Friday, August 31, 2012

"I'll never be hip."

Hello there, o blog readers -- if indeed, any readers of this particular blog remain! If any do not, I seriously can't blame you. Apparently this whole committing-to-write-to-the-world-at-large-with-some-regularity thing doesn't come totally naturally to me. And yet I shall persevere anyway! If only because it gave me the opportunity to use the phrase 'I shall persevere,' which gives me a mighty thrill.

After many months (some might even say two years' worth of months) chilling out upon my bonny isle, I am back to the city for graduate school! Yes, that's right -- I finally motivated myself to apply, and as such, am kicking it once more in my most beloved English department. In addition to m'graduate studies, I'm teaching an introductory-level English course, which I'm sure will prove an adventure. I didn't faint when I had to stand at the front of the classroom on the first day; I like to think that's an auspicious beginning. I also wound up rambling at my students about Xena: Warrior Princess and the rap from Teen Witch, but I think that's good, right? Just proving I'm hip with the kids! (Yeah no don't say anything. Don't shatter my delusions.)

Speaking of the rap from Teen Witch!

So this is love ... la la la la la ...

As I told my friend yesterday, this is my new standard by which perfection is measured. And quite frankly, I dare anything -- like, an-y-thing -- to TOP THAT. A ha ha wit!

But what I'd really like to talk about (apart from the greatest rap battle ever to grace the entire world, of course) is Know Not Why! I know, I know: again, some more. I'm basically that lady that Garfunkel & Oates lambast in Pregnant Women Are Smug, only I don't even have an actual human being to rhapsodize over. But I do have a book! Full of human beings that I made up! That works, right? Sure. For the sake of this blog post, let's say that works.

My dear little paper-child -- okay, Kindle screen child, and yes, I get that my use of the word 'child' here is creepy, I promise I'll stop soon -- has been released for an entire summer now! And I am still a little bit 'pinch me, I'm dreaming!' over the whole thing; the reception of it, by and large, has been so kind and positive and I am just happy beyond measure or articulation that I could brighten up anyone's literary life with it. It is terrifying and weird to take something as personal as a novel you've been hanging out with for years and then just toss it out of the nest (now it's a baby bird? I dunno? Writing! Metaphors!, and you lovely readers -- assuming you're reading this -- have made it relatively painless and for that I thank you from the bottom of my Top That-lovin' heart.

Of course, the feedback hasn't been universally positive, because nothing has universal appeal (except Top That), and so to those of you who didn't like it -- assuming you're reading this ... for some reason? -- I thank you so much for giving it a try and taking a chance on it!

A few points have come up frequently in the reviews, and they struck me as really interesting, so here, let's discuss them a little bit! Because it's my blog and I'll ramble if I want to, by Jove.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

At first, it's just this idea.

Why, hello there, blog! Let's just say my four month silence was me being mysterious, as opposed to just lazy and uninteresting. You'll never know what manner of thrilling adventures went down in that span of time!

(Justine and I finished watching Xena at last. A moment of respectful silence, please. Okay, now you're caught up!)

This isn't my book, but it's a book! GINNY WOOLF 4 LIFE, YO.
I am back because I finally have something to talk about! Namely: books, and the fact that I have written some. This whole ebook publishing phenomenon got its hooks into me at last, because if there's one thing I love more than the idea of being a published author, it is the idea of being a published author without having to agonize over query letters and synopses and just how unfit I am, in my current state, to be endeavoring to publish anything. Oh, technology, thank goodness for you!

About a month ago, I put up some of my short stories, which are all pretty much standard Me fare -- that is to say, magic and corsets and fairytale whimsy are often involved in one way or another. I get the sense that this is probably the sort of thing that people expect to see from me. It is usually what goes on in my brain, in fact!

Yesterday evening, I also put up my first novel, which is about a twenty-two year old guy named Howie who concocts the ingenious scheme to get a job at an arts 'n crafts store so that he will be able to get some action from his lady coworkers, but then winds up falling for his male boss instead. This is a hard one to pitch to people, and is probably why literary agents have not exactly been throwing pebbles at my window beneath my balcony at night, trying to win the hand and heart of this fair tale. I will always so vividly remember giving a plot summary to one of my very dear coworkers, and having her respond with, "Ew!" It's possible my heart wept a few heart tears at that one. So I was wary to share it with anyone I had ever actually met before in my life, because I get the sense that everyone's response is going to be 'UM YEAH OKAY WHY IS SHE WRITING ABOUT THIS' and then maybe backing away slowly.

So here is how it came about in the first place!

Me & Justine. TAKE THIS, HATERSSSS. (We dig us some Kanye.)
My dear, dear, awesome friend Justine (not the Justine previously mentioned; I am drowning in a wealth of freaking awesome best friends named Justine) and I were out at Burger King, like, years ago, having a silly conversation, as we are wont to do. It somehow circled around to the fact that one of her male coworkers had once worked in an arts 'n crafts store, and we were trying to speculate why exactly a guy would want to work there. (This premise is, of course, inherently problematic in terms of being pretty sexist, which you will get to hear more about later. Of course guys can work in arts 'n crafts stores. But what can I say? Our humor is edgy, man. Or possibly just unevolved.) We reached the conclusion that, no doubt, his motive must have been to score with the ladyfolk ... but that, in an unfortunate twist, everyone would no doubt just figure he was gay. And, as I do approximately once a day, I believe I went, "Oh my god, that would make the best romcom, THAT NEEDS TO BE A MOVIE BASED ON A BOOK THAT I WILL WRITE."

Soon after that, I busted out the first chapter as a joke-gift for Justine. I printed it out and she spilled her coffee on it -- that cherished first chapter is still hanging out somewhere, coffee-stained and beloved! By me, if no one else. She and my other glorious roomie Renata read it and laughed a lot, as did my wonderful group of online writing pals. And I was totally enjoying the somewhat rare and entirely giddy experience of hanging out in a character voice that had just appeared, fully formed and ridiculous and completely distinct and NOT TO BE SILENCED, and so I very merrily kept writing.

On, like, the day after I started writing this story, Justine and Renata and I went to see Milk. I still very distinctly remember walking out of the theatre into the frigid, too-early, wintery dark, and just feeling despairing and hopeful and discouraged and shaken to my bones. And this story could never quite be just light and funny, after that.

Know Not Why is, admittedly, many many pages of my protagonist's torment over the idea of being openly gay; in the years of grappling with this manuscript after the first draft's completion, I very often felt guilty about that. Around the time that the A Single Man film was being made, I came across a quote from ... I'm pretty sure it was the director, Tom Ford (but my memory is failing me a bit!), about how Christopher Isherwood's work is distinguished by the fact that, though it's about gay characters, their lives don't revolve around being gay and that struggle. I felt awful about contributing yet another woeful 'Alas! Gayness!' tale to a genre that deserves as much diversity as any other kind of love story. I still don't know quite how to feel about this. But I love this story, and I felt my way through this story every step of the way (like, occasionally there was probably weeping?), and I hope that shines through.

I've also come to realize, upon acquiring a bit of distance and perspective after spending so long in this thing, that it is a lamentably accurate reflection of the world we live in. Things have improved by leaps and bounds and Neil Patrick Harrises, but our culture's inherent tendency to equate male homosexuality with femininity and femininity with The Lowest You Can Get If You're A Man is so ingrained that you don't even think to see it most of the time. I watched a wonderful, soul-wrenching documentary called For The Bible Tells Me So a few months ago, and in it, one of the commentators pointed out that male homosexuality is so reviled because it apparently involves casting one of the men in the relationship in the role of a woman -- and there is nothing worse for a man, culture tells us, than to be like a woman. "You throw like a girl."  "Sissy."  "Pussy."  A certain word that starts with C that I won't bust out because this is a wholesome PG-13 rated blog. (Although the fact that that is like the most offensive on our list of swearwords is fundamentally sort of gross and stupid -- oh heavens, not lady parts!!!! I think we all just need to listen to some Medieval Baebes.)

Now, I don't even need to go into how this is sucky on, like, all the levels, because it goes without saying; my point is, it is this, I think, that has Howie so paralyzed. He's sort of comfortably miserable as a slacker and wants to be a totally unexceptional human being, someone whose #1 skill is slipping under the radar and being ignored and unremarkable (except for maybe in terms of having mad quipping skillz). If he agrees to openly acknowledge this part of his life, living in the world that we live in now, he will no longer be perceived as "totally ordinary," and there are always going to be people who hate him on principle. And that is why he's so stuck. And that is why, in his head, there is no greater solution to his whole existence than getting a girl. What's more manly than wanting to tap them ladies, right?

I, like my boo Howie, am blessed with so many great humans.
Here are a zany few of 'em!
With all that being said, this wasn't written to be a manifesto about the screwed up notions of gender and sexuality in our culture -- although clearly I could prattle on about that forever. In addition to all the soul-searching and anguish and introspection, this book is basically a love story, a love-your-life-and-all-the-great-humans-in-it story. Sure, there's fellas having crushy feelings at each other (and oh my heart how I love their love!), but it's also about loving your family, loving your friends -- the ones who have known you forever and the ones you meet when you're older, and all the joys and the pitfalls.

It is also (I hope) zany and silly and ridiculous, because zany silly ridiculous humor is kinda my favorite.

Having grown up quite the internet nerd, I've always been ensconced in a world where love stories transcend the canonical tales that birthed them. My first experience with this was deciding, at about 13, that Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were clearly in love with each other, which turned a sad and beautiful story into an even sadder and more beautiful one. A conviction that Buffy and Faith kinda wanted to jump each other's bones followed soon after. Fandom culture follows chemistry whither it wanders, with very little regard for heterocentricism (a word that I sort of suspect I just made up; just roll with it!), and there are not words for how much I love and believe in that. Sometimes canon even follows fandom right back -- see, for example, Xena and Gabrielle, a.k.a. the most beautiful freaking love story of all time. (Finally engaged! It's about time, ladies.)

But oh, for a world where gay love stories get to be text instead of subtext! We're heading in that direction slowly but surely; I hope that it will be my generation of storytellers that really makes it mainstream. Stories are such an important reflection of our culture, and the more we see of Brittany and Santana, or Mitchell and Cam, or the thousand-thousand other couples that will follow them (at least a thousand of them near-inevitably provided by me, even if I am only telling audienceless tales to my hard drive), the more bigotry and fear will fade, because you absolutely can't deny that love stories are love stories.

And love stories are lovely, and y'all just know I am going to bombard you with roughly a million of them.

But here's one, just to start.

Know Not Why: A Novel (Buy it here @ Smashwords / Buy it here @ Amazon Kindle Store / Goodreads Page) - Howie gets a job at Artie Kraft's Arts 'N Crafts hoping to score with his lady coworkers. After all, girls love a sensitive guy, and what's more sensitive than dedicating your life to selling yarn and ... stuff? (Okay, so maybe it'd be a good idea to actually learn what one sells at an arts 'n crafts store.) But things don't go exactly according to plan. Coworker #1 is Cora: tiny, much-pierced, and way too fierce to screw with in any sense. Coworker #2 is Kristy: blonde, bubbly, unattainable perfection. And Coworker #3 is, well, Arthur. It goes without saying that he’s not an option. Right?

… Right?

Yeah, Howie’s life just got straight up confusing.

Pun intended.