"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, March 6, 2017

Let your mind alone!

The title of this year's Beauty of a Woman Blogfest entry is taken from a book of the same name by James Thurber. He is a humorist, whom I admire for about a billion reasons, and it is his quote that I use as the name of my blog. If your sense of humor is like mine, look him up. 

This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VI! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 11th.
As always, I want to thank August for the opportunity to contribute to her tour, and do encourage you to read the other entries!

I'm also using this little movie clip, from Desk Set, with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy:

The reason for this is to show you all that, in anything I write, I associate many things with many things, and I cannot let my mind alone.

I was in the shower one morning and said, "There are not enough girl pirates in books." I quickly decided to write a little riff on The Count of Monte Cristo, using a girl protagonist, and having her become a pirate in order to exact her revenge.

But then my mind began to wander.

Women can be badass...or can they? We can seek adventure, be rough-and-tumble gals, thirst for excitement. We can laugh at death, just like men. Unlike men, however, we have one more primal fear: rape. 

Yes, I know. Men are raped. Unless thousands of you guys tell me differently, however, I'm going to assume you don't walk down dark alleys fearing you'll be raped. Mugged, yes. Murdered, sure. 

But it's us, the females, who have that small muscle in our gut that's always strung tight. It's that fear, That Fear, that keeps us from walking down the dark alley. We may be more afraid of being sexually assaulted than of being chopped into pieces. 

My heroine, Lisette, is sold as a virgin to the pirate Rocco. I wanted her to be a bold, stubborn noblewoman, in a very fictional version of the 16th-century Caribbean. How do I handle THAT FEAR, and make her run toward danger, or at least stroll confidently in its direction?

I began by dismantling my own beliefs, my own fears, my own hangups about a woman's body, about virginity, and about how important physical touch is, in terms of utilizing all of our senses.

Once she is kidnapped, Lisette starts to question her virginity. Why is this such a sacred thing? No one waits for that special moment to say their first word, take their first step, eat their first solid food. You're ready to do it, so you just start. Why is that part of our real estate such hallowed ground, that we protect it and wait for The Right Someone (and in ye olde days, showed the stained sheets as proof on our wedding night)?

She begins to wish she was not a virgin anymore. In her words, "Just get it over with." Unfortunately, Rocco has some secrets of his own. Taking her as a lover is not exactly on his to-do list, at least not that he freely admits.

It doesn't stop her from exploring her sexuality. As she matures, she wonders why sensuality is such forbidden fruit. At one point, she asks, is it such a sin, to crave a man's touch more than, say, to enjoy a delicious meal or hear a pleasant tune?

Even as she questions what she's been taught, and rejects most of what she's learned, she still manages to experience sex on her own terms. As with many stories, she falls in love, it's complicated, and I expect it will have a happy ending--eventually. Did I mention my little riff grew up to be a trilogy?

Perhaps I let her off easy. The story is strewn with the bodies of men who try to rape her and fail. Perhaps I should have let one succeed. It is the reality for many women. As the writer, I would get to examine what kind of steel Lisette has in her backbone if she does not win one of these fights.

But this is a fantasy. My excuse is that I want her to be strong and smart and independent, and fight for what she believes, and win. I want her to embody that warrior in each of us. And a piece of me wants to open that introspective door in other women's minds--what do you really think about touch and sex and your body?

She's a pirate, yes, but in a way, she's also a superhero. All because I can't let my mind alone.

PS. I have completed the first book of the trilogy, a historical fantasy. Or perhaps it's a hysterical one--time will tell. It's currently in that state of Artistic Limbo: in the editor's hands, trying to be a book, while the Author and Editor decide whether to query an agent, look at small presses, self-pub, or toss the whole thing in the nearest bonfire. Wish me luck. Better yet, wish me the strength of a girl pirate.


Jennifer Silva Redmond said...

It's definitely not going in the bonfire! xxoo your editor

Anonymous said...

Love this and your sense of humor. This should definitely be a book - sending you the best vibes for that end.

Aurora Jean Alexander said...

Why in all the world should you 'leave your mind' alone? You're a writer - and obviously one with good ideas.

There are women that are badass. There are women who walk down a dark alley with their head held high because they know they don't have to be scared.

There are women who help the weaker if necessary!

I love your post!

August McLaughlin said...

I love this, and can't wait to read your book!

Shan Jeniah Burton said...

I'm ready to read it right now!

Perhaps strangely, I was talking with my Accomplice about That Fear not long ago. He didn't realize it was A Thing. Of course, he's built like a linebacker, and dyes his beard electric blue - no one messes with him....but, when we met, I was a little afraid to be in any dark alley with HIM! (fears unfounded, big time, in his case!)

I write fan fiction for fun. My badass woman happens to be Vulcan. She's not afraid of being raped in dark alleys or otherwise; she's got no cultural conditioning for that, and, besides, she knows several dozen ways to incapacitate human males, and physically, she's stronger, with better reflexes and sharper senses.

I'd kind of like to be her when I grow up....

kimberly bost said...

Love it! I wish us all the strength of a girl pirate!

xoxoRASJ said...

As a woman who was raped at 17, I will tell you that all these years later, I realize that experience has made me who I am: empathic, sensitive, loving and gentle. This is a different kind of strength. Thanks for reading. Come visit me!

Anonymous said...

You know, that's probably why I loved Geena Davis as a badass pirate in Cutthroat Island or Kate Beckinsale in Underworld or Merida in Brave, or Rey in the Star Wars. Because they laugh at stereotypes and dare to be their own badass selves. They don't tent to need saving. They're the saviors!

As for women, your story reminds me so much of why I loved Bertrice Small's writing. Unapologetically badass AND sexual!

Don't Call Me A Wino said...

Sounds like a brilliant read! Kudos to you for challenging the paradigm. For creating a character in the image of women who actually exist... women who are brave and choose to write their own story (pun intended).

So inspiring <3

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