More on the Book

‘Cause I’m still a little too giddy to think about anything else just yet.

Some questions came up in yesterday’s thread. I shall answer them.

Q. Don’t you mean “googol”?

A. Yes, you insufferable pedant.

Q. When will the book be out?

A. At this point, we’re aiming for spring 2009, but that could easily change. (And by change, I mean “take even longer.” It’s definitely not coming out in 2008.)

Q. Will it have the cute little Penguin logo on it?

A: No. We’re actually being published by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin. I wasn’t specific yesterday because there were editors at two different imprints who wanted the book, so we got a house bid from Penguin and had to choose between them. Both editors were fucking awesome, but we eventually chose Perigee. And I don’t even know what the Perigee logo is. Update, after a trip to Borders: it’s… a P. Woo hoo. Sorry, everybody.

Q. What’s the book about?

A. It’s a practical guide to liking (if not yet loving) your body at any size. We’ll be talking about specific, concrete things you can do to become more comfortable in/with your body — none of that “light a candle, take a bubble bath, meditate on your inner goddess” shit. (Apologies to those who like those things and/or like books about those things, but they never did jack shit for me, body image-wise.)

Q. What’s it called?

A. This will probably change before publication, but the working title is SCREW INNER BEAUTY: HOW TO LIKE THE BODY YOU’VE GOT.

Q. How are you going to blog AND write a book?

Hey, better women than me have done it with full-time jobs; I don’t think it’ll be a problem. It probably will take me a little while to figure out a new writing routine, and it’s possible my posts will be sparse and/or sucky during that time. BUT. That is the miracle of co-bloggers and a co-author. My posts here might be temporarily sucky, but the blog will remain awesome under the power of Fillyjonk and Sweet Machine. And thanks to The Rotund, I actually only have to write half a book. So it’ll be cool.

Q. Are you going on tour/coming to my town?

A. No clue at this point. If you’re asking, “Is Perigee going to spend gobs of money to send you two all over the country, providing whimsical, book-themed cocktails and delicious canapes at each venue?” then FUCK NO. (Of course, if y’all make this a massive bestseller, that could happen with the next book!) But we’ll do our damnedest to travel as much as possible when the book comes out, and we’d love to meet you.

Q. Will it be published in Canada/the U.K./wherever I live?

A. No clue about that yet, either. Perigee’s got North American rights, so a Canadian edition or distribution there is up to them. Everywhere else in the world is still up for grabs, and there are great people working on selling us wherever they can.

Q. Will you still remember us when you’re famous?

A. Who are you?

PHFC8: Raaaaawwwr!

Okay, this isn’t really fluffy, but since it’s a non-fat-related meme, and we are in the midst of the Pre-holiday Cavalcade of Fluff, I’m categorizing it as such.

The lovely Harriet Brown said some very kind things about my writing and tagged me with a “Roar for Powerful Words.” What I love about this meme, other than the flattery, is that as you pass it along, you’re supposed to include three requirements for powerful writing. In reading through the Roar posts, I’ve already found one tip I’d never seen put into words before, which I think is fucking brilliant. From Lisa Romeo, who tagged Harriet:

Remember that no one cares. About you. About your story. But that readers really do care about themselves. The really good nonfiction writers help the readers find themselves in our stories.

I think that’s entirely true of the really good fiction writers, too. If I can’t relate to the characters, I don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to them, which means I don’t give a rat’s ass about your book. You can write the prettiest sentences in the world, but if your characters are flat or stereotypical or so misanthropic I hope they die in a fire, I won’t make it past page 20. (Yes, I’m looking at you, literary writers who think you’re above such “commercial” concerns as, you know, telling a story well.)

Anyway. Having thought neither long nor hard about this question, here are my three requirements.

1. Know what you do well, and what you don’t.

Along the same lines of giving up The Fantasy of Being Thin, one of my biggest breakthroughs as a writer was giving up the fantasy of being brilliant, mind-bendingly complex, witty, heartbreaking, wildly original, lyrical, literary, accessible, suspenseful, insightful, challenging, and commercially successful, all at the same time. There are only a couple things on that list I actually do well — and notably, being lyrical, literary, wildly original and mind-bendingly complex are not among them. If I’m good at anything (and that is, of course, debatable), it’s telling fairly simple stories with wit and heart. But I didn’t want to acknowledge that for the longest fucking time, because A) “Heart” is so friggin’ cheesy (so unliterary!), and B) Applying humor to serious subjects means sitting through a lot of workshops where people go, “I don’t get it! I mean, am I supposed to care about her, or think this is funny?” BOTH, YOU FUCKING DOLT. Eventually, though, I had to admit that doing what I’m good at — and not straining to do anything else — tends to make my stories a lot more fun to read. Go fig.

2. If you “don’t write for other people,” then put it in a goddamned drawer and be done with it.

Of all the standard Novice Writer Defense Mechanisms, none irritates me quite like, “I only write for myself, not for other people.” HORSESHIT. Writers write to be read — and secretly, we write to be loved. If you really only write to please yourself, then why are we having this conversation? Why am I even aware that you’re a writer? You write because you want people to read it and love you for it, even if you know there’s little chance anyone ever will. But you claim you only write for yourself because that makes it easier to dismiss criticism and refuse to consider why your writing isn’t connecting with your intended audience.

And I believe the most common reason for that is, you have no clue who your intended audience is, so you’re not offering them anything they want. See Lisa Romeo’s rule above.

You must know your readership — and if you don’t have one yet, you must imagine a specific one and write to it. This doesn’t mean not writing for yourself, necessarily — my imaginary (and, to the extent that it exists, real) audience is pretty much “people (mostly women) who would like hanging out with me, and vice versa.” It can be as simple as that. But it can’t be “I write for myself” — because that leads to writing that’s about as engaging as detailed accounts of other people’s dreams — and crucially, it also can’t be “I write for everyone!” which is, I suspect, what people who claim to write only for themselves really believe down deep.

No story is so universal or so well-told that it won’t anger some people and bore the shit out of others. So once you’ve figured out what you’re good at and started doing much more of that than anything else, the next step is figuring out what kind of people would be charmed by what you’re good at, rather than angered or bored. Then you keep those people in the back of your mind with every word you write. You’re expecting them to read this eventually (yes, you are), so it’s only common courtesy to give them something worth their time, you know?

Which brings us to…

3. Accept that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

In order to establish a “voice” worth reading, you have to be willing to alienate some people, piss some people off, be called all sorts of nasty names, be accused alternately of hackery and pretentiousness, etc. I mean, think about it, y’all — J.K. Rowling has about the broadest possible appeal of any contemporary writer, and she’s gotten all of the above a gazillion times over. Your blog is not bloody likely to find a more universally receptive audience than she’s got. So once you’ve acknowledged that you secretly write to be loved, you then have to accept that not everyone who reads your work will love it, or you. Them’s the breaks.

Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of two writing habits I have that draw a lot of criticism — and that’s without even getting into subject matter. First, I’ve got the pottymouth to end all fucking pottymouths. Second, I never know when to shut up. (As much as I appreciate Harriet’s “less is more” advice, keeping things short and sweet is on the long list of things I do not do well as a writer, so I don’t even try anymore, beyond reasonable editing.) But rather than make my writing child-friendly or force myself to cut ten paragraphs out of every post because some people insist that would make my shit more readable, I just keep doing what I do — swearing like a longshoreman and rambling like my dad — because that’s what I do well, and enough people seem to like it.

Enough people is the key. If no one at all read my blog, I’d have some serious thinking to do about whether my writing achieves its purpose. But enough people read it that I know I’m doing what I set out to do: reaching my intended audience. And anyone outside my intended audience can suck it, quite frankly.

So there you go. Yeah, it’s pretty much three variations on the same basic concept, but it’s an important concept, sez me.

On with the tagging.

For the first three, I’m going to semi-cheat and tag people I went to grad school with, because I know they’ll have interesting takes on this question.

Gemellen went to school for poetry but can also write prose like a motherfucker, which only makes me hate her a little bit. Her blog is a lot of personal fragments and proto-poems, but she’s drawn an audience well beyond her friends because — following what shall henceforth be known as The Romeo Rule — even when it’s totally about her, it’s also about anyone who’s ever been sad and frustrated with no end in sight, to the point of being sick of themselves and the goddamned world and the sickness itself. Also, she is awesome, and she knows things.

Paula Cisewski is also a poet — and teacher and mother and punk rock girl, and the person who introduced me to Al. One of the reasons she can write such amazing poems is that she has an uncanny ability to distill great, huge insights down to about 5 words — which will either crack your shit up or make you gasp. Sometimes both. So I look forward to seeing what she has to say about powerful writing, ’cause I imagine she’ll say it in about 1/100 of the words I’ve used here, and it will be smarter. (Also, go buy her book.)

Screwsan, better known around here as “sumac,” is a sex advice columnist-cum-literary blogger-cum-personal blogger, and also a fiction writer who graduated before me, despite being much younger than me, which only makes me hate her a little bit. Lady’s got opinions. Which happen to be smart, funny, deliciously mean to the people who deserve it, and compassionate toward everyone else. Just the way I like my opinions.

Next, on to people I only know from the blogosphere. One or both Hoydens, consider yourselves tagged. Tigtog and Lauredhel are two of the fiercest smarty-pants, skeptics, and feminists in my feed reader. Even when I go on a temporary political blog fast for my sanity, I can’t resist checking what’s up at Hoyden about Town. Not just because I am constantly charmed by the Aussie slang, even.

Finally, of course I need to round things out (geddit?) with a fat blogger. Dear Everyone on the Fatosphere Feed: You deserve a roar, and you are most welcome to consider this yours. But since I’m supposed to tag 5 people (and am counting the Hoydens as 1), I’ll single somebody out.

Meowser, you’re it. No one in the Fatosphere makes me think, “That’s exactly what I would have said — only SO MUCH FUNNIER!” as frequently as you do. Tell us how you do it, woman.


So, my first day of conference blogging went well, except for the part where I kinda took the “live” out of “liveblogging.” I wrote up a post this afternoon, e-mailed it to Jessica, and then had to e-mail again and say, “Wait, don’t post that!”

See, I sorta tuned out first thing in the morning when we all discussed confidentiality and creating a safe space for people to talk about their stories without seeing them, say, published on Feministing 2 hours later. Mea culpa. I hadn’t had much coffee yet. Also, I have the world’s biggest mouth. There’s that.

So I spent a good portion of the afternoon writing THE MOST BRILLIANT BLOG POST IN THE HISTORY OF BLOGKIND which, tragically, you will never see, because I subsequently realized it might contain more information than a particular attendee would want splashed across teh internets. So I asked her if that was the case — assuming, of course, that she would see the sheer genius in my eyes and tell me to go right ahead. She said, “Uh huh. Please don’t post that.”

I decided to rewrite the post when I got home, then got stuck in 8th-circle-of-hell traffic, so I only just sent the new post to Jessica a few minutes ago. And I’ve got another one to write yet, about the afternoon’s events,  but right now, I’m having a damn beer.

The meeting today was great, though, and you should all check out Causes in Common. Good stuff.

You can also check out my morning post here.

Today’s Rant is about Neither Sexism nor Fatphobia

(And the tiny crowd goes wild.)

In my capacity as a Bibliophilistine, I was reading the Guardian Books blog this morning, and I came across a line so throwaway I’m not even going to link to it or take the author to task for it specifically. But I’ll tell you what it said, so you know what triggered my ire:

“Now, with creative writing courses churning out novelists by the hundred…”

Half a sentence, containing no explicit judgments whatsoever. Pretty incendiary stuff, I know. But it got to me because I am so fucking sick of this meme that’s sunk its teeth into the cultural conversation (such as it is) about books and writing over the last few years: that creative writing programs are somehow creating hordes of writers who have no business calling themselves writers. (See also: Creative Writing Programs Foster Mediocrity; Real Writers Don’t Need No Skool; Shakespeare Didn’t Have a Goddamned MFA; and No One Wants to Talk about the Real Epidemic Threatening Our Children Today–Bad Writing!)

If you didn’t know and haven’t guessed, I have an MFA.

But my point here is not to defend the credibility of my degree, mostly because it’s already too late for that. Newly minted MFAs are routinely cautioned not to mention that credential in query letters, because agents and editors will merely roll their eyes and say, “Great. Another one.” Another product of the mediocrity factory, another dupe of some university selling false hope to the profoundly untalented at $30K a year. Seriously, the only people impressed by an MFA in writing are those who don’t write and never worked in publishing. Restoring the degree’s reputation as a literary credential would take a lot more effort than I’m willing to put out.

But there are still plenty of reasons why MFA programs aren’t utterly pointless and certainly shouldn’t be blamed for the scourge of crap writing. I can at least make the effort to draw your attention to those. Continue reading

On Being a No-Name Blogger Using Her Real Name

In a coincidence that’s meaningful to no one but me, I decided to start writing under my real name (and fantasizing about developing a broader readership) right around the same day I first heard about Kathy Sierra. Since then, I’ve been following the endless discussions about cyberbullying, anonymity, blog civility, to what degree this is the natural consequence of the internet’s fundamental character, and to what degree it’s the natural consequence of a misogynistic culture (online or off).

Everyone seems to agree it’s the natural consequence of something, anyway, and was therefore totally predictable. Being viciously, persistently attacked for the crime of Writing While Female is something practically everyone with an opinion on the matter regards as par for the course–regardless of whether they believe that fact is outrageous and deplorable or merely, you know, the way the cookie crumbles. (And regardless of whether they believe Sierra’s real mistake was Writing While Female or Writing While Having a Legal Name or Writing While Writing ‘Cause Hey, Welcome to the Internet, Sport!) Continue reading

About a Blog

I always presumed that I would be a writer, without actually doing any writing. I think I thought I was going to get a phone call from somebody one day saying they had a vacancy for a novelist. When I realised that this wasn’t going to happen I thought it was about time to do something.
-Nick Hornby

For those who don’t know, in September 2005, I started a blog called Pointless, Incessant Barking, inspired by the above cartoon.

The title turned out to be a good fit. For the most part, PIB was a catalogue of my dating woes, hair woes and fashion woes, plus stories about my dogs. It was what my boyfriend, Al — who’s been around on the internet since the late middle ages–would call an “I-ate-cereal-today blog.” As such, it was of interest primarily to a highly select group of people — to wit, those who already loved me and were used to being patient with my babbling.

Occasionally, though, I’d write something smartish — usually about feminism or fat politics, but sometimes about the other topics you see in the “Categories” sidebar. These were essentially rough drafts of the sort of essays I’d write if someone phoned me up and said, “Hi, we have a vacancy for a columnist who obsesses about the same handful of topics over and over and says ‘fuck’ a lot. Interested?”

These were the kind of posts I loved writing most, and could be writing every day, if I bothered. Also, the kind of posts that — according to my sitemeter — actually seemed to interest strangers. So of course I couldn’t possibly write more of those, or take them more seriously. As Al is fond of saying, “No one wants to do what they’re good at.”

And what I’ve learned over the last year and a half is that I’m a damned good blogger. Writing skill is the least of it — I’ve found I love updating frequently, interacting with commenters, and responding quickly to things I read on the intertubes. Those are the hard parts, for a lot of people, but I seem to be a natural. And yet… Everyone knows I’m a novelist, not a blogger! They must know, because I keep telling them that! And someone’s gonna call about that vacancy any day now, I can feel it.

Two things happened around the same time to change my mind. First, I discovered that is already owned by someone who’s not me, someone who paints horses. So, in a petulant fit of threatened identity, I immediately snapped up, with no plans to use it — I just wanted it to be mine. Second, I acquired a new reader, the lovely Bluemilk, who started dropping by when I happened to be in the midst of a feminist issues streak. When the streak ended, and I posted something dumb — something far more typical of PIB — Bluemilk went, “Huh?” She thought she’d found a new feminist blog, not the dorky personal journal of someone who just happens to be a feminist. And she’d bookmarked it and started coming back, because she actually wanted to read a feminist blog written by me.


So, let’s review:

  • I like writing this shit.
  • People I’ve never met like reading this shit. (Okay, person.)
  • is currently doing a whole lot of nothing.

Hey, I just had an idea!

All the posts before this one come from the PIB archives — they’re the think pieces (yeah, yeah, I use the term loosely) that were buried among all the “I ate cereal today” posts. From now on, I’ll be writing a lot more of those and posting them here.

I am still working on a novel, by the way. I am always working on a novel. But that’s not what makes me a writer; writing is (that and sitting in Starbucks with my laptop open), and frankly, I do a hell of a lot more blogging than any other kind of writing. So fuck it, I’m owning it. I’m a blogger. I do what I’m good at.

Welcome. Thanks for dropping by.

Ran Across My Baby Book While Unpacking

It has virtually nothing in it (fourth kid), but I was amused by these tidbits:

The Expected:
16 months: Loves to look at books. Eats everything we eat.
At 19 months: Repeats all words and speaks in two-three word phrases.

The Much Less Expected:
16 months: Loves babies of all kinds.
19 months: Can definitely put an idea across with only a few words.

Damn. How different would my life be right now if the love for children or the talent for economical self-expression had stuck?

Student-Centered Horseshit

I’ve been thinking a lot about creative writing and composition pedagogy since I started this new program–where they intersect, how methods from one field can be applied to the other, etc. Workshopping and peer editing, for instance, are now big deals in composition–but they’re dressed up for the academics in terms like “student-centered pedagogy” or “collaborative learning,” and intellectually justified by “decentralization of power in the classroom”–whereas creative writers are more likely, both informally and in print, to call them what they are: ways not to teach. Continue reading

My Last Word on Frey, Swear It

Okay, maybe. We’ll see.

I’ve been mulling over a lengthy response to the “Why didn’t Oprah take Bush’s ass to the woodshed instead?” argument I’ve seen several people make, including Lillet and, indirectly, A-Meg–both of whom I respect tremendously, even though I disagree wildly on this point. I’ve hesitated, though, because I know I have a completely irrational love for Oprah, and many making that argument have a completely irrational hate-on for her, so it’s like fighting about whether somebody’s pretty or not. The bottom line is, the woman did her job well–and whether you can stomach that depends on what you think of her and her job. Continue reading