Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Right Dog's Breakfast

Sometimes I can write great, my first two submissions are evidence of that. Sometimes I can make a complete hash of it, like some of my WiPs I'm close to tossing.

I've put some distance between me and a couple of my WiPs, because I felt I was being way too earnest. They needed some fresh air and fresh brainz. I liked the characters, but I didn't like the sledgehammers they were carrying around - 'care about my issue, damn you *thwack!*'.

I've been running one of these pieces through my workshop and ugh...as nice as the reviewers are trying to be, and I appreciate the effort the help they've given me, I do get it. It sucks. I've tried to write an Other, I've tried to write a disability, and I've failed miserably.

The last few nights I've been diving into my copy of "30 Years of the Locus Awards" that I picked up recently, and I read Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God" for the first time. Oh my FSM, there's a reason why this story won a Locus. Disability written with subtlety and compassion.

I feel like such a plonker.

Ah well, lesson learned, and here it was "let the characters tell the story". I was trying to shovel in some serious info dump, trying to run before I could walk. See, I'm like this - I find something I like doing, something I'm good at, and I flame like a shooting star. Then when I trip over my bloody clown shoes, I get all frustrated and chuck it.

Not this time. I'm determined to make a go of it, and I'll find my Voice, even if that means tossing some of my stories. I'll go back to telling a simpler story, one I'm a bit more familiar with. I'll go back to reading, shutting up and listening. I still want to write The Other, but I'm going to work up to it slower.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

This Week in Linkage 26/06/2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reading List 23/06/2010

What I'm reading now:
The covers of Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth and Jack McDevitt's Omega

Plus My "To Read" Stack:
Covers of Ian McDonald's Brasyl, Richard Morgan's Broken Angels, Jack McDevitt's Ancient Shores, Allen Steel's Coyoto Rising, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, Roger Zelzany's Lord of Light, Sean Williams and Shane Dix's Echoes of Earth, Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Jack McDevitt's Odyssey

PLUS what I picked up over the weekend:
Covers of CS Friedman's This Alien Shore, 30 Years of The Locus Awards Anthology, Tansy Rayner Roberts Power and Majesty, Connie Willis' Fire Watch, Jack McDevitt's Cauldron

Equals: OMFSM, I have so much to read!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This Week in Linkage 22/06/2010

This week's Link Love comes at a completely out of whack time. I'm back from an amazing two days in Sydney - a surprise, belated birthday present from the SO - and it was the time of my life. I saw the sights, ate the eats, and had the most glorious time.

My writing schedule and motivation are also completely out of whack, so I have little to report on lately. Hopefully things will come right from next week (I was supposed to be back to Writer Mondays yesterday, but heh...Sydney beckoned, or err, well, sent me home).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Revelling in Rejection Redux 18/6/2010

I've been sitting on this one for the last six weeks, unable to talk about it directly.

I had two pieces in the PodCastle Flash Competition. Both made great showings. "Tasty Maidens Inc" made the semi-finals. "Mid-Life Crisis" made the final, of which voting closed today, and it placed 4th...by only one vote! Argh! Spoon to the heart!

It was quite nerve wracking watching the voting in the finals in the last week. Initially, MLC wasn't making a good showing, then it suddenly shot up into contention for third, battling with two other pieces.

Congratulations to Nathaniel Lee for "Fetch", I loved this piece. Also congrats to 2nd place winner Ramona Gardea for "Bibliophages", and 3rd place winner Alicia Caporaso for "The Water Sprite". All excellent competition.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Revelling In Rejection 17/6/2010

Happy to report another rejection.

Happy? Because it was an awesome rejection. It was a rejection that bespoke "Almost there...!"

Abyss and Apex rejected "Through The Open Door", and while the email wasn't long, involved or gave suggestions on how to Make It Better, the language was encouraging. I felt like it was saying "Hey, your writing doesn't suck, we're just over quota/it's just not the style we need right now". Thanks A&A for making it a positive experience - I'll definitely submit to them again without feeling like a Scruffy Nerf Herder.

I'm currently sitting on only three submissions round the traps, and I would really like to make it more. I have this idea of having a constantly revolving set of stories doing the rounds so that I feel busy, that I feel like I've got traction.

Rejection ROOLZ!

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Week In Linkage 14/06/2010

  • The PodCastle Flash Competition is in it's final round. Readers/Listeners can read and vote on the final 9 entries. To do so you must be a member of the Escape Artists forum. Voting closes Friday June 18.
  • Alisa Krasnostein over at Hoyden About Town wrote about "The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction". In it she references the recent discussion surrounding the male-weighted anthology "Before They Were Giants" which I linked to a couple of weeks ago. Also, check out the awesome Periodic Table of "75 years of Fabulous Writers", all women, that she links too.
  • Redstone Science Fiction are running a short story contest called "Towards an Accessible Future". "What does a world, or space station, or whatever look like when it has been designed to be accessible to everyone and how would people live together there?" Word limit is 5000 words, and you can win $300 and publication.
  • Don't be lazy and use stereotypical short hand; make your protags more interesting. Madeleine E. Robins over at Book View Cafe talks about "Privileging The Pretty". (via SFSignal)
  • Knitting Clio "Sexism in Science, or Why There was no Alberta Einstein". (via Shakesville)
  • In "Hardcore Maleness" at The Escapist, Rowan Kaiser examines the sexist connotations of the language behind hardcore vs casual gamers ie: hardcore=male whereas casual=female. Don't read the comment section unless you want your brain to explode. (via @Brinstar)

Friday, June 11, 2010

So, just how IS a woman supposed to write?

Recently, a group of New Zealand bloggers took exception to the in-bred nature of the Blog section of the Qantas Media Awards, and decided to set up their own piss-take rival award. The judges - solely a group of dudes, I'd like to point out - made their picks this week.

This post is not to bleat my opinion on their picks. In the commentary discussing the entries, the judges said things like "very, very female" and "Everything that is wrong with 'typical' female blogging: I, I, I, me, me, me."; a fashion blog "veered off into the frivolous" and a lesbian blog "I'm angry at Penthouse for making me think lesbians were so much more interesting than this." (roll eyes at the stereotypical pornification of lesbians). This got me wondering...what exactly do people expect from "female blogging"? Are there rules? If we write too much like a girl, is our opinion invalid? If we write too much like a man, are we trying too hard be something we're not? If we don't write within the rules of femininity/queerness, we're not a real woman/queer? If one thing we say challenges the male paradigm, is all our opinion invalid?

In this instance, not every example of "female blogging" was bagged - indeed, the winning blog is written by a woman. Cactus Kate is not my bag - she rightly earns the moniker "The Prickly One" quite well. She is intelligent and articulate. It seems to me though that she writes in a way that many men like - combative, non-feminine, male sexualized, anti-feminist. Hell, I'm sure if she got hold of me she'd tear me strips and tell me she writes whatever fucking way she likes.

But this is the point. Every woman blogger writes whatever fucking way she likes. It is our prerogative to make our narrative heard in any which way we like. It's up to you whether you like or dislike a woman's writing (for whatever literary, political, or interest level reason). But no-one has the right to accuse a woman of "writing like a girl", as if "writing like a girl" is some bad thing.

Do you hear people accuse men of "writing like a boy" in a derogatory tone? No, "writing like a boy" is the set default in societal narrative. A man can get angry and opinionated about something he strongly believes in, and he's lauded for taking a stand. A woman gets angry and opinionated, and she's accused ofbeing overly emotional. We're all acting on emotion when it comes to expressing an opinion, or talking about our personal narratives, so I'm at a loss to understand how a man's emotion is any better or more agreeable than mine.

Women of all stripes need to be heard. Whether it's women blogging about their body images, mummy-bloggers, feminists, conservatives, working women, fashion, child-free advocates, politicos, religion, scientists, writers, sex, sexuality, cupcakes, literature, movies, technology... good grief, for every woman and woman identifier, there is a blog, style and a voice to suit.

If a woman's style is to write in the first person, talk about herself, her narratives, her experiences, her emotions, her opinions...so be it. That is our voice, no matter how disparate that voice is. We will not conform to some male ideal of "girl writing", let alone fit in with the rules of "male writing". Every woman needs to know they're not alone, they have someone else on their level, and whatever way they want to write is right.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gender and Pseudonyms: What I've Chosen To Do

There are two of Me. There is the Me who is loud, public, gauche, Writing Shit On The Internet. And there is the Me who wants to hide for a couple of days playing computer games, or doesn't want her small social party busted in on by some jerk in a bar.

Both of these people are Me, but only one of them will be accessible through my writing (and possible notoriety if it ever happens). Woe betide anyone who intrudes on the Private Me.

The Public Me of Writing is also wrapped up in my name and gender. Yesterday, I read a good examination of this by M.R. Fall over at Tiger Beatdown, entitled "The J.K. Rowling Complex, or, Why My Initials Are How You Know Me". Fall discusses her identity as a playwright, but the idea holds true in publishing - women have a hard time being read, critically assessed and taken seriously, and sometimes a pseudonym can help you get over the hurdle of first reading without gender bias.

I thought this was a good opportunity to discuss what I have chosen to do with my writing identity as pertains to my name.

Twenty years ago when I was taking my first tentative steps into publishing, I decided to chose a pseudonym for the absolute fun of it and to retain some semblance of privacy. At this time I was under the allusion that publishing - like most of life - was a meritocracy: my writing would be assessed on its quality alone, not whether I possessed certain genitals.

How naive. Though I have never been in a position to question whether my gender has anything to do with publishing success - I lay the burden solely at my own feet at this stage, since I have done very little to count as "success" - I am now read up enough on the feminist sphere and know of common examples that show women do not have it easy breaking into the publishing industry or being taken seriously as writers. Amoung many, JK Rowling, George Eliot, the Bronte Sisters, PD James, my latest fave NK Jemisin, and most famously within my sphere James Tiptree Jr all used initials or pseudonyms to render themselves male or gender-neutral.

I am amused by my naivety of 20 years passed that the name I chose was female. It saw me through my small foray into romantic short fiction, and a couple of non-fiction articles published in a local newspaper. In both instances, it was probably a help - an identified woman writing fiction for woman, and in the case of the local paper articles my dad gave me an introduction to the editor and I wanted to identify as an individual.

My mid-twenties was the only time I used my proper first name and maiden name at a publication attempt, when I entered the L. Ron Hubbard "Writers of the Future" competition. Now in my 30s having a proper crack at getting published, and with a lot of feminist reading behind me, I have thought very carefully about how to identify myself. My chosen byline is "A.J. Fitzwater" - my proper initials and my married name.

I chose to do this in a combination of avoidance of gendering, and putting together the Private and Public Mes. My surname is an unusual one; my real name is in there, if obscured by my initials; and there is no gender bias, unless you choose to see it ("AJ" - a male nickname - could be perceived as a male identifier).

Do I WANT to be identified as a man, as so many critics of feminism accuse feminists of? No. Much like Fall's evaluation, I initially felt I wasn't being true to my identity as a woman writer, and belief in making women's voices heard loud and clear. Then I realized I had to get to the audience first, and if non-gendering myself got me taken seriously at the first hurdle, the reader can deal with my gendering at a later point if they like what they see.

Says Fall:
Yes, they were a kind of castration, a partial erasing of my identity, a dismantling of myself. But they were also my liberation, the first step in a subtle destruction of the restrictive gender-authorship perceptions that keep good female authors stuck at their day jobs and mediocre male authors on stage and in print. I wasn’t denying myself. I was denying others the right to make unfounded judgments.

I'm sad that this is the way it is for women writers - I know it goes against my "Fuck It" attitude, but sometimes (a lot of the time) the rules aren't fair. As commentator "Jennifer" said in the piece "It is absolutely infuriating that pretending to be gender neutral/male is the only way around it, still, in 2010. At what point does “post feminist” exist, please? It sure doesn’t now." So, if those rules aren't fair, we'll subvert the rules to suit ourselves.

I don't mind if a reader eventually knows my real name, or that I'm a woman. It is very easy to find me on the Internet - indeed, here I am. I would rather be read without gender bias, and critiqued on my merits, first.

Monday, June 7, 2010

This Week In Linkage 07/06/2010

Nobody knows, tiddly pom, how cold my nose is growing. Some reading that's kept me warm and out of the rain in the last week or so.

  • This is a touchy one for Feminist Me, and I've read some hideous approaches to rape in literature - usually written by a man who has absolutely no clue - "oh she finds it exciting!", "it's a compliment!", "it's romantic!" - BARF. Jim C. Hines gives a few notes on how to write about rape in a sensitive way. Thanks Jim.
  • Another great post from Jim (I really am enjoying a lot of his sensible advice lately) about letting book promotion grow organically in "You Owe Me Nothing". I'm a big believer in organic growth of a fan base after watching some bands pull the puppet strings on their fans (ugh, it was manipulative and borderline sexist too).
  • John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton are holding a fanfic competition based around an awesome painting. I'm considering my entry...
  • I very rarely get to the movie theatre. And is it any wonder when our big blockbusters are white-washed, failing the Bechdel test, and fail in storytelling like "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time"?
  • I am a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Check out the chemistry between Marina Sirtis and Johnathon Frakes in this great interview reminiscing about their days on the show (via SFSignal):

Friday, June 4, 2010

Having The Right Attitude: Part One Billion

I read a blog post the other day entitled "Ways To Trash Your Writing Career: Cop a 'tude" by Judith Tarr over at the Book View Cafe.

Start a blog for all your rejections. Post each one in full, with names,
addresses, and phone numbers. Only redact the specifics of your submissions
Ulp. Well, I don't post details, just where I was rejected from.

Then–and this is crucial–once you’ve posted a rejection, make an unmistakable and ongoing point of trashing the person who wrote the rejection. Make detailed and preferably profane reference to their ignorance, stupidity, and malice in rejecting your heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Attribute only negative motives to all form rejections.
Oh, ok then. Phew. THAT'S NOT ME. Tarr is referring more to rejections from agents, but it can be applied right across the board. "Don't trash the publication you've been rejected from" works just as well too.

Seriously. How hard is it not to be an ass? Writing is a business. Writing is about networking. Don't piss off your potential employer. Once you're in the relationship, then you have more leeway to negotiate or talk semantics.

Honestly, the way I look at it, my rejections have something to teach me. Did I choose the wrong publication? Did I miss mistakes in my submission? Oh you have some personal feedback on the story - fantastic! Form letter - ok, so they're a busy market.

And if it IS personal? If your art really needs some work? Do the work. Get better. Ask for help. No one is a freaking writing god on first pass!

When the ball gets rolling, and my fingers a-typin' a bit more, some of what this blog will be about is enjoying my rejection. I laid it out from the beginning - my "Revelling in Rejection" posts will be gleeful little paeans to rejection. How many rejections can I rack up before "something" happens? I have this little mental image of me floor-running Homer Simpson-like, or diving into a pool of rejections Scrooge McDuck style.

I'm not sure what that "something" will be (notoriety in short SF? Impetus to start writing The Novel?), because I'm notorious for not making Long Term Plans, but when that something happens, I know this city will be built on rock n' rejections.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Be Eclectic! Be Be Eclectic!

There are some days I wish I had more than one lifetime.

I wish I could affect the world in so many ways; that I could be there to see inter-stellar space flight, that I could see a world of equality, peace, love and harmony. Yeah, despite my cynicism, I'm an optimist.

I wish I could get a degree in astrophysics: so I could read science fiction and fact without feeling so dumb; so I could write Science Fiction with confidence; so I could make a mark working for NASA. Women astronauts rule.

I wish I could get a degree in Women's Studies: so I could argue my position from a stronger stand point; so that I could be involved in law making; so that I could write with confidence about nuance.

I wish I had followed one of my hearts into journalism: so I was there at momentous occasions; so that I could work on incremental change.

I wish I had gone into politics or activism: so that I could make other women's voices be heard.

Then I remember there's no need or time for regrets. Do what you can. Don't let anyone say No. Read Read Read.

And use Google.