There is a trap I’ve noticed that authors fall into sometimes when writing from the viewpoint of a character of the opposite gender. I am female for example and though I claim to not understand men at all, I have managed to observe their behavior in the wild so to speak. Therefore I think I can or at least try to write from a man’s point of view on occasion in my stories. What I do try to do is avoid the “eek, that doesn’t sound right” moments is ask guys to read my stories keeping an eye out for thoughts or behaviors that don’t really seem like a guy way of acting – to a guy anyway.
Being an online gamer for years now, one of my little hobbies was trying to determine the actual gender of other players based on what they say in chat, which was my only clue. Many gamers play the opposite gender, it’s part of the fantasy I guess. Along the way I picked up a few clues and more often than not I could tell. I would verify this with them in private chat and they always seemed interested to know how I figured it out.
One of the things that I noticed is females playing as males would suddenly stop mid game announce they have a head ache, need to take bath and log off. Guys just don’t do that, they will play until they drop before admitting they have to pee. What guys who were playing females would do is slip up and make verbal reference to male genitalia or use them as an insult in chat. Gals usually don’t do that…OK most of the time they don’t. I’m generalizing here. It’s pretty funny when you start picking up on it.
Recently I read 2 books in which oddly stereotypical gender behaviors kept yanking me out of the story. One was written from the point of view of a female in her 30s in a major melt down end of the world scenario. It seemed like every 5 minutes she was making a mental note of the condition of her armpits, sweaty, cold, sticky, etc. I’m a female in my 50s and have been in some pretty hellish scenarios in my life; assaulted, gun fire, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, house on fire, floods, rioting on the next street over, rumble in the discount aisle, etc. I guarantee that in none of these instances did the condition of my arm pits come to the front of my mind. I finally started laughing and checked …sure enough male author.
In another book I read, which was another end of the world scenario, the male character was either thinking about or adjusting his “package” almost nonstop. I tell you it was amazing that he found time to gather weapons, food and go about the business of surviving an apocalypse with all that crotch flailing going on. You guessed it – female author.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is if you’re writing from a gender not your own, be careful when you start getting all detailed and nitty-gritty with the body parts. Ask a few people who are the gender of your character for a reality check. It can be an eye-opening, amusing and sometimes rather embarrassing experience, but well worth the effort.
The Hubman, his friend and I did our usually Friday night frolic of dinner and consumerism. After dinner we went to the computer store to pick up my ailing desktop that has been in the gadget hospital. Turns out it had a defective ram chip which was causing all kinds of wonky hideous glitches and crashes. At one point I had become convinced that it was possessed by the devil and should be tossed into a raging bonfire. But the tech gods fixed it. Yay!
After stashing the computer in the truck we went back inside to scour the store for anything new and interesting or on sale. We usually scatter and snoop around in our own area of interest. I stumbled across the My Book Live. The clouds parted and the angels sang. The solution I’ve been looking for! I’ve been waiting for someone to invent or for me to discover such a device. I had been toying for years the idea of setting up a home media server, but it seemed too complicated to bother with.
The short of it is that I now possess my own personal data cloud. Booyah! It was easy to set up. Pretty much just plug and play. Before I had all my snippets of writing, blog posts, short stories, pictures spread all over 3 computers a Kindle Fire and my iPhone. It was getting quite out of hand and confusing. Now all my stuff is in one location that I can access from or save to the My Book server, no matter what gadget I’m using or where I am. Oh the happiness.
I can also store pictures and movies on it and watch or listen in the living room, out in the back yard, hanging in the closet or luxuriating in the bathtub. For a tech geek like me, it just doesn’t get any better. The My Book with 2 terabytes of storage, which is a lot of space, cost $149 plus tax. Well worth it in my opinion.
Hello, beloved readers. After a toss and turny kind of night, a short story wafted out of my coffee cup this morning. I decided to share.
A Mere shadow
Eva De’ Cocao had always thought of herself as a rather superfluous person. She tended towards the fringes, the by waters and tide pools of life. She dressed in an altogether non-committal way, preferring the edges of the wall to the center of the room.
She always chose a seat in the center of the bus. Not at the front in order to swap inanities with the driver or at the very back where eccentric outspoken people tend to congregate and talk in an agitated and unseemly manner. She cringed hearing them voice their opinions out loud in front of complete strangers.
Eva did not voice her opinions out loud or even in the privacy of her head, for that matter. Voicing one’s opinion, even to ones self, was the road to perdition. Of this she was absolutely sure. It may well be the only opinion Eva had.
She spent her days working in a flower shop on Whitethistle Lane. She excelled at creating sedate, middle of the road, ubiquitous arrangements suitable for funerals or baptisms. It discomfited her a little that customers preferred her arrangements to the shop owner’s, but she gave no brook to the passing feeling. She spoke to customers only when spoken to.
The shop owner did not come on Saturdays so Eva had the shop to herself. She generally closed the shop at 4pm and headed directly home with a small arrangement of flowers for her table. Only on rare days did she stop at a tiny bookstore on the corner of the lane. The old proprietress always seemed happy to see her, patted her on the arm and called her “my dear” whether or not she made a purchase.
Her arrangements were never ostentatious or extravagant, and rarely more than 6 or 7 flowers. She read somewhere that flower arrangements should be asymmetrical so she tended to stick to either 5, 7, or 9 flowers. 11 flowers was too much for her humble abode. She tried it once and after only an hour she whittled the arrangement back down to 9 flowers because 11 was too jarring on the senses.
Eva lived in a small modest flat on Wittsington lane. A 10 minute walk from the shop. Her 4th floor walk up was practically in the rafters. It suited her, not quite drab, bordering on ordinary. A 2 seat table by the window, a small settee that opened into a bed for sleeping. “A sufficient kitchenette in what used to be a large closet,” would be the most accurate description of her lodgings.
One particularly blustery Saturday Eva arrived home at her flat, the usual small bouquet of flowers in hand, to find a chain and a padlock on the front door of her building. A small notice on the front door read “scheduled for renovation, permits at courthouse.” She stared agape in a most unlady like manner. An old man standing next to her suddenly declared to no one in particular, “it’s about time someone did something with this claptrap! No one has lived here for years.”
Eva turned to him and blurted, “but I live here.” “Are you sure?” “Well of course, I’m sure. I’ve lived here for years.” Her face reddened at making such a declarative statement to a complete stranger. She felt a bit faint. His eyes narrowed and he said nothing for a long moment. Then stood straighter and put his hand on her arm. “I think a visit to Mrs. Laudingham may be in order.”
Not knowing what else to do, Eva allowed the unintroduced old man to lead her out of the lane, down a few blocks and into another narrow lane. She was in rather a stupor and neglected to take notice of the name of the lane. At the end of the lane the old man tapped gently on the small brass knocker in the shape of a rose.
A rather flamboyantly dressed women of undetermined middle age, her white hair in wisps about her head, peeked through the crack of the door. The old man said “I’ve got another one for you, Mrs. Laudingham. Her building is being renovated.” The woman looked shocked and concerned and a flurry of activity ensued. They whisked her into a cozy sitting room. The man put a small ottoman under her feet and began fanning her vigorously with a fan he snatched from the table next to her.
Mrs. Laudingham returned shortly with a tea-tray. she put the tray down, turned to the man and said “thank you so much Mr. Conner, I will take it from here.” He bowed low and said “always a pleasure Mrs. Laudingham, I’ll show myself out.”
Mrs. Laudingham busied herself with pouring tea and placed a biscuit in Eva’s hand. She stared at the tea and the biscuit. She should be at home in her flat eating a modest dinner and listening to the radio. Not taking tea with a woman she did not know. Especially after being escorted here by a man she did not know either. Somewhere between the flower shop and home she had somehow taken leave of her senses. Of this she was sure. It was the only thing she was sure of.
Not knowing what else to do for the moment and not wanting to seem rude. Eva sipped her tea and took a tentative nibble of the biscuit in her hand. It was quite good, smooth, buttery, not too sweet. The rich aroma of the tea was almost hypnotic. She relaxed and sighed. Maybe it was alright to let herself go for a few minutes after such a trying afternoon.
A gentle hand on Eva’s arm woke her with a start. She shot up straight, mumbling apologies, fussing with her hair and buttons. The woman sitting across from her announced “I am Mrs. Olivia Laudingham, may I have the pleasure of knowing your name, Dear?” “I…oh…my name is Eva De’ Cocao, please call me Eva.” She thought that was the least she could do seeing as she tramped unannounced into this woman’s home and proceeded to fall asleep with her nose in a teacup.
“Mr. Conner said your building is scheduled for renovation?” “Yes” “He also said that no one has lived there for years?” “Yes, but he is mistaken, because I have lived there for years.” “Oh, and how many years have you lived there?” Eva pondered the impertinent question and paused before answering “well, I don’t remember exactly know, it’s been a long time.” “Do you remember moving there?”
Eva fidgeted in her seat and took another sip of her tea that somehow was back in her hand. What she did know was the she had not been asked so many personal questions in one day of her entire life, before now.
Mrs. Laudingham regarded Eva over her own teacup for a long moment and then set it down on the tray. Finally she said softly, “I would venture to guess that you do not actually remember moving into that flat, do you dear?” “Well, no I don’t. But really, must one catalog every unremarkable event in one’s life?” Mrs. Laudingham chuckled and then became serious again. “Eva, do you remember anything about your life before Wittsington Lane?”
With growing alarm she realized that, come to think of it, she did not remember anything before some undetermined amount of time before this moment. She did not remember telling Mrs. Laudingham where she lived, for that matter. It was as if she had always lived there. She never really gave it much thought. It was so unnessessary to ponder such things. She lived day-to-day, went about her business, and went home, all in an unremarkable manner. She answered simply, “No.”
Mrs. Laudingham regarded her for a long moment and then said, “Eva, I have something to say that may come as a bit of a shock to you. There have been no tenants of #11 Wittsington lane in over 5 years.” Instead of denying it, Eva asked, “how do you know this?” “Somehow It is my job to know. It’s rather difficult to explain. But, from time to time, I encounter women who seem to just exist on the edge of conciousness. Not really knowing who they are or where they come from or where they are going.” Eva thought ‘what an odd thing to say’ but said “What are you trying to tell me?”
Mrs. Laudingham stood up and paced the room for a few moments, smoothed her fly away wisps of hair to no avail, and sat back down. She reached over and took Eva’s hand in hers and said, “Eva De’ Cocao, what I am saying is that you are a shadow. A mere shadow of your former self.” A shadow? What does this mean? “Are you informing me that I am dead?”
“Dead? Oh my dear, no. Please pardon me. You are most assuredly not dead.” “Well that is nice to know.” Eva snapped. Then became shocked with herself for such an uncalled for burst of sarcasm. Mrs. Laudingham laughed out loud at this remark and said “there we are, a bit of spirit, I know you have it in you. I just wonder why you chose to lock it away.”
They sipped their tea in silence for a while. Eva finally asked, “what you mean by locked it away?” “Well, there seems to be a rash of women who lose track of who they are and just bumble about, living a shadow life. I have my theories, but what is important now, is to figure out why and where you wandered off track for so long. And who you really are.”
Eva began to feel angry, a most disconcerting feeling at best. “I know exactly who I am!” “Do you now?” “Yes! My name is Eva De’Cacao. I live at #11 Wittsington Lane, I work at a flower shop during the day and in the evenings I read books and listen to the radio.” “What is the name of the flower shop? What radio station do you listen to?” Eva said “I….” then it occurred to her that she did not have answers to those questions.” Actually, she knew very little about herself. What a strange feeling. Somehow, she had dropped herself in bits and pieces along the way until there was nothing much left. And it happened so gradually that she didn’t notice.
“Mrs. Laudingham?” “Yes, dear?” “I am frightened. How did this come about? Somehow I feel that I was better off not knowing.” “Eva, in some ways you were living a comfortable life, but not sustainable over the long haul. One can only live a dribble drabble of a life for so long before one begins to fade away completely. And you, my dear, are almost gone. This is somewhat of an emergency!”
She stood up and clapped her hands. “The first thing on the agenda is a brisk walk. We will walk to the park at the town square.” “A walk?” She expected a somewhat more drastic remedy. “Yes Eva, we need to get you out of the lanes and alleys, out in the sunshine, around other people.” She protested, “but I don’t have an umbrella..what if it rains?” Mrs. Laudingham giggled like someone only half her age and chucked Eva under the chin. “Then we’ll get wet! Come now dear, we need to get you out into the world, find you somewhere in it and not a moment too soon.”
As the great Mark Twain once said “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I’ve been in a space where my thoughts weren’t fit for public consumption, in my opinion anyway.
I finally decided in hindsight that I had the flu. According to the CDC websites the main way to know if you have the flu or just a common cold is sudden onset. Well yeah! I define sudden onset as one minute you’re sipping martinis watching the sun set and an hour later you’re in an ambulance heading to the hospital. Kind of a rip off from mother nature. I think it should depart as rapidly as it came on, not drag out for weeks!
The most annoying part of this whole adventure was the complete brain freeze. I was going through snippets of things written over the past few weeks yesterday and have no recollection of writing them. I even did a few web searches of key words and phrases to see if it wasn’t something I wrote but copied for some reason. They sounded like things I’d say when in a really bitchy mood or way past the legal limit on alcohol. I’m glad I didn’t post them. Some things are better left unsaid or at least unsaid in a public forum.
Something that happened unheralded in December was the 3rd year anniversary of this blog. I can’t believe 3 years have passed since my first tentative “hello world.” It’s been a lot of fun and an ongoing learning experience.
One of the things that’s been torturing me is the “am I really a writer?” question. I got help on that score from an unexpected place. I was sitting there in a fog watching “Sister Act 2, Back in the Habit” and Whoopie said something to a young girl who could sing well but had doubts if that’s what she was supposed to do. Something to the effect of “Girl, if you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is singing, then you’re supposed to be a singer. That’s what you are meant to be.”
Well the first thing I think about in the morning, other that coffee, and the main thing I think about when I don’t have to be thinking about something else is writing. So like it or not I’m a writer. Fortunately I do like it.
Over the past 3 years I’ve watched other bloggers start and grow and go on to do fabulous things. Some have published books, stories, turned their blogs into a beehive of activity. My hat is off to all of you bloggers out there and your commitment to something that most people just don’t get. My blog seems to be putting along, but that’s OK. I love doing it and I’m going to continue.
Love to all of you. You’ll be hearing more from me as my brain gradually slips back into gear.
I think I sprained my brain. Woke up with a bizarre throbbing headache that I was certain would be visible to someone other than myself. Cranking out 2 short stories in 2 days left me breathless, exhausted, and tied up in knots.
Oh come on you wussy, you may say, what is so hard about that? It is if you think like me, that every little thing you do is an excuse to pick apart everything other thing you did or said in excruciating detail back to the moment of your birth. It’s a vicious circle. But, I learned some things about myself the past few days. If you are an experienced writer maybe you’ll chuckle and think back to that time when you ripped five hairs out of your head for every word you wrote. And I’d bet money you’re glad you past all that. Please don’t tell me that you never got past it or I might have aneurism.
One thing I learned is yes I can change something I’ve written after declaring it finished. This fear dates back to when hitting the send button on an email that someone took offense to could cost me my job. In the corporate nightmare you can recall a message, but you know everyone read it anyway and are already planning what they are going to salvage from your desk after you are walked out the door by security. That never happened to me, but I imagined it many times. And fear is fear whether justifiable or not.
Another thing I learned is, do not, under any circumstances, read a book like “38 Common Mistakes Fiction Writers Make – And How to Avoid Them, immediately after trying something new. I’m been torturing myself for days reading this damned infernal book from hell. It would better and less painful if I just smashed my thumb with a hammer and got it over with quick. Kind of like ripping off a band-aid. I do have to give myself some credit. Some of the 38 things I got right.
Maybe I remember more from that creative writing class in college than I thought. One of the criticisms I received was “your writing is too flowery.” Say what? What the hell does that mean? Turns out flowery meant, to this professor, that I referred to ladies as ladies instead of women. Excuuuuuuse me, but I’m from the south and there is a huge difference here between women and ladies. Women just happen, being a lady takes effort. But, thinking about it, I guess that is not obvious out of the south and unless I aim all my written efforts at the combination ladies cotillion, rummage sale, and church social, I need to weed that phrase out.
Another thing I learned is that, out of self-preservation and a strong desire to not be hauled away in straight jacket, is to let it lie for a while. Don’t sit there and reread your work 85 thousand times. All it did for me was turn me cross-eyed and question my sanity, although I question my sanity at least once a day anyway. I suppose that is OK really, but if it leads to others questioning my sanity as well, maybe I better calm down. Steven King mentioned the give your work a break for while bit in his book “On Writing” But did I take his word for it? NoooOOoo. I absolutely insist on making all the mistakes myself.
While writing this post my headache went away. Oh my God, what if I’m addicted to writing? Will I start burgling the neighbor’s houses in search of pen and paper?