The SFWC was amazing this year for many reasons. Most of them lead back to the exciting news that I got a publishing deal earlier this month, in a two-book deal with Kensington Publishing. One aspect of the conference that felt like a miracle was that my fabulous editor who acquired the book, Mercedes Fernandez of the Dafina imprint, was there at the conference. I was able to meet her, hang out with her, and get to know her a little bit. I probably got to spend more time with her than I would have if I had visited her in the middle of her extremely busy editor’s life in New York. So it truly felt miraculous because, since becoming a mom in 2009, I have spent zero time in New York City. I haven’t even gotten a chance to meet my agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler, who’s been representing me for a year. So, as I’m kicking off my debut novel project, and will be working so closely with Mercedes, it’s such a blessing to have gotten to connect with her in person.
The other thing that was really crucial at the conference was feeling as if I finally knew where my book would be categorized in the marketplace. Mercedes has a clear vision that this series is urban women’s fiction. So it falls into that amorphous, hard to define category of women’s fiction, but decidedly “urban” with women of color in the center. This makes sense because there are particular challenges that my protagonist faces, within a low-income community in an urban environment. One of the things that was great at the conference was that there are so many different genres and literary subcommunities represented. And so at a panel on women’s writing, I just asked point blank about writers’ organizations for authors of women’s fiction. Romance writers have RWA, mystery writers have SinC and MWA, sci-fi/fantasy writers have a huge support infrastructure with multiple organizations and conferences. It turned out at the women writer’s panel there was a woman in the room who had started a women’s fiction organization, Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Right then and there, I could connect with her, get her card and find out about the organization. So it was great to feel that I could begin the process of networking and orienting myself based on how my book was going to be branded in the marketplace.
The final highlight of the conference was the ability to sit back and enjoy the experience more fully. The previous year’s conference was exciting, but I certainly had a significant level of anxiety. I had neither an agent nor a publishing deal, and this was the biggest annual gathering of literary professionals in the Bay Area. So I was busy preparing my pitch for agents and nervously waiting in line for my turn to meet them, and pitching them in search of a breakthrough. In other words, at last year’s conference, it was an opportunity to have contact with industry gatekeepers who had something I desperately wanted, and I was hoping someone there would see the value in my book and want to support my quest for publication. But this year, I didn’t feel as if anyone had anything I needed that wasn’t already committed to supporting me. Mercedes had already emailed saying she wanted to meet for dinner. So that was a done deal. Of course, there are still a million things that I need, and it’s not as if they’re all being dumped in my lap. But with a book deal, the conference became more of an opportunity for relaxed networking among a group of people who were more like peers. As opposed to the past where I was trying to break in. So the highlights became about connections that I was building and not hoping for the one big break. And in that place of relaxation, where I wasn’t busy trying to win the favor of the agent editors hotshots at the conference, I could sit back and focus more on building with other writers. I made much stronger connections with other writers. Including making meeting a couple of black women writers and introducing the to my editor so that they could pitch her about their work. And I love that part of networking; I love connecting other women artists with gatekeepers and resources. Just this week, two different women artists have told me that I played an instrumental role for them when they were just starting out. One was a hip hop artist who said I had given her rap duo their first public performance. I had invited them to come join me during my set and rap on stage a decade ago at a hip hop festival. The other was Lisa Marie Rollins, of Women’s Magazine on KPFA, who said in a recent interview that I was crucial to helping her as an emerging theater performer. The funny part is that I don’t even remember either of those moments, but having long been the recipient of artistic generosity, it has always felt natural to me to share. So this year’s SFWC was amazing because I didn’t come to the conference with such a strong sense that there was something I needed. I came with a sense of abundance and felt like I had something to offer.
My latest for xojane: “It’s Hard to Kick ‘Fifty Shades’ Where It’s Down: Classism, Literary Exploitation & Women’s Fiction”Posted: February 27, 2015
Just last week, I found out that the author of Fifty Shades of Grey is Latina. This xojane piece is the first of several pieces that revisit my understanding of the Fifty Shades phenomena with her ethnicity in mind…
So inspired to be in the Black Women Writing Twitter conversation today hosted by @BitchMedia and @SafyHallanFarah.
I posted a couple excerpts of this poem. Here it is in it’s entirety. I wrote it several years ago, before I had my daughter.
i resist the notion of biological clocks ticking
fillls my ears
like a race
my feet throb against asphalt
muscles burn beneath sweat slick skin
lungs gasping toward the deadline
my life this
frantic pressure to-do list
get over childhood shit find partner develop artistic career do couples counseling
cut hip hop/spoken word album slow down have more fun finish hip hop theater show
do def poetry finish MFA degree take care of health have more fun exercise more
spend more time with family finish first novel finish second novel slow down finish non-fiction book get day job make real money slow down have more fun
over winter break
i crank out three hundred pages of new novel
grad school peers gasp at extreme output
don’t understand I race against
how black women artists
oh, are you one of the dancers?
fight to keep up with
sorry, we already have a chick on the bill
male peers with wives
we liked your work a lot, but we just don’t think it has universal appeal…
male peers with girlfriends who dedicate themselves to their man’s career
we’d love to have you perform, but we can’t pay you
male peers with legions of female fans an army of free labor
I just love his work I have the biggest crush on him!
male favorites of women producers/presenters/directors/gatekeepers and
his show proudly sponsored by…
backed by male-run institutions
not now, but maybe we can book you during women’s history month
male peers get the hookup
do you have a really sexy poem?
baby mamas in the bleachers raise their kids
as they dash
do you have a really sexy poem? something to, you know, really get the audience going?
black and female and femme we run in a different lane
no cheerleading squad
no corporate sponsorship
stitch our own running clothes
childless already a lap behind
exhausted but steady
we finally fall out
with babies in arms
soft brown next generation
pressed against nursing breasts
watch our male peers
blood pounds in my ears like ticking
in praise of Vasudhara*
one pair of hands pressed against my ovaries
on pair on the keyboard
one pair clasped tight in prayer
calling on Elegba^
calling on Oshun^
calling on Yemaya^
calling on the ancestors
ori mi wagbo ti wa^^
for the (un)finished
*Vasudhara is a name for the Buddhist bodhisattva of abundance and fertility. She is considered to be the consort of Kuvera, the god of wealth.
Vasudhara is popular in Nepal, where she is a common household deity. She is usually represented with six arms. In the lower left hand she usually holds her characteristic symbol, the treasure vase. The hand above holds another distinguishing attribute, the ears of corn (Tib. ‘bru’I sne ma). The third left hand holds a book, the Prajnaparamita sutra.
The lower right hand is in the varada mudra of charity; the one above holds three precious wish-fulfilling jewels, while the upper hand makes a mudra of salutation. The right leg is pendent, and the foot is unsupported resting upon a vase.
^Elegba, Oshun & Yemaya are deities or Orisha, manifestations of God in the cosmology of the Yoruba of Nigeria. Elegba is the deity associated with the crossroads, chance, trickery, and destiny. Oshun is the deity associated with rivers, wealth, fertility, sexuality and creativity. Yemaya is the deity associated with motherhood, nurture and the ocean.
^^ori mi wagbo ti wa – a Yoruba incantation: I accept the divine destiny of my head [in Yoruba worldview, the soul is said to be in the head.]
Last weekend’s conference was absolutely amazing. Also, attending a writer’s conference just after you get a book deal is like running a victory lap…of course, all the hard work is on its way.
I’m still catching up with work, parenting, home, writing since taking three days to attend the conference, but I thought I’d share my 15 tweet highlights as I pull my thoughts together for a more thorough recap.
The official deal was reported a couple weeks ago, and I just got the chance to meet my editor Mercedes Fernandez at the SF Writer’s Conference last night. Thanks go out to my fantastic agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler, and to Kensington Dafina
who bought the book. Actually two books. I am incredibly grateful to my fam, writing community & all the folks who supported & encouraged me along the way.
Happy Valentine’s day to all, and may everyone find their heart’s desires.
NBC’s Brian Williams claimed to have been shot down in a helicopter in Iraq. Last week that lie was exposed by one of the men on the aircraft, and Williams has apologized for his “mistake in recalling.” Shortly thereafter, hilarious memes appeared, including Brian Williams “misremembering” landing on the moon, sitting at Martin Luther King’s feet for the “I Have A Dream” speech, riding in a car with Tupac, and inventing Sesame Street. Yet, while the Twitterverse has been publicly shaming him with the #BrianWilliamsMisremembers hashtag, I can’t help but draw a connection to the Men’s Rights Movement.
According to a recent Mother Jones article, the movement began with deep connections to feminism. Men’s Rights movement leader Warren Farrell was once embraced by Gloria Steinem. However, the movement eventually split with feminism. Instead of pushing an agenda of human rights for all, regardless of gender (which is certainly my understanding of feminism) and a critique of the systematic subjugation of women, the Men’s Rights Movement claims that men are the primary victims of gender discrimination, “casualties of a society that relies on their sacrifices while ignoring their suffering.” And, in fact, Brian Williams’ actions are a perfect example of this dynamic. A powerful, wealthy man appropriates the sacrifice and suffering of other, less powerful men.
In 2003, President George W. Bush (who was never in the military) arrived in a plane that landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. He then posed in a flight suit with actual pilots under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. Like Williams, Bush was guilty of stealing glory in the war in Iraq. Not only was the notion of an accomplished mission completely untrue from a military standpoint, but it also created a fraudulent visual narrative during his presidency by posing in a war hero’s uniform on an aircraft carrier. Like Williams, these privileged, sheltered men want the valor of heroism without facing any of the actual danger. This is particularly painful when veterans, who are predominantly male, have historically been treated so poorly when they return to the US after their military service.
Men like Bush, who represent the 1%, routinely exploit and mistreat other men. In blue collar or body-based work, from war to manual labor, these privileged men keep their hands clean, but profit from other men’s dirty work. So the Men’s Movement is accurate when pointing out that the majority of men are exploited and oppressed. And they are also correct that this oppression is based on their gender.
Indeed, with endless examples like Bush and Williams, I would argue that grievances about sacrifice and exploitation of the Men’s Rights Movement have a very valid basis. Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly, many men in the movement have decided to target women, and particularly female sexuality with their most vicious hatred. One such man, Paul Elam, is known for his infamous quote that some women go around “with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.” Elam was the focus of a recent BuzzFeedNEWS article, “How Men’s Rights Leader Paul Elam Turned Being A Deadbeat Dad Into A Moneymaking Movement.” The article painstakingly documented the lies and hypocrisy of his rhetoric towards women. According to the article, “Elam relinquished his parental rights in court and refused to pay child support.” 25 years later, he told his daughter “he was sorry he had failed her,” yet he reportedly rails against “a family court system rigged against dutiful fathers.” According to BuzzFeed, “Elam calls [his organization] ‘the largest men’s human rights group of its kind anywhere,’ though it does few of the things human rights groups typically do. It provides no services, offers no legal aid, and litigates no cases. It does not regularly lobby lawmakers, advise candidates, produce public policy proposals or original research…[instead, it] focuses on ‘bringing attention to injustices’ by ‘pushing for a change in the dialogue’ and publicizing the plight of men mistreated by society.” Which really amounts to Elam mouthing off. According to his daughter, “If they were focused on legislation, or even just creating an open dialogue, I could see a true validity for what they are doing, but they haven’t done that. They have no intentions of actually creating a solution. It’s been almost 10 years and they have nothing to show for it.” She goes on to say, “Here you have men asking him for advice on how to get kids back, and he doesn’t say, ‘I was a really shit dad and a drug addict and I hate women and I’m not going to talk about my estranged kids…’” Further, Elam’s organization “is a for-profit limited liability corporation…Asked repeatedly by BuzzFeed News how the donations were spent…Elam said, ‘It’s none of your fucking business.'” Later, he confirmed that “every dollar goes right in my pocket.” Elam is like the mirror image of Williams and Bush; they want to play heroes when they aren’t. Elam wants to play victim when he’s not.
Elam can get rich off of an oppressed constituency that is hungry to hear its concerns articulated. Elam is exploiting men’s desire to be heard and validated, even as he takes their money under false pretenses. And instead of directing their anger towards making change, he inflames his constituency’s misogyny. It is far easier to join in the systematic scapegoating and attacking of women’s sexuality and agency than to take the risky path of challenging the wealthy and powerful men who actually run things. And it’s easier to take their money and mouth off that fight for justice for poor and working class men. Which makes these leaders in the Men’s Rights Movement just as cowardly and exploitative as men like Brian Williams.