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"Sara Ryan" - 5 new articles

  1. 5 things I recently learned that might be obvious to you but weren’t to me.
  2. The worst question you can ask a writer.
  3. 2016 is off to a good start.
  4. Not really a year-end post
  5. Some thoughts on QUILTBAG YA
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Sara Ryan
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

5 things I recently learned that might be obvious to you but weren’t to me.

  1. If you’re attempting to have more precisely groomed/styled eyebrows, getting a magnifying mirror does not mean you’re “cheating.” Neither does using brow gel, the existence of which I was unaware until like a month ago.
  2. If you find it difficult to cram a change of clothes plus the giant stompy boots you want to wear afterward into your gym bag, wear the boots to the gym and pack your gym shoes.
  3. If you’re out of cinnamon, five spice makes a decent substitute. (In part because cinnamon is one of the five.)
  4. Baked oatmeal is the Platonic ideal of oatmeal. I just made some with chopped pecans, apricots & cranberries.
  5. Meta: when you’re learning something new and you get super frustrated, it’s useful to remember that frustration the next time you’re teaching something you find easy/intuitive, but perhaps is exactly that frustrating to your student(s).
    

The worst question you can ask a writer.

 

The worst question to ask a writer is not: “Where do you get your ideas?”

This is a clichéd question, yes. But precisely because it’s a cliché, we probably have a stock response. Even if we don’t, it’s fairly easy to come up with some kind of answer, whether flip or serious, about where our ideas come from. (“Overheard conversations, other books, music, art, strange objects seen on the street, the Internet.”)

The worst question to ask a writer is not: “How much money do you make?”

This is mostly an annoying question. If we’re not inclined to share our yearly profit-and-loss statements with the questioner, we can deflect it gracefully and with humor, e.g. “Not enough to quit my day job!” or “Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” Or, if we’re feeling feisty, with “How much money do you make?” But “How much money do you make?” is fundamentally an answerable question.

The worst question to ask a writer is not: “What are you working on?”

This can be a tricky question. We don’t always want to reveal too much about projects that don’t yet feel fully formed. We might have signed nondisclosure agreements. (Although if we have, we can give a very fancy, high-status-sounding answer: a slight smile, a shrug, and the acronym “NDA.”) We might worry that if we describe the project, the questioner won’t respond in a way that feels positive and we’ll start to doubt ourselves. But “What are you working on?” is also absolutely an answerable question.

The worst question to ask a writer is: “Are you still writing?”

It immediately gives the impression that the questioner thinks we might not be, that writing was a passing fancy for us, that perhaps we’ve decided instead to work on baking a perfect Victoria sponge, or squatting three hundred, or learning calligraphy — all of which, of course, are estimable and worthy activities, no shade to anyone engaging in any or all of the above.

But “Are you still writing?” is almost a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question. It puts us immediately on the defensive. We could answer by listing off our most recent and forthcoming publications. But we might worry that we’ll come off sounding like we’re bragging, or that our most recent publications were too long ago, our forthcoming too far in the future, or that regardless, they somehow wouldn’t count in the eyes of the questioner (wrong genre, wrong audience, inadequate distribution, etc.) There’s also the point that the fact that the questioner is asking implies that they aren’t aware of said publications, which means that we haven’t done a good enough job getting the word out about them.

If we don’t have recent or upcoming publications, “Are you still writing?” adds insult to injury. We’re almost certainly already beating ourselves up about it, and now we feel like the questioner may actually be asking “You mean you haven’t given up the ridiculous idea that you’re a writer?”

We could answer by saying what we’re working on, but that’s not what the questioner asked. A simple “Yes!” feels too terse. We’d like to think the questioner means well, but again, if they are, why would they ask about our writing in a way that casts doubt on whether or not it’s still happening?

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Geez, what’s the big deal? It’s a totally innocent question. Stop being so sensitive,” I might venture to wonder whether you’ve had many interactions with writers.

    

2016 is off to a good start.

I saw the excellent Alien She exhibit, a look at the impact & influence of Riot Grrrl, not once but twice. The first time my friend and I obeyed the sign that said no photography. When I came back with another friend, the person who took our coats & my backpack said “Don’t forget your cameras!” Hence the photos below.

My favorite part was discovering Allyson Mitchell‘s work. These first several images are from “Recommended Reading,” hand-drawn wallpaper of queer & feminist texts (and the occasional object, e.g. Hothead Paisan coffee mug), many familiar, several of which are on my own bookshelves. I think these drawings are also part of “A Girl’s Journey to the Well of Forbidden Knowledge.” Mitchell describes them on her website: “These laborious renderings pay homage not only to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, but to all feminist presses, bookstores and libraries that have worked valiantly to advocate for the significance of women’s stories, histories and acts of resistance, often in the face of sexism, homophobia and financial constraints.”

I’m fairly certain that commodification is not the point but am compelled to say that I would totally buy this as actual wallpaper.

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The exhibit also featured some of Mitchell’s Ladies Sasquatch and their small pink companions.

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It’s only up until January 9th, so if you’re in Portland I recommend you get to it before it closes. I also quite liked the Big Miss Movieola/Joanie 4 Jackie videos and zines in the exhibit, though I simultaneously felt irritated at my past self for not knowing about the project while it was in its heyday. (I’ve never wanted to make movies, but the idea of getting video chainletters from women filmmakers sounds excellent.)

Other highlights of the year so far:

Finding an excellently warm and water repellent Irish coat at Rerun for twenty dollars, which became forty-four cents with my consignment credit…

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…right before the snow.

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I got a special named after me at Handsome Pizza and I can report that it is extremely delicious:

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And last but certainly not least I’ve been making my “Session Target” wordcount progress bar turn green in Scrivener. More like this, 2016.

 

 

    

Not really a year-end post

I didn’t feel like doing a regular end-of-year post, so instead, a few scattershot comments, punctuated by photos.

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Thought a lot about communities this year. How to make spaces for people to connect, how to both contribute and listen, how to balance time between the people I mostly interact with via screen with the ones I see face-to-face. How to make the most out of the occasions when I get to see People From Inside the Computer in real life.

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Also thought a lot about attention and to what and whom I was giving it. A slogan I heard on one of the many podcasts to which I have been listening keeps repeating in my head: “pay attention to your attention;” e.g.: the things you spend time pondering, obsessing, & ideally being delighted and enthusiastic about. Note that this is very different from “spend more time being anxious about your recurring anxieties”!

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Speaking of enthusiasms, I don’t think I’ve mentioned here yet that I wrote an appreciation of T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone for Hilobrow.

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One of the books I really enjoyed this year was Boel Westin’s biography of Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words. Always, it’s books that illuminate the difficulties as well as the satisfactions of doing creative work that I most appreciate.

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Some thoughts on QUILTBAG YA

Tess Sharpe was talking about the challenges she’s faced publishing queer YA. I have a compelling interest in the topic, so I Storified her tweets (go read them, I’ll wait). They struck me also because in some ways, her experience differs quite a bit from mine.

I’m hugely fortunate: I’ve never had to explain or justify queer content to agents or editors. Nor have I been asked to tone anything down or make anyone straight, and I’ve been at this for a while. That said, I’m certainly not a book-a-year author, and my tendency to write less explicitly than some readers might want has perhaps worked in my favor.

But despite my overall positive experiences, I absolutely agree there are challenges.

If you work with supportive agents and editors, you may still struggle with the publicity, marketing, and overall positioning of your work. Or maybe you’re happy with your relationship with your publisher, but find it hard to book the school visits and writing workshops that provide an income stream for many YA authors. (You may have noticed that I have not quit my day job.) I’d love to see more authors getting paid honoraria & travel to visit schools via Lambda Literary’s LGBT Writers in the Schools or similar programs.

Once your work is out there, I do think ebooks are changing some aspects of the game. If a reader is on their phone or other device, nobody can easily see what they’re reading. So if that reader doesn’t feel safe carrying a physical book with queer content, they can get an ebook or downloadable audiobook — both of which are also getting easier to check out from libraries — and no one has to know unless the reader wants to tell them. Even if a queer title vanishes quickly from bookstore shelves, it can also have a longer life in electronic form. (However, the questions of whether readers can easily discover the titles and who has access to the devices to read them on are also important to consider.)

In terms of reader desire for more queer YA, I’m very aware that at this point we have at least a couple generations of readers who’ve grown up with fanfic and self-publishing, both of which can cater to what readers want with a high degree of specificity, including but certainly not limited to queer content. If readers have had numerous opportunities to read (or write!) about their ideal POC genderfluid ace hero’s adventures, why would they want anything less from ‘mainstream’ publishing?

I don’t have any grand conclusions, except that I think it’s always important to share stories: it allows us to compare notes and strategize about how to advocate for ourselves, each other, and marginalized voices more generally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

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