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?


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