amount of reading time lately (*coughprocrastinationcoughcough*), which has reminded me of why I previously took a time-out from reading. My mother says I’m a snob when it comes to books. And she’s probably a little right.

Okay, a lot right.

I’ll be blunt: a lot of common literary tropes get under my skin. I’m guilty of some of them. They’re so inborn to our writing culture that they creep into the draft before we even realize it, with their eely assumptions and biased presuppositions oozing all over everything. On one hand, we have archetypes that act as a starting point for characters to grow and develop. On the other, there’s this sinister narrative that some negative traits and quirks are natural, normal, or even desirable.

Women in literature have an exceptionally difficult role, I think. It’s bad enough that a female protagonist hallmarks a “girl book” (but male protagonists are for everyone, amiright?), but I’m increasingly disheartened by how women—especially when written by women—are portrayed. Fellow writers, “The Girl with Low Self-Esteem” stereotype has got to go. We want the reader to relate to the main character, but is this really a characteristic we should encourage? “Look! She feels like crap about herself! She’s just like you!”

How common is this story line: Girl is plain, overlooked, unloved. Girl meets super-spechul hot guy who inexplicably likes her. Girl is suddenly worth something because a man took notice of her.

Pardon me while I rigorously barf up my lunch.

Not every female protagonist fits this stereotype, thank heavens, but there are far too many that do. (I’m giving you the squinty eye, Romance genre. You know exactly why.) There’s a flip-side of this equation, too. Often, the literary woman with self-esteem is a barracuda, seen as aggressive, and ultimately she gets humbled or changed to a more submissive persona by the end of the book. And we, the readers, applaud. Or rather, we’re supposed to.

In the real world, it’s possible to have self-esteem and be normal. In the literary world, that type of character is almost like an ivory-billed woodpecker, elusive and critically endangered. (If you find one, please broadcast her existence to everyone who will listen. We need to protect her habitat with lots of readers.) Instead of “She feels like crap about herself! She’s just like you!” a better message would be, “She’s confident and knows her worth! You could be just like her!” Alas, how rarely this message gets communicated.

I know, even as I express these frustrations, that some people will dismiss me as a feminist. Because this sort of discontent could only be harbored by someone marginalized into an -ism that is as much derided as it is espoused, right? Wrong. Good literature has good female characters. If Elizabeth Bennet had low self-esteem, she would have burst into tears at that first dance and run into a back room to sob over how the rich, handsome hot guy considered her only “tolerable.” If Jane Eyre had low self-esteem, she would have groveled to her abusive aunt and everyone at Lowood. If Cathy Earnshaw had low self-esteem… Well, maybe people wouldn’t have been so miserable. BUT THE BOOK WOULD HAVE BEEN TOTALLY RUBBISH DIFFERENT.

Anyway, long story short, I’ve harbored my feelings on this subject for years. Decades. Ever since the first time I read a book with a simpering heroine and internally thought, “Oh, that’s awkward. Why is she behaving like that?” The harbored feelings grew into conversations with myself. The conversations have now morphed into cartoons—rudimentary in drawing, but the message is more important than the art.

I’m poking fun at my hated literary tropes. “The Girl with Low Self-Esteem” gets the first skewering.

And thus I give you The Adventures of Average Everygirl.

Enjoy! Or not! I don’t really care!

PS—My recent readings did yield a couple of ivory-billed woodpeckers: Polyhymnia from Spindle by W.R. Gingell and Rosemary Mayfield from The Villain by May Nicole Abbey. Click the titles for links. Protect the habitat.

My Swedish Grandmother Made Me Do It

“And now, Beowulf, best of men, I wish to love you in my heart as my son. From this time forth, keep well this new kinship.”

(Beowulf, lines 946b-949a)

It's all fun and games until someone's hair catches fire.

It’s all fun and games until someone’s hair catches fire.

My grandmother is a full-blooded Swede and an avid genealogist. The daughter of immigrants, she honored her heritage throughout her life and distilled drops of it upon her children and grandchildren. Her garden had tomten instead of elves. Her house had orange dala horses and blue-and-yellow motifs. Christmas Eve with its smorgasbord was the focal holiday instead of Christmas Day. And Denmark was inherently inferior. (I’m sorry, Denmark. I’m sure you and Sweden are on much better terms now than you were a hundred years ago.)

We ate Swedish pancakes, and pepparkakor, and meatballs. A badge of honor went to anyone brave enough to try the pickled herring. We celebrated St. Lucia’s day with saffron buns and candle wax in our hair. Sweden, or an echo of it, was in our blood.

When I was in my early teens, Mormor took a handful of us cousins with her to the family history library, there to search out a collection of missing great-something half-uncles. Their father’s surname had been Kjallstrom, but the army changed it to Valler or Waller. One of the sons, as Valler/Waller, enlisted as well, only to be given the surname of Holst. The three brothers had immigrated to the Midwest, where their trail went dry.

Mormor didn’t know whether to look under Valler, Waller, or Holst, or even Magnusson (the patronymic of their father’s given name). We found them under Holst (all three of them, despite only one of them having received that surname from the army), in Iowa.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Beowulf? All through my formative years, I was taught to value anything even remotely Scandinavian. The Old English epic takes place in Denmark and Sweden (or Geatland, as it’s called in the poem, and Götland, according to modern maps). In my years as a Beowulf skeptic (described in this post), its connection to Sweden was probably the only thing I thought worthwhile about it.

Except that it mostly took place in Denmark. See the above note. (I’m sorry, Denmark! I really am! You are wonderful in your own right!)

So, growing up, I was programmed with elements of Swedish culture and tradition—elements a hundred or more years removed. Thus, when a handful of lines from Beowulf spawned a story idea, and then that idea jostled around in the mental cocktail of my brain, what emerged—almost immediately—was heavily influenced by that Scandinavian heritage. It was as though all those childhood ghosts rose up as one and said, “This story is ours. We claim it.”

And, ultimately, I wrote it to entertain my grandmother.

She turned 90 on March 26. Happy Belated Birthday, Mormor! This one’s for you!

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Plagued by misfortune, Ingrid Norling treks into the woods to clear her head. She emerges a monster-slayer, the shaken executioner of a creature so ferocious that even the king’s strongest warriors could not destroy it. In a land that reveres swords and worships strength, this accidental heroism earns Inge an audience at court and a most ill-fated prize: King Halvard impulsively adopts her and names her as his heir.

Under constant guard to prevent her escape, Inge confronts the ignoble underbelly of the royal court: a despotic king, a clueless princess, a proud warrior, and a dangerous intrigue. As secrets unravel around her, the castle threatens to become an elaborate deathtrap. Inge must keep her wits close and her weapons closer. The monster in the woods was only the beginning.

Despite the Scandinavian and classical literary influences, this book is firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Look for it in June. Probably.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Coming Soon! A *Mostly* Unnecessary Sequel!


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“That’s the ending? You can’t just end it there!”

These are the words my mother uttered when she finished reading my first draft of Kingdom of Ruses. It has a sort of open ending, I’ll admit, but intentionally so. The major plot points are resolved, the hero has triumphed, and all is well, so the story ends. (Sorry for the spoilers, all ye who have not read it: Surprise! It’s not a tragedy!)

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Linguistics for Writers: An Introduction

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

~Alexander Pope

I try to obey one basic philosophy when it comes to grammar and usage mistakes: “Be gentle with others; be strict with yourself.”

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Jack of All Genres

Over the course of my life, I’ve compiled a sort of Writing To-Do List. I would encounter a genre or general type of plot and think, “Oh, I’d like to write something along those lines someday.” And just like that, the item in question would hop on to my mental list.

It wasn’t a serious list at first, of course. I’ve treated my writing very casually and for the greater part of my life never believed that I could finish even one book, let alone an assorted spectrum of them. (This is foolishness, of course, but I labored under it for probably fifteen years, and I still battle with a variation of it to this day.) Recently, though, as I’ve been taking a more serious look at this my chosen pastime, I decided it was time to define and review that list.

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