“Home”: A Short Story

Oh hey! My first published piece came out this morning in Allegory eZine.

Here’s a little taste:

The Jeep rumbles through humid backlands and I count the mosquito bites on my right hand: four, just that I can see. Goddamn Louisiana. Why anyone would voluntarily live in this armpit is beyond me. I hate when the missions take us out to Hicksville, USA–but that hate is wasted, since that’s where we almost always go. The kind of people who have the kind of things we’re after, they live in places like this, where minding your own business is the law of the land.

Three of us out today. Me in the backseat, Jim and Rambo up front. Rambo isn’t his real name, of course, but that’s what he calls himself. Stupid as shit, but good at his job and a good driver, too. He’s driving now. Jim’s in the passenger seat with a walkie-talkie, waiting for more directions. The land flying past has been getting less swampy, more forested for the past couple miles. We’re close, but until we get details from Command, this is just a bug-ridden joy ride. And we don’t get paid unless the mission is a success.

Read the rest online (for free!).

This was a fun one to write. I woke up one morning after having a super intense dream… and then immediately went to the computer and started writing. The story was already about 60% complete—all I had to do was figure out the ending. Which is NOT how I usually come up with story ideas, so all in all it was a weird experience. But I’ll take it.

The pile of rejection slips is paying off. Just gotta keep pluggin’ away.

Women Writers: What’s In a Name?

I want to start off by saying — this is nothing new. What I’m writing about has been goin’ on FOR-EV-ER. BUT. It’s recently been gaining momentum in the news. Which means people are talking about it — and by “it”, I mean women. Specifically, women writers. More specifically, women writers and society’s preconceptions about women writers.

So what are these news tidbits? First up — we have “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters” by Deborah Copaken Kogan, talking about her experiences as a woman in the publishing industry. She titled her first book Shuttergirl — the publisher insisted on Shutterbabe, a title that (duh) negatively impacted how many saw the book.

There’s, of course, Wikipedia’s now infamous decision to create an American Women Novelists sub-category. Rather than, you know, just putting them with the rest of the (male) American Novelists.

And last but not least, there is the fascinating “Coverflip” by Maureen Johnson, challenging people to swap the “gender” of book covers:

I asked people to take a well-known book, then to imagine the author of that book was of the opposite gender, or was genderqueer, and imagine what that cover might look like. Because we have these expectations in our heads already.

Coverflip made painfully clear that we DO judge a book by its cover. Some covers look more “manly” (or at least gender neutral), while others look decidedly “girly”. And women writers — no matter the actual content of their books — often get stuck with a “girly” cover (or in the case of Deborah Copaken Kogan, a sexy title). And those girly covers turn off a lot of readers — aka, men. And hell, some women, too; I admit to being put off by pink covers with cursive titles.

But another thing about Coverflip caught my attention. Many of the redesigned covers don’t just feature different artwork and fonts — they have different names. Stephen King becomes “S. King”. Sarah J. Maas transforms into “S.J. Maas”. Which indicates that many readers aren’t only put off by cover artwork — they’re put off by the name on that cover.

This all, to me, brings up a very big question. I hope to publish a book someday, and when I do — should I publish under my real name? Or use an androgynous pseudonym, a la J.K. Rowling? Rowling’s publisher suggested she use a pseudonym, as a woman writer might be off-putting to boys. Which — ARGH, right? But those are the facts of the matter. That’s the world we’re operating in. If you’re a woman writer, there’s a high chance that your potential readership is going to drastically drop just because, to quote Margaret Atwood, you’re part of the “Writers Who Are Also Women” group.

So do you play the system to your advantage? Write under a pseudonym, knowing you’re likely to fare better, and then shock all the haters when it turns out that *gasp* you have boobs? Or do you write under your own name to “fight the good fight”? Prove that, yes, in fact, women CAN write.

I don’t have any answers to this. It’s a complicated issue and something I ponder. A lot. But I’m always curious to hear others’ take on the matter, particularly other women writers.

So tell me — if you’re a woman. Who happens to be a writer. What do you do? And guys, we don’t want to exclude you — do you tend to ignore books with “girly” covers?

(Edited to add — you may also want to check out the yin to this post’s  yang: Strong Female Characters.)