Shoes and Handbags

You know how when you’re walking across a parking lot, you’re scoping out possible escape routes, watching everyone around you for signs of instability or danger, and figuring out how—if you were attacked by the shifty-eyed guy in the inappropriately large coat over there, or the other one who’s skulking along a line of cars not meeting anyone’s eye, like he’s trying to hide something—you’d kill him with the weapon he pulled on you, or your car keys, or your thumbs, teeth, and knees?

Or how, when you’re in a nice restaurant with your beloved husband and kid, you’re figuring out what you would do if a lunatic with multiple firearms charged in intending a massacre, and you had to take him out to save their lives?


Just me, then?

Well, that’s awkward. So… aaaanyway… I’m going to discuss creating characters you can respect.

And it starts with shoes and handbags.

I own three pairs of shoes. Before I bought each pair, it had to meet two criteria. I had to be able to flee in the shoes. I had to be able to fight in them. That’s it. If I had to run from an attacker in a parking lot or kill a deranged maniac in a restaurant or wherever, my shoes could not in any way hamper what I needed to do. Could I vault over table tops, or crouch-walk beneath them? Could I run across the tops of a line of parked cars, jumping from car roof to car roof? (Yes, I’m still a good runner, I still have a good long jump, and I can both vault and crouch-walk. I’m not talking Walter Mitty stuff here.)

I own no handbags. The problem with handbags is defined in the name itself. Hand bag. You have to have one hand on them at all times. Otherwise they will fall off the shoulder that they have made lower than your other shoulder because you’ve been dragging one around for so long it’s bent your body. If you have to back into a guy who has grabbed you from behind, lever him over your back and slam him to the ground, and then take out his eyes with your thumbs, you need to have both hands free.

Yes. That’s what I think about on bright sunny days walking across parking lots.

Years ago, my friend Michael, who was an officer in the Army at the time, decided once to demonstrate something about women needing to be protected (we’d had a vigorous discussion on this some days earlier). So without warning, he lunged at me in my kitchen, doing some sort of attacker yell…and landed against a wall on the opposite side of the kitchen, with a bruised shoulder and a hurt expression on his face. “You weren’t supposed to attack,” he said.

Doing what you’re not supposed to do can save your life, I explained to him. And my instinct is not to scream and wait for rescue. Bad shit had already happened to me by that point. I’d learned when I was fourteen that you can’t trust strangers, and I learned when I was fifteen that you can’t trust the people you should be able to trust with your life. I was still a couple of years away from discovering that you can’t trust the person with whom you had two children…but I’d already learned to keep my survival plan active at all times. Flee if there’s a place to flee, attack if there isn’t. That’s me.

So I do not own a handbag, a clutch purse, a briefcase, or a hefty carryall. I have a backpack, and wear it over both shoulders so it does not impede either of my hands.

I’m never going to make it as a fashionista. Hell, I may not make it out of the parking lot. But if I don’t, I still want the cops to say, “Yeah. It’s a damn shame she didn’t make it. But they’ll still be digging pieces of the assailant out of the pavement next month.”

Back to characters.

I could not with a straight face write a novel where the heroine wears Prada and owns seventy pairs of kitten heels and spike heels and talks about how ani she is and waits for the man with the big bank account to come along and fall in love with her because she’s so…so…whatever the hell it is these characters are that men will fling themselves over cliffs to get.

If I were writing her, she’d be the woman found in pieces in the dumpster as the chapter two opener. I know me.

I could not write a novel where the hero is nothing but a vibrator strapped to an unlimited credit card. I wouldn’t want to hang out with that guy. I like to talk about hockey and writing and ideas and philosophy, and my guy pushes me to think harder, to ask better questions, and to evaluate every statement I make for flaws in logic and reasoning…which is what makes him the right man for me. But I have read a number of books where “vibrator+credit card” is the perfect definition of the hero. He rescues her from her helpless little self, he puts out, and then he stays out of the way so the heroine’s throng of yappy, shallow friends can ooh and ah over how big his… ah… bank account is.

Clearly somebody has to write those novels, because there are hordes of readers waiting to buy them. I ended up reading them because I was given copies and told, “You should write something like this. You’d make a lot of money.”

Writers and their characters don’t—or at least shouldn’t—work that way. Never write a character you can’t stand because you think it’ll make you rich. You’ll hate yourself in the morning, and for the exact same reason whores are not filled with pride and self-esteem from their line of work.

You have to write the people who resonate with YOU.

My heroines—like me—understand that bad shit can happen at any time, and they are determined from the first that if survival is possible, they will survive, and if survival is not possible, then they will not die cowering in a corner waiting for the rescue that never comes. And like me, they understand this because bad shit has already happened. And because they learned WHY you don’t wait for rescue—you save yourself. And because they have learned to value their own lives, not for what their lives mean to other people, but because of what their lives mean to them.

And so, my heroines do not consider shoes and handbags based on their stylishness, their designer labels, or their fashion cachet. If I have a need to discuss shoes, running shoes or walking shoes may get a mention. If I mention bags at all, look for backpacks.

My heroines will be self-supporting. And my heroes are not wealthy as a primary attribute. They may be successful, but if they are, their ambition and goals are what I admire about them. See, I spent a bunch of miserable years in a country club life, and I have discovered that I don’t like men who lead with their wealth, especially wealth they didn’t earn. My heroes are smart and honorable, and they can be pretty funny, but they’re earning their lives, too.

Your primary characters, your heroes and heroines, the people you write that you want your readers to care about, should not be carbon copies of you. Mine aren’t. But they are people I would be friends with, whom I want to spend time with. They are people who understand the importance of having your hands free. Of making sure your feet work the way they were designed to work at any given time. They’re people who understand that you have to actually like members of the opposite sex before you go to bed with them. They’re people who can watch their own backs, but will watch yours because they care about you and value you.

Before you can ask your reader to spend replaceable money in order to then spend irreplaceable time with someone you’ve created, you have to make sure that you’d want to spend time with those characters first. That they meet YOUR criteria for people worth knowing.

That they fit you like a good pair of shoes… however you might define good shoes.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

163 comments… add one
  • Marya Oct 14, 2016 @ 10:27

    β€œ’You weren’t supposed to attack,’ he said.” — [FACEPALM!] Priceless!

    “If I were writing her, she’d be the woman found in pieces in the dumpster as the chapter two opener. I know me.” — laughed so hard, I almost fell out of my wheelchair. That would be me too, Holly.

    Yet tough or not, what I most like about your protagonists is their integrity and values. They’re like beacons in a corrupt world. They give me courage when I’m following them through their stories.

    And there’s NEVER been a heroine like Dayne in “Sympathy for the Devil” or Cadence Drake in “Warpaint” (and her Emergency Cookies).

  • Susan Jun 19, 2015 @ 11:30

    Wow. I came to read this when you posted this in your newsletter, Holly. There’s a lot of people not writing and making their characters better if they start creating arguments about religion. I didn’t even care to see how that thread got started. I’m like “Not about writing–ignore!” Oy. Keep on keepin’ on–and loved your perspective on writing characters the way you do. ;o)

    • Holly Lisle Jun 23, 2015 @ 8:22

      Everything applies to writing. πŸ˜€

  • Cheri Oct 17, 2014 @ 13:07

    Loved the post, thanks for the link to it. You are not alone, although my musings more frequently revolve around how I’d survive if something terrible happened to my man. I know too many widows who hadn’t a clue.

    However, never underestimate the weaponry potential of a handbag, particularly one that is fortuitously carrying several hand tools (a pair of pliers, screwdriver and small wrench). Something like that came in very handy for me long, long ago. πŸ™‚

  • Jacqui Penn Jun 6, 2014 @ 2:39

    What a wonderful straight talking post. Some good, inspiring points to work through as always. Thank you

  • Denise Nov 20, 2013 @ 9:01

    Holly, I’m with you on the spike heels character!

  • Frank Da Horta Jul 5, 2013 @ 14:31

    I live in South Africa. I also place a high value on personal security and being aware of what is going on around me. I have been accused of being paranoid by my wife.

    The police here have a name for people who are unaware of their vulnerability. They are called rabbits.

    Be prepared and ready. It is the only way to stay safe in the land of many wolves.

    Love your writing.


  • Michael LaRocca Oct 19, 2012 @ 13:26

    We dress alike.

  • Anesor Aug 10, 2012 @ 8:16

    (coming very late to the discussion) πŸ˜‰

    I agree with the original essay and most of the subsequent debates on shoes, caution, competent leads, good and evil, the insanity of condemning ignorant to hell even if they were good, and the value of heroes and celebrating/sutdying those who benefit the world around them. And I agree with another that the ends don’t justify the means. Reading all these posts since last night made me realize how many of these I’ve used in RL and in my writing to this point.

    But, (you had to guess that word was coming πŸ™‚ I don’t agree that the evil of acts swims upstream. Neither do good acts. The fireman/parent/soldier who saves a child at the cost of their own, act on laudable principal AND is an evil act if they turn out to be a [insert EVIL/serial killer/Hitler/rapist]? The evil acts’ ‘evilness’ belongs to the person who did them/who forced them. If backtracking the responsibility of evil acts is like this than a school crossing guards who prevents a future serial killer from dying, a doctor who made a live-saving vaccine, or the inventor of seat-belts deserves blame for the evil acts of the one saved? The buck has to stop somewhere, and it should be on the ass.

    • Holly Aug 10, 2012 @ 8:47

      [NOTE: REVISED]You lost me initially, in that I thought you were stating people were responsible for the actions of others.

      I NEVER said folks were. Other folks thought evil got spread around like peanut butter, so everyone got a little on them. I think, however, those folks were full of shit.[/END REVISED]

      You are responsible for your own actions. If you pick up a brick and club your wife to death with it, the inventor of the brick is not responsible for what you did.

      If you’d invented the brick, and some jackass clubbed his wife to death with it, you are not responsible for his actions.

      From an ethical standpoint, there is no difference between a brick, a gun, a length of rope, a hammer, a knife, a skillet, a baseball bat, a rolled-up newspaper, or a knitting needle, to list multiple items that could be used either for their intended purposes, or to kill someone.

      The person using the tool is 100% responsible for the manner in which he uses the tool. The creator of the tool is 0% responsible for the manner in which someone else uses the tool he created.

  • LPogue Jul 19, 2012 @ 23:44

    The essay brings to mind my childhood. When walking with my grandmother to town, I aways wondered why she wore high heels to walk in. I got my answer the day a car slowed down and a couple of ‘not so nice’ men tried to start trouble. She told us, “If they stop, run. I’ll take them out with my heels.” To her, the heels were necessary weapons. Personally, I’m with Holly. I’d rather have on a good pair of running shoes so I can try to get away. Barring that, I will fight. There is nothing more useless than a person, male or female, who won’t try to defend themselves in a bad situation. By the way, at least one of my characters has traits I saw in my grandmother.

    I enjoyed the essay.

  • chingern Jul 1, 2012 @ 21:56

    but aren’t we supposed to dislike the bad guys?

    • Holly Jul 2, 2012 @ 4:29

      You ARE supposed to dislike the bad guys. If you don’t—if you find yourself liking the bad guys and hating the good guys—you’ve found a writer whose books you SHOULD NOT BUY, because that writer’s work will just piss you off.

      If that writer is me…well, then reading my blog has saved you from wasting money buying my books.

  • Phyllis Horn May 25, 2012 @ 11:05

    My sister sent me your “Shoes and handbags” and I loved it and the way you see women. After, I thought, “No way, someone actually thinks like me!” Long ago, I switched from purse to fanny pack to a 2″ x 4″ case that for license,cc, cash in my pocket. Now I use a money clip. Why? I want my hands free. Also free to take the fight to the would be attacker! Shoes? My shoes are made for walking, running, or kicking. I, too, am ready girl. Phyllis

  • William Mar 2, 2012 @ 9:41

    Such a damn good post. Wish we’d had more of you in college. One of the reasons I didn’t date much in my early twenties was due to the dearth of strong, intelligent women willing to reveal themselves as such. So many of my female classmates were content to hide their minds behind a veneer of homespun dunderheadedness.

    • William Mar 2, 2012 @ 9:43

      Huh? Was there something about religion in there? Maybe I should’ve read the other comments, but I’m just so busy with other things.

  • david Nov 13, 2011 @ 23:38

    The interesting thing about posting on a thread that has lay dormant for a year or more is wondering if anyone will read it. Rather like writing on a cave wall deep in the desert.

    I see quite easily where other posters become affixed to Religion because of Holly’s writing. Good, evil, essentially have come to mean, in this time, what we want them to. The asinine thing someone else inflicts upon you do is bad, but when you do the same, it is justified. A convenient world for the evil, because their actions can, with simple changes in terminology, become good.

    Although I study and like the bible, I don’t understand religion; it is essentially the same as modern politics to me.

    Most western religions use the bible like Al Queda uses the koran. None of which actually has anything to do with the purpose of the original writings.

    There is a lot of comment here about sacrifice. What does that have to do with any good or holy thing? Of course we help our neighbors, friends, family, we are taking care of our own surroundings. If the neighborhood becomes a place we would not want to care for, full of those who will not help take care of it, we leave it.

    This false idea of ‘sacrifice’ is not “Christian” in nature, it was the cultural indoctrination that allowed Roman Catholicism and Islam to almost conquer Europe, each in their turn. It is still the notion behind suicide bombing and taxation unto death. It has been the cornerstone of every ‘workers’ movement, and ‘labor’ movement, and ‘peoples’ movement, even of today’s progressive and liberal movements.

    Orwell’s “Animal Farm” could be taught to children, yet we seem to not grasp the simple, basic truth that the entire ‘sacrifice’ movement is never for the ‘good of all’ or for ‘fairness’.

    The religious/political crap about sacrifice and fairness? Translation –“Hold still while we rob and rape you.”

    There have been groups, hebrew, christian and many others, that have had all things in common, but they did it by the mutual consent of every member, not by someone having to ‘sacrifice’ for another, and they did it so that all might have the use of good things, all might benefit, that the group was stronger than the individual. These groups might be a family unit or larger, but even a member of the family that engenders strife and misuses others might have to be forced out.

    Does an army move as one unit, working together? Or does the General take all the ammuntion and food and head out on his own, hoping for victory without the troops? Do not mistake people working together for a common goal with sacrifice.

    Do not mistake sacrifice for ‘goodness’.

    Now for the part that may cost me Holly’s potential friendship, as well as the privilege of ever posting here again.

    As I understand the biblical tenet of Christianity, Jesus Christ was THE sacrifice, sent by God. He did it so you don’t have to. He suffered so you don’t have to. He fulfilled the laws and the prophecies so you don’t have to. He was given the ability [holy spirit, the basis for all the ‘magic’ ever written about] and instruction [prophecy]to do the job, he was the only one who could do it fully, and he did it for his group, his community, both the hebrews he came to, and those who would believe and follow.

    [he also said ‘the poor you shall always have with you”, so don’t fall for that “Income Inequality” crap]

    He knew the price that had to be paid, he had his moment of worry, but he carried through with it.

    He suffered, temporarily. He died.
    [is childbirth suffering? is it temporary ?]

    After less than a week of being dead [hangovers have lasted longer] God got him up again, as promised. Jesus Christ received a new body, became the first [“firstfruits from the dead”] who would live a human life and then receive a new body and ascend to heaven/other realm. Being the first means no human went to heaven before him.

    Not only did no one go to heaven before him, but since this physical universe, bound in time, has not reached its boundaries yet, no other human has gone to heaven yet. The dead are dead, in hell [from the word sheol, the grave, the ground.] That means that when you look at a dead body, what you see is what you get. It is what we all get, in the end.

    The rest of Christianity is pretty basic stuff, based on much older rules for life. Be nice, do honest business, you don’t get to eat if you don’t work, don’t let people who do evil into your community.

    Oh, there is shame taught there. “Shame had Value” — remember that line? I certainly stood up and took notice! If you do Evil, be ashamed, be ashamed of others who do it. Shame, done right, is effective. When people are so disgusted with you they won’t give you water, won’t look at you, won’t buy your food, won’t buy take gold from you, you change or you leave town. They put your name on the gate of town. To clear your name meant to CLEAR YOUR NAME off the wall where everyone could see your shame.

    Not only shame, but Christianity was the teaching never to wallow in it. Not to make excuses, but realize you did wrong, pick your sorry ass up and don’t do it again. Nobody is perfect, but do your damnedest, [“as much as in you is”] keeping in mind that you are just a bit of energy [‘life’] above the elements you are formed of, that said energy didn’t come from you, you egotistical twit, and by the way, everyone else is in the same boat!

    Life is too short, don’t waste it screwing around, don’t wreck it for anyone else, and don’t waste it torturing yourself for not being a ‘more perfect’ pile of wetted minerals.

    Let’s see, no ‘holy’ people, and only elevate those who show the most discipline in living good lives, those who are good to their families, don’t start fights, are honest in business. Not because their momma did, not because they paid someone to say they did, but what those who KNOW THEM said about them. [“those of good report”] Make those people, the ones who have disciplined themselves to do Good, the teachers, the counselors, pastors, etc.

    [Congrats, Holly, you’re a teacher, not just of writing, but of life!]

    Base their position on merit, what they do today, not what they have done, so that the community can correct them if they go off track, or replace them.

    Government welfare? Originally a biblical idea, to protect those who “are widows and orphans indeed” — not someone who could fill out the paperwork, not someone who could find an excuse, but someone who was truly and royally screwed. Those tithes paid into the church were to feed those people, as well as some [not all] for the people going out to do the feeding, [cutting into their ‘regular’ jobs. In Christianity, practiced “house to house”, [unlike the temples of Judaism] giving was voluntary.

    Back to Christian sacrifice. Who is his sacrifice an example to? “Men, give yourselves for your wives as Christ gave himself for the Church” Is that one horrible?

    Incidentally, ‘church’ it is not that self-perpetuating group telling you of their importance, [does that sound like politics yet? how about some liberal arts professors?] nor that building, or the organization it houses, which tell men to give themselves first to them, ‘in the name of the lord’. Church=ekklesia, the ‘called out’, specifically those who have used their own damn heads to listen to, consider, and respond to the offer]

    “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” The chapters preceding this statement are pretty much telling Christians to get over themselves. They didn’t make themselves wonderful any more than they gave themselves life.
    The after are advice on changing your mind to do good, not to follow whatever those around you are doing or think good, or say is good. To work together, even though we are all different, to do our work and respect the work of others even if it is different than ours.
    [I paint cars. I may never write a monetarily profitable or commercially publishable paragraph. I strive to do Good, as a person and in business. So do you. Are you better? Am I?]

    Be kind, not slothful in business, etc. Mostly the kind of things most of us recognize as Good. Try not to reward evil with evil, forgive [revenge escalates until you torture someone to death over the $10 they borrowed from you in high school.]

    Forgiving doesn’t mean bending over for the rapist. Being content does not mean having nothing and doing nothing about it. It means quit bitching. Plenty of good christians [even christ himself] ran away or fought with their wits [they were outnumbered, using force would have been suicidal]

    “One man esteems one day above another….” what’s it to you, anyway?

    That kind of thing. I think I’ve gone on long enough, don’t you?

    You may choose to believe this or the exact opposite. If you choose to believe, you may find the belief has its benefits. So can sugar pill. You may choose not to believe, because this is [still] a land that allows that freedom. Incidentally, that very freedom may be based on the silly superstition that God created humankind with freedom of will, inherent and not to be infringed. [Declaration of Independence]

    I may not agree with Holly on everything, I don’t have to. I will defend her right to say God doesn’t exist. It’s her life, I can’t live it. I can make it better, [all I want to do here], make it worse, or try to have no effect [lotsa luck there, we all breathe the same air]

    Love you, wish you well, Holly.

    PS: Who says ‘placebo effect’ has to be a sugar pill? Who says ‘placebo effect’ only works within your own body?

    • Holly Nov 14, 2011 @ 6:05

      I’m swamped, and I’m so deep into the migraine now I’ve lost the day count (started Wednesday before last, whenever that was) so I’m only going to respond to one point of this.

      If God forbid human sacrifice, why did he engage in human sacrifice?

      No excuse would exist for a human. For a God to be good and worthy of our love, God would have to be held to a HIGHER standard, not a lower one. If human sacrifice is evil for humans (and it is) it would be doubly evil for God to engage in it, even once.

      • david Nov 15, 2011 @ 7:25

        You are swamped. I should not be wasting your time. Rather be reading “Redbird” anyway.

        However. [knew that was coming, dintcha?]
        First thing : prophecies about final, ultimate sacrifice indicated that sacrifice would not STAY dead. Temporary suffering, permanent reward. Why i compared to child birth.

        From god clothing Adam and Eve with skins, sin=death. They sinned, animal had to die for it. Sacrifices throughout old testament, both payment for sin and foreshadowing the one ultimate sacrifice.

        Some question whether Abraham thought his son was to be that last sacrifice.

        Still a big leap for Jesus, to allow himself to be led to his death believing a promise of resurrection.

        Contrary to religious teaching, the dead–JC being the sole exception–are dead.

        Obviously churches use promise/threat of heaven/hell just as they use ‘sacrifice’; to keep people in line.

        Because of these similarities in tactics, I see little difference between religion and politics.

        ie Global Warming. The new “Hell”.

        • david Nov 15, 2011 @ 7:37

          More importantly for the moment, the migraines are not your fault, you don’t deserve them, should be able to discard them.

          Caused by external forces?

          What needs to happen/change?

          You have had intuitive answers before. They often come in the quiet moments. Wait for them.

          Praying for you. [you may not believe in it, but who said placebo effect must be limited to the believer’s own body?]

        • Holly Nov 17, 2011 @ 6:01

          Debating with me about God, the Bible, etc., is like debating with a brick.

          There’s nothing there for me, I don’t care, and while from time to time the debate itself might prove an intellectual exercise for me, in this case it isn’t.

          Migraines and well-thought-out debate are antithetical.

          I was raised Christian, was a missionary kid, read the Bible all the way from end to end multiple times, was a devout true believer…and it was the Bible itself that proved to me it was a lie.

          Contradictions aren’t mysteries. They’re proof that all the stories of Divine Inspiration are false. If there were a God, or if he’d had anything to do with the Bible, he wouldn’t have gotten the details wrong.

  • david Nov 13, 2011 @ 20:25

    Many years after you posted, I have just read “Shoes and Handbags.”

    Oh dear. I knew I wasn’t the only one scanning the aisles and rooftops, but I never realized it was one of the things that caused your characters to resonate so strongly with me….

    When I met my wife, I didn’t like, and would avoid, crowded malls. My comment was that such places were what grenades and machines guns were made for. This was in 1986, when most of the US had no idea what terrorism was.

    As for writing, yes, there are genres that crank out money hand over fist with little effort. I could become a telephone scam artist, for the same reasons. Lending my own effort to the destruction of humanity, one shred of decency at a time.

    One commenter was from ‘Country Australia’ — as though things never happened there. I guess she hasn’t heard of the Gypsy Jokers. I grew up in the Dakotas, also country, and far from the gang violence near the Mexican border, but Evil sometimes likes to go in the country, to hide out. Evil especially likes neighborhoods where no one ever locks their doors.

    Maybe having had a life with changes and adventures does make it easier to write interesting fiction. Keep in mind that many of us would have paid a year’s salary to be excused from some ‘adventures’

    The life you lived is not the point, however. There are a number of English Teachers with a bucolic background, who used good imaginations and good research to write great stuff.

    Please, do the research. I never want to read the word ‘Cordite’ again. [Unless you can actually put it within the proper narrow band of time and place.]

  • Martin Oct 24, 2010 @ 12:26

    Hello everyone,
    my first post on this site, so I guess this thread hit a little close home. A few comments in the interest of full disclosure. I have more than three pairs of shoes; actually I have 3 pairs of dark, very plain western (aka Cowboy) boots which all have 2 inch heels. Having a heel does not make them a liability, and actually they have saved me on at least one occasion. I’ve been held up six times in my life (which still seems quite strange to me because I am 6’3″ barefoot and over 200lb, but I used to live downtown in a large city), the only time I curbed the fight instinct was when I was with a friend and he panicked, resulting in one of the thieves holding a knife against his throat. We filed a police report and they eventually caught them, but the only item recovered was a personal object that one of the thieves kept and I was able to identify. I consider both of us to have been quite lucky because all we lost was at most a few thousand dollars, a couple of days in court, and my friend now has a greatly embellished story and a tiny scar on his neck.

    Back to the boots. I find that a pair of well made and fitted boots are quite comfortable, and while not the ideal for running, they make a very good weapon if you have the right skills. Without going into too much detail, a solid maple heel connecting with a jaw will immobilize an opponent quite nicely, and I speak from experience. Had I been wearing a running shoe or a loafer I’m not sure the outcome would have been the same. This doesn’t mean that I recommend everyone go out and buy western boots, but they do work very well for me. Find your own zone and do what works for you. As Holly pointed out, your legs are most likely your strongest asset. Take a self defense class, or one on what to do in an emergency, most police forces offer some variation of this. If you don’t want to wear a backpack, make sure that whatever you are carrying is something you are willing to abandon. Or if you do carry a handbag, keep a couple of rolls of quarters in the bottom and practice swinging it so that you are able to connect where you aim it.

    About the restaurant episodes, yes, I do do that, in restaurants, hotels, bars, airports, etc. I always sit with my back to a wall and with a good field of vision. If not then I’ll stand. Same thing when I drive, I always lock the doors, and when I stop at a light or in traffic, I always leave enough room so that I can get around the car in front of me. I also keep track of the cars behind me, and if I see the same car in my mirror for too long, I’ll turn and go around a block or stop at busy a gas station. Same if walking down a city sidewalk, although I do less of that lately. I know of at least five different routes home and I alternate them randomly. My wife has a 6 D-cell Maglight velcroed to the floor of the driver’s side of her car, and we have practiced what she would do in an emergency.

    Some of my friends think I’m paranoid, but then they have never had anyone come after them with a knife or a baseball bat. When they inquire what I’d have them do in a similar situation, my usual response is along the lines of if they have to ask, flight is the better option. But even if they choose to flee, they’d better have been thinking ahead; if not then chances are it will likely be too late.

    The comment about biting is an interesting one, if a little disturbing. I’d never thought of that before, and I admire the logic. I’ve mentioned it to my wife, and will also tell my sisters.

    My characters are all based on people I know, mostly hybrids of several people. Some of these have grown significantly in the time I have known them, and so I try to do the same with my characters. Most people don’t believe it can happen to them until it does, so I see nothing wrong with a 3 inch-spike-heel-wearing heroine, as long as she isn’t driving a high performance automobile or doing impossible acrobatics like running down stairs (up is feasible however). If she is still wearing the same attire at the end of the adventure, well, chances are slim I’ll read the next book. I stopped reading novels where the main character doesn’t evolve when I was 13.


  • Sandy Oct 15, 2010 @ 8:35

    Your analogy is funny. Walking across the parking lot to work yesterday, in my flats, (because I want to be able to run if needed to), I was thinking about the others I saw walking in in their heels, (and how they couldn’t run if they had to, that only happens on tv). The reason being because they want to be cute you know. And did I ? Ah, oh yes I remembered to stick my heels in my “bag” to change in to when I got in to the office!

  • Holly, you probably won’t remember me, but you actually responded to one of my emails (I’m the guy that stumbled across your website and you inspired me to write again).

    I loved what you said. I’m a man, but I find that I also like to write from the perspective of a woman. Regardless, all the women in my novel projects, short stories etc. have one thing in common. They are strong, smart and tough. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Whether they are the commander of a starship, or a woman who has to run off a mountain to save her (male) friend and then fight two attackers on the way: they are women I’d like to meet and be friends with always.


  • Hannah Simone Jul 16, 2010 @ 12:19

    Interesting. I realize that this will be the unpopular opinion, but here goes–
    I’m going to try and word this in a way that makes sense.(Mercury in Pisces, you know?)

    To have a heroine that has 50 pairs of shoes, or tons of Loui Vuitton handbags, I think, is perfectly fine. It’s like characters who smoke. As long as you don’t glorify the act, it’s all right to smoke or have tons of shoes. Neither of these people could run very fast, or catch up with a group, or be very mobile. Holding a cigarette requires a hand, too.

    But you also can’t paint these people to be huge idiots… There has to be balance, doesn’t there? Nobody can be entirely bad. It’s just not possible; I can’t believe that it is. The girl who is extremely unconventional and has 50 pairs of shoes, also probably spends tons of time beautifying herself, and is very attractive and wears up-to-date fashions. But, perhaps she is also rude and snarky to people she doesn’t respect, or she has high standards. And the man who smokes, maybe he’s an alcaholic… Because he lost his kids and wife in a car crash. Without this balance, it’s just not fair to the characters.
    (Fair is a fallacy, I know, but why not strive to hold high standards of decency?)

    On a side note, associating yourself too much with a character is, from what I’ve heard and felt, bad… I’m not the expert here, but what I do know is that if you emotionally attatch yourself to any of your characters, especially the main character, they will start to take over. Suddenly, this hero or heroine, (Who is just like you!) will have good fortune and lucky opportunities abound. Why, you couldn’t bear to see them be any less attractive, or intelligent, than you. Then it gets out of hand. I’m not saying you can’t create a hero or heroine that you feel is respectable; I’m not saying you can’t do anything! In fact, breaking the rules and still creating something beautiful is one of the things that makes art so wonderful. I’m just saying that if you make a character /just like you/, there are going to be serious repercussions.

    As for vibrator boyfriends, people like that exist. But again, as long as they have some sort of balance, (Not intelligent, clingy, not funny, not affectionate,) it’s OK to have them. And to have women with Prada who take advantage of them? I think that’s even more OK. I think that’s genius. For once, to have a female be the douchebag? It’s not uncommon, but it is in literature.

    Books with vibrating bank accounts are for 14 year olds.
    (COUGH I am totally not talking about the Twighlight Saga with a good example of a spineless, masochistic female, COUGH.)

    On the account of women defending themselves, I also think that boys and men should take this course as well.
    Everybody should learn how to defend themselves, to say women alone need to learn how is a bit disillusioned.

    Sorry this ran a bit long!
    I saw the link in an email and wanted to join in. I can’t stand missing out on a good opportunity for trolling myself. πŸ˜‰
    Thanks for the controversial material!

    How the…? I’m reading through these comments and it’s as if none of us are on the same page. Really? When did religion get involved with this?

    … I might have to get some change.
    I can’t help but throw in a few cents at that sort of debate…
    (From the Liberal standpoint, of course. Wouldn’t be a stretch to say Radical.)

  • brendan stallard Jul 16, 2010 @ 8:37


    LOL, a practical, sensible woman, not driven by idiot fashion.

    If I weren’t married, I’d be calling on you:)

    While some folks might think your precautions a little over the top, as a retired police officer, with much time spent on personal protection details, I can assure you that it does behoove a single woman to keep aware of her surroundings.

    You sound like a cool dude to me, three pairs of shoes, Wow. I have more than that!


  • April Apr 9, 2010 @ 14:25

    Lovely sentiments shared (lol) with Joe. It did my heart good to
    hear the way he impressed me, expressed by yourself! Kudos!!!!!!!!

    I too have a ” plan of escape” ready, no matter when or where it maybe needed.
    I once had to use my head, at 6 months pregnant,
    with a drunken relative.We escaped unscathed!
    Childhood had taught me to keep my wits….among other things.
    Bad things happen. Period!
    I think it just makes good sense not to get too mollified by circumstance.
    Great blog!
    I haven’t worn high heels since I was 17. I’ve always loved the way they looked. No one ever told me how aweful they feel.Blisters. Pinched toes.Back issues. Yikes!
    The handbag I carry is very heavy and has been used to chase someone away. So I think I’ll just keep updating the same model.
    Great Article! (if I haven’t already said lol)

  • Alex Mar 26, 2010 @ 11:50

    As a fellow “bad shit has happened before”, I have to say kudos. You said it straight without trying to win sympathy points and said it well! Thanks for the advice from life that leads to better writing as well. BTW, where’d you learn self-defense?

  • Christine Jun 17, 2009 @ 15:16

    So very true about respecting your character. I’ve done National Novel-Writing Month six times, and the only time I did not complete the requisite 50k word count was when my main character was someone whose head I just could not get into. I thought (and still do think) she’s a very interesting character, but she is so unlike me that I could not put myself in her shoes (pun intended? I’m not sure…). All of my main characters have been different from each other, but I just could not identify with this one particular one. Maybe someday I will be able to, and I’ll be able to finish this work. But not until and unless I find our point of mutual respect.

  • Harley May 27, 2009 @ 16:35

    Holly –

    Thanks. This article gave me a sort of permission that I think I was seeking–to write characters I respect. Not for who they are, but for who I know they will become. I’ve been frustrated because the heroes I keep dreaming up are such the anti-hero. They’re weak, scared, tentative, selfish, and generally closed-minded. Obviously, the story unfolds and they bloom as everything in their life is shaken loose, allowing them to become strong, brave, decisive, generous and open. So much of the fiction I read features a character that doesn’t change. It’s a fun read, but what’s left at the end of it? What about humanity–heck, ourselves–can we learn from Robert Langdon, Sherlock Holmes, Jason Bourne, pick-a-bestselling-hero? But, to use another bestseller, the evolution of a character like Harry Potter, Stephen Dedalus, Josef K., etc. allows us grow in ways that transcend entertainment and escapism. I get bogged down with my writing, thinking, “But he’s not agressive enough, he’s not smart enough, he’s not sarcastic enough…” and I think I’m getting lost on what I expect readers want (and what I’ve read in writing books that readers want), whereas I need to just pay more attention to what it is my character actually wants. After all, a serious need on the part of a character will do much more for the story than a perceived need on the part of the writer, no? πŸ™‚

    This all stuff I knew (head) but just didn’t know (heart). Thanks for putting words to it.

    – Harley

  • DasteRoad May 21, 2009 @ 7:47

    Hey, I see the comments to this post have kinda exploded into a forest while I wasn’t around πŸ™‚

    I have to say the whole discussion is really interesting though. I hadn’t really thought a lot in the past on whether it was possible or not to give an objective definition of good and evil, and the ones you gave, Holly, are quite interesting and gave me a lot to think about πŸ™‚

    While writing, I always thought that good and evil where far from being as simple as black and white: heroes are heroes not when they are flat stereotypes with no weaknesses or mistakes, but when no matter their “imperfection”, they choose to do the right thing, because they hold those values dear. I read a Nietzsche excerpt some time ago in which he said, if I remember it correctly, that what makes us human is the fact that we judge, that we give a value to the things we do and experience. That’s a great definition of mankind, I think (I apologize in advance to people who know Nietzsche better than me if I got it wrong, since my knowledge of his work does not go much beyond that single excerpt I read a lot of time ago ^^;). And the same for villains: they do not have to laugh maniacally all the time or to grow a goatee, they are villains when they choose to oppress or force others for their own gain, with the full awareness of the consequences, or with some excuse like “the ends justify the means”.

    Sure, each culture has its own customs: I once read that kissing in public is not considered “appropriate” in Japan (though I may be mistaken), for instance. But that’s a different thing than, for instance, punishing homosexuality by law. Homosexuality in itself harms no one, so one can’t just shrug and say “it’s a different culture”. Of course it’s a different culture, but a law like that would be just wrong, and there are objective arguments to explain why (for the record, I’m not talking about any country in particular: it just came to my mind that there are countries that punish homosexuality by law because I remember there was a petition about it, but I can’t remember what countries they are right now ^^;). We all *know* when we’re oppressing or forcing someone else, as well as we know when we’re spreading happiness. So we all know good and evil, at least if we’re not completely stupid or empathy-lacking.

    I hope I’m making some sense, I’m kinda improvising right now ^^; But well, the end of it all is that you are very thought-provoking, Holly πŸ™‚

    • Hannah Simone Jul 16, 2010 @ 12:26

      You’re right.
      We don’t punish people for having different cultures. And even then, that would be wrong.
      I suppose homosexuality is similar to Anti-semitism in that sense?
      That you shouldn’t punish somebody only because they have a different culture than you?
      Thanks for an insightful post.

  • Craig A. Eddy May 20, 2009 @ 9:54


    RE: Your response (number 126) to Joe



  • hollylisle May 20, 2009 @ 9:28

    Joe, your ability to maintain your sanctimony, condescension, and arrogance while never saying anything that means ANYthing is just breathtaking, and I applaud you for your bull-headed determination to say nothing and still win your point.

    I’m not going to let you, but I definitely have to say you’ve made enough noise and smoke to drown out just about any attempt to hold a discussion based on reason.

    The reason Abraham’s reprieve from the sacrifice of Isaac even made it into the Bible is because it is what’s different. It stands out from the standard practice of the time, it changes the status quo. Or did you think that Abraham had the bright idea to go out into the hills alone (a.k.a. without witnesses) to invent human sacrifice, only to be stopped by a God who conveniently supplied a trapped sheep?

    The culture of the time was one that demanded human sacrifice, and first-born sons were a favorite for proving how much you were willing to give up for your invisible man in the sky.

    Abraham had a perfectly good kid he didn’t want to toss into the dumpster, though. So he went alone to a place of sacrifice, and while he was alone, he claimed God spoke to him and told him the sheep would be just fine, thanks, and then Abraham and his still-living kid hiked back to town and spread the story of God’s change of heart. (No dummy, Abraham.) And miracle of miracles, no more human sacrifice among that tribe, most of whom were probably as grateful as Abraham not to have to waste a completely usable kid.

    How do we know we know Abraham experienced a miracle? Because he said so, and there is no proof.

    As for mixing up Noah and Lot—both drunks with incest issues (Noah’s was his son Ham, who likely sodomized HIM—a point I forgot until I looked it up)—sorry. I haven’t read the book in almost 30 years, since I was nineteen. However, you do a fine job of arguing trivia and evading the point. Noah was a piss-poor example of a righteous man. Lot, who threw those same two daughters to rapists, was a piss-poor example of a righteous man. (And a father claiming he was so drunk his daughters took advantage of him and had sex with him? Both of them? Pull the other one.)

    For the record, of course I believe in absolutes and also in objective good and evil. as for objective reality, I don’t subscribe to Buddhist or Hindu thought on that. I myself happened to be arguing against relativism.

    Here you’re attempting to twist what you very clearly stated in previous posts. You said, SEVERAL times, that humans could not clearly discern a difference between good and evil, that everyone had their opinion.

    Flat out lying to make yourself look right does not in any way strengthen your argument.

    so, after questioning the protagonist’s ability to think clearly: I am very intelligent (lol). I came to the conclusions about the Bible you, Holly, did when you were sixteen when I was a lot younger (not that this makes me more intelligent; simply saying I was, and remain, very critical).

    Really? So you claim, but you offer no examples. The same conclusions I did? How did you justify them, then, because if you did not justify them, you would not be a Christian. Or you would be one happy with the immorality of your God.

    Throughout this discussion, you have not answered a single one of the questions I posed, while I have answered each of your points.

    Then I did more research and found that the Bible was actually a lot more reasonable than I’d thought, more reliable, and responsible for a lot of good and development in civilisation too (see Vishal Mangalwadi’s “Must The Sun Set on the West?”, about how the Bible shaped Western Civilisation). That corrupt clergy and churches distort this truth is too bad.

    I never suggested that the result of Christianity’s existence was absolute evil. There were good men who used the usable parts of the religion to do good things. They could have done these things without the religion, because most of the good they did, they did by circumventing religious dogma (man-made) and ignoring the actual contents of the Bible (also man-made) except for those bits that have value.

    As your final word on this issue, I’ll bring in one last quote from one of your previous posts:

    But your argument brings up all sorts of metaphysical questions that it would be arrogance to presume an answer to. I’ll leave eternity, the human soul and ultimate reality in general to the one who made it.

    In other words, you know nothing, you’re happy to know nothing, and you think that anyone who decides that knowing something is better than knowing nothing is arrogant and presumptuous.

    Okay. I’m fine with being both of those. I’ll go you one better and state now that I walked out on your god because his philosophy failed to live up to my moral standards.

    I know—objectively—that judging people based on how much they’re willing to kiss your ass (God’s method for selecting souls for Heaven) rather than on their objective worth as human beings is immoral and disgusting and degraded. It’s the philosophy that ends up with murderers, rapists and serial killers in Heaven and people who lived good and loving lives in Hell.

    And I know—objectively—that the life of a human being who loves his family, cares for them, values the lives of others, works to make his small corner of the world a better place, and lives by principles of honor, justice, and truth is worth more than the life of some corrupt scumbag whose principles are entitlement, dependence, and ignorance.

    We are what we do. The God you believe in is what he does. What you and your religion claim God does is appalling and disgusting and horrific.

    So I judge your God unworthy of me.

  • Lori Wise May 17, 2009 @ 22:50

    Having learned the same lessons of which you speak, I can totally relate. And Holly, a Walter Mitty reference! (loved the story, loved the movie even more ~ major Danny Kaye fan). Will you marry me? LOL. Thanks for the great advice. While there is obvious disagreement, I think everyone can take away at the very least a nugget full of information. As for me, it’s good as gold.

  • dragon May 17, 2009 @ 16:02

    shoes comments explains why I frequently yell at running female characters “lose the shoes!”. Unfortunately, in the “professional” world I inhabit, heels are a fact of life. (Me, if I wasn’t diabetic and plagued with dry skin … and goathead burrs that track into the house , I’d spend my life barefoot.) As to hand bags, i used to travel with a fanny pack, these days, due to carrying notebooks and books around with me, I’ve switched to a courier style bag. Among other things, I can lose the bag or hit someone with it. Luckily, the powers that be in the universe have kept me from having issues with violent human predators. All of which may have something to do with my lack of success with writing original fiction … great blog. Always enjoy both the initial article and the discussions that follow

  • Joe G May 17, 2009 @ 13:40

    It’s funny when someone thinks they know a book well enough to write it off using the text itself, and then makes mistakes like a) In the Bible God never condones human sacrifice b) it was not Noah who had sex with his daughters (because he did not have any as far as we know), it was Lot; and it was the daughters who got him drunk with that aim. c) the Crusades are always a ridiculous argument against the Bible or its faith because most of the so-called Christians fighting could not read the bible anyway thanks to the Church, which refused to make it available in the common tongue for precisely that reason: so that they could tell the plebs what they wanted the plebs to believe. if they had, they would know that Jesus taught to turn the other cheek etc.

    For the record, of course I believe in absolutes and also in objective good and evil. as for objective reality, I don’t subscribe to Buddhist or Hindu thought on that. I myself happened to be arguing against relativism.

    so, after questioning the protagonist’s ability to think clearly: I am very intelligent (lol). I came to the conclusions about the Bible you, Holly, did when you were sixteen when I was a lot younger (not that this makes me more intelligent; simply saying I was, and remain, very critical). Then I did more research and found that the Bible was actually a lot more reasonable than I’d thought, more reliable, and responsible for a lot of good and development in civilisation too (see Vishal Mangalwadi’s “Must The Sun Set on the West?”, about how the Bible shaped Western Civilisation). That corrupt clergy and churches distort this truth is too bad.

    I believe that God is truth, and religions distort this truth, often for their own gain of course but not always.

    the Koran is a completely different matter than the Bible. if you look at the academic deconstruction of Bible and Koran, you see that the Bible holds up startlingly well whether historically rationally or archeologically. with the Koran, the opposite is the case. there’s a guy called Jay Smith and 20 others writing PhDs on this.

    I too was thinking of dicitonary definition “sacrifice”, not having found yours there; but hey, yours is cool too. I’ll write it down.

  • Paul May 16, 2009 @ 23:48

    Cool article and discussion. Being a six foot five gentleman I tend to avoid high heels but what you said about creating heroes that resonate with you was spot-on in my opinion. I’ve so often tried to avoid creating self-inserts that I took to crafting heroes that were morally bleak and amoral and unlike me and wondered why they never had soul or I never really cared about them. I’m most likely not the paragon of virtue but by making my heroes “interesting” and “more realistic”, I took their souls. Or rather I didn’t give them any in the first place.

  • Fran May 16, 2009 @ 23:19

    Self-defense likely to result in contact with body fluids increases chances of contracting fluid-borne diseases like aids. Weigh long-term risk against the imminent threat. Quickly. Bite to id an assailant only when there’s overriding importance to doing so.
    A backpack strapped around the body is a convenient handle for an attacker from behind. Like holding a turtle by its shell.

  • Wandering Author May 15, 2009 @ 17:59

    Sabine, I think you’ve just come up with a situation that illustrates Holly’s idea of a wasteful sacrifice perfectly. I understand getting your kids out, fine, I’m not going to argue with that – and, if I ever found myself in a building where the fire alarm went off and someone was having trouble getting out, I’d try to help them. But I’ve been in a couple of buildings where a fire alarm has sounded and most people didn’t want to leave.

    Even on a personal level, that’s a pretty stupid decision. If it is a false alarm, the worst that will happen is you stand around in the cold (or the baking sun – done both) for a while. If the alarm is real, even if you don’t see fire, it can move quickly, and block you off from an exit even more quickly. But it is also a selfish, arrogant attitude to take. In many buildings, some or all of the staff are not allowed to leave until they’ve made sure the part of the building they’re responsible for is clear – and firefighters have to go in and risk their own lives to get anyone out who doesn’t make it on their own. So the jerks who say “my work is too important to interrupt” (the excuse I’ve usually heard, as I pass them on my way out, arguing with the staff) aren’t just risking their own hides.

    It would be one thing to slow down to try to help someone out who was really having trouble getting out on their own. But anyone who knows an alarm went off and refuses to leave really isn’t likely to be worth the extra risk. Yes, it is a horrible way to die, and I’ll wish them well – from the outside. I don’t want to think of anyone trapped in a fire, even because of their own idiocy. On the other hand, I’ve never stopped to argue with one of them.

    That said, there might be a few odd situations where the person had a good reason. I took part in the 2,996 Project, where each blogger wrote a tribute to one of the people who died on 9-11, and because a few people never wrote theirs, I ended up writing a second tribute, in a hurry, for Lindsay Coates Herkness III, who was the guy who refused to leave and one of the security guards died because he went back in to get him. Now, even in a hurry, I wanted to do a decent job, so I did as much research on his as I could. Doing my best to put myself into his shoes that day, I really think he was the kind of guy who felt he needed to stay put – to keep everyone else from panicking. Did he make the right choice? I can’t say. I can’t even be sure my own take on him is the right one. But, if that is why he stayed, I can at least respect that decision.

  • Sabine May 15, 2009 @ 16:35

    What a great post!
    I do think these things- and others- I like having a plan. One of my strangest experiences was being in a restaurant when a fire alarm went off. I was the ONLY one to get up and head out (with my two daughters in hand). Not even my husband (who was supposed to grab our son in case of any emergency) followed. So now my plan is to grab all three kids.
    I can understand why people don’t react to bizarre emergencies- it can be surprising. But a fire alarm?! Too often we don’t respond to clear signals. And to me, lurkers in a parking lot are clear, as well. Even if usually false alarms.
    Looking forward to reading through all the comments. I love it when you generate this much talk.

  • hollylisle May 15, 2009 @ 13:52


    I agree utterly. Your life is yours for you to live to the best of your ability. And that includes keeping long hair because you love it.

    Selfishly loving that which we love is what gives us reason to get out of bed in the morning, and it’s the reason that I still love my job with a mad, passionate love after being a novelist for 17 years. I don’t let other people tell me that I should write something they think is more meaningful (well, they tell me, but I ignore them), and I don’t do things that don’t matter to me.

    I’m cheering you on.


  • Tyu May 15, 2009 @ 12:08

    Holly – I loved the first Indiana Jones movie. But then I’ve only seen that and the most recent one. I think now I’m going to have to watch the second one just to groan at the tv.

    Also on the point of “sacrifice” and “selflessness”. I’ve always felt that people are inherently selfish. We do things because it benefits us in some way. If something doesn’t benefit us, it isn’t worth doing. The benefits vary, from getting physical rewards (money, sex, objets d’art), or just a feeling we love (satisfaction, pleasure, adrenaline, etc), but we’re still satisfying ourselves first and foremost.

    For example, I’ve been trying to grow my hair really long. It’s past waist length, I’m 26, and other women my age keep saying things to me like “It’s too long, when are you going to cut it?” “You’re too old for hair that length, that’s for children” “Why don’t you donate it to the adorable little kids with cancer?” “Oh you’ll look much better with short hair!” I have all sorts of technical excuses for why I won’t cut it (I get major pyramid head with short curly hair) or donate it (most kids with hairloss from chemo would rather wear hats and bandanas over wigs anyday, and having a wig isn’t going to cure them), but my biggest reason is because I LIKE having long hair. It satisfies me and makes me immensely happy when I notice that it’s gotten longer.

    If people want to call me selfish (and they do), that’s too bad for them. Selfishness does not automatically = evil. We all have reasons for being that keep life satisfying. If not, why the hell are we living for?

  • hollylisle May 15, 2009 @ 10:47


    The truth is that even an average man is much stronger than an average woman (assuming no taekwando training) and running is probably your best option.

    Running is definitely the very best option. My natural instinct is unfortunately to run toward, rather than to run away; something I have to fight.

    And men’s upper-body strength is massively greater than women’s upper-body strength. Testosterone doesn’t just make them look pretty.

    Lower-body, however, if you’re in about the same shape, your muscles can do about the same work. When I was working out in an iron gym five days a week, I was doing three sets (twenty-fifteen-ten) of leg presses on an incline leg press holding 425 pounds of iron weights. I kept my knees tightly wrapped so I didn’t blow one out, and I ran through each set in under thirty seconds. I wasn’t trying to bulk up, after all, so I was going for high reps at speed. I just used a lot of weight. I did 425 on my calves, too.

    The men who worked out alongside me weren’t doing any more, and some were doing significantly less.

    (I never looked like a weightlifter, btw. Not what I was shooting for. I just wanted to be able to take care of myself.)

    These are not abnormal numbers for women who lift regularly. My bench press, though, never got above 120 lbs using an Olympic bar and free weights. (I don’t care much for machines—I always used free weights when available). I screwed up my left elbow permanently trying to do 30 lb preacher curls before I was ready, and that was the beginning of the end of me and weight lifting.

    But. Women who are cornered need to keep in mind that their legs, knees, and feet are capable of doing significant damage. Thumbs and teeth, too, if they can get to eyes or arteries. Elbows go to throats, backs of heads can be slammed into noses. Even women who have not taken self-defense training do not need to be helpless.

    Oh, and the excellent thing about biting? Human bites are nasty. They get infected and require medical care, which pushes your attacker into places where folks will be looking for him (or folks like him). Good, deep bites leave permanent scars. And bite marks are as unique as fingerprints. If you bite the hell out of an attacker, even if you don’t survive, hard forensic evidence that a lab can’t lose, a refrigerator can’t ruin, and a lawyer can’t evade—and that’s suitable for conviction—will be able to connect him to you for the rest of his life.

  • Kayelle Allen May 15, 2009 @ 3:23

    After reading this article I feel so much better about my own deal with shoes. I wore heels when I was a young teen, but after a stint in the Navy, where I had fairly flat 1″ heels as part of the dress uniform and leather, laced flats for work, I realized the foolishness of spending days walking around in heels that killed my feet. I have a phrase I tell my shoe-aholic friends who don’t get why I have 3 pairs of the same flat shoes and usually wear New Balance athletic shoes (because they’re made so well I can put them on in the store and wear them all day without getting one blister). “I’ve paid my dues in pinchy shoes.”

    When I was working full time, I’d sometimes go out at lunch and drive to a local park to eat. There were many others who did the same thing. I always made sure I pulled thru a parking spot so I wasn’t hemmed in. I kept the doors locked, the windows down only on the other side of the car about an inch. If they were down on my side, someone might be able to sneak up on me and grab my hair. Still, I’d have started the car and driven off – I’d rather lose a hank of hair than my life.

    Recently I read that if someone gets in your car despite all your caution, rather than drive as they tell you, to hit the gas and ram the car into something solid. The airbag will save you, but if they’re in the back seat they’re going flying.

    Years ago, a local teenager had a guy get into her car at a light and act as if he had a gun in his pocket. He told her when the light changed to drive normally. Her windows were down because it was summer, and instead of doing what he said, she quickly turned off the car and threw the keys as far away from the car as she could and then held down the horn. He jumped out and ran.

    It’s cool to read about so many others who don’t carry a purse everywhere, make sure their clothes have pockets and don’t give a hoot what others think about their shoes because they’d rather be safe and comfortable than end up with someone saying “She’s such a pretty corpse.”

    Thanks for this article!

  • Charlotte A May 14, 2009 @ 20:48

    Hi Holly – excellent article, as always. This made me think of the times when I was hassled or attacked by men and the incredibly stupid things I did because I got really mad and hit back and fronted the bastards. The truth is that even an average man is much stronger than an average woman (assuming no taekwando training) and running is probably your best option. Personally, I think every woman should be carrying concealed.

    I liked your crash video very much too.

  • Charlene Teglia May 14, 2009 @ 16:29

    And don’t forget, jeans loose enough to land a solid kick in. Kenpo forever changed how I feel about pants. *g*

  • Drake_Tesla May 14, 2009 @ 14:43


    Thank you.

    I think, then, that my confusion is based on a difference in functional definition of the word ‘sacrifice’.

    I’m used to the basic dictionary definition of sacrifice: the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim (Random House definition). (You can still impose this on an unwilling victim, but it does presuppose the trade is favourable in the eyes of the trader, at least in the long term. And you cover that eventuality under ‘force’.)

    The way I use the word, giving up something valued for something of less value or no value isn’t a sacrifice Γ’β‚¬β€œ it’s a waste. Waste is something I can definitely agree is a negative. (Trading my life so that some random person doesn’t miss their bus = a waste.)

    In your interpretation of the ‘blocking a bullet with your chest’ scenario, because death is the /expected/ outcome, the thing of value being given up includes the remaining time someone has left. The thing being purchased in trade (some kid’s life) is (in your argument) of unknown value.

    It’s the fact that death is /expected/ rather than /possible/ then, that brings this to a one-for one trade in your mind.

    I believe I understand your argument.

    I’m going to have to consider this one for a while before I decide whether or not I agree with your evaluation.

    Now I’ve got to go do something more immediately useful. πŸ™‚

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 13:29


    Totally understand about the whole mixed religion situation.

    And your early association with the Quakers cheers me. I was already a vigorous thinker when my parents joined that church and hauled us off into the a dangerous byways of 1975-76 Guatemala to be missionaries. But I liked the fact that Quakers were thinkers and questioners, too. Some of the ones I knew, anyway.

    And while I could never accept pacifism as a tenet, their general absence of mysticism in Quaker theology makes me respect the Quaker approach more than I do the dogmas of the other sects of Christianity I’ve either encountered or been immersed in. (Sometimes literally.)

    And there is this one joke told to me by a very old Quaker missionary when I was at the Spanish Language Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica as a student in 1975. I think you’ll like it.

    A criminal bent on mayhem breaks into the house of an old Quaker farmer, who appears at the top of the stairs holding a double-barreled shotgun. The old farmer looks at the criminal and says, “I do not wish to hurt thee, friend, but I aim to shoot where thee is standing.”

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 13:11


    I do first drafts of my posts directly into Wordpress, which means I revise after saving. You read the version of the post where I left out the critical answer to why a firefighter who dies saving the life of a future scumbag is different that the man who throws himself in front of a bullet to save the same future scumbag.

    I’ll recap here. The firefighter does not do his job intending to die for anyone else. His objective is to survive to fight fire again. He dies by accident. Therefore, his entire career as a firefighter counts in his reckoning, and his death is an incidental. (Not to him, but in how we value his death, and its outcome).

    The man who throws himself in front of the speeding bullet DOES intend to die. Therefore, that single act must be judged by its single intent, and by its single outcome. He died in a one-on-one trade for another human being.

    Craig is using the Heinlein definition of sacrifice, which I disagree with—not in the value of the philosophy as stated, but in the use of the word “sacrifice,” which I consider in this usage to be saying something the word does not mean.

    If you want to give up something because doing so saves something you value more, you’re not making a sacrifice. You are making a choice that benefits both you and what you value…even if you have to die to do it.

    If you are forced to give up something you value so someone else can benefit from it, you have made a sacrifice. If you give up something you value more to save something you value less, you have made a sacrifice.

    Lives lived on principle are not lives of sacrifice. They are lives of intent and contentment.

  • Craig A. Eddy May 14, 2009 @ 13:05


    My father was a member of the Society of Friends (since you know the religion, I feel free to use the proper name). My mother was a Methodist. My father accepted the Methodist religion AS A RELIGION and kept his own beliefs (many of which my mother accepted) simply to make it a one religion family. This was late ’20’s, approximately (they have both passed away, and are no longer available for me to ask the exact date of their marriage) when a mixed religion family could be a problem. I was raised Methodist, but got exposed to a number of other religions, in part because my father was a music teacher and choir director and directed church choirs. I was also exposed to Heinlein at an early age, and began thinking for myself. Since this IS a Quaker tenet, my personal beliefs and ideals were accepted as being valid for me (See the movie “Friendly Persuasion” for a fictionalized example of this). BTW, one of the religions that I was exposed to was the Quakers, as I attended a service in Glens Falls, New York when I was about 14. It was the Meeting House that my father had attended as a child and growing up. It was due to the above mentioned movie that I began to understand a number of the attitudes that I held at that time. Some of them have changed. Some of them have changed drastically. For example, I now know that I am capable of causing personal injury or even death in another human being. I’ve never done so and really don’t expect to. But I know that, under certain very prescribed circumstances I would be capable of doing so (threat to self or family, for example). A “true” Quaker might not be able to do so. My father was an example of the latter. (However, he had courage. During the ’50’s, while teaching a class in a high school, he talked a kid into giving up a knife, and walked him down to the office. He came home vibrating from shock from the experience, which is how I found out about it.)


  • Drake_Tesla May 14, 2009 @ 13:00


    Fair enough.

    I understand. The logic behind the action gives it moral force, not the action in isolation. To complete the thought, thenÒ€¦

    If the previous poster who suggested he might, based on a similar principle, throw himself in front of a bullet for a random child, were acting based on his principles (his judgement that a random child was a life worth preserving) alone, /then/ his action may be morally justified.

    Any philosophy, law or rule of behaviour that stated he had an /obligation/ to trade his life for the child’s (regardless of our hypothetical sacrificer’s own convictions, personal situation or principles) would be evil.

    I know a fair number of firefighters myself (and Search and Rescue volunteers, and cops), and I agree with your assessment of many of their motivations. (The S&R guys I know are mostly female, mind you. And tougher than spring steel.) My baby sister’s a NICU nurse, and, while the job’s not usually life threatening, there’s a lot of life and death there, and any of those kids may grow up to be a scumbag. (But hey, so could anyone’s kids, despite their parents’ best efforts, after all.)

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 12:44

    Craig—Oh, tell me you started out Quaker. My parents belonged to a bunch of Protestant denomination, but the only one that even had a slight chance of keeping me was the one we finished with… Quaker.

  • Wandering Author May 14, 2009 @ 12:42

    I’m not trying to speak for Holly, but I didn’t read her comments as implying all sacrifice was evil. They seemed to me to condemn the idea of any sacrifice that was not completely voluntary. Assuming I’m right in that interpretation, there is a huge difference between saying an action is evil and saying it is evil to apply any pressure at all to coerce someone into taking that action.

  • hollylisle May 14, 2009 @ 12:36

    Start with the firefighters’ principles. As an ER nurse, I knew (and adored) a lot of these guys.

    The guys I worked with were partially motivated by the adrenaline surge of the job. Let’s be real, here. Saving another human being from dying is a huge high, and one with which I’m familiar.

    But every one of the guys I knew was motivated by the guiding principle that human life has meaning and value, and that living a life pursuing the preservation of that life has value. Now, these were guys. Manly men. And their principles were not things they sat at the nurses’ station and talked about after the insanity of the emergency had been dealt with. In the testosterone world of the firefighters I knew, philosophy would have been seen as a pretty girly thing to talk about. But their philosophies came out through the stories they told, as well as through the lives they lived.

    Their actions had consequences, and the consequences mattered.

    Further, every one of those guys knew some of the scumbags we dealt with in the ER, and let me give you an objective definition of “scumbag” here, so that we stay on the same page. A scumbag is any person who values neither his own life nor the lives of others. A lot of scumbags exist, they are self-destructive, they destroy others without thought or remorse, and as individuals they are NOT worth saving.

    The firefighters knew the scumbags were out there. They also knew that people who lived good lives were out there.

    When you run into a burning building, you do not in most cases know who you’ll find on the other side. You operate on your highest principle, that human lives are of value, and that by preserving them you attain your own highest value.

    Sometimes you may save a scumbag. This is a hazard of the job—though the scumbag, once saved, might re-evaluate his own life, decide that it has value, and go on to make his own life matter.

    Odds are he won’t. But you as the firefighter have acted upon your own highest value, and the fact that the scumbag is of no value does not change your principled action.

    If he lives and goes on to destroy others (as does happen), you regret saving him. I regret my part as an RN in acting to help a couple of scumbags who went on to do awful things. However, I saved more good people than bad, and my overall effect on the lives of the strangers whose lives were briefly enmeshed in mine was overall much more good than bad.

    Regret is real. It does not, or should not, change the principles upon which you base your life, if those principles work to your good overall, and permit you to live a meaningful life.

    Hope exists, that your principled actions will make someone else’s life better. Hope is sometimes crushed by reality. Sometimes, however, it isn’t, and it is for that hope—for the potential of each human life to have value that the firefighter continues to risk his own life.

    If he dies in the line of duty, and the person who lives through his actions is a scumbag who goes on to do awful things, is that a tragedy? Yes. Does that lessen the value of the dead firefighter’s life? No. He lived by his principles. His death may have been wasted on the last person he saved, and the outcome of that one act may be evil—but his life has the exact value he gave it. A life lived to your own highest values is never wasted, and actions taken to preserve a greater value over a lesser value are not sacrifice. The firefighter, after all, did not go in intending to die. He went in intending to live… and then shit happened, as it sometimes does.

    Ditto the EMTs, doctors without borders, RNs in ERs, and other people who do risk their lives to help strangers. Not all of them operate on the principles I have outlined above. But most do, and it is by using that majority as examples that I frame my response. You do not do the job intending to die. Death is a possibility, but it is not your goal.

    If your own death as a replacement for the person you saved were your goal, then your death could end up being a sacrifice, if those you died for didn’t matter to you, or if you had saved only one person, and that one person survived your death to live a life of destruction. Or if you were forced to take the job, did not want it, and died doing it.

    Remember that there is no generic firefighter, though, or nurse, or doctor, or cop, or EMT. In each case, the actual individual’s life will be the measure of how well he upheld his own principles, and the overall consequences of his actions..

  • Drake_Tesla May 14, 2009 @ 12:35


    I’m not sure your definition squares with Holly’s definition of sacrifice and her assertion that it’s evil.

    I consider ‘sacrifice’ by your definition (giving up something to benefit a person, group or principle that I support and think is important) to be a good thing. Particularly if the long-term benefit gained outweighs the potential benefit given up.

    I’m pretty sure that’s not that far off Holly’s definition of good, but her definition of sacrifice as an evil, and her example of saving a random twelve year old at the potential cost of one’s own life as sacrifice, and thus a potentially evil act had me interested in extrapolating that line of thought.

    Does my thought experiment request make more sense now?

  • Craig A. Eddy May 14, 2009 @ 12:19


    A Wikipedia definitiion is “. . . selfless good deeds for others or a short term loss in return for a greater gain”. Personally, my hitherto unvoiced definition is the willingness to give up something for the good of an individual, group, society to which you belong. This is taken (believe it or not) from the book “Starship Troopers”, by Robert A. Heinlein. NOT the movie, though it’s touched on in the movie. It can result in eventual gain for the individual – in the book it was the ability to become a full citizen with voting rights, eventually.

    So, the question comes down to “how big is your group?” Is it just an individual that you love? Is it a small group of people to which you belong, such as a club or clan? Is it the society to which you belong? To whom are you responsible? For whom are you responsible? These questions led a 17 year old son of a Quaker to join the United States Air Force at a time when the Viet Nam conflict was just heating up, despite his father’s non-violent beliefs and attitudes because he felt the responsibility to pay ahead to the society to which he belonged.

    Short form, then would be that sacrifice is born of the responsibility that one feels for others. I hope this helps.


  • Wandering Author May 14, 2009 @ 12:15

    Holly; I was thinking primarily of details teased from this account and that. Some histories point out the implications in asides or footnotes, but I can’t recall any book or article that specifically deals with this issue. There are eyewitness accounts of trucks with their motors idling at death camps – wasting gas or diesel – even as the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe struggled to get adequate supplies. I’ve seen at least one suggestion trains headed for the front were delayed so trains headed for the camps could get through. That seems likely when you consider Anne Frank and her family were among over 1,000 inmates transported from Westerbork in Holland by train on 03 September 1944, well after the D-Day invasion (Paris had already been liberated; the German garrison there surrendered on 25 August).

    It is actually clear efforts to complete the “Final Solution” increased towards the end of the war, when you might expect everyone’s focus would be on somehow averting defeat. I don’t know about the budget, and how it affected the funds allocated to the war effort, but resources essential to that effort were clearly diverted – and, considering the strict rationing imposed on fuel, for example, such a diversion would have required approval at the highest levels.

    I suspect one reason there is no single book or article which covers this subject (as far as I’m aware, at least) may be because no author has ever been willing to spend that much time and effort on the subject. At first glance, it is a nauseating point to focus on – although I do consider it important, as evidence of how easily people can be fooled into believing evil is good if they allow themselves to swallow garbage.

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