Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Should Writers Know When They Write

What I probably should be doing is taking a few days between posts to collect my thoughts better, instead of wandering around every day with random thoughts. But for now I'm posting even when I'm not entirely clear in my head what it is I want to say. I hope it doesn't make me too difficult to follow.

I'm thinking more about the fact that writing about sex and writing about lesbian lifestyles do not have to be the same.

Maybe it's just an excuse, so I can tell myself I don't have to write bedroom scenes. Not that lesbian love scenes are any harder (or easier) to write than heterosexual love scenes. I don't write those well, either.  The problem I run into is getting so caught up in the physical I forget to include what's really important: the spiritual binding which comes between real lovers, as opposed to sexual partners. I suppose even in mere sexual gratification there is some sort of spiritual binding taking place, but it would be minimal.

The more I write about it the more I find myself wondering if sex isn't merely a red herring. Perhaps what I am really struggling with is writing believable love. For that is what I really want to write. Sex is simply one of many possible manifestations of that love. It's such a controversial topic that it easily can assume center stage. But the real issue is the love which motivates the sex. Without the love there is no story worth reading. With the love it is the anticipation that these two people really belong with each other. Olympia and Aileen (opened my baby name book to two random pages and took the first names I liked) are two women - or I suppose they could be too young to be called women - who meet casually. They are not looking to fall in love. They are not looking for a sexual partner. They just meet and 'click' together, so they continue to meet when they can. They become friends. The friendship blossoms. At some point in time romance enters the relationship.

The truth is, that is pretty boring stuff all by itself. In a story, there has to be more going on. Something, or someone, has to be under challenge, and at least one of the main characters has to be directly involved in resolving the crisis. It is, in fact, this crisis which allows the relationship to build quickly and quietly without being addressed by the women. They are so focused on resolving it that they don't take the time to address their relationship properly. This will ultimately put their relationship at risk, for ignored relationships can fall apart just as quickly as they formed in the first place. The story's climax (I'm sorry, I couldn't think of a better word) is when both crises reach their moment of decision. The external crisis must be solved for good or ill, and the internal, love, crisis, must also be decided.

That, of course, is only one way of doing it. Another would be for Olympia and Aileen to meet and almost immediately begin a physical relationship. In this kind of story the question isn't about sexuality, coming out, or anything like that. The internal crisis is whether or not the relationship is truly a life long relationship, or one which should be broken, and the women go their separate ways.

There are a variety of ways to write the story. The key is very much like other things I've posted about. To write a story there are things a writer must know in her head:
  • Who is the target audience (women, men, young girls, questioning, timid)
  • What is the underlying question (sexuality-discovery/coming out, relationship-marriage/just lovers)
  • What is the focus (love, sex)
I have probably oversimplified the questions, but I think you get the idea. Whether we, as writers, use written down outlines or not, we must have a clear idea of the answers to those questions and questions like them before we can effectively tell our stories.

If our goal is to produce erotica then we certainly should not be writing for young girls, and our focus is clearly going to be more on the sex than the love. And the underlying question is probably less about discovery of oneself than it is about what kind of relationship is going to be established.

If our goal is to explore sexuality then our target audience could be any of  the choices, but probably less likely to be men. (That's a prejudice of mine.) The relationship is more in the background and self-discovery and acceptance becomes the focal point. I also believe a story like this is ultimately less about sex and more about love.

There are valid reasons for writing any kind of story for any group of people. But we need to know what it is we're trying to do when we go into a story. Why is this story important to us, as writers? That's probably the biggest question of all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who is It For

Just recently I finished a story and sent it to a good friend of mine. She liked it, but she pointed out a significant flaw. At the start of the story I raised a question, or perhaps a better way to put it here is, I established my main character's primary goal. So, to the reader, the resolution of that goal became the story's focal point. At the end of the story I answered the question of whether my main character would become comfortable with her sexuality, and I did it nicely. At least, that's what I gathered from her critique. However, the question I asked at the beginning was NOT about my main character's sexuality. I did raise the sexuality question, but not at the start.

So the stories biggest flaw was that it was not bookended. I told the reader that one question was most important, and then didn't treat it as important. Meanwhile, I felt the sexuality question was most important but didn't raise it at the start. This made for a nice, but unfulling, story.

To make the story right I have to stop being so coy about my main character's struggles with whether or not she is a lesbian and put it up front and in plain sight from the start. That way the reader knows what she's reading and can better appreciate the main character's conflict as she seeks to learn who she really is.

It's obvious to me that I took the back door approach to the sexuality question because I'm still embarassed to write about it. The very term 'lesbian' seems to bring up connotations of sex, and I'm still embarassed by sex. I'm sorry, but I was taught I should be, and I learned that lesson too well. You know, I still haven't written that explicit sex scene. And nobody would even know about it but me! I'm not really a prude. I just get embarassed.

That the word 'lesbian' should be a sexual word is wrong, I think. I kind of spoke about this, poorly, I know, in my previous post, where I wondered publically what constitutes being a lesbian. A comment brought up the idea that so much of lesbian fiction is very sexual in nature and is actually geared toward heterosexual men, who get off on the idea of women being together. But lesbian stories shouldn't be written for straight men. They shouldn't be written for men at all. Lesbian stories should be written for women. Lesbians in particular. If men, or straight women, enjoy reading, too, so much the better. But they should not be the target audience.

I got to thinking about that, and I wondered if that wasn't the problem I was having with my story. The idea of straight men reading lesbian stories hadn't really entered my thoughts. But in order to see how others wrote love scenes I had been reading a lot of online examples. I quit because it seemed to me so very few were well written at all that I was only filling my head with how NOT to write them. But when the idea that these stories were written to excite the imaginations of straight men, I realized that I felt the same way about them. They did not seem like stories written for women seeking commonality with someone who shared their love preference. But I think all of that reading distorted my thinking about lesbian stories in general. I think I subconsciously forgot my target audience, and I'm not comfortable writing sex stuff for straight men. Or for anybody for that matter.

My stories are supposed to be about finding acceptance, falling in love - love, not sex, and being free to be who one is. And my target audience is women. I need to remember that and forget about the stereotypes. I need to just let my characters be real people, and not animals which are slaves to passion and sexuality. While there are real people who are, they are not the subject of my writing. My writing is not supposed to be about sex, although I want sex to (sometimes) be a part of my stories.

So, between my friend's critique, and the comment on my post, I think I have what I need to fix up my story and make it something people want to and enjoy reading. Any people.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What are the Requirements

The first I remember being aware of there being anything other than female-male relationships I was in junior high. Whenever anyone was to be severely criticized, or made fun of, inevitiably they were accusing of being queer. I had to ask what this meant and was told it was a girl-girl or boy-boy relationship, depending on what they were. For some, this tag remained with them all the time. For others, it was only while they were in disfavor.

I was some place in between. The only time the derogatory remarks were directed at me was when I was in disfavor (which, I confess, was often). But I learned through the grapevine that should I ever come up as a topic for discussion (not real often) the talk was that I was also queer.

This confused me because I didn't understand why. True, I didn't date. And equally true, I was often friends with others were 'known' to be queer. There were no labels of gay, or lesbian, back then, although the terms were known. The slang at the time was queer. It was always used in a negative sense.

The whole thing confused me because I was the only one not being called it to my face, except in cases of angry disfavor. I didn't understand it then and I'm not sure I understand now. Unless, just being in love can define someone as lesbian (or gay).

I don't mean platonic love, as between relatives or good friends. I mean real love. Romantic love. Just without the sex.

What if two women are deeply in love with each other, but never engage in lovemaking? I remember reading about two such women from the late 1800s or early 1900s. The story is vague in my memory and I don't recall their names. It seems to me that one became a famous author, or poet. The girls had grown up together and everyone knew they were very close friends. But then questions began to be raised about how close their friendship was. There didn't seem to have been any bedroom scenes, but the deepness of their love came under question. People wondered about them. Eventually they were split up, even to the point of living in separate countries. I'm thinking one lived in Australia and the other in England.

These women would have been called lesbians had they shared their bodies with each other. But they only shared their spirits. Their love. Their love was so deep that at least one of them pined away for the rest of her life. But I think they were both very lonely.

But were they lesbians? Does being a lesbian require sexual acts?

And the pining away brings up another point. Why is it that lesbians are viewed as promiscuous? Why is it that only heterosexuals can be viewed as monogomous? I think this is another form of harrassment, sterotyping. It just isn't true. Monogomy is a commitment of will. Why can't lesbians have that?

I remembered reading a long time ago that studies showed each of us meets someone we could fall in love with every four to seven years. It doesn't mean we will fall in love, but we could. But does this deep kind of love require sex? What about people who physically cannot have sex? Does this mean they are incapable of deep, romantic love?

Most of the gay and lesbian friends I have had in my life were unknown to me as gay or lesbian until after we had gone our separate ways. The topic of sex seldom came up in our conversations, I guess. Certainly, I never felt like anyone was coming on to me. Of course, my idea of someone coming on to me is they kiss me like a lover. Subtle things I tend to pass off as my imagination. But I learned of my friends' sexual preferences through other friends afterward. I guess I don't pay close enough attention to the sexual things.

Or maybe I'm just dense.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When It's Safe to Be Counted

We like to talk about getting along. We like to believe we can. But it's hard, isn't it? And what's so odd about it being so hard is that most of us belong to many different 'groups'. And some of these groups are in conflict with each other. Most of us can be associated with some sort of political affiliation: Democrat; Republican; Green; Other (where Other means you're not specifically identified with any known party, but you are politically aware). We have some sort of connection to relgion: Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddist, Native American, Agnostic, Athiest, Other (where Other represents some sort of conscious religious attitude - or lack thereof). And of course we have sexuality: straight, bi-sexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, a-sexual, Other (where Other is some new label with which I am unfamiliar).

Belonging to so many groups means we have to decide which group we will align ourselves with when the two groups come into conflict. This can be costly. It can be dangerous. People have been beaten, even killed, for admitting they also belonged to an opposing group. Areas of religion and sex can be the most risky of all.

Of all the groups which fight there are two I feel especially bad about because I have strong personal connections to both: Christians and Lesbians. (Lesbians can be expanded to include all non-traditional sexual types, but this blog is more about women and those who identify themselves with women.)

I would think of all the warring groups these would be the two most likely to come to peace with each other. In most cultures, it is women who are taught from birth to be loving, nurturing, accepting, and helpful. Well isn't that the message of Christians? Aren't Christians constantly talking about God's love - for everyone? So if Christians want to be loving and caring, and women are taught to be loving and caring, why don't they get along?

Well, for one thing, it's a stereotype to say ALL women are loving and caring. I've known plenty in my life who would fail that test miserably. And I've known men who would qualify.

As to Christians, I have known Christians who qualify in the loving and caring category. I have also known plenty who are intolerant, unforgiving, and downright mean.

It seems to me the greater burden is on the Christians. They are playing for what they believe are higher stakes (eternity). Lesbians are just trying to mold the world into a place where they (and their progeny) can live in peace and not be harassed, threatened, beaten, and denied basic rights and priviledges which others enjoy with impunity. Also, and this is the biggie, right now Christians seem to have the greater (political) power by means of the Religious Right (which I do NOT believe is Christian at all). The problem is, the Religous Right is using its power to hurt. This tells me that the wrong Christians are in charge. It can be the same within the Lesbian political structure. Sometimes the wrong Lesbians are in charge.

What I'm trying to say is that I don't think there's anything inheritly wrong with either group. What it comes down to is leadership and followers. We who are not leaders, and perhaps especially those of us who are connected to both groups, need to examine our leaders to make sure they actually represent our group and not just their own idealogy. I think too often we give our leaders free reign. People don't handle that well. Without accountability they usually wander away from their original purpose. And we who let them wander wind up suffering because the rest of the world begins to look at us though we are carbon copies of those leaders who have long since ceased to  represent the group and what it really stands for. And why shouldn't they? After all, do we not allow these leaders to continue to lead?

I think we need to quit fighting and hating each other. That does none of us any good and hurts us all. Some physically.

Personally, I think Lesbians (as a group) tend to do a better job of this, although I have met some who are quite mean in their own right. Still, it doesn't hurt to be reminded that accepting Lesbians doesn't mean rejecting other ways of life. Let's not make the pendulum swing to the other side. Let's try and stop it in the middle. Maybe then we can have balance and we can all just be who we are.

As for Christians, I think arguing rights and such with them is a complete waste of time. When Christians are Lesbian-bashing they are feeling very self-righteous and superior. They do not hear contrary arguments. You may as well argue in a foreign language. So there is really only one way to reach Christians - if they can be reached at all. They must be returned to their basic message, which centers around Jesus.

Christians love the phrase, "What would Jesus do?" So when you're being bashed by a Christian, challenge them with Jesus. Not God. Even for Christians I think God can be a lofty concept which allows for all sorts of cruelty and intolerance. But Jesus is specific. He is the foundation for the Christian faith. And from what I've read, Jesus never condemned anyone for anything - except religious people for being hypocrites. So, when Christians behave poorly, bring them to Jesus. No need to be mean. Be to them what they're supposed to be to you. Point out that they aren't acting much like Jesus. If they don't listen to him I guess they're not Christians then. That being said, if you live in a place where doing this puts you in physical jeopardy then I do NOT advocate this. Don't get yourself hurt. People can be crazy. Especially over matters of religion and sex.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't think we can best solve this problem legislatively. Not that I'm against legislation. People need to be protected, and that is best done through legislation. The marriage ban, work benefit packages, inheritance, hospital and nursing home rights, are all things which need to be addressed so nobody in this country is denied simply because of who they are. That means legislation. But to solve things socially is going to require grass roots effort. Individuals have to stand up and behave correctly. This may encourage others in their group to stand up and do the same.

Look at me. I have been quietly reading poems by Sarah L. This encouraged me to not only start up a blog, but to write some poems about my own life.  True, this is hardly on the scale of what I've been writing about, but the principle is basically the same. We can inspire others to be better people. So, people like me, who believe they are affiliated with two groups, need to refuse to choose sides when confronted with the choice. We need to stand up and bring the two groups together. But don't put your life at risk. If you don't have the liberty to stand up without being physically hurt, then I think maybe you should stay seated. I would hate for you to be hurt.

 But I have this liberty. I will not be beaten. I will not be killed. But I may find members of one (or both) groups rejecting me. Generally, the extremists do this first. Then, if the others become intimidated, they follow. But I can't inspire if I don't at least try.

So I will stand for both. I don't think the two groups are really that incompatible. I really don't.

I think they're just afraid of each other. So if I can help ease fears, maybe they will start liking each other as they should.

I'm a dreamer. No wonder I'm lonely.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pretty is as Pretty Does, Not How it Looks

For years I have wondered about myself. What would I really be like if I were comepletely left to my own with no fear of repurcussion?

To be honest, I'm not sure.

I like the frilly daintiness which is assumed with being "pretty". At the same time, I like being "tough".

What I have discovered over time is that "pretty" isn't always what I think it is. I have met more than few people who, at first encounter, strike me as plain, or even unattractive. Then, as I get to know them, they become more and more beautiful. Some have even become sexy. Do I dare blush to say that?

Still, when I imagine myself as being "pretty", I have a definite image in mind. I guess that shows prejudice on my part. For while Tahira (not her real name, but the same meaning) was about the most beautiful person I knew, kind, loving, and gentle in spirit, she was also sixty pounds overweight. And despite the fact that by the time we parted ways I saw her as a very sexy woman because of her spirit, I don't think of Tahira when I think pretty. I feel bad about that, too. But there is physical and there is spiritual. The spiritual is better, but it's hard not to be influenced by the physical.

The concept of who is pretty and who isn't is mean. How many women (and men) have suffered because the world around them declares they are NOT pretty? I remember Tahira coming into the office one day (she was my supervisor, and we shared a small enclosed office with one other) and breaking down and crying. I quickly closed the door so the whole company wouldn't know. When she collected herself she told me why she was crying. She had gone to the store the day before with her little boy. Walking from the car there were teenagers nearby who saw her. They made rude and horrible remarks about how fat she was. It bothered her at the time, although she managed to not cry then. But she couldn't forget it, and now, at work with me, she broke down and released her feelings.

It tortured me to hear that someone so beautiful was being so mistreated. It cut me, because when I had been in school I had done my share of teasing others for being fat. My pennance is that I am now fat. Serves me right, I suppose.

Why did I bring this up? Because I tend to write my main characters as being my idea of pretty. I guess it's because I so want to be pretty, and the only place I can is in make-believe. But part of writing is to be real, so maybe I should consider writing about the poor girl/woman who doesn't fit the world around her's idea of pretty.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Life of Priscilla

Daytime soap operas have been around since at least the 1930s. Then they were on radio and sponsored by soap manufacturers. They were dramatic little shows, also known as 'operas'. So that is how they got their name.

I have never been one to get into them much. Some people become very involved with them. One of my grandmothers used to get so mad at a certain woman on some show she watched because the woman was so mean to someone else. To Grandma, watching the soap opera was a kind of voyeurism. I suppose she felt like she were the 'fly on the wall', watching real people live real lives. But you don't have to be a senior citizen to get like that. I have known plenty of twenty and thirty-somethings who are the same way.

When I was young it was assumed one hundred percent of soap opera viewers were women. Subsequent history has proven that to be a false assumption. Plenty of men are just as caught up in the lives of these fictional characters.

The truth is, prime time television series aren't much different. What is different is the time table. Prime time television series provide isolated events in the live of its characters. Soap operas follow their characters almost minute by minute.

I'm not sure how I need to ask this, but can short stories achieve the same thing as a soap opera?

What if I were to create a character, and just follow her daily life and write about it? Like the radio and television soap operas there would be no specific goal to be achieved, or obstacle to overcome. Just the daily things, like having to deal with losing one's job, falling in love, having children, getting divorced, having an affair, learning a new trade.

The key, of course, would be to make the character so interesting that readers would actually care about her, or maybe one of the regular characters around her. I suppose that would be something that might work in a magazine, which attracts readers for others reasons than just to read about the life of Priscilla. (I just opened my baby name book and randomly chose a name that sounded nice.)

Generally when we read a story we are looking for something out of the ordinary. We want something to take us away from the mundane daily life we are living for ourselves. But sometimes, it just might be nice to read about someone else's mundane daily life. Especially if they're kind of like us. So maybe Priscilla is a lesbian. Or bi. Or maybe Priscilla doesn't really know what she is regarding relationships. Maybe she struggles with those because she's still trying to live the life she thinks she's supposed to live. Maybe the life of Priscilla isn't a short story, but rather a long journey.

Is that something worth writing?

Oh. And on a different note, Sarah L has a fantastic post on her blog. Link to it here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stuck in the Middle Without You

In my profile I call myself "genderqueer". When I picked that label I based it solely on a feeling I have inside, and the recommendation of a friend, who actually suggested it to me.

But recently I found a gender test used by psychologists/pschiatrists when counseling patients about gender issues. I'm not seeing a counselor, but I couldn't resist taking the test anyway. What would it tell me? That I'm really a man? That I'm really a woman? What?

There were a lot of questions, and I don't remember but a few of them, but perhaps the greatest indicator of what result was in store for me was this question:

You have the power to change your sex at will. You will be entirely a woman or entirely a man. Which will you be?

There were several choices available, but the one which slammed home to me was:

I would be a woman or a man depending on how I was feeling at the moment.

So do I need to tell you the results from my taking this test? I came out as Androgynous. My internal gender identity is essentially androgynous, both male and female at the same time, or possibly neither.

To tell you the truth, that is exactly how I feel about myself. How did that old commercial go? "Sometimes you feel lke a nut. Sometimes you don't." I have felt all three of those things. I have felt like a man. I have felt like a woman. And I have felt like I was neither a man or a woman. The third case is usually when I start acting "against my sex" and nobody around me will accept the behavior. Then I don't feel like I fit in with anyone.

So, again considering the purpose of this blog, how do I use that in my writing? I should be able to, I think. Will that help me write love stories between women as I want to do, or will the impact be minimal? Or maybe, because I like fantasy, I should write stories in which my main character can change her identity. To be honest, I have been coming up with stories like that since I was in grade school. I've even written one recently where my main character wasn't always the same sex, but it wasn't through an act of her will. (Wasn't done through surgery, either. It is a fantasy story which I won't go into now.)

If the test was accurate and my feelings are true, then it looks like I'm some place in the middle. (At least on the inside.) I do tend to lean more toward female, but I'm not sure how much more.  But if I create a main character who is neither female nor male, will readers identify with her? (Should I say 'her'?) After all, we like to find the right pigeonhole for people so we can interact properly with them. Maybe its just time we built more pigeonholes. The two we have don't seem to be serving everyone well enough anymore.

I can sing the Steelers Wheel song with new enthusiasm now.