I’ve always considered myself a feminist.
As someone who makes up stuff out of thin air, I’m concerned with how I portray women in my stories — to do so in a way that is honest and fair and responsible, to create stories that offer compelling characters, both male and female. I want good stories, and I believe this is EASIER to accomplish when you approach narratives as an intelligent, compassionate human being.
However, having been raised on a steady diet of male-oriented genre fiction, a writer can fall into one of the many tired, sexist tropes that besiege modern storytelling: damsel in distress, stay in the kitchen, double standards, slut shaming, and many more. These tropes exist because of lazy one-dimensional writing. Writers use the female characters to merely support the male characters.
Out of curiousity, I wanted to see how I fared against the Bechdel Test. What is the Bechdel Test, you say? To quote Ashe Cantrell at FilmSchoolRejects.com:
“The Bechdel Test, if you’re not familiar with it, is a benchmark for movies developed by Alison Bechdel in 1985. For a movie to pass The Bechdel Test, it must contain just one thing – a scene in which two or more named female characters have a conversation (that is, back and forth dialogue) about anything at all besides men. Anything, even if it’s something stereotypically feminine, like shopping or shoes. It could be about dog poo. It doesn’t matter.”
After a quick read through my comics, here’s how I stand.
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I had a former student email me a few days ago, asking about how I got into comics. He was seeking advice on what to do.
There’s no singular way to get into comics. There’s no path except the one that works, and then it usually only works once and under precarious, fleeting conditions. A few things have worked for others, and any combinations of these tactics (listed below) would be better than doing nothing.
- In the words of Steve Martin, “be so good they can’t ignore you.” People like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison were always going to be successful, because eventually someone, somewhere would see the genius. The shine was too bright.
- Find a job where you can hide away or slack off while you actually write.
- Be homeless. You can access computers at the public library. You can spend your time writing while sleeping in a shelter somewhere in the evenings. I don’t know if this works.
- Take out loans, live under crushing debt, start your own small press company, and attend every major comic book convention as a publisher. You may eventually go bankrupt. However, by that time, you may be well-known enough to get some gigs elsewhere.
- Start a shitty web comic and self-publish your own projects.
- Find one small press company and befriend them. Intern. Run errands.
- Write about comics. Start a podcast or a blog, or both. Be a resource to others. If you can grow as a pop culture authority, eventually, someone might trust you to write for them.
- Find work as an editor, be really good, and then shift into writing.
- Pay an artist to work with you on a larger project. I paid someone to illustrate my first 24 page comic. Nice guy. From there, I started getting more breaks.
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I’m doing research on the trains that run through Arlington. It’s for a feature that will appear in the Fall issue of UT Arlington Magazine. UTA librarians Evelyn Barker and Lea Worcester, also the authors of this book, have been tremendously helpful with the historical research. They gave me a story from the Fort Worth Daily Democrat (July 20, 1876) about the first train that went through Arlington. Here’s the lead sentence:
Yesterday morning, at twenty-three minutes past eleven, Engine No. 20 of the Texas & Pacific railroad, Kelly engineer and Beal conductor, uttered its shrill scream within the corporate limits, arousing the ‘panter’ from his lair, startling the birds from their nests in affright, and carrying joy to many anxious hearts who have waited long and patiently for the sounds that then for the first time reverberated through the hills and valleys around the beautiful city of Fort Worth.
Now that is a sentence! It meanders a bit, but I follow every twist and turn. Unfortunately, no byline. And also unfortunately, I doubt I will ever read a sentence like this in a contemporary newspaper. Read more →
A 2009 New Yorker piece written by Louis Menand (“Show or Tell: Should creative writing be taught?”) has a cynical and comical view of creative writing programs.
Creative writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.
It’s a good read for anyone who wants to teach writing or anyone who wants to dump money into a writing program. However, at times, Menand offers a limited view of how creative writing classes operate in order to prove his point–until eventually coming around to defend a rather flimsy reason for such programs, i.e. “I don’t think the workshops taught me too much about craft, but they did teach me about the importance of making things, not just reading things. You care about things that you make, and that makes it easier to care about things that other people make.”
Several questions are raised. For instance, do writing programs actually make writers great or are they simply attended by great writers? To my knowledge, after almost a decade of teaching creative writing, the only professional writer to come out of my class… was me. Hardly a prestigious alumnus. But then, the other question: is the point of a creative writing program really to produce professionals? Is it publish-or-perish? Read more →
Yesterday, I hosted a comics scriptwriting workshop at Eastfield College as part of their Literary and Fine Arts Festival. Eastfield was a gracious host–providing a great facility and sandwiches. The students were wonderful. (Thank you Iris for inviting me.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job keeping track of my time. I went over, which meant we had to skip the writing exercises (the thing that made the workshop a workshop). I could’ve easily gone another hour. Fortunately, it makes the audio more tolerable, because there isn’t an extended period of nothingness while everyone is busy writing.
Let me know what you think. There’s some useful information here. I’d recommend listening to the lecture and following along with the power point (saved as a pdf). I could revise and improve upon some areas of the workshop, and it would be exciting to adapt this into a longer seminar or series. But right now, I’m sharing it with you. Enjoy. Post in the comments section if you have any questions or feedback.
Download the mp3
My Dallas Observer story (“Larry Brown Just Can’t Stop”) took three months to research and write. The story should have been about 4,000 words. I overwrote the first draft by 2,000 words. As a result, a lot of stuff was cut in the name of focusing the narrative. I understand, but it’s also a shame because I liked some of the deleted material.
And then, I remembered that I have a blog, and I could post all the unused bits and pieces. Here it is, in its unfinished glory.
Interview with Rick Carlisle:
“SMU pulled a coup at being able to get him here. He’s a friend of mine. I’m really thrilled that he’s here. There’s no doubt that he raises the profile of SMU basketball with his mere presence.”
“He’s a very unusual guy. The depth of his experience and the diversity of his experience is very special. It’s going to bring a lot to this city and to the SMU program.”
“Larry’s a guy who has always had great love and respect for the game, and a great enthusiasm for the game. I think this was a great opportunity for him to jump back in with SMU going to a new league, which is exciting and challenging. And they were able to put a great staff together over there too. It’s a really terrific working environment. And it’s a great city to live in obviously.”
January 12, 2013 – The entire game against Tulane is being played on the ground. Players are diving, clawing around for the ball. Tulane’s sophomore guard falls, having hurt his knee. He’s rolling in pain and pulls his jersey over his head so no one can see him cry. It’s an ugly game. Read more →
As you might have seen on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been going on and on about my feature story in the Dallas Observer: “Larry Brown Just Can’t Stop.” In fact, @TheKobeBeef told me to chill out (“Calm down, we’ll read it”). Okay, point taken. I can’t apologize for my enthusiasm. I’ve been working on this story for a little over three months. I’m glad it’s finally in print.
Three months. Enough time to get everything perfect, right? Two and a half months were spent attending practices and games, taking lots of notes. I interviewed players and a few other coaches, but I wasn’t able to interview Larry Brown until February 13th. And at the time, I was juggling another feature with UTA Magazine and two stories about DFW Airport. Not an excuse. I’m just trying to set the scene. I was stressed. I overwrote the first draft of my Larry Brown story. What should’ve been in the 4,000 word range was almost 6,000 words. I worked on a new outline with my editor and then spent the weekend writing a second draft. By the third draft, we were really cutting it close, but I was happier with what we had. I appreciate the encouragement of Mike Mooney (name dropper in the house!) who reminded me to not give up towards the end, that those final rewrites are crucial. If my editor thought I was crazy, it’s Mike’s fault.
In the haze of editing and rewriting, I should’ve done a better job with the fact checking. And that’s my fault entirely. I wrote, “A mere seven SMU alumni have gone on to play any sort of professional basketball.” That’s not true. Herman Hudson, SMU’s athletics PR person, called to correct me on it. Read more →
The talented Lyndsay Knecht wrote an article for KERA’s Art & Seek blog about my experience with the Oral Fixation Show (click here to read it). The article also includes audio of me rehearsing “One Request Before You Leave.” You can hear Nicole Stewart laughing in the background.
David is that universally known writer type, charmingly self-depreciating from his first email. He wrote that I’d know his house by the overgrown lawn in front. He wanted to tell his story on merit of its anti-drama.
“People have often complimented me on my divorce which feels really weird, that someone would say, ‘Wow, you had a great divorce.’”
He laughs, and then I get a glimpse at the story behind the story. “It’s like, ‘Thanks, I’m good at failing,’” he says.
Nicole’s early exchanges with David via Skype go something like this:
Nicole: You get to saying that your first baby step was acknowledging that [your wife leaving you] was happening, and I want to make sure that I see you before you acknowledged it.
Nicole: Like right now, I see you as lonely, unloved and unable to provide –
So here’s David, sitting in his home office, being asked by a relative stranger on a computer monitor to take himself back to the couples counseling appointment when his wife said she no longer wanted to be married to him.
“Prizes are wonderful. They sell your books, they get you invited to places you would never be invited. I would never give mine back. But I know them fundamentally for what they are. They’re just today’s applause. They have no bearing on whether a piece of art or an artist will exist into the future. I’m more preoccupied with that. And I think that preoccupation frees your art in lots of ways.” — Junot Diaz