Tag Archives: writing

Interview with Morgan Elektra (Three Questions)

(This is part  “Three Questions With Xxxx“. If you’re interested in taking part click here and fill out the form.)

I’ve gotten to know such a great variety of talented people through social media. One of those people happens to be Morgan Elektra. I’ve read “Big Teeth” (see my review here) and I’m in the process of reading the novella that brings her to my blog. Expect a review of that soon. Enough about all of that. Let’s bring on the questions!

1) Why did you start writing romance/erotica?

The short answer is: I thought I would be good at it.

Long story longer though…

Growing up, I was incredibly dismissive of romance as a genre. I liked horror and fantasy, and like any naive person, I believed those were the best genres and everything else was crap. (Hey, I was young and stupid.)

In my early teen years, my family moved into a new house. All my books were packed away, and I was desperate for something to read. (I am old, so this was before the days of ebooks.) The house we were renting had previously been inhabited by the elderly grandmother of a friend of my brother, and there was some furniture and things left behind. On one small bookcase in the hall was a single book, Sweet Fierce Fires, by Joyce Myrus.

It was a total bodice ripper but I needed something to read, so I sucked it up. And, by the end of the book, I found myself with a new obsession.

Being a teenager, part of what kept me seeking out romance novels was the thrill of the illicit, of course. But there was far more to it than that. For instance, because most of what I read was historical, there was a lot of vocabulary and references to people and events that actually engaged me in a subject I had previously not had much interest in. And I found myself intensely emotionally engaged as well.

The stories in romance may be smaller than an epic fantasy quest, space marine battle, or sweeping dystopian horror, but I felt I could relate so deeply to the emotions the characters were experiencing. And during a time when my own emotions were so hard to quantify and give voice to, romance often did that for me. Even though it often made me cry, it also cheered me and gave me hope during a time in my life when I felt very alone and misunderstood.

All that said, when I thought of pursuing a writing career, I imagined myself writing horror. That was my first love, and my sensibility is still very dark. I’m much more Grimm than Disney. (As anyone who reads my self-pubbed short story Big Teeth: a dark fairytale will learn.)

But when I began ghostwriting, the majority of jobs being posted were for romance & erotica. I decided to go for it, since people had often commented on the sensuality of some of my darker pieces before.

I think that it’s my earthy Taurean manifesting. We’re known for being creatures of sensation, and that definitely fits my personality.

And it turns out I really enjoy writing sex and love and emotion. Like, a lot.

Sex, good sex at least, is such a personal thing. Even if you’re with a stranger and you barely speak, you reveal so much more of yourself than just your physical body. I love exploring that. And I love sharing what I find with others.

The world needs more love and great sex. Now more than ever.

2) One thing I’ve noticed in this genre is that some authors end up rehashing a lot of tropes and even reusing situations/scenes. How do you avoid being too formulaic or relying on the tropes too much while still giving fans what they want?

Does it sound terrible if I say I don’t worry about that? The way I see it, there really aren’t all that many unique stories under the sun. We’re more similar the world over than we are different. Humans has been telling stories literally since the beginning of civilization. Everything has been done at some point, in some form or another.

One of my first steps into the world of writing romance & erotica was reading a lot of fanfiction, and the fanfic community is happily and unapologetically trope-central. They have trope fests, where everyone writes ‘fake boyfriend’ or ‘accidentally bonded’ or ‘college roommate’ stories. They celebrate the tropes. But that doesn’t mean the fic community isn’t full of amazing stories. I’ve read so many that I was blown away by. It’s not the trope or cliche, it’s what you do with it.

A Single Heartbeat, for instance, could easily be tagged with the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope. And that is essentially where I started when I came up with the idea.

But I didn’t think, “Oh but there are so many enemies-to-lovers stories out there!” I feel like if I had, I would have talked myself out of ever writing it at all.

What I try to do is make my characters as real as possible. Like they’re ready to walk right off the page, sit down beside the reader, and ask for a drink. To tell you about their crappy or amazing day.

Because people may have read a ton of enemies-to-lovers stories before, they may even have read a bunch of vampire & vampire hunter romances… but they’ve never read Reese and Will’s story before.

3) Your most recent book was published by MLR Press. You’ve also self-published some works. What’s your experience in both realms been like and do you have a preference?

I am admittedly a baby in the publishing world. I self-pubbed two of my short stories (Big Teeth: a dark fairytale and Candy) just to see what the process was like and get an idea of what was involved. It was nerve-wracking, honestly. I would do it again, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. I stress about every little thing too much.

Working with MLR, on the other hand, has been amazing. Everyone has been kind and willing to answer questions for the newbie, and they’re very encouraging and supportive. I didn’t have to worry about things like formatting, which I’m not really comfortable with. And I got to have quite a lot of input in things like cover design, which was a nice surprise.

I’m definitely hoping to work with MLR more in the future. I’ve just completed a connected follow-up story to A Single Heartbeat that they are considering, and I have a few more in mind in the same universe, so I’d be thrilled to have all those at MLR.

That said, MLR only publishes M/M romance and erotica. As much as I love writing that, I don’t think I’m going to stick exclusively to that sub-genre. I have a handful of short stories already written that aren’t even romance/erotica, let alone M/M. I’m looking for homes for them in online and print publications.

While I overall prefer working with a publisher, I see myself being a hybrid author going forward. Primarily working with a publisher, but putting out something on my own every once in awhile. That seems to me to be the best route for balancing my need to be in control with my desire to just write.

I’d much rather concentrate on creating new stories and engaging with people on social media. Those things feed my soul more than formatting and cover design.

Which is my round-about way of saying everyone should follow me on my various media platforms and say hi. I’m a bit awkward and shy in person, but online I love to chat!

Thanks for taking this time to read this! You can find Morgan around the internets at these places:
Website – https://bymorganelektra.wordpress.com/
Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/MorganElektra
Twitter – www.twitter.com/MorganElektra
Facebook- www.facebook.com/ByMorganElektra
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/morgan_elektra/
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13886167.Morgan_Elektra
Amazon – www.amazon.com/author/bymorganelektra
QueeRomanceInk – https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/morgan-elektra/

You can buy her newest book at these fine bookery establishments:
Direct from MLR Press: https://mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=MESNGLHB
Amazon: http://amzn.to/2iohS9b
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-single-heartbeat-morgan-elektra/1125410790?ean=2940157434557
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-single-heartbeat-1 

Location, Location, Location (Writing Advice)

I occasionally get asked for writing advice (which means some people think I know what I’m doing). One of those I most often get asked is, how do I write? Now, the smart ass in me wants to answer that with “just start pounding keys”. So as not to appear more of an ass than I usually do, I try and say something more helpful. Here’s one answer to that question, which is really “how do I write more/better/as awesomely as you do?”.

Location #1 (Butt In Chair) – This is really the most key of all locations. You need to get your booty in the seat, whether it’s in front of your keyboard or at a desk with pen and notepad. It may sound like I’m still on the smart ass train (TOOT TOOT! TICKETS PLEASE!!). Really and truly, you can find all kinds of excuses not to put yourself physically in the place to write.
I need to wash the dog.
I need to feed the kids.
I need to go to work.
I need to make the sweet love to my spouse.
Yes. All of these things needs must be done. If you want to write, though, this is key. This really looks like making the writing a priority. So, it’s a little more than the overly simplistic advice that it appears to be. But not much. If you want to write and you don’t do this one then the rest aren’t going to happen.

Location #2 (Writing Space) – This one can be tough. It’s going to vary widely from person to person. You need to find the right environment for you to write in. Yes, thanks to the wonderment of technology, one can write anywhere. The key is finding the place that works for you. The most idea may be a dedicated writerly shed a la Chuck Wendig. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have one of those. Heck, Chuck didn’t have one of those until recently. More realistically, it mean finding a place where you can minimize distraction and maximize productivity. I find that for me, the local coffee shop is a font of productivity for me. Paul Cooley likes to write at his local pub. You might find that those public places are too noisy or distracting in their own right. I can’t tell you what’s right for you. Once you find it, use it.
There are other elements to this like lighting, music, the necessary equipment, little tchotchkes. It’s all about making the space you’re in one that helps you get words on the page. If you don’t have this and you don’t have your butt in the chair then it can make the next location a pain.

Location #3 (Headspace) – This is one of the most important places to be, in the right headspace. This means that once you’ve put your butt in the chair and you’re in your preferred place in the universe, you’re in a good frame of mind to do the deed. There are a lot of ways to get into that headspace and it too varies from writer to writer. Here are some things that help me:
Have a plan – This can look like a really robust outline. It can also be just a sentence or two describing the next thing that will happen.
Tie your editor to a chair and gag them – I’m talking about your internal editor here. This is a trick to learn. It’s easier for some people than others. This is writing time, not editing time. One thing that’s helped train me is Write or Die. It puts me on a timer and screams at me if I slack off.
Good self care – You need to make sure that the basic biologicals are taken care of. You need to sleep. You need to eat right. You need to take your meds (if you’re on prescribed medication as many writers I know are). You need to poop. Don’t give yourself any reason to get up out of that chair once you’re in place.
Support – If you have a spouse, roommate, or other person in your life that can reassure you/kick your ass that also helps. This writing is a solo gig, but having people cheering you on/threatening you bodily is great motivation.

Now, there’s something I need to say here. You can still write anywhere! If you chose a pub and it’s closed on a day you want to write, have a backup plan. Don’t make this space a requirement for your writing to happen. It should be conducive to writing and hopefully make the words flow like sweetest honey, but I’m not giving you the excuse to only write in this space. If you’re just not “in the mood” then write a sentence or two and then write another sentence or two and see if that gets you there. None of these things are required for you to do the deed. Not having them shouldn’t stop you. They’re just things I know that has helped me.

So, what helps you? Give me the details on your locations and how you get to them.

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Stealing the First Chair

DM-NO On Facebook the other day I asked the question, “What story has your favorite secondary character, the one that really outshined the primary character?”. I got a whole slew of answers.

Fiona – On tv, it’d have to be Avon in Blake’s 7. He’s given all the best lines.

Nobilis – Nearly all of the secondary caracters in the Stephanie Plum novels are incredibly awesome, bug Grandma Mazur stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Rick – Game of Thrones: Tyrion and The Princess Bride: Inigo Montoya

Rebecca – The Shining

Mark – Wheel of Time. Mat was way cooler than Rand.

Chris – Probably “Sword of Truth” before Goodkind beat a dead horse with pulp.

Thomas – Lt. Dan!

Dan – Easy. Han Solo.

Wolf – (Almost) every single character in Scott Siglers Earthcore!

Steve – Brian Daley’s JINX ON A TERRAN INHERITANCE series. Alacrity Fitzhugh made those books awesome.

Chris – Harry Dresden has some of the best secondary characters ever. Bob, Susan, the Alphas, McCoy, Butters…

August – Thomas (Dresden Files) and (i)n Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, The Fool, although he becomes a much bigger character in later trilogies.

Scott aka “Jar Jar” – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace… that Jar Jar is a dreamboat.

Dave – The Scar, by China Mieville. I love the protag, but Uther Doul is hard to beat

Laura – Hmm, That’s a hard one Book, I would have to say Deborah from the Evolution series by Starla Huchton, TV show: Gajeel from Fairy Tail. Movie: The Irishman from Braveheart.

TwoStepsFromHellsmScott aka “Jar Jar” – Seriously though: In Raymond Feist’s first four books in the Riftwar series (Magician: Apprentice; Magician: Master; Silverthorn; and Darkness at Sethanon), Jimmy The Hand shines as my favorite. He (literally) steals the show.

Timothy – Hyperion by Dan Simmons is full of amazing characters.

Thomas – There’s always john smith, John smith, John smith, John smith, John smith, John smith & John smith from JC Hutchins 7th son novels.

James – Gurney from Dune. Especially played by Sir Patrick Stewart.

That’s quite the list. As an author I’ve had that happen I’m sure. One really interesting instance is from my book Two Steps from Hell. We get to know one character somewhat posthumously. When I got the chance to write a story for Dirty Magick: New Orleans, I decided I wanted to use the same universe in my story since it took place in New Orleans. I also decided that I wanted to use this dead character, Willie Evans, as my protagonist. Only I needed him to be alive. So I placed the story in TSfH’s past. In writing this story I fell in love with him even more. That makes me feel a little bad about his ultimate fate, but we all become worm food sooner or later. And this way I get to play with him for a little longer.

The goal for any writer, I believe, is to make all of your characters so rich and so real that you could tell your stories with any of them. You don’t want to outshine your protagonist. That does happen in some of the above stories. I’m thinking of one Scott Sigler story in particular (CHANG BANG!!). It also happens, in my opinion, in Patrick McLean’s How to Succeed in Evil, where the comic foil become my favorite. Thankfully the main character just shines in a different way.

Here’s a bit from my story “Stigmata” that will give you some insight into Willie:

He took a moment to look around. The ceiling was crazy high, and the benches were gorgeous things made of wrought iron. He walked past the font of holy water and dipped his fingers in. He flicked the water into his own face, hoping it would wake him up a little. “Hello? Anyone in here?” His words echoed back to him. The place was deserted. “Maybe I can catch a few winks and go to the nearest crowded cafe.” He still wasn’t sure why or who was chasing him. It could have been nothing more than his own personal demons, but drunk or straight he had never been this paranoid without reason.
If he could just spot who it was, he’d call his sister the detective. She’d ream him out in good fashion, but then she’d listen and maybe he could crash on her couch for a day or two while she looked into it. Until he could identify them, it wouldn’t do any good. She’d chalk it up to his penchant for telling stories and ask him when he was going to get his shit together.
Halfway down the center aisle, he saw the crucifix. They were the creepiest fucking things. Christians complained about Islam being a religion of violence, but they seemed to forget that a man on a massive torture device hung in the middle of theirs. He looked closely at the artifact. He’d always thought Christ was supposed to be naked. This guy was wearing all black. He had the crown of thorns and blood smeared face Willie always heard about, but the blood looked wet in the candlelight.
When he smelled blood and shit, he realized this particular torture victim was flesh and bone and not a wooden representation. Now he had a reason to call Helen. He just had to find a phone.

So, who’s your favorite second fiddle who jumped over to the first chair?

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Mobilizing Fear

space walk I struggle a lot with fear. Whether it be fear of heights, failure, being unliked, being fired, making the wrong decision, this list could go on and one. When I saw some video of a space walk I told my friend that it was a good view, but I would lose my shit. I know that just seeing that vast expanse below me would cause me to snap.

I’m on the cusp of making some major changes. The next few years will bring many opportunities and a whole heaping load of anxiety and doubt. The thing that I most often do when I’m really afraid is to either freeze completely or run in the opposite direction. I rarely grab the bull by its horns and take action. That’s one of those things that has to change. If I let fear keep me from doing things then everyone around me could suffer. Even of they don’t, if the fear is of something very personal, I will suffer. I’ll always wonder if that thing I didn’t do turned out to be that thing I should have done.

A good example of that fear on a smaller scale is fear of finishing a project. When I have everything put together or nearing the final stages, I seem to find reasons for it to not continue. I do other things. Some of it is procrastinating, like watching Daredevil. Sometimes I do work, side work for friends or work around the house. I’ll occasionally start a whole new project. None of this is necessarily a bad thing. But when fear changes from inactivity to activity that gets in the way, it can be just as bad. I guess you could call this “mobilizing” fear. In some ways it’s the flight response manifesting itself differently.

This mobilizing gives you the same problem a certain R2 (or R5) unit had – a bad motivator. You keep running and running, but you don’t actually go anywhere.

How can you tell if you’ve got this problem as a writer? Here are some things that indicate to me you’re about to blow your top:
“I’ve been working on this manuscript for years!”
“This just needs a fifth/sixth/seventh revision and then it will be good enough.”
“I’ll finish this novel one day.”
“i’ll come back to this short story once I get this other idea developed.” (And a string of unfinished short stories.)
“I need to look into how to market/format/get a cover for this [unfinished/unstarted] story.”

Granted some of these could be legit. These are just opportunities for you to check yourself and make sure that you haven’t lost it. What are some instances that you’ve run into where fear has mobilized you? Can fear be a good motivator?

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Change Your Defaults

default-setting An author recently said in an interview that the reason his books don’t have many females, much less female protagonists, is that he grew up in a home with only brothers and doesn’t know much about women. There was a fire storm that followed that interview. I think, as firestorms go, it was somewhat justified. The purpose of this post isn’t to talk about that, but it certainly springboards off of it.

As a writer, I consciously chose many of the things about my stories, but you’d be surprised about the unconscious choices. I’m a heterosexual, cis-gendered, white guy in my middle years. As such, it’s something of a default mode to make my point of view characters a lot like me. That choice is rarely a conscious one. I’ve put a lot of thought into it over the last couple of years though and I’ve started taking more and more risks. I’ve changed my defaults, and I hope it’s making me a better writer.

Ginnie Dare is a female teen with dark skin and kinky hair. I don’t make a big deal of her race, as it’s set in a future where my hope is that we’ve just found other things to kill each other over. Still, I’m writing from the perspective of a teenage girl, and that’s risky. I could easily make a mistake and alienate a chunk of my audience. I have a daughter, but there’s a difference in having one and being one.

Esho St. Claire is a black man in nineteenth-century Manhattan. Not only that, he’s also a first generation immigrant. In a world where slavery is still a very fresh memory, I won’t be able to avoid dealing with the issue of race as it stands in that time. And I don’t want to. Because I made the choice, I had to put some time into researching what life was like for minorities over a hundred years ago. Most of Esho’s clientele will either be coming to him because they are themselves members of a minority group or because they literally have no other choice. There’s a lot of potential for conflict there. There’s also the chance that I’ll make a whole slew of mistakes.

Melody Lakewood is the protagonist in a story I’m working on currently. Not only is she a teenage girl, she’s also got cerebral palsy. She walks with the aid of crutches and has a large family. I don’t know anything about any of that, other than what I read. I’m sweating bullets to get the story and characterization right. Given that she’s the only living character in the story, if I get her wrong there’s not much left to get right.

Changing the “defaults”, whether they’re your own writing habits or those tropes that your genre holds dear, is risky. But without risk, there’s no reward. If you follow the crowd or stick to writing what you know, it will make it harder for you to stand out and you might stagnate as a creator. Admitting to ignorance is fine, and it’s something I have to do nearly every day. Being willing to stay in that state, unwilling to push yourself or your readers outside of the comfort zones we all have, is to me unacceptable.

What safety net are you using as a creator? What are your default settings and how are you changing them?

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This Content Is Clean!

movie_rating_labels_by_fairyfindings-d45tuzt So there’s this bonfire among the writing community blogosphere involving an app called Clean Reader. This is from its blog:

Clean Reader prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen. You decide how clean your books should appear and Clean Reader does the rest.

This is, as one of my friends pointed out, CleanFlicks for books. The first blog post I saw came from one of my favorite firebrands, Chuck Wendig. His blog post, which is gloriously “unclean”, has some legitimate points. If they are a) making changes to ebooks and reselling them without the consent of the publisher or b) selling books that are no longer available then this isn’t legal as far as I can tell.

If, as their copy says, they are filtering books without making changes to them, then as stupid as I think this idea is, I don’t see the problem. When a television channel airs an edited copy of a movie, no one screams bloody murder. They have permission and authorial intent be “darned”, they will make sure that your family doesn’t hear any naughty words or see any naughty bits.

I do plan downloading and trying it out. I’m curious to see what the whole deal is. I don’t plan on using it outside of curiosity, since I believe that an author’s work should be consumed unchanged. If words or images offend you, then it’s on you to see that you don’t consume those things (or that you get offended and then perhaps grow as a person).

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Writing Tools

Tools I was asked by a friend of mine, who’s interested in upping his writing game, if I had anything like a creative writing course syllabus. I had to answer in the negative. I’ve never taken a creative writing course. I’m largely self taught. Instead, I sent him some links to tools that I use. I figured that was better than a kick in the shins. They’re all tools/approaches that I’ve used in the past. Since I’d love it if everyone who touched pen to paper, or fingers to keyboards, would use them I’ll share them with you. Please leave any of your favorites in the comments.

Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet isn’t as dirty as it sounds. It breaks the traditional three act structure into manageable pieces. This link takes you to a site explaining it. There is also a link to a book by Blake Snyder that I’ve heard good things about.

EshoStClaireCvr-CSThe Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot is a formula for writing a 6,000 word pulp short story. Now, I know what you’re thinking. A formula? But no one says you have to follow it word for word. I used the essence of it for The Casebook of Esho St. Claire.

The Snowflake Method is something I’ve used for years. You don’t have to follow it religiously, but for those of you who would like to learn how to build an outline for a novel, this is probably the easiest way I’ve seen to do so.

Here are some blogs and podcasts that I use as well. Listening to and reading about how other authors do it is invaluable.

Blogs:
The Blood Red Pencil
Terribleminds
Business Rusch
Killing Sacred Cows series by Dean Wesley Smith

Podcasts:
I Should Be Writing
The Dead Robots’ Society (Full disclosure, I’m on this one.)
Get Published

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Full of Crap

full of crap As a co-host of the Dead Robots Society, I can tell you that a large number of our topics come from our listeners. Wolf Roark, a good friend and a man whose picture is next to lovable curmudgeon in the dictionary, recently asked one that resonates with me.

How do you keep the crap that happens in the real world from affecting the story you’re trying to tell?

Now, this question can be taken in a couple of ways. I’m going to answer in both ways that spring to mind:

Way the First – I’m a husband, a father, someone with a day job, and in general just a busy dude. In short, there’s a LOT of crap in my life. Things that take time. Things I waste time on. Things I actually have to do. All of that stuff can get in the way of telling the story, much less actually getting the story written down. There are a couple of ways you can prevent that from happening:

Have A Schedule – Much of the crap that gets in the way has its own schedule. I have to be at work at a certain time. The kids have a bed time. We eat dinner at roughly the same time every day. Why should writing be any different? I write nearly every day at lunch. This is a habit I’m trying to cultivate and am having some degree of success at. I also try to write at the end of the day, but that’s possibly the worst time to do it for me personally. If any crap hits the fan then writing isn’t going to happen. That’s why I don’t rely on having that time to write. It’s like a bonus. So you need to find the best time of day for you to write.

Be Flexible – This may seem to contradict the schedule thing. For me, it gives me some freedom. I used to write almost nothing. Months would go by and nary a word would I commit to paper/electrons. When I finally decided to “get serious” I would start of grand and then something would go to crap. I’d feel guilty, get discouraged, and give up for a few weeks. Now, if life interferes, I let it. Then I remember that writing can happen and WILL happen the next day. I don’t let that trap of guilt and shame slow me down.

Get Buy In – Make sure that the people in your life know how important writing is to you. My wife, God bless her heart, will go to great lengths to make sure that I know that it’s writing time. She hasn’t taken the nuclear options of stealing the remote or hiding my beer, but those cards are on the table.

Way the Second – It is entirely possible he meant “how do you keep current events or the crap at work from creeping in to the stories you’re writing?”.

I say, don’t stand in the way of those things. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. Everything from the origin of the story itself to events in the story can and should be somewhat fluid. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, you can leave room open to being affected by that song you heard or that movie you watched. These days I think that can be particularly useful if you happen to be writing political thrillers, but every genre can and should tackle the sort of events and issues that we run into in our daily lives.

Then there are the things that happen in my personal life. Being a father and a husband has done nothing but make my writing better/richer/deeper. I let those things in. I draw events and interactions into my stories. I feel like that will help them resonate with people.

The Final Thing – It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed the point of his question. Or that you’re inspired to ask a new question or answer the question he seems to have asked yourself. Please do! That’s what comments are for.

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Gender In Writing

A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1 I’ve been studying both French and Spanish over the last few months. I was fluent in French at one point and am working to regain that. I’ve never studied Spanish, but I’m finding that the dribs and drabs I’ve picked up over the years is leaking out of my brain and gaining flesh as I study. I’m using a combination of the Duolingo app/website and the podcasts produced by Radio Lingua.

One thing this study has reminded me of is the concept of gendered nouns (regardless of whether or not the physical object has a gender), and the fact that both languages change the spelling of adjectives based on the gender of that noun they describe. I wondered if that was changing at all in practice the way that it is, to a lesser degree, in English. While we don’t have gendred nouns per se, I can’t help but think how I’ve gone from saying “fireman” to “fire fighter” and “policeman” to “police officer”. There’s another change in usage that I’ve noticed. Certain masculine words like “waiter” are supplanting their feminine versions entirely, in spite of efforts to create words like “waitron“. Then there’s the question of pronouns. All three languages I speak have “him” and “her”, but the only gender neutral term I know of is the English word “it”.

The more I read when it comes to gender issues and the use of descriptors like cis-gendred and genderqueer to name but two that are new to me, the more I wonder if this neutrality trend is good or bad (or neither). As someone who writes some science fiction, I think about how to use language like this in my stories. It’s somewhat pointless to try and be accurate about how we’ll speak in twenty, fifty, or a hundred years. No one can be sure how language will evolve in the coming decades. We only know that it will. Still, it’s fun to think about. Then there’s the matter of respect for the communities that use those terms currently.

Given the choice between using words that are gender neutral, gender specific, or applying the current gender specific masculine (or feminine) term to the broader group; how do you address that in your writing? Does that depend on your genre and audience, or do you have a rule that applies to all of your writing?

“A TransGender-Symbol Plain1”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1.png#mediaviewer/File:A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1.png

The Teacher

Here’s my latest entry in my ongoing serial horror piece. This one creeped me out.

I’m interested in suggestions for a title for this work. Drop any suggestions in the comments.

Abe popped the gel coated tablets into his mouth and chased them with a slurp of the red wine he’d bought earlier that day. It had been a hell of a week at school and he felt like he needed a break. He walked over to the fireplace, glass in hand, and hit the ignition button on the fireplace. Peace and quite, an adult beverage, and the flickering of the gas logs were only the first course.

He relaxed into the easy chair, relishing the feeling of his skin against the leather. It was cool at first, but it soon warmed to body heat. He was a little disappointed that he had to enjoy this time alone. He’d hoped to have a date to share the pictures with, but the person he had in mind was being investigated. They’d have to lay low for a while. Abe had been enjoying his hobby for twenty years and knew what precautions to take. His friend was newer to the passion and may not be as well schooled in what to do and what not to do. That could be very bad for him.

Abe had slipped up once and it had nearly cost him his job. It had cost him his marriage and he needed to really be careful, but that was all water under the bridge. He grabbed his tablet from the table nearby and opened the texting window. The face that looked back at him was angelic. The boy, Charlie, was a junior in Abe’s French II class. His grades weren’t the best and when he needed extra help, Abe had been very understanding. After all, bad grades could cost him his spot on the football team and without that there would be no college scholarship.

Soon he and Charlie had quite the friendship. Abe had never taken it any farther than that. It had been tempting, but that was part of being careful. He’d used all of his knowledge of Charlie’s likes and dislikes to build Rachel’s profile. Rachel was seventeen, had flaming red hair, and was an average student. She told Charlie that she attended a school across the state and had heard about him in the newspaper. She friended him on Twitter and soon the two were exchanging emails, texts, and direct messages. Cultivating the relationship hadn’t taken long. Getting it to the point where Charlie was sending him naked pictures had gone fairly quickly. Once he had those, it was easy to take it further. Now he had pictures of Charlie’s friends taken in the locker room and even had a video of varsity cheerleading coach Dana going down on Charlie in the back of her Passat. All Abe had to do was convince Charlie that this was the sort of thing Rachel got off on. In return he sent Charlie pictures of Rachel getting off. That had been a piece of cake since everything of Rachel’s came from one of those “barely legal” sites.

Soon he would take it to the next level. He had plans to “discover” the online relationship and threaten to reveal it to Charlie’s parents. That, plus all of the pictures, especially the secret locker room snaps, would turn the young man into his slave. It was the long con, but the little nibbles along the way, the pictures and videos, made the wait worthwhile. He’d been unable to really look at any of the pictures Charlie had sent this week and settled in to appreciate them.

When he opened the folder he nearly shrieked. All of the pictures had been replaced by one photo repeated over and over again. The barrel of a gun pointed at a camera’s lens. “I don’t understand.” He was about to put the tablet down when his muscles started to cramp. He gripped the device in spasming hands. Any tighter and he might crack the screen.

A window opened on the screen and it was Charlie’s face, but only the mouth moved. It wasn’t Charlie’s mouth. “I see that the medication has taken effect. There was a ‘mistake’ and your regular dose of anti-anxiety meds was replaced with something a little fiercer. The man I received your information from had planned to make your outing a little more public. So I expect you would thank me. If you were able to form words.”

Abe could no longer feel his hands.

“I don’t usually kill people, but in your case I’ve decided to make an exception. I can be convinced otherwise. If you understand, grunt once like a pig.”

Abe tried very hard and forced air through his throat and out of his mouth.

“You’re looking at the barrel of a gun. You like young men to put their ‘barrel’s’ in your mouth. I say you combine the two and take the barrel of that .357 you keep in your drawer and put it in your mouth. Pull the trigger and everything bad will go away.”

Abe wanted to scream. There was no way he’d kill himself. Suicides went to hell and he had no desire to end up there.

“I know. I know. Killing yourself is hard. Here’s what will happen if you don’t. You’re thinking to yourself that the next words out of my mouth will be that I’ll make your little secret public. If I wanted that then I would have let your eventual blackmailer live. I don’t want your victims to be hurt by your sickness. However you choose to die, I’ll wipe every file you have. No one will know about your indiscretions. That I promise you.”

Abe was able to narrow his eyes.

“What’s the alternative? I’ll kill you. It will be slow. And painful. You’ve made a life out of stripping people of theirs. After you lose your pictures I will see to it that all of the care you’ve taken in building a respectful life will fall down around your ears. You will wish that you killed yourself. Then, one day, a person will come to you with a package. That will take your what’s left of your life from you, but only after you’ve lest everything you live for.” Charlie’s face faded from the tablet’s screen.

Abe sat there for exactly seventeen minutes, until feeling began to come back to his fingers and toes. He felt the tears trickle down his face. He could either take his life, or he could leave it for this monster to take. “What kind of choice is that?” He screamed to the empty house.

He managed to stand after another ten minutes. He dragged himself to the kitchen using walls and furniture for support. A splash of cold water on his face convinced him that this whole mad experience wasn’t a dream. “There’s no way someone could take my life from me. I’ve been so careful. I’ve followed all of the rules.”

The tablet beeped at him from the next room. He stumbled to the chair and picked it up in time to see icons began to disappear. The tablet rebooted. “You could get to that. Of course you could. I have other places. I’ve hid them where no one can find them.” Feeling began to return fully to his extremities. The pins and needles threatened to drive him crazy. He ran as best he could to his office. The computer there was clean. He clicked on a link that took his web traffic through layer after layer of obfuscation. Eventually he reached a computer located in another country. It was there that he stored a number of his dearest files.

When the barrel of a gun looked at him from the screen, he pushed back. “There’s no way. You can’t have gotten everything.” He’d spent years building relationships and getting the things he wanted most. They were slipping through his fingers. If the person could get to all of his files and get into his home and switch his medicine, what couldn’t he do?”

Abe dragged himself to his kitchen and pulled down the bottle of scotch. He unscrewed the cap and turned the bottle up to his mouth. The liquor burned his throat. Drink and more pills took him to a sleep devoid of dreams.

He woke up the next morning, hung over and sure that everything he experienced had been a horrid dream. He started to go to his computer when the phone rang. He jumped like he’d been hit with a cattle prod. He answered it on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Abe? This is Principal Faulkner. We need to talk about something.”

Abe shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “What is it, sir?”

“Abe, we’ve known each other for years. You’re one of the best teachers I have and I want you to hear it from me first. You’re being suspended, pending an investigation.”

They’d found out. The bastard that poisoned him had lied. He worked hard to keep his tone level. “Sir, Walter, I don’t know what this is about.” He came close to babbling out an excuse, but the principal hadn’t told him why he was being suspended.

“It’s probably nothing. We got a call from a parent and there’s some concern that you’ve been helping children to cheat on tests.”

A giggle burst out from Abe’s lips.

“You think this is funny?”

Abe cleared his throat. “Of course not, sir. I know how important reputation is. I just don’t see how you could possibly believe…”

“We have to treat each report of this nature as though it’s potentially true. Of course, I don’t have to tell you if this is true it will cost you your job. We’ll talk more in the morning. Goodbye, Abe.” There was a click.

“Goodbye, sir.” He hung up the phone. His job was gone. There was no truth to the idea of him helping a student to cheat. But someone who could get to all of his files and invade his home would have no problem manufacturing a cheating scandal. He walked to his office. The light was still on and his computer was still up. The wallpaper had been replaced with the picture that had haunted him last night.

“You win. Whoever you are.” He pulled open the desk drawer and pulled out a metal box. The pistol was nestled in black velvet. He cleaned it regularly and practiced with it. The short barrel was cold and tasted like gun oil.

The computer began beeping as files were deleted and tracks erased. The sound of whirring was overshadowed by a single, muffled shot and the splat of blood and brain on plaster.