She-Hulk author, Marta Acosta, talks to Reel Girl about her book

After the posts around the internet including Reel Girl criticized the new She-Hulk Diaries for appearing like superhero chicklit, author, Marta Acosta, contacted me.

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Acosta wrote:

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.

ciao!

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

 

27 thoughts on “She-Hulk author, Marta Acosta, talks to Reel Girl about her book

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The She-Hulk Diaries | iPad Expo

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The She-Hulk Diaries | Geeks are Sexy Technology News

  3. Margot, let’s make a Batgirl film with your daughter in the lead, my daughter can play Supergirl and together they can save the world. It will be amazing. We just need to find some rich backers…….oh well, mobile phone version it is then….:)

    • Hi Tricialo,

      I would LOVE that. I am writing an MG fantasy book with many strong female characters and wouldn’t it be nice if it led to a movie, toys, clothing icons, worn and played with by all kids? We need narratives with strong female protagonists. If we can’t IMAGINE it for goodness sake, we can’t BE it.

      Margot

      • Hi, I just want to comment on the “if we can’t imagine it we can’t be it.” I think diversity is important, but I also found wonderful people to admire regardless of color, gender, nationality. And different groups will see role models that others might miss, which is why I know that TV’s original Wonder Woman, Linda Jean Córdova Carter is of Mexican descent.

        Margot, introduce your daughters to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. That show had a great cast of diverse characters fighting evil and a catchy theme song.

          • About the Power Rangers, just a warning, even if that show has some good things, it has some problems too. Maybe you’d like to read this (I’m not the author, obviously ):
            http://culturallydisoriented.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/pop-culture-feminism-how-power-rangers-turned-me-into-a-warrior-for-gender-equality/
            I don’t watch the Power Rangers, but I love the original japanese show, even if I know that it is sexist. And lot of times, with certain episodes, I think “It’s a fun show, but I don’t want my niece to see that scene”
            As I said, I don’t watch the Power Rangers, I have read the american series is not so sexist, I hope is true.
            I don’t speak English very well, sorry about that.

          • The episodes of Power Rangers I saw weren’t racist and I’m attuned to that. My brown boy was happy to see a mixed group of kids saving the world. As for sexism, the show’s American version was much less sexist that most American shows and anything from Disney.

          • As far as I know, the american show has tried to reduce the sexism of the original show, adding at least another girl when there was only one in Japan, and changing some plots. And in sentai (the japanese show) the girls are heroic, strong, kind, often smart (not always, but neither the boys are always very brilliant 🙂 ) and friendly with each other. So, some things are really good. It’s just that lot of times it’s clear that the girls are important, but not so much as the boys . The boys have the best robots, when they are numbered, the boys have the first numbers and they have more episodes focused in them, besides some other things that are absent in the american version.
            The american show reuses lots of the things of the japanese show, so I think that there are things that they can’t change and that hinders them. I think that there is not going to be a girl as the hero and leader of the show (the red ranger) in a long time
            Anyway, I hope that we are going to see a fun and brave She-Hulk in this book. I’m a fan of Marvel, and they have some amazing superheroines and female characters, not only She-Hulk: Spiderwoman, the women in the X-Men comics, Elektra, Black Cat…But Marvel has made some really stupid mistakes when has tried to appeal to the female readers, like the marketing for Marvel Divas:
            http://www.comicsalliance.com/2009/09/18/marvel-divas-cheesecake/
            I wish that this time they make it better.
            By the way, Margot, maybe your children would like this webcomic.
            superherogirladventures.blogspot.com
            It’s free and if they like it, they can buy the book.

          • Hi, Abnoba, thanks for the info about the Power Rangers. The boys got the best robots – agh! That’s why I’m building my own robot in my garage.

            As to your examples of Marvel and DC’s previous attempts to attract female readers, geez… I think these guys create these images out of a reverence for female beauty, power, and sexuality, and they don’t comprehend that women might feel differently. They’re astonished to be accused of sexism, because that was never their intent. When I see practically pornographic images of Shulky, they remind me of primitive carved totems of goddesses, all tits and ass, yet revered.

  4. Very thought provoking posts and commentary. I have enjoyed everything that I have read by Marta. She has been one of the few authors who actually will take the time to write to me about issues or things that are meaningful in the industry. Reading her books you know she is painting a bigger picture than other authors may tend to do. Because she cares about the current issues out there in today’s world. I feel more informed and more aware about certain things that I hadn’t even thought about before. I haven’t had the chance to read the She Hulk Diaries, but I am really looking forward to it. Thank you so much for having Marta as your guest. I really enjoyed this.

    • Hi, Rachel, thanks so much for your kind words! It’s always been a pleasure being in contact with you. You know I’m astonished at your wonderful Bitten By Books site and how you’ve built it up over the years.

  5. -Hey, Cab, since Hollywood is not following the actual money on the movie issues — because if they did they’d hire more women director and scriptwriters — I do think the answer is to make our own. Will these film cross-over? I don’t know. But it’s better than no films or only being given movies like Bridesmaids, where the very talented cast had to do bathroom humor as an appeal to a male audience. Oooh, diarrhea in the street, that’s hilarious!

    -As for the term chick lit, it became an insult the same way romance became an insult. Most of the people who throw these terms around do so almost defensively: “Look how smart I am! I don’t read that crap.” Romance gets the most vicious treatment, although all the romance writers I know are really smart, accomplished women who enjoy writing about smart, accomplished women within that genre’s conventions.

    I don’t know that a marketing term can be reclaimed, but perhaps we can come up with a new term and keep it positive.

    • I agree wholeheartedly on the romance genre. Of course there are some terrible efforts that are either poorly written or take questionable stances on gender dynamics and what is “romantic” but that’s true of any genre. I count romance novels among my favorite books and one of my dreams is to be a romance novelist. Thanks for mentioning Smart Bitches. I’ve bookmarked the page for when I have some more time.

      • I love to drop by Smart Bitches just for the laughs. Sarah and Candy are always happy to rant, snark about awful covers or books, and take up big issues, too. There are terrible books in every genre, but books written by women seem to get targeted for a special kind of scorn. But we don’t have to buy into that nonsense.

    • Hi Cab,

      I absolutely believe that women need to tell their own stories. I think one of the things that is most fucked up about the world is that women have existed for thousands of years in stories created by men– the Greek Myths, the Bible, onwards. We keep recycling these same sexist stories. I don’t think men are evil or sexist, they are just teling stories from their point of view. That said, I don’t think gender segregation is the way to go ultimately and that’s what I meant my the commentary I posted at the end of the interview. As Geena Davis said, what does that say about humanity if you beleive half the population isn’t interested in the other half. But I also think Marta is talking about what to do right now. She’s saying, why wait for men to catch on, let’s do it ourselves. In the long term, and certainly for kids, to be successful, we’ve got to integrate.

      Margot

  6. Thanks, Margot, for having me as a guest here!

    Hi, Aitch, making a Wonder Woman movies seems like a no brainer to me, but the world of films is both messy and illogical. Producer Susan Cartsonis says, “Telling stories from the female perspective is good box office. However, only 16 percent of movies are made specifically with women in mind even though half of the ticket buying public is female, which means Hollywood is missing the bet financially.” http://tinyurl.com/cguws4d

    • I feel that if a major studio were to launch a Wonder Woman franchise, studio would cast a hot babe actress and over sexualize the costume in what Caroline Heldman calls “the fighting fuck toy.”
      they would likely employ a male director and writer.
      Should we be satisfied with this scenario as progress for women in Hollywood?

    • cat on February 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm said:
      I don’t like the use of the word “chick lit” as an insult, Margot. I think it segregates women’s writing and presupposes a lack of quality because the works concerns women’s issues and may be perceived as falling into gender stereotypes. Is there bad chick lit? Yes. Is there also bad teen fiction? Bad detective stories? Bad autobiographies? Bad highbrow novels? Of course. It just irks me the way genres that are dominated by female authors are discounted and made to feel like trifles. (Random tangent: have you read A Jury of Her Peers or Trifles by Susan Glaspell?)

      cat
      on February 9, 2013 at 3:52 pm said:
      I mean, I don’t like the term myself as a way of defining that genre but I think that as long as we’re going to use it, it shouldn’t be as an insult. Chick lit titles are generally somewhat lighter with more comedy than drama. But using chick lit as a insult conflates the lightness of the work with the feminine authors and readers as if the writing can only be “lit” and not “literature” because it’s written by and for women. I don’t really know what I’m getting at. It’s just always bothered me. I feel like chick lit is either a term we need to own and reclaim or something we need to abandon because it is so insulting.

      So, yeah, I guess I’m trying to say, awesome answers from Marta. I really enjoyed reading this interview.

      Though I will throw in that as much as I enjoyed Misfits, that show has its own complicated gender issues and the female characters have not proven to be as great as I’d initially hoped.

  7. Did not know that about JK Rowling. However her identity and gender was soon unmasked as Rowling fairly quickly became a public figure i.e. a celebrity.

    I post on blogs about superhero movies and frequently ask “when is the big screen Wonder Woman franchise happening?”
    There is a Documentary on the history of Wonder Woman that premiered at the recent Athena festival.
    I hope Acosta can sell movie rights to this book or her others!

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