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Inclusivity and Exclusivity in Fiction: Where Are the Female Villains?


My friend James Maxey recently invited fellow Solaris writer Rowena Cory Daniells to guest post on his blog, and her blog post explores the problem of there being very, very few powerful female villains in literature. I don’t know if this idea surprises you, but it does me. First of all, I hadn’t realized there were so few, but she’s right: when I try to think of some, I come up with Disney villains, Madame Defarge and then not much else outside children’s stories, though of course there are always exceptions to this kind of thing.

Second, though, it surprised me to be told that a certain group being underrepresented as villains was a problem. Yet I think Daniells is right on the money: the lack of powerful female villains seems to reflect attributing relatively little power to women. Not only do women seem to be less likely to tote around guns, for instance, but they also seem less likely to shoot you even if they have them.

I recommend the post for anyone interested in inclusivity in fiction: you can read it at .


Having a Purpose Makes You Powerful

Strategies and goals

In a recent post (“How to Change the World: Simon Sinek on Leadership“), I talked about Simon Sinek’s TED talk, which boils down to “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” By “buy,” Sinek also means “care,” “act,” “follow,” or “join in.” The principle fits sales, but it also fits social change, politics, the spread of ideas, and a lot else.

To have a “why” is to have a purpose, and I’ve begun to realize that having a purpose makes you nearly invincible. To explain that, let me tell you two stories. Let’s start with the failure.

The fall of the REALM
About 18 years ago I owned a small software development company outside Philadelphia, and I was hired to develop a software product to manage real estate and physical assets, like vehicles and storage tanks. The man behind the project at the client company was a friendly, energetic guy, and he quickly revealed that he was interested in doing more than just dealing with his own corporation’s needs: he had forged an agreement with the company such that they got free updates and enhancements and he would get rights to the software they paid to have developed. As I was the developer, he offered to split proceeds with me 50/50 if I would stay in the game and develop it further.

This was a golden opportunity. There was no software we could find that did what REALM (Real Estate, Assets, and Logistics Management) came to be able to do. REALM was easy to use, was inexpensive by corporate software standards, and was developed by an asset management specialist (him) and a skilled database and application developer (me). We made many enhancements and began to sell the software. We got a few clients, a few opportunities … and eventually fizzled. What should have been a business that could have made me financially secure for a long time, if not for life, turned out to be a time suck. Why? We had a good product. We had funding to develop it to a marketable state. We were both smart, friendly people. What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: my heart wasn’t in it. When it came right down to it, I didn’t care about physical asset management, and even if I did, I didn’t care about the corporations that needed to do it. I was in the project for the money; that was basically it.

I don’t mean to suggest it was immoral or anything. After all, we need money to live in this society: without it, there would be a very real chance of starving or freezing to death on the street. Yet money has never really seemed that important to me in the grand scheme of things, and it was an utter failure for me as inspiration.

The rise of Codex
Now let’s shift gears and talk about something I’ve done that has been very successful: Codex. Codex is a free, online writers’ group designed originally for “neo-pro” fiction writers–that is, writers who are just beginning to prove themselves. (A number of its members have since become established pros, however.) The initial entrance requirements were either making a pro fiction sale or attending one of the major workshops where they choose participants from a writing sample. We later added alternative ways to qualify: getting a good agent or reaching a certain level of success with selfpub writing.

Codex was a ton of work. I had written a forum system in the past, and I used that for Codex instead of installing one of the common ones. Because I had done that, it wasn’t too hard to integrate a lot of features into the forum, like a critique exchange with tracked critique credit, contests with anonymous participation, a library of Codexians’ work, a blog tour system, and a lot more. The Codex forum as it now exists represents tens of thousands of dollars worth of custom programming, though I had never thought about it like that until just now.

Yet the technical work has been a minority of what I have done to keep the group running. I’ve participated in thousands of discussions, moderated, handled disputes, developed rules when they were needed, oriented new members, and otherwise run things that need running.

How has Codex worked out? Very, very well. We’ve barely made any effort to recruit members, but we get a steady stream of new applications. We’ve had over seven thousand discussions with well over 200,000 posts, over a thousand works critiqued, and dozens of contests over eight years. Our membership continues to grow bit by bit: last I checked, there were more than 230 active members. More and more members are selling novels and short stories and getting nominated for awards. On the current Nebula award ballot, every single person in the short story category is a member of Codex, though one of that group joined (without any solicitation from the group) after the nominations were announced.

Codex doesn’t net me any money–in fact, in the past it has cost me money, though this year a Codex member generously underwrote the cost of the entire year’s hosting as a celebration of his writing success. What’s more, these days I’m so busy with my own writing and related work, family, Taekwondo, and the daily demands of life that I can’t really even participate meaningfully in the discussions–I don’t have time. Yet Codex has provided meaningful friendships, my best professional opportunities in writing, huge amounts of insight, and a lot more. My first book sale (to a major publisher), my opportunity to do commentary for a Florida NPR affiliate, and my first professional speaking engagement all occurred because of Codex.

The thing is, I’ve never questioned my commitment to Codex because I have a purpose: to develop and be part of a community that helps its members improve their writing. If I hadn’t had that purpose, I would have given up on it a long time ago. My purpose protected Codex from getting derailed by problems like arguments among members (rare, but damaging), unreliable Internet hosting providers (we’ve had to switch service providers five times!), the need for complicated yet unpaid programming work, and so on.

There is no such thing as competition when you have purpose
Having a real purpose eliminates competition: people who are doing the same thing you’re doing for the same reason are helping you, because a real purpose is about something bigger than ourselves. People who are doing the “same” thing you’re doing for different reasons, often shallow ones, really aren’t doing the same thing at all.

I’ve recently started doing professional speaking events, and at first I was a bit worried that there would be too much competition for me to thrive. Yet I quickly came to realize that my speaking was an outgrowth of the same thing that has made this blog successful, which is a profound desire to first learn, then share knowledge of how to become a more empowered, compassionate, and happy human being. I don’t know whether that sounds hokey or not, but I do know that people who hear me speak do and will see that I am there to try to make their lives profoundly better. Anyone who’s doing the exact same thing has my admiration. Anyone who isn’t is no competition at all.

Photo by Lisa Tiyamiyu

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Why Self-Reliance Requires Surrender

States of mind


Terms like “resignation,” “surrender,” and “submission” are practically cuss words in Western culture–certainly in America, anyway. Americans are brought up to believe that we should never give in to anybody, never submit to anything, and always be in control. We’re led to believe that strength always requires this kind of control, and so we tend to think of things like drug trafficking, terrorism, and our own habits as things we need to wage war on rather than things we simply need to find solutions to. Drug trafficking and terrorism are way, way outside the scope of this site, but there’s a crucial lesson about habits here. That lesson is resignation: to truly conquer bad habits, we need to surrender to our own best choices.

The kind of surrender we’re talking about here isn’t the kind where you give up your will to another person, or another force, or someone else’s ideas: instead, it’s letting go of things that may feel comfortable or at least familiar but that are holding you back, like broken ideas, and being willing to make new choices. It’s giving up the things we think we want, when necessary, to achieve the goals that are actually most important to us.

One example that many of us struggle with on a daily basis is priorities. If a person honestly has more things to get done than they’re able to handle, as many of us do, really taking control of the situation requires, strangely enough, letting go of some control. To put it plainly, if I have more to do than I can accomplish, then I’ll be able to handle things best if I resign myself to the fact that certain of those things aren’t going to done–and use that new point of view to make sure the most important items will get done.

fallingFailing to resign ourselves in situations like that means that the things left undone are determined by whim and chance instead of by choice. If I “need” to practice some music, buy some new shoes for my son, exercise, answer some e-mails, and look up a new book I heard about, yet don’t have time for all of those things, then I run the danger of running out of time and (for instance) not getting the shoes and not exercising. As a matter of fact, I may naturally gravitate toward the least important and most immediately appealing of those things, like playing the music and surfing the Web reading reviews of the book. When I explain why I didn’t exercise or buy the shoes later, I may say “I just ran out of time.” Yet in actuality, not resigning myself to the time limitations in the first place meant that I really would have been choosing to do the less important things over the shoes and the exercise. If I resign myself to not having time to learn new music and buy new books, I might get done everything I actually need to get done, and while this may seem less appealing in the moment, over the long term I’m likely to experience more pleasure and more happiness because of having made these seemingly less appealing choices.

Which leads us to another important place for resignation: easy pleasure now versus happiness in future. For instance, I regularly do push-ups, building up my strength both for general health and as part of my Taekwondo training. In the moments I’m doing them, push-ups are hard to enjoy: they make me breathe hard and cause my muscles to strain in a way that feels suspiciously like mild pain. Yet if I don’t resign myself to experiencing this mild pain, then I’ll tend to avoid push-ups most of the time and won’t experience the pleasure of having that strength and being able to do the things push-ups allow me to do (even if that’s mainly just more push-ups).

Another kind of resignation that can make a world of difference in self-motivation is resigning ourselves to take responsibility rather than putting the blame outside ourselves. For instance, if a person has major financial problems but fails to take action because they feel those problems are mainly other people’s faults, they’ll most likely continue to have financial problems. It’s giving up that excuse of blaming outside conditions and resigning ourselves to take responsibility for our own lives that enables us to have some power over our situation.


There’s a surprising and wonderful side effect to resignation, too: it makes unenjoyable things more enjoyable. When I resign myself to doing push-ups, I’m no longer telling myself “These are hard. These are painful. I don’t want to do these.” Instead I’m saying “Time to do some push-ups. I can manage this.” This doesn’t make the exercise any more physically comfortable, but it frees up my attention to focus on things like the power I’m feeling in my muscles and the joy I can take in increasing my personal record, doing a few more push-ups than I’ve ever done in one go before. There are elements to enjoy in virtually any seemingly unenjoyable step to a worthwhile goal. Even hunger can bring a smile to your face if you resign yourself to a little of it (in a healthy context) and begin to experience it as the sensation that often goes with your body burning stored calories–and I say this from experience. But more on enjoying the unenjoyable in another post, because that’s a big subject.

So how do we know when to use resignation in our lives? Resignation is needed whenever we know what we need to do but are having trouble bringing ourselves to do it.

Resigning ourselves, as much as it sounds like knuckling under, is really much more like bravery than cowardice. We can go out and face the dangers that worry us and surrender ourselves to the possibility that we might be hurt, might have to go through something difficult, or might fail; or we can hide and hope that things will just somehow work out, often ensuring hurt and difficulty and failure. Surrender here means not giving up what’s important, but giving up what isn’t: more often than not we need to give up things we think we want in order to get the things we really want.

Chess photo by Some nutter called Mark Grimwood
Letting go picture by niko si
Diving picture by mcescobar1


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