Jun 27, 2013

Defeating the Villain After Saving the Day

First, a reminder that I'm looking for people to help with the promotion of my new book, Silent Oath. Details for those who are interested can be found here.

The rest of this post contains spoilers for Lord of the Rings, Man of Steel, and the Avengers movie.

Jun 25, 2013

Open Call for Promotion Help

Hi everyone. With about three and a half months to go before Silent Oath hits the shelves, it's time to start making concrete promotion plans. Like last year, I'm going to need some help, so I'm putting the call out now to make sure things are arranged in time.

There are three main areas I'm looking for volunteers to help with:

1: Early reviews - Once I have ARCs, I'll be sending them out to people in exchange for reviews posted on Amazon, Goodreads, your own blogs, etc. These reviews would need to be posted on or very soon after the release date of October 8th.

2: Street Team - This year I'm recruiting a street team; people to help spread the word about Silent Oath on social media, websites, forums, and around bookstores. There'll be a number of tasks given to volunteers as the release date draws near.

3: Blurbs - This one is for authors only, I'm afraid. Last year, several amazing authors, Janice Hardy, Whitney Boyd, Elisabeth Craig and Linda Poitevin, helped me out with blurbs for Locked Within. I'll be asking around for blurbs for Silent Oath  when I have my ARCs, particularly from those who were kind enough to help out before, but if any authors would like to get involved this time, let me know.

I'll be confirming people receiving ARCs and getting in touch with my street team in a few weeks, to give time for word to spread. Now, places will be limited, because I have to co-ordinate all of this myself and there are limits to my organisational skills, but I'll try my best to take on as many people as possible.

If you're interested in helping out, you can get in touch with me here, on Twitter or Facebook, or at pashortt@gmail.com.

Jun 20, 2013

Women Don't Sell in Video Games?

It's been the rallying cry of game developers the world over looking for an easy answer to the lack of titles with female protagonists. It's such an ingrained mantra, that games with female leads receive less than half the marketing budget of games with male leads, creating a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy.

This last weekend, however, the latest game for the Playstation 3, The Last of Us, blew people away with its sales figures, out-selling even Man of Steel on its opening weekend. Granted, for the majority of the game the player controls Joel, the male protagonist, and the game is centered on the traditionally male hero, but there are sections at the beginning and latter parts of the game where the player controls the female characters Sarah and Ellie.

Games companies and critics of those of us calling for more women in games insist that games with female protagonists, or even women on the game's cover, don't sell. In fact, The Last of Us could be argued to have a similar character set-up to Bioshock Infinite, which also features the player as the male protagonist while the female protagonist is controlled by the game's AI. The idea that the game wouldn't have sold as well with Elizabeth on the cover is one of the reasons often cited for why it is Booker alone, standing in a gritty, manly fashion with a gun over his shoulder, who gets a spot on the cover. This in spite of popular opinion being that the game is, in fact, Elizabeth's story, not his.

Well let's look at this a little more closely.

Released March 2013. Female and male protagonists, male character on cover. Top-selling PC game of  the month, over  878,000 physical copies sold in March, taking the top spot for the month from Tomb Raider.
Released June 2013. Male and female protagonists, both on cover. Takes in sales beating Man of Steel's opening weekend, which made $125.1 million in the US.
Released October 2008. Male protagonist, no character on the cover. Sold 1 million copies in 4 months.
Released November 2008. Female protagonist, on the cover. Sold 1 million copies in 3 months.
Released March 2013. Male protagonists, two men and one woman (though it's difficult to tell in the picture that she's a woman) on the cover. Sold 425,000 copies in its first month, considered disappointing compared to the sales of previous entries in the series.
Released March 2013. Female protagonist, on the cover.  Sold 1 million copies in  48 hours.
Released April 2012. Male protagonist, but  there's a girl right in the middle of the cover. Sold 1 million copies of the first episode in the first 20 days. To date, over 17 million episodes have been purchased worldwide
Released April 2012. Male protagonist, on the cover. Sold less than it's predecessor, which sold under 2 million in it's first year. Poor sales were cited as a reason for Activision Blizzard shutting down Radical Entertainment.

In each of these cases, the sales of the games with women on the cover are easily holding their own against those of games where women are absent. Certainly, it is clear that the gaming community are focused on the quality of the game itself, and not the gender of the character(s) featured in the box art. Hopefully game companies will start to take a serious look at the sales figures and realise that it's long past time to let go of this outdated notion that gamers won't play games with women in them, or that women on covers must be depicted with revealing clothing, in contorted poses designed to draw attention to T&A. The sales figures speak for themselves. A good game, well-promoted, will sell, regardless of who is on the cover.

Jun 18, 2013

Unforgivable Acts

Have you ever witnessed a beloved character do something so vile and reprehensible that your opinion of the character changed and you didn't know if you could ever forgive them?

Foz Meadows talked yesterday about Spike's attempted rape of Buffy in the Season 6 episode, "Seeing Red." It's a disturbing moment, and Foz's points about just what makes it so disturbing are spot on. But the strange thing is that when Spike shows up again in Season 7, the group doesn't seem particularly concerned, even before they find out he's regained his soul (which, of course, doesn't immediately absolve him of what he did). You could say that they push Spike away and mistrust him, but it really feels like lip-service. For all practical purposes, he's right there, offering to help the Scoobies fight the bad guys.

And the attempted rape is just one thing he's done that he's never made to answer for. Spike is a murderer, a monster. He takes joy in violence and the suffering of others. But, because he's a popular character, the audience looks past that and still roots for him. So how far is too far?

There have been times when I've forgiven characters for doing awful things. I figure I've invested so much in a series that it's not worth giving up on it for one slip. With movies, it's easier to write a character off, since you've only committed a couple of hours to the story.

Is that why we ignore when characters do things that really are unforgivable? Because we don't want to feel that we've wasted all that time spent following a particular series?

I rarely see people acknowledge that a character can't be forgiven/understood, while still saying that they love a particular series. It's difficult to accept the failings of those stories we enjoy, but I think it's important to try. We can enjoy a story that presents us with difficult situations or uncomfortable themes. But is the real challenge to stop trying to defend our own choices? To agree that it's okay to like a particular show or book, even when the characters have done horrible things?

We're not in the habit of criticizing things we enjoy. But perhaps we should be.

Have any of you forgiven characters, or simply ignored their actions, just to keep up with a series? Has a character ever gone too far, and left you not only unable to forgive them, but unable to enjoy the series from then on?

Jun 13, 2013

Sexism in Gaming and SFF

I'm angry.

I'm outraged.

I'm downright furious.

And that's a good thing. Because I don't want to be the kind of person who can read about a woman being attacked on social media simply for pointing out that a game company released a new console with no female leads in any of their first wave of games, or a professional representative of that company making a rape joke  to a fellow, female, employee while demonstrating a game in front of an audience of fans, or producers telling a game developer that they couldn't release a game with a female protagonist or have that character kiss a man in-game, or an author, a guest of honour at a convention, telling another author that she's "not worth the shit on his shoe" because of her gender and choice of genre, or another respected SF author treats a fellow author like dirt because she's a woman, and think it's okay or that it's "just how it is."

I've always had an interest in how characters in fiction are treated based on their gender. But it wasn't until my daughters were born that I really woke up to how badly women are treated, both in fiction and in real life, particularly in the gaming industry and sci-fi/fantasy scene. I've become hyper-aware of it. Every time I see it or read about it, all I can think is "what if that was Erica or Amy?" And that thought makes me sick to my stomach. My girls are 6 months old today, and I don't want them to grow up in a world where they feel marginalized because of their gender.

Apologists will say that I'm being over-sensitive, or that I'm imagining things. They'll insist I get over it because it's "just a game" or "just a book." Some will say men just act that way. The old "boys will be boys" argument.

That's insulting. I'm a man, and I am not a slave to some caveman impulse to dominate and belittle women. I choose my words and my actions, and I take full responsibility for them. I can choose to talk to a woman I happen to find attractive. I can choose to be polite to her and treat her like a human being, talking about common interests like our favourite scene from Mass Effect, what we think of the latest Superman movie, or what we think will happen in the next Dresden Files book. I can choose to not turn into a complete jerk just because I have hormones.

Unfortunately, there are still many men out there who think that they have a God-given right to grope a woman who's wearing revealing clothes, or hit on them with awful, creepy pick-up lines, or to make crude comments because "they don't mean anything by it."

Newflash: it doesn't matter a damn to women if you don't mean anything by it. You're still creating an environment where they wonder if you're just an asshole, or that one man out of twenty* who'll go that much further to get what they want. If your choice is to be Asshole or Potential Rapist, why not just take the third option and Not Be That Guy?

Women have been fighting for their rights since before electricity was a thing. They've been beaten down, ostracized, humiliated, tortured, raped and murdered for daring to say they want to be treated better. Men, we can do better.

If you're sick of hearing about rape culture, if you resent that someone like me can make sweeping comments about the treatment of women in games, books and movies, if you feel like the world is turning against you just because you're a man, if you insist that you're not one of those perpetuating the problem, if the thought of even one thing I've said today being true makes you sick to your stomach, then do something about it.

Say something. Speak up when you see someone talk down to a woman. Share your willingness to be better than the boys who are giving the rest of us a bad name. Make the choice to treat women with respect. To step back and let them speak and be heard as equals. Make it so that the men around you who would mistreat a woman can't, because they know you won't stand for it.

It's a good thing.

*According to research, 6% of men will admit to being a rapist, so long as the word "rape" isn't used.

For further reading, check out the following articles:

25 Things You Need to Know About Sexism & Misogyny in Writing & Publishing
Challenging Responses to Sexism and Misogyny
Why Men Should Speak Out About Sexism, Misogyny and Rape Culture
Games with exclusively female characters don't sell (Because publishers don't support them)
So you're tired of hearing about "rape culture"?

Jun 11, 2013

Unintended Implications

The more I write, the more mistakes I make. Which is good, because I can learn from them. One of my earliest lessons, and one which I keep coming back to, was to always be aware of suggesting a particular theme or idea without meaning to.

It's vital for any author to be aware of Unfortunate Implications. The last thing you want is someone accusing you of being racist or sexist and having no idea why. That's not to say that any time you spot something you didn't intend you have to change it. If a particular scene or character is important, you as the author has a right to include it and defend your choice.

But that's what you must be able to do. Defend your choice.

When you see something that others could misinterpret, you have to make a choice. You can either change what you've written or leave it there. But that choice is yours and you need to own that. So if someone thinks you're representing women poorly because you created a setting where they're traded like property, you have to be ready to take that backlash and consider how you're going to respond to criticism for it.

If you've cast a person of colour as your villain, is this the only POC in the book? Or worse, have all POC been portrayed negatively and only white people been the heroes?

Have you cast a single member of a minority group in the book, but relegated them to a background role? Tokenism can be just as damning as having no minorities at all.

Examples of poorly-considered scenes crop up all the time, and it can be tempting to shrug it off. However, "everybody does it" or "that's just how it is" are terrible excuses for poor writing. As writers, we're in a great position to challenge stereotypes and common assumptions. It can take so little effort, but have such a positive effect, to make sure we avoid situations like these (spoilers follow for Sky High, Pandorum, Friends,  Supernatural, Buffy and Angel, and Star Trek: Into Darkness):

Jun 6, 2013

Open Questions About Science Fiction

For someone with so little aptitude for sciences, I do love science fiction. I love gadgets and technology and the speculation as to how advances in science will change our lives. I'd love to some day try my hand at science fiction, particularly space opera.

Instead of one of my usual blog posts, today I thought I'd open up the floor for discussion.

How important is it that an author have comprehensive understanding of the scientific and technological breakthroughs that feature in their work? Can a writer get away with only a vague understanding of the laws of relativity and write about faster-than-light travel? Is knowledge of physics, space travel and cosmology necessary for a book involving space exploration? Can a person write about the emergence of an artificial intelligence without having studied real-life work in that field?

Similarly, how much mysticism can be brought to bear in science fiction? Are psychic abilities the limit of the paranormal in sci-fi? Can you feature a sense of spirituality and magic in space opera without creating cheap knock-offs of the Jedi?

I'd love to hear people's thoughts here, or on Twitter and Facebook.

Jun 4, 2013

HG Wells' Solution

This post contains spoilers for War of the Worlds (the original HG Wells book and the more recent movie adaptation starring Tom Cruise)