Sunday, August 30, 2015
Friday, August 28, 2015
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
b Jean Roberta
Much has been written about writer’s block, the internal censor, and various other personal demons that interfere with the flow of inspiration. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, conceived of story-killing depression as a group of evil characters called Dementors and included them in the plot so that she could write around them, so to speak.
The last few posts here have dealt with some of the external factors, or impersonal demons, that discourage writers. Changes in the publishing industry that have resulted in dwindling rates of pay and a dwindling market for innovative work, plus the free-for-all of self-publishing, can make it look almost impossible to have a writing career.
Aside from (or in addition to) all that, broad and clichéd writers’ guidelines are unhelpful. I’ve read too many messages on publishers’ sites that say something like this: “We set up shop because we thought it was time for someone to publish interesting work that engages the reader. We like believable characters, strong plots, and fresh language. We are completely different from all other publishers.” Sometimes a shortened version of this (“Enter the unique world of XYZ Press!”) appears below an editor’s name on a rejection message. More honest guidelines advise writers to read what XYZ has already published to get a sense of what they accept.
Harassment is another thing that seems guaranteed to harm any sensitive person – as writers tend to be, since we need to be attuned to our own consciousness and our own emotional climate. Some sites, both on-line and in the real world of writers’ events, need to be marked like medieval maps with images of dragons in the wild places.
During my annual two months off from teaching, when I hope to achieve phenomenal word-counts per day, and make at least a good start on a book or two, I’ve disappointed myself. Self-doubt has set in, as usual. When I’m surrounded by students and colleagues, I dream of having the time and solitude to write. Alone in a room with a computer, some notes, and a list of calls-for-submissions, I wonder if I am too out of touch with the general zeitgeist to write anything that would be meaningful for anyone else.
If I’m below the radar, however, I’m less likely to be a target for attack than writers who engage more regularly with on-line commentators. During the past few months, while taking part in an awards contest as a judge and co-editing a “best-of” anthology, I’ve become aware of feuds, sock-puppet identities, and the trashing of writers by other writers. I know it’s possible to grow a thick-enough skin to appear impervious to insults, but I’m not sure it’s possible to prevent unexpected hostility from wrecking one’s concentration. Recovery probably requires disconnecting from the on-line world, at least temporarily.
I sometimes wonder how to develop tough-minded resistance to rejection, snark, bad reviews and threats of violence while staying open to new ideas and editing advice. I wonder if any writer has really achieved that kind of balance.
The book I’m supposed to be writing is a work of creative non-fiction (to use a broad term) on “censorship” in various forms, focusing on my personal experience. A local publisher is waiting to read my approach to political conflicts in the writing/publishing world. Reading about vicious trashing which has not affected me directly reminds me of less-drastic ideological conflicts in my “real” life during the past twenty years.
I’ve written here before about a persistent belief on the political Left that grammar is inherently racist and elitist, that the best writing is “free” (an unedited stream of consciousness), and that language should float somewhere above the specific cultures that produce it. This set of beliefs drives me crazy. I can’t agree that the most incoherent student essays are beautiful in their own way. Saying this in public, however, seems likely to get me banished by the cool kids.
Then there is the more traditional objection to anything written by or about those who are not white, male, heterosexual, and “normal.” This bias shows up in the form of some editors,’ publishers,’ and reviewers’ preferences for work written by and about white men, and in complaints within the Ivory Tower that academic standards have slipped because of the introduction of “women’s studies” and “queer” and “ethnic” or international programs.
Traditional bias can seem to come from different directions, but it is always based on the same theme. As a teenage writer, I was warned by my boyfriend at the time that I should write about boys, not girls, so that my writing would appeal to more readers. As a graduate student in the local English Department, I argued with my academic father AND my faculty advisor about “women’s lit.” My father’s themesong was, “What’s wrong with Shakespeare?” as though I wanted to remove every Shakespeare play and poem from the curriculum to make room for the work of unknown women, and possibly for gangsta rap.
Defenses of a traditional literary “canon” as the only literature worth reading seem as long-lived as the racism of 1910. This stuff is the blood-sucking vampire or the rotting zombie that will not go away quietly, and which can’t be killed with logic.
For better or worse, I will soon enter the circus of Fall Semester in the university where I teach. For academics as well as Jews, September is really the beginning of the year. I’m hoping the new and the fresh (new students, some new colleagues, newish subject-matter, cooler temperatures) will be inspiring.
Somehow, in spite of everything, I’m never completely silenced. Many other writers continue writing as well, and I know from reading their work that the Muses aren’t stingy with their blessings. To keep going, it seems as if we all have to cherish a level of optimism that looks naïve on the surface. I like the statement that things always turn out well in the end because if they aren’t going well, it isn’t the end.
Monday, August 24, 2015
by Kathleen Bradean
While I agree with Remittance Girl's assessment of the state of erotica, I also wonder at times if there ever existed such a genre as literary erotica. There were exceptional works: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Little Birds, Story of the Eye. But was it really a genre? Have we been forever looking back to a golden age that never existed, and did we do that while we were in our own golden age for erotica?
Must over those questions if you wish, but what I'm more interested in is the future. If erotica - literary erotica - is forever changed and not in ways that we like as writers, what the hell are we supposed to do? The publishing world is in a constant state of upheaval. Most of the publishers who put out literary erotica aren't supporting it anymore. So many annual anthologies are falling by the wayside.
Under a different pen name, I write a series of science fiction thrillers. I've kept it rather clean since my father, kids, nieces and nephews read them, but I feel constrained. There are scenes I imagine going much further. It feels dishonest to fade to black when I could so easily scorch the pages instead. I've even thought about doing fanfic of my own work and writing those scenes to purge them from my imagination. I'm sure some of my fans wouldn't mind reading those scenes.
But what about other writers who don't have an alternate outlet? Or what if writing fanfic of my own work isn't in the cards for me? Things look bleak.
I'm tired of bleak. It isn't a good look on me. So here's what I plan to do:
Many of you know that I've long wondered if erotica is really a genre. Sometimes it fits into other genres, but generally it's literary fiction. Meaning that it's written in the genre style of literary fiction. (As opposed to the genre style of romance, which is the style erotic romance is written in). So I'm going to (after I write the next two books in my scifi series) write a story. A literary novel. It is not going to be a series of sex scenes loosely tied together by a story. But unlike my scifi novels, it will not fade to black when and if my characters have a sexual moment. It will probably use sex and sexuality to explore my characters. Most of all, it will be decadent with desire and sensuality. It will be lush. It may never be published. I'm fine with that. Really, at this point, I'm only writing erotica for myself.
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 12:54 AM
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Friday, August 21, 2015