Lessons About Women Gleaned from Stock Photography

Maybe we need more female photographers to contribute to stock photo sites.

I’m putting on my feminist hat (okay, it’s a crown) for this post, so be forewarned.

I was looking for pictures for the cover of my next book yesterday and I noticed that you can really draw a lot of inferences about our culture just by looking at the way women are portrayed in stock photography.

To give you context, I was looking for a middle-aged woman with a sword for the final installment of my trilogy. The original mock up my designer and I came up with has been bugging me for months and I finally figured out why: the model we used is too young for where Guinevere is in life in this story. So I’m looking for an older one.

You would think there are stock photos out there of queens, right? Yeah not so much, unless you want one who is maybe 18 or you can pay thousands of dollars to a photographer period images. I can’t, so I used Adobe Stock and ThinkStock, which produced some rather…interesting results. What I found was pretty consistent on both. I realize that this likely has more to do with the specific searches I was doing than the diversity of images overall on those sites, but my results were still pretty telling:

  1. Keywords: Woman with sword. Many of the women with swords were very young and most were scantily clothed. Some were licking the swords in what I guess was supposed to be a seductive manner. (Eww…) This clearly comes from some sort of male fetish and is obviously meant to cater to the male gaze. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, given the lack of strong female historical role models, but you would think with all the fantasy novels out there, there would be more images that were appropriate for books that aren’t anime-like or erotica.
  2. Keywords: Dark haired woman. Finding pictures of middle-aged women is very hard. I can find young models and elderly woman in spades, but like with Hollywood rolls, women in middle age are ignored. This makes me feel like our society wants to hide the period of life when women are no longer traditionally desirable, yet aren’t the crones we like to trot out at Halloween and ignore for the rest of the year. As someone approaching 40, I find the lack of representation of women near my age very troubling. I know I no longer look like I did when I was 18 so I don’t want a child representing me or subconsciously conveying I should still look like her. No. I earned every one of my wrinkles and age spots. I want my characters to be able to show the beauty of aging, too.
  3. Keywords: Middle aged woman. When you do find middle-aged women in pictures they are smiling. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing, but when you’re trying to find one in which the woman looks like she wants to be taken seriously, this is a problem. I began to think about the types of products these happy images might accompany and most of them were intended to solve some sort of “female” problem: child-rearing, cleaning, eating healthy so they can look young (see above). Then I remembered the old idea that women should always be bright and happy for their men; looks like that is still alive and well. God forbid we show a woman who could go toe to toe with a man! We’d rather have vapid, smiling Barbie dolls.
  4. Keywords: Middle aged woman serious. If you ask for serious faces, most of the images you get are women who aren’t wearing makeup. Um…what am I supposed to do with that? Does that mean that photographers think serious women are ugly or plain? Or that a woman can’t be desirable and serious at the same time? Are the only ways to be serious and female to be sick, tired or depressed? Because that’s what these search results look like.
  5. Keywords: Fierce woman. Fierce women apparently like to bite things: chains, whips, pens, hot peppers (don’t ask, I don’t know either, but it was there). And they like to exercise and yell. That’s seriously (no pun intended) all you get in this type of search. Where are the businesswomen, pissed off mothers, and women thinking deep thoughts? Where are the warriors, military women, doctors, police women, etc.? The message this sends to me is that I can only be considered fierce if I’m a dominatrix or I’m working out, both of which end up feeding into ideals put in place by men for how women are supposed to be. And that is bullshit. I’m fierce every single day, even when I stay in my pajamas!

As a feminist, I find these results deeply concerning. If women ever want to be taken seriously we need to break through the stereotypes that run rampant in these images.

Right now I really wish I was a photographer so I could start consciously integrating more positive and diverse female images into my work. But I am a writer, which means I’m going to have to keep writing strong female characters who demand a different image on their book covers. Write enough of those and the pictures will change. Or at least that is my hope.

Advertisements

Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

tumblr_inline_mf8h7mju6i1ru6epy

All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

tumblr_oeon07sgjv1rp0vkjo1_500

The Young Podawans Ep. 49 – Doctor Who S10

Check out Scribes Kristin and Brian’s podcast for your very geeky needs! This week, they’re talking Doctor Who!

The Young Podawans

With the announcement of the New Doctor, we decided to step back into the TARDIS and catch up on the Doctor’s most recent adventures. In short – we liked Bill a lot, but it was still a very Moffaty season for the most part. Still – we have MANY THOUGHTS. Aside from the Who-Talk, we have also an update on our reading challenge and on our watermelon beer preferences.

View original post 337 more words

Social Media: One Perk of Being an Author…or Being Human

Yesterday I was faffing about on Facebook – as you do – and stumbled over this…

One household staple sums up why Americans and Brits will never see the world the same way.

The article makes a couple of basic assumptions, primarily that London flats with in-home laundry are likely to have combination washer/dryers. More importantly, those dryers don’t work, and people end up draping soggy clothing all over their flats to get things dry.

They author argues that it’s in the British national character to accept an appliance with less-then-optimal functioning, while Americans would treat it as a challenge to find a way to make the things work better.

giphy (5)

Which is interesting, but not really the point of this blog post. What I did with the article is.

I posted the link on a group Facebook page, mainly because many of my friends there are from the UK, NZ, Canada, and Oz (Australia). As I expected, the link got lots of conversation. (It helped that I started off with a comment about microwaving water for tea, which never fails to stir things up. Apparently some consider this American convenience a travesty.)

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Some people – especially Americans who are living/have lived in London – hate drying their undercrackers on the radiator.
  • Others who live there think having a separate dryer would be a waste of space and electricity. Also:
    • An “airing cupboard” works just as well.
    • “Panties” are for children.
    • “Knickers” are for adults.
    • Radiators are for drying socks.
    • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.
  • One British friend who lives north of London does have a “real” dryer.
  • A friend from New Zealand said the cure for line-dried, sandpaper towels is a fabric softener you put in the wash rather than the dryer sheets.
  • Another friend from Oz would never use a dryer because of economic and environmental concerns.
    • Electricity is too expensive and too hard to generate to waste.
    • The sun dries things perfectly well, and is a natural stain remover.
  • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.

All of that from one random article!

Maybe this post says as much about me as it does about the state of household maintenance. I don’t travel much. It’s just…never been a priority. Part of the reason is that when I travel, I’m always conscious of being a visitor, an outsider, not part of the fabric of life. In the space of five or seven or ten days, I never get deep enough. I always leave wanting more.

My fantasy European vacation would take at least six months, and would involve a castle in the south of France and a cottage near Brighton.

While I’m plotting and scheming for the perfect vacation, meeting people on-line helps me learn about life in other places without ever leaving my living room. And not just the picture-postcard-tourist stuff. I’m learning about airing cupboards and fabric softener and tea. The details! The things only locals know!

The good stuff!

So what does all that have to do with being an author? Well, my progression as a writer evolved in tandem with the world wide web. I published my first book in 2012 and took a blogging class to learn how to promote it.

The class’s teacher – Kristen Lamb – required us to start Twitter accounts and created a class Facebook page. This was my first experience with making internet friends, and I still keep in touch with some of them. It might sound a little over-dramatic, but that class changed my life.

No joke. It lead to me becoming part of the Spellbound Scribes!

As an author, I need to be savvy about social media, because the various outlets can be very effective tools for promotion. But really, I hang out on Facebook and Twitter because that’s where my friends are, and because it’s fun.

And because I very much believe that every connection I make shrinks the size of this big blue world, and realizing how much we have in common is the only thing that’ll keep us from riding our divisions into catastrophe.

giphy (6)

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration in Beauty

There is so much going on in the world these days that it’s hard not to find it overwhelming. Every time I turn on the TV or radio or Twitter I feel like I’m being bombarded with hateful rhetoric from all sides, and terrible–sometimes heartbreaking–images from the horrific acts that seem to be happening more and more often. As an artist, I have to confess that this takes a heavy toll on my creativity. It’s hard to see beauty and wonder and joy when it sometimes seems like the world is falling apart.

That’s when I turn to beautiful things. There are a million places to find beautiful things, if you know where to look. Nature, of course. Your local art gallery. Between the dusty shelves of that used bookstore down the street. But as with all things, the most concentrated trove of beauty is on that most horrible and glorious of things: The Internet. Here are a few of the sites I turn to when my creative well has been emptied by reality!

My Modern Met

From fairy-tale inspired photography to how Matryoshka dolls are made to modern dance, this site always has something lovely and a little strange to offer. My favorite ever find: this stunning ballet short film that actually inspired a scene in one of my books!

 

Stumble Upon

This site takes you to a totally random website! You can curate the types of sites it will take you to based on your interests–art, gardening, photography, you name it. It can be a little bit of a mixed bag, and sometimes you have to click through a few random sites to find anything worthwhile, but I’ve found some incredible things through this site. (It’s also a great tool for procrastination…)

Artist A Day

This website does pretty much what it promises to do–showcases an artist a day! They also curate lists of top tens that can be great if you’re working on something with a specific theme and need inspiration. One of my recent favorite finds–this stunning work by Kim Keever. I encourage you to read about her fascinating process!

xkimkeever_23443423_large-pagespeed-ic-y0lkak6tyl
Sunset 44d by Kim Keever. Image does not belong to me.

 

 

 

Atlas Obscura

This site basically shares links, but they’re usually very cool. Everything from weird historical facts to geological oddities to maps of curious museums across the world, you never really know what you might, um, what’s another word for stumble upon?

Of course, these are just a drop in the vast ocean of gorgeous and inspiring sites on the internet. But they’re some of the ones I find myself turning to, again and again, when I just need to tune out the world.

Do you find inspiration in beauty? What are some of your favorite places to find beauty, wonder, and joy? Share in the comment section below!

What Makes a “Real Book?”

Purchased from Adobe Stock

When I was at the Historical Novel Society Conference at the end of June, an agent reportedly told a room full of writers that when querying him/her, authors should mention any previously published books, but only if they are traditionally published because “self-published books aren’t real books.”

*Facepalm* In a world where traditional (especially “Big 5”) publishers and agents are making getting a traditional book deal more and more difficult, especially for first-time and newer (read: lower-selling) authors, what else do we have to do to convince those in the traditional industry that we are just as serious about our careers as our traditional counterparts and that our books are just as real?

What makes a book “real,” anyway?

  1. Well, obviously it needs to exist. That means any book offered in print, ebook or audio form is a real book. If I can read it in some way, it is a real book.
  2. For the publishing industry, it makes sense the book would need to make money, which means it needs to sell. Okay, those of us who have sold a few copies have real books. I know authors who are making in the five- and six-figure range each year with self-published books. Sadly, I am not yet one of them. But that makes my books no less real.
  3. Maybe it needs to have fans? Indie books have those as well. Ask their authors and they will show you fan mail. Those fans will show you their ratings on Amazon. Yep. Real book.
  4. Beyond that, the only other thing I can think of is that it needs special fairy rainbow unicorn dust.

In fact, I would argue that our books could be seen as more “real” because we invest our own money in publishing and marketing them. That doesn’t make our books any more high or low quality than those traditionally published, but it does give us a financial skin in the game that doesn’t come when you are paid for your writing.

What a comment like the one the agent made appears to come down to is the argument that in order to be a “real book,” it has to have passed the approval of an agent and then an editor. So under that logic, only the books they consider worthy are real. What makes them any more qualified to determine that, given many of the stinkers they have published? Any avid reader should be able to make that choice in an informed manner, and with self-published books, those readers have an even wider array of books to choose from, not only the few topics the industry thinks are “hot.”

Around 4th of July I saw a meme that showed The Declaration of Independence. Beneath it were the words “This was a self-published document.” That is so appropriate because this whole argument is kind of like saying only the king and queen can say which books get published. Well, now the people are rising up and saying, “no, we don’t need you to make every decision for us. We’re going to take power into our own hands.” Like every revolution, the indie movement has its supporters and its detractors. But like the bid for US independence, the horse has left the barn and there is no going back. Call indie authors rouge colonists all you want, but we’re here to stay whether you approve of us or not.

Now I know not every agent or editor feels this way, and I’m glad for that. I have nothing against the traditional publishing industry. What I do have a problem with is the “be-all-and-end-all” attitude inherent in the idea that only traditionally published books are “real books.” All we’re asking for here is equality, plain and simple. You don’t have to like that our books exist. Just acknowledge us and our ability to produce our own work. (Hmm…does that sound like the suffrage movement to anyone else?) And let us include it in our query letters. You can still turn us down if you don’t think our books are valid or our sales are high enough.

But please, don’t tell us our books aren’t real.

Fun Summer Reads!

So what are you reading this summer? I’ve got so many books on my TBR pile I may never see the top….or the bottom, depending on your perspective. (lol!) But since I’m in a blogging mood, I thought I’d make a list of the five(ish) books I’m most looking forward to reading now that it’s beach weather.

Feel free to leave me a comment with recommendations. Just bought a kindle for Prime day, so I have an excuse for a new book or two to celebrate.

(Also, fair warning….these are books on my TBR (or will be), so I haven’t read them yet. I also skew pretty heavily toward romance, so…)

 

Bet-Me-by-Jennifer-Crusie

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

I had this sort of embarrassing Facebook exchange the other day. See, I follow Jennifer Crusie’s blog (ArghInk) because she frequently has insightful posts about writing – and life in general. I’d posted one of her links to my FB feed, and somehow in the comments it came out that I’d *never* read one of her books.

Um, oops.

Several of my friends recommended this one, and my friend Kim even said we could do a buddy-read. I’ve requested it from the library, so as soon as it gets here, the read is on!

Blurb

Min Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Cal Morrisey knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But Fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal are dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kremes, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a mutant cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of including the biggest gamble of all—real love.

~*~

sherry_thomas_study-in-scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Okay, so if you click on this one quick enough, you can still get it for $1.99! The basic premise of this one is that it’s a Sherlock Holmes story that answers the question, “what if Sherlock was a woman?” (I think that’s the general idea, anyway.)

I’d been intrigued by a couple posts I’d seen about Scarlet, and then yesterday my writing partner Irene Preston got all carried away telling me how much she loved it. I figure we write books together, so if I can’t trust her recs, I can’t trust anyone’s. (lol!)

Blurb

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. 
 
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

~*~

RUIN-OF-A-RAKE-cover-art

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

No one had to rec this one to me. It’s the third book in the series and I’ve been infatuated since the very beginning. The only thing I’m a little bit ashamed of is that the book’s been out for a whole week and I haven’t read it yet.

Rake – along with the previous books The Soldier’s Scoundrel and The Lawrence Browne Affair – are m/m Regency romances. I love the author’s take on history. She tells a great story with equal helpings of atmospheric detail, great characterization, and heat.

Blurb

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

SoldiersScoundrel      ~ For inspiration, here are the other two covers. ~LawrenceBrowneAffair

~*~

SummerHeat

Summer Heat by Jay Northcote

Jay Northcote writes heat very, very well. I also love his handle on contemporary angst, and I love the Britishness of his books. This is a friends-to-lovers story, which is a fun trope, and I’m looking forward to a relaxing afternoon in the heat…er, sunshine.

Blurb

A summer fling is an ideal cure for a broken heart. But when it’s with your best friend, things get complicated.

When Adam is dumped by his boyfriend, a week away at a beach resort seems like a great opportunity to get over his ex. Sun, sea, and no-strings sex will be just the boost he needs to move on with his life.

Adam’s best friend, Finn, agrees to accompany him at short notice. Finn’s had a crush on Adam for years, but is determined to put his feelings aside and be the perfect wingman in Adam’s time of crisis.

A spontaneous threesome with another guy forces Adam and Finn to confront their attraction to each other. Having a holiday fling together wasn’t part of the plan, and as their trip heats up, they soon realise that one night of fun won’t be enough for either of them.

The passion might be scorching, but their hearts and friendship are on the line. If their romance is going to survive the flight home, they have to be honest about what they want.

~*~

spectred isle

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

This one doesn’t come out until August 3rd – which is good because I’ll  have a couple weeks to catch up on other stuff so I’m ready when it hits my kindle. In my mind, KJ + Paranormal + Victorian = amazeballs, and I cannot wait!

Blurb

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

~*~

So yeah. That’s what I’m going to be reading in the next couple of months. What’s on your tbr? Rec your favorite in the comments! And I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine! (Unless you’re in Oz. Then it’s bundle up, mates!)

~*~

One more thing…as long as we’re talking summer reads, here’s a couple more suggestions!

Infamous_IrenePreston

Four years ago it was pure Hollywood – the windswept beach, the whirlwind romance, the run-away marriage. Unfortunately, the ride into the sunset didn’t survive the publication of the bride’s tell-all book two months after she said ‘I Do’.

Reclusive venture capitalist Morgan Riley isn’t interested in fame. He prefers a quiet life in the suburbs. For his daughter’s sake, he agrees to give his notorious wife another chance to be part of their family. Even though she’s back at home and fulfilling all his late-night fantasies, he can’t help wonder if she misses her high-profile lifestyle and famous friends.

Everyone knows Jessica Sinclair. She’s that girl on the cover of all the tabloids. As a Hollywood insider, Jessica has spent her life partying with A-list celebrities, shopping on Rodeo Drive, and living through scandal after scandal. When her estranged husband offers her a second chance at the ‘All American’ lifestyle she can’t pass up a shot at real happiness. Back in suburbia, Jessica spends her nights in sexy role-play hoping Morgan will overlook her deficiencies as a homemaker. She spends her days attending P.T.A. meetings, burning cookies, and asking herself ‘What would June Cleaver do?’ More to the point, what will Morgan do when she winds up back in the tabloids–with his teenage daughter right next to her?

Read the first chapter of Infamous FREE!

~*~

AquaFollies_Digital_Web

The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

Buy here!!