Measuring Success

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Thanks, Lithub. I know.* (click for article)

One thing that writers always get asked in interviews, and that I’ve now gotten asked myself, is why we write. Embedded in this question is a question of success: what are you trying to achieve with your writing? How will you know when you have achieved it?

I write because I like to write. And I still like to write–so I am successful on that front.

I write because we need diverse books. I want to contribute to a body of literature that gives voice and life to positive representations of queer characters, women characters, trans* and gender variant characters, characters with disabilities, characters of color, characters in poverty and characters who live at the intersections of all of these axes. I try my hardest to do this.

I publish in case the stories I create resonate with others. It’s not that literally no one will read my book. It’s that just a few people will read my books. Look, who reads book about queer elves? Queer nerds. My own people. I’m not writing for everyone. I’m a queer nerd writing books for other queer nerds. So it’s all right by my if almost literally no one reads my books, because for most people my books probably aren’t really going to resonate. Otherwise I would just write my books and let them hang out on my computer.

Am I successful with publishing these stories and books? There is definitely room to grow. Building a readership is a slow business. But it’s happening. Story by story, book by books it’s happening. Reviews trickle in, I get periodic emails from people I’ve never met who have stumbled across my work, who are moved enough to reach out to me because something I wrote resonated. Because they saw themselves in the queerness of my writing. Which is why I wrote it, and why I shoved it out there in the great glutted marketplace of stories all vying for attention in the first place: in case it made someone marginalized by society feel a little more validated.

I write to validate myself. I publish what I write to validate others like me.

Support diverse literature.
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*For further reading about the insularity and false-famousness of the literary world, read this fascinating interview with Nell Zink.

Book Review: OUT IN THE UNION

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OUT IN THE UNION, by Miriam Frank, traces the intersections between the gay rights movement and the labor movement in America. The history is drawn largely from interviews with queer labor activists, and Frank quotes them at length throughout the book, giving her work the feeling of an oral history, ethnography or series of case studies. She provides contextualizing information, but OUT IN THE UNION largely defers to the activists who pushed their movements forward. As such, the book is deeply personal and specific rather than comprehensive. This is not a book that provides a dry and complete overview of queer-labor activism, but instead is a love letter to the victories and efforts of the people who lived that activism.

The book opens with the story of a trans man in a steelworkers’ union at the turn of the twentieth century. From there, the book leaps forward to cover how the emergent gay rights movement in the 1970s and 1980s was embraced (or not) as the labor movement sought to reinvent itself as manufacturing jobs moved first out of pro-union states and then out of the United States altogether. The hidden histories of queer workers prior to the 1960s are sparse in the text, emerging as context or as discrete moments in the interviewees’ lives.

Prior to OUT IN THE UNION, I was familiar with Frank’s work through Pride at Work, a pamphlet my own union used to better understand how and why to organize the QUILTBAG folks in our own ranks. This was years ago, back when I saw myself as a straight ally (back before I was out to anyone, even myself). The ethos of Pride at Work continues here: this is a book about organizing. The economics of unionization are supplanted by a blow-by-blow description of how various workplaces were or were not organized into unions. Frank remains an organizer at heart, and much of the book is devoted to recounts of how labor was able to use the particularities of an emerging queer activist culture to gain new ground or make new allies. In the case studies she presents—which range from bus drivers to auto workers to AIDS crisis workers—she uses organizing terms freely. Her target audience, clearly, are queer organizers out on the front lines, which necessarily limits the accessibility and audience of the book, which I think is a shame. It may find its audience out there in the front line, but from my experience working as a labor organizer there is little time to read even relevant and potentially useful books.

Reading OUT IN THE UNION was, for me, a particularly reflective and personal experience. Like many of the interviewees, I struggled with my own sexuality as I worked as a labor organizer. Fraught memories of coming to terms with my queerness are inextricably tied to the rollercoaster highs and lows of the organizing campaigns I worked for. Two regions which feature prominently in the book are southeast Michigan and Colorado—respectively why I, myself, was a campaign organizer and where I live now. Reading this book made me miss working in unions. It made me remember how hard that work is, and how necessary. It made me reflect (in a prescient and timely way given certain conditions current in my workplace today) on my discomfort living as a queer and unorganized person in a right-to-work state. I feel vulnerable, and even more so as a gender nonconforming queer individual. I feel vulnerable, like the people Frank records, and I want to fight back like they did and still are.

Frank writes with candor, both about the successful queer-labor alliances and the unsuccessful ones. Some were unsuccessful because the old guard of union leadership—typically straight white men in the skilled labor trades—struggled with creating space for and valuing the efforts of their queer brothers and sisters. Some were unsuccessful because a common source of oppression bonds communities together; Frank cites the climate in AIDS clinics where queer management overworked and exploited queer workers, but the workers viewed straight union agents as suspicious interlopers.

Frank uses the crossover of queer activism and the labor movement as a way to begin talking about class within the queer community. She points out more than once that queer people have always existed among the working class and in unions. She points out that being queer does not prevent managers from exploiting their workers. I was glad she used this lens throughout, but I wish she had taken it further. The book reads—I believe unintentionally—as very white. A handful of the interviewed activists are people of color, but most are white queer people. Given the layers of vulnerability queer poor workers of color face, it would have been a better book if race and class had both been discussed in relation to queer workers. In the epilogue, Frank cites the need for the labor movement to utilize queer immigrant workers to help reform immigration laws, but this is posited mostly as an aside.

OUT IN THE UNION ends with an epilogue tracing how the support of unions has helped marriage equality legislation get passed in multiple states. Frank uses this as a call to arms and a call to action to increase queer-labor joint activism. And while I appreciate that, I wish she had gone further. Marriage is not the only economic issue facing queer workers. Trans* workers are extremely vulnerable, often fired and rarely hired. I am, admittedly, less impressed or enthralled by the marriage equality movement, especially given that the fight has played out in legislative venues rather than in the workplace or on the streets. But, then again, most labor fights these days play out that way.

4 stars

Expanding PROOF – Week 1

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have switched gears to due an impending and enormously exciting deadline! Since I document everything ever, I figured I’d go ahead and document this process, too.

The gist is in two months I need to take “Proof”, a 6,000 word short story, and expand it into a short novel by adding at least 40,000 words. No small feat, right? Well, luckily, I have a bit of a head start: “Proof”, like the vast majority of my fiction, takes place in Aerdh. And it explores characters in a locale i’ve pretty thoroughly built out worldbuilding-wise. And it dovetails with some characters I’ve written about elsewhere. In short, I have a pretty comprehensive sense of what’s going on in the universe in which the story is set at that particular time in the universe’s history, which makes things a lot easier to work with. Mostly expanding “Proof” means taking the current plot, which is stripped pretty bare, and throwing in a bunch of complications to blow up the scope of the narrative.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not much of a plotter. The pace and action of my narratives typically develop organically from exercises in worldbuilding first and then character development. This project is really no different–the characters are definitely my starting place.

"where should i start? I know! A nice orderly table about my characters"

“where should i start? I know! A nice orderly table about my characters”

“Proof”, at its heart, is a love story, and I very much want to keep that element when I expand it to a novel. Specifically, “Proof” describes a relationship between two women that already has a history. Obviously, one direction I could take the project in is to pull back and watch them fall in love. But I like that they’re already together, that they already have a rhythm and a history. My inclination now is to keep it like that and to use the longer format to explore why and how they work (and why and how they don’t work) together. There is a certain kind of playfulness that exists when you’re writing about two people who already know each other and already love each other that is a little different than the sort of playfulness that exists when a relationship is new and still forming. I want the book to be about how they stay in love rather than how they fall in love.

So, since this will be a book so deeply rooted in how these two characters play off of each other, I started with mapping out how they react to each other. With a table. Look, I’m an analyst by training and trade, right, I think in tables.

The other thing I’ve been working on is an extremely rough idea of a plot. Now, the reason I’m doing this instead of just letting it blossom on its own like I usually do is a matter of scope–left to my own devices I will turn this into a 200,000 word epic about the nature of love and loss and shit like that. And it would be good. But this needs to be a quick, swift romp with just enough gravitas, and for that I need to keep my focus. Since I’ve got two months to make it happen, I don’t have time for a sprawling first draft.

EYES ON THE PRIZE, SANDERS

EYES ON THE PRIZE, SANDERS

So I’m brainstorming at lightspeed, figuring out which elements of the current story need elaboration and what the scope of this will be. It’s like a planning blitz, and so far it’s been really useful. I am sort of concurrently working out the roughest outline in the whole wide world.

I’ll keep y’all posted on where it goes from here!

NEW SHORT STORY FOR BETA READERS: Proof

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Hey y’all! I just finished another short story. The description and info are below; I welcome any and everyone to read it!

When a friend turns up dead, Shandolin suspects her lover, an elvish assassin named Rivna, may be the reason why. Shandolin marshals all her skills to prove Rivna is the killer, while Rivna does all she can to convince Shandolin she’s innocent.

PROOF is a completed short story 5,650 words in length set in the world of Aerdh. PROOF is a glimpse into the chaotic political and personal lives of two strong-willed sharp-tongued young women that will leave you wanting more.

Interested? Let me know!

Writing Snippet: Shandolin

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This is from a brand new story I’m writing!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, but I set a goal for myself that I would finish one piece of fiction every month for the next year. I like finishing things! I am on track to reach that goal — I finished “Crossing the Bridge” in January, Assassins in February, and “Blue Flowers” in March. But I’ve spent all of April mired in the black hole that is rewriting The Long Road.

Now, that’s not a bad thing, but I needed a little variety. My fingers get itchy when they’re not writing narrative pieces after awhile. And I’ve had an idea bouncing around in my head: a set of detective stories featuring two elvish women in an on-again-off-again relationship. One is an assassin. And the other, Shandolin, is a political firebrand.

This story’s about two-thirds of the way through, so stay tuned because I’ll be needing beta readers for it by May 1st!

NEW SHORT STORY FOR BETA READERS!!: Blue Flowers

blueflowerswordleHey y’all! I just finished another short story. The description and info are below; I welcome any and everyone to read it!

Pahvo loved Anu before they ever met. Pahvo is a scryer; he sees the future, the past, lives both in a fractured present. When Pahvo first notices Anu across the street, he sees their entire lives together. Anu sees a stranger.

BLUE FLOWERS is a completed short story 4,950 words in length set in the world of Aerdh. BLUE FLOWERS explores the nature of irrevocable and inescapable love.

Interested? Let me know!

ASSASSINS first draft is done!

I just finished a novella about satyrs assassins (the first chapter is up here)! It clocks in at 27,000 words and explores themes of essentialism and free will with a heavy dose of queerness in there because that just seems to happen in my writing. Looking for first readers, so let me know if you’re interested!

Queering Thanksgiving

Holidays have always been a sort of mystery to me. It’s hard to understand what the point of returning to your natal home is when you don’t get along with your family and you hate your hometown. It never made sense to me to spend the few days I had to myself, away from the day-to-day grind of school or work or what have you with people where there is more bad blood than good. A visit home is exhausting.

People from less than ideal families and queer people – and let’s be clear here that these two categories are anything but mutually exclusive – seek each other out. Sometimes this phenomenon is deliberate, and sometimes it isn’t, but in my experience it’s generally pretty useful. It can be hard to explain that dread when Christmas rolls around and you know you have to drag yourself back. It’s a simple comfort to have someone in the same boat read your expression and just get it.

What I’m saying is that when your natal family is not supportive, is not safe, that many of us build a family that provides us with these things from the ground up. I am lucky enough that for years I have been able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my created family. This year, I had my partners Jon and Hunter here with me, a dear friend Van, and the kiddo. These are people with whom I can be totally, unapologetically myself: genderqueer, sexually fluid, poly, brash, foul-mouthed, an enthusiastic eater. They call me B instead of my given name without having to be asked to do it. Reconnecting with them, soaking up the easiness of our relationships to each other, that is what I need from a holiday.

This is exactly the kind of holiday atmosphere I want my kid to have growing up. I want to model an expectation that you get to choose who you share your life with. I want her to know she’s not obligated to spend her days with me if it means she needs a week to prepare to see me and two weeks after to recover. I want her to know she’s not obligated to be with anyone she does not choose to be with, and that she’s allowed to set high expectations for those people.

NaBloPoMo: There Are Some Things I Just Won’t Write

Generally, I let the writing flow. I am, in basically every other aspect of my life, a planner. Very detail oriented. One of my partners (Partner H) called me an order muppet of the highest degree, and she is very much correct. I will have you know that this comes in extremely handy in my day job as a data analyst. It is also useful in managing family google calendars.

But writing is a release from that. It just…works. I try not to over think it. But I’m not writing in a vacuum, and it is me doing the writing, and that means I write within certain parameters. There are some things I just cannot write.

Ok, if you haven’t read Cloud Atlas and you’re planning to, skip the rest of this post as it will contain spoilers. CLOUD ATLAS SPOILERS, I SAY! 

Continue below the cut if you don’t mind being spoiled/have already read it.

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