50 Shades of Ech!

Over the summer like many moms, I read the entire 50 Shades Trilogy. Yes, all three books because, a) I’m a sucker for a series and b) I love writers and always want to give them a chance to redeem themselves. Sadly, I don’t feel like E. L. James or her characters redeemed themselves by the end of these books. In true Film Sack style, (I think there should be a similar BookSack podcast.) here’s my twitter post (spoiler alert):

Insecure virgin college student w/ a burgeoning eating disorder is stalked by emotionally stunted billionaire w/ serious Oedipus issues.

Whew! 4 character to spare;)

Despite appearances, this is NOT a book review. I’m not going to comment on the level of writing or storytelling skills of Ms. James nor am I going to sneer jealously at their obvious marketability. I’m not going to criticize the (contrary to all the hype) rather tame sex in the book. I’m not even going to talk about how absolutely toxic and abusive the relationship between Ana and Christian is or how I hate the depiction of BDSM as only being attractive to people with emotional problems. Other bloggers have thoroughly covered that. Jennifer Armintrout’s blog on the subject is a tour de force.

No, the thing that bugs me the most about these books is all the women my age (the back half of my 30’s) creaming their collective panties over Christian Grey, a man who’s only redeeming quality appears to be his looks. I don’t consider his money a redeeming quality because it enables him to aggressively stalk his prey, namely innocent brown haired girls who remind him of mommy. Even his victim/lover Ana refers to him in the later books as being “stuck in adolescence” as if he’s perpetually 15 years old. And that’s just the thing that bugs me about this whole series. If you take out the sex, the emotions in these books would be better suited for a high school classroom than the corporate boardroom where Christian Grey is supposed to rule. Christian isn’t the only one who’s stuck in adolescence.  Ana is pretty immature herself. Granted she’s younger, but she’s supposed to be a college graduate. We’re incessantly reminded in the first book of her impressive GPA. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I was still immature when I graduated from college, but I was capable of feeding myself and conducting an interview without stepping on my own tongue. Most of all, I was capable of saying NO or ENOUGH when I knew a situation was unhealthy.

Make no mistake, minus the sex this is a Young Adult book. It’s no surprise at all that this started out as Twilight fan fiction. It’s loaded down with all the lip-biting angst and blushing insecurities of any teenage romance. The trouble is: IT’S NOT ABOUT TEENAGERS! That is precisely what gives me the creeps. I understand a little of the nostalgia that leads grown women to read and enjoy books about the first blush of teenage love, and sometimes that’s okay. Hey, I read the Twilight books and I didn’t hate them. But at some point, you do have to grow up, and just because a guy takes charge in the bedroom buys the company where you work and gives you a car, that doesn’t make him a MAN. What does it say about them that grown women are getting all hot and bothered over a guy that behaves like 15 year old? What does their fascination with a character like Christian Grey say about the actual men in their lives?

I’m all for getting young adults to read more and I’m all for parents knowing what their kids are reading. What bugs me is grownups getting fangirl crazy over these books. The issue is much broader than this particular series. The Young Adult Romance sub-genre has exploded since the Twilight books came out and a good bit of their popularity can be attributed to grown women devouring them like so many skinny lattes.  Yes, they can be entertaining, but the emotions, like teenage emotions, are overwrought and the characters are frequently sterotypes especially the male characters. And I have yet to read a young adult book with a female protagonist that didn’t make me want to throw my ereader across the room because of her sheer obtuseness. So to hear grown-ass women going all weak-kneed for characters that they wouldn’t want their daughters within a mile of just gives me chills. Oh, I know there are moms out there who still behave like teenagers. I even know a grandmother or two that still behave that way. But are those the kind of adults we really want to be? Sure, it’s fun to remember being young and falling in love for the first time, but there’s really only one first time and eventually you DO have to grow up.

If you are grown up and want to read Erotic Romance, have at it. There are plenty of erotic books about real adult people who act like adults. There are even some steamy BDSM books out there about emotionally healthy people who engage in what E. L. James only hints at in her books. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s fine for adults to read erotic books but it’s downright creepy to read an erotic book about perpetual fifteen year olds. Erotic books have their place, and Young Adult books have their place, but Young Adult Erotica? Yech! So, gals, let’s leave adolescence to the adolescents...Please.

Guest post at Civil War Horror

Today, I have a guest post that I wrote for Sean McLachlan's Civil War Horror blog. It's got some interesting observations about the similarities between sci-fi fans and historical fiction fans and some tips on researching historical fiction. You should also have a look at Sean's posts on his material. I can't wait to check out his Jesse James book. I think Jesse James is a fascinating figure. He also has a weekly Friday feature of Civil War photos that is loaded with great historical information in addition to providing a glimpse of photography in its infancy. Sean McLachlan

A freelance writer specializing in history and travel, Sean's the author of numerous nonfiction books. He's also published two works of dark fiction, the Civil War novel A FINE LIKENESS and the short story collection THE NIGHT THE NAZIS CAME TO DINNER AND OTHER DARK TALES.


Do you write for yourself, or for readers?

There are people who write for themselves. These people write what they want, the way they want it and if you don't like it than that's just your opinion. Their work is often riddled with incorrect diction, punctuation and bad grammar. When anyone points those things out to them, they meant it to be that way to serve the story.

You've probably seen the singing equivalent of these people on American Idol. They're the ones that come into their auditions full of confidence because their parents/friends/church family have all told them that their singing is nice (usually because they don't want to hurt their feelings with the truth).  When they are told the truth about their singing, they rationalize it by saying "That's YOUR opinion!" Naturally, we're talking about the opinions of experienced music industry professionals who have a pretty solid basis for comparison. Still, the contestant will walk away from the encounter confident in their belief that what they do is awesome even if the judges didn't like it. In my house we call these people, "Classically Trained Samurai" because there is now way in this century to become a "Classically Trained Samurai" (Look it up), yet there are people who insist that they are just that. Given that the samurai class in Japan was abolished in the late nineteenth century, these folks are Samurai in their own minds. They fight and/or practice for themselves just as some writers write for themselves. And often publish for themselves hoping that they will find other "Classically Trained Samurai" who are interested in the same kind of things that they are and will enjoy their work.

Then there are people who write for readers.

These are writers who very often make a ton of money, and write in whatever genre is popular at a given time. James Patterson is a perfect example of this. Wildly successful as a mystery writer, he then branched out into pretty much whatever genre/subgenre is trending; Wizards, Awkward Adolescent, Women's Fiction. Patterson at least credits his co-authors since no one person could possibly write this much fiction fast enough to take advantage of current trends. While I might initially be prone to sneer at this sort of genre chasing (not that crossing genres is bad, I write/read more than one genre too), Patterson is I'm sure making money hand over fist. There is also something to be said for pleasing the crowd, which he usually does.

I however, think that some of the best writing falls somewhere in between these two poles. We all choose what to write about based on our windows on the world. I for example and a history loving Southern girl who is also a Scotia-phile. So, I like to write about my roots in North Carolina and the history there and about Scots. The Once & Future Series that I'm working on is something that I'm writing for myself because these characters have been living in my head for years, and I would like for them to live on pages or screens for others to enjoy. But I'm also conscious of the fact that in order for others to enjoy the story, I have to be interested in their opinions. I need feedback from readers about the narrative and the style. Is it engaging? Is it easy to understand? Are the characters believable?

Every writer needs this kind of feedback and should seek it out, preferably prior to publishing. However, if you're true to your vision you'll take this feedback with a grain of salt.  We writers have to pick and choose what changes to make. Keeping that choice in the hands of the writer is one of the great things about indie publishing. I can incorporate feedback that says "this needs more action and less Celtic myth nerd-dom". I can also say no to morphing my characters into teenage malcontent vampires at wizard school because someone says that YA Paranormal Romance is super hot these days. It's a balancing act that is essential if you mean to publish and actually sell books even if not as successfully as James Patterson.

With that said, I'll soon be sending out my latest piece of historical fiction to my beta readers to get that feedback prior to publishing. Since it's based on a true story, hopefully no one will ask me to change the ending.