“The Feminine Mystique” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”

(I know I haven’t posted in ages, and this probably isn’t what people following my blog are looking for. I’ll resume posting writer-y stuff when I think of something writer-y to post. In the meantime, I need to write this down.)

Holy. Shit.

I’m reading The Feminine Mystique (by Betty Friedan, for those who have been living under a rock for the last fifty years), and I’m on the second chapter, which traces the development of the mystique through women’s magazines. It’s scary. The idea that women looked at themselves as having no identity outside being a woman is disturbing. It’s downright terrifying that American society tried to reduce women to a monolithic “feminine” ideal with no room for individuality. What really hit me in the gut, though, are the parallels with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I have no doubt that this is intentional on Atwood’s part.

It’s hard to summarize, but I can’t believe I never came across mention of these parallels when I did a high school research paper on The Handmaid’s Tale (Maybe I was reading the wrong critics?). It’s something about the focus on consumerism and appliances, the complicity of women who are willing to help force other women into an ideal in exchange for being allowed to exist on the margins of that ideal, and the initialization of women.

I should write something more extensive about this. Maybe I will. Until then… damn. Margaret Atwood is a damn good novelist, and it is downright terrifying what society has done with the idea of femininity — and women are a big part of that society. People oppressing themselves is downright masochistic.

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Writing Resource of the Day: Fonts!

That’s right, fonts! If you’re serious about writing, odds are you know better than to distract yourself by messing around with fonts — though you may do it anyway from time to time (guilty!). However, there is one occasion when messing with your font is a good idea: proofreading. According to author Keith Donohue (who, by the way, wrote his entire first novel on the subway on the way to and from work), changing your font before reading over your manuscript can help you catch things that you wouldn’t otherwise see. It makes errors that didn’t look out of place before jump out. This is especially useful when your manuscript has gotten long enough that printing it out is a major drain.

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Worst Self Published Book Covers

Worst Self Published Book Covers

From Huffington Post

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“Levels” in writing

Some people have stories that begin “this one time at band camp.” I have stories that begin “this one time at Shakespeare camp.” So, this one time at Shakespeare camp, we learned about “levels.” Levels are, well, levels. Levels of intensity in voice and movement, the level/height where you place your body. In a word, levels are things you can vary. I find that this is key in writing as well as in stage acting. If you’ve got only one level of intensity and/or tension in a scene, for example, that’s a problem. Variation, especially emotional variation, is important. In fact, you’ll want to vary your level of variation. Emotional roller coasters are not always appropriate.

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“Anatomy Of A Query Letter: A Step-By-Step Guide” on HuffPost

“Anatomy Of A Query Letter: A Step-By-Step Guide” on HuffPost

Not only does this reinforce my belief that rhetorical questions are the worst way to start just about anything, it’s useful and padding free!

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Brenna Clarke Gray’s “Ten Commandments of a Righteously Readerly Life”

Brenna Clarke Gray’s “Ten Commandments of a Righteously Readerly Life”

In amusing Ye Olde English!

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Writing Resource of the Day: Writing Excuses Podcast

Writing Excuses is an SFF writing podcast, and a pretty amazing one at that. My personal favorite episode is the first one with Mary Robinette Kowal (who is now a regular member of the cast), in which she applies the principles of puppetry to writing. The other regular cast members are Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn series), Howard Taylor (Schlock Mercenary), and Dan Wells (Partials). Several of their podcasts are applicable to non-genre fiction.

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I need to read more fiction. Recommendations?

When I started seriously researching my current project, I shifted from reading all fiction, all the time, to reading nothing but non-fiction. I’ve realized recently just how much this has been hurting me as a writer. I’ve lost a lot of the rhythm of the kind of prose I’m trying to write.

Aside from the fact that I had a lot to learn about history and the way people have lived over time, I stopped reading fiction because it was getting harder and harder to find books that were up to my rising standards. Up until early high school, I was satisfied with Star Wars novels, of which there seems to be an endless supply. Unfortunately, as I’ve become more critical as a reader over the years, I’ve found myself enjoying even the best of them less and less (and it doesn’t help that their quality started declining after Vision of the Future.). I’ve become more aware of glaring flaws in a great deal of SF and fantasy in general, too.

I’d turn to traditional literature, but I find most of it boring as hell.  I like Oedipus Rex and Antigone, at least in the translation by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. I like Shakespeare in performance. Middlemarch was tolerable, though I didn’t finish it. I just didn’t get any emotional resonance out of Beowulf, and The Awakening was interesting from an academic point of view but boring in terms of story. These day, I find myself going back to two series: Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos and George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Unfortunately, Dan Simmons has turned into a nut-job Islamophobe since writing the Cantos, and George RR Martin is not a book-a-year kind of guy. Thus, I find myself at a loss.

Any suggestions?

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Writing Resource of the Day: Ask Us Now

Disclaimer: I know this service is available to all Maryland residents, but I’m not sure how people from out of state are handled.

Maryland’s public libraries have a great service called Ask Us Now where you can chat with a librarian about research questions. It’s a good idea to have done some preliminary reading first — librarians are underpaid and often unappreciated, so wasting their time when a google search would suffice is rather unkind — but for harder or more specialized research questions, this service is a real boon.

The quality of service may vary somewhat, but in general you’ll get good advice on useful sources online, or, if you happen to live in Maryland, in print.

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Writing Resource of the Day: Critique.org

Critique.org is the hub for several online critique groups modeled on the long running “Critters” online SF and fantasy workshop. Despite my own inability to stick with it for more than a month or so, I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially to people with longer attention spans than me (ie, everyone short of goldfish). You have to maintain a certain ratio of critiques given to weeks of membership, but it’s really not that onerous for people who don’t forget about their responsibilities every time a new idea wanders by. As far as I know, the SFF workshop is still the most active, but there are now workshops for everything from romance to literary fiction. At least in the SFF workshop, you come across some real gems to read, too. Nebula and Hugo award winner Ken Liu has put several stories through the workshop.

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