So Pride 2014 totally happened. :) I have a lot to say about it and the community here in SLC but for today, I’m letting it ride. Tomorrow is for deep political thoughts on erasure and more.
I attended a Poetry Slam on Memorial Day and was approached by one of the poets in the area who also happens to be one of the primary volunteers for Utah Pride. She came up, all smiling and hugs, and asked about my girlfriend’s open mic, When She Speaks I Hear the Revolution and if we wanted to have a place on the poetry stage.
Logic said to be gracious. I instead stumbled over my words, finding all of my reasons that I can’t stand the Pride Center, and I turned what could have been a fantastic moment into an awkward, anxious exchange where all I could think was …
You know what … it’s really hard to give a damn about Pride this year.
You would think with all of the positive steps being made in the gay community that I couldn’t wait to get out there and march with the family that is the Queer community. But I find the closer I get to Pride and the more expectations I have on being Prideful, the less I want to participate.
I’ll acknowledge it for what it is: burnout.
I’ve been an activist and an advocate on and off for 17 years and while I have never felt more love and acceptance regarding sexuality and gender identity, I’ve also never felt more isolated from my so-called community. I’m sure a lot of that feeling of there being a wall between me and my fellow Queers is completely in my head. But I’m also … I dunno.
And maybe the truth is that I’m still angry at Gay Inc for willfully steaming on ahead and ignoring the bi community. Maybe I’m just tired of having to stand up every single time people talk about “Gay Marriage” and remind people that there is a spectrum of sexuality. Maybe I’m tired of the media applauding the coming out of amazing people like Ellen Page while still flat out ignoring or mislabeling Out Bisexuals.
It’s funny, in a heartbreaking way. My first novel is full of gay and bisexual men but I toned down the bisexuality almost to the point of non-existence because I was sure no one would want it. In doing so, I’ve realized how much of the heart isn’t there. But sitting here, only a couple of weeks out from Pride I find myself wondering … if I put the story back together and make it what I initially intended …
Will it still be mislabeled?
So I’ll just go over here, waving my Pink, Purple, and Blue for me and my characters and hope that somewhere along the parade route, someone notices.
Yeah, maybe this is why I shouldn’t write blog posts when I’m depressed. ;)
And for the record, Tami … I would LOVE to stand there on that stage on Saturday.
There comes a point for me, usually between the second and third draft (which is realistically where I am in this novel) where every insecurity I have as a writer emerges.
It always starts with a small nibble at the back of my mind. You suck, it says to me. And, like when my cat wants my dinner, I push it away. But see, just like when my cat wants my dinner, there are claws involved. The claws dig in, scratching, poking, and finally I have no choice but to acknowledge the sucking.
I dare to suck! I scream back at the nibble.
No one cares the nibble responds.
In that moment, the nibble outgrows the metaphor. It becomes a wave inside my head, inching ever closer toward high tide. I analyze eveything from the color of a character’s hair to the direction of the story to whether or not what I’m doing makes any sense. I pour endless time into character journals and scenarios that will never happen, all in the name of development. Side characters get tons of attention. Side characters to the side characters get developed. All because I am wallowing in the biggest worry of all:
What if no one reads this?
Every writer will say: I write for myself!
We do! We really do! But you know what, when no one reads what we’ve written, that eats away at us. So, there comes a point when my little insecurity bug bites and I scratch and scratch and scratch until I’m bleeding.
As a queer writer of queer characters, I find myself even more worried about that whole “what if no one reads it.” I live in a world where the bisexual community is still misunderstood and erased and while I hope to only be telling a story that is authentic … what if no one actually cares about being authentic in the story? What if the gaystream (and mainstream) media win the day?
What if the stories I am trying so hard to tell just don’t matter?
Truth be told, the only way out of this is to write. To just keep writing. To write and write and write and write and write and hope that in the end, the insecurity road has given me a better draft than the one I started with. But until the writing really begins in earnest, all there is to really do is to keep itching and scratching out ideas and hope that in the end, they all make sense.
But sometimes, one also needs to just vent. Just a little bit.
Thank you for introducing me to poetry. Thank you for making me sit up a bit straighter when I heard your words. Thank you for reminding me of how important all of our stories are. Thank you.
I am lucky enough to be the moderator of a couple of writing communities. One is the Salt Lake City Writer’s Group and the other Open Vein Writing at Livejournal (yes we had this conversation in the last entry, it still exists, don’t knock it).
One of the primary questions that I ask other people is “how do you get to know your characters?”
Sometimes, the answers are awesome. Sometimes, people look at me like I’ve grown a second head. “What do you mean get to know the character? Won’t they tell me about themselves as I write the story?”
Every character is different. I think every writer knows that. Sometimes you go in knowing everything from favorite color to when they lost their virginity to when they’re going to die. And sometimes, they are a blank slate that you color on. But either way, I think it is so important to get to know your characters.
But why, you ask, is favorite color so important? Because colors are symbols. Because colors give us meaning. Is red a favorite color because your character likes power or because as a child, their favorite fruit was red apples? Why does it matter if your character likes sports? Because it changes the people they hang with, the way they talk. And yes, it matters what sports they like. If you have a character who likes football … it matters what kind of football they like.
What about how your character feels about infedelity? Teen pregnancy? Dogs vs. Cats? Divorce? All of these things matter to how a character is presented, how your character thinks about certain things.
Yes. Characters will surprise us. Yes, we’ll write entire drafts of novels before realizing that a character is say, bisexual instead of a lesbian and going to end up with someone completely different than initially assumed (I’m looking at you, Gina Case.) But characters and stories come alive when we get to know who they are as people. When we get to know who we are as people interacting with them. Because yes, as writers, we are having a relationship with these characters.
Weird, I know. But it’s true. So let me say it again.
We are in a relationship with our characters.
We fall in love, in lust. We hate and scorn and cry. We lecture. We listen. And if that’s not a relationship, I don’t know what is.
So do yourself a favor if you’re stuck. Take your character out for coffee. And by that, I mean a number of things. Take a journal, go sit and write from their persepctive. Have a conversation with them in a coffee shop. Write a short story. Pick a prompt off the internet and give them 500 words on the topic.
Get to know them. Over coffee, tea, wine, whatever.
People write in a lot of different ways and I think that we as writers find different ways within ourselves to bring a character and a story to light. Some people swear by the computer, needing the tapping of the keys that can move almost as fast as their thoughts. Some people can’t look at a computer until the story is written by hand. For me, it’s a mix of the two ideals. For me, it’s actually easier to write on the computer because if I’m at work and want to scribble a few things down, I can do it in Evernote and it’s right there, saved in that strange glow cloud of doom that is the internet world, and I don’t have to worry about losing things. But I still like to collect journals for characters and stories. I mean, every character, down to the very minor ones, should have their own personality, their own style.
This, for example, belonged to one of the characters in my first novel, Shadows in the Spotlight. Chrissie was just a minor character in terms of the space she took up, but her impact on the other characters was felt far beyond the end of the book. She was a blonde, kind of perky metal-head who loved pink and Hello Kitty. The insides of this journal are almost impossible to read as most of it is written, yes, in pink ink.
Sadly, I never filled these pages for Chrissie and there isn’t a reason to go back. The book is done and Chrissie doesn’t have a reason to keep writing. But, there’s a new character who is lurking at the edges of my thoughts who would pick this journal up and run with it. It’s a practical solution.
Wait, back the train up, you say. You actually sit down and write in their name? In their voice? Doesn’t that make you … you know … crazy?
I get that one all the time. My answer? I’m a writer. You got a problem with my crazy, there’s the door.
Character journals are crucial to me. It gives me a chance to fall into the character, to get to know them. To discover who they are at different points in their lives. Also, their journals are often full of sketches of where their story line is going in a novel, where they’ve been, and stuff that I may or may not need to divulge in the course of explaining backstory.
I used to run with a bunch of writers who were into character pens. Every character had their own pen style and that was a way of expressing things. But I’m too darn minimalistic, especially when I am running around, and having 9000 pens with me just so Gina could have the right color when I was out at a coffee shop was never something I adapted well to. But interestingly enough, journals work. I know, I know. Pens didn’t but journals do?
I have a shelf full of journals.
Some of those are mine. The red one right there, that was mine from when I was a teenager. Somewhere in there is my Ramona Quimby Diary. But most of these are there for the characters. And, like I mentioned with Chrissie’s above, many are shared.
One of the best things about character journaling for me is that it allows me to get to know a character or a story without falling into the nerve-destroying process of writing their novel. I can world build, create, and destroy and it’s all there on paper. I can go back years later and wrap a character into something else, decide that a character needs to simply live in those pages, or finally get around to sitting down and taking the world I built and turning it into a story that I would hope someone wants to read.
I don’t only character journal by hand though. I spend a good chunk of my time (too much perhaps) over at Open Vein Writing on LiveJournal (don’t knock it, it’s still the best social media/blogging platform for a whole lot of reasons). See, if I’ve learned anything from being involved with other writers, with talking to them and listening to their thought processes and their critiques on my work, sometimes one of the best ways to develop a story is to let characters who would never in a million years talk to each other start to interact. Sometimes, when that happens, whole new roads for characters are introduced. That happened to me with the most recent novel, actually. One minute, two characters from two different writers are talking back and forth in comments in a post and the next, the idea that their relationship would be a good subplot for the book was born. (Writer note, very important, only share storylines like that if you have trust in your writing partners. It can backfire too.)
The thing is, no matter how you write your characters – if it’s with different pens, or with journals, or just sitting down and writing them, get to know them. The ones bopping around in my head are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. Writing their worlds, in their words, in a journal they chose (or designed), doesn’t just teach me about them. It teaches me about myself.
But whatever you do and however you do it …
A few years ago I was flipping through an issue of Writer’s Digest (or one of the similar industry mags) and they had a piece about the problems with the internet and how it would impact freelance writing and the ability for writers to make money. The article laid out what to expect in the current market, what different skills were worth, what many publications paid, etc. The article warned that it wouldn’t be long before writers would be making pennies compared to the pennies they were already making. They predicted more services would have to be provided for free and that paid services would drop to as low as $.01 per word. They begged writers not to take these jobs because it would mean that the expectations would be there. Well, writers took the jobs. Recently, a job posting for a freelance piece promised $.03 a word with a maximum payout of $30. That’s $30 for 1,000 words but if the piece were to be 1,200 words, the writer would still only make $30.
Just this week, Entertainment Weekly fired its writing staff but hey, guess what entertainment bloggers, you get the chance to write for them. FOR FREE. The exposure will be fantastic!
Excuse my lack of professionalism as I say to the following to the editors of the magazine: Fuck You and the Horses You Rode In On.
Despite what Hollywood would like to tell you, writing is not a lucrative option for employment. There is no reason that any writer should expect to walk in to a project and start making bank. All forms of employment have a natural expectation of rising through the ranks. Bloggers don’t expect to make a ton of money and the ad clicks they use to supplement their income really just help to buy dog food usually. Writers who submit poetry and short stories to literary magazines are usually paid in two or three copies of the publication and the right to submit their story to somewhere else. Coupons are common. “Independent” weekly papers pay freelancers but often columnists do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Novelists who self-publish through Amazon platforms usually are able to again, supplement their income. For every self-publishing success story there are thousands of writers standing around in a circle wondering how the hell that was possible and if the agent who just turned them down will take the submission again if edits are made. And don’t get me started on the impossibility of breaking into Hollywood as a writer. For those on the outside looking in, especially when they have acquaintances in the business, it is a crushing cycle of rejection while other people live the life you dream of. And by “life you dream of” I mean hoping to sell three TV scripts a year in order to feed your family.
Writers are expected to have blogs, youtube channels, active tumblr, twitter, instagram, and facebook pages. Websites are supposed to be clean, polished, and professional. We’re supposed to write 5,000-10,000 words a day while doing this. Have a portfolio of scripts, short stories, poems, novels, and more and do it all while somehow paying the bills and caring for our families.
When I am introduced to people, I say that I’m a writer. When I’m asked where I work, I tell them how I pay the bills. I am lucky enough to have a job that I love going to every day. I’m not waiting tables or stocking produce. My job pays my bills, provides me with vacation and sick time, and my health care coverage is fantastic. My management team supports my writing endeavors and so much of the work I do can be added to my writing resume and publishing credits. But the fact is that I know my writing success is slowed by the 8-5 world I live in. I often am not able to start writing in the evening until 7:00 or later. This can mean that I get to bed as late at 2:00 in the morning. Operating on a regular diet of 4-6 hours of sleep a night is actually not healthy for the human body. And I know that the story I have just related is not uncommon.
Writers are expected to work for free.
It is demanded that we accept our payment in terms of exposure.
Entertainment Weekly’s choice to fire writers in a business already cutthroat and deadly is a terrifying shot over the bow. Because writers need to work. We need that exposure. We need to walk through fire in the hopes that we can someday, in our 40s and 50s, be making money doing what we love to do. If this project succeeds, it will set the rights of writers back to a place where I can’t even comprehend. If this plan succeeds, what is to stop networks from demanding new rules at the next WGA negotiation? What is to stop online outlets from declining pay all together?
Exposure matters. But so does money. Until the electric company will take my most recent short story as payment, money matters. I am happy to shift with paradigms, I am happy to accept a world that will be better for artists and writers and musicians. I am happy to break away from the indentured servitude of the big publishing houses. But what writers have been faced with over the past few years, and are facing now in this Entertainment Weekly shitstorm is in fact not a paradigm shift but an expectation that our services are not to be exposed, but exploited.
I got nothing tonight, but I figured I should try to update more regularly.
It was my first day back at work following a week off to play “real writer.” I managed to get a lot of things taken care of over the week, most notably realizing that I had more done for this CBS application than previously thought. But I did get to spend some time down at the Art Access gallery today.
Art Access has a special place in my heart. My mother had a big hand in the gallery when I was a child. I feel like so many of my formative memories are back in that old location on Pierpont Avenue, the one where the guy killed like most of his family … right where my mother’s desk eventually sat. That location with the community garden, the art galleries up and down the building, the slightly uneven floors. My first exposure to nude art was in that gallery, a series of beautiful black and white photographs taken by a man with a disability. That was when I came to understand that the gallery was for artists with disabilities, a place for them to share and celebrate their work. I took my friend down there and remember how offended she was by the images of the bodies and she told me it was porn. (Granted, we’re all of … ten?) I told her what my mother had told me, that porn was about objectifying and this was about beauty. She didn’t get it.
Art Access, for those of you who do not know, is part of the Very Special Arts project. But, people in Utah thought “Very Special Arts” could be expanded in different ways, so they changed the name to Art Access. In doing so, the gallery became an intersection of celebration. A place where visual and written art was shared by people with disabilities, by women, by people of color, refugees, and the queer community. A place where these groups of people would not be turned away. Where they would be treated as equals.
Today, I took a group of consumers down to see the gallery. We’re doing a photography class where I work and when I mentioned the gallery, all of their eyes lit up. So we set it up, went down and they got to see art created by, well, people like them. For the first time in their lives, art, high art, was accessible. I walked around with one of the women, explaining oil paintings, and we looked closely at the artwork and the color and talked about mediums and textures and it was the first time I’d ever really connected to her on a human level. Art. Creativity. That which brings us all together.
Suddenly I was ten years old again, walking the walls of the gallery, staring at photographs and paintings. Watching the acting troupe who used the space put together stories of what it was like to be disabled. Actors in chairs, actors with CP, actors who were deaf, all interacting among paintings and photographs created by people like them.
I grew up in a family with disability, but I think my understanding of equality came not from the ADA fight being my formative years. It came from that gallery, those moments. I went back there today, as I will many times over the next couple of months. See, I’m lucky enough to be participating in a writing workshop sponsored by Art Access. They are reaching out to Utah’s Queer Community, asking for our voices, and bringing them together with visual art.
Stay tuned, my friends. Stay tuned.
Guess I had more going tonight than I thought.
First off, let me start with a thank you to everyone who took the time to read, follow, and comment after the last post. The response was a little more than overwhelming and I am so grateful to each and every one of you as readers. No comes the hard part – keeping you around. ;)
I took the week off from my day job. Not just because I needed a bit of a break and time to myself, but also because I wanted to play “real writer.” I have some deadlines coming up at the end of April and May and figured that if I took a week off now to write and edit, I wouldn’t be scrambling as much toward the end of next month. So far it’s working. I’ve managed to tackle a few things, write a few thousand words, and make some decisions about what to submit for the “diverse writers” workshop that I’m applying for this year.
I have this fantasy, you see. I do dream of writing for television. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t really watch TV as a kid so I’m not obsessed with the idea of visual storytelling that’s done in a chapter format, or if it’s because I’m just obsessed with the idea of my stories getting out to as wide a range of people as possible. Could be both. Could be more than that, could be something totally different. I’m sure if I was pumped up on caffeine I’d have a different answer but I’m out of coffee, broke, and all I have his this really tasty cinnamon-apple tea. Hmmmm. Okay, where was I? Oh yes, TV.
Anyone who has ever turned on a TV and paid attention for more than five minutes knows that the format has a diversity problem. Especially the networks. The primary cast of characters across the board are white, male, twenty and thirty something, heteronormative, and ablebodied. When women are brought into the mix they are primarily blonde and thin. If you’re looking for a perfect example of the problem with broadcast media, look no further than CBS’s new comedy which is replacing the long running How I Met Your Mother. CBS’ Friends with Better Lives has a nearly identical cast doing typical, stupid things. At least, that’s what the trailers give me. And the problem is not limited to sitcoms. NBC’s Hannibal recently killed off one of it’s female (and Asian) characters, the long running procedural CSI was once populated with female techs and people of color and now features an all white main cast with only Alimi Ballard to show the diversity of Nevada. Props do go to ABC’s Once Upon a Time for having a female heavy cast and for casting Alexandra Metz as Rapunzel and Sinqua Walls as Lancelot. But these are not long term storylines. Law and Order SVU is yes, headed by the talented Mariska Hargitay, but for a precinct in New York, it’s an awfully white one. Other shows such as Sleepy Hollow and Brooklyn 99 are definitely upping the ante for the rest of the networks, but there’s a long way to go before even cable catches up. And all of that before we even get to queer characters or characters with disabilities. For more information, check out GLAAD’s annual report on minorities in media. They look at queer characters, people of color, people with disabilities, and then put it all into an easy to read report that all network VP’s should have stapled to their foreheads.
Which brings me to my point. For the second year in a row, I am applying for one of the network’s “diverse writers” positions. For the record, all of the major networks have some kind of diversity application process and as a queer woman, I definitely fall into their guidelines. There’s a part of me that really appreciates that the networks know they have a long way to go, that they have woken up to realize that they aren’t hiring enough diverse voices for their writing rooms and director pools. They even seem to be noticing that they aren’t hiring enough people of color or actors with disabilities to populate the stories that they are telling. So wrapped in the privilege they are afforded, it’s hard for them to take a step back and realize just how much they do not represent the country in which their stories are taking place. And even now, seeing these programs, knowing they exist, I am stunned by the lack of representation for all populations and it looks like things aren’t going to be any better this year. I get that the goal of the networks is to make money and so they fall back on tried and true formulas that have worked in the past. But I wonder, have the networks realized that maybe if they’d change their processes, maybe if they’d consider everyone when writing a role or casting for a character, maybe if they’d actually bring everyone to the table rather than have to create “diversity programs” that we’d all be making a hell of a lot more money? But then again, without these initiatives, without bringing those “different voices” to the table, they won’t know what else is out there. It’s a nasty Catch 22, but guess what, it’s a completely fixable one.
This is of course not limited to the TV world. Three years ago, I was honored to be awarded an Honorable Mention from the Utah Arts Council for my first book, Shadows in the Spotlight. Since then, I have had only one agent interested in my crew of gay, straight, and bisexual rock stars who are battling AIDS and drug addiction, and even that ended in a rejection. And while yes, I’m sure that I could do something to make the story punch even harder and there are always things that we writers can do better, I’m finding myself swimming in a world of confusion this year as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars comes to the big screen. Note that I haven’t read the book and what I’ve seen of Mr. Green’s youtube channel is informative and funny all at the same time. I even appreciate his posts on tumblr. But this is a white man writing first person from the perspective of a (straight, I believe) dying teenage girl. To me, that is a glass ceiling if I ever came up against one.
The frustrations that I as a bi writer who writes bi characters come across continue into my own publishing niche. Publishing companies are doing calls for more diversity, seeking out that which is different in our community – stories, for example, of bi characters. While I’m doing cartwheels at the chance to tighten up my first novel and send it in and hopefully finish the second one in their time frame, I can only sit back and wonder why it’s taken them to now to realize how much of society they’ve been blocking out.
So the never ending cycle of questions continues. After all, yes, I’m going to jump at the chance to apply for these programs or submit to these open calls. Of course I am! But why do I have to wait for their programs or open calls to happen? Shouldn’t they be wanting to change things, to bring everyone to the table? After all, the more people who are interested in your product, the more money we can all make.
And let’s not even talk about how impossible it feels to get a foot in the door with the TV world when you don’t live in LA. (Beyond the whole “that’s where it’s based” thing. That’s a given.)