Writer: Employee or Artisan?

What is a writer?

Is she an employee? Since you purchase her work, spending a little of your budget, time, and energy consuming what she makes, do you consider her your employee? Do you have the right to complain about her product if it doesn’t suit you? If you take it home and open it up and find that, although excellently made with good structure and grammar and plot design, you just don’t resonate with her characters or her storyline or her view of the subject matter are you entitled to your money back?

Is this writer, this employee, less important than her readers, her employers? Should she bend her neck and apologize for her subject matter, her choice of character, who is the protagonist and who the antagonist? Should she be careful to read every letter, ever post made by her readers and take their suggestions as orders, as the demands of her employers? That character cannot die, this one must be redeemed.

Should this writer be constrained by her readers’ feelings? Should she be careful not to offend or irritate for fear of reprisals? In this Internet world, should she keep a low profile and try to appease those who might heap up bad reviews or comment endlessly on her site that she is callous and mean to not take her readers’ advice?

Or, worse, it seems, should the writer be compelled to warn her readers of violent, upsetting scenes within her work just in case a reader has had a bad experience in his past and reacts badly? Beyond a general rating, she shouldn’t just assume that readers understand that a book about a rape case might contain difficult images or a romance contains sex scenes, should she? She should be aware, shouldn’t she, that some readers have problems reading about self-harm, or insults, or child abuse, or violent crime, or suicide, or bad haircuts, or torture, or anger, or cursing, or religion, or politics, or hunting. Her book should be wrapped round with warnings and alerts for any and all problems encountered within, shouldn’t it, even if these warnings kinda ruin the suspense and the plot?

She must take responsibility for her readers’ inner struggles.

On the other hand, perhaps the writer an artist.

Is she a creator, ruled by her imagination and skill, working with the clay of words and punctuation and the brilliant colors of characters and plots? You are not her employer, but her patron, encouraging her with your words and hard-earned money to continue her art, to develop and grow and, perhaps, create more and better works. If you find her art on the shelves at an art festival and purchase her work and decide it is not quite what you wanted, do you demand she change it? Change the color? Maybe this flower should be over there on the other side? If it doesn’t go with the living room décor like you thought, do you take to the Internet and call her names? Tell the world that green is the new pink and she should instantly change her surreal paintings into marble busts of famous thinkers?

In this second scenario, generally, the market will decide whether or not an artist pleases her patrons. If her books are purchased, if she earns enough royalties to allow her to eat and have heat and a home and, in our world of dreams and visions, health insurance, she may continue in her art, writing as she pleases. If her books are not purchased, she may think twice. Examine her art with a discerning eye, ask fellow artists to help her determine what isn’t communicating with her patrons.

If she doesn’t change her art, if she is bound to write as she pleases and it does not please her public, then her readers may shrug and move on, wishing her well and looking for other art to purchase, to encourage. They will not insist she soothe their inner wounds with her art, or change her colors or subject matter just in case it might hurt their feelings. They would simply move on and spend their coin elsewhere.

Today, the fan fiction writer is treated as an employee. A serf. A minion. On most public posting sites on the Internet, where, I might add, the writer posts her work for others to read FOR FREE, the writer has no rights. She is the employee – working, again, FOR NOTHING – and is liable to be banned or warned or taken to task for any negative comment by any reader.

She has many rules to follow when posting a story. Not just rules about proper grammar and punctuation, etc. (Those rules are not well enforced, unfortunately.) These are rules about content, about structure, about, believe it or not, warnings. Trigger warnings, they have been named. If any word, scene, character, or plot development could in any way ‘trigger’ bad feelings (yes, it is that subjective and arbitrary), then the writer must WARN their readers about it. They must. Because if one reader complains, the writer will be warned to fix it and possible banned. Yes, the writer must try to imagine how anything in her work could make a reader upset and then warn about it.

I’m not talking about explicit sex of any kind or graphic violence, there is a rating system for that.

Warnings I’ve seen: Kissing. Cheating. Character death. Possible unwanted touching. Adultery. Religious Imagery. Illness. Vomiting. Blood. If the writer doesn’t want to spoil her plot, too bad. She must warn.

The writer must also allow any and all comments on her work. She can moderate them, deleting those who attack her personally or curse at her (yep, it’s happened to me) or call her other names for her choices. BUT, these readers always have the option to report her work to The Powers That Be on the Internet site, accusing her of being mean or not warning properly or many other so-called offenses in order to get the writer into trouble.

These readers act as employers, as masters who are entitled to control the writer who they DO NOT PAY. They are put in control by the websites. And the websites act – the writer is ALWAYS considered at fault. Further, if readers’ feelings are hurt, their demands are not taken into account, they go to the Internet to drag the writer’s name in the mud on Twitter, Facebook, and other fan fiction sites. Not because a story is simply bad, no, because the reader is not happy.

Many fan fiction writers are taking their stories down from places like Fanfiction.net or AO3. They are deleting stories from these patrolled sites and putting them solely on their own websites where the WRITER is in charge. The stories are still free of charge to read, but the writer is in control. She can’t be slapped for not warning about a scene of nose-picking in chapter three. Or because her view of the main characters would never include sex.

What will this do to the fan fiction world if it continues? Readers will become even more entitled if they are allowed to control major sites. So, in order to have any say in their work, the writers will disappear to their own sites where we will have to be diligent to search them out. Writers will have fewer readers. Works we’ve loved might go away forever.

Solution: We must change the thinking for fan fiction readers. We must rename these sites: Fanfiction Library, not Bookstore. At the library, you can choose any book you want and read it without charge, but you don’t get to complain and lash out if you don’t like it – you just bring it back. I’ve seen new websites warning readers to “Enter at your own risk.” Ratings are important – just like at the movie theater – but, when done correctly, they place the onus of responsibility on the reader to choose wisely rather than on the writer to WRITE AS THEY DEMAND.

What do you think? Employee or artisan? Are writers responsible for the hurt feelings of their readers or are readers responsible to make good choices?

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That’s Not Sexy

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Image from bamsmackpow.com

 

“Sexy.” It’s the word of the moment. Your hair. Your shoes. Your car. Your App. Your blog. Your beard. Everything you value, everything that can be weighed or measured or compared with something else must be deemed sexy to survive.

You can hear it being used to describe everything from color choice on HGTV to plates of food on Food Network. If it’s not sexy these days, it is out.

What’s the problem? The problem is that our current culture has forgotten there were ever any other qualities, other reasons to value a person, a character, or a red-wine vinaigrette. People use “sexy” to replace a myriad of other words that have been forgotten, that have been eliminated, erased, and dumbed down. It has reduced merit to one single dimension: whether or not it is “sexy.” No other descriptive word will do, words like attractive or pleasing. Handsome or beautiful. Well-built. Enticing. Powerful.

But sexy isn’t just about being, well, “sexy,” is it? It isn’t just used to describe outward appearance, but also inner characteristics. “Sexy” is being used in place of the word valuable. Esteemed. Appreciated. Talented. What was once used as a description of physical beauty has come to mean anything “good” or “fine,” from a ten-year-old’s skateboard to an NBA player’s dunk. And it’s all tied up with worth. Those who aren’t sexy are not worthy of time or consideration.

Okay. I’ll bite. In fact, let’s turn the definition of sexy back on those who use it the most.

The media.

These are the people who are self-proclaimed style masters. They know what appeals to you and me and they churn it out over and over again in movies and television. They groom their royalty – actors – into the epitome of sexy. They write their stories to showcase sexy. “Give the people what they want,” they scream. “Give them sexy!”

It’s worked before. James Bond. Magnum PI. Malcolm Reynolds. Sidney Bristow. Buffy Summers. Jack O’Neill. These characters were sexy, yes. And they were also a lot more. For them, and for their fans, they were also brave. Committed. Talented. Skilled. Humble. Troubled. Commanding. Truthful. On the side of right. Our sexy heroes looked like the kinds of men and women we wanted to be.

Why then do modern media gurus insist on presenting heroes and heroines on my small screen that fail that description time and time again? I’m not talking about washboard abs or strong shoulders, cascading raven locks or pouty lips. I’m talking about the other sexy, the inner attributes that draw in admirers by the boatload. The internal qualities that make characters desirable, interesting, appealing. Heroes.

Instead, this year’s characters – no matter how swoon-worthy they may be on the outside – bear a crippling, ugly trait that turns people away of any gender. A trait that revolts. A personality quirk that can turn a runway model into a pariah.

This year, the media wants us to believe that smug is sexy.

Smug is not sexy. Smug. Superior. Egotistical. He knows better and, frankly, understands more than you possibly can. He is better equipped to handle the crisis, the law, the decision, the moral quagmire or the ethical dilemma than you and will gladly tell you about it. He can wrangle the baby, the horses, the jury, the cancer, the nuclear weapon, and the math problem while posting a selfie and doing his hair.

Smug is ugly. It takes a beautiful, handsome, clever, ass-kicking or puzzle-solving leather clad hero and turns him or her into the equivalent of Bluto in Animal House. Smug can take a well-beloved character and turn him into a hated one (McGee on NCIS, circa Season 4-6). It can replace a respected candidate with the antichrist (choose your own adventure). Or it can send a sports hero’s popularity into the dumper.

And yet. This year’s crop of television “heroes” has one characteristic in common. Yep, I’ve been subtle, but I think you can guess it.

The new MacGyver. Oh, he’ll grin and metaphorically pat you on the head, but he’s so much smarter than you and is happy to tell you about it.

Bull. Or, as I like to call him, Gibbs’ kinder, gentler, but no less egotistical twin. He can manipulate anyone, anytime, for any reason. And he does. Including his friends. You’re welcome.

Notorious, the entire main cast. These people take smug to a new level.

Scorpion. The lead of this brain-trust cannot imagine how we normally IQed people survive. Not only is the “science” hilarious, Walter’s deadpan “I’m so over this” attitude makes the viewer want to go back to middle school to give the geeks a wedgie again.

Training Day. Maybe Denzel could pull off the over-the-top, smug, self-centered cop in the movie, but on the small screen he just looks petty and self-involved.

Pure Genius. Well, thank heavens the medical field has a billionaire inventor to tell them everything they’re doing wrong. That will surely make the viewers kneel at the feet of the supercilious douchebag and beg him for all the answers the mere mortals couldn’t come up with.

Aren’t these enough examples? Enough proof that the media has lost the plot? Smug is not sexy. Egotistical is ugly. Vain and manipulative do not a hero make.

Here’s my theory. Words have consequences. Eliminating all the words that describe real human emotion, the actual traits that human beings value – like compassion and self-sacrifice and humility – and replacing them with the now meaningless “sexy,” have led the media to lose their awareness of these qualities. They don’t even see them any more. And they’ve forgotten what made those characteristics so valuable, so enticing, so heroic in the first place.

Take back your words. Call the steak mouth-watering, flavorful, seared and tender and delicious. Call the wall color bright and cheerful, or dense and moody. Tell your significant other that he is brilliant and thoughtful, heart-stoppingly good looking, clever, giving. Beautiful. Sensitive. Kind.

Maybe we can educate the media. Show them what a hero looks like on the inside and the outside. Turn on an old Steve McQueen movie instead the insipid crap on the television. Put Magnum on Netflix. Binge watch some Rockford Files. Or Stargate SG-1. Now those were heroes.

 

 

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

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I attended a Writers’ Workshop and Seminar a couple of years ago. I’ve found, since then, that this same workshop travels around the country in much the same design and execution, offering new writers insight into publishing, agents’ requirements, the query process, etc. I learned a lot. A lot. The speaker shared professional tips about traditional versus self-publishing, what should ring an alarm bell in your brain in a contract, and how to do your homework before approaching an agent.

One of the most popular parts of the workshop was something called, “Writers’ Got Talent,” a parody of the television genre where upcoming performers try to attract a following – and enough votes – to get a contract, to become a star. Instead of Simon Cowell and Heidi Klum, the judges are represented by actual agents and the writers are encouraged to submit the first page of their finished novel as their “audition piece.”

As the emcee reads the first page, the blood, sweat, and tears of the author still sticky along the edges; the agents listen, raising a hand (instead of hitting a button that emits a rude blart and lights up a red X over their heads) when they figure they’d stop reading and throw the first page away.

What are the usual reasons for these summary rejections? That is the question. That is what a writer wants to know. What we desperately want to know. Why did you discard this story before you’d finished the first few paragraphs? How could you already tell that it wasn’t going to be any good?

Looking around the room, you could see the writers leaning forward, chewing their nails, making hurried notes. They all knew about ‘hooks,’ they’d all done their homework. They’d polished their prose, eliminated misspellings and grammar errors. They weren’t stupid, they knew better than to submit something that they hadn’t slaved over, worked on, smoothed and shaped until they could do no more.

Aside from the obvious (POV mistakes, wrong genre for that particular agent, grammar errors) the agents all agreed that they will put a manuscript aside immediately if it opens with a cliché.

As they go on, as pages are read and discarded, you can see the writers, who, at first, were hanging on the agents’ every word, nodding, have become glassy-eyed zombies, confused, perplexed. They frown. Glance at each other out of the corners of their eyes. Because, it seems, after twenty minutes of reading and rejecting, these agents believe that everything is a cliché.

 

Opening with a funeral.

A birth.

A dream.

In the afterlife.

The first day of school.

The bang of a gavel. Or closing of a cell door.

Release from prison.

The discovery of a charmed/mysterious object.

Or superpowers.

The beginning of a journey.

First day on the job.

Retirement.

Awakening in a hospital.

A wedding.

A birthday.

 

That’s an awful lot of clichés, isn’t it? In fact, that covers most of a person’s life in any genre of writing. Once these are eliminated, what is left?

After I watched and listened, making notes about my fellow writers more than the agents sitting at the front, I realized something. Agents – these agents in particular – were just not that good at communicating the real reasons they were rejecting these stories. They weren’t rejecting stories because of opening clichés, they were rejecting them because these opening scenarios were badly written. They were not compelling or interesting. It wasn’t the scenario itself that the agents were rejecting, it was the way the writer was dealing with it.

As readers, I think we react the same way. We pick up a book at the bookstore (yes, they are still around! Real books! Shelves with pretty covers! Go find one!) and we turn it over to read the blurb. It’s about a young girl starting the 3rd new school of the year. It’s about a woman who just got married and realizes her husband is a murderer. It’s about a young knight going on a quest. It’s about a boy about to celebrate his 11th birthday whose life is changing because he’s realized he has superpowers! (Way to go, Ms. Rowling, that’s 3 clichés in the Philosopher’s Stone alone!)

These scenarios are how books start. What agents are looking for are new, exquisite, intelligent and creative ways to handle them. And it’s what readers are looking for when they plunk down their money to begin at Chapter One.

Fan fiction is no different. Fan fic writers often gravitate towards the same scenarios. They pick a particular episode to write about. Like-minded fans choose based on their emotional reactions to these episodes. How many fics have been written around the NCIS episode “Dead Air,” or “Boxed Out?” How many SG-1 writers have taken the angsty scenes of “Shades of Grey” and expanded on them? What Star Trek writer hasn’t tried his hand at exploring “Amok Time,” or “The Inner Light”?

I’ve read hundreds of fan fics. I’ve read dozens surrounding the same episode – written from different perspectives with differing voices and scenarios. So, dear writer, I submit that it is not the possibly clichéd circumstances that begin your novel that will lead to rejection. It’s something else.

(What is that ‘something else,’ you ask? Stay tuned, I have some thoughts about that as well.)

So, write about a wedding. A birth. A new school. A cancer diagnosis. Write what you want to write about. Make it compelling. Creative. Emotional. Make it yours. Make it great.

It’s your story. Stop trying to figure out what Simon Cowell would like and write it.

The Beta Deficiency

bookediting   I’ve been struggling lately. Struggling with commitment to my novel. To world-building. To character development. To creating language and mannerisms and ways of thinking for the people who live in it.

It’s a lonely place, writing fantasy. Even when my head is filled with alternate history and magic systems, with geography and theology, languages and learning, Matthias and Livuina and two temples and three heavens and plots and plans and disasters, I am the only real person who lives there. The only one who is figuring it all out. The only fan.

My first readers have been fantastic. They read some or most or all of my first draft and made great comments. Some difficult observations that I hated to hear but needed to, and some that I can smile and laugh about and fix with a stroke of the delete key. They devoted a lot of time and effort to slog through a 100,000 word, very imperfect book because they love me and they’re fabulous.

But now I’m editing. And if world-building is a lonely place, editing is a Bog of Eternal Stench where it’s always 2:30 in the morning, and it’s dark and raining and muddy, and no one in their right mind would want to hang out with me there. And neither do I.

I spent decades as a fan fiction writer before I attempted my own work. I’ve written a 100,000 word Stargate SG-1 story that includes a new world, new characters, plotting, planning, and all the bells and whistles. (Here’s link if you’re interested and have about 35243 free hours and the firm intention not to call me on the obvious errors https://www.fanfiction.net/s/4574925/1/SG1-Best-Intentions  ) But, even though that story won awards and was a major accomplishment, I was borrowing everything that mattered from other writers, from actors, from television production companies. So, does it count? Well, yes, of course, and this is not the place or time for that discussion.

But, is it the same as writing a new, completely original work? Not at all.

Writing fan fiction is a horse of a different color. In fact, it might not be a horse at all. It may be a zebra. Or a giraffe. Or a hippopotamus. Besides the obvious, besides the fact that the world you’re writing has been handed to you on a platter, the characters established, their mannerisms and looks and names, the way they talk and think and act have all been written by teams of writers, adjusted by editors, and added to by actors you can watch on the screen, besides all this, fan fiction is written for fandom. And fandom is all about community.

Fandom is community. It’s a place where people meet who are prepared to love what’s offered because they are coming from a place of love. Of interest. They’ve already made the choice to invest in this world and these characters. They’ve spent significant time among them, talking about them, watching them, reading and writing about them. They’ve done research, had long, intricate discussions about back-stories and science, about how an alien race came to exist, how the magical systems work and when it fails to make sense. They throw around terms like “hand-waving” and “show bible” and “OOC” like the current intern pool at Microsoft uses acronyms. They speak the same language, cry at the same plot points, and have a feral devotion to their particular OTP. (One True Pairing aka romantic partnership)

When I write Stargate or NCIS I know that people will read it. Not because I’m important or awesome or people are crouching in front of their screens waiting for my next opus. No, I know people will read it because of fandom. Because new Stargate stories are few and far-between and we fans gobble them up as soon as they’re offered. Because, now that MW has left NCIS, competent!Tony stories have dwindled away. Because fandom wants these stories and these characters and these worlds to continue.

There’s no community waiting out there for my next chapter of Matthias’ story.

And, even worse, there’s no Beta. Or Alpha, for that matter. No, no, not the Greek alphabet. Or game testers. Let me explain.

Smart fan fiction writers rely on other fans, not just to read their work, but to offer advice and correction. Stargate SG-1 was on television for ten years, NCIS is still going at fourteen. Not even the most attentive fan can remember everything that happened, every planet designation, every case, the name of that friend of Teal’c’s we met that one time on that one planet, or can parse the many, myriad, ridiculous back-stories for Tony DiNozzo. We need help. We need our community.

Wikipedia can only do so much.

When the story starts to gel, when the muse is excited and you have a sort-of plot and a partial-kinda-iffy plan, you go to your Alpha. You chat about the concept. The characters. If the story makes sense within the Stargate or NCIS world. When it should take place. Before Daniel dies? After he comes back? During the Kate years or the Ziva years? These are the fans who can help you with the big problems, with the monkey wrenches that will certainly be hurled your way. That can nail down the science or the law. With your Alpha – or Alphas, if you’re lucky – you know you’re speaking the same language. You don’t have to explain who the Tok’ra are, or why McGee shouldn’t be left alone in the woods. And, bonus points!, you are getting immediate feedback. You get to talk about your story with someone who is bound to love it almost as much as you do.

If the story’s a long one – like most of mine (Yes, I hear you shouting out there! It’s hard to write a short story, okay?!) – your Beta can help with editing. For making sure the words are spelled correctly, the sentences are, in fact, sentences, and that the story hangs together. She can remind you that, in Chapter 3, Daniel lost his glasses so he shouldn’t have them on again in Chapter 5. If the story’s shorter (meaning, apparently, it’s written by someone else) you can send the whole thing off to them in one attachment and get it back all shined up and spiffy.

Again. Immediate feedback.

I’ve had the luxury of having some truly wonderful, knowledgeable, and highly argumentative (in a good way!) Alphas and Betas. Cheryl. Char. Anja. Darcy. Jill. Denny. Janice. Many, many more. They’ve helped me as much as I’ve let them. Suggested great twists. Held my hand while I’ve excised entire subplots. Reminded me how to spell Selmac (Selmak? Selmack??) and which of Gibbs’ wives came in which order.

In case you haven’t gotten my very subtle point here, there are no Alphas and Betas for my original fiction. That doesn’t mean there aren’t cheerleaders. Pom-pom waving friends who are totally invested in my success. Family, friends, fellow fans of various franchises. They are on my side and loving and supportive. BUT, and it’s a big one, unless I am willing to explain roughly six years of research and world-building and character development – and, even less likely, they’re willing to sit still long enough to listen – they aren’t Matthias’ fans. They don’t know him like I do. They don’t walk down the streets of Iconia with me. They aren’t able to argue from knowledge. They can’t remind me of the way the heavens work, or how aethereal magic leaks into the physical world. And they can only give me feedback if they read the whole bloody thing.

I miss my Betas. Especially now, when I’m editing. Questioning every word choice, every twist and turn, every decision my character makes. How do I know it’s going to work? Who can I ask? Alicia, my first first reader and lovely, smart, annoying daughter is in her first year of her OB/GYN Internship in a Philadelphia hospital. Laura has a bit on her plate, ready to fly off to China to meet her new daughter the day after Thanksgiving. (Tears of joy!) Until I implement the changes Mike and I have talked about, I can’t really send him any more chapters.

And I shouldn’t. My faithful and longsuffering husband – my first and best cheerleader – gave me a stern talking to the other day. “Finish it,” he said. “Finish it the way that seems best. And then ask for feedback.”

He’s right. Of course. AGAIN. My book is not a group effort. Neither was my fan fiction. It’s time to put my metaphorical foot down and do this thing. My way. The best way I can. And I will. Matthias’ story will be told. It has to be.

So, bear with me if I miss my Betas. If, sometimes, at ten-thirty, when I’m looking at the clock over the edge of my laptop and Matthias is not cooperating, I wish I could send a paragraph – a page – two little chapters off to a friend for a little feedback and back slapping and a couple of “attagirls,” a few “it’s goods!” and a couple of spritely “you can do its!”.

I wonder if Lois McMaster Bujold went through this when she created Chalion? Or Frank Herbert when he was first thinking about giant sandworms? All I do know is that they did it. They slogged through the smelly bog and got it done. And those are a couple of pretty dang good fantasy writing role models to emulate, don’t you think?

Gotta go now. Matthias is waiting.

(Is that a pom-pom-waving cheer I hear in the distance?)

Do You Notice Domestic Violence?

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in which someone uses physical, sexual, psychological or other types of harm against a current or former partner, an immediate family member or another relative. It can also include stalking, threats or other behaviors meant to manipulate or control someone else.” (U.S. News and World Report)

This is important. The statistics are undeniable. Every 20 seconds a woman is abused by someone who claims to love her. “Between 2003 and 2012, domestic violence accounted for over 20 percent of all violent crime in the U.S.” (U.S. News and World Report) Twenty percent. And “male victims are abused by non-spouse family members at a higher rate than female victims.” (U.S. News and World Report)

If you’ve ever been a victim, or witnessed this kind of abuse, or known a woman, man, or child who has been abused, you know how devastating this can be. Beyond the obvious. Beyond the broken bones, the bruises, the deaths that occur because of domestic violence, there is shame and humiliation, depression, suicide, loss of job, loss of relationships, wounds that can’t be seen and can’t be healed.

I believe in doing everything we can to prevent this. To eliminate it. To bring abuse into the light and thoughtfully and deliberately lessen the chances it can and will happen again.

We’ve come a long way. Haven’t we? That’s what we’re told. Women are no longer prisoners in their own homes, where society winks as men control every aspect of her waking life. No money, nothing in her own name, no access to transportation or child care so that she can pursue a job or friends or connections outside of her husband. Mostly, that’s true. Mostly, that’s not considered acceptable behavior any more.

But is it enough? No. Instead of happily patting ourselves on the back, we need to consider what else we need to do to stop this. Some things – cultural, societal, financial, litigious things are hard. They take time. It takes time to pass laws, to make cultural changes.

But some things are easy. And, heaven knows, we can do easy things. We should do easy things. There is absolutely no frigging reason NOT to do the easy things that might change our thinking and change our culture.

I write. I watch television. And I read. I read a lot. I read as a child, a teen, and an adult. I read to my baby, my toddler, my daughter, my students. I devour books. Fiction. Fan-fiction.

I will not read many types of so called “romance” novels.

I will not read books that glamorize one lover abusing another. In any way. That wink at it. ‘Bodice-rippers’ they used to call them. Where the pirate king kidnaps the uptight school-marm, assaults her, takes away her freedom and her self-worth and then she falls in love with him. No. I will never put money into a publisher’s pocket – or an author’s pocket – to promote the idea of rape as fun. As courtship. My God, I am practically throwing up thinking about it.

But it’s not just ‘dime-novel’ romances anymore, is it? Anyone read David McCallum’s novel? I’ve loved the man for years for playing Ilya Kuriakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I am sorry I ever bought his novel and I’ll surely never buy another. Not when the female character is tied up and raped and decides, in the middle of the rape, that she kind of likes it. That it’s ‘hot’ to be raped. It turns her on. Violence. Holy Moses, people, are you going to teach your boys that? “Go ahead, son, rape the girls! No doesn’t mean no, it means you have to work a little harder! She’s gonna like it!”

I’m not a sheltered princess. My B.A. is in Criminology. I know what people are capable of, and what people have done to each other over the centuries. I know what’s out there in the form of “free speech.” Violent porn. Torture porn. Showing bloodied, beaten, ripped apart women – and men – to get aroused. Remember Ted Bundy? Serial killer? What did he say from prison?

“I’m no social scientist, and I don’t pretend to believe what John Q. Citizen thinks about this, but I’ve lived in prison for a long time now, and I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence. Without exception, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography – deeply consumed by the addiction. The F.B.I.’s own study on serial homicide shows that the most common interest among serial killers is pornographers. It’s true.” (Interview with James Dobson)

He didn’t say porn caused him to be a serial killer, but that it was a jumping off point.

Of course it was. Every computer programmer knows the adage: “GIGO. Garbage in; Garbage out.” We’re worried about video game violence. Movie violence. Television violence. Why? Because the constant barrage of violence changes how you feel about it. How you react to it. How horrified or blasé you are about it.

There are a lot of people talking about porn these days, how easy it is to access, how bad it is. That’s not my point. My point is this, if people repudiate porn, especially torture porn, why aren’t we worried about other outlets for media violence? Why isn’t a book like Mr. McCallum’s, the ‘romance’ classics that feature violence, and the three-part, made into a movie nightmare Shades of Grey, repudiated as well? Why aren’t they in the same section of the bookstore as Hustler and Maxxim? Why is this being accepted as ‘art’ and ‘free speech’ and, ‘hey, lady, it’s only fiction, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to?’ Why is any protest about these stories that promote domestic violence as fun and even sexy regarded as censorship?

Those who enjoy these kinds of things don’t consider it abuse. Nope, the bywords of that subculture are: If it’s sane, safe, and consensual, then no one has the right to criticize it.

That’s just the problem. What is sane? What is consensual? What is safe? These are adult questions, people claim, which any adult in a relationship can answer. They can walk away. They can refuse. The female in Grey could tell her boss she’s out of there. Her boss. The woman in the McCallum book? In the ‘bodice-rippers’? Well, that’s a little trickier.

But, here’s the thing: can a person in an abusive relationship walk away? Do you think the victims of domestic violence don’t refuse? Do you think they believe they have the power to refuse? The right to refuse? That they can walk away at any time? Are you a person who blames the wife because she ‘lets’ her husband beat her? Shame on you.

Have you ever heard a victim of abuse speak? Blame herself? When asked why she didn’t leave him, most invariably frown and wonder why you would ask. He didn’t mean it. He was going to change. He was a normal man, successful, friendly. He was a good man and really loved her. He just had a funny way of showing it?

It can start so innocently, can’t it? In real life, it starts when your partner ignores your wishes in favor of their own, time and time again. Or yells and screams when she gets angry. Or calls you names. “Ugly.” “Stupid.” “Worthless.” Or considers himself always, always in charge and you will do it my way or you will be sorry. Maybe it’s threats. But, hey, you know they will never be acted on, right? Or belittling. Or maybe it’s a slap. Just one. Just that one time.

Just stop it. STOP. IT. Stop buying into publishing’s fun, fun idea that smacking your partner, your family, around – verbally or physically – is hilarious and entertaining. Good natured jibes, sarcasm, okay, yes, fine. Family drama. Heck, Pride and Prejudice. But making abusers into romantic leads or well-respected good guys? No.

Not buying those books, that’s pretty easy. Let’s do that. Now.

Here’s another easy thing we can do.

Don’t allow this into your homes via television, either. The idea that it’s funny or entertaining to hurt our family members. Or righteous, that’s even worse. We allow this into our homes in little innocent steps. Don’t believe me? You’d be surprised.

Consider this exciting new television show, coming to no screen anywhere, this fall! Hoopla! I like to cook, so let’s set it in a restaurant!  And we’ll call it Gardners’ Grotto!

We’ve got a great team of people, modeled on the concept of family! Great father figure, Mr. Gardner, well-respected by the community, fantastic at his job. He stands tall and accepts no excuses for failure – sounds good so far. There’s an older man, grandfather type, with funny stories and a shoulder to cry on. Then there’s the siblings. The younger bunch. Let’s say two of each. Older brother type, handsome and charming, younger a bit of a nerd. The girls are Daddy’s darlings, always pampered and cared for, who stick out their tongues at the men over their shoulders as Daddy gives them the keys to the car.

In the midst of running this very successful business, however, Mr. Gardner enjoys smacking the oldest son. Belittling – the boys especially – with threats and commands. Threats to break bones. To throw them out of the family. He’s a control freak in every sense of the word. He also pits them one against the other for his attention. Takes away food privileges, or a place or time to sleep when they don’t follow his rules. He minimizes their losses because his life is really all that matters. He yells. He screams. And sometimes he goes quiet, gets in the oldest guy’s face, and threatens something only he can hear. Him and the audience. Hilarious, right? Because that adult kid could leave any time! He could give the ole man the finger and walk away. And if he doesn’t, well that’s his own fault!

The restaurant is a great success because the others, those who aren’t involved in the day-to-day workings, consider Mr. Gardner a paragon. He’s what they all want to be. He may not be loved by his enemies but he sure is respected. Looked up to. And, no it’s not Gordon Ramsey!

Would you let your children watch this? I mean, it’s funny and dramatic, the characters are true-to-life and the writing is good. If the subtext is that the father must not be questioned or disobeyed or there will be shaming and threatening at best and physical blows at least, well, it’s fiction!

If you say you would never watch a show like this, that they’d never even put it on the air unless it was to show how daunting, how wounding, how prevalent domestic violence can be, I have news for you.

It’s NCIS.

I can hear the criticism already. “Good grief! NCIS again? It’s television! Gibbs keeps his people in line! The head smacks are funny! The threats and screaming in the work place are normal! And it isn’t a family, it’s a job!”

Yeah. Most jobs are like that, right?

In the NCIS special features on its DVD, it explains quite clearly how this little team was written to portray a family. A wonderful family with a stern father in Gibbs and a grandfather in Ducky. Abby is the perennial little sister who throws tantrums and can do no wrong. McGee the little nerdy brother. And Tony the big brother who takes the majority of the slaps, the threats, the belittling for his family. But they are all victims of Gibbs’ anger and control issues. And it’s not funny.

I didn’t see it for years. Now I can’t stop seeing it. That’s why I can’t stop talking about it. It’s domestic violence. And it’s not okay.

This is a little thing we can change. So small it seems insignificant. Don’t turn a blind eye to domestic violence in the media – whether it’s porn or fan fiction or Shades of Grey or the most watched show on television, NCIS. Don’t shrug and say, “I’m not a censor.” We censor things all the time. We don’t buy the book. We don’t go to the movie. We turn off the television.

Think I’m crazy? Fine. Watch it and think about it. If this was your father, the father of your children, would it be funny? Would he be a hero?

Then turn it off. It’s a little thing. Let’s do the little, easy things. Let’s open our eyes to what we’re really seeing, in books, on the television, and all around us. Let’s turn our minds back on, and our hearts. Let’s remember that aiming to hurt a person – purposefully – especially when that person is a loved one, is never okay.

Let’s stop domestic violence.