The Adventures of The Everyday Fangirl welcomes back author Corrina Lawson as a guest blogger to talk about her newest release, A Hanging at Lotus Hall.
Take it away Corrina!
Thanks so much Patty!
Romance, Consent and the #metoo Movement by Corrina Lawson
It’s been one of my longstanding goals as a romance writer and as a geek to breach the wall between the two. My books are in genres like my upcoming steampunk, A Hanging at Lotus Hall, or superhero-style romances, like the Galaxy-award-winning Phoenix Institute series.
But, still, bridging that gap isn’t as easy because while there are many romance-writing geeks, like the owner of this blog, there are many science fiction and fantasy-loving female geeks who have internalized much of society’s views of romance. Like “they’re formulaic,” and “the woman have to be rescued,” and “the heroes are all way too pushy.”
All of us who know the romance book genre know that these clichés are, in general, falsehoods. Indeed, much of what the general society views as romance is from entertainment created by straight white men that inevitably puts women in second-place, as a sidekick or helper. These stories almost invariably inform people’s views of romance books, which is frustrating because, for the most part, this stuff contains terrible romances, even when the love interest survives the story.
But because romance is viewed this way by those outside the genre, questions about consent and the #metoo movement have naturally gained some traction. Even many in the romance community have started to look at their books with a fresh eye about consent.
This is a good thing because it’s always good to be aware of any unconscious harmful societal assumptions that have made their way into our work.
But it’s also a bad thing because it feeds on our assumption that the romance genre, overall, has a problem with writing consent properly. It doesn’t.
I’ve spent the last year reading the romance books that have won the Rita, the Romance Writers of America’s award for excellence in romance. That means I’ve read 112 books so far, starting with the winners in 1982, when the award was called the Golden Medallion.
I, too, had unconscious assumptions about what I’d find in these award winners, particularly the older ones, especially about whether there would be heroes who rape or sexually assault their heroines.
Because I’d heard “romances used to be rapey.”
The truth was not even close to that. The first winner I picked up, A Day Beyond Destiny, started with a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, with a husband who rapes her, and she finds the courage to leave him for the lover who values her. Clearly, romance-reading and romance-writing woman in 1982 already knew what was what.
Over and over again, I saw few issues with consent in the Rita-winning books that I read. There were some problems in the short contemporary romances with overly pushy heroes, heroes who thought they knew a job better than their heroines, heroes who thought nothing of grabbing purses to look in them, heroes who assumed they were superior. And, yes, most of the heroines overlooked this pushiness. But there was always a moment in these stories where the heroine stood up for herself, forced the hero to understand her point of view, and made him, well, grovel.
In short, in these older contemporaries, women were writing about women in the workforce who pushed back and stood up for themselves, in bed and out. And the sexual consent was clear in these stories.
I expected this not to hold true in the older historical romances, with the leeway given heroes with a literal medieval or Regency-mindset. Instead, I read historical romances that could stand up to the scrutiny of today, with heroines who demanded respect and the heroes who gave it to them. That held true in the bedroom, especially for those trapped in marriages of convenience. In one medieval, it was made clear that the heroine could escape, if she choose, but because of reasons related to her love for their estate, she choose to stay and deal with the hero.
It was obvious, as I read books from 1985, and 1995, and 2005, and 2015, that the romance genre as a whole understood consent.
The one book that I could not finish, Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale, did have a hero who outright raped the heroine. But this was an outlier even for Kinsale, who wrote the incredible and wonderful Prince of Midnight. I can’t say what was in Kinsale’s mind while writing this, but I suspect she was exploring how dark a romance can go and how much punishment can be doled out to a hero in order to make him grovel and consider him redeemed.
Other than Shadowheart, I can only count three Rita books with problematic consent. That’s slightly less than four percent of the overall total.
And, like with Shadowheart, the authors were deliberately exploring the boundaries of consent, and power, and the push-pull between two independent people. These romances aren’t to my taste, as a sexual assault survivor, but it’s also clear the authors of these books weren’t ignoring the idea of consent but deliberately delving into it, to see what was and what was not over the line.
All this doesn’t mean that we, as writers, need to ignore the importance of the #metoo movement. A workplace romance with a power imbalance has an inherent consent issue that needs to be addressed perhaps more head-on than in the past. Readers, even of romance, are coming into stories now with eyes that have been opened.
For instance, when I wrote my dark paranormal BDSM, Love’s Inferno, I knew I was pushing boundaries of the S/M aspect. My hero gets off on pain and he can heal his injuries, meaning to fully enjoy himself, the pain has to be at a level high enough to cripple an average person. That meant exploring knife-play and fireplay (my Google results were quite interesting for a time). But it also meant discovering how explicit the consent had to be, at each stage in the fetish scenes, as is done in the majority of non-fictional BDSM communities.
On the fictional side, what I found is that BDSM romances are more likely to have openly verbal and informed consent at every step of the way than in a regular romance, where the consent is clear but our heroes and heroines can be swept up in the moment, jointly consenting but with body language and actions, rather than explicit verbal instructions of what the other wants.
BDSM romances are inherently careful about consent for each individual sex or fetish act in a scene. That’s no a bad idea to carry over to romances in the other sub-genres, either, as verbal banter can be an excellent way to add sizzle to sex scenes. There’s nothing sexier than two people telling each other how much they enjoy what the other person is doing in bed (or elsewhere).
Overall, as writers, it’s good to ponder consent more than in the past, even if it doesn’t change your writing, because readers are coming at scenes with a different set of assumptions.
But, in reading the Rita-books, the stories given by writers to other writers, it’s clear that the romance genre already knows the pitfalls inherent in problematic consent and not only actively works to avoid that pitfalls, but it has always done so.
Corrina Lawson is a former newspaper reporter with a degree in journalism from Boston University. A mom of four, she now works from home writing romance novels with a geeky twist, as a sci-fi and fantasy blogger for Barnes & Noble, and is a founding editor of GeekMom.com.
The Adventures of The Everyday Fangirl welcomes author Corrina Lawson as a guest blogger to talk about the Superheroines that inspire her.
Take it away Corrina!
The Superheroines Who Inspire Me by Corrina Lawson
Once upon a time, I dreamed superheroes were real. Of course, they’re not, not in the traditional sense of heroes with colorful costumes and extraordinary powers, but the heroic traits they possess is something I still want to emulate. Naturally, when I began to write paranormal romances, I drew on superhero mythology.
My first superhero, Alec Farley, the hero of Phoenix Rising, may have been born with powers like the X-Men, but he owes far more of his personality to the traits to the ones who inspired me: namely, his optimism, his kindness, and his insistence on always doing the right thing.
So here are the heroines who inspired me, in the order that I encountered them growing up. What strikes me about this list is that it’s full of grown woman for the most part. One would think I would have identified more with teenage characters but this list of ladies appealed to who I wanted to become, rather than who I was.
I’ve said this before, many times, but Lois Lane is the reason I became a journalist. She was the first female character I encountered who had a job other than teacher or nurse or secretary and it was a really cool job! There has been so much analysis about Lois Lane, everything from she’s not too smart to she gets kidnapped all the time, but the bottom line is she does the same job Superman does, fighting for truth and justice, but she does it without powers. In other words, she’s Superman’s hero.
Huntress/Helena Wayne Helena Wayne was the daughter of an alternate Earth Batman and Catwoman. Whoa. Who wouldn’t want those parents? Alas, Helena was driven into crimefighting by revenge as her mother was killed after being blackmailed, and then her father later died fighting a villain possessing magical power. This, however, did not change her essentially optimistic personality. She became Huntress to find justice, not to hurt others, and she was a lawyer by day to do the same.
If you’ve only watched the movies, well, you’re missing out on Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix as she’s been consistently underused on the screen. That’s the problem with her comic book self, too, as Jean was never the same after the Dark Phoenix saga in which she gained the ability to devour worlds (and did) but killed herself to save the universe from her own power. What she taught me in the Dark Phoenix saga is that a powerful woman could be an equal in a relationship, even with the leader of the X-Men, (Cyclops), and she could even initiate sex. (“Scott, I wanted to see your eyes.”) Jean, until power consumed her, showed what equality was like when you’re in love.
Agent 13 was created many years ago but she’d been pushed to the side when I first started reading Captain America comics in the late 1970s. Heck, she was even killed off. But she was brought back in a short run by Mark Waid and has never been sent to the sidelines again. What’s great about Sharon? She’s the proto-typical bad-ass secret agent, she’s the intellectual equal of Steve Rogers, and she’s fiercely independent. When Sharon was impregnated against her will by the Red Skull with (handwaveycomicbookscience) a child/clone to use against her and Steve, Sharon escaped custody and when her enemies were closing in again, she stabbed herself in the gut, taking control and ownership of what was being done to her own body.
Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel
Like Black Canary/Dinah Lance, Carol has been knocking around since the 1970s, though she’s in the Marvel universe. Originally, she was a female version of Captain Mar-vell, but then a newspaper publisher, a member of the Avengers, then depowered, then a member of the X-Men powered by star energy called Binary, then Warbird, then…well, you get the picture. Writers, mostly male, made Carol into whatever they wanted. Then Kelly Sue DeConnick led a revamp of the character, Carol took on the mantle of Captain Marvel, she owned her experience as a pilot and Air Force Colonel, and now she’s a confident leader who can defeat any threat. In other words, she came through the fire better than ever and now she’ll have a movie. Go, Carol.
She’s the last addition to my list and it’s by virtue of her Netflix show. I read some issues of the comic Alias that introduced Jessica and they didn’t speak to me. Perhaps it was that Jessica seemed angry all the time but it was never clear why.
But in the show, we know right away why she’s angry and dysfunctional. She was mind-controlled and raped and abused by a telepath, and she’s by turns pissed off and traumatized by it. But to Jessica, the worst thing that can happen, ever, is that someone dies on her watch. She was under compulsion to kill once and she refuses to do it again. Oh, she’s not a saint. She’s profane, an alcoholic, she’s rude, and she often refuses to let anyone help with her pain. But she pushes past that because, dammit, she hates to see people hurt, even people she doesn’t like. Her story is also one of healing for rape survivors and we never get enough of those.
Her novels include The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, a romantic steampunk mystery and the Galaxy award-winning and USA Today recognized superhero romance series: Phoenix Institute series: Phoenix Rising, Luminous, Phoenix Legacy, Ghost Phoenix, Ghosts of Christmas Past, and Phoenix Inheritance.
I am continuing with my series of interviews with Fangirls that I have met through social media!
Today, it is my pleasure to interview author, blogger and, of course, fangirl, Corrina Lawson. I met Corrina through the SFR Brigade, which is a group of Science Fiction Romance Creators/Editors and of course through her articles on GeekMom.com.
Welcome Corrina to The Adventures of The Everyday Fangirl and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions!
When did you begin to realize you were a Fangirl?
It was a long progression for me because when I grew up, being a fangirl was something to be avoided. Boys were the geeks, girls were supposed to not like stuff like comics, SF/F sports, etc. I realized early that I was different but was tagged instead as a “tomboy.”
It wasn’t until I had kids and started to write for GeekDad and then founded GeekMom.com that I realized what a total fangirl I was and owned the “geek” part of me.
How has social media helped or hindered you?
Social media has connected me to everyone in my fiction and non-fiction writing career. The first site I wrote for, Sequentialtart.com, asked me to join the staff because of something I wrote on their forums. (Predictably, it was a rant.) And all my fiction writing friends live far away. Without social media, I’d never have met my first critique partner, all the people in the Romance Writers of America, my writing mentor, Jennifer Crusie, and my current writing friends.
Without social media, I wouldn’t even *have* a career.
That said, there’s an ugly side to social media. I’ve been threatened with physical harm and had plenty of insults tossed my way. I’m generally able to ignore them. Perhaps it’s my reporting background.
When did you first see Star Wars and did you love it right away or did this grow on you over time?
I saw Star Wars first in a theater. Confession: it was the first release and I was 11 at the time. 🙂 I loved it right away but it didn’t have the impact on me that seeing original Star Trek reruns did. Besides, I’d gone to see Star Wars because I was already addicted to SF/F. It increased my love of the genre but didn’t start it.
What have you learned from the Star Wars or other fan community that has had a positive impact on your life?
I’m mostly immersed in the superhero comics community and I’ve met so many great people, from readers to creators, and ended up even moderating Gail Simone’s forums. They’ve been so supportive, especially meeting other women who loved comics like me. I thought I was alone.
What else do you Fangirl about?
Let’s see: Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones (books), Batman/Gotham comics, Marvel heroes, Sherlock Holmes, any and all writing craft stuff, 1980s songs, Lois Lane, classic movies, Nora Robert’s J.D. Robb In Death series, Wonder Woman, loose tea blends….I get geeky about a lot of stuff.
But you can see the Sherlock Holmes influence in my steampunk, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, and the X-Men influence in the Phoenix Institute superhero series.
Oh, and the English Plantagenets. I had the Plantagenet Chronicles by Thomas Costain growing up and ended up memorizing the entire English royal line from William I to Elizabeth II. However, my favorite historical figure isn’t one of the kings, it’s William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, the greatest knight of the Middle Ages. (So fun that I managed to write him into one of my books, Ghost Phoenix.)
And who knows what else I’ve find in the future? Right now, I’m intensely interested in Columbo reruns. I’ve been DVRing them off the Hallmark HD channel and watching. What a master class in mystery writing and Peter Falk is adorable.
Thank you again Corrina for this interview and letting us get to know you better.
Corrina Lawson is a former newspaper reporter with a degree in journalism from Boston University. A mom of four, she now works from home writing romance novels with a geeky twist and as the Content Director and co-founder of GeekMom.com. You can connect with her through her articles on GeekMom.com, her website, www.corrina-lawson.com, Facebook Page and of course on Twitter: @CorrinaLawson.
Curse of the Brimstone Contract is available on Amazon.com
The Adventures of the Everyday Fangirl celebrates Mother’s Day by welcoming guest blogger, author and GeekMom, Corrina Lawson. She is going to share her favorite fictional role models for Moms.
Take it away Corrrina!
Fictional Role Models for Moms
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of the major characters turns out to be a father, while another bemoans the fact that he’ll never have the option of a normal life with a family. That, along with Mother’s Day, started me wondering how many Science/Fiction Fantasy stories feature a mother as a main character. The answer?
Not nearly enough.
It occurs to me that I’ve also been giving mothers the short end of the stick in my own superhero romance series, the Phoenix Institute. A father, Philip Drake, is the hero of Phoenix Legacy, but it wasn’t until book 4, Phoenix Inheritance, that I put a mother at the center of the story. It’s not surprising that this book, which features a hero and heroine fighting to save their son from an enhanced human, is also the most personal to me.
So, in celebration of heroic moms everywhere, here are three of my favorite fictions mothers:
1. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. How to describe Cordelia? Intelligent, passionate, honorable, tough beyond measure and complicated. She’s a Betan from a logical society where women are equal who’s thrust into the heart of Barrayar’s backward society where a women’s main function is to produce male heirs.
Cordelia and Aral Vorkosigan desperately want to raise happy and healthy children together but, unfortunately, the dangers of Barrayar make that impossible. After reading Barrayar, you’ll never view shopping quite the same way again.
2. Sarah Connor of the Terminator series. Sarah is perhaps the first character who comes to mind connected with kick-ass moms. Sarah’s “You’re termindated, fucker,” is an iconic moment in movies. She’s appeared in two films of the series, is in another upcoming one, and was the main character of a television series, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, played by Lena Headey. Incidentally, Headey can now be seen as another protective mother on HBO’s Game of Thrones, as Cersei Lannister, while Emilia Clarke, who plays the Mother of Dragons on Game of Thrones, is the new Sarah in Terminator: Genesys.
3. Amanda Waller, the head of the Suicide Squad, DC Comics. Waller isn’t usually thought of as a mother and more as the tough-minded, get-it-done head of the secret government agency to keep metahumans in check. But she’s a mother of five who suffered the deaths of two of her children and her husband, and she raised the other three children on her own. Recent DC reboots has changed ‘the Wall’ somewhat, making her younger, skinnier, and sexier. But the Wall doesn’t need any of these cosmetic changes. Any woman who can chew out Batman is a force of nature.
Thank you Corrina!
You can learn more about Corrina by checking out the following:
Today it is my pleasure to host Corrina Lawson who is the author of the Phoenix Institute superhero series, which won the Science Fiction Romance Galaxy Award as “Best Superhero Origin Series.” The next book in that series, Phoenix Inheritance, is out this week. Here she talks about how to know when it’s time for a character to step up and receive their superhero origin. Take it away Corrina!
How do you know when a character can carry a story?
When I created the Phoenix Institute series, I deliberately created a supporting cast that might be eligible, one day, for their own stories. But just plucking a hero from a supporting cast isn’t so easy. There has to be a story that needs to be told with that character.
Years ago, when the great teacher Jennifer Crusie critiqued one of my scenes (in a as-yet unpublished romantic suspense), she said “I love her! Can she be the heroine?” And I said, no, I wish she could, but she’s already complete and happy.
I gave the same response to my editor when she asked me to make one of her favorite supporting characters in the Phoenix Institute series, Daz Montoya, the hero of his own story. Daz is a natural leader, confident, smart and, as yet, not the stuff of which compelling stories are made.
Heck, Daz was supposed to be the hero of book three, Ghost Phoenix, but I couldn’t get it to work. He was too centered, too in control and too calm about the events of the story. Until things happened in Ghost Phoenix and Daz began to doubt his skills.
When Phoenix Inheritance opens, Daz, a Navy SEAL who left the service to head up a private special forces team, knows he’s in over his head. He inhabits a world where his enemies possess telekinesis that can kill, or they can toss fire with their minds, or they can control his mind with telepathy. How does a normal human, albeit a well-trained warrior, survive in this world? Daz fears he can’t.
More, Daz believes he’s become a liability to those he’s sworn to protect. Add that to his frustration at not being as involved enough in the life of his young son, and guilt over the break-up with his son’s mother, and Dazstands at a crossroads. How does he overcome these obstacles?
He has to become more.
Thanks so much Corrina for stopping by and taking us behind the scenes on what it took to tell Daz’s story!