Posts Tagged ‘ West Africa ’

Behind The Mosquito Net – The Jet-Set Life of a Best-Selling Author.

The more observant among you will have noticed a distinct lack of posts recently on MWi.

Simple fact is I’ve been rather preoccupied sorting my residential status here in sunny West Africa, having come far too close to being deported as an illegal immigrant.

There’s a common misconception among many in the First World that only rich countries need immigration controls, to keep the nasty foreigners at bay, but it’s fine for us “rich westerners” to just jump on a plane and go where we wish. That our dollars, pounds and euros mean we are above local laws and can travel and live wherever we choose. The reality is rather different. All countries have immigration laws, and they all enforce them rigorously.

Due to technical glitches this end my annual visa renewal took much longer to sort than usual, and the past month has been endless trips to and from the tiny Gambian capital trying to coincide my visits with no powercuts so the immigration authorities could resolve a very simple issue with my resident alien permit.

All fixed eventually, but there were times it looked like I might have had to leave and return to civilization. While I will be doing just that this summer, to escape the worst of the rainy season (impossible to use the laptop here with the electrical storms) and sort business matters, the idea of leaving my little piece of paradise for any length of time was a depressing prospect.

Which brought to mind the oft-asked questions about what my life here is really like.

Do I really live in a mud hut surrounded by crocodiles and hippos, with neither running water nor sanitation? Do I really live close to golden beaches and palm trees, and plush hotels and swimming pools and well-stocked bars, yet rarely visit?

The answer is sort of, to all of them. And by the way, those crocs are just a few miles from here.

In fact I have three homes here in The Gambia. All rented, and all local quality. Yes, there are wonderful European-standard properties available, especially in the tourist zone, and for a fraction of Europe’s costs one could live in luxury here, no question.

But material wealth and goods hold little interest, and the idea of living in such needless splendour while people around me have no running water or electricity and bring up families on less than a dollar a day, is quite anathema.

I rent three homes to facilitate my travel around the country for my various community projects.  There are very few roads worthy of the name (the country has no railway system and until two years ago just one set of traffic-lights) and travel over even short distances can be arduous and time-consuming. On a good day.

Individual houses are a luxury of the rich here, and most people live in “compounds” usually comprising two or three rooms as part of a block, with shared sanitation and cooking facilities.

Below is one of  “my” compounds. It’s probably no bigger than most people’s back yards in the USA, but here there are eight families in situ, comprising over thirty persons. I’d rate my residence as middle-class.

My little “home” is the door to the right with the blue walls. The one with the collapsing roof. Two rooms, which for one person is a decadent luxury, but I do need my workspace.

As you can see from the sandy ground, we’re on the edge of the Sahara Desert, and most roads are little more than sand tracks.  It hasn’t rained here since end September, and none is expected before late June. Despite which there is a surprising amount of greenery. Trees here have deep roots and there is no shortage of underground water supply at this stage. Whether the water can meet the countries needs as the population grows and development continues remains to be seen.

My office is of course the height of hi-tech efficiency. The desk is an old, rusting metal gate precariously balanced. Mosquito swatter, lamp and Kindle are essential tools of the trade, along with the laptop and a decent keyboard. The lap-top cooler is actually a couple of egg-trays. Very effective.

Air conditioning? Of course. It’s that hole in the wall that masquerades as a window.

My other furnishings comprise an equally delapidated swivel chair, a roll-up mattress I can carry to each home as needed, a mosquito net, and a couple of locally made seats which look a lot more comfortabe than they are.

No TV, of course, although TVs are quite common (all the junk TVs from Europe find their way to Africa – and some even work!), and freeview satellite dishes are relatively cheap. Relatively being relative to Europe or the USA. When you earn local wages such things are still an unotainable luxury for most here. And I’m not sure CNN 24/7 is a luxury in any circumstances.

In theory we have electricity, but rarely a day passes without a powercut – often several – and outside of the “Kombos” (the development area) electricity and water, are rationed – 9am till 2pm and 7pm till midnight. That’s where electricity and water are available at all. Many people don’t have any electric supply (and couldn’t afford to use if they did – it costs me about a dollar a day).

Many areas are still reliant on wells, but communal taps are spreading. Up until a year ago we had to walk a quarter mile to the communal tap, shared between the entire village, fill containers and cart them back for the day’s requirements.

As a European in these temperatures (30C / 90F average – often a lot higher) several showers a day is unavoidable, so in a rare moment of self-indulgence I paid to have water brought to the compound. About a year’s income for local people. No suprise then that there was a big party when the tap finally arrived.

So now we have our own water supply.  Of course, that only gets the water as far as the premises. You still need to fill one of those containers and lug the water to where needed.

The shower, for instance.

If you want a warm shower just leave the bucket of water in the sun for an hour or so.  By midday the ground has anyway warmed up such that the water comes out of the tap pretty tepid. But overnight the ground cools and the first shower of the day can be quite a wake-up experience!

One of the reasons I chose this particular compound was the luxury toilet. Most latrines here are simply holes in thr ground. Here my predecessors somehow came across a western style u-bend basin, positioned over said hole in the ground. Unparalleled luxury! Of course you still need to lug the bucket of water from the tap to flush.

Both shower and toilet are beneath the shade of a huge mango tree. Which can be quite an unnerving experience in the post-summer months whern the mangoes are ripe and liable to fall at any moment. Mangoes are incredibly dense and heavy for their size and a lot more dangerous than falling coconuts!

Needless to say at night the mosquitos swarm in vast numbers in the hope some foolish European will expose soft pale flesh for their delectation.

Of course we also need water for washing.

When the washing machine and dishwasher breakdown we have to do things by hand. No, hold on. We haven’t got a washing machine or dishwasher.  Where would be plumb them in if we had?

And of course we also need water for cooking.

In the event I have an uncontrollable urge for a pizza or fries I can always head off to the tourist zone and spend more on one meal than a family will spend on food all week, but I prefer to live as the locals do. Cooking on charcoal or open fires can be a slow and tortuous process, but always with tasty results.

Here’s one of my lovely neighbours sorting lunch in our communal kitchen.

My second home is not quite so plush.

Could do with a new roof before the rains start.

While it may not be the most comfortable lifestyle, it is always a pleasure to be among people who have more important things to worry about than the latest smartphone, or upgrading their iPad, or whether they need a third car on the drive.

Money can’t buy happiness, and believe it or not a TV, computer games and Barbie dolls are actually not essential to life. Just ask these kids.

Or ask that Mark Williams character.

Of course there are some times when money can be put to good use.

Malaria is the single biggest killer on the African continent, and the single largest cause of infant mortality.  This close to the coast malaria is not quite as prevalent as inland, but still a major threat. But mosquito nets cost more than most people can afford. Nets for babies, like this one, are especially expensive. This one costs the equivalent of a week’s wages for a teacher. About twenty dollars. Ponder that next time you spend twenty bucks on the latest hardback.

As the baby grows out of it the net can be passed on to another child and re-used until beyond repair, which sadly isn’t that long. As for the growing infant – bigger nets cost more, and for children big and small malaria is a risk they live with every day.

Imagine in London or New York, Paris or Perth, being unable to protect your children from the risk of a  fatal disease every night, for the sake of a few dollars. If it’s not malaria there are plenty of other killers to choose from.

One in five babies born on this continent will not live to see their fifth birthday. Most of those deaths will be preventable. Little Ramatoulye, above, has a 20% likelihood of dying in the next five years. In the twenty-first century that’s just not good enough.

My lifestyle here in West Africa may seem far removed from yours in the rich west. But by African standards I live a jet-set life.

Tomorrow I’m off north of the river to follow up on some projects in the outlaying villages. Needless to say my private yacht will be waiting.

Or maybe not. I’ve got other prioroities for my money. Mosquito nets for babies, for instance. So I’ll cross the river as the locals do.

Almost time to roll up the bed, pack the laptop and head off. I leave you with this image of the luxury first-class travel experience that awaits me.

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Mark Williams Has Risen From The Grave

 

Okay, play time’s over. I’m back!

Contrary to popular opinion I haven’t been lounging on the beach all day while nothing was happening here at MWi. For those of you unfortunate enough to have had emails from me recently it may not have been obvious, but I have been struggling with Africa’s most common malady. To anyone who’s emailed and not had a reply, sorry! I’ll be making vast efforts to catch up over the weekend.

For now just to add that my recuperation was greatly aided today by news that Sugar & Spice came in not only as the top selling UK indie title last year, but also ranked eleventh highest-seller out of ALL ebooks sold in the UK in 2011.

What more could one ask?

 

 

 

This Is Why Men Hate Fashion – Christine DeMaio-Rice

So what is it about women and shoes?

It would never, ever occur to me to put a shoe on the cover of a book.

I mean, shoes are what feet go into. And feet are at the other end of the body for a good reason. Bunions, blisters and broken toe-nails, ripe cheese aromas and crispy socks that can stand up on their own. Or is that just me?

Anne R. Allen has two cover artists working on her Camilla Randall Mysteries series. Though there was no exchange between the two designers they both came up with shoes…

Christine DeMaio-Rice designs her own covers (more on this next month). The big image above is a fine example of her work. And, of course, there’s a shoe in it.

Okay, it’s a book about the fashion industry. But even so… Why a shoe? Somebody explain to this ageing male brain what’s going on?!

Saffi and I have teamed up with Elizabeth Ann West to write our new China Town rom-com mystery series (Narcissus Nights due out early 2012!) and I can see already that even if there’s not a shoe mentioned anywhere (admittedly improbable, with two female co-writers dictating the storyline) there will somehow be a shoe or two on the cover. 😐

Just to add here for anyone keeping count that the China Town series will be after the first of the St. Mallory’s YA series we’re co-writing with the fantabulous teens Miriam and Charley.  So far I’ve been lucky and not seen any sign of any shoe obsessions in St. Mall’s. Are teenagers immune to such things? At what age does a girl stop wearing shoes as footwear and start wearing them as fashion accessories?

Of course, I could have asked fashion-industry insider Christine, when I invited her on to MWi to talk about Dead Is The New Black, the first of her Fashion Avenue Mystery series.

Btw, how irresistable is that title?! So irresistable, in fact, you’ll probably be wanting to head off and buy it before you read any further. You can find it on amazon.com here and on amazon.co.uk here.

I asked Christine not to mention the book and do a post on fashion instead. With plenty of images, I added.

Yeah, I was angling for an excuse to run a post with lots of pics of scantily clad top totty. But Christine saw right through me, and wrote a post on men in t-shirts instead. Cruel, or what?!

Here’s Christine.

This Is Why Men Hate Fashion

 

I’ll send three mental images your way.

1) A man slouches on a couch outside dressing rooms, waiting for his girlfriend to exit. He looks like he’d rather be dead, or chewing razor blades, or simply watching football.
2) A man in a suit, outside the bathroom. His wife exits wearing something either obscene or absurd, twirls around and says, “how do I look?” The man in question doesn’t have to answer. We know he’s in trouble.
3) A man stands stock still as a woman dresses him in something ridiculous while she squeals about how fabulous he looks.

These are all a beer commercial waiting to happen, and we have bought them in their entirety. I hate beer commercials because they play on gender stereotypes and expectations. This is a huge injustice to men everywhere, and it’s the reason most of the men in America dress like laundry sacks.

Worse, runway shows specialize in making men look like slim, asexual fourteen year-olds, while men’s magazines mention clothing as an afterthought to the barely-dressed women on the cover. The backlash is not only understandable, it’s should be expected. Fashion has been marketed as a “girl’s thing” and sports as a “boy’s thing,” and like normal human beings we follow along.

I know, you’re saying you’re different. Fine. You’re different. Are all the men in your life like you? (If you’re gay, and all your friends are gay, please don’t answer. Gay men get this right already. We need to bring the straight boys along with us, gentlemen).

So I want you all to choose a t-shirt. Go on the internet or look in a catalog with the intention of buying a nice t-shirt. I know what you’re saying. “I wear t-shirts in the yard or to hang out with my buddies I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a t-shirt.” What I’d say to that is, a t-shirt can change the way you look, and you don’t have to change t-shirts for the yard, but it’s you’re leaving the house at all, you can affect an enormous difference by not looking like a sack of crap.

First. Ladies. If you’re in on this process, stop squealing. Do not squee. Do not fawn. Do not seduce. At the first sign of any feminine behavior, you will lose his interest. This is borderline clinical. Act like a surgeon over an open heart.

Second. Gentlemen. That little twisty part of yourself that associates looking good with being less manly? Take charge of it. Go with me here. It won’t hurt, I promise.

I want to start by showing you what a t-shirt should NOT look like. I mean it’s so bad the model looks like he’s cringing.

Why is this so bad, you ask.
Why, indeed.

Look at those sleeves. He looks like a slight breeze will send him flying away. There’s a good four inches of excess fabric in there. This is bad. Worse, the outsleeves are hiking. The outsleeves are the outer edge, on the sleeve fold. Do you see how the sleeve opening angles down in toward the body? This is a no-no, and it’s making him look like a big trapezoid.

Now I’d like to direct you to the placement of the shoulders. They’re way down on his arm! Which, honestly, would be just fine if the sleeves weren’t flappy-dappy.

Which brings us to the biggest problem. Because the sleeve balance is something easy to see and obvious. But the less obvious problem is proportional. The chest fits really nicely, and when you buy something online, it’s the chest you’re buying against. You look at the chest measurements and you compare to your body measurements, and there you go! A chest that fits with these big stupid sleeves. And that’s why you need the big, shoulders, to make these two pieces to the puzzle fit together. If the shoulders were the correct size to the proportion of the chest, they’d be narrower.

But he’s wearing two different t-shirts. One fits (the chest) and one doesn’t (the sleeves).

So, why is it this way?

Part of the reason is that the customer’s gotten sloppy and doesn’t care (yes, I’m talking to you). The other reason is that those sleeves are easier to sew than sleeves that fit. In order to get the curve of the armhole to fit around the body, a bunch of cool easing and stretching techniques have to be used so there’s not four yards of fabric in the armpit. But if you make big shoulders and a straight-ish armhole, you can sew a million of them consistently and sell them for ten bucks each.

This is better. At least he doesn’t look like he’s going to fly away. The sleeve openings are level to the earth and the shoulders hit in the right place. And though the chest still fits, to be honest, the sleeves now look too small for the body, proportionally. And there are draglines on the sleeve (little vertical creases) caused by a poorly balanced sleeve cap. Fixing that is another whole order of patternmaking and sewing though, so you can ignore me.

This is the nicest-fitting t-shirt I’ve seen. The sleeves are tight, which makes it good for wearing a jacket or sweater over it, and the shoulders are just where they should be. The problem of course is that it’s generally too tight. It’s also short. You can see how high it’s falling on his crotch.

OK, so I went looking for a Guess tee, because they fit better than 90% of the men’s tees out there (disclaimer – I was employed by Guess and yes, worked on the men’s t-shirts). But this one is not good, and led me to something else I wanted to point out. When you buy a graphic tee that’s really soft and has these cool stitches and stuff, be aware they are beat to hell in the production process. Dyed, washed, printed, dyed and washed again. One medium likely won’t fit like the next medium. So you get one like this, that’s about an inch and a half too short, and the stitching on the sleeves didn’t shrink at the same rate as the rest of it – so you have these bizarre ruffle/wing things at the cuff.

OK, this one looks good. I mean I could pick it apart, but I know you guys don’t want to spend an hour in the dressing room, with your girlfriends sitting outside wishing they were watching football.

Askew images down to me I’m afraid. Still trying to blog one-handed…

I’m not going to say anything about Christine’s observation that most men in America dress like laundry sacks. As to my own fashion sense, I haven’t got any. But here in West Africa the fashion rule is simple: vibrant colours and walk tall.

In the New Year I’ll be finally beginning my West Africa blog Paradise Amid Poverty, on my life here in sub-Saharan Africa, and will be getting some great photos of the absolutely to-die-for everyday fashions that make West African women the envy of the world, and one of the key reasons I shall never leave.

Meanwhile, since Christine chose this blog to be illustrated with the male figure, I leave you with this parting image of how most men (Not me!) dress here.

T-Shirts Who needs them?

 

When Creative Minds Merge – Deanna Chase

Today I’m busy over at WG2E with a post entitled Don’t Be A Dinosaur. The Future Is Digital.

In the unlikely event anyone visiting MWi is still on the fence about why indie is the best route for the new writer, check this out.

Meanwhile, here at MWi we’re having a relaxing West African Sunday, so I’m letting my guest do all the work today.

Okay, so every day is Sunday here in West Africa. It’s the two week holiday in paradise that never ends. The long weekend where Monday through Friday are banned, and blue skies and wall to wall sunshine are compulsory. Yep, the rainy season is all but over. The gates of heaven are open once again, and I’ve got a one-way ticket.

I’ve got the next book to write, so I’m gonna pack up the laptop and head for the beach with the children. Golden sands, palm trees and a cold Sprite. And I might do it again tomorrow, too. Monday? I don’t know the meaning of the word. 🙂

Meanwhile, for those of you still stuck in the real world, here’s a colourful post from Deanna Chase, who has combined her paid profession and her writing ambitions in a most delightful way.

Here’s Deanne:

When Creative Minds Merge

Hello everyone! Thanks, Mark for hosting me today. I’m Deanna Chase, glass bead artist and debut author of Haunted on Bourbon Street. About four years ago, my husband, Greg and I settled in a small town not too far from New Orleans. Prior to that, we’d actually spent almost five years traveling full-time in an RV sight-seeing and building up our glass business.

We’d never set a time limit on how long we would live, work, and travel in the RV, but through it all we knew we would one day settle again. We just didn’t’ know where. There were two places we kept coming back to. One was the northern California coast and the other was New Orleans.

Northern California holds the allure of dramatic coastlines and giant redwood forests that feed both of our free-spirit nature-loving selves. Of course, it also comes along with dreary gray winters and an astronomical price tag.

New Orleans is almost like another country here in the US. It’s rich with history, gorgeous architecture, and an artist community like no other we’ve encountered. It definitely feeds our creative sides. The food, friendly culture, sunny weather, and the artist community won us over. We haven’t looked back since.

Greg and I are self-employed glass artists, and New Orleans has been finding its way into our artwork ever since our first visit here. I make glass beads that I sell mostly to jewelry designers. Greg is a glass marble artist. He sells his work to collectors. In addition he makes what’s called murrine. Murrine is an Italian term for images that are built up in glass cane (rods of glass), that are then sliced to reveal the images. We sell slices of murrine to other glass artists to use in beads, marbles, and fusing projects.

Since our first visit to New Orleans, Greg has been working on New Orleans themed marbles. Most of them are intricate scenes of the French Quarter or the Garden District. He makes murrine of houses, horse drawn carriages, musicians, tombs, skulls, stripers (hey it’s Bourbon Street), etc. Many of his New Orleans marbles have around one-hundred different murrine slices. That’s a lot of work. Murrine is pretty complex and each different house he builds can be a week’s worth of effort all by itself. They are very cool and probably my personal favorites of all the different kinds of marbles he makes.

I’ve tried a number of different things to incorporate New Orleans into my bead work. Some of them had potential. I made some beads with houses sculpted on them. Other beads had jazz musicians. But none of the pieces really captured my muse. It wasn’t until I started writing my novel, Haunted on Bourbon Street, that I finally felt that connection I have to the city come alive.

Haunted is the story of Jade Calhoun, an empath who moves into a haunted apartment above a strip club. She’s a pretty guarded person about her ability due to a rough childhood and broken relationships. But the people she meets sort of adopt her into their makeshift family, and she finds herself forming bonds she thought weren’t open to her. It’s really a love story between her and Kane as well as a story of friendship and acceptance that just happens to involve a ghost mystery.

I got the inspiration to write the book one night while out to dinner with Greg when a ghost tour walked by. We were laughing and joking about living with ghosts since it seems every place has a ghost story attached to it in the Quarter. Then we were wandering Bourbon Street looking for a place to listen to live music. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of people actually lived on a street that is a twenty-four-hour party every day of the year. It was then the story started to unfold. Here Greg thought he was out on a date with his wife, and I was busy mentally writing a story.

It’s all right though. He understands. He even made the coolest marble ever to commemorate the publishing of my book.  He aptly titled it Haunted on Bourbon Street.  It features a woman’s silhouette in a moon just like the image on my novel as well as creepy houses, skulls at the bottom, the word Bourbon on the top, and shadows of ghost people. This particular marble sold to one of our long-time marble collectors within thirty minutes of me listing it for sale. She later told me she bought it because I’d offered a signed copy of my book. You have no idea how insanely happy that made me.

It’s pretty cool when two creative minds can come together. I don’t know if my next book will get a Greg Chase marble to go along with it, but you can bet I’ll be pushing for it. Witches of Bourbon Street is scheduled for release in late December 2011.

If you want to see video of how we make beads and marbles we have some hosted here at Livestream.

A note on Greg’s marbles and murrine:  Greg does take custom orders, but murrine cane is labor intensive to make and custom orders for just the cane is usually around one-hundred-dollar mark (US). Marbles range up to two-hundred-dollars. It all depends on the design but if anyone is interested in a marble of their own they can contact me Deanna @ chase-designs DOT com.

About Haunted on Bourbon Street:

Jade loves her new apartment—until a ghost joins her in the shower.

When empath Jade Calhoun moves into an apartment above a strip bar on Bourbon Street, she expects life to get interesting. What she doesn’t count on is making friends with an exotic dancer, attracting a powerful spirit, and having feelings for Kane, her sexy landlord.

Being an empath has never been easy on Jade’s relationships. It’s no wonder she keeps her gift a secret. But when the ghost moves from spooking Jade to terrorizing Pyper, the dancer, it’s up to Jade to use her unique ability to save her. Except she’ll need Kane’s help—and he’s betrayed her with a secret of his own—to do it. Can she find a way to trust him and herself before Pyper is lost?

Links:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Barnes and Noble Print

Nook

Smashwords

All Romance

Artists’ website:

www.chase-designs.com

Author Blog:

www.deannachase.com

Fantastic or what?! As soon as I saw the marbles  linked to the book cover I just knew I had to have Deanna here on MWi to tell us more.

As a gift for a loved one a marble of your (or their) book cover would be a unique present that would last forever.

And as a promotional tool, offering a marble of your book design, beautifully boxed with a personal note from the author, would make a wonderful competition prize, and perhaps even an investment for the future. Imagine if JK Rowling had had a marble made for her early Harry Potter books. A unique product, with a personally signed authentication. What would that be worth now?!

As we move to a fully digital world where our actual product has no physical presence, we need to think more and more about what extra value we can offer our readers. Deanna, I think you’re on to a winner here.

How about the rest of you guys? Any thoughts on promotional ideas?

Finally, here’s the cover of Deanna’s next book, due out December.

The Power Of Love – Cheryl Shireman And Daughter Scarlett On The Prairie

Day Six

Okay, I hope you’ve all brought a box of tissues along, because you’re gonna need them.

Because it’s Little House On the Prairie time here at MWi, and I promise you there won’t be a dry eye in the building by the time you finish reading today’s guest post.

Okay, I lied about Little House. No Laura Ingalls Wilder here with us today. Sorry. If anyone remembers the TV series but has never read the books then you’re missing out on some great reading, by the way.

But if you had to sum up the series, books or TV, in one word, there’s really only one word that would suffice: Love.

Sure, Little House is about kids growing up in the prairie states, and it was adorable just for that, but the theme that bound every episode of the TV series and every chapter of every book, was love.

The love between a family that lived and loved together.

Which of course rather dates it, right? Families don’t live together anymore. Nowadays the kids are on the first flight out to Independence City and old-fashioned family values just don’t apply. Or so it seems sometimes.

For some years now I’ve been very slowly tinkering away at a West African version of Little House. It’s called Sunrise Over Serrekunda. If I ever finish it, it’s unlikely to be a commercial best-seller, but it’s my chance to share some of the incredible warmth and beauty of everyday life here, that is every bit as alien to the modern western reader as Little House.

But some recent discussions with today’s guest, Cheryl Shireman, gave me some ideas for another novel set here on the planet’s most impoverished continent, and it may be that Sunrise Over Serrekunda will take a back seat a bit longer. Cheryl suggested maybe it’s time I created my very own girls-kick-ass character here in the Third Word. Cheryl, you’re absolutely right. Thanks

I first came across Cheryl thanks to an interview she did over on indieiq. At the time she was just coming to terms with her new found success as an indie writer. Her book, Life Is But A Dream, had made the top 100 in lit fiction on Amazon.com. It’s now in the top forty, and in the top thirty in several other categories.

Her latest book, Broken Resolutions, is chasing it fast. Good luck with that, Cheryl.

But I didn’t invite Cheryl her to talk about that. She has her website and blog if you’re interested. I invited – nay, insisted – Cheryl come here today to tell us about another book she has out, that I downloaded and read a few weeks back, and have been in tears over ever since. It was that bad! So I demanded Cheryl come here and explain herself.

Of course, that’s not true. Yes, I was in tears, but because the book was so good.

The book is called You Don’t Need A Prince. It’s very short. It has lots of images and very few words. It’s also one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve ever read.

Oh, and it’s a love story

~

Love.

Just four tiny letters.

One solitary syllable.

But it’s probably the most powerful word in the English language.

It has a thousand and one meanings, but whenever it’s used we know exactly what it means at that given time.

We love our parents, our children, our partners, our siblings. We love our pets. In each case we know exactly what we mean. We know the romantic love we share with our partners is not the same love we share with our parents or children. Or our pets.

We make love to our partners (anyone with confessions about the others on the list, please report to the nearest police station).  We want to love and be loved by the rest. And in each case we know exactly what we mean when we use that word.

We love chocolate and coffee. We love going to the cinema. We love reading books. We love summer. We love fall. We love snowflakes and flowers. We love cinnamon and ballroom dancing. We love Bill Hayley and Pink. We love to dress up, or dress down. We love… Well, you get the picture. The word has even found itself a role in sport. Anyone for tennis?

And it’s not just a word. It’s a theme. And just any old theme. It’s the theme.

Love dominates literature, and indeed all the arts. It’s inescapable.

Dig beneath the surface of almost any novel and love, in one of its infinite manifestations, will surely be there. And I don’t just mean the romance genres.

Where would Harry Potter be without the love for and of his parents to drive his quest? And of course love was in the air in other ways as the characters grew up. And which kid wouldn’t love to have been Harry or Hermione?

Stephen King explored love through bizarre extremes in Carrie, Christine and Firestarter, and which writer among us will ever forget the corrupted love in Misery?

James Patterson is the world’s best-selling thriller writer by far, yet fully one third of his average Alex Cross novel is given over to the MC’s love of his family and friends.

And of course love has always dominated crime fiction. Our own Sugar & Spice is about the love of a mother who lost her daughter to an entirely different and corrupted kind of love. Most crime fiction takes a less controversial base-line, but invariably the theme of love will be lurking nearby.

So let us be thankful for horror stories, where we can get away from all this mushy nonsense, right? Only, what is Frankenstein if not a wonderful love story? Dracula? Even more so.

Which brings us back to today’s green room guest in the MWi studio, Cheryl Shireman.

That’s not to say Cheryl is a bloodsucking vampire, by the way. I was still talking about the theme of love. Honest!

Cheryl’s book, You Don’t Need A Prince, started with a few personal emails she fired off to her daughter in moments of quiet reflection and forgot to delete.

Well, from such tiny beginnings are great novels sprung, right?

Only, this isn’t a novel. This is those actual emails, reproduced unedited, in a book, with a few family album photos throw in for good measure.

A nice family keepsake? Undoubtedly. But not just for the Shireman family.

This is for anybody who has, or will have, a daughter. If Caroline Ingalls had ever had a computer, she would have written emails like this to Carrie, Mary and Laura.

It’s a book that will remain forever on my Kindle, and when my daughter is old enough to understand it then it will be compulsory reading for her.

But even if you’ve not got a daughter, this book is a must-read. It’s about relationships. It applies to everybody.

As I said, it’s short. Download it today and you’ll have read it all in thirty minutes.

But the sentiments will stay with you forever.

Cheryl wrote it for her daughter and so, in an unprecedented move, I asked her daughter to join us here at MWi too. Between the three os us we span three continents.

Here’s Cheryl. And Scarlett. Don’t forget the tissues!

As a parent, there are few things more painful than when your child is hurting and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. As a mother, I often held my children and successfully soothed them after they had fallen down and scraped a knee or after someone had teased them on the school bus. But as those same children became young adults and scraped knees turned to broken hearts, it became much more difficult to console them.

A little over a year and a half ago my youngest daughter, Scarlett, called home from college in tears. She had been dating the same guy for about four years, but she didn’t feel like things were right between them. She had been thinking about breaking up with him for months, but just couldn’t bring herself to hurt him. To make matters even more complicated, she had just met another man and she was totally infatuated with him.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely broken-hearted that she was thinking about ending the relationship with the first guy. Nothing against him, but he just wasn’t the right guy for her. And he lived in California – all the way across the country! Selfishly, I was still hoping that she would find a nice guy from Indiana and end up living down the road from me. Now she was head-over-heels in love with some new guy she had just met. I secretly hoped he lived in Indiana. Soon, I found out that he did not. Head-over-heels guy was from Denmark. As in the country – Denmark!

I listened to her on the phone as she cried and longed to wrap my arms around her and tell her that everything would be okay. Only I didn’t know if it would be okay, so how could I lie? I didn’t think California Guy was right for her, but I couldn’t tell her that. She had to discover that for herself. And I certainly didn’t think Denmark Guy was right for her, based solely on location. Denmark?! She cried some more, and we talked some more, and then I got off the phone and cried a little too.

That night, I had a nightmare about her and woke up at 3 a.m. Shaken, I got out of bed, went to my computer and sent her an email. I had no easy answers for her. I couldn’t tell her what to do. The only thing I could tell her is what I have learned about love. And so I did. I poured my heart out to her in an email and then went to bed. That email meant so much to Scarlett that she began forwarding it to her friends. And they then emailed it to their friends. A network of girls began reaching out to each other through these words of love. At the time, she told me, “This should be a book for women to give to each other.” I was thrilled that Scarlett placed so much value on my email to her. Sometimes, as a parent, you get it right.

Fast forward to about a month ago. As an Indie Author, I had just published my first novel, Life is But a Dream, in late January. My second novel, Broken Resolutions, was published in April. The first novel had already far exceeded all of my expectations for sales, and the second novel was just beginning to take off. One day I started thinking about that late-night email and Scarlett’s words – This should be a book. And it suddenly hit me – with the revolution of Indie Publishing, this could be a book! I thought that perhaps if I put these words in the form of a book, they might comfort and encourage another girl going through a tough time. Perhaps a friend might pass the book along to another friend. Perhaps a mother might give the book to her own daughter. An aunt to a niece. A grandmother to her granddaughter.


As I began to think of how to illustrate the book, I immediately thought of little girls – even though the intended audience for this book is women. Because I believe every mother sees her daughter as a little girl, no matter how old she is. And I believe every woman is a little girl at heart. I also believe when we are children, we know how to love. It is only as we become adults, that we often lose our way. Now, with the Royal Wedding still fresh in our minds, perhaps we all need a reminder – you really don’t need a prince to make you happy.

Immediately, I started creating the book, including a cover that I absolutely fell in love with. I had already determined that I would make this book and present it as a gift to Scarlett. If she wanted to share it with the rest of the world, that would be her choice – not mine. It was her email. Within a relatively short time I had created the book. I made a video call on Skype to Scarlett, and then emailed her the final product so I could watch as she opened the book. She loved it. She agreed, wholeheartedly, that the book should be made available to everyone.

In Scarlett’s own words – That was such a confusing time in my life. Should I stay in a relationship that I was “comfortable” with or follow my heart and pursue what seemed like “true love” at the time. As I read the email, so much of what my Mom had written rang true. I almost hated that she was so right! I am one stubborn girl (I get that from her!), but I had to admit, every word I read was true. I could see myself and my sometimes unrealistic expectations in those pages. I began crying uncontrollably. As the weeks and months went by, I let her words sink into my heart. When I finally made my decision, it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And I knew it was the right decision for me. I feel so lucky to have the kind of Mom who would take the time to write such a loving and inspiring letter when I needed it the most. Now, I hope this book will spread across the world to girls and women who feel lost and confused. And I hope it will encourage them to make the right choices. Thank you so much, Mom. I love you more than words can express. See ya later Alligator!

And so, thanks to the revolution of Indie Publishing, what started out as my simple email of love is now available as an eBook (Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook) or as a paperback through Amazon. I know it has been said time and time again. But this is nothing short of revolutionary! I can write a book, illustrate a book, and publish a book – all from the comfort of my home. Now, my novels are reaching thousands of readers. And I just published my first title in late January. As I write this, it is mid-May. Within less than four months my books have found thousands of readers! Astonishing! The traditional publishers and literary agents are no longer gatekeepers. For the first time in history, the writer has the power to bring his or her words to the new gatekeeper – the reader! The reader, alone, will decide on the success or failure of any given title.

As for You Don’t Need a Prince, my book has already succeeded. Even if it never sells a single copy. My daughter was married last December in a beautiful fairytale princess wedding to the man of her dreams. She now lives in Denmark. Yep, Denmark.

(After while Crocodile!)

Guys, yeah we know. Something in your eye. Funny how that always happens…

Girls, when you’ve mopped up, check the book out, and share the love.

Bearded Ladies And Overweight Donkeys: Benjamina White On Role Models

Day Five

Equal rights for women.

So who came up with that idea? And why, in western society almost a century after one woman threw herself under a horse to make the point, is it still even being discussed?

My partner is female. My daughter is female. My co-author is female. Equal rights? They run the bloody show!

But pause a moment and take a good look at that photo. A young woman throws herself in front of  the King’s horse at Epsom. Four days later Emily Davison is dead. She gave her life in the fight for equality. The year was 1913.

One hundred years on and what have we achieved? Okay, so women got the vote in 1918.

Well, actually they didn’t. Women in the UK got the vote in 1918 ONLY if they were over the age of 30, were householders or married to a householder, or if they held a university degree. It was another ten years before all women got the vote in the UK.

As for equality…  Margaret Cavendish, left,  was arguing the case for equality as far back as the 1640s. Yet it took until 1918 just to get a sniff of the vote.

A century on and we all know, however much we hate to admit it, that gender still matters. That being born male still, unjustly, gives us many advantages in society.

Yes, there are now “equal opportunities,” or so they have us believe, and things have changed for the better. No question.

But we all know that if you’re female you probably have to work twice as hard to get the “equality” you deserve. So how is that equal?

~

As writers, things are different. Gone are the days when the likes of Mary Anne Evans (left), to have any hope of getting her novel even looked at, had to pretend she was a man, George Eliott. And let’s be glad she did. The world of literature would be that much poorer if we did not have Silas Marner and The Mill On The Floss.

Today, JK Rowling is of course the most commercially successful writer on the planet, the richest woman and God know what else besides. My own favourite author, Enid Blyton, may not have made as much money, but her sales totals over the decades must compare well with the venerable JK’s, and with none of the hype and films and spin-offs to bump up those numbers. What a gal!

Does a writer’s gender determine their chances of getting published? Or of being read?

Hopefully not. But it does determine who might publish them, and more importantly who might read them.

Because our reading inclinations are very much determined in childhood.

Had I not had a younger sister, and access to all her books, comics, etc, I would almost certainly have been locked into a male-orientated reading world where action, adventure and mayhem were the only things I would look at. For those who missed the discussion on heroines of children’s literature, checkout the archives.

Bottom line is, my childhood reading had lots of great girl role models, and often I found them more appealing than the gun-toting war heroes, footballers and action-men that dominated the books I was “supposed to read.”  Characters like that of the superb child actor Chloe Moretz in the film Kick Ass were in short supply in my childhood. There were strong girl characters, but none kicked ass like Chloe!

Role models are just so important.

In the patriarchal society I live in, here in West Africa, that is especially true. Females outnumber males by four to one. But men rule the roost.

Things are changing, and I spend a lot of time visiting schools to try and help facilitate that change, but it’s slow and tortuous.

Some girls here receive an education. If they are lucky. Most girls never finish school, even if they start, because it’s simply unaffordable for the parents year after year. If you have to choose between your son or daughter going to school, the son is the one with most chance of getting a job later and supporting the family into old age. In a land where pension schemes do not exist your children are your pension scheme.

So are girls and women here in West Africa downtrodden and miserable? Not a bit of it. Of course there are cruel exceptions, just as back in “civilization,” but by and large happiness is a plentiful commodity. Especially among the children. In fact, I guarantee you will not find happier children anywhere.

But unless you’ve been here and lived their day to day reality you’ll never understand why they can be so happy with so little.

What would it take to change the lives of girls like those above? A new barbie doll? A pink mobile phone with fifty ring tones? A sleepover after a KFC feast? The latest computer game? Or how about this:

Thanks for briefly sharing my world. Now back to yours.

As girls grow up they have few role models to look up to. Now maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I certainly wouldn’t want my daughter doting on Paris Hilton, or thinking that success is getting yourself on a televised “talent” show, or…

Fact is, there are just so many bad role models for girls out there right now. And there is nothing more disturbing to me than impressionable pre-teen girls dressing like Jodie Foster in Taxi-Driver, trying to emulate role models that are nothing more than z-list celebs who got where they are by flashing silicone-implanted flesh and being unbelievably vacuous.

Isn’t that just the twenty-first century equivalent of sleeping with the boss?

So I’m always on the lookout for new role models for my daughter, her friends, and the other girls here. Chloe Moretz, right, in Kick Ass would be great if it wasn’t for the language used.

But what I love about Chloe’s character is that it shows boys and girls on an equal footing without compromising on the fact that they are girls.

I stress that last point. Equality does not mean females aspiring to be males. It does not mean giving up on “girlie” things and being “one of the lads.” Girls should be proud to be girls. Men and women are different for a reason. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Vive la difference!

But true equality means acknowledging flaws just as much as it means acknowledging strengths.

Pretty profound, huh? Wish I’d written that, but actually I stole it from today’s green room guest, the delectable, gorgeously adorable Benjamina White.

Now you’ve probably never heard of Benjamina White. To be honest, nor had I until a month or so back when past MWI guest Marion G Harmon (left) drew my attention to one of Benjamina’s books. Marion is the author of the wonderful superhero novel Wearing The Cape, which I featured here back whenever it was. I absolutely adored it. Not one but two fantastic female MCs. Well only one, Astra, according to Marion, but there’s another gal in there, Artemis, who absolutely stole the show.

Both great role models, although I’d much prefer my daughter look up to Astra than Artemis. Astra is cool, clean-living and respects her parents. Artemis is more your cool dark-avenger by night, with attitude. Oh, and she’s dead. Highly recommended.

But Astra isn’t the only kick-ass female superhero in town. Because the aforementioned Benjamina White (that’s her below with the Ascot hat) happened to have created one too. Charlotte Powers is her name, and she’s fifteen. Which also happens to be the age as one of my guests in the MWi green room next week.

Back to Charlotte Powers. When Marion told me about Charlotte I of course was on the next flight to Kindleland and smuggling a copy back through customs. Benjamina lives in New Zealand and if you’ve ever thought there can’t be much to do in New Zealand except write books, it seems you may be right. Benjamina knocks them out every few days. Of course, being in New Zealand, that’s where they stayed. Until the Kindle changed our world forever.

And the great thing is, they’re all about girls kicking ass. Which of course is what we’d expect from a sassy female writer like Benjamina, right?

Okay, so here I have to make a confession. Two, in fact.

First, I edited Benjamina’s post. Something I never do. But only for the spelling of “ass” which had been originally rendered in the traditional British English as “arse”.  That’s part of a separate debate we’ll have soon about how a universal English standard will emerge as all books become digital. But for now, I changed arse to ass not because I’m pandering to our growing number of American readers (not a chance – learn proper English, damn you!), but because arse is such an ugly word. You can’t smile and say arse at the same time. You can with ass.

Come to that, you can’t smile and say donkey either. Ass is just so versatile!

Secondly, those of you paying attention will have realised by now Benjamina is in fact Ben. Yeah, the beard sort of gave it away, I know.  I did ask him to shave it off and put on his favourite frock, but he spent so long trying to choose which one I just gave up waiting. As for the shoes…

So Benjamina is in fact male. But hey, this is about equal opportunities, right? So give the guy a break and listen up as he explains why he writes books about girls. And not just any girls. Girls that kick arse ass.

Here’s Ben:

All right, so someone’s finally pulled me up on the ‘girls kicking ass’ thing.  Someone’s finally read that line in my bio and stopped and said, “I’m intrigued, tell me more”, and now I have to actually think about things.  So thanks a lot, you made me THINK.

To be honest it first came about because I was searching for a way to unify my books, to find a common thread between them.  Many authors write a single series and see it through to the end before beginning another; I admit that I sometimes envy those authors.  Although I love writing sequels and I feel that I’m at my best as a writer when I’m elbow-deep in the middle of a series, with all of the juicy history and characters and internal mythology that brings, I just can’t seem to ignore a new story idea once it takes hold.

I had planned to be working on the sequel to Charlotte Powers in February of this year, instead I found myself writing about an entirely new girl who came out of nowhere along with a horde of horrible zombies.  (That’s Imogen Shroud, for those of you keeping score.)

So what I’m left with is a bunch of different series to try to tie together, and although there are several themes that do keep popping up in my books–the necessity of family, wherever you might find it, the high cost of freedom, the (clearly ridiculous) notion that Those In Charge may not have your best interests at heart–the fact is that none of those themes are as exciting or interesting or, let’s get right down to it, fun as Girls Kicking Ass.

And so I claim, half-joking, half-serious, that my books fall into the sub-sub-genre of ‘girls kicking ass’.  Genre has always been a tricky thing for me–like most writers I just try to tell the best story I can, then after it’s done I start thinking about which holes it might fit into.  Sometimes it’s easy (Imogen Shroud is Survival Horror) and sometimes it’s hard (I still don’t know what Resonance is, Dark Ensemble Superpowered Fantasy maybe?).

In general I label my books as YA, and I’m proud to do it, but these days it’s just such a wide genre that the term no longer holds all that much meaning.  So it’s a challenge to try to define myself and my books, but Girls Kicking Ass is comfortable for me, and so I’m happy to occupy this niche.

If you read any of my books you are guaranteed to find a girl, and you are guaranteed that she is going to kick a certain amount of ass.  Even The Boy & Little Witch, a children’s book I wrote without much in the way of ass-kicking opportunities, has the character of Little Witch, who kicks a modest amount of ass with words alone.

So why do I write about girls kicking ass?  For a start, because girls DO kick ass, and I think this is something that, quite frankly, isn’t being shouted loudly enough.

Oh, it’s talked about, but compared to boys girls are sorely lacking in the ass-kicking role models department.  We’re TOLD that ‘girls can do anything’ but my feeling is that this isn’t SHOWN nearly enough.

Hollywood especially is so, so guilty of this, giving us (and I’m paraphrasing here but I can’t find where I read it; apologies to the original writer) supermodel scientists who also happen to be expert marksmen and kung-fu masters.  We’re TOLD that they’re ‘strong female characters’, but really this is the worst kind of lowest common denominator pandering and does no good at all to anyone.

Of course, it’s not all bad.  Lately we’re getting a few more strong female characters in mainstream media, and that’s good, but it’s not enough.  I’m greedy!  I want more.  And the young female ass-kicker in particular is a rare bird indeed–although let me take this opportunity to share a little Game of Thrones Arya Stark love.  And if we’re talking female ass-kickers in mainstream media I’d be remiss not to mention Avatar (not the James Cameron thing, the proper one), in which we have such significantly ass-kicking young female characters as Katara, Azula, and of course Toph.

If you don’t know the show (and why not, it’s great), Toph is a tiny little blind twelve year-old girl who happens to be the greatest earthbender in the world.  Naturally, she’s my favourite character (well, if I’m honest Iroh is my favourite character, but Toph is a very close second–and this isn’t about Old People Kicking Ass (although who doesn’t enjoy that?), it’s about Girls Kicking Ass).

Just one more example of a strong female character in mainstream media: Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series of games.  This is particularly interesting because you have the choice to make Shepard a man or a woman–and yet to me, it’s no choice at all; Shepard is a woman, and this is a hugely important part of her character.  It’s hard to define exactly why it’s so important to me that Shepard be a woman (I doubt I’d have half the interest in the story if the choice to play as female didn’t exist), but I think it might have something to do with the fact that seeing a strong, complex, intelligent, charismatic female character in a military sci-fi setting delivering rousing speeches and kicking ass in a myriad of ways is so unfortunately rare.

How many times have you seen a big macho alpha male space marine type giving his troops the “Let’s go get ’em!” speech before a big operation?  And how many times have you seen that kind of speech performed by a woman?  How much more brilliantly insanely awesome is headbutting a Krogan when it’s a girl doing it?

Female characters just don’t get enough of these moments, and when they do I find it both refreshing and wonderful.  (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the female Shepard is voiced by the amazing Jennifer Hale.)

Another reason that I’m interested in this particular subject/theme/concept is that I’m afflicted with that peculiar ailment known as ‘daughters’.  I have two of the blessed things, just can’t seem to shake ’em. To be serious, they’re the joy of my life and amuse and bewilder and delight me on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t be without them for all the tea and biscuits in the world (and that’s a lot of tea, and that’s a lot of biscuits).

I wrote the first ‘Miya Black, Pirate Princess’ novel before my first daughter was born, and the character of Miya Black was in some ways based on the girl I felt that my as-yet unborn daughter might someday grow up to be. I know it’s odd, but there you have it.

So aside from simply enjoying the concept of girls kicking ass, I’d like to think that perhaps, someday, if I’m lucky, my daughters will grow up to BE girls who can kick at least a moderate amount of ass.  And to help with that they need–yep, you knew it was coming–strong female role models, not just in their life but in all forms of media.

It’s my belief that popular culture has a strong influence on people, especially young people, but it’s not violence or sex or bad language that’s damaging, it’s seeing people behaving wrongly and having that wrong behaviour be reinforced as ‘normal’.

So-called ‘reality’ shows are particularly poisonous, showing dishonesty, disloyalty, greed, vanity, success-at-any-cost and so forth as normal, even positive.  And so now we have a significant portion of people who think this kind of behaviour is okay.  How do we fight this?  I’m glad you asked, because the answer is (goodness, how did you guess?) positive role models, both male and female.

One small point I’d like to make clear is that, to me, a ‘positive role model’ doesn’t have to be a perfect Lawful Good type who never makes mistakes and who has no flaws.  To me, that’s a pretty weak role model.  Role models have to be relatable, we have to form a connection with them, we have to see a part of ourselves in them, and not only that, but see them in ourselves.

I’m not going to lie, this is hard, and I don’t know how often I succeed.  But I think good characters shine through, and we can learn even from ‘wrong’ characters–the important thing is not to show wrong behaviour as ‘normal’ without comment, and not to present it in a positive light.

One example that springs immediately to mind is Edward’s behaviour in the Twilight books, which is creepy and stalkerish and domineering and pretty disgusting, actually.  His relationship with Bella (who is by no means blameless) bears not even the slightest resemblance to a healthy, mature, adult relationship, and yet it’s presented as the most perfect romance in the world.  And so, poison.

If you’re a mature, reasonable person you’re somewhat immune, you read it and think “rubbish” and move on to a better book, but to someone lacking in life experience, such as the millions of teenagers the books are marketed to, they might read it and think “normal?” or even “desirable” or at the worst “justification for my own terrible, terrible behaviour”.  I wouldn’t stop my daughters from reading the Twilight books, but there would be some pretty long discussions afterwards.

Yes, I realise I just lost about a billion potential readers for describing the Twilight books as ‘poison’.  But in my idealistic heart of hearts I also like to think I might have gained a couple, who read that and thought “YES”.  You, theoretical and possibly imaginary reader, are MY target audience.

Now, most everything I’ve been saying here is from a Western perspective, focused on Western media.  But a lot of my influence comes from Japanese media; books, animation, comics, even games.  Although in general I think Japan lags behind most Western cultures as far as equality of the sexes is concerned, they’ve just about got it right with their media–well, mostly. 

 This is, after all, the country that invented ‘fan service’, and some Japanese media is exploitative-bordering-on-offensive (or just flat-out old-fashioned sexist), but if you look at the really good Japanese anime and manga and games and so forth you’ll find plenty of strong characters of both sexes, and female characters who are not only allowed to be intelligent, independent, brave, good at kicking ass and so on, but also clumsy, cruel, crazy, given to human frailty and (goodness me) who also get THEIR asses kicked from time to time, and not just by other girls (ie the ‘designated girl fight’ we all know and roll our eyes at, where the token ‘good’ female character is only allowed to fight the token ‘bad’ female character). 

I think this is really important, and something I work hard to show in my own books–that girls don’t JUST kick ass.  That a woman can be just as small, weak and flawed as a man–that a woman can be just as human as a man.  That girls can get dirty, that they can get beaten up, that they can suffer through indignity and pain and hardship, that they can make terrible choices and live with the consequences of their actions, that some people WILL, in fact, hit a girl … but that some of those girls will hit back just as hard–or harder.  That girls CAN do anything, including being flawed, imperfect human beings. 

 True equality means acknowledging flaws just as much as it means acknowledging strengths.

And yet this isn’t just about equality, although that’s an important–vital–ideal and something we should all be striving towards.  Even if the world were perfect and diversity was not just tolerated but actually celebrated (I can dream, can’t I?) I’d still be writing about girls kicking ass because that’s what I enjoy.  There’s something so appealing about it, I don’t know whether it’s rarity value, or the power and beauty of that mother bear ferocity, or the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to have strong female role models around me all my life–and I think guys need strong female role models almost as much as girls do, just like girls need strong male role models.

We need others to show us how to act, to show us what we can become, and men have a feminine side just as women have a masculine side, and bringing those sides into balance is an important step towards emotional maturity.

Maybe it’s the whole David vs Goliath concept, that girls tend to be smaller and at least appear to be physically weaker than men, and we all love seeing the little guy win.  Maybe it’s that having a hells-damned determined girl tear through the world imposing her will upon it is greatly appealing to me.  Maybe it’s just that I find female characters more comfortable, easier to relate to, more fun to write.  Whatever the reason, the fact is this: I love seeing girls kick ass, and I love writing about them doing so.

I’ll close by stealing the words of another writer, just to prove that I am a proper author.  Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and other works featuring Girls Kicking Ass (I haven’t actually watched Buffy myself but I’m told it’s pretty good and that the girls in it do indeed kick a substantial amount of ass), apparently gets asked this question quite a bit:

“Why do you write these strong female characters?”

And the answer he sometimes gives, the answer that resonates the most with myself personally (and I am paraphrasing here):

“Why are you even asking me that?  Why aren’t you asking those hundred other guys out there why they’re NOT writing strong female characters?  Why do I write strong female characters?  Because you’re still asking that question.

And that, boys and girls, says it all.

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