Erika, Why Aren’t Your Heroes White Chicks?

“Yay! Someone took me seriously even though I’m a woman!”

I have been asked a few times why I wrote my books from a male perspective. After all, I do not, nor have I ever, possessed a pair of testicles, so why am I writing characters who do?

Not only that, but my male protagonists aren’t white, either. In Blood Money, my hero is an Iraqi-born Muslim living in London. In Bai Tide and Take the Bai Road, he’s a second-generation Chinese man who was born and raised in Berkeley, CA. This is weird for people, and I’m asked frequently why I wrote these characters.

After all, I’m a white chick who’s been living in the suburbs her entire life. What qualifies me to run around the literary jungle pretending I’m something I’m not?

The subtext here is odd, I think. Is it possible to ask me why I’m writing heroes who are men of color without the unspoken assumption that because I’m a white woman, I should be writing chick lit with a nice, comfortable white heroine?

After all, men who write novels from a female perspective are often praised for their bravery (here, I would refer you to Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong novels, or Robert Dugoni’s Tracy Crosswhite series {which is excellent, and which you should read immediately if you like thrillers}). If done well, male writers are seen as taking a bold risk writing from their heroines’ perspectives; they’re asked about their choices from a place of praise. “Oh, you did such a good job writing from a woman’s perspective, how did you do it?”

Women writers, however, are held to a different standard, measured against a different set of biases. I read a blog post recently called “Homme de Plume” about one writer’s experience querying agents under a man’s name instead of her own name, and the shocking difference that made in those agents’ reception of her work. The same book that was submitted under a woman’s name received one request for more out of twenty-five queries sent.

Under a man’s name? That same work netted seventeen requests for more out of fifty queries.

The entire post is a fantastic read and well worth your time if you’re so inclined, but what it boils down to is this: Female writers are expected to write nice, compact little stories in the expected genres. Any time you decide to color outside the lines, be it by writing the wrong kind of protagonist, writing the wrong kind of story in the wrong genre, or daring to try something new, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle against the expectations of an industry that rarely changes and, when it does, does so only grudgingly.

All this to say, I have an answer to the question I’ve been asked so many times. Why do I write male protagonists, and why aren’t they white? Why am I writing espionage stories when I am theoretically much better qualified to write cozy little chick lit stories?

Because these are the kinds of stories I want to write. Because I like guns, and I enjoy blocking out fight scenes in my living room. Espionage is interesting, and so are explosions. Writing, at least the kind I’m trying to bring to the people who are nice enough to buy my books, should be an entertaining escape. A fun thought exercise that lets you feel, if just for a second, like you’re pulling back the curtain of national security to peek, even if just for a second, at the roiling covert landscape beneath.

And why aren’t my heroes female and white? Because they’re not. It’s just that simple. The world is full of people who don’t look like me, and when I was coming up with those stories, those are the heroes I saw doing what needed to be done.

Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, there are some problems that even a muscled white dude can’t fix.

I doubt I’ll ever submit my work under a man’s name, if only because I imagine that might make writer’s appearances and book signings problematic should the book ever get published. Instead, I’ll keep writing the stories I want to write and encouraging others to do so as well. I’m well aware that my possibly odd choice of heroes and genre may well be the reason I never see my name on a bestseller list, but that’s an ambition I’ve learned to let go.

If I can bring a few hours of enjoyment to my readers, I’ll consider my job well done, and if I can make even one person who looks different than I do feel good because there’s actually a hero who looks like him/her in a book? That’s even better.

That’s No Moon, It’s a GIVEAWAY!

All this could be yours...

All this could be yours…

Want to win this awesome Death Star shirt (size L) AND a signed copy of one of my books? All you have to do is review Blood Money or Bai Tide on Amazon or Goodreads (or copy/paste your review to both sites for extra entries). Easy peasy! I’ll pick a winner next week.

Busted Tees sent me the wrong size, but I bet it’s just right for either you or that special Star Wars fan in your life.

Click here to review:

Bai Tide on Goodreads.

Bai Tide on Amazon.

Blood Money on Goodreads.

Blood Money on Amazon.

Good luck!

Rejection:The Price of Admission?

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Snoopy gets it.

I entered a contest earlier this year run by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA). Well, technically, I entered two contests. I entered Blood Money into the Nancy Pearl Book Award contest for new books published in 2013, and I entered Bai Tide into the Literary Contest.

I did so with my heart in my hands, knowing it’s a tough contest. I’m sure the Nancy Pearl one is tough, too, but it’s brand new so I have no idea what the competition looks like for that one yet. The literary contest, however, is certified tough.

I entered it in 2011, back when Blood Money was called Petra and featured a 20-page prologue. I’d thought it was pretty good at the time, mostly because I didn’t know as much about the craft of thriller writing as I do now, and was crushed when I didn’t win. After I picked myself up off the floor, I took a good look at the critiques the judges provided and used them to fix and rewrite my book. A few months later, Champagne Books picked it up and published it for me.

It took me three years to write something I thought might be contest-worthy again. I spent hours editing and revising the first 27 pages of Bai Tide, incorporating changes suggested to me by beta readers and analyzing my entry as critically as possible. When it was as polished as I was capable of making it, I printed it out and entered it into the contest.

Ever since then, I’ve been telling myself not to think about it because the finalists aren’t announced until early June. It mostly worked, but May inevitably came to an end and I’ve been waiting on tenter hooks ever since Sunday for word back.

According to the good folks on Twitter, quite a few people in a variety of genres have already heard back that they’re finalists. This leads me to believe that, even though I haven’t gotten my critiques back yet, I probably didn’t make it. I mean, it’s unlikely, right? They’re not going to alert all the other finalists first and then just wait a few days to alert the last stragglers.

I knew when I entered the contest that this was a long shot. This is one of the biggest literary contests in the country, it’d be arrogant to assume I’d make the cut my second time out of the gate.

Still, the rejection hurts. Well, the supposed rejection. It’s not over until it’s over, but let’s face it, it’s probably over.

It’s okay, though, and do you want to know why? It’s okay because rejection is a rite of passage when you want to be a professional author. If you want a successful writing career and all the cool stuff that comes with it, you’ve got to earn it, and that means getting rejected. And learning what you can as often as you can. Improving, stretching, and experimenting, that’s the ticket, and you can’t do that if you never have to work for it.

So this is me. Working for it. Despite the doubts and insecurities, I’m going to keep going and putting in the work because you know what? That’s what a professional does. Fake it ’til you make it, baby.

The Best Book Review Ever Written

Just one of many gems from her review. Image courtesy of Patents Patented.

Just one of many gems from her review. Image courtesy of Patents Patented.

When you’re an author, you toe a fine line between telling everyone your book is out and being that annoying person who is only capable of talking about her book and asking you whether you’ve had time to read it. No one likes that person.

When Blood Money came out last year, I asked a friend of mine from high school if she’d review it. She writes a hilarious, raunchy blog populated by homemade Microsoft Paint illustrations and I thought it’d be fun to see what she came up with.

Then, I left her alone. Because we’re busy people and I figured she’d get around to it when she was darn good and ready.

Today was that day. And oh my gosh, I need to have her review every single one of my books for now until forever because I laughed so hard I cried a little.

Seriously, this is not hyperbole, you need to stop whatever you’re doing and read this review. Right now. Don’t pay that bill, or answer that call, or have that baby, or whatever it is you’re doing right now. Just read this review.

You can find it here. My friend’s name is Jamie, and she’ll totally review your book too. Though for you she might charge money.

Seriously. Go read it. Read it and laugh forever.

Once More Unto the Breach!

The twelve pages of fastidious notes I took during my research for this book. They only make me look a teensy tiny bit like a serial killer, no?

The twelve pages of fastidious notes I took during my research for this book. They only make me look a teensy tiny bit like a serial killer, no?

Things might get a little bit quiet around here in the coming weeks. I just started writing a new book a couple days ago and it’s in that fragile brand-new-butterfly-with-wet-wings-all-shaky-and-tottering-around stage, which means it’s consuming most of my waking thoughts (and some of my dreaming ones too).

This one’s tricky. It’s kind of a squirrely plot that even I can’t see clearly yet, which, if you’re familiar with my books, you’ll know is really saying something. If it’s so twisty that even I have no idea what’s going to happen yet, then chances are good it’ll make for some good reading someday.

Or, you know, maybe not. Maybe I’ll get a ways into the sucker and it’ll be terrible and I’ll drop it. It’s too early to say at this stage. What I CAN say is that Bai Hsu, Azzam’s CIA handler from Blood Money, is the main character, it takes place after the events of Bai Tide (which is unpublished and thus, this will mean very little to you), and it centers around the Mexican drug war. For now, the working title is Take the Bai Road.

From here, I can see a lot of cool stuff in the plot. Deserts, cartels, maybe an assassination, and definitely a plot twist (or two {or three}). Now we’ll just have to see if I can keep all the threads together in my increasingly spacey head.

Wish me luck. I’m going back in!