Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hair: the Redux - A Re-do

So I did it. I chopped my spiral locks. I've shorn myself of my womanly pride and joy, and hot damn, does it feel good! Chic, sleek, stylish, hot, young, daring - a girl could get used to this constant stream of compliments. The hubby loves it, and strange men have once again started asking for my number (which the hubby does not love). The public has spoken: I rock the short hair.

Which leads me to reexamine the few complaints I get from a minority of middle-aged people who may be related to me that short hair is "manly" and "unfeminine". I realize such views may just be the result of an antiquated take on gender, but what the fuck is up with women who think their hair hair is somehow tied to their femininity?

I understand women who rock the long locks. I know a few who have ass-length hair that is so thick and shiny and pretty it's been known to distract passing motorists. But if the only reason you're still dragging a summer of love length 'do around behind you is because of stupid, gender-based insecurities, then maybe you need to get to a shrink before your next appointment with your hairdresser.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Abuse of Fiction

Me blogging during the holiday season is like pouring cold molasses - a hell of a wait, with dark and bitter results. Oh, how I hate this season.

But, in an effort to be light, please allow me to resurrect a recent occurrence you've probably already forgotten; Michael Crichton's hideous abuse of fiction. In case you've been under the rock next door to mine for the past month, Crichton created a character in his recent novel, Next, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of insulting the previously unfamous Michael Crowley, a reporter who wrote a nasty article about Crichton's reactionary take on global warming in the New Republic.

Most people might descend into sputtering fits of rage upon learning that their name had been linked with that of a fictional toddler-rapist in a nationally best-selling novel, but Crowley reacted to the insult with an endearing blend of wit, humor, and media carpet-bombing that has made Crichton appear both petty and unimaginative.

I had recently written a critical 3,700-word cover story about Crichton. In lieu of a letter to the editor, Crichton had fictionalized me as a child rapist. And, perhaps worse, falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer.
I had a good laugh at Crichton's expense before asking myself - is it ever ok to pillory a real person by means of a fictional character? After much thought (1.5 whole seconds) I say no.

It's not that I haven't got a mean streak, but why would I sully the fiction that I work so hard to craft with my petty grievances when Google bombing is faster and easier?


Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Flowing tresses, silken locks - what is it with long-haired heroines in Romance novels? Maili's post on cutting her hair got me thinking about women and hair and standards of attractiveness. I'd like to think we are past the days when a woman's hair was regarded as her crowning glory, but in Romances long hair = teh sexy.

I've only had hair past my shoulders a couple if times, but both instances, I noticed that I tended to shed a lot. It was all over the bathroom counter, in the drain, and it tended to get, um, caught, or pulled or leaned on in intimate situations. Ow. So why the thing with long hair?

Is it all those video vixens shaking their asses and hair around? Or the girls gone wild whose flailing straw like manes, stringy with beersweat and Fructis often hide their faces even as they surrender their dignity? Yes, long hair is a sign of youth, but lately it's started to seem a little trashy, too.

Harlequin Presents aside, most romance readers outgrew stories about timid chignon-sporting secretaries falling in lurve with domineering rich jackasses decades their seniors back in the early - okay, late - eighties. Can't we give up on the flowing silken tresses, gilded locks and other hair hyperbole?


Thursday, November 9, 2006

I Voted...

...which gives me the right to complain. So don't say I didn't warn you.

I don't have any complaints just yet. I'm pleased as punch that Rummy's gone, and I'm practically silly with schadenfreude that W will have to start actually reading the bills that come to his desk before he signs them, but I know the next two years won't be all Reforms and Roses.

We are talking about politicians, here. It's only a matter of time.


Sunday, November 5, 2006

This IS a Review

Firefox 2.0 rocks my world, and it can rock yours, too. It's got all the old features I adore - pop-up blocker, tabbed browsing, and none of the virus-loving vulnerabilities that those punk-asses at Microsoft built into IE. Firefox 2.0 also has great new features like tab scrolling, and my all-time favorite: text entry spell check!


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

BAD Writer! Using Race as Description.

Kimber had a great post on her blog a while back about use of brand names and well-known products in novels. I kind of went on a tear in the comments because I think using brand names instead of descriptions is a sign of Lazy Writing. Makes me mad every time.

Yesterday, I encountered another sign of Lazy Writing makes me even angrier: Race as Description. The book, which shall remain nameless*, featured the following gems:

1) "A few seconds later, the door opened to show him a tall Hispanic male." (p. 59)
2) "At six feet even in height, Andre was a handsome African-American man who..." (p. 68)
3) "'It's our differences that make up our strength.'...To emphasize his words, he pointed the top of his beer to indicate an African-American couple on their right. Three seats over from them was an Asian family." (p. 86)

Maybe you're wondering why I am so pissed off. After all, it looks like the author went out of her way to highlight the diversity of her characters. But, listen, race is not a visual description. "African-American" describes a rainbow of skin-tones, hair colors, body-types and features. My dad has a dark-chocolate complexion, my aunt (his sister) has red hair, honey-colored skin and freckles - both are "African-American".

Likewise, "Hispanic" doesn't say squat, except that the person in question speaks Spanish. Are they Americans of Spanish origin? Maybe Mexican? Peruvian? Cuban? Ecuadorian? Argentinian? Dominican? NewYorican? "Hispanics" can be anything from blond-haired, pale-skinned, blue-eyed European types, to dark-haired, brown-skinned people of Native American origin, to dark-complected people who routinely get mistaken for "African-American" here in the States. And don't even get me started on the Asian-Argentineans & Asian-Peruvians I've met - "Hispanic" encompasses all Spanish-speaking people, so they count, too.

And while we're on the subject of the word "Hispanic" - why would a writer use the same careless, a-cultural catch-all that Richard Fucking Nixon used to lump all Spanish-speaking peoples as a visual description? The only reason I can think of is that the author thinks that Hispanic is a race, and that race is a description. (That description of Carlos occurred before the character uttered a single line.)

Except, she never describes the white people as European-American or white. Here's a description of a person whom I will assume is white (despite, or rather, because of, the lack of any racial signifier): "A petite receptionist was dwarfed by a large brown workstation...She had her blond hair pulled up into a tight bun and was dressed in a thin light blue sweater set and a pair of khaki pants." (p. 46)

I don't get it. There's an African-American character, a "Hispanic", even a Vietnamese-American character, and yet this blond chickie doesn't at least get a shout-out to her "Polish-American" features or "Nordic-American" ancestry. Instead, the author lets the character's name, "Kristin Delinsky," say "Nordic-Polish" for her. So why the hell do we need to be told that some guy named "Carlos" who sprinkles his dialog with Spanish words is Hispanic? Or that "Andre Moore", who makes Gone with the Wind slave jokes (slave jokes! p. 123) when the heroine tells him to do something is black?

Perhaps the author is one of those people who thinks that only non-white people have a race? When she writes "man" or "woman" she means "white man" or "white woman" - everyone else gets a racial modifier. Quote #3, above, describes a crowded theater. Only the nonwhite members of the crowd get listed by race. There is no mention of a "European-American" family enjoying themselves.

I hate that shit, mainly because it paints the author as the sort of person whose default image of a person is a white person. I'm not calling the author a racist or implying that all her linens have eye-holes cut in them. I'm sure she means well - it's pretty obvious she's trying to be all diverse and multicultural and shit. The thing that makes me angry is that instead of looking around her to see that people of other races come in all shapes, sizes and shades, and that the standard Census categories for race are woefully inadequate as description of that spectrum, she took a lazy shortcut that ended up insulting at least one of her readers.

Writers ought to be able to observe or fabricate individuating details and convey those details in their descriptions. But if all this author sees is race when she looks at or imagines a person, I'd rather she didn't do us multicultural types any favors.

I once dropped an acquaintance for referring to me as her "biracial friend" in a conversation that had nothing to do with race. If that's all I was to her, if that was all she saw, I'd just as soon not be a part of her world. Race is no substitute for visual description. Name-checking the races of friends or characters does not make a person - or an author - appear multicultural or color blind. Instead, it does just the opposite.

* for copyright's sake, the book was "BAD Attitude" by Sherrilyn Kenyon


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bettie Sharpe: Uninational Woman of Mystery

Apparently, I am a Mystery Woman.

Which Ultimate Beautiful Woman are You?

You are the mystery woman
Take this quiz!

One caveat: Mystery Woman, or no, I would never wear that sort of body jewelry - or would I?


Monday, October 16, 2006

The End by Lemony Snicket

This isn't a review. Really. I haven't even read the book yet. This is just a warning. You may not see me for a week or so. I'll be savoring the thirteenth and final installment of "A Series of Unfortunate Events". I'll be reading it slowly, like a kid with a lollipop - loving it but trying like hell to resist the urge to devour the thing in one great big bite. And no matter when I finish, it will be too soon, because this is the last book in the series - a fact that both elates and depresses me.

And to anyone who has ever wondered why I hate series books, please reread the pathetic paragraph above. Then recall that I have spent years buying these books, and now have thirteen of the damned things sitting on my shelf making me coo in admiration at the beauty of a completed collection, even as I silently lambaste myself for being such a sucker.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a book to read.


Sunday, October 8, 2006

This is Not a Review, Either

What did I do this weekend? Aside from too much time spent on the more dilatory sections of Southern California's highway system, I read a little. Okay, a lot. Time to get some blogging mileage out of that reading by not reviewing that book. As with other entries, which were also not reviews, descriptions are half-assed and ratings are assigned wholly by whim.

Magic Study, by Maria V. Snyder
Synopsis:Part two of what I hope will be a three-book, and not a five-book, series finds our intrepid heroine, Yelena (see, this time, I remembered her name) once again making a few friends and many enemies while reuniting with her long-lost family and discovering still more hidden strengths and magical talents. Oh, and fighting a serial killer (-2 smileys for an unoriginal villain), and the pissed-off sister of the villain from the last book(-5 smileys for not-so-twisty plot twists that I have to spoiler tag), and a lost prince, and a(nother) sadistic soldier who wants payback because Yelena kicked his ass (-10 smileys for using a character almost identical to the B-plot antagonist of the first book).

From start to finish, this book was more of the same. Which barely slowed me down, as I devoured the thing cover-to-cover in one sitting. Like Poison Study, this book was a fun, fast read that left me wanting more. (+4.75 smileys for nicotine-like addictiveness, -1 smiley for sequel bait). When the first serving is good, why pass up seconds?

Rating: Ѱ+ (The Cyrillic alphabet is so underutilized in modern grading systems, don't you think?)

Kate R. was kind enough to give my previous Not a Review a shout out in her blog, so I thought I'd write one for one of her alter-ego, Summer Devon's books that I read a while back. In keeping with the theme of the book, all ratings and asides are invisible.

Invisible Touch, by Summer Devon
Synopsis: This is a story about an attractive woman who is cursed to be invisible to any man whom she finds attractive. Instead of incessantly whining and weeping about it, Bonnie, the heroine, does everything I'd do in the same situation, short of larceny (+1776 points for taking advantage of invisibility, -1066 points for lack of larceny). Bonnie thinks Jared is hot, so, of course, he can't see her. But does Bonnie let this get her down for long? Oh, no. Comedy and invisible hotness ensue (+1967 points for invisible nookie). Also, Devon doesn't just bring the funny (+1989 points for the funny), she delivers it steaming hot to your door in thirty minutes, or your funny is free. The scene where Bonnie used her relative invisibility to mess with the villain had me laughing out loud.

Invisible Touch was short, sweet, and tons of fun. Rating: 8 thumbs up (A fact known only by my music instructors and the owner of that Hallmark shop: I really am all thumbs).


Friday, October 6, 2006

This is Not A Review

Okay, let's get the preliminaries out of the way: I love to write. I love to read. I hate to write about reading. Still, I ought to get some sort of blogging mileage out of my book habit. So here are a few thoughts on books I've read lately. Descriptions are half-assed, ratings are assigned by whim.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
Synopsis: A prisoner condemned to death gets a new lease on life as the food taster for a well-meaning military dictator. The setting is the best thing about the book. Picture your standard pre-industrial fantasy setting - the one with lords, ladies, and downtrodden peasants, but not elves & orcs. Then imagine it got taken over by fascists - the downtrodden peasants all get bread & uniforms, and if there were trains, they would run on time. (+5 Points for originality). It is against this improbable backdrop that the heroine (I forget her name) learns secrets, uncovers plots and discovers her own hidden strengths and talents...yadda yadda...finds love...yadda yadda... sequel bait (-5 points for sequel bait).

A fast, fun read. I've already got the sequel (-5 points for being a sequel) ready to go after I finish the Western I'm reading. Rating: 3.14159265 Stars

With the recent rabid fangirl drama going on at J.R. Ward's boards, I decided to post Not-a-Reviews for the books of hers that I've read.

Dark Lover by J.R. Ward
Synopsis: Clueless, beautiful, violet-eyed half-vampire chick in upstate New York has some instant attraction with gigantic glowy-eyed, leather-wearing blind vampire king. Campiness (+1 star), hoyay (+3 stars) , label-whore descriptions (-2 stars) and unabashed sequel-bait (-12 stars) ensue.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved to go to Camp! Silly, campy, quite entertaining. Rating: 82%

Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward
Synopsis: Clueless, dying Mary Sue Luce in upstate New York has some instant attraction with gigantic glowy-eyed, leather-wearing vampire warrior. Campiness (+2 stars), hoyay (+45 stars) , label-whore descriptions (-8 stars) and unabashed sequel-bait (-3,562 stars) ensue.

Every summer at Camp is always the same. You keep going until you outgrow it. While I will always have a warm glow in my heart when I see some kid wearing a friendship bracelet, I don't remember why I ever wasted so much time on the damn things.

Rating: 867-5309


Thursday, October 5, 2006

Imagined Histories: A Grand Hoax

I am simply dying to read An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin. Those who know me personally will find nothing unusual about this. I love unusual subjects. The history of the Spanish-American cochineal trade? I'm dye-ing to read it! The history of corn? I'm all ears! Class and gender hierarchy as seen in Victorian-era American furniture? I'm positively beside myshelf with anticipation. And don't even get me started on 20th Century crime scene photography...

A history of an obscure yet morbid trend in popular music sounds right up my nonfiction alley. Except, it's not - nonfiction, that is. Despite it's title, An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin is no history at all, but rather a flight of fancy, an imagined history of people, events and music that never really existed.

It is, in short, a hoax. Which is why I'm desperate to read it. There's something fascinating about historical hoaxes. From the Masons to the Mormons, historical hoaxes usually purport to reveal the mysteries of the past on a grand scale. An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin seems so minor, so low key, I doubt anyone other than historians of 19th century popular violin music (all two of them) would care whether it was true or not. I wonder what motivated the author to write it.

I have always wanted to write fiction, to entertain people with improbable yarns spun out of my woolgathering and daydreams. But someone who writes a fictive history and then tries to pass it off as fact must want more. He doesn't just want the goodwill of his audience, he wants their belief. And that is a much more intimate, and dangerous thing.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Worldbuilding - It's not Just for Sci-Fi

Romanceland is a strange sort of place, airy and ephemeral. Setting often does not seem to have the same sense of importance as it does in other genres. Most historicals are set in a vague and misty "past" - usually European and usually peopled by lords and ladies who travel about in coaches or on horseback. Contemporaries often take place in recognisable modern cities - where would chick-lit be without NYC? Where would paranormals be without New Orleans? - but rare is the heroine who lives in Levittown, Baton Rouge or any of our fair nation's less picturesque urban centers. Redlands, California, anyone? How about Henderson, Nevada? They're both really quite charming.

I often wonder if the ubiquity of certain settings - New York for chick-lit; quaint, generic small towns for the inspirationals; England for historicals - occurs because it is easier for the author to focus on the story when she uses settings that are already familiar to most of her readers. A Regency set in London, for example, often seems to require only a few cursory mentions of Almack's, Hyde Park, and Bond Street to sketch in the backdrop. Set a similar story in Edinburgh, and the writer has a lot more work on her hands.

Musing on the subject of setting, I began to wonder if an author who chooses an unusual historical or contemporary setting has to do as much, or almost as much world-building as SF/F writers who create their worlds from imagination. Both writers must familiarize the reader with the lay of the land, the local customs, and whatever bits of local history are pertinent to the story. Both writers must make the setting intriguing enough to draw the reader in, and believable enough to keep them from hurling the book against the wall in disgust (ask me, some time, why I so rarely read novels that are set in L.A., and I will point out the dent in my living room wall).

Added to the responsibility of rendering unfamiliar settings intriguing instead of intimidating, is the research authors must do when they use a real locale, instead of one they invented for the story. I started this post intending to explore the importance of world building in Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the the unsung world builders of historical and contemporary novels who make real places live and breathe as part of their stories.


Sunday, September 17, 2006


I spend a lot of time talking about what I don't like in a Romance novel. I make fun of dumb heroines, overly macho heroes, and every other aspect of the genre - but only out of love. The sad truth of the matter is that I, like so many other Romance readers, aspire to become a published author.

Despite all my complaining, it remains to be seen whether I can avoid the pitfalls I rail against in published novels. And who am I to point fingers, anyway? It's not as though people actually pay to read my writing. In the spirit of fairness, I submit an excerpt from one of my current WIPs.

Title: Split
Genre: Paranormal/Sci-Fi/Pop-Culture Pastiche Erotic Romance
Length: 65,000
Condition: Unfinished

Mara Keane was arrested for murder, but that’s nothing new. She’s a woman with a past, and the crooked cops in Dark River City won’t ever let her forget it. What is new is the shadow that tracks her path as she leaves the police station, a vigilante assassin called the Left Hand of Death who’s come to town to take out the city’s biggest crime boss.

Jack Sinistral may not know Dark River, but he has Mara’s number. Danger and desire go hand in hand for the smart-mouthed professional knife-thrower, and Sinistral is the sort of man who can mete out pain and pleasure in deliciously equal measures. But he has competition.

Though Sinistral has staked his claim on her body, Mara’s heart belongs to hunky Dr. Jake Wright. Jake is everything she ever wanted in a man, and if Mara could resist the dark temptation of Sinistral’s touch she would happily spend the rest of her life in Jake’s strong embrace.

But Dark River isn’t like anyplace else. Here, passions run as deep and deadly as the river that divides the city. Here, nothing is simple, everyone has secrets, and no one is what they seem – including the good doctor Wright. Soon the cops are closing in on Sinistral, the crime boss wants Mara’s head on a plate, and Jake begins to suspect that he’s something less than sane. In order to survive, the killer must meet his conscience, the doctor must face his dark side, and Mara must discover whether love is enough to unite two sundered souls in a city where everything else is split.
Link removed due to technical difficulties.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hi. It's Tuesday.

Blogger ate my blog for a day, but apparently Sharpe Words didn't agree with Blogger, because Blogger spat it back out.

From now on, I am going to back up my posts and template...starting tomorrow.


Saturday, September 9, 2006

See You Next Tuesday

Oh no, I did it. I slipped up and used the "c" word in print. Specifically, I referred to fictional character Meredith Grey of Grey's Anatomy as "a sandy little cunt" in my comments on Monica Jackson's scattered, but thought-provoking Romancing the Blog post.

The instant I hit "submit comment" I thought, "Oh shit, that phrase could be fucking offensive."

But then I wondered why I was worried. I don't find the word offensive when used by women. Especially as in my preferred mode of use - "sandy little cunt". The people, places and things who receive that designation from me are about as pleasant as having sand in one's tender parts. "Cunt" is not the bad part of the phrase. Nope, just like in life, the bad part is the sand.

Unfortunately, "cunt" is most often used as a derogatory, objectivizing insult toward women, just as "pussy" is often used as a derogatory, feminizing insult toward men. Isn't it strange how men all over the world can spend the better part of their lives chasing, thinking about and dreaming about something, and then turn around and reduce the home-run of their sexual aspirations to a demeaning insult?

I'm for taking the words back - or over.

Step 1: Positive Associations.
We women should make sure that any man who wants pussy should respect pussy. And that means a man can't call his one of his boys a pussy for missing a basket, or call the woman who cut him off on the freeway a cunt. There's this old play called Lysistrata. Read it. Learn it. Do it - or, er, don't do it.

Step 2: Set a Good Example
Erotic authors often use "pussy", and occasionally use "cunt". Truth be told, I much prefer those words to purple phrases like "her quivering love chunnel". Good, old-fashioned words like "vagina" also work just fine as far as I'm concerned (YMMV).

Step 3: Stop Avoiding It
Stop using similar-sounding words, or dancing around the subject. Just say what you mean, and don't be ashamed.

Well, that's it 4 me. C U Next Tuesday!


Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Serial Killers:

You know what I like about foreign TV shows? They end.

Instead of hanging around like talkative drunks at the end of a party, foreign shows go out on a good note. They last a season or three, and they leave you wanting more.

American shows go to crap. They don't just hang out on your couch after the booze is all gone and the lights are turned out, they take up residence there, annoying the shit out of you until you're ready to call them a cab and charge it to your own card just to get them the hell out of your house. Think Buffy, think Alias, think The West Wing, think ER, for god's sake! (ER without George Clooney is just like the sorry losers who hang out after you've turned the music off, nursing a lite beer and never even offering to help clean up.)

"But Bettie," you say, "what the shit-all does this have to do with novels?" Stick with me chickadees, this is what they call, the build-up.

Ah-hem: Series books are a lot like those malingering TV shows. While they don't always suffer from reuse of the same old characters - or, worse yet, twee new characters - the way TV can, they do suffer from too much of the same thing.

Some authors love a family or set of characters so much they are loath to leave them. Some authors just like to make full use of all their fingers and toes. And some just plain don't know when to quit. But everyone should remember: the law of diminishing returns has to kick in some time.

"But Bettie," you say, "you're an aspiring writer. Haven't you got a series or two knocking around in your noggin?"

Maybe I do. Stop looking at me like that! How the hell do you think I started musing on this subject in the first place? Here's the question keeping me up (and away from my writing) tonight:

How does one write a series without it getting old?
So far, I've come up with a few ideas. Feel free to add your own.
  1. Write loosely connected stories set in the same place.
  2. Limit books in your series to 3 (Hey, it worked for this guy)
  3. Change your name to J.D. Robb
Ok. That's it, I'm tapped out. G'night, folks.


Sunday, September 3, 2006

Do it for your country!

Apparently, Chick Lit is Hurting America. D'oh! And here I was, acting like the dumb popular fiction reader I am, blaming W, Iraq, the National Debt and Haliburton for our current sorry state of affairs.

But, no. According to a former editor who hasn't even got the guts to sign her name to her ill-considered screed, Chick Lit is hurting America by squeezing literary fiction - real fiction - out of the marketplace. Ron at Galleycat has already poked some lovely holes in the ripe Swiss cheese of this writer's arguments, which leaves me free to engage in a bit of a rant.

Ah-hem: Chick Lit is hurting America?!? Goodness, gracious! How could I have missed the signs? My simple-minded, anti-intellectual reading habits must have blinded me to this stealthy assassin of rigorous, rational thought that has slithered like a serpent into our midst, poisoning the hearts and minds of innocent American women against the virtue and necessity of reading fiction that imparts BIG, IMPORTANT lessons about life. If only I had spent my hard-earned money and leisure time on Improving Literature instead of the sort of titles that make anyone who reads them in public " look like a dateless loser" I would posses the keen powers of social analysis necessary to blame the present decline of literary fiction on dumb women who don't know any better than to buy and read what they like.

Ms. Anonymous made her living off the publishing industry, and now she's ranting because people won't buy what she wants them to buy. Do I smell an unpublished literary novel? No, that's mean of me. It's probably just something I stepped in while walking across my lawn.

Unlike romance or sci-fi, chick lit is a genre that is in direct competition with literature because of its price point and packaging...chick lit premiered in hardcover and then moved to trade paperback. And though they're all about boys, there are seldom any boys on the cover. Brilliant! The genre succeeded exactly because it looked more literary than its embarrassing romance counterpart. You could take Bridget Jones's Diary on the T and not look like a dateless loser.
Yup. That has to be it. Blame it on the covers. Because it's not like people buy books for the content. It's not like books come with little blurbs that describe the plot. Oh, no. It is all about pricing and covers.

Ms. Anonymous seems to think that we poor dumb women get so confused by the pretty, non-lurid covers of chick lit that we buy a copy of Jemima J when we really meant to plunk down our money for The Corrections. Lady, anyone that dumb is probably still working her way through Goodnight Moon. Didja ever stop to think that maybe people just buy what they like?
...what's dangerous about chick lit is that it fills trade slots at publishing companies that used to be given to literary fiction...
I'll take that as a "no". So, let me get this straight: publishers should publish more books that sell less, and fewer books that sell more? Out of the kindness of their hard little capitalist hearts? Because it's good for the country?

The mind boggles.

If anything, Anonymous's less-than-well-thought-out rant is just another example of a culture that demonizes anything people do purely for pleasure. Ms. Anonymous seems to think genre fiction should have covers that will distinguish such books from "real" fiction - lurid covers, perhaps, with poorly-drawn aliens, or "bare-chested hunk monkey" covers that immediately mark their readers as "dateless losers". Anonymous wants those of us who don't spend all our money on literary fiction to be punished - branded, even - for reading what we like. (What say we ditch the hunk monkey covers and skip straight to sewing scarlet letters on our sweaters, eh?)

This is not WW II. Literary Fiction is not War Bonds, scrap metal, or ration stamps. If my money goes to Jennifer Weiner instead of Elizabeth Merrick, that does not make me Anti-American or anti-intellectual. Anomyous's disingenuous, "rah-rah America" argument against chick lit is as characteristic of "the Bush-styled propaganda" she comdemns as anything I've heard on Fox News.

Are my reading habits hurting America? Hell, no! The great thing about this country is that, taxes aside, no one can tell me what to do with my time or with my money. Funny how critics always seem to forget that particular nugget of Americana when they're pointing the finger of doom at popular culture.


Friday, September 1, 2006

"We named the dog Indiana..."

In the comments (Yay! Comments!) for my post on he-man heroes, Kimber said,

There ought to be a moratorium on heroes named (or nicknamed) Devil, Demon, Damien, Lucien, Lucifer, Luc, Lion, Lyon, Hawk, Raven, Rayne, or Wulf. These used to be what the hero's HORSE was called.

I heartily second that motion! And while I have the podium, I'd also like to call for a moratorium on creative spellings - especially gratuitous use of the letter "Y". (I'm looking at you, Rayven.)

Some authors seem to think it makes their characters "different", "edgy" or "wild". They think it makes their characters stand out from the crowd.

Yeah, that's what my friend Ginniphyr's mother told her.

If you want a name that's "different", why not pick a name that actually is different. From the Social Security list of popular baby names to Kate Monk's Onomastikon there are hundreds of sites on the web offering all sorts of names from around the world.

And as for all those "dark, dangerous, edgy" hero names like Demon, Hawk, Raven & Wulf, well, I always imagine that, like the great Indiana Jones, they merely lifted their monikers from the deceased family pet.


Monday, August 28, 2006

The Bitter End

Oh, it's so very frustrating! I've dreamed of writing romance novels since I was too young to even read romance novels. I love to write. I write all the time. So why the hell can't I just finish something?

I'm within ten thousand words of the end of my novel. I'm one of those obsessive polish-as-you-go writers – the kind the NaNoWriMo people warn you about – so the manuscript will need minimal revisions once finished. I already know how it's supposed to end. I can knock out 10K quality words in a weekend – maybe two if I'm feeling nit-picky.

Why the hell can't I just finish?

I think I'm bored. I already know what's going to happen. I've already worked all of the kinks out of the story so far. It should be smooth sailing from here on out. If only I weren't the kind of girl who likes stormy seas.

I like the problems, the difficulties, the pressure, and the continuity issues. I like fixing grammar, straightening out plot holes, and waking up in the middle of the night with a perfect ending for that scene I've been mulling over burning bright and steady as a torch in my imagination.

But I'm past that stage. Now I just need to hit the marks, write the final scenes, edit and send it off. And instead, I've written beginnings to three different stories. I've started mulling over the continuity issues of my manuscript that's only half-finished. I've gone back to old stories that I put aside and started working on their endings.

Fuck this procrastination! I mean to write. I don't care if I have to inch toward that ending two hundred and fifty words at a time, I'll make it. I have to. My inner child – that ornery, curly-haired brat with a love for all things lurid and forbidden – is counting on me!


Thursday, August 17, 2006

By the Powers of Numbskull: On He-Man heroes

Does it seem like Romance heroes are becoming ever more Alpha? Back in the day, when I was stealing my mother's old Harlequin Presents titles, the hero was usually "a doctor" or "a businessman". In historicals, the hero was usually Sir SuitablyEnglishSurname or Lord SuitablyEnglishName.

By the time I was old enough to check Romances out of the library, it seemed like the heroes in contemporaries were all millionaires and brain surgeons, and the heroes of historicals were all dukes and earls with "dark" sounding names.

Now, it seems like the heroes of contemporaries are all billionaire former Navy SEAL businessmen named "Connor" while the heroes of historicals are rakish aristocrat spies with titles like "Devlin, Duke of Darkdeeds" or "Laird Angus MacAngsty". And don't even get me started on the paranormals, where the heroes are billionaire-brain surgeon-CIA operatives tormented by their bad childhoods and the fact that they turn into a were (choose one) wolf/tiger/cod every full moon.

Is this plague of uber-alphas just authorial one-upsmanship, where each writer tries to create a hero who's richer, stronger, smarter, more emotionally tortured by his past, y más macho than the last? And if it is, shouldn't it stop before some hapless author crosses the line from enjoyably campy to just plain campy? Well, I guess it's too late for that.

I'm not saying I haven't savored a few books with tall dark and tormented heroes in my day, but there is such a thing as taking it too far. Some of these black-leather wearing, Harley-riding, long-haired, emotional cripples sound just like the guys I see milling around outside the local leather bar at 2 a.m. Whatever those hardbodied, leather-clad wanderers are looking for, I can guarantee it ain't a petite, feisty blonde heroine with aquamarine eyes. See what I mean about camp?


Thursday, August 3, 2006


When she's not comparing gays to child molesters, and insisting on a definition of Romance Fiction that reads like she pasted it together from torn up shreds of the senate's failed Defense of Marriage Amendment, Jan Butler seems like a pretty nice person.

She likes baseball, and Mary Higgens Clark. I can respect that. Well, I can respect baseball...except for the steroids.

I felt kind of sad that I was so mad at her. I get the feeling that if I met her in line at the supermarket, we'd probably have a lively conversation about Life&Style's latest ridiculous expose of superskinny celebs while we waited for the old lady in front of us to pay for twenty-three cans of Ensure with Susan B. Anthony dollars, Canadian nickels and expired air freshener coupons. We'd never discuss homosexuality, or religion, and I'd probably walk away thinking, "What a nice lady."

But this isn't the supermarket, this is the net. The only thing I know about her besides the Mary Higgens Clark/Baseball thing is that she believes in slippery slopes, and doesn't want to be in the same association as people who think gay is OK. And she's been stinking up the web accusing people who don't agree with her of "persecuting" her and infringing on her First Amendment Rights. Apparently, anyone who uses their First Amendment rights to disagree with the stupid things she has used her First amendment rights to say, is robbing her of said rights. Huh?

Her foam-flecked rant reminded me of this Pulitzer Prize winning photo. Sometimes people are so rabid to defend their own irrational opinions that they are willing to sully and shame the very ideals and institutions they claim to be protecting.

Some may argue that Butler was just shooting off her mouth, but on the web, those who click "Publish" in haste will not have the opportunity to repent at their leisure - as I'm sure Ms. Butler has since discovered.

I left a comment on her blog comments, but despite her ranting about freedom of speech, I doubt she'll print anything by folks from the "left side of the creek" like me. So I've reprinted here:

Ms. Butler,

You accuse your detractors of persecuting you, yet you feel free to lump homosexuals in with child molesters - to accuse them of criminal sexual deviancy when they have broken no laws and hurt no one.

Your detractors have not accused you of breaking the law. They have not lumped you in with extremist fundamentalist terrorists or other illegal groups who espouse conservative beliefs - though, were they to follow the lead you have set, such inferences would surely be fair.

What your detractors have done is call you stupid and bigoted. Both actions are well within their first amendment rights. Your continued insistence that, in airing their opinions, they have somehow robbed you of the right to express yours only proves their assertions that you are as ignorant of the law you claim to respect as you are intolerant of the freedom you claim to protect.

Our society will always need people who are willing to shout, "The Emperor has no clothes!" Unfortunately, Ms. Butler, the person standing bare-arsed in this crowd is you.

Please note how I remained calm, polite, and 99% obscenity-free. On occasion, I am capable of such feats.


Ladies First

Remember back in the day? Back when Romance novels featured nurses, doctors, and the lavender-shaded post-marital fade to black?

No, wait, not that far back.

I meant, back in the late eighties - think Fabio covers - when Romance Novels featured sex, but the heroine was always a virgin, and the couple always had simultaneous orgasms from nothin' but good, old-fashioned penis-in-vagina sex. What bullshit.

Has anyone ever had a simultaneous orgasm? I mean, really? And if you say you did, and it was spiritually beautiful, and it brought you closer together as a couple, just shut up now because we know you're lying.

What got me thinking about the subject was that I read a textbyte by one of those "Wait Until Marriage" types. She said that waiting until marriage makes couples more likely to have simultaneous orgasms.

I wondered if she'd ever had an orgasm, to even say such a thing. The Mister and I came at the same time once, and my exact thoughts were, "Whew, I got that one in just in time." Because if you're talking no-toys-allowed, P-I-V sex, once he comes, it's over for a while, you know? And some of us girls do like our seconds and thirds.

That's why I'm rather glad most men, and most romance novels, are catching up to the "She Comes First" way of thinking. Some women lament the death of chivalry, but not me. I can open doors for myself, and pick up the check, too. A man whos' a cunning linguist, a man who'll bow like a gentleman and say, "After you," is way better than some fifties-era throwback with a hymen hang-up and the mistaken idea that there is a "right" kind of orgasm.

And forget about me spending $7+ of my hard-earned dinero to read about some martyr woman/alpha jackass couple who gain spiritual insight about twue wuv through getting their rocks off at the same instant. Bull Shit.

But, if there is no "right" kind of orgasm, I guess that means I ought to lay off the Simultaneous Orgasm Booster Club. So, if you did, and it was spiritually beautiful, and it brought you closer together as a couple, I owe you an apology. More power to you...suckers.


Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Inspiration: What is This Thing?

Sometimes, I wonder why I want to write publish novels. Writing I will always do, because I like a good story and no other author ever tells quite the story I want to hear.

Sometimes, I wonder why I work and polish and rewrite 'til so late at night that I go into work yawning the next day. I don't tell anyone I write, so I can only shake my head when folks ask why I'm yawning.

"It's my neighbor's dogs," I say, while making a little shooty motion with my hand. It's mostly sincere. I really would like to do violence to those ill-mannered, unneutered rottweilers.

My Mister says I should just tell people I write. Um, No. I mean, does Spider Man or Wonder Woman ever tell people they save the world? It's not just that the fun of having a secret identity would be ruined. No. What keeps me mum is the fear of my own personal kryptonite - advice.

People are always so well meaning.

"Romance? Don't you want to write something that, well, that matters?"

"Science fiction? Does anybody read that? What you ought to do is write one of those legal thrillers like John Grisham."

"Do you know how slim your chances of ever getting published are? And you hope to make a living this way?"

Jeebus, Krishna, Moroni! Save me from this plague of idiots. Nobody ever told Superman that his chances of reversing time by making the globe spin backwards were slim to nil. And while a well-placed word might have saved us from the travesty that is Superman III, my point still stands. Telling someone they can't do something is not helpful, it's mean. It encourages them to stop before they have a chance to ever find out if they really could be a contender.

My book may not be something the well-meaning advice givers would ever want to read, but I'm not writing for them. Whenever I get depressed or discouraged, I fire up the old computer and listen to Act one of "What is this Thing" (This American Life episode 247). It reminds me that there are millions of readers out there who might want to read what I write.

And that, unlike so much of the well-meaning "advice" I've received over the years, is very encouraging.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Step 1: The Pseudonym

Almost every girl goes through a stage where she doodles names on her notebooks. Sometimes, she writes her name. Sometimes, she writes the name of a boy she likes. Sometimes, she writes her first name with his last name. She may or may not add the title "Mrs."

I want to be clear: I was never that girl.

I never dotted my "i"s with hearts, or even puffy circles. I never fantasized about wedding gowns. I never dreamt of being "Mrs. Myfirstname Cuteboylastname".

The names I doodled on my notebook were all pseudonyms. I never planned to be a Mrs, but I always planned to be a writer. I thought writers were the coolest people on the planet because, not only did they write books, they got to do so under any name they wanted to. They had secret identities without all the hassle and bother of having to fight crime.

Most girls my age idolized Janet Jackson or Sandra Day O'Connor, but my idols were Jackie Collins and Dame Barbara Cartland. I didn't want to be famous, revered, or even respected. I just wanted to see my penname in inch-high red letters, splashed across a leopard-print background.

I wanted an author's photo that featured me, my jewelry, my big hair, and my pampered lapdog somewhere on the grounds of my atrociously decorated mansion. I had it all planned in my imagination: the hair (disheveled brown curls, streaked with gold), the jewelry (emeralds and tanzanite set in platinum), the lapdogs (1 white toy poodle - dyed hot pink, 1 black toy poodle) and the mansion (like Hearst Castle, but bigger, and with an Egyptian motif). The only thing I never could quite figure out was the pseudonym.

I've been keeping a list of cool names both fictional & pseudonymous. Here's a sample:

  1. Cleopatra Jones
  2. Pauline Reage
  3. Dashiell Hammet
  4. Marilyn Monroe
  5. Mae West
  6. Mark Twain
  7. Al B. Sure
  8. Anita Loos
  9. Foxy Brown
  10. Iceberg Slim
With so many possibilities, it was tough to chose a pseudonym. I decided to opt for a name with meaningful initials that would encapsulate the spirit of my writing.

And so I am,

Yours Truly,

Bettie Sharpe