Way Cool Women Doing Way Cool Things

We'll Call This Shameless Self-Promotion
We’ll call this shameless self-promotion

During these last lazy days of summer, spend some of your afternoon spinning around in your desk chair looking at these lovely lady entrepreneurs of the interwebs. Some of these would be fantastic bookmarks for holiday gifts.

Goddess Leslie Hall

Leslie Hall is one of my new feminist heroes. Her YouTube channel is a treasure. And if you want to buy some things she made, you can just visit her website.

Vegan Soap

A very strange woman I know recently got serious about selling some of this spectacular soap she and her people make. Check it out.

An annoying vegan told me they might be doing gift packs + wrapping for Xmas at very, very reasonable prices.

Whale Snotbot

So, if you like whales, and I totally do, this thing is happening. It’s a newly funded kickstarter an acquaintance of mine ran to make researching whales a) easier, and b) less stressful for whales by COLLECTING THEIR MUCOUS. USING ROBOTS. Huzzah! Girl Power!

Lady Lucy’s Madness

I really love knowing creative people. Mad Lucy makes the most excellent accessories I have ever seen using doll parts, clay, sequins, eyeballs, and all manner of other fantastic things. Visit her Etsy store for more info.

Sojourn of a Hungry Soul

Laurie Cannady’s memoir is beautiful and powerful and astonishing. I’ll be introducing her at her book launch in November, at Lock Haven University where she teaches. Reserve your copy on Amazon or at etruscanpress.org.

Five Fabulous Memoirs by Women

How To Be a Woman How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran rocks.  The cover says, “The British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants.” That is a lie. This book is at least seven times better than Bossypants. It is feminist and smart (not that Bossypants is not smart, it’s just not as substantive) and so, so funny. The gold, though, is at the end, when Moran talks with eloquence, heart, and genius about motherhood.

Orange New BlackOrange is the New Black by Piper Kerman is fantastic. It gave me a yearning to teach writing classes in women’s prisons. The best thing about this book, however, is not the writing. It’s the love and sensitivity with which Kerman renders this totally underrepresented American population: people, in fact women, in jail. It made me want to get involved.

I made one exception, but for the past year plus, I have only read books by women. Recently, VIDA, an organization that advocates for and tracks women’s literary success, celebrated five HUGE wins for women in literature during 2013.

book-looking-for-maryThe best-known work by Beverly Donfrio is Riding in Cars With Boys, which I also read, and her new book, Astonished, is near the top of my “to read” list. But Looking for Mary is this heart-wrenching, gorgeously historical, vulnerable, feminist work. Especially since I grew up with religion and have a lot of static about Biblical figures, and a lot of anger about the mythology. Looking for Mary showed me Mary as a feminist icon, as a symbol of motherhood and strength and an appealing mysticism.

surrendered childOne of the themes of the books I’ll continue to read over the next months, is motherhood. I am perplexed by my own relationship with motherhood (sometimes it is uncomfortable), and engrossed by other women’s relationships with their versions of motherhood. Therefore, Surrendered Child by Karen McElmurray, which is among the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, is appealing for literary and personal reasons. I’ve rarely read a book with such an intentional, belabored pace. In fact, I haven’t even finished reading it yet. I don’t want it to be over.

Boys of YouthFinally, The Boys of My Youth by JoAnn Beard is fantastic. It’s presented as individual essays, and they are mesmerizing. It was a useful book to read early in drafting my own memoir because Beard’s life, like mine, has been pretty regular–that is, the things that make me the kind of person who wants to write a memoir are fairly common: raised by Christians, single mother, etc. Beard had an alcoholic father and a shitty marriage.  The thing that makes the book worth reading is the telling, the introspection. Especially “The Fourth State of Matter,” which takes place during the shooting at Iowa University in 1991.

How about you? What is the best memoir by a woman you’ve read?

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be*

Me and My Mentor, Nancy McKinley, at Fake Graduation from Wilkes
Me and My Mentor, Nancy McKinley, at Fake Graduation from Wilkes

A lot of shit happened during 2013.

I moved twice, took care of my dying friend, had more freelance clients than ever, lost myself, found myself, wrote a book, experienced real grief, improved my love relationship, repainted and decorated a room in our house (w/ my partner) got a restaurant job after a long non-restaurant work spell, explained the concept of “biological father” to my child, told her there wasn’t a real Santa, had the furnace replaced in our old drafty house,  went to a writers’ conference, made new friends, lost track of old ones, and reconnected with people from childhood.

It has been intense and difficult and magical.

At the end of all of it, I got a Master’s degree. That photo up there is my me and my mentor, Nancy McKinley after our moment during fake graduation the last night of residency. She’s a fiction and essay writer, and a feminist, and among my favorite people on Earth.

The Wilkes University Low-Residency MA/MFA program is the one I’m working through now (I write my MFA critical paper this semester), and It’s amazing. If you’re not in the know, low-residency means that you go to campus for a small amount of time each semester and do the rest of your coursework online or by correspondence.

One of the recent graduates from the program, Lori A. May, actually wrote the book on the best low-residency MFA programs. So if you’re interested, that’s a great place to start, and it’s no accident that she’s there, at Wilkes, out of any of the other many low-res programs available.

I think New Year’s Resolutions are disingenuous at best. Every year I, instead of making a list of things to accomplish, try to adopt a general posture of self-improvement.

This year, my blogging slump will straighten, I will focus my excess energy on writing and teaching. I will say no to things that don’t help further my goals.

Why are you telling me this?

I must seem like one of those attention-seeking internet lame-os. I am. But if you’re reading this, you had, at least once, a passing fancy for my blog, and I need to confess these things to help keep me accountable. It’s a lot easier to break a promise to myself than it is one I make to internet strangers.

So, dear Internet Stranger (Internet Friend, Real-Life Acquaintance, or Real-Life Friend), thanks for being here.

And know that I will post on Wednesdays for the rest of the year.

Once a week, about 500 words (probably sometimes way more).

For me, for you, for art.

And if you’re in North Central PA, go click Workshop Registration and join me for a study of blogging or of memoir. Next week? I’ll list five of my favorite memoirs.


* Lyric from a poignant song from Love is Dead by Mr. T Experience.

Happy New Year in April Line Writing Land: Stop Sex Trafficking of Minors!

from Flickr user a strangelyisolatedplace
from Flickr user a strangelyisolatedplace

I have been busy, and neglecting you, fair blog readers.

But I’m on a train after spending New Year’s Eve at a benefit for A13, an initiative by Resolution Hope to stop sex trafficking of minors by building awareness and to provide care and appropriate homes and healing resources for women and and children who are rescued from trafficking.

I was there because I worked on a novel by Susan Norris about the problem. The book is called Rescuing Hope. Working on it gave me nightmares and has turned me into a fanatic about keeping Child in sight.  The book is being marketed as Young Adult Fiction, and though it is definitely PG-13, it is probably more like Creative Nonfiction–Susan’s agent calls it “Faction.”

So last night was a fundraiser/event/kickoff/book release party with a lot of very loud Christian Contemporary music, semi-preachy (like the intersection of fund-raising and a worship service) rhetoric, and no drunk people (until afterward, on the drive home, when a dude with hollow, booze-consumed eyes who didn’t know he was walking on the street instead of the sidewalk fell on the street, and the good Norris family stopped to help him).  It was not my normal comfort zone, but owing to my upbringing, I squirmed less than I might’ve for sure. Besides I expect that the rhetoric would be more healing than damaging to victims of sex trafficking, and I can’t think of a better cause for which to endure some discomfort in my sometimes excessive broad-mindedness regarding religion.

I will tell you more about Susan soon, when I write the blog post about how to be a terrific self-publishing author to work with. In the meantime, I present to you:

This is what you do with a BA in English!
This is what you do with a BA in English!

Oh, you wanna know what the front cover looks like, too?  And where to buy it?  All right.

You can go here to see more pictures, and to purchase in paperback or eBook.

And for die-hard Amazon devotees, here.

I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening with the book.  In the meantime, you can get involved in the petition to the White House to stop sex trafficking of minors here, donate here, and engage in awareness-building/networking here.

Open Letter to Vanity Publishing Crowd

From Flickr User Ian Wilson

Dear Book Writer,

What is your profession?  I’m dying to know.  I will show up there and take over your clients.  I will prescribe their pills or write their briefs or cobble their soles.  I can slice and stitch with the best of them; after all, I took Home Ec.

Or maybe I should show up at your workplace and insist that you show me what you have learned to do over years, what you have paid to learn, and how to do it, free of charge?  Or maybe I should laugh at you when you say that one must diagnose the disease before making the incision?

Here is how we writers become so: We spend years feeling tortured, true or not, and scribbling onto any scrap of paper that’s large enough for a word or two.  We have journals.  We have burned some of them.  We have saved others.  We have many half full, many overfull.  Then we pursued writing-related tasks with vigor, fading into the background in school and work to observe, store up material, notice how people talk and act and are. We have been called odd snobs, different, dangerous, powerful.  We have been taunted and less frequently heralded our “gifts” with the word. Our gift is obsession with the music of language, the ability to tune in.

We have read with quiet abandon.  We have studied the written word, intentionally, osmotically, we find no greater joy than in the annals of another writer’s imagination.  We have allowed others’ voices to inform, infuse our own.  We have studied, studied, and continue to study the story, how it works, when it’s working, when it’s not.  We have made our rookie mistakes in the privacy of our own rooms or in the semiprivacy of our educations, writing workshops, writers’ groups, families, friends, LiveJournals.

We do not insist that these mistakes be proffered publicly. We are not proud of them. We do not hear editors’ rejections or suggestions with scorn for gatekeepers.  We thrive in rejection, we allow it to make us better, we recognize that we may never have success.  We do not write for publication, we write for writing, for self, for art, for work, for pain, for pleasure, for sex.  If we are published, of course we are pleased, but we do not begin with that in mind.  We begin with the word in mind, the story, the sadness, the soul, the voices, the joy around us.

We do not begrudge you your desire to be heard.  But we wish you would stop blabbing so loudly about how unfair the world that does not welcome your scribbling is.  We wish you would remember how you toiled to learn your trade, the one that is not book writing.  We wish you would stop believing that because you can speak you can write.  We wish you would stop thinking of writing as a cash cow.

Please, write.  Please do.  There can never be enough writers.  But before you fire up CreateSpace and start selling your print-on-demand for $24, read.  And read again.  And read until your eyes are dry and shrunken.  Until you’ve read more books than anybody you know.  Then write.  And write long and hard.  Until you’ve logged millions of words, tens of thousands of pages. And once you’ve done these things, you may be surprised how many of those pretentious, self-aggrandizing, gate keeping, nay saying, parade raining editors are willing to reconsider your work.


A Writer

Webinar on Blogging a Book: Where Do We Rest in Free Content Land?

From Flickr User nowviskie

I listened to a free webinar from Writer’s Digest on How to Blog a Book, which is a book by Nina Amir that came out recently.

The webinar was one week ago today.

Here’s the link to the book.  It came out from Writer’s Digest publishing.

Nina said that we have to blog every day (or on an unrelenting schedule).

She said not to give your content away so quickly, that posts should be 250-500 words, and that you need to lead up to the book for at least 6 months.

She posted images of Julie & Julia, Stuff White People Like, 101 Uses for My Ex-Wife’s Wedding Dress, etc.  These were blogs that became popular and that landed their authors book deals.  She told us that we could do it the other way, too.  That we could actually write our book on a blog.  She said that doing it the other way is called “booking a blog.”  I think she made that up.

She said that 81% of Americans claim to have a book in their heads that they want to write, and that only 2% of people actually do.

She suggested that the medium of blogging could help us to develop the book and the discipline to write at the same time.  She suggested that the reason it works to write a book on your blog is that it’s efficient: you’ll be building your platform while writing your book.  She also said that she heard an editor at some big-name publishing house say that blogs are a great test market for the sale-ability of a book.

She was careful to point out that nonfiction works better on blogs.

And she was sure to remind us that we have to give people a reason to buy the printed version of our book that we’ve (presumably) blogged and sold to a publisher.  That we should leave out chapters of special features or information.  She said that people will buy the book because it’s difficult to read a blog as if it’s a book.

But here’s the thing.  We all know that the ratio of blogs to blog-to-book deals is staggeringly tiny.  Amir suggested that there might be 72 book deals from blogs each year.

How many blogs are there?  I couldn’t even hazard a guess.  Certainly hundreds of thousands.

And how many people are there who believe that they are swell writers, but who are actually quite terrible?

So still, even with the advice, a great idea, and competitive writing chops, it seems that odds are still exceedingly slim, and that people out blogging books are going to add to the excess of free content, thereby making it more difficult still for writers to get paid for writing. And it is already incredibly difficult, even for excellent writers.

And now I find that what I hoped would be illuminating was actually annoying and disillusioning.  And a webinar, which is totally dorky.

And it also made me hate Writer’s Digest a little bit.  I’ve had a minor suspicion that they’re really just a factory for content that’s designed to extract money from a bunch of desperate writer hopefuls.  HOWEVER, I do find their publication to be incredibly helpful, and Writer’s Market is amazing, and I tend to get overly cynical whenever I’m disappointed.  So next week, let’s hope the cynicism wanes.

Till then, what do ya’ll think?  Anybody with plans to blog a book? Anybody tried?

Self (Publishing) Help: The Artless of the Flashback, and How to Tell if It’s Okay.

from flickr user jumpinjimmyjava

Flashback scenes are tempting.  They can solve a ton of problems.  You’re writing along and you find you’ve written yourself into a corner, and your character has no reason to feel the way she does about the way her boyfriend/boss/sister is confronting her.  So instead of slowing down and reacquainting with the character, a writer will decide that this would be a terrific opportunity for a flashback.

The flashback will inevitably be something high drama  like being in the back of a car with a drunk college boy and getting raped or watching a mother get run over by a car something.  There, thinks the writer, brushing her hands together, I’ve done it.  I’ve explained everything.

This speaks to a thing I notice in a lot of the writing I read for money, and a thing that really has no place in published fiction: writers think their readers are stupid.

It’s best to think of your reader as the smartest, sneakiest fox there is:  Someone who will get it no matter what you’re doing;  the jerk who always knows what’s going to happen in the first scene of the movie.

You need to write on your A-game.

Writing on your A-game means writing a lot of stuff that doesn’t get into the book.  It means recognizing that it takes a villiage, and the village ain’t cheap.

It also means that there’s a lot of other stuff to consider in terms of your self-promotion gene, your chutzpah, and your commitment to all the stuff that comes along with the writing life, both before and after you have a draft.  (Comments here are as helpful as the post).

I find flashbacks to be particularly vexing when the author has carefully peppered the exposition and rising action with all the pertinent details that they then proceed to bludgeon me with in the flashback.

Okay, but what if a flashback is the only way?

I doubt that is the case, but if it is, there are some tips at the end of this post.

Here are some things to do if you find yourself in a situation where you want to flash back.

1.  Do a free write with the character in whose point of view the flashback would occur.  Write in first person, and answer the question that spurs the flashback in your prose.  If you are stuck and can’t figure out why, start answering the mundane questions like what your character does for work, how she feels about her parents, whether she’s ever had an eating disorder.  Flash back with your character, outside of the context of the story.  Your character may show you the way, if you let her.

2.  Really look at your plot.  Plots generally have an arc structure:  roughly rising action, climax, then denoument.  Maybe you’ve got a dip in the rising action and you need to up the ante.  Maybe what you thought was the climax is really the inciting incident.  You have to open your mind about your story.  You have to be ready to let your characters foil your plans, however well-laid they are.  You have to be ready for your characters to do something you find to be deplorable or abhorrent, and still love them.

3.  Talk it out.  Call your favorite writing buddy or critique partner, and give them a synopsis.  They probably will not need to say anything.  Hearing yourself tell it out loud will likely do the trick.  If not, maybe your buddy can help by asking you pointed questions about what else you need to show your reader to earn the thing that makes you think you need a flash back.

4.  Do the flashback.  Let it in the draft, then keep writing.  When you’re revising, figure out how to chunk that flashback up and give whispers of it throughout the exposition and rising action, letting out one crucial detail at a time.  Giving it all up too early will be like feeding your reader sleeping pills.  You have to give your characters dimension along the way.

How to Tell if You Can Keep Your Flashback

1.  Your flashback gives information (i.e. specific details about an event in a character’s past) that is crucial to the story, and that it’s nor appropriate to give in any other way (when you character was a child they had a particular experience that they’ve repressed or something).

2.  Your flashback propels the plot.

3.  The flashback gives a bit of the story that isn’t or can’t be mentioned in any other context of the story.

4.  The flashback contains its own narrative arc (exposition, rising action, inciting incident, climax, denoument) that is 100% necessary to the rest of the story.

For each of these, I would caution that you or people who love you or are related to you should probably not try to make the assessment.  Ask for help from an editor or professor or casual, writing acquaintence.  Get yourself some beta readers (they are generally inexpensive, can provide stunning insight, and are typically pleased with an extremely small stipend or a copy of the book once it’s published, if it is).

Have any great stories about overcoming the urge to flash back, or can you remember reading a story that made you feel like the reader thought you were stupid by telling you what she already showed you by throwing it all into a flashback, too?  Or in some other way?

If you wanna hang out and talk more about this kind of stuff, and do some writing, too, you should look into my workshops.