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.

Spring – Movie Review

I have been watching a slew of movies lately.  And finally the last season of Orphan Black.

It’s dangerous watching Orphan Black before other mainstream media.  You begin to think women might matter in the world of modern entertainment.

Hint:  They’re starting to, but we aren’t there yet.

Spring has popped up on some best of lists for the new year.  I’ve seen it in my feed with people speaking of its virtues in hushed tones, that there’s a secret to the film they don’t want to spill.  That it’s genre defying and the like.

But the deciding factor to me watching it was that I have Amazon Prime and it was there.  As was I.  And I didn’t want to do much else but watch a film.

As I watched Spring I kept getting confused by the lead male actor.  He wasn’t Ethan Hawke.  He should have been Ethan Hawke.  After all we have Before Sunrise, Before Midnight, etc. and wasn’t this in that same world?

Turns out it’s the kid from Thumbsucker, a movie I remember enjoying.  This was another ‘man goes to foreign land falls for foreign woman and they talk a lot’ film.  Not that that’s all it was.  But that is the plot.  And then it wants to change it up a bit by the ‘secret’ of the woman being possible not human, possibly human but with just a demonic defect.  That leads to some for sure humorous lines and scenes, but doesn’t change the realm of the film.  It’s there, but they still want to love each other, explore each other.  It is still a film of a boy going to another land and falling for someone there.

And as I write I should clarify that all these films also involve not just going to a new land, but a European one.  To meet a white woman. Who is skinny.  It’s funny that there is a line that addresses this, where the lead male says he doesn’t like stick skinny women but those more like the heroine. . . who is stick thin so I don’t get it.

Of the characters outside the two lead. . none really are women.  It wasn’t a bad film but it wasn’t groundbreaking, really.  There were interesting parts, some good lines, some good visuals of ‘the monster’ and the like.  The actors do their job well.  There is interesting talk here and there.

If you love those Ethan Hawke films, the genre of overseas love stories, and the occasional CGI monster – you’ll like Spring.


Books and Marketing or My Review of Shadows Cast by STars

Marketing is amazing, especially how it’s used in literature.  Whenever the ‘genre vs. literary’ debate kicks into full swing – every other month basically – there is an argument that inevitably is along the veins of ‘the split is just for marketing terms’ and I have used that one myself.  Horror, Science Fiction, Literature, even YA are ways for marketers to fit a book on a shelf and attract the type of reader they thing will most likely plop down money for a book.  Books themselves, like people, slip in and out of all sorts of categories if you’re forced to actually categorize them.  And readers read their own views into books, which makes the categorization even harder.

If you ask an MFAer who is fighting for a foothold with their professor, there’s a good chance they still might say the difference is that literature is creating culture, while the rest, that evil ‘g’ word they can’t say, is pandering.  That’s one I got at least.  “Literature illuminates the human condition” was what the most obnoxious offenders of defending the line in the sand would spout.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do is broaden my reading habits.  It’s SO easy to pigeonhole yourself, the world makes it the thing to do.  So when I saw a list of books where the protag was a non white male, I went through and read the descriptions and then found a couple of them to read.

Shadows Cast by Stars was one of them.

Here is the Amazon description of the book:

Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.

Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to the Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument…

Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs.

Now, that’s not exactly how it was described in the list I read it on.  That list emphasized the first paragraph – about the blood of the aboriginal people and the struggle to be free from that hunt.  That excited me.  I thought that could delve into wonderful race politics, especially for a YA novel.

But that’s not what the book is about.  There are maybe 2-3 mentions of this outside threat but no more.  The book itself is more of a spirit quest for Cassandra, the main character.  She needs to heal the rift between the spirit world and the human one.  Bring people to nature and themselves.  She can see the totems of others and begin to heal them.

Many books, especially YA, are about the main characters coming to terms with their identities.  Exaggerated identities are used to make that theme become clearer – you are amazing and unique and powerful once you accept yourself.  In YA magic has become a heart of that discovery.  Think Harry Potter.  Or Katniss finding her inner warrior type savior strength.  These kids are saviors not just of their families, but worlds.  (diatribe – funny how our popular YA books do have the heroes fighting against the atrocities of the worlds they’re in, lets hope the next generation learns something from that message)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that being the central message of this novel.  It definitely goes hand in hand with fleeing a plague because your people are harvested.  And the book itself was definitely engaging, if heavy handed in other metaphors at times.  The Arthurian legend was slammed into our faces when it cropped up, her being named ‘Cassandra’ and it’s importance was also fully typed out in case we ‘didn’t get it’ instead of using allusions that would have allowed different levels of reading or interest to look into the importance of the name.  As was totally overused.  Do not use ‘as’ that much.  Ever.  But I did stay up to finish reading it, I wanted to see what happened.  Part of that was me being interested, part was me waiting for more meat to the story.

However, I felt a bit duped.  Soul searching stories are common and this didn’t rise above others, even if I did get introduced to new mythology.  I wanted a story to explore more of the meat and bones of the politics of the world and being an ‘other’ (as they refer to themselves in the book) during a national crisis.  This book is far ‘safer’ than the book I was hoping to read.  I want to read books that ask questions that aren’t safe in our current climate.  That explore things a bit more openly.


Movie Review – Bloodsucking Bastards

I like horror movies, especially funny ones.  And when I saw advertisements for Bloodsucking Bastards saying it was basically “Office Space” mixed with “Shaun of the Dead” I was intrigued.  Then I saw that I don’t have to venture to a theater and deal with other people but could stream it on Amazon and was sold.

Basic Premise:  A dude, played by Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods, Dollhouse) wants to be sales manager, not just acting sales manager, at a dead end office where no one really works.  Instead, they bring in someone from outside for the job.  Suddenly people begin working harder – because they are becoming vampires.  It takes our hero a while to figure it out, but then he does and wants to rescue his woman who is the HR manager there.

Review:  I feel as I get older representations of gender are important to me, and it’s hard to ignore how blatant this movie is in reinforcing the idea that women just don’t matter.  It takes place in an office, so there could be many women in here.  Yet there are three that speak at all.  Three.  Two of them speak to one another at one point in the movie, and it’s about the main character.  In fact, it is downright problematic how women are treated in this film.  Let’s briefly look at the three women here:

The receptionist:  She is pretty but mousy.  Men want her, but she only wants the main man.  When she becomes turned, to the joy of the men in the office, her sexuality is awakened.

The fat chick:  She is fat.  Men don’t want her.  They make fun of the ‘vampire’ when he hits on her.  She exclaims that she is ‘a virgin’ (because why would anyone ever want a relationship with a fat chick?) and then moans sexually when bitten.

The allowable female:  She is slim. She has short hair.  She was in a relationship with the main character, but that stopped when she said she loved him and he just said ‘no.’  She is the prize he needs to win back.  The movie makes a big deal in the beginning about stating why she is attractive – she’s a man with a vagina.  She’s like one of them, not like the way women are, she’s not a woman, she’s a man you can have sex with w/out being seen as gay.  The only thing female about her is her genitalia, thus, she is a good woman you can be in a relationship with.  Because who wants to really be in a relationship with a woman when men are so much better?

This was all so obvious throughout the film it was hard to not feel uncomfortable, as a woman, watching it.

This movie felt more like a prolonged episode of Workaholics with a lot more blood.  Were there spots I laughed?  Sure. It followed what is becoming a basic ‘horror comedy’ formula now.  Slackers work in such monotony they don’t notice when taken over by the supernatural.  They then notice, have to fight for the first time, and win.  The main guy gets the woman at the end.  They quip back and forth a lot throughout the film.

It might also be good to mention race in the film.  There is one black guy who gets lines.  He’s the security guard.  He defers to the main hero throughout, and eventually sacrifices his life to save the white dude.  Because, of course.

Overall – eh.  I’m getting tired of being shown over and over that women just don’t matter.  There were definitely some funny parts to it.  It’s got a lot of blood but is done comically and isn’t scary.  If you like Workaholics, you’ll probably enjoy this as well.  Just don’t go looking for revolutionary or out of the box as much as retread tropes.

An Update!

GAR and random ARGHS.  Life and work and all the distractions that poses to real writing.  Or fake writing.  Or writing in general.

In other news, besides binge watching Teen Wolf on MTV, which is a darn good show, I have still gotten a few stories out there.  not as many have landed as in the past, but I am aiming for better markets.  Such as Lamplight, who after saying no a couple times then came to me and gave me a preemptive yes, which is always lovely.

So, I have a new story out with them right now.  Featured artist no less.

Go forth, tell me what you think!

Literary Chess – Take #2

As some might remember, my friend Adam and I began a game of literary chess.  The initial post is here, but in a nutshell, I wanted to slow down writing and add in some unpredictability.  I thought back to those old days of chess by mail, where you wait a week to know how your partner moved and then you send back your move.  I thought it would be cool to do that in the literary world- have a partner and volley back and forth.  Thus, literary chess via twitter was born.

Well, the second iteration has begun with the grandmaster that is Jacob Haddon.  You can follow us at the twitter hashtag #literarychess.

Of course, we encourage others to begin their own games (and I’m always up for players!)  The rules are. . you make your own rules.  Do you want a rhyme scheme to be followed?  What about length, both in time to respond or in lines?  Maybe you want a prose piece, not a poem.  Maybe not.  And even with the team making the rules, you develop your own strategy for response and see what happens.  The only concrete rule is each line has to fit into twitter length and include both the hashtag and other players name (so they know you made your turn).

Happy playing!

When it all works

When I’m writing and it’s going well it feels like I’m talking out loud.  Which is troublesome when I’m a crowded room, like now.

Sometimes it’s like I suddenly remember all the lyrics to a song I’ve never written before.  The tune is flowing through my fingertips, the keyboard my piano.

When it doesn’t work I realize it can often be the rhythm that is off, which is why I’m not beholden to the keyboard.  There is a physicality to thought and story that needs to be expressed.  I like having different ways to physically write around.  I have an old electronic typewriter that takes some strength in my fingers to use, and the aggressive clacking as each key strikes the paper can fuel my fire when the mind wants to grasp something else.

I have pens and different weighted papers around.

If I’m at my computer, I don’t have a chair but rather a giant ball to bounce or twist on as I type.

But now, now there is singing and I worry others might here before the tune is ready.  Plus, they’re all taking a test.


The Best Intentions

Of course, I had hoped to update this blog regularly.  And of course, I let other things get in the way and become excuses.  Because really, they’re just excuses.  Good ones- depression the main reason.  It gets there.  It’s an ocean and the waves were breaking pretty damn high for a while there.  It got scary.

But I’m still here.  And I have new items up for consumption.  So consume me.  I have since been published in The Unlikely Journal of Entomology.  It is an amazing issue and I’m humbled to be in such company.  They also interviewed me, and that was an interesting experience.  I’ve only had a couple interviews before.

The folks at Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing published an e-chapbook of a story.  I have long loved that story.  It’s dark.  It involves smooshing pennies.  And the editorial comment for one section was simply, “Holy Shit” so you know it has class.

I also got word that the next issue of Cemetery Dance will include my story.  It’s many many years in the making for me, but I’ll be sharing a TOC with Stephen King.  How amazing is that?