Thursday, March 8, 2012

Guest post: Anne Trubek

Today we have a real treat.  There's been a lot of talk lately about the VIDA statistics, and professor and journalist Anne Trubek isn't just commenting on it, she's doing something to address the parity.  She's here today to talk about VIDA, being a woman in the arts, and why more of us aren't publishing.


I have been teaching writing as a professor at Oberlin College for the past 15 years. I have never been one of those professors who complain about the quality of writing declining. In fact, I often have the opposite reaction: I am always amazed by how many good writers are out there. What I love most about teaching is helping people get from point A to point B. The level does not matter. One student’s “A” might be grammatical mistakes, and I get a thrill out of helping them write correctly. Usually, though, point “A” is pretty advanced.  It is not “kids these days” I lament. It is “why are the same old people getting their work published when there are so many talented others out there?” 

Be they college students who don’t submit to the campus literary magazine or colleagues who let a great book idea sit on their hard drive for years, I see the same thing over and over:  many very smart, adept writers do not try to publish.  Some simply procrastinate, avoiding taking the big step and deciding they will  finish revising that piece (which is usually already pretty darn good)  after the baby is older/the job is calmer/the summer/the Downton Abbey season ends....

I get it. I have been there. But it is a shame.

But you know what frustrates me even more? When that writer decides it is time, she cannot figure out how to get her work published. Here, my frustration lies not with dallying authors but with the fact that the process for submitting work for publication is often overly opaque. So many times people are simply flummoxed by the pragmatics of publishing writing. How does one submit a personal essay to Newsweek? How did Jane Brown, that friend from high school who no one ever really liked, get to write about fashion for the New York Times? 

Sometimes, the information is easily found through some googling. Sometimes--often--it is not. It’s all very hush hush, and many prospective writers feel discouraged, dissuaded, out of the loop. 

It’s not the writers’ fault, though. There is a sort of secret code to getting your work published. Except it does not have to be a secret. There are fairly common steps most publications take, and those who want to write for them can learn those steps. Making this process hard to learn helps publications cut down on scads of crappy submissions. But it also keeps great writers who could offer much from ever knocking on the door. t

Here’s where politics come in. A group that looks at the bylines of major literary publications, VIDA, did a count, and the numbers are not good. Women are far outnumbered by men in these illustrious pages. 

The possible explanations for this situation are many--I have written some thought on my blog, as have others

I have a theory about one way to redress this situation: I think the lack of information about how the publishing game works prevents women from playing it.  The more women learn the game, the better the numbers may be.

Maybe I concocted this theory because it helps me feel less useless: I have learned a lot about publishing in the magazines that VIDA looked at, as well as others. I have teaching experience, so I can convey that information fairly well. And so that is what I am doing--my small part to get more women’s voices out there. I want to get more files moved from the “Draft” folder into “Sent Mail.” 

I’ve written a short guide to pitching publications on my blog. Later this month I’m offering a course for those--particularly women!--who want to learn more about publishing their work.  I hope one or both of these resources will be useful. 

Anne, this is amazing!  And you are amazing for being so generous with your time and resources.  I can't wait to take your class later this month.  Thank you for coming to visit us today!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Author interview: Sarah Pinneo

I'm really excited today because we've got the fabulous Sarah Pinneo here to chat.  Sarah's a former Wall Streeter, turned cookbook author, turned fiction writer!  Her fiction debut, JULIA'S CHILD, is out now.

What's the book about, you ask? Well, here it is, right from the book's back cover:

Julia Bailey is a mompreneur with too many principles and too little time. Her fledgling company, Julia’s Child, makes organic toddler meals with names like Gentle Lentil and Give Peas a Chance. But before she realizes her dream of seeing them on the shelves of Whole Foods, she will have to make peace between her professional aspirations and her toughest food critics: the two little boys waiting at home. Is it possible to save the world while turning a profit?

JULIA’S CHILD is a warmhearted, laugh-out-loud story about motherhood’s choices: organic vs. local, paper vs. plastic, staying at home vs. risking it all

Simply put, I LOVED this book!  It's a fun, fast-paced read that will have you staying up late to find out what happens.  Being a working mom, I was really able to relate to Julia's struggles, but you don't have to be a working mom to love JULIA'S CHILD.  Anyone who's had to juggle things in life and set priorities (um, so, yes, that would be everyone!) will relate to this book.

What compelled you to write this book?
I wrote another novel that turned out to be ill timed, and I had so much frustration.  So I poured all of that longing into the main character of Julia’s Child.  She so desperately wants to see her toddler food product in the freezer case at Whole Foods.  She’s willing to risk her sanity to get there.  I’ve never owned a food business—but that’s exactly how I felt about writing.

Did anything surprise you, or anything surprising happen, during the course of writing the book?
I was fortunate enough to meet and interview a dozen real “mompreneurs.”  They told me their stories of how they’d gotten that big break. It was really exciting to hear how much they’d learned, and how quickly they’d had to wise up about business.

Even better—they told me their misadventures. They went into labor during business trips. Their commercial freezers melted down during inopportune moments. They ordered the wrong organic kiwis and then drove 100 miles with cartons of rapidly ripening fruit in the backs of their cars. All that, and more. Their enthusiasm carried them through the tough times.

What writer or writers have had the greatest influence on you? 
I’ve always loved women’s fiction, especially Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Hoffman and Anne Lamott.  But this particular book was more notably influenced by Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Buckley.  These are two very funny men who also care deeply about the political issues which underpin their side-splitting stories.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Half the time you need to shut out all the advice that’s out there in cyberspace for new writers—that great buzzing of voices telling you how to write your book.  You need to shut it out, because if you spend too much time trying to listen, you won’t have any free time left for writing.  But then, after you’ve finally belted out that first draft, it’s time to let the voices in.  Find some critique partners, and learn how to take advice and criticism.  Don’t send your work out until it’s really ready.

Why did you become a writer? Was it a lifelong goal?
I didn’t realize until very recently that not everyone became dizzy with the possibilities just by walking into a bookstore.  I have always wanted to write novels.  Always.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Julia!!  Now, go out and get your copy of JULIA'S CHILD- you won't be disappointed!