Category Archives: Books

Feminist Romance, it’s a beautiful thing.

I’m not a romance reader. Haven’t been for a long time. But recently a friend of mine got her first book contract, a romance contract. As much as I love this woman, I didn’t plan on reading her books. Supporting her, encouraging her, buying her books for other people who like that genre – absolutely, but reading them? Not my genre, why read something I wouldn’t enjoy and then not know what to say next time I saw her?

But then in April we were at a conference together and I heard her talking about her books and why she wrote them and why she chose the romance genre and I remembered – this is MK f’ing Meredith, and she is BADASS.

mk meredith

MK F’ing Meredith
Badass Romance Writer & Hardcore lover of peanut butter.

So if she’s writing romance, maybe… just maybe, I’m wrong about the genre, at the very least maybe I’m wrong about lumping her books into my preconceived and outdated notions of what the romance genre is – maybe, just maybe, I should get over myself and give them a try.

So, I did. And THANK THE ODDS for being willing to look past former biases and give things a try with an open mind and an open heart because, GOD DAMN I loved this book – and… (Don’t tell MK this) now that I’ve been shown the light, I’m reevaluating my notions of the romance genre entirely and have even (shhhh…) bought a few more novels in the genre to try out.

See, I bought into the lie that the romance genre is all fluff and happily ever after and brain candy – you know, pink frilly girl stuff – a guilty pleasure. (Yes, that’s my female chauvinist pig showing. I’m working on it.) And I needed someone to knock that silly notion out of my head. As MK so eloquently reminds us, THERE IS NO GUILT OR SHAME IN EXPERIENCING PLEASURE.

As soon as I finished MK Meredith’s book, Malibu Betrayals, I wrote to her asking if I could interview her for this blog and share my revelation with all of you.

She was generous enough to let me, so without further ado, let me introduce you to the amazing MK, and her romantic notions.

malibu betrayals cover

Feminist Romance, a beautiful thing.

Her chance to write a whole new ending…

Hollywood screenwriter Samantha Dekker spent the last year picking up the pieces after her husband’s suicide. Along with grief, guilt, and tabloid hell, she’s had to watch helplessly as the film industry slammed its doors in her face. Now Sam has the rarest of Hollywood opportunities – a second chance…working with the one man she swore never to see again.

Hunktastic A-lister Gage Cutler knows that Sam blamed him for his part in her husband’s death. Still, Sam is the one woman he can never forget. All he wants is a second chance of his own – to prove he’s not the player she remembers. And Malibu is the perfect backdrop to make a girl swoon.

Except they’re not alone. Someone is watching Sam and Gage’s steamy off-screen romance with the most dangerous of intentions…

TBT: Did you intend to write a feminist, or female empowering, romance novel when you started out?
MK: My very purposeful intention is to empower women with their sexuality. I want to show that it is healthy and okay to know what we want. Taking charge of our bodies, what works for us and what doesn’t, and being comfortable expressing it is important to our self-worth and self-confidence. Too many women struggle with these issues. And not that men don’t, too, but when it comes to sexuality, they are expected to be sexual beings. Women have to fight for it.

Malibu Betrayals is the journey of a strong women finding her way again, taking back control of her life, including her sexuality. The shower scene is my favorite one! LOL!

(TBT here – Yes, the shower scene… And can I just say how much I LOVE the idea of empowering women with their sexuality, MK nails it, right off the bat.)

TBT: Why did you include condoms in your book? What was your intention? How did you think readers would respond/react? Did you hit any snags trying to work them in naturally and have them present, but not interrupt the flow of the scene?

MK: I put condoms in my book on purpose. It goes back to the self-worth discussion. Man or woman, we need to care enough about our selves to put our safety first. To be honest, I didn’t worry about the reader’s response simply because it is an element that will remain. I imagine my readership will be those who want the protection in the stories or don’t mind it.

I didn’t really have any trouble fitting it in–lol! that’s what she said. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And there is always at least one scene where they don’t use a condom because I want to keep the story as real as I can. People aren’t perfect, we get caught up in the moment, rush, or forget. So they make their mistakes, too.

(TBT here – I love this, that it was a conscious decision founded on promoting self-worth and respect. And I love that you were conscious of allowing them to be imperfect and human.

Also – writers please take note – My biggun and I were talking the other day and she mentioned how frustrated she is that in most of the YA she reads condoms, STI prevention and birth control are never mentioned. I told her about MK’s book and she was like, “So it can be done, why aren’t more authors doing it?” You have your marching orders – go forth and promote safer sex!)

TBT: Emotional and verbal abuse and their aftermath are big prevalent themes in this book – the self-doubt that creeps in, the loss of confidence, the difficulty in trusting others, etc. as well as how those traits affect future relationships and things that partners of abuse victims/survivors have to deal with/be patient around.
How much research did you do around those topics? Why did you choose that as one of the things Sam has to overcome? How did you balance her being an independent protagonist while also allowing her to be damaged and to need help sometimes?

Gage handles a lot of Sam’s baggage really well, to the point that I wanted this book to be required reading for people in relationships with abuse victims/survivors. How much research went into his character’s responses?
MK: My background is Occupational Therapy. What a lot of people don’t realize is O.T. has a premed element along with a heavy psychology and abnormal psychology focus. I reached back to my education and my own past to address the topics in this story.You know how they say ‘write what you know’? Well, the issues are part of my own past–a very different story than Sam’s, but there all the same. I feel I’ve come a long way, and I wanted to show a woman fighting her way through the self-doubt and the self-worth issues. It doesn’t happen over night, and certain events can trigger responses a person may not be proud of. We falter. Two steps forward, one step back and all that. I know her indecision can be frustrating for some, and it is, but it is also real. I couldn’t let her ‘fix herself’ too easily. These issues run deep. And I think that showing her struggle is what allowed me to show her taking action toward her independence, but still struggling with her right to do so. Part of her growth is that needing help is different than being worthless.

As for Gage, I pulled from my education for him as well. It is important that we don’t tell someone how they feel, but empower them to feel. To help them see the strength in the mirror. It is important to think about the intent behind someone’s actions. It makes all the difference in the world to our responses…or should anyway, in my opinion.

(TBT note – emphasis was added, because I really loved these points.)

TBT: There’s a really remarkable scene where Sam reclaims her right to pleasure. (Yes – the shower scene!!) It felt deliciously subversive to me to have her demand and give herself pleasure while sharing it with a guy. How intentional was that scene? How important was the theme of reclaiming female pleasure and ownership to you?

MK:This goes back to question #1. It was completely on purpose. I squealed in delight with your question. “She get’s it!” *fist pump* My husband raised his brow at me as if I’d lost my mind. LOL!

So, my husband was in the Air Force, as a matter of fact he retired this past year. We had seven deployments together. That’s a long time to be apart. Matters need to be taken into one’s own hand, so to speak, when there is that much time and distance in a relationship. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with military women who would discuss taking charge of their physical needs, but then whisper or shy away in mock horror. It drove me nuts. Not in an angry way toward them, but in a way that I wanted to shake them and yell, ‘You are important, your needs are important, and it is okay.’ I don’t see any reason for it to be embarrassing or hidden or a secret kept at all costs. It is simply human. So it is extremely important to me to portray women who are already there, or are finding their way.

TBT: Gage has some baggage of his own – he’s got serious abandonment issues. What made you decide to give him that as his kryptonite?
MK: Another I pulled from my past. I lost my mother at seven and then my father remarried twenty-eight days later to a woman who was not really interested in some dead woman’s four children. That has an effect. I basically lost both my parents at once. One didn’t want to leave, and the other I feel never looked back. But the residual fallout remained in myself, and in my brothers. What’s more, I think many of these issues really peak in our thirties and forties, when we realize how we should have been treated, or when we have children of our own and they reach a similar age. It is hard not to ache for the child you were–as if they were someone else. I felt that his abandonment issues would be a great foil to Sam’s problems committing.

TBT: A lot of the conflict and tension in this book is internal, it’s quiet and smoldering and just under the surface – in many ways, this felt like an adult coming of age tale, two people rediscovering themselves and remaking themselves in a new image. Where did that theme of reinvention come from?
MK: The original idea for this story all rose from a dream I had where I met Gerard Butler at a bar. It was a very casual conversation, and he couldn’t have been less interested. LOL! It got me thinking to the opposite scenario and then so on and so forth with the blossoming of ideas. When I dug into Gage’s and Sam’s backstory I related to their struggles in one way or another, and I wanted to show that even with living through an adverse past, you can achieve an amazing future. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible. It takes a certain ability to reflect and respond instead of simply reacting.
gerard butler

He’s listening.

TBT:I feel like this book really explored the difference between doing the work to be worthy of another person and changing yourself to be what someone else wants. Where is that line for you?
MK: You know–or maybe you didn’t–I was married before. I am the reason you let your daughters date. I was never allowed to, so the first boy I met once I moved out of my home, I married–5 months later. We had nothing in common, but I was on cloud nine and just KNEW that must mean it was meant to be. I didn’t realize that was how it was when you first started dating. He is a wonderful person, with a big heart and a strong work ethic, but we had NOTHING in common. So after five and a half years together we got divorced.

But picture this…me in Rocky Mountains (a western jean), cut out shirts, and lace ups going to rodeos, and sitting in a duck blind, or pheasant hunting all while listening to country music. There is nothing wrong with any of it, but does that sound like the MK you know? Yeah…me neither. I was so focused on being a woman he’d stay with, that I lost the woman I was and had no idea of the woman I wanted to be. So I left.

And I made myself a promise. I would never lose who I was, never wear clothes I didn’t want to wear or listen to music I didn’t want to listen to in order to make someone like me. I promised that I would stand up for myself…and boy was it a journey, especially the last one. I still struggle with it. But my husband Brian has helped me in tremendous ways.
So the line is: I am who I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t take my loved one’s needs into consideration, but now they aren’t the only consideration. I am, too.

TBT: Last, tell me how your own beliefs about love and partnership helped shape and color this fictional relationship.

(Note – I had to ask this question, because her answer is the reason I picked up her book and read it in the first place – emphasis was added by me.)

MK: I think I’ve been answering this last question all along. I think we have to choose each other every day. It is important to learn what our partners need to be happy, and if we can provide it or help provide it, or support them in finding it, in a way that does not sacrifice ourselves we set the relationship up to win. I think talking and checking in and reevaluating keep relationships from falling into ruts where you wake up not recognizing the person lying next to you. I very much feel my beliefs were involved in Gage’s and Sam’s Happily Ever After. I hope that what my husband and I have figured out will help create very real feeling happy endings.

TBT here – Suffice it to say, MK is simply a phenomenal human being, and she put so much of herself into Malibu Betrayals that it can’t help but be anything other than fantastic.This book really was empowering and super sexy. I can’t wait to re-read it with my husband. I’ve also already ordered extra copies for my niece and a few other young women I know who are heading off to college and who I think could use this reminder that we are worthy of love, and deserving of pleasure.

If you’re looking for a fun book that packs some heat – I really cannot recommend Malibu Betrayals enough.

If you want to dive into MK’s world of love, romance and peanut butter, follow her on her author page.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist

Riding Shotgun with The Asphalt Warrior

Hey ya’ll – I’m handing over the blog to my friend Mark Stevens, publisher of the late, great Gary Reilly’s Asphalt Warrior series (as well as Gary’s other phenomenal books.) Pickup at Union Station, Gary’s newest book hits shelves on June 19th and  I invited Mark to drop by and talk a little about the ways Gary’s work has influenced and inspired him.

Enjoy.

pickup at union station gary reilly

Rule #1: Never get involved.

Riding Shotgun with the Asphalt Warrior

By Mark Stevens

Murph makes me laugh. Always has—and always will.

From the moment my late pal Gary Reilly handed me one of his “Murph” manuscripts, I knew I was sinking into a different world.

Do you know that feeling?

On the first page of a book, that little wave of excitement you feel? You hear a voice. You get—really get—a fully developed attitude.

Herewith the first paragraph of The Asphalt Warrior:

I was first in line at the cab stand outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Denver when a nervous man in his thirties hopped into the backseat of my taxi. I was immediately annoyed because the man hadn’t come out of the hotel. He was what I call a “pedestrian” and pedestrians rarely want to go to Denver International Airport. I don’t know who they were, but I love the masters of inconvenience who thought up DIA. They placed it twenty-five miles northeast of town.

Easy, chatty, self-deprecating. And how much do we learn about Murph in a few quick strokes?

This is the voice of Murph, a.k.a. Brendan Murphy—The Asphalt Warrior. That paragraph was the beginning, seven books ago.

Here’s the deal, here’s the hook:

Murph will make you think about ….

Practically everything.

Murph notices everything. He thinks about everything. He has a comment on … everything.

Murph slows the world down into micro-moments. He wonders so much about what motivates him to do anything that he has to wonder and ponder about all the others rushing around him tick, too. He understands his needs. In the race of “one-upping” your fellow man, Murph gladly opts for “one-downing” him. He is a master at keeping his life simple. At least, the basics of life—his foundation.

He works hard to minimize his income, to only earn a certain amount of money each day, each week. Just enough. He only seeks to cover basic expenses—rent, food. The laundromat.

Murph relishes free time like nobody you’ve ever met. Of course, he’s supposed to be writing a best-selling novel with his free time, but that only leads us to other warts-and-all True Confessions about that struggle. He’s got a steamer trunk full of unpublished novels and wonders (as Gary did) why others succeed while he fails. “I have read a lot of how-to books trying to find out what the ‘trick’ to writing novels is,” muses Murph. “It took me ten years to learn that the trick is getting paid.”

Murph is the direct opposite of an unreliable narrator. His routine thought process is to-the-bone exposure of how he would prefer his life—and the world—to function.

And he sees that world, quite literally, pass through his back seat. He sees every passenger as his ticket to free time.

Murph is tantalized by free time. Ideally, he has a mini “Spring Break” every week. As long as the money comes in just right and as long as, well, he doesn’t get involved in the lives of his fares.

After all, he’s vowed to never get involved. He knows the risks, understands that getting involved means complications, and if Murph hates anything, it’s complications.

And yet, he has heart.

Humanity.

He goes undercover to a hippie commune to search for a pair of missing girls last seen at Red Rocks. He inadvertently gives a ride to a bank robber—and must deal with the fallout. He reaches out to an odd man with strange stories who appears to be leaving him cryptic notes on five dollar bills. He has played marriage counselor and career counselor. He’s hung on the back end of a south-bound train and he’s been grilled by the cops so many times he knows the detectives by name. At every turn, Murph tries to do the right thing on behalf of his fellow human beings.

Murph knows he’s supposed to keep to himself. Yet Murph knows himself well enough to know that, when the moment comes, he won’t have a choice. He has a true desire to make matters whole. Having tampered with the world’s big course of events, he wants to make amends so he can tiptoe away, unnoticed.

Despite all his snarky feelings about humanity and the crazy organizations where he made it a mission to avoid work (The U.S. Army, his former employer, “Dyna-Plex”), Murph ultimately can’t help but do the right thing.

There are many great novels about being alone—pursuing quests and chasing the dream. Cervantes. Melville. Wharton. Proust. Salinger. On and on. Man vs. Society. Man vs. The Rules. Man Finding Himself (DeFoe).

Murph, in fact, is a bit of Robinson Crusoe—alone in his own world and finding ways to patch things together. (It’s no wonder Murph’s favorite television show is “Gilligan’s Island.”)

The key to Murph, and where the laughs reside, is in his keen self-awareness. He understands his delusions and psychological tics. He embraces his against-the-grain approach to life and he works very hard to keep it intact.

Yet being spotted as a fraud—being noticed at all—drives Murph’s war with identity issues. Cab driving, he claims, is the perfect job for someone who wants to remain anonymous (and being anonymous is his holy grail).

He likes being by himself. He likes doing as little as possible but that doesn’t mean he’s slothful (say, like Oblomov in the Russian novel by Ivan Goncharov). We see Murph take charge over and over again. At crunch time, he’s all action.

I can imagine college term papers analyzing Murph as compared and contrasted to Ignatius Jacque Reilly (“A Confederacy of Dunces”) but again I’d assert that Murph is more action-oriented when the time comes; he’s also not as much of slob as either Oblomov or Ignatius Reilly. Murph may know he’s deluded, but he is upfront about those delusions—and relishes them.

In fact, about the only element of his character that he doesn’t explain is why he feels compelled to break one of his solemn vows, to never get involved in the lives of his passengers.

Over and over, he lets us sneak up right to the dark places inside and then chases us away with a laugh.

“I had lived most of my adult life with the belief that everybody could see right through me. Also my teenage years, as well as my child years. Authority figures had something to do with this. Also my vivid imagination. Case in point: a bathroom mirror with a towel draped over it, but I don’t want to talk about that.”

He may not want to face himself in the mirror, but Murph knows himself very, very well. And in knowing himself, he is able to shed remarkably fresh light on everything around him, making us see our own world in a whole new way.

Gary Reilly’s newest book, Pickup at Union Station arrives June 19th – preorder your copy now!

Hey – this is Bree, just a quick note, I’m currently reading Pickup at Union Station and you can follow along on twitter at #PickupReilly and join the conversation!
I’ll be posting my review as soon as I finish later this week!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Things that work

A Matter of Heart

“Death is what happens when your dream ends.”

Who are you? What makes you, you? What is your “one thing,”  the thing that defines you and sets you apart from everyone else? What’s the aspect of you that you absolutely could not live without? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning (I mean, besides hungry children, pets or spouses…) What drives you, motivates you, challenges you and makes you want to push yourself to be better?

What’s the one thing that makes you happy, that sustains you and holds you and keeps you afloat when everything else is falling apart?

Now – what would you do if that one thing was taken away?

amy fellner dominy matter of heart

Would you die for a chance to live your dream?

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy dives deep into ideas of identity and the things we think define us and make us who we are. It challenges us to look inside ourselves for our One Thing, and then look even deeper to see what’s driving that, and then look deeper still…

Abby is a swimmer. Not in the sense that she likes to swim in the summer and splash around in the pool with her friends – she is a swimmer on her way to Olympic gold. She wakes, eats, breathes, sleeps and lives swimming. It’s who she is as much as what she does. Swimming is her one thing, her only thing. It defines her, drives her, pushes her – it owns her.

“I’m fearless in the pool. I’m strong. It’s the only place that I am.”

Until one day… Just before the qualifying meet that she is sure will see her swim into Olympic history, she learns that she can never race again, her heart cannot survive another sprint down the lap lane. Diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, she feels like her heart has betrayed her.

“The Abby I was meant to be is dead. And in her place? Who’s left?”

We watch Abby as she cycles through the 5 stages of grief.

Denial – Clearly she has been misdiagnosed, “It only happened the one time because I let myself get dehydrated.” All she needs is a little rest. She’ll be fine. A second opinion will clear everything up. Her heart is fine.

“I’m Abby Lipman. I’m special… I’ve got talent and drive and heart. I don’t know how to be broken.”

Anger – This is bullshit. It has to be. Nothing is going to take away her dream. And… What about her boyfriend, they were a perfect match, the fittest, blessed by Darwin Himself… “How can we belong to anyone else? No one is fast enough to keep up.” But now that Abby isn’t fast enough to keep up either, will Connor leave her behind? Is she really going to lose EVERYTHING because of her stupid, traitor heart?
“My heart has screwed up everything else. It’s not going to screw this up too.”

Bargaining – It’s okay. She’ll quit taking the medicine that keeps her heart beating steady and strong – but not nearly fast enough to win a race, and she’ll go back to training. All she has to do is win this one race, just this one and she’ll be able to prove to everyone that she’s not really sick.

“I’m not big on praying, but God and I talk sometimes. It never made sense that I should ask God for something that I could work to get on my own. Even now, I’m not asking him for favors so much as explaining how it’s going to be.

Depression – As Abby waits to get the all important second opinion, her depression and anxiety grow. She can’t swim, not fast, not like she wants to, until the doctors clear her. She knows they will, but in the meantime…

“I lay a hand over my heart. It’s beating quiet and regular and slow. Beta-blockers. They’re saving me and killing me at the same time.”

She used to wake up in order to swim, eat so she could swim, keep her grades up so she could swim, lived the straight and narrow so she could swim, went to bed early so she could swim. Everything she did, she did so she could swim. And now… What’s the point of any of it?

“It’s not that I’m losing hope. It’s that I’m losing myself.”

Acceptance – Abby finally comes to terms with her condition, but not in the way you might think. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’ll just leave this little tease, “I’m not going to lie to myself. Yes, it’s a risk. Life is full of risk.”

A Matter of Heart explores a lot of topics – not just the idea of identity and what makes us special – and what we do, how we continue if that thing is threatened or taken from us – how do we redefine ourselves when we lose our very core, our center?

It also examines romance and love and relationships, from dating to friends to family and how far we’ll go to get and keep love. How twisted we all sometimes get in trying to live up to other people’s expectations of us, and how deeply we internalize those expectations, making them our own. It explores the topics of first love and fate and destiny and how big it all feels the first time we really, truly fall for someone – and what happens when you go to lean on that love and discover it’s not strong enough to hold you up in your moment of need.

This book also explores second chances and new beginnings. “Why can’t dreams be like people? Why can’t you get a second chance at those, too?” and the ways our dreams carry us through our toughest times and push us to keep going, to survive, even after we think we’ve lost everything that makes life worth living, even after we’ve lost the dream itself.

Just a friendly warning – I finished reading this book while sitting in a public place, bawling my eyes out, desperately searching for a tissue. No one offered me one, they all just scooted a little further away from me on the bench. It’s okay though, I eventually found one in my bag.

This book took me through such a roller coaster of feelings. I really felt connected to Abby. I remember those struggles with identity, and while I never had mine so directly challenged, I think it’s something we can all identify with. We’ve all had our dreams tested, some of us are still being challenged to rise above the obstacles we think are standing in the way of our happiness, our One Thing.

Abby shows us that while death might be what happens when our dreams end, rebirth is waiting if we can only be brave enough to dream again.

A Matter of Heart is available now at all your favorite book sellers. I highly recommend getting your copy now!

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Kids, Things that work

Trapline – Caught in the Net

Some books need to sink in a little before you can fully appreciate them.

I finished Mark Steven’s new book Trapline about a month ago and I’ve been meaning to review it ever since, but time kept getting away from me. I’m kind of glad it did, because this a book that ages well. It’s a book with enough twists and turns and subtle nuances that letting it breathe in the back of your mind for a while helps you see the deeper brilliance of it.

trapline by mark stevens

Guaranteed to snare you.

Many books in the mystery genre, at least for me, are fun, quick, entertaining reads that I enjoy and then put down and rarely think of again. But Trapline is different. Trapline has staying power. And the author, Mark Stevens, is the reason.

On the surface, Trapline is a perfect genre book, combining mystery with the New West and bringing them both up to date.

Trapline is the third book in Mark’s Allison Coil mystery series. In case you’re new here or somehow skipped over my gushing review of Marks’ 2nd book, Buried by the Roan, let me introduce you to Allison Coil, “this intriguing woman from the wilderness, who might have been bred from some magical concoction of tree bark and horse sweat.” She’s a backwoods hunting guide, offering her services to hunters of all shapes and sizes, even those who, “looked like they expected to hunt and hike or camp grit-free.” She’s very no-nonsense, get the job done type of gal. She embodies that old west sense of right and wrong, good and bad – there is very little room for grey in her life.

Trapline opens with a half-corpse found by Allison Coil’s first no-grit hunting party of the season. It looks like a mountain lion kill, though, “Tact suggested that you didn’t utter the deduction out loud unless you were prone to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

The more Allison ponders the scene, the less it feels right to her, though she can’t put her finger on why. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, because a mountain lion with a taste for humans would shut down hunting season faster than a city slicker tourist could yell yee-haw.

Meanwhile, down in town someone attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senate candidate after his big pro-immigration reform speech, partially delivered in perfect Spanish.

Allison is called in to consult and try to figure out where the shot could have come from, and who might have done it.

The two scenes don’t seem to have anything in common, but before long there’s no escaping that something darker is happening in Allison’s beloved Flat Tops.

Part of Mark Steven’s brilliance rests in his ability to hook us within those first few pages. He sticks his readers at the top of the roller coaster with just enough of a view to see that it’s going to be a fast-paced, twisty, turny ride – but we also know he’s not showing us the full scope.

As Allison ponders the first murder scene she asks her hunting companion and lover, Colin, “So you think it’s possible?”

He replies, “Hungry lions happen, stray hikers happen, and possible covers a lot of ground.”

It does indeed. This is the first real hint that there is more at play than meets the eye.

As Mark takes us deeper into the world of Glenwood Springs and the Flat Tops, we begin to see and feel the tensions pulling at this small town. Immigrants are coming in and getting jobs. For the business owners hiring them, they’re a godsend, accepting jobs that no one else was applying for and doing them well. To others in the area, they are criminals – thieves, takers, moochers, pouring through the “tortilla curtain” in a “brown tide” of drugs and crime, stealing jobs from hardworking Americans and living on government handouts.

The tensions run deep and the fault lines are beginning to show. A candidate for U.S. Senate is just one casualty, but is the corpse from the woods another?

While Allison explores the woods looking for clues and trying to get prepared for the onset of hunting season, a reporter continues to investigate the assassination attempt in town. The dual investigations begin to collide as Allison’s friend is threatened for hiring immigrants, and one of her employees disappears only to turn up with a story almost too incredible to believe, if the evidence wasn’t right there in front of them.

Immigration isn’t the only factor at work. The private prison complex is always hungry for new bodies to fill the beds and meet the quotas. Someone has to find bodies to lock up. And some bodies are easier to disappear than others.

By showing us how the issue of immigration is aggravated and complicated by the existence of private prisons, and the lengths people will go to to keep those prisons full, Mark invites us to re-examine everything we thought we knew about the battle over immigration and immigrant rights.

The book takes a darker turn as Allison’s backwoods investigation stumbles on a group of men who aren’t hunting immigrants for the private prison bounty, they’re hunting them for sport.

Within the pages of this fast paced mystery, Mark Stevens manages to show us just how few steps it takes for humanity to be stripped from “others” and how the very act of “othering” is the first slippery step down that very dangerous slope.

When Buried by the Roan came out, reviewers hailed Mark Stevens as the Carl Hiaasen of the west, and while that same environmental love runs through Trapline, I think this is the book that pulls Mark out of Hiaasen’s shadow and allows us to see Mark as so much more than just another enviro-thriller writer.

Mark is a writer whose deep love of humanity comes through on every page, in every character description, in every interaction and choice made on the page. He’s a writer not afraid to show us our ugly sides, if only so we can see for ourselves that we can do better.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of Allison Coil, you can follow her on Facebook or stalk Mark on twitter. In the meantime, get Trapline, it’s guaranteed to snare you!

Also – Keep your eyes open for Mark’s new book, Lake of Fire, hitting shelves this September!!

1 Comment

Filed under Books

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.

None.

Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.

 

 

15 Comments

Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul

I just finished reading Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul. If you missed the interview with his publishers, you can check that out first. If you just want the highlights of the book to get you excited, I did a twitter read-along at #ReillyDarkNight (Feel free to add your thoughts using that hashtag!) and storified it here.

dark night of the soul

A well stickied book!

I read my first Gary Reilly book this spring, The Asphalt Warrior and LURVED it.

When I got a chance to pick up his latest Asphalt Warrior book to review it, I jumped at the chance. The fact that it came with an opportunity to talk to the men Gary put in charge of his literary estate when he passed made it all the more awesome.

The first time I read Gary Reilly, it was his characters that really carried me through. While the plot and structure were all present and accounted for, what made me love Reilly’s work was the depth and love that he poured into Murph.

This book had those same elements as you’ll see if you pop over to my storified read-along. You really can’t help but fall in love with Murph and root for him to get his wish and be able to just spend a whole day doing nothing.

As I read this book I couldn’t help but think of the movie Hudson Hawk with Bruce Willis, where all the guy wants is an espresso and it takes him the whole damn movie to get it. The espresso is his MacGuffin. With the Asphalt Warrior series, a day to do nothing – not even brush his teeth – is Murph’s MacGuffin. That is the holy quest that he is on, and if he could just remember the first rule of cab driving – NEVER get involved with your fares – he might even be able to achieve it.

Alas, Murph just can’t help himself. Whether it’s the old lady who tried to pay in pennies, which Murph is convinced aren’t even legal tender, or the bank robber who uses Murph and his cab as a get-away vehicle before having a heart attack and winding up in the hospital… Murph just can’t catch a break.

“I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get things back to normal. I don’t know why. My normality is neither healthy nor realistic, but whatever it is, I’m good at it.”

The pacing of Dark Night of the Soul felt a lot faster than Reilly’s first book. There was a moment where I actually gasped and felt my pulse start to race. It led to a very late night of reading.

With the increased stakes, the plot of this book was more than enough to carry it along – but in the end what put it over into the “Must read, MUST share” category was, as always, the characters, specifically Murph who I really wish I could meet in real life. (Not that we’d be friends or anything, Murph doesn’ t have friends.)

And again, for the aspiring writers, struggling authors and wishful artists out there – Murph is a wonderful guide. I could do a whole review just talking about the writing tips I’ve gotten from these books. In fact… I know a guy who should maybe offer “Murph’s Guide to Writing” at the next RMFW conference. (Mark Stevens, I am typing at you.)

Dark Night of the Soul starts off with a bang as Murph oversleeps and does something he has never done before, “which was to make a telephone call at dawn.” As he rushes around trying to get to Rocky Cab to pick up his taxi and start his day we are reminded that Murph never rushes, never panics.

“I did do that a lot in the army where they had things like sergeants and bugles, but that was a quarter-century ago, which is a long time not to panic.”

This is a great piece of foreshadowing, as we learn that perhaps it is time for Murph to brush up on his Panicking skills.

“As a matter of social propriety, I try to avoid adrenaline before noon.”

He even goes so far as to name the part of our brain that screams at us to “Get moving!” when we know calm is really best. That’s the Gym Coach talking.

Once his day gets going, it only gets worse. Murph has to interact with his nemesis, Rollo, the man who hands out the keys and trip sheets at Rocky Cab, and then there’s a line at the 7-11, the fare who pays with a $20, using up all of Murph’s change and forcing him into a corner where, “I was once again unable to proceed with my life until I did something with money.” Which feels like the quintessential American struggle, and which ultimately provides the true catalyst for this book.

Murph expounds on this struggle further, “As bad as I am at math, I am capable of mentally dividing numeric concepts into neat categories that make me feel like I’m not broke.” I don’t know about you, but I feel like I can relate to this a little too well.

“Aren’t you always broke when you pick up your first fare of the day?”
“No. Sometimes I just don’t have any money.”
“Isn’t that the same thing as being broke?”
“No.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Broke is a state of being that occurs only after six o’clock at night. It has to do with the probability factor of picking up a final fare. If I don’t have any money after six o’clock at night, I’m broke.”

Murph’s day continues to go south, with a fare paying via check, an old lady trying to pay via pennies and or course, a bank robber using Murph as a get away driver. All of Murph’s problems are tied to money, his need for it, his desire not to need it, and everyone else’s inability to respect the very fine line he walks trying to have only exactly enough to survive and no more.

All of these problems compound and Murph decides it is time to do something drastic. “This was the first time I had ever tried to get personally involved in my own life.” Murph decides that floating along with things is no longer working out for him, and it’s time for him to take charge. Of course, for a guy who can screw up just about anything, that might not be the best idea.

“I wondered if there was a third ‘something’ that lay between reality and fantasy that I could screw up. I mean, I knew that I could screw it up, but did it exist?”

Dark Night of the Soul gets its name from the moral crisis that Murph has in this book. As he gets ever more embroiled in the lives of his fares, and the cops come breathing down his neck looking for his connection to the bank robber, Murph realizes that, “Somewhere inside my body was a corrupt bone… It was there, and it made me feel funny.”

Murph deduces that simply having bad thoughts, whether you follow through on them or not, is enough to make you a bad person. He reasons that the only thing keeping you from following through is fear of getting caught, not outright rejection of being evil. It’s an interesting take on morality, especially coming from a guy who really strives to do good, at least when he’s not striving to do nothing at all.

Murph must also confront the profound realization that inaction too has consequences, that in striving to do nothing, he is making a choice and in the process he is perhaps doing far more harm than good.

“I suddenly realized that by simply… doing absolutely nothing at all, I could destroy the lives of five good men,” leading him to the startling conclusion that, “Maybe actions are the only things that really count in this world.”

This section reminded me of The Boondock Saints one of my all-time favorite movies, and their assertion that what we must fear most is good men who do nothing.

Murph is a good man, to his core. But can he rise above decades of ennui and entropy to take action when it matters most?

I’d give you the odds, but as Murph reminds us, “Of course odds have nothing to do with reality, which is why so many people go home sad from the dog track.”

If you want to know how Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul turns out, I encourage you to pick up a copy – this is one dog track you won’t go home sad from!

reading with sticky notes

Dark Night of the Soul, a ticket worth buying!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Things that work

Unspeakable Things

I finished reading Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny aka Penny Red a few days ago but haven’t had time to sit down and go through ALL the sticky tabs and compose a discussion until now.

unspeakable sticky notes

A well stickied book

If you want the quick version, I read this book “out loud” for one of my twitter read-alongs and then storified the results. You can check that out here if you just want the highlights without the analysis.

Also, you can catch me reading “out loud” on twitter most Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 pm mountain time.

Okay, so diving in –

Unspeakable Things is a non-fiction book that covers a pretty broad range of social topics, all centered on feminist philosophy.

“Feminism is a process. Call yourself what you like. The important thing is what you fight for. Begin it now.”

I’m going to highlight just a couple of the topics covered in this book that really resonated with me.

The first is our idea of “Equal pay for equal work” and how very broken that conversation has ALWAYS been.

“Women are more likely than men to perform labor that is socially necessary but low waged or unwaged.” And thus, women are also “more likely to need public services and welfare.”

Laurie Penny talks about this idea that we have of women getting paid less than men because we “need” flexible schedules, or because we reduce our hours to care for kids and take care of the home – and challenges us to flip that around and start talking about all that socially necessary free labor that so often falls on women’s shoulders. If we’re serious about equal pay for equal work, then we need to make sure that women are getting paid in some way for that second, and sometimes third, shift that they work.

This of course leads to questions about, “what work should be paid, and what is simply part of love and duty…” Because it turns out that the reason so much of the work that women do is unpaid or underpaid is because, “we think of it as ‘love’, as a moral expression of feeling rather than a practical task of immense and tangible value.”

This covers things like raising children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing the laundry – all those supportive care taking jobs that often fall to women by default and are part of the old, and outdated story that, “Men, in other words, are good at doing, making, building things; women are good at making life easier for men.”

Laurie Penny comes around to this idea again later in the book. She talks about the broken (middle and upper class) pact that the wage system once rested on, “whereby men were obliged to seek paid employment to support women’s unpaid work, and the labor of both would be sealed in a system of sexual bargaining.”

And as for the many women who are trying to raise a family on their own – forget about it.

“The millions of women raising children without a co-parent are spoken of in the same terms as beggars and thieves: they are a drain on the state, the scourge of hardworking taxpayers who must forfeit the proceeds of ‘real’ work to pay for the maintenance of these ‘broken homes.’

Laurie Penny reminds us, “In the United States, there is no male equivalent for the term ‘welfare queen’. Having a child alone and asking for support with raising that child – from her community, her family or the state – is considered uniquely selfish.”

And yet, we know that it is cheaper to educate a child, to feed a child, to clothe and house a child than it is to let them slip through the cracks into our bloated “justice” system. We know that we ALL benefit from having a generation of educated, intelligent, secure kids coming up behind us to keep the economy running, to pay into our social security, to have the skills and the know-how to take care of us in our old age…

But the idea of paying a parent to stay home and do the hard work of raising competent citizens – FUCK NO! Damn welfare queens should have kept their legs shut until they could afford to have a child.

And when we talk of raising the minimum wage so that all workers can afford to support their families without help from the state – FUCK NO! If they wanted to get paid enough to survive they should have gone to college (which we also won’t pay for, and which they can’t get into because they came from the wrong neighborhood and the wrong schools and had to drop out to get a job to help their family, or because they got pregnant because birth control wasn’t available and the nearest abortion clinic was 500 miles away or…)

And when we talk about making it easier for both men and women to work flexible schedules, or to increase spending for quality pre-schools, day cares and to expand the school year so that people don’t have to make a false “choice” between having a career or raising children – again, we hear a resounding FUCK NO!

There is no help coming. The village that used to raise a child has decided that children are now an individual choice and thus an individual burden.

“Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love.”

So we won’t help them, but when they fail, it is all their fault for not trying hard enough. And when they complain about wanting equal pay for equal work, we refuse to acknowledge or even see how much free work they’ve been doing all along, because that isn’t real work, that’s just what women are supposed to do.

As Laurie Penny writes, “The best way to stop girls achieving anything is to force them to achieve everything.” or, later on, “Little girls, though, only ever get two choices: We can be the princess or we can be the witch. And everybody knows what happens to women who do their own magic.

witch burning

She’s a witch!

The second topic Laurie Penny takes up is the Lost Boys of modern masculinity, the other side of this broken pact.

Laurie Penny looks at men and what shifting expectations have done to their world view, and the contradictions that they are forced to try to navigate – the many, many broken promises that were made and that they are struggling to piece together.

Men have been told that they are living in “a brave new world of economic and sexual opportunity.” But really, where is the power that today’s young men were promised? Where is the privilege everyone keeps telling them have?

Our men are raised to expect dignified work that leads to financial security, but after years of recession and increased worker exploitation by employers, that dream is harder and harder to achieve.

Working hard is no longer enough.

These dashed dreams are what seem to be fueling so much of the male frustration and rage that we see enacted on the nightly news. “Violence happens when people are frightened that somebody’s about to take away their power.”

Laurie Penny reminds us here that the culprit is, and always was, patriarchy. And she reminds us that “Patriarchy does not mean ‘the rule of men’. It means ‘the rule of fathers’ – literally, the rule of powerful heads of household over everybody else in society. Men further down the social chain were expected to be content with having power over women in order to make up for their lack of control over the rest of their lives.”

She goes on to remind us that under patriarchy, “Most individual men don’t have a lot of power, and now the small amount of social and sexual superiority they held over women is being questioned. That must sting.”

But men are not allowed to talk about their gender and how if affects them. Instead modern masculinity seems to work much like Fight Club, “in that the first rule of Man Club is you do not talk about Man Club.”

Laurie Penny posits that modern masculinity is working exactly as designed by, “keeping men, particularly young men, in a state of anxious desperation, lonely and isolated, unable to express their true feelings or live the lives they really want, taking out their social and sexual frustration on women rather than understanding it as a systematic effect of elitism inequality.”

Which is to say, modern masculinity functions by never allowing men to question it, and telling them to instead blame their discomfort and insecurity on those uppity feminists trying to usurp their place in the pecking order, rather than examining the systematic forces of patriarchal oppression that hold us ALL back.

Modern masculinity squeezes men into a narrow bottleneck that no one is equipped to fit through, leaving the average man unable to express their desire to be taken care of, to be cuddled, to cry, to do creative work that will not make money, to be a full-time parent, to have their vulnerabilities acknowledged, to go into care taking as a profession, to play with makeup or clothing, to have women as friends… To want deep and lasting social change.

But here’s the “last great secret of the supposed ‘golden age of masculinity’ that’s been destroyed by feminism: it never really existed in the first place… there have always been men who would not or could not conform.” There has never been only one way of “being a man.”

Laurie Penny encourages us to be compassionate toward the men who are struggling to find their place in this bold new world where masculinity feels at once more constrictive than ever, while simultaneously being ever more open for those brave enough to challenge the old guard.

Part of the challenge is that, “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.”

But more and more women are demanding the space to be their own heroes, and many are even *gasp* asking men to step up and be their supporting cast. There are few acceptable role models for this – there is no available script for men to take that kind of role.

“Of course it’s going to hurt. But then, it hurts already.” Change is hard, and scary, and we all need help navigating our way through it.

“Social change happens when the old stories we tell ourselves to survive are no longer sufficient, and we create new ones.”

Story time

Laurie Penny talks a lot about “adjustment disorder” (An actual new diagnosis!) which rests on the idea that unhappiness cannot possibly be the fault of the system, it is our fault for failing to adjust to the straightjacket of society’s gender expectations.

“We were taught, all of us, that if we were dissatisfied, it was our fault, or the fault of those closest to us. We were built wrong somehow. We had failed to adjust. If we showed any sort of distress, we probably needed to be medicated or incarcerated, depending on our social status.”

If we are unhappy, there are drugs and therapy – anything to avoid talking about justice.

But the truth is, we are not broken – the system is. But we can only change it if we are willing to examine it, and our role in it and then do the hard, painful work of challenging it at every turn.

There are additional insightful chapters on sex, sexuality and sexism that I ran out of words for.

I appreciated Laurie Penny’s efforts to discuss the ways the current system hurts people of all genders. (I didn’t dive into that part of the discussion, but she talks a lot about the ways gender-non-conforming people are especially damaged by the current arrangement, but also how they are the vanguard of change because they are the ones pushing the hardest to open the doors of equality open ever wider.) I thought she did a good job of bringing in more perspectives and points of view than her own and widening the lens to help us all see beyond our own limited experience.

Laurie Penny encourages us to be suspicious of any program that seeks to restrict freedom in order to protect us. “It’s for your own good.” are words that should send a shudder of rebellion through us all.

In her final battle cry, Laurie Penny reminds us that in a system this broken, there are no rewards for good behavior. “The world doesn’t need another handbook for how to submit with dignity to a world that wants you to hate yourself.”

unspeakable things

You are not broken.

If you’re tired of being told that you’re the problem, and you’d like someone to pick you up, dust you off and prepare you for revolution, Unspeakable Things is a good place to start.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Uncategorized