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Friday, August 29, 2008

 

Angry young men and mean old gits

It's a known trend: Angry Young Men turn into mean old ones. One minute you're the blazing voice of youth, raging against the Establishment and proclaiming freedom all round; flash forward a few decades, and the same voice is grumbling in its club about the maitre d' being Jewish and insisting on getting its keys back because it's quite sober enough to drive home, dammit. Consider Kingsley Amis, for instance, author of Lucky Jim, whose biography can, notably be found here on the Modern Drunkard Magazine>, which includes such remarks as 'Although talk was one of Amis’s great joys, he had little use for women’s conversation...' and his comment that Nelson Mandela should be hanged. Or consider John Osborne, saviour of theatre in the 1950s, whose plays got worse and worse while he passed away his leisure hours by such activities as casting out his teenage daughter for preferring to hang around with her friends than his, and taking advantage of his fourth wife's suicide, which lifted the restraining order laid down during their divorce, to add an entire new chapter to his autobiography slamming her. Politically, people like this tend to move from left to right as they age; personally, they tend to wear down or burn through those around them.

Why this trend? How do you go from being the voice of freedom to the voice of intolerance? The answer, I think, lies in the desire for power.

People are naturally adaptable; the tendency to always have been at war with Eurasia is a common failing. When we change our circumstances, it can take an effort of will not to change our sympathies. Some people are more inclined to consistency than others, but a wilful temperament is seldom a self-examining one. In certain cases, the trajectory is almost predictable.

What the angry young man and the mean old man have in common is aggression, aggression and a desire to have their own way. Young men, on the whole, do not have very much: they have yet to make their fortunes, the majority of power is held by their elders, they have no children to challenge them from below. In that circumstance, knocking down the Establishment makes self-interested sense: you're not in it, and if it topples, your chance of clambering up the rubble looks fair. Political anger can be principled, or it can simply be a politicised expression of frustration at not having what others have, and wanting it.

But bring the same person forward thirty years, and he's got quite a lot. He has money; he's in the generation that now holds power; the kind of challenges that he used to issue to his elders are now coming from his juniors -... and they want what he has. If he has a sharing disposition, this may not threaten him so much, but his original rage against the Establishment was not really motivated by a desire to see things meted out fairly, but by a desire to get as much as he could as quickly as possible. A fair-minded young man becomes a fair-minded old one, unless something dreadful happens to him along the way, and can move gracefully from demanding cooperation to trying to give the young ones a hand up - but a greedy young man is not about to share anything with younger men making the demands he used to make. Why should he? That would mean he had less.

So what you end up with is an apparent turncoat, a man who's moved from being a rebel to being a defender of the fortress, with no sense of personal inconsistency. He didn't really want the fortress open, he just wanted what was in it, and now he's inside, he wants the door barred. But he hasn't actually changed sides; he was never on anyone's side but his own to begin with.

There's also the question of venting. Molly Ivins famously remarked, 'Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel - it's vulgar.' Someone who has a disposition for invective, a streak of sadism, needs somewhere to put it. When he's powerless, the powerful are a great target: lots of people come on your side when you take aim on the powerful, and you have nothing much to lose anyway. But once he becomes powerful, that's no longer a safe target. Say too many vicious things about your fellow grandees, and they might kick you out of the club. Moving to attack the powerless becomes, once again, the safest option. There's not much they can do about it, and anyway, it's fun to kick someone who can't kick back; it allows you to enjoy your own fortunate status. Of course, it is cruel and vulgar, but who cares? The only bad effect that can have on you is if people complain about it, and for a combative person, that's just more opportunities to blast invective.

I don't say any of this to imply that anyone who seems politically left-wing or who rages against the machine as a youngster will turn into a sour old fogey. Some people are born rebels and stay rebels; generally, they find new causes, broaden their interests, and keep talking about what interests them. As Bob Geldof remarked of his support for Father's Rights, 'It's not in my nature to shut up.' Some people get stirred up about what they consider injustices; different people may take different views of where justice lies, but some people keep agitating for it, however they see it. Similarly, some people are born inclined to preserve the status quo, and go through lives accepting change only cautiously. Either of these are reasonable ways to go through life. But you want to listen out for the most vicious tongues; in the end, do they really love the position they're espousing, or to they just love having something to be vicious about?

In the end, it comes down to compassion for people. Is someone angry about a state of affairs because it hurts people, or because they need something to be angry about? Do they struggle to keep their anger directed towards ends that make things better, or do they use other people as target practice? In life as well as in fiction, anger can be gratuitous.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

 

So sharp you'll cut yourself

There is a problem that besets nervous and clever young writers, which tends to be more observable by their readers or audiences than by themselves: to wit, undermining themselves.

By 'undermining', I don't mean things like getting drunk when they should be writing, or insulting the person who offered to help read their first draft. Some people do that, no doubt, but there's another issue: writing into the structure of your play or novel the suggestion that you're just kidding, that even the characters don't take the situation seriously, and that it's all a game anyway. So, by implication, if the writing isn't any good, don't judge the author: they were only kidding.

Part of this is cultural hangover. The twentieth century having been full of clever literary bods, irony has been the name of the game. When I was an undergraduate I was the artistic end of a theatre committee, and me and my committee friends vetted applications to fund about a dozen different plays every term - of which we could afford to back about two or three. Approxmimately half of these plays promised to 'challenge the audience's preconceptions'; possibly more than half. A statistical survey would suggest that the audience's preconceptions were likely to be pretty battered things, and probably quite hard to shock, but that was what most hopeful directors considered the thing to do. They couldn't seem to keep their hands off the audience's preconceptions; tickling their funny bones or touching their hearts, or just putting on a play that they'd actually enjoy, somehow featured lower on the priority list. (Any director who promised to do that immediately doubled their chances of getting our money.) But the desire to challenge the audience was even greater when the play submitted was written by one of the students; it was there I noticed something that I've seen subsequently in novel-writing.

You want to write something; well and good. This is a nerve-wracking position to be in. You're going to try your best, but, well, it's possible people won't like what you write. Maybe you're not clever enough. So what a lot of inexperienced writers do is try to dazzle with as much cleverness as possible. Look, here are literary references! Look, here's a nod to the audience's presence! Look, I'm subverting your expectations of what literature should be!

Now, cleverness is all very well, but there comes a point where almost all the writer's intelligence is being directed into evasive action. When a piece of work involves a lot of flash and dazzle, but no sincere moments, little feeling for the characters, no willingness to commit to a storyline and see it through rather than playfully overturning every situation you set up and then taking a bow, what you're looking at is a frightened author. Trying to write a proper story, sustained with nothing but characters and situations that you've thought up for yourself, is an unnerving process. Particularly for young writers who've been educated in the tricks and tropes of the modern classics, little games to direct attention away from the story feel a lot easier: the hope is that the audience will come away filled with admiration for the writer's cleverness and making no judgements on the actual meat of the story, which was, after all, just a joke.

This isn't just a twentieth-century fashion, though. Attempts at dazzle are a fairly universal technique; most of Jane Austen's juvenilia, for instance, was parody of one kind or another. But they are, in essence, the diversionary tactics of an anxious author who's afraid that you'll laugh at their work if they don't laugh first.

Anyone feeling tempted to do this, take a deep breath. Writing is always scary, but you're going to have to stand to your work some time. If you mock your own scenario to pieces, there'll be nothing left; if you undermine your whole work, it'll collapse and you'll be ankle-deep in rubble. Better to keep early drafts private until you feel more confident. Endless quips at the expense of your own work is simply firing the first shot at yourself. Writing is always an attempt to seduce an audience, and for that, you need some kind of pitch, rather than undercutting your every previous remark until they have no idea what you're trying to say. Be brave!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

 

Mikalogue at home


Mika: Hellooo!!!

Guest: Agh!

Kit: What's the matter?

Guest: Oh, nothing, nothing. Um ... your cat just jumped up and it kind of startled me.

Kit: Oh dear, are you uncomfortable with cats?

Guest: Er - yes, just a bit.

Mika: Wanna be friends? Let us sniff each other.

Kit: Mika honey, come over here and stop bothering the nice guest.

Mika: But is interestin. New person. Have to get acquainted!

Kit: Okay, I'm scooping you up.

Mika: You is distractin Mika! Put down!

Kit: Look, a catnip toy! Sorry, she's just kind of curious.

Mika: Ooh, catnip! Kickity kickity kick! Groovy.

Guest: That's okay. It's just ... well, cats move kind of suddenly, don't they? I mean, one minute they're on the other side of the room, and them boom, there they are on the arm of your - aaagh!

Mika: Hellooo! Mika is back. Let us resume our acquaintance.

Kit: Would you like me to lock her in another room?

Guest: ... Er ...

Kit: Come on, Mika sweetie, it's kitchen time.

Mika: Nooo! Nooo! Open dooor! Thought you loooved! Let oooout!

Guest: I'm sorry about this.

Kit: No, it's okay. I'll fuss her more when you've gone.

Mika: Woooe!!! Is prisoner!

Kit: Life can be a serious of conflicting demands...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

 

Mikalogue: A New Business Idea


Mika: Ommmm...

Kit: Don't you mean 'prr', sweetie?

Mika: No. Is practisin.

Kit: What for, honey?

Mika: Ommm - is refinin technique.

Kit: You're kneading me like a nice girl, aren't you?

Mika: This not kneadin. Mika is studyin shiatsu.

Kit: You're massaging me?

Mika: Yep. Has money-makin scheme for office cats. We is natural masseurs. All cats knead with skill. Is gap in market. We starts stable of cats to go round offices an massage all the tense execs. Can make a fortune!

Kit: You think?

Mika: Oh yes. We starts with high-profit City firms. Must all be tense there, havin no cats.

Kit: Couldn't you stick to ones with ethical profiles?

Mika: Mean less money?

Kit: Yes, but better karma. That would be good for your shiatsu, I think. And ethical firms are a growth industry.

Mika: If we goes with firms you wants, you gets a smaller cut.

Kit: Oh, am I included in this business?

Mika: Course. You does paperwork. Paper really for chewin, but Mika's accountant has all sorts of different ideas.

Kit: Well, that's very nice of you to include me, sweetheart.

Mika: You has always been Mika's employee. We is just diversifyin. Now shh, this massage take concentration.

Friday, August 08, 2008

 

Writing against your orientation Part 2

Donalbain asks in response to the post below about writing a character whose sexual tastes differ from your own:

have you ever written of m/m couplings? How did you find that? My imaginings would be that it would be easier to write a gay relationship where the partners were the same gender as the writer, than if they were the other gender. Especially when it comes to the sex scenes..

It's a good question. And I think I'm inclined to agree.

As yet, I haven't written a gay male protagonist; I may at some future date if it seems likely to improve a plot, but it's something I'd definitely consider a challenge. Writing against your orientation demands some imaginative projection; so does writing a character the opposite sex from you. For me, a gay hero would be conflating the two.

In fact, I'd consider male-male the biggest challenge of all, because it's the one I have absolutely no experience of. I know what it's like to be a woman feeling desire, which I can translate into desire for a woman. I know what it's like to be a woman desired by a man - in the book that comes out next year, for instance, there are a few moments when my male lead feels a confused sense of attraction towards a woman, so what I basically did was considered situations where I'd been around a man confusedly coming on to me, thought about how he acted, and tried to put a sympathetic interpretation on his behaviour.

Furthermore, I have a motivation when picturing male-to-female desire: it's something I have intensely wished for every time I found myself desiring a man. Even if I haven't experienced it, I've spent a lot of effort trying to generate it, and observing closely to see whether I've succeeded or not. Consequently, the symptoms of its presence or absence are familiar to me. I have an investment in male-to-female desire.

But desiring a man in a male way? That's a situation I've never participated in except as a bystander. And a more or less disinterested bystander at that: unlike the 'does he fancy me?' situation, whether or not one man fancies another is really not my business. My observation is correspondingly less personal; I'd like to think that every gay man found the fella of his dreams, but that's because I'd like as many people as possible to be happy. It's a pretty broad wish, and not one given to intimate observation. You simply never ask yourself if someone fancies your friend as passionately as you wonder whether someone fancies you. To write a male-male romance scene, I'd probably have to use an invisible woman somewhere.

The trouble is, the invisible woman would run into difficulties. On the face of it, that perhaps shouldn't be the case. After all, gay men and I have something in common: we fancy men. In theory, that should suggest that it's actually easier for me to write a gay man than a straight one; at least he'd be attracted to the same sort of people. I'd just have to put the invisible woman in the position of desiring protagonist, then lift her out again.

But actually, no. For one thing, you'd expect a gay man to be attracted to other gay men, and while there's no one physical or gestural type for 'gay', the overt mannerisms and fashions of gay subculture send out a signal that says to me, 'Not an option', which is something of a turn-off. Working out what it would be like to be attracted to them would take a lot of thought. Of course, plenty of gay men don't have big signifiers reading 'I Like Men!' all over them, and it would be easier to write being attracted to someone like that, but still, it would be a factor to consider, and I'd expect to do some research, as well as running it past an actual gay man to check I sounded convincing.

But, most crucially, there's also the question of different gazes. Reflecting on the last post, I recalled Alison Bechdel (author of Fun Home and Dykes To Watch Out For, highly recommended) remarking that 'woman as fetish', ie sexual features grotequely exaggerated, was a common cartooning style - so common that it's easy to overlook. She remarked that a character in Poppers by Jerry Mills was the gay male equivalent, a male body caricatured with biceps and pecs to impossible proportions. That sounded like a useful reference, so, thinking of mentioning it here, I did an internet search for further images that turned up nothing. When I tried 'gay comics' on Google Images, I struck something else (apart from horrifying numbers of Simpsons characters playing hide-the-sausage, images I'm trying to forget as soon as possible): lots of images of attractive men, drawn by men for men, that had a completely different feel from how attractive men look in my eyes. (You can repeat the search, but all of it's not worksafe, so I won't link here.)

There's something different about the male and female sexual gaze. Looking at a man through male 'eyes' is not the same. It's notable, for instance, how different films made by men and women are. Consider Point Break by Kathryn Bigelow, a film thronged with fit, half-naked actors, and compare it with Wild Things, directed by John McNaughton. (I was hoping to find an example of male-on-male gaze to compare to Bigelow's female-on-male, but, frustratingly, YouTube has failed to supply any of the examples I could think of, so bear with me. Or if you can think of examples, point them out.) McNaughton's cinematography lingers on the actresses in a familiar way: lots of shots of pretty bottoms and thighs, the camera's gaze often zooming slowly up the body, taking it all in, a piece at a time. This is a shorthand we all understand: the camera is leching at the girls. (Entirely appropriately for the mood and theme of the film; I'm not suggesting that McNaughton is necessarily a lech.)

But there's a lot of pleasure taken in the handsome actors of Bigelow's film too. It's just taken in a way that feels, at least from my own experience, distinctively feminine. Rather than pausing on the biceps, stopping to check out the pecs, moving down to the thighs, Bigelow favours shots from the middle-distance, in which we see the actor's whole body, or body from the waist up. The camera is generally still; rather than moving up and down the actors, the actors move within a poised frame. Birdwatching refers to the 'GISS' or 'giss' of a bird, which I believe is an acronym for 'general impression size and shape': the sense of a bird's bird-ness that enables you to identify it at a glance. Bigelow's camera is enjoying the beauty of the actors, but is taking satisfaction their giss.

And that feels feminine. At least in my experience, what I find attractive in a man has much more to do with giss than specifics. Things like the set of the shoulders, posture, movement, harmonious body line, can be very attractive - but you have to see the whole body to see how they work. This isn't necessarily any less 'objectifying' than the male gaze: enjoying how a man moves does not necessarily mean you're interested in his personality. It is, rather, a different way of enjoying a beautiful object: standing back to admire, rather than going in with a magnifying glass. On purely anecdotal evidence, I think it's significant that Point Break is the only movie I've seen that made me find Keanu Reeves or Patrick Swayze attractive: seeing them through female eyes made them look a whole lot better. But if Bigelow's camera had zoomed in like McNaughton's, the whole film would have had a different feel: it would have felt like the work of a gay man.

Lingering, up-and-down, sexual-feature-specific camerawork, in short, feels closer to the male sexual gaze than the female. I suspect this is a major reason why 300 looked so gay: its exaggeration of the actors' six-packs was the CI equivalent of giving an actress a boob job (feature-specific), while its half-naked actors were repeatedly filmed in slow motion (lingering up-and-down gazes). Everyone recognised the conventions of the male desire lens, and being directed towards male actors, it was hard to draw a hetero conclusion.

I'm wildly generalising here, so any gay man, straight woman or vice versa is welcome to post and disagree. There are plenty of exceptions; Craig Thompson's beautiful graphic novel Blankets, for instance, draws his beloved with a tender, sensual delight in the line of her whole body, and that's undoubtedly a male gaze. I'm mostly talking about my own overall impressions. But, of course, those are all I have to go on when writing fiction. Mostly, this is a roundabout way of saying that yes, I'd consider writing a gay woman easier than writing a gay man, because it's closer to my own experience...


On a different note, as the comments on the previous article were interesting but it's buried in what's-your-name posts, Anon commented:

I've heard a couple of lesbian writers saying that they have difficulty writing sex scenes with women in because it feels a bit too close to home. But if it's a man-on-man scene, they can let their imaginations run wild without feeling overly exposed.

I don't know if those writers are professionals or not - for all I know, they may be bestselling and brilliant - but it's my belief that you have to expose yourself if you're going to write well. I'm not exactly comfortable with my family reading my sex scenes - they read the stuff I write after it's published, and we have a don't-ask-don't-tell custom - but any kind of honest writing is putting yourself out there. To me, it feels just as exposing to write female-female sex as to write female-male, and no more exposing than to write a description of riding the bus. Any piece of writing exposes how you think, how you see, who you are, just as much as any other piece. It's all looking at the world through your own eyes, even if you've put on character-tinted spectacles. If you're trying to hide behind your writing, your priorities will be concealment rather than honesty, and you won't be writing your best. You gotta be brave about this stuff.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

 

Putting together acknowledgements

... and here's the list of everyone who contributed to the discussion.

Naomi, Donalbain, Jane Draycott, Wolfa, Ursula L, Jos, Cowboy Diva, Robb, Joolya, Christopher Subich, Hapax, Linda Coleman, Practicallyevil, Wesley Parish, Margaret Yang, Sunlizzard, Lauren, Ecks, Michael Mock, Sheila O’Shea, Alfgifu, and everyone who falls into the category of Anonymous.

As the book has to be in by Friday, if I've missed you, misspelled you or misrepresented you, now's the time to speak up; otherwise, this is the list as it'll stand.

So, if you want something changed or I've overlooked you, e-mail kitwhitfield@hotmail.com and I'll revise it. (Or post your complaint here, of course.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

 

Signing off, now on to other matters...

Okay, I'm now taking the book to the publishers. Thanks to everyone who's participated. A few points, just so nobody's too surprised when it comes out:

1. The book is alternate history; its relationship to real history diverges during the ninth century, and the butterfly effect being what it is, that changes everything. A search for real historical figures or events will prove fruitless. I've followed the line of history as it seems plausible to me; hopefully you'll like what I've done with it.

2. However, history is a backdrop here; the structure is primarily focused around the adventures of two central characters, neither of whom you've met in the little precis I gave. Scholars looking for massive amounts of detail, I fear, may not find it, as my primarly interest was in the characters and too much info-cramming would have disrupted it. Hopefully you'll still find the story entertaining.

3. The mermaid-deepsmen, as I've presented them, are conceived with very little reference to folklore or tradition. Instead, I started from scratch, asking myself what people living in the sea would be like. My research materials tended more to nature documentaries and studies of feral children than to fairytales.

4. In all cases, if it's not what you would have done, by all means amuse yourself picturing an alternative, but let's agree here and now that you won't get mad at me if my idea of what's likely differs from yours.

5. A lot of the major issues raised were already addressed in the book; others were useful. For the sake of enjoyment, I'd advise against playing spot-the-editing when you read it; the odds of guessing right don't seem to me worth the disruption it would cause to the flow of the story. I'm not going to answer questions on that score when the book comes out, in any case, as I think it's liable to fragment the reading experience.

6. I'll be thanking everyone who contributed in the acknowledgements. If you want to be thanked by name, let me know your real name as well as the internet handle you used, otherwise I'll use the handle.

 

Writing against your orientation

This is something I've been reflecting on quite a lot lately: the issue of writing a character whose sexual orientation is different from yours. It's surprising what it shows up.

The issue is simple, at root: it's much easier to write a character who shares your sexual preferences. I was reflecting on this while flipping through a book by an author who shall remain nameless out of good manners, as I believe s/he is married - but reading the book, I felt rather sorry for their spouse. Their ability to picture opposite-sex attraction was pretty weak, but the emotions between characters of the same sex, nominally friends, were vivid, yearning, fraught with physical details, romantic. This is purely speculation on my part, but one thing was unquestionable: the author was finding it much easier to identify with same-sex longings than with opposite-sex ones. There are a number of possible explanations, but Occam's Razor suggests that the author is gay but in the closet, perhaps even to themself. People in that kind of situation are the reason we need greater societal tolerance as fast as possible, because someone who feels that way being married to an opposite-sex spouse is probably finding and giving less satisfaction than everybody deserves.

But on literary terms, it got me thinking. The narrator of my current novel is bisexual tending towards gay. She got that way by an organic rather than a planned process: the book had been chugging along, not particularly considering her sexuality one way or the other, then a female character turned up, and the way my heroine described her made me think, 'Hm, that sounds like she's attracted to her.' This gave me two options: rewrite, or go with it. Her orientation had become an issue, and I had to make a decision. So I thought about it, and decided, in effect, 'Why not make her gay? Lots of people are.' Hence, I rewrote the scene again, drawing the attraction out, and a few weeks down the line, was writing my first ever lesbian sex scene.

And it's an intriguing process. I'm realising several things.

First, while my heroine, Rose by name, is not defined in my mind as A Big Girl-Fancying Lesbian - that is, her sexuality is not her primary trait, it's a detail rather than the key to her character - I swing back and forth on wondering how important it'll seem to readers. To me, as I said, it's one among many character notes; of all the gay women I know, the fact that they prefer skirt to trouser is seldom the most interesting thing about them or their main topic of conversation, so writing Rose's love life, my aim was to express the ordinariness of homosexuality rather than to let it overwhelm her presentation. She has a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend; big deal. But there are days when I wonder, should the book sell (fingers crossed), whether at least some people will be distracted from the actual plot into seeing it as A Book About Lesbians. I hope not, but time will have to tell on that score.

But all these speculations are bringing home to me how heteronormative a culture we still inhabit. If I'd introduced a boyfriend rather than a girlfriend, I doubt anybody would have blinked - even though I would have chosen the character's sexual orientation every bit as much as I chose it when I made her gay.

Second, it can require some considerable contortions to get yourself into that mindset. Nameless Author is a case in point: write attractions you feel, and you flow easily, instinctively; write attractions you don't, and the instincts aren't there. I was running some scenes past a friend of mine over the weekend (scenes that involve sexual thoughts or activity, this friend being an actual lesbian and thus more likely to spot clangers than me), and the conversation threw up some interesting things. She commented, to my gratification, that the scenes reminded her of some book she couldn't remember the title of, but as it was by a lesbian author, published for a lesbian audience by a lesbian press, and about, you've guessed it, lesbians, I assumed that meant the writing was reasonably convincing. But I'd had to do quite a lot of work to get there. And to do that work, I'd had to invent a new techinque: basically, I'd had to use an invisible man.

It went like this. Being fairly chronically heterosexual, I find the idea of being attracted to a woman a pretty abstract one. I can get my head around the fact that some people do, I can recognise that some women are pretty, but that's all in my head; if I ask myself 'Would I like to nibble that pretty woman?', the answer is a resounding No.

But attraction is physical: abstraction doesn't cut it. To write something well, you have to be able to empathise, and the easiest way to empathise is to reflect on how you'd feel in that circumstance. But the circumstances, ie in bed with another woman, hold no appeal for me, no matter how much they appeal to my heroine. She and I are simply at odds there, and it's a problem to solve. There are two options: basically, you can picture it as A Gay Attraction, which will run into problems if that's something you've never felt, or, more effectively, you can picture it as being attracted to someone. Being attracted to someone, I can picture pretty easily. It's just that there's always a man in there somewhere.

So what I had to do was translate. As E.M. Forster says in Maurice, describing his gay character trying to understand things, 'So much in current speech and ideas needed translation before he could understand it.' There were two techniques I could use, either of them effective in their way. One, when Rose crushed on her girlfriend, I could picture looking at a man, consider what that feels like, and then translate 'Mm, wide shoulders ... deep voice ... muscular forearms...' into 'Mm, narrow waist ... soft skin ... dainty wrists...' - that is, to picture crushing on features that I find attractive, ie masculine ones, then consider what features are particularly feminine and apply the emotions of 'crush' to those. I used an invisible man, in fact, to play the observed, and then shrank him down, smoothed off his skin, added some breasts and then, at the last minute, whipped him out of the picture and substituted Rose's girlfriend. (He was a little confused for a while, but he's recovering nicely in the back clinic of my imagination, thanks for asking.) The second option was to put the man in the position of observer, and ask myself, 'If I really fancied a man, how would I want him to look at me? What would I want him to feel when he saw me?'

Interestingly, my fiance was in the room as we discussed this and listening to the passages; he remarked that my invisble man sounded fairly feminine to him. The descriptions of Rose's girlfriend, he reckoned, might be plausible coming from a man who's looking at a woman he deeply loves or has a major infatuation with, but ordinary male attraction isn't quite that caught up in the fine details, like the colour of hair on someone's arms, or exactly how they turn their ankles. This was convenient enough - my heroine is a woman, after all, so having her look at a woman with feminine desire was exactly what I was aiming for - but I wasn't entirely surprised. I'd spent a bit of time in the previous book describing a man being attracted to a woman, and the writing had been more stark, more straightforward. That hadn't been too hard to write either; there was a man in there somewhere. It's just when there's no men there at all that my imagination starts to cast around.

I think it's this that contributes to heteronormative assumptions, actually: when you imagine desire, it always looks like your own, and if other people's desires aren't very visible, it's easy to forget they exist.

Has anyone else had this experience? Do you have other methods for dealing with it?

Friday, August 01, 2008

 

Polls closing!

My goodness, you're all well-informed people! Thanks to everyone who's taken the time and effort to make suggestions, and to share the treasures of their knowledge with me - my editor called me up to exclaim, she was so impressed with the quality of comments. So everyone take a moment to bask in the glory of your own intelligence and erudition.

As I'm now looking at a rapidly-approaching deadline, and nothing's more frustrating than either making or reading a point that it's too late to address, I'm going to close down the enquiry at midnight today - that's midnight my time, ie London. Any final thoughts, bung 'em my way; after that, we'll move on to other things.

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