Monday, February 23, 2015

Writing Women, Or As I Call Them, People

As usual, I am terribly unreliable about frequent updates here.

The thing with that goes to my tendency to not just yammer about whatever comes to mind, with no real purpose behind it. Well, okay, I do that, but I keep it to Twitter and The Mary Sue comments. Here, I try to have a reason for making posts beyond just making a post. I find it's a good rule of thumb that keeps me from sticking my foot in my mouth.

I should probably find a book to read and give my opinion on, chapter by chapter, or a tv series to watch and comment on, but I'm a little lazy, and that smacks of commitment. I mean, come on, my girlfriend and I have been dating for twenty years. Take from that what you will.

Today, though, I saw something, and it sparked my need to talk here. Specifically, I read an article over at Tor.com titled “Oh No, She Didn't: The Strong Female Character,Deconstructed” by Ilana C. Myer. In the article, which I've linked so you can read it for yourself, Ms. Myer talks about how frequently male writers manage to get female characters wrong, and why.

The big point, obviously, is the failure to just write them as people, rather than 'female characters', as if they are somehow different than male characters. More or less human, or some impossible to understand creature from the misty times of myth and legend. You know what I mean. Something other than just people.

This is a thing to me, due in no small part to War Witch being published in the ever dawning near future. A fantasy novel that revolves around two women as they head out on a quest, with a solitary guy in tow. A story where these two women are the heroes, the leading force, and well, the word revolves pretty much covered it, I think. It's their story.

Before I saw Ms. Myer's article, I read another criticizing the manner in which certain superhero shows completely fail to make the 'girlfriend character' anything but an annoyance. Gotham, Flash, and Arrow were rightly called on their complete mishandling of these characters that should be treated a great deal better.

It all got to me thinking about what I'd done in not just War Witch, but other things I've written. Especially my ongoing series, Bunnypocalypse, and the main character of Bunny Beckman. It made me want to step back and reexamine them, to see if I'd fallen into the same trap of failing to write the women of these stories as people first and foremost.

It's important to me, that I not make this mistake. I know that I will never make everyone happy with what I write, or how I write it. That isn't my goal. My only goal is to tell a good story, and maybe tackle some difficult subject matter in a way that is not condescending, or have a male authority figure make it all better with a speech.

Oh, come on, we've all seen that enough to know that's a thing. Something happens to a woman in fiction, and a dude fixes it all by saying something. Boom, she's magically cured of all her womanly woes because her man told her to be. That shit annoys me. That's condescending, because it reduces anything and everything a woman faces in life to something a man can fix with ease by telling her, in essence, to buck up.

Guys. For real right now. That's bullshit.

So, what am I trying to accomplish, then, you may ask? I am a puppet of the matriarchy? Am I espousing feminist propaganda? Have I been neutered by the left wing into thinking men are less worthy of attention than women?

No, and if you did actually ask those things, what the hell is wrong with you?

There are things I think we should be talking about, and not ignoring. Racism, for one. Sexism for another. As a writer, I tackle these issues via fiction. It's what I do. There is an abundance of white dude hero manpain stories out there. Too many. So many that it literally chokes the market. There's no room left for more, yet we keep getting more. All of them screaming at us, while saying nothing.

Pardon my ass for doing something different.

As I said a moment ago, I know I'm not going to appeal to everyone. Odds are, there will be many staunch feminists who will see plenty I did wrong. I'll be happy to listen to their criticism, too, and apply it to doing better in the future, rather than getting defensive, like some people do. Because I want to do better. I always want to do better. Writing is the art of growing. It's placing yourself inside the heads of lots of people, and seeing the world through their eyes. It's about broadening your personal horizons.

So, all of that said, how do I feel I did with presenting the women of War Witch? Overall, not too bad. They are people first, not their gender. I write them as people, complete with flaws that I already know, will get me side eyed by people on both sides of the feminist debate. That's fine, too. Nobody can make everybody happy. Only a fool tries.

Allow me to take a moment here to talk about some of these women I've written about.

From War Witch, the first one I want to tackle is Ramora, the book's primary protagonist. A mute warrior priestess, and a Blessed of the God of War, Ramora is a natural leader. In a combat situations, she takes charge without a thought, and people follow her, because again, she serves the God of War. Tactical capability is second nature to her. When it comes to other things, however, like being around people in a social setting, she gets more hesitant.

Having lost her family horribly, Ramora was raised by the God of War and lived ten years among he and his demigod assistants, the Ascended. She doesn't know how mortals act anymore, or even how to relate to them properly. Add to that her inability to talk, and she suffers from a mild form of social anxiety.

In battle, she's confident and certain, but outside of it, she second guesses herself constantly. She's always uncertain if she's doing this or that the right or wrong way. She has a naturally outgoing personality, but that awkwardness often holds her back until she is comfortable with people. In her more unguarded moments, she's got a wonderful sense of humor, and gets to be one of the funnier characters in the book.

Now Chara, the other primary protagonist, is almost too self confident in social situations. She likes to talk, and loves being the center of attention. Where Ramora is often timid or shy, Chara is overwhelmingly sure of herself. She has no problem at all with meeting new people, and is kind of like a bulldozer in her ability to be tactful.

Clever, resourceful, and brave, Chara hides her insecurities deep. She is plagued with doubt about who she is, where she belongs, and what she should do with her life. The daughter of innkeepers from a remote village in a tiny nation where women are told their place by tradition, she has rejected all of that to travel with Ramora and see the world. Despite her refusal to adhere to the ways of her homeland, though, she struggles to find who she is without the only things she's ever known.

Both of them are very much out of their element. Ramora, use to demigods, tries to understand mortals, while Chara, raised by strict tradition, tries to understand who she wants to be without it. Both of them make mistakes, have regrets, and try harder after their failures. They aren't perfect heroes, or perfect people.

They are, however, people.

Through the book, as Ramora struggles with how to connect with others and Chara tries to define herself , I got to spend a lot of time in both their heads. I got to really sort through their thought processes, views, opinions, and I know them. I know what they are proud of, what they are ashamed of, what makes them happy, and what makes them cry. I know where they are strong, and where they are weak, even when they don't.

So, yeah, I think I managed to write them as people first. I'm pretty happy about that.

Now, when we get to Bunny Beckman, things get different.

Bunny is brutal. I can think of no other way to say it. She was hard before the world was over run by zombies, and in the aftermath, has become harder. She's almost a force of nature, defining herself as she goes, yet always struggling to learn who she is. Savage and tragic all at the same time, she refuses to bend to anything or anyone with an iron will. A whirlwind of destruction and sorrow, Bunny is most certainly a character that is not ever defined by being a woman, or a lesbian.

Everything in the Bunnypocalypse books is told with her as the focal point. I call it over the shoulder narration. Not first person, but the view never leaves her. Her thoughts and emotions are always at center stage. What Bunny knows is what the reader knows, and it is through her that the world is shown, no one else.

As the story progresses from one book to the next, Bunny grows darker, her personality and views shaded by the things she's had to do to survive, and the things she's seen. She deals with her anger, her isolation, her loss, and dives deep into depression and suicidal tendencies. She is, as I said, a brutal figure, and not one I will ever apologize for failing to write as more feminine, because she's Bunny.

She's a person. She's not a gender, or a stereotype. She isn't interested in what others want her to be, either within the world she inhabits, or outside of it, with readers. She's herself, first and foremost, for better or worse, with all the good and bad. Her beauty is incomplete without her scars. Her cunning is nothing without her failings. Her courage is meaningless without her tears.

Yeah. I love her. I have since the moment she came busting into my imagination, barking orders and telling me how this fucking story was going to get told. I love her even when she takes over my narrative. I love her when she falls down, and I love her when she gets back up, more broken and savage, more wounded and tragic, more wonderful and strong.

So, yes, I do write people who happen to be women. I do write characters rather than genders. They won't be for everyone. They won't fit everyone's description of what I should be doing. They will be, however, always and forever, true to themselves.

I'm okay with that. I hope you all will be, too.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Livin The Dream

So, here's a little story that you might enjoy.

In January, I decided to take the advice of friend and fellow writer Mike Munz and submit a manuscript to Booktrope, a Seattle based publishing company. He'd worked with them before, and last year had his novel Zeus Is Dead published by them. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It's amazing. I even linked it, so no excuses.

Anyway, I fumbled around for a bit, trying to decide what to send them. I've got so many half finished projects it's absurd, and all my completed manuscripts had already seen the light of day through the Createspace self publishing platform. Which left me with one finished manuscript I'd not yet put out.

The thing is, it's kind of a daunting book. It's intended to be the first of a series, and by itself it managed to rack up just over 218,000 words in length. So, I didn't really expect much. I figured, if nothing else, I'd have at least accomplished putting my name and writing style within their sight, giving me time to finish something they'd find more acceptable for when they were open to submissions next time around.

I'm a realist at heart, with the soul of a pessimist. I never expect anything but rejection and dismissal. It's just who I am. If you never set your expectations too high, you can never be too disappointed. That isn't to say you can't aim for the stars. You can. You just have to know they may forever be out of reach. You have to temper your goals with expectations that are not sky high.

Well, you don't. I do. That's just me. If you want to imagine yourself walking on Jupiter, go for it. I'll have the spatula ready to scoop you up from orbit.

Honestly, the last thing I expected was for the book I sent to get accepted. Yet, that's what happened. It was accepted. I had a novel accepted by a publishing company.

The world continues to be strange and unpredictable.

Basically, this was me.


I want to talk a little about the process after the acceptance letter, but first, other stuff that is relevant.

I started taking writing seriously when I was 16. I'm now 42, and have just gotten my first novel publication. I cannot even begin to express how I feel about this. More than overjoyed. I'm beside myself at finally getting a break. Finally getting a chance. It's not an opportunity I intend to let slip by me. This is everything I've worked for, since I first decided to take the idea of being a writer seriously.

This is everything to me.

Now, Booktrope isn't like one of the big publishing houses. They do things a little differently. I'm not really sure how to explain it all, but as a publisher, they take full advantage of the internet, and create an online workspace where the author, editor, cover designer and project manager can work together in real time. It's fascinating, and though I've only just gotten started, I'm really excited to be getting to be a part of this.

The internet changes things far more than I think people realize sometimes. The instant connectivity it brings allows for new ways to approach things, and seeing a company in the publishing game taking advantage of that really thrills me. These guys know where things are going, and are ahead of the game. It's exciting to be a part of that.

I got the acceptance email in the morning, right after I'd gotten up. I was still waiting on the coffee to be ready so I could have my first cup when I looked at my email and saw where it said Accepted. I think I stared at it for a good five minutes trying to figure out how that word could be connected to anything I'd written and sent to a publisher.

I finally sorted it through my brain, told Storm, and we slowly began to accept the reality of it. I had several cups of coffee and spent some more time really accepting it. I went to work, spent more time letting it get into my brain, and came home, ready to do whatever I had to do to make sure this opportunity did not get by me.

There were online forms to sign, agreements to agree to, and websites to get invited to join. There was all this stuff happening and I felt like I was just plugging through it, still waiting to wake up and find it wasn't real.

When I signed into the Booktrope website for the first time, and saw my book listed as a pending project, that is when it hit me. That's when it became real, and man, out of nowhere, I was focused. I was ready. I wanted to get to work that very instant.

Turns out there was a lot of material to read first. How the company worked, how I assemble a team to work with, what all we each need to do, so on and so on. I'd be lying if I said I completely understood everything that I read.

What I did get is the thing about Booktrope that is genuinely unique. They don't assign you an editor, manager, cover designer or proofreader. You go and start putting together your own team. There are hundreds of people working in the Booktrope family, and you need to sit down, sort through, find people you are compatible with, and get on the same page with them about the manuscript.

So, I'm not really a pushy person. I don't like just messaging complete strangers and going, hey I wrote this book, let's rock it out together. It feels rude and presumptuous to me. At the same time, I really want to do this. Like, really really really want to do this. Which means pushing that side of me down and doing it.

Then waiting for responses. Waiting, and waiting. Because, as you can imagine, the editors and so forth that work with Booktrope are getting a LOT of requests. They have to sort through them, look at the manuscripts, decide what they want to work on, how many projects they want to be involved in, and if they like the attitude of the person who wrote the book.

This really is a team effort. Everyone has to want to be involved, and want to be part of this. Every team member has to be invested, and for me, the writer, that investment is easy. I wrote the book, so obviously, I'm there. The hard part is if I've written something they want to be involved with.

So, I finally start getting responses, and they are so positive. None of them are acceptances, but they are positive. I see my work being called lyrical, beautiful, compelling, and get the name Kelly Sue DeConnick tossed my way as some one I invoke.

Not gonna lie. I can take that kind of rejection with a big ass smile.

It doesn't get me any closer to getting a team together, though, so I turn to Mike Munz for advice. So you all know, Mike is a fantastic human being. One of the truly great and generous souls on this sad planet of ours, and I will never, even as a writer, be able to find the words to convey how much I value his friendship and advice. Thank you, for everything, Mike. You are a splendid human being.

His advice was, simply, to get to the Booktrope Facebook page, where everyone hangs out, and ask for some folks to jump on board and do this thing with me.

In other words, public speaking. Or at least, that's how brain interprets it.

Now, if it's acting, I'm aces. I can speak in front of an auditorium, when I'm someone besides me. When I'm me, it gets really hard. I don't find myself to be a very interesting person. The stuff I write, that's what deserves the attention. Me, I'm just a dude with a weird obsession for Dungeons & Dragons and a kick ass anime collection. Not much of interest there.

Again, I suck it up and put myself out there, complete with a synopsis of the book. Two hours later, I've got an editor and a book manager. Because Mike Munz knows his shit.

My book manager, Allison Winfield, is a truly brave human being for taking this on. As I said, the manuscript is huge by normal standards, and as she told me, she doesn't have a lot of experience with the genre of fantasy, which this book is. On the other hand, in our conversation about the book, I see her mind already at work on how to promote it, the things she invokes, the views she has of pop culture and what's big right now. I have nothing but confidence in Allison. She's a rock star.

I owe some special thanks to my new friend, Sheri Williams, for introducing us, too. Never gonna be able to thank you enough, Sheri. You're a hero.

My new editor, Wendy Garfinkle, is a straight up superhero, though. She already had a full plate of books she was working on when she straight volunteered to be my editor, because she really loved the synopsis I put forward. That she would do this, when already covered up with work, I can't even tell you how much I admire her. She's Wonder Woman with a red pen to me.

Here's the part that I am most pleased about. I've got two women working on this project with me. It is my dream come true. Why, you ask? Well, let me answer that by telling you about the novel Booktrope accepted, by sharing the synopsis that landed me these two heroic women.

Seriously, they are either superheroes or lunatics for working with me on this, but I prefer superheroes, since I'm already a lunatic.


War Witch: Rise

In the beginning, when the One World was new, the Gods were betrayed by one of their own. Ker Zet, the Black Tigeress, committed a deed so foul, her sister Isel, the White Tigeress and Empress of Heaven, cursed her and drove her from from their midst. Ker Zet's betrayal deepened when she brought forth her vile brood, the Demon Gods, and laid siege to creation.

Grannax, the Divine Tiger and Emperor of Heaven, was forced to divide the One World into three, locking Ker Zet and her children away in the Low World for eternity. Ultimately this failed, and the Demon Gods brought forth creations of their own, the Demon Seed, vile monsters bent on destroying the Middle World, and the Six Races birthed by the High Gods.

After many wars, the Demon Gods were poised for victory when the High Gods employed a new weapon, the Blessed. Mortals granted Divine Power, these noble warriors, flawed and frail though they were, were charged with holding back the tide of darkness, and saving all of creation.

Ten years ago, the Demon Seed, lead by a Dark Blessed of the Lords of Hell, destroyed a village, leaving a twelve year old girl as the sole survivor. Taken to live in Heaven by the God of War, the Father of Honor, the Lord of Family, the Divine Wolf himself, Ramor, she grew to be a skilled warrior, and Priestess to her new father. Though he desired to raise her to join the ranks of his demigod assistants, the Ascended, she felt the slaughter of her family and home must be addressed, and justice brought to the man responsible. Marked as one of Ramor's Blessed, she returns to the Middle World to hunt the Dark Blessed who took everything from her.

Nameless and mute, she is joined by Chara, a young woman from a remote village who wants to see the world, and acts as the warrior priestess's voice, naming her Ramora in honor of the God she serves. Chara is not without her own secrets and sorrows, but is blinded by her naive beliefs and illusions about the nature of the world she lives in. Nor does she suspect the role a rogue agent of Heaven has in store for her, an Ascended so pained by the loss of the Blessed he served, he will risk Chara's soul for a single chance to end the war.

The two women are soon joined by a scholarly werejaguar, the adopted son of an aging sorcerer. Timid and shy, having lived his entire life in a remote keep, Esteban seeks only to find peace in a world torn by war. His fate becomes intertwined with Chara and Ramora's, leading him down a dark path he quickly fears there will be no escape from.

As the few leads they have on the Dark Blessed take them to the city of Lansing, the crown jewel of the north east, the three would be heroes find themselves on a collision course with the very man they seek. Dangerous beyond their wildest imaginings, he plays a game for the fate of creation, and may well be impossible to defeat.


Now, there are two extra things I want to share about this novel, and the world in which it is set. The first being a bit of how magic works. Only people who have an Awakened Avatar may work magic, as it provides them with a conduit to the mystic energy of the universe. Ramora's is a rabbit spirit that is a character in it's own right, as well as being some what immature and a bit shameless.

The second thing is three words. Magic blaster pistols. I got 'em.

If that doesn't make ya happy, you got issues.

Now, here's why I was so thrilled to not only get this novel, especially, accepted, but why putting together a team dominated by women mattered so much. Simply put, it's because this novel is built on the idea of women kicking ass in a fantasy setting.

Most fantasy, while a genre I adore, is built on men being the heroes. Women exist most of the time as the love interest, the damsel, or serve as something to be obtained. The genre is not always very welcoming to women, which is not something I've ever been terribly comfortable with.

I've played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons with female characters, and across the table from women. They have every bit as much love for the genre as guys do, but have been traditionally ignored. Getting the chance to do something about that, to write a fantasy novel, and get it published, about capable, intelligent, complex women being the heroic figures in a fantasy world is a dream come true for me.

War Witch has not one, but two women in the leading roles. That's not even touching on the number of other women that appear as supporting characters, and occupy major secondary roles. This book really is about women being the driving force of the story.

I didn't stop there, though. No, there are other things I've come to see need to be brought in and made a normal thing in fantasy. I've seen the genre beginning to really move in this direction, and I'm so glad for that, and it makes me feel blessed to be a part of it happening now.

You see, in the world of War Witch, bisexual is considered the default, normal sexuality. Sure, there's people that lean one way or the other, but in general, everyone is bi, including my two leading women. No one in the Middle World considers it odd or weird, for in that world, the world of my imagination, the Gods teach that love is love, and the spirit within knows no gender.

I also get to explore the idea of a world where people of color are not seen as people of color. What bias does exist is directed more at Half Elves, for they are half breeds, but even then, no one is really so much racist as uncertain of how to deal with them. The subtext there is small, but it was a big thing for me to bring to life a world where the kind of racism we deal with every day simply doesn't exist.

Get to I have, as well, with several characters of color. I don't get to paint them in our worlds terms, but they are of color, and they belong, for that is their world, too. It's something I'm happy about, because fantasy as a genre has too long been the domain of straight white men.

In my life, I can't say that straight white men have mostly been the ones who were there for me. I may be one myself, but they weren't the ones who supported me, encouraged me, believed in me, advised me, and stood up for me as much as it was literally every other group of people out there. This is why I I see people, not demographics. If we want to really put things into that demographic game, straight white men don't even tick in the top percentage anyway.

If you are asking me, if for no other reason, like compassion, humanity, understanding, empathy, and decency, then the fact that the long presumed dominant demographic actually, factually, being nowhere near the top is enough cause to start changing how we look at our fiction, and expanding its boundaries to include everyone.

Humanity means all of us, not the vocal minority, which I hate to tell the straight white guys, but that's us.

As an extra, bonus feature, just for me, the two main characters are inspired in many ways by the two most important women in my life. My girlfriend of 20 years, Storm DeVille, very much served as my inspiration for Ramora, not just in her looks, but in her attitude. Meanwhile, Chara carries so many elements of my little sister, Amber, that I do not think, for even a second, that the character would be who and what she is without her.

I am so excited to be bringing this world, the world of The Mythic Age, the Middle World, to our world, and to all of you. I'm honored to be small part of helping to change the landscape of fantasy fiction. Mostly, though, I am thankful to the folks at Booktrope who have chosen to believe in not just me, but the world of War Witch.

There's a lot of work to do yet, but I'm ready. Tomorrow is gonna be a brighter day than today. It's time for it. We, the human race, are ready for it.

Here we go.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Not With A Bang, Nor A Whimper

Actual Ending!

The Legend Of Korra, a show that easily ranks as my favorite animated series to ever be produced in the U.S., came to an end last Friday, and it's taken me a while to process through my feelings. It's been a rockity ride over the last four seasons, with a lot of good, a bit of bad, and a whole ton of amazing.

What leaves me feeling the way I do, out of sorts, is not how it ended, but that it ended. I am not ready for it to be over. It's rare that I say that, that a television show gets into my head and under my skin the way Korra did. When it happens, I'm never ready for it to end. Some shows seem to go on and on forever, without purpose or meaning, while others leave us feeling as if they departed too soon. Korra is definitively in the latter category.

My love of Korra's world began in 2005, with the debut of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Nickelodeon. It was pretty different from the kind of things Nick usually put out there, and caught my attention quickly. It took maybe two or three episodes before I was deeply hooked on the show. Not just because of their awesome secret tunnel songs, either, though I admit, those did not hurt anything.

Secret Tunnels Are The Best Kinds Of Tunnels. Yup.

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the series was, in brief, set in a world where some people are born with ability to manipulate a specific element. These people, called benders, had long ago grouped into nations based around their common element. So, we had the Fire Nation, the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads. Each was given a distinct culture, and the bending was based on actual martial arts that complemented the element they used. Also part of this mix, the Avatar, a person born each generation with the ability to bend all four elements.

The series followed Aang, the last of the Air Nomads, after he awoke from an accidental 100 year deep freeze, to discover that the Fire Nation had launched a world war after he disappeared, leaving the world without an Avatar. His own people had been completely wiped out early in the war, thus giving us The Last Airbender.

Seriously, it's an awesome show. You should go watch it.

Ain't No Business Like Avatar Business

The thing is, after three seasons the story was done. Aang ended the war, and the series wrapped up. I left it with good feelings, fond memories, and while I was kind of sorry to see it be over,  there was a solid feeling of completion. The main story arc was done, the character arcs were beautiful and complete, and in all, the finale gave us closure. It's a truly excellent example of television writing, and how powerful animation can be once we get over our Disney affliction.

Then, in 2012, came Korra.

Deal With It

Not just a return to the world of Avatar, this was the next Avatar, the one that came after Aang. Right away, Mike and Bryan let us know, this was not the Avatar we had known. Set 70 years after the original series, we step back into the old familiar world to find it in a full scale industrial revolution. Cars, airships, and early modern cities with beautifully rendered skylines greet us almost immediately.

More importantly, there is Korra herself. A child of the Southern Water Tribe, she is brash, kind of rude, and tries to solve everything by beating it up. She's a polar opposite of the gentle Aang we knew nine years ago. Korra also faces much different threats than Aang did. There's no global conflict to resolve, but a more difficult obstacle in the form of the Equalists, normal non-benders who feel that benders have an unfair advantage in the world.

And their leader, Amon, has a point. Sure, he's a super creepy guy, and doesn't turn out to be as cut and dried as he seems, but the larger point about inequality remains. Right out of the gate, Mike and Bryan tell us that this is a more grown up Avatar, unafraid to tackle bigger issues, a promise they make good on through the entire first season. Nothing is black and white in Korra's world. Everything exists in shades of gray. The bad guys are people, often as not following goals that are just as righteous as Korra's. In other words, Korra finds herself trying to be an Avatar in a world that may or may not need one anymore.

Because I'm Batman!

This is a theme that continues through the four season run of the show, as every enemy she faces reiterates this belief. The world doesn't need an Avatar anymore. The worst part is, Korra's entire identity is tied up in being the Avatar. Where Aang didn't want it, and actively ran from it, Korra has embraced it from childhood on, and as the series progresses, brings us to a moment of such power and poignancy, that it is literally heart breaking.

The moment Korra herself believes that the world doesn't need an Avatar.

Not My Feels!

I cannot express how much I enjoyed seeing a story be told where the hero suffers such a profound crisis of faith. We have a lack of great storytelling these days, of real heroes in fiction. Square jaws and emotionless uberheroes have made a comeback, lessening every genre. To see one struggle with the very essence of their own identity, that's what we need more of, not less. These are the heroes that inspire us, that drive us to be more, to be better. In her deepest grief, her terrible loss, and her darkest moments, Korra serves to remind us that we all find ourselves there, and like her, we can all get back up, find a way forward, and overcome.

The final season of Korra dealt with all of that. The struggle to redefine herself in a world where she is no longer truly needed, to discover who she is outside of that singular title of Avatar, is the journey we all make in our lives. To escape that which others expect of us, to learn who we are without the societal trappings forced on us from birth, is the nature of living, and something the makers of Korra showed us with such a deft hand, it was beautiful.

Then, in the end, Korra walks off, into the figurative sunset, with her girlfriend. Yeah, her girlfriend. Now that, folks, is how you take a story about self discovery and put a real cherry on top. Korra and her long time friend, Asami, saying without words, what words never needed for them to say.

But.

You Read That Right!

There's always one of those, isn't there? Always has to be a but.

But, unlike with The Last Airbender, I find myself feeling not complete. Instead, I feel left behind. Where The Last Airbender had a complete story arc, I can't help but feel like Korra is far from over. Perhaps that was what Mike and Bryan intended, but it hurts, more than a little this time, because I'm not ready for Korra to go. I want to spend more time with her, see her grow, and follow her through a world that is changing. I'm not done, and I'm not ready, for the end this time.

Don't get me wrong, it was a gorgeous ending. Simply beautiful in every way. Powerful, elegant, and respectful. Just, not something I was ready for. Korra has so much left ahead of her as her world struggles to figure out the future. Despite the constant calls that the world doesn't need an Avatar anymore, and her own acceptance that she is more than that one word, I want to stay with her as she navigates the treacherous future.

I care about Korra. She's important to me. I'm not ready for her to leave me behind.

Please, Don't Go

I admit, this is fiction at it's very best. This is what it should do. The story is complete, and it feels finished, but I want to see it carry on anyway. I am emotionally invested, and because of that, even knowing the story is over, and it should be over, I don't want it. Because that is fiction at it's best.

I must also admit that it's because after four years of watching Korra and Asami grow close, seeing them together at the end, without a word, leaves me feeling as if I want more. I want to see them grow together. I want to know how the Avatar and the head of multinational corporation make it work, and how they get through the hard times.

Mostly, I want to see how these two amazing women do in the future.

Hell Yeah

It's no secret to anyone who has read this blog before, but I am a huge supporter of equal rights for all. My little sister, Amber, and her amazing wife, Jesse, are who I thought of as the final frames of Korra played. It felt like the world had become a better place, for everyone. That's what equality is about after all, making the world a better place for everyone.

Feel free to call me a Social Justice Warrior, too. I don't take it as a insult, thought I know it's meant as one. The thing with that, though, is that when people hurl it as an insult, they are saying equality, compassion, empathy, and justice are bad things. I feel bad for those people, since they clearly have some issues to work out.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. There is no morality that supports inequality.

Serving as a beautiful counterpoint to Korra and Asami was the final episode of Sword Art Online, another animated series I have followed for some years now. Like Korra, the final episode of SAO aired this weekend, and brought us a story of love between two very strong, capable, intelligent women. Unlike Korra, it was a literal goodbye, as Yuuki finally succumbed to her illness, and died in Asuna's arms.

BRB... Tearbending... Everywhere!

I won't lie. It was very emotional. Because unlike with Korra, Yuuki got to say the words. She was smiling as she passed away, telling Asuna that it was okay, because she was with the person she loved most. Not the person she was in love with, mind you, because their relationship was based on friendship, but that's the thing. Yuuki, such a powerful, vibrant woman, got to say she loved Asuna, and we, the viewers, understood it, and felt it with her.

Korra and Asami didn't get to say that. Their ending was argued as friendship, because they didn't say it. Yuuki did say it to Asuna, even though it was the love of a friend, and nobody batted an eye.

This is how screwed up our world is. We accept the love of friends when they are both the same gender, but not the love of lovers when they are.

Nothing against Mike and Bryan. I think they did an amazing thing, and honestly, that Korra and Asami never had to say it for it to be real, clear and true, was artful writing. They didn't have to say it. We knew, and they knew.

It isn't the writing of either, as both shows were beautifully done, moving and powerful. It was the reaction of people that bothers me. How easily one is accepted while the other is dismissed. It feels like despite how far we've come, we still have so terribly far to go. That mountain, it is so very tall, and the summit is miles away yet. I can't help but wonder if we'll ever see it reached in my lifetime.

I'm not done with Korra. I feel like her story was just beginning. I'm not ready to for her to be gone, leaving me behind. I want more, because she took us a step closer to that summit. To a world where we're all equal. We're all accepted. A place it's okay to be just ourselves.

That, I admit, is just good writing, though.

http://38.media.tumblr.com/4f78a02953d9bd40af67d2ab1b692239/tumblr_nff4t8h4SY1qm8wf8o1_500.gif
How I Wish It Had Ended

Friday, November 14, 2014

I'm Gonna Make You An Offer You Should Have A Hard Time Refusing

Well, folks, it's official. The fourth Bunnypocalypse book, Dead On Arrival, is out there, and with it, the world of Bunnypocalypse just got a hell of a lot grimmer.

Okay, technically, it's the fifth book, but Bunny didn't actually appear in Book Of The Hungry Dead, so I count it as a companion anthology. Which brings the series to four books, with a +1 coming to the party.

Now, of late, I've finally found a new way to describe Bunny to people who haven't read the books, and might be either curious about them, or have never heard of them. So, gone forever is the tag of zombie slaying lesbian stripper, replaced with strong gay female anti-hero. I'm happy about that change. I was never really fond of the previous manner of description, but it took me a while to figure out something new.

I'm a pretty decent storyteller, but when it comes to describing the stories I write, I'm shit. I can only talk about random observations and totally weird things in under 140 characters. Seriously, if you've never scrolled through my Twitter feed, give it a try. There may be mentions of unicorn farts, though, so proceed with caution.

For the past three years, I've felt that one of the big things always holding me back from getting Bunny more attention was that inability to really capture her in a brief way, to market her, her you might say. I know this was the issue that kept Bunny out of the realm of major publication, as I had a few editors tell me so. Not long after I started indie publishing the books, I realized they were right.

Bunny is a hard sell. Mostly because it isn't easy to sum her up in a way that will give her mass appeal. With the way we digest news and information these days in tidbits, little bite sized chunks, promoting a character like Bunny is even harder. She's complex, flawed, and at times, brutal.

I realized how I'd been going at it wrong recently when reading an article over at The Mary Sue. In it, actor Natalie Dormer talks about the lack of good female anti-heroes, which is a term I've long used to describe Bunny. She isn't a hero, at least, not in my mind, or in her own. She falls more into the morally gray area of anti-hero, because she will do what she must, even if it takes her outside of her own morality. She's always been willing to sacrifice her own humanity for the goal of staying alive, and keeping the people around her safe.

I spent some time thinking on it after reading that article, and it dawned on me that Bunny is literally everything I keep seeing people say they want. A deeply flawed, complex, strong, gay, female anti-hero, all rolled into a single character. So, if I've got what everyone is saying they want, why is it still so hard to get people to notice her?

It isn't the writing. As I said, I know I'm a good storyteller. Sure, I'm not going to be winning any awards, but I'm not that guy Glen Beck had ghost write his book. I'm a pretty middle of the road author, and I'm good with that. So, what is it that makes it so hard to get Bunny into the public conscious?

Besides the whole strong gay female anti-hero part, I mean. While that may be a huge draw for a lot of people, the mass audiences probably aren't going to like it much. Too edgy, or whatever they would call it. Too much of an attempt at diversity. I don't know. I don't get people who criticize things for not being formulaic.

For the most part, it's my inability to really market my work, especially Bunny. I've got very limited resources to work with, so ads aren't something I can afford. I have to rely on word of mouth, and people willing to take a chance on something called Bunnypocalypse. There is a major lack of opportunity to bring Bunny up casually in conversation online, as well. Which is another thing. I'm not a pushy person. I'm not going to spam Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else I can get my hands on. I know firsthand how that turns people off. I don't care what insiders and experts say, I'm not going to be a dick and shove my writing in your face nonstop until you give in and buy it in the vain hope I'll go away.

Which leaves me sitting here, with a character that has been, on many occasions now, lauded by those who have read the books. A character I see again and again an outcry for. A character that could, and should, be getting embraced. What I don't know is how to make that happen.

Well, I do. Or at least, I have an idea. It's kind of crazy, but at this point, with the reaction my editor had to the fourth book, something I feel like I need to try and do. I'm going to have to get a little pushy.

So, here's my plan. I'm going to give away .pdf copies of Bunnypocalypse, all five books, for the next week. My email address is right over there on the right side, somewhere, scroll around and you'll see it. Drop me a message with the subject line of Gimme Some Bunny, and I'll give you copies of the whole series.

Now, obviously, I'm also aiming this largely at the editors and contributing writers of The Mary Sue, a site I frequently see posting articles about how we need more strong female protagonists, gay leads, and female anti-heroes. I'm hoping at least one of them will take me up on this offer, and help me spread the word. It may not work, and I may end up shooting myself in the foot with this, but I've got to try.

Bunny deserves it.

I know, I know. Why .pdf and not Kindle? Well, I'm still working on getting my Kindle copies in order, and they probably won't be ready for a few months yet, so .pdf is what I've got. Hopefully, with a little luck, and some help from people whose voices are louder than mine, by the time I release them, Bunny will start really getting some attention.

Yes, I do realize that people are skeptics by nature. So, to help you make your decision if this is something you want to spend time on or not, I'm going to share some of the things that have been said about Bunny and the series below. Reviews and comments made by others.

Last thing. If you are editor at a website, contributing writer to one, or a book blogger, let me know in the email if you want the .pdf copies, or physical ones. I'll send you the paperbacks on my dime. I just want people to know about this character, that she's out there, waiting to be discovered.

The royalties I get from Amazon are never going to make me rich, so this isn't about money. This is about me trying to be part of the solution, and Bunny being the sort of character who doesn't deserve to dwell in anonymity.

If you don't trust me, then listen to what others have to say.

I'm a picky reader. A very picky reader. As a die-hard fan of a handful of authors, there are many excellent books that I have never even seen the second chapter of. If there are no exciting characters, interesting conflict or unique situations, there is no reason for me to invest the hours of time it will take to slog through the quagmire of an entire sub-par book.

What I'm trying to say is, this is a good book. I know, because I finished it.


~Willow Becker

As a genre, the zombie apocalypse may be a little tired, but when a book is this good, who cares? I like character driven stories and unlikely heroes. I like strong female characters and I like to be surprised. This book gave me all of that plus a lot more.

 I can't say enough about about how the author defies the conventions of traditional heroes or traditional literary women in creating Bunny. She's all the capable women I've ever known in real life and I'd happily follow her lead.

Why this book isn't already a cult favorite in the lesbian community escapes me. Bunny is the voice of all women, regardless of sexual orientation, and this is a book not to be missed. 


~Cairn Rodrigues

For those that enjoy the Walking Dead, pull up a copy and read. This is a character based story that rings very true. Bunny gets particular attention as she should. Cain has written a well-developed history for her which allows you to both understand and like her as a character. None of the characters, whatever the duration of their involvement in the story are flat. You're given enough detail to decide if you want them eaten or alive. Some you'll like, others you won't. The action sequences are both exciting and realistic. No super heroes here. Just real folks in an unreal situation. The action is broken up nicely with character development and back story. I especially liked the finale. The tension was quickly building until a brilliant plot development drove it over the top. A very good read. I heartily recommend!

~Joe Hagen

When the zombies came, Bunny did what was necessary for survival.  Her natural instinct is to protect those around her, with her own safety coming a pretty poor last.  Bunny had to adapt by being the strong one, even though she tries to hide her softer side. This shows through at times by Bunny becoming overwhelmed by the task at hand.  She doesn't want to be the leader but is thrust into the role, which she takes on head first because Bunny IS a natural leader even though she doesn't want to admit it.

She is an individual who doesn't take kindly to being told she isn't 'mainstream'.  No one can tell Bunny that she can't be who she is. Bunny is a contradiction all round, but that's what makes her Bunny.  She is so similar to a lot of women nowadays.

 ~Beth Harris

 Your writing is... hmm, I truly don't know how to put it into words... it's a feeling of being mind blown mixed with sex... plenty of ups and downs and "wow" moments.

~Nate Churchill

You'll pardon me using the same person twice, but honestly, this is one of my favorite reviews ever.

Cairn highly recommends Bunny. Cairn wants to be Bunny sometimes. Cairn is done speaking in the third person.

~Cairn  Rodrigues 

So, there it is. My attempt to get the world on board with this crazy little thing I call Bunnypocalypse. I hope you'll take a chance on Bunny.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Brutal Bunny

So, recently, my good friend Cairn Rodrigues (That's a link. You can click it. It will take you to a place where unicorns roam freely.) invited me to be part of a blog tour where authors, like me, talk about their characters.

Coincidentally, I'm less than two months away from releasing my next Bunnypocalypse book, so this seemed like as good a time as any to take a minute to talk about Bunny Beckman.

It isn't like I haven't done this a lot. I have. Here, here, here, here, here, and here. Actually, I talk about Bunny a lot. The thing is, despite how much I talk about her, I still feel as if I've failed to really capture the character in a way that can help people not familiar with her get her.

I often describe her as a zombie slaying lesbian stripper, which, in a sense, is true. What it isn't, though, is remotely accurate. Bunny is so very much more than that. Enough so that I have trouble really explaining her in a world where we do everything in as brief a fashion as possible.

You know what I mean. We want to deliver everything in brief summations. 140 characters or less. She's like Xena, only with guns. She's like Ripley, except with zombies. That sort of thing. Problem is, she's not like them. Not really. She's a bit more complex.

I cannot explain her briefly, using buzzwords, or comparisons. It would take me a lot longer than most people have the attention span for to even start delivering the basic gist of her character. I've written four novels now, and she's still unfolding as a character. Not evolving, not growing, just unfolding.

Of course, that's why I love writing her. Four books in, and we're still getting to know who she is. That's something. I mean, it's really something. I've never had to deal with that before, and yet, with Bunny, it seems to make sense that it be this way.

Point being, part of this blog tour is to address a series of questions designed to explore an authors character, and give possible new readers a chance to get invested. For me, it's a chance to explore Bunny through another persons approach, and maybe, find a new way to define her.

So, here we go. Let's get to know Bunny a little better.

Question #1: What Is The Name Of Your Character?

Bunny Beckman. Sometimes, Bunny fucking Beckman. Buns to her friends. God damn Beckman to pretty much everyone else. Why won't you die? to her enemies.

Question #2: Is She A Fictional Or Historic Person?

Fictional. Mostly. Some of her personality traits originally were borrowed from my girlfriend of 20 years, Storm DeVille. Others, from women I admire. In a way, to me, she's every strong feminine influence I've ever had in my life. So, a bit of both, in a sense.

Question #3: Where And When Is The Story Set?

Um... well... kind of all over. It's set in a sort of five minutes in the future modern day, post zombie apocalypse, and tends to roam about a good bit. The first book was in Chicago, the second bounced between California and Oregon, the third in Santa Fe, while the fourth is in Mexico. Bunny gets around.

Question #4: What Should We Know About Her?

Ho, boy. Here's where it gets difficult. So much to tell.

Bunny is the daughter of a wealthy Chicago family, born and raised in the lap of luxury. When she was six, her family was mugged, and before you think Batman, nobody was killed. A police officer, a woman, saved them. This was where Bunny first got the idea in her head of being more.

Her folks, decent people that they were, wanted her to grow up doing normal rich kid things, then marry a nice doctor or something, and just be happy. Bunny decided, fuck that noise. She stopped wanting to be a princess, and wanted to be a knight. She wanted to do the saving.

This lead to her becoming a police officer. It was all she wanted to do. All she wanted to be. A force for law and order, a defender of justice. She wanted to save people. Never mind how much her family fought it, or how hard her training officers made things for her. She stuck to her goals.

This is one of Bunny's most prominent traits. She refuses to bend. Ever. For anything.

When she made Sergeant, another officer, John Dyson, feeling he had deserved the promotion more, attacked and raped her. She retaliated a few days later by beating him nearly to death. For this, she was punished. She was stripped of her commendations, her trail made public, and her fall from grace as Chicago's hero cop named Bunny made a media affair. She was drug through the mud, and made out as the aggressor.

Go on. Tell me that isn't realistic. I dare you.

Bunny was outed as  a lesbian during the trial, disowned by her family, and became a severe alcoholic, the law she had sword to uphold turned into a weapon to destroy her life. The only person who would talk to her after that was a strip club owner she had befriended years before named Randy Cox. All he could do to help her was offer a job.

So, Bunny became a stripper. Somehow, through it all, she kept her head up. She kept going, because Bunny doesn't bend. Ever. For any reason. She struggled with her drinking problem, and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. It was all she had left.

Then, the dead rose. The night she came to call the Big End, when all of human civilization was erased in a single orgy of violence, blood, and terror. In the world that came after, Bunny was faced with the simple choice. Live hard, or die.

Told you it was a lot.

Question #5: What Is The Main Conflict? What Messes Up Her Life?

Simply put, zombies and monsters. They tend to mess up everyone's life.

Complex answer, Bunny herself.

See, from that young age, when she first started dreaming of being the hero, everyone around her told her she couldn't. That wasn't proper. It wasn't ladylike. Girls don't do that. It made her angry.

As a teenager, she struggled to come to terms with her sexuality, again always having society tell her no, that was wrong. This made her even angrier.

She was told no by her training officers. A busty girl named Bunny couldn't be a cop. The anger kept growing.

Dyson happened. That anger spiraled. Being disowned, having to take off her clothes, her friends turning their backs on her, the law turning against her, every major event in her life fueled that anger.

She always pushed it down. Buried it. Ignored it. Deep down, though, it festered, and grew. By the time the dead rose, Bunny stopped burying it. She let it out. Suddenly, she didn't have to play by societies rules anymore. So, she didn't.

For the first book in the series, she is still trying to be what she wanted to be, a force for good, saving people. By the second, that dream has become bitter and twisted as she finds herself constantly having to do things that stain her soul just to keep herself and those around her alive. The anger begins to take control of her as she grows to resent her fellow survivors for preaching morality at her, when they are only alive because she has done immoral things.

By the third book, her sense of morality is buried under a seething rage. She doesn't want to save the world anymore. She just wants to finish burning it. Be done with it all. Set the whole of it on fire and die herself. Her anger has turned her borderline homicidal and more than a little suicidal.

As we enter the fourth book, we see Bunny near the end of this dark spiral. She has actively considered taking her own life, and only can't because it would be too easy. In a life of hardship, she can't stand the thought of her death being easy. She wants it to be hard, because she feels it's all she deserves. She is well into being suicidal, driven only by the desire for revenge, and purposefully hurting the people around her to drive them away.

She is depressed, angry, bitter, resentful, and so full of self loathing for the things she has done, and the things she's thought of doing, she can't stand herself any more. She's in the darkest of places, the road pain, sorrow, suffering and loss takes a person.

More than that, though, is her revelation that she has never once identified herself as a lesbian. Not out of shame, or guilt. She's very open about it and has been for a long time. It's because she fears that if she says it, it will become all she is. A single word. Her whole life, everything she's done, summed up in a single word.

This also feeds her darker side, driving her into an even deeper despair. She is lost, afraid to ask for help for fear of rejection, unable to save herself, and has come to believe she is a lost cause, a damned soul not worth saving, so black with sin even hell won't have her.

What messes up her life? She does.

Question #6: What Are The Goals Of The Character?

Again, not so simple a question. Originally, her goals were to protect as many people as she could. As the series progresses, we see that change. The loss of the woman she wanted to be in love with drove her over the edge, and she abandoned that goal. Her experiences in Santa Fe left her with the goal of revenge.

Mostly, as we enter the forth book, Bunny's goal, at least in her own mind, is to just die. To make death beat the life from her. Nothing less will do now.

The thing is, Bunny has lost sight of her real goal, the one she's always been chasing, the whole of her life. The only goal she's ever really had. She can't see it anymore past the pain, anger, and despair.

Put simply, her goal is to know who she really is. Deep down, at her core, who is she? What kind of person is she? Hero, monster, savior, or martyr? This is what really drives her. It is her quest. To find herself.

Question #7: Is There A Working Title Of this Novel, Can Can We Red More Of It?

Bunnypocalypse. The books are Dead Reckoning, Dead To Rights, and Dead Man's Hand, with Dead On Arrival coming in November. All are available through Amazon, and linked for your convenience.

Question #8: When Will it Be, Or When Was It, Published?

Dead Reckoning came out in November of 2011, Dead To Rights in November of 2012, Dead Man's Hand in November of 2013, and Dead On Arrival will be here, again, in November of 2014.

Well, those are all the questions. Hopefully, you have a better view now of Bunny Beckman, who she is, what she's been through, and where she's going. I'm not quite half way through with the series, so there's a lot more Bunny to go.

As a last note, I’d like to thank Cairn Rodrigues once again for giving me this chance to talk about my favorite character, Bunny Beckman. Now, go visit her blog, and tell her I said nice things about her. She gives me cookies when I do that.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Life

Well, I've had an odd week. How about you?

Before I get to why, I wanted to take a little bit to talk about some other things. Stuff that matters to me. Things I find myself more and more driven these past few years to address in my writing, and in daily life.

Let me start by reminding everyone that my childhood was pretty much shit. I've not really ever explained that well, and this seems like as good a time as any to get into the details, as it has relevance to what I want to talk about. I'm going to just skim a lot of the more gory parts, though.

When I was around six, my folks got divorced. I didn't learn the whole story until I was about twenty two. The reason I was suddenly moving out of the nice three bedroom home I had known most of my life was because my mother decided she wanted to have an open marriage, and gotten pregnant by the guy she was sleeping with behind my dad's back. He was less okay with this than she thought he should be.

So, divorce underway, my brother and I were whisked away to live in a shed. You know, one of those corrugated tin buildings. Yeah. We lived in one. All four of us. Me, my brother, my mom, and her new boyfriend, who didn't have a job, and was a raging alcoholic. He wasn't a bad guy, mind you. Not a violent drunk. He was really pretty great. Just, you know, always drunk.

I have not so fond memories of stepping over him to catch my ride to school, where I spent the day around kids who's parents lived in mansions. Ever heard of Dunlop Tires? I went to school with their kids. Furr's Cafateria? Them, too. It was fun times.

Eventually, we moved into an actual house. Sort of. A shack would be a more polite term. The room I shared with my now two brothers had no coverings. You know, that stuff they put up over the studs? What's it called? Oh, right. Fucking drywall. None of that. Just the studs and the exterior siding, which you could see outside through the cracks of. Because there was also no insulation.

By the time I was ready to start high school, we lived in a better house, mind you, but only after my step dad had gone to Federal Prison for counterfeiting, which was also a wonderful way to spend my school days, as it had been all over the news. It wasn't a great place, and the bathroom didn't work right, so we had to take baths in washtubs a lot, but it had drywall, so it was fancy living.

One last thing about my grade school life. It was a private religious school my dad paid for, because he wanted me to get a decent education. While I respect that, he did not take into account the part where everyone knew my mother was sleeping around with anyone who would say yes. I was bullied mercilessly, as the son of the whore. I couldn't really argue, since I caught her screwing the church deacon in the church that one time.

I have a lot of issues with church because of that. I think it's fair.

I also had one particular teacher who went out of his way to make my life hell, to the point he encouraged me to drop out of school, on the grounds I would never amount to anything anyway. He handed me slurs on a regular basis over my mother, often quoting scripture that her sins were mine, too. He had something against me being predominately Irish, as well. Never have figured out what that was about, but he said it made me a white skinned nigger on a few occasions.

It wasn't all bad, mind you. I had one teacher, Mr. Reed, that really tried to help me get through it all. I remember him so clearly, even now. He was the spitting image of Christopher Reeve, and I thought of him as Superman. He really, seriously, gave me something to believe in. I will thank him to the day I die for being my first true superhero.

If you are wondering where my dad was in all this, well, he only got to spend a weekend a month with us, so I can't fault him overly much for the disconnect that grew up between us. He's a good guy, and I love him. We don't understand each other, and we never will. There's too much distance there. I've become someone he can't relate to, and after his job moved him to Louisiana for several years, during which I only saw him one time, for two months, we drifted apart.

I don't know how to bridge that. I'm not sure if I can, or even if I want to. It's weird, and hard to explain.

Anyway, my mom, she kept up her ways, drinking almost as much as my step dad, and being less nice when she was really sauced. Never physically violent, but cruel all the same. Then there were the drugs, as well. She wasn't a very kind person when she was messed up. She would often say things I had gotten use to hearing at school, about how worthless I was, how I'd never amount to anything. I remember her once telling me she wished she'd gotten an abortion instead of having me.

It was a hard childhood. I became very withdrawn. I didn't know how to interact with others. I had virtually no social skills. I was awkward, quiet, and very much an introvert. I lost myself for hours at a time in daydreams, which both my parents condemned. Ironically, my step dad stood up for me, telling everyone to leave me alone. As I said, he was a good guy. Soft spoken, typically drunk, but kind.

I developed a fear of women. I didn't know how to talk to them. I was afraid of what they might say, and always expected the kind of belittling attitude I got from my mother. This, of course, made me even more socially withdrawn. As much as I wanted to interact with people the way I saw others doing it, I just couldn't. I curled up in my shell, and stayed there.

Now, during these years, before high school, I was constantly looking for some female influence that was positive. I latched on to characters like Sarah Jane Smith of the old Doctor Who series, because she was smart, funny, kind, and capable. I was a huge fan of Uhura on the old Star Trek. Never occurred to me that she was black, I just liked her because she was smart. She could repair her own station, and Scotty could go play with his nacelles. I also gravitated to the old Red Sonya comics. They weren't very well done, really, but I liked her, and often found myself dreaming that she would be real mother. I was a kid, so it was what I did.

I didn't notice her boobs till later, which ended up feeling awkward.

I talked once before about my mom trying to get a child psychologist to put me on Prozac, cause Something Was Wrong With Me, and my later understanding that the Prozac was for her. How she wanted welfare to pay for her to get free drugs, while she garnered pity for having a kid on Prozac.

My mom was always trying to pull things like that. Using me, my older brother, and my two younger brothers from her second marriage to get free stuff. It was her thing. Because, you see, she went to a therapist once who somehow put the idea in her head that nothing in her life was her fault. Everything that was wrong, it was somebody else's fault. She was always the victim, and the world owed her.

She was seriously messed up.

Anyway. By the time I hit high school, I was still intimidated by women, and a full on geek. I read comic books, played D&D, loved Star Trek, and was just figuring out I could write down all the silly daydreams I had as stories. I was also a major Tolkien fan, and had read all of his stuff several times. All of this went over super well with the boarding academy my mom sent me to, again, private and Christian. Like, lead balloon well.

Faced with even more ostracization, this was also the point where I was first really starting to notice that I liked boobs a lot. I was a bit slow on the pickup with that, due to the fact I was largely afraid of women, and incredibly socially withdrawn. What I also noticed is that I was a horrid mutant freak that no doubt terrified women.

Now, a word about this. I'm not really tall, buff, and staggeringly handsome. I think I’ve mentioned this before. At the age of fourteen, I was still kind of short, and weighed in around two hundred pounds. I was a fat little pimply faced kid. Looking at the male imagery that was promoted around me, on tv and magazines, and so forth, I knew, I was a horrid mutant. I didn't have good looks, a toned bod, perfect hair, or any of that.

See, the good looking kids, when I reached high school, made it a point to let me know that I was beneath them. Due to the way I grew up, I accepted that without question. I was, and that was that. I'd heard it all for so long, I didn't argue it. I was a little troll, girls hated me for it, and guys pushed me around, or straight threatened to beat me up, because of it. Also, because I was very socially withdrawn, mumbled when I spoke, was really insecure, and generally, had no self worth, I accepted that that was what I deserved.

This happens more than you can imagine, to lots of young boys. This poor self image. We have unrealistic standards shoved at us twenty four seven, too, just as women do. It's how it's handled that is different. Guys get pushed around, talked down to, and threatened with beatings, or actually beaten up. Insults are thrown, usually fag, and our self worth gets shredded.

The thing is, for all of that, and how bad it seems to us when it it's happening, we have yet to walk a mile in the shoes of the women of this world. We have yet to walk a fucking foot. I'll get back to that in a bit, though. I don't want to wander off and make my point before I'm ready.

Now, around my sophomore year, I was all about Elfquest. I had a subscription and everything. I lived and breathed that world. To this day, Leeta is one of my favorite women in comics ever. She was just so awesome. The reason I mention this is because I remember one day, I was sitting outside, on a bench, reading the latest issue when a girl I kind of was sort of friends with sat down and asked me what I was reading. I showed it to her, and she read the issue, then asked if I had any back issues. I had all of them, and let her read them without hesitation. We became good friends over our shared interest in the story of Elfquest.

It was one of the first times I really ever connected with a woman, and it was over comic books. It was a first step, and a big one, for me. We never dated or anything, as I was too nervous about stuff like that, but we were friends, and it was good.

I did have a girlfriend my junior year, but that ended really badly. Like, volcanic eruption bad. Between my issues, and hers, we both made a lot of mistakes, hurt each other, and in general, fucked each other up even worse. Not something I'm proud of, looking back on it, but I didn't know what I was doing, and I know, she didn't either. We were both fumbling around trying to figure out what normal was, and how to be it.

Now, all during this, since I was about eight or so, I'd been playing Dungeons and Dragons a lot. The adventures went from the usual stuff of kick down the door and kill the monsters of my younger days to more sophisticated and philosophical stuff in my teen years. I was figuring out who I wanted to be during all of that. It really wasn't until my teen years that I started grasping it all, though, and began to see myself through the games we played.

I learned a great deal during those years, about who I was, and who I wanted to be. I gained a lot of insight, through rolling those dice, about myself. I want to be super clear about this, too. Dungeons and Dragons helped me come to terms with my self image, my self loathing, my crippling shyness, social anxiety, and my awkwardness. It was through that game I slowly began to see myself as a better person, someone worthy of being treated with respect. Someone worth being loved.

It was not overnight. It took years. D&D is probably the only reason I never became an alcoholic or drug addict myself. I know for a fact that it was the thing that finally helped me break free of my fear of women, and why I'm not a misogynist, which is where I was heading.

I say heading because I believe I was. My bad childhood, my lack of strong female role models, my fear of women, and my own internal issues was heading that way. I had been growing resentful in my teen years, you see, of the pretty people and how they looked down at me. How they sneered at me, acted as if I was a freak, and reviled me. I was growing bitter, and hateful.

My senior year, two things happened that changed all of that. The first was my friend and fellow D&D player Bruce signing me up for drama club without me knowing about it. I'll get into that more in a minute though, as it matters. The second thing is what I want to talk about first.

My D&D group had always gone with a rotating DM method, where we all took turns every few months, running a campaign. The start of my senior year, the DM who was just taking over wanted to try something different. Specifically, purely random character generation. Race, class, even gender, was all determined by the roll of the dice. He allowed us one do over if we got something truly messed up.

I used mine right away, when I got a wizard. I don't enjoy playing wizards, generally. I'm not good at them. I like fighters. There is a simple elegance to a well built fighter character I find enjoyable. Plus, I have a hard time keeping up with all the spells. So, I used my do over right away, and ended up rolling a thief, which was fine. I like playing thieves, too. Basically, I prefer stabbing over spellslinging.

At least, back then. I enjoy spellcasters a lot more these days. Probably some kind of growing up thing.

Anyway, point is, I used my do over. So, when I rolled a female gender, I had to take it. Again, fear of women, growing into resentment. Suddenly, playing a woman. There is no way this ends up being anything other than a terrible idea. I'm sure you can all imagine just how horrific it was.

Except, it wasn't. At all. It was eye opening.

Her name was Teresa, a Half Elf thief, and she showed me things I never expected. Sure, she started out kind of the way you'd expect, but as we played the campaign, I started understanding her, really seeing the world through her eyes. Her devil may care attitude, and general sluttyness masked deeper insecurities, and as the story went on, she changed, and so did I.

Our DM, he was a big believer in character driven adventures. He wanted us to develop deeper backgrounds, and guided us on an adventure that took us into the characters pasts. Teresa was a lot like me. A child of a broken home, unwanted, unloved, verbally and emotionally abused. I saw myself in her, all the things about myself I hated, and during those months, realized it wasn't women I feared. It wasn't women I resented.

It was me.

There was a lot of the guy stuff around the table, mind you. I was the only one playing a female character, and through her eyes, I saw how they treated her. The casual misogyny. The offhand cruelty towards her gender. The thoughtless insensitivity. It seriously changed my world view.

To be clear, I do not know what it is like to be a woman. I do know that. I also know that I had a taste of it, and it was not good. It made me seriously reevaluate my own dealings with women. More than that, it made me reevaluate my own dealings with men. It put a giant spotlight on everything I had been through in my life, and for the first time, objectivity jumped into my mind, and I really saw myself.

Thanks, Teresa. You were my angel in the darkness. You saved me.

As this was happening, I was also involved in the drama club. My friend, the one who signed me up for it, Bruce, did so because he felt it would be a good experience for me. A chance to really open up. He based that on my ability to play out multiple NPC's during my turn as a DM, and to be wholly in character at times as a player. Turns out, he was right. I took to acting with a passion I'd never known.

There were only a few people in the club, mind you, but two of them were women. Very pretty women. Which intimidated me. Until I was working with them. Going over lines, rehearsing scenes, so much of my anxiety and fear went away. They didn't look down on me. I wasn't a horrid mutant troll. We talked, became friends, and they were people, just like me.

Literally. They had their own fears, doubts, anxieties, and self image issues. I began to understand that it wasn't me, it was everyone. All of us. We're all messed up. Even the handsome jocks, and pretty girls. Under the surface, we're all the same. It was like having a beam of sunlight break through the clouds and fucking illuminate the world to me.

Sure, I was a dumpy kid. Taller by then, but still kinda fat and pimply faced. It was okay, though. That didn't make me a horrid failure of a human who never deserved life. It just made a person, like everyone else.

To this day, one of my favorite memories is of the big play we did. We had worked on it for months. Some story of a dysfunctional family moving to a rural community. I forget the details. Anyway, my buddy Bruce played the son of the couple, as he went through the various stages of teenage rebellion, and I played his friend, who never spoke, yet apparently, never shut up off stage. It was actually tricky, playing this character who stared at nothing. He was suppose to be zoned out any time he was on stage, and I guess I did well with it.

So, backstage, at the last minute, the two gals in the group decide it would be fun to have my character somewhat emulate Bruce's as he went through the various stages. Including the more or less skater punk phase. To do this, they decided to gel my hair back, to give me that look, I guess. I'm not sure. It was an idea, it was fun, I ran with it. For three bottles of hair gel. Which did not make my naturally wavy hair lay down at all. It just looked damp.

So, here we are, these two women desperately trying to get my hair to slick back, until they literally ran out of gel, when one of them looks at me and says, without any hesitation, malice, or judgment, “No wonder your hair always looks so messy. There's no way to make it stop!”

No, Amy, there wasn't. Still isn't. It's the exact same now. Bless your heart, though, for in that moment, I felt sane, human, normal, and accepted. Thank you for that. You were, and are, I imagine, a wonderful person.

Those two events, together, snapped me out of my growing resentment, my self loathing and the first stages of misogyny. I understood the world better because of them. They were, and remain, defining moments in my life. When I was able to see the world through different eyes, was accepted and treated with warmth, and saw myself differently because of it.

After high school, I set out to be a better person. To try harder to be open, and leave my social awkwardness in the past. I had a new view of the world, and of me, and I wanted to embrace it, because it felt good. I liked how I felt.

This was not easy.

My first job out of high school was working at Wendy's, where we had an assistant manager who was a short, fat, angry man. Very angry. Always trying to prove his manliness by demanding the employees meet him out back after their shift so he could beat some of his spare manliness into them. More than once, he threatened to drag me outside and beat my ass.

It bothered me for a long time why he acted that way. I was still kind of a quite person, now eighteen, but less filled with self loathing and fear of others. Slightly more outgoing, I made a good number of friends while I worked there. Except, this guy. Always pushing, always screaming, always threatening.

Again, I heard the slurs, the taunts of pussy, and faggot. The attempts to intimidate me and others into being angry men like he was. I had seen the world differently, and while I had a ways to go in coming out of my shell, I was doing a lot better at that point. The things he said bothered me, not because it made me question my own masculinity, but because they were just so full of bigotry and hatefulness. I saw in him what I had almost become, from his bullying tactics, to the way he treated the women who worked there.

I just didn't know what to do about it. I was still figuring all this stuff out. I tried, to the best of my still somewhat clumsy, awkward ability, to be supportive of the women he harassed. I tried to the best of my still somewhat shy capability to ignore his taunts. Eventually, he really lost it and punched a sixteen year old kid in the face during Sunday lunch rush. The store manager fired him instantly.

This was the early 90's. It took that, back then.

One of the friends I made working there was active in the local small theater and got me involved in it as well. I hadn't planned to continue acting after high school, but once he learned I had been in drama club, he begged me to at least come along and try out for a role. I did, and to my surprise, landed a part as Rev Humphries in the Phillip King play, See How They Run.

Best thing that ever happened to me. Ever.

I met my best friend of many years there, a guy named Kevin, who was the artistic type, and he really showed me a view of the world I never would have gotten otherwise. I went on to be in Come Back Little Sheba, and was set to be Arsenic And Old Lace, when my ever selfish mother intervened and I ended up not being able to do the play.

Okay, so, here's what happened. The producer on all three plays tells me right before we begin rehearsal on Arsenic that she has a friend who's an agent. She wanted that agent to come see me, because she believed I could really do something with this acting thing. In fact, she was so incredibly supportive, she wanted me to go to Hollywood and seriously pursue it, to the point that if the agent liked me, she was willing to pay for the airfare, go with me, and help me find a place to stay for a while.

I'd never had someone be so supportive of me like that, and really began to think I might could do this. I could be an actor. Not Brad Pitt or anything, but a good solid actor who got roles and did well. Also worth noting, a woman did that for me. Naturally, I tell my mom. After high school, I moved back home while I tried to figure out what to do next, since my dad was in West Virginia at that point. That ended up being a mistake.

True to fashion, my mom saw me about to take off and not be there, where she could mooch off me, which is what she was doing. She divorced my step dad a few months after I graduated high school, then cried to me about how she couldn't support my two younger brothers. Being of a new mind, and trying to let the past go, I told her I'd help till she got on her feet.

I tried. I really tried. My mom, though. She only knew how to take advantage of people, including her own kids.

By the time I was set to start in Arsenic, she went to my boss at the time and told him she needed me at home during the day to help my younger brothers with school. He moved me to the night shift, and my acting career ended right there. I found out about this later, from my boss, when he was telling me all about how nice it was that I was helping my poor sick mother.

She wasn't sick. She lied. She lied, guilt tripped me, and ended a chance for me to do something with my life I would have loved. Because, as she told me when I confronted her about it, I would have been wasting my life by pursuing a career in acting. Instead, I should go work with her new boyfriend, who was married, and my best friend Kevin's dad, and be a shade tree mechanic.

Let me sum that up. My mother's dream for me was to be a shade tree mechanic. So I could work on her car for her. For free. All while she was sleeping with a married man, and threatening me with physical violence if I told my best friend his dad was having an affair.

Folks, that is my mother. Right there.

It's a wonder I am as sane and stable as I am.

Anyway, with that dream murdered before I realized it, I turned back to my first love, writing. Again, to a great deal of insult and condescension from her. She refused to even read anything I wrote, since she already knew, I sucked at it, and told me so often.

I had a couple more failed relationships, struggled to find myself, and hang on to the vision of myself I had gained. During this time, I lost touch with Kevin, and about eight months later, finally managed to find him. Being the somewhat bohemian type that he was, I had figured he'd gone on some adventure and forgotten to tell me he was leaving. Turned out, he'd been in the hospital all that time, after being beaten nearly to death by three guys who had mistaken him for being gay.

Eight months in the hospital, had to have his entire jaw rebuilt, and his dad never said a damn thing to me about while he was running around with my mom. Some parents we had. It's no wonder we got along so well.

The reason this is important is because Kevin took me to a coffee shop after we started hanging out again, run by the nicest guy I'd ever met. I made a lot of friends there, all of them gay. They were supportive, thoughtful, and we often sat talking till late into the evening. Outside of the homophobic slurs I'd dealt with being thrown at me for not being man enough all my life, this was the first time I ever really had any contact with the gay community.

I liked them. A lot. I found myself so at ease with the lesbians that frequented the coffee shop, and could talk with them with so naturally it surprised me. Even at that point, about twenty years old, I was still too self conscious to really be comfortable with touching people, or being touched by people. One of the big reasons my earlier relationships had failed was because of this. I just wasn't comfortable with displays of affection, and it was very off putting. I know that now, but then, not so much.

The weird thing was how easy it was around gay women. There were two in particular I became good friends with, and they were very huggy people. It never made me uncomfortable, though. It was warm, comforting, and relaxed. I began to realize that I still had a fear, not of women, but of ending up with someone like my mom. I was standoffish because of that.

Worth noting, I never had any problem with the gay guys hugging me either. The shop owner was always flopping down in my lap, hugging me up, and claiming he was going to have my baby. It was completely comfortable to me. He was a peach, and I adored him. To this day, I'm more at ease around gay people than I am anyone else. They are my family, instantly, and I've never met anyone in the LGBTQ community that made me feel anything less than accepted, or that I had problems being around, of any kind. I love them, and I know, always, they are were I find my truest friends.

Storm and I met around that time, and built a friendship that turned into more. Though the issues I still grappled with, and the ones she did as well, caused us a lot of up and downs in those early times, we have been together for twenty years now. We have a good relationship, built on trust, honesty, and friendship. It's been great, and the next twenty will be, too.

I love her. I truly do love her. We both have our scars, external and internal, but we've learned to live with those. We've learned, together, how to live past them. How to be happy in spite of them.

So, here's how it is. My messed up childhood. Our culture of misogyny and how it made that worse. How I nearly became one of those trolls that hides behind internet anonymity to berate women. How I made my first real connection over a comic book. How D&D opened my eyes. How a simple matter of hair gel made me feel normal. How I saw that ugly misogyny for what it really was. How I came to care so deeply about gay rights. How I found love, and happiness.

How I ended up sane, normal, and well adjusted, in spite of everything arrayed against me.

That's not the end of this story, though. Not by a long ways. There is more to tell.

There are four people in my life right now I am so very close to. Kevin, sadly, is no longer one of them. We’ve lost track of each other over the twenty years since. I hope he is well, and if he should ever read this, knows that I miss him. He was a true friend, and taught me much about how a real man behaves, with respect, acceptance, and kindness for others.

The four people in my life right now I am close to are all women, three of whom are gay. This does not count, obviously, the many friends I have via the internet, and by no means, am I discounting them. I'm just counting the four who are part of my daily life, away from the internet. The ones out there, that I know through the waves of the ether, are just as precious to me, and cherished by me. If I could sit and have a cup of coffee with them, as I do the others, I would.

As for the four, though, yes, they are all women. Storm, clearly, but also my friend Sam, and the woman I love like a little sister, to the point I call her that, and she calls me her brother, Amber. Last, but not least, her wife, Jessie. This is my family. These are the people I love, would move mountains for, and know, would find a way to break the walls of the world for me.

They are all women.

How things have changed.

Here's where we get to the part that makes me angry. I know for certain that three of the four have been sexually assaulted. Think about that for a minute. Really think about it. Three of the four people I am closest too in this world have been sexually assaulted.

See, when I look back at my life, and the things I went through, I see how this casual culture of misogyny and false manliness forces people into thinking it is normal. How guys, like me, are figuratively, and literally, beaten into the mold that continues the culture. How we are emotionally, mentally, and physically blackmailed into going along with it.

Even worse is how men now are claiming it's the same as what women endure. Maybe even more difficult. To the point that there are these Men's Rights Groups popping up now, actually claiming they have it worse than women ever did, because of feminism.

I cannot begin to express how mind boggling I find that. Here's why.

For all of the pain, the hardship, the self loathing, the tattered self image that guys like me have been through, we can recover from it. I did. I know others who have. We can get past it. We can learn to cope, and even, speak out against it. When we do, we can find others who will join us, and many sympathetic ears in the male half of the population. It can be done, and it is done.

Women do not have that.

We allow a culture of rape to persist, where we shame and blame the victim. We make it their fault. We objectify them to the point that when they are raped, and by the way, most women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime, we shrug it off. We have politicians who sit and debate the veracity of rape. Invent terms like legitimate rape. Call pregnancy via rape a Gift From God and demand abortion not be legal to protect it, while stripping women of their rights. Religious leaders who defend that. Men who excuse it.

I know how hard my life was. I know it was nothing, absolutely nothing, next to the kind of shit women have to live with, every day. It's excusable for me to not look like Brad Pitt. It is not excusable for women to not look like Angelina Jolie. That is the reality. That is why despite my mother, I actively speak out on the issue of feminism. Because it isn't about me, or her, it's about a woman's right, all women's right, to not be treated like an object that exists solely for male pleasure.

Yes, I grew up being beaten down because I wasn't macho enough. I was never raped. I was never blamed for getting raped. That makes it not the same thing. That makes it a totally different thing.

I had a good friend be beaten nearly to death for being perceived as gay. Nearly every woman I am close to in my day to day life was been raped. Many of the women I am friends with via the internet have been raped. Yet somehow, I'm suppose to buy this bullshit story that straight men have it the hardest?

Don't even get me started on “minorities” either. Since when are human fucking beings a minority? Oh, dear, their skin is a less than pristine shade of white! That makes it okay to marginalize, belittle, and oppress them while whining about how unfair they are to us!

Wow. Really? What the hell?

I see it all the time these days. Name calling, victim blaming, color shaming, and all while simpering about how hard they have it because they are straight, white, men. How everyone is against them. How the “minorities” are taking from them. How the gays are destroying their way of life. How women are oppressing them.

You know, my life has taught me something. Through all the shit, the hurt, the fear, and uncertainty, it has taught me something. Something it took me years to really understand, grasp, and come to terms with. Something that I am now proud to know, and in a way, thankful to have learned. Yes, in a way, I'm glad I've had the life I have lived, for it taught me this, above all else.

We all shit sitting down. We all bleed red. We all feel. We all hurt. We all cry. We all doubt. We all fear.

We are all the same. It isn't the color of our skin that divides us. It isn't who we pray to. Who we love. What's between our legs. What divides us is none of those things. It is our willingness to be divided. Our acceptance that we should be. Our fear that we will somehow be less special if we aren't.

We won't be. We can't be. Because we are all the same, and we are all unique. We all live alone in our heads, with only our own thoughts for company. We all see the world only through our own eyes. This is what truly separates us, and that's a beautiful thing. To be different because we are us, unique to the world, like no other before us, and none that will come after.

Why is that not enough? Why can we not be proud of that singular uniqueness? Why must we find more and hateful ways to divide ourselves? Are we so insecure in our own unique view of the world that oppression and cruelty are preferable to kindness and acceptance? Is that really who we, as a species, are?

More and more, it seems that way. Perhaps it is a loud minority clinging to ways that are fading. Perhaps it is that this culture of misogyny gets more press because we are becoming less tolerant of it. Perhaps we are on the cusp of seeing a new world, where we finally break these old chains that hold us back from looking at each other, and seeing through eyes of friendship, love, and trust.

Perhaps.

I can't say that for certain. What I can say is that almost every woman I know has been sexually assaulted. What I can say is that there are those who make excuses for it. What I can say is those same people attempt to defend it by making it about how hard men have it.

I'm a man. I know how hard we have it. I've lived it. Those guys are full of shit.

Until we are all equal, none of us are. It is that simple.

Over the last few years, as a writer, I have found myself drawn, more and more, to tackling these issues in my work. To writing female leads, and addressing this very topic through them. I will continue doing so. I will write Bunny Beckman without apology. I will cast women as equals to men. I will tell their stories, their hardships, without sugar coating it. I will do it, because I need to. Because it must be done. Because it's the right thing to do.

Because I can.

Because Teresa would expect it of me, after all this time.

The thing that spurred me to write all of this was two separate things, really. The first is a coworker of mine. A woman, whom I won't name, but reminds me of my mother. She belittles, she twists things, tries to push people around, is bigoted, hateful, and small. Racist, homophobic, and purposefully cruel, she waves the banner of feminism as her defense.

The second was an article over at The Mary Sue, linked here, talking about a Youtube user who attempted to wave off his casual misogyny and sexual assault as a social experiment that showed how men are victims too. What he was really doing was being a total twatwaffle, and a rape apologist.

I look at both of them, and wonder how such people can still exist in this world. How they can feel no kind of shame in their actions. How they can convince themselves that what they do, and say, is acceptable.

How do they live with themselves?

I wonder this because at the deepest, darkest part of my life, when my self worth was at its lowest point, when my anger was growing, I did not want to lash out at the world. What I wanted to do was end my own life. I thought of it often. I almost tried it more than once. Even in the midst of that fear I had of women, that was slowly turning to resentment, I never once thought of hurting a woman. I only thought of hurting myself. Because it was me I couldn't stand. It was me that I couldn't love.

I know now what I did not know then, what I was too deeply in the middle of to grasp. My life, up to that point, in my mid teens, had filled me with a depression so deep, I could not see the truth. The all important truth I began to grasp, little by little, over the years, from so many little moments. Through so many distant, yet interconnected events. The truth that ultimately did come to me, and I now share with you.

It's okay to be a flawed human being. It's okay to be weak, to cry, to be afraid. It's okay to be sad, and to struggle. It's okay to be angry. All of it, every bit of it, is all okay.

Provided you never stop learning from it all how to be a kinder person.

I don't hate my mother. I don't love her, either. I haven't seen or spoken to her in almost twenty years. I doubt I ever will again. I'm okay with that, because I understand her, and why she behaved the way she did. I get how her entire life was motivated by selfishness, jealousy and fear.

That's the thing that I've come to really understand, how fear rules people so completely. How at the root of misogyny is fear. The male fear of women finding them unworthy, the fear they have of being less than they have been taught to think they should be. How that fear makes them lash out, trying to improve their own self worth by destroying someone else's, by any means they can. How they never acknowledge that fear, letting it rule them for the rest of their lives.

Fear of that which is different. Fear of the unknown. Fear of themselves. It's about fear, and the inability to face it. It drives them to devalue women in order to value themselves. It succeeds because they are small, cowardly, and insecure. So much so, they are even too afraid to face their own fears, and by doing so, perhaps overcome them.

I was forty years old before I heard someone put it to words in a way that I cannot ever forget. The lesson of my life, summed up, by a Japanese manga writer. It was a profound moment for me, because I saw that I am not the only one to learn this, and it gives me hope that others will to.

I leave you with this quote, from Fairy Tail, by Hiro Mashima.

Fear is not evil. It teaches you what your weakness is. Once you know your weakness, you can become stronger, as well as kinder.”