I was a little flummoxed at the initial reaction to the She-Hulk announcement since I thought people would look me up and see that I’m primarily a satirist and I’ve always addressed issues of gender, race/ethnicity, and class. In fact, I use humor because I can go beyond preaching to the choir and perhaps make people think differently about those issues
Of course, when you’re a Mexican-American, people expect you to write magical realism. When you’re a woman and write a social satire, they assume it’s a romance novel and that you’re anti-feminist. Romance is its own genre with very strict conventions…and I’ve learned that romance writers and fans are generally pretty hardcore feminists. (You should check out the hilarious Smart Bitches website.)
Christine, the author of Rogue Touch, is the penname for a literary fiction writer whose books address gender issues.
Anyway, I like writing comedy and I loved writing She-Hulk, which really focuses on Jennifer Walters trying to have a more normal life, despite the insane time demands of her job as an attorney. The real challenge was finding humor in a character who is described as “painfully shy,” and I hope I succeeded.
Intrigued, I asked Acosta some questions. Here’s her take on She-Hulk Diaries.
Why did you write She-Hulk Diaries? Are you a fan of comic books?
My fantastic agent, Peter Steinberg, came up with the idea, and I said, yes, please, I’d love to write it. I liked comic books as a child, but I certainly couldn’t afford them. My older cousin would lend them to us. I’ve always been a fan of speculative stories and tend to prefer darker stories with an element of humor, like Buffy, The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, Dark City, eXistenz, Firefly, BBC’s Being Human, Misfits…
What is She-Hulk Diaries about?
I can’t really reveal too much now, but the story follows Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk’s human identity, as she finds a new job at a high-powered law firm and is assigned an important case with a mysterious scientist client. Jennifer is as shy as She-Hulk is brazen, and she’s determined to have a personal life besides her work and superhero responsibilities, and that means more social and cultural activities, making more friends and, yes, having a healthy romantic relationship. Between her case load, new superhuman activity, and a terrifying trend in NYC, there aren’t enough hours in the day.
Would you describe it as chick-lit, and what do you think of that term? Who do you hope the book will reach?
I hope my book will reach people who will appreciate my comedy. I use humor to entertain, and I also use it to offer different perspectives on issues of gender, race/ethnicity, and social class. When I was writing political satire, I used humor to get across arguments that might otherwise be rejected by those not already in the choir.
I don’t care one way or the other about the term chick lit. It was used as a way to market humor written by women. It was twisted into an insult, which isn’t uncommon for anything that is female-dominated. I like funny women so I’m absolutely going to pick up funny books written by women.
I don’t think women have to join in on the bashing to prove we’re serious thinkers. Men watch and read all kinds of vacuous crap and no one ever criticizes them and magazines don’t lament that men’s reading is making them brain dead.
Were you surprised by the initial negative reaction to Hyperion’s press release about She-Hulk Diaries?
I was! I’ve been writing positive female characters in a succession of novels, and I’ve frequently written about gender issues so I thought people would at least find out who I am before assuming that my story is about a weak woman obsessed with finding a man. My last novel, Dark Companion, nominated as Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association, has a feminist theme about exploitation. My Casa Dracula series features a wacky, but bright, brave, and goodhearted Latina who writes unsellable political horror stories.
One young blogger who bashed the She-Hulk novel referred to me as “an authoress.” I love that! Lately I’ve been calling myself a poetess, because I have poetry in my books, but I’m going to switch to authoress.
The Hollywood Reporter said the book was based on 50 Shades of Gray. I admire the madcap ease with which they made that crap up. People assume it’s based on The Carrie Diaries. I’d guess it’s closer to Samuel Pepsys Diaries…except without the Black Death, although I’d include that if I could have found a place for it. (Favorite book on the Black Death, probably Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book.
The issue for me with the cover of She-Hulk Diaries cover is that we are so desperate for female superheroes– kids and grown-ups. We want them! We’ve had 5 Spiderman movies, 7 Batman movies, and we’re still waiting for Wonder Woman to hit the big screen. My three year old daughter dressed up as Batgirl for Halloween and everyone called her Batman. She didn’t understand, because she doesn’t know how invisible Batgirl is yet. I dread the day she finds out not only is Batgirl “not cool” but she hardly exists. She-Hulk Diaries is not for kids, but there is a “trickle down sexism” effect when characters adults love become movies The LEGO sets, video games, clothing, and apps marketed to kids all are based on these narratives and when girls go missing that sexist representation effects how all kids learn about gender, who is important and who gets to do the fun stuff. I know we are talking about a cover here, but when our images of strong females are so lacking, for me, it’s a bummer to see lipstick. Do you see She-Hulk Diaries as challenging or perpetuating this kind of sexism all over the media? Do you see a lack of powerful and heroic female protagonists in media for kids?
Here’s the deal with covers: they have to grab attention as quickly as possible as both an actual book and as a tiny image for online sales. I love the cover because it instantly says “funny book about a different kind of woman.” Green and purple are Shulky’s iconic colors, and they could have done a green briefcase because much of the book is about her legal work. Or they could have done an image of a purple gun because she goes to the shooting range. Or…you see where I’m going. Conveying humor in cover art is really difficult, and you just can’t overthink cover art.
I didn’t write She-Hulk as a polemic on sexism (though that would have been fun too), but Jennifer/Shulky is always the smartest person in the room, the bravest, and she has the kindest heart. Although she’s personally shy, she doesn’t hesitate to defend those who need an advocate, and she speaks up for herself, too.
As for the lack of powerful and heroic female protagonists, Hollywood, particularly film, is a boys’ club, and those guys assume that both boys and girls are interested in boy stuff, but only girls will be interested in girl stuff. Case in point: J.K. Rowlings’ publisher asked her to use her initials so that boys wouldn’t be scared off the Harry Potter books.
I’m stunned by movies and shows that don’t even bother to include female characters who do more than act as decoration. I’m continually disappointed by the crap that’s marketed to women. Of course, most of it is written, directed, and produced by men who seem to be basing their knowledge of women on characters in other movies written, directed, and produced by men. I don’t know about children’s programming, but I watch lots of British shows because I like the strong, complex women characters and diversity.
Most men are never going to get it, so women should just make our own movies. There are certainly enough women with the money and talent to produce female-positive shows in this country.
I think men would “get it” if they were not trained early, from birth, to see girls as “other,” if female characters in shows marketed to kids were not condemned to the Pink Ghetto where they do “girl stuff.” Look at Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013. When female characters are marginalized in almost every movie, what are little kids learning about gender? Are your sons growing up to be a new generation of men who are never going to “get it?” All kids would benefit from seeing strong, cool female protagonists, and as we have seen, there is a huge market for it.
The whole Hollywood myth “girls will watch boys characters but boys won’t watch girls” is because (1) that is all that is offered (2) female characters are relegated to the Pink Ghetto; Girls are obsessed with princesses not because they have a pink gene but because that is practically the only time females get to be front and center (3) Parents are just beginning to notice and challenge their own sexism and read boys stories about girls, take boys to movies about girls, play with toys about girls, but this is hard to do when females are relegated to the Pink Ghetto. It’s why we desperately need more female characters and why “Hunger Games” was so successful. Boys loved the story and girls were psyched to read about a strong, female protagonist.
That said, She-Hulk is not a book for kids. After hearing from Acosta what the book is about and why she wrote it, I’m excited to read it. I’ll let you know what I think.
Find out more about Marta Acosta and her books at www.martaacosta.com