You’re Nobody’s Bitch

crossed handsI’ve written several pieces exploring why the male characters in my novels tend to be misogynist A-holes. But I recently had an experience that made me realize I’m looking at the issue from the wrong perspective.

I was minding my own business, when three twenty-somethings sat beside me – two female and one male. It was clear they had just met and the “dude” (‘cause that’s what he was) was in full-flirt mode seeing which of the two he could most engage. He asked what they did and Female A said she was “an executive assistant.” Then she paused and said, “Basically, I’m somebody’s bitch.” Female B chimed in and said she was “also someone’s bitch.” Female A, either in humorous or competitive mode, augmented her status by saying, “I’m an executive bitch,” and Female B concurred saying, “I’m just a regular bitch.”

In the parlance they seemed to prefer, I wanted to bitch-slap both of them right on the spot. The conversation saddened and disgusted me. The idea that my daughter, nieces, or female students would ever describe themselves as “somebody’s bitch” made my skin scrawl. It was terrible on so many levels. The two women were recent graduates of a prominent New England university and just starting their careers. I teach at Boston College and I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is for young people to land their first job. Those first jobs are usually nothing near what they had envisioned, but that’s okay. Every job is a springboard for the next job with more responsibility and higher pay. Every job is honorable and every job provides an opportunity to learn and observe. The world is full of stories of C-level female executives who began their career as assistants, including Christiane Amanpour, Donna Karan, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I doubt any of them ever described themselves as “somebody’s bitch.”

Words are powerful, and the words we speak aloud define us. Referring to oneself as a “bitch” provides tacit permission for others to view you that way. There’s an old adage that recommends you dress for the job you want. It’s even more important that you think of yourself and conduct yourself in terms of the job you want. I remember hiring a young woman about ten years ago as my “assistant.” When I offered her the position I said, “someday you’re going to be running this place.” Her intelligence, ambition, and work ethic emanated from her words, body language, poise, and self-confidence. She – and anyone who knew her – would never describe her as “somebody’s bitch.” She wasn’t and would never be. Ten years later, her career is progressing on a steady upward arc and the sky remains the limit.

I worry, however, about the career path of these two young women. I worry about their self-perception, the choices they will make in life and love, and their ability to recognize and achieve their full potential.

I’ve long considered myself a feminist. I read and absorbed Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer back in my twenties. My two best bosses ever were both women. I always believed women could do anything men could do, but I’ve more recently come to the conclusion that women can do many – if not most – things better than men. That’s why I am so adamant and vocal with my female students to speak up for themselves and not be shy or hesitant to trumpet their skills and accomplishments.

That’s also why my novels feature strong female characters who put their male counterparts to shame. Those male characters may indeed be misogynist A-holes, but their failings are amplified in comparison to the smart and capable women they interact with. Their failings are also purposely exaggerated so male readers notice. Us males tend towards the Neanderthal and often have to be hit over the head with an insight before truly taking it in. And there’s nothing I like better than hitting Neanderthals over the head.

 

Interview with “Eccentric Bookaholic”

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 9.40.48 AMWhat first inspired you to write or who inspired you?

I can’t point to any specific event or moment in time. I’ve been an avid reader since early childhood. I remember being sick in bed with the flu when I was in grammar school. My father brought me a stack of books – mostly fiction and biographies – from the library and he couldn’t believe how fast I read them all and asked for another batch. I loved the way reading helped me escape the discomfort of being sick, and somewhere deep in my psyche the seed was probably planted that I would like to offer that same kind of respite and joy to future readers.

At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?

For as long as I can remember. Like many kids I starting writing goofy stories for my own enjoyment and to share with friends. I sold my first article when I was 16. I’ve since sold three novels, two nonfiction books, three books of humor, and dozens of magazine articles (and self-published several other books). I’ve often said my tragic flaw is having too many interests – which is why I’ve written in such a wide variety of genres. Nonetheless, I do think it is curiosity that has driven my writing life.

Do you take notes when reading or watching a movie?

I trend to take notes everywhere. Ideas for plots, characters, and dialogue pop up while I’m showering, driving, falling asleep, walking the dogs, etc. When I’m reading or watching movies/TV, I’ll sometimes think about different ways a scene could have been handled. Depending on where I am, I often record my ideas as a voice memo on my iPhone or send myself an email reminder. Because I’m always taking notes I have way more storylines, situations, characters, and plot twists than I could ever use. I can’t point to how or why, but I do believe that inspiration derives from being open to new ideas and keeping my eyes and ears wide open.

Do you have a day job? What do you do?

I guess I’m in that stage of life called semi-retirement – meaning that I no longer have a 9-5 job. I do, however, mix and match four different jobs. Writing is certainly my focus and I write every single day. I’m also an adjunct professor at Boston College and I still do the occasional consulting project. And fourth, I’m a part-time chauffeur for a local car service company where I get to meet a wide variety of people and get inspiration for characters and storylines.

How often do you write?

I’m very disciplined about writing, so I write every single day. When I wrote Going Both Ways I had an objective of at least 500 words a day, 7 days a week. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll wait a long time.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing two novels. I’m finishing a black comedy about the current state of American politics. While I’m certain I could place it with a publisher, I think time is of the essence so I’m going to self-publish it around May 1. As my longer term project, I’m writing a “road-tripper” novel that explores love, loss, and the full range of interpersonal relationships.

Why My Male Characters Tend To Be Misogynist Pigs

stupid-man-punchGoing Both Ways, like my previous novel Still Counting, features a lead character who personifies every boorish male trait I want to protect my daughter from ever encountering. Patrick Morelli is a 27-year-old underachiever who still lives and acts like an adolescent frat boy. He stares at the slightest hint of cleavage and immediately undresses every woman with his eyes regardless of age, shape, race, or political affiliation. Actually none of those traits matter to him. All he’s concerned about is that she possess a complete set of female parts. You could say he’s a simple man with simple needs, but that’s letting him off far too easily. He’s never had a “girl friend” – i.e., a friend who happened to be female. His only interaction with women, other than his mother and sister, has been in their role as current or potential dating partners. As many women as he’s been with, Patrick doesn’t have a clue about what makes women tick. In fact, he’s pretty clueless about most aspects of life.

In Patrick’s defense, he does grow and mature over the course of the story. His every-other-day incarnation as a female (Trish) forces him to see the world from a decidedly different perspective. But in truth, he probably wouldn’t have fully evolved without the guidance and pointed chastisements of his sister Sarah. At the beginning of his alternating male/female embodiment, Patrick seems content to turn Trish into a similarly sex-obsessed “frat girl.” But then Trish has several encounters with Patrick-like boors and the proverbial light bulb goes off in Patrick’s head. He becomes a fully evolved male that both men and women would enjoy hanging around with.

So now, in my own defense, I am not condoning misogynist behavior. Instead I try to use it as a springboard to examine the male-female dichotomy. I use exaggerated boorishness because most of us males are not particularly good with subtlety. Male chauvinism is such a prevalent characteristic that we don’t notice or acknowledge it unless it beats us over the head with a two-by-four. It’s almost like we have to experience the Platonic ideal of misogyny to realize we want nothing to do with it.

But that’s not really the whole story. Patrick becomes a better person because of the women in his life – Trish, Sarah, and Gigi. I’m not certain that he would have matured so quickly (or at all) on his own – and that gets to the core of why my male characters tend to be sexist pigs. In my heart of hearts, I guess I believe women are superior to men in most of the ways that really matter. I see that in my wife, daughter, and nieces – and it’s my hope that more men will appreciate all the ways women make our lives and the world better.

Fun Interview with “Pimp that Character”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.03.09 AMWe’re thrilled to be talking to Patrick/Trish Morelli from Phil Fragasso’s, Going Both Ways. It is a pleasure to have him/her with us today at Pimp That Character!

Thank you for your interview, Patrick and Trish. How old are you and what do you do for a living?

PATRICK: I’m 27. I’m a writer by day and a waiter by night.

TRISH: I’m also 27 like my male chauvinist pig alter ego. I feel compelled to point out that Patrick is a wannabe writer who’s never published a thing in his life and mostly whines about writer’s block.

Can you tell us about one of your most distinguishable features?

PATRICK: Sad to say, but I’m a pretty nondescript dude – mousey brown hair, scruffy beard, bushy eyebrows, and twice-broken nose. On the bright side, blending into the woodwork could come in handy if I ever become a serial killer.

TRISH: The first time Patrick turned into me, he was quite taken with what he referred to as my “rather bodacious ass…a booty that could go cheek-to-cheek with the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.” That’s probably the only truthful thing he’s ever said.

What would I love the most about you?

PATRICK: I can be quite charming – quick with a compliment or quip. I’m definitely fun to be around – especially if you’re hot-to-trot or picking up the check.

TRISH: I’m not Patrick.

What would I hate the most about you?

PATRICK: I hate to admit it but I can be a sexist frat-boy who often reduces women to their physical attributes.

TRISH: You’d probably hate that, even when I’m in Trish’s body, Patrick’s Neanderthal psyche is still messing with my mind.

Where do you go when you are angry?

PATRICK: Drown my anger with Jack Daniels and Doritos.

TRISH: Soak in a hot bath and sip a Chardonnay.

What is in your refrigerator right now?

PATRICK: Two Sam Adams Lights, a six-pack of Smuttynose Brown Dog Ale, half-gallon soured of milk, leftovers from the restaurant, eggs, a half-eaten apple, deli ham, ketchup, mustard, and a jar of dill pickles.

TRISH: All of Patrick’s crap plus fresh arugula, blueberries, tomatoes, baby carrots, roast turkey, brie, cottage cheese, yogurt, butter and diet Coke.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

PATRICK: I’m not nearly as boorish as this two-bit writer portrays me. I mean, sure, I like to size up every woman I see and make comments about her face and figure. And I might occasionally suggest some of the things I’d like to do to with her; but it’s all a compliment, it’s not being rude.

TRISH: Very accurately. I’m far more mature, evolved, respectful, and likeable than Patrick. He’s like my evil twin brother.

If you could change one physical thing about yourself, what would that be?

PATRICK: I’d like to be a few inches taller. I’m 5’11” but think my life would be totally different if I were 6’2”. How could it not?

TRISH: Would it sound bad if I said I’d like to have larger breasts? It seems so stereotypical, but I do have this outstanding butt and I think a little more on top would balance me out. Sorry 🙁

Who is your best friend?

PATRICK: My sister Sarah. She’s younger, smarter and way more successful than me – but she loves me unequivocally and I love her as well.

TRISH: Sarah. I’ve only been around for a few weeks, but I’m sure Sarah likes me way better than Patrick.

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

PATRICK: I would go into Boston’s North End, the Italian area, and eat my way up and down Hanover and Salem Streets. Lots of pizza, seafood, pasta, pastries, wine, and espresso. And maybe try to get lucky with some of the Euro-trash honeys or college co-eds who hang out there.

TRISH: I would spend a girls-only day with my sister, Sarah. We’d shop on Newbury Street, visit the MFA and Gardner Museum, eat down by the waterfront, talk about life, and wonder how it was possible we were related to Patrick.

The Story Behind the Book – “Going Both Ways”

Most ofGoing Both Ways my writing has been centered on interpersonal relationships and the male-female dichotomy. Despite being a heterosexual male, my writing often portrays the male characters as boorish while the women tend to be more likeable and far wiser. It’s been said a million times that men don’t really understand women and vice versa. And it almost has to be that way because we’ve never taken the proverbial walk in the other gender’s shoes. But what if we did? How would that change our perspective?

That was the inspiration behind Going Both Ways. This idea of a body/age/gender switch is a fairly common conceit (think Big and 13 Going on 30) – so I added the unique twist of having the Patrick/Trish character alternate gender every other day. I thought having the same mind in alternating bodies would create optimal opportunity for growth, insight and humor.

I wrote the first third of the book very quickly, but I had no idea where the story was going or how it would be resolved. That’s not unusual for me. I’m not very good at outlining. I tend to have a general idea about the primary characters and storyline – and then start writing. Some writers get freaked out by that approach, but I find it energizing. To me it means the characters have ultimate freedom to take over the story and lead it wherever it needs to go. That’s exactly what happened with Going Both Ways. Patrick/Trish got into a situation that forced them – and the book – to move in a new direction, a direction I’d never envisioned but one that gave it more power, breadth, and resonance (if I say so myself). Once that plot resolution was revealed to me, the writing again came fast and easy.

I write because I love to. I publish because I want my stories to be read. But while I love the writing, the selling and marketing process has always given me fits. I have a literary agent who sold my nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Going Both Ways. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown. I loved the book and had decided to self-publish – but first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

Interview with PUYB Virtual Book Club

GoingBothWays_w10441_300Before you started writing your book, what kind of research did you do to prepare yourself?

As a novelist, most of my research comes about during the course of my daily activities. I like to write about relationships – pulling them apart and (sometimes) putting them back together – so the most effective research comes from watching and listening. I’ve always had a lot of female friends, and in my heart of hearts I do believe women are superior to men in the vast majority of ways. I think that’s why my two most recent novels feature guys who tend towards frat-boy boorishness while the women are far more evolved and mature.

Did you pursue publishers or did you opt to self-pub?

I have a literary agent who sold two of my recent nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Going Both Ways. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown in fiction. I loved the book and decided to self-publish – but I first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

If published by a publisher, what was your deciding factor in going with them?

The Wild Rose Press has an excellent reputation among authors. They have a strong corporate culture focused on frequent communications. Their editing and publishing process is very efficient and involves the author at every step of the way. I was impressed with the way they considered my query, requested the complete manuscript, and kept me informed as it moved from editor to outside readers and then up to senior editor for contract.

If published by a publisher, are you happy with the price they chose?

I think the eBook price of $4.99 is excellent. The paperback is a little pricey at $15.99 – but I fully understand that small publishers struggle with printed books and often do it more as a courtesy for the authors than for their own bottom line.

How did you choose your cover?

My publisher has a team of independent designers who design the book covers. Once the book was in the pre-production process, I was given access to samples from all the designers. One designer, Debbie Taylor, jumped out at me as having the kind of style I was looking for. I was able to provide specific input following the first round of design and the final result was dead-on.

Did you write your book, then revise or revise as you went?

I edit as I go and then do two in-depth copy edits before I consider a manuscript “final.” I’m not very good at outlining. I tend to have a general idea about the primary characters and storyline – and then start writing. I very rarely know how the story will resolve itself, and that was indeed the case with Going Both Ways. I loved the idea of a gender-switch that alternated every other day. I wrote almost half the book without knowing how the story would end. Some writers get freaked out by that, but I find it energizing. To me, it means the characters have taken over the story and they will lead it wherever it needs to go. And that’s exactly what happened. The lead character got into a situation that forced the book to move in a new direction – a direction that gave it more power, breadth, and resonance (if I say so myself).

Did you consider making or hiring someone to make a book trailer for your book? If so, what’s the link?

Making video trailers is my favorite part of book marketing. I use Final Cut on my Mac and I edit like crazy to make sure the pace, images, and music all work well together. I became even more disciplined with cutting extraneous material because Twitter only allows 30-second videos. Take a look here and let me know what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3UXGkBVPV0

What’s your opinion on giving your book away to sell other copies of your book?

I think it’s a tactic that’s better suited to self-published books. Publishers make a big investment when they sign an author and hope to receive a return on their commitment of time, resources and money. Having said that, I do believe in raffle-style giveaways of the sort that Goodreads offers and have participated in several for my books. The exception to all this, of course, is books that are part of a series. If the reader likes the free book, they’ll likely buy additional titles in the series.

What are three of the most important things you believe an author should do after their book is released?

First, stay with it. Bringing a book to life is akin to having a baby – and similarly is sometimes accompanied by post-partum depression. On publication day and the weeks immediately after, sales and promotional opportunities are all you can think about. For any author who’s not a household name, initial sales tend to be low – probably lower than expected – and it’s easy to become disheartened. In addition, marketing takes a ton of time – 25% to 50% of your day – and is virtually impossible to measure; so it’s another catalyst for disappointment. You simply have to believe in your work, believe it will find an audience, and stay with it.

Second, write something else. The best way to boost sales and visibility of Book ABC is to publish Book XYZ. In addition to helping sales of the first book, writing another keeps your head in the game. Keeps reminding you that writing is what you do and what you’ll always do.

Third, sit back and enjoy the moment. Writing a book is a big accomplishment. Everyone thinks they have a book in them, but very few make the commitment to go through with it. I’m a believer in celebrating the big and little things in life. Too many people focus solely on the past or the future and miss the opportunity to savor the present.

What kind of pre-promotion did you do before the book came out?

I added the book to my website, Facebook author page, and Twitter account masthead as soon as the cover was finalized. I created a short “teaser” video trailer that I promoted on all three of those platforms. I signed up for this tour with “Pump Up Your Book,” added the book to Readers Alley to encourage reviews, and created a Goodreads giveaway that ended one week after the publication date.

Do you have a long-term plan with your book?

In my mind, this book is destined to be a movie. It has all the characteristics of a big-screen hit – humor, sex, and suspense. So my plan is to keep promoting it as a book, trying to boost sales and visibility, and either write a screenplay myself or pitch it as a film adaptation.

What would you like to say to your readers and fans about your book?

Writers write in order to be read – not to garner fame or riches – but simply to be read. Going Both Ways was a true labor of love for me and I want it to be read by as wide an audience as possible. I believe it’s a book that will make readers laugh out loud while also delivering eye-opening insights. I always encourage fans to spread the word and to contact me via any of the social media platforms to share their thoughts and ask questions.

It’s Official: I’m a Girly Man

guy with ipad LOVEI started lusting after girls before I hit my teens. I spent my youth playing baseball and basketball. I love horse racing, pro football, and fishing. I enjoy cold beer, straight whiskey, and the occasional cigar. I’ve owned a series of sports cars over the last three decades. Nonetheless, at the relatively ripe old age of 65, I’ve come to the unequivocal realization that I am a girly man.

As with most things in life, my wife came to this conclusion long before I did. Pretty much from the day we married she’d proudly announce to anyone in hearing range that she was the guy and I was the girl in the relationship. If something needed fixing around the house, I’d look at it, not have a clue what to do, and turn it over to my wife. I’d usually stay nearby in case she needed my “manliness” to reach something high or move something heavy, but for the most part I’d simply stay out of the way.

My wife also likes to point out that I’m the one who remembers our anniversary and can recall who-what-when-and-where minutiae about our first date. I like holding hands and cuddling far more than she does; and I’m the one who reads Nicholas Sparks novels, watches movies with subtitles and, with nary a trace of embarrassment, the one who cried when Haddie returned home from college to be with her cancer-stricken mom on Parenthood.

I used to attribute this aspect of my character to simply being in touch with my feminine side, but I now realize it’s much more pervasive than that. I proactively seek out and embrace the feminine aspect of my character. Many of my closest friends are women and I do find myself confiding more to them than I do to my guy friends. In addition, while noodling this idea, I’ve also recognized that most of my guy friends are also girly men. They don’t cheat on their wives, they don’t drink or gamble to excess, they don’t feel compelled to exercise their Second Amendment right to own firearms, and they tend to be soft-spoken, empathetic and humble. They’re good people who don’t hang out at the country club bar to escape from the old “ball and chain.”

I’ve never been a particularly competitive guy. Whether playing sports or playing board games with friends and family, I don’t really care if I win or lose. I’d prefer to win, but the reason I play is to play. I guess that’s why I’ve never been attracted to the likes of fantasy football. In fact I don’t even understand its appeal. It requires way too large a time commitment and delivers none of the intellectual, social or emotional rewards I value. Plus, if I had Russell Wilson or Luke Kuechly on my fantasy team would I have to root for them even when they’re playing against my beloved Patriots? I don’t get why anyone would purposely choose to add yet another conundrum to our already confusing lives. But there I go again thinking like a woman instead of a dude.

Life is short, which means it’s all about choices. So rather than watching half a dozen sports events every weekend, I limit myself to one or two – and oftentimes none. That means I can’t name the leading running backs in the NFL, the division leaders in the NBA, or the top twenty NCAA teams. But I’m okay with that. It’s not important to me. What is important is learning more about the world around me and the people that are important to me – my family, my friends, my students, and myself. And the way I achieve that is via so-called girly activities like reading, listening, and introspection.

I’ve been a writer for my entire life. I sold my first article when I was sixteen, and I’ve had a wide variety of books and articles published over the years. Recently, however, I’ve decided that the “wide variety” was disadvantageous. I needed to focus my writing. So guess what? I decided to focus on the romance and “chick-lit” genres. I realized I enjoyed reading and writing about the interplay between men and women far more than the cat-and-mouse intrigue of mysteries or the life-and-death plot twists of thrillers. I’ve found that I learn far more about relationships and the human condition from Jodi Picoult than James Patterson. Similarly, I glean more insight when writing a love story than toiling away on a sci-fi adventure. And the beauty is that I can sip just as much whiskey while writing a bittersweet romance as I could working on a hardboiled whodunit.

One of the assignments I give my students at Boston College is to write their own eulogies. That’s a difficult and oftentimes troubling task for young people, and it’s not much easier for folks like me in their seventh decade. But one thing I’d hope to have spoken at my funeral is that “he was a girly man and proud of it.”