My Long Road to Getting Published

It started in my early twenties. Before that I had gotten some recognition for my poetry and people had said I should try to get published, but I had almost no control over when I wrote poetry, so getting enough for a book was impossible.

Now I can sit down and just write a poem if I want to, but I also know how hard it is to sell poetry and am far more interested in telling stories. When I was in the latter half of my teens, I was obsessed with world-building. I was making up alien races, nations, cultures, and leaders and writing it all down in erasable pen (I loved erasable pens).

This obsession gave way to me running D&D campaigns that stitched my ideas together and writing histories of the peoples I created. Creating  histories and running campaigns both require storytelling. When I was in my early twenties, I fell head over heels for cyberpunk and started a novel in that vein.

I tinkered with that novel for a few years while I was in college and it just never seemed to come together. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was a physics and chemistry student and I was designing androids and other things from scratch using advanced materials. Calculating the storage capacity of a paper battery, designing miniaturized fusion reactors, and figuring out what artificial muscle technology was most likely to be useful in an android were all things I puzzled over.

Stacked on top of that, I didn’t know how to write a novel. Putting that project on hold, I worked on a different novel, one about an alien race with gender and sexuality quite different from humans. I also started posting stories chapter by chapter online. The feedback I got online caused me to grow as a writer and I became more confident in my skills.

It wasn’t until several years later that I had gotten my writing to a place where I was starting to think seriously about getting published. The problem was that I was fixated on the big publishers at a time when the traditional publishing industry was being disrupted. The stories I heard about so few new authors getting contracts discouraged me.

Deep down, I knew that neither of the two novels I was writing would make it. They were too big of a risk for the publishers and I had been working on them so long that I had no idea how to bring either of them to a conclusion.

I never wanted to self-publish. Partially because I am serious about typography and design and I knew I would be unhappy with what my books looked like at the start, and partially because I’d wanted to be published ever since I was in high school. It was more of an emotional need than a result of logic.

Everyone seems to has different ideas of success and how to tell when one has “broken into the industry” and I set the bar at getting published and not just self-publishing. Looking back on it, it’s a bit silly. It’s 2017 and there’s a multitude of extremely successful self-published authors.

To be successful at self-publishing, one needs connections. People who can help with the typesetting, good editors, cover designers, marketing specialists, etc. I didn’t have the connections or the interest in trying to fill all of those roles myself. I am sure I’ll have more connections as I become more established as a writer, but I think I’ll stick with small presses for the foreseeable future.

The advent of small presses opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me. They were taking on new authors and taking risks and many of them were treating authors incredibly well. By this time I had also realized that I was bisexual (pansexual as well) and that all the characters I had written were queer. Only side characters were straight.

As I looked into who would be interested in stories about LGBT+ characters, I found out that the rise of small presses internet distribution had created a boom in LGBT+ readership and publishing.

A lot of my 2016 summer was spent identifying LGBT+ publishers that I wanted to work with. Less Than Three Press was one of my top choices and they were brought to my attention by a friend who had been published by them.

I decided to start with a small project that I knew I could finish based on a prompt I saw on LT3’s site. Writing for that prompt led to “A Welded Wave,” my first published book. Details about how writing for a prompt helped are in another blog post.

What is your publishing experience? Are you self-published? Did you get lucky with a big publisher? Let me know about that and any other thoughts or comments you have below!

Misgendering in a Culture with Only Two Boxes

When a guy nudges me with his elbow and says, “You’re such a guy!” my natural tendency is to roll my eyes or agree in a sarcastic tone. It seems I can do fifty-three feminine things vs one masculine thing and one of my non-close male friends or acquaintances will decide I’m a typical guy the moment I do one masculine thing.

The scenario above is much closer to how things were in high school and I didn’t yet know how gender worked or my location on the map/spectrum/collage.

In my recent life, these attempts to toss me in a standardized gender box are much more subtle. I believe that my acceptance of my non-binaryness has led me to be less of a target. I allow myself to act more the way I feel and less the way society expects me to.

I know that no amount of projecting ambiguity on my part will derail the deep-seated need of people steeped in our western gender-deterministic culture to fit every person they meet into one of two boxes. I know that I cannot expect the average joe on the street to look at me and go,”Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t assume this person is like all the other people with this body shape.”

But, I can and do challenge people’s white-knuckled grip on a binary deterministic sense of gender.

(GBI = Gender Binary Initiate)

GBI: Men like body building.

Me:  My best friend doesn’t, he dropped out of basketball because he hated lifting weights so much.

GBI: Women like getting their hair done.

Me:  My wife avoids going to a hair salon at all costs, she even gave herself a bowl cut for a few years.

Doubt is our ever-present ally when culture prescribes truths that everyone’s supposed to believe in. There is no individual that perfectly fits the ideals of man and woman. Even in our own culture. All you need to do to prove this is to ask two friends who is the most perfect example of a man/woman?

This is a great way to start a fight between friends that is distracting enough that you can incorporate it into your next escape plan. There is no answer to that question that everyone can agree on.

I have a friend who believes that stubble is more manly than a beard because it is rougher. So, his ultimate man would be a guy who replaced his cheeks with sheets of coarse silicon carbide sandpaper. (silicon carbide is sharper and harder and therefore more manly according to American cultural presets)

Even if they were able to reach a consensus, the entire rest of the world would have counterarguments about what different genders look and act like. Some cultures even have a third gender, like kathoeys in Thailand. In China and Taiwan, the most desired men are sensitive and compassionate. Mandopop, the leading form of pop music, features male artists that exhibit something called wenrou. Marc L. Moskowitz characterizes wenrou as “a tender androgyny.”

Trying to fit humans into two gender boxes isn’t just wrong, it is objectively wrong. If humans can be in different boxes in different cultures and there is no one person that fits any stereotype perfectly, gender cannot be attached to one’s genitals, their sports preferences, or their relationship with hair salons. The only way to know what gender someone is is to ask them.

I know that anyone reading this is likely already in agreement. Perhaps, what I have above can be used as talking points one can use with people that are not seeing outside their culturally-enforced categories.

What about me? What do I do in my everyday life?

Well, I have long conversations with people when I can and let people have their two-color world when I don’t have time. When I correct misconceptions, I try very hard to own the role of an educator and the patience that comes with that role.

The majority of people call me “him” and I don’t challenge it. What I challenge are the assumptions that people make about what someone you call “him” is or should be like. It is possible that I will make more of a use of gender-neutral pronouns in the future, but I don’t think I will correct people who I pass in the supermarket.

I don’t have the energy that is required to be assertive repeatedly about something like that throughout my entire day. Repetition can cause me to feel very agitated.

I do have the energy to:

  1. Put my hair up in a bun,
  2. Wear women’s jeans even though they have… VERY SMALL POCKETS! AAAAAH! SO FRUSTRATING!
  3. Wear colors and cuts that are less typical for the gender that people think I am.
  4. Get a kilt! I know I could rock a kilt and there are some designs from Utilikilt that look a bit like a pleated skirt.
  5. Let my mannerisms and movements flow the way that feels right regardless of the gender people would associate them with.
  6. Express my emotions honestly regardless of their gender association

I prefer to dissolve the presets people have in their heads subtly. Writing stories about characters that do straddle male/female divide, owning my own gender expression, asking questions that get people thinking about the arbitrariness of culture, and being a likable social deviant.

Yes, I feel annoyed when someone is actively trying to put me in a gendered box, but I have started to see it as an opportunity to teach people about their mental templates and where those templates go wrong.

Have thoughts/comments/book suggestions to share? Put them in the comments!

Footnote:

Who is this Marc L. Moskowitz guy? He wrote the book on Mandopop that I quoted. It is pretty interesting if you’re curious about Chinese pop music. Be warned that my book’s binding was not done right and you may have to be careful with your copy. Might be better to get the ebook.

Moskowitz, Marc L. Cries of joy, songs of sorrow: Chinese pop music and its cultural connotations. University of Hawaii Press, 2010.

My Thoughts on Pronouns, Linguistically and Personally

Pronouns are part of a class of words called function words.

Function word examples: will, the, under, however, a, and, has, do, beside, etc.

Out of all the words that we use, function words are the hardest to change because they are more deeply ingrained in our brains. Efforts to change the use of function words often are fraught with problems and the use of pronouns surrounding different gender identities is caught up in this.

Imagine trying to pick up and use “y’all” in everyday conversation vs using “birb” instead of “bird” or “adorbs” instead of “adorable.” “Birb” follows the basic rule for pluralization and possession (birbs, birb’s). Is the possessive form of “y’all” “y’all’s?” The internet seems to think so. What about possessive “y’all” at the end of a sentence?

“This house is y’all’s’s.” (I have no idea)

Pronouns end up in all sorts of places and have more complex rules surrounding them. When someone decides to go by ze/zir/zirs, there’s a lot of learning going on on the part of the person who is being introduced to this new pronoun.

In some cases, the person being introduced to the new pronoun, or usage of a pronoun they already know, may be learning about sex not being the same thing as gender or gender as a societal construct. In those cases that person may get overwhelmed by their worldview being tipped on its side.

I am not saying that it is alright for people to misgender other people or for people to not accommodate the pronoun wishes of others. I am saying that people learning new things benefit from the patience of others. I am saying that people overreact when they are overwhelmed.

It hurts when someone doesn’t have enough compassion to use the right pronoun. I have trans and non-binary friends (I myself am non-binary) who have to correct people over and over again on their pronoun usage. I understand how upset they get. I also know what it’s like to learn to use different pronouns.

What helps me stay sane is being apologetic and compassionate when I am learning and equally compassionate when I am teaching. Sometimes I teach my cis friends about the pronoun usage of one of my non-cis friends in advance of them meeting that person.

By taking on part of the burden of teaching and being in a situation where we use the pronouns a lot (talking about someone in third person since they’re not there), things go far more smoothly and the overall stress in my social circle is reduced. So, I believe using the right pronouns is best solved as a community.

When there isn’t a community present and it’s someone in a supermarket, there isn’t really time to teach them. In cases like this, I find that being kind and polite no matter how awful the person is works best.

The reason is that you look like the reasonable person to everyone watching and often get support from bystanders. Now, I’m not the best at being assertive about stuff like this, so there may be strategies that I do not have access too.

My #1 goal in a situation where my LGBT+ status is conflicting with cultural norms in a public setting is to be brief and polite. I want people to think back about how decent I was and I don’t want to get caught up in long draining conversations when I have stuff I need to get done.

Personally, I love new pronouns like ze/zir/zirs and I’m planning on using ne/nem/nir in an upcoming book. By playing with these pronouns, I gain more experience with them and also get the chance to try them out so I can see if I would like to use them to describe me.

For now, I am experimenting and tinkering trying to figure out:

  1. Do I want to go by different pronouns for every part of my life or just with close friends?
  2. Is there a pronoun that I feel reflects my non-binaryness/genderfluidity?
  3. Do I want to come out to non-close friends about my gender identity?

Some of this has been solved for myself as an author, but not all of it. What pronoun should you use when you refer to me? Anything you want to try out. Use referring to me as a testbed for pronoun forms you’ve always wanted to use in a sentence, a paragraph, etc. If you email me or talk to me, you’re going to be using “you,” so I won’t know what pronoun you’re using to refer to me.

Of course, you could write about me in third person or make up a little story about me and send it to me, but that is outside the realm of normal social interaction, so I do not expect it to happen (imagine how fun that would be).

Do you have any examples of stories that use interesting pronouns or that use one of the standard ones to great effect? I might do a future post about books that have cool pronoun usage and your comments will aid me in doing so. Also, please comment with your feedback/discussion about what I’ve posted above. Let me know in the comments!