We Love Soft Boys — But Soft Girls?

Alena, the protagonist in my debut novel, The Wheel Mages, is sometimes labeled as weak. I don’t usually comment on the label, because I see why people call her that, and I think it’s important for readers to have room to formulate their own opinions. However, there’s something about the label that rings of a double standard to me. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, or the frustration I’m facing in my own life that is finally compelling me to speak on it, but whatever it is, here we are.

Alena’s backstory is one of sheltered confinement. Because of her value to the Sanctum, she’s been hidden. Before the novel begins, she has spent the last five years in almost perfect isolation. The isolation makes her naive, while her emotions, driven by her ever-changing element (water), make her as variable as the river.

She is in a constant state of flux. Her opinions are mutable, and her emotions propel her forward, often landing her in positions that frustrate readers. She doesn’t rule her feelings nearly so often as they rule her. She’s rash and (arguably) irritatingly dependent on the main man in her life, Nikolai, who has served as her mentor and protector for the past five years.

In the first book, she is not a feminist’s feminist. When she meets Catalina, the fiery former love interest of Nikolai, she explodes in a fit of jealousy. Isolation might have protected her, but it has also stunted her emotional growth. She will grapple with this throughout the book, and indeed, throughout the series.

Bitterness rose with the thought, acrid in the back of my throat, but I fought it down. I would not allow myself to fall prey to that again. Not after Catalina.

~ The Blood Magesequel to The Wheel Mages

When I first wrote Alena, she was much more stoic than she appears in the final version of the book. The scene where she erupts in fury over Catalina’s presence, throwing an epic temper tantrum (albeit in private), did not exist in the first drafts of the novel. It was added after a lengthy conversation with my editor wherein she urged me to dig deeper into my protagonist’s feelings. Alena, at first, did not read like an eighteen-year-old, especially not one who had spent the past five years completely hidden from the world.

That’s perhaps because she was being written by a twenty-eight-year old who had just spent some time in a mental health facility doing a whole lot of soul searching. A lot of maturation happens in the decade between eighteen and twenty-eight. That’s not to deride teenagers (in fact, I think today’s teens are a world more enlightened than I ever was), but it is true. A lot of growing occurs in a decade–any decade–and I’m sure when I’m thirty-eight I’ll say the same thing of my twenty-eight-year-old self. At least, I hope I will, because I want to keep growing.

One of the things I love about young adult literature, and have always loved about it, is that there is so much room for growth within the characters. The internal journey for main characters is as interesting, if not more so, than the physical journey taking place on the page. Exploration of this growth is something that has always fascinated me, perhaps because my own development has been so slow moving.

But the journey Alena takes is, perhaps, a controversial one in today’s climate. She is, after all, a young woman who is driven by her emotions. I understand that in a time when the badass, woman warrior is the go-to main character for young adult fantasy, Alena might seem… soft. Too typical. Too weak. Too dependent. Too exactly-what-we’ve-been-fighting-against-aren’t-you-a-terrible-feminist. It was a risk to write Alena the way I wrote her, but at the end of the day, I wrote what I knew. Alena’s story is one I’m familiar with.

Because honestly? At eighteen, I was a terrible feminist. Actually, I wasn’t a feminist at all. I was brash and completely ruled by my emotions, which were prone to shift by the minute. I cried a lot and screamed and engaged in far too much self-pity. I fell hopelessly in love with men who were terrible for me and to me, yet would do just about anything to cater to them. I thought much less about the amazing women who surrounded me than I did about the sometimes horrible men I fell for, and in the end, I was burned by this confused loyalty. I surrendered friendships I’ll never be able to get back to please men who weren’t worth a single hair on the heads of those women. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is part of my story. For me, feminism didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still not a perfect creature when it comes to my feminism (or anything else, really). Neither is my protagonist. She’s floundering, struggling with her identity. She’s trying to figure out who she is and what she stands for, and the fact is she simply doesn’t know the answers to life’s big questions. But she’s willing to learn, and she tries (but sometimes fails) to keep her mind open.

In this way, she is the queen of the internal monologue. She thinks about her feelings a lot. Whether or not she makes the right decisions concerning them is a question the reader can pose to him/her/themselves. I am not telling a morality tale, I’m simply telling the emotional journey of one young woman trying to find herself in a messed up world. And unfortunately her journey (as it is for many of us) is not clean, or pretty, or comfortable.

The reaction to Alena, and other female protagonists who get pinned with the label “weak,” does make me wonder about double standards, however. I see cries for soft boys in YA in reaction to the alpha male, and I wholeheartedly agree we need to see more soft boys in books. I’ve written a soft boy into The King’s Blade in direct juxtaposition of the alpha-male type my main character has spent her life in service to. I love soft boys, and I hate that they’re underrepresented. But why do we cry for soft males, then spurn soft females as weak?

I understand that in some ways, we reject soft girls as a confirmation of stereotypes about the female gender role. But in my view, that’s reactionary feminism. It’s defensive instead of offensive. The thinking goes something like: The patriarchy says women are soft, thus we should portray women as hard. The thinking is simple, but it doesn’t allow for the entire vision of womanhood to shine through, only a sliver of it. Women are not a monolith, yet our heroines are starting to make it appear as though we are. Why, for example, do so many of our heroines these days so closely mirror heroes? Why do they have to be sword-wielding, physically strong killers who hide their emotions? Why can’t there be room for both hard and soft girls, the same as there is room for both hard and soft boys? Why can’t our heroines be both emotional and strong? Emotions, after all, are powerful things, and learning to harness them can be a lifelong struggle that takes immeasurable strength. Why also do we consistently link physical prowess to some kind of intrinsic perception of “strength”? Can’t a female character be considered strong of spirit without ever needing to wield a sword or shoot a bow?

And, most of all, why can’t we give our female heroines a little space to grow?

Just some things to ponder on this (here in Philadelphia) rainy Monday.

❤ Always (and please don’t hate me),

Aimee

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Slumps

So in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m in a bit of a writing AND reading AND marketing slump.

Right now, what I wish I could do is give you some great advice about how I conquered it. But I’m failing to conquer it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve edited a chapter of my third book in the Changing Tides series here and there. I’ve gotten words on the page in short story format for an adult audience. But I haven’t done any real work on marketing, and I’ve been lackluster when it comes to working on my TBR. Usually, I can read a YA fantasy in a sitting. Recently, I’ve been lucky to get a chapter in here or there.

Which leads me to a point. Writing and reading are inseparable. Writers are readers first, and if you’re not reading, it’s very likely you’re not writing. Reading is how, at least for me and many in my writing circles, we replenish our creative wells. The first thing I say to any aspiring writer or author is: “Read. Read diversely and frequently. Read everything you can get your hands on. In your genre and out of it.”

When I’m not reading, I’m almost always not writing either. When I’m not writing, it’s hard to market, because some of the enthusiasm I have for my own work is lost. I forget what it’s like to be an author. Maybe it’s the hum-drum of the 9-5, maybe it’s the trying to reestablish a social life, maybe it’s being caught up in emotionally exhausting friend and relationship drama, maybe it’s because of the slight worry I have about money right now, but whatever it is that’s preventing me from reading has to be stamped out.

With reading, will come the writing. I’m sure of it.

Anyone have any advice for reading and writing slumps? I’d love to hear it!

❤ Always,

Aimee

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New Review of #TheBloodMage

Hi all!

Sorry I haven’t been around! If you’ve read my last two posts you’ll know I’m still struggling with mental health issues as well as trying to find a proper work/life balance. I think I’m getting my head back in the game slowly but surely and hope to come back to regular posts soon!

Because of everything going on I unfortunately didn’t get a newsletter out this month, but the next one will be sure to be action-packed! At least I hope 🙂 If you’d like to sign up  you can do so here.

In the meantime, check out this new review of The Blood Mage by My Life, Stolen by Books.

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Work-Life Balance

I haven’t posted in 16 days even though 16 days ago I said I was back from my hiatus. As it turns out, I wasn’t.

Work-life balance is a new thing for me to struggle with. Mainly the “balance” part. I’m one of those people who tends to be all in or all out. Right now, as you might have guessed, I’m all out on the work scene. Of course, I’m all in at my 9-5 (bills to pay and all that), but I’ve been neglecting my writing. Not just the blog and the social media presence but actually writing.

Originally, I thought my creative well was dry, but that’s not necessarily it. I’ve done a lot of writing, but it’s been of the journal variety mostly. My mental health hasn’t been good the last month or so (a guy may or may not be involved in some of this), but I’ve also been trying to create relationships with some new friends. For an introvert, that takes a lot of time and emotional energy. Time and energy I would usually devote to writing and/or revising.

I feel a bit lost on my journey. A bit listless. Unfortunately, The King’s Blade didn’t find its way into Pitch Wars and though I was hopeful that if it did, it might put some fire back under my ass, maybe it’s for the best. Maybe I needed a break more than I thought. Maybe I’m not ready to come back. Maybe I need to remember there’s more to life than pumping out books and hiding in my messy apartment and trying to live through my characters. Maybe I need to remember I have to live through myself first to truly breathe life into the characters I create.

Or maybe I’m just making excuses for my lack of get up and go.

Either way, one thing is for sure: This journey ain’t getting any easier.

Work-life balance anyone? Sound off in the comments.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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Broken Girl Cured by Love: On Tropes and the Lies They Tell

Author’s Note: For the past few days I’ve been in Tennessee at a workshop hosted by Madcap Retreats about writing cross culturally. It was an incredible, eye-opening experience, and I’m only sharing a snippet of what I learned there, so I highly recommend you participate in one of their workshops if you ever get the chance to. 


There are ways to create narratives of hope that don’t feel like a lie.

~ Leigh Bardugo

To fully understand this post, you’ll need to watch this video (there’s also a transcript, but if you can watch I recommend doing that).

The idea of a single story is (obviously), not mine, but over the weekend, it was one of the concepts that hit nearest my heart. There are single stories for every marginalized group of people. In the video, you’ll hear some of them. During my workshop, I heard others. I’m not going to talk about the stories of others, because you should listen to their voices for that. What I am going to talk about is what the single story for me has been, why it’s hurtful, and why that matters to your writing (and mine).

For those who might not follow this blog regularly, I’ll start by telling you that I’m a self-published author. My debut novel, The Wheel Mages, is a young adult high fantasy. I’m a twenty-nine year old, cisgender, heterosexual, female. I was raised outside of Philadelphia. I’m privileged. Most people would not think of me as part of a marginalized group. Mostly, I don’t think of myself that way.

I do, however, suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia. I have an invisible marginalization which I can usually hide, but it affects every aspect of my life.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional or physical trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape. (Source). PTSD and CPTSD are slightly different in that PTSD can result from single events, or short-term exposure to extreme stress or trauma whereas CPTSD is generally associated with long-term trauma. That said, most people don’t know what CPTSD is, so I typically tell people I have PTSD.

When I do “out” myself, the most typical question that follows is, “What war?”

This is the single story in action. (If you haven’t watched the Chimamanda Adichie video or read the transcript yet, go ahead and do it now. Here’s another link. Seriously, it’s that important.)

PTSD is most often associated with veterans. That’s the single story literature, television, and film have created for us. And because of that single story, my experience somehow seems less valid. When I don’t play into people’s perceptions or expectations, my experience is diminished. Surely, I must be faking it. Surely, I must be overly sensitive. Surely, nothing can be as traumatizing as war. Surely, my experience doesn’t matter.

For years, I resisted fighting against this narrative because it felt like fighting against veterans who have PTSD. The single story of PTSD made me feel like I had no right to voice my own experience because by telling my story I was challenging their story. This is not, however, the case. I’m not challenging the narrative at all. There are veterans who have PTSD. But there are people who are not veterans who have PTSD as well, and their stories deserve to be told too. We can tell multiple stories without threatening others. We, as people, deserve more than a single story. We deserve more than two or three or ten stories. Every story gives us a fuller life experience.

The above example is contemporary, but the single story concept extends beyond as well. It permeates every facet of literature. In fantasy, especially young adult fantasy, there is another single story narrative pertinent to PTSD that’s repeated over and over, and it is this: Broken Girl meets The One and is fixed through the curative power of Love.

This narrative hurts me. It is a dangerous lie.

Growing up, I often escaped to fantasy worlds to help me cope with what was unraveling around me. I still do. But especially as a young reader, I internalized much of what I read. And this narrative, the “Broken Girl Cured by Love” narrative, buried itself deep. So deep I didn’t realize how much it had shaped my behavior until this weekend, and to be honest, I’m still trying to untangle a lot of it.

What I have realized, however, is that I truly believed I could be cured by love. In fact, up until recently, one of my primary criterion for a partner was that I could spend a night with him and not suffer nightmares. I was sure that somewhere out there someone existed who would save me from my nightmares. This internalized narrative that I picked up from fantasy books is harmful to me in real, tangible ways.

One of the ways my PTSD manifests itself is through touch aversion. When I’m touched (especially by a stranger), I experience physical symptoms. My heart rate rises, my breathing shallows, I become dizzy, I grind my teeth, I sweat, my pulse hammers in my ears so I can’t hear properly. Often, I freeze, completely debilitated by terror. Sometimes, I lash out, verbally or physically. This is not a comfortable feeling.

Yet, because of the Broken Girl Cured by Love narrative, I’ve put myself in this position time and time again. I’ve retraumatized myself  while I search for The One To Defeat The Nightmares. I’ve spent nights with men I was revolted by hoping that this time I’ll find him. This time, the Magical Cure Love will save me from my PTSD. I’ve numbed myself with drugs and alcohol while I try to find The One Who Wields the Cure Love, hoping that when I do I’ll be able to be touched without the need for chemical alteration.

It has not and will not ever happen. Love is not a cure for PTSD. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope; it simply means this narrative is not the “hope” people like me need. The lie of this single story has damaged me, and I don’t think it takes much extrapolation to understand it could damage other people, or to see the damage done could be more extreme than it has been in my case.

One of the main takeaways from my weekend workshop is that words are powerful, more powerful than we might realize. As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers and that is to tell the Truth as best we can. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it is our duty to try, to put in the work, and to hopefully do no harm.

There is no such thing as a single story of the human experience, and it’s far past time we stopped trying to tell one. As Daniel Older told me over the weekend, “It doesn’t have to be sexy.” I suppose the Truth hardly ever is.

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International Women’s Day and the Gender Gap in Literature

Author’s Note: Today is International Women’s Day and here in the States it’s also A Day Without A Woman. That means today I’ve decided to both wear red and tackle a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot recently—gender inequality in literature. As a side note, I’ve been thinking about inequality in literature in all forms recently, but this post will focus only on gender. That said, if you were to break the data I’m about to use down to non-gender minorities, things become even more bleak in terms of diversity (or lack thereof). Okay, here we go.


Gender Inequality in Literary Fiction

The Pulitzer Prize is arguably the highest honor a writer can achieve in his/her lifetime. The Pulitzer is the award we all salivate over. It’s the award that when you hear someone has won it, makes you sit a little straighter and take notice. It’s the biggest of big deals in the writing world.

Want to know something interesting about the Pulitzer?

Between 2000 and 2014, not a single book written by a woman about women was awarded the Pulitzer. Zero. In the same time period, books written by a man about men were awarded 8 Pulitzers. EIGHT. More than half for those of you keeping track. Three more were awarded to women authors who wrote about men. The other four were awarded to women who wrote about both women and men and the last described as “unsure.” You can see the data here.

In a world where women read more fiction than men, and women are writing bestselling novels with the same regularity as men (15 of the 2016 New York Times bestselling fiction authors were men, 13 were women), there appears to be a problem. Now, let me go ahead and nip this argument in the bud before it even begins.

If you’re sitting there saying, “But Aimee, it’s not about gender, it’s about the best book winning,” then I would challenge you to take a deep breath and contemplate the data. Now, do I think we should have some system where we say, “Okay, a woman won this year, next year it will be a man.”? No. Absolutely the best book should win, and I understand literature is subjective. Boy, do I understand that. However, I think it’s more than a coincidence that in 15 years not a single book written by a woman about women was considered “the best book.” I’m just not buying it. Things would be different if there were simply more men publishing (that would be and in some opinions, is, a separate problem), but that isn’t what’s going on here.

The Pulitzer problem isn’t even precisely a female author problem. It’s a female story problem. Six Pulitzers in the time period described above were, in fact, awarded to women. But NONE of the Pulitzer prize winning stories were stories about women.

What is it about our stories that seems less worthy of a prize?

My first thought was, “Okay, I know literary fiction is this way. I have always known it. It’s shocking to see it all laid out like that, but my genre is dominated by women and women’s stories.” Right about there is when I fell down the rabbit hole and started to do some research of my own.

Gender Inequality in Fantasy

I’m going to bring the powerhouses of my genre in now, because those are the stories I’m most familiar with. When I type “epic fantasy” into Goodreads, I get the following list of authors:

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. George R.R. Martin
  3. Diana Gabaldon
  4. Patrick Rothfuss
  5. Stephen King
  6. Brandon Sanderson
  7. Robert Jordan
  8. Phillip Pullman
  9. Christopher Paolini
  10. Susanna Clarke

Are we seeing some issues with this list? Besides the fact that it’s 80% male I’ll also point out it’s 90% white (rep it, Diana Gabaldon).

As Exhibit B, I’d like to present to you the list as it looks when I search “Popular Young Adult Fantasy” (“young adult epic fantasy” yields no results, interesting all by itself).

  1. J.K. Rowling
  2. Sarah J. Maas
  3. Cassandra Clare
  4. Kristin Cashore
  5. Leigh Bardugo
  6. Laini Taylor
  7. Stephanie Meyer
  8. Christopher Paolini
  9. Rick Riordan
  10. Suzanne Collins

This list is a complete reversal in terms of gender (80% female)  but even more dismal in terms of diversity at 100% white (seriously, we need to be better, YA fantasy). This brings to light two points I have regarding the stories we tell and who writes them.

Women write YA stories and those stories aren’t seen as “serious”

For those of you familiar with fantasy, take a moment to breathe these lists in. Think about how you view the authors on each and the books they write. Because before I even compiled these lists, I made similar ones in my head. When I thought: “Who writes fantasy that would be considered literature” I came up with:

  1. Tolkien
  2. Martin
  3. Jordan
  4. Pullman
  5. C.S. Lewis
  6. Neil Gaiman

When I thought: “Who writes popular fantasy” I came up with:

  1. Rowling
  2. Maas
  3. Clare
  4. Meyer
  5. Bardugo
  6. Victoria Aveyard

My OWN list was biased against not only my own gender, but the people I admire most. That’s not to say I don’t admire the people on both lists, because I do, but the stories that have been the most important to me are the ones on the second list (with the exception of Phillip Pullman). Those are also the stories I’m quickest to discredit as being less than serious or “fluff” pieces. Why is that? Why do I consider these stories about young adults as being somehow less important than stories about adults? And if Pullman and Paolini and C.S. Lewis can write for a young adult audience or even children and be considered “epic” and “serious” why can’t Rowling or Bardugo or Maas? Does my bias have something to do with the way I feel about my own self-worth? Do I assume these young adult stories written by women about women can’t be as “important” as the adult stories written by men about men because I don’t feel like my own story is as important as a man’s?

Romance is a crucial element in women’s writing and that’s not “serious” either

Many of the authors on the second list have romance at the center of their narratives. How you feel about the way they handle romance is not the point of discussion here (they all handle it very differently). Most of these authors have a fandom that “ships” these romances (or even fanfiction offshoots of these relationships). These are the authors who hold the keys to the OTP (One True Pairing). Whether it’s Maas’ Rhys/Feyre, Clare’s Clary/Jace, Bardugo’s Kaz/Inej or Meyer’s “Team Jacob v. Team Edward” you have true “fangirling” happening with these authors.

If you’re picturing adoring, teenage fans screaming over Justin Bieber, you’re really not alone. It just doesn’t seem serious, right?

But here’s my question—why not? Romance is serious. Sex is serious. Marriage is serious. Childbearing is serious. And all of these things start with a crush. Humanity starts with a crush.

Furthermore, romance is a part of the stories of the authors on the first list as well. It’s a different kind of romance in most cases, but it’s still there. Rand al’Thor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series has three wives. Tolkien’s Arawen and Aragorn have a romance to conquer kingdoms and even get a happily ever after. Phillip Pullman’s Lyra and Will were the first fictional characters to make my heart skip a beat. So I ask again, why is a man’s depiction of romance more valuable than a woman’s?

In conclusion, I’m not arguing that any of these authors aren’t deserving of the laurels they’ve garnered. I’m not saying that a single one of these names should be replaced on any list. What I’m saying is the list should be longer. We don’t need to rearrange seats at the table, we need to add them.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone! Go read a female author!

P.s. If you want a suggestion for your reading that is by a female, about a female, and by a woman of color, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It deserves every bit of recognition and hype it’s receiving and then some.

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This one just keeps being appropriate.

Broken and Built Anew

Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow.”

~ Helen Keller

Last week, I was ready to give up. This probably has something to do with the fact that my birthday is next week. I’m going to be 29.

Sarah Maas is 30 (8 books), Victoria Aveyard is 26 (3 books), Veronica Roth is 28 (4 books), Marissa Meyer is 32 (6 books). This doesn’t include novellas, compilations, short stories, collections, etc.

I felt too old to be only just starting.

I know, it probably sounds ridiculous. I shouldn’t be comparing myself to other writers, especially not those who are traditionally published and anyway, 29 isn’t that old! But I felt old and tired and exhausted and beaten and defeated and… broken.

I have wanted to be a writer since I could hold a pen(cil). I never really dream hopped. I didn’t want to be a veterinarian one day and an astronaut the next. If you asked me at age 6 what I wanted to be, I would have told you I wanted to be an author, ask me at 16, a novelist, at 22, a writer.

My dream has never changed, but I still managed to get so, so lost. For years, I struggled through a quagmire of mental health issues ranging from addiction to depression to agoraphobia to self-mutilation to panic attacks. I have insomnia. When I do sleep, I have terrible nightmares and night terrors. I spent years undereating only to then spend years overeating. My weight is in a constant state of confusion. I’ve weighed 106 pounds and 206 pounds and everywhere in between. Living is often exhausting for me. And last week, I thought, “You know what, this is hard enough as it is, why make it more complicated? Accept mediocrity. Accept that you’re never going to make it. It’s okay to be average. You don’t have to be special. You wake up every day and for someone with as many problems as you have, that’s enough. Enough is enough. Just stop.”

There is peace to be found in surrender. Peace sounded good. Surrender sounded good. Curling up under a comforter and never coming back out sounded good.

But none of those things are actually options. Not for me. Not when I feel so deeply that God has blessed me with a special gift—the gift of knowing what I want to do with my life.

I don’t talk about my faith very much, because faith is personal and controversial and for me, hard to nail down. But sometimes, usually in my darkest moments, it whispers to me.

I was not raised with faith. My mother has always identified as a Christian, but she didn’t really rediscover her faith until I was much older. My father is a scientist and like a majority of scientists, he is an atheist. While my mother read me fairy tales in the cradle, my father read me Darwin. When I was in the sixth grade, he bought me a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (“Because it’s a good story”). I was brought up on the belief that religion is a crutch used by those who are desperate.

Maybe it is. Then again, maybe it isn’t. As the daughter of a scientist, I was encouraged to question, to be always curious about the unknown. Fostering curiosity is probably part of what led me to be a writer. It’s also what guided me to my faith.

I converted to Catholicism my sophomore year of college. I started attending mass because I was in love with a Catholic boy, and I wanted to impress him. I decided to convert because I felt like I’d found something that had been missing inside me, but I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy. I’ve struggled with my faith every day since the day I converted. I’m constantly questioning it just as I’m constantly questioning myself. But sometimes, I think I hear God’s voice, and it gets me through the day.

In that way, I guess my faith is a crutch. But a crutch helps those who cannot walk for themselves. A crutch helps broken people heal. It is exactly what I needed last week, and I clung to it until my knuckles turned white. And eventually, I found myself walking a little stronger, a little further. I found my despair easing its hold. Ideas started to flow again as hope sprang back to life inside me, a small ember at first, a tiny thing I had to nurture, but it was there all the same.

There’s something magical about being on the precipice of defeat and clawing your way back. There’s something empowering about being lost and finding your way again. There’s a reason the image of the phoenix rising from the ash is so popular, and it’s because never has there been a symbol that encompasses the human spirit so well. At some point in our lives, every single one of us has been the phoenix risen from darkness.

Last week, it was me. But I have risen stronger than before. My dream is more beautiful because it was broken. It will be so much more exciting when I make it a reality because I will remember the taste of the ash on my tongue and the burning in my throat as I fought my way back into the light.

Broken and built anew.

Never stop dreaming. Never stop fighting.

❤ Aimee

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Consent in Young Adult Fiction

Trigger Warning: This post, while not graphic or descriptive, contains discussion regarding themes of rape as well as consensual sex. 

Author’s Note: This post started out as a lighthearted piece regarding my discomfort with writing sex scenes, but I couldn’t finish it because it wasn’t authentic. I tore it up in favor of this, which is the real reason I struggle with sex scenes. I said I would tell the truth, so here it is, in all its ugliness. Please note the comments on this post will be closely monitored. Discussion is encouraged and welcomed, but due to the sensitivity of this topic, there WILL be censorship if necessary. 


My “first time” was a rape. It took me over a decade to summon the courage to write those words, and I’m not sure how much longer it will take me to publish them. Many of the people closest to me, including my family, still don’t know. If I ever publish this, I suppose they’ll find out.

I will not call it a date rape. I will not dignify the act with some kind of qualifier. I will not amount it to some lesser crime because I thought I loved the boy who forced himself on me. I said no. He said yes. He was stronger. I was afraid and froze like a rabbit before the fox. That is the whole story.

I attempted to fictionalize the experience only once, in a long-short (a longer than average short story). The piece was eviscerated (rightly so) by both my peers and my professor. I handled it with clumsy hands. The subject was too close. After that critique, I put it in a drawer and never looked at it again. I still get a little nauseous thinking about it and the way it felt to hear my professor say the character wasn’t believable.

Writing about sex has always been a challenge for me, and I’d be a fool not to recognize the glaring reason why. Sex is a challenge for me. I have been subjected to a lot of trauma in my life, but this violation is the loudest of all the voices in my head. I have difficulty being touched, I panic when I’m in a crowd, I am prone to fits of unbridled rage when someone sneaks up on me. And all those things are at war with the very real desire to experience human contact. I’m human, after all, and we thrive on contact. It’s difficult to explain the simultaneous pushing and pulling within me when it comes to physical touch, but I’m a writer and in some ways, it’s my duty to try.

Until the revisions of my second book, I was able to avoid sex scenes. I thought I could hide behind the label “young adult”, but the genre is changing, it’s growing, and I want to grow along with it.

After doing some research on the subject and some soul searching, I decided to reconsider the traditional “fade out” I’d hidden behind before. Make no mistake, the fade out is a tactic I’ve employed in aid of my own comfort, not the reader’s. That’s not to say all authors use it this way, it’s only to say I do. I’ve made no final decisions on what any potential sex scenes will look like in my subsequent works, but I do know if I choose to use this tactic in the future it will be because it’s organic to the story, not because I’m too afraid to confront my own demons.

Demons. That word has been weighing me down lately. I have so many demons, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why the girl with so much potential chose to waste her talent on writing fantasy. Because I want to live among angels, and if I can’t, I will create them.

My characters often speak to me from deep, dark caverns I haven’t yet consciously recognized. Inner truth comes from various places and in different voices, and often, it’s not until I’ve written it that I recognize it for what it is. In The Wheel Mages, the notion of “purity” is challenged. I didn’t realize it until it came forth, but that was something I had to confront in my own life. In this second book, I tackle consent.

You see, I realized that when I wrote that long-short in college, I was trying to handle rape from the wrong side (for me). It was a story that wasn’t ripe for telling, and may not ever be (again, for me). The story I do want to tell, though, is the story of what-could-have-been-but-wasn’t. I’m a fantasy author. I want magic and romance and love and yes, consent.

It’s important to me that my work depicts consent, even if it doesn’t lead to sex. In fact, if it doesn’t lead to sex, better. That’s consent really at play. I don’t think it’s something that’s talked about often enough, and if I can help that conversation along, I am desperate to do so. I often wonder if anyone ever talked to that boy I thought I loved about consent.

I know it’s faux pas to discuss “themes” in your work, to discuss this kind of planning, because when it’s discussed it doesn’t seem quite so organic, but this is important enough for me to break that rule.

So yes, though it may make me uncomfortable, I will take on the topic of sex, and I will do it in young adult fantasy because those are the people most commonly affected by the subject. The Blood Mage will have elements of consent. Spoiler, sorry. Hopefully, it will be done with less clumsy hands than those of the 19-year-old who tried to fictionalize her own rape. Hopefully, it will speak quietly but passionately. Hopefully, it will serve as the voice someone once tried to take from me.

Words are my Resistance

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

~ Elie Wiesel

I should be working on edits to my next book, but the despondency I’m feeling right now is making it difficult.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated, and we said “Never Again.” But we didn’t mean it.

Today, January 27, 2017, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, signed an executive order banning refugees from entering the country.

There are many political issues I care about, but this one is at the top of the list. One of the most influential relationships of my life was with a Muslim refugee. We said never again after his family was massacred, too. We didn’t mean it then, either.

I’ve spent the last few days being somewhat vocal on Twitter about my politics, but I’ve tried to limit it to Twitter, which is apparently the new political platform for the United States. That’s ending today.

I shared the following image on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and now, here. This is the dedication for The Blood Mage. The dedication was written before almost anything else. It was written when the manuscript simply said [Working Title], Changing Tides Book Two. It is perhaps the only thing about the book that hasn’t changed through its half a dozen edits. Today, as I reread it, I wept.

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We see you. I’m so sorry we failed you.

Many well-meaning people in my life have told me I shouldn’t voice my political opinion on social media because of my fledgling career. It’s okay for J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and Leigh Bardugo, I’m told, but not me. Those writers already have established careers. They’re not in jeopardy of losing readers based on politics, and if they do, it won’t destroy everything. But for me, I’m warned, it’s different. I don’t have a solid readership yet, and if I don’t keep my mouth shut, I might not ever have one.

To these people, I say the following: Thank you for loving me. Thank you for caring about my future and my career. Thank you for knowing how important being a successful author is to me. That means the world to me. But I will not be silent. My writing isn’t, so why should I be? The Wheel Mages is full of political themes, The Blood Mage even more so. Those themes weren’t created in a vacuum. They were created by me based on what I saw happening in the world around me.

We cannot continue in silence. Not anymore. Not a single one of us. Every single one of us has a voice and a talent and now, more than ever, we must use them.

I’m a writer. Words are my resistance.

 

On HEAs (Happily Ever Afters)

Ah yes… the beloved trope. Trope, by the way, is one of those words you shall not speak of except in hushed whispers in serious creative writing programs. It is shoved in a box with other words like “cliches” and “allegory” and “fable”. If your work is ever tagged with one of these labels you have done something shameful and should pay penance to the muses immediately.

So, as you might imagine, after four years of being trained to write serious fiction, I was well out of the genre fiction loop by the time The Wheel Mages entered my head and was shocked to learn that a trope was considered by many authors as not only okay but necessary. Can you imagine? A TROPE.

I remember the exact moment I was listening to one of Joanna Penn’s interviews with romance writer J.A. Huss and Julie said, “In romance, you have to have an HEA, which is ‘happily ever after,’ and there is really no way around it.” I about fell out of my chair. I sputtered obscenities at the computer screen. “Real life does not work that way!” I screamed. Then I thought about it, and I realized the trope does make sense for romance. People read romance for… well… romance. And it’s not very romantic if the characters don’t end up together at the end. “Okay, fine.” I settled back in my chair and listened on. “Romance, you can have your HEAs.”

But I write fantasy. Fantasy is different. Good fantasy is a way to examine real world problems through a less intimidating lens. It’s a way to express frustrations with big picture ideas without screaming on YouTube. Also, there’s magic. I mean… who doesn’t love magic, right? Fantasy may be set in another world or some other plane of this world but it’s grounded in reality. Reality isn’t neat. Real issues can’t be tied up with a bow. Fantasy therefore doesn’t require an HEA.

Or does it?

As I pondered, I realized that a vast majority of the most popular fantasy I’ve read does in fact contain an HEA. Harry defeats the bad guy and marries his best friend’s sister. Alanna achieves her dream and settles down (as much as you can use that phrase with her character) with the man who’s been in love with her since book one. Katiniss survives the games and reunites the people. Clary saves the world and ends up with the love of her life. Bella… well you all know about Bella.

Even epic fantasy has its HEA. Bilbo defeats the dragon. Frodo destroys the ring. Rand… doesn’t die. Daenerys… oh wait. Well, if anyone is going to break the mold, George R.R. Martin will be the one to do it.

My point is, an HEA is not the exception in fantasy—it’s the rule. That got me to thinking… why? The best guess I have is that readers want HEAs. They’ve dedicated a lot of time and emotion to their favorite characters. They want them to beat the bad guy, and find themselves, and fall in love, and change the world. They want them to succeed. Because they want to succeed. They want all those things. want all those things. I think it’s a human response.

It’s not how real life works, though. It’s not precisely truth. And I know it might sound kind of odd to discuss truth when discussing fiction, even more so when discussing fantasy, but I believe it’s fundamental to creation. “Write what you know,” is the mantra of so many writers. But what we know often contains so much suffering. What we know also doesn’t hold an ending. Maybe that’s why the HEA has such a prevalent role in fiction, especially genre fiction which is written as a means of escape. We don’t know our own endings, so we can only hope, and we all hope for a happily ever after, too.

Does that take a work containing an HEA further from the truth writers strive to create? Does that make it somehow less? For that matter, does any kind of ending devalue the work in some way?

To be honest, I’m not sure. My ideas are still evolving, as they hopefully always will. What I do know, however, is that it’s something worth thinking about.

Sound off in the comments, I’m excited to hear what you think!

And as always, happy writing!

❤ Aimee