Reflections on the ‘Single Story’ Video

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It’s been a while since I first came across the TED talk by the African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, called ‘The Danger of A Single Story’. It struck a cord in me a raised feelings that I still struggle to fully articulate.

It pretty much went viral, so I’m sure most people have seen it already, but in case you haven’t, Adichie basically talks about the importance of having more than “a single story”, a single perspective, available in literature. She also comments on the importance of allowing people from different communities to tell their own stories. Because of course who can better tell nuanced and complex stories about a group than the people who are a part of it?

This is all seems like common sense, and yet it’s something that we seem to have particular trouble doing here in the states. Our literature, indeed all our media outlets often leave a lot of people’s voices out of their storytelling. And on the rare occasion where a story is told about a marginalized or a group that’s not considered “mainstream”, they more often than not are told from an outsiders perspective, are heavily reliant on stereotypes, or both.

There are of course some wonderful exceptions. I still remember reading Ursula LeGuin’s ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’, and being startled (and thrilled) at the fact that the main character was a person of color. It was the first book I remember reading that had characters, not just one, but several, who looked like me. That series, and that experience, launched my lifelong love of the fantasy genre.

I read those books sometime in the ’90’s, twenty years or more after they were published. Now that I’m a bit more involved in writing and publishing as a career I find myself wondering why a voracious reader like myself hadn’t run across a main character that was a person of color until that time? Why is it that it’s still so difficult to find characters from different ethnic backgrounds, ability levels, etc. in mainstream fiction? And why on earth, would publishers try to hide it when they do publish these stories, considering how rare they are in the first place?

We live in an increasingly multicultural world, it stands to reason that this should be reflected in our literature and media. Certainly there are a plethora of writers of color out there, so why is it so rare to see them in the mainstream media? And perhaps more important, how do we fix this?

To do my part towards this end I’ve set a goal for myself for the new year: In order to support marginalized writers, I’m going to find a book a month to read that’s written by or features characters that are POC, disabled, and/or GLBT and write a review.

Feel free to leave me some suggestions in the comments if you know any good books I should check out. Also, check back and see if any of the books I review sound like something you might want to pick up yourself!

When It Rains

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Fun fact: Freelance writing sometimes sucks, but not always for the reason you think.

As everyone always says, it’s feast or famine. In the beginning, it’s mostly famine. You often find yourself eating Ramen noodles, and wondering if you shouldn’t have listened to your mother and become a lawyer. You’re sure, that someday soon, you’ll land a gig, maybe even two, and then everything will sort itself out.

What actually happens is that all of a sudden you find yourself completely inundated with work. More work than you can possibly handle, much less do effectively. The worst part is that when this happens, you’ll be so used to being poor, so sick of eating Ramen and ducking your landlord, that you’ll say ‘yes’ to anything and everything that you can.

For a while there I was averaging four 15-20 hour per week gigs. Awesome for my wallet, super stressful on my body and mental state.

At the moment, I’m down to about two, plus grad school, though of course I’m only really getting paid for one. Starting a career as a writer seems particularly frustrating in that one seems to spend a lot of time working on projects that pay little to nothing in order to get enough clips to apply for better paying gigs. Or interning for free to get experience and wondering how in the world people do it for years before getting a steady gig. Not to mention how you’re going to pay your rent.

Don’t despair! The paid gigs are coming!

This can be hard to remember in the lean times, and it’s way to easy to get caught up in a cycle of “what on earth am I doing with my life” blues. It’s also very easy to get caught up in a cycle of undervaluing yourself and your work, which can also lead to giving up on the whole process. I’ve found that a writing community helps a bit with this. It’s always good to have an objective eye to read over your work and help bolster your confidence on days you, like me, are reconsidering that old “fall-back” career.

In fact, it’s often been suggested to me that getting started as a freelance writer is really just a matter of confidence. I have heard stories of new writers with little or no clips that just went for it and pitched big clients, writing things on spec if necessary to prove that they had what it took, and gotten the gig. In some ways that approach isn’t that different from writing a novel really, you just do it and hope for the best when it comes to getting the thing sold.

I still haven’t quite gotten up the gumption to go that route, but I’m working on it.

One thing I do know for sure is that confidence is key to both creativity and opportunity. The first step is always convincing yourself that you can do something, from there convincing others is easy.

Welcome to…grad school?

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It’s official. I am now an MFA, Creative Writing candidate at San Francisco State University. Well I have been for a while now, and I’m shamelessly using it as my excuse for not blogging for the last few months.

Still, I’m super excited about the whole thing. The idea of having several years set aside to work on my writing is pretty much a dream come true, plus the classes and other students have been amazing thus far. The main problem I have with writing has always been an issue with discipline (as anyone who even halfway follows this blog could tell you). I’m one of those writers who only writes when inspiration strikes. Sadly, inspiraSFSU logotion doesn’t strike very often when you work 40 hours a week at something else. Which of course means that a novel, or any other long form project, can take forever. Also, not having a community of other writers to bounce ideas off of, and get feedback from can make the whole process very lonely.

One of the main things that everyone has said about MFA programs is that it trains you to write on a daily basis. I can only hope this is true. Thus far, I haven’t written nearly as much on this project as I would like, though I will admit that being in  classes has kicked me back into writing mode in a more general sense. Hopefully, it will teach me to stop waiting for “the mood” to strike, and get me writing on a more regular schedule. It’s certainly helped in terms of getting helpful feedback on the work I’ve already done.

Another thing that grad school gets you thinking about is money. How much money it costs to be there…and how the hell you’re going to pay it back at the end.

This seems to be the major concern of most people I know, but somehow I’m not really worried about it. I’m not neccisarily attached to the idea of teaching creative writing, which seems to be the main goal of many MFA students, but I’m still pretty confident that I can make my living as a writer in some way. Now, is actually a pretty good time to be a wordsmith in my opinion. There are plenty of websites, media outlets and marketing companies in need of good storytellers. The trick is to get good enough at your craft, and get good enough at marketing yourself to land these positions.

It’s something I’m still working on.

Still, if nothing else, the MFA thing has certainly made my mother happy. She seems to finally be satisfied that I have figured out that “fall back” career, that she’s been talking about for the last decade. If my fall back career is encouraging other writers to do what they love, I suppose I could certainly do worse.

 

 

Midnight in the Library

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I recently began a position as an on-call assistant librarian at a University in San Francisco. Generally, I work the graveyard shift, that is the hours between midnight and 8am.

It's an awesome place to work. I swear!!

It’s an awesome place to work. I swear!!

Needless to say, not many people visit a University library during these hours, particularly early on in the semester. And so myself and one or two other workers endure eight hours of an eerily silent, three story library; and what seems like endless hours of even creepier surveillance videos. Picture after picture of empty rooms, flickering by on the TV screen like something out of a horror movie.

I’ve found that this is the perfect job for writing.

Seriously, eight hours where all I really need to do is stay awake; surrounded by books, with nothing to keep my sleepy mind occupied but imagining strange scenarios.  You can’t really get a better venue for writing about vampires, demons and other assorted odd creatures. The only way I could do better was if I were writing straight up horror.

Which I might end up doing if I keep at this shift.

On the weekends the library actually does close, but not until midnight. You’d think this would somehow be less creepy, but you’d be wrong. On these nights one person has to do the walk around to be sure we’re not locking some hapless student in until the next morning.

And so it falls to me, the one with the overactive imagination, to wander through rows upon rows of old books checking for stragglers. Occasionally you get a cold blast of air from nowhere in particular, or hear footsteps and doors closing on floors you’ve already checked for people.

But I’m sure that’s just the sound of someone I overlooked leaving the bathroom.

Isn’t it?

How I Spend My Tuesday Nights

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I’m sure I’m not the only writer that spends their nights wondering what actors will play their characters if their book was ever made into a movie.

It’s certainly a modern day thing, I’m sure Shakespeare never had this problem. Still it’s a rather fun exercise nonetheless.

Personally, I find it rather helpful to the writing process. I have a file of pictures of the various actors, actresses, and models that remind me of my characters. They even have their own playlists on my iPod. I find the music especially useful for getting myself into the mood for working on a particular project; or into the mind of a character that’s being especially difficult.

At the moment, I’m working on the second part of my novel (having been sent back to the drawing board after I thought that I was done), which is a major turning Mercy3point for the character Mercy. In other words, I’m spending this Tuesday night ogling pictures of Ben Barnes and listening to Florence + the Machine.

Hey, there are certainly worse ways to spend a weekday night.

Aside from the fact that I’m slightly in love with the man (or at least his portrayal of Dorian Gray), I dig the idea of Ben Barnes as Mercy. He’s one of the few actors I can think of that has the perfect blend of innocence and snark to pull the character off. Bust up one side of his face with some serious movie makeup and I think he’d be perfect.

At the moment, my pick for my main character Alice is Paula Patton. I’m curious as to what you think of the match-up fair readers. Any thoughts?