Me Too & Writing Romance: The Boss

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. Heroines in romance novels interact with more than one person, so these rules aren’t just about the central romance.

Myth #2 – When it’s the boss, you have to put up with it or be rescued.

“It” means anything from rude sexual comments made in our presence all the way to rape on the desk. While a good hero will be supportive, I don’t want my heroines to be downtrodden until they are saved! It’s trickier when the job market is tight and the income is essential, but still, no one should be allowed to get their jollies by using or abusing another person, whether or not it’s sexual. Even if making a formal complaint seems too risky, there may be ways to deal with it directly.

Me too.

I was a young clerk working in a room with my manager and the assistant, both men. Neither of them ever made me uncomfortable. However, a guy on my manager’s level from a different department frequently came in and always tried to embarrass me with nasty stories and jokes. My manager felt anything he said would only make it worse, so with forethought, the next time that guy came into our department, I told a story nastier than any of his. He kept his conversation clean after that.

In another job, my boss suddenly reached out and grabbed my boob. I was bundled up, definitely not the least bit provocative. In shock, I yelled at him and told him if he ever did anything like that again, I’d tell his wife. He was proper with me thereafter.

Why did these tactics work? Sexual aggression is not about sex, it’s about power. In the first case, his power was in making me uncomfortable and I took that away when I turned the tables. In the second case, I went on the offensive, taking the power right away from him. Today, I’d have the option of filing a formal complaint or lawsuit, and if a situation persisted despite any other actions I took to correct it, I would.

Rule #2 – My heroines will stand up for themselves.

In any situation involving sexual or other harassment or aggression by a boss or other person in a position of power over them, my heroines will seize the power one way or another. Furthermore, my heroines and their love interests will treat each other with respect. Any power differential inherent in their positions (rich/poor, boss/employee, etc.) will not be abused. Any sexual interactions will be mutually desired.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Alcohol

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that are actually thumbnail sketches of longer romances, so I’m turning some into novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at common myths about sex and making myself some rules. The first one is about alcohol.

Myth #1Sex is better after a few drinks

Alcohol lowers inhibitions. If it’s a situation that will lead to remorse (like bedding a friend’s mate), alcohol is obviously being used as an excuse. Where women are concerned, the idea that sex is better after a few drinks reinforces the underlying myths that nice ladies are reluctant to debase themselves that way or that good girls don’t get horny. It supports the dichotomy between “good women” or “nice girls” and the ones who are “easy” or “sluts”.

Physiologically, alcohol makes women less ready for sex. (This Cosmo article goes into that in more detail.) Just like men, women who have too much to drink are less likely to become fully aroused and achieve orgasm.

Alcohol also impairs judgment, which can lead to morning-after regrets. Whenever someone takes this on to denial and falsely cries rape, they impair the credibility of the person who said “no” or “stop” or struggled to get away or were too drunk to know what was happening. In fact, the common practice of having a few drinks to prepare for sex makes any sexual assault involving alcohol or drugs more difficult to prove.

 

Me too

When I was a teenager, two guys got me alone at a party and with clear intentions to take advantage of my impaired condition to have sex with me. Had they succeeded, that would have been rape. However, I was sober enough to deal with it by pretending to “come on” to the smaller one, which got rid of the other guy. By the time I could have walked away, I was feeling the effects of the alcohol I had willingly consumed earlier and was enjoying necking with him, so if we’d had sex at that point, I’d call it my stupidity, not rape – because I got myself drunk and I could have walked away once I had him alone. Fortunately, he’d had too much to drink anyway.

However, I was drugged and “taken advantage of” in college. I was at my desk working on my term paper, hoping the jerk who’d dropped in uninvited would take the hint and leave, then it was dark, we were naked, and he was on top of me and in me. My stomach burned for two days from whatever he put into my Coke. When I saw him on campus after break, I jumped into a relationship with a townie, spent most of the semester off campus or hiding in my room, then dropped out to get married. It took a couple decades to label that correctly as rape.

Rule #1My heroines will never drink to have sex.

They’ll have sex because they want to and being sober won’t stop them from being hot or wild. Whoever they’re with will turn them on, loosen them up, and give them satisfaction—no alcohol or drugs required.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

 

 

 

 

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Quick note of support

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/who-will-remember-a-short-film-survival#/

Barbara Erysian, the screenwriter for the above project is the grandchild of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. As a teenager, her grandmother survived, taking care of her little brother, with the help of Armenians, Turks, Greeks… It’s the story of survival from a child’s point of view, a worthy project to support human rights.

She’s a bit stiff, asking for money in front of a camera, but she’s an excellent writer  and, if you scroll on down below her video, she’s got some real pros working with her.

The current project is a short film that she hopes will generate support for a feature comparable to Schindler’s List. Even more important than raising funds for this short film, gathering numbers of supporters will demonstrate there is an audience, so even a few dollars can help.

$25 will get you into the credits.

Note: I had trouble getting the site to take my donation while using Edge, but it worked fine with Firefox.

BEpic

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Me Too + My Fiction

People always ask if the stories I write are about me. No, their stories are not mine.

But, yeah, #Me Too.

My fictional characters have more dramatic experiences than me, but Me Too. I was drugged and “taken advantage of” in my dorm room, as we mistakenly called it back then. I’ve worked in what they now call a hostile work environment more than once. Actually, if you include annoying garbage like the boy behind me in Spanish continually trying to undo my bra, there are too many incidents to list.

As a writer, I use all of it to make my fiction come alive.

In Running Away, Peg marries the wrong guy. He molests her daughter Maggie, who runs away because she’s sure no one will believe her. She’s right. Her mother’s first reaction is denial. Why? Because the predator skillfully manipulated each of them to damage their formerly strong bond. Fortunately for Maggie, her mom’s denial doesn’t last long.

When Peg’s telling a co-worker how she wants to drop everything and go look for Maggie herself, she tells him she ran away at the same age and “My parents thought I was dead for ten years.” The novel is as much about the mother as the daughter. Peg’s been running away from her past all her life.

I didn’t convey that clearly to agents or editors, so I ended up self-publishing. When I sold the screenplay, I never got to talk with the director and with the addition of a few short scenes, he changed the mom’s backstory and made the villain obviously evil. While most of the script is still mine and Running Away is a good Lifetime movie, someday I hope to see it redone with my characters and the theme as intended.

Meanwhile, readers asked for Peg’s story and I’ve finally finished it. While it starts while she’s an innocent teen, it’s her “Me Too” story and the long way back to liking herself enough to be comfortable with all of her past. It will be released later this year.

Keep an eye out for it: Peg’s Story: In Search of Self.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Looking Forward

Happy New Year!

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions—of course I want to lose weight, exercise regularly, and waste less time on mahjong. In defense of mahjong, it leads to a meditative-type state where I often come up with good ideas. However, so does walking and that’s much healthier for me.

Setting goals is different. I do that every December for the coming year.

Three is a good number: Two personal and one for my writing. The writing goal comes first and involves the most detail. I set a modest dollar amount—a measurable goal that I can reasonably achieve by selling some short stories, by increasing book sales through better promotion and distribution, and by doing self-publishing workshops.

However, having a goal with no plan probably wouldn’t lead to success—and I want to succeed. As I considered what needed to be done, the plan fell naturally into outline form.

I have three objectives for my writing goal. Each requires certain steps be taken and each step requires actions. I’ll probably add actions along the way, but the direction is established.

This is what the outline for the first objective looks like:20171228Goalsfor2018
My modest writing goal does not depend on luck. It depends on planning and sustained effort. Selling scripts or hitting best seller lists with my new novel will involve luck—getting to the right people at the right time. However, the actions I’ll be taking to achieve my modest goal may increase the odds of that luck coming my way, in which case I’ll happily exceed my goal.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Motivational Boards

Each year I was in Arizona, a group of us would gather near the changing of the year and spend an evening with stacks of old magazines and glue sticks, sharing and enjoying our community as we made vision boards for the coming year. Some approached it with specific ideas in mind; I let intuition lead me to specific pictures and phrases that I then glued onto my poster board. Sometimes this clarified what I wanted in the coming year, sometimes it was just fun. But always, there were a few key words that reflected something I needed to work on.

KeepPaddlingThose key words made their way to my motivational board—a collage pinned onto a bulletin board that hangs in my workroom. I spent the better part of a day last week rearranging this board, printing out inspirational phrases, reviewing everything on it. The key words from years of vision boards are still there, their prominence determined by how much reminding I need to incorporate them into my daily life—things like balance, focus, and process.

What’s not on it? Photos of my kids and grandkids—those are in another place in my home, not my workroom. They are enormously important in my life and always present in my being, but they are not the reason I write. That comes from the core of me that existed long before they were born. So the photos on my motivational board are of me as a confident little girl and an adventurous traveler. There’s also a striking headshot from my twenties, when I wanted to be an actress. There’s a newspaper clip I’ve kept since I was fourteen, about making the world a better place to be, and quotes that strengthen my resolve to keep trying. There’s a photocopy of the first check I received for writing work and photographs I’ve taken that remind me writing is not my only creative endeavor.

What else is not on it? Specific goals and my writing credits—I post my accomplishments for the past year and goals for the current in a different place.

My motivational board is about supporting who I am and why I create—the force within.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Looking Back

In 2016, I made a respectable amount of money as a writer. I really wanted to make more this year. Instead, I’ve made virtually none. I felt like a failure, until I saved my “Priorities for 2017” as “Accomplishments for 2017” and edited it to reflect what actually got done this year:

I expanded the number of excellent critique groups with which I’m working on screenwriting, short stories, and novels. That was an essential goal and a major reason for my move to an urban area.

Running Away was shown in French-speaking Europe, then was released as a Lifetime movie.

The screenplay for Michael Dolan McCarthy lost an award, but I used their notes to make revisions. With feedback from two screenwriting groups, I wrote and revised a screenplay based on “Maria Angelica’s Baby” – the short story included in Saturday Evening Post’s anthology in 2016. I submitted both of these to the 15th Annual American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest. Results don’t come out until February. I also wrote a script for Frankie and Grace and submitted that and other scripts to multiple network writer development programs.

With feedback from beta readers, I did revisions of my new novel – the story of Peg, the mother in Running Away. Then I met and traded books with Sarita Sarvate and made major revisions thanks to all of her questions and comments. Peg’s Story: In Search of Self has been submitted multiple places. But in light of current events and the general rule that traditional publishing takes its time, I may decide to self-publish to get it out sooner. The character surprised me when she landed in the arms of a trafficker, but the ups and downs of her journey after that will speak to anyone who says “Me, too.” Goal for 2018: Fund an effective marketing campaign.

I sold books at the Citrus Heights Hidden Treasures Art Show, the Oakland Book Festival, the Gold Country Writer’s booth at the Gold Country Fair, and an author event at Book Passage in Corte Madera put on by the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). I also attended the WNBA Pitch-O-Rama in San Francisco. I sent out a press release after getting a glowing review of Alice and saw a jump in sales of my books at Amazon.

That’s not everything, either. I’ve been tracking submissions and have short stories out all the time. I wrote a script based on one and the actors in the Capital Film Arts Alliance gave it an awesome table read. It may be produced as a trailer when I’m ready to publish a collection of short stories.

I didn’t make much money this year. In fact, after expenses it’ll probably be a loss. My projects didn’t come in first place anywhere and I didn’t get accepted into those writing programs, but I got good feedback from judges. With the input of good critique groups I produced multiple well-written major and minor projects. They’ll eventually be produced or published because tracking submissions and my time has made me more consistent. I’m even posting here weekly.

So while I may not have made much money writing this year, I did accomplish a lot.

The funny thing? In 2016 I did very little writing. The first half I was teaching full time with injuries, the second half I was living in my son’s living room with almost everything buried in storage while I had and recuperated from surgeries on knee and shoulder. The successes and income were from work done previously. So maybe next year…

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

 

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Reasonable Expectations

My to-do list tends to be insane. At times it’s grown to multiple two-column pages. That may be okay for long range planning or keeping track of little details, but when it’s multiple major projects it can lead to paralysis and a sense of failure because I never get it all done.

I’ve developed something that’s working better.

A couple months ago, I set up a spreadsheet to track the hours I spend on different writing activities. The first column has the categories: writing new material for blogs or promo; writing or revising stories, novels, etc.; research; routine business; new business; networking; critique groups and reading for them; marketing activities; and writing/editing for pay. I estimate how much time I’ll spend on each activity each day and the hours for each activity are totaled for the week. Then I’ll type in the estimate totals in a separate column and erase the daily estimates.

Each day I keep track of how I’m spending my time in a day planner, then enter those times into the chart and compare the actual time spent weekly with the estimates. This gives me a realistic view of how I’m spending my time and whether or not I’m maintaining an effective balance. I also can see when I’m pushing myself too hard or slacking off.

After the first week or two, I added two more columns—one to list what I plan to do in each area, and one to record what actually got done. The to-do list! Because I’d been keeping track of my time, I was able to come up with reasonable estimates for the time needed for similar activities and make this more reasonable.

One or two sixty hour weeks when a project’s near completion is reasonable (for me), but to maintain any kind of life balance, that level cannot be sustained. During the holidays, when family time expanded, the hours I expected myself to work on writing decreased. Since I know I do those sixty hour weeks, it was okay to have some short ones.

Thanks to this system, I’m getting closer to reasonable expectations for each week. My goal is to routinely complete everything planned in the time allotted each week and sometimes do a little more if time allows. Then I’ll feel competent consistently.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Reviews

20130324AliceFrontCoverWebSizeI don’t enter my work in many contests because those fees add up quickly. However, I realized my very short novel Alice had never been entered anywhere, so I put it into two categories in Writer’s Digest 25th Annual Self-Published Novel Awards. I think of it as a fun story, so I put it into mainstream fiction, but one of the customer reviews on Amazon calls it a “modern day ethics story,” so I also entered it in the inspirational category.

It did not win in either category, but I requested feedback from the judges involved and it arrived today. They each give a numerical score of 0-5 in five areas: Structure, Organization, and Pacing; Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar; Production Quality and Cover Design; Plot and Story Appeal; Character Appeal and Development; and Voice and Writing Style. They also provided a brief written commentary.

I opened the email with the mainstream category judge’s commentary first. My best numerical score was for Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar, and that was a four. Plot and Story Appeal got a two. The rest were twos and threes. The commentary was negative all the way – I definitely will not be sharing any part of it.

Then I opened the email with the inspirational category judge’s commentary. Everything got five’s – a perfect score – and the commentary ended with “one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.” I immediately posted the full commentary in the author comments on the book at Amazon.

Now both of these judges were presumably working with the same instructions for scoring – probably a rubric of some kind. I think the key is in the Plot and Story Appeal. The first judge gave that a two, the second a five. The first probably did not enjoy any of the process and got it done as quickly as possible; the second obviously enjoyed the book thoroughly and may not have looked at the technical aspects as critically as a neutral party. While I like the perfect score, I need to keep that in mind when my head starts swelling.

The bottom line is, no book appeals to every reader, including judges and reviewers, and most contests will have a single person doing the first screening read.

So what should you do when you get a negative review or commentary? Munch on a piece of chocolate and look at the details and decide if any criticism is justified. If you can’t make changes to this book, use the criticism to improve the next. When I entered Michael Dolan McCarthy in the Amazon Breakout Novel Awards, I got a full reading of the manuscript by Publisher’s Weekly and that reviewer pointed out my strengths as a writer and places the novel was weak. I hadn’t published yet, so after the initial cringe, I went back and fixed the problem areas. I quote the positives. Alice is already published, but if I write something similar, I’ll revisit both of these commentaries.

There’s sometimes a delay updating info at Amazon, so here’s the full positive review:

Judge’s Commentary 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

“ALICE by Sheri McGuinn is a wonderful short novel that’s an easy read. Yet it contains deep threads along with an important mission. Using the power of fiction, the novelist encourages readers to do something for the community — that is, using abandoned buildings to house the homeless. This is a worthy idea that I hope many will be inspired to adopt. Although it’s been awhile since I had major contact with teenagers, I believe the author captures the voice of a thirteen-year-old very well. The narrator has a sense of wisdom, awe, and inexperience that marks many in that age bracket. Baby Girl is a storyteller I enjoyed spending time with, and I think others will, too. The bright yellow book cover captures the attention right away. The flowers are whimsical, and remind me of the hippie era, which is of course ideal for this book. The back cover design is also whimsical, and lets the reader know what to expect. I would have liked to see an author bio here. The resources listed inside, along with promos for the next book and the self-publishing guide are all practical and helpful. Overall, one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.”

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessionalwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re doing Thankmas at my home this year, ten of us having turkey together Thursday, then Christmas the next morning. It’s the first time since my kids grew up and started their own families that we’ve been able to do this at my home, so it’s a big deal and I’m thankful we’re able to do it while everyone’s still living in one state.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to write full time this year. I finished a novel I believe may stand as my most important work. It addresses the long process of healing after a woman is raped and trafficked. It’s being reviewed by agents right now.

I’m thankful I have my own space with room for writing projects.

I’m thankful I’ve relocated to a place where I have multiple excellent critique groups, so I can get broader feedback on a work or take different works to each group.

I’m thankful to be living in a time when it’s so easy to stay connected with people far away through text, email, and cell phones with no long distance charges.

I’m thankful to be living in a time with so many options available to writers.

I’m thankful for my early teachers, including my mother, and all the books I read when I was a child that developed my sense of language and story.

I’m thankful for everyone who’s encouraged me to keep writing, including the readers who’ve asked for more.

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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