Cover Reveal

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Which project is up next? That’s the big question, isn’t it. I know a lot of people are waiting for Rose Garden #2. I know I have been talking about a few different projects that are in different stages of completion. So which one is getting a cover today?

Well, it happens to be my next children’s book: Nelly-Bean and the Adventures of Nibbles.

About a year ago I released Nelly-Bean and the Kid Eating Garbage Can Monster.

garbage can

And a while later I released it in French as well.

Now Andreas and I have teamed up again to bring you an all new Nelly-Bean book, this time about a ladybug named Nibbles who moves in to Nelly-Bean’s room.

Like the first Nelly-Bean book, The Adventures of Nibbles features easy to read pages that parents won’t find frustrating or boring when asked to read the book again and again. The art style has been completely remodeled, but I think we’ve hit on the final style for the rest of the series now.

The illustrations are nearly complete and then it’s a simple matter of formatting the whole thing for print and getting all the files uploaded. We’re looking at a publication date in early November, just in time for Christmas.

So, without further ado, I give you the first ever public look at Nelly-Bean and the Adventures of Nibbles.

nibbles

Stop Calling Grown Women Girls

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Why? What would you rather be called?

I read a few articles, which you can read here:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/182414-why-we-need-to-stop-calling-women-girls

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/08/stop-calling-women-girls-its-either-patronising-or-sexually-suggestive

In short, they feel that “girls” when used to describe grown ups is either patronizing or sexually suggestive, and that it lends itself to our obsession with youth and our sexualization of young girls.

Actually, this boils down to a basic issue with the English language – we have one fewer feminine pronoun than we do male pronouns. So the pronoun “girl” does double duty. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Male/Female – probably the most “formal” of the gender labels. This is generally reserved for science speak, labeling patients or specimens. It can be used for humans or any species of animals. Anywhere you use “male”, “female” is acceptable.

“In this study we found that male rats were ….. compared to the female rats held in the same conditions.”

Man/Woman – we don’t use this to refer to animals so this is the most formal label for humans alone. Instead of meaning the specific gender within the species it means an adult human of a specific gender. They are interchangeable but used mostly in descriptive, 3rd person, speak or when we are teaching young children about gender.

“Mommy is a woman. Daddy is a man.”

“Yes, I know Mrs. So’n’so from church, she’s a very generous woman.”

“Mr. This’n’that at the corner store is such a nice man.”

Husband/Wife – also referring to adult humans, this is a relationship label. Her husband. His wife. (Or his husband and her wife, depending on the situation). We really only use these labels to identify one person’s relationship to another person or to identify our own status within a community, for example, I am a wife.

Father/Mother – adult humans who have or care for offspring. There are many versions (mom, dad, mommy, daddy, ma, pa, da, mum, pops ….) which are more casual. Like husband/wife these words are generally used as a way to identify one person’s relationship to another person, to identify our status, or for our children to easily identify us.

Grandfather/Grandmother/Uncle/Aunt – All other relationship tags have this duality, with the exception of “cousin” which is gender neutral. Whether we are discussing our elders or our youngers (niece/nephew, son/daughter) or our peers (brother/sister) we have a word for that. They are used to show respect to an adult (as in honourary aunts and uncles), to label others or ourselves, and to identify our interconnectivity to the world around us.

Gentleman/Lady – Here’s a complicated one. Gentleman has retained a very strict connotation. It means a man who displays certain positive characteristics. A gentleman does not cuss in front of ladies or children, he holds open doors, he carries heavy items and reaches things from high shelves. He is polite, and respectful. A lady, therefore, is a woman of poise and grace, a woman who does not cuss in polite company, holds her pinky out when she drinks her tea, takes care of her appearance, and carries herself with grace and dignity.

Okay. Enough. Can we update this to modern times?

A gentleman is a man who uses his manners when the situation calls for it, is respectful of people, and generally doesn’t go around making an ass of himself unless he’s goofing off with his friends. A lady is a woman who uses her manners when the situation calls for it, is respectful of people, and generally doesn’t go around acting like a bitch unless she’s goofing off with her friends.

While most people accept the updated definition of gentleman, lady still retains images of women who never swears, never raises her voice, never voices a controversial opinion, etc. It’s a very Victorian word.

Mister/Missus – you know, Mr. Mrs.? They mean a married man or a married woman and are generally tacked to a last name when you’re not on a first name basis with someone. It denotes not only their marital status but respect from the person speaking.

Master/Miss – bet you didn’t know that the opposite of Miss, an unmarried woman, was actually Master. Due to the negative connotations of the word Master in reference to slavery it has largely been dropped from casual conversation and replaced with Mister, shortened to Mr. But if you ever get mail for your son and it’s addressed to Mstr. Name, well that’s short for Master.

Mister/Ms. – After a certain age we stop calling men Mstr., especially in North America where the term Master has a negative connotation. So Mister also applies to unmarried men as opposed to unmarried boys. Ms. is not short for Miss, it is used to denote an unmarried woman over a certain age, or a woman who is not intending to get married, or a woman who is married but kept her last name.

Boy/Girl – Both formal and casual, this refers to children. We add prefixes to further identify the child’s age. A young boy. A teen girl. At a certain age we may replace boy/girl with young man/woman, but this tends to be used in situations similar to when we would use man/woman.

“I have a house full of teenage boys” and “I have a house full of young men” mean the same thing, but one implies they are still children at heart and one implies the potential for maturity is showing.

This reinforces that boy/girl has connotations of immaturity, youthfulness, playfulness, and irresponsibility. This is why phrases like “boys with be boys” is also troublesome, especially when applied to men. Yes, boys will be boys, they will be young and energetic and get into all sorts of trouble. But they are supposed to learn, to grow up, to become young men, and then men. And since we don’t excuse other forms of misbehaviour, well, that’s another rant for another time.

Boyfriend/Girlfriend – this implies a romantic relationship between two youthful individuals. It is now also used for adults who are courting, replacing the old fashioned term of suitor just as dating has replaced courting.

Guy/Gal – Guy is a casual term that is sometimes used as a gender neutral though it is masculine. It is used to refer to a group of males with some connection (a classroom full of people, the group you hang out with, etc). Hey guys. You guys. Hanging with the guys. Gal, while equally casual and the conversational equivalent, has, for some reason, fallen out of fashion in the last few decades. Of course the 1930s equivalent to guy is doll, and I don’t think we need that making a comeback if we have a problem with the word girl as a casual term for a grown woman.

With Gal having lost its popularity there is no other real feminine casual for female friends. That’s why “girl” tends to do double duty. Girls night out. My girlfriends. The girls. You could replace “girl” in each of these sentences with boy or with guy or with gal and get the same meaning, either masculine or feminine.

What I think is the real issue here is not the language used but the context.

If the Prime Minister of Canada is talking about his Cabinet he speaks about the men and women he works with. He speaks about the ladies in Parliament. He speaks about the men or gentlemen at the office. He is a professional speaking about other professionals, in a professional setting, so he uses professional sounding pronouns. If Justin Trudeau is speaking informally about his wife he may just refer to her as “the girl that stole my heart” as a term of endearment. If he’s speaking directly to his wife without the media around he may come in and say “Hey pretty girl,” again as a term of endearment. He is a man speaking to or about his wife in a casual context.

Context. Who is speaking. Who is being spoken to. Who is being spoken of.

These senators or governors should not be speaking about the females in their work place as “girls” especially when speaking to the media. To walk up to them and say “Are you headed out with the girls this weekend?” is perfectly acceptable, casual, office speak. To say to the reporters “they’re silly girls” or “those girls are tough to work with” is demeaning, and insulting. They (the women in question) are professionals in a professional context and should be referred to in professional terms.

We can’t get rid of “girls” as a term for adult women because adult women are the ones using it. But “boys” is often used to refer to men as well. Out with the boys. “Me and the Boys” (a fantastic song that is not about their sons). Girls night out. Girlfriends.

We need to keep our casual language to casual settings among friends and family and casual acquaintances and we need the professionals to keep their language professional in professional settings.

I would expect my doctor to hand me a paper and say “take this to the ladies at the front desk” not the “girls” at the front desk. But I wouldn’t bat an eye at me sister saying she was going out to make ceramics with the girls Friday night.

Context.

We don’t need to remodel the English language. We need to establish boundaries for professional conduct that take into account context.

What do you think?

#NotOkay

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I am sorrowed and terrified by how many women have a first assault. Not just an assault, but a first assault, as this implies there was more than one. I could not believe how many women were assaulted before they were 7 years old. How many more were assaulted before they were 12. How many more were assaulted multiple times before they were 21.

I was 14 or 15. I only have one story to share. I got off lightly, for that I am grateful.

I was 14 or 15. I went to a movie night at a friend’s place. It was me and her and another girl, we’d all worked summer camps together, we were all about 14 or 15. There were three guys there as well, one about our age, two around 18. Two of them we knew from camp, the other 18 year old was a friend of a friend. He’s the one this story is about.

You see we were all teenagers just fooling around. Me and this older boy got friendly, tickling, cuddling, shoving, the usual goofing around. And that’s as far as it went. Later we started dating. Things went downhill after that.

He was older, he knew what he wanted. I was younger, never had a serious boyfriend before, never did more than hold hands before. I was curious but shy. I was Catholic, had been taught that certain behaviours had to wait until marriage, but I was curious about how far I could push things. I wasn’t sure how far I wanted to push things.

He kissed me a lot when we were together, snuggly making-out type kisses. He liked to put his hand between my legs and under my shirt. He wanted to know why I didn’t wear thongs. He always wanted me to touch him, to put my hand down his pants. I didn’t really want to. I had no experience with penises at all and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I felt awkward around him.

I went to his house once. We were going to a dance at his school. Making out led to my pants coming off. He touched me and kissed me and I knew this was further than I wanted to go, but I felt like I was supposed to want it so I let him. At the dance he kept putting his hand down my pants and up my shirt. In the school gym, in front of all his friends. My friend who introduced us said he didn’t like what he saw and I made some catty remark that maybe I liked it. I shouldn’t have said that. I should have asked for help. I should have asked him to tell his friend to back off because I couldn’t. But I wanted to be cool. I wanted this group of 18 year olds to like me.

He wanted me to stay over for Valentines Day. We’ll just watch movies, he said. Nothing will happen. I won’t hurt you. I asked my mom, and she said no. Of course she did. She said he might be talking about physical hurt, not emotional. He might not realize he was hurting me. I was too young.

I was so angry. But then a few weeks later he broke up with me and I realized he would have taken my virginity that night. My mother saved me from being assaulted. My mother prevented this story from ending with a rape.

I got off easy and honestly, I didn’t say no. I felt like a couldn’t say no, so I know it was coercion, it was assault, I don’t blame myself.

I was broken for a long time after that. I still have trouble expressing my wants and my dislikes sexually, even though I have been married for six years to a man I dated since I was 17. I feel awkward. I feel like sometimes my body doesn’t respond right. But my husband understands. When we were dating and exploring our sexuality he asked a lot of questions, he always asked if I was comfortable, did I need to stop, did I need to slow down? He checked and double checked not only for consent, but for my well-being. And that hasn’t stopped.

I am very very lucky. I have heard so many horror stories about the bus but I was able to bus to school for years without incident. I have heard stories about campus life and I was never groped or assaulted at university. I have heard so many stories about doctors and dentists abusing their positions and I am fortunate to have a family doctor who is kind and respectful.

The only person who knows the extent of what this boy did is my husband. Was my husband. This is my first time sharing this story in this much detail.

What happened to me was #notokay. What happened to all the women sharing their stories is #notokay. The cultural attitudes that makes this behaviour so pervasive is not okay.

Our society is broken.

On Trump, Groping, 50 Shades, and Locker Room Banter

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In which I ask a lot of questions that I don’t have the answers for. So if you can answer any of them, please do. Because I’m completely at a loss here.

Donald Trump said he couldn’t resist kissing women. Forget asking for consent, he’s just going to kiss them. And grab them by their pussies. And women everywhere were outraged. Go to Twitter and check out #notokay or #notok started by Kelly Oxford to see just how outraged they are.

And then someone decided that a meme saying “If American Women are so outraged at Trump’s use of naughty words, who in the hell bought 80 Million copies of 50 Shades of Grey?”

  1. We’re not upset he used the word pussy. We’re upset that a man who is possibly going to be running one of the most powerful countries in the world admits that he likes to grope and assault women and implies that because he’s rich, he can get away with it.
  2. I didn’t buy 50 Shades, I’ve never read it. I have read reviews and commentaries on it. I don’t like the way EL James portrays the BDSM community. HOWEVER, 50 Shades is supposed to be about bondage and BDSM – which is about consent and trust. There is a HUGE difference between BDSM and rape, there is a HUGE difference between bondage between a couple in a committed relationships and being assaulted by a stranger.
  3. Women weren’t the only ones buying or reading 50 Shades and I know many of the people who bought it, bought it to laugh at the writing quality or so they could write intelligent commentaries on the errors in it.
  4. This meme is totally dismissive. By using “naughty” instead of “vulgar” or “offensive” it makes it sound childish. Dogs are naughty when they chew your shoe. Children are naughty when they colour on your shopping list. Couples engage in naughty behaviour with smiles and winks. This was not “naughty” this was wrong. This was vulgar. This was offensive.

trump3

And it boils down to this. ^

Consent.

When a woman wears a bikini to the beach she is giving her consent to be looked at. She wants to be seen. When you walk in on a woman changing and she dives for cover it’s because she has not consented to being looked at in that state of undress and does not want to be seen that way. Which outfit covers more skin doesn’t matter at all. What matters is whether she wants to be seen like that or not.

In bondage and BDSM there is consent, there is trust, there is communication.

In Trump’s comment there is no consent, there is no communication, and there is no trust.

That’s the difference. That’s why we’re pissed off. Because in a healthy sexual relationship between two consenting adults you can get away with grabbing each other in sexual explicit places and ways. When you’re on the bus, surrounded by strangers, you expect those strangers to keep their hands to themselves.

Trump is saying that men don’t have to keep their hands to themselves. If she’s beautiful, you don’t have to control yourself. If you’re rich, or famous, or middle-aged and white, or male, you can get away with it.

Remember the men who kept running up behind female reporters and grabbing their microphones and yelling “FHRITP”? They claimed it was a joke too. It was a joke to interrupt a woman while she was working, to invade her personal space, to make unwanted physical contact with her, and to scream something vulgar.

I want to present you with a hypothetical situation and ask you two questions.

Situation: A male reporter, well known and respected in the field of journalism, is reporting on a sensitive, emotional, and important story. Out of no where a flamboyantly dressed man runs up, grabs the microphone, and yells “Fuck him right in the ass!” He laughs and disappears in to the crowd.

Question: What do you think the backlash over that situation would be?

Question: Why is it a joke when men say it to women but it is not a joke when the tables are turned and the victim is a straight male?

I can imagine a few answers to question 1. I have no answer for question 2. If you do, please comment.

So. It’s a joke. It’s locker room banter. It’s boys being boys. So far I’m probably coming across as a strong-armed feminist, right? So this might surprise you. I approve of locker room banter.

My husband works in a shop. His workmates are mostly men. He has come home and related to me some of the jokes that are said in the lunch room and locker room. These jokes are often racist, bigoted, homophobic, and sexist. And they’re funny. And no one means it.

There are two big black guys, brothers, working in the shop. There’s a running joke about watermelon, fried chicken, and grape pop. And these two are as often the ones making the racist jokes as they are at the butt end of them. They drop into deep south black accents. They laugh about it. And everyone in that shop will stop short at the first sign that someone is crossing the line between friendly banter and racism. They call people out for crossing the line.

They banter about the pin up girl in the paper. I’m sure they make lewd comments about her. I’ve heard some of it. It makes me blush. Some of it gets pretty raunchy. And it’s just guys goofing around.

Because I went with my husband to the target range at the pits with one of the guys from work. The guy that was joking at family day at the shops that he’d like to take the princesses to a private room for “pictures”. He’s a nice guy. He’s married. His kids are about the same age as mine. He was armed with a rifle. And I felt safe. He wasn’t going to hurt me. And the only reason he was making sexual jokes that day was because I made one first. And it was a raunchy one.

We all need to be able to blow off a little steam, to say politically incorrect, socially inappropriate things from time to time. I understand that. It’s the difference between friendly banter and bullying. It’s the difference between locker room banter and verbal abuse. I understand that difference.

So if Trump was in a private situation, with close friends, and they were having a beer and joking around, and Trump made a comment about the pin-up girl in the paper and wanting to kiss her and grab her by the pussy, that would be locker room banter. But if he says this in any forum that is remotely public, around people who are not in on the joking, then it is inappropriate. It is no longer locker room boys’ talk. It is a public statement.

Question: If Hillary Clinton said she wanted to pinch a male intern’s ass, what would the backlash be?

Question: If Michelle Obama joked about not being able to take the men who work with her husband seriously unless they are under 40 years old and sexually appealing, what would the backlash be?

Question: If Hillary said to a male reporter, male politician, male anyone “I can’t take you seriously, you’re so ugly.”, what would the backlash be?

I can imagine that the backlash would be huge, from men and women both.

trump1

Question: Why were you so afraid of men pretending to be transgender and groping girls in bathrooms?

Question: Do you know that more women are groped on subways and buses that in bathrooms?

Question: Why is it okay for Trump to “advocate” the exact behaviour you were protesting?

Question: If American men are okay with Trump’s use of naughty words, and all they imply, who in the hell was protesting transgender rights this summer?

Question: Are you starting to see the pattern here? Do you see the double standards yet?

I don’t have any answers. Do you? I’d like to hear them.

 

 

Other Forms of Trauma

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I’ve read a few blogs about the common-place nature of rape in stories. Rape is becoming a cliched short-hand for “dark and haunted past” for female characters. Need a reason for her to refuse the romantic advances of the leading man? She was raped and doesn’t trust him. Need a reason why she doesn’t sleep well? Drinks? Is single? Is hell-bent for revenge? Career driven to the point of dangerous obsession? Yup. Rape will take care of all of those. But it’s not fair to women. And the blogs I’ve read on this issue do a wonderful job of explaining why.

Another thing they do is beg for a more varied set of backstory traumas in our female characters, and a few even give examples of when this was done in TV, movies, or books. But I’ve yet to see a helpful list of hints for writers to look at when deciding what sort of trauma will suit the character they are building.

So here it is. A by-no-means comprehensive list of horrible, scarring, events that will leave your characters disturbed, wounded, messed-up, and vulnerable.

  1. Physical abuse – this can vary depending on the situation and can come from many sources. However, none of this abuse is sexual in nature (in this case). Beatings, broken bones, black eyes, cigarette butts put out on the skin. Sorry. Okay – you get the picture. You can go as bad or as mild as is appropriate for you story and audience, without making it sexual.
  2. Emotional/Verbal abuse – insults, manipulation, lying, isolation, threats, constant observation/control/checking in, blame, rejection …
  3. Losing a loved one – a child who loses a parent to illness or violence, an adult who has lost a spouse or child …
  4. Divorce – either the parents of your character, or your character can go through one. Divorce can be traumatic especially in coupled with some form of abuse, or if the abuse is petty/nasty, and if there are children involved.
  5. Being lost or abandoned – it can be a temporary situation, a child who is lost in the woods for a few days and is now terrified of being alone, of the woods, etc. Maybe it’s a child who is lost and is never reunited with the parents. Maybe the child is abandoned and is waiting for the parents to return (Rey from Star Wars, Punky Brewster)
  6. Mental illness – diagnosed or not this comes with a lot of stigmas. If it is not diagnosed your character may exhibit symptoms that make it difficult for them to make friends or keep relationships. If they are hiding it, ashamed of it, that can be toxic to their relationships as well. And there are a wide variety of mental illnesses that can be used. Please, do your research and treat mental illness with the same respect you would treat child abuse or rape.
  7. PTSD – This can be caused by many of the above and more situations. It can affect children and adults in many ways. This may be a side-effect of the other forms of trauma you are using in your story.
  8. Physical injury – car crash, sports, cross-fire, a major physical injury can alter a life in so many ways. Whether this is a recent turn of events or something that happened years prior they may not be coping well.
  9. Substance abuse – the character themselves or a loved one may be (past or present) addicted to any number of substances. This can lead to abuse. This can lead to abandonment. This can lead to poverty. We see so many heroes who are recovering addicts, or alcoholics, but not so many heroines with the same weaknesses.
  10. Poverty – extreme poverty is hard to beat, hard to escape, and hard to live through. This can lead to abuse, mental illness, injury, neglect, gangs, substance abuse, and criminal activity.
  11. Criminal past – break and enter? stealing cars? dealing drugs? guilty or simple wrong place at the wrong time? Are they trying to hide it? Go straight? Is it haunting them somehow?

1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are raped or sexually abused, and more are sexually harassed, every year in Canada, United States, and UK. The numbers are similar across Europe. I’m afraid I don’t know the numbers across Asia, Australia, or other countries/regions. It is a big deal. It has happened to so many women. Not all women react/grief/move on in the same way. Not all rapes are the same. I know we feel like these stories need to be told – I wrote a novel about a rape because the story needed to be told. But there are so many other things happening out there that can leave a person wounded and vulnerable, that can alter their decision making process, and provide material for our novels.

Let’s try to be honest with ourselves. What back story really, truly, suits our characters? And why are we giving them awful backstories to begin with? Is there something other than rape that could happen to our heroine to drive her story? This goes for all genres. We need to see more variety in all our characters across the board.

I hope this helps someone with future character development.

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