Can’t write, can’t stop writing

Focusing on my current career path has taken me away from writing and craft work for a second. I also do not live in a safe or healthy environment which also wreaks havoc on my ability to write.

It’s not that I don’t want to write. Nothing should hold me back from letting all these stories out of my head. Sometimes I have a spell of not writing for a while, which is normal. And I keep telling myself it’s okay. But I know somewhere inside that the reason I can’t do the writing I love is because of where I am physically and financially and where it puts me in my own head and emotionally.

Besides, no reader wants to hear that an author can’t deliver.

Two people in my life, more privileged than I in opportunities and background, have openly admitted that the problems they face in life are a direct result of choices they’ve made. In my case, that isn’t true. So I find myself barred from the worlds in my head that desire manifestation through the written word as I clean up messes that were made before I ever even born or thought of. Inherited messes that have made me stronger and yet somehow also weakened me and continue to stunt my growth. It’s personal, it’s me. And more than half of it isn’t my fault yet I find myself on damage control on my own life.

Can’t write. Can’t stop thinking about writing. It feels toxic. It hurts. Holding all this stuff inside my head on eternal pause. Worrying that something will slip away forever and I’ll never get it back.

Honestly, I’m between a rock and a harder rock.

This morning when my body woke me up at 6am with a painful, unexplainable adrenaline surge as it has done for the past couple months regardless of how much sleep I’ve gotten prior to the waking, I did write. I added to the next chapter of Infinity Second.

It felt good. Writing.

And I hope it doesn’t go away.

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Where These Conversations Are

“Fiction by Black Writers: Who Are the Readers?” was held on February 21st by the Brooklyn Historical Society. Eventbrite publicizes the event as–

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Colson Whitehead, Yaa Gyasi…some of today’s biggest names in fiction are black writers, and yet a predominantly white publishing industry maintains the assumption that black literature lacks marketability. Join writer and distinguished academic Dr. Elizabeth Nunez for a panel discussion challenging this assumption, with Essence Magazine book editor Patrik Henry Bass, Vice President, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of Random House’s One World Chris Jackson, President of the Authors’ Guild Roxana Robinson, and editorial director at Akashic Books Ibrahim Ahmad.

My friend sent me the Eventbrite link to check out some of the authors whose names got dropped in this description. After about a ten-year drought because I was sick to death of white-dominated narratives and formulaic genre crap getting shoved under my nose, I am ready to indulge my love of reading again and pick a new book and a new author to devote some of my time to. Preferably, a Black author who writes Black main characters that I haven’t yet discovered.

But when I clicked on the link in my friend’s e-mail and read the description, I was more interested in attending the even itself to hear to from the speakers. Black FICTION writers? BLACK? People actually talking about the predominantly white publishing industry (read: admitting that the publishing industry is predominantly white)? And likely talking about its assumption that Black fiction writers do not exist or “lack marketability”?

Awww shoot! DANG, I gotta hear this, is what I thought. Tell me the state of the things! For my own validation/affirmation as a Black writer if nothing else. More times than not, this truth about publishing and television is an unspoken truth. It just goes without saying to those People of Color who see it for what it is.

I really, really wanted to hear what other people have to say about this topic. But I’m not just broke, man. No matter how badly I wanted to fly across the country and attend this event, I couldn’t go on February 21st and I still can’t go even if they held the event in New York again.

My head isn’t filled with academic articles from credible sources and published intellectuals on what other people have to say about the topic of Black writers and their marketability (or lack thereof) to white publishers. Nor is my knowledge condensed into a perfectly pitch-able nonfiction volume you can pick up at the bookstore or sample from in your undergrad and masters courses. But I know what I observe when I watch television. What I see when I go into a store and look at their paperbacks. What I’ve read since I first discovered of my love of words and books. I know what I experienced as a little Black girl who grew up on welfare in the U.S. The situation surrounding the marketability and visibility of Black authors deeper than just the publishing industry. The problem is rooted in the core of what readers are exposed to, beginning arguably even as early as the womb. The problem lies in what readers choose to believe and the writers, histories, and narratives they choose to exclude from their bookshelves and consciousness.

As tired as I am of “politics” and navigating a STILL white-dominated media, I feel like conversations like “Fiction by Black Authors” put on by organizations like BSU and the Brooklyn Historical regarding Black and of Color authors specifically aren’t happening as often as they should. Maybe its because I now live in a near-dead, somewhat backwards city. Can’t really say for sure.

Fresno Writer’s Group–Why I’m Quitting

I attended about nine meetings with the Fresno Writer’s Group and I’m quitting. I first talked about my problems with the group in the post Writing Alone. I didn’t want to leave and I tried to make it work but I have no other recourse. Its a small group and I really shouldn’t have taken it so seriously but I gave some time and effort to it and I want to give myself the space to express what I’ve experienced. These are the prime reasons I’m leaving the Fresno Writer’s Group.

BIGGGG # 1) RACISM

The day I walked in, a member of this all-white group made a racist joke and they all sat there and laughed. One of their e-mail members sent me an overtly racist e-mail after I asked them to specify if their work contains violence (including racism) before e-mailing it out for critique. The micro-aggressions have not stopped, even after I complained to the group organizers over several e-mails full of explanations when they appeared to be confused. The co-facilitators of this group, Wayland Jackson and Jeff Cates, are obviously seasoned white racists who are trying to convince me that my perception of them is skewed by unfounded prejudice. They have no intention of checking themselves.

Shannon,

You are entitled to think what you want about me, and I realize there’s nothing that I can say that will change your mind if you’re convinced that I hate anybody based on the color of their skin. You’ve been offended by things I’ve said and done, but don’t assume that I’m saying or doing anything with the intent of offending you. I hope you’ll think about this.

–Jeff Cates

2) Membership

Their membership changes monthly and its obvious that its a small club for the three or four core members who attend regularly and they don’t really care who is there otherwise; they make no effort to encourage membership growth or diversity.

3) Location

The new location is too far out of my way to bother anymore. And its summer, too, 100 degrees+ some days. Simple as that.

4) Age Group

The writers facilitating the group are not only all white but over fifty. I call it like I see it: They’re definitely set in their ways.

5) “Amnesia”

The organizers literally don’t know who’s been there and who has left until Jeff decides to drop writers from the mailing list for their absences. There have been several occasions where neither Jeff nor Wayland remember I was at a meeting.

6) Leadership

As with any group or organization, its hard to address the problems when the leaders are the ones causing it. Its even harder when you’re the only Black person in the room trying to address it because you’re the only person it effects.

~

Though not unexpected, its a huge disappointment that both group leaders refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Its the racism that bothers me the most and the oblivious ease and comfort with which they deny it. I’ve been in enough situations like this and I should’ve stopped coming the first thirty minutes I noticed this bs. Can’t blame a writer for trying.

I quit. Its not worth my time.

Writing Alone

Last year I joined a writer’s group and it’s virtually the only one in my area. I had a lot of doubts about it because the members of the group are all white, all older than me, and appear to be in comfortable financial situations. I am the only Black person and the only Person of Color in the group, seemingly the only working class/poor person as well. I am also the only high fantasy, romance, and poetry writer, too.

At my very first meeting, casually racist and classist remarks (one of which was about Africa and ebola) were made by the other members. At another meeting I attended, the co-facilitator, one of two white guys, made a joke about not knowing what “a Black slave sounds like” after I voiced some concerns about my lack of desire to read one of the other white members’ work because it was from a book she had written which takes place during the expansion of white colonizers into the West in America; it includes both enslaved Black people with stereotyped names and “American Indians” championed by white saviors. That’s a whole other story in itself though.

Not wanting to give up too quickly out of my desire to be with other writers, I continued to attend meetings. One of the pros of the situation is that despite the group’s lack of racial and ethnic diversity, they tend to give fair feedback and are good writers themselves. I’m not the type of critic who gives a lot of technical feedback, instead I focus on how the writer’s work makes me feel and whether or not it gets me thinking–I offer that as feedback. I wasn’t sure that’s this is very helpful to the others since so many writers view the art of writing as a technical skill and process as if it has a precise formula. I view myself as an artist, not a technical writer or a businessperson trying to sell whatever I have as my main objective. I view my writing as a calling and an art.

I have no desire to continue to deal with their casual bigotry and ignorance, my stress level is high enough and I promised myself I wouldn’t force myself to educate and “mammy” people who don’t want to learn. However, I also don’t want to ride alone, or rather write alone. I don’t believe writing has to be a completely lonely process, as many have asserted that it is, that’s why I joined this group in the first place. I want to be around other writers.

Weighed down by heavy doubts about the group, stress, an unusual bout of illness this year, and helping with the birth of my nephew, I haven’t been back to meetings since late last year. They practice dropping people from the mailing list instead of asking them if they’re actually through with it and also changed the meeting location. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea for me to go back but I don’t want to leave without some closure. It may better idea for me to continue writing alone.

Leave Paid Reviewers Alone

Myesha D. Jenkins requires a $10 “donation” for her book reviews. Though I thought it was kind of backhanded and shady, I really tried to view her fee in a positive light and was desperate to have someone outside my “network” read my work. Who does anything for free except me, right. Ten dollars isn’t really that big a deal, right.

My friend, “Shay”, seemed very disappointed in me for paying her and thought I was rushing too much into trying to expose my work. I wish I’d talked to her before I did it so she could talk me out of it. To top it off, my friend, “C”, just told me that Jenkins rated me two stars on Goodreads. Of course, I didn’t know this until a few minutes ago because I wasn’t going to read the Jenkins review until I finished the second book. This has been a really bad day.

That week a lot of people hoodwinked me because I know how hard it is for Black women writers to get recognized, or read at all, and I was convinced the only way for me to get exposure was to push for it through any means possible, even using my birthday money to pay for this review. I probably lost like $50, including this.

If that’s really all she thought of the book, I accept that. But I feel a lot of regret and shame for paying her to read it. Its something I won’t be doing again, not with her or anyone else. I feel so stupid and embarrassed because that particular review (the only so far) wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t sought this lady out and paid her.  It probably won’t be the last bad review and if people really think my work merits two stars or less they should be honest about it like her, but I shouldn’t be walking into two-star reviews, especially paying for them with money I don’t really have to spare.

Its better to let people come to your book of their own accord. Don’t pay them. Don’t coerce them. Don’t try finesse them into it. I knew that and still I let fear and misguided ambition lead me to do something like this.

Its done now. Lesson reinforced.