Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reading progress, with a side of exhaustion

I’ve finished reading UtToDIBT and HaHH as of yesterday. After finishing the former, the latter started out weak, but I got used to the differences and, side by side, both were extremely valuable resources. It gave me many pointers on how to strengthen my story, establish and reinforce themes, be aware of the literary power—and be a good feminist while doing so.

My current concern is that the hardboiled genre is unkind. In its original form, its conceptualization of women tends to be victim, villain, or virgin (and the “virgin” trope really doesn’t show up much); all that’s important is how they relate to the men in their world. The power of the woman lies in her sexuality. None of these women ever come out on top. The flip side of that, is that in noir, no one really comes out on top. The detective prioritizes his “code” above his personal life, and the book ends with the feeling that he does his best in a flawed world.

The problem lies in trying to have a hardboiled novel in which a woman is the investigator. It isn’t a problem if you don’t care about the underlying sexism of the genre, but since I do, I’m ending up with some problematic choices.

The premise of a detective novel is, of course, crime. In my case, murder. And yes, murder of women. I am once more transforming women into bodies. I think that the way to deamplify this is to make sure that there are women in the story who are more than bodies, and I think that I achieve this just fine (and am cultivating ideas on how to do this even better). But when you have a genre that makes a point of shitting on women, and you add to that the systemic sexism of the professions of law enforcement and private investigation, you possibly end up with a protagonist who reinforces the idea that doing this “man’s job” is wrong and will bring her nothing but pain. When the male investigator makes that choice, we can say, “He chose this; we know that he could have made a different choice and no one would have been surprised or judged him more harshly than any other man;” but for a woman, there’s an added layer of judgement and expectation of failure. If she prioritizes her professional code over a man, she’s unwomanly, possibly even inhuman; if she gives in to her given temptation, she’s pathetic. So, do you give your character the opportunity for a happy ending and flout the genre conventions in favor of a more empowering feminist work? Or do you stick to the genre conventions and run the risk of reinforcing the idea that women are doomed from the moment they step out from behind the stove?

Branden suggested I minimize the sexist aspects of the world. “It is near-future; maybe things aren’t so polarized anymore,” was his argument. It’s not a bad argument, but exploring the boy’s-club aspect of this was a thing that intrigued me and excited me, and to be honest, reinforces one of my themes. So, I consider it to be an important part of the story. And, in line with my themes… a happy ending just doesn’t seem to fit.

I hope that doesn’t make me a bad feminist.

Since June tenth, I’ve had some real issues with fatigue. I’ve been tired and sleepy from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed, and it doesn’t matter how much sleep I get or that I’m taking Adderall to help me be human. I don’t know if I’m thinking straight anymore. Some things seem insurmountable. When I think about my book, it seems like I have too many conflicting things going on and I can’t reason my way through to a solution. I try to keep in mind that exhaustion is a mind-altering drug and I shouldn’t make decisions while exhausted, and that definitely helps me not overthink things too much, but I worry that I’m never going to not be tired again. I have to make decisions again at some point, right? I can’t keep track of everything, and I’m going to screw up my book, I just know it.

So… on a lighter note, I started reading the Maltese Falcon. It’s 187 pages. Right at this minute I can’t do a word count, but I suspect that’s really short. It also starts with a physical description of the detective, followed immediately by a physical description of his secretary, followed immediately by a physical description of the femme fatale, followed immediately by a physical description of his partner… I’m fairly certain that if this book were written today, it wouldn’t have gotten published. That being said, it’s fully engaging. It’s extremely descriptive: every action explained in minute detail, every feature scrutinized. That is not something I have done in my book so far, and honestly I can’t see myself doing it. But that’s okay. It’s good to know the established tropes.

Well, my train of thought just derailed. Until next time, faithful viewers!

1 comment:

Becky Munyon said...

I think the reason for the sexism in the genre is that it is an older genre. That's the way things were back then. You're overcoming this by having a female detective. I don't think you are a bad feminist.
I think you are still well within the genre, despite the things you've done that are different. I'm currently reading a noir novel that's got some SF elements mixed in. It's different.
The exhaustion is no fun. Do what you can when you can, even if it's just a little bit. I found the hard way that writing uses up energy my body needed to heal. It sucks how that works.