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Break out the bongos…

…but I decided to take it down.

I haven’t really written any poetry since an undergrad class, so…I don’t know. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand I feel good about it, because I spent most of the day yesterday writing poetry, of all things, when I haven’t been writing much of anything at all lately. Which is good.

And the truly odd thing is that the subject matter is something I’ve been trying to figure out for years. Should this be prose? Should I fictionalize it? A series of essays? Etc. Poetry never occurred to me, because, like I said, it’s just not what I really do. But I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel exactly right. And I guess this is how these big decisions are made.

But to finish my previous thought, on the other hand, I’m really unsure about it. For a number of reasons, some personal, but some perfectly practical, like, “You don’t write poetry, how would you know if this is even any good?” I do read some poetry, but not very often. I don’t know…in any case, I’ve realized that I’m not perfectly comfortable letting other folks read it for right now. That said, though, I still feel good about it. Although my expertise is lacking, I think I’ve got a handful of pieces here that I can work with. And I feel better. It’s kind of a relief. And it’ll be interesting seeing how I can fit them together. Hmm. Yes. This is a good thing.

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woman-changing-baby-diaper-photo-420x420-ts-200390461-001Every now and then I need to take a break from social media—well, Facebook. Let’s face it, it’s mostly Facebook that this sort of thing occurs with enough frequency and depth that it becomes intolerable. See, someone, a writer, posted this article about people who still double space following a period, along with a comment that anyone who gets bent out of shape about this should get a life (to paraphrase). Of course, a couple of other writers chimed in to agree.

This conflict isn’t new. What I find most irritating about it is the number of writers who insist, hey, that’s how they learned to type and they’re not going to change just because it annoys some people. Here’s the thing: who is it going to annoy but editors and publishers? Perhaps some readers if, by chance, editors and publishers don’t correct it?

When I see/hear writers going on like this, what I really see/hear is someone telling me, an editor and publisher, that they don’t care what I think, nor do they care about my time. Which is interesting because, presumably, these writers are submitting their work to editors and publishers like me, hoping to get published (as a writer, that’s what I do). So, what kind of message is that to send to people from whom you want something?

So, like an idiot, I posted that. I also pointed out that this annoying, outdated “habit” (I’m not sure how habitual something is that you’re deliberately refusing to change) is one of a thousand things editors have to deal with, and those things add up. Which is what makes them so irritating. By themselves, they’re nothing. But many little things ball up into a larger, more unwieldy things. And when you’re a small press and you haven’t got six copy editors in the wings ready to run their eyeballs over every MS four times each, these things are a distraction from the bigger, important things.

And then here she comes—Ms. Relatively Well-Known, Well-Published Writer—to say that it’s not a big deal to fix, so whatever. And, again, like an idiot, I reiterate that little things add up. And really, easy fixes don’t change this shitty attitude from writers. She then proceeded to roll out her publication CV—twelve novels, three hundred other bits and pieces—in order to illustrate that not a single editor ever complained about her double spaces. And, no pro editor would.

No pro editor would.

Now, that’s pretty insulting. So, I say, so much for conversation and let her know that she could just reholster that ego of hers. Note: I honestly could not possibly care less how much you’ve published, where you’ve published. I don’t care about your awards and your nominations. (And none of these things make you an expert on being an editor.) I don’t care to begin with, but I am especially not apt to care when you’re parading them around for the sole purpose of trying to belittle someone who don’t even know for expressing an opinion. Not to mention…I didn’t say I complain to my writers, nor that I contact every sender of a sloppy MS just to let them know how irritating their double spaces are. I simply said that this kind of attitude—the attitude that writers would rather die, apparently, than attempt to change their typing habits, not just to make editors happy, but just to enter this Brave New World of publishing where, alas and alack, we actually require only a single space—doesn’t send a good message.

She then insisted that it was I who had the ego, because I interpret this backward typing behavior as a personal slight.

I couldn’t be bothered to point this out in the thread, because who has the time or the patience to interact with someone who 1) waves her pub credentials around as if they’re relevant, and 2) may be a writer, but isn’t much of a reader (I assume if she was, she’d have gotten the point of my original comment). But I’d like to lay it out here because I think it might be helpful.

I don’t interpret sloppy MSs as a personal slight. I’m perfectly aware that writers aren’t fucking up their own MSs just so they can piss off Kriscinda Lee Everitt. But here’s how I do interpret them: When I see a sloppy manuscript (including those with double spaces following a period, because this is so common and so standard at this point, you really have to wonder about the people who still do it), I see a writer who can’t be bothered to learn and implement some pretty elementary stuff. I’ve seen (many) MSs that look as if they were crapped out quickly, skimmed (if that), and actually sent as a submission, with the expectation, I can only assume, that the editor’s job is to wipe their ass now that they’ve “finished.”

So, let me clear that up right here. An editor’s job is not to wipe your ass.

When I’m looking for stories, I’m looking for great writing, great storylines, and often that is hard to see when you have to look past all this…mess. Now, imagine this—we’re trained to see the things that many people will gloss over. We spend hours and hours, page after page, searching character to character, looking for mistakes. So, when we’re presented with a MS that is a mess from beginning to end, it’s like an overload of all those tiny things, all at once. That’s what we see. We’re not being picky when we insist on reasonably clean MSs. When you give us your amazing story and the MS is a mess, it’s like asking us to look out upon some majestic vista and then flashing a blinding red light in our eyes every thirty seconds. It doesn’t matter how lovely the view is, we can barely see it. We’re trying, but it’s really hard.

Frankly, it’s hard even to try when it’s perfectly clear that the writer didn’t. It’s hard to care about someone’s work when it’s obvious that the writer doesn’t care about yours. And it’s downright impossible to feel enthusiastic about someone’s writing when you can see them on Facebook basically telling you to eat their shit sandwich and like it.

It’s not about ego. It’s about a mutual respect. And I don’t have a problem tossing someone’s story after the first page if that person didn’t have enough respect for me or my publication to not send me a MS that looked like a monkey typed it and expected to be taken seriously. It’s not personal. But writers, when you do this, you are sending a message.

And to be totally straight with you—I’m not entirely sure how writers can write and really call themselves writers when they don’t know the basic rules of grammar, can’t spell common words, don’t know how to use an apostrophe, and yes, can’t even re-train themselves on something so mechanical and simple as typing one single fucking space following a period.* We don’t say this because we prefer it. Because we like it better. Because, damn it, we’re demanding some arbitrary sacrifice on your end of it because we’re a bunch of assholes. It’s because it needs to be a single space. If it’s a double space, it will have to be changed. Why on earth would you put it there when you know it will have to be changed? Is it some collective writerly spite against editors and publishers? And for what? Because of our unforgivable desire to publish your writing? Is it our disgusting yearning to focus our energy on your prose, your story, your characters, etc. rather than go blind correcting every little mistake you either put in accidentally (totally fine) or insist on deliberately inserting for no apparent good reason?

We’re terrible people. I know.

So, that’s the bad. Here’s the good. Here’s what I can extrapolate from a reasonably clean MS. When I see a nice, clean MS, I am confident that the writer is taking his/her craft seriously and respects themselves, me, and my job enough to show it. It’s the difference between showing up to the job interview clean and presentable, or unshowered, unshaven, and wearing stretch pants. As I was determined to acquire the skills I needed as an editor, to become a good editor, they, too, have been willing to put in the time and effort to present themselves and their work in a professional, wonderfully readable manner. They’re not screwing around—they are serious and serious about working with you. They’re not likely to be a pain in the ass come actual editing time following the acceptance of their piece. They’re probably pretty good with deadlines, too. Those MSs, I can simply…read. I can clearly see their story, their characters, their subtext isn’t lost underneath a pile of superficial crap. It’s magical.

Let me repeat: An editor’s job is not to wipe your ass. I’m an adult. Presumably you are also an adult. And we’re both supposed to be professionals. I am one when I read. Are you one when you send your work to be read?

We’re there to work with you. We’re there because we want your amazing fucking stories. We’re taking this seriously (I certainly am), and yes, we do expect you to take it seriously as well. Because if you don’t, it doesn’t really make much sense that we’d take you seriously. Nor your work. And no, this isn’t personal. It’s strictly professional.

But what do I know? I’m clearly not a “pro.” See, pro editors, I’ve just learned, never complain. No…wait. That’s simply not true. Even pro editors complain. Quietly, maybe to other editors. But they’re not going to complain to you. They’re either going to bite the bullet and clean up your mess (before they can even get to work on your piece), or they will just toss it in the can and send you your rejection. We will also make fairly innocuous comments suggesting that perhaps going on in a public space about your basic contempt for people who give a shit about writing, doesn’t send the very best message if you want to publish with a press. This isn’t a fucking war, people. It’s not Writers vs Editors. And even if it was, I’m struggling on both sides. So, give me a break.

And again, this isn’t ego. Mutual respect. Try it sometime.

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*Storytime: I learned to type in a typing class, like many of you. I, too, was docked points for not double spacing after a period. It became habitual and remained so for many years. Until I learned that it was no longer standard and it was actually extra work, both for me and editors. The moment I figured that out, I retrained myself to single space. You know why? Because I want to do things right and I have no desire to hang onto outdated things simply because…why? What possible reason is there to hang onto this? Because it’s “too hard to change?” Save it. I’ve quit smoking, I’ve taken up exercise, I’ve done far, far more difficult things than change my double space following a period to a single space. Seriously, quit being such babies about it and get with the program.

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I’m just going to pull a bit to put here, but I suggest you click here to read the whole piece.

Horror’s Scariest Trend is the Nonexistant Black Filmmaker by Matt Barone

It took a comedian to broach the topic publicly. In an October interview with Playboy, Jordan Peele—half of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele sketch-comedy duo—revealed his lifelong dream of becoming a horror screenwriter and director. He’s currently writing a script called Get Out for Darko Entertainment, the production company of Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly. “[Get Out] is one of the very, very few horror movies that does jump off of racial fears,” Peele told Playboy. “That, to me, is a world that hasn’t been explored. Specifically, the fears of being a black man today. The fears of being any person who feels like they’re a stranger in any environment that is foreign to them. It deals with a protagonist that I don’t see in horror movies.”

This article touches on a lot, but I’ll just make this note here. Something to keep in mind when you’re thinking about minorities in film (and I can only speak to this as a woman, because we deal with the same issue) is that, by and large, society seems to only notice/care for films about black folks in terms of their race. People don’t seem to want to watch films about black folks who are, you know, just living their lives, with all the drama that comes with that, without even having to address the color of their skin. As a woman, this manifests as always having to identify first and foremost as a mother or wife, and an individual next (or last). We can’t just do things or think things because we are active and thinking people. I don’t think people who can’t relate to that understand (even a little bit) how narrow/shallow that makes your world.

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Great-Vocab-Didnt-Save-The-Thesaurus-From-Extinction_1838-lMuch to the horror of editors everywhere, lifehacker.com decided to pull this tidbit from a larger piece by Stephen King. It read as follows:

You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.


This is as bad as when he said not to use adverbs (as, sadly, did Elmore Leonard).

Don’t get me wrong. I love Stephen King as much as the next person who grew up reading everything he wrote. I do. And I get it, the point is to let nothing keep you from getting words down onto the page. But I wish he’d understand a few things. First is that websites can pull bits out of your writing articles and present it as some stand-alone advice, out of context. That’s never good. Unfortunately, the longer piece, titled “Stephen King: ‘Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully–in Ten Minutes,'” didn’t really provide the context one would actually need in order to successfully take this advice, and that is: Be intimately familiar with the English language.

I don’t know when King last trudged through a slush pile, but…it’s rough out there. And I’m not sure if he fully understands the power of his pulpit. There was once a time when horror writers would use adverbs sparingly and appropriately. But when Stephen King tells you to cut that shit out, you cut that shit out. How are you to become a multi-million-dollar-making writer if you don’t follow the advice of multi-million-dollar-making writers? And so, my slush pile is often filled with manuscripts overwhelmed by the most excruciatingly tortured sentences. Not better crafted sentences, not more interesting, more lyrically descriptive–not any of that. Just sentences twisted beyond actually being a sentence any longer…just to avoid using an adverb. I can’t tell you how many sentences I’ve fixed (or, created, really) by deleting 6-10 words and inserting one adverb.

And now, this. Ignore your dictionary. Toss your thesaurus in the trash.

True story: I once edited a manuscript that used the word “door” about thirty times over the span of two, two-and-a-half pages. That’s pretty extreme, but not unusual. Most exasperating, though, is the apparent belief that all words listed in the thesaurus (and yes, I own hardcopies of a number of reference books) are perfect synonyms. Totally interchangeable under all circumstances and in all contexts. And you know what helps me fix all of those (so very many) easily avoidable writing mistakes? My dictionary and my thesaurus.

Oh, but I’m an editor, you say. It’s my job! Well, I’m also a writer, and I consider one very important aspect of that job is to be familiar enough with the language to: 1) often not need a thesaurus because I pretty much know the word I need, or 2) know how to use the thesaurus when I need it.

I’m not sure what’s gone wrong here. I don’t know if English BAs were better back when he got his. Or, maybe it the problem of the Internet. It used to be that only folks who read vociferously, and/or who went and got their English degrees, BAs or higher, sat down and wrote stories. Today, not only with the self-publishing industry, but with the instant publication of blogging (like right here) anyone can sit down and write a story. It doesn’t matter if they love storytelling, or love the language. Some are just in love with the idea of being a “Writer.” And, sadly (particularly for us editors), they don’t read–and even if they read a lot, they’re not as likely to have read really great, challenging, beautiful writing. They skip that part, throw some words down, and call themselves “Writers.” It’s a little like someone who can’t sing starting their own rock band because they’re too impatient (or, they lack the talent) to learn to play guitar. All they know is that they want to be onstage with fog machines and pyrotechnics.

Now one of the genre’s heros just told them they don’t need the tools to write. These people don’t even have toolboxes to begin with. And I suppose I can now look forward to many new submissions using the same word over and over, because, hey, who needs a thesaurus?

I would much rather they took this writing advice by…oh, well, look. It’s by Stephen King. This is from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Regarding your writing toolbox, he says, “Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary” (p114). Unfortunately, this chapter also includes the adverb-hate advice, but let’s skip ahead to the next chapter, On Writing. Here, he says:

I am approaching the heart of this book with two theses, both simple. The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments. The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one. (p142)

Hmmm. That seems a whole lot more helpful than the “throw out your thesaurus” bit from lifehacker, and far more important than anything on his original “ten minute” list.

So, here is what I propose. To any writer out there who thinks that throwing out your references and just continually using the first word that comes into your head (and presumably the draft stays that way because, well, you’ve tossed your references), I suggest that you may indeed throw away all your reference books on one condition: You spend a minimum of four years (equivalent of a BA) and maximum of six years (equivalent of an MFA) doing no writing whatsoever and spend all your spare time only reading. 90% of what you read must be 1) intellectually and/or creatively challenging, and 2) outside of your preferred reading/writing genre.

I’m sure four-to-six years doing nothing but reading sounds rough. Tedious, even. You might even think it would take the fun out of reading, but think of it this way: the rest of us–we who know the value of vocabulary and know how to use our thesauruses–we’ve been doing this kind of reading our whole lives. That’s how we know the value of vocabulary and how to use thesauruses. Some of us even went on and did four-to-six actual years reading, often outside our genre of choice (and have the pieces of paper to prove it).

I’m going to strongly suggest following the advice of the latter quote here from King and not so much the former, at least, not until you’ve mastered the language in which you work. Before you throw out your dictionary and thesaurus, you’d better read. You’d better have read your age in years’ worth. You’d better damn well know the differences between an exit, an entry, an opening, a hatchway, an aperture, a portal, and a door. Better yet…just keep your references. Use them.

King said: Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.

…if you’re Faulkner, I suppose. If you’re Joyce Carol Oates, maybe. If you’re Stephen King, I guess. But you’re not. And neither am I. So take the poor, maligned thesaurus out of the trash, put it back on your desk (where it should be; your dictionary should be where you spend the most time reading…don’t know a word? Look it up), and use it when you need to. Because you will need to.

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Cognitive Dissonance

Let's see. White: check. Straight: check. Male: check. Now, let me sit down and learn something...

Let’s see. White: check. Straight: check. Male: check. Now, let me sit down and learn something…

Yesterday and today (it’s only 9am as I write this, so, gee, can’t wait for the rest of the day), I saw/see these two articles/essays making the rounds on Facebook. One, titled I read only non-white authors for 12 months. What I learned surprised me, and another titled I Challenge You To Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis, male Authors For One Year. I feel like the main thrust of these pieces would be apparent, even without clicking the links. But the responses I saw in the comments were overwhelmingly of this type: When I choose a book to read, I don’t consider the race, sexuality, or gender of the author. I just want a good story. Sometimes it got ugly, numerous comments (“liked” by plenty) suggesting that non-white, heterosexual, female/trans authors were simply playing their respective “cards” in order to sell books. The latter response is repugnant, ignorant, and shallow. The former, though, is what I’d like to address.

How can anyone read these pieces (or, even the titles, honestly) and still come away thinking the “I don’t see race/sexuality/gender” argument is remotely valid in any way (or, ever, really*)?

According to Wikipedia (that tried and trusted source), “cognitive dissonance” is “the mental stress or discomfort by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.”

I happened to have noted a while ago that I more often see the “I don’t see race/sexuality/gender” argument coming from my fellow progressives far more often than I see it used by folks, we’ll say, more traditionally known to be racist, sexist, and homophobic. This has always been pretty disappointing, but there it is. So, you’ve got these people running around, happy and comfortable in the idea that they are not contributing to the problems of race, gender, and sexuality because they are, indeed, not at all racist, sexist, or homophobic. How nice. Good for them. But, oh, when someone points out to them that their reading list is primarily made up of straight, white, male authors, the cognitive dissonance sets in: “Oh noes. I’m not any of those bad things, and yet, my reading list seems to reflect an underlying predisposition to these bad things! What do I do?” And up goes the idiot mental block. “I shall simply say that I do not see race, gender, nor sexuality, and, like magic…MAGIC…I am above it all. ABOVE IT.”

Just…stop that. Let’s all go put on our big girl/boy/trans pants on and have a look at this as adults, shall we?

You are experiencing the icky discomfort, and yes, shame, of being a member of our society and culture. Not very nice, is it? I know, because I experience it too. *shudder* It’s gross. It was brought home to me with a reading experience I had last night, which I’ll return to later.

But, for the moment, let’s all pretend we’re perfect. Got it? Are you perfect? Good. Relax in that comfort and, in this moment of mental clarity brought on by this happy lie, let me explain the point of these year-long reading exercises. You don’t have to get defensive about them now, because, hey, you’re perfect and none of this applies to you.

The point of these exercises is to break the cognitive dissonance you’re feeling right now (or, were feeling a moment ago, before you turned perfect). In terms of our personal comfort, it’s a trial by fire. Not the reading itself. I imagine the reading itself is rather fantastic. It’s the getting past the recognition that, no, you’re not perfect–you do carry a lot of societal baggage and it affects you in ways you don’t even know, until someone points it out and you go into idiot mental block mode. That is the trial. The point of deliberately going out of your way to find authors that aren’t immediately on your radar (and yes, white, straight male writers are more likely to be on yours and everyone else’s radar because that’s what society puts in front of us–and let’s not fool ourselves with the stupid idea that it’s all based on merit. Hahaa…oh, I made myself LOL with that one. Pardon. ) for a year is so that, by the end of that year, your hard work has paid off. You now know where to find books by these authors (because yes, you have to look for them). You now know that these authors are more than their stereotypes. And, holy shit, maybe you even now know (and aren’t just assuming, because you want to be good, right?) that these authors, who are in some way, or ways, different than you, care about and think about the same things you do. Wow. Common ground. It’s amazing what you learn when you go back to the basics, which is that we’re all human (well, most of us). And hey, that’s basically what has enabled us non-white, non-hetero, non-male readers to read all of that straight, white male lit for all these many, many years. If we can do it all our lives, I promise that you can do it for a year.

What the point of this exercise isn’t? I can tell you, it’s definitely not to shame straight, white, male authors. And it’s not to shame you for reading them. By all means, read what you want. But a relatively simple exercise like this can result in only good things. You’re expanding your reading base in terms of variety and points of view, which, in turn, opened your mind to relationships that you probably thought were closed to you because of cultural differences. You’re a step closer to closing that gap. And the next time someone challenges your inherent goodness with a reading exercise, you won’t get all bunched up and defensive. You’ll say, “Fuck yeah, I’m totally doing that.”

And, in fact, I think I’m totally going to do that (fuck yeah!). Because last night, I was in bed reading. I was reading Nelson Algren’s Somebody in Boots. I was about 94 pages into a 256-page novel when I just couldn’t (even) anymore. It’s a story of the down and out white men of the 20s and 30s, with a particularly spineless protagonist. Which is fine. But, I found that I could no longer read about how terrible these men had it–and they did have it bad. Homelessness is horrible–the filth, the hunger, the constant fear, the sickness, the exhaustion, the loneliness, the everything. Terrible. And I could have stuck with it, save two things: 1) in 94 pages, I had yet to see any inkling from this protagonist to try something different and perhaps change his situation (for better or worse, the active decision making was pretty scarce), and 2) the gang rape of a black, female fellow transient. As I read, I could hear this little voice in my head saying, “If he rapes her, I’m done. If he rapes her, I’m done.” And slowly, she was incapacitated, thrown down, and:

Now there came into Cass’s heart and dark and terrible desire. Drawn by a power more strong than himself, like a strong hand pushing him from behind, he went closer and closer. About him others moved slowly closer. All moved slowly, and in silence, toward the black woman. The air became charged with the smell of the woman, they all smelled the dark woman, her thighs and her womb: womb, belly, and breasts; her thighs flexing in fear.

They were all of them men; they were  men without women.

So, they raped her. Because they are men, men without women, and we all know that women are only good for one thing. He raped her, this protagonist to whom I was supposed to be sympathetic. And I was done.

I understand that gang rapes happen. But I can’t move on to page 95 with a protagonist who hasn’t even got the basic willpower of human decency not to brutalize those below him, as though his own lot were as low as it goes. Because, hell, I can turn on the news and see that every day, today, among the reasonably affluent. It was here, reading this, that it became so glaringly clear that, although I’m sure Algren assumed he wrote for anyone who would read his books, this book was not in any way written for me, a woman. Our cultural blanket inclusion is anything but inclusive. It is the inclusion of straight, white men, which is what we all see as “baseline average/normal” whether or not we are straight, white men. And the vast majority of what dominates our literary landscape is written from the perspective of straight, white men, for straight, white men, whether the authors knew it, or meant to do it. Just like you and I don’t really mean for our reading lists to be chock full of straight, white men. It’s just what it is. It’s the “norm.” Hey, because we’re all included, right? Well…we’re not.

And there I was, enjoying the prose style of this book written by a straight, white man (a leftist who expected Simone de Beauvoir to be the submissive in the relationship, no less), like I have for my entire life, and I just couldn’t anymore. The prose could no longer cover up the alienation I’ve always felt reading these books–these books that, despite how much in them I did relate to, were in no way written with me in mind. I could say that I’m exempt from this reading exercise, because I’m a woman and I know how it feels. But that’s bullshit.

So, consider this a friendly, if irritated, wake-up call to my progressive comrades who generally consider themselves not racist, sexist, or homophobic, but who seek to alleviate the discomfort of their own cognitive dissonance by using the “I don’t see race/sexuality/gender” argument cop-out.* Cut it out. The discomfort of your cognitive dissonance is but a tiny fraction of the discomfort felt every day by non-whites, women, trans folk, and gays. It’s nothing. It’s like whining about needing a band-aid for your paper cut while the guy next to you is gutted and bleeding to death. Suck it up, tough it out, and in the end, if you can manage the make it through a year-long reading challenge like this, actually be the better person, instead of just assuming you are one. And although I, myself, am bleeding to death, I can look around the emergency room and see that I’m not the only one, and although the blood is all red, the wounds are different, in different places, and some bleed more than others, some less, but all are far worse than a paper cut.

Am I going to stop reading straight, white male authors? Of course not. That’s stupid. But my reading list is definitely getting an overhaul and, poor me, I’ll just have to deal with the extra work of that.

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*Important side note: this tactic of claiming that you’re so enlightened that you’re somehow above the fray and don’t need to consider these things is really comfortable for you (go ahead and pat yourself on the back), but, in reality, it’s detrimental to actually solving the problems of race, sexuality, and gender discrimination. You are part of the problem. These issues are like cancer–it does not go away by denying and ignoring it. Doing that only gives it free reign to grow and wreck everything. And admit it, if you read on Facebook that someone died after deliberately choosing to ignore their cancer, you’d think, “Duh. What a moron.” Well…that’s what we’re thinking about you. Sorry. Truth.

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WmarriageCFact: I never dreaded the month of February until it became Women in Horror Month. I dread it because it’s like taking all the bullshit women have to deal with generally throughout the year and magnifying it a thousand times in the area that, to us, is supposed to be a safe space. While it’s nice to see the many posts featuring women and what they’re doing in horror, it’s impossible not to be irritated by the fact that this only happens one month out of the year, and then inevitably, there’s conflict. And, again, nothing new here, except that when it happens during this particular month, it becomes intolerable (more so than usual). And frankly, I’m usually so exhausted by the constant year ’round outrage regarding my gender that by the time February rolls around, I just can’t. Not even.

But I’m going to say something this year. This is mainly inspired by a wonderful post by writer and well-known swell guy, John Edward Lawson. Go ahead and have a read. It’s not long, and it’s very good.

I want to address two things. One, this:

Yet I still find myself somehow wandering into the nigger conversation. You know that one. I’m standing with a bunch of guys and the conversation veers toward the subject of women, and bit by bit, we meander to the point where if you replace the word “women” with the word “niggers” you realize you’re having the same conversation being held at the regional KKK headquarters. No need to look back to wonder at how free folk conducted themselves during slavery or reconstruction or the Jim Crow era when we can simply observe the men in our lives.

I’d like to thank Big Black John deeply for saying the thing we can’t say. Well, we can, but not without being called racist.

Here’s something a lot of people don’t know. Women’s movements had their beginnings in the Abolitionist movement. When women began fighting for the rights of African Americans, they weren’t thinking of themselves and their own rights. But as they worked against slavery alongside men (and speaking to men), it became glaringly apparent that their lack of rights was preventing them from being able to fight fully. By this, I mean that women weren’t permitted to be so publicly active, and so when they took part in anti-slavery gatherings, or, Universe forbid, tried to actually speak, they were met with anger and sometimes violence–not because of the words coming out of their mouths, but because they were women attempting to engage publicly.

And so here’s what happened. In some cases, they were pushed out of the anti-slavery movement (because the men thought their struggle was a distraction from the “real” struggle) and actually had to go form their own all-women groups to continue the fight against slavery. From these women/groups came the Women’s Rights Movement. And in the end, the women abolitionists were sorely disappointed that their anti-slavery comrades, in fact, didn’t support their own rights and need for freedom. I’d like to take this moment right here to point out that, if you think domestic violence and murder statistics are appalling today, I’m sure you can imagine with what level of impunity that sort of thing was carried out with during the mid-19th century. And if a person has no freedom of movement, of speech, to choose what one does with one’s life, and suffers severe emotional, psychological, and often physical reprisals (not to mention the economical threats), is this really less than “slavery” simply because the men calling the shots are using this particular group of people to bolster their egos and sense of masculinity? She may be a bird, but she’s a bird in a cage.

While the horror of slavery was ended, women’s slavery has never been acknowledged. Black men were able to vote well before women, and while we got the Civil Rights Act in ’64, despite being introduced every year since 1972, we still can’t get the Equal Rights Act passed (for your information, it was originally written and introduced in 1923). I’m not saying that everything’s been great since the ending of slavery, or black men getting the vote, or the Civil Rights Act. It’s been a slow, grinding road to “equality” (whatever that means anymore), and today, in 2015, racism is alive and well–robust, even–everywhere you look, literally. Literally. And so is sexism, except women haven’t enjoyed quite as many large scale, official, public acknowledgements that they have been wronged by society. We still struggle to be taken seriously–in the workplace, in our homes, hell, just in a simple conversation. Worse, we’re still having to prove that we’re beaten and raped. We still have laws that tell us what we can and can’t do with our bodies. If a girl’s shoulders are showing in school, she’s the one who has to change her behavior, not the boy whose inability to control his raging hard-on is actually the problem. And if he rapes her? Her fault. If a woman is in an abusive relationship and she leaves, she was too demanding. Her expectations were too high. When she doesn’t leave, she deserves to be beaten.

So, this is what we’re looking at. Which brings me to my second point. John wrote:

Women don’t exist just in the horror scene, so the condemnation has to be considered within the larger context of society. A single metal post is not threatening, so focusing on it seems silly until you realize many more encircle you forming a cage.

Exactly. I find that the men working within the horror community get extremely defensive, acting as if they’re being unfairly singled out. “Men in horror” are being picked on. Here’s something that would be really great if both men and women in horror would keep in mind. The treatment of women in horror, by men in horror, is but a tiny fraction of what exists in the world in terms of male/female relations. If someone in the horror community decides to tell me I’m ugly, my reaction could go one of two ways. I could have a meltdown (and therefore be blowing it out of proportion), or I could ignore it (and therefore be “unsupportive” of women). The thing is, both of those reactions are completely justified. I might freak out over it because it’s just the cherry on the cake of my week, which was full of misogynistic ramblings on the Internet–abortion, yoga pants, go-make-me-a-sammich, etc. etc., getting cat-called on the street and then called a “bitch” because you didn’t respond with a smile and, I don’t know, offer a blowjob, and maybe all of this bullshit drudged up those extremely unpleasant memories of that (or those) abusive relationship(s) you thankfully managed to extricate yourself from. Or, worse, the one you’re in right now. The one that even if you did go to a shelter (because that’s your only choice), no one’s going to stop him from killing you.

And ignoring it is reasonable as well, because maybe you’re like me and you’re just fucking tired. Just sick and tired of all of it. Whatever the case, no reaction is good enough, as usual. As with everything. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But, to you, Horror Community, women and men, I say to you…your interactions against the backdrop of “horror” is such a small piece of the larger problem. When you both put so much of your identity into this one area–this genre–it takes on the illusion of being separate. Like, some sort of oasis where the troubles of regular society can’t possibly reach.* So, you think you’re better than you are, or you think it’s worse than it is. Comparatively, it’s pretty much the same. It’s such a huge and complex web of social, political, economical threads that few people really sit down and even attempt to consider from all angles. And yet, here we are in this little corner of our culture–the horror genre–and we act like these problems begin and end at its doorstep. They don’t. They never did.

Fact: Women have lived without equality far longer than the “horror genre” has existed. “Horror” is but a child by comparison. And for every woman horror writer you can think of, you can name five men. How many of you can name (without Googling it) five women who fought for the abolition of slavery first before going on to fight for their own freedoms?

I can rip the men of horror twelve brand new assholes every February because, frankly, one of them does something stupid. Sexist. Someone always does. Because February is when they have the most fun, the misogynists of the genre. It’s when they can illicit the best, most spectacular responses. Me? I like to blow up once a week at everything happening inside and outside the genre, because raging fury never sleeps, nor does in acknowledge boundaries. The men in the horror community have a long way to go before the women in the same community will feel equal. That’s just a fact, because it’s only a microcosm of the larger problem. And guess what? It’s not my job, nor my responsibility, to point out the changes these men need to make. You know why? Because we’re all adults. If you can’t figure it out, that’s your problem. I’ll just step over you on my way to the buffet.

So, in closing–everyone have fun fighting this month. We could use more thoughtful, intelligent posts like John’s. We could use more understanding. We could use, in all honesty, a fucking history lesson, and a whole lot more perspective. But that requires work, and who’s got time for that?

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*And don’t get me wrong–I get it. We’re all, on some level, societal misfits. This community is where we’re supposed to feel socially safe. Unfortunately, it’s not safe. It’s no different here than anywhere else. And I do believe that that disappointment on the part of women is felt so much more acutely. Men who are social misfits find solace in their fellow freaks/geeks in various genre communities. Women often find…socially inept men, who are, disappointingly, often worse than the “normal” men out there in the world. We have no refuge but with each other, and we’re so damaged by sexism in society that we fight amongst ourselves (and you’ll find this in any “minority”). There is no safe harbor.

You want references? Here you go.

Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movements in the United States by Eleanor Flexner and Ellen Fitzpatrick

Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History by Anne Firor Scott

The Grounding of Modern Feminism by Nancy F. Cott

No, not something you can skim over on the Internet. Go read a damn book.

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I don’t usually write reviews. Maybe I should. I left this over at Amazon for the lovely and talented Mr. John Boden:

Given previous reviews here, it would be too easy to fall into repetition. Yes, this book is unique (for real, not incorrect “unique” as in “different,” but correct “unique,” as in “singular”.) It is a gritty, nihilistic tale slipstreaming behind the guise of our collective childhood nostalgia. Best, it’s subtle. This brand of unpleasantness has been done before, but always in a look-at-me manner that disarms the entire project from the start, rendering it toothless. I’ve never seen nor read anything along these lines that didn’t have me rolling my eyes and thinking, “Yeah, yeah…” long before finishing. With DOMINOES, nothing got rolled at any point, except perhaps my small, black soul. The overall experiment itself is unique as a collective assembly—beautifully constructed in every way. It is a book you do not want to have on your shelf because you’d rather it be lying around so passers-by can see not just the spine, but the whole thing. But the inside is where it gets really exciting…

…refreshing? I’m questioning this word because it feels wrong, but I know it’s actually right. As I said, this kind of thing has mostly waffled embarrassing, like, say, someone insisting that KISS is still shocking today. DOMINOES had finally gotten it right, and has set the bar high. Anyone attempting this from this point onward will have to top this, and to them I say, “good luck.” So, in that way, it is refreshing. But Boden’s style overall is refreshing in terms of horror. While this book seems short, seems like an easy read, it isn’t. It can be. If you want, I suppose. But it can, and probably should, be much more. It is a slow, burning read. You can skim the keywords and enjoy your stabs in the eye that way, or you can drag your stabbed eyes over each line slowly, carefully, and savor the embedding gravel from the pavement as you go. This is a thinker, and the more you think, the darker it gets and the sadder, more uncomfortable you feel inside. And if that isn’t getting what you paid for with some horror reading, I do not know what is.

Kudos to Boden, Bouchard, and the powers that be at Shock Totem. I need this to be a series. I need this to not be the end of this kind of experimentation. I need what’s next. We can all blame Boden for that.

Pick it up. No joke.

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