Sex and the Modern Romance

For a while now, several years, to be a bit more precise, I’ve been trying to figure out why this world still has a hardcore love of sexual abuse against women, and then blame on her for pregnancy and an expectation of sacrificing their lives.  Controversial statement?  Understatement of the years, but of course, it’s the truth.  Take a look at how sex has been portrayed in magazines aimed at women as well as those toward men, and what we’ve had force-fed to us as the romantic ideal through the books we read as “escapism” and then pass on to others with an endorsement of how wonderful it all is.

(This post will be dealing biological sex, not gender, though I’m fairly certain transgender people may understand the messages this post discusses as they still received the same messages before transitioning, and possibly afterward.  The birth control part toward the end still applies to transgender people who haven’t had bottom-surgery and have partners with the opposite genitalia.)

Women enjoying sex has been nearly scandalous at times.  Throughout most of history, women have been expected to remain chaste until marriage because a touched vagina is spoiled, and how can a man be sure a baby is his own, biologically?  Meanwhile, men have been expected to sleep around.  It’s good for them, better than masturbating, ben should go have fun, boys will be boys.  Women who have sex before marriage are whores and sluts, and men are studs and “the man.”  (This is a hypocrisy that infuriated a lot of teens when I was in high school–why is one party okay and the other party trash?)  Women who enjoy sex better be good at it for the man, and men who give any pleasure are doing it to prove to themselves that they can.  Always male focused.  Of course, there are always exceptions, but these are the strong messages we’ve been sent.

I’m going to use a couple literary examples and several magazine examples, then turn back around to fiction again.

Between 1812 and 1818, Lord Byron wrote a long poem called Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.  It was an absolute smash hit, somewhat autobiographical in many ways.  It detailed the exploits of a man traveling the world, as Byron had been doing, including various sexual endeavors.  Rather than seen as so vulgar that it shouldn’t be allowed, it was hugely popular, with men as well as women.  If it weren’t for a book-length poem about sexing his way around the world, we might never have known who he is.

Over a full century later, D.H. Lawrence wrote an infamous novel called Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  OMFG, a WOMAN this time!  It had to be privately published in the 1920’s to be shared in full.  Otherwise, it had to be censored.  It was “obscene” due to the person, who didn’t have indiscriminate sex, and none with a partner of the same sex, unlike Lord Byron, being a woman.  The uncensored version wasn’t publicly available until much more recent than you might thing.  Only in 1960 was it finally allowed to be published in full in Britain, with a few more countries following soon after.  We’re not even sixty years out from when a book about a woman seeking pleasure could even be published for the public.

Male sexuality: Good.  Female sexuality: Bad.

We’re still in a time where an R-rate movie can show a man’s penis, but a vagina means an X-rating.  Few theaters will show X-rated movies, no matter why it got that rating.  A bunch of penises in an R-rated movie will still be in your local cinema, but a non-gratuitous flash of a vagina in a movie, even one that is not about sex, will get an X-rating then not be allowed.

Male sexuality: Good.  Female sexuality: Bad.

The messages of magazines since nearly the dawn of time has, when sex has been mentioned, been male-focused.  Let’s take one of the most popular men’s general interest magazines around the globe.

Take a look at these five examples of Men’s Health Magazine, the first five examples I found in English (when sitting in Europe, as I am now, image searches show a much greater language variety).

BE A SEX MAGNET

DRESS FOR MORE SEX

SEX DARE! Why she secretly wants You bad

SEXPLOSION! 27 SIGNS SHE SECRETLY WANTS YOU!

6 QUICK WAYS TO TURBOCHARGE YOUR SEX DRIVE

All of them are focused on men receiving sex, and women wanting them, and how men can get more of it.

I did find one that wasn’t quite so male-focus, and I’m sorry this is the largest version of the cover I could find, but the article about sex can still be read.

SUPER SEX! SATISFY HER WITH SCIENCE

I actually mentioned this to a guy, who said that the article was “very clinical.”  Okay.  I didn’t expect him to have read it, but that bit of insight is helpful.  When women are considered, we’re clinical science experiments.

One of the world’s top-selling men’s general interest magazines is Maxim, and…

Let’s not even get started on that one.

Cosmopolitan is one of the top-selling women’s general interest magazines.

25 sex moves he secretly wishes you’d try.
They’re so specific it’s shocking!

20 WAYS TO MAKE HIM SCREAM…in a good way

50 KINKY SEX MOVES Men Vote On Their Favorites

All New 50 SEX TRICKS Trust Us: You’ll Be the First Girl Naughty Enough to Try #43 on Him

On those four magazines above, there were also two that weren’t specific to which person would be the focus, but it’s obviously something involving the man’s pleasure still:

THE NAUGHTY ORGASM TRICK COUPLES LOVE

The “Dirty Sex” Rule Happy Couple Swear By

Even if those two involve the woman’s pleasure, it’s still “naughty” and “dirty.”    The other four are all solely about him.

The fifth cover doesn’t have a sex article splashed across the cover about men, but it’s interesting how the one it does have is in small letters on the right side smashed between a splash about “beach reads” and gym memberships.

The oh!-zone…How to find your orgasm EVERY time

Scream it out loud about men, but whisper when it’s about women.  And on the men’s magazines, scream it out about men, but be clinical when it’s about women.  But like the Cosmo example, squish something woman-centered between loud exclamations about improving your body and something irrelevant to the topic either way.  You can then argue that it’s there, but it’s very obviously only there enough to appease critics while being added in a way meant to downplay it altogether.

It’s really easy to try to say that we “know better,” but do we?  We read these covers in passing, and the message still sinks in.

Male sexuality: Good.  Female sexuality: Bad.

But also…

Male sex enjoyment: Good.  Female sex enjoyment: Naughty.  Dirty.

Women enjoying is bad.  Who wants to be bad?  So if we choose to engage, especially for our own enjoyment, we must be bad.

Even after the so-called sexual liberation of women in the 1960’s and 1970’s, books didn’t change much.  Women’s sexuality was still dirty.  The well-known trashy romance and bodice ripper books at the check-stands in grocery stores were perfect to pass off as impulse-buys.  Get some milk, some lunch stuff for the kids, laundry detergent…pick up a book while waiting in a way you hop is nonchalant, look bored in case anyone sees you, sigh to make your already-made decision look like like an “might as well, what the hell” decision, toss it between the detergent and the bread to lessen the chance of anyone noticing while hoping anyone who did thinks you just have some extra time and nothing better to do.

In those books, women never had true agency.  I’m horrified to admit I used to love some of them.  Lisa Kleypas’s Bow Street Runners series was among my favorites.  But looking back, my heart hurts at what passed as woman-empowering.  The one that sticks out the most in my head is a book where a man wants revenge on an old sexual partner he felt wronged him when she moved on.  So he devised a plan to trick her back into his bed.  That’s terrible enough.  But he didn’t know she had a twin sister, and that that was who he lured into his bed by making her believe they were already partners, and she happened to be a virgin.  He realized it when he made her bleed.  So his intended sexual assault of a prior partner ended up being the rape of a virgin with amnesia.

The more…palatable…I guess, I can say, involved a woman who was trying to solve something important regarding her family, and the only power she had to get information she needed was though sex.  So that’s our value, that’s our power.

At all times, her getting any pleasure was a testament to him being such a studly stud, and him getting pleasure was his damned right.

Looking back at what I read and enjoyed makes me disgusted with myself.  But then I have to keep in mind that this is the best of what we had available to us.

Chances are you’ve seen these books.  They were everywhere.  I couldn’t begin to count how many of them I got at grocery stores.  The offerings changed so often that there was no need to go to Barnes & Noble and hoping no one saw a reader heading to that section.  I know you’ve seen Harlequin romances, which refers to both those published by Harlequin, or by others publishing the same type.  Fabio (that barrel-chested muscle man with flowing blond hair is a real man, by the way…his face smacked a bird on a roller coaster some years ago) with his hands ripping at a woman’s bodice to bare her chest while she appeared faint or rapt with ecstasy, her own hands in some helpless damsel position.  Some muscle-head of a guy holding a woman who is leaning away helplessly.  A lunk holding some feather of a woman in the air, where he can’t leave since she can’t touch the ground to run.  The “hero” in a position of frightening dominance over someone he could crush with one thumb if she says no.  These covers are from the 1980’s and 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Believe it or not, we’re already up against the publishing of Twilight, and we’re still dealing exclusively with books that are male-centered.  What, she gets some of what we’re supposed to see as love in the form of a man wanting to own her, and he’s owed her loyalty and physical pleasures?  Well…yes.  That’s it exactly.   Kleypas’s Bow Street books, which are hardly the guiltiest of these, and are actually the most woman-powered, despite the women being assaulted anyway by the “heroes”, were published between 1999 and 2003.  The first Twilight book was published in 2005.  Yes.  2005.  Edward breaking into Bella’s room to watch her sleep was milder than literally tricking a virgin into bed in an attempt at sexual-assault-revenge.  But stalking is also more realistic for someone to actually experience, making it, in a way, more harmful.  (I’ve been stalked, and it’s traumatizing, and I still panic when someone knocks on the door and I’m not expecting anyone.)  It’s a more realistic #Goals(ThatShouldNotBeGoals) since it’s more likely to happen than fantasy about some someone hawking I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter between cover shoots for books about savage pirates pillaging the village for booty, only to discover some other kind of booty.

But they all contribute to one thing.  Men have the power, men’s sex drives are correct, women only allowed to enjoy it if they’re victims.  Twilight presents an interesting twist on this that still puts the man in a position of dominance.  Bella wanted it, but Edward expressed concerns for her purity, making him moral guardian of her sexuality.  It was nothing about him not being ready, which would have been fine.  No, it was moral guardianship.  It was also a device to get her to agree to marrying him since he wouldn’t touch her before marriage.  (The other sexual pairings within the Cullen clan weren’t married, and it wasn’t presented as a big deal.)  But when as a woman not being ready for something mattered?  It hasn’t.  It’s when the man wants it.

After Twilight, things have spiraled farther out of control, with abuse being so normalized that we actually debate when a No means No, and when it could be a woman wanting it and feeling guilty, or if an orgasm means it’s okay even if she said No, or if being mentally beaten into submission and giving up on saying No means it’s really consent since it hasn’t mattered so far when she has and she’s given up trying anymore.  We’re back to this being about teenagers.  Once again, teenagers are the target audience of books romanticizing sexual harassment and assault and sexual manipulation.  The After books by Anna Todd actually make Christian Grey into the preferable “hero.”  And those books are for teenagers.

Something that has been missing since the beginning is an open acceptance of women’s sexuality, of women having the right to say Yes without being seen as a tramp or a whore or anything else negative, or women having the right to say No without being accused of being frigid or being ignored and having a man take his way anyway.  While we do have a few books, like many of those by Nora Roberts (JD Robb is a pen name she uses on occasion…and thank you so much, Nora, for never having portrayed a man ignoring a No treated as okay), that do have sexually empowered women, they’re on constant simmer while those in the pots boiling over get the attention.

You know, I recall being told numerous times that Nora’s books were about whores when really it was just women freely consenting.  Her books weren’t even carried in the bookstore in the town I was living, nor at the grocery store, nor at the library.  I was morbidly curious about the whore-ocity, and looked.  Plenty of Harlequin to be had, no Nora Roberts, and online shopping didn’t exist yet.  I actually ended up getting some from my grandmother during one of my numerous long-term hospital stays, and it felt okay when I read them since the women were being naughty despite not have being treated as such.  Like everyone else, I’d been conditioned to see actual open consent as a sign of a bad woman, and no open consent as a good woman.

We have had a #MeToo movement about the latent sexual assault women have been expected to live with just to be allowed to exist in society and in a world still dominated by men, and yet we still see women who enjoy sex and are empowered to make their own decisions as less worthy or less good than men.  We still expect men to have their enjoyment, and still expect women to ultimately submit.  If a woman admits having ten partners or more, she’s seen as slutty (I will put my money where my mouth is and raise my hand as to being in that category, without shame), yet when a man does, it’s no big deal.  We say women are allowed to do what we want, but the societal judgement indicates otherwise.  Legally we can, while societally there’s shame.  As a society, we still collectively don’t believe what we say on this.  We still reflect what we see in print, and that’s that sex is about and for men’s enjoyment, and women are secondary, are more or less tools for male enjoyment.  At best, sex is our tool for getting what we want since that’s the power we have.

Magazine covers aren’t fiction.  They carry the same message.  We can argue “We know it’s wrong and so what’s the harm?” which ignores how simply mindlessly scanning the covers still puts this into our subconsciouses.  We read and believe the titles without critically thinking about why, or even looking into the article more (how often have we all clicked “share” on a Facebook post because the title of an article made us mad, but we would have agreed had we read the article?).  We say reading fiction is mindless fun, what’s the harm.  Sex in romance has continued to perpetuate the societal mindset that women enjoying sex is bad, but we can enjoy it if the choice isn’t ours.  We can enjoy if we’re victims, or if we’re chaste, while men can go sleep their way through San Francisco (of course, we gotta make sure to call those women whores for participating while he’s okay because he’s a man).  We can enjoy it if a big, strapping man tricks us and we get off, and we can enjoy it if a billionaire breaks into our room and ties us up while we beg no, and we can enjoy it if we’re “Naughty Enough to Try #43 on Him,” but we’re whores, we’re sluts, we’re worthless if we freely choose to go have a random hook-up, or if we don’t eventually give in to what a man wants, or if we actively pursue sex out of enjoyment of it.

And all the responsibility falls to us.  His pleasure.  Our safety. Birth control.  Oh, yes.

As far as birth control in these books, there’s either none ever mentioned, in which case I guess everyone is infertile due to the months of unprotected shagging, or, if it’s mentioned, there’s some nefarious reason for it.  EL James started out right by having Christian Grey wearing condoms, but that was not sincere.  It was just a stop on the way to his goal of not wearing them  Ana didn’t have a say in the matter when he had a doctor go to his apartment to give Ana an exam and birth control.  So basically a back-alley pap smear.  Then he ditched the condoms  Sex was when he wanted, how he wanted, and the responsibility for not getting pregnant was put on Ana.  He didn’t like condoms, so she had to take the responsibility.  Yay…romance?  And, of course, when she got pregnant (EL James literally doesn’t know how Depo Provera works, which is what Ana had), Christian got pissed at her since it was her fault.  He chose to skip condoms, give her no say about being put on birth control (letting her and the doctor decide what kind isn’t a choice when she was told, without discussion, that she was going on it for his pleasure), then blamed her.  Sadly, this is still one of the more “positive” portrayals since at least it’s mentioned.

Don’t get me started on how abortion isn’t even to be hinted at existing unless it’s part of a narrative about how horrid the mere thought of it is, and how the only thing to do is to continue a pregnancy, even if it’s literally killing you.  In Twilight, Bella’s unborn demon-fetus even broke her back.  Literally.  Giving birth required literally ripping her abdomen open.  The earlier part of the pregnancy was no easier.  Edward, to his credit, wanted to end it to save Bella’s life.  But no.  She wouldn’t consider it.  Her purpose was to give birth, even though it was going to kill her…until Carlisle stole donated blood for her to drink, in another moment of “The Author Doesn’t Know How Shit Works.”

These are the two “big” portrayals we have in “romance” books that even address birth control or abortion.  The responsibility is hers, she’s at fault if it fails, she can die for it, Big Boy’s gotta get his rocks off unencumbered.

So even birth control in books is about his pleasure.  (One of the things I get “wrong” in my books is responsibility is shared, which really basically is taboo…)  It matters not that most forms of female birth control can diminish our libidos due to the affects on our endocrine systems.  If our libidos go down or die, we’re told by even doctors that we can still go through the motions.  (I know this from personal experience.  TMI?  Grow up.  Time to stop acting like matters involving sex is some secret thing.)  A man’s libido is important.  Something like seventeen types of boner pills to help their libidos, but a tube of KY for women so we can go through the motions, and antidepressants to help us not be so chronically sad about it.  Granted, most antidepressants further suppress the libido.  Pro-tip: Wellbutrin does not.

By the way, we’ve all heard about that study for a male birth control shot, right?  It was stopped due to there being side effects.  Disappointingly, while all the articles I read about this pointed out how many women have pointed out that side effects are so common for women’s birth control that they’re seen as normal and expected, every article also comes to the defense of men.  That particular article mentions how, of the 1,500 men in the study, there were “one case of depression, one case of intentional overdose, and one case of irregular heartbeat after stopping the injections”  So that’s an increase of 0.06%.  But it goes on to downplay how 2% of women who take birth control end up newly diagnosed with depression.  Out of 1,500 women, this would mean thirty. 1>30 in this case.  This, on top of already suffering depression at twice the rate as men.

The big difference is that, for men, the risks of not taking birth control is child support.  The risks of taking it is the same side effects women are expected to shoulder.  But it does increase male libido.  Yay?  The risks for women of not taking birth control is pregnancy and all that goes with it, especially in a time when our rights are being systematically stripped to get women’s rights to the Supreme Court so our rights can be banned, the stigma of single parenthood, and still child support since all child support refers to is financial, and women have that as well.  The risks of taking it, like the weight gain, the increased depression, the suppressed libido (again…oh, there’s some KY over there, just go through the motions), are mild compared to the risks otherwise.

Once again, the burden is shouldered by women.  This is reflected in the books we have that are labeled “romance,” especially in the top-selling books.

Male sexuality: Good.  Female sexuality: Bad.

Male pleasure: Important.  Female pleasure: see: male pleasure.

Male having sex: Stud.  Female having sex: Whore.

Male not having sex: Virtuous.  Female not having sex: Frigid bitch.

Male birth control responsibility: Wrong because of side effects
Female birth control responsibility: Of course.

Male experiencing unplanned pregnancy: Victim.
Female experiencing unplanned pregnancy: Irresponsible.

To sum up, male sexuality is a good thing.  He’s virtuous if he abstains, but a stud if he wants sex.  It’s so perfectly okay that he can take it by force, and the ladies will swoon  His pleasure in all ways is so important that it would be wrong to expect him to use birth control that might diminish his pleasure a little, like condoms would, or give him a 0.06% increase in depression.  So, if an unplanned pregnancy happens, it was her fault and he’s the victim.  But female sexuality is bad.  She’s a frigid bitch if she abstains, and a whore if she wants sex.  But she can get around being a whore by being raped or assaulted.  Despite a 2% increase in depression on top of already having depression at twice the rate of men, since she’s the one who’d have to deal with pregnancy, birth control is her responsibility, and if she gets pregnant anyway, it’s her fault.

Our magazines reinforce this.  Books categorized as romance reinforce this.  We read it over and over and OVER again, even while out and about doing grocery shopping, but only hear the opposite in some online articles and blog posts and social media comments.  They’re the exception, not the rule.  We are conditioned to connect romance and positivity with actions and thoughts that are against women, and to connect problems of unwanted pregnancies and single parenthood with actions and thoughts that are against women.  I am solidly convinced this is why our society still has a hardcore love of sexual abuse against women, and then blame on her for pregnancy and an expectation of sacrificing their lives.  When the best we’ve got are books considered to be sex-positive because the word “kinky” is tossed in, despite pleas to him to stop, and books about teen sex assault being defended as romantic, we’ve really made no progress.  At least the Harlequin romances admitted that the men were rotten scoundrels.

I really don’t know why I bother to care anymore when someone like Chris Brown, who has had legal troubles for sexual assault and violence going back a decade and who was most recently arrested in January for rape, is still defended because people are so worried that “His life could of easily been ruined from this!” and still has a huge die-hard fanbase and is still celebrated with grammies and celebrity support.  (To make the record clear, he was released without charges due to a lack of evidence, which rarely exists in rape cases, which is a huge part of why most victims don’t bother filing police reports.  The woman, in this instance, is being sued now due to “insufficient” evidence to back her claim.)  It’s emotionally exhausting to keep fighting against the continued romanticizing of abuse and assault and rape and how popular media continues to perpetrate this dangerous idea at every turn.  I’ve been saying for years now that continuing to place the blame and burden on women while shaming us was going to make things worse if it didn’t stop, and it has gotten worse.  While even Ireland has taken massive strides regarding women’s rights, the US has gone backward.

We are losing rights to ““force” women to be “more personally responsible with sex.””more personally responsible with sex.””  We already always have been!  LITERALLY!!  There has NEVER been a time, EVER, where we weren’t the ones entirely on the hook.  There has never been a time when the pleasure of women mattered as much, and never a time when men were expected to be responsible.  EVER.  And yet we still buy the same damned magazines with the same sexist cover splashes and we still hold up the same damed “romance” books as ideal while defending actions that are anti-woman as somehow feminist because we still believe women are irresponsible and bad, then going online and defending the Christian Greys and Hardin Scotts of the world.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin sparked the American Civil War.  The printed word has power.  Yet the words we write and read and endorse time and time again reinforce the dangerous message that it’s all the fault of women, we just need to be responsible, and it’s not changing.  Until we start to condemn the media that fertilizes the sexist idea that it’s all on women while excusing men from responsibility, and until we condemn hand-waving men’s abusive behavior as long as there might be an orgasm in it for a woman, nothing will get better for us.  Nothing will change as long as we continue to say that sexual assault against women and the responsibility being entirely ours is empowering and romantic.  The words we speak aloud are a moment, but that which is written will continue to speak even after we’re dead.  Newspaper articles, even magazine articles, will be forgotten with time.  Books are what last both history books written by the victors and fiction books.  New articles lay in the ashes of the old that were burned to make way for the new, but books get added to a growing mountain.  Which really get the attention, the ash pile, or the mountain blocking the sun?

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to fight what may be a losing battle, why I continue to argue, why I continue to protest, why I continue to write, when there’s an ever-growing mound of “abuse is romantic since he loves her so much he can’t control his passion,” “he’s the victim since her birth control failed,” “she had an orgasm, so it’s okay that he ignore her saying No,” and an ever-growing mound of “the pleasure is for him, the responsibility is for her.”  Why continue to scream into the void?

At least she’ll know her mother tried to prevent her generation from being force-fed the same messages.  At least she’ll know her mother tried to make sure she’ll matter as much as the future-men in her life.  At least she’ll know her mother tried to make sure those future-men will share in the responsibility.  At least she’ll know her mother tried to make sure that her choices in her life and regarding her body are protected.

At least she’ll know her mother tried.

Human trafficking and romance should NEVER be mixed in a book

If you think EL James’s new book, The Mister, which has hit some best-seller lists, is perfectly fine for people to outright enjoy, despite it literally being a romance about a traumatized human-trafficking victim (she still wakes up screaming from nightmares) who is still in a dangerous situation, in a country illegally, and who barely speaks the country’s dominant language, when her boss decides he wants to have sex with her (and he blatantly says, in response to her nightmare-screams, that he wants to “make her scream…in a different way”), the watch this video and hear about the people this book is about what they go through, and the aftermath.
Listen to what they go through, and ask yourself if you still feel good supporting people enjoying human-trafficking “romance.” Ask yourself if a person who is newly out of trafficking, who is still waking up screaming because her trauma gives her such horrid nightmares (again, nightmares that make the man aroused and think about fucking her and making “her scream…in a different way), is more likely to be feeling real love for someone with an extreme power imbalance and has her in a form of captivity (he has the power to send her back to her traffickers, making disobeying dangerous), or if she is more likely to be emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
 
She’s dependent on him to not to send her back to her traffickers, and when he decides he want to have sex with her, she’s really not free to safely say no to him. If he were to hold her down while sh fought, she couldn’t go to the police without risking being deported. She’s arguably not even able to consent, considering that she is impaired due to her trauma that she’s never given a chance to work through and begin to heal from before someone’s ready to throw her in bed.
 
Speaking not as a writer, but as a human being deeply concerned with how the real traumas of real people are being used in a way we’re supposed to see as entertaining and romantic, we shouldn’t be supporting enjoyment of this. This doesn’t fall under “your kink is not my kink” any more than the “kink” for fantasizing about sex with little children. We’re supposed to see the man who has her captive and decides to fuck her, knowing her trauma-induced impaired capacity, as romantic and sweet and loving because he thinks her trauma is cute and sexy. And many people do see this as romantic. This is incredibly alarming and not at all okay.
 
This is worse than Fifty Shade. Ana, at least, can’t get kicked out of the country and sent back to human traffickers.

After recap, chapters 21-25

(Links to all recaps here: So I shall recap and comment on after by Anna Todd)

Yeah, yeah. it’s been a few weeks.  I’ve been busy doing stuff that pays bills, like making a wedding gown (on less that two weeks’ notice), a gown for someone’s upcoming trip to England, and a few corsets.

Because this is something I do.

And I also thought it might be fun to gouge by eyeballs out as an excuse to not ever have to read back stuff again.  Alas, I like being able to see good stuff.  I’m tempted to crack open a bottle of African wine that I bought in Amsterdam, but then I might get drunk on top of angry, and that’s not good times.

Chapter 21
Well, here we go.  Tess, Noah, and her unnamed mother, who I’ll just call Ma, are having breakfast.  Tess tells the she wants a job in publishing or writing.  Because she’s Ana Steele.  Duh.

As I put my fork into my mouth, the metal reminds me of Hardin’s lip ring. And I pause for a moment. Noah catches this, too, and looks at me with questioning eyes.

Is that supposed to be sexy?  It’s not.  And what the hell kind of face was she making if Noah would be able to notice?

More of details no one cares about…do we really need to be told that Noah really wears loafers?  I mean, I was a nerdy kid in high school.  I did math for fun, and wasn’t trendy at all.  You could tell I was a nerd from half a block away.  I was known for always having a journal with me and for snapping at anyone who even tried to touch it.  When I accidentally left it in the cafeteria. no one touched it.  Instead a bunch of people ran to find me.  I was that much of a nerd that it was unquestioned and damned near respected.  Nothing about me was trendy.  And I liked it that way.  But damn, she’s making Noah out to be a loser with his finger and his thumb in the shape of an L on his forehead….  Yeah, I went there.

She just neeeeeeds him to kiss her, and he’s all kinds of shy about even a small kiss because people might see, and that would be scandalous!

Her mo takes her to get her hair trimmed with more detail than we need, she gets back to her dorm, falls asleep, and…that’s the end of chapter 21.

How are these chapters?  They’re so short!!!

Chapter 22

“Before heading to my first class, I stop to grab my usual at the coffeehouse, where Landon is waiting for me with a smile. After our hellos, we’re interrupted by a girl asking for intricate directions, and so we don’t get the chance to catch up until we’re walking to our last class of the day. The class that all day I have been dreading, but anticipating.”

Filler.  This book is mostly nitrates and horse meat or whatever they use as filler in bologna and non-kosher hot dogs.  (Not Jewish, I just don’t trust hot dogs that aren’t kosher, like Hebrew National, even though they’re ridiculously expensive.)

A better way to do that would be to have her meet up with him, and when a girl asks for directions, Tess makes some comparison to how Landon is treating her when she asks for directions to how Hardin treated her.  That would be relevant to the plot.  PRO-TIP: If it’s not relevant and can’t be made relevant, CUT IT.

Anna manages to do that in the next bit, where Ana…Tessa, and I’m leaving that typo in, asks Landon about his girlfriend, and he lights up when he talks about her, which results in Tessa wondering if Noah is like that about her.  There’s still a bit of padding, but not as much.

They get to class, Hard-on isn’t there, and they read Pride and Prejudice, which Anna Todd tells us through Tessa that everyone should read.  $10 says she herself hasn’t read it critically, and only perused a bit of it because it’s trendy right now.

After class, Landon and Tess run into Harry, I mean, Hardin (I feel so bad for Harry Styles), and it’s quickly revealed that Harry’s dad and Landon’s mom are dating.  Tess is confused since she thought Hardin’s British, and it didn’t occur to her that PEOPLE MOVE.  Yeah, Hardin moved from London, and so did his dad.

In a totally out-of-place place and with a wall o’ text, Anna thinks about the night her dad left, when she was in “the greenhouse” (what greenhouse?) and she heard plates shattering in the kitchen, and when it stopped, footsteps that she thought was her father, but it was Noah.  Not really relevant here, but okay.  I don’t feel any sense of distress or fear that she tells us she had.  It should be easy to get me to feel that.  I grew up in a house with alcoholics, and am not going to get into it right now.  But let’s just say I have a box of Budweiser-battered cod in my freezer, and I won’t be making it unless my husband is home in case they smell like beer, which would kinda be a hard thing for me.  I don’t taste beer in battered things that are cooked, but if I can smell it, that’s not gonna be good.  So it should be VERY easy to get me to feel the feelings of someone who is supposed to be the child of an alcoholic.

She lays down for a quick nap, which Hardin interrupts, and she decides to study, and how did all of this crap take up so many pages?  Hardin does what Hardin does best, and is an asshole.  He grabs all her notes and starts throwing them around.  She gets upset, understandably, and he shoves her against a wall and pins her arms and is inches from her.  I guess this is supposed to be sexy?  But when they hate each other and he has no consent, this isn’t okay.

“For a second, I think he might slap me. But his hand moves up to my cheekbone and then he gently tucks my hair behind my ear. I swear I can hear his pulse as he brings his lips to mine—and the fire crackles under my skin.

This is what I have been longing for since Saturday night. If I could only feel one thing for the rest of my life, this would be it.”

I might need some wine.  She’s afraid…that he might hit her.  But he kisses her with nothing at all to lead him to think it was okay.

They end up in a bit of bland foreplay that does make me wonder what’s really going on between her and Noah if they’ve never done more than light kissing, yet she’s so willing to have sex with Hardin already, and yes, that’s where it was heading until Steph walked in.

Spoiler: Hardin has a bet with one of his asshole buddies about who can take Tessa’s virginity.  Just telling you now so you won’t scream when you find out later with another piece of info that is going to piss you off.

Steph asks what happened after Hardin stormed out, and a page and a half is wasted as Tess recaps what we just had to read.  Steph lets her know Hardin has basically fucked his way across the US and back.  Steph says Hardin doesn’t date (hello, Christian), and that it could end bad for Tess.  It’s going to end up with marriage and some kids, but no better than now.  Yes.  They end up married with kids.  Someone call CPS.  Those kids are going to grow up with an abusive-as-hell father.  Hardin is a violent drunk who sexually assaults and thinks he’s owed it.

This is 19 pages.  On the one hand, enough happens that it could have been stretched out more, and well, in the hands of someone capable.  On the other, Anna Todd told us little enough that it could be condensed easily.

Chapter 23
First page is wasted with a bunch of telling about meeting up with Landon to study, but there’s nothing relevant to anything.  It could be cut entirely.

Follow this with a handful of pages of Anna Todd demonstrating not understanding Pride and Prejudice nor the era.  You are really going to miss vital information if you don’t know about the era.  They aren’t able to be separated.  I have the entire works of Jane Austen about two feet from me.  I know this stuff backward and forward, but picking apart why the argument between Tess and Hardin, in class, is wrong would take up far more time than I want to dedicate.  Stuff like, “If Darcy really loved her, he wouldn’t have been a jerk.”  It was an era where men were expected to be assertive to the point of being asses because of social norms, and breeching those norms could cost not only you, but your children and grandchildren, all respect from society, which would have disastrous consequences.

Tess calls Hardin a “manwhore,” and I swear I’d originally written “Steph lets her know Hardin has basically fucked his way across the US and back,” I had “Steph told her she’s a man-whore,” then explained that I’ve got no problem with people having a lot of sex partners as long as there’s consent on all sides, and that I was using verbiage I though Tess/Anna would use, but then deleted it since Tess is supposed to be so purely virginal that the word “sexy” turns her on.  Well, lo and behold.  She said it in class, and everyone can tell that she and Hardin are arguing about themselves, and people are snickering.  Embarrassed, Tessa runs form the room, and Hardin follows, and won’t leave her alone.

I get outside and am crossing the green lawn, about to reach the corner of the block, when he grabs my arm and I jerk away.

“Why do you always touch me like that? Grab my arm again and I will slap you!” I scream. I surprise myself at my harsh words, but I’ve had enough of his crap.

He grabs my arm again, but I can’t manage to follow through on my promise.

This is followed closely with

A small crowd has gathered around us, and I want to curl into a ball and disappear. But I have to know what he will say next.

Why can’t I stay away from him? I know he’s dangerous and toxic. I have never been as mean to someone as I am to him. He deserves it, I know, but I don’t really like being mean to anyone.

Hardin grabs my arm yet again and pulls me into a small alleyway between two buildings, away from the crowd.

This literally makes my heart hurt.  Literally.  This is what is being spoon-fed to young women as good and desirable.  We’ve got a sexual predator for a president and a potential candidate who has inappropriately touched women but who has been excused because he’s old and “hasn’t kept up with the times,” and then women blamed for not telling him “No” over the decades.  Grabbing women by the shoulders and kissing the backs of their necks isn’t okay, and neither is victim-shaming, and neither is any of this.  We should be expecting people to meet high standards, not to sink down and say, “Well, at least A isn’t a bad as B.”  We’re paving the road to hell.  And how are young women supposed to be able to see this stuff is wrong when grabbing women and scaring them and being toxic is romantic?  Remember, this book is a ROMANCE.  Not really, but that’s where it’s categorized.

Hardin starts insisting he turns her on, which he does, but she outwardly denies it and tries to back away, and he keeps stepping closer without regard for her trying to escape.  But she admits she likes it.  He’s toxic and mean and assaultive and she likes it.  He refers to her nether regions as “down there” because “You’re thinking about me and have that feeling” just wouldn’t be complete without “down there.”  Another pro-tip: “Down there” is so juvenile that you really need to either stop before saying it, or get more creative.  

He shoves her against a wall while she’s trying to get away…romance?…and tries justifying it by saying she made the first move…when she was DRUNK and he was sober.  Somehow that makes all of this okay?  NO.

He convinces her that they’ll be friends and demands they’ll meet the next day after school, and she gets, in her own word, “dreamy,” and then gets a feeling she walked into a trap.  Ya think?

 

Chapter 24
Blah blah blah, shower, irrelevancy, a note from Steph that she’s out to dinner with Tess.

I like Tristan; he seems really nice despite his overuse of eyeliner.

Can’t say something almost-nice without something overtly judgmental.

In class, Hardin mentions their “date” in front of Landon, and Landon tells her to be careful.  Landon’s decent.  He’s genuinely concerned.  Hardin is an ass because that’s all he does, and Tess tells him to be nice since they’re “practically brothers.”  Oh, snap.  That’s not gonna go well.

Hardin cancels the “date.”  Okay, that’s ending well.  Because he should end his involvement with her, and Anna Todd needs to be slapped for using “bipolar” as an insult.

Tess gets back to her dorm, and Steph, Tristan, and Zed are on Steph’s bed, and the four of them have a really cute time talking about “weird professors.”  It’s fine, and really is nice.  Something unspecified in the way Tristan looks at Steph shows he is really interested in her.

So Anna Todd either can write good stuff and doesn’t, or else is the saying about a million monkeys at a million typewriters.

Hardin walks in.

Geez, man, you could at least knock for once,” Steph scolds him and he shrugs. “I could have been naked or something.” She laughs, obviously not angry at his lack of manners.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” he jokes, and Tristan’s face falls while the other three chuckle. I can’t find the humor, either; I hate thinking about Steph and Hardin together.

I feel bad for Tristan.  Also, I love the name Tristan, and used it in the first trilogy I wrote.

Zed invites Tess to the movies with him and Steph and Tristan.

Before I can answer, Hardin speaks up quickly. “Actually, Tessa and I have plans.” There is a strange edge to his voice.

That’s because the bet is with Zed.

Hardin shoves her out the door (her word), and into his car.  He says Zed “doesn’t have the best intentions.”

He won’t tell her where they’re going.

Chapter 25
For my sanity, I’m finishing this post after this chapter.  It’s 29 pages, and I don’t want to keep killing brain cells.

He turns onto a gravel road, and Tess is nervous.  He quips that he’s not going to kill her.  She’s less scared of being murdered than of what else he might do.  I have a headache.  For real.

The plan is swimming in a creek.  Since she didn’t know, of course she didn’t bring a bathing suit and he orders her to go in her underwear.  Since she won’t, he offers to answer any question she wants, but only one, and she can wear his t-shirt.

They’re in northern Washington, and the creek is supposed to be warm.  Creeks aren’t warm in the fall.  The creeks are melted snow from the previous winter.  I live here.  On hot days, the creeks are still cold, and that makes them refreshing.  They aren’t warm.  This isn’t California.  Also, creeks don’t have a sudden edge, and then you’re in them, like a pool.

She gets in and they seem to hav fun splashing each other.  He’s manipulating her, and she’s falling for it.  For her question, she asks who he loves most in the world, to which he answers honestly.  Himself.  But that won’t count.  So she asks, “What about your parents?” and that pisses him off.  She grovels, and reminds him he did say he’d answer a question.  He throws her in the water again, and Tess is back to stupidly happy.  She wraps her legs around him, and it’s back to boners and near-boinking.

He “begs” her to let him have his way with her.  I guess a point for actually asking.  She’s not under pressure at the moment to say yes, and is just stupid.  She can say no, but she’s saying yes to someone she knows is a jerk.  And he’s an asshole because he’s only doing this to win a bet.

They get out of the water and he asks there or his room.  She wants to do it there so she won’t have time to rethink it and realize she’s making a mistake.

“Do you have a condom?” I ask him, trying to remember the few things I know about sex.

“A condom?” He chuckles. “I’m not going to have sex with you,” he says and I begin to panic.

Even when being stupid, I won’t knock mention of condoms.  EL James got this right as well, at least until Christian ordered a doctor to his place and spring it on Ana that she was getting birth control so he didn’t have to use them.

So on to foreplay.  He kisses her, slips his hands in her undies, and asks her if it feels better than when she does it to herself.  Is anyone surprised that she has never touched herself?  What is it with books putting virginity on such a pedestal that even touching oneself is somehow ruining it?

“You’re so responsive to me, so wet,” he says, and she thinks about how “filthy” those words are.

She has her first orgasm, and he quickly gets up to get dressed.  She thought he’d want her to…ellipses.  She doesn’t know because she’s never seen anything aside from textbook drawings.  She thinks that she wouldn’t be able to stand if if he started treating her badly again.

Things start to get “weird” between them, “distant,” she says.  And she “feels used.”  Hardin IS using her, but tells her that using her would mean getting something out of it.  Oh, he is.  Money.

She cries.  He fake-consoles her, says they’ll get dinner instead of just dropping her off.

My feelings for Hardin are so confusing. I hate him one minute and want to kiss him the next. He makes me feel things I never knew I could, and not just sexually. He makes me laugh and cry, yell and scream, but most of all he makes me feel alive.

Chapter 25 ends there, and I have this ball in the pit of my stomach.  This reminds me a lot of an ex of mine who used me, and it’s upsetting to me, truly upsetting, that this is going to end in marriage and kids.

At this point, fans are rooting for them to get together.  There’s nothing to recommend this as a relationship that should happen.  Tess isn’t a good person.  She’s judgmental and all too willing to cheat on her boyfriend.  But she still doesn’t deserve what Hardin’s doing to her.  We find out Ana is a bitch at heart in Fifty Shades, but she doesn’t deserve what Christian does.  NO ONE deserves this.  Yet it’s on a pedestal as #relationshipgoals

A relationship that leaves someone in tears and where there is fear should NEVER be a goal.  She’s been afraid he’ll hit her.  She’s cried many times.  She’s been outright scared, scared that what he’ll do to her could be worse than being murdered.

A relationship should make you happy, and the other person happy.  There should be security, not fear.  Being nice most of the time doesn’t buy someone points to be abusive “just sometimes.”  Took me five years to learn that one, back when rape within relationships wasn’t seen as rape since a relationship implied consent.  If there’s ever fear of harm, get out.  If you know someone who is afraid, don’t encourage that person to stay or encourage her (or him) to get with the person causing the fear.  Relationship goals shouldn’t make a person feel like that.

Relationship goals should be like…

No matter what’s going on, they’re there for each other, love each other, try to make each other happy, see each other as equals and partners.  They respect each other, and are passionate and dedicated and actively work on showing each other their love.  When it comes to their children, they unquestioningly support them and are proud of them and are very open about it.  They respect others, even when those others, like Tully and Dr. Pendershlass, are not nice to them.  They embody everything we should look for in relationships.  Watch either of the movies with Angelica Houston and Raoul Julia for the clearest, most obvious depictions of this.  The original TV show (which was based on a comic strip where they had no names) showed it as well, but the movies are the most enjoyable.

Relationships like Tessa’s and Hardin’s should never, EVER be treated as good.  EVER.  And every time young people hear that it is, and that it’s romantic and just so wonderful, the more they’ll believe that this is what is okay in relationships.  This sets young people up to accept abuse.  It’s part of why I stayed in an abusive relationship so long and only got out when I tried killing myself.  Who would help when I had a relationship that was everything society told me was good?  Forced sex just meant he wanted me, getting physical meant he was so passionate he couldn’t control himself.  So who would help?  Who would think I wasn’t a failure if I left?  I didn’t have black and blue marks all over me, so it wouldn’t be abuse, it couldn’t be bad.  Because that’s what we were told.  And now, Christian forcing Ana is seen as consent because she realized trying to leave was futile when her mother and her best friend encouraged her to stay with Christian despite him making her cry and stalking her, which they witnessed.  His force is seen as he just wants her so much.  His and Edward’s physicality has been excused as passion.  They just love their targets so much that they can’t control themselves.  We’re seeing that with Tessa and Hardin already.  Already fear of physical abuse, and Hardin’s plan for sex is through manipulation to win a bet.  WE SHOULD NOT BE CALLING THIS GOALS.

Look at a young person in your life.  Have a 10-year-old daughter?  A 9-year-old cousin?  A 6-year-old nephew?  An 18-year-old sister?  Ask yourself if you want them to be in Tessa’s position, scared and being physically shoved against walls, more afraid of death than what Hardin might do?  IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT FOR THEM?  If it’s not, you need to stop holding shit like this up as goals because they hear it.  And they’ll believe it.  And when it happens to them and you wonder how they could have missed the signs, it’ll be on you for holding this stuff up as goals.  It’ll be on everyone who does since hearing it over and over and OVER again will cause them to internalize it, believe it, accept it, and, when they want to get out, they won’t.  Their relationship is like Christian and Ana, or Hardin and Tessa, and those relationships are just so awesome and romantic.  So who would help them?

Please, think critically about the relationships in books that you call romantic, and picture someone you love in Tessa’s or Ana’s position.  Don’t bother thinking about yourself since you’ll look at the money or the orgasms.  Picture someone else there, getting hit or being scared of being hit, and crying.  Still romantic?  Still goals?  Is it?  Is this book?  Is Fifty Shades?  Hm?

EL James: “The Mister”

I may intersperse recaps of this book with recaps of After.  We’ll see.  I’m not sure I can mentally handle it, but I might try.  “Might” is the operative word.

Just what we’ve been waiting for! What can be more romantic than Christian Grey abusing a virgin he stalks and terrified into submission? Why, a story about a rich British earl who decides to bed his housekeeper, a 23-year-old sex trafficking escapee undocumented immigrant who is dealing with trauma and is very ignorant of the world and who hardly speaks English! Oooh, baby, an extreme imbalance in power where the one in power has the power to return a trauma victim to the people who sex-trafficked her! EL James delivers all that “romance” and less in “The Mister.”

Here’s something suuuuuper romantic: Alessia wakes from a nightmare where she was reliving trauma of being throw in a truck by sex traffickers, and woke up screaming in terror. Max tells her to go sleep with him in his bed, and promises, “’I won’t touch you. This is just sleep—so the next time you scream, I’ll be right there.’” That would be bad enough (he’s her boss, remember, and it’s not like she’s in a position to tell him “no” when she’s not in the country legally). But he then tells us, “Of course, I’d like to make her scream in a different way.”

Also, since EL James loves making an idol of virginity, she wants to have her cake and eat it too. Alessia not only was se trafficked, but is also a virgin. So when Max gets to stick his stick into her, she’s that pure, tight virgin. But, y’know. She was also sex-trafficked. And traumatized. It sounds more like she’s a “born-again virgin” with trauma-induced vaginismus. Sexy, baby. Sexy.

Want something super hot? If you think her trauma is every properly dealt with and that Max learns to keep his hands off of her, you’ll be thrilled to know the answer is…”NO! Of course not! Do you really think EL James is competent?”

My heart being crushed more at sex trafficking being the lasted “romance” is just the way I wanted my week to continue after the barbecue at Notre Dame. Fantastic week….

Go here and get a free audible subscription, and listen to it for free.  It’s easier than trying to read it. I’m not responsible for any alcohol you may need to imbibe to stop crying.

Something on the back-end readers might now know about

At this point in the game, I usually ignore readers who complain about e-book prices being “too high” at $4.99, or even lower, since it’s seen as “easy money” for writers. But it’s gotten harder with some things I’ve been watching and reading lately, including YouTube videos lamenting authors not releasing a book and then forgetting about it since it’s seen as something that belongs to the readers post-release, as well as about authors who aren’t on social medial while also complaining about authors who start getting political. There are only so many times authors can use #amwriting or say “today I’m editing” before it’s just so dull that we wish social media would dive into the dumpster fire that is the current industry. Many authors don’t want to share much about their private lives, so resort to entertainment, which often runs in with politics these days. You’re damned if you post, damned if you don’t, damned if you don’t let readers nearly literally own your book as if the rights are theirs, damned if you insist on maintaining some control.

But what’s got me frustrated right now is exclusivity mandates and how those harm authors, especially when readers want books for less and less money when we’re already being pressured by Amazon to go lower and lower, and readers want more and more of them, resorting in many authors pumping out low-quality books that they know aren’t up to par, because the punishment for not is to be considered irrelevant. Grab a glass of wine and settle in for this month’s edition of Alys Rants because I have thoughts to think and fingers to type (the word that flows better doesn’t really work there).

On the topic of exclusivity, when Amazon started Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), it sounded great, an easy way to publish ebooks. But then it turned out they required exclusivity with Amazon, and a lot of other mandates. You don’t get to opt out of Kindle Unlimited, which is s system currently being gamed by scammers to the financial detriment of honest authors, you technically can’t have give-aways unless you buy a gift card through Amazon so that Amazon gets a piece of it, and then send that to the winner, who can technically do anything they want with it (not doing this is why Sacred Blood was kicked off of KDP), and you absolutely can’t distribute your own digital books through any other avenue. We lose control, and there’s little we can do about it. Bizarrely, while checking on the current pricing for my second book, I saw that Amazon reinstated Sacred Blood, and at a different price than I originally set it for.

Now a well-known video game website is starting down the same path. Offering a larger cut that you’d get elsewhere, but mandating exclusivity. This exclusivity thing really has to go. Perhaps require an incentive for it, like a higher cut, but mandating it no matter what is very problematic. It’s not like the print book world, or the world of cartridge games, where someone else was investing tens or hundreds of thousands. This digital era has minimal, it any, cost to these companies doing the selling, with it all being on the shoulders of the creators instead. We create it. We format it. We test it. We make sure it works and is the best it can be. We service it and make edits or repairs if necessary. We foot all the financial investment. Then we had it over to a company to sell with them having the sole say from there on out, despite putting nothing into it. If these companies want to pay for assistants and editors and such, then fine, they’ve got money staked in it. But they don’t. We just hand them the fruits of our hard labor, knowing they’re going to keep the bulk of the harvest to themselves. We invest in the products, sometimes incurring debt to do so, for someone else to reap the bulk of the rewards on top of making very important decisions about selling. We may as well be independent contractors making products for another company to sell when that company offers no compensation at all to help cover the costs. Would you hire someone to paint your house for you, then tell them you’ll only pay for your personal labor, but you’ve got to pay for the paints and all supplies, and any assistants you may need, and no, you won’t compensate for any of it. That’s Amazon. They’re hiring that painter.

A lot of authors would do print-on-demand for print copies, or order a supply of their books for print purchases, since they ended up with a much larger cut of the sale this way since Amazon was merely the platform facilitating the sale and purchase, and had total control over pricing. Then Amazon bought Createspace, the main place authors were using, and started offering those same books on Amazon Prime for less than the cost an author could buy one at “wholesale” for, meaning the authors get a much smaller cut of a smaller amount they can’t control, with Amazon getting the larger cut for being the platform that facilitates the sale and purchase as well as fulfilling the order. This isn’t something I opted into when I started offering print books.

Regarding pricing, I’m so glad Nora Roberts touched on this. It’s epidemic how many people want books for next to nothing without so much as a thought for how much work and money goes into them. It’s gotten so bad that countless authors have banded together to offer boxed sets for sometimes as low as $4.99 for six books. Amazon’s push for books to be $1.99 or under comes with the punishment of your ranking in searches being lower if you don’t agree. They make money by moving millions of items at small profit margins. But for those of us moving tens, hundred, maybe a few thousand, at smaller profits, we don’t come out ahead, and often don’t recoup our expenses. Free-to-the-reader books even have their very own best-seller list, which many writers try to get on for the exposure. Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually convert to paid sales of other books. People looking for free books want free books. Amazon is aware that getting people to Amazon for free stuff increases the chance of a sale of something off the site.

If you’re a reader, please give authors a break. Throw us a bone every now and then. Don’t participate in the crowd that will only buy books if they’re almost free or free. Be patient between books instead of wanting a book a month badly enough that you’ll move on to someone else who pumps them out that fast. It’s literally not possible to write 70,000-90,000 words, have an editor go through it, then the writer make edits, and have it go back to the editor (at which point it could need further editing or be okay to go out), in a month. There is a lot of time involved, a lot of money, Amazon henpecking us, everyone henpecking us. In the end, the people who get money LAST are the very people the industry literally couldn’t exist without, and when we are lucky to even break even, insisting on lower prices, new books frequently enough that it would take more overtime to even push out first drafts fast enough, and demanding ever-lower prices burns us out. Folks, I know some authors who’ve done decently well, but who are close to quitting because of the amount of pressure and how much fighting has to be done to keep a few dimes per book. Amazon already puts mandates on writers that cause a loss of control and makes earning money hard enough. Please, PLEASE, be kind to authors, remember authors are people working their asses off, often on top of day jobs, and appreciate the money that authors put into books that come with so little pay, often no pay, very often in the negative, that creating books have become a labor of love and display of passion for the craft.

“After” recap, chapters 16-20

(Links to all recaps here: So I shall recap and comment on after by Anna Todd)

I’ve had a couple people ask if they can share this, and the answer is of course.  If I’m posting publicly, then share away.)

Chapter 16
Yes, these chapters are so short they shouldn’t even count as chapters, but just thinking in chapters makes this book drag out so much more.  We’re on chapter SIXTEEN.  Shouldn’t this be enough to hook a reader?

After Ana (genuine typo that I’m leaving it), I mean, Tess (of D’ubervilles…another Fifty Shades reference FTL) asks Hardin (a name that had my husband asking “What the hell?”) “truth or dare,” he obviously says “dare” because he’s a bad boy. Tess is all flitterpated because she didn’t expect him to look at her like a bad boy.  So she falters.  Her word, not mine.   For a moment, she thinks it would be “amusing” to have him say something nice about each person.

WE GET IT.  SHE IS A “GOOD GIRL.”  Why not put her in a first communion white dress, hand her a pacifier and a dolly, and tell her to suck her thumb?  We get it.

by Diane Miller Photography

She’s the purest of the pure who thinks a guy touching a girl’s hips is scandalous, and who probably hasn’t even wiped herself because that’s too close to sexual.  Hardin JUST LOOKED AT HER, and she’s beside herself, and she’s such a goody-goody that this little girl is probably a baaaaad girl in comparison.  Tess is a caricature of innocence at this point.

Wow.  I have a headache.

Molly “yells out” for him to take his shirt off, which makes Ms. Pure feel better since she won’t have to “give him orders.”  IT IS A GAME.  I want to play against her in Monopoly and let her get Broadway and build a hotel and then land on it.  Then, when she tries asking for rent, tell her, “Are you gonna order me?”  And then roll again since she’s so determined to be a doormat that she wouldn’t stop me.

This book makes me feel like a rebellious, bad person.  Then I remember it’s romanticizing abuse, Fifty Shade for TEENS, and I’ve had to talk with my 9-year-old about the movie trailers that pop up when she’s watching art videos on YouTube, and I get mad again about how I had to deal with what happened when Fifty Shades trailers popped up when she was watching the music videos playlist I made her when she was a wee thing, and she came into my room upset about “a man hitting that lady.”  I shouldn’t be having to warn my daughter, who isn’t even 10, about these trailers and how to handle them.  She shouldn’t be subjected to this shit, yet it’s so permeated our culture as acceptable that watching ART VIDEOS comes with the risk of being exposed to it as a positive thing.

I’m not the bad person.  And I’ll refrain for now from saying who is, lest I piss too many people off.

Hardin calls the dare “juvenile,” and we are stuck…well, I am stuck…reading about Tess eye-fucking his tattoos in detail.

The game goes on, someone kisses a couple people, someone else describes their first time having sex (mine was with someone so un-endowed that I was waiting for it to start when he told me he was done, and I had to pretend it was so good I needed a moment to comprehend it, and it’s no wonder he took pride in being called a “Massachusetts Minuteman”…I’m not even kidding), and someone else kissed someone, and Tess actually picks dare.

Something happens that surprises me.  After some guy dares her to take a shot of vodka, she says she doesn’t drink, and everyone laughs at her, the one person who seems at all uncomfortable with this is Hardin, and she says he looks disappointed.  She keeps drinking, though, and says everyone’s getting more fun.

Serious PSA: If you’ve never drunk anything before, do NOT drink for your first time in a situation where over-drinking is common.  It’s dangerous.  I’m not about to sit here chastising someone for drinking at 18 when I’m in a country that will put an 18-year-old on the front line in war but not allow that person a beer.  So I’m not even starting on that.  But when you don’t know your limits, don’t even try to find out in a situation like that.  Binge-drinking literally kills people.

Hardin does the RIGHT THING after she’s had SEVEN shots’ worth of vodka, and rips the bottle from her hand, telling her she’s had enough.  But she yanks it back and drinks more.

Molly then dares Hardin to kiss Tessa, which is wrong for so many reasons.  She’s not sober, clearly not capable of truly consenting at this point, this is a dare she wouldn’t have accepted sober, wouldn’t have been okay with when sober even if she drank…

A little disclaimer.  I don’t care if people drink and do dumb stuff that they’d be okay doing sober.  I don’t care if people decide to drink because there’s dumb stuff they want to do but feel better doing drunk.  I myself don’t really dance much in clubs if I’m sober, but I know I feel uninhibited enough to get up on tables if I’ve had a few drinks, and so drink with the intention of that.  So I’m not about to judge people at that party who are doing things they know they’ll do when drunk and they’re going into drinking okay with this.  But I AM going to judge people for daring someone to do something they know she wouldn’t consent to when drunk, especially when it’s her first time, and she’s had enough of it that she’s at risk of alcohol-poisoning.

Hardin’s eyes go wide, and though the alcohol is making everything more exciting, I really just want to run away from him.

“No, I have a boyfriend,” I say, making everyone laugh at me for the hundredth time tonight. Why am I even hanging around these people who keep laughing at me?

“So? It’s just a dare. Just do it,” Molly says, pressuring me.

“No, I’m not kissing anyone,” I snap and stand up. Without looking at me, Hardin just takes a drink from his cup. I hope he’s offended. Actually, I don’t care if he is. I’m through interacting with him like this. He hates me and is just too rude.

Remember, she called Hardin attractive not so long ago. And we all know where this will go. “Love.”

When she goes outside and calls Noah, he asked her if she was drunk, she got pissed, hung up, and said her concerned boyfriend is ruining the buzz more than Hardin.  This time, I’m on the side of both Noah and Hardin.  Noah’s concerned, and Hardin tried to stop her from drinking more and, so far, hasn’t pushed a kiss on a horribly drunk person who hasn’t had alcohol before.

She stumbles back inside, takes a huge drink of another bottle of some type of alcohol, and someone kinda needs to get her to an ER.  She’s topping even my party days, when I’d start off chasing vodka with cranberry juice and end the night chasing shots of Bacardi 151 with vodka.

At this point, Tess is right to be questioning if they’re her friends, and no, it’s clear they aren’t.  But she sees Hardin in a god light, doubting he’d have kissed her because…”his lips are so pink and full.”

Girl.  GIRL.  Sit down a sec.  A guy doing the right thing once doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.  This is an asshole who made you get dressed in front of him when you wanted him out of your private space.  Any guy being nice now and then doesn’t buy him points to be an asshole.  I had to learn that the hard way.  I excused an abuser because “he was usually nice.”  Doesn’t matter.  An asshole is an asshole, and being nice sometimes or once o whatever doesn’t excuse him.  Damn, books like this dredge up memories I’d rather not remember.

Drunk Tess finds her way to Hardin’s bedroom, and we get more not-believable crap about books.  I don’t believe for a second Anna Todd has done more than read a summary of the Cliffs Notes of Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice, yet has Tessa thinking about how rare it is for people their age, especially boys, to have read P&P.  Despite being so drunk she could hardly walk, she has no problem reading a book.

Hardin’s pissed.  He’s got a right to be, actually.  No, wait.  He did the SAME THING TO HER.  Still.  She shouldn’t be there.  Everyone in this book is awful.

In a fit of self-pity, she asks him why he doesn’t like her, but tells us she doesn’t think her ego could handle it.

Chapter 17
Hardin wants to know why she’s asking, and she gives him a load of lies as her answer.  She’s only been NICE to them all and crap like that.  Sure.  Uh-huh.  She and her mother and boyfriend openly sneered at Steph upon first meeting, and she’s been snide to all of them, they’ve been snide back, and she’s been judgmental as hell.  Honestly, who could like her at this point?  I didn’t even come to detest Ana Steele until the third Fifty Shades book, and already want to smack Tessa.

He answers that she’s uptight (true), tells her she probably had some perfect little life in a model home, probably got everything she wanted, and he hates her pleated skirts.

She gives a sob reply about her dad leaving when she was 10, her mom having to work (boo-hoo, so do most moms), and getting a job at 16 (again, boo-hoo, so do a lot of teens).  She outright calls his friends SLUTS, using that word, because lordy help them for kissing, and yells that he sure doesn’t like people different than himself despite trying to be different.  No, no, Tess, he just plain doesn’t like anybody.  You’re the one who doesn’t like different people.

She wants to go to the bus, and he “warns” her that “it’s a bad idea.”  She cries because…reasons?  So he tells her to sit down a few minutes until she stops, and then she can go to the buss station.  Didn’t he just say it was a bad idea?

He gives her a cup of water and claims he doesn’t drink.  Oh, bull shit.  BULL  SHIT.

We get small talk that I guess is supposed to be showing things are cool now.  He asks what she wants to do after college.  She wants to be an author or publisher.  (PLEASE, can people stop using this all the time?)  She asks if he owns his books.  Duh.  He does.  He calls her boyfriend “a tool.”  Yeah.  Noah is.  But so’s Hardin.  Tess doesn’t really care until Hardin says, “Well, he has been dating you for two years and hasn’t fucked you yet, so I would say he is a square.”

That’s what makes her mad.  She throws the water cup at him.  She goes downstairs, drinks some more, and Anna Todd shows us she forgot how to skip time.

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

That’s how she skipped time.  Just that.  In caps.

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, Zed and Logan have me laughing so hard that my stomach hurts.

“In a manner of minutes, Zed and Logan have me laughing so hard that my stomach hurts.”

“With just a few jokes, Zed and Logan have me laughing so hard that my stomach hurts.”

Those aren’t great, but they’re better than FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER.

But then Hardin appears as himself, as is pissed, per usual.  And Tessa’s sleeping over again.

Chapter 18
What did I get myself into with this book?  I AM BORED.

Tess finds an empty bed in a room with some guy whose passed out, locks the door for safety (it’s so obvious that McDrunky will wake up and try something with her), and she contemplates life.  Just kidding.  She tells us how she and Noah don’t have sex because he’s “a gentleman” and they have fun going to movies and long walks. I’m pretty sure teens in the 1940’s did more exciting things.

McDrunky wakes, gets suggestive, and she knees him in the nuts, which I take it Anna Todd has never done to a guy since she has McDrunky start chasing her.  You kick a guy in the jewels, and he’s going to instinctively be on the ground.  It’s not just a pain thing.  It’s an instinctive reaction to protect the biologically most important part of a person.  (Again, BIOLOGICALLY.  On a cognitive level, we tend to value other things more than reproductive ability, but instincts kinda tend to value things to keep our species alive.)

Then she runs screaming down the hallway right to Hardin.  In the midst of this, Anna Todd stops the semi-action so that Tess can gawk at how “hot” Hardin is in boxers, and how that surprises her more than him calling her Tess instead of Theresa.

Anna Todd, here’s another little author tip: Stop fapping if a scene is supposed to have some dangerous tension.  How are readers supposed to believe a character’s fear if she stands there thinking about hotness and names when an attempted rapist is running after her and can still reach her?

Hardin almost gets his responses right.  He gets her into his room, where it’s obvious he actually isn’t going to take advantage of her, asks if he’s okay, if the asshole touched her, but then gets it wrong here:

“No, he tried, though. I was stupid enough to lock myself in a room with a drunk stranger, so I suppose it’s my fault.” The idea of that creep touching me makes me want to cry, again.

“It’s not your fault that he did that. You aren’t used to this type of . . . situation.”

No. NO. The insinuation there is that, if you ARE used to parties, then it’s your fault.  Guess what, asshole.  You can be used to parties, and you still aren’t responsible for when someone tries something. If someone were to have told me this after some asshole named Andre shoved me against a wall at this place called Buddha Lounge (Mt. View, California–yeah, these details can seer themselves into your brain) and tried to have his way with me, until I grabbed his balls, squeezed, yanked, and told him I’d change his fucking religion if he didn’t back off (it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened, but that was the point when I finally stopped caring about other people in situations like that, and started caring about myself), or have said that during any other time, I might need someone to pay bail for me.  The ONLY person at fault is the person who sexually assaults someone.  Tess made it clear she wasn’t interested, McDrunky didn’t take that as an answer.  McDrunky is responsible, and Hardin and Anna Todd are both rotten people for the message that you’re only not responsible if you “aren’t used to this type of situation.”

In a stroke of good timing, my husband just walked into one of my studios with a thing of Trader Joe’s Fruit Jellies.  Now I’m calming down a bit and shoving sugar into my face.

Back to the story.  Tess kisses Hardin.  End of Chapter.

Chapter 19
Let’s see.  Hardin gets into it.  It start to go beyond just kissing, into foreplay territory.

Well, at least he’s not the one to have started it.  But if he’s sober, and she’s not, and he knows she didn’t want to kiss earlier, and that she’s got a boyfriend she wants to go watch more movies with, then he’s got an obligation to stop.

Tess remembers Noah exists, tells Hardin to stop, and he doesn’t.  She tells him to stop again, and he’s mad about it.

The softness in his eyes disappears and he pulls himself up, knocking me onto the other side of the bed. What just happened?

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say, and they are the only words I can think of. My heart feels like it will explode any second.”

No, no, no.  No.  NO.  Don’t you dare go knocking her around because she said NO, you raging asshole!  And, Anna Todd, seriously, fuck you for Tess being the one to apologize in a story we all know isn’t going to end with her having a revelation about her judgmentalism and finding her own value as a person and learning that someone taken advantage of isn’t the one needing to apologize.

Tess sits there feeling bad about “almost cheating” on Noah, and I’m actually giving her a pass on this.  True, she shouldn’t have started drinking when she hadn’t drunk before, but she shouldn’t have been pressured, and the sober one in this situation, Hardin, should have stopped it instead of getting into it and continuing after she said to stop…especially after she was just nearly sexually assaulted, a situation that would cause heightened adrenaline in anyone.  As she hadn’t ever drunk before, I don’t think she could have foreseen this outcome.  If I were to go out drinking and kissed someone, yeah, I’d see that as cheating on my husband, but that’s because I have drunk before, and I know my limits, and know that if I go beyond them, I could be tempted to do something like that, which, even if the other person were to stop it, the cheating aspect would still come into play and be on me.  I would go into drinking knowing what could happen.  Tess had no idea.

She’s embarrassed, doesn’t want anyone to know, and he doesn’t want anyone to know either.

And there’s his arrogance again. “So now you’re back to your old self, I see?”

“I never was anyone else—don’t think because you kissed me, basically against my will, we have some sort of bond now.”

Ouch. Against his will? I can still feel the way his hand gripped my hair, the way he pulled me on top of him, and the way his lips mouthed “Tess” before kissing me again.

I shoot up off the bed. “You could have stopped me.”

“Hardly,” he scoffs and I feel like crying again. He makes me too emotional. It’s too humiliating, too painful how he’s basically saying I forced him to kiss me. I bury my head in my hands for a moment and head for the door.

I am SO PISSED right now.  HARDIN is the victim?!  What the actual fuck!!  Tess is partially right–he could have stopped it.  The partial is because he SHOULD have as well.  I sincerely want to slap Anna Todd for this.  If I even get started on how furious this makes me, I might cry.  It’s beyond infuriating that THIS is the shit being peddled to teens these days, as ROMANCE.  Girl is pressured into drinking, gets drunk off her rocker, nearly sexually assaulted, in heightened emotional moment, kisses a guy who knows she doesn’t like him, he gets into it, ignores her when she says no, gets pissed when she makes him stop, then he’s the victim?!  NO MEANS NO!!  And ANYONE who ignores that is NOT the victim!!  I should NOT have to talk with my daughter about books like this yet, but have to since this is the shit being sold to impressionable girls as ideal and good.  HE IS THE PERPETRATOR!  And this is NEVER made clear.  EVER.  Just he’s the victim?!  NO!!

“You can stay in here tonight since you have nowhere else to go,” he says quietly, but I shake my head. I don’t want to be anywhere near him. This is all part of his little game. He will offer to let me stay in his room so I’ll think he is a decent person, then he will probably draw some vulgar design on my forehead.”

Thank GOODNESS she doesn’t stay.  She goes outside and mentally beats herself up for what she’s still seeing as cheating.

Chapter 20
I think I’m going to call this post a break after this one.  I’m so mad right now that I feel a migraine coming on and I’m out of CBD oil.

Anna Todd proves that she’s never been drunk in her life.  In a very short time, Tess is fully sober.  Literally absolutely no way can a person go from at least 12 shots of alcohol to stone-cold SOBER in a handful of hours.  And, if you don’t drink enough water, there’s no way you won’t get hung over.  (Pro-tip about drinking from someone who literally only has one half of one set of intestine left: If you get drunk, drink as much water as you can before going to sleep, and then drink more.  Hang-overs are your body being dehydrated, and that dehydration happens since your body is working so hard to filter the alcohol.  If you don’t have enough water, your body will pull water from your fat and muscles and brain, and you’ll have a headache and feel like hell.  If you drink tons of water, you’re giving your body the extra water it needs.  You might still end up with a small headache, but it won’t be as bad, and, if you manage to get enough down, you might not have a hangover at all.  Since I don’t have a large intestine at all, which is the organ responsible for absorbing most of the liquid your body needs, which is a big enough of a deal that I’m exempt from some laws, I kinda have to know about stuff like this to stay alive.)

But let’s continue on in this universe of alternative-facts.

Tess spends a few minutes pondering why a “punk” is in a fraternity with “preppy rich kids,” though she doesn’t give us any if her speculations.  She’s got to come up with an excuse instead, about why she was at a party.

When she gets to her dorm, Hardin is there.  She tells him to get out, but before he gets a chance to, her mother starts banging on the door.

Yes.  Her mother.  Noah called her mom in the middle of the night, and she drove to her daughter’s college, and is storming the dorm, screaming bloody murder at 6am.

Tess wants him to hide in the closet, which he says he won’t do since she’s eighteen.

Hardin, get your ass in the closet.  You shouldn’t even be there.

So she lets him stand there, opens the door, and there’s her mother…and Noah.

Mary Kay Letourneau and the 12-year-old student she had a relationship with.

Is anyone else skeeved out about her Tessa’s 17-year-old boyfriend and her mother have an unnaturally close relationship to where he calls her mother in the middle of the night, and then gets into a car and drives off in the middle of the night?  Where the hell are his parents?Her mother (what is her name?  I don’t recall her ever having a name) yells about everything under the sun.  I’ve tried reading it a few times, but it’s just…imagine it, and you’re probably right on the money.  Her mom’s pissed.  That’s enough.

Hardin does mindly try to defend her by saying that he just got there and Tess hasn’t done anything wrong.  Tess’s mother tells him to leave them alone for a moment.

For twenty minutes, Tess is lectured about not ruining college, not hanging out with Steph and Hardin, etc.  Then she invites her daughter to breakfast, but tells Tess to change.

Tess does so.  In the closet.

Wait.  Why didn’t Tess do that the first day when Hardin wouldn’t leave?  Why did she get dressed in front of him?  I have a headache.

On the way out, Tess tells Noah she doesn’t like Hardin, but tells us that she’s lying.

I’m done for now.  I just can’t anymore for a few days.  There’s nothing redeeming about anyone in this book so far.  And we’re supposed to see Hardin as some vulnerable little guy who somehow might care when all we’ve seen is him being a manipulative asshole, and Tess judges the hell out of everyone, and Tess’s mother and Noah have a relationship that I find to be very unsettling.  I’m going to hop on over to the chapter I’m working on in my newest book and get back to finding betas for the one I just finished (anyone interested?).  See, abuse ain’t romantic in my books because abuser ain’t romantic.  It truly disgusts me that abuse is still held up as the ideal.  Can we please stop going back in time for just a little while?

“After” recap, chapters 0-15

So let’s begin this thing.  (Links to all recaps here: So I shall recap and comment on after by Anna Todd)

I usually like prologues, but this one is pointless. A first-person present tense book really shouldn’t have a prologue talking about the future. In present-tense, you can’t know what will happen later on since you haven’t experienced it yet. Reflecting on things that happen in the book only works if the story is past tense.

It’s an ominous sign when the narrator, Tessa, even asks if she’d make the same choices if she knew what would happen, and isn’t sure. I made bad choices in my life that led me down the path to meeting the man who became my husband. Know what I know now, would I make those same choices? YES, because he’s worth it. But for Tess, one half of this supposed wonderful romance, she’s not sure. That is such a bad way to start a book, and plants the question of “is this really worth it?” in the reader’s head.

When the story opens, she’s getting read to leave for college.  Like Twilight and Fifty Shades, the story is in Washington.  Can we pretty please stop having books set in Washington?  I live there.  In Vancouver.  The same Vancouver where Fifty Shades’s Ana is from.  The same area where Twilight was filmed.  People aren’t so thrilled to constantly have our state bastardized and misrepresented (Fifty Shades portraying OHSU as she did, a real hospital, the one where I go…).  How about setting a book in Idaho?  Or Nebraska?  Just give Washington a break.

And please, PLEASE, can we stop having idiots for protagonists who we are supposed to believe are smart when we’re shown the opposite? “I had no idea that there would be so much more to college than academics.”  She’s going to be living in a dorm.  How can there not be more than academics when you’re literally living at your college?  Your entire life will be college and what goes on after and in between classes.

Speaking of, her college, which is the only one she applied to, is called Washington Central University.  C’mon, Todd, you’ve got internet access.  It’s Central Washington University.  Get the name right if you’re going to use a real school.  CWU is Ellensburg, a little over a hundred miles south-south-east of Seattle.

Once more, we’ve got an English major on our hands.  Can we stop it with characters always having just one hobby?  Especially when it’s not believable?  We saw Bella “Beautiful Swan” Swan reading for pleasure just once, and she fell asleep doing it.  There’s no sense of Ana Steele-Grey enjoying it either.  For the love of the gods, can books stop dragging in Jane Austen?  More on that later.

Do we really need a play-by-play description of getting ready?  Multiple pages of it.  Hot water ran out.  Shaving.  Blow drying her hair.  When she zips her dress up.  Getting her favorite sweater.  Sweater has a tear.  Throw it back.  Info that adds nothing but word count without showing us anything at all about the character.  At least Bella’s shaving scene after her wedding showed that she was nervous about having sex and was procrastinating due to those nerves.  But all this for nothing?

When she heads to the kitchen, we do get a good way of adding physical description without a bunch of exposition or a mirror.

“Hey.” I give him an equally bright smile, trying to hide my nerves, and pull my dirty blond hair into a ponytail.

Good job casually dropping in info.  But then she looks into a mirror.  Because

Once she gets to school with her 17-year-old boyfriend, Noah, and her mother, we find out she hadn’t ever even been there before, despite it being just two hours away.

It looks just as great in person as it did in the brochures and online, and I’m immediately impressed by the elegant stone buildings.

If a school is local, you’re supposed to visit.  That’s logical.  Logic is lacking in this book.

Nothing to this point indicates she brought stuff for her dorm.  We read pages and pages about her getting dressed, but nothing about her packing anything.  It does turn out she brought a few clothing items, a blanket, and some books.  A little tip:  Get the image in readers’ heads, even if you need to cut some stuff that’s not relevant to nothing.  Until this point in this story, a reader won’t be imagining the characters carrying anything.  There’s no reason to. Have a character grab her duffel bag, making sure her favorite book is in it with her blanket and some clothes, then head to the car.  Another little tip: Cut that irrelevant stuff anyway.  If it serves no purpose, don’t serve it to the reader.

We are introduced to Tessa’s judgmental side, which will be a character on its own.  She sarcastically notes that her mother watches QVC for beauty products, notes that her mother was “careful” not to mess up her makeup when she was teary-eyed since it’s apparently a bad thing to not want makeup-streaks, snaps about her mother wearing heeled shoes.  Once they find her very small dorm room, she then tears apart her new roomie for being covered in (years-of-work’s-worth of) tattoos, wearing eyeliner, and wearing something that shows a bit of cleavage.  Her mother openly gasped, so I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

“Hey, Tessa, nice to meet you. Welcome to WCU, where the dorms are tiny and the parties are huge.”

What does this show us about the roommate, Steph?  Only that she’s trying to greet the person she’ll be living with for the next nine months and is making small-talk.  No big deal, right?

Well,Tess, boyfriend, Noah, and her mother don, as she puts it, “three horrified expressions.”  Over an innocuous greeting.

I feel bad for Steph.

A couple of Steph’s friends, some One Direction members come in (I don’t now who they are, so can’t tell you the real names of the characters, nor do I care to go find out).  One is so covered that literally “every visible inch” is covered.  We come to find out later that they’re sophomores (colleges don’t dorm freshmen and sophomores in the same rooms…).  So they’re 19ish.  Tattoos take time.  Large tattoos, which would include full sleeves, are done over several sessions with long breaks between so that the skin can heal.  Getting so many tattoos would take longer than these students have been adults who tattoo artists could legally work on.  The laws of the UK, where 1D is from, might allow tattooing people under the age of 18, but this story is set in the US, where it’s a criminal offense to tattoo someone under the age of 18 without a medical reason.

Regardless, one of the two kindly greets Tess, and the other is quiet, yet Tess’s mother calls them “punks” based solely off of how they look, and insists her daughter get a new roommate.  Steph hasn’t even had a chance to do anything wrong!  She’s got tattoos, and, as far as we know, none say MAGA, have swastikas, are gang-signs, or anything to indicate alliance with hate-groups or gangs, and the same goes for her friends.  I’m pretty sure my dad’s one tattoo is “worse.”  He had the Pink Panther on his right arm with “Budweiser” above, and the panther was holding a can of beer and smoking a doobie.  Nothing wrong with it, but I’m sure the Judgmental Asses Three would think he was the antichrist if they’re freaking so much about tattoos of fairies and flowers.  At last, two of them leave, and Tess decides to go take a shower.<

Didn’t we already go through the play-by-play of a shower?  We get another.  The word “naked” is used overly much.

The showers in this dorm building are co-ed.  I’ve never heard of a college for where everyone showers together.  The reasons to not have people of mixed genders running around undressed are so obvious that I’m not even going to say it.

For actual showering, there are stalls.  However, the stalls are so small that Tess can’t straighten her arms.  So there’s no way around having to be naked in front of men.  How safe do you think it would be to have a 18-year-old teenaged woman naked in a teeny shower stall having to get out and be naked in front of, say, a bunch of guys like Brett Kavanaugh?  And the only option is to not bathe?

Tess tried to do it all in the tiny stall, but knocked her clothes off the rack, and so runs back to her room wrapped in just a towel.  He finds a guy in there, not one she’s met before.  Tattoos, a British accent…it’s Harry Styles!  I mean, Hardin, as he’s been renamed.

And he is a grade-A asshole.  She wants him to leave.  Understandably so!  But he won’t.  He laughs at her discomfort.  Mocks her.  She has no choice but to get dressed in front of him.  The word “naked” is used overly much.

Any reasonable person wouldn’t find a guy like this attractive.  He’s rude, he forced a woman to be naked in front of him, is getting some sadistic pleasure out of her discomfort…  Naturally that means he’ll be the one Tessa’s going to be in bed with very soon.  When Steph gets back and tries talking Tess into going to a frat party, Hardin amps up his mocking.  Since Tess isn’t reasonable, of course she decides to go.

Anna Todd is clearly trying to make us hate everyone and see everyone except Tessa as whore-bags and bad people.

“The dress—no, piece of scrap material—she chooses is a black fishnet, which lets her red bra show through. The only thing keeping her from showing her entire body is a solid black slip. The dress barely reaches the tops of her thighs and she keeps tugging the material up to reveal more leg, then back down to reveal more cleavage. The heels of her shoes are at least four inches tall. Her flaming red hair is pulled into a wild bun with curls escaping down to her shoulders and her eyes are lined with blue and black liner, somehow even more eyeliner than she had on before.”

That’s sex-club attire (nothing wrong with those, and I used to go to them…TMI?), not frat party stuff.  But remember, Steph is a bad person, a whore, a punk.  That means dressing her unreasonably scantily.

Meanwhile, our gentile, demure, chaste good girl shows up how good people dress in dresses….

The maroon material is soft but sturdy, the same material business suits are made of. The collar goes up to my neck and the sleeves are three-quarter length, hitting just under my elbows.”

It also goes  below the knee.  Steph calls it too formal for a frat party, and it is.  But we simply must know that Tessa is good, and Steph is bad, and Anna Todd doesn’t know how else to show different personality types than polar opposites, and anyone who isn’t a pure little virgin is bad.

Does anyone else get tired of non-virgins being vilified?  It’s fine if someone is a virgin at 18 because they don’t feel ready.  My character of Juliette in Sacred Blood was, because she wasn’t ready due to circumstances in her life, but it wasn’t to show her as a better person than anyone else.  It wasn’t put on a pedestal with a spotlight and people praising her for never having touched a penis in any way.  It wasn’t fetishized.  Yet many books make virginity out to be what makes someone a good or bad person, clean versus dirty.  Virginity is used to assign value, and sex before marriage means that the good lil’ virgin has fallen thanks to the hero character, or, if they wait until after marriage, it means that they’ve got the good morals.  I’m sick and tired of sex being used this way.

Also, Tessa doesn’t wear makeup aside from mascara and lip balm.  Because she’s a good girl.

One of the nice guys she met, Nate, picks up Tess and Steph, and Hardin is in the care.  He mocks her for being uncomfortable.  Can we expect anything else from him?

At the party, she does do a smart thing in not drinking from a random cup some random guy shoved into her hand.  But then she finds tattooed people and judges them.  Since they have to be the bad guys, one calls her a priss for not drinking.  She’s sad, and instead of trying to find someone else to talk to, she goes upstairs to find a bathroom, but finds Hardin in a bedroom making out with someone, which Tess says is “practically having sex.”  A girl in a guy’s lap, fully-clothed, and just kissing is not “practically having sex.”  Be reasona–oh.  Right.

When Tess doesn’t leave, the girl asks, “Can I help you?” which results in Tess telling is the girl is rude.  No, the one staying is rude.  Hardin was rude for staying where someone doing something personal didn’t want him.  Tess wasn’t rude for telling him to leave.  But now that the tables are turned, the one telling the invader to leave is suddenly the rude one?  We shouldn’t have double standards, but Tess always has to be the one in the right, even when she’s wrong.

She finally goes back downstairs where she sees a guy holding a girl’s hips while dancing.  We aren’t told that that couple is twerking or that hands are under clothes.  We are only told they’re dancing and his hands are on her hips.  This is scandalous to her because she and Noah have been together 2 years and haven’t done that much.   Because she’s the good girl.  It’s too far for a guy to touch a girl’s hips. I’ve getting very Duggarish vibes from her.

It hasn’t been that long yet, yet Steph is so drunk she’s about to throw up.  Nate and Tess get her upstairs to a bathroom just in time for her to make an offering to the porcelain god.  Tess tells us how much she already cares for Steph.  You know what?  This book is one of those lessons in what NOT to do as a writer.  Don’t show us the thoughts of the first-person narrator where she’s thought nothing positive about someone, not one thing, literally not even one single positive though, then tell us later that that person actually really does care.  If you show and tell different things, we will believe the show.  The actions must match, and if you put us in the narrator’s head, you must show is thoughts that align with what we’re told later.

She and Nate then lay Steph down in a random room, and she starts reading a book.  Wuthering Heights.  Can the Brontës and Jane Austen please be left out of this stuff?  These books have become cliches at this point, misused by writers who don’t understand them.  I’ll get back to that later.

And shit, Brontë names.  In my current WIP, the children of one man all have literary names, though there’s a reason for it.  The main protagonist’s best friend is Emily, after Emily Brontë.  Her brother is Byron, after Lord Byron.  I was inspired to use these names when I found a 19th century copy of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in an antiques shop, and the engraving of Lord Byron looked exactly as I’d envisioned my -then-still unnamed male lead.  Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, by the way, is a long narrative poem about a restless young man traveling the world, and reflects Lord Byron’s travels.  This is the work that made him incredibly famous.

Using literary names isn’t new for me.  My dogs always get literary names.  My golden retriever who died last year at the age of 12 was Emma, after the Jane Austen character.  My 12-year-old golden, Emma’s daughter, is Luthien Tinuviel, one of Elrond’s ancestors in Lord of the Rings.  My Norfolk terrier is Juliet, after Romeo and Juliet.  My Yorkshire terrier is Ella Ophelia, a name that reflects the E and L for my goldens and yet is a nod to Cinderella, and a nod to my Norfolk with another Shakespearean name.  Even my daughter didn’t escape the literary naming.  Charlotte.

Back to the story, if we can call this thing a story.  I’m not going into overly much detail.  We are in chapter 9 right now.  Yes.  9.

Well, the room is Hardin’s, and he’s pissed she’s in his room, his personal space.  Pot, meet Kettle.

He corners her physically, she’s scared.  Yup.  It’s gonna be looooooooove.  We can’t have a love story without the guy being rude, doing something that can be argued as sexual harassment, denigrating the woman, scaring the hell out of her, and making her cry because what he enjoys doing hurts her.  She manages to get away, and he continues mocking her as she leaves.

I miss the days when Edward Cullen was seen as bad.  He’s so kind compared to this.  And THIS, folks, is how these books are dangerous.  Edward’s not a good guy.  He’s a controlling ass, and yet he looks positively charming compared what we’ve got now.  His behavior is no big deal compared to this.  His behavior has become acceptable, and he changed nothing about his actions.  Society is what got worse.

In chapter 10, she ducks into the bathroom because she realizes she doesn’t know where her dorm is, had a quick thought about Hardin having books…

There is no way a rude, disrespectful, tattooed jerk like Hardin could possibly enjoy those amazing works. The only thing I can picture him reading is the back of a beer bottle.

(I do like the line about the beer bottle.)

She has a very quick call with Noah to slam Steph, then opens a door to see Hardin.

That’s all of chapter 10.

In 11, he is standing in front of her, asks if she’s been crying, and tells her she can sleep in a room down the hall.  She starts walking down the hall.  End of chapter.  No, really.

The next day, she finally decides transit is a thing, and runs into Hardin.  Again.  Of course.  She’s so judgmental that this exchange…

“Is there a bus that runs close to here?” I ask, not expecting an answer.

“Yep, about a block away.”

I follow him around the kitchen. “Could you tell me where it is?”

“Sure. It’s about a block away.” The corners of his mouth lift, taunting me.

…has me on his side for a moment.  No, she doesn’t deserve abuse, but she’s just so unlikable that I can get behind sarcasm meant to annoy her.  Also, it’s sarcasm that matches my own.

Someone must have told Anna Todd not to give us every single detail because she actually skips time.  She gives us a paragraph or two about Tessa shopping for more clothes, and then it’s Monday.  School time.  

Tessa dresses in what can best be described as Mormon Summer Camp chic: White button up, tan pleated skirt, etc.  Y’know.  Good girl stuff.  I’m mildly surprised it’s not a tan jumper to really play up the innocent good girl angle.

In her fifth class OF THAT DAY, she meets a nice guy named Landon.  They only talk for a page, but in that time, we are shown that he’s a nice guy, and has a girlfriend named Dakota.

Did I mention yet that Anna Todd and EL James are friends?  No?  Well, they are.  So.  Dakota Johnson.  This book really has a lot in common with Fifty Shades, just with 1D names.

And five college classes in a day?  That’s a full course-load, in just one day.  And Tess is glad she doesn’t have to stand in front on the classes and introduce herself “like high school teachers make you”?  Did Anna ever go to a school in the US?  What high school has teachers who make everyone go to the front of the room to introduce themselves on the first day?

Hardin’s in this class as well, because of course he has to be in the lit class, and he scares Landon off.  Great sign there!  Landon’s so scared that he actually runs off.  Hardin is isolating Tess from potential friends.  He mocks her more, they walk back to her dorm while she’s thinking about how “attractive” he is…fucking hell.

What have we need that could make him the least bit attractive?  He’s mean.  He’s rude.  She’s dreaded seeing him because he’s so cruel.  He mocks her.  He makes her cry.  We have literally seen absolutely no nice actions from him.  Toward anybody.  He’s the worst to her.  But he’s attractive now?

Another little tip: What you show and what you tell HAVE TO ALIGN.  Otherwise it’s not believable!!

And then we get this.

We begin walking along back in the direction of my dorm and get about twenty steps when all of a sudden he shouts out, “Stop staring at me!” turns a corner, and disappears down a pathway before I can even think of a response.

Huh?  That was out of nowhere.

Now it’s Friday and she plans to work ahead in her courses because I guess that’s how college works…?  You can just work ahead?  In the class with Hardin, because all classes are five days a week…because that’s how it works now…?, they’re going over Pride and Prejudice.

I’ve got words to say in a moment.

After class, Hardin does what Hardin does, and he mocks her some more, and says every woman who has read the book is in love with Darcy.  Actually not…  I’ll get back to this in the aforementioned moment.

“I’m sure you aren’t able to comprehend Mr. Darcy’s appeal.” My mind goes to the massive collection of novels in Hardin’s room. They couldn’t possibly be his. Could they?

The appeal is a wet shirt…wait for it.

He replies,

“A man who is rude and intolerable being made into a romantic hero? It’s ridiculous. If Elizabeth had any sense, she would have told him to fuck off from the beginning.”

YES.  Thank you for lampshading the problem!  So tell Harden to fuck off now!  This self-awareness makes this book’s direction more aggravating.  The oh-so-romantic hero is an ass who needs to be told to fuck off.  So why is that not happening?!

Then Hardin calls Elizabeth an idiot, meaning Tess is an idiot by proxy.

Tess says she’s “one of the strongest, most complex characters ever written.”  Hate to burst your bubble, it no.  But I’m sure we’re supposed to see Tess this way since Anna’s trying to not-so-subtly tell us that they’ll be Darcy and Elizabeth, only it doesn’t work here.  Elizabeth was stuck with societal limitations….

I’m in several regency groups, the sort where we spend fortunes on gowns, even for children, for themed retreats and work quotes into daily life.  (I made the two to the right.)  Jane Austen Society, yearly pilgrimages to Bath, England, can tell you all about Jane’s life and enough else to fill up the time for a few college courses.  Not a single person I know gets excited about these books being in crap like this, not when the actual intended meaning of them is excised.  Then again, we were all fans of Austen before it became trendy.  (Yes, it’s trendy now to be a fan.  If you miss the sarcasm in the books, you’re probably on the trend bandwagon.)  Those books were a sarcastic look at her society, but you don’t learn that by a surface read of the books.  You have to study the era in which they were written because context is EVERYTHING.

Part of what annoys me and many, many long-time fans, about Austen’s works being used so often is how many people don’t know what they’re about.  Pride and Prejudice isn’t a romance any more than Romeo & Juliet, another story that is misunderstood too often.  Jane Austen wrote books that were satirical with a large heap of irony.  P&P opens: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  This is intended to set the tone of the book.  These books became so popular at the time because of how much they lampooned societal issues of the time.  She didn’t like that women were supposed to be subservient.  She didn’t like that women were property, more commodity than person.  “Well, a rich guy wants to buy himself a woman ’cause that’s how the world works.”  That’s the tone.  Try reading these books as if they’re being acted out on Saturday Night Live.  SNL is never serious, and neither are these books.  They’re not love stories.  They’re not romances.  Elizabeth Bennett submitted to Darcy because that’s what women ultimately had to do back in a time when Jane Austen’s books had to be published under the name of one of her brothers because women weren’t allowed to be published writers (the Brontë sisters used the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Belle, for Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Anne Brontë, and when Wuthering Heights came out, it was believed that women weren’t capable of that sort of writing). 

At the time, women weren’t allowed to have their own income, and credit for accomplishment belonged to men.  Anything a woman earned belonged to whichever man had possession of her.  We saw Elizabeth be a strong person on her own, but in a time when women has strict limits, her long-term survival depended on finding a man to marry.  Darcy was jerk enough to basically dominate her, and her initial refusal to marry him made her a challenge.  When these books were written, contemporaries understood this.  Even in the book, other characters acknowledge it, and call him selfish and unpleasant.  Being strong on her own was a luxury not available to Elizabeth.  It was a fantasy, and knocking her down to a submissive wife drove home the desire versus the reality in stark contrast. 

As far as Darcy, what regency enthusiasts get hot and bothered over is Colin Firth and his gratuitous wet shirt more than anything, and when it’s not the infamous wet shirt scene, it’s an openly-acknowledged-as-modified version of Darcy, an Austen-fandom-creation of Darcy, not the Darcy as written.  We aren’t under the impression that he’s a romanic nice guy.  When played by Firth, he’s an acknowledged jerk in a wet shirt.  The Darcy-love is Colin Firth fandom.  A few years back, the Washington Regency Society held its annual retreat, that year at Tokeland.  We had a ball one night in our regency ball gowns, drank a lot of port, flirted with the inn’s silver fox of a chef, and had a photo of Colin Firth in a clawfoot bathtub above the shared clawfoot bathtub (ver old inn, built before in-room bathrooms).  Darcy-love is Firth-love, and it’s an inside way to bond.  You have to remove Darcy’s many jerkish thoughts (I will be generous and excuse his sexism to an extent considering the era, but when he’s jerk enough to be called out in the book for it…) to find Darcy himself so desirable these days, at least you do if you understand the motivations for what he was doing.  He wasn’t changing.  He was manipulating.  Him changing would have been emasculating.  Christian Grey admitted his own faults, and never changed.  Ana just learned to manage him.  Darcy was “the man” to other men, and Elizabeth was relatable to women with Darcy as a man who they could openly laugh at while acknowledging that they, too, would likely have married him despite him being a joke of a man.  Read Mr Darcy’s Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen’s Most Eligible Bachelor if you want a modern satire about how much his methods are made of fail.

If anything, Austen’s huge show of genius with him was writing a character who women of the day would want because of his ability to give financial stability, as well as one who, as time went on, would have qualities that readers would strip away to see only what they wanted to see, despite many still being able to see the full package that he is.

(On a semi-related note, in the same era, Mary Anning, the women in the tongue-twister “she sells seashells by the seashore,” was the mother of paleontology, yet her discoveries were published by men without credit going to her.  She was an outsider to the scientific field she started while men made the money from her discoveries, and she was resentful of this.  That’s the world Austen satirized.  Austen’s books were a release and an outlet for venting.)

Now what are we here for?  Oh.  Right.

Back on Tessa’s and Steph’s room, Steph’s getting dressed for another frat party and Steph’s wearing something Tess tells us “leaves little to the imagination,” envies Steph’s confidence, then tells us she’s she herself has “hips and breasts are larger than most women my age” and that she tries to hide them.  Um, there are worse things to be than a thin shapely woman with boobs.  I’ve been on both sides.  Both sides have drawbacks.  Having boobs and hips doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t wear potato sacks.  You’re in college.  Shut it with the humblebrag about physical perfections.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see a physically attractive character who acknowledges it without expecting sympathy for how hard it is to be pretty?  Instead of yet another “it’s so hard to be pretty, feel bad for me” character?

Since her laptop breaks, a la movie-Fifty Shades (in the book, Ana didn’t have a computer at all and didn’t even know how to use the internet, which is why Christian bought her a computer that didn’t exist, a point the director changed to Ana’s computer being broken), and she can’t watch Netflix, she agrees to go to the party since she’s the idiot Hardin called Elizabeth.  She knows she won’t have fun.  But there’s just nothing else to do on a Friday night the first week of college other than to watch Netflix.  Or Netflix&chill, though that would probably give Tessa the vapors.

This time she wears jeans she says are “a little tighter than her usual pants,” and a black sleeveless button-up with lace.

The girl who called her a priss the previous weekend and who was kissing Hardin is finally given the name Molly, and she is going to pick them up.  Steph says Molly’s “intimidated” by Tess because Tess is “different.”  Precursor to “not like other girls”?  Yes.  Yes, it is.  And it’s going to make Tessa better somehow.  The “not like other girls” angle really is not a positive one.  Because you’re bad if you’re like Steph and her friends and choose to have sex and not dress like a parochial school girl, and good if you aren’t like Steph and her friends.  So don’t be like Steph and Molly.  Don’t be like those other girls who make different, not-dangerous decisions for their bodies.  Just join Tess and Steph as they trash-talk Molly for how she “changes guys every week.”  Because she’s not the different one, and what’s good is being different than the other girls, not being like other girls.  What’s good is being like the different one, like Tess, and hating the bad “other girls.”

Then Steph firmly and undeniably establishes Hardin as Christian Grey:

“Hardin doesn’t date. He fucks with a lot of girls, but he doesn’t date anyone. Ever.”

Where have we heard something like this before?

Hello, Christian.

Tessa’s not having fun, which we knew would happen.  Which SHE knew would happen.  Hardin sees her, comments her clothed fit this time…nothing indicated her maroon dress didn’t, despite it being extremely modest.  But she’s wishing she was “wearing her normal loose clothing.”  Oh!  The ponytail.  Frumpy clothes.  Being convinced she’s less than average in appearance despite being all that and a bag of chips…  Hi, Ana!  She walks away, and tells us she wished Hardin would follow her.

Why?  Why is she so attracted to someone who treats her so badly?  Why is ANYONE attracted to this guy?  He’s scary and tears her down with his mocking and makes her cry because he hurts her.

Hours later, the “punks,” as Tess cals them this time, play Truth or Dare, and Hardin’s hand is noted as being so large it completely covers his “red cup.”  Y’know  A Solo cup.  That’s a massive hand, a Hagrid-hand.  Oh!  Replace the G with an N, and rearrange them, and Hagrid becomes Hardin.  Tess is invited to play, and does when Hardin calls her “prude.”  She defends herself to the reader saying she’s not a prude because she’s “not some cloistered nun.”  She’s a prude, by the very definition of the word.  It’s not someone who is just chaste.  Prudes look down on others for not being as pure as the prudes see themselves.  It is a sense of moral superiority.  It’s about being judgmental and holier-than-thou against those who make the choice to have sexual contact with others.

You know, I don’t care if someone simply chooses not to have sex.  It’s the attitude that goes with it that’s going to make me go to one side or the other.  In Sacred Blood, Juliet was a virgin until 21.  She just wasn’t ready until then, but she did get horrified at the sight of hands on hips or a couple people kissing, and think she was better than them because she made the “right” choice and they’re “wrong” for it.  (She also had a box of adult toys, meaning Tess would probably see her as bad as well.  Plus Juliet kisses more than one guy, by choice, in that trilogy.)

So Hardin asks Tess truth or dare, and she picks truth.  I always pick that as well, just because I’m one of those people who will devise a dare so bad (never dangerous or illegal) that I don’t want to risk revenge that I’d rightly deserve.  So no flack on her for picking the safe option.  Hardin’s friend, Zed, butts in and asks her if she’s a virgin.  Hardin goes along with the question and demands to know.  She nods at them, but says to us,

Of course I’m a virgin; the furthest Noah and I have gone is making out and some slight groping, over our clothes, of course.

See?  That’s why she’s a prude bitch.  She’s a good girl, see, so “of course” hands are only over clothes, and it’s the only right think and anyone should know that.  Because of course.  How can anyone possibly think that she might even have touched a tiny bit of skin?  What a sick, scandalous thought.  “Of course” good people won’t let any skin at all touch.  That’s the stuff bad people do….

Still, no one seems outright surprised by my answer, just intrigued.

She’s only met most of these people twice, yet has been so judgmental about things like hands on hips that they can all tell she sees herself as above that.  Is this really someone that people find relatable?  It’s probably why she doesn’t actually have friends.  She thinks she’s better than everyone, and makes no attempt at hiding it.  Remember, right from the start, she admitted joining her mother and Noah in making “three horrified expressions” over Steph’s greeting of a hello and a quip about notoriously small dorm rooms.  She and her mother and Noah deserve each other and should go live in a cave somewhere.

“So you have been dating Noah for two years and you haven’t had sex?” Steph asks

And now, at the end of chapter 15, Ana…a genuine typo I made without intending to, but will leave there…TESSA is now established as a conquest with some “flaw” that the “romantic” guy will need to “rectify.”

We are 15 chapters into a story in which almost notable has happened, much less enough stuff to take up more than half as many chapters than the average Harry Potter book (those books average 28.4 chapters, 199 chapters total divided by 7 book).

We do get a lot of mixed signals toward the end there.  Clearly Tessa’s view is that women who have had sex (or touch each other’s hips…or kiss…) or who do anything she doesn’t are horrid, but it’s going to be made into something that is okay for HER to do, because the rules for her versus the rules for everyone else are going to be different.  Tessa will be able to do no wrong.  Yet no other girl will be able to do right, because this is chalking up to be yet another book where all the other girls are bad because girls just can’t exist in fiction without having to compete and compare themselves to others with others coming up short.

Connotations of words and word choices

I was writing a disclaimer on a post to try ensuring readers would understand that my calling female people “girls” isn’t an infantilization of female people, and it started becoming its own post.  Word-use caries by demographic, by region, culture, country…  This is something I’ve struggled with when writing book things because it’s far too easy these days to be “cancelled” over using a word that has never been offensive where someone is from, but that has become offensive where others are.  I’ve seen YouTubers “cancelled” for words they used a decade or more ago, when those words were common, but that have become offensive.  What words to we use today will get us in trouble in another decade, when they’re no longer acceptable to use as we use them today?  This can make speaking or writing at all incredibly stressful.  Far too often, our context is ignored, with new context applied to turn innocent things into offensive, bad, shame-on-you-forever things.

In short…or long…to start with “girl”, and then expand outward, since that is what inspired this particular post:

I alternate between calling female people girls and women, while also talking about how some things in a book are used to indicate if someone is “a good girl” or a “bad girl.”  In said post, there is a lot of slut-shaming and woman-hate used to denote who is supposed to be good and who is supposed to be bad.  At times I refer to gatherings of female people as just girls, without positive or negative qualifiers.  Each individual use, aside from “good/bad girl,” when taken in context, are innocuous.  Yet it’s too easy for someone out there to get horribly offended because in their personal world, the day someone turns 18, “girl” is no longer allowed, and the context doesn’t matter one iota.

In my social sphere, we also refer to ourselves as girls and to the men in our lives as “the boys.”  We don’t call them that in place of their names, like “Hey, Boy!” but we will talk about how the boys are going to see a movie this weekend, or let’s leave our kids with the boys so we can go do some girl stuff, and talk about planning a makeup night for us girls.  So not this post serves as the all-but-mandatory-in-2019 disclaimer that your area where “girl” or another word might be bad isn’t necessarily the same in my area where it’s not, and there’s literally no way to use words that can’t offend everybody.  I once lived in an area where calling female humans “woman” and “ma’am” were taken as calling someone old because they’re ladies and or a miss,(I had a customer demand to talk to the manager when I said “ma’am,” since she was offended I didn’t caller her “mademoiselle,” something not exactly used in common US vernacular), yet there are areas where “lady” is seen as insinuating a certain behavior stereotypical of the sex, “be lady-like” and such.

And another disclaimer, because 2019: The phrase “girl stuff” does NOT exclude people of the male sex who identify as women, or people of the male sex who identify as male who enjoy things like makeup.  It’s just doing stuff considered stereotypically feminine with a group of friends who can also share some general bitching about the way sexism still impacts us, how much dealing with birth control can be annoying [before saying that’s bigoted against transwomen, know that, in my group, not all of us can just toss birth control and get pregnant–I myself am infertile and needed IVF yet can still commiserate about the lack of viable alternatives for penis-havers other than condoms, which can break, and how stupid it is that medical stuff tends to be tested with men in mind, but when it comes to thinks like birth control, that’s “woman stuff”], and so on.  It doesn’t mean transwomen aren’t women, or that transmen aren’t allowed.  A friend’s young son enjoys makeup stuff, and would be hurt if she and a non-childed friend and my daughter and I went to Ulta without him, and so he’s free to join us for girl stuff, and he knows boys can do stuff called “girl stuff” and my daughter knows girls can do stuff called “boy stuff,” and both only get offended if something is said to be “for” one sex or the other.

But others might see it as being exclusionary based on their experiences, and there are people as well who think that we should literally eliminate every word that can be connected to a sex or gender, no matter how tangential, because they’re offended by not identifying with one or the other, with both, or sometimes they do, but think gender identity divides people in bad ways.  Yet still there are others who see it as important to have spaces for people of marginalized sex and genders (i.e. cisgender women, transwomen, and transmen) can freely converse without what can feel like oversight from the ruling sex (cisgender men).  It’s very easy to see how both sides can feel this way, but there’s no way to meet halfway on this.  So what do you do?

So take a deep breath and remember that different words have different connotations depending on where we are, and where you are isn’t necessarily going to be like where I am, and where I am isn’t necessarily going to be like where you are.  Keep in mind different connotations of different words exist, and that personal experiences factor in, and look at the total context of what is being said, instead of taking one word of phrase on its own and presuming it must be meant with whatever meaning is used in a different part of the country or world.

This goes not only for words regarding gender identity, but many other words.  Right now, I’m sitting in a country where “gypsy” is not a bad word, and when I asked a couple friends of mine who identifies as that, as in ancestral roots and all are gypsy, they both, independently, told me that refusing to call them gypsies is stripping them of their cultural identities and that refusing to say it is like saying their culture is so bad that it can’t be spoken of by name (so, like Voldemort versus he-who-shall-not-be-named).  One of them told me that “traveller,” which is a common term in the US now, doesn’t connect.  The other said not all Roma identify as gypsies, and using Roma instead is saying all Roma people have the same culture.  (Some latinx people feel the same about all latin cultures being lumped together as the same, and so prefer to be called Mexican, Cubano, etc.)  I can’t remember which, but one said that people who think the problem gypsies need to worry about is what they’re called need to try living in an apartment building of other gypsies that gets condemned to get gypsies out of the area.  Another thing pointed out is that it’s what is being said that will determine if someone’s being offensive.  “Filthy gypsy” is absolutely bad, or saying “gypsy” in a tone you use for something unsavory, but just a a general word, on it’s on, it’s not bad.  Yet in the US, you may as well be banned from existence for calling someone a gypsy, even if you are one, and even if the people spoken about are in Europe and want it used (one of my friends in America descents from this group, and it kills her that her own friends are afraid to use the name she identifies with for her culture), It doesn’t matter in the US that in other parts of the world, refusing can be seen as denying someone of their cultural identity.  Since I’m from the US, where we are a step away from calling it “the g-word,” I won’t use it unless quoting or in context of a post discussing the world, regardless of my thoughts, and regardless of having my butt sitting in a country where it’s not a bad word.  The words my country allows are offensive to a lot of gypsies here, but there’s nothing I can do about that.  So, because of where I’m from, I will be stripping people of their cultural identity until my personal society can start looking at context.  To make my personal society happy means hurting others.  Making those others happy means pissing off my society and expulsion.  It’s a no-win situation since context, in my society, is ignored.

An example of a word used in other places that is offensive in America is calling a person with something like autism, a person like my daughter, retarded.  In the US, it’s become pejorative, but in other places, it still means to be slow or delayed or otherwise have challenges, and that’s correct.  In those places, it hasn’t seen widespread use as an insult.  I’m not going to be bothered if a French person and I are talking about my daughter, and she is referred to as retarded, but if I’m talking with an American and the same happens, you better get the hell out of my presence before I punch your face.  In the US, the word “cunt” is seen as one of the most offensive words there is, yet in other parts of the world, like Britain and Australia, if you call someone a “funny cunt,” it’s positive.  But you won’t see me calling people “retarded” or “cunts” just because they’re okay outside of my culture.

In the US, frogs aren’t a big deal, and kids play leapfrog and can be compared to frogs jumping around, but it’s also a word that has been used in parts of Europe as an offensive slang for French people.  “Coconut” has been used as a slang in some places against people of Polynesian descent.  Some people were offended by the coconuts in the movie Moana (called Vaiana here in Europe) because of this, even though it meant the actual fruit.  Within the US, calling someone a Brownie can refer to the Girl Scout level of be used as a racial slur against people of Hispanic, Indian (from India), or Arabian descent, because of their brown skin, and some Native Americans consider Indian to be offensive, others don’t, and others do or don’t depending on context.  Context matters, as well as where someone is from.  So I will use those words in the ways acceptable where I’m from, just as people where I’m from need to accept others doing with how words are used in their cultures.

There are many other words like this, and I’m not going to get into all of them.  But can you imagine reading a word that is deeply offensive against your culture that isn’t in other places, and having to just deal with it and understand that it’s not the same everywhere?  We (this means my fellow Americans) aren’t going to nix talking about frogs and coconuts, yet expect the rest of the world, and even our own country, to not use words we don’t like, or in ways we don’t?  So don’t call people cunts, don’t call female humans girls, etc? (No, those aren’t on the same level anywhere in the US, but offensive is still offensive.)

We all need to keep in mind that what is okay or bad where we’re from and in our own infinitesimally small slice of the world is not representative of the world as a whole, and our slice may be very different than someone else’s slice, and we can only try to accommodate so many slices before there are no words at all we can use.  There are many, many, many cultures with many more different histories, even within the same country, which is a great thing, but it also means that word-uses are often specific to where each person is, and it’s conceit to expect the rest of the world to change to match our own slices.  We can all only do the best we can, and we all should be paying more mind to how other people aren’t going to share our spheres, and that doesn’t make them wrong and us right.  The best we can do is be mindful of our own choices while also looking at the context of what others are saying while remembering that where they are from might have different word-rules.

I’m going to use “girl” and “boy” and “lady” and “guy” and “woman” and “man” in the acceptable ways for where I’m from, and I use them as gender, not as sex.  I’m going to still talk about frogs and coconuts and still call my daughter a Brownie for the rest of the short time that she is one, and do on, but I also don’t ignore that someone referring to an autistic kid as retarded or to a woman as a cunt may just be socially acceptable and not at all offensive where the speaker is, and so I will accept their words without being offended.  How we Americans feel about that four-letter c-word is how some feel about our seven-letter c-word.  It’s sooooo not a big deal to us, yet is to others, and what is sooooo not a big deal to others is to us.

So remember you aren’t the entire world, I’m not the entire world, and that context of how speech is used needs to be the determining factor over individual words and phrases.  So, while I will absolutely modify my speech to the best of my ability when I travel (I can’t know all things offensive in all cultures), when I am writing, whether online or in a book, somethings that can go to more places than I can physically be, I will use words the way my culture allows, and not use words in ways my own culture doesn’t, and will respect that others do the same, instead of being ready to be offended in an instant.

So I shall recap and comment on After by Anna Todd

Posts will be listed and linked as written:
After Recap Chapters 0-15 (not much happens in them)
Chapters 16-20
Chapters 21-25

A few years ago I heard about a book that had been written on Wattpad and had a lot of followers.  Cool, I thought, and hoped for something good.  I really love when there’s a good book or book series so I can jump on the fandom-bandwagon.  Few things are as fun as anticipating the next thing with millions of people.  I was a major fan of Harry Potter back when there was only one book and everyone asked why adults would read children’s books, back when there was no big fanfare for the second and third books being released, and so got to experience the sudden explosion.  I was a major fan of Tolkien back when the Lord of the Rings movies came out, and loved seeing people dress up to go stand in line for hours for new releases.  This stuff is FUN.  Not feeling the same passion isn’t fun.  I wanted to like After and to be part of something fun again.  Well…  Let me back up.

The Hunger Games books have a lot of fandom, but the fandom around it isn’t the same.  There isn’t that die-hard love where you can quote one thing, and everyone knows what you mean, the way there is when you say “my precious” or “avada kedavra” or parody a line and say “I’m never late–I arrive precisely when I mean to,” or draw out “always.”  (Love Snape or hate him, it’s hard not to sympathize with unrequited love and missing and still loving someone for years upon years after they’ve died.)

Twilight was a let-down.  I had hoped for some fun vampire books.  Obviously HP and LOTR fans enjoy supernatural stuff (and probably Supernatural…those Winchester boys are like a fine wine…).  But Edward’s treatment of Bella was anything but romantic, and Bella’s supposed love wasn’t believable when she was so focused on becoming a vampire so she’d stop visually aging.  Edward seemed to be just a means to her desired goal.  And when one of the vampires we’re supposed to like was a major in the confederate army, which fought for the right to continue owning black people…  No.  Absolutely not.  The first two and a half movies are hilarious, though, and I admit I enjoy watching them because they’re so unintendedly bad.  And I know many of the places used for filming since it was in the area where I live, and most of the forest scenes are in the state park by where I went to high school.

Then along came Fifty Shades, and I’m not against fanfic, per sé, though I do get annoyed when something is just a retelling, and not subtly.  It’s like paraphrasing and taking credit for the story.  But I was willing to give it a chance.  I didn’t expect it to be so full of abuse that people would defend because “he had a hard childhood” and has lots of money and can give orgasms easily.  Money and orgasms don’t matter when someone controls your every move, violates your body, frightens you, tracks you across the country when you said you were going away to take a break from that person, obsessively follows your every move and dictates where you can go and who you can see, etc., to the point that you fold and abide by the orders since it’s not like you can get away from someone who managed to access your bank account and sell your car without your permission, meaning somehow getting the title paperwork to it.  And no, hard childhoods don’t cut it.  All his memories of time with his mother were sweet, like her singing when happy, or baking him a birthday cake.  There was nothing to actually indicate she used drugs.  Her being a prostitute doesn’t make her a bad person (the treatment of prostitutes in this book inspired the occupation of one of the mothers in my current WIP).  She did what she could.  Her pimp put out a couple cigarette butts on Christian, and that would be traumatic, but he was adopted at the age of 4 by extremely wealthy people and given every privilege in life.  Even if he had been actually abused by his mother (her being poor and a prostitute doesn’t mean abuse), that doesn’t excuse abusing people later.  It doesn’t help that EL James has no idea what BDSM actually is, and has led to millions of women thinking they now know, and they think they know better than those of us who have actually been a part of it for real, and she and they have made it out to be something for the mentally troubled.  Abusing someone and calling it BDSM doesn’t make it BDSM.  You can be a sadist, but that doesn’t mean what you’re doing is covered under BDSM.

Obviously I didn’t like the books, and still don’t.  And no, “It’s just fiction” doesn’t cut it.  When the behavior of even fictional characters is held up as ideal, what does that tell people?  it tells them that this behavior is acceptable, and that normalizes abuse.

So I’d heard about Anna Todd’s After book, and how popular it was, and how it had affected the life of 1 Direction band member Harry Styles.  “Can’t be as bad as Christian Grey,” I thought, and so decided to give it a try.  I don’t care for the bank 1 Direction and couldn’t name a single song, but did feel bad that fans were treating him very, very badly because of this book.

In some ways, he’s even worse, and it doesn’t help that this is explicitly targeted at the teenage crowd.  Harry, who became Hardin in the published version, doesn’t even have the non-excuse of a hard childhood.  He’s just an asshole from the start.  From his first meeting with Tessa, he’s a jerk, to put it mildly.  At least Christian “merely” made some inappropriate innuendo.  He didn’t refuse to leave when a girl he just met was naked and wanted to get dressed in peace.  When I’m able to say “At least Christian isn’t a bad as,” something is very wrong.  Getting through the rest was all downhill from there.  Even ignoring the horrid writing that makes EL James look like a master of the craft, even ignoring how Todd tells us every damned detail of things we don’t need to read about and that don’t affect the story or tell us anything about anyone or anything, even ignoring how Todd knows as much about college and James knows about BDSM (as in, nothing), the story itself was horrid and the characters meant to be the protagonists are both rotten people.  Hardin is an abuser, and Tessa slut-shames women and looks down on anyone who doesn’t dress like they’re extras in Handmaid’s Tale.

Like Twilight and Fifty Shades, After got a movie deal.  I expected it to peter out the way so many deals do.  Rights are bought all the time, but usually studios decline to use their option, and the rights are released.  (A deal doesn’t mean something will become a movie, just that that studio is buying the right to get to be the one to do it if they decide they want to, and they usually have a set time to decide.)  Well, it’s coming out next month.  Since it’s more of Fifty Shades fanfic using the band members from 1 Direction, and is aimed at teenagers, and since I’m against putting abuse on a a pillar and insisting that it’s romance…

I started writing books because I was tired of abuse being hailed as romance.  And here we are, in a just-post-#MeToo society, still praising abuse and sexual assault.  This is why nothing changes.

 

Being busy and wanting to write!

One of the worst things about being a writer is wanting to write, but having other stuff that is more pressing.  It feels like suffocating, like there’s breathe in me that can’t get out to left fresh air in.  Then, when I get to sit down and can start, there are so many scenes in my head trying to get out at once, and they bottleneck and can’t.  How do others deal with this?