Monthly Archive: December 2018

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016: Problematic sexualisation in books (and also, a review)

This was written for GoodReads, but I’m crossposting, since I want to use this blog more! Today’s topic: problematic portrayals of women in books.

Since I started my GoodReads account in 2009 I’ve given a total of six one star reviews. I’m generous, usually, because I’ll always appreciate the work that goes into a book, being a writer myself, and usually round up. One thing I can’t stand is men writing questionable portrayals of women, especially teenage girls. The most memorable one stars here are World War Z (review) and Eldvittnet (review), a Swedish crime mystery, translated to English with the title The Fire Witness.

My review for World War Z details how bad it is at portraying women, how few there are (I read 25% before deciding not to finish, and in that time there were interviews with 17 people, of which 14 were male and 3 female (82 vs 18%), 1 male and 2 females (7 vs 66%) had their looks described), and how they’re objectified and their accomplishments are passed by. For Eldvittnet I talk about how problematic it is when a crime mystery is centered around teenage girls with mental health problems, many of them self harming, when a big plot point is them being either used sexually or drugged or restrained in unethical ways by staff at a treatment centre they’ve been committed to against their will.

And then there’s this book, Oktober är den kallaste månaden, translated to English with the title October is the Coldest Month by Christoffer Carlsson (review, though this is more or less a c/p of this post), which incidentally have won a price for best crime novel for children and teens. (Insert my alarm that a book with this portrayal of a sixteen year old girl won an actual prize?)

The setting is the following: Vega, 16, lives in rural Sweden where things are bleak in every way. Police starts searching for her brother, who goes missing after being present at the scene of a crime. What they don’t know is that Vega was present too, and knows what happened. That sounds like a decent story, right? It would’ve been, if it hadn’t been so rife with unnecessary, gross depictions of sex in relation to this girl, who is 16. I’m no prude, and I’m actually a fan of books that talks about sex in frank terms, because people have sex and that’s just the way it is. I’m not in any way saying that YA it has no place in YA. I’m saying that if you, as a male, write teen girls, you really need to be mindful of how you write about sex.

In this book it’s done in a way that makes it feel… everything but that. Under the cut I’m listing all the sexual references in the first 40 pages, which is as far as I read. They’re graphic, as a warning. (Will using these terms give me gross bots? Time will tell.)

So much graphic ⌲ ⌲ ⌲

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015: writer burn out

This year for NaNoWriMo I decided to write in Swedish, my first language. I haven’t used it in fiction for well over a decade, and while it worked… sort of… it also nearly broke me. The rhythm in the both languages are very different, and what sounds good in English often sounds clunky in Swedish, and the other way around. I still wanted to try. Afterwards I went head first into a I CAN’T WRITE EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE I CAN’T BE A WRITER, ETC, every writer knows this one very well, I’m sure. I’ve had writing a blog post on my to do list for about three weeks. That’s how much I didn’t want to write anymore

But. I am a writer. I think in stories. Right now I work going through old records and digitalising them to be put in geneology databases. I’m focusing on something called soldattorp — crofts (I think) for military. In the 1600s to 1800s every soldier was assigned one, a small cottage, that they lived in while on active duty. We’re going through every inhabitant and finding as much info as we can, though I’m sticking to the 1800s, because reading old handwriting from the 1600s is beyond me. At least at this point.

This is some of the pretty handwriting from the early 1800s. Most of it isn’t this legible, but this I photographed because it’s basically art. From the left that’s date of birth and baptism, name (underlined), parents identity, and if they died young, their name is struck out and there’s a date on the right with their date of death — död is Swedish for death.

We look in old records, mostly books that priests kept back in the day, noting down births, deaths, marriages, people moving away, military service, etc. Looking through these books we note things like:

  • Birth date, location of birth.
  • Death date, location of death, cause of death when possible.
  • Parents, their maiden and married names.
  • If married, their wife’s name, maiden name, birth and death date, cause of death.
  • Children, birth dates.

And so forth.

This is death records, annoyingly cropped to remove some identifying stuff. First column is name, location, name of spouse. Second is date of death. Third marks whether they’re married, unmarried, widowed, etc. Fourth is just a page number. Fifth is cause of death. Most of these are tuberculosis (lungsot), but pneumonia, heart failure, old age, etc are common too.

The other day I found a man, who was conscripted into the military at age 10, as a musician. We went through so many records trying to figure out if there was an error date wise — who even joins the military at ten years old, even in the mid 1800s? — but eventually found proof that it was indeed true. I kept digging, found his parents names, that he was unmarried, and at last, in a book like the one above, that he committed suicide, at age 31.

I spent probably two hours on him (note: I’m not actually educated in this stuff, it’s part of a program to activate disabled people, and I’m learning as I go so I’ll get faster I’m sure), and as I did it I slowly found myself wondering how a story about him would go. I probably won’t write it, because that’s not really my genre, but this guy’s fate somehow made me want to write again. I haven’t yet, because I’m busy with Christmas prep and trying to give my brain a break, but the feeling of it returning, slowly, over a week or more, is quite something.

I’m not entirely sure how or when I’ll start writing again, but a week ago the answer was NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS (I love a bit of dramatics tbh), so this is nice. I’m not even sure what the point of this post even is, other than that writing a few words seemed like a good place to start, and to note that writer burnout is very real, and I’m grateful that I’m starting to recover.

(As an aside, if you think you have this problem, read this or this for some pointers, I found these three posts helpful, particularly the first two.)