My Stories and the Bechdel-Wallace Test

Here’s a touchy topic. Do my stories past the Bechdel-Wallace Test? How about other similar tests? How important are these tests?

What is the Bechdel-Wallace Test? It purports to measure the degree to which a work of fiction features female characters in their own right, and not just as characters who are there to react to males. A story passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test if (1) there are at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something besides a man.

dykes_to_watch_out_for_bechdel_test_originThe test got its name from Alison Bechdel, who writes the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Bechdel credits her friend Liz Wallace for the idea, too.

Other, related measures include the percentage of female speaking roles, the percentage of named characters who are women, the percentage of female characters overall, whether the protagonist is a woman, whether 2 out of the top 3 speaking roles are for women, and whether the character with the most dialogue is a woman. Then there’s the Smurfette Principle Test—whether there is only one female in an otherwise all-male group or ensemble of characters. And we shouldn’t forget the Mako Mori Test—whether a female character has a narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story.

With some trepidation, I’ll show you how my published stories faired in these tests. Note: I’m counting the two versions of “Alexander’s Odyssey” as different stories, because I substantially revised it for its second publication. I’m counting “Vessel” and “Last Vessel of Atlantis” as a single story because I did not revise it much for its second publication. That makes the number of stories 28.


Not great scores, I’ll grant you, given that women are 50% of the population. For the record, I have nothing against women. In partial defense of my low scores on these tests:

  1. I write a lot of alternate history fiction involving technology, and historically women have not figured as prominently as men in dealing with technology,
  2. Very little of the fiction I grew up and loved reading would pass these tests, and
  3. As a male writer, it is more difficult for me to craft a believable and relatable female character.

There is also some dispute about the tests themselves. A poorly written story could score higher than a well-written one. A writer bent on passing the tests could do so without necessarily representing female characters in a good light. I mention this not to denigrate the tests, but to point out the difficulty of accurate metrics in the social sciences. If you articulate what you truly want to measure, then any metric you come up with will be unwieldy and possibly subjective. If you strive to get an easy-to-calculate, objective metric, then it may only be a rough gauge of the truth you’re after.

Those are only excuses, though. I can do better, and I will. Not for the purpose of becoming a feminist writer, but to have my writing more closely align with the human condition. In short, I should be Amphitrite’s Scribe in addition to being—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 30, 2016Permalink

Year of the Cat’s Eye

Meow! Pole-to-Pole Publishing just launched a new anthology, In a Cat’s Eye. And one of my own stories is in it!

catseye_final-72dpiEditors Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist have done it again, following up on the success of their previous editorial collaboration, Hides the Dark Tower. This time the theme is cats, those mysterious and independent mammals who recognize no master, but who sometimes permit human contact.

I’m pleased and honored that my story will appear amid those of authors like Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, A.L. Sirois, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Doug C. Souza, Oliver Smith, Jeremy M. Gottwig, K.L. Borrowman, Gregory Norris, Christine Lucas, R.S. Pyne, Joanna Hoyt, Elektra Hammond, A.L. Kaplan, and Alex Shvartsman.

My story is called “The Cats of Nerio-3.” Space outpost Nerio-3 was abandoned fifty years ago after a cosmic ray storm killed all occupants, other than some cats and mice. Now the outpost’s owners have hired Lani Koamalu and PAIGE-8 to reclaim the station. Lani is human, and Paige is an artificially intelligent super-computer who far exceeds people in intelligence…and arrogance. When Paige sends her drones into the outpost and discovers what the mice and cats have been up to, it’s time to find out if humans are so inferior after all.

For back-stories on some of the other tales in this antho, check out this post by Gregory L. Norris.

You can get your copy of In a Cat’s Eye at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes&Noble, Scribd, and other outlets. Get your paws on one now!

This is truly the Year of the Cat. I think songwriter Al Stewart would have to agree with—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 23, 2016Permalink

Author Interview — Gregory Norris

Recently, author Gregory L. Norris stopped by my sprawling complex here at Poseidon’s Scribe Enterprises, and I took the opportunity to interview him. After all, (like me), he has a story appearing in the upcoming anthology In a Cat’s Eye.

norris-photo-1Gregory is a full-time professional writer being romanced by his muse. He has thousands of publication credits to his credit, most in national magazines and fiction anthologies. A former writer at Sci Fi magazine, he once worked as a screenwriter on two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and he’s the author of The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s had two paranormal romance novels reprinted as special editions by Home Shopping Network as part of their “Escape with Romance” segment – the first time HSN has offered novels. He has fiction forthcoming from Cleis Press, STARbooks, Evil Jester Press, The Library of Horror, Simon and Shuster, and Pill Hill Press. Gregory judged the 2013 Lambda Awards for excellence in GLBT writing in the SF/F/H category. In 2014, Gregory was hired as screenwriter on two feature films, including the terrifying horror movie, Brutal Colors. Twice, his short stories have notched Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best anthologies. Norris lives in and writes from the mountains of New Hampshire, in a beautiful old New Englander house called Xanadu. His career has been featured numerous times in print interviews, on radio, and on television.


Now, the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

norris-photo-2Gregory L. Norris: I grew up in a tiny, enchanted cottage situated between a lake and vast, dark woods, and was raised on a healthy diet of creature double features and classic SF/Horror TV—shows like Dark Shadows, Lost in Space, and, especially, Gerry Anderson’s deep space parable, Space:1999. The morning following the premiere of the latter, I picked up my pen, put it to paper, and wrote the first of my stories, which are still archived in my filing cabinets. I was ten-years-old then, and dabbled with writing stories, novellas, even a novel, up until I was fifteen. That summer, sadly moved from the enchanted house to a suburban neighborhood, I began work on a novel that featured my few friends as the lead characters. Those friends took stabs at writing their own stories, but stopped after the first few pages—some, following a couple of paragraphs. But they all held onto my tale, wanting to know what happened next. On a sleepover on a muggy July night, possessed by the muse, my pen tore across the page to THE END of that novel. I was so filled with an emotion I now think of as eight-pointed stars—inspiration—that I picked up the pen in my exhausted hand and started work on another story. I knew then how much I loved writing. Nearly 1200 short stories, novellas, novels, and screen- and teleplays later…

P.S.: What authors most influenced you? What are a few of your favorite books?

G.L.N.: As a young reader, I absolutely loved—and still adore—Edgar Allen Poe. And it’s been my pleasure to be published alongside him in two anthologies by the fine folks at Firbolg Publishing. To this day, I can still recite his brilliant ‘Lenore” by memory. I also loved the Dark Shadows novels by Marilyn Ross (a pseudonym for author Edward Daniel Ross). I have most of them, hand-me-downs from an uncle, in the bookcase in my Writing Room as we speak. These days, I’m influenced by my talented contemporaries. On Tuesday nights, I am blessed to sit in a conference room in my downtown and listen to my fellow creatives read their newest pages in the weekly writers’ group I helped found. Last year, I devoured author Roxanne Dent’s novel, The Janus Demon, and loved it so much that when I was done I started again with Chapter One—a highly recommended joyride of a read. Anything by Roxanne and her sister Karen Dent is a joy for the senses.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

G.L.N.: I write full-time, and learned a looooong time ago how important it is to be organized. For instance, at the end of every workday I make sure to carry my coffee cup out to the kitchen sink. Mentally, when I enter my Writing Room the following day, it’s clean, organized, and welcoming me to sit and write without distraction. I’ve cleared most distraction from my home and work life as well. When I travel to retreats—I leave on October 12 for my sixth of 2016 to a luxury retreat center for writers in Vermont—I make sure that my Writing Room is immaculate and will welcome me home to continue the good work I’ve done on the road. Difficult? Years ago, I realized how important it is to get out of one’s way, to not make excuses, to just dive in and write. And to love the process. That, to me, is the easiest. I love to write. I love my stories. They’re my babies, and even the homeliest among them is a joy and I am devoted to giving them all, at the very least, a first draft, a life, even if that life is only lived to THE END in the confines of my home office and not out in the publishing universe. Granted, they howl at me in the night, all of them (at this point, as I type these words, 107 of the little incomplete bastages, all demanding my attention).

norris-photo-3P.S.: From your website it seems you mostly write horror. What other genres have you written in, and which one is your favorite?

G.L.N.: I do write a lot of horror. I love the genre, and all its sub-genres—tales of giant monsters, SF Horror, ghost stories, grand guignol, the quiet chill. But I write and publish everything, including Mystery, SF, Fantasy, Romance, Erotic Romance, Literary/Mainstream. Even Westerns! I used to say I despised Westerns, because when I was a kid, that’s what came on after the creature features. Then in 2013, I was hospitalized for five days with a cyst, and the only things on the TV during the wasteland of daytime television were classic Westerns. I wrote in my hospital bed with those Westerns playing in the background, and left the hospital with a chunk of fresh pages as well as three ideas for Westerns, all of which have been written and sold. As for a favorite, well, like individual stories I don’t have a favorite genre. I love to write, regardless of the particular world my tale is set in.

P.S.: In what way is your fiction different from that of other authors in your main genre?

G.L.N.: I suppose the easy answer is my point of view, my creativity. Every year at this time, our writers’ group is given a half-dozen prompts to write from for our Halloween meeting. If the prompt is, say, “Jack O’Lanterns,” well, my story is going to be different from the dozen others shared that night. I write mostly without fear, write what I want to write, and write with that same rush of inspiration I so remember from that July night when I was fifteen. It has, knock on wood (in this case, my desk—the dining room table we ate upon in my boyhood enchanted cottage, which was given to me when I was fifteen and confessed I wanted to be a writer to my mother), stayed with me past my fiftieth year.

P.S.: How long have you been writing full-time? (So few authors are able to!)

G.L.N.: I’ve been writing full-time since 1995, when I was hired to write sports/adventure stories for the late, great Heartland USA magazine. Over my twenty years with that publication, I traveled to the X-Games, covered Building Demolition, and interviewed tons of celebrities and sports stars. I also wrote for the Sci Fi Channel’s official publication, did articles for Soap Opera Update, Cinescape, and a significant number of national newsstand publications. At a buck a word, it was easy to write full-time. When those magazines went away, I focused on my short stories and novels, along with the occasional screenplay. I never forgot a golden bit of wisdom by author Grace Paley when she was asked the secret to writing full-time: “Low overhead,” she answered. We bought a fixer-upper and fixed her up and have no mortgage, and, through hard work and determination, have paid off all our other bills, so when writing work comes in, which it does constantly, we’re able to enjoy it, such as in the form of those six writing retreats in 2016—which included two trips to Vermont, one to the slopes of Mount Monadnock, and one to the Isles of Shoals.

P.S.: What was it like to do some screenwriting for the Star Trek Voyager series? How was writing for TV different from, and similar to, writing for the book format?

G.L.N.: Voyager was a trip! I must have pitched over a hundred ideas to nail the two. The second, which became the fifth-season episode “Gravity”, came as a result of, exhausted to the point of passing out on the night before one of those pitch meetings with Paramount, dreaming about members of the crew being stranded inside a gravity well. I woke up, jotted the notes down, and pitched it that same day. Two weeks later, it was contracted for and became the episode featuring the back-story of Tuvok, the ship’s Vulcan tactical officer. Screenwriting is another personality of writing—skeletal framework, mostly dialogue and action. While on the island retreat in early September, I belted out thirty pages of a mystery screenplay that I hope to wrap in Vermont during this coming week.

P.S.: What are the predominant themes in your fiction?

G.L.N.: That’s a very good question. So good that I struggled to come up with a clear answer. If anything, I would say that in my Science Fiction, there is wonder for the vastness of the cosmos. In my Horror, the elegant stroke of fear along the spine, which I so remember from my boyhood spent on Saturday afternoons in front of the big, boxy TV set hooked up to rabbit ears. There were days when, following movies like Attack of the Mushroom People or Majin, Monster of Terror that I was too freaked to go outside and play. And the rest of the time in my work, I hope the theme, whether in romance or erotica or any other genre, is Love.

catseye_final-72dpiP.S.: Your story, “The Neighbors’ Cat,” will appear in the anthology In a Cat’s Eye. Please tell us about it.

G.L.N.: In May, I flew out to Hollywood to attend the Roswell Awards, where my short story “Mandered” won Honorable Mention. It’s a big deal—at the Roswells, winners see their stories staged by famous actors of Film and TV. At one point, I was on stage with Dee Wallace and Jasika Nicole, who we loved on Fringe. I departed early on a Saturday morning. That morning, a neighbor’s cat was parked outside my sun porch door, harassing our two cats. We love cats. That neighbor, not so much. So I remarked, “Even their cat’s an a-hole.” ZING! By the time I landed in Hollywood and was at my hotel, an entire story developed. I put pen to page and belted out the first half of a story in which a neighbor’s cat brings warning of the nefarious goings-on in the house next door.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

G.L.N.: I am, today, hopefully putting the final words down on a Space:1999 fan fiction story called “The Tomorrows” which has seriously challenged my German heritage—we’re not supposed to cry, and I’ve blubbed nonstop since starting this novella, which I wrote to read at my September 18th wedding (we had a very short ceremony, followed by an amazing all-day writers’ group salon). I’ve got various projects lined up to take with me to Vermont, including short stories and the mystery screenplay, and then I’m using November to commit to National Novel Writing Month—my goal is to write an SF novel I’ve been invited to submit to a publisher. I’ll use December to focus on short fiction and to wrap up my 2016 (my goal is to complete everything I began this year, and not send a single project to the Works-in-Progress drawer of my filing cabinets). In January of 2017, I’ll begin work on a novelization of a Gerry Anderson made-for-TV movie that I’ve been hired to pen from the original screenplay.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Gregory L. Norris: Write from the heart, and with all your heart. Love the process—it will translate onto the page to your readers. Don’t assume writing is easy; it isn’t. But like any passion that is spun into a trade, the ‘work’ part fades, and it becomes a calling. As for rejection, we all get passes and passed over. It’s part of the process. I always, always assume the story or novel or script I’ve just hit ‘send’ on is going to get rejected. And when they don’t, when they bring home their contracts, I’m overjoyed. My formula for success is as follows: Write, Finish, Polish, Submit. Grow up and mature as writers, but never grow old.


Thanks for stopping by, Gregory! Readers can learn more about Gregory L. Norris and his stories at his website or on Facebook.

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 14, 2016Permalink

How Women and Men Yak

Do women and men talk differently? Do they use different types of words and phrases, or speak about different topics? More importantly to you fiction writers, should you have your characters speaking differently depending on their gender?

women-and-men-yakkingThis blog post comes with a giant disclaimer. I’ll be discussing general tendencies, not rules. Rather than concentrating on having a female character “talk like a woman,” focus instead on having her talk consistently with her personality, age, nationality, time period, upbringing, geographical location, and gender. In other words, the way your characters talk depends on a lot more than gender.

Let’s examine those tendencies:

Women characters tend to:

  1. Commiserate, sympathize, and seek to understand the emotions, when speaking about another person’s problem, to help the person not feel alone in suffering;
  2. Establish, when speaking to another woman, the degree of closeness (horizontally), to seek areas of agreement, perhaps by revealing a secret about herself, or a personal story, demonstrating her willingness to be vulnerable;
  3. Interrupt, when the other person tells a story, to ask questions to push the story forward, or even co-author the story;
  4. Ask more questions;
  5. Explain or justify their actions and decisions;
  6. Describe things and scenes by emphasizing appearance and other senses, using a full palette of color words;
  7. Look or ask for validation, approval, or agreement periodically as they speak; and
  8. Look directly at the face of the person they’re talking to, or listening to, alert for nonverbal emotion cues.

Men Characters:

  1. Offer a solution when discussing another person’s problem;
  2. Seek to establish the relationship, when speaking to another man, in a (vertical) hierarchy, through mild insults, jokes, and one-upmanship;
  3. Interrupt to tell his own story, when the other person tells a story;
  4. Make more suggestions and assertions rather than asking questions, but when men do ask questions, they’re specific and focused, not rhetorical;
  5. Talk about what they did or decided, without offering explanations or justifications;
  6. Describe things and scenes according to functions, directions, and numerical distances and quantities;
  7. State their facts directly without seeking approval or agreement, without significant concern about the other person’s reaction; and
  8. Gaze elsewhere when speaking or listening, rather than looking at the other person’s face.

Which gender talks more? Apparently, studies are inconclusive. Therefore, it makes sense to let a character be talkative if it fits that character, whether male or female. You can have interesting combinations of chatty characters paired with silent ones, or two loquacious ones, or two quiet ones.

For further information, there are some great blogs and articles out there, like this one by Kimberly Turner, this one by Rachel Scheller, and this article in Salon by Thomas Rogers.

Let me reiterate the disclaimer. Everything I’ve noted above is a general tendency, not a strict rule. Use the information sparingly and for guidance so your fictional characters sound realistic. If you carry this too far, you’ll end up with stereotyped characters. Let their speech style flow from who they are, rather than just their gender. It’s easy to find examples today of people who speak with the tendencies of the opposite gender without anyone else noticing, let alone caring.

I know this is a touchy subject. Still, if I’m to bring you the best guidance possible to aid you in your writing, I can’t shy away from controversy. I must boldly provide this information without worrying about charges of sexism. I cannot do or be otherwise; I must be—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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