That Thing Between Your Legs and Its Role In Serious Literature

“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”
–Malclom X, Malcolm X Speaks

When I look around it’s impossible to ignore how people train their children. The boys, while often programmed for reactionary modes sometimes bordering on psychosis, are at least told they can achieve. Girls, on the other hand, seem to be summarily discouraged from pursuing serious art, serious athleticism, and serious musical pursuits. Parents consistently joke to or in front of their daughters that they’re a ditz and/or they’ll need to marry a rich guy when they grow up because there’s no way they’ll make it on their own.

Sure, you want to draw a heart? A pony? A rainbow? Okay. Permission granted. You want to sing? Go for it! Think you can play an instrument or compose music? Try again.

When does a girl become a woman? You know, a self-sufficient adult with their own goals and beliefs? Checking out our society it’s hard not to notice teenage boys being referred to as men, while women in their thirties are constantly referred to as girls. Again we come back to a bad joke: which came first? Language framing thought, or thought constructing language?

So, as a woman-girl setting out to be an author you should know some things. We kinda live under apartheid rules. There are fewer of us guys if you look at the numbers, so if us guys want a fair shake we need to ensure you women get an unfair shake. Go attend something like AWP–the Associated Writing Programs conference. Most of the university-level writing programs are represented here. You check out the crowd and there seem to be waaaaaay more females than males. That’s strange because genre and literary fiction seem skewed toward male authors and male audiences.

But look more closely. There seems to be strong pressure, well into adulthood, informing our woman-girl writers: no, you’re wrong again. Pursing a career as an author is only acceptable if you A) limit yourself to poetry (yes, there is contemporary poetry being made! Not that you’d know it outside of university presses…), B) you limit yourself to writing fictional histories of families (because the whole point of women-girls is reproduction and, you know, the family thing), or C) go into teaching and just use publications as a way to ensure tenure.

In fact, that last one is the best option. Go into teaching where you can support and cultivate others, while drawing a steady paycheck until a man deigns to take you to his castle. Leave the advance and royalty system to us men. It’s high-pressure scary stuff, and your constitution probably couldn’t handle it. And anyway, serious literature tackling issues of politics and society involve heavy thought. Best keep it light with family stuff (because family dynamics are never political, right?). And all that genre stuff requires imagination, which we’ve been wringing out of you women-girls from day one. Please don’t prove us wrong and write something surreal. It would anger us. Mostly because it means you’re lesbian and, as such, sexually unavailable to us. Or maybe it means you’re one of those dark-meat types from some place that doesn’t sound English or Christian and, as such, socially despicable (but perhaps sexually available to us? Holla if you’re down for a despicable hook up…). And if you’re composing poetry, well, I guess you can do whatever you want because nobody’s going to read it anyway.

See, writing is like math. Math with letters instead of numbers. Girls are bad at math. We men know that because we’ve told you such time and again and discouraged you from pursuing it. Here’s how it works: man plus idea = viable. No matter how hackneyed and lukewarm the dead horse burgers he’s serving, he believes he’s a master chef and will insist the editors take a bite. You + idea = it’s not ready yet.

What we want you to think: I’ll work on it for a few more years and show it to somebody then, or maybe just get to work on the next one and hope that’s better, or I’ll show it to somebody I know and seize on the one negative thing they say after I coerce them into saying something critical–because I know all praise has to be bullshit.

What we want you to think: I don’t want mommy to laugh at my beautiful idea, not again. I don’t want daddy to say, “That’s great, honey,” with a sour expression while barely taking two seconds to glance at my study of light and dark on a planet with three suns and two dozen moons. My brother sketches an apple in art class and he’s Michelangelo! My cousin speculates on an unstable and unsustainable design at the family picnic and he’s Einstein! Whatever. I’ll just keep it to myself. Or, better yet, I’ll do everything I can not to think of this stuff to begin with. At least I’m exposed to 400 advertisements a day telling me what I should look like to snag that rich husband…

So, what does an author look like? Usually he’s smiling and leaves the top button of his shirt open. He’s got books in the background, suggesting intellectual prowess, or he’s outdoors with greenery in the background, suggesting an active lifestyle. Aren’t you supposed to be in the kitchen with nothing on your feet? A background of plates, suggesting a gaggle of males and children unable to feed themselves? How is it you’re even reading this? In South Africa it is statistically more likely that girls will experience sexual violence than learn how to read. See how well we treat you here in the USA by comparison? These woman-girl authors and their nerve, desiring more than we’re willing to allot them.

Hmm. Or do they desire it? Perhaps “she wanted it” does not apply here. Maybe women-girls are just as happy to write cookbooks and family dramas and poetry and the romances we men don’t pen under pseudonyms. Maybe it’s wrong to think women might be missing out on something. Genre and literary fiction…perhaps all that stuff is for boys who refuse to grow up. The worst of it is, certainly. But what about movies and television and sequential art, the big-money stuff? Seventeen percent of the writers in Hollywood are female. Oh, right, you’re bad at math, so believe me when I tell you seventeen percent is not a bad number. Forget the screenwriter gender pay gap has been widening in recent years. I won’t bother your tender sensibilities with the numbers.

In short be a good girl. Because there’s nothing to say regarding over half of our species if it doesn’t involve them being victims for creatures and madmen, or wearing revealing outfits during action sequences, or being killed early on (that is, before she can do anything that deviates from what the male protagonist finds pleasing) thus enabling the male lead engage in revenge violence that would otherwise cast him in a bad guy role (because every level of violence is permissible so long as women are involved–interpret that as you will). Nor is over half our population qualified to not write about women–men should write about men. Write what you know, girls. Ponies, rainbows, hearts. Cooking. Family. Or, communist anti-family lesbian abortionist conspiracy poetry–you can keep that territory as well. The rest of the literary world belongs to us.

“If we all got angry together something might be done.”
–J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

(author’s note: In the interest of fairness I’ve only quoted men here…oh, wait a minute…never mind.)

Black Heart Magazine reviews SuiPsalms

Black Heart Magazine, a publication of literary rebellion from Austin, Texas, has reviewed my forthcoming poetry collection SuiPsalms. The review is very well considered–in addition to being favorable!–and well worth the read. Reviewer Gabino Iglesias says: “SuiPsalms might not be an easy read for some because it’s unlike anything else out there. That uncomfortable feeling it can cause is called thinking, and it’s really pleasurable. Hic sunt litterarius dracones. Preorder this now so you can begin your own journey as soon as it comes out in August.”

The complete review can be found at http://blackheartmagazine.com/2012/08/02/suipsalms-by-john-edward-lawson/

Piratz Tavern in Need of Help

Snagged from the Facebook wall of  Nathan Rosen:
I just posted this on the Bar Rescue Facebook page. We’ll see if anything comes of it.The following is an open letter to Jon Taffer, host of Bar Rescue.

Dear Mr. Taffer:

The time has come for honest, candid and open discourse. We, the friends and clientele of Piratz Tavern, did not like what you and the crew of Bar Rescue did to our favorite bar. We feel that you did not act in good faith, and that you placed a higher priority on creating drama for television than on assisting a struggling business.However, all of this is in the past. We have emerged stronger for the experience, your show has aired, and Piratz Tavern will thrive or fail on its own merits.

I write regarding the behavior of your fans, Mr. Taffer. In the days since your show aired, Piratz Tavern has been the target of abuse from people nationwide who have never been to the establishment. They are flooding Yelp.com with fake one-star reviews, causing tangible harm to the reputation of Piratz Tavern. On Facebook I have seen insulting, abusive and racist comments targeted at Piratz Tavern staff and customers. I have seen wishes of injury and violence. I have seen death threats.

This is neither appropriate nor acceptable, sir. I appeal to your humanity and common decency, and ask that you make a statement your fans to let them know that this behavior is unbecoming of civilized people and that you do not approve of it.

I have no doubt that, having been informed of the situation, you will not delay in addressing it. And if you ever return to Piratz Tavern in the future, sir, I will personally treat you to a round of grog.

Sincerely,
Nathan “Black Dog Nate” Rosen
Baltimore, Maryland
August 1, 2012

Lookism in the Specfic Community

“Step up to red alert.”
“Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”
-Rimmer & Kryten, Red Dwarf

In general society we are confronted daily with the commodification of personal appearance. As an industry and subculture the speculative fiction scene is one renowned for supplying the world with intelligent escapism. But is there any escape from one’s physique being a matter of communal property even among the “thinkers” of the creative community?

Recently at fan conventions, industry conferences, and in the social networks there has been a rash of people exerting poor control over their actions toward those they deem “beautiful.” We’re talking about rampant groping and or grabbing out of nowhere, stalking, or even just beginning your first interaction with every attractive person using some remark about their physical appearance. For a scene that seems to pride itself on inclusiveness there is a disturbing trend of objectification.

It stands to reason we can nip uncontrolled physical urges in the bud by limiting verbal behaviors cultivated under this inverse lookism trend, and in doing so work to establish what should already be in place as socially acceptable limits of interaction. In avoiding the he said/she said of real-life experiences, let’s takes a look at the verifiable happenings on social networks, where our interactions are a matter of public record. When somebody posts online that they prefer people attempting to friend them not open with comments about their looks–and specifically add they find it creepy–what is the correct reaction? How to we respond, or is it our business to respond at all?

“It’s hard not to talk about your looks when you post all those portraits of yourself.”

Folks: empirical evidence of a person’s physical existence is not the same as them posting “Holla at me!” People–“beautiful” or otherwise–use social media to share experiences with family, friends, and also for their own personal reference. More to the point: in the case of professionals in the arts you’re expected to have one–or, preferably, more than one–professional portrait. Then there’s the publicity factor. If there are no photos of an event online it did not happen, or it might as well not have. Authors experience a boost in sales after an event due to 1) the word finally reaching all interested parties, and 2) people regretting they could not attend. Do authors, editors, artists, and creative others attempt to make themselves presentable for events? Of course. In the publicity photos we tend to see them at their hygienic best. It’s really not a cry for help/visual solicitation. It’s called doing your job by not driving away customers, fans, and potential business partners with slovenly attire, rowdy body odor, unintentionally raucous hair, and the dazed, sallow face belonging to a hangover victim.

“Hey, it’s a compliment! Isn’t it nice the first thing I say to you is a compliment?”

Let’s flip-flop here: every interaction you have online, running errands, and so forth is prefaced with some remark about your appearance. And probably staring, pointing, and/or murmuring amongst others who may know each other and could potentially be plotting something against you. Every cashier attempts to monopolize your time, throwing in one or two pickup lines for good measure. Perhaps strangers don’t even bother to walk up and say something, instead opting to yell at you from a distance. It’s impossible to get anything done because the world is staring, following, attempting to engage. The “beautiful” as members of the population are subject to the same doubts, insecurities, and other issues the “rest of us” possess. It so happens that people whose physiques do not match cultural preferences can be attractive, and people who are neither beautiful nor attractive in any way can still value their looks beyond levels the casual observer would expect, and are not shy about seeking external validation for such opinions of themselves. Perhaps from regularly encountering these “common divas” we come to believe we must lavish praise on the genetics and fashion sensibilities of those we deem beautiful, however uncomfortable it makes them, or whether or not they regard themselves in such a fashion.

“But you’re gorgeous! You have to know that! Just take a look in the mirror!”

The argument of personal incredulity is not, in fact, an argument at all in that it fails to present another viewpoint, much less one that contradicts the original statement. Instead it is an affirmation that the speaker lacks imagination, facts, or–more likely–some combination of the two, rendering them incapable of conceiving anything beyond the original viewpoint, no matter how distasteful they find it. As we learn between ages seven and eleven–when concrete operational thinking sets in–disliking a reality is not enough to render said reality unreal. As regards the “beautiful” person in question, assurances aren’t the solution. Constant obvious scrutiny of their appearance is enough to cause insecurity. Your assurances are derived from scrutiny. Not helping, homeslice.

Let’s backtrack. The problem is in the phrasing of the above questions and statements, or more precisely: how we allow the word choices employed above to shape our perception of the subject. If I ask you what is a beautiful person do you say, “Duh! They’re beautiful.” Or do you say, “Duh! They’re a person.”

As it turns out “beautiful” is not an organism, nor even a quantifiable “thing.” On researching the matter further we find that the homo sapiens is an organism more commonly known as a person, and quantifiable. So, what is a person considered beautiful within their specific sociotemporal context? A person. Let’s treat ’em as such, eh? And if our relationship with them develops to a point where it is in fact proper to comment on physical attributes, well, we can do so then. Until that point it’s perfectly acceptable to compliment a nice shirt or pair of shoes. Learning how to say “I’ve lost my virginity…can I have yours?” in Tagalog to impress them on your first meeting…no dude. That’s just creepazoid territory. You a freak. Do not anticipate reciprocity.

My opinion? People are attracted to people, not bodies, otherwise singles night at the morgue would be the hottest ticket in town. You’ll find engaging a “beautiful” person as a person and having a genuine, long conversation with them far more rewarding than them saying, “Thanks. No, I don’t dye it. I’ve got to run, but maybe I’ll see you around!” Maybe then you won’t feel compelled to grab them in a desperate attempt at drawing their attention. Strange how folks don’t have the wherewithal to engage you in conversation, but have the gumption to physically throw themselves on you.

Is all of this sounding silly to you, still? Consider this: beautiful people–as people–are multifaceted, meaning they can be perceptive in addition to possessing symmetrical features. They understand that a relationship couched in physical terms from the outset is likely to be moored in the physical or–more distressingly–their anticipated physical availability to you at some point in the future.

Perhaps I’m just overreacting. It just seems that we all spent four years in high school, give or take, and it would beoove us not to return there every time we’re among our specfic peers. Didn’t we already pay those dues? And sure, those “beautiful” people derive plenty of benefits from their looks, so perhaps they owe us some physical access. Because we know they spent those ten months in the womb cackling madly whilst shaping themselves into forms they knew would force us to be nice to them. Evil geniuses, they are.

“Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”
-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Pink Narcissus Press

Hailed as “magic realism at its finest,” Fowler’s writing reveals the small but essential truths that motivate sex and relationships. Whether in museums of solitude, in airports of dreams, or at the circus, these stories are bound together by transformation, anthropomorphism, and ultimately by love’s inevitable consequences. Fowler’s unique vision is thought-provoking, with a touch of feminist sensibility, and shot through with quirky and laugh-out-loud humor.

“Fowler’s prose is by turns rowdy, affectionate, erotic, absurd, and glittering, with images both awesome and awful.
Readers who admire any of the finest writers in the genre (Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie) should enjoy the flights of fancy within this book, and also be able to confront its darker journeys.” -Janine Stinson, ForeWord Reviews

Cover illustration by Siolo Thompson. Design by Duncan Eagleson.

ISBN: 978-0-9829913-8-1
Price: $14.95

60% of all proceeds from the sale of Fowler’s…

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Readercon 23 Schedule

My tentative schedule for Readercon is included below. I’m really looking forward to this event; if you’ve never been you are seriously missing out! You can investigate Readercon at http://www.readercon.org/index.htm. This will also be my first poetry reading in two years, and while the material is old to me it is certainly my most intense, and still new to the public. The book, SuiPsalms, launches at the Morgantown Poets event this August. More details about that soon!

 

Thursday July 12

8:00 PM    RI    No Longer Lonely in the Cloud: Digital Collaboration for Readers. Kathryn Cramer, Jim Freund, Erin Kissane (leader), John Edward Lawson, Graham Sleight. MORE Magazine has created a multi-city book club via group video call. Writers who used to hang out in cafes are now using Google+ hangouts as virtual coworking space. In2Books matches up kids with distant adult pen pals specifically for the purpose of discussing books. Kindles and Readmill let you share your marginalia with your friends. How are new concepts of socializing and togetherness affecting the ways we read, write, and talk about literature?

Saturday July 14

7:00 PM    ME    Kurzweil and Chopra, Ghosts in the Same Shell. Athena Andreadis (leader), John Edward Lawson, Anil Menon, Luc Reid, Alison Sinclair. Transhumanism (TH) has been a prominent strain in contemporary SF; cyberpunk is in many ways the fiction arm of the movement. Athena Andreadis and discussants will explore core concepts of TH (longevity, uploading, reproductive alternatives, optimization projects from genome to organism), investigate which are strictly in science fiction versus science territory, and examine the larger outcomes of these tropes within the genre as well as in First Life, aka the real world.
9:00 PM    NH    Reading. John Edward Lawson. John Edward Lawson reads from the poetry collection SuiPsalms, the long awaited follow-up to the multi-award nominated collection The Troublesome Amputee.

Sunday July 15

2:00 PM    ME    Queer/Were: Born This Way?. Samuel R. Delany, Gemma Files, Greer Gilman, Liz Gorinsky, Andrea Hairston, John Edward Lawson, Ruth Sternglantz (leader). In Marie de France’s 12th century Anglo-Norman tale “Bisclavret,” werewolf transformation can be read as a metaphor for homosexuality. In contemporary urban fantasy/paranormal fiction, the slippage between queerness and were-ness persists on several levels, even when the characters are nominally heterosexual. But what happens when a were isn’t heterosexual? Ruth E. Sternglantz will look at how several authors of queer urban fantasy/paranormal construct the convergence of queer and were, and subsequent discussion will explore how authors of urban fantasy generally appropriate metaphors of queerness in the construction of their were characters.

Updated Workshop Itinerary

+++NEW INFO+++

Raw Dog Screaming Press will be at the In Your Write Mind workshop at Seton Hill University, Thursday June 21-Sunday June 24. Here is my schedule:

6/22 1:00 – 5:00 pm Pitch Sessions – John Edward Lawson and Jennifer Barnes

6/22 7:00 – 10:00 pm Mass Autograph Signing – OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!

6/23 9:00 – 10:15 am Benefits of Publishing with a Small Press – John Edward Lawson and Jennifer Barnes

6/23 2:30 – 3 45 pm Future of Publishing – John Edward Lawson and Jennifer Barnes

6/23 4:00 – 5:15 pm Agents and Editors Panel – John Edward Lawson and Jennifer Barnes

6/23 at the stroke of awesome Gatsby Costume Ball – dress to depress!

Context 25 Workshops

Here are the details of the workshops I’ll be running at Context 25 this September in Columbus, Ohio.

Insider Tips for Working with the Small Press
(Saturday, September 29th, noon-1pm)
Raw Dog Screaming Press editor John Edward Lawson talks about how to find a small press publisher, what to expect when working with them and how to make the most of the experience. $10, 1 hour.

Mastering Flash Fiction
(Saturday, September 29th, noon-1pm)
This workshop offers students six easy tips for writing compelling micro fiction (fiction under 1000 words) and a primer on placing your pieces with paying markets. $10, 1 hour.

To participate you’ll need to register for the convention; the current rate is only $35 for the weekend! To register please visit http://www.contextsf.org/registration.htm.

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