The Work of Woman

The world is forever ending,

every generation chasing the same

catastrophes and atrocities their parents

learned before them. Migrating in search

of herds of hatred, anger, and fear to feed upon.

 

But for each inky night that swallows up hope,

there is a woman who stands up,

though her soul is broken,

and crosses the room to light a fire

and places a potato in a pot

or the very last grains of rice,

because stomachs must be fed

and laundry doesn’t care for cataclysm.

 

A woman who, in her grandad’s pickup truck,

her forehead resting against one chapped hand

as she mouths the music on the radio,

drives to the bank for the loan,

because the chemo won’t pay for itself.

 

A woman who rises early for work at the factory

and pins a yellow Star of David on her coat,

because the rent is due, and it’s been almost a month now

since they took father and Misha away.

 

A woman who has watched a thousand men

ascend the ladder ahead of her, but who shows up,

measures her smiles and speaks calmly, firmly,

because her message is important and must not be dismissed.

 

A woman who weeps and arranges the shattered

pieces of her heart into the shape of a poem

to send out into the crumbling world,

because somewhere in the desolation

are the ears of others listening for signs they’re not alone.

 

A woman who leans over the cradle of an infant

she did not birth and will not raise,

but who she will pick up and comfort and feed,

becoming for only a moment a mother

in place of the mother who didn’t make it through the night.

 

A birthright, this numb inertia

that keeps life slowly wading forward

through the scalding lava of destruction

as the world ends

and ends

and ends

work

The Work of Woman

Twitter Tips for Writers: How I went from 80 followers to 1800 with 8 simple strategies

twitter logoTwitter is an essential part of any writer’s platform. But it can be a daunting place to try to figure out. Which is why I, like so many writers, made an account then promptly let it lie fallow for years.

Last November, with 80 followers, I finally realized that in my pursuit of book publication, Twitter has the potential to be a powerful ally. I started working to cultivate a larger following. Here’s what has worked for me:

1. FOLLOW BACK! — The number one rule of Twitter is reciprocation. Unless you’re Beyonce  or Neil DeGrasse Tyson (and who among us is?) then almost no one but porn bots, sales bots, and your mother will follow you just for being you. Take time to follow the real people who take the time to follow you. (Don’t follow back the sales or porn bots though. That way lies doom).

 

2. Identify your communities. Think about the topics that you most want to tweet about. For example, I tend to tweet about writing, motherhood, Alaska, food, art, sex, and current events. Look for and follow people who are tweeting about the things you care about.

3. Use hashtags. Identify some of the hashtags associated with your communities and start using them. The topics themselves make a good start for hashtags. For example #food will attract people from the #foodie community.

hashtag4. Find the community hubs. Community hubs are accounts that are centered around a single theme and promote people within that community. For writers these may be indie author promoters, literary journals, agents, etc. They may also be readers who have an enthusiasm for particular types of writing such as erotica or flash fiction. Hubs generally have a lot of Followers, a lot of people they are Following, and tend to tweet or retweet people who are actively promoting. These are a great resource for finding new writers and readers to follow.

5. Watch your ratio. Keep your Following number higher than your Followers number. But not too much higher. 10-20% is a good number to aim for. Do not follow anyone who’s Following number is dramatically lower than their Followers number. (Unless it’s NDT or Beyonce, and you’re following out of genuine interest). Having uneven Following/Followers ratios is a red flag. It tells you that the account is not reciprocating when followed.

6. Make a routine. Set aside a time on day or two each each week (I do Sundays and Wednesdays) to search for people to follow, cull people who haven’t followed back, and follow back people who have followed you. Allow yourself 20 minutes or so for this.

7. The Mute button is your friend. As your Following/Followers grows, use the mute button to control what appears in your timeline. Obviously it isn’t possible to listen to 1800 people all the time. Be selective about what you hear by tuning out accounts who you’ve Followed back, but who don’t necessarily have the same interests as you. For example, if you write historical romance, it might be okay to mute some of the sci-fi writers in your feed, and vice versa. Don’t worry, if you’re in the same communities, their most liked and retweeted tweets will still get through to you via the networks you’re engaged with.

twitter-mute

 

8. Use pictures. As writers, we tend to forget that not everyone gets as excited by words as we do. But we still want to be read. So use a visual to draw attention to your tweet.

Attention-Grabbing-Headlines

Twitter Tips for Writers: How I went from 80 followers to 1800 with 8 simple strategies

I Used to be a Reader

This is a hard thing for a writer to say:

I used to read.

I used to read voraciously. I carried books with me wherever I went. I slept with them under my pillow.

I read three or more books at a time, and knew what page number I was on in each of them.

When I found a writer I loved, I inhaled EVERYTHING they’d ever written. I spent hours in bookstores. I lived in the library.

Then two things happened. I had babies and I graduated with a degree in literature.

After college, I didn’t read anything but non-fiction for a full two years. I was burned out. Proust will do that to you.

I did still read a lot of poetry and history. I read to research my novels. And of course I memorized Go Dog Go, Skippy Jon Jones, and Sandra Boynton’s entire canon, (which I highly recommend).

But outside of an occasional audio-book, I almost quit reading novels altogether.

It’s hard to read when you’re a mom.

Every book was like the leftover, half-finished bagel you shove in your mouth between jumping out of the shower and rodeo-ing the kids into the car. When I did get to read, I read without tasting. Without digesting.

To be a writer without reading is like breathing without inhaling. It makes your writing dizzy and tight. Blue-faced.

To be a writer without reading is like breathing without inhaling. It makes your writing dizzy and tight. Blue-faced.

But today, ten years and two days after learning I was pregnant with my first child, I took my youngest child to kindergarten, hugged her, kissed her, hugged her again, cried a little, and turned to find myself facing a tiny ocean of time.

Time to myself.

I’ve had today marked for a few months as the day I’m going to start working on my novel again. But as it got closer and closer, a different excitement overshadowed it.

I’m going to read.

I’m going to read Literature. With a capital L.

I’m going to read big, fat, difficult books.

I’m going to read skinny, compact, difficult books.

I’m going to read my old favorites – Atwood, Steinbeck, Morrison, Camus, Bradbury, Allende.

I’m going to read new authors.

I’m going to read authors I’ve never even heard of.

I’m going to read poetry and plays.

I’m going to read Shakespeare again. Shakespeare! Out loud! For fun!

I’m going to read in public and ignore people.

I’m going to read in private and ignore my phone.

I might even try to tackle Moby Dick for the umpteenth time.

I went to a bookstore today by myself. I spent a lot of time selecting the first three books for my bibliophile bacchanal. Three books made of paper and ink.

They smell terrific.

If you need me, I’ll be in my room.

P.S. Don’t need me.

books

I Used to be a Reader

50 Shades of WTF?

The book I recently finished writing deals with themes related to sexual consent.

Because of this, I needed a narrative device to make the romantic relationship so overtly consensual as to be hyper-consensual.

The end result is that I’ve been writing a relationship that has elements of BDSM at a time when 50 Shades is all the rage. Yuck.

First things first. I am not a member of the kink community. However, I took care to ensure I was accurately portraying that relationship dynamic. Probably MORE SO because it isn’t one I have ownership of.

Sexuality is deeply connected to identity, and just as I would take care to responsibly portray someone else’s culture or race, I felt I needed to treat these people with as much respect as possible.

Second things second. What I’m writing is not porn. (Though my mother might disagree with that statement). So it is by definition inherently more complex than spanking and tampon yanking. The stakes are higher.

Sexuality and identity get messy fast.

Third. I really did try to read 50 Shades and the writing was so awful, I couldn’t get through it. But the books are universally accepted as badly written, so that is not my point.

My criticism is not of the book. My criticism is of the devotees of the books who argue, “It’s just a book. Relax.”

Incidentally these devotees tend to be the same women who go through relationship after relationship, then look at me and say, “You’re so lucky. You have such a good husband.”

Oh, you mean the man I chose? He didn’t fall out of the sky. I picked him. What’s more, we work very hard to maintain open communication and respect for one another. Luck has fuck-all to do with it.

If you’re following along on this conversation, you’ve heard “It’s just a book. Relax.” a lot. If I were a sociologist, I would conduct an experiment to examine the relationship patterns of the population of people who enjoy this book.

But I’m not. I’m a writer. And as a writer, my central point is this:

Stories matter.

To say, “It’s just a book” is to say, “It’s just a romanticized projection of our rape culture’s social norms that reflect what we wish to attain. Relax.”

I know it’s easy for me as a reader and a writer to place a premium on stories. Much the same way that in Hollywood, the movie about show biz always wins the Oscar. (I’m looking at you here, Shakespeare in Love).

But how can anyone say, “It’s just a book?”

It’s “just a book” about a horribly unhealthy relationship idealized as romantic.

Relax?

To be absolutely clear – the kink is not the abusive aspect of the relationship portrayed in the story. The RELATIONSHIP is the abusive part. When we equate stalking with love – we have a problem.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “If only he would completely violate my privacy and pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do, then I would know he loves me” then you, my dear, are the reason every woman who is raped is tagged as “asking for it.”

This is precisely why I developed such respect for the BDSM community as I worked on my book.

They’re grown ups about their sexuality. They don’t tolerate wishy-washy assholes and their petty drama.

As Louis CK puts it, “I’m not gonna rape someone on the off chance that she’s into it.”

Seriously, ladies? I’m trying to raise daughters here. Could we please just grow a modicum of self respect?

Do I really have to post 700,000 links to articles about how narratives are important and influence our emotional development?

Do you need studies that prove our ability to empathize is learned from stories?

Will you shut the fuck up about it being “just a book” if you see anthropological reviews that detail how narrative is the embodiment of what we are, what we wish to be, and what we must be warned against becoming?

Or are you a grown up?

This is basic.

Stories matter.

It’s never “Just a book.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go revise mine to amplify the consent aspect of the relationship. I know it will never sell 30 gazillion copies.

But I’d rather be broke than sell women shit-sandwiches and call it candy.

50 Shades of WTF?

Early Readers

Just a quick note to say that my early readers have finished with the manuscript and I’ll soon be starting revision #10.

Yay! It felt really done last time. But now that I look at it again, I see that it’s solidly good but needs some muscling up. It’s nice to get to a point where it feels like it is it’s own being. My little book’s all grown up.

Hopefully after this edit, I’ll be able to narrow my focus for my other two projects. I’m at that lovely messy point with them where I have NO IDEA what the plot is doing. It’s both exciting and exasperating.

A note on early readers:

I chose 6 people of the 15 or so who offered:

2 bailed. 1 because of over-commitment. (But she gets a pass forever, because years ago she was one of the saints who slogged all the way through the god-awful 200,000-word first draft of my first attempt at writing a novel). And the second because she didn’t care for the genre.

1 commercial fiction reader. This was very helpful. I write lit fic. But having a commercial reader gave me lots of useful criticism on pacing and plot.

1 actress. Always a good choice. Actresses know how to give constructive criticism. They also appreciate emotional nuance.

1 English teacher. I haven’t gotten this critique back yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

1 wild card. Someone I know only marginally, but who, if they hate it, I won’t run into in the grocery store. I’m awaiting this one as well.

My husband has also read it, but his feedback is almost useless, because he loves everything I write. (I’m sorry, darling. You know it’s true).

I feel primed and ready. I want to jump on the beast and start surgery. I have a game plan and notes. I know just where to start.

I just wanted to take  a moment to say how very grateful I am for my early readers. If you find early readers who are honest and insightful, treasure them. They’re worth their weight. Also, keep a rotation of people for different projects, because you don’t want to burn anyone out.

And reciprocate. Read for others. Even if they haven’t read for you. What goes around comes around.

Now. To the manuscript!

Early Readers

Prepping to publish

Forgive my two month hiatus. It was the result of a combination of the holidays, a grand tour of the southwestern US, a long, deep, terrible chest cold, IT issues, and mid-winter hibernation instinct.

Yesterday, I recommitted to my 2015 writing goal, by taking a workshop on preparing to publish.

The class was offered by 49 Writers  and taught by Deb Vanasse .

I cannot recommend it or her book “What Every Author Should Know”  highly enough.

Since I started writing fiction 4 years ago, I’ve been avoiding thinking about publishing.

Writing a book is like hiking up a large mountain. You keep your eyes trained on the ridge ahead of you.

“There’s the top,” you tell yourself. “I’m almost there. I’m almost done. I’ll be done just as soon…”

As soon as I’ve completed the story.
As soon as I’ve revised and edited.
As soon as I’ve fixed that one scene.
As soon as I’ve scrubbed away that one character.
As soon as I’ve rewritten the last four chapters.
As soon as I’ve finished the 10th revision.

Every time you reach the ridge, there’s another one just ahead. Just a little higher. Just a little farther.

But now that I’ve finished my book and delivered it into the hands of my early readers, I have to admit something I’ve become increasingly aware of. The last few years have felt like a mountain, but they’re only the foothills.

The mountain is still ahead. Publishing.

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While the mountain is largely obscured to those who are on the trail, it is fully visible to your friends and family who are not making the climb.

They helpfully stand at the bottom and say things like, ‘When are you publishing your book?” or (my favorite) “When will you be a rich and famous writer?” (Seriously, just because I’m climbing a mountain doesn’t mean anyone’s going to crown me king of it when I get to the top).

I haven’t avoided the topic completely. I just haven’t delved.

It’s obvious that so much is changing in the world of writing and publishing. Self-publishing. Agents. Print on demand. E-books. When you’re trying to get a good story right, and get it on the page, the changing landscape of modern publishing is enough to make your head spin.

There’s so many routes up the mountain and so many people climbing them that it’s easy to find wild success and wild failure stories for every path. But I think I’m finally ready to tackle the mountain. I’ve decided (for now) to try a traditional path. Networking. Queries. Agent. Editor. Publisher. Sales team.

With a different project, I might choose a different path. But this seems like the right route for this time and this book.

One of the exercises we did for the workshop was to imagine two different outcomes both set in the future five years after publishing.

The first was our wildest fantasy of our lives as published writers. Fame? Fortune? Accolades? Independence? (My fantasy involves Emma Thompson swooping in to insist she direct a film version of my book and mentor me in screenwriting).

The second outcome is the reality of what we expect. To be able to pay our bills? To write a sequel? To teach in an area of expertise?

Looking at the two futures side by side, Vanasse encouraged us to look at the one item on the list that was the same in both futures. In other words, in your wildest dreams and your most grounded reality, what is the same? This will tell you why you are writing.

For me it was this: Five years after I publish my first book, I want to be working on my second or third or fourth.

No matter what, I want to keep writing.

So, it looks like the ridge just ahead is destined to be a part of my permanent landscape, and when I reach it, there will always be another one, a little further, a little higher.

There will always be edits to make, continuity errors to fix, queries to send, synopsis to write, and revision upon revision upon revision upon revision.

This thought is both exhilarating and exhausting.

But at least I know now – while there may be resting places, there is no summit. There will always be another ridge to climb. The mountain goes up forever.

I’ve wiped off the sweat and had a drink of water. I’ll need to camp here for one more revision before I head toward the next ridge, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Except this time, I know what to expect.

Prepping to publish

Book narrative and screen narrative

Have you read the short story The Veldt by Ray Bradbury?

A mother and father want their children to be happy. So they give them a nursery.

The nursery is made up of screens. In these screens, the children can explore and create the world around them, without ever leaving the house. The screens manifest the will of the children.

When the children become disobedient, the parents decide to unplug. The kids don’t approve.

It doesn’t end well for Mom and Dad.

The Veldt was a shudder-worthy read in 1950. In 2014, it’s downright blood-chilling.

I can’t think about the page and the screen without dragging Bradbury out and propping him in the corner. He’s the Grand Poombah of this discussion.

Like many great Sci-Fi writers, Bradbury had a love/hate relationship with technology. He adored movies. He wrote for movies and television. But in his work, screens are universally regarded with a Luddite’s foreboding.

Because, while Bradbury revered movies, the written word was sacred.

This isn’t a concept unique to Bradbury. It’s the cultural vestige of the era when books, by their rarity, really were sacred objects.

For a hundred years, the screen borrowed gravitas from books by paying homage to the page narrative. How many early Disney films start with a storybook flipping open?

Seeing the movie was a lesser form of experiencing narrative. Reading the book represented the true narrative experience. The real story.

That model has changed.

The book as a sacred fetish reached its extinction-burst in the late-80s/early-90s, which swarmed with movies (particularly for children) where the book was revered: The Never-Ending Story. The Princess Bride. The Labyrinth. Beauty and the Beast.

But to children now, screen narrative is just as valid as page narrative.

For those of us raised on page narrative, the new primacy of screen narrative can be uncomfortable. I still read the books to my daughters before we watch the movie. I’m a bibliophile who wants to raise bibliophiles.

But I feel like Tevya.

TRADITION!

There is still plenty of reading going on, both on page and screen. Though an alarming portion of it is cross-marketed, franchise adver-tainment.

I’ve had moments when my chosen creative activity feels as quaint and useless as calligraphy or collecting muzzle-loading muskets.

But I’m not worried about our cultural unbooking. I don’t believe that all people should be readers. I don’t believe people should be shamed for not being readers.

Yes, everyone should learn to read and have access to books, etc.

But when I hear a statistic that, for example, the average high school student graduates and never gives another thought to F. Scott Fitzgerald, that’s a-okay by me. I don’t give a shit about racquetball. I can’t imagine living in a world where everyone thought I should, no matter how edifying racquetball might be.

The reason I don’t care if Americans read for fun is twofold:

First, all humans, whether they read or not, and regardless of any other factor in their lives have a deep, profound, and unswerving need for stories.

Stories are meaning. They are morality. They are the religion of common human experience. Where and how my fellow Americans get their narrative gratification is no more my business than where or how they get their sexual gratification. To each his own.

Second, American culture is rife with excellent narrative, some of it occurring in the most unliterary of places. Graphic novels, fanfic, movies, or even – gasp! – television. Serious narrative is alive and well in the oral tradition from whence it sprung.

More power to it. The oral tradition has a history backing it that the novel, at its peak, could never have hoped to rival in the long run.

Step back a few miles. Examine the book from a distance.

For most of human history, most people didn’t or couldn’t read. But narrative flourished. Plays. Poetry. Stories. Songs.

Language is fluid. Narrative is fluid.

The idea that a story has one right iteration that should be made static and preserved for all time is only a few hundred years old.

In the scope of human history, our concept of page-narrative is the aberration. Not the norm.

Yet books have always thrived. They have always been birthed by book-lovers into the hands of book-lovers.

The book has slipped from its temporary throne to retake its place among the many and varied forms of narrative.

We can mourn or we can teach our children to seek out stories that are moral and meaningful, no matter what the medium.

We stand as parents in the Veldt. Uncertain what monsters our children might create with the technology we’ve given them.

We are fearful their stories will dismember our gods. Rest assured they will. Good narrative always does.

Book narrative and screen narrative