Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder as Chuck Wendig pointed out so brilliantly in his recent post ( http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/06/29/beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholders-ten-magical-eye-stalks/ ), but it’s also in the perception of that beholder. I came face-to-face with that issue in a recent review of one of my books.
In The Coming Storm and its sequels and prequels I tried to project a society where physical beauty isn’t the measure of an individual, it’s their accomplishments that matter. In their world, every being has equal value, whether they’re the ones who clean the stables or the Hunters who defend them. Even their leaders have no title beyond ‘first among equals’. It’s a shock for Colath to discover that the people of men consider him beautiful by their standards. Elon, first among equals in his Enclave of Aerilann, is frequently described as stern, imposing, but not physically attractive. He’s fit, well-muscled as suits a swordsman, but that wouldn’t have been that uncommon in any society of that level. Most of our own ancestors would have been that fit, do to the physical labor the vast majority had to perform. In our own history, one of the issues the settlers had to deal with was what they considered the physical beauty of the natives.
Even Ailith, the female lead, isn’t described as beautiful, her features are said to be too strong for real beauty. Nor is Jalila, but it’s her confidence that sets her apart.
The review, by the way, was generally great…especially the comparison to Tolkien…but not the little bit about ‘of course, the Elves are beautiful’. I took pains to point out that they aren’t, that it’s their self-confidence that makes them appear that way.
I experienced that first hand. Growing up, especially during those years when society starts to push young people into slots, I was labelled a geek. I wore glasses, I did well in school, and I was a little chubby. However, just before my senior year, we found out we were moving to a new town, and I decided to reinvent myself. I put the glasses away and took my chances with my nearsightedness. I started exercising. I took pains with my hair and learned how to apply makeup. It was a different, more confident, me who went to the new town and the new school. I knew I had made it when one of the ‘popular’ boys tried to copy my school work, knowing I did well. I didn’t let him and he backed down. Suddenly, I was one of the popular kids.
The essential me hadn’t changed, but the physical me had, and my confidence in who I was made the difference. It was just perception.
I would see that same thing when I met my husband for the first time. As he walked toward me I could tell he wasn’t worried about impressing me, he was confident but not arrogant – he was just comfortable in his own skin and with who he was. He’s not particularly tall, and although I consider him a good-looking man, some wouldn’t. None of that matters, not to him and not to me.
About that perception thing… When my old cats, my constant companions through a lot of upheavals, died, I found myself missing that companionship. So I went to the animal shelter. They had dozens of beautiful kittens, but none as beautiful to me as this pretty piebald kitten in the very back. She was a cuddler, such a love… and she was in the very back for one reason – she only had one eye. I don’t even notice any more. To me, it didn’t matter. Any more than it mattered for the little stray I found attacking something in a discarded McDonald’s bag. That his jaw was broken and his face was a little flattened wasn’t important. He’s got a great personality. And when he looks up at me there is so much love and trust in his eyes that nothing else matters. What’s truly ugly is the person who did that to him, or who abandoned him.
I wasn’t a big George Clooney fan – although people were always focused on his looks, they did nothing for me, I thought he was a little too self-involved…until he got involved in the situation in Darfur. As did the issues in a couple of his movies. His looks still don’t do anything for me, but he has my respect.
Actions. It’s what you do that matters.
If you want more of The Coming Storm series…
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The Coming Storm http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WLOBG2
A Convocation of Kings http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0050K6F86
Setting Boundaries http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ7X50
Not Magic Enough http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ44MA
I’ve always found honor and integrity fascinating. The struggle to maintain either in the face of a world – ours or imaginary – that often values neither. That’s where the true conflict lies. All of my characters have to deal with that, but none so much as Elon and Jareth in The Coming Storm. Even Daran High King has his own sense of honor, and holds true to it.
It is Elon and Jareth who struggle with it the most, though. Colath, Elon’s true-friend, faces no such struggle, he simply lives both without question. There are those very rare people who do that.
Elon, though, is more complex. He understands the consequences of his actions and decisions, yet even so he fights to do the right, the honorable thing, on both a grand and a personal level. Despite everything he believes, everything his and the greater society believes, he does what he knows is right, even if there will be consequences,even at the risk of his own life.
For Jareth, honor is more personal, a moment by moment decision he has to make and it’s not always easy for him. He didn’t come from a good background, as we discover in A Convocation of Kings. For him those choices are more complicated.
It’s those decisions and the people who make them that intrigues me and its something many of my characters have to struggle with. The kind of decisions about what’s best, either on a grand scale or a smaller one.
What is it about some men and women that send them running toward danger to help or save others, and not away? That’s what interests me.
It’s not always the big, muscular “hero” types either. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at fit men as much as any other woman, but it’s not always the Alpha males that are so popular in fiction who go charging into the face of danger. Watch the news, many of the cops and firemen you see are just average people – not particularly tall or overwhelmingly muscular, just fit. (Although there are a LOT of pictures of very muscular fireman on FB).
We do have a thing in our society about physical appearance. Most people tend to think that danger comes in the form of disreputable people, which makes TV shows like Dexter believable on an entirely different level than what was intended. Dexter is a serial killer of serial killers, but he’s attractive so he has to be the good guy. The reality is that people like the man who kept three women hostage in Cleveland was that he was so ordinary in real life that no one gave a thought to him. To some extent I have to blame those line-up pictures that the news shows put up…but then again, how many of these people have time to pretty themselves up for that? What they should have shown was a picture of the man his neighbors and friends saw – not the disheveled monster.
We also have glorified the anti-hero, the person who has to be convinced to do the right thing (or the schlub who can barely do anything right).
Yet I look at the firefighters who died in AZ; or the cops, firefighters, and first responders who went up into the Towers, and I know that few of them fit those stereotypes. They did – and many still do – what was right because it was the right thing to do.
Those are the characters in my books…Whether it’s Kyriay in Song of the Fairy Queen, who decides to restore Oryan to his throne when no one would blame her if she took her people into the deep forest and let men fight among themselves. Or Ariel in Lucky Charm, who grabs a two by four when she sees three men beating up a fourth. Or Ky in Heart of the Gods, who risks his life and identity. None of them are boring, all are complex, each makes their decisions for their own reasons, and all of their books will keep you entertained and on the edge of your seat…
The Coming Storm http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WLOBG2
Author page http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Douglas/e/B0036POJZI/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
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5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting And Sexy
“It was one of the most riveting page turners I’ve ripped through in a long time. I guess those who are a bit prudish about detailed sex episodes may be put off by this book. However, that is only a portion of this exciting story with its wonderful characters. For once an investigative work of fiction doesn’t revolve around a murder, but a disappearance, where the victim is still very much alive. I found the back story of a woman who heads up a spousal abuse rescue program very enlightening and the cast of well developed characters built around this group make for a very entertaining read also. The developing hot romance between the two main protagonists really adds some spice to an already great page turner. The description of the mountain location resort area during the Fall season with its colorful foliage also was a great addition to the story. This is one of those books that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down and finished in record time.” (thank you, sir!)
The review started out with this, though – “I’m not quite sure why so many others didn’t like this book…”
I suspect that I do.
Many people expect Independent writers to write ‘froth’ – easy to read romances and erotica (and I write those, too) or genre fiction like fantasy – and not in depth mysteries that discuss difficult subjects.
When I wrote The Last Resort I wanted to write about someone who had experienced domestic violence, not ‘survivor’ or another victim. I wanted it as a subtext to the primary story. The basic story was based on fact – a group like Carrie’s actually existed once, I don’t know if it still does. I wanted people to experience what it was like to be on all sides of the issue, in an entertaining story. It’s the only one of my books written in the first person, and it was originally intended as the first in a series of novels, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Like many of my novels, it started out as a real experience, with real people (and some not so real). I hope one day to see people coming to this book with it’s complex characters and deep storyline, looking for an entertaining mystery – and a little romance.
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In an odd way, I was lucky to grow up where I did – a resort town with a university. Time changed it, but it has been a wonderful background for some of my stories – all but the first book of The Millersburg Quartet were set there, and it was the setting for The Last Resort. In a way the town of ‘Millersburg’ becomes a character in itself. Of course, I changed the name to protect both the innocent and the guilty. (Although an old high school friend reconnected on Facebook, and she told me she recognized it.) Time has changed it, though. Most of the resorts that formed the basis for The Last Resort no longer exist. It was a real pleasure then to find an article in my local paper about some of my favorite places back ‘home’.
The farmer’s market on Main Street where Cam bought the supplies for her Saturday morning breakfasts as described in Dirty Politics and Director’s Cut was real at one time, as were the resorts where Carrie worked in The Last Resort. The Inn at Pocono Manor, where Carrie and Drew danced, still exists. (Although I did change a few pertinent details as well as the name.)
My favorite town, Jim Thorpe, was featured in two of those books, as well. A wonderful little town with Victorian accents, it was full of great shops, wonderful little restaurants, quaint little B&Bs and one of the best lounges at the Harry Packer house. I loved visiting there at Christmas when the whole town would be decorated for the holidays.
There’s no season that isn’t good there, if you want a long weekend it’s a great place to go. Some people go just for the fall colors. Winter snow turns it picturesque, and there’s plenty of skiing nearby. Spring is a great time to visit, the number of visitors is smaller so you can enjoy wandering through some of the shops. How do I know all this? Like Molly, I worked – briefly – for the Vacation Bureau.
Dirty Politics – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005318DNW
Director’s Cut – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0058KRLVS
The Last Resort – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052UX3V6
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Of all my books, perhaps The Last Resort is the most conflicted. It’s also the book one of my beta readers swears is the best I’ve ever written. It’s the book that nearly won a contest, but won one of the judges’ hearts – she asked to be notified if it ever reached print. (It has!) It’s also the book that receives the most mixed reviews – primarily a complaint that too much is going on. Which I have to admit makes me laugh even as I struggle with it.
Because life is messy, and complicated, and so much of events of The Last Resort are based on reality. Events that took place almost exactly as they happen in the book, and at the same time. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Or innocent. I have to admit to being tempted to hold a contest asking readers to tell me which characters in The Last Resort are real…and which aren’t. I’m also grateful that some of the participants in those events are probably dead by now although I doubt they’d recognize themselves. People never do.
One reviewer even commented on the level of detail, objecting to a mention of the heroine raking leaves. Yet that rake shows up in a later scene. As a writer I had to explain why it was so conveniently placed there. I had to make it real.
Even the ‘rescue rangers’ are based in truth. Some time ago, I read about a woman who had organized a group of retired cops and ex-service people to help battered women escape their abusers. It was difficult and dangerous work, as they and any police officer could tell you.
I sometimes wonder if people have just seen too many Lifetime movies where the victim escapes into the arms of the one man who will love her, who will fight for her, and in the end save her from her abuser.
In real life, that just doesn’t happen. Most women who escape run to their families (where their batterers frequently find them) or live in shelters on subsistence. They have no money because their abusers made sure they had no access to any. Most are ashamed.
When they do call for help, they frequently panic immediately afterward. Many times cops become caught between the abuser and the victim, because the victim is all too aware that the laws don’t really protect her. In all likelihood her abuser will be back out on the street within hours. And looking for her. Unless she finds a shelter – most counties don’t have domestic violence shelters – he’ll very likely find her. A protection from abuse order is worth the paper it’s written on, it’s a formality that must be part of the record…but one that is almost guaranteed to infuriate the abuser – who never considers himself the bad guy. It’s shaming, and inflaming for them.
Leaving is the most dangerous time for most women, and the time when most die. One to three women in the United States daily.
So I wrote The Last Resort from my own experience, and it translated fairly easily. All the events in the book took place around the same time.
What I didn’t want to write was just another domestic violence book. I didn’t want it to be primarily about domestic violence. I wanted to write something that would be entertaining as well. I wanted the book to balance what I frequently see as a culture of constant victim-hood, with women and those around them defining themselves always by this one event for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I wanted to write about someone who would give women hope, an example of someone who had broken the chains of domestic violence. I wanted to write a book about a woman who had not only survived, but thrived and grew stronger because of it. I also wanted to show that it was possible to love and be loved again, to have a healthy relationship.
Someone like me.
Twenty percent of all the proceeds of The Last Resort will go to charities benefiting the victims of domestic violence.
Available from Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052UX3V6
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