WTH Femme Files: Mothers without men and movies without women

CC License_classic_film_WTHFemmeFiles1
From Flickr, used under Creative Commons attribution license. Flickr user Classic_Film is the owner of this image.

Most of us who are mothers have enjoyed a man, if only for a few minutes.

One of the things I do with my current man (he is worth it) is to (very occasionally) watch awful movies. The most recent? PACIFIC RIM. Really, Guillermo? My man said, “Yeah, he did it so he could get enough money to do something more interesting.” Somehow that doesn’t fly with me, even though it should: I wait tables so I can do something more interesting (write, read, grad school, general thinky awesomeness). I want artists who get paid livable sums of money, however, to be above all that.

The upsetting thing about PACIFIC RIM was not the poorly written screenplay, the wooden characters, or the insane, bullshit, lazy names for types of immense badass creature/robots. I mainly expect these things from CGI action apocalypse movies (I know, I know, there are one or two great ones, but pointing that out every time somebody mentions the general badness of the genre isn’t really doing anything to elevate our culture, is it?). The upsetting thing about PACIFIC RIM was that there was only ONE female character. Screen after screen of literal oceans of dudes. One of the halves of the Russian Jaeger team may have been a woman, but I couldn’t tell, and if she was, she got blown up sometime during act one.

Which leads me to the wonderful article by Geena Davis about making Hollywood less sexist. Take a minute and giver a read. You won’t be sorry. But in case you don’t have time, she suggests taking half of all male characters in any screenplay and making them women. No other changes, just played by a woman.

Which wasn’t actually where I intended to go next at all. I wanted to tell you about this NPR story I heard about Black Twitter that brought up a thing that makes me feel my privilege in a way that is, if more aware, certainly uncomfortable. Go listen to this NPR interview with Meredith Clark who’s writing her dissertation at UNC about Black Twitter. Or read the transcript. In the middle of a conversation about influential hashtags, specifically #solidarityisforwhitewomen, here’s the quotation that made me THINK: “#Solidarityisforwhitewomen when conversations about gender pay and the gap ignore white women earning higher wages than black, Latino, and native men.”

Yeah, howzabout that, anyhow? How can I help make solidarity for people of all colors? How can I be a better, more thoroughly informed ally? How can I do that without alienating good white male feminists? Or even just the white men I care about? Should I care if I alienate them?

Which leads me to this short French film called “Oppressed Majority where men are cast in typical women’s roles and women are cast as men–even pissing in alleys and running without shirts. The director is Elanore Pourriat. It’s only about five minutes long. If you’re like me, you’ll be all, Why did that make me sooo uncomfortable? The intro to the film is right–we stand for this very stuff every day when the roles are “traditional.”

Which makes me wonder why it does not make me uncomfortable that out of the thirteen short stories about motherhood I recently read (from a book called Stories of Motherhood) twelve had men who disappeared like the Russian Jaeger pilot, who were dead, or who were only in the stories peripherally, who the women in the stories seemed quite happy to be without? Of course, a short story is a different thing from a film, and in each piece, the absence of man/father worked to develop the conflict between mother and daughter (or son) and mother and motherhood. But why do women write stories about motherhood without men?

Which makes me wonder, too, why I tell other women I think they’re pretty when what I should say, and what is nearly always as or more true is, “I admire your mind. I am glad I know you.” Why do I tell my own daughter that she’s pretty more often than I tell her she’s smart? Why do I, sometimes thoughtlessly, passively participate in these age-old tropes, rhetorics, and massive piles of sexist bullshit that affect all of us women, the ones Justine Musk hints at when she describes the process of finding her Deep Yes in her TEDx Talk?

Any of you routinely getting your mind blown by your obsessions?

Anything to share or add?

What’s Next? or Why I’ve Been a Shitty Blogger and How I Plan to Change

from flickr user dbking
from flickr user dbking

You probably remember the days when I blogged five days a week.

And I doubt you’ve missed me.

But I’ve missed you.

See, I’m in this grad program for writing. It’s mostly online. I go two times a year for about a week to get my physical learning on, then the rest of the time I read and write about stuff and post it on the internet where classmates and instructors read it.

This is my first drafting semester for my book-length project that will earn me my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

Next year, around this time, I’ll start a thing known as a “critical paper” that will earn me my MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

But I’ve had to shave some stuff down in order to make time for this program, and consistent blogging was the first to go.

But it’s January, right?

time for resolutions and new beginnings and refreshed perspectives.

And I’ve got this great idea.

I’ll be writing for two hours a day on my creative project.

And three times a week, I’m going to post stuff from my journey here.

You can feel free to comment or hate.

It’s not going to be chapters. It’ll be 400-500 words at a slice, edited for the reading habits of screen-lookers.

And it’ll probably often be funny, and sometimes it’ll be sad, and sometimes, it’ll make you scratch your head and go “what the what?”

So I’ll be seeing you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST.

Looking forward to you.

Love.

Late 2012, or Self (Publishing) Help: How to Be a Baller Client

Flowers from Susan Norris
Flowers from Susan Norris

Late in 2012, I had the honor of working with two excellent writers.

These authors are not excellent because they and I share a bit of commonality in terms of literary goals and aesthetics, they were excellent because they were wonderful to work with.

The authors were REKTOK ross, author of YA Inspirational Romance, and Susan Norris, author of YA Agenda Fiction.

REKTOK’s book, Prodigal, had already been through a number of substantial developmental edits when I saw it. I did the copy edit, and I had some significant notes. Of course, though the author was tired and finished, was still willing to stay the course and make some considerable changes that made the story tighter, more believable, and ultimately, more marketable.

Susan Norris’s book, Rescuing Hope, was a mission from God. That’s how she tells it. She spent a lot of time on her knees before her maker, begging for an easier path. But in the end, she wrote it. About human sex trafficking.  And Susan’s book is only a sliver of her work on that important issue. You can get more information and links from the post just below this one.

If you’re considering self-publishing, I encourage you to be as much like REKTOK and Susan as possible.

Here’s How:

1. I’ve said it before, but Engage Professional Editors.

2. Listen to your professional editors. We usually have years of experience tweaking stories and have read more stories than most people. Susan and REKTOK were both incredibly easy to work with–and I’m sure they both had to beat their inner diva off with a stick from time to time.  In REKTOK’s case, I think it helped that I added a lot of humor to my comments, REKTOK chuckled while reading them to me over the phone when we were talking through some things.  But still. It is never ever exactly pleasant (though after a time, it becomes exciting and revelatory) to read comments, no matter how delicately worded, that ostensibly say “up your game, fool.”

3. Be a class act.  Understand that professional editors are perfectly willing to negotiate their fees.  Both Susan and REKTOK chose from a number of editing packages that I offered, and neither of them got my proposal and then ran away, never to be heard from again, which is the thing that happens more often. I suspect, if they’d opted to use someone else’s services, they would’ve let me know.

4. Pay when you say you will. As a freelance editor and writer, I am paid on all kinds of wonky schedules. I am always willing to work with clients to figure out something that works for them, but it is always a complete joy when a client says, “The check’s in the mail,” and I get it three, not thirty, days later.

5. You are paying for your editor’s time, so if you need a phone call or an extra email, or some clarification on some comment or another, ask for it. This editor is only too happy to oblige.  And I would a million times prefer to clarify something than to have a client run off and weep or whine or, worse still, post nasty reviews or troll.

6. Thank your editor. I am talking about a polite phrase here, not gifts or flowers like the ones above for my birthday, which happened in the middle of the project with Susan. I appreciated those flowers. I never understood about getting flowers before because they always came from some kind of obligatory social convention–prom, valentine’s day, being in a show–but those flowers from Susan were wonderful. They represented a vote of confidence, a kindness, thoughtfulness.  But your editor is not expecting flowers. I would be as thrilled to have worked with Susan with or without them. Your editor is not the enemy. She is can be your biggest cheerleader and greatest ally.  She is probably a writer, too.  She understands what you’re going through.  This is not Us vs. Them.  This is team work, sometimes friendship, and always giving the world better art.

Editors, what would you add to this list? Writers, what do you want from your editor?

Friday’s a Dumb Day to Blog.

I love this plant. It looks like a space plant. I do not know what it is. I took this picture at the residency in Wilkes Barre.

It’s not like anybody’s hanging out on the internet to kill time at work.  They’re all doing all the stuff they didn’t do while they were hanging out online earlier in the week.

Also, Friday’s becoming my catch-up day.

Also, I recently read an article about not-Friday being a bomb-ass day to post stuff on Facebook and Twitter.

So I’m thinking about making my blog schedule Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and changing my posts from uploading very early in the morning (usually between 6-7:30 EST) to later in the afternoon (3:00 EST).

I’m also going to be out of town the next two weeks, so my posting schedule might get wonky anyhow.  I’m going to try to share cool pictures and happenings, but I also begin grad classes, participate in a Major Family Wedding, and engage in the usual poverty-battling activities.

I’m not complaining.  I choose to live like this.  It’s the best way to be a reasonable mom for now.  There will be plenty of time for capitalist ambition.

But if you live in the tri-county area, you should consider taking my Writing Workshops at Penn College in the Workforce Development and Continuing Education program.  They are unbelievably inexpensive, and they will be loads of fun, plus open, welcoming, liberal, and kind.

Self (Publishing) Help: Tell the F*cking Truth!

by Flickr user Roque Mocan

Listen, today is independence day.  Independence is cool.  Independent publishing is cool.  But some people don’t find it to be liberating.  Some people are ashamed.

In my work as a journalist, I have encountered some self-published authors who are so defensive about being self-published that their websites are full of lies.

So in honor of freedom of speech, press, and publishing, I have the following things to say to ANYBODY who’s considering self-publishing.

1. If you’re embarrassed about self-publishing, DON’T DO IT.  Get traditionally published instead.  If you’ve sent your manuscript out and nobody wants it, it probably sucks.  Work on it some more and send it out again, okay?  Don’t give up.

2.  If you decide to self-publish, call yourself a self-published author, instead of a published author.  Don’t lie about it.  It’s not cool, and journalists and anybody who needs help being impressed will find out you’re lying.

3.  This is not to say that you can’t phrase your accomplishments and achievements to maximize their appeal.  Penelope advises people to do precisely that in her post about writing a resume.

4.  But if you write on your resume that you were a manager when you were a clerk, and a potential employer calls for a reference, you will not get the job.

5.  Ergo, if you write on your website that you’re a “published author” and it turns out that you’re self-published with no other publishing credits, well, that’s a problem.  Or if you write on your website that you’ve written a dozen books, but these books can’t be found anywhere because they are nowhere linked with your name, that’s also a problem.

So focus on what you have.

6.  Self-publishing is hard work, and if you’re honest about it, people are going to be a lot happier to help you achieve sales goals, and help you to publicize.  If you’ve done it, own it!  Shout it!  Be proud!  It’s an accomplishment!

6a. But if your writing sucks because you didn’t spend any money on improving it or listen to any editors before you went to print or epub, don’t expect it to be easy to find people to be as proud of you as you are.

7.  But remember that self-published authors who spend significant money on their books do much better than those who don’t. Here’s a great post from Catherine, Caffeinated about this very topic, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

7a.  And if you think I’m reliable and want to take my word for it, here are some other Self-publishing Help posts.  Here, Here, Here, and Here.

8.  Writing your web copy in the spirit of plausible deniability has a ripple effect.  I take my responsibility to the truth as a journalist really seriously.  I know a lot of journalists who do.  We won’t, in good conscience, propagate half-truths.  We will either not mention your invented credit, or explain it in language that is plainer than you would prefer it to be, plainer than you have explained it.

9. You lose 100% of your credibility if any look deeper than the surface of what you write on your website reveals half-truths or blatant lies, or things that can’t be fact-checked (which are always read as lies, even if they aren’t, so don’t tell them!).

10.  Local press (where you are) and tons of print and web magazines welcome writing from freelancers.  These publishing credits, when you get them, are often easily linked online (which is good for your web presence or online portfolio), and a totally transparent sample of your work. They also signal that you have the chutzpah to pursue work in writing, even if it isn’t what you believe you are cosmically destined to be doing, whether that’s writing fiction or poetry or lyric essays or memoir or whatever.

11. There are HUNDREDS of literary journals that accept work from unpublished people.  Subscribe to Writer’s Market online, or go get the book, and submit, submit, submit.

12.  None of this is sexy or easy, but nothing worth accomplishing, is sexy or easy.  Most writers who make their living writing what they want to write instead of what they are being paid to write spend years in the trenches of copy editing, news jockeying, and doing work that is far outside their ideal writing life before they get to do what feeds their souls. But they do the stuff that feeds their souls anyway.  They keep at it.  Even though it’s hard and unsexy.

13.  You should, too.

14.  And always tell the fucking truth, even if you perceive some kind of stigma on your truth, okay?  Lies are never worth it.

eBooks for Free or Sale, Philosophy of Commerce for Artists

Lookee!

I made some eBooks.  And listen, I know that my graphic design skills leave something to be desired.

But each consists of 55ish pages (+/- 10K words) of the best stuff on this blog.  Notes on Life and Love is something of a memoir in essay, fiction, list.  On Writing and Living is all about writing and how to live as a writer, from style and grammar to a version of The Productivity Post.

I selected the content in these two books based on the stuff that gets found the most in searches, and the stuff that people seem to go back to again and again, or the stuff that people were most enthusiastic about in the comments.

Here’s why I did it:

1) I like to try new stuff and see what I can learn.

2) I was curious about trying to adapt content to work off-blog, per the Blogging a Book (or Booking a Blog) Webinar.

3) As a way to entice people to love me more.

4) Because, as much as I am put off by the notion of monetizing and marketing, working for free is stupid.  As an artist, working for free takes money from other artists.  I wrote a post about that before.

5) To see what kind of feedback I get, whether people are more interested in learning about writing from me, or in hearing about my life.

Philosophy of Commerce for Artists

Just because the internet tells us to give our work away for free doesn’t mean that some people aren’t willing to pay for it.  I love Bandcamp because it lets musicians put their work up, and gives consumers of it the option to pay or not to pay.

I know there are consumers of art who want to pay for it.  And there are those who don’t.  And there are those who can’t.  I’ve been all three.

Probably, in another decade, there will be Bandcamp for writers, too.  For now, I’m taking my cues from Bandcamp, because the music industry has been de-centralizing for about a decade now.  I hope the books market will adapt more quickly.  Yes, yes, people can sell their books on Amazon for $0.99 if they want, but that’s not really the same.  Bandcamp gives art consumers the option to pay what they can, what they want, or nothing at all.  It asks, “What is this worth to you?”

But I’m legitimately thrilled that you’re here, so I’m completely happy if you keep hanging out here without paying a red dime.

But if you want to, you can.  If you have the means to, and you’re entertained or educated or edified here, please do.

Sort of like how you buy cookies from the girl scouts or your kids’ or grandkids’ fundraisers so support the work behind those things. Buying my eBook helps me pay my internet bill, put gas in my car, and feed my kid.

And if you’re an artist who agrees, feel free to rob my ideas wholesale.  This was all very easy to set up, and I did it in a matter of hours. I’m happy to help.  Hit me with the Contact form.

Options

You can have either eBook for free here, or by clicking the eBook tab above.  If you know somebody who’d get a kick out of one of them, please share it.  Post a PDF on your own blog if you dig.  I want people to read what I write.

You can pay $5.00 for either eBook on the right-hand menu over there.  You can pay with your PayPal account or via a credit card as facilitated by PayPal.  You don’t have to have a PayPal account to make this work.

If you don’t want the eBook, but you still think that April Line Writing is worth a bit of your hard won cash, you can just click the Tip Jar.  That’ll take you to a “donations” page where you can tip as much or as little as you like.

Stay Tuned

Because the next thing is that I’m going to do a Newsletter.

And with my slower posting schedule, the posts are getting better.  And there will be much to share about grad school, my sister’s wedding, my Freelancer’s Collective for Business project (with my pal Ryan), and the stuff I’m reading over the summer.

Anxiety about a book about writing? Am I Missing the Point?

From PublicDomainReview.org, this is kind of what it feels like in early workshops: you are clueless and vulnerable and cut wide open.

I have to read books about being a writer before I head off to the residency next month.

I’ve nearly finished Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.

But it makes me nervous about this program I’m entering, because the book seems to be written for people who’ve never thought about themselves as writers much more than as a passing fancy.  It’s great on teaching people how to train their minds for obsession, and I’ve been enlightened on a few points.  More on this later.

But Writing Down the Bonesthough also a really swell book, that can be inspirational at any point along the way, is designed for beginning writers, too.

First, I would hope that by the time a person is pursuing an MFA or other advanced degree in writing, she’s got a pretty good idea about herself as a writer, and she’s heading on in school to put the polish on previously discovered habits, skills, and self-awareness.  I think that already knowing oneself as a writer is totally integral to success in a low-residency program, too.

I will also say that I hope a person who intends to procure an MFA is already writing every day, has already figured out her way over the humps of “block,” and inertia, and waning ambition in the face of critique, and rejection, dismissal, scheduling, and all the other things that writers must bear up under.

Now, I will say that I have found the book to be–more than anything–utterly affirmative that I’m on the right path.  At times, I’ve had to put it down to go write.  I love when books do that, when they get me so excited about writing that I can’t put it off.  It’s also given me a vocabulary to discuss things that I knew about myself–Brande calls it the Dual Personality (the way writers have two distinct selves who must cooperate, but who must also know when to butt out: writer and life-liver, essentially)–that I hadn’t really named beyond calling it “Academically Sanctioned Schizophrenia.”  Which, it turns out, E. L. Doctorow said first, or at the least many moons before I did.

I also encountered a new (to me) notion that was then echoed in Cathy Day’s blog, which was something kind of pedagogical (that’s fancy for college teaching theory) that wouldn’t have occurred to me: workshopping ain’t always great.  Or at least, not in the traditional, round-table, everybody involved in the discussion method.

Brande says (in 1934),

Here I should like to add a footnote for other teachers, rather than for students of writing.  I think that holding up the work of each pupil in class for the criticism of the others is a throughly pernicious practice, and it does not become harmless simply by allowing the manuscript to be read without assigning its authorship publicly.  The ordeal is too trying to be taken with equanimity, and a sensitive writer can be thrown out of his stride deplorably by it, whether or not the criticism is favorable.  It is seldom that the criticism is favorable, when a beginner is judged by the jury of his peers.  They seem to need to demonstrate taht, although tthey are not yet writing quite perfectly themselves, they are able to see all the flaws in a story which is read to them, and they fall upon it tooth and fang.

I will say that there were some queer, interpersonal consequences to the workshops I’ve been in, but they have been, largely, very well-controlled and the instructors were totally tuned in & monitoring the conversation.  In grad school effort I, the greatest antipathy was toward the professor.  But I always found  workshops to be helpful, once I figured out who my best readers were, and frankly, I learned some really great lessons about having thick skin and separating my sense of myself from my work–the Dual Personality of critique.  It is simply no good for self and work to be inextricable.  I am not the story.  Still, Brande’s particularly strongly worded passage on the practice got me to thinking.

Then, I encountered the following in Cathy Day’s blog when I was linking her in the blog post I wrote yesterday.   She says (in 2012),

Remember: on the first day of class, I tell my students 1.) to write the book they want to write—no genre or subject matter restrictions, and 2.) they won’t have to show this manuscript to the whole class, just to me and a small group of sympathetic readers.

This upticks + the removal of the “all-class workshop” indicates to me that my students took risks because they felt safe doing so.

Huh.

Would I have taken more risks if I’d been workshopped by a smaller group?

I don’t know!  For me, a lot of the fun was helping my peers with their drafts, engaging on the sensitive stuff, getting down and dirty with the text.  But I’m a Scorpio, and would be intense regardless of my sign, I imagine; and I’m not sure that so many people find such unilateral thrill in every process and procedure at all connected to writing as I do.  Also, I get a huge kick out of conquering my own less-savory impulses, like those of the desire to hurl pettiness at anybody who’s fool enough not to think I’m awesome.  I also love finding out that I’m not as awesome as I think I am.  I’d be insufferable if  humility & self-doubt were not in the my writer’s psychological/self-awareness tool box.

I also hope that I’m not the only person entering the program who thinks of herself as a writer, has been a practicing writer for years, and is finding this preparatory reading to be–though delightful as all reading is–a touch worrisome.

I was hoping we’d read some delicious, but challenging (narratively) novel like Josh Russell’s Yellow Jack, which, if you haven’t read you should.   And that we’d be asked to analyze it, and write about it, and then when we got to the residency, we’d talk about that book and other great ones, and about how we best use our writer selves.

I was not hoping that we’d talk about how to reach the writing self.  I think we should already know.

I hope I’m getting it wrong.  I hope that these books are meant specifically to resonate and encourage and to give us insight into our selves, not as stepping stones into the writing life.

Am I being ungenerous?  I know some of you subscribers and readers are MFA/advanced writing degree teachers and students.  Am I expecting too much?  Do I want more commitment to this life from adults entering a low-residency MA/MFA than is reasonable?