Tag Archives: writing

2012 Litquake: Women Writing for Change

Litquake 2012

 
For those of you who missed my presentation, here’s the introduction of my discussion about women writing for change presented during the opening day of Litquake, as part of the Off the Richter Scale series:

A woman who writes for change is unafraid of taking on the challenges of the real world and exploring solutions through her writing. As a writer of women’s fiction, my stories tend to focus on how the larger world affects the character’s smaller world. For example, my latest novel, Out of Balance, grew out of my interest in how the Great Recession impacted women, particularly women forced into the workplace like my narrator, Beverly Mael, who was content being a stay-at-home wife and mother until her husband became unemployed.

Men lost 3 times as many jobs as women in 2009, according to Falling behind: the Impact of the Great Recession and the Budget Crisis on California’s Women and Their Families, published by the California Budget Project. This research coincides with a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2010, in which 22 percent of women were found to out earn their husbands. This phenomenon is not limited to any socio-economic class. It is culturally pervasive. In the June 2012 issue of Allure magazine, actress Elizabeth Banks discusses what it feels like to be a woman who out earns her husband. “It’s not easy,” Banks says. “We’re the first generation to do it. And it’s very ingrained even in our DNA that men are hunter-gatherers who are meant to go off and provide. And that we are really meant to stay at home and have kids…We’re all figuring the same thing out.”

My interviews with women confirmed what Banks expressed: it is true that more women are employed and earning more than their male counterparts, but a lot of them feel ambivalent about their role as breadwinners. They no longer have the luxury to take a lower-paying job that’s more fulfilling or stay home and raise their children. They have to work. The men I spoke with are just as confused and disheartened by being thrown into the role of primary caretakers. They are learning how to be room parents and tutors and chauffeurs, chefs and housekeepers and bookkeepers. Both men and women have had their worlds thrown out of balance.

To discover how one couple adapted to their new roles, read Out of Balance, available in hardback, paperback, and e-book (Nook, Kindle, and other formats).

The Writing Process in Progress

Celebrating the Completion of the First Draft

Writing a novel is like being pregnant. You can write whatever you want without anyone judging you just as you can eat whatever you want without anyone judging you. People ask with interest about the progress of your novel just as people ask about the stage of a pregnancy. “Oh, I’m halfway through the first draft,” you say, which is the equivalent of saying, “I’m in the start of my second trimester. The queasiness is over. The fatigue is gone. And I feel great!”

The closer you get to the finish, however, things change. People become annoyed by how many social obligations you miss and how distracted you seem to be because you’re caught up in another world. Just as at the last stage of pregnancy, you become irritable and uncomfortable, unable to eat without heartburn and unable to find a comfortable position to sleep because you are so big you feel like a beached whale. You want to finish the book; give birth to the baby. Have the excitement and the misery end.

But once you type, “The End,” the elation and relief ebb away. Anxiety and depression sometimes follow. All those months spent on high alert, jotting down notes in the middle of dinner, waking up in the middle of the night hearing your narrator’s voice, suddenly evaporate. The adrenalin rush crashes, and suddenly you find yourself deflated and empty. The road that stretches before you is miles and miles of toil and work. The baby has been born. Now the anticipation has been replaced with the real work of the frequent feedings, diaper changes, and mothering to raise the child into a good human being. Just the anticipation of writing a novel is replaced with the real work of editing, publishing, and marketing.

Finishing a novel is a lot like giving birth. You have the same feelings of fear and anxiety, elation and relief once you get to the final chapter and type “The End.”

I always go through postpartum depression whenever I finish a novel. All those weeks leading up to the finish, full of adrenaline and excitement, working non-stop around the clock between my everyday life and the life of my fictional world suddenly deflates once the book has been written. Gone is a whole half of what I have been engaged in, and the lost is enormous.

Now I wake up and glance at the clock and wonder who will greet me when I rush to the computer. Sure, I could start the edit or the next book in the series and plunge right back into the world, but I prefer to work with breaks. Sometimes the breaks stretch too long and suddenly I am stranded in what would look to others as writer’s block. Most times, however, I engage in smaller, more manageable projects to keep my creative juices flowing. This time I feel the need to return to my painting, which has been sorely neglected during this last novel.

Sure, there are other tasks that involve writing: the one-sentence pitch, the back copy blurb, the marketing materials that will be printed on bookmarks and postcards and press releases and online in blogs and forums. But that’s different. It is the business side of writing, and it is very different than being immersed in a separate world where things are happening, stakes are high, and emotions even higher.

The postpartum phase of finishing a novel is a natural part of the writing process. It does not have to end in depression, although mine always tend to. I think it’s because I immerse myself deeply in my work and experience “The End” as a loss rather than a celebration. Joy comes from writing, not having written. If I am not writing, I am not a writer. I’m only a part of who I am, and I think that adds to the sense of loss.

Poetry…a Priceless Gift


My daughter hates when I write about her. But I’m so proud of her. I can’t help it.

Rose has always been good at math. She intuitively understands abstract concepts and algebraic formulas. But she has always struggled with language arts. She was slow to talk, slow to read, and slow to grasp the structure of a sentence.

A couple of years ago I purchased Rip the Page! by Karen Benke as a gift for my daughter. I had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting Karen at Hedgebrook, a writer’s retreat on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound in the winter of 1997. Karen is a creative writing expert and an award-winning writer. She is the author of the poetry collection, SISTER, and teaches as a Poet in the School. She also offers creative writing workshops for children and adults. Although our busy schedule conflicted with the workshops Karen offered, the book is written to mirror a writing workshop. Rose dove into the workbook-style writing manual designed specifically for children. By the time she finished the book, she had improved her writing skills and increased her confidence as a writer.

She was so confident of her writing skills that she wrote a poem for me on Mother’s Day.

Hummingbird

Mom, you are like a colorful hummingbird
Your soft wings rub against me and comfort me when I am down
Your singing is so beautiful it comforts me more

You wake me up at sunrise with your singing
Then you sit on a branch and watch me
You will never leave my side
Soon I am walking on earth and you are flying right above me

You watch me move ever so softly
You are one of the closest people in my life
You understand me like how you understand the wind

Mom, you give me strength
You are always there for me
You are very special to me
You are my mom and I LOVE YOU WILL ALL MY HEART

After reading the poem, my eyes brimmed with tears of joy and pride. I know my daughter could not have written the poem without Karen’s wonderful instructive writing guide.

If you have a child who loves to read and write, Rip the Page! is a gift that will give back to you just as it has for me through my daughter’s poem.

Watch a video of Karen Benke promoting Rip the Page!

Short Story, “No Sleep,” in Snail Mail Review

Check Out Snail Mail Review

It’s like a catchy song you can’t get out of your head. It plays over and over again, that same melody, and just when you think it’s gone, someone says something to start it over again.

It’s just a silly dream
, I keep telling myself. Let it go.

But it follows me like a mist, shrouding my thoughts, collecting itself around my body, until I feel like I am walking through sleep. In my dream, I’m being chased by my mother dressed as the Grim Reaper. In her tangled dark robes, she slices through fog with a Kill Bill machete and screams, “I brought you into this world, I’ll take you out.”

My mother has been dead for 10 years. I haven’t thought much about her, hardly at all. I’m a practical man, a stock clerk studying to be an engineer, and I know from my professors that only the facts count.

But this dream unsettles me. For three days, I drink coffee in the afternoon, double espresso with two packets of sugar, a makeshift elixir of go-go-go. In the evening, when my co-workers head over to the cantina for margaritas and chips and salsa, I down a bottle of Gatorade and an energy bar to hurtle me through the commute home. My boss says, “You should take a vacation. Get some rest.” But the last thing I want to do is sleep. Ever since that dream of my machete-wielding mother three nights ago, I’ve been keeping myself up. By choice. I don’t tell anyone. They’d think I’m crazy.

To read the rest of my short story, “No Sleep,” purchase a copy of the Spring 2012 issue of Snail Mail Review.

On another note, it does not look like I’ll be going to New York this year. Thank you to everyone who voted for my blog on the Goodreads website. I appreciate the support. Maybe I’ll have better luck next year.