Reviewing books is a bastard of a thing

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

And many thanks to Nomad Authors for letting me share some musings on it.

Navigating the at-times murky waters of reviewing books has forced me to look more critically at the value of reviews.

I love getting a great review, and yet only rarely consider reviews when deciding whether or not to read a book. Perhaps it’s this ambivalence that feeds my anxiety about writing them.

Anyway, here’s the post. Any of this sound like your experience too?

Hobbies that feed my fiction

Throughout my life, I’ve been prone to minor obsessions (and many not so minor), some of which have been finding their way into my writing. I think the best part about being a bit of a hobby junkie is how much one can learn without it feeling like work.

It is work, of course. As they say, we never get to skip eating the shit sandwich, we can only choose the flavour it comes in. But if that sandwich happens to be a flavour we enjoy, then it seems appropriate to count our blessings.

So, here are a few of mine 💜💜💜💜

Birdwatching 🐦

Did you know that birdwatching is such a serious pursuit, they have a different name for the truly committed enthusiast? I’m definitely more on the casual end of the spectrum, though I do own a pair of binoculars bought specifically for this hobby. In our home, it’s not about snapping photos or filling out a catalogue. We just try to say hello to as many birds as possible when we’re out on a walk. Bonus points if we can identify the species, imitate the bird call, or whip out a fun fact on the spot.

We’ve had odd encounters with our local birds. They can be real friendly once they get to know you, and some just aren’t afraid at all as long as you seem non-threatening. We found an owl in our driveway a couple summers ago, staring at us like we were the weirdos out of place. Once, I sat for ages next to a cormorant who pretty much snubbed me the whole time (tbf he was probably asleep). And then there was that well-orchestrated bird heist

Anyway, even as just a casual hobbyist, this interest popped up in an early writing exercise. Birdwatchers, an erotic short story, ensued.

Book cover for Birdwatchers by JL Peridot

Martial arts 🥋

Up until a couple years ago, I studied a shōtōkan-based martial art with my partner and some friends. I originally got into it as mental-health management and body awareness practice, but ended up going as far as a brown-belt grading. Really, it was a “just for fun” grading, as I’d recently graded and was rocking a sprained ankle from something unrelated. A proper brown-belt grading would have flattened me.

I had a love-hate relationship with this sport, but learned so much from doing it. The experience of sparring was especially useful to the work I do now. It’s not the same as a real-life fight situation, and I only ever did it at a beginner level, but it gave me a taste of those on-your-feet things your brain thinks and registers when you’re in the moment.

Most importantly, it showed me the things you don’t take notice of. This dramatically changed my approach to writing action scenes, culminating in the fights that appear in Chasing Sisyphus.

Book cover for Chasing Sisyphus by JL Peridot

Partying 👯‍♀️

I spent my twenties as “one of the bad kids”, frantically making up for a youth squandered amidst strait-laced negativity and toxic conformity. I partied with a variety of goodies, sometimes every night, and today thank my lucky stars that a) it never hindered my ability to work and function, and b) I’m not biologically or psychologically predisposed to addiction.

Ironically, that lifestyle ended up being good for me at the time. It helped me unwind in ways I never knew how to before and helped me think about things with a different perspective. It let me develop some artistic confidence and practice self-awareness under unusual circumstances—both early-days skills I could take back with me to Sobriety City. It’s for this reason that I feel certain illicit substances shouldn’t be outlawed, but studied and regulated with care and pragmatism, and with a body of education developed around them.

I wouldn’t recommend this hobby for everyone—even a short stint of deep research will come with risks—but well, it was certainly a time in my life, and the experiences from it factor a lot into my writing today.

Arduino programming 🤖

For a brief period, I was very into microcontrollers. Arduino, to be specific. I’ve always regretted skipping the hardware units at school, thinking stuff like logic gates and resistance calculations would never come up in my work. Getting into this hobby filled a huge gap in my computer science education, which I’d never missed in my web development career, but definitely ended up yearning for in life.

The obsessive phase for this hobby was short, but I learned just enough of the concepts, principles and vocabulary to develop Celeste’s character for It Starts with a Kiss. Even though it’s a soft sci-fi romance that’s light on the tech, I’m glad I got to write an MC who talks nerdy like it’s normal, not too unlike many of the beloved nerds in my life.


How about you? What hobbies scratch your itch right now? How do you feel when you see one of your interests appear in the books you read? If you write as well, what hobbies have played into your work? Leave a comment. Let’s chat ☺️

Should fiction writers talk about politics?

I find I don’t have so many opinions these days, more just feelings and questions. And one thing stoking these feelings lately is the idea that fiction writers shouldn’t talk about politics.

When I was a younger reader, I certainly wondered why on earth they would. Unless an author was writing contemporary political fiction, what would real-life arguments that no one seems able to agree on have to do with their work?

Then I started taking my own writing more seriously and realised, wow… actually, politics has A LOT to do with fiction.

Let’s set aside the idea of “moralising” or “sending a message” here. It’s kind of obvious this happens, and whether an author intends for their fiction to push an agenda is always down to the individual author and the piece of work in question. Also, this isn’t the thing I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about world-building. Specifically, how worldly mechanics and market forces help shape the setting of a story and drive the drama. Even in romance fiction, where the conflict is about how the MC and LI succeed or fail in answering the call of love, it’s stuff like politics, economics and social issues that offers fertile ground for interesting conflict to grow.

Take Sarah Smith’s Simmer Down as a contemporary example. If Nikki lets Callum nick her parking spot, her sales will drop, resulting in less income to support her family. Their conflict over food truck territory is ultimately an economic one. This novel may not feature US economic policy per se, but it does examine the impacts of capitalism on the individual, albeit in a super hot, sexy and entertaining way.

A glowing plasma ball
Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

Speculative fiction, by necessity, may include its fair share of politics, which I think stems from authors having to create an entire universe by extrapolating from real-world circumstances and events. Policy influences how people behave, decides how technology may be created and used, and deems what actions are acceptable when we want something we don’t have.

The effect is subtle in Pia Manning’s Star Brides series, where xenopolitics encourages the interspecies marriages that lead to romantic tension, giving us a taste of how humans and aliens might resolve differing ideologies within an intimate partnership. In my own work, It Starts With A Kiss, the romantic conflict occurs against the backdrop of issues surrounding industry automation and regulation of UBI (universal basic income).

But then there are stories where you also get to see characters actually do a politics. Stories like Frank Herbert’s Dune, A.R. Vagnetti’s Storm series, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight universe (the Volturi), and James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse.

But let’s get back to present-day realism.

We share this world. We are all connected. Sometimes we mean to be, but most of the time it happens by accident. The events of 2020 highlighted quite profoundly how strong our connections are, even when we can’t see them.

Politics (governmental or otherwise) is the means by which we negotiate the influences and resources within our world. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, it even governs the ground we walk on. Just try setting foot in a restricted area and you’ll get a first-hand lesson in how your society regards “property ownership”.

If we’re lucky enough to be aligned with the dominant political and socioeconomic position where we live, we get to take it all for granted. That doesn’t mean we’re apolitical, it just means we don’t have to think about it all the time. We get to pretend we’re happy-go-lucky and stuff doesn’t matter.

If that’s not the case, though, then we remain almost constantly aware and conscious of the fact that everything stems from politics. We may never get the experience of not thinking about it.

A toy dinosaur sits atop a stack of books
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The book on top of your TBR pile got there because certain worldly forces permitted it to be. Maybe you live in a place where books like that are allowed to be printed and sold. The author must have been afforded the ability to sit and write it, then to have it be published and distributed. And you were able to acquire it because someone somewhere paid good money for it to be at the right place at the right time. All of the forces that put that book in your hands were shaped by the negotiations in our shared world.

I daresay fiction writers must be aware of this, at least on some level, in order to write relatable and interesting stories. Even when we make the argument that fiction should be about helping readers escape from vexatious politics, writers must still create those places they can escape to. These places may not feature political conflict, but politics—in some fashion—will always be relevant.

Now, I don’t think fiction writers should necessarily talk about politics. But my feeling is there may be no reason why they shouldn’t, as politics are necessary to create an interesting world.

And appreciating how worldly forces have enabled me to sit here and write this post, I can’t help but wonder—how can anyone talk about anything without ultimately being political? 🤔

On procrastinating better

Today’s world has plenty of distractions that can easily be shut out on a good day. But when your energy is low, even a single notification on a quiet afternoon can kick off a solid 20 minutes of farting around!

I’ve been procrastinating lately. Like, a lot. So much that people around me have begun to worry. This NYT article about procrastination belying hidden psychological problems rings way too true. Don’t worry, this isn’t a doom-post. I will be fine. However, I am fascinating by how easily a little innocuous procrastination can creep up and become a big, looming beast standing over one’s shoulder.

The question today is more about how we can procrastinate better. When we don’t have the luxury of putting life on hold while muddling through our psyches, how can we avoid missing important deadlines or stressing the hell out?

I asked a professional PA, Karisma Carpenter, to help me out. Here’s what she advised:

A dedicated workspace to avoid psychological contamination:

“Well for starters try to give yourself a designated space to get your work done that’s away from distractions like the TV and snack cabinets.”

A clear, easily reference-able organisation system:

“Set up something visual like a large calendar. This way you can put due dates and any other things you have going on in one central place. Try breaking up your task into sections so it’s easier to manage and not so daunting.”

Social accountability:

“Share your progress. Tell a friend or even post on Social Media what you plan to accomplish, so that you have someone or somewhere to check back in with about your progress.”

Hacking your brain’s reward circuits:

“Reward yourself! Everyone deserves rewards for doing things they need to, even you. However make sure you rewards are comparable, for example for 20 minutes of productive work give yourself 5 minutes to relax or do something fun.”

Mindful and deliberate self-care:

“Know when to call it quits! I know, I know, we’re talking about being productive here but, if you have been putting true effort into getting work done and nothing productive is coming out it’s time to take a time out. Trying to struggle through it will only make you frustrated and make your task at hand suffer. So do something relaxing like take a 10 minute walk, or grab a bite to eat and come back to your task. Sometimes being distractible means you need a break, so remember to look after yourself too.”


Karisma Carpenter is a full-time PA/VA I met on Facebook while struggling with some of my research. Based in USA, she’s a nerd of many fandoms who helps authors with things like design, administration, social media management, book promotion, project management, scheduling, and more.

The villain of our own stories

“Good vs evil” storylines are great and all, but what I’m loving the crap out of lately are not the evil you thought you were getting conflicts. Ones where the villain isn’t necessarily the antagonist, where we’re our own worst enemy, where “good vs good” might blow up and nothing’s black and white.

Today, I’m visiting Brenda Whiteside’s blog, sharing some thoughts on our “inner villains”:

If you like this kind of story too, here are a few movies worth checking out:

  • The Lighthouse
  • Les Misérables
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Avengers: Endgame
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Guys reading romance

When I read The Kiss Quotient last year, I was floored by how relatable Stella (the MC) was. I told my partner that if he wanted to understand how I think and feel, he needed to read this book. To my surprise, he did. He finished the whole book in a day.

And he liked it.

Romance is conventionally regarded as a “women’s genre”, often attracting the ridicule of many men (and women too) who see romance novels as formulaic, unnecessarily lusty, and poorly written. And, to be fair, maybe some books have rightfully earned those labels, thus painting the entire genre a frightful shade of blue in the eyes of the uninitiated.

So for me, as a writer of love stories, it’s extra exciting to see non-romance readers—especially men who don’t see themselves as readers who’d touch a romance novel—be open-minded and curious enough (both very attractive traits, in my opinion) to look past the stereotypes and find out for themselves.

Some fellow writers and readers helped me out with this post. They’ll jump in from time to time to share their thoughtful insights.

Gentleman with dark jeans and a grey blazer clutches a worn hardcover novel beside his leather satchel, as he walks along a country road.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Painted with the blue brush

Romance is a huge genre, so based on probability alone, it’s reasonable to expect that low-quality or formulaic stories will work their way into the mix as writers and publishers strive to keep up with market demand. Though, personally, I take issue with the idea of stories being “low quality” or “formulaic”, because there’s more nuance to those labels than what they suggest.

When we call a story “low quality”, we need to consider the audience it’s intended for. You know that joke about buying your cat a fancy new toy only for her to play with the paper and ribbon it was wrapped in? If the audience doesn’t care about someone else’s definition of quality, then what good is it?

And then we get to “formulaic”, which is an interesting concept when you consider what defines a romance story. From About the Romance Genre (Romance Writers of America):

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending… Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.

I know I’ve heard some guys criticise romances for the predictability of two people falling in love, encountering some conflict, and then ending up happily ever after. For a story to be called a romance (in commercial terms), it certainly must follow a particular form, but to consider that a formula is kind of like criticising the dictionary for being, predictably, a book full of words and definitions.

But what about the lusty part? Are the dissenters right about all romances being trashy sex books? Haha, nope!

A.R. VAGNETTI (author of the Storm Series):

They have this misconception that all romance is smut. I absolutely hate that word. Now there are some sub-genres of romance where the whole book revolves around sex, and that’s fine for some, but I think in general, romance is about the growth of a relationship. You take a ride of twists and turns, ups and downs, and navigate the pitfalls and struggles of being a couple.

Contemporary romances have generally moved away from dated stereotypes to more realistic and modern relationships, which can feature challenges such as addiction, single parenting or domestic violence. Throw in suspense or historical events and that makes it even better.

What if blue really is the warmest colour?

Bros can learn a lot about their partners by reading romance. It can be hard to express a thought or feeling or desire in a conversation, because sometimes there’s so much to say and the words don’t do it justice.

There are so many stereotypes and misunderstandings about “what women want” from sex and relationships. And in all fairness, the confusing and ambiguous circumstances we encounter in real life can inadvertently reinforce those misconceptions.

DK MARIE (author of Fairy Tale Lies, Love Songs and Taste of Passion):

The biggest misconception romance has debunked is that only men are sexual beings. That they alone crave the pleasures of sex. This is SO untrue. It is more that many women were taught to let men take the lead and not share what they like and dislike. This is one of the things I love about romances. Many feature confident women. They tell men what they want and expect pleasure and satisfaction.

Romance also disproves the fallacy that most women want a man to protect them. There are those romances, but I have read so many where the woman wanted a partner, not a white knight. They want someone to share adventures and disasters with, not someone to take care of her and fix all her problems.

Even when it’s pure fantasy, romance novels offer readers an insight into real-world wants and needs. By and large, ones written by women will naturally feature a woman’s perspective on shedloads of desires that men don’t always see or understand.

SARAH SMITH (author of Faker and Simmer Down):

I remember when I was a youngster, sneaking romance novels out of my auntie’s stash, reading a lot of too-good-to-be true sex scenes in romance novels. Like, there’s very little foreplay or the woman orgasms easily or it’s the couple’s first time together and they magically know each other’s physical hot buttons so sex is a total breeze. And I think that if you were reading those kinds of books and didn’t know any better, you’d end up with some unrealistic expectations for what sex should be like.

I feel compelled to mention here that it’s not all about the “woman’s perspective” as much as it is about the perspective of carefully crafted characters who have realistic human experiences. Due to the nature of this post, we’re looking at this through a heteronormatively gendered lens, but modern romance—and indeed modern fiction—is tending towards challenging those old boundaries.

CAIDYN (reviewer at @caidynsreads):

People read romance because it represents their wants/needs/interests in life. Perhaps it doesn’t fit their life exactly—some people like different kinks/niches that they don’t have in their day to day life—but it’s something that fits them.

I think that it’d be great if we could normalize people not having to be sexual but can be romantic. Or that it’s all cool if someone isn’t into that sort of thing. That’s what I’d like. I’m just tired of seeing romance as a reason why you should buy something. It doesn’t get me as a consumer. I usually find romantic subplots pointless. I read for good plots and romance just distracts me completely.

That said, one of my favorite books of 2019 was Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin. It’s got a LOT of romance. And I really, really loved it. It was just a great read with amazing characters and plot, so I was able to get into the romance.

A gentleman reads a worn paperback in bed, in his cosy well-decorated bedroom.
Photo by awar kurdish on Unsplash

For me personally, reading and writing romance gave me a safe space to understand and explore my own needs and feelings within a romantic and sexual framework. This may be the case for many readers from all walks of life who, much like me and perhaps you, turn to books and media to help them comprehend themselves and their place in the world, or to simply get away from a reality that doesn’t gel with them.

A.R. VAGNETTI:

I believe there should be an equal mix of diversity as it fills our society. As a reader/writer I prefer the fictional fantasy of my characters. I read to escape the harsh reality of life, while for others, having characters that are disabled, characters with mental or chronic illness is cathartic. And I think those dynamics in the romance genre are changing to fit those needs.

DK MARIE:

I think diversity in romance is fantastic and much needed. I have read many and enjoyed them. There is the fun mix of relatability as a woman and also learning something new, reading a different life view than my own. I believe these stories are important for society. When we understand people’s struggles, we are able to offer kindness and empathy better.

SARAH SMITH:

I know what it’s like to grow up being an avid reader, yet never encountering a character who looked like me or had the same background as me or who went through similar experiences as me. It’s a really empty feeling. So whenever I read a book by an #OwnVoices author, it means so much. It means I feel represented in an industry—in a form of entertainment—that I felt excluded from for a very long time. Making even more readers and authors feel more welcome—making them feel like they are part of this world—is a good thing.

Guys, take note: reading romance makes you sexy

Not just because it makes you look open-minded and secure enough in your manliness to read “a girl’s book”. And not just because it shows you don’t pander to stereotypes and what the men who do might think of you.

DK MARIE:

As for men, I admire those reading romance. This is someone who won’t be told by society what he should like and read. He is confident enough to read what he enjoys. He is his own person, that is admirable.

It’s because what you learn from modern romance novels gives you access to the secrets. Yes, the very same secrets that self-identified “clueless men” claim to be clueless about. They’re hardly mysterious, but hard to discern if you grew up in an age where toxic masculinity was the norm. These are the highly prized tools of interpersonal decency and desirable indecency that would make an encounter with anyone something worth writing home about.

SARAH SMITH:

Honestly, if I ever saw a guy reading a romance novel, it would give me so many happy feels. Even though some people think of just sex when they think of romance novels, I think one of the most important things that romance novels do is show the importance of communication. Some of the major plot points in romance novels are when the main characters are working through misunderstandings and having breakthroughs about their needs and wants. All of those are types of communication. So in a very real way, romance novels are showcasing the importance of communication in sex and relationships, and show how literally everything stems from having healthy communication.

A.R. VAGNETTI:

I believe, men reading romance novels would greatly benefit their current or future relationships and maybe bring back a spark to a stale one. Romance novels are about so much more than just mind blowing sex. In some cases, it can be a real learning guide on how to avoid the pitfalls we all spiral into during a relationship. Like how we tend to jump to conclusions, making the mistake our partner thinks like us. Or burying our feelings, letting resentment build, until we reach a serious crossroads. The underlining message in all romance literature is learning to take a leap of faith, trust, and communicating with our partners. Everyone can benefit from that.

DK MARIE:

Men, you’re getting an inside view of women’s hopes, desires, and wishes. If your wife, girlfriend, or lover has a favourite romance author, it would be a good idea to read one or two of their books. Romances range from sweet and sensual to BDSM. Find out which stories she loves to read and why. Not only will you learn more about her and therefore become closer. I’m willing to bet things will become more fun in the bedroom as these books will open up discussions of romantic and sexual expectations.

With all these benefits, I can’t help but wonder if there may be other factors behind some of the male ire for romance. I’m definitely not qualified to comment on men’s business, and perhaps that’s why I’m prone to being curious: could some of the negativity come from shame and fear?

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CDB6ezxgHvP/

PsychCentral has this to say. From Male Sexual Shame and Objectification of Women:

Passage into manhood often exposes [boys] to humiliation during a period when openness and honesty aren’t allowed. They have to hide their feelings and natural instincts.

Romance novels centering on female experiences and sexuality typically come with a generous serve of emotional real-talk, often at point blank range. In my own experience, when I’ve been through my own phases of emotional fragility (a necessary part of growing up), I certainly found that kind of honesty and rawness extremely challenging and confronting.

Anecdotally, the men I know who have enthusiastically given romance a go (either to support a writer friend or to learn more about female perspectives) seem to demonstrate a lot of openness and comfort with their emotional and sexual selves—or at least a willingness to confront their discomforts and courageously own them.

A.R. VAGNETTI:

Romantic literature can lead to improved sexual confidence, greater sexual activity and greater sexual experimentation. Surveys have demonstrated that many readers of the genre use romantic literature to foster a healthy monogamous relationship while vicariously fulfilling sexual desires. Women who read romance novels also reported that they did not negatively compare their real-life partners with fictional male protagonists or heroes. Which might be a fear some men harbour regarding romance novels.

Well, I do know one thing. Whenever my partner reads the romance books I read (or at least the parts that count), we both come away with a shared vocabulary and context for assessing and analysing our own relationship. We’re not immune to the problems that affect other relationships, and working through those problems—no matter what they are—always starts with the two of us on the same page.


This post was made possible by the experiences, knowledge and insights of the following people. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all <3

Sarah Smith, author of Faker, If You Never Come Back, and the hotly anticipated Simmer Down, coming out 13 October 2020. Sarah is a copywriter turned author who wants to make the world a lovelier place, one kissing story at a time.

“Romance is just plain fun to read. It’s incredibly entertaining to read about these characters as they go through relatable issues, read their banter, get excited when they flirt and fall in love, and of course get amped up when the steamy parts happen.”

Caidyn (he/him, aroace, trans), the book omnivore and licensed social worker behind @caidynsreads, who names his all-time favourite book as American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

“I’d love to see more accurate trans, aro, and ace rep in romance. I’d be more likely to read it if that happened.”

DK Marie, author of Fairy Tale Lies, Love Songs and Taste of Passion. They’re a mixture of heart, heat, and humour. Brimming with confident heroines and kind heroes, all living, loving, and lusting in and around her hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

“Romance readers are the people who either believe in the Happily-Ever-After; they see the good in a world often overflowing with sadness and hardship. Or they are the ones needing an escape, something to lighten the weight of the day-to-day thrown at us. I fall into this category. Romance makes me feel lighter, hopeful.”

A.R. Vagnetti, author of the Storm Series, transporting readers into a fantastical world of paranormal romance where bold Alpha males will sacrifice anything for the strong, deeply scared, kickass females they love. Her latest book, Forbidden Storm, is now available across major e-retailers.

“No matter how damaged or rough your past, you can overcome, deal with, or completely conquer your personal demons with the love, trust, and support of your chosen partner. I wholeheartedly believe in the love conquers all scenario.”

Why sci-fi romance is the genre for our time

Photo by Nathan Duck on Unsplash

Today, I’m one of Lyndi Alexander’s “Adventurous Friends”, sharing my feels on science fiction romance as the genre for our time.

When I tell people I write sci-fi romance, I tend to get interested and interesting looks. “What’s the point?” a reader once responded. “Like Passengers?” another asked. Mate, I’d love to be able to write a story like that. Some of my sci-fi friends hated it, some of my romance friends loved it—I think it could have been marketed better.

But amidst all this is the feeling that no matter how fantastical or speculative my sci-fi setting could be, I’m contributing a valid brick to the collective wall of imaginings that create a very real future before us. And I think mainstream audiences—even staunch contemporary and realism fans—are more than ready to come along for the ride.

Thank you kindly, Lyndi, for having me! I very much enjoyed writing on this topic.


Feature photo by Nathan Duck on Unsplash

15 tips from my writer self-care toolbox

I’m lucky enough to have my health and a lot of choices for sustaining myself in my sedentary, solitary writing career. But even knowing how much it helps to get off my arse and do other stuff, I still end up burrowing into deep rabbit holes for long periods. The force of writing inertia is so strong 😅

Anyway, these are some of the things I have to make a conscious effort about in order to look after my heart, mind and body as I write. I thought I’d share this list in case you wanted ideas for your own self-care toolbox, or if you need commiserations, or just a reminder to get up and look after yourself today too 🙌

  1. Go for a long walk in the sun
  2. Stretch often throughout the day
  3. Do a core workout a couple times a week (planks are good)
  4. Snack on fruit & nuts as well as biscuits & chips
  5. See friends in person every couple of weeks (ideally over a long walk)
  6. Slack off every now and then to relax and recharge
  7. Lift heavy weights to maintain muscle mass and bone density
  8. Take purposeful “life admin” days so tasks and chores don’t keep piling up
  9. Spend quality time with family as often as possible
  10. Drink 2L of water per day (more on training days)
  11. Indulge/invest in hobbies without feeling guilty
  12. Set aside “spa time” every week
  13. Use chores as a way to take a break
  14. Put on good music/podcats/TV often
  15. Make time to just daydream

What are some of the things on your writer self-care list?

Edit 20 Aug 2020: This is a very important #16 that must be on here…

https://twitter.com/hemsbest/status/1295757561883492354

Now go do that thing you gotta go do 🤗

Can we please overhaul the “alpha bitch” trope?

Take your typical setting involving teenagers—say, a High School—wait an establishing scene or two or three, and there she is. See that attractive blonde cheerleader looking down her nose (often literally) and sneering at the frumpy girl in glasses? That’s her.

Alpha Bitch, tvtropes.org

Also known as the “Queen Bee”, the Alpha Bitch is a fairly well-known trope in many books and romantic movies, particularly teen movies and office romantic comedies—the heroine needs a rival, after all.

And don’t get me wrong, the drama and scandal can be a good laugh from time to time, but I worry about how this portrayal can undermine women, and the friendships and relationships we make. Especially in the eyes of impressionable audiences who haven’t yet got the life experience to tell the difference between caricature and reality.

When a real-life Alpha Bitch stresses us out, it’s far too easy to lump them into the “they’re being a bitch” category as a way to emotionally distance and defend ourselves. We have every right to do this, of course, but it does little to improve the space we must share with the person in question when we can’t get away.

Perhaps as well, it’s a microaggression of sorts, dehumanising and dismissing someone who may feel they have no other option but to preemptively attack or lash out.

I once shared an office with a lady who brought her own special brand of Queen Bee to work everyday. While I can’t say I based Eleanor on her, she was definitely the reason I wanted to re-visit the Alpha Bitch stereotype. After spending a year confused by the surprise sting of her barbs, I learned all about how the higher-ups in our company treated her. And I learned what things were like for her outside of work; how her husband’s hereditary lung disorder shaped their lifestyle.

The Alpha Bitch of our little department wasn’t a bitch at all. She was reacting to every moment the way she felt she needed to, given all the forces in her life. Maybe she was more a diamond than a hardarse, and those barbs were just the sheer, sharp edges that life had cut into her. Seeing this made her words hurt less, because I finally understood they weren’t about me.

As a writer, I often feel some responsibility to show the sides of things not acknowledged enough day to day—the pain behind the anger, the beauty behind the misery, the vulnerability behind the bitch. To show another side without playing devil’s advocate, and without taking away from the experience of being on the receiving end. An aggressor’s pain should never invalidate ours, but perhaps understanding it can offer a way out—at the very least by letting us know we’re not completely powerless against it.

I feel there’s still a place for the Alpha Bitch these days, but it’s time for that tired trope to grow up. Everyone’s fighting their own private battle. The most interesting stories make efforts to give us hints of how. And anything that contributes to a softer, more understanding world is a good thing in my book.