The Power of Rejection

So, it has been a while but I thought it was time to get back to blogging.

Today I received a rejection. As a writer, it is just a part of every day life. It was for a short story to a new market (new to me anyway) and I wasn’t really expecting an acceptance. Some people think that may just be sending out negative vibes, but I consider myself a realist.

I opened my email and quickly scanned the message. Thanks for submitting, blal…blah..not at this time…blah. But wait! There was more.

The editor then went on to explain that they don’t often personalize their rejections (which, I totally understand. They get a lot of submissions) but they were taking the time to give me a personalized response.

It was joyous to read their feedback. They made sure to let me know how well my story fit into their wheelhouse. I have been struggling to find my voice as an author, so this was very affirming. It feels good to know when you’ve tuned in to someone’s wavelength. Honestly, this rejection brought me more joy than some of my acceptances.

For all of you editors out there please understand how much feedback means to an emerging author. Also, if you are an editor, particularly if your name is Kristi Peterson Schoonover, who provides direct feedback, please know how much you are appreciated.

If I learned anything today, it was that sometimes the cloud is the silver lining.

Diversity in Writing

I just finished reading two articles posted through a Facebook group for horror writers. I will not name the author here because I don’t feel it is necessary. He is entitled to his opinion, I just think the examples he uses to illustrate his points are weak and unsupported.

His first article makes claims that individuals who are “born different” (his words) don’t have less of a right to be included, but also don’t have more of a right to be more included than other groups. Ok. Where do I start with this?

Firstly, if you were to take a look at who is currently represented in books, you would see that those who are considered different are not in the forefront. There is an over representation of Caucasian characters. Period. Does this mean we don’t enjoy these characters? No. What this means is that his worry about these marginalized groups getting the spotlight is unwarranted because they simply aren’t.

This leads me another point he makes. He claims (using math as a way to justify his stupid comments) that if gay people only make up 2 percent of the population, so a story needs at least 50 characters to include a gay one. Otherwise, it is just tokenism.What the actual F? If you are a poor writer and throw in an underdeveloped character and slap on a minority label, then that is tokenism. Not writing about a gay character because the math doesn’t add up, is just stupid.

He goes on to tell readers how we can make judgements about people based on what we see. That the balding man cannot be blamed for being born that way but the overweight person clearly lives an unhealthy lifestyle by choice. Apparently he has never heard of any medical conditions which cause obesity.

The other article goes off about people being “triggered” and how the use of warnings isn’t going to stop someone from reading something they may be sensitive to. He uses the examples of music, film and cigarette packages, claiming they fail to protect those they were designed to. Fact. Kids who start smoking or sneak into an R-rated film do so in order to rebel. If you put a label on a book, or a statement that says that the book contains a graphic rape scene, those who do not want to read that will heed the warning. I don’t think the government should dictate that authors do this. But I do think that there is nothing wrong with having a warning in your book to indicate there is sensitive material. If given the choice, you decide to purposely not include a warning based on your own rights and freedoms, then you are more than insensitive. You’re an asshole.

I don’t have the energy to pick apart these articles. I read them and concluded that I can do better. I can ask questions and create diverse characters because I enjoy what different groups and their perspectives have to offer. I also want to create characters with which my readers can identify. I want people to see themselves in strong roles where differences such as being deaf or a wheel chair user are normalized. Why would I act like people like this don’t exist?

It seems like the author wants to sound like he believes in equal rights and inclusion. His examples make it sound more like he is bitter and jealous. If you are getting defensive about your position even when you claim to know better, it is going to come off as discriminatory no matter how you try to sell it.

Don’t confuse a call to inclusion as an affront to your individual rights. You are not pandering to the masses if you want to have voices be heard or characters seen as a representation of our modern world.

I find articles like these are incendiary. People with half a world view cling onto ideas and make it about themselves. I can hear it now: No one is going to tell me I have to include diverse characters. This is an infringement upon my right to expression. This is my freedom, you can’t take that away.

You’re right. You cannot be forced to do anything. But what I can do is create a world where the community I am part of chooses diversity. I want to tell tales which are about everyone. Writers who are inclusive aren’t part of some secret group that is trying to push an agenda and pit one group against another. We just want to tell a story which reflects the beauty of the world we live in.

You do you. I will continue to move ahead and not feel threatened (because really, dude. That’s how you’re coming off here) by the differences around me.

Poetry Reading

Check out these poems! I can only lay claim to “Substance”. The others are fabulous, emotive and imaginative.

Poetry Month!

It has been quite busy lately and I realized that I had been ignoring my blog. Really, I write on here for myself but am always happy when others enjoy my thoughts.

Here in Canada, we are just starting our National Poetry Month. I adore poetry and first started writing it when I was in first grade. A family friend (shout out to you, Sue!) was a teacher and I remember her teaching me the poem, Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee. About a year or so later, my second grade teacher (Miss Skerl, you were always my favourite) introduced me to Shel Silverstein and the rest is history.

So, what is it about poetry that struck a chord in me? I think it was the cadence, the rhythm of it all. I loved big, juicy words and the challenge of finding a rhyme. As I grew, I began to see how words could paint a picture and eventually saw how evocative poems could be. In early high school, my brother shared his copy of Stranger Music by Leonard Cohen with me. I was blown away by the rawness and power of his words. It truly changed the way I saw myself as an artist and creator, I was just too shy to show it.

Despite my deep love of poetry, I had a problem. I was afraid to share it. Looking back I think I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough. Honestly, I think it had more to do with vulnerability. What could be more raw than a teenage girl pouring out her soul onto paper?

Finally, when I did get the courage to share, the person I shared it with lost it. This was before everything was digital and all of my hard work was gone. So, if you ever read this, Brian, know that I forgive you. Even if you did steal it. What I should say is thank you, Brian. You taught me the value of keeping copies. Also, you spared me the embarrassment of thinking that my work should be published somewhere (at that time). It was probably pretty shitty anyway.

So, older and wiser, I went off to university where I took courses about poetry, music and art. I still wrote poems but kept them to myself. I sent out one which was published in some anthology. I never purchased the book. I think they would have published anything in the hopes of getting me to buy their leather-bound anthology. Joke’s on them, I suppose.

I am really getting off course . . .

So, it is 2020 and for some reason I am feeling inspired. CBC had just put out a call for their poetry prize. By that time in life I was married, had 4 kids, had 2 degrees, a diploma, two black belts, and had competed in dance competitions. I had even screwed up the guts to play a piece at a piano recital. Although, if my family ever hears me play Hey Jude again, I think I am in for it!

My point being, I had matured and grown as a person and had learned to do what makes me happy. I was speaking with my son about not being afraid to try stuff when I realized I was being a chicken when it came to poetry.

I ended up submitting some poems and after I did it I felt good. I didn’t even care if I won. That really pushed me to start writing more and to try out some short fiction. After I started getting my fiction published I became braver but still hesitant with the poems. When I started to reflect on it, I could see it was because it was so personal. I felt vulnerable and exposed in my poetry.

But isn’t that what poetry is about? The art of words, creating emotion through imagery?

I have submitted quite a bit of poetry recently and was ecstatic to have some picked up by Linda D. Addison through Space and Time Magazine.

That is enough validation for me to know that I am a poet. There is an audience for the pictures I want to paint and I plan to keep painting them.

Author Spotlight: Barbara Rein

Women in horror month is in full swing. I just want to take some time to highlight an author I have recently enjoyed.

I came across a collection of short stories by Barbara Rein entitled Tales From the Eerie Canal. I was hooked after the first few lines in the opening story. Her stories deal with the paranormal and the more psychological aspect of evil as a part of human nature. I enjoyed the quick pace and variety of stories.

If you haven’t checked her out yet, please see the links below. Thank you for sharing your creative gift, Barbara!

Sisters in Horror

This month the spotlight will be on women horror authors. This isn’t to diminish male authors. Instead, think of it as women raising each other up and celebrating our accomplishments as writers.

I would be unable to list all of the fantastic female horror authors out there. What I do plan to do is highlight some of these women during the month of February.

Stay tuned for some links to authors who will leave you wondering why you aren’t already reading their work.

Feminism in the World of Horror

Ok. This isn’t going to be an academic essay. I do, however, want to talk about the portrayal of female characters in horror fiction. I am sure there are many other groups I could discuss who are marginalized in horror. As for today’s post, I will be focusing on those identifying as women.

I fully understand that in fiction we have the freedom to describe characters in any way we choose. I can apply positive or negative attributes or put characters into a multitude of situations. Here is what gets under my skin: authors writing about female characters in an absurd, and quite frankly, offensive manner. Let me give you an example.

My current wonderings all started a short while back when I began a novel by a highly recommended and recognized author. In the opening chapter, a girl of just shy of 12 sneaks out of the house and into the summer night. So far, so good. Next she is described as having her nipples erect due to the cool air which in turn arouses the not quite 12-year-old. She proceeds to then take her clothes off while walking around alone in the dark, despite the reader knowing she was clearly cold, alone and a child. I stopped reading there and thought: what the actual f-? I then began to really examine stories I have read and started to question what some authors knew of the female psyche. If you fail to see how this is wrong on multiple levels, then perhaps this isn’t the blog for you.

Besides the obvious creepiness of someone writing about a child in this manner, and the fact that it does absolutely nothing to advance the plot, there are so many things wrong here. This was clearly not a writer with any understanding of what it means to be a prepubscent girl. I understand it is a broad statement to claim I speak for all women, so I suppose I must be willing to take the risk and any criticism which may follow. I accept.

The greater problem in all of this is that this isn’t an isolated event. Numerous horror stories play upon the idea of women as objects, sex crazed or the old trope of the innocent virgin. Horror itself is all about the psychological when you boil it down to its essence. One of the most basic drives for all animals is sex. It is a basic instinct and I can appreciate why it is tied to the horror genre. What I can’t appreciate is the unrealistic representation of women.

We can, and should, move past this archaic drivel. Women can be sexual without being evil or easy. Women do not get aroused everytime our clothing brushes against our nipples. Seriously, I can’t even count how many times I have seen this description in a variety of genres.

The other thing that stands out to me is how female characters are viewed in the works of best-selling authors. I mean, have we all been reading their work and just ignoring the obvious because the story line is good? They can claim it isn’t their opinion but just that of their characters. All the time? Seriously?

One writer in particular, if you have read his work you will know who I mean, can never describe a female character without making reference to her breasts. It is constant. If he writes from a female POV that character is either hypersexual, although I am pretty confident in saying that most women (I am sure not all) don’t stare at a man’s crotch whenever they meet, or her character is the polar opposite and devoid of any sexuality. And if it isn’t every female character, then it is at least enough for someone to detect a pattern.

People are entitled to write how they want and read what they choose to. If your thing is half-naked vampires with a lust for more than blood- have at it. As they say, there is an audience for everything. I feel this type of horror is inmature, unrealistic (yes, I know vampires aren’t real) and basically just porn. Again, to each their own. I just think that as authors we can be more imaginative than that.

I think what I am saying is that the themes in horror can move past the objectification of women. It’s time. Perhaps it is just me. Maybe I am reading into something that isn’t there, but I doubt it. Instead I choose to do better.

If you can recommend any horror fiction with strong, realistic female characters, please write it in the comments section. I would be happy to share them.

A Community of Sharing

I just wanted to share a link for a YouTube channel called After Dark Fairy Tales. I was asked (ever so politely) if they could narrate my short story, Something Sweet, which had been posted via Reedsy. I just love how writers are so willing to support one another.

Check out their channel and subscribe if you enjoy it.

Also, if you do check out work on Reedsy, you should read stories by Skyler Woods. They are fantastic!

All Too Common

Earlier today I read an article by Dave Jeffery entitled, The Horror of Humanity: Brands that Serve to Dehumanize and Isolate (the link will be available at the end of this post). It accurately describes my own feelings about a theme seen all too often in horror stories- the mentality ill antagonist.

You know the tropes. There is the sociopathic killer, the mentally disturbed homeless person and the “devil made me do it” character responsible for murdering their family, just to highlight a few.

I know that people will think I am being over sensitive or dramatic. The will say that “it is only a story” or it is “just a fictional character”, but frankly I don’t give their opinions much merit. I plan to use my voice to do better.

So many people have mental illness, myself included. We work hard to manage it and regulate our lives. When a character does some henious act because they have schizophrenia or dissociative personality disorder it creates a picture, an archetype, of evil, chaos and unpredictability.

I am fully aware that a sane human being would not commit most acts of depravity in a horror story. The headlines are filled with stories of individuals responsible for gruesome actions and that those individuals may indeed have a mental illness. I think we just need to consider that this does not represent the majority of individuals with mental illness. If this were the case, we would still be sending people to assylums in order to keep the public safe.

This doesn’t mean that characters cannot have mental illnesses, it simply means that their illness doesn’t need to be a negative driving force behind their actions. There are numerous ways to advance your character and plot without relying on such outdated ideas.

This is an important read for all authors, but specifically horror authors. Too often, evil characters are labeled as crazy. This does nothing to help destigmatize mental illness. We can be more imaginative than that. We can do better.