Month: January 2016

Writing While Female Part IV – What Can We Do?

Part I

Part II

Part III

So what do we do?  How can we help?  We know it’s a problem to write while female.  We understand the institutionalization that has happened, that leads people to define ‘good story’ so narrowly.  That lets people say they aren’t discriminating, they are just choosing ‘good stories’ and those happen to be written by men, not women.

Here are some ideas:

Educators:  Teach outside your comfort zone.  Teach that others exist.  That their voices exist.  That they matter.  Express your confusion and be honest with your students.  Ask your students what they think of a story that is from a tradition outside your own and then do it again and again.  The first time will be tough.  The first time you won’t like it.  But if you do it more often things become familiar, and if they become familiar you’ll like it more.  You have to make other voices familiar.  You have to make the truth that there are other voices, other types of writers, familiar.

The reading lists I got in school were Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men and our radical teacher had us read Canticle for Leibowitz.  It wasn’t until grad school that I finally read Beloved for a class.  Until a professor told me about James Tiptree, Jr.   Camus, Dickens, Steinbeck, Barth, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Kesey, Vonnegut, etc.  Those names had been the ones that mattered in academia.  And in my grad school, outside of the one class on magical realism, women writers weren’t there either.

We can’t do this to our next generation.  We cannot limit their minds so much.  We cannot limit their world.  There are anthologies to pour through, sites out there to help.  Find them.  Research them.  Show your students the process and the importance of the process.  Ask for help from others.  Ask your students what they read.  Ask others what they teach.

Learn and share that learning.  Expand your world and the world of your students.

Editors:  Read everything.  Search out new things to read and read more.  Don’t give up after one story from a group you’re not used to reading.  I’ll use the metaphor of a friend the first time she ate a samosa.  At the first bite she scrunched her face.  I asked if it was because she didn’t like it or didn’t understand it.  She thought and said didn’t understand.  It was a different taste spectrum than hamburgers and. . . ham.  So she took a second bite.  Then a third to try and understand what those sensations were.

I have now had discussions with many editors, online and at AWP and other conferences, about the lack of representation.  The conversation often starts the same, “I don’t discriminate, I just know what a good story is.”  When I press how they know they talk about the same schooling I received, the admitted limit of their not knowledge and familiarity with and understanding of different stories.  Sometimes there was a dawning awareness about their definition of ‘good’ and that hidden bias lurking there.  Because the bias isn’t even that female stories=bad, but that female stories should involve specific things because men have been writing female for years.

You need to read everything.  You need to search out things and read them.  You need to search out people who aren’t you and ask them what you should read.  You need to become familiar and see there is more than one story and more than one way to write it.  Stop the self-imposed tunnel vision.  Heck, why not with each submission you ask the writer to include their favorite story and start researching from their – an eager audience.  Or their favorite story by a female writer.  Or something to start the conversation and include those voices.

Oh, and my friend?  On the third bite she realized the samosa was way to spicy and she spit it out.  And it’s okay to hate stories written by people that aren’t your check box on an application.  It’s not okay to hate them out of that implicit bias, though. Learn to know the many ways one can write a good story, so you can know the ways in which they can’t.  It will help us all.

Writers:  Write.  Don’t be afraid.  Put it on the page.  Stand up and write and love yourself and understand it hurts and it’s hard and it’s defiance.

Recognize, too, that there is more than one story and read.  Read everything, like I said to editors above.  Read it all and experiment and try and help each other try and read and write and expand your own ‘who influenced you as a writer’ lists.

Readers:  Read.  Like the above read everything.  Discuss.  Ask questions.  Ask so many questions about what you are reading and what you aren’t reading.  This is the opposite of Where’s Waldo here.  We aren’t asking you to find the man but to look at a bookshelf and see what isn’t there and seek that out among the pages and pages of Waldo’s.  Be voracious in your searching and your reading.

Community:  All of the above and support.  We need to support each other.  We need to open discussions and swap names and stories and ask so much of each other.  We need to hold each other to this.  We need to stop the tunnel vision and the anger and the fear of the unknown that walks around each day.  That is in our homes and our schools and our work.  Because women are hear, even if at times we aren’t seen or heard.  And our ideas just might work.

 

 

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On Writing While Female – Part III

Part I

Part II

I now write my experiences.  The female experience.  How when I take public transportation men don’t take no for an answer when asking me to ‘get freaky with them’ and have followed me, or punched the side of the train behind my head.  How I can’t walk outside because that’s ‘male space’ and if a man talks to me and I don’t respond, it’s a violation of their domain and they get angry, scream, threaten.  How so many of us have been violated in some way or another by men.  (So, two things here.  I have had two serious stalkers in my life, both ended up in jail for seriously hurting and in one case killing other people.  When life as a female comes up in social groups I often say I haven’t met a woman who hasn’t had a stalker.  And guess what?  Everyone then comments on theirs from the past.  I still haven’t met a woman who hasn’t had a stalker.  The other thing is the percentage of women that are molested.  Last time I followed the stalker question up with this one, every woman also raised their hand.  It’s harrowing, but none of us weren’t in some way violated.)

It’s not easy to identify as female, and there’s a reason I’m saying ‘identify as’ rather than ‘am’.  And it goes to the abuse.  So much abuse.  To be female is to not belong except as an object.  It is to fight every day just to stand.  To feel like you need to apologize for everything, every thought, that you have to step off the sidewalk to a curb when a man is walking down the middle if you don’t want to get run into.  To not matter.  This was drilled into me.  My brother was a man and mattered, I did not.  A common poem repeated in my house was, “A Woman a Dog and a Walnut Tree, the more you beat them the better they be.”

Of course I didn’t want to be female or a girl or anything like that, but I knew I wasn’t a boy and couldn’t be a man.  I denied my gender and sexuality for a long time, and feel I’m still in the process of claiming it.

Writing female is hard because there is this history of female voices not being anything but chatter.  Background noise. The braying of a mule or barking of a dog.  And this, I think, is the most horrifying thing of all and is certainly a horror motif- to be screaming as you’re attacked but having no sound come out.  No one to hear you despite being in a crowd.

And there aren’t spaces on the Table of Contents for you either.  Because editors raised the same way as I, on male stories, say ‘I judge the story, not the writer’ but arne’t seeing the limitations in their view when they read.  They aren’t see the limitations in their idea of a ‘good story.’

And this is why, as hard as it is, I write horror.  I write female.  I’m balancing out the use of male characters now, but I try to be cognizant of their use, the maleness, and why I am writing them in.  It’s time to get the word out that female leads, female writers, that what they have to say in the canon matters.  We do that by writing it.  By not fitting in anymore, but standing up and out despite the new horrors that come from this simple act of defiance.  I’m tired of being a man’s shadow.  I am my own person, and my own writer.  It may greatly limit my chances at publication, but when I do get a story published I no longer feel I’m part of the problem or ‘passing’ as a female who can write as well as a male.  I’m a woman who can write well.

My name is Victorya Chase.  I identify as female.  And I am a writer.

(Tomorrow – Part IV – What can we do?)

 

On Writing While Female (Part II)

For Part I please go here:  Part I 

I started writing women.  Strictly women. If there was a romance needed, they were both women.  Or, in one case the lead was a woman and she turned to a Real Doll. And (even though I said I wasn’t going to muddy with race, here I go) I wrote non-white.  I mean, I had lived in NYC a long time before I went to grad school.  I don’t think I had a single white friend those 14 years, not a close one at any rate.  So why was I writing all white characters?

The response was not good.  In fact, I got comments about how I was weird.  Asking why I wasn’t writing about white people, etc.  And these were the written comments. (one poignantly asked, “What’s with all the Asians?  She also asked why my lead wasn’t a waitress because she did live in NYC after all, sigh.”)  I was veering from the contract I had signed by going to an MFA – to propagate dominant culture.  To be part of that ivory tower system of sameness.  This anger toward me meant I was going in the right direction.  But I was being alienated even more.

As part of our graduation we had to stand in front of an audience at a scheduled reading and be the ‘opening act’ for a published writer, friends of the faculty usually.  I read a piece that not only was modular, but the star was a non-straight half-Filipina woman.  This piece has since been published and then reprinted twice (Dreaming of the Mananangaal).  While for my peers, those I had gone through 3 years with, I had attended their readings, given some bottles of wine at their readings, congratulated them, etc. I got one text congratulating me and a lot of faces that turned away.  NOT ONE of my professors attended my reading.  Not even my thesis advisor.

However, the rest of the community was amazingly supportive.  A professor who had been pushed out (and is now the head of a wonderful community based writing program) said it was probably the best student reading in five years.  Undergrads were energized and coming up to me saying how much I had inspired them.  One of the poets in the program told me how beautiful the piece was, and how he thought it was poems at first and then it morphed into a story.

And I finally realized that I was on the path to my voice.

Back to Horror

When I’m asked why I write horror I say that I don’t, that I just write about being a woman and since most editors are male, they read it and go ‘shit, this is scary’ and suddenly there I am on the TOC with the menfolk.

I wish that statement was more joke than it is.  The story in Cemetery Dance is based off real events not just for me, but for many women.  When a woman says something, it isn’t always believed.  In fact, there’s a general institutional doubt of women speaking the truth, or their voices being valid.  If I go back to my MFA class, so many times a female would make a comment and the professor would nod, then a guy would make the same comment and the professor would smile, validate, and leap the conversation off of it.  This happens A LOT.  It’s like I’m standing in a room with a hand over my mouth (not my own hand) when I speak.

My story, “Anti-Theft,” deals with a woman who is having things replaced in her home and the cop who doesn’t believe her.  And I’ve had that happen too- only even more dire.  I got a death threat from a person from my past after they saw my name in an antho.  The threat was in writing.  Part of it said the phrase used in every Criminal Minds episode, “I love you too much and you are hurting me by staying away.  It’s a nine hour drive to where you live.  If you don’t reply in your own handwriting I will drive over there and purge you from my life.”

No shit, right?  Clear as day?  I mean – I hadn’t contacted them for ten years, I was in a different state and this shows up certified mail having never given out my address.  No brainer.

The male cop said, “They just love you and miss you,” and no amount of WTF read the letter, look at this, understand they’ve killed my pets in the past would convince him that I was anything more than overreacting to a missive of love and longing.

This happens every time I go to the doctors, too.  I’ve had very harrowing experiences when the male doctor has just told me I have anxiety, or as a woman I do certain things, think certain things, that I’m not really sick even though I am (one led to a rough exam I should have reported, but I was convinced it wouldn’t do any good).  They ignore what I am saying and focus on the gender, and the devaluing occurs.  (This is also part of why I now work in with doctors even though I don’t go to them as often as I should- my pat answer to what I do is ‘teach them to not be dicks’ which is way hard to do).  Women doctors do the same thing.  Medicine is a patriarchal institution and just as my first story that got me ‘into the establishment’ was about a man because that’s the story I learned was important, so do women doctors learn to distrust female patients.

(to be continued. . . .)

On Writing While Female (Part I)

Hi.  My name is Victorya Chase.  I identify as female and I’m a writer.

*Swipes brow*  Whew, now that that’s out of the way. . .

I say that because it is still an issue, will be an issue for a while.  The establishment is changing but it takes generations for real change to occur, because we have to change foundational thinking about people, about gender and race and that doesn’t happen over night.  What happens first are the discussions and the token few.

To some degree, I feel there are some great discussions about inclusion happening and there is is definitely some tokenism going on and that’s the point we’re at in publishing.  There are the designated women (I’ll try not to muddy the waters by keeping it to women and not race, realizing issues of race representation is entwined) who are allowed in the big horror anthologies.  There are the names over and over again- and sometimes the only female name on the cover, in the TOC, announced by editors who say ‘hey, we published a woman!  Look!  Here’s “Only Female!”

And I’ve been that only female.  Yeah me!  I’m being allowed to play and be a representative of my gender in this field.

Two of my own examples that come to mind are:

Cemetery Dance.  I was in issue #72 and just over the moon.  This is THE mag for a horror writer to be in.  Stephen King, Poppy Z Brite, Clive Barker – they’ve graced the pages.  Then little ol’ me got in.  And the Table of Contents of my issue had names I knew and had read:  Stephen King (omg!) and Norman Partridge to name a couple.  And at the bottom of the list of male names for those authoring stories in the issue (two Stephens, a Norman, Tim, and Richard to be exact – what wonderfully upstanding male names!)  Was mine, Victorya Chase.

Lamplight:  Volume 3 Issue 4.  I had been rejected from Lamplight twice so was just in shock when asked to be the featured artist.  That’s perseverance and all those Horatio Alger American Dream stories for you!  Seriously, the editor had been working on the e-book version of another anthology I was in and dug my incredibly bleak story and we started a conversation.  We actually talked a lot as the issue came together because he was upset that I ended up being the only female there with a story (There was another in the issue, Kelli Owens, a continuation of her serial novella).  I am heartened that this initial discussion has turned into continued ones about race and gender representation in our art.  And this time my name was first (yeah!) and the male names were cool (Davian, Kealen, T. Fox and John)

Now for Some Background on Me

When I started writing in earnest, like every good writer I wrote what I knew emulating what I had been taught.  I got into my dream MFA program while still in my twenties – Alabama. It was a top 25 MFA program.  And the story that I wrote was about a man who lost his son in a school shooting and his relationship with a woman with Alzheimers living alone and who had lost her son.  She sees this guy and believes him to be her son, and he plays along as he’s too overcome with grief to face his own loss.

It was a good story.  I mean, I was offered a place in a good program and 14K a year to go there and free tuition.  A lot for a story.

I didn’t accept the offer.  Something was wrong.  My voice wasn’t strong enough.  I wasn’t ready to make the commitment yet.  Plus, I didn’t have the money to actually GET to Alabama at the time.

I decided to write in earnest after that and apply to other programs in two years.  I saved my money, got my first acceptance (for an anthology that screwed over all its contributors, oh Devil’s Food, what a learning experience) and was blogging every day about my PTSD as a means to find my self.

When I had more than lunch money in my savings account, enough to actually move, I applied to MFA programs again.  I got into a couple, wait listed at a couple, didn’t reapply to Alabama because I felt bad at turning them down last time and like they’d hold a grudge.  I had no reason to feel this way, but did all the same.  This time the story was about a brother and a sister living in NYC.  It was very Mamet in that ‘fuck’ was every third or fourth word.  It was angry, like I was at the time.  And raw, like I also was at the time.  And still relied heavily on a main character being male because that’s what I read.  That was what was published, stories about men.  They mattered.  And it not only got me in to programs, but one paid to fly me out.  It gave me an extra fellowship of 1K to help me move.  Score.  That one story got me 15.6K a year plus the 1K and the flight.  Not bad.

But when in that program I began to notice something.  ALL the stories were about white men.  Here was a room that was half women, half men and EVERY SINGLE STORY being written starred a white man.  Or, if they weren’t the main character, they were the focal point of the attention of the female character.

I had gone to Barnard in undergrad, the birth place of feminism (per the brochures), but it was in that first semester that what I had learned then hit me.

What. The.  Everloving. Fuck.

I had been writing myself out of not just my history, but my future.  I had been focusing on the wrong experiences in my writing.  I was a parrot.  I was part of the problem, not a solution.  I mean, I grew up a non-white poor kid in Arizona.  My family teamed up with a Mexican family and we dumpster dove for food.  After Barnard I was seen as a white upscale person because of those four years and light skin, but white upscale was not my experience.  Where was mine on the page?  Why was I writing to begin with?

Terminator Genisys- Movie Review

Sarah Connor was one of the first strong females I saw on as a kid.  She had muscles.  She fought back.  Her voice was raspy.  She saved the world – sort of.

Terminator Genisys brought home the Mary/Jesus allegory for me.  I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner.  But when Sarah says that she’s not just going to birth the man who saves the world I went ‘ohhhhh, I get it now.  he’s Jesus, sort of.  Saving us from ourselves, what we create that takes over the world.”

The basic plot is.  .  .a bit hard to type out without spoilers.  But here goes – Reese gets sent back by John Connor to save Sarah.  Only, when he goes back in time Sarah has the good terminator at her side (she calls him Pops) and is already a fighter, even though she’s still a precocious teen.  So the timeline has changed.  And it’s changed again because Reese remembers meeting Sarah when he was a kid now, too.  And then other terminators come back, and people come back, and Skynet is now Genisys, a user system that will become the standard and thus have control of everything.

The Good:  Schwarzenegger is owning his role.  There is bad CGI in the opening when the current timeline Terminator battles his original bad ass self, but other than that he’s gold.  It’s explained that the human part of him ages, which is why he looks like the Schwarzenegger of now.  He’s having fun and it shows.

Matthew Smith is in it.

J.K. Simmons has a role, although it feels pieced in sort off, like he could have been edited out or more put in.  Either way, I dig him.

The Not So Good:  This feels like a CTV made for TV movie to spawn a new series, rather than an actual movie movie.  The acting is quite deadpan throughout and I don’t sense real emotion from any, even in the scenes where the music tells me I should feel something, or the words coming out of their mouths seem emotional.  It’s just kind of . . there.  The special effects are also rather hit and miss.

Remember when those two kids remade Indiana Jones shot for shot in their backyard and it was viral news for like, a minute?  That’s how this feels as well.  Many scenes were redoes from other terminator movies only weren’t as cool anymore.  Scenes like when the liquid terminator is shot in the head and the camera lingers.  In the first movie that appeared in – super cool.  Now it’s like ‘huh, again?’  There were many scenes that were simply repeats (the liquid terminator turning around my morphing through himself, Arnie saying ‘I’ll be back,’ etc.) and that knocked me out because they just weren’t where the story was going and not done as well as the original.

The Female:  Yeah. There is one female in existence and that’s Sarah Connor and she’s there to birth the male who saves the world.  Only at least here she fights that idea a bit more, but she and Reese still hook up.  There is one other woman who appears first as a cop/fbi and then terminator, played by Sandrine Holt- who I loved in CTVs series Once a Thief.  She just doesn’t really speak.  I never understand why she doesn’t get more screen time in these films.

As an homage film, it works, but as a film film my mind wandered.  I was walking away from it and coming back when I heard crashes.  I wasn’t fully engrossed, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend a dollar either (I watched it through Amazon streaming.)

Let me know what you thought!

Interstellar- Movie Review

This movie has been popping up in my Amazon recommendations a lot lately.  I’ve been putting it off because. . .partly because I’m tired of the image of the lone man on an ice planet as is on the cover.  Yes, I was judging it by the cover.  Partly because of those man saves the world by going to space tropes were getting old.  Partly because the only think I’d read about the film was that it was another saving Matt Damon thing.

It’s not.

The film had me hooked early on.  Yes, it’s an apocalyptic film, albeit a more quiet one.  In the future violence and guns and war is eliminated and people are farmers and NASA is an underground covert government agency type thing.  But the world is in its final gasps and people don’t realize they won’t survive much longer without the hero they need, the one who hasn’t been able to do much but farm for damn near a lifetime.  They need Matthew McConaughey, AKA Coop.

But Coop is a family man with a daughter and a son.  Which is where it gets a wee bit interesting.  The son is tested and told he’ll make a great farmer.  The girl is something more.  There is a ghost in her library speaking to her in binary and giving her NASA secrets and messages.

But then the story is about the dad going into space, through wormholes, to find a habitable planet.  And Matt Damon.  Who is not a good guy so (spoiler alert) they leave him.  No saving private Ryan here.

This is a film that i think makes attempts and has good instincts in those attempts.  Looking at it from a view of the females in the film, as I tend to do lately, at first I thought of the strides it made.  One of the astronauts is a female.  She’s the daughter of Coop’s old professor, trained for the mission.  Having just watched Ant Man where the daughter of the scientist, who is herself a scientist, is not allowed to act but has to watch this was refreshing – a woman with knowledge acts.  However, she is still there to teach men about emotions, as in one scene that is echoed by the hero later, she comments on how emotions have to hold more meaning than survival or procreation or we wouldn’t love someone who is dead.

Then there is Coop’s daughter, Murphy Cooper.  She is smart as well, willful, and the real hero if not of the story, of the world.  But it’s not her story,  it’s how the main character comes to realize this.  Maybe we need the threat of the end of the world before people see girls, women, have value and can actually act.  (She also has her crying scenes, though.  It seems a sad trope still that we are the bearers of emotion and men of heroic deeds).

And these are the two women in the film.  And they don’t talk to each other.  And it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (1. two women in the film 2. they talk 3. and not about a man).  There is one other woman, a wife and sister-in law- to Murphy, and maybe technically the Bechdel test is passed when they say hello to each other, but I’m not sure.

The ending is telegraphed but is not unsatisfactory.  The visuals are great, with nice action.  I watched it throughout, not wandering off to see what was in the fridge or how my bathroom needs cleaning.  The music added to the emotions and in some place the manipulation worked and I felt it.  Plus, it’s always nice to see Casey Affleck.

All in all, some problematic parts, yes, but I enjoyed it.