Monday, October 7, 2019

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice? Not Hardly

© Can Stock Photo / ezumeimages
Bad reviews—the author’s bane.

They’re never fun, but they can be useful. I examined my treatment of male secondary characters more carefully after reading an insightful critique from a thoughtful reviewer. They can sometimes be hilarious—my favorite negative review was short and not-sweet: “Cursing and homosexuality. One star.” And they are sometimes baffling, like the one reviewer blisteringly mad that he picked up The Dangerous Edge of Things only to discover that my protagonist was—shocker! —a woman! And a feminist! Who could have suspected such from a book with a pistol on the cover!

But there’s one comment I don’t find useful or hilarious, and that’s criticizing a female character for being “unlikable.” Such a dismissive comment smacks of the same sexism that plagues professional women in the real world, especially women in leadership positions. The identical qualities that earn men praise—being assertive, decisive, competitive, driven—are considered flaws when women display them. Women are supposed to be the “tend and befriend” gender, not the “kick ass and take names” gender. And when a woman dares break the stereotypical mold, she gets dinged as stern, demanding, humorless…


My protagonist Tai gets tarred with this brush regularly. I understand why—assertive to the point of aggression, Tai is smart, capable, determined, and confident. She doesn’t worry about her waistline or how her butt looks in certain blue jeans. Direct and often confrontational, she looks people right in the eye and only smiles when she feels like it. She’s sometimes loud, always opinionated, and occasionally reckless, but she’s also compassionate, good humored, and not afraid to cry. Unlike her partner Trey, her moral compass doesn’t have a true north, but she unswervingly follows in whatever direction it points her. She can be challenging, true enough, but if I ever got in trouble, I’d be grateful to have her by my side, especially in a bar fight.

Well-behaved women rarely make history. I’d also argue they rarely solve crimes.

I’m grateful that I have readers (and editors and a publisher) who appreciate Tai. I try to write her exactly as she wants to be written, which can be difficult at times. I have to watch her make mistakes, hurt people, get in someone’s face when silence would be a better tactic. Her way is not my way, which is a good thing—if I were a crime fiction protagonist, my story would be over in the first chapter when I stumbled on a corpse and immediately called the cops and fled for home. The End.

The world has many women like Tai, women who laugh and love and spare not one brain cell on whether or not they’re likable. They do not bend to sexist ideas of how they should act or who they should be. They are fierce and fine and free, and they don’t give a hot damn about the opinions of tiny-minded misogynists.

So here’s to unlikable women—may we know them, may we be them . . . may we read them.

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PS: If you'd like to meet Tai and decide for yourself, the e-book version of the first in her series, The Dangerous Edge of Things, is being offered FREE for a limited time. Find it HERE!