Monday, June 23, 2014

Beyond the edge of the map

I'm not good at maps. They're tricky for me to read - I can't quite figure out how to orient myself and my directions at once. I am never the person you want to let navigate. I have a particular talent for getting lost, and I'm pretty sure that the nice lady in my GPS has given up on me as hopeless.

So perhaps it may seem strange for me to write a story with maps at the center of it, but that is exactly what I have done. "All of Our Past Places," out in the gloriously named Journal of Unlikely Cartography. It's about maps and about friendship and I'm not sure if it's about getting lost, exactly, but it is very much about being found. 

And there really is a St. Patrick's Purgatory, on Station Island, in Ireland. Seamus Heaney wrote about it, as did Marie de France, in her Espurgatoire seint Patriz, about a knight named Owein, who goes to Purgatory and returns via the cavern on the island.

Sometimes places are even more complicated than maps.

Monday, June 9, 2014

And the chick

In news that is probably not surprising to anyone reading this post, I am a woman, and I am a writer. And so, I am very interested in the relationship between women and the arts - both in the women who make art, and in how women are portrayed in art.

My friend, and kickass writer, Maria Dahvana Headley wrote this post earlier today, about all of the wonderful, women-filled movies that we are unlikely ever to see. It made me so angry to read it, because those would all be great, and she's right. That many women on screen? At the same time? And taken seriously? Not likely to happen.

I mean, think about it. We've all seen enough ensemble casts to know how this works, right? You've got the smart, handsome lead, you've got the jock, you've got the funny guy, you've got the black guy, and you've got the chick.

Being "A Woman" is not a character description. (Neither, I know, is being a person of color.) We are not interchangeable objects, able to be swapped out according to hair color. We are - sit down, because this is shocking - as complex and as complicated as men. We have stories that are as complex and as complicated, as Maria's post so elegantly points out.

But here's what happens, when being "the chick" becomes the character description. That percentage up there? It's one role out of five, or twenty percent. We see that, and it becomes normal. That's what we expect. When those five heroes slow-walk in front of the explosion, we expect to see one of them - and only one - as a woman. When we look at women in jobs that are given high social status - cardiac surgeon, tenured professor - those fields are seventeen percent female. Slightly less than one in five, but still, approximately the same percent as what we see as normal. 

And God forbid that number gets any higher  - I mean if you get a room where one out of three people in it are women, thirty-three whole percent, men will report that that room was majority female. Think about that - if men only outnumber women two to one, that is perceived to be a room overflowing with a majority of women. 

It hurts my brain to even type that sentence. Like, I seriously don't even know how that works.

Except, of course I do.

And the chick. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Looking for help with your writing?

Stuck on your novel? Have a short story you want critiqued? Need help polishing your query letter? I might be the person you're looking for.

I work with writers and offer both critiques of finished work as well as mentoring through ongoing writing projects. Here's a bit about what that means:

Critique services are where you send me a finished piece of work, from short story to novel length, and I read it with a critical eye. I make notes about what works and what doesn't, and I make these notes in a rigorous fashion - not "You suck! You can't write! Those words aren't even a sentence, omg!!1!" - but I am not going to lie and tell you that your writing is awesome if it is not. I will pay your writing the respect of taking it seriously. Note: this does not include line edits or copy edits. I will also look at query letters and offer feedback on those.

Mentoring services are for people who want to work on a specific thing, or a specific project, with close assistance. I know this sounds vague, but really, I will work with you to design a support system for what you need as a writer. This can be a short term or long term relationship, and again, I will work with you on anything from short fiction to novels. In fact, one of the most common mentoring services I offer is reading of and feedback on novels in progress.

In answer to some frequently asked questions:

Yes, I charge for these services. Rates and turnaround times vary by project length and involvement. Please query at the linked email address below.

I am happy to work with any writer, at any level of experience, in any genre. You don't need to send me audition pages. I work more with writers of fiction than of nonfiction, but if you have a nonfiction project you want help with, go ahead and ask.

One of my current clients, Martin Cahill, who has made professional sales and been accepted into Clarion, has some very kind words about working together.

Here's some information on me, in case you are wondering who you'd be working with: I have over 20 professional short fiction sales. My work has been performed on NPR, included in a year’s best anthology, and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. I am a graduate of Clarion at UCSD, and am represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. Additionally, I have a Ph.D. in English Literature, and have taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels at the University of Minnesota, and Stonybrook University. I have also taught an Intro to Writing SFF course with LitReactor.

If you're interested, or have questions, please contact me here, at

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Not All Men

Friday night, a 22-year old man went on a shooting rampage, leaving six people dead aside from himself, and seven others injured. It appears to have been a premeditated act, one inspired by the young man's feeling that he was owed something by women, something that they had not given him. In a video message, he said he was going to go to the hottest sorority house at UCSB, and "slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blond slut" in there.

After hearing the news this morning, I posted a quote from Margaret Atwood on twitter. "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

It didn't take long before I was told that I was wrong, that I was generalizing, that this wasn't about men killing women but people killing people, that only psychopaths kill people, that men could have psycho ex-girlfriends, too. That by posting a quote like that, I was part of the problem. 

Never mind the statistics

It's a thing that happens, whenever I talk about an act of violence or aggression, committed by men against women. I get told, "not all men." As if I didn't know any men, had lived all of my life in a same-sex bubble.

The thing is, of course I know. Of course I get that. Most of the men I know are kind, are compassionate, are people I am proud to consider my friends.

I know some very good men, men who have literally put themselves between me and the man harassing me. I believe that most men would do that. But not all men.

I know that most men are decent human beings, who would never call a woman a bitch because she chooses not to speak to him. Most men. But not all men.

Most men do not follow women who don't want to talk to them down the street, yelling streams of obscenities at them, because they just want some time. Most men. But not all men.

Most men would never put a drug in a woman's drink, or get her so drunk she can't even speak, or use coercion, or violence, to force her to have sex with him. Most men. But not all men.

Most men would not kill their intimate partner, because she has chosen to leave them. Most men. But not all men.

Most men would never go on a shooting rampage, because they believed that they were owed sex by women.

Most men.

Sadly, not all men.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Stories and where you can find them

I'm delighted to have a story in the brand new issue of Interfictions. The entire issue is well worth checking out - interesting fiction, poetry, and nonfiction articles.  My short story is called "To Hold the Mirror." The seed of it was first planted in my brain by a mention of solitary bees on last year's Elementary finale. This is the bee that appears in my story - I think it's very beautiful. The other interesting and nonspoilery thing you might like to know is that the Silver Swan of John Joseph Merlin is a real thing, and it is spectacular.

Speaking of John Josephs, I am also very pleased to announce that my short story, "Locally Grown, Organic," will appear in a forthcoming anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, Help Fund My Robot Army & Other Improbable Crowd Funding Projects. You can read "Help Fund My Robot Army!!!" the story that inspired this anthology, here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Trigger Warning: Contains Literature

There's been a recent flutter of discussion over trigger warnings for literature in the college classroom. (I know the discussion is ongoing in other areas as well - as a former lit professor, I am limiting my discussion to the area I have personal experience with.) The negative reaction seems to be two-fold. First, that this is censorship and second, that it will lead to people abusing the system, so as not to be offended.

As to the first, nope. Sorry. Not censorship. Announcing the content of something is not the same as banning that content.

As to the second.

I taught at the undergraduate level for seven years. Five of them as a grad student, two as a postdoc. More semesters than not, I had a student come and tell me that she was sorry she'd missed classes, or not been herself, or done poorly on an assignment. She had been raped, it had messed her up, she was getting better. That was always how the conversations went.

I don't believe in censorship. I don't believe in trying to make art small. I don't believe anything is off limits. I believe that part of the reason art matters is that it has power.

But, for the most part, we get to choose the art we're exposed to. We can walk out of a movie, turn off the radio, close the book. That's not the case in the classroom, where walking out can have consequences, where there may not be a choice to close the book, to drop the class.

I believe that while one of the roles of a literature professor is to challenge her students, that is not done by traumatizing them. And make no mistake - a trigger is not something that makes you feel mildly uncomfortable. It's not something that simply offends you. It's something that causes a trauma. 

I don't believe that we hide from the big issues, that we should pretend like they don't happen, that we should teach nothing but literature about things that are easy to think about, that everyone can agree on. But if literature matters because it has power, then I think it's important to remember what power can do to those who are, for whatever reason, powerless.

So yes, once I'd gotten to where I was in charge of my own syllabus and classroom, I warned students about the material I was going to teach. I'd offer alternate assignments if they were requested. Was it possible that I had students who approached me for alternate assignments for reasons other than trauma? Sure, but I'd rather fail literature by allowing someone who doesn't want to stretch their brain a way out, than fail an actual human being by forcing them to relive something traumatic.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Speaking gratitude

One of my dearest friends bought me lunch yesterday. I babbled a bit, when she made the offer - we usually have lunch or dinner or drinks at least once a month, and we usually split the check. I wasn't celebrating anything big. There wasn't a reason. So I flapped and spluttered, until she said "I can't write your words for you, but I can buy you lunch." So I calmed down, and said thank you.

I'm pretty much on writerly lock-down right now. I have a major revision to turn in. I'm on schedule to meet my goal, but it's a strict schedule, word count-wise. And that doesn't count my freelance deadlines, which I need to make because I have bills that I need to pay. I'm not complaining about any of that. I am grateful that I have deadlines, that I can put together the freelance work to pay the bills. But it means that writing, which is already a pretty solitary profession, is going to be even more so for me for the next while. 

And yesterday was a day, writing-wise. Scenes that were hard to write, that left me feeling sick to my stomach from nerves, that left me in the same traumatized emotional state as my characters. I am scraping at old wounds, as I write this project, and the scars are fragile. But when it hurt, I could remind myself: your friend is in these words, too, and she loves you. She couldn't write my words for me, but because of her kindness, it was easier to get them written.

There are times when, as writers, we're told not to talk. Don't answer back to a rejection, don't engage with a bad review. I'm not arguing with those pieces of wisdom - they make sense. Many of us choose to live our lives semi-publicly, to engage on social media, to share pieces of ourselves beyond our fiction - it helps our work find readers, and most of us write because we want to be read. But because we choose what we share, there's an incomplete picture. For the most part, we talk about sales, not rejections. About the projects we got, not the ones we wished so badly for, and that didn't happen. The days when we made our wordcount, or page count, or got that tricky scene right, not the times that the writing crashed and burned. We don't want to look ungrateful, or like whiners. We share the highlight reel, not the reality.

Even now, I worry that by stating the reality that everything isn't hearts and flowers and gold stars all the time, I will seem to be complaining. And I am not. This is life: sometimes it is hard.

But I am also lucky, and I know that. Because I have people who love me, and who will buy me lunch, because they cannot write my words. Because my Mom sends me pictures of puppies in silly hats to make me smile, and boxes of cookies in the mail. Because sometimes what appears in my inbox is a letter saying a story that I wrote mattered to someone. Because I have you, and you read what I write, and your kind words are the hoard that I hold against the bad days. 

Because that matters, so much, even if it seems like a little thing. So thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.