The Emotional Baggage That A Male Reader Brings To The Novel

Several months ago I started downloading free fiction ebooks from Amazon for the Kindle App on my iPod Touch. I normally don’t read fiction ebooks since I’m a dead tree traditionalist who prefers flipping the pages of paperbacks. Two years of unemployment and three months of being underemployed doesn’t leave much money for buying stacks of paperbacks, even if the local Borders stores are going out of business. Naturally, each of the free ebooks was the first book in a series. If you’re hooked on the series after the first book, you just have to read all the other books.

I read “Bright of The Sky (The Entire & The Rose, Book 1)” by Kay Kenyon, about spaceships fueled by black holes that creates an inter-dimensional rip to a strange world larger than our universe and how one man came back tell to everyone but no one believed him. I read the other books, “A World Too Near” and “City Without End,” the following weekends. I still haven’t the fourth book, “Prince of Storms,” since I’m taking a break from the series. The last two books were each read in a single eight-hour sitting from beginning to end. I like books that don’t demand being read all at once.

Some of the best science fiction in recent years has come from women authors. Having grown up reading science fiction written mostly by men during the 1970s and 1980s, I appreciate the different concerns, ideas and viewpoints that women authors can bring to the genre. But sometimes a woman author can provoke a strong visceral response in a male reader like myself.

The other free ebook that I downloaded was “Hunted By The Others” by Jess Haines, about a human woman private detective hired by the mages to retrieve an artifact being kept by the vampires that can take control of the werewolves. The Others, of course, hate each other, and a pro-human group wants to kill them all off. An interesting premise for a new urban fantasy series.

Unlike the heroines in all the other urban fantasy series, Shiarra Waynest doesn’t start kicking ass once the story gets started. She is a fearful woman who is easily intimidated and disrespected by anyone more powerful than she is; especially the men who like to shove her around. Like fingernails across a chalk board, I cringed throughout the first half of the book. I absolutely hated it. But, being a glutton for punishment, I read the second half and absolutely loved it. Why? The heroine acquired several magical items that boosted her physical abilities and confidence in herself to start pushing back against the guys. Everyone suddenly starts respecting her to avoid getting their asses kicked, and she gets the job done to her satisfaction.

I haven’t had such a strong visceral reaction to a book since I read “Cell” by Stephen King, where my favorite minor character got killed off in a senseless act of violence in a “you know something really bad is coming around the corner” scene. I threw the paperback across the room and let it sit on the floor for a week before I could pick it up again.

But my reaction to “Hunted By The Others” was much different. As a male reader, I brought a lot of baggage when reading this ebook that colored my perception of the characters.

Strong Resistance Threshold

Unlike reading other genres, reading urban fantasy requires a significant amount of emotional investment. The world building is often much more extensive than some epic fantasy or science fiction books. You got to learn a whole new set of rules about how the characters interact with each other and  the urban environment around them. Whatever you think you might know about magical creatures is often tossed out of the window (i.e., vampires may walk in sunlight because they’re not that dead yet or a separate species not related to homo sapiens). Sometimes I have control issues about letting going of the familiar world around me to embrace someone else’s fantasy world.

For the longest times, I was reading only Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison, then Ann Agguire came along, and I recently read Jeannie Holmes. I started branching out into reading more urban fantasy since my first novel is about a video game company haunted by a troll-like ghost, which could be either horror and/or urban fantasy. Horror has its own internal logic—cue “Twilight Zone” music—but urban fantasy is a much different animal. I haven’t read enough urban fantasy to decide if I want to revise the rough draft in that direction.

Kick Ass Women In Film

Starting with Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the “Alien” movies, Milla Jovovich as Alice in the “Resident Evil” movies, Uma Thurman as The Bride in “Kill Bill” movies, Michelle Rodriguez in too many movies to name (although I thought she was too feminine in the recent “Battle: Los Angeles” movie), and even 13-year-old Chloe Moretz as the Hit Girl in “Kick Ass,” have all been kick ass women who weren’t afraid of picking up a weapon, shoving the men aside, and getting the job done. I rarely see movies about a weak and fearful woman being pushed around by men. I’m more likely to get ticked off at the husbands in some movies who are being jerks and want a divorce because their wives are trying to accomplish something meaningful (i.e., “Juno” and “Freedom Writers”).

If you read the summaries for most urban fantasy series, the heroine is almost always a kick ass woman. I think that is why I enjoy reading urban fantasy, being a reflection of the movies I have seen since the 1970s. Had I grown up in an earlier era, maybe I would enjoy reading more novels about big men, big guns and big boobs. Although the hero shagging the girl every other chapter would get on my nerves just as much as the obligatory five pages of romance porn found in most urban fantasy novels.

Mother Was A Fearful Woman

My mother had an overwhelmingly negative influence in my life. House and child were her exclusive domain that my father had no say in, and the garage was off-limits to her since that was my father’s exclusive domain. I was never allowed in the garage since I belonged to her. Throw in case of beer every Sunday afternoon after grocery shopping, hell hath no fury than a fearful woman on a drunken rampage. I ducked a lot of beer bottles, dishes and pots while growing up.

My father was a complete stranger to me until I turned 18-years-old, when he announced that I was his and we worked together in construction for two years in San Francisco (50 miles was how far he needed to escape from her). When I left home for college and joined the campus ministry, I still couldn’t escape from my fearful mother. For years I had to call her every night to reassure her that I was all right. I didn’t find freedom until she committed suicide by letting her breast cancer go untreated in 2004, and, through counseling several years later, I decided to become a writer.

An ideal woman for me is someone who has fiery temper and a very short fuse. Why? If she gets pissed off, she will get into my face and tell me why. Nothing makes me madder than a fearful woman telling me that she is afraid to talk to me because she thinks I might get mad at her. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to know about it so I can change. I can’t change myself for the better if no one tells me what is wrong. Maybe because I’m a big guy who comes across as being a natural for raping, pillaging and burning, people assume things that aren’t there. (One unpaid ministry leader strongly suggested that I rape a woman in the church to start my career as a future California serial rapist and make everyone happy by going to prison.) Or maybe because I’m conditioned by books and movies to live in a world filled with strong women that I have unrealistic expectations about real women in general.

A month after I reading that “Hunted By The Others,” I started dissecting why I hated and loved that book in #ufchat on Twitter. Then someone causally mentioned that Jess Haines was lurking in the background—Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!—and a moment later she started replying to my tweets. We had a nice conversations about merits of taking her urban fantasy series in a complete different direction. Last week she sent me signed copies of all her novels in the snail mail: “Hunted By The Others,” “Taken By The Others,” and “Deceived By The Others” (coming out on July 5, 2011). It’ll be interesting to see if I can leave my emotional baggage behind when reading the first book in paperback.

2 Responses

  1. I’ve always maintained that the sexiest part of the human body is the spine. But I can’t agree that a “fiery temper and a very short fuse” are desirable traits in a mate. Lots of mature give and take are needed for a healthy relationship.

    The other end of the bell curve is just as twisted. It’s only noisier 🙂

    All the best!

  2. This is a great post, very introspective on your part which is often the hardest to write. Thanks for the great thoughts on a male persepective, I will be checking back in to see what you think of the other books in the series.

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