Going for the Goals (Process Talk, Writing Natter)

I’m participating as a faculty member in a local program this year that involves matching writers up with mentors for nine months and other good things like that. I volunteered to give the first talk, on goal setting, and thought I’d put up a few excerpts here in case any of this is helpful. 

Get to Know Your Process

What your process is: how you typically work best — speed (sprinter or daily plug-along), do deadlines help or hurt, with an outline or without, how much time do you need to bake an idea, how much time to get distance, everything everything. Do you write a mess and then fix it? Do you go slow and come out with something fairly polished? Do you struggle with procrastination? Is that actually part of your process? Music, museums, walks, naps. Whatever is part of your writing rhythm.

What it isn’t: How you wish you wrote, how the person next to you writes, how insert famous dead author here writes. Perfect and easy.

The best goals come from an honest understanding of your process. It’s the most important thing in your toolkit. Learn it, make peace with it (forgive it and yourself for not being perfect), and be prepared for it to change over time and between projects. If your process is working for you, there’s no reason to try to change it. If your process isn’t working, then maybe one of your goals is trying some different approaches to figure out what will help you do your work.

Because at the end of the day, when it’s you and the page, learning to trust your process will save you. 

What challenges get in the way of your writing? Family? Work? Jobs? General inertia? Health issues? Mental health issues? Beating yourself up about not writing more or well enough? p.s. Brains can be jerks! Most every writer I know feels guilty about not working more or that they are only producing crap, even when they’ve done a lot of good work.

Challenges are important to identify, because sometimes we have to adapt our processes to work around those things; it’s not ideal, but it’s possible. And it may majorly affect the kind of goals you can set. I was never an early riser, but I had a day job for 17 years and so I learned how to write first thing in the morning. I sacrificed most every weekend. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Let go of any guilt you feel about treating your work as important.

Setting Goals

Set yourself up to succeed, not fail. One of the reasons I wanted to talk about process first is to make the point that goals are so specific and that what works for you is the important part of setting them.

Some good rules of thumb:

Don’t set goals that are outside your own control. We will talk about dreams and career milestones later — those things that of course it’s perfectly cool to want, but which are almost completely out of our direct control. So, for example: getting an agent or selling a first book (these two things are not the same, by the way) — those are not goals within your control. What is in your control? Finishing a manuscript and polishing it then researching and querying agents.

Jealousy in small doses can be motivating, but taken to an extreme it’s a soul killer. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Cheer for your community, be genuinely happy for and excited about other people’s achievements. Other people’s success is not your failure. Period. 

Jedi mind tricks and process hacks: Find the ones that work to trick your brain into cooperating. If you are someone with a lot of process challenges or a tendency to procrastinate, one way to approach goals so that you get the double encouragement of meeting and sometimes exceeding them (and retrain your brain that this is a reward!) is to set a minimum goal. Rather than saying: “I’m going to revise 30 pages in the next two weeks,” if that’s an extreme amount for you, say, “I’m going to revise at least 10 pages this week.” Or it can mean giving yourself permission not to write that day/week/whatever; you’ll be ten times more likely to do it. For me, because I’m a weirdo with a jerk brain, setting an extreme goal can often motivate me to push through to prove to myself I can do it. BUT.

Figuring out your limits is important. Limits are often framed in a negative way, as something we have to push to exceed. But unless the goal is burnout, it’s much healthier to respect them. It’s also a lot harder for most of us. These may change depending on what’s going on in your life too. There’s no right answer: can you write 500 words a day? Two thousand a week? What’s your cruising altitude?  

Micro Goals:

Sometimes — most times — it takes longer to write anything than we want or estimate. We forgive our process, remember? Life can get in the way. Sometimes you may need to set aside a work for a month or three to be able to get a fresh enough perspective on it to revise it. (Sometimes that may not be possible.) 

Where a lot of writers run into trouble is not with larger goals. We’re pretty good at saying, “I’m going to finish a novel and revise it by next May.” Where we run into trouble is in the smaller goals that actually get us to the big one. Sometimes getting to a polished revision means tossing out a hundred pages; if it’s the right thing for the story, it’s the right thing for the story. Your hard work is never wasted. The danger is in focusing on the destination instead of the process. Holy overwhelm, Batman!

Monthly, weekly, and maybe daily micro goals can help keep you on track. So…what is a micro goal? It can be so micro, friends. Or it can be bigger. But the bottomline is: This is where your process actually happens.

Examples of microgoals:

  • Make an outline or revision plan.
  • Make an outline or revision plan of a scene.
  • Write 500 or whatever number of words a day. It will probably help if you give some thought to what these words will be — unless you’re a pantser and then just sit down and give yourself the time and internet break to write them.
  • Write X number of words a week.
  • Revise 10 pages a week.
  • Rewrite a tough scene and get it where you want it to be.
  • Read a book that will inform the craft of what you’re working on and jot down some notes.
  • Finish 40 pages of a draft this month.
  • Day off.

If you sit down on any given day and it is or feels impossible — set a new microgoal. What can you accomplish that day? Maybe it’s just 10 minutes to plan what scene you will write tomorrow when you don’t have a sick kid or an emergency or a hundred words. And, hey, if it’s a day when you can’t even manage that — then give yourself permission to come back to the page the next day anyway. You do not have to write every day! Your process, remember. Nowhere is it more important than in setting microgoals. This is where dreams and best intentions meet reality.

Knowing When to Move On – Rejection/Failure

The stories we tell ourselves about our lives and our writing matter. Don’t be afraid to celebrate even tiny victories. CELEBRATE every achievement.

While most of you will probably be focusing on one main project at a time, it’s important to remember that no one project is your entire writing life.

So let’s talk for a second about what happens when we fail to meet a goal or when we face rejection.

I prefer to think of these in the context of: Failure and rejection means you were brave enough to try. It means you can try again. It doesn’t mean anything about your long-term prospects or even necessarily anything about the prospects of a specific project. But if you’re in writing for the long haul, there will be times something doesn’t happen or come together. The only real success is in moving forward. Great failure? You write through it. Great success? You write through it.

You are the only person who can bring your voice and perspective to the page.

Also, changing a goal to match reality is not failing to meet it.

Dreams or Career Milestones/Professional Goals

There are some things that are career milestones or professional goals outside your control, but that may be on a list you keep:

  • Getting an Agent
  • Selling a Book
  • Publishing Another Book
  • Etc.

And then there are dreams.

This is where those fantasies about the front page of the New York Times Book Review come in.

I encourage you to embrace your big dreams, the things that seem impossible. There’s a retreat I go to some years where we set one-year goals, five-year goals, and then pie-in-the-sky dreams. We write them down and revisit them the next time we gather. It’s remarkable how owning your desire for something can help you achieve it. Just putting it out into the universe. So write these down — again, you don’t have to show these to anyone. For yourself. Dream big. The three things that might happen in your secret heart of hearts: the bestseller list, the movie adaptation starring your favorite actor, the IP you would love to do.

But know that most of those dreams are outside your direct control and that’s okay. The important thing is to have them, but not to get hung up on them. That can keep you from appreciating the real progress you make through your dedication and hard work. Every writer’s journey is a fingerprint, unique, and an iceberg, largely beneath the surface.

We have to have egos to create, but we can’t let them be in the driver’s seat or we get nowhere fast. The work is what it all comes back to.

But, always remember, the work is not all that we are.

Go forth and meet your goals. Then have cake.

Related post: 10 Reasons to Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

Two Quick Pointers

Things elsewhere on the Internet edition!

  • I wrote for Salon on a recent episode of Cult Faves all about the Satanic Temple and its late unpleasantness (don’t miss this week’s new episode on Thursday, when I finally unload all the great Anton LaVey anecdotes I’ve been squirreling away for weeks and then I promise No More Satan for awhile). Snippet:

    When we think of organized Satanism — if we think of it — most of us probably mentally conjure the winged eyebrows of Anton LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan back in 1966. But the headline-maker of note where Satanists are concerned lately is The Satanic Temple, and it seems to be embroiled in a battle for its own soul.

    My inbox has had some good Satanic tea following this.

  • AND Carrie, Rachel and I wrote a big process post about how we collaborated on Dead Air for long-time favorite site The Book Smugglers.

    Carrie Ryan: The three of us holed up in an apartment with our editors, several packs of post-it notes, sharpies, and a wall of windows. We started out with Gwenda’s basic story idea, and three days later we left with those windows covered with what turned into the book. It was truly a collaborative effort.

    Go check it out and get caught up on the podcast and serial, if you haven’t. You can get a 10% discount code for the serial at the end of the podcast OR go to redeem at the Serial Box site and use DeadAirBond.

Nice Press for Dead Air (Filed under: #Podcast hijinks)

Delighted to find this lovely review of Dead Air from the AV Club’s latest Podmass feature, which covers podcasts (obvi):

Likened to The Girl On The Train and Gone Girl, Serial Box’s first mystery series, Dead Air, combines “the intrigue of the true-crime podcast explosion and [those] edge-of-your-seat thrillers.” Written by Gwenda Bond, Carrie Ryan, and Rachel Caine, Dead Airis actually a serial novel available to read or listen to weekly, while the podcast is protagonist Mackenzie Walker’s college radio show, which she has taken to using as a tool to solve a decades-old murder. But the clock is ticking as Walker discovers that the closer she gets to uncovering the truth, the more threats on her own life she receives. Offering a “uniquely immersive experience,” the authors implore listeners to question whether “the truth lies in the serial, the podcast… or somewhere in-between.” Only two episodes in and this supplemental podcast is highly captivating, pulling listeners even further into Walker’s world and elevating the overall story. [Becca James]

Also! I neglected to post a pointer to this very nice Book Riot piece by Annika Barranti Klein that included a preview of Dead Air among other bookish podcasts.

Have you checked it out yet? *bats eyelashes pointedly* Dive in! Serial or podcast! Either/or both!

And p.s. Cult Faves is still goin’ strong!

Dead Air Launch + Playing With Story

I write this post from deep on deadline. The kind where some days washing your hair helps you remember you’re human, but most days you forget both those things. But the end is nigh! Not in an apocalypse sort of way.

This week is the launch of mine, Carrie Ryan and Rachel Caine’s shiny new cross-platform project Dead AirI wrote about it for Salon today, its genesis and my deep love of true crime and the boom of podcasts and documentaries and everything else (and bonus the first episode of the podcast is included at the end!).

So, what exactly is Dead Air?

Welcome to Dead Air, where M is for midnight, Mackenzie…and murder.

Mackenzie Walker wasn’t planning on using her college radio show to solve a decades old murder, but when she receives an anonymous tip that the wrong man may have taken the fall, she can’t resist digging deeper.

It doesn’t take long for Mackenzie to discover gaps in the official story. Several potential witnesses conveniently disappeared soon after the murder. The victim, a glamorous heiress and founder of a Kentucky horse-racing dynasty, left behind plenty of enemies. And the cops don’t seem particularly interested in discussing any of it.

But when the threats begin, Mackenzie knows she’s onto something. Someone out there would prefer to keep old secrets buried and they seem willing to bury Mackenzie with them. Thankfully, she’s getting help from a very unexpected source: the victim’s son, Ryan. The closer she gets to him, however, the more important it is for Mackenzie to uncover the truth before he gets buried alongside her.

Read or listen to weekly ebook and audio episodes of the serial novel Dead Air and then check out Mackenzie’s podcast for a uniquely immersive experience. Does the truth lie in the serial, the podcast…or somewhere in-between?

To clarify a bit about the format and how it works… What is Dead Air? It’s a serialized novel about a podcaster and it’s the podcast she’s creating in the story. It’s the kind of immersive story the three of us love, and we wanted to create that feeling of being able to go down a rabbit hole to experience different elements of a story in different ways. To explore the distance between what our main character shows and what she’s concealing. Think of it a bit like we wrote a novel about a photographer or an artist and also released their photos or paintings alongside… Except the truly unique thing about what we are trying to do here is that we intentionally structured this to be best-enjoyed in a serial way, the way most of us get our true crime fixes these days. Sure, you can binge either the podcast or the novel once it’s all out. You can choose one or the other and still get a complete story. But the ideal way, I say, is to read or listen to each week’s release as a pair (episode of the serial first, then the podcast). However, the extremely amazing thing is that… I might be wrong about that. Try it out in whatever order you like and report back.

I can’t say enough about getting to work with Rachel and Carrie and the Serial Box team on this project. It feels like exactly what I wanted to do when the idea first came to me…but better for everyone’s work and collaboration and willingness to invent. I’m not always confident in my own work (quite the opposite). But I am 100 percent in awe of Carrie and Rachel and learned so much working with them; they are both brilliant storytellers. I learned so much from show-running this unwieldy, intricate project. And I also can’t say enough about the effort Julian Yap at Serial Box, our editor Lydia Shamah, our audio producer Amanda Rose Smith (who also composed some killer theme music for us), and everyone else on the team have put in to make this project come together. None of us have ever done anything quite like this before. So that’s scary and exciting and, wow, I hope you’ll check it out and tell other people if you like it! You can go read or listen to the first TWO installments of the serial today and the first episode of the podcast just dropped too, with a new one coming every Tuesday, followed by the next week’s serial episode.

Links!

Subscribe to the serial here. Check out the podcast here or here (or wherever you get your podcasts). Also, I have a special discount code for you, lovely peoples. To use it, go to the Redeem page on the Serial Box site and use code “DEADAIRBOND” without the quote marks and you’ll get 10% off the serial novel. The podcast, of course, is free.

Has all my yammering not convinced you? Or explained right? Some more pretty pictures!

Or…

Last year when this idea was just a murderous germ we plotted on a wall…

More soon! Enjoy!

Maybe I’ll go wash my hair…

A Very Giant NEWS Post!

Greetings, lovely humans. Um, this is such an overdue post/tinyletter. I look forward to getting back to newsletters are that are me hemming and hawing about the creative process, because this one is going to have a lot of news about Cool Projects That Help Feed Humans, Dogs and Cats, so buckle in.

Probably the most shameful thing about not having done a newsletter is that mine and Christopher’s second middle grade came out! At the end of May! This means you can now get two books where smart kids solve mysteries in a hotel for monsters by this crack husband-and-wife writing duo. The Lost Legacy is now out in paperback, and The Sphinx’s Secret is in hardcover. These are books we wrote for our childhood fantasy-adventure-loving selves, to delight each other, and for the children we love best. They make great gifts for pretty much every type of middle grade reader in your life, and hey, you might even dig them as an adult. We put lots of little jokes and references in for each other, so it’s a little like unpacking the layers in a Pixar movie. The Sphinx’s Secret has: a secret Cabinet of Wonders in the basement of the New York Public Library, sphinxes now and in ancient Egypt, time travel, a sword with a name, an evilish wizard, and a very good dog! Who can resist?


Get this series wherever fine books are sold (if they don’t have it in stock, they can order it for you). Handy links to Amazon, B&N, HarperCollins, and Indiebound. And if you or your kids read and enjoy, Amazon reviews are always appreciated. They help people find books!

(Speaking of which the Lois Lane series is also all now in paperback, with Triple Threat’s paperback release in May — but there is so much NEWS I’m not even going to belabor that.)

I’ve told you guys about the super-fascinating collaborative style of Serial Box before, and now I can finally blab the details of the serial I created and wrote with the AMAZING Rachel Caine and Carrie Ryan. Dead Air grew out of my love of true crime, radio shows and podcasts, my town of Lexington and accurate southern stories (!!!), and mysteries. And I got to do it with two of my favorite writers and people who are also into those things. The details:

Explore your true crime obsession in a whole new way with Serial Box’s latest multimedia innovation in storytelling from three of today’s hottest storytellers Gwenda Bond, Rachel Caine, and Carrie Ryan. 

Welcome to Dead Air, where M is for midnight, Mackenzie…and murder.

Mackenzie Walker wasn’t planning on using her college radio show to solve a decades old murder, but when she receives an anonymous tip that the wrong man may have taken the fall, she can’t resist digging deeper.

It doesn’t take long for Mackenzie to discover gaps in the official story. Several potential witnesses conveniently disappeared soon after the murder. The victim, a glamorous heiress and founder of a Kentucky horse-racing dynasty, left behind plenty of enemies. And the cops don’t seem particularly interested in discussing any of it.

But when the threats begin, Mackenzie knows she’s onto something. Someone out there would prefer to keep old secrets buried and they seem willing to bury Mackenzie with them. Thankfully, she’s getting help from a very unexpected source: the victim’s son, Ryan. The closer she gets to him, however, the more important it is for Mackenzie to uncover the truth before he gets buried alongside her.

Read or listen to weekly ebook and audio episodes of the serial novel Dead Air and then check out Mackenzie’s podcast for a uniquely immersive experience. Does the truth lie in the serial, the podcast…or somewhere in-between?

This is going to be SO COOL, you guys! And I have a special discount code you can use to order that gives you 25% off the entire first season of ten episodes — you’ll get weekly episodes as synced up audio and ebooks in a nifty free app on your phone (or on your desktop or other device, whichever you prefer) and then you can check out weekly episodes of the podcast that are timed to go with the novel.

You can find out more about all this and how Serial Box works (think HBO for reading) here: https://www.serialbox.com/deadair​

Or if you’re like, I don’t need anymore I want to ORDER PLEASE — bless you — go to:
http://serialbox.com/redeem​ and use the code DEADAIRAPO18

It works out to $10.50 or basically a buck an episode and is only good until July 31. I can’t wait for people to get this one. I’m so proud of what we made together. Being a showrunner is a lot of work, but really fun.

You may be like, Gwenda, that is enough news. Surely that’s all the news, but um, sorry? Two more things!

I’m writing the first Stranger Things novel, which is a prequel about Eleven’s mother Terry and her experience with MKUltra. Cool, huh? I’m in the deadline cave hard on this one, feeling so lucky and grateful, and having an absolute blast. It’ll be out in February!


Annnd last but not least, I’m co-hosting a new podcast called Cult Faves with the one and only Cher Martinetti (who founded SyFy Fangrrls and is its editorial mastermind). We’re exploring our shared obsession with cults with each of us picking and leading a discussion of a different cult each week. It’s been a lot of fun so far and our first episode just dropped — we discuss our first introduction to cults, why we’re so fascinated with them, and then dive right in on a little known cult called The Source Family. So check it out and consider leaving an iTunes review? We’re doing this all DIY and every share or subscribe helps. Plus, I think it’s going to be such a fun trip. Take it with us!

We’re on iTunes and most everywhere else (or will be soon) (you can also find us by searching!) — or you can listen from our Anchor page. Because I love you, I’ll give you a sneak preview of what we’re doing for next week’s episode — we’re going to be talking about all about a cult that never actually existed, the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. SUBSCRIBE, Y’ALL.

And that is truly all the news! For now. More soon. That is actual content. In the meantime, I hope summer is treating you nice.

Living in a Fantasy World #KidLitWomen

So for #KidLitWomen month, I thought I’d talk about something near and dear to the part of my heart filled with the ever-burning rage-fire stoked by oh so many things, namely: how fantasy and romance (and also fantasy that includes romance) written by women for the young adult audience is often looked down the nose at by many snooty humans, some consciously doing it and some not and also why the snoot-noses are big wrongheads and why it matters.

If you can’t tell by how overwritten that paragraph is, I really miss blogging regularly. On with the show.

Recently, I was sitting at a conference talking with some writers about this particular huge hill I will die on of mine. How I was one of those teens that internalized romance as “not serious” or “embarrassing” for way too long, only to decide to actually read some so I’d know what I was talking about as an adult and then falling in love with the genre as a reader. (I had the same experience with urban fantasy, during the great smacktalking-about-it era in SFF.) Anyway, one of the authors in this conversation writes wonderful books for teens, hugely popular, which also happen to be romances and she told us how once at an event a man who was there to take care of her as an author said in passing, “Oh, I’d never allow your books in my house. I have a teenage daughter.” Who the books are for, by the way. This is never an isolated anecdote. Ask any woman you know who writes fantasy if she’s ever been treated dismissively on a panel or if a man has ever gotten up from the audience to tell her about the books by men he wishes there were more of and why aren’t people writing those now, or if they’ve followed her out into the hallway to tell her about the ways in which they thought her books sucked. (Ladies, feel free to come share in the comments. I know you’ve got some doozies.) Every romance or fantasy writer I know who is a woman has a story or twenty or a hundred like this, where it’s implied you write garbage right to your face — especially if it happens to also be popular.

Think about the offhand dismissal that’s STILL used to characterize the YA field in most mainstream articles about YA even though it was outdated ten years ago and is still outdated now. This is a bingo game you can always win. I go into every article looking for it; usually it’s in the first or second paragraph. Sometimes, if they’re being subtle, it’s phrased slightly differently two-thirds through. Sometimes it’s the subject of the entire article. Although, spoiler alert: A lot of the articles in question are highlighting male authors of YA. Good for the guys, and yet I hope they cringe when they see the inevitable phrase about standing out in “a sea of Twilight and The Hunger Games.” As if Twilight and The Hunger Games share anything in common except female authors and main characters (well, and vast success and audience overlap, more on that to come). Or the related but slightly different dismissal of the totally ridiculous plethora of teen girls saving the day in those utterly ridiculous fantasies or dystopians (meanwhile we cheer watching teens get closer on gun control than anyone else has so far; teen girls have always changed the world, oh self-self-deceived chumps who sell them short). Also, extra bingo spot if the books by women in this glancing mention are referenced only by title and any men’s books that do get included as a part of the “sea of YA” are also mentioned with their authors’ names.

The more successful a book by a man is, the more he’s treated as worthy of serious attention or at least serious treatment. The more successful a book by a woman is, the more likely it is to become the reference for a snarky aside in an article about how great X book by X dude is. Fact. But that’s not all that goes along with this behavior, not by a long shot. It affects invitations and review coverage in general and also time. If a man reaches a certain level, he’s pretty much guaranteed he can get some coverage and publisher support. If a woman reaches a certain level, she might get some coverage and publisher support but she will also be expected to do a ton of outreach to her fanbase and provide a jillion pieces of free content, et cetera.

There are so many issues surrounding all this, but for now I’m going to focus on one: how markers of traditional femininity are used to judge innate quality and why it is nonsense. The judgments discussed above have pretty well zero correlation to the works in question. The work — women’s work, specifically — is often not judged on the work itself at all, but on perceptions of it. See also: YA as an entire category, where those who supposedly “transcend” the genre are mostly men. Newsflash: The genre is transcendent all on its own; it contains multitudes.

Now, this is not news to anyone, and certainly not to women. No matter what kind of work women do, we get judged by perceptions — based on our appearance or how loud or quiet we are or or or or. And I know that there are plenty of women who write quote-unquote serious books who are frustrated that their work isn’t treated with the same seriousness of men’s serious books. I hear you.

We all judge by the cover, by appearance, by our own preconceptions, to an extent. That’s just part of how humans work. But if we want to be responsible members of the literary community (and, you know, combat these problems not add to them) we must know what our preconceptions are, where they come from, and, yes, when they are — pardon my not-French — bullshit.

An entire essay could and should be written about how race plays into all this, as well. Whatever white women like me experience, I have zero doubt it’s 10 times (or a hundred times) worse for women of color or other marginalized writers. Witness the recent round-up of several new books by women of color in the New York Times — the grouping itself is unfortunate unless it was going to treated in a much more prominent, important way, as in a lengthy cover review (which would be absolutely apropos, these are important books and it is an important time). But, as other people, particularly Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (@ebonyteach) and Malinda Lo (@malindalo) on twitter (follow them if you aren’t), pointed out, shoving them together in a round-up is a choice that innately marginalizes the books, which include some of the most significant titles of the season. The choice of a white reviewer is also unfortunate, and there are other issues with how the books are discussed as a result. Why I bring this up here, however, is the way in which Dhonielle Clayton’s stunning fantasy The Belles is discussed, because I think it has to do with this exact subject, albeit coupled with an extra layer of racism. In this book, Dhonielle Clayton has chosen to write about oppression and slavery, but it’s done in a way that immediately gets misperceived as somehow slighter. You can’t tell me this gorgeous cover isn’t also interpreted through the preconceptions of many people to read feminine, and thus, obviously, not deep, not expertly crafted, not important.

Except this book is all of those things.

What do we code as traditionally feminine? Love, romance, beauty, fashion, care-taking, the color pink. The list goes on. And on. This cover is great because it tells you there’s traditional femininity involved here but not just that, this is a larger femininity we’re seeing, a healthier, more complicated one. The tagline: “The Revolution Is Here” and that gaze directly at the reader is as important as the flowers and the dress in setting expectations.

But we see a review in one of our most important media outlets where instead this book is pitted against another brilliant book simply because both authors are women of color writing fantasy, and a conclusion is drawn that feels related to these larger issues. We treat fantasy seen as somehow “girly” (ugh, that should mean literally ANYTHING) as the less accomplished. This is a perfect example of something far too many of us bring with our preconceptions, even professional critics, when we open a book. Awareness of this is key. But there’s an even more sinister assumption at work here. When we continually imply that only tragedy and pain are roots for telling an important, honest story — particularly when we’re placing that limitation on writers of color — what we’re doing is deciding to create a world in which we force people to relive pain on our terms, not theirs, to tell the stories we expect, not the stories they need or want to tell. I mention this here because racism is a part of every single discussion we’re having this month (and always), in one way or another. We’ll only be successful at toppling the hierarchies we want to break down if those hierarchies topple for all writers, especially traditionally marginalized ones.

Likewise, in fantasy, women who present with traditionally masculine traits are often considered “strong.” Women who present as feminine — or gasp! on a spectrum that includes both! or none of the above! — are often considered “weak.” (Or worse.) This enlarges to treatment of books themselves. Fantasy worth taking seriously and considering not garbage is obviously dark, right? And romance, scrunch-face, well that’s just fluff (is there smoke coming out of my ears as I type this knowing people think this way? reader, there is). I believe grimdark makes the world less complicated than it is, not more. But I still see it as a valid aesthetic choice! What isn’t valid is acting is if it’s a more inherently noble or true or accomplished choice.

There’s the old saying a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, but that’s not apt here either — the problem is wanting to pretend the world doesn’t have any sugar in it, and that any writer who acts as if it does isn’t worthy of your time.

A world with love is a world with hope. When we see stories about love and hope and change coded as traditionally feminine and immediately dismiss them internally or in a review or wherever as corny or as not quite serious, as not worthy of appreciating for craft, we are failing. Take the work as the work. Read it and see past your preconceptions. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more serious or more challenging than using the themes I just mentioned both honestly and with light. And I would never and am not saying that stories that tackle these themes in heartbreaking, raw ways can’t be effective. What I will never understand is why we so often act like that’s the only effective way to tackle these themes. And it should certainly not be the only way in which we expect writers of color to tell stories.

And so, sure, people who do this are disrespecting the authors. But, more troublingly, they are disrespecting the audience — which is what this is all about, really. Every single thing I talk about here goes back to the fact that we’re discussing the work of women, writing for what is at least perceived as a largely female audience. No one in the world is more dismissed than teen girls (except those rare moments when we remember they change the world). What everyone is really doing when they engage in this behavior, pooh-poohing and dismissing work by women for girls and loved by girls is telling girls that the world will never take them seriously. Unless perhaps they agree to be miserable. And even then it’s a toss up…

I know I should have some rousing way to end here, but what I have to say is as short and sweet as that spoonful of sugar:

Just stop it. Read outside your comfort zones (and recommend the best of what you read! especially if! you’re! a! man! on! a! panel!). Examine your preconceptions, and don’t generalize based on them about books you know nothing about. Respect women and their work. Respect girls and what they love.*

*And don’t you ever let me hear you comparing our president to a teenage girl. Ever.

Change Starts Now (And It Has, aka The Final Letter) #metoo #ustoo

Hi there, everybody! What I feared would be largely unnoticed effort to apply direct pressure to festivals and conferences and publishers to stop harassment in response to Anne Ursu’s survey has now grown — in less than two weeks — to include more than 1400 people in the children’s and YA community, including authors, educators, librarians, representatives of organizations and events, readers, and other publishing industry professionals. I thank each of you for signing on and being part of this conversation and beyond. I believe we’re already seeing things change and that’s going to continue. We still have plenty of work to do, but I truly believe we’ve made a good start. I’m so heartened by the number of conferences, festivals, and organizations that have already put new policies in place or committed to doing so. I’m also heartened that we’ve seen agents and publishers begin to take action when the details of unacceptable behavior emerge.

If you’d like to see an online version of the list of signees, you can do so here — and a huge shoutout to Jeremiah Tolbert of Clockpunk Studios, who helped me out on extracting the signatures so I didn’t have to conscript Christopher into helping me enter the names by hand (Jeremy also built this website — I highly recommend working with Clockpunk!).

The final harassment letter is attached as a PDF and will begin going out tomorrow; please feel free to download and send it to anyone you work with as well or crib from it or anything I’ve posted here on the topic as need be. I tried to correct capitalization where it was wonky in the Official Version, and you should be included unless you only left a first name. The only alteration to the letter text I made was to clarify that a comprehensive harassment policy is broader than just sexual harassment and that’s what we want.

Here of a couple of other links that may be of interest — and if anyone knows something I left off here that I told you I intended to put on, please let me know and I’ll add it. It’s been a chaotic couple of weeks and I’m on deadline (two to be exact).

Thanks again! Let’s go out there and make our community the best, most welcoming place (for everyone except harassers) that it can be.

#metoo #ustoo Change Starts Now: Stand Against Harassment in the YA/Kidlit Community

Earlier this week brilliant, award-winning author Anne Ursu published an essay about the responses and conclusions from a survey on sexual harassment in the kidlit and YA field she recently conducted, spurred by the #metoo movement. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so immediately. I’ll wait.

Like many, I was not so much surprised by the findings that our community is no different than any other. And, like many, I’ve felt frustrated and angry and helpless. I don’t have all the answers, but last night I found myself asking where our Scalzi is on twitter — referencing my friend John Scalzi’s convention harassment policy pledge *five years ago* when similar issues were being highlighted in the science fiction and fantasy community. As Scalzi pointed out right away:

 

And then this morning, I realized that I’m not comfortable waiting for someone else to take point. I firmly believe that we need male authors and illustrators and publishing professionals to sign on to any effort to combat sexual harassment in our community, and that perhaps it would be taken more seriously if one of them led the charge. I hope they’ll show up, but to wait for that is unacceptable to me. Many people are asking “what can we do without names?” A lot it turns out. We can send a message and we can apply pressure to advocate for change.

No one should have to feel unsafe at an event in the children’s lit world. No one should feel like they can’t speak up or have someone to go to if they are harassed at an event. And no one should be able to get away with harassment, no matter how much of a big deal they’re considered to be.

First, I invite all of us to adopt the same pledge that Scalzi set out several years ago, which I’m stealing whole cloth here and encourage you to post about on your own sites.

1. That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.

2. That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their Website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.

3. In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.

I’d also like to send the letter below to YA and kidlit specific festivals and organizations and to the heads of publishing houses with as many names attached to it as possible. If you would like to sign on, please post your name in the comments below (which I must approve so there might be a slight delay). Here’s the letter, which I know is not perfect, but hopefully it’s a starting point.

Dear conference or festival organizer or publisher,

You may be aware that larger discussions of sexism and sexual harassment have now—finally—turned to the children’s and YA literary community. Recently author Anne Ursu conducted a survey that received ninety responses detailing the unacceptable behavior that far too many women in our sphere have been subjected to over the years. We know that the problem is far wider, and it’s one we all have a responsibility to act to end.

If you have a sexual harassment policy, we would encourage you to make sure it’s strong enough and well publicized enough at your events or work functions to be effective. If you do not have a sexual harassment policy, we encourage you to develop one immediately or you may find many authors will no longer attend your events. This policy should, to borrow from author John Scalzi’s pledge wording, spell out “what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.” In keeping with that pledge, we also ask that you promote and publicize this policy as widely as possible: on your website, in your programs and conference materials, through flyers in the event space, and by talking about it at the beginning of conference events.

You may feel this isn’t necessary or will somehow “send the wrong message” about your event. But, in fact, the lack of these things does just that. The lack of a clear harassment policy tells predators they can get away with bad behavior and it tells women and other community members that they will have no one to go to if they experience harassment, they will just have to remain quiet and accept it. Publicizing a message that harassment will receive zero tolerance tells everyone, including our young readership, what behavior they should expect in a professional environment. You can find resources to assist with your policy development and wording at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website.

If you are a publisher, we encourage you to revisit your own harassment policies and to ensure they are observed at public events that you host. We would also ask that publishers communicate to their authors, illustrators, and staff that if harassment by them is reported in a professional setting it may lead to consequences related to employment or invitations to represent the publisher at events or on tour. Again, it may seem unnecessary or ineffective to take this step. But sending a message about what behavior will be tolerated and what will not is the only way change will come.

And this change must come. Time is up.

Sincerely,

Gwenda Bond

and hopefully many, many of you

Edited to add: Thank you THANK YOU all for supporting this effort. If your comment signing doesn’t show up immediately and you don’t get an error message, don’t fret. I just have to approve it and your name will be added. If you do get an error message, just contact me via the contact page or any other format and I’ll note your name and add it manually when I compile the final letter. THANK YOU.

Edited to add again: Comments are open, though the letter is closed for sending. 

Patreon Pointer and a Puppy

Hey there! Long time, no post. I’m going to at least say I’m going to dust this thing off and try to be better about that this year. I’m DEFINITELY being better over at Patreon, where I just posted a dishy introduction to kick off what’s going to be each chapter of The Woken Gods posted weekly with annotation and commentary.* Which I can do because I own the rights! I’ll also be providing progress updates on (and perhaps snippets) from my current work and puppy pictures (and I’ve added some puppy photo tiers to the rewards, as you do, if you just can’t get enough Sally — because I actually DO take a zillion also adorable photos that I just horde each day in addition to the ones I post) and et cetera. So come check it out and throw a dollar or few my way if you’re so moved. It is always much appreciated!

In case you’re wondering, my noteworthy releases this year are the paperback of Supernormal Sleuthing Service #1: The Lost Legacy in early May, followed by SSS #2: The Sphinx’s Secret (yay!) in late May, with Mr. Rowe obviously, and an adult-but-YA-friendly mystery/thriller serial set right here in Kentucky that I can’t say more about JUST yet but SOON which’ll be releasing in the summer. Oh, and the paperback of Lois Lane: Triple Threat this spring. So this is, all-in-all, a quiet year for me release-wise.

So I’d better get back to work on my new YA novel, which I’m crunch crunching away on and having a lot of fun with. Hopefully you’ll have fun reading it in a year or two. (PUBLISHING IS SLOW.) Have a Sally in the meantime. 

*If you don’t know what Patreon is, it’s a way you can subscribe to special content and support your favorite artists and creators in the meantime. Secure payment system, you choose the pledge/reward level you pay each month, and I get a little money in my bank account at the beginning of the month. Kind of like a tip that helps your faves keep working. See aforementioned quiet-for-me year above and, yes, I’m definitely focusing on giving some more love to Patreon this year. Come hang out.