The Age of yet another creepy stalker portrayed on screen as the good guy

Today has been full of rage. I woke up to the news that some terrorist shithead ran over people coming from church (actually muslims leaving their mosque, but certain people’s empathy knobs have been twisted so they can only emphasise with people like them nowadays, so maybe this way everyone can relate), and somehow resisted the urge to tweetstorm about the UK media’s responsibility and lack of public outrage and condemnation. Luckily, JK Rowling, who has a somewhat bigger profile than me, stepped into the fray. Then, I heard the news from the US that a pregnant woman had been shot dead in front of her children after calling the police about a burglary, by said police! I mean, what the actual fuck, right?

Anyway, since I can’t change these facts or the state of the world, much as I would like, I decided to watch a silly movie tonight, to take my mind off things and calm down. Reader, this did not work. The movie I chose was The Age of Adaline, which started off interesting enough (a woman who never ages because of wavy-hand science reasons spends her life reinventing herself, complicated relationship with her daughter who is now older than her, lonely existence, what’s not to love?).

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The Age of Not this again..

Then, enter, the MAN. Now I love a good romance as much as the next person, but I’m sick and tired of the movie tropes that tell guys they just need to hound women and those women will eventually relent and even APOLOGISE for being freaked out about the man’s stalker behaviour. Like, way to teach men not to respect women as people, respect their choices, and respect when they say NO, movies.

Anyway, in this movie, the MAN sees Blake Lively, aka Adaline, at a new year’s event, storms after her when she leaves, pushes his way into an elevator with her, then stops her cab from leaving trying to get her to agree to go out with him. She says no. The next day, she’s at work, and guess who comes by, it’s only Stalky McStalkface, who has seen her there before (could’ve said hello, man) and refuses to donate some precious book (she works at the library) unless she agrees to go out with him. Eventually, she relents. They go out, he manages to convince her to go out to dinner with him at his place, they spend the night, she tell him the next morning that was all he’s going to get. Then naturally, he hunts down her address, which she never shares with anyone (hello, secretive ageless person) and shows up outside her building. I mean, red flags, right? Then, and this is the stupidest part, Adaline’s daughter talks her into giving him another shot, and she goes to his place and apologises for freaking out about him showing up unannounced at her doorstep!

If you don’t see what’s wrong with this, ask a female friend, because hoo boy! Anyway, this got me thinking, with so many movies doing this stalker-turned-happily-ever-after bullshit (the worst offender, of course, being the Shades of Grey horror-show), how can this be written differently? Now, while I’m no Wonder Woman writer/director (go see it if you want to see a healthy relationship develop on-screen), I thought I’d give it a shot. So, here is an abridged rewrite:

Adaline sees cute dude enter the room. Eyes meet. She turns back to friend. Later, she is alone, calling her daughter to wish her a happy new year.

Cute guy: “Mind if I join you? The view here’s something else, isn’t it?”

Guy actually looking out the window, not at her.

A: “Sure.” [recites obscure poem about view]

G: “Wow, that’s [obscure artist], I love her work.”

A: “Wow, I don’t know anyone else who knows her (cause I’m secretly hella old).”

Some talk about shared interests follows, then Adaline excuses herself and goes home. Man watches her, sad that she didn’t give him her contact details, but he accepts it.

A few days later, Adaline is at work, when Guy shows up.

A: “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”

G: “Wow there, I’m just here to drop off some priceless old books because I’m totally a secret millionaire philanthropist. It’s totally cool that you work at the library though, I love books.”

A: “Me too. I’m glad you brought books. They are good.”

G: “Yes, they are. How wonderful that we have so much in common. Hey, I was going to go to [obscure poet]’s exhibition, want to come?”

A: “Oh, I hadn’t heard about that. That would be fun, but…”

Adaline is obviously struggling because Guy is hot and she’s attracted to him, but she’s moving in seven weeks and also basically a secret immortal being.

G: “I get it, this is weird, but let me ask you, would you go if I wasn’t going?”

Adaline hesitates, then agrees to go. They spend a lovely evening talking about all the things they have in common, then Guy convinces her to go somewhere secret with her for lunch. In return, she shows him a secret place in the city that nobody knows about. They end up at his place, smooching, and eventually sleep together, because come on, did you really think an ageless Blake Lively would be celibate all those years?

The next morning, Adaline tries to leave, tells him it was just the one night, explains about her leaving. Guy (gently!) convinces her to go out again because they still have a few more weeks, and so they have time to have fun before she goes, nothing too serious. I mean, who wouldn’t pick a few weeks with a brainy Blake Lively over no time with her at all?

The last weekend before she’s set to go, Guy convinces her to go to his parents’ place for the weekend, to enjoy some fresh air and outdoor stuff. There, she meets her former lover aka his father, the whole thing comes out, she runs away, changes her mind, doesn’t get into a car accident and stays a badass eternal lady. He welcomes her back, they share their feelings (after weeks together, rather than a few dates, which is no solid basis for love), and he learns to cope with her eternalness and her elderly daughter because he loves her. The End.

(Yes, she gets wishy-washy science’d into becoming mortal again near the end, and I do not agree with that either. Sorry if this abridged version doesn’t make much sense to people who haven’t seen the movie. My point is, if I can come up with this in an hour, professional screenwriters should be able to come up with something less macho-bullshit, toxic masculinity, cliche-central, right? Right?)

Let me know in the comments if you agree/disagree/have a better alternative. Hopefully I will calm down enough at some point to finish an actually researched blog post again, particularly on dealing with failure in publishing, which has been sitting in my drafts for far too long.

The toxicity of the American Dream

Make America Great

Again A Wall is Built

Who Will Tear it Down

This time

When will we learn?

When will we change?

 

I wrote the above not long after Trump was announced as President of the US, and I’ve since watched, with a mix of horror and numbness and worry, all the toxic things that have been happening in the US, all the things I knew where going to happen and so much worse. I don’t live there, there’s nothing I can do, no elected officials to call, no vote that can change anything. It reminds me of the Brexit vote, where I also watched, with horror, as this country I live in voted to try and kick me out, as a marginal victory was touted as the unavoidable ‘will of the people’ with no sense of rhyme or reason.

All of this has made it hard to write. It’s made it hard to do many things other than get through the day. Will I get kicked out of the country in (less than) two years? I don’t know, so I can’t plan. Will we be in the midst of a nuclear war before then? I don’t know (follow Sarah Kendzior on Twitter for a clear, reasoned and sadly worrying view on where the US is heading), and it terrifies me. My friends and family in the US are shielded by some degree of privilege, but I’m not sure that will be enough. I doubt my partner will be drafted into military service (what a weird thing to not have to worry about as a woman, and feel like for full equality to ever happen maybe we should, but then again… Sexism is super weird sometimes). But many other people likely will end up dead, not to mention the damage being done to the planet, and all because certain people with varying degrees of privilege are afraid of seeing that privilege ever so slightly diminished, of giving anyone else a seat at the table, so they voted to slice their nose off just to spite their own face.

And most of all, of course, these frightened people have been told their whole life it’s not the people in power that are screwing them over, but the other guys, the ones that have zero power at all. And because the people in power make sure they have no eduction that allows them to question this, they believe it. It’s very interesting from a psychological perspective, but also very scary, because it’s hard to change this narrative.

Another part of the problem, the part I wanted to write a cohesive, well-argued blog post about all those months ago, is the mindset of ‘US = Number 1’, and its British counterpart of (as I like to call it) Empire-state-of-mind. If you’re told your whole life that you’re the best, or you were the best, and in a place like the US it’s highly unlikely that you ever step outside the country to see any different, then you can never see what other countries have done that you can learn from (the prime examples for the US being healthcare and labour unions/worker’s rights). And indeed, you can never see that the people that serve you, and the news that reaches you, is actually doing you harm. You need to step outside your own narrative to get a better sense of it (much like with writing!).

In the UK, the feeling of quiet superiority is made worse by the tendency of politicians this last decade (or more) to blame everything that goes wrong on EU regulation and take the credit for anything that the EU does right. In the US, it’s made far worse by the American dream idea that you don’t need anyone else to succeed – all it takes is a lot of hard work. This ignores the fact that most billionaires got that way by using inherited wealth, pre-existing networks, or a combination of both (not to mention a whole lot of white privilege). And even if a person somehow manages the rags-to-riches story, it’s not like they haven’t had to rely on a lot of other people doing work for them and helping them in many other ways. Oh, and there’s the fact that they use roads, feel protected by police and firefighters, see their intellectual property protected by the courts, and generally rely on a lot of public good. But since everyone in the US is told they don’t need anyone or anything else to succeed, they are never told it’s okay to ask for help, that it’s good to have a community to rely on, that some Government intervention and help is warranted. That it’s better to succeed together, and a good thing to help others because someday you might need help yourself.

Looking out for number one, and thinking without factual basis that you are number one, are two very toxic ideas that make it hard to adapt and improve yourself. And what’s worse, if you think you’re the best, then any information that disagrees with that falls to the sword of cognitive dissonance, and you end up in a situation where a Trump-voting lady with an immigrant husband is genuinely surprised when they come to take her husband away. Or where people tell me “Oh, you’ll be fine” when discussing Brexit, because obviously it’s those other immigrants that are in trouble, and I’m somehow magically exempt merely through being someone they know…

Anyway, all of this means that it will remain hard for me to write for the time being, and I’m not sure how to get over that. I wish there was something I could do to change the world, but I can’t, and I’ve lost faith that writing can change anything, because nobody seems to take note of the people who are doing the best writing about the current situation and using that to change things. Politicians seem more selfish and short-sighted than they’ve ever been. Nobody seems to be in sufficient uproar (I mean, the NHS is being dismantled, but because it’s being done slowly, or maybe because British people find it hard to protest, to realise that their vote matters in a democratic system where oftentimes votes do not – who knows how much of an effect the not-very-democratic voting systems of the UK and US have had on the current situation – politicians are feeling free to continue as they are). All of the lessons from history are sitting ignored in books, as we repeat them once again.

And here I am, watching and feeling like a failure because I’m not writing, I’m not in London protesting at Westminster, I’m not important enough for any UK politician to listen to. What can I do? Well, I’m open to suggestions.

History in the making

Writers write. They write when they are oppressed. They write when they are starving, destitute. They write when they are ecstatic. No matter the circumstances, writers write. Sure, they can stop writing for months, years, decades even. I’m not at all advocating that you can only call yourself a writer if you write every day – gods know I haven’t! But writers, in the end, always come back to the page and write. They have no other choice.

The point I am trying to make here has to do with the current global turmoil – a tense election in the US, the UK leaving the EU, ISIS, human rights violations in still so many places, animals dying out by the bucketload, global warming… The world is not a happy place. And while some may think this is a reason for writers to go and ‘get real jobs’ and ‘contribute’, I think it is actually the most important time to have writers, of any sort, writing and sharing their words. There is no contribution more important than our inner truth.

Writers give hope, release, strength, anxiety, truth, fear, sadness… Writers make us feel and think. And we need more than ever to feel and think. Research has shown that reading books makes people more empathic, and in today’s cold world, we need all the empathy we can get. So read, and write, and make art. When future generations look back at us, I hope they will see more than the crazy, thoughtless, selfish decisions that many of us are making, either deliberately or through plain ignorance, flawed self-preservation instincts or denial. I hope they will see our beautiful art, the reports of people who did know better, who wanted to to do better, who were full of despair at the reality around them. I hope they will think of us kindly. Right now, I do not think of us kindly. And that, as everything else, is fodder for writing.

Sorry for not posting anything for such a long while and then writing something so somber. I can’t help thinking about the historical implications of what people are doing in and to the world today, and worrying. I hope I will feel more optimistic on Wednesday… And I hope I will follow my own advice and rediscover the release and relief that can come from writing.

Writing for fun or profit

I’ve been struggling lately, not just with moving to a different country and looking for a job, but also with what to write. My main problem, I think, is that because I don’t have a job, I’m feeling undue pressure to write something that sells. And this never works, if any of the published authors I follow on Twitter and any of the writing books I’ve read are anything to go by. And yet, paradoxically, continuing to write and edit a story that is never going to sell is also something even published authors still have to worry about. Every writer has an unfinished manuscript in a (digital) drawer somewhere, even the very best. So how do you* distinguish between a story that you’re writing for fun AND profit, and one that you’re writing for just one of the two?

You’d think it would be easy to determine when you’re not having fun writing something. If you hate working on it, if you have to drag yourself to the keyboard, then obviously you’re not having fun. And yet… Writing isn’t going to always be fun. At least if your goal is to be published, it can’t be just fun and games. You have to write on the days when you don’t want to. You have to keep going. It’s the only way to improve, to get through the 1000 hours of apprenticeship, the 100,000 words before you’re competent. And then there’s all the editing and polishing… Need I say more?

On the side of profit, there are even fewer guarantees. Whatever is trendy at the moment, is not going to be trendy anymore by the time you might be ready to query your manuscript. Never write for the market, because it changes too fast. The only way you can even slightly predict some sort of profit is by writing the best story that you possibly can, and submitting it to the right people, the ones who love stories like yours. It’s by no means an exact science, and probably defies any statistics, as, again, any published author would tell you.

So I’m basically screwed, right? There’s no way of knowing? Not necessarily! You’ll be happy to know this post isn’t all doom and gloom. Most writing advice states that if you believe in a story, with all your heart and imagination and everything else, then that’s the story to tell for fun AND the most likely to get published. It’s the story you will most likely want to keep writing even after bad writing days, or weeks. It’s the story that refuses to leave you alone. If you’re not sure how much you believe in your story, there’s always beta-readers to ask, as long as you ask some unbiased ones (i.e. don’t ask random friends if you should keep working on your stuff, if it’s good enough, because they will almost always lie to protect your feelings). And if someone tells you the story sucks, and you vehemently disagree, then get a second opinion because you’re obviously either still very passionate about it, or blinded by ego.

Now, having puzzled all of this out, my next steps should be simple, right? All I have to do is figure out which one of my writing projects I am most passionate about, and forget about everything else. If only it were that simple…

Is anyone else struggling with picking what story to invest in? Or just struggling in general? I’d love to hear some other perspectives!

 

*And by you I of course mean I…

Diversity in writing and publishing

There is almost nothing more diverse than people’s opinions about diversity. In general, almost everyone agrees that a certain amount of diversity is a necessary thing; if everything and everyone was the same, the world would be a very dull, stagnant place. Yet everyone has their own unspoken limit about how much diversity they can handle. Some can’t even fathom how any movie with a black and/or female lead could ever work (hello Star Wars aka biggest blockbuster ever), while others might draw the line at equality for human-cat hybrids, to posit some extremes.

diluted-diversity

Diversity is all well and good, as long as everyone looks like John Malkovich, amirite?

There have been many essays, many research papers, many discussions, about the necessity of diversity, in books, movies, boardrooms, anywhere. Most of these discuss diversity in terms of race and gender. I want to talk about a different kind of diversity, the kind that deals with biases in terms of people’s opportunities in life. Recently, RandomPenguinHouse (I so wish that was their merger name) announced that it would no longer require its applicants to have a degree. While this may seem like an insignificant, benign gesture, especially in Europe, where people are generally able to receive a lot of financial support to complete a degree, there’s no denying that fortune, i.e. degrees, still favours the fortunate. In fact, the current UK government is doing everything in its power to make university education just as expensive as the US, tilting the scales firmly towards the higher earners (which are still predominantly white males, so boring).

Let's help each other

Research shows that teams with a diverse mix of people are more productive

I’ve been researching ways to get a job in publishing. You can work in a bookstore, do an (often unpaid) internship, get a specific kind of degree, or…? And if you’re in the UK, you also have to be able to afford to live close to London, at least for most job opportunities. In the US, New York would be your very expensive destination. So what it comes down to is that even without a degree requirement, you still need to be able to fund lowly or unpaid work in a horribly expensive city. When you look at it like this, there’s still a long way to go.

I am interning at a company at the moment (paid, luckily), working with an editor that started off as a speculative intern (i.e. an internship not attached to a degree, like mine), who then decided to go get a degree, and a Masters in Journalism, to give herself some theoretical background. Plenty of other people at the company started as interns and worked their way up. I am also working with/for an amazing senior editor who started off in marketing. They hired me with a PhD and almost no editing experience (at the time). My point, aside from raving about my current place of work, is that diversity goes beyond whether someone has had higher education or not, whether they are a certain race, a certain gender (my current company only has 1 male employee, by the way, and it’s the most supportive, tough, hard-working environment I have ever encountered). Diversity, and this is why PRH’s decision is bigger than I’ve now made it seem, comes from first acknowledging that it is wise to hire people from different backgrounds. Technical people, artsy people, sciency people, they all bring different, fresh perspectives, which are what most companies desperately need to stay relevant.

From a writing point of view, some writers have MFAs, some don’t. It doesn’t matter as long as they can tell a compelling story. Compelling stories, they come from life, from different experiences. And so I come back to diversity. We’ve had so many stories about the plucky, muscled white guy who finds out he’s a hero and gets the girl as a reward. Just making this same hero black, or a woman, breathes so much new life into such an old trope, I frankly don’t understand why more writers don’t take this relatively easy opportunity to spice up their stories. Even the same plucky white guy, only he’s in a wheelchair – think of the story possibilities! I recently beta-read a story with a character who I thought was destined to be Mr Love-Interest until it was casually mentioned he was gay. Let me tell you, it was such a relief! Not that people have to be gay in order to not be forced love interests, of course, but still, + 100 diversity and interestingness points! It’s THAT easy.

 

P.S. Writing is clearly not that easy, or I’d be writing my book right now instead of this post, but you get the idea. The new, shiny, diverse idea.

Travel inspiration

Write what you know

To write a lot, read a lot

Observe people and how they speak

There is a lot of ‘age-old’ writing advice, little nuggets that in reality are entirely dependent upon the writer’s personality, the kind of stories they want to tell, and probably also the weather. One of these pieces of advice writers are often given is to travel. While I think that’s a great (though costly) suggestion, and I’ve certainly enriched my stories by traveling to places that have then been featured in them, I would like to mention some possible addenda to this advice.

travel890

Stories create (imaginary) travel, travel creates stories

When people think of travel, they are prone to think of a vacation, a brief trip to a new place. Often this includes highlights: famous monuments, buildings etc., popular shopping locations maybe, and of course the very best (touristy-oriented) local foods. While these kinds of trips may give you some interesting places to describe, and some much-needed relaxation to recharge the creative batteries, I don’t believe they are the kind of travelling that enriches a writer’s imagination.

The advice to travel is closely related to the advice to observe people. The kind of travel that gives writers new insights, that really can make a huge difference (and has, if you look at some famous writers’ biographies), is the kind that allows you to observe local people in their everyday lives. Not just the way they speak, which might be entirely foreign, but the little things that you never realise could be done differently until you view them from an outside perspective, as an anthropologist of sorts. Just try to explain your Christmas traditions to someone from a different country; even Americans and Brits, cultures thought to be so close together, will need to do some ‘translating’. People from different states/provinces might even give different answers. From an outside perspective, you can see and write down things that you would otherwise have thought needed no comment. This works even if your stories take place on a different planet.

The other benefit of traveling is to get to know yourself better. By staying to the safe, popular options, you are less likely to gain new insights. Learning about local differences, talking to new people, maybe overcoming some social anxiety (or that could just be me), can teach you a lot about yourself, and help you grow as a person. There’s a reason why so many European students/18-year-olds take a ‘gap year’ after school to travel around.

Not everyone (hardly anyone, in fact) can afford to move to a different continent and live there for a year, soaking in the atmosphere, the local ways of doing things, the realities of what it means to be a local in an entirely foreign culture. Sure, it worked for Elizabeth Gilbert on a small budget, but she still had a budget and didn’t have to worry much about what she was leaving behind. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope for more settled people. All it takes is to go sit in a pub or cafe frequented by locals, instead of visiting the Louvre. Sit all day, chat to people, really soak up the foreign-ness of where you are. You may not need to even leave the country to do this, just going a few towns past your ‘known world’ can be enough to expose yourself to different ways of speaking, doing, and seeing the world.

For the best results, you’d need to spend a substantial amount of time in a place, to ‘go native’ as anthropologists say. What also may work is to go some place outside your comfort/home zone frequently, to spend your weekends discovering new local watering holes in places all around you. But you won’t know what kind of inspiration you’re looking for, what kind of insights you might find, until you try.

So this holiday season, when/if you have some time off, why not try an experiment? Take your notebook, go somewhere you’ve never been before, find a place that a lot of locals hang out in, and just observe. You could even take your laptop and profit from your instant imagination-boost. As the age-old advice says, it can only make your writing better.

evening-kerry-pub-sceneIn a way, everything you do can make you a better writer, as long as you are observant enough to notice what, why and how you are doing it.