Second, today is also the release date for my ebook novella, Natural Selection, which is only $1.99 on Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Google Play, or Kobo. $1.99, folks! Two bucks gets you approximately 13,000 words about Amber Gray, one of the characters in Adaptation and Inheritance.
(Note: If you haven’t read Adaptation, you probably should wait to read Natural Selection until after you’ve read Adaptation, because Natural Selection will spoil certain key elements in Adaptation. Which is why it’s awesome that Adaptation is out in paperback today!)
Anyway, to celebrate this dual pub date, I thought I’d tell you a little about Amber Gray herself — or more specifically, my inspiration for her character.
[WARNING: There will be spoilers in here for Adaptation, though I try to keep them vague.]
When I was creating Amber, I wanted to play with the idea of the bad girl … but with a twist.
What do you think of when you hear the term “bad girl”? For me, the type of character who comes to mind is a sexy, slightly trashy girl with dark hair and lots of eye makeup who smokes and drinks and uses her sexuality to potentially mislead boys. The “bad girl” can be called a slut; she sometimes breaks the law without caring; she has a wobbly moral compass at best.
Underneath it all, she’s probably emotionally damaged, but she’s hiding it by acting out in ways that “good girls” would not. That acting out could encompass lesbian dalliances, but the bad girl is either straight or bisexual — and bisexual in the worst possible stereotypical way. Notably, the bad girl’s sexuality is immoral and something to be feared.
This stereotypical image arises from plenty of movies and TV shows. She’s meant to be pitied, not envied or admired.
The bad girl is very different from the bad boy. A bad boy, especially in today’s young adult fiction, is a very attractive, sexy guy with an often brooding demeanor who is also extremely bad-ass. He is skilled in whatever he has to do (kill demons, hunt vampires, whatever), and though sometimes he comes off as rude and arrogant, that arrogance masks a heart of gold that only requires the right girl to uncover. At his core, the bad boy is someone to be admired and desired. His sexuality is thrilling, not threatening. (It can be dangerous, but in a titillating way.) And his moral compass, while sometimes obscured by his moody exterior, is generally true.
This is a stereotype too, but overall, I think that most bad boys (especially in YA) are meant to be desirable and admired.
The character of Amber Gray in Adaptation was my conscious attempt to write a female bad boy, not a bad girl. However, these archetypes are linked to particularly gendered roles, which meant that a female bad boy could not take on all the male bad boy’s characteristics. This was not a one-to-one case of gender swapping.
For example, a bad boy’s brooding demeanor is part of what makes readers like him; his brooding reveals his sensitive emotional core. However, a brooding female character is not likable; she’s a downer. For Amber to be likable, she had to exhibit emotions that are likable in girls: a sense of fun along with an easy-goingness that equates to “no drama.”
A bad boy’s sexuality can be front-and-center without him being judged as slutty. This is more difficult to pull off in a female character because of our cultural norms around female sexuality. However, I’ve been in plenty of queer female spaces where female sexuality isn’t demeaned as slutty, but rather is understood as empowered and desirable. I wrote Amber from that perspective. So, Amber is aware of her sexuality and knows how to use it, but she is not ashamed of herself; nor is she ashamed of the way she affects others. Hopefully that comes across clearly in the books.
Part of the thrill of the bad boy is his extreme confidence, which can come across as arrogance. In boys, arrogance can be sexy, but in girls, things are a bit trickier because an arrogant girl is often judged to be a bitch. Amber has to walk the fine line between being confident without being arrogant.
Finally, bad boys get away with a lot. They can do things that seem truly awful, but readers are still on board with them because we know (or hope, at least) that they have those hearts of gold. The same is not true of bad girls. When they do something awful, they’re judged for it and are often condemned as immoral or as sluts.
The story I told in Adaptation required Amber to do something that could be deemed pretty awful. Did readers condemn her for those actions? Some did, and I don’t blame them for it. And yet the feedback I’ve gotten has mostly been incredibly positive toward Amber. I’m hoping that means that my female bad boy thing actually worked.
In Natural Selection and Inheritance, you’ll get to see way more of what goes on in Amber’s head. Natural Selection is written in the first person from her perspective, and Inheritance reveals the motivations behind what she did in Adaptation.
Even though I did consciously aim to write a female bad boy, I should note that the process of creating Amber was not about making a bulleted list of bad-boy characteristics and how I’d subvert them. I hadn’t actually done that until I wrote this post! I think, instead, I had internalized many of these archetypes over the years, and Amber seemed to emerge from my subconscious pretty much fully formed. As a writer, I’m thrilled when characters do that — it makes writing about them so much easier! At the same time, it also meant I had to rein Amber in, because she often tried to take over the story. I think that’s why I found writing Natural Selection to be so much fun. It was a chance to let Amber speak for herself, which she has always been very good at doing.