Category Archives: Women’s Issues

Bad Storytelling



George Martin’s novels depict the grimmest of the grim, the most horrendous of the horrendous. It happens across the board from the nobility to the peasantry. He spares no one. And it is good storytelling. I highly approve of some of the necessary changes made to the HBO series, like the intermingling of plots I had wished for in the fourth and fifth books. I do not approve of others, the biggest of which is the unnecessary use of rape the powers that be have decided to implement.

It’s not rape itself. Martin’s world is, as established, a grim one. Rape is a means to power as ancient and effective as any other violent act. Mr. Martin uses it brutally, some may even say he overuses it. Okay, I’ll buy that. But I want to talk about the places he did not use it, for a purpose.


Let’s start with Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo. If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you know the story well enough to be spared a long and drawn out backstory. Dany is given to Drogo in marriage. In the books, she is fourteen; he is in his thirties. HBO made her a little older to lessen the squick-factor there. Okay, fine. In the book, we are expecting Dany’s wedding night to be a brutal affair–not unanticipated, but nonetheless horrific for a fourteen year old girl forced to marry a Dothraki Khal. And yet, with all the rape, murder, blood and gore that started on page one of A Game of Thrones, Drogo doesn’t rape Daenerys on their wedding night. He waits for her to come to him. This is the crux of her absolute love and devotion, and makes believable all that comes after.

Cersei_ProfileOk, now how about Cersei Lannister? Yes, it’s super-creepy for her and her twin to be having a lifelong affair that results in three children. It’s even creepier when they have sex beside their son’s funeral bier. But that was the point, now, wasn’t it? These two have engaged in this relationship since childhood. Squicky, yes, but again, that’s the point. Their love is absolute. They not only thumb their noses at convention, they hock luggies on it…and then have sex on it. Having  consensual sex in the presence of their dead son punctuates this and many character points. Mr. Martin’s good storytelling, however twisted, shines.

Sansa-Stark-Profile-HDFinally–Sansa Stark. In Mr. Martin’s books, Sansa is betrothed to Joffrey. He abuses her. He beheads her father. He does everything humanly possible to humiliate and hurt her–but he doesn’t rape her. And then she’s forced to marry Tyrion, who treats her kindly and–wait for it–does not rape her. Then Littlefinger whisks her away. He steals a kiss, but no rape. In the Eyrie, no rape. Sansa Stark manages to traverse the length and breadth of Westeros without being raped. There is a reason she maintains her status as “Virgin Queen.” It’s good storytelling, dammit.

The writers and producers of the HBO show, however, made some decisions about these three powerful women, and that decision can be wrapped up in one sentence–A woman’s power extends only as far as appeasing a man’s dick allows.

I’m not going to argue that this is not true. Historically, it is. What I’m arguing is that in the world of Martin’s creation, these three women are spared the stripping of their power for a reason, and that reason got taken away. Not only did it get taken away, it is completely counter to story arcs, character arcs, and good storytelling. This decision was bad storytelling at it’s worst, because it took subtle, truly powerful points and turned them upside down. For no apparent reason.

Dany goes from being a woman loved, a woman who believably sacrifices everything for Drogo to the raped-falls-in-love-with-her-rapist trope. (Remember General Hospital? Luke and Laura? No?) Instead of her true power being awakened by her sexuality because of a conscious choice she made–good storytelling!–she is diminished. Later, in the HBO series, Dany “seduces” Drogo, riding him rather than being ridden; but it is at her brother’s demand more than it is Dany’s claiming of her own power.

Cersei is evil, depraved, ruthless. This we know. She gets her comeuppance, but it is not at the hands of her beloved brother. Cersei’s love for Jaime pales beside her love for power. Not so for Jaime. He will do anything for her, for her love. What he would not do is rape her. Why did the HBO powers decide to go that route? Is their relationship not twisted enough? Or was it, again, consciously or not, stripping another powerful woman in the series of her power in this way?

And Sansa, who never even meets Ramsay Bolton in the book, is not only in Winterfell but forced to marry him, and in marrying him, raped on her wedding night with her “foster brother” in attendance. The Virgin Queen has fallen to yet another man’s dick. Why? So Stannis wasn’t riding to Winterfell to save Jayne Poole who was pretending to be Arya and not Sansa at all? (Ok, so he wants Winterfell, too. Stannis isn’t that noble despite his own delusions.) Maybe I’m giving GRRM more credit than I should, but wasn’t at least part of the point of this plotline to show the futility and mindlessness of this war when the White Walkers were on their way? There was no purpose to this straying from the book. It’s bad storytelling, once again, that detracts from both story and character arcs. Condensing the whole Motte Cailin/Theon/Bolton storylines was a good idea. If you’re going to go as far as putting Sansa in Jayne’s role and squeezing the storyline into a new shape, why not have Theon save Sansa before her wedding? Why take from her what I consider a huge chunk of her character?

There is lots of rape in GoT, both in the books and in the series. It’s as common and used as Littlefinger’s smirk, the stink in Flea Bottom and Tyrion’s love of wine. That makes those places Martin spared the women of Westeros stand out, and in standing out, makes a point. Good storytelling is what it is.

David Benioff–you wrote one of my favorite books of all time (City of Thieves) but even I can’t forgive you for this.


Filed under Women's Issues

Taking a Stand

Twice last week, friends alerted me to the Jodi Picoult article on Jezebel in which the fabulous lady lamented:

…Despite this success – 23 novels in 22 years, eight of which have been number one on the New York Times bestseller list – she struggles to be taken seriously. “I write women’s fiction,” she says, an ‘apparently’ hanging in the air. “And women’s fiction doesn’t mean that’s your audience. Unfortunately, it means you have lady parts.

Women’s fiction. What the fuck does that even mean? No, really. Does it mean literature for women? By women? Why does it need the “women’s” part added on, like a nurse who happens to be a man is always a “male nurse” and not just a nurse? Marketing, schmarketing. It perpetuates the notion that it’s something lesser. Ms. Picoult’s, The Storyteller is certaintly not “women’s fiction” any more than Lief Enger’s, Peace Like a River is YA or Nelson DeMille’s, Gold Coast is “men’s literature.” Oh, right–books written by men don’t get a designation. Men can write books about men, about women, about children with points-of-view from any or all and it’s just literature. A woman writes a book with a female protag and it’s automatically women’s fiction (or the dreaded “chick lit.”) If she writes a male point of view character, she generally writes under her initials, like the amazingly talented and recently lamented PD James. THEN it can be literature without the “women’s” tagged on.

I know there are exceptions, and I look forward to having them listed in comments. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand comes to mind, and yet when I began listing authors like Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver, I had to wonder if most of their titles would not be given the “women’s fiction” lable. But you know what–this is and is not the point of this post. What is my point?

heart2 <– That’s my point. I will admit, when I first latched on to the notion, it was funny to me on many levels. It still is. The more I embrace it, the more it is coming to mean to me. Why does the “women’s fiction or “chick lit” appellation bother amazing writers like Jodi Picoult? You know what I say to that?

Bring it on.

In my original post concerning this little button I had made, I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt–no one can make you feel inferior if you don’t let them. We are letting them, ladies. We are letting labels get under our skin and define what we do, and how we feel about it. You want to call my work “women’s fiction”? I’ll take that. I’ll own it. It’s an honor I am not going to feel lesser for and no one can make me. We have to stop buying into this. The labels stick and the connotation stands because we don’t embrace it as women, as female authors.

I do not advocate the “if you can’t beat them, join them,” mentality–ever; I do believe that if we allow the label “women’s fiction” to rankle, it’s always going to be seen as a lesser form of literature. Sometimes, to make a point, you have to go beyond debating rationally and do it up big–which is where “I write cliterature” comes in.

I have always felt that the best way to get a point across is with humor. People remember funny. It makes them think. “I write cliterature” is funny, but when shouted instead of giggled behind a hand, it says so much more.


Filed under Romance, Women's Issues

Own It

Way back in 2002, I went on my first-ever writers’ retreat. It was a posh thing on Bald Head Island, women only, thirty or older. Private chef. Full body massage. Golf carts! The experience changed my life, and brought me lifelong friends I cherish beyond words. I was the “star” of the week, bolstered and praised and made to feel like my day in the literary sun was right around the corner! It also happened to be the worst thing that happened to me as a fantasy writer.

Fantasy is a much-maligned genre. It rarely gets the respect it deserves. I cannot tell you how many people have said to me, “I just don’t get fantasy.” Truly, you can insert just about any genre fiction (especially those majorly populated by female writers) in there and the same could be said. I’m not going to go into that rant. For the purposes of this post, let’s just leave it at that.

After my Bald Head trip, I thought I was supposed to be writing women’s fiction. I struggled to accomodate, but my heart just wasn’t in it back then. Two more retreats on Bald Head turned into my yearly-week-of-writerly-bliss in Virginia Beach, with women met through that earlier experience. While down there, years later, one of the women said to me, “Why do you keep trying to write women’s fiction when it’s not in your heart. Give yourself permission to write fantasy.”

Wow, so simple! I did, and the next thing I knew, I was applying to a weeklong scifi/fan writers’s workshop. I got in. Again, my life was changed. Not only writers, but writers in MY genre! I’d found a tribe. And I’ve kept that tribe. Through the people I met there, I ended up with Hadley Rille Books.

Three novels with Hadley Rille Books later, I found myself in need of a change. There was a story itching under my skin, and my brain needed a step out of the world I was in. I remembered about giving myself permission, and I did. I gave myself permission to write romance.

Yes, romance. I used to cringe away from the moniker, but you know what? I’m not going to. As maligned as fantasy is, so too is romance. There is good romance, and there is bad romance. There is good and bad mystery/scifi/mainstream/anything! When my darling-man of an endocrinologist expressed an interest in my writing, I proudly told him I write both fantasy and romance. His wife is a romance-novel fiend.

“You know what she calls romance novels?” he asked. I waited. “Cliterature.”

Personally, I found that hilarious. I’ve heard from others that it’s a slur they do not appreciate, another way to marginalize a female-centric genre. You know what I say? Own it.

Eleanor Roosevelt, that paragon of amazing womanhood, once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Brilliant woman. Spot-freaking-on, then and now and forever more. Maybe cliterature was coined to marginalize. Maybe it was a clever rif. I’m not just owning it, I’m embracing it. I write romance, just like I write fantasy. No cringing. And if I can have a little fun with it, thumb my nose at those who look down on romance as the lowest rung on the literary ladder, even better. That’s why I had these buttons made…


I will be handing these out at the RWA convention in NYC next summer, to those brave and cheeky enough to wear them.


Filed under Women's Issues