The Slandering of Fairy Tales

A few days ago I was watching a news’ report about how several female celebrities are raging a war against Disney movies, claiming they’re sexist and promote rape culture (I’m paraphrasing). I get very upset when people bad-mouth Disney movies. I’ve been a groupie my whole life and before Disney, I was a fairy tale nut (still am) and I really don’t like the insinuation that I am supporting sexism by watching those magical creations of human imagination.

Fairy tales were written a long time ago when things were very different from today, but they are also works of fiction that ooze symbolism while trying to teach important lessons. No, I don’t think the lesson is “girls can only succeed if a man comes to rescue them”. Instead I’ve always thought that the message is that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams, and that kindness and honesty are always rewarded. The men in the stories are the mere personification of the girls’ goals and not necessarily meant to be taken literally.

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I’ve been on a solid diet of fairy tales and Disney movies since I was a little girl and never once hoped or expected a man to come and make all my dreams come true. Yes, I dreamed of being loved (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to succeed on my own, have a career I loved, achieve my dreams. Never did I make plans for a big wedding and wished to stay home and take care of babies while my husband went to work and reached out for the stars.

Fairy tales don’t teach girls that they are helpless without a man. Cinderella dreamed of “moving up” and she did. The Little Mermaid wanted adventures, to learn new things, and see a new world. And she did.  Snow White (not my favorite character) managed to control seven guys on her own (Reverse Harem anyone?) and got rescued by a kiss. She was an unloved child who, like everyone else, needed to be loved and have someone to love. Love does not equal subjugation or dependency. It’s a vital emotion that all humans need for a happy life. Does it have to be the love of a man? No, but fairy tales are simplistic stories trying to convey a message in a way that will grab the attention of readers. The man in fairy tales represent dreams to be achieved. And yes, back when these stories first were imagined, the world was a very different place and marriage was indeed a female goal because there weren’t many other options for women. But what those men symbolized then hasn’t changed: they still represent dreams come-true, wishes realized–even if those dreams have changed substantially.

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Don’t underestimate your daughters. If you teach them right, they won’t think that the message behind a fairy tale is that the only way for a woman to succeed in life is getting married. I’ve been a feminist my whole life and I love fairy tales for what they are: magical stories about finding what we always dreamed of. Nothing more, nothing less.

What do you think? Do you think fairy tales and Disney movies are sexist and they give the wrong message to little girls everywhere? Or do you think they are simply stories that entertain and feed the imagination of children around the globe?

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Writing a Strong Broken Character

A couple months ago I finished writing a romantic comedy that is close to my heart for a few different reasons. If you have read any of my books you know they are not just about romance and happy endings (even though they definitely have both) but they normally touch on something a bit heavier, sometimes darker.

This one is no exception. I wanted to write a character who is being emotionally blackmailed. This was an important subject for me because it’s something I experienced personally. I had always considered myself a strong woman. Not the most assertive one, but emotionally strong. Until the day I discovered I had been manipulated by someone I considered my best friend at the time. Worse even this had been going on for years. I lived in a state of confusion and hurt without a clue of who or what was making me so miserable.

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Emotional blackmailers use traits of your personality (good qualities more often than not) against you. In my case, she used the fact I would do just about anything to help and/or defend a friend and turned it into a weapon against me. She also used the fact I choose to believe the best about people to make herself believable in my eyes. She was the victim, the one that needed help, everyone was out to get her. And I ate it up even when my conscience and common sense told me there was something wrong with her stories and/or her attitude.

When I began writing this story I wanted my main male character (who in romance are kind of expected to be alpha males) to be a victim of emotional blackmail. As I wrote the story I had the suspicion I was making him look weak, which was not at all my intention. Strength has nothing to do with this. The most put together, emotionally stable person can be the victim of one of these predators. Because make no mistake, these are predators as ruthless as any other.

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I submitted the manuscript thinking that I would get it back with the comment, “he comes across as weak”. I was right. That’s exactly what happened. So now I’m faced with the challenge of portraying someone who has been “broken” by his girlfriend but still seems strong and capable–which he really is. Not an easy task but I have all confidence I’m on the right track. I agonized over it when I was writing it the first time, I’m agonizing over it now as I revise it. I want to be true and fair to my MMC and not make him look like the weakling he is not.

I’m hoping I can make my guy just as strong and awesome as he is broken and confused. Have you ever have to write a character like that? What did you do to balance his state of mind with his personal strengths?

 

The Insidious Impostor Syndrome

On my last blog I wrote about my experience at a book signing recently–an experience colored by many anxieties and doubts. I’m very happy to say that despite my irrational fears, I was indeed invited back for next year’s event.

Today I’d like to talk to you about something related, impostor syndrome. A lot of authors suffer from this condition and I’m no exception. Recently, I was reminded of how much this affects me as a writer and a human being.

As the majority of writers today, I struggle to make myself known and get people to buy my books. I work my butt off and sacrifice a lot to sell a handful of books a month if I’m lucky. One of my books, Desert Jewel, is part of a series I’m very proud of: The Jewel Chronicles, a fantasy with a strong romantic element which I wrote using a world I knew well in my past to create a parallel-type universe as my setting. Some of you know I spent a lot of my childhood and  young adult years in Africa. I used what I knew to create a speculative world where everything was the opposite of the real one. I buried deep personal beliefs about prejudice and superstition in the plot and colored it perhaps with a bit of anger against the power-hungry men who even today keep the people of many African nations poor and helpless.

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As I write the third and last book of the series, I find myself procrastinating, making excuses not to write. Because I very rarely do this, I began wondering why that is. Is it because my story is coming to an end and I want to hold on to it as long as I can? Is it because I’m afraid of not knowing how to further push the story forward? Or is it because I’m discouraged by the extremely low sales of the past two books?

I guess it is a little of all three above, but I also realized something else–I’m suffering from a serious bout of impostor’s syndrome. Let me explain.

In May of this year a young adult fantasy was released to almost instant success and critical acclaim. I didn’t know much about it, other than it was set in an African-like world. Being the African groupie that I am, I was curious and checked out its synopsis. I immediately found several parallels with Desert Jewel–not the same plot but many of the same elements. The story incorporates Afro-Brazilian mythology, the idea of a girl with a special gift who will save a repressed people, and a romantic attachment with someone on the “other side” of the rail tracks, so to speak. Being an expert at self-doubt, my first reaction was, “This was her first book and she sold thousands of copies already and is in every freaking bookstagrammer’s page. I’ve sold a handful of copies of my book in over two years. I suck at writing obviously.”

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Ever since then I’ve carrying this growing doubt with me–am I a good enough writer? Are my stories interesting enough? Am I tricking myself into believing I can write? A doubt that has been hampering the writing progress of my WIP. This, my friends, is what impostor syndrome is all about. I have a publisher that believes in me, a few readers that love my books, good–even if not tons of–reviews and yet I still doubt myself. Frequently.

How many of you suffers from this too? How do you fight this self-defeating feeling? I fight it by writing on, despite that little voice that tells me nobody wants to read what I write. I keep writing even when I’m scared people think I’m an old fool who has nothing interesting to say. I keep on writing because it’s where my voice is, the one thing that gives me wings.

You can read more about impostor syndrome here and here and here.

Tales of an Introvert

This is the story of how I managed to sabotage myself thanks to my introvert anxieties.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend SaSS18, a much anticipated and large romance authors’ signing in Norfolk, Virginia. It was a dream come true (I got in because someone had to cancel at the last minute) and I was determined to make this opportunity my foot-in into the circle of wonderful authors who always seemed to be invited for these events.

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Even before the day of the event arrived, my anxieties were already kicking in and by the time I checked in at the hotel I was not feeling so good. It only got worse. When the doors opened to the public I was totally overhwlemed. A nonstop stream of self-defeating mantras flashed in my head:

  • You suck as a writer.
  • Nobody reads your books.
  • People think you’re boring.
  • You’re too fat.
  • No one wants to talk to you.
  • They all think you’re an idiot.
  • You don’t belong here.

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No matter how much I fight these inner voices, they are often too strong for me. And this was the case that weekend. Afraid that I would be the one in a corner alone while everyone else was having fun, I ditched all the fun events, those where I could make an impression by talking and networking with other authors and readers.

Afterward came the self-loathing, anger at myself for once again making myself invisible. Apart from a couple of people, no one will remember that middle-aged woman who barely moved out of her table for the whole signing.

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Names have already began being picked for next year’s event, and I’m not holding my breath–why would they pick someone they can’t even remember? I’m in about three event pictures out of hundreds and I have no one else to blame but myself. Everyone was sweet and welcoming, but my anxieties did what I had promised myself I wouldn’t allow them to do; they ruined something I had looked forward to so much.

Have your anxieties ever done anything like that to you?

The Not-So Glamorous Life of a Writer

Yesterday I had my second signing at a Barnes & Noble here in Northern Virginia. I have been trying to get them to let me have one at a local branch but the district manager won’t return my emails. A writer friend was able to get three other branches in the area to hold multi-authors signings and I managed to snag two of those.

The first one was kind of a sleepy event. Not many people visiting the gigantic store but somehow we all managed to sell books and interact with many people. The second one was held in a wealthier part of Northern Virginia and the place was teeming with humans. The four of us got pretty excited. If we had a good turnout in a sleepy branch, here we should make a killing, so to speak.

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Here’s how it really went:

  • Several kids came to ask for our candy.
  • Several people refused to accept free swag.
  • One very nice aspiring  author asked us for some guidance in the publishing world.
  • An older lady came and asked each of us if we used the F-word in our books (I use it very sparingly and only because it was pointed out to me that my characters are too proper, lol). Once she found out that pretty much all of us did in one way or another, she asked us why did you use such an offensive word. She didn’t buy anything.
  • When I offered them my FREE postcards, they almost always took the one advertising an event I’ll be participating in but which holds absolutely no information about me or my  books.
  • A very kind older man came to talk to us and had us all laughing with his jokes. He didn’t buy anything but thanked us for all the work we do (he used to  work for one of the Big Five)
  • Lots of people entered the raffle to win books from all of us, but most of them didn’t buy anything.
  • We heard a lot of, “I don’t read romance” (totally understandable. It’s not for everybody, of course).
  • People thought we were the information desk and came to ask us about items in the store.
  • We left the event with about $6 each for one book sold from each one of us.
  • I sold a M/M paranormal romance book to a lady who told me she didn’t read romance at all.

Moral of the story: don’t judge an event by how posh the neighborhood is. Buying power and romance doesn’t always jive, apparently.

A Community of Writers

As tempting as it is to address the craziness of recent events and a certain writer’s lack of common sense, I will abstain from that. While what she did was selfish, uncalled for, and served no purpose other than burning all her bridges in the literary world, I don’t subscribe to the idea of name calling or finger pointing–be it in person or in cyber space.

What I would like to talk about today is professional courtesy and respect. When I first got involved in the romance publishing world, I was like most “virgins”–starry eyed and naive. I’ve never been good at making professional connections and having no one to guide me in this new world, I was pretty much a fish out of water–flopping around and gasping for air.

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Little by little, I learned the ropes, or at least enough to start getting some air into my lungs to survive. One of the things that hit me the most–in a positive way–was the camaraderie and professional interaction and support from other writers.

I have met amazing people both online and in person who have enriched my life not just as a writer but also as a human being, some of which  fill me with awe with their willingness to give. I hope one day to be able to return the favor, but for now all I can dish out is my half-baked advice, companionship, and support.

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It saddens me when things go awry, when authors turn against each other instead of talking it over. When authors become so deluded and full of themselves that they see nothing wrong with sabotaging other writers’ success. And most of all, it’s heartbreaking when a writer who has achieved a reasonable measure of success attack those who, unlike them, are still struggling to make ends meet in the publishing world.

Those of you who excel by respecting and supporting your fellow authors, I salute you. I would have been lost without you. You have taught me the ropes, supported me when I was drowning, and brightened my days with words of encouragement. That is what it should all be about.

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Writing Across the Rainbow

Last weekend I attended the Washington Romance Writers’ retreat and I’ve been itching to write about it but alas, time has been very limited. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about it.

One of the running themes of the retreat was diversity and feminism in romance novels. If you been following me for a while you know those are two subjects close to my heart, so I was a happy camper 🙂

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During one of the sessions (I believe the one led by the great author Sonali Dev) we participated in a small exercise that brought my journey as a writer more into perspective for me. We were all asked to think back to the first time we had written something that made us realize we loved writing. That took me all the way back to when I was in second grade.

At the time I was living in Angola in Africa and I wrote a poem (I believe I titled it, Lágrimas, Tears) about something that, as a child, I had just realized. Never being one able or interested in expressing my thoughts out loud, I wrote them down.  Lágrimas was a short poem that expressed my young view of the world–that people were simply people no matter what color, what religion, what nationality.

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The memory surprised me–I hadn’t thought about that in a long time–but it sure made my love for everything multicultural make a lot more sense to me. That was possibly the moment when my future as an author was sealed. Not only did I find my love for writing, but I also discovered how interested I was in writing multicultural characters.

Since I was published in 2016 I have written characters from different racial and ethnic groups (see Desert Jewel and Loved You Always), characters with disabilities (Blind Magic and Her Real Man), and characters with different sexual orientation (Lavender Fields). My only hope is that I didn’t misrepresent any group. I write romance (with a touch of mystery and humor) so all I want to do is to create characters that accurately represent the world and its inhabitants. And to make the point that no matter who we are or where we come from, in the end we all have the same basic needs and a wish to be loved.

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Romancing The Taxes

Tax season leaves me with an ambiguous feeling–I’m not sure whether to be happy I’ll be getting some money back this year or depressed because I spent so much more than what I earned even after working overtime for the past three years.

In 2017 I totally neglected to claim my writing expenses. Being a rookie with three books published by then and royalty checks that wouldn’t feed a fish, it never occurred to me that I could indeed claim all the expenses I had incurred in my writing career. In fact, come to think about it, neither did my husband who is normally on top of that kind of thing.  I didn’t claim the laptop I bought so I could write my novels, or the marketing materials, or the workshops and conferences I attended, or the writing craft and references books I collected that first year.

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It almost happened again this year. My husband, like many people, does not consider my writing a real job. The fact that I spend every waking hour when I’m not at my teaching job glued to a laptop, writing, editing, marketing, researching, networking, learning, etc did not seem to be a good enough hint this was more than just a hobby. The trips we took to conferences, book fairs, book signings, workshops also didn’t register as similar to all the work trips he does for his job. Like him, most people consider writing just something you do for fun. Without realizing it, I must have bought into this mentality because even the loss of my social life in favor of time with my writing didn’t register as “hell, this is a second  full-time job!”

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I cannot thank Neece McCoy, author herself and tax-expert extraordinaire with The Write Services (well, she knows a lot more than me) enough, for reminding me that this is indeed a job and that the huge amount of money I’ve invested in my writing business should be claimed come tax time.

Now that I’ve actually sat down and picked through receipts and bank statements to file my taxes, two things have surfaced. 1) I’m going to get some money back for the first time in years, and 2) Shit! There is such a chasm between my expenses and my income that it’s painfully obvious I have yet to experience being a mildly(ish) successful author.

 

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So, I’m divided between jumping for joy and crying my eyes out. I’ll keep working and hoping that one day I will be able to claim I’ve actually made a profit from the inordinate number of hours I’ve spent working on a craft that most still consider a hobby–while trying not to get too upset when readers complain that my book costs too much (less than a frapuccino at Starbucks).

The Barbie Factor

I read something online about Barbie dolls the other day, which I believe was meant as a joke but made me think, “Hey, that’s exactly how it was for me.”

The post was about how Barbie dolls had been so much more than dress-up toys for this woman writer–the dolls were a tool for her to practice how to take over the world.

In my country we didn’t have Barbie dolls, but we had something very similar. Mine was a Susi (which I still have today) and yes, I dressed her, combed her hair, and admired her perfect made-up eyes and lips. But Susi was so much more than that.

Susi Dolls

Susi dolls

She was my prop to recreate all the stories I had in my mind. I’d plan and put together elaborate stories and play them over and over again, adding details, perfecting it. I remember one particular setting I seemed to favor–not sure why: a baby bathtub which I had filled with every supply my doll and her family would need. The plot was simple; they were escaping some kind of calamity and they were stuck on that ship until they found a safe harbor somewhere.

Even though Susi had a husband, she was always the one in charge. She took care of the whole family and was the one who found solutions to every problem. She might have been tiny–hubby was a full size doll–but she was fierce.

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Because of that I always roll my eyes at the whole controversy about said doll. I never looked at Susi and thought, “I want to look just like her and be perfect, thin, and helpless.” Instead, I thought, “Girl, let’s go do something awesome and worthy of the kick-ass heroine you are.”

I projected my inner goddess into the lifeless doll and practiced my writer’s imagination and my female super-powers 🙂

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My original Susi with the medieval dress I made for her. (sorry it’s so blurry)

What did you do with your Barbie dolls?

Becoming Visible

I recently bought a children’s book called The Invisible Boy. After skimming through it a few times, I had to buy it. I knew exactly how the boy in the story felt like because I’ve been invisible for most of my life.

As a child and the oldest of three girls (my sister and my cousin), I craved for attention much like most kids do. Not because I was neglected or ignored (I was lucky enough to have a very loving family) but I was always the “cold one” or the “sulky one”. I had a tendency to sulk or be contrary. And I was very quiet. What people didn’t understand was that I was uncomfortable showing affection or letting people know how I felt or voicing my wants and needs. I just didn’t know how, pure and simple. So I sulked, for lack of a better way to express my feelings.

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I was also constantly mad at myself for being scared of everything, of not taking risks, of not eliciting the same type of comments my sister got for being sweet or my cousin for being a dare-devil. I was moody, small, and introverted. Nothing people really paid attention to.

In school I went mostly unnoticed by the teachers (not brilliant or dumb enough) and the other students (too shy, too inside-my-head).

Imagine my pleasure when I found the written word, the power to express my feelings without actually having to speak. It was magic. It didn’t take me long to realize I had finally found my voice.

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I wrote many stories, some shorts, some long, some never finished. I wrote a million letters to poor unsuspecting friends who probably thought I had lost my mind. The girl that never shared opinions or feelings could not stop talking now in her newly found language.

My love for the written word was so strong I mastered it in several different languages by the time I was out of high school and I eventually became a published author in a language other than my native one.

Writing is who I am. When I write I’m not so invisible anymore.