Sad Truth: Getting Published is Like Trying to Find a Legal Job

Blah.

I considered making that my entire blog post and then leaving it up to interpretation. I thought maybe it would make my blog more literary cuz it forced you to think, you know?   Dig deep.

Jk.

The truth is, “blah” describes my current feelings toward the finding-an-agent process.

I expected to endure rejection, of course.  If I learned anything from blogging it’s that this industry is tough. Tougher if you’re a woman. Still tougher if you’re a black woman. I was told not to quit until I was rejected by 100 agents. I’ve been rejected, but not by 100- yet. So yeah, I anticipated the ego-bruising part.

What I didn’t expect was for the process to be so much like finding a legal job.

I know. Exactly.

I went to this legal panel a few weeks ago called “Broadening Your Legal Exposure.” It was all about how, in order to make it in this town, you need to join organizations, publish articles, and take on speaking engagements. My reaction was “useful stuff.”

The next day, I, unrelatedly, started browsing through writing blogs about how to get an agent, and gleaned this advice: join organizations, publish articles and take on speaking engagements. And attend writing conferences. My reaction was “are you f-ing kidding me.”

It’s not that I ever expected the process of writing a book to be pure. For better or for worse, I never had the delusion that it was all about the art, creativity, etc.

In fact, if I’m being honest, I was probably counting on that fact to some degree. You know, trying to give myself a leg up by blogging, staying on top of the industry, etc. I tried to turn this law firm background into advantage (beyond the freedom to not write in poverty, I mean). Like, I should know something about business or whatever. I figured that would help.

The problem is that some point along the way, I grew to appreciate the art form more and more and to raise the standards for myself creatively. I put in some serious time, effort and cash to make manuscript the best it could possibly be at this moment. So I’ve done that and now I’m faced with this hustling, networking, get your name out there stuff, and it’s just so annoying.

So annoying.

It’s like Blah.

Cheryl Strayed Retreat and The Story I Had to Tell

A couple of weeks ago I went on a writer’s retreat taught by Wild author Cheryl Strayed called the “The Story You Have to Tell.”  I would tell you where it was, but I don’t want you to hate me.

Instead, I’ll tell you about Cheryl.  Cheryl Strayed grew up in an abusive household, lost her mother at age 22, spiraled in her grief by having sex with strangers and using heroin and told the world all about it.  She’s written essays and books about the worst moments of her life—not because they happened, she said, but because she’s a writer.  Doing so turned her into an excellent writer, a compassionate human being, and someone whose fans approach her regularly to tell her the worst things that ever happened to them (something I saw happen at least once a day).

I think a lot of people were drawn to the retreat as a healing mechanism for something they were going through; however, I wouldn’t say that it was a depressing experience.  Cheryl taught for 3 hours a day, we worked on writing prompts, shared work with others and ate gluten-free, mostly vegan food together.  The whole thing just felt very honest.  Everyone was really open in their writing and in general.  Although I was motivated to attend because I think her essays The Love of My Life, and Heroin/e are perfect examples of writing, I think this environment of vulnerability and honesty did ultimately teach me something about writing.

First, I internalized the power of vulnerability, especially for novice writers.   When you haven’t had the training, experience, or mastered the technical skills, that’s basically the only real tool you have to create something great.  Second, I think I write a lot from my head, which seemed separate from writing from my heart.  Now I think the best way to go is to write from your heart but with what Cheryl described as a “literary consciousness.”  Basically being conscious of the point of what you’re writing and making it make sense.  I think that’s the money combo.

So in honor of today’s post on openness, I will tell you about the story I had to tell when I was writing “Lessons from Robin.”

It all started three years ago when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up.  Not only was I reeling with emotions, but I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands.  That ish was crazy. I couldn’t believe that it happened and I couldn’t believe how traumatizing the experience was.  Add to that that one of my close friends in D.C. lost a parent a few weeks earlier, the other drifted away for other reasons (that could be its own novel), and everyone else was in another city, I felt like I was going through the whole thing alone.

I had a story in me, but it wasn’t really about love or grief or the dude.  It was about how I was a completely different person when I left that relationship than when I entered it.  That experience changed me, and I didn’t know what to make of that.  So there was a loss of a boyfriend, a friend, and also myself.  I never knew that a relationship could have that kind of effect on someone, so I wrote a story about that.

It’s still not an autobiographical story!  The characters aren’t me or people I know, but the core of it comes from that experience.

Do you have a story you have to tell?

lumeria

The retreat site.

cheryl strayed

Me and Cheryl.  I suppose I’m cheesing a little too hard…

That Deadline Article Hurt My Feelings (And is Racist)

I am coming off an amazing 5-day writer’s retreat taught by “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed, and expected my next blog post would be focused on detailing the experience and everything I learned.

But then I saw this: “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings—About Time or Too Much of A Good Thing?” And I have to speak on it.

If you haven’t read the article, it basically looks at Hollywood’s recent acceptance that non-white people exist in society, and concludes it is putting white people at an unfair disadvantage. The small steps the industry is taking toward rejecting homogeneity may be leading it down a dangerous path- so watch out!

My first reaction to this article was not anger, but hurt.

It literally hurt my feelings.

This woman completely marginalized my existence as a black person. My story shouldn’t be told, she says, because a white actress isn’t the right person to tell it. Sure, white people need hundreds—thousands—of TV shows to depict their lives, but I should be more than satisfied that How to Get Away with Murder, Blackish and Empire depicts my truth. She suggests that art like mine, which has minority characters, is in opposition to art that features white characters. The idea that all TV shows, whether they feature black or white people, are at their core, stories about humanity with universal themes are inconceivable to her. The concept of people identifying with characters not of their same race is beyond her (unless, of course it’s non-whites identifying with whites because their stories are always universal). Honestly, it was so insulting.

My second reaction was an intellectual (as opposed to emotional) one. That reaction was that the article is racist.

If you follow this blog, then you know that I don’t go around calling everyone racist. Nicholas Sparks, for example. I said he was an asshole, but I’m not comfortable calling him a racist. The Sony chick who joked about Obama watching Kevin Hart? A person who said something dumb, not a racist. The reporter who asked if Fresh Off the Boat would feature chopsticks? Ignorant, but not racist.

This Deadline article was actually racist.

It’s racist because she turns the celebrated idea of diversity in television into something that is adversarial to white people. She turns it into a zero sum game, engaging in the age-old technique of using racial division to advocate for a white, male-dominated status quo.

How does she do this? By suggesting that Hollywood is using affirmative action in its hiring decisions, knowing this is a trigger. The problem is that she presents no real evidence that anyone is actually using quotas, and if they are that it’s nothing more than anomaly. She completely dismisses the concept that the directed focus on increasing diversity and having color-blind auditions is a) a response to demand and b) an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity present in this moment to finally be able to hire the best actor, instead of the best white actor.

Any attempt to reinforce structural racism is, to me, racist. Any attempt to capitalize on our nation’s racial trigger is, to me, racist. So the Deadline article is racist to me. And frightening.