"WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ" THEY SAID - So I Do
--GLADIATORS HIJACK MY LIFE - How I Started Writing My Gladiatrix
--A YIN-YANG RABBIT HOLE - If you haven't read this sex, language & violence content warning with its (non)binary discussion of the Feminine & Masculine polarity, I suggest you do before reading this next series. If you skip it...well...you've been warned.
--THE INCONCEIVABLE - ASSumptions About the Gladiatrix
In the world of writing and storytelling, I am nobody. These memoirs are obviously not the tales of some star author with a household name that everybody wonders and theorizes about--whoa, where did that come from? What were the personal tales that inspired this famous book? What's their creative process? Oh, how they struggled and struggled and weathered their 283 rejection letters but sent in query number 284 and struck gold so if you just keep trying--never give up, never stop submitting, you'll make it someday, too!
Nope. These are just the memoirs of somebody who is nobody but makes it--"it" being the art--anyway.
Even in the world of dance, I'm very close to being nobody. Actually, it's more that I'm back to being nobody after a few years of getting to stick my nose up above the fence and peek at what it looks like to be a belly-dance Somebody.
But in writing, I had about three weeks when I was invited to hang out in the lobby of that high-rise where the gatekeepers interview nobodies they think might be capable of being molded into Somebodies. They even allowed me to drink all the free coffee I wanted, and there was that one day where Somebody shook my hand as he passed through the lobby on his way upstairs. "Yeah," he said, "send me that thing. It's sounds really cool."
So I did! He was super cool, and I sent him the thing through the proper channels.
Alas, three weeks later, I had all those seizures so I left a note explaining that I had to drag myself to the hospital for an emergency head transplant, but that I'd be back after my recovery. Alas, Somebody Else spilled the fancy creamer on my note and tore off the smeared part to cover their ass, so all that could be read was, "I am...an emergency head transplant. I won't be able to...get my head screwed back on." They also stuffed my note down the butt-crack of the lobby couch, and it was only found three years later.
Since it was obvious that my note had been half-destroyed, Somebody invited me back to the lobby for one more day, just to see if They had been right about me that first time. Unfortunately, I'd been drinking waaaaaay too much coffee since the last time I'd visited, so They got to read what I'm really like with my uncensored, dastardly mouth spewing all across my pages.
Thus did the security gorillas lumber up to escort me from the premises.
Since my head transplant hadn't given me back the ability to haul my carcass up the high-rise's 99 flights of stairs anyway, (even Somebodies have to walk--elevators are solely for the use of the CEOs and such), I did not resist being ejected.
A few years after that, I won a free cruise to that island where the Publishing Pirates mingle openly with the Royal Navy. Y'all know how I am about pirates and naval vessels--YARRR--so I was super-duper excited. There I learned all the tricks of the trade that allow the pirates to make off with obscene amounts of booty in ways that keep them safe from dangling in crow's nests or by the neck.
Alas, the evening fireworks retriggered seizureville so I had to catch a ride back to the mainland with a school of mermaids who reminded me that I don't actually possess legs. I only had them on loan from that time I hawked my voice in the hopes of being able to traverse all those stairs, so I went back to the pawn shop, gave back the legs with some very nice pants for interest, and reclaimed my siren song with a vengeance.
Very nice pants.
So...yeah. To this day, I remain a dancey, fighty, and definitely writey nobody.
Over the past year, I've come to the acceptance that I probably always will be. After my stint of signing autographs and getting flashbulbed in the eyes at dance cons, I've come to a place of preference for, rather than mere acceptance of this reality.
Fame called me, I'm like, "How you doin'?" Hung up on him, I ain't ready for it...
~ИF, NO NAME
There are many reasons for this preference, and seizures aren't even the main one. Because it's been this way long before Dain Bramage. In truth, it's been there all my life. Brain injury simply exacerbated it and made it more and more impossible to hide it behind a shiny mask with each new brain trauma. It mostly has to do with the fact that I half-exist on a different planet, and I keep refusing to hawk my voice for legs.
Oh, I've sure given it a valiant effort. Multiple times, actually. But it takes too much energy, and I have way better things to do than try to swim upstream any longer.
That was the warning in those nine months of death dreams I had for most of 2020. "You don't have as much time here as you think you do," they rumbled night after night, nap after nap, "so you better do something with all this artistic crap sitting in your computer and in your head. Hey, if you puke it out raw, unedited, and unpolished into the vacuum of space, maybe in 374 years somebody will stumble upon it and mold the concepts into Something. Or don't, and know that it will all die with you. Your choice."
So I've been puking across the page and my living room stage ever since. I've been filming-filming-filming dances and getting to the editing here and there, because anybody can edit the footage into...Something groovy enough. It's the dancing that only I can do before I die, and right now, I also still have a body that can (mostly) execute what's in my head. But that will not always be the case, so that's how I'm using the bulk of my time. Some year, if I'm too arthritic to perform these monkey-tricks, I can go on an editing binge.
It's similar with writing. I post stuff pretty regularly now, but the greater driving urge has been to make sure that I get out the stories that only I can tell, at least in a rough puke.
Doesn't mean I know what to do with all this stuff. It's just...what has called to me and refused to let me go no matter how inhospitable the environment and how horrible the reception. Nothing new there.
Mostly I get crickets now, which has been rather a relief compared to the old lambasting. It's allowed me to develop the habit of exposing myself so nekkidly in these writerly mediums that have taken some of the hardest hits with the fewest amount of counterbalancing people who love what I do. My determination to keep writing anywhere outside my computer has been a rickety one-woman shanty propped up by a handful of crucial friends.
But I can't not write, any more than I can refrain from dancing.
In 1990 when I first started researching and writing my monstrous, multi-book Gladiatrix story, I wasn't only trudging uphill against the onslaught of misogynistic perspectives and the androcentric historical inaccuracies/omissions we covered last time. (Uphill, both ways, ice storm, ice zombies...)
I was also battling a cultural propensity for tales that couldn't pass the Bechdel Test, to say nothing about moving beyond these bare minimums of female representation. (1)
Is it really that difficult? I mean, come on, if my Gladiators Book 1 passes the test by having more than two named female characters talking to each other about something other than a man?
This first book really is a bombardment of woman-in-a-man's-world. It follows a woman who has just been yoinked out of her barracks where she lived happily alongside her fellow gladiatrices. We meet her after she's been brought cross-country to the capital where she knows only her (male) trainer and her (male) father, is thrown into a competition run by and traditionally limited to males, for a position as a gladiatorial champion of the (male) Emperor. (Okay, the Emperor who is doing his darnedest to hang onto his Dick Card, but we don't know that in the beginning.) The majority of the book takes place over the week of this championship where she’s pretty much locked into the (male) barracks. Even all the slaves and administration staff there are male. She doesn't have the opportunity to make a new female friend until Book 2.
So if my first book can still pass this test, as well as a bunch of others, it can't be that hard. But apparently it was. (Still is?)
Heck, when my ex-literary agent was acting as go-between amongst me, my gladiators, and an editor I'd pitched to, she told me what he had said. "My list is too penis-heavy."
He'd been looking for a "good, strong female protagonist.” This was one of the biggest reasons he was super excited about my pitch. He was also excited about the Han & Leia-esque sexual tension between my female and male protagonists, and how the world would benefit from them joining forces after being rivals.
And oh, it does. Just not in the ways that have left me annoyed and unfulfilled over and over in too many books, movies, and TV shows. In fact, I had already written a book culmination that coincided precisely with the kind of ending he asked for. It just doesn't happen in Book 1 any more than Leia and Han get together in A New Hope.
When I attempted to smash these two books together and make that ending happen sooner, I wound up with an over-stuffed monstrosity. I gave it to my reader-friends. We threw the plot onto the floor with a gazillion color-coded note cards. My roommate and I splashed it across the Plotting Wall in garish canary yellow with black marker. We could not get this thing down to a manageable level to save my subluxating neck. (The word count they wanted me to shoot for was 85K. Bwahahahahahah! Good one.)
So I wrote up a one-page and a twelve-page synopsis of this mongo-plot, emailed those and the bloated manuscript to my agent, and asked if she would take a peek to provide some pointers as to what I could cut without gutting the thing beyond all recognition because it was way too long to re-submit.
A few days later, she wrote back, "No this is great. Let's send it to him right now."
A Big Five editor.
A 210,000 word colossus.
From a would-be first-time author.
Patrick Rothfuss I am not. (His award-winning debut breakout was around 250K.) (2)
My agent's irresponsibly swatted-off message alerted me to something I had long suspected: that she didn't actually give a crap about my writing. She'd just been blowing smoke up my ass and hoping to get a cut for no work beyond sending a (ridiculous) email. At that point, I wasn't sure if she'd ever fully read my manuscript. She certainly hadn't cracked open the rewrite long enough to even spy the word-count. Needless to say, I fired her.
I also split the darn thing back into its original two books, allowing my Han & Leia to have their slower spiral toward each other rather than a quick wham-bam. Those of you who have read this thing--can you imagine this duo completing their arc by the end of an 85,000 word Book 1?
Of course, you have to remember. I don't do Tinder. Heck, I don't even do OK Cupid. Tried it. GAK! Run awaaaaay! I'm demisexual, man, and I'm all about the deep end and the full-course meal with everything I do.
This blog is the perfect example. My average post length is ludicrous for the recommended standard, because I never wrote my memoir tales and their corresponding rabbit-hole topics with the intention of blogging them. It turned out better in the long run, because in this format I can just show you the dances and music that say it far better when words get in the way, or when I'm not quite ready to speak (write) about something. I can share with you the visual and audio artistic mediums that keep me motivated and inspired in the hopes that they'll do the same for you, or lead you to something that will.
But these stories were originally meant to be put into books where I could either chop up longer arcing chapter topics with easily bookmarked section breaks, or I could divide them into shorter, punchy chapters where all a reader had to do was turn the page to find out What Happens Next. They weren't intended to make you click away or wait until the next upload and hope you remember to come back.
Eh. Life happened the way it did. I write what I write, and I write how I write, so I've had to be true to that--to MY writing--and stop trying to cram it all into the quick-sell, quick-read mainstream box. Does that mean that, with every year that human attention spans become more wired for Twitter, TikTok, and Tinder, my potential audience pool diminishes if I don't create for them?
Yup. Oh well.
I'm not on Twitter, TikTok or Tinder because they're not my rhythms. Neither are short, punchy, article-driven blog posts.
Neither are small, simple novels. By the time I emailed my agent for advice, I was horribly belated for returning my revision due to all those seizures--which I was still having. They had returned with a vengeance the more I tried to wrangle two books down into one--especially into an 85,000 word beach-read.
I do NOT write 85,000 word beach-reads.
Don't buy 'em either.
I'm a Colleen McCullough, Diana Gabaldon, Patrick Rothfuss kind of reader (2-4)--when my brains are working enough to pleasure-read fiction. In fact, it was Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series that retrained my brain to be capable of enough reading comprehension to chew through her history-lessons-in-a-novel after my first TBI. It was a re-read of Patrick Rothfuss' ginormous, labyrinthine Kingkiller Chronicle that did the same for the second and more troublesome reading recovery--a decade-long process after being punched in the face and getting rear-ended again.
Unfortunately (fortunately?) for my scrambled brains, I like my worlds, my plot lines, and my characters complex when I read, otherwise I can't stay hooked long enough to spend my precious allotment of Spoons on it.
Go figure: monkey sees, monkey does.
They say write what you wanna read, so I do. Alas, my fiction does not fit into a handy genre any better than my dancing does.
Technically I write either high-heat Fantastical Romance that pulls no punches in its dramatic, violent, and action-packed settings, or I write Romantic Fantasy with violence closer to GoT than LotR, dysfunctional family palace intrigue like I Claudius or...you know, straight up Greek Mythology, the sexual content of a kinky erotica novel, and soul-searching you usually find on the Inspiration shelves. In other words, I write for disparate demographics that are traditionally repulsed or frustrated with the other half of what I've written.
Have you seen the message boards light up when people talk about Kingkiller? (2) Have you seen how much flack Patrick Rothfuss gets for having--gasp!--sex scenes in his fantasy novels? This is one of the gazillion reasons why this series is my all-time favorite, because he doesn't close the bedroom door and fade to black before the steamy good stuff.
And Patrick Rothfuss is a poet. He's conservatively tasteful in his sex scenes. He also does a lot of metaphorical painting with his violence.
Me? I'm Vashet. (The Hammer.)
Okay, sometimes I'm Vashet. Other times I paint.
But no matter my delivery, I'm always a female writer writing about a gladiatrix, and this is not Ademre, a matriarchy where women are considered to make the best warriors because they are less prone to reckless anger. (2)
Top that off with the fact that most of the main characters I've ever written are female fighters in some fashion or other...yet they want sex, romance, and families in their future, without becoming simpering baby-mamas who forget that they once had a spine the second they have sex or get pregnant--equally Inconceivable, I know. And their love interests do not stay at home wearing the skirt, no matter their gender...
Apparently this combination is also problematic. As such, I don't give any standardized genre what they classically want.
Or rather...I do, but not without having to read a few different sorts of books at the same time. Shrug. I write what I wanna read because too often, I don't find everything I want all neatly packaged in one handy story Out There. Not on the shelves. Not on my streaming. Certainly not in life interactions as a neurodivergent, disabled, nerdy, HSP weirdo artist, and erotically, romantically inclined, demisexual, gliter-girl female fighter who doesn't female "right."
FFS. I make myself tired.
So when I can't find it Out There, I give it to myself. (Not remotely only talking about art.) 🤣🤪🤓
"Does art reflect culture or is culture formed by what it sees in art?"
I think this question is as unanswerable as, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" They are perpetually entangled, influencing one another for better and for worse. These days, art and expression seems to be caught between culture's explosive attempts to strike shackles and its ever-tightening noose of censorship.
We can stamp out certain art forms. We can silence and redact them so arts can't keep expressing the things we would like to eradicate from society and from ourselves.
In the long run, I don’t believe this is nearly as effective as its inverse--using art to mold and inspire what we'd rather see. It's definitely healthier than choke-chains, whips, and muzzles. We’ve seen this power when art and politics are used in combination--when certain art forms and expressions are banned and the art that remains is used to train, teach, indoctrinate.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to using the power of art to teach and train WITHOUT censoring and demonizing the expressions that certain Somebodies in sky-kissing towers, They On High, and Their algorithms call "undesirable." The Nazis called it "degenerate" when they outlawed the art forms that were setting people free.
I wish there was a more efficient way to protect children and pre-warn people of controversial or potentially sensitive content, while allowing adults to choose for themselves what works for them. To allow access to multiple perspectives instead of being spoon-fed solely what The Authorities want us to swallow so that we’ll be better slaves and fodder--sorry, I mean, so that we'll be safe and saved from eeeevil.
This is the other reason why I will not subject my writing to Amazon's conservative--and inconsistent--curating eye. It's why, if I am destined to get off disability via pumping out words for people to read, it will not be based on their constantly fluctuating algorithms and their propensity for yoinking--without warning--entire platforms upon which authors have built their businesses. (5)
I'm thrilled for the gazillion writers who have made bank with self-publishing giants, or any platform that puts a higher percentage of the income and creative control into the hands of the actual artist who created it. I love that there are options to leapfrog over gatekeeper entities who have gradually placed the burden of an indie author's responsibilities onto writers' shoulders while still feeding them the peanuts of being signed to a house.
I swoon equally over the countless authors who have had their dreams come true by finding that super-agent who believes in them against all odds, that priceless editor who helped them bring the gold of their stories to the surface, and an avidly supportive publishing team with the skills, connections, and budget that leaves a writer free to just focus on writing.
Unfortunately, as we have covered in previous posts, I am not built for the career of a traditionally published or self-published author any more than I am built to keep traveling the world as an un-agented dancer/instructor. Contrary to ignorant assumptions, being a professional author is actually a complex, demanding job.
Could I have done it without TBI? Yeah. I'm pretty sure I could have pulled it off. I'm even pretty sure I could have pulled it off with only that first scrambling of my brains.
Now whether or not I would have been happy and in a healthy situation, I have no clue. But Dain Bramage came, Dain Bramage came again and again and stayed, and then I decided to write what set my heart and soul aflame.
So I will not risk my financial stability and my health on an indie platform that has proven its instability time and again, like Amazon. Not with the dastardly "dungeoned" drivel I write! And let's be honest, even if I was writing wholesome children's novels, I still can't afford that risk.
I've watched enough of my friends' writing careers, heard their horror stories, and read enough discussions about how fickle Amazon and its ilk are. I've seen my friends just get their heads above financial water, or celebrate the day when they earned enough from their writing to quit their miserable day job--
The algorithm changed. The parameters for censorship changed. The platform that housed half their novels was discontinued without warning. (5)
I cannot attempt to rebuild my life by being reliant on such whimsical, greedy, dehumanizing entities. I don't have--and NEVER again will have--a husband I can fall back on when an Entity collapses my already shaky financial foundation. My brain can't take roommates without devolving into seizures, and anyway, it wouldn't be fair to ask someone else to pay my rent because Amazon is unstable. Getting an interim job at a restaurant, store, help desk, Walmart is no longer an option. If I were to springboard off of disability from one random flash in the Amazonian pan, then lose it due to whimsical corporate greed or a backlash in societal conservatism, there is no safety net for me without, once again, doing in my parents as we wait for government red tape to finally stop spinning out.
I think Covid has finally showed the abled world a tiny taste of that.
Just like Brandon Sanderson finally showed readers a glimpse of what many authors have known for ages. That's why his whole Kickstarter controversy absolutely makes my day. (6) Not because someone who didn't need a Kickstarter to launch his writing career made obscene bank.
I mean, because someone who had the resources, the position of power, the huge and devoted following, and the desire to cut out the middlemen did so. With this act, he shone the light on the fact that modern technology has made it possible to connect readers directly to what they want to read. No gatekeeping. No curating. No algorithms.
Simply Reader's Choice.
Granted, if you don't already have a following developed through the old-school methods, or through what has become the self-publishing old-school route, the question is: how do people find the writing of someone who doesn't already have a name? Without algorithms, how do we weed through what we don't want so we can find what we're looking for?
That's what I'm hoping will eventually trickle down, or form grass roots and sprout up to proliferate like Rebel Alliance weeds--some way to put our personal preferences more directly into our hands without Big Brother and Big Entities selling our data, stalking us, and showing us only what they want for their self-serving, greed-, control-, and power-driven purposes. Somebody out there must be smart enough to figure that out, right?
Yeahhhhh...wouldn't that be nice. It'd be even nicer to get widespread revolutionary innovations past Those It Would Ill Behoove.
You remember that I write fantasy, right?
Well, once upon a time, storytellers told tall tales about what it might be like to walk on the moon or see what lurked in the deep, dark depths of the oceans.
So I will continue to fantasize about liberation from powerful, greedy entities, a bazillion prejudices, and people who think their way is the One Twue Way for everyone. I will continue writing about gladiatrices who overturn oppressive apple carts--sometimes accidentally, sometimes purposely. I will continue writing about tiny, infiltrating seeds that put cracks into the foundations of other oppressive barriers once thought Impassable.
And I will hunt for ways to walk through walls past the fortresses of Google, Amazon, and social media so I can get my arts into the hands of the people who hunt bookshelves and scroll through streaming channels, wishing they could find tales like the ones I've written.
One of my author friends has a driving desire to get her books "into as many readers' hands as possible," no matter how much money she makes. My dreams aren't even as lofty as that. I'm such a weirdo niche artist that I don't ever expect to have big followings in anything I do. That's not what matters to me. I don't even create art anymore with the burning desire to get back on my financial feet.
I did that for many years. Almost twenty of them, compounded by the pre-TBI lifelong dream I'd held about having an artistic career. I've had to let go of that for my sanity. If it ever happens--in a stable, sustainable and healthy fashion--well, that'll be awesome. But I can't cling and hope and push-push-push upstream like that anymore.
Now? My biggest desire for my writing is to figure out how to hack the Systems so I can get my stories into the RIGHT readers' hands, even if there are only the three of you.
We are few, but we are RAWR.
"You might not want to buy this book. I know, that's not the sort of thing an author is supposed to say. My editor is going to have a fit... It doesn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do. ...This story is for all the slightly broken people out there. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me."
~Patrick Rothfuss on The Slow Regard of Silent Things (2)
And while talking with Vi Hart after she read a draft of this strange and glorious novella:
"Readers expect certain things. People are going to read this and be disappointed..." "Fuck those people," she said. "Those people have stories written for them all the time. What about me? Let those other people have their normal stories. This story isn't for them. This is my story. This story is for people like me."
And for people like me.
Patrick Rothfuss writes the stories that are true to his heart, and true to his style. Are they perfect? Hells no. Do I give a flying fart in the wind? Not even a two-point freep. (7) The Name of the Wind is the only book I've ever read six times (the first three back-to-back-to-back) and analyzed with spreadsheets to figure out why they grabbed me by the throat and dragged me down a rabbit hole while singing glorious strains of hallelujah.
I have other spreadsheets of character traits, magic style, clothing, accessories, makeup, and actions for choreographing my current dance project that's as mongo-sized as the novels that inspired them. (The Wise Man's Fear is over 400K words.)
So monkeys see and monkeys do.
You might not want to read my writing--either this blog or my fiction. If you expect certain things, you're going to be disappointed. Maybe even downright annoyed or aggravated. I won't mind if you wish you had a paper copy of my words to throw across the room, then use as tinder to roast your weenies. I won't mind if you wouldn't even use pages covered in my words to wipe your butt in the woods after running out of toilet paper.
If that's the case, I didn't write them for you.
A late rebellion
Break it down for the fools
Hawk and spit
She raising and shaping
Shaking the old
Not your concern?
No father raised my will
Let them see you broken
Silent no more
Daughter of their sorrow
Never let them forget
The struggle is all ours
Sons of tomorrow
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: FANTASY, ACTION, ROMANCE, SEX: Not Mortal Combatants
--OR: All my writing about My Obsession With the Gladiatrix
SOME MORE GEEKY LINKS
5) Amazon's illogical, whimsical "dungeoning" of whichever fiction writing content they deem "too adult" this week, even though they sell adult videos and sex toys. Blink?! Okay, then...
--Think you couldn't possibly lose your Amazon publishing account? Think Again.
--Some of the reasons I won't rely on Amazon for publishing - it works great for a lot of people, but they're not me