Miss Congeniality (After A Word From Our Sponsor)

OK first two quick promotional items: one, Season 1 of ReMade is on sale for $4.99! Look, they made a gif and everything!


And two, on Halloween I’m going to randomly give away Season 1 of a Bookburners to ten lucky subscribers to my blog/newsletter hybrid, in a transparent effort to boost my numbers. Mmmm, marketing!

But I can’t just market at you, because this is not what friends do. So instead I’d like to talk about Miss Congeniality, which I saw this weekend for the first time since it came out in theaters.  (Yes, I saw it in a theater.)


Movie Thoughts With Andrea

Miss Congeniality is very, very much an artifact of its time. It’s trying hard to do the same things that Legally Blonde did in terms of Grrl Power and social justice, but it has the same muddled stance on it that, frankly, I remember having at the time my own self, and that’s where a lot of its humor is meant to come from. 

I mean, the core conflict is the tension over being a strong-with-the-punching and empowered woman, or living up to an arbitrary beauty ideal. The movie tries to suggest you can do both without giving up the core of who you are. And it tries to show that the society of women can be special, but it doesn’t really earn that. I’d have liked to see the pageant contestants step up into a strong-with-the-punching role as well. Hey, maybe that’s what happens in the sequel? Maybe I’ll have to watch it.

We also have brief mentions of gay and lesbian relationships! Yay, representation! But with a particularly Year 2000 sensibility: a nervous laugh, ha ha this is a thing! Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s not unlike how we see a lot of trans representation done right now in mainstream media. The same nervous laugh, the acknowledgement that this is a way that some people are, and it makes some other people very nervous. But we’re pretty far past that for gay people now, which gives me hope that we’ll get that way for trans rights as well. The window is shifting.

The one thing that surprised me on a rewatch is that the cast is fairly diverse... but there’s no mention of racism at all. Since race is the elephant in the room in the year 2017, that was a little weird and jarring. Maybe that shows we’ve come a long way, too, since there is at least a public conversation about that now?

All that said, Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens is a much more interesting riff on beauty pageant culture, since it’s more from the POV of the actual contestants, and therefore has much less “ha ha can you believe it?! BUTT GLUE!” So maybe read that one instead.

Annnnnnnnnd that’s it for right now. Getting ready to head out to Switzerland. You’ll hear from me soon! 

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On Not Being on a Diet

I should be on a diet.

I should be on a diet because that's what women do, right? The beauty ideal is unfair and unrealistic, we tell each other, nodding knowingly. And despite this knowing, still we look at carb counts or calorie counts and plan weeks around nutrition bars or cabbage soup. We vow to have less and be less than before, as a matter of necessity and of virtue.

I should be on a diet, more specifically, because I have gained weight. Shocking! Terrible! This is the inevitable result of the reglutening -- it turns out when you allow pastry back into your diet, well, your body changes. You put on a few pounds, and then a few more. 

Right now I weigh perhaps 170 pounds. For perspective, at the height of pregnancy for my second child, I weighed 175; for the first I had reached 200, an arbitrary psychological breaking point that decides many a woman's sense of self-worth. In non-pregnant times, my weight has tended to hover around 150 pounds, give or take the eternal five. This would put me at twenty above what might be a baseline number.

Or in the modern parlance: I should lose twenty pounds, yes?

There are problems that come with gaining weight. Well, one problem. Clothes that had previously fit me no longer fit me. Waistbands are tighter. Jackets no longer button. Shirts and coats ride up where they should not.

Presumably it would be a simple enough matter to remove gluten or indeed carbs or sugar from my diet, and then those pounds would slowly vanish again, like mist fading into morning. But I have lived that life, and on reflection, I would prefer the joyous life where I can bake bread with my children, where I can have a bagel on a lazy Saturday morning, where I can have the cupcake at my daughter's birthday party. If the cost of those experiences is twenty pounds, then so be it.

I look in the mirror and I am satisfied with what I see. I am not unattractive; indeed, in my 40s, I have finally made peace with a generous backside that a shifting beauty standard now celebrates, the same body part I despaired of in my teens for being entirely too enormous. The irony is not lost on me.

My husband loves me, my children love me. My work does not suffer for five pounds nor for twenty, and I am confident it would not for a hundred, either. It is telling that I am not dissatisfied with my body, but that I feel like I should be.

We've done a number on each other, haven't we?

I do not have mobility problems. I do not have high blood pressure or low stamina; I do not have diabetes or high cholesterol. I feel like I should be on a diet, but what problem would that solve? Only the problem of clothes fitting. And there are other ways to solve that problem, come to think of it.

Last week I bought jeans in a larger size than I had worn before. They are soft and loose and they fit my body as it stands. I'm wearing them right now. They're comfortable. And I'm comfortable.

I should be on a diet, I guess, because I'm supposed to be on a diet. But I'm not. And that's probably OK.

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The Always/Only Test

Lo these many months I've been using a quick rule of thumb to explain how I identify offensive, stereotypical, or even just atrociously thin characters through a variety of intersectional lenses. And I thought I would share it with you! It's called the Always/Only Test. It is very simple! Only two questions! They are:

Does the character always have that attribute?
Is the character the only one to have that attribute?

For our purposes "a character" can also mean "a class of characters in this story." So: people of color, fat people, disabled people, you name it.

Let's see how this plays out with, oh, sexual objectification of women. If your women always have sexiness as their role in the story, then what you have is not a character so much as the embodiment of a fantasy. If you only ever have women who are sexy, and none of the men are ever sexualized at all... hm. Hmmm. Yeah that's pretty sexist.

But if you have a story where men and women are both viewed as sexual objects and they also have more character traits than that.... awwwww yeah that's what I'm talkin' about.

OK, let's try this one: If black characters are always drug dealers; if black characters are the only ones to deal drugs.

If fat people are always eating donuts; if only fat people eat donuts.

If Fundamentalist Christians are always violently racist; if only Fundamentalist Christians are violently racist.

A yes/yes answer is potentially problematic and stereotypical, depending on what the character type and attribute is that you're using. If you all your lesbian characters obsessively love flying kites, this doesn't play into an existing stereotype, so it might be shallow characterization, but it's not actively hurting anyone. Fine! Sometimes shallow gets the job done.

Yes/no and no/yes can be a little trickier. They are by and large better than a straight yes/yes, but can still be kinda not OK. If you have a Wall Street film where all the Jews are greedy, but actually all of the characters are greedy, that's less troubling than it would be otherwise, though it probably still bears extra scrutiny. Or if you have a single greedy Jew who hoards food, rejects close relationships with others, and engages in self-harm behind closed doors, you have a complex and multi-faceted character who isn't a caricature of the avaristic Jew, though again: still bears extra scrutiny.

And then no/no means you're probably looking at an awesome, super interesting, complex, and non-hurtful character. 

This rule of thumb can't completely solve the thing where media is sexist, racist, ableist, all the -ists. But as a writer and a consumer of media, this tool helps me to put my finger on what it is about some media that bother me, and also where I may be falling into hurtful stereotypes in my own writing, too. Maybe it can be useful to you, also! Let me know what you think.


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Striving Toward Perfection

There's some substantial discussion going on right now about... you know, I can't even explain it. But there are important questions being raised about activism, about trying to do better, about whether trying is enough, whether being a good person is enough, even when you set a foot wrong.

I have expressed terrible opinions in my life, because I did not know better.

These opinions have been grossly homophobic (because the newspapers told me about the pervy gay people and AIDS.) They've been about trans people (because also pervy, I guess? That one sort of folded in with gay people back then.) They've been about how fat people are lazy and greedy, about gender roles and how I was a superior girl because I was much more like a boy, about Christians and rigid, repressive fundamentalism. Don't even get me started about the racist "knowledge" I learned and repeated about Filipinos when I lived on a military base in the Philippines.

But I know better now, I think. I have aged and grown more compassionate, more experienced at life. I've come to understand that my life is just a small fraction of all the possible lives to be lived, and many are more difficult than mine. Or just different than mine. But other experiences than mine have merit and value. Other choices than mine have value. I'm not the center of the freaking universe, nor are people like me. I know that now.

None of that erases the fact that I started off so horribly, cruelly wrong, a product of my time and environment. All of those horrible thoughts and opinions have been in my head. They were mine. Over time, I try to find the bad patterns, the awful judgey opinions that hurt people, and wear them away with something newer and kinder, something that lets me see and hear more people. It's an ongoing process. And yet I feel it might be unfair, unjust, unkind, to judge me for not having already arrived at the ultimate destination.

In twenty years' time I expect to find with horror that I've been even more wrong about other groups. Because I cannot be perfect, and I will never be perfect.

All I have is trying. And if trying isn't enough, then what hope is there for any of us?

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Revision Cover Reveal

My debut novel, Revision, now has a cover and preorder links and a release date! The date is May 5 of 2015, you can get preorder links from Fireside Fiction, and the cover is... well.... let me just show you.


Meanwhile, I've gone through a very complicated reaction to the cover design process, and I thought I'd share it with you. The original cover designs were very much like this final cover; basically we combined the visual treatment of one with the text treatment of another, and BAM. Magic.

This is a very serious cover, I think. This is the cover for a book that lays a hard claim to being a science fiction novel. And that's what I wanted -- in fact, my most heartfelt addition to the cover brief was "no girl cooties." Revision is indeed a book upon which you could put an engagement ring on the cover and it wouldn't be... entirely misleading. Except that it would mean I couldn't get the kind of attention for this book that in my secret heart I want to get, because hahaha chicklit amirite?

And yet, and yet, I had a bit of panic at the idea of having such a serious cover for this book. When I drilled deep down into my psyche, I found fear, as one always does, and this time the fear took this shape: "What if they find out this is a GIRL BOOK about GIRL THINGS and they get angry? Because this is not a serious book."

Let's unpack this a little.

"This is not a serious book" is something I tell myself so it won't hurt if people dismiss it, but under the snarky, funny candy shell, this is to its core a book about privilege, about human nature, about trying and failing and trying again. It's not a serious book in that it's not The Handmaid's Tale, but it's not NOT a serious book, either. So why am I afraid of presenting myself as a serious author?

It's because we've created a false dichotomy where a book about a woman, where the core relationship is a friendship between women, where the most important plot drivers are to do with relationships and trust -- everything else falls away, and suddenly that book can't be serious. I can't be serious. So that cover is misleading.

In the interests of feminism, I've decided to stomp the hell out of that voice telling me it's too serious, too misleading -- because Revision is no more nor less serious a book than, say, Wool is, and I don't blink at that equally serious cover for a second.

But I doubt, and I worry. The fear is always there. Because that's what it is to be a woman author; to always be threading the needle between "woman" and "author." Let's hope this time we got it right.

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