Why women make such scary villains

I’ve been writing a couple of little cozy mysteries lately. Both my killers have been women, which has opened up a whole line of debate in my head: namely, why are female villains so much more frightening than male ones?

I was listening to Elizabeth Elliot over the weekend, and oddly enough, she touched on this very thing. She was talking about what it means to be a woman, and she had this interesting observation.

“I was having a conversation with my brother several years ago, discussing the topic of feminism. He pointed out that men are always the great generals, and statesmen, and artists. Women don’t do this because women are so much closer to the heart of things. They are occupied with helping, with nurturing, with caring for the weak, the hidden, the imprisoned, and the betrayed.” (Quoted verbatim because I can’t get back to that particular broadcast.)

But this gave me an interesting perspective. What makes the White Witch so scary? What made the original Maleficent so chilling? Why is the evil stepmother a universal trope throughout all fairy tales?

bbc-white-witch
Because the BBC White Witch had so much more style.

If women are closer to the heart of life, that makes them uniquely poised to strike and harm that heart.

King Solomon once observed, “A wise woman builds her house, but a foolish woman tears it down with her hands.”

There’s nothing more defenseless and harmless than a human child. Women have the wonderful power to birth and raise the next generation. But when a woman embraces selfishness rather than her innate power of helping and nurturing, she can also destroy that life–emotionally, physically, spiritually.

That’s where the evil stepmother trope comes in. The woman who takes in children who aren’t her own and works tirelessly to destroy them, whether it’s with poisoned apples, abandoning them in the woods, or condemning them to work in the ashes as a servant. Each of these things are carefully calculated to destroy the child either physically, spiritually, or emotionally.

What makes the White Witch so disturbing? Is it when she feeds Edmund the corrupting Turkish Delight? Is it when she turns the partying animal folk to stone? Or is it when she ceremonially kills Aslan?

In my opinion, it’s not the barefaced violence that makes her frightening. It’s the diabolical backstabbing, the curses, the poison, the lies. She’s even scarier in the Magician’s Nephew, because you get to see her talk about how destroying all life with the Deplorable Word (basically a magical nuke) was totally her right.

Men can be wicked, too. But a man will generally shoot you or rape you. A woman will poison your coffee. That’s the fun of the mystery genres. We WANT a diabolical killer who eludes the police with superior clue-hiding skills. That’s why men and women are both fair game for murderers–but a female killer is slightly more chilling. Because she’s reversed her role as a nurturing, caregiving woman and become the opposite–one who takes life instead of giving it.

The wicked stepmother is indeed wicked on many, many levels.

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The secret ingredient to true love

I once stood at the window of our apartment, watching this guy and girl have a terrible fight in the rain. She was trying to leave, but the car was locked and he wouldn’t give her the keys. He was raging about how she had disrespected him. She refused to admit any wrongdoing, blaming him for his lack of love. To his credit, he never punched her, although she hit him a couple of times. Eventually, he stormed off and she called someone to pick her up.

It was fascinating. If the woman refuses to respect her man, he withholds the love that she craves. The relationship goes into a death spiral.

In our culture, women have been elevated to goddesses. But they are also not held accountable for their lack of respect. Very rarely is that addressed in fiction: women are always princesses and men are always Prince Charming. Except relationships don’t work that way. There has to be respect on both sides.

A while back, I got on a young adult fantasy kick. I read stacks of the things, mostly pulled at random off the library shelves. I’d pick up titles I’d seen on blogs, I’d read them for their pretty covers, I’d read them if they featured any monster but vampires.

I despise vampires. Blame it on some really, really awful fanfiction I read as a teen.

One thing I noticed over and over was that these authors seemed to have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like. The characters have random sex, love triangles, and abuse each other mercilessly. Respect is hard to find. And don’t get me started on the relationships these characters had with their parents.

Ugh.

Paranormal romance always follows the Beauty and the Beast formula. Girl is forced by circumstances into monster’s miserable world. She can free him from his prison, but it’s going to take a lot of effort on both their parts.

Corollary: the girl can join him in his miserable world instead of redeeming him (aka becoming a vampire), but it’s not as satisfying to the reader.

As a culture, we’ve lost the true meaning of love, which is self-sacrifice. Instead, we try to glorify this selfish, grasping, possessive, unhealthy thing and call it love.

This thing that we’ve become
Might look like love to some
All the lies you’ve fed to me
Leave me standing empty
With nothing to say

–The Huntress, The Echoing Green

I mean, nothing’s more romantic than Edward sneaking into Bella’s room at night to watch her sleep, right? Right? Or how about the werewolf growling, “MINE!”

twilight-vs-tangled

Yeah, right. Girls, this behavior is a warning sign, not something to seek out.

So I decided to try my hand at writing the whole teen paranormal romance thing. I had a few questions in mind that I wanted to explore in a story.

1. Can you love someone if you have no emotions?

2. What does a respectful, self-sacrificing relationship look like?

3. Can love redeem a monster?

The answers I eventually came up with:

1: Yes, because love is an act of will

2. Smoking hot

3. It helps the monster take responsibility for seeking his own redemption. No human being can really save another.

After reading so much fiction where love is basically elaborate lust, I needed to see what true romance looks like. So I cracked open the Song of Solomon.

Hoo boy. Song is HOT. I needed a cold shower after I finished.

What I learned, though, is that real romance happens not only when two people are attracted to each other, but when they highly respect each other. They’re willing to do anything for the other. And the longing. So much longing. In the Song, he leaves flowers on her door, so she runs out into the streets looking for him, and wanders until the city guards send her home. It’s a long time until she finds him. When she does, their joy (and intimate times) are so great that only metaphor can describe it.

As I wrote the Malevolent trilogy, I kept this in mind, ramping up the respect and self-sacrifice in each book. In book 1, we deal with the awkwardness of Mal and Libby meeting and figuring out Mal’s secrets. In book 2, they have an established relationship and their shared secrets are slowly killing them. Monsterhood comes at a high price.

The result is a super-hot romance, heavy on the feels, that has almost no physical contact. I think they kiss once in each book. Even the telepathy stuff is shown to be a bad thing after a while.

I kept coming back to respect. Respect respect respect. This is harder for women than for men. Women naturally give love and affection, while men naturally give respect.

If you can get this right–as well as the occasional failings, when they forget to respect each other and cause trouble instead–you can have a romance that is far more satisfying than just characters jumping into the sack together. I hope Malcontent is a decent picture of what this looks like. You know, if you were telepathically chained to a soulless monster. 😉

Malcontent has officially launched! Now you can continue Mal and Libby’s story, as well as their deeper dive into danger.

When things don’t go as planned (and Valentine’s book sale)

“I have a book to launch this week!” I thought to myself. “I’ll spend the week setting up advertising, formatting the ebook and print book, and celebrating!”

And then we all got tonsillitis.

I’ve never had it before, and it’s all kinds of lousy. It’s taken me a whole week to get better. A whole. Stinking. Week. AND THEN all the kids and my husband got it, too. So I’ve been barely well enough to look after other sick people. There’s been a lot of hot tea and kombucha around here.

“Sure, I’ll participate in this big blog book sale!” I said several weeks ago.

Annnnd tonsillitis. I woke up this morning and realized, crap, that was TODAY. I had the bright idea to throw a roast in the slow cooker so I could get my work done and still have dinner.

I pulled out the slow cooker and set it on the sink. I opened the cabinet to grab my seasonings. A glass jar fell out of the cabinet, fell into the crock pot, and as luck would have it, shattered the crockery of the pot, NOT the jar. So now I have the extra step of baking a roast in the oven instead of the set-it-and-forget-it slow cooker.

It’s been kind of a rough week. So here’s some books!


This Valentine’s Day, the awesome authors at Fellowship of Fantasy have banded together to provide an awesome selection of free and discount Fantasy and Speculative Fiction stories. Browse the titles, select as many as your heart desires, and discover your next favorite author!



All Fellowship of Fantasy titles are author rated with a guaranteed content level no higher than PG-13, so you shouldn’t encounter graphic sex, gratuitous violence, or excessive language.



As pricing can be subject to the whims of the vendors, please verify that the deals are, in fact, still active before purchasing. Thank you!


Bargain Books (priced at 99 cents)

Fellowship of  Fantasy
Rebirth—Frank B. Luke-Amazon
Seven Deadly Tales—Frank B. Luke-Amazon
The Hidden Level—AJ Bakke-Amazon
To Save Two Worlds—AJ Bakke-Amazon
The Regency Shifter Series—KM Carroll-Amazon—iTunes—Barnes and Noble
Academy of Secrets—Michael Carney-Author Website
Sunbolt—Intisar Khanani-Amazon—Barnes and Noble—Kobo
Wyndano’s Cloak—A. R. Silverberry Amazon—Barnes and Noble
The Stream—A. R. Silverberry –Amazon—Barnes and Noble
Rainbird—Rabia Gale-Amazon—Barnes and Noble—Kobo
Reality Break—Jennifer Kibble-Amazon
Battle for the Throne—EJ Willis-Amazon
Nyssa Glass’s Clockwork Christmas—H. L. Burke-Amazon
The True Bride and the Shoemaker—L. Palmer-Author Website—Amazon
Cry of the Sea—D. G. Driver-Amazon
Foxtails—Erica Laurie-Amazon
Eun Na and the Phantom—Erica Laurie-Amazon
 

Free Books

The Buick Eight—Frank B. Luke-Amazon
Cora and the Nurse Dragon—H. L. Burke-Amazon
Lands of Ash—H. L. Burke-Amazon
Prince of Alasia—Annie Douglass Lima-Amazon
Awakening—Julie C. Gilbert-Amazon
Leandra’s Enchanted Flute—Katy Huth Jones-Amazon
Mercy’s Prince—Katy Huth Jones-Amazon
Woe for a Faerie—B. Brumley-Amazon—iTunes—Barnes and Noble
Chasing Lady Midnight—C. L. Ragsdale-Amazon
Jin In Time Part One —Karin De Havin-Amazon—iTunes—Barnes and Noble
Nyssa Glass and the Caper Crisis—H. L. Burke-Amazon
Fellowship of Fantasy

Love, Lies and Hocus Pocus (why you should read it)

Yep, this is a book review. Of a really fun book. You ready?

No, I did not just say that in a WWE wrestler’s voice.

Anyway, here’s the official summary:

By day, book-loving wizard Lily Singer manages library archives. By night? She sleeps, of course. In between, she studies magic and tries to keep her witch friend Sebastian out of trouble. Much to her displeasure, he finds it anyway and drags her along with him.

From unmaking ancient curses to rescuing a town lost in time, Lily and Sebastian fight to avert magical mayhem. Meanwhile, Lily’s mysterious past begins to unfold–a past hidden from her by those she trusts most. Will she be able to discover the truth despite them?

And now for my review.

This isn’t really urban fantasy, not if you take UF to mean clever wizards as the underdogs in a massive struggle against an overpowering evil force against the backdrop of a rainy city. This is more like what I think of as contemporary fantasy (and might be at home on a shelf of paranormal cozy mysteries): Girl and guy solve mysteries. They have chemistry. They exchange witty banter. They drink tea. Oh, and occasionally they do some really interesting magic.

I think that’s one thing that attracted me to the book in the first place. The magic system is based on Sumerian cuneiform (which has always intrigued me). It smacks of frontiers. The heroine, Lily, is always learning some new spell by examining an ancient artifact. It thrills my little paleontologist/archeologist heart.

The hero, Sebastian, is a witch. But he’s a witch in the sense that his magic comes from trading favors with other beings. And the beings he prefers to deal with are fairies. So there’s lots of him bribing various fairies and pixies with booze. It’s hilarious and not very witchy. It’s like the lighter moments in the Dresden books when Harry bribes the pixies with pizza.

The book is laid out kind of oddly–it’s basically three novellas rolled into one book. So in Story 1, you meet Lily and see how she deals with a haunted house. In Story 2, you follow Sebastian into the seamy underworld of Alabama and see how his fairies help him take on a drug ring. In the third story, the artifact of note in story 2 has been used to freeze a whole town in a time loop. Think Groundhog Day.

It’s kind of odd reading three stories in one book. But they’re all heavily interconnected. The shorter length makes for quick reading (again, like a cozy mystery).

Since I’m always in the market for light, fluffy reading, this book hit the spot. I’m also reading the second book, which is supposed to take the metaplot a little deeper. There’s also a kickstarter going for books 3 and 4, which will be out soon (yay!).

What are you waiting for? Go grab a copy!

Cover reveal: MALCONTENT

It’s finally here! Malcontent is ready, and now the buildup to launch begins!

malcontent-fullsize

Six months after the events of MALEVOLENT, Mal and Libby are struggling with the side effects of having two souls combined in one body…and the uncomfortable intimacy it brings.

When Mal captures a hive of killer bees, they inform him of a new threat from the Necromancer. Dark barriers and dangerous sigils are mounted around the valley. At the same time, Libby begins training with the Marchers, who will instruct her in the use of life and death motes. But the Marchers are on a relentless hunt for the Lich Prince and his hidden soul – which she now carries inside of her.

Now Mal and Libby must find a way to extract Mal’s soul before they are caught by the Marchers – killed by the Necromancer – or destroyed by the slow subsumption of their souls.


MALCONTENT will be available on all retailers February 14th! (Isn’t that a totally appropriate release date?) I’m super excited for this book–it’s one of my best yet. There are feels. There is suspense. Mal and Libby’s relationship deepens. There may even be kissing. 😉

Preorder here!

Sneak peek at chapter 1 here!

Marketing (and how nobody knows how to do it)

Sign-ups for this year’s Realm Makers conference went up yesterday. All my writer friends are excitedly talking about it, exchanging yarns from last year, and looking forward to going this year.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting here thinking, “The only way I could possibly go to RM is as a panelist, and even then they’d have to twist my arm.” Which set me daydreaming about what topic I’d talk about. Which led me to probably the biggest question all writers have.

MARKETING.

HOW YOU DO IT.

One thing you must know first about all marketing: nobody knows what works. If publishers knew what books would sell, all books would be bestsellers. The ideal marketing is to put your product in front of people who want to buy it. But how to find those people? And how to entice them to buy your product at all?

Targeted marketing has become a big deal. Facebook ads that show ads only to a certain demographic of people who are the most likely to want the product. Or Amazon ads that only show you books similar to other books you’ve bought. (How many of us shop the also-boughts? I do!)

When I was in college for digital design, the whole focus of the course was on advertising. I learned a whole lot about advertising that I didn’t want to know. Want to know what I learned?

Ready for this?

All marketing boils down to hitting three points:

Lust of the flesh

Lust of the eyes

Pride of life

That’s all there is to it.

This book will give you FEELS. (Lust of the flesh).

the_fault_in_our_stars

This book has a PRETTY COVER. (Lust of the eyes, and boy do I buy books with pretty covers).

raven-king

EVERYBODY ELSE IS READING THIS BOOK AND IF YOU READ IT YOU WILL BE COOL TOO. (Pride of life. I think a lot of lit-rit-chewer falls into this category. Like Mark Twain said, literature is something everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.)

goldfinch

Chris Fox has a nice little book about marketing. You find groups online where your target readers hang out. For instance, one of my friends markets her fantasy books with science-based magic to homeschoolers whose kids want magic but who disapprove of Harry Potter. She could target all kinds of homeschool communities.

Cozy mystery authors who write mystery + knitting or mystery + baking can target the baking or knitting communities.

Really, it’s not rocket science–hunt down the people who are interested in your topic. Then you have to work on your presentation. Instead of bombing into the party and screaming BUY MY BOOK, you have to rub elbows, hobnob, make friends. Maybe do a guest post here and there on blogs, or run an ad on their network. Do it quietly. People have to see an ad at least six times before it registers enough for them to make a decision about buying.

But if you spam their social media with BUY MY BOOK over and over, you’re going to get blocked. I see this happening with politics right now. The media is hawking so much hate and rage that people are blocking it out. The louder they scream, the more they get ignored.

Kristen Lamb has a great social media marketing book called Rise of the Machines. In it, she goes into the neuroscience of how we ignore ads. We’ve been saturated in advertising for so many decades that our brains have actually evolved resistance. We physically don’t see the ads anymore.

I notice this as we drive down the road.  My hubby will say, “Did you see that billboard?” I look around. “Huh?” I didn’t see any billboards at all. My brain has filtered them out.

Big fat graphic ads don’t work so well. You know what work? Links. Like these. People click little links like these WAY more often than the huge ad graphics.

To sum up, marketing is one of those things that are simple but not easy. It’s all about schmoozing. And social media is terrible at that. Just look at the summary of last year’s advertising for Rachel Aaron’s books.

The number 1 best way to sell books?

Write more books. Talk about them when they launch. Quietly run an ad on a different book newsletter every month. Indielister is a goldmine of a database of ads and results. Keep an ear to the ground for industry news. None of the steps are hard, but they do require getting educated.

Now go out and make people lust after your products!