Confession: I Dog Ear Books

Oh, book art. What would I do without you?

Oh, book art. What would I do without you?

I dog ear the pages of books. I do it to save my place or to mark a favorite section. I also have about a million bookmarks, store-bought, friend-made, receipts from foreign countries, train tickets, cool pieces of paper or ribbon, and anything else that can conceivably be used as a bookmark. But sometimes I dog ear instead, because sometimes that’s what feels right.

I write in the margins. Marginalia is one of my favorite words. Isn’t it beautiful? I bracket my favorite passages and underline beautiful sentences. I draw hearts and sad faces. I often wish I could keymash. Sometimes “asglkhasgl;akhsglaks” says more than real words can.

I bend paperbacks when I’m reading. I leave them open page-down on a table when I get up for a moment. I don’t see it as breaking their spines. I see it as breaking them in, like shoes you’re going to rely on for years, shoes that will take you places. I relish the long white lines on the spines of well-read books.

And you know what? I feel no shame.

All the time, I see people talk about how horrifying it is to do such a thing to a book. They could never do that! It’s disrespectful or hurtful. And that’s fine. If your method of showing love to a book is to keep it pristine, I respect that.

But I believe that books should be interacted with. I love going back to a book and seeing all the little things left behind by me or another reader entirely. What did that last reader (even past me) love and hate? What did they have to say? Where did they stop reading? Which page corners were so often folded that they’re almost coming off?

It’s a journey, just like the story. Well-read and well-marked books are one of my favorite things. I would like it it other book-lovers would stop acting like dog-earing pages makes me some heathen. I’m an avid reader, just like you. I just read a little differently.

Note: This post was originally posted on my Tumblr, but this topic has been on my mind and I decided to edit it and post it here.

And now a quick writing check-in. From 1/23 to 1/29 I wrote 5090 words, with two zero days. Both stats are way better than last week. Let’s hope that’s not a fluke.

Roller Derby and Body Positivity

roller derbyFor a long time, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to really live because I’m fat. I kept thinking, “Oh, when I’m skinny, I’ll…” It was all in the future with this mythical tiny body. I believed that being fat meant that there was very little I could do. I thought it held me back.

If you’re ever feeling like that, go to a roller derby bout. Seriously.

I went to my first bout on Saturday night. It was a home game for the Naptown Roller Girls. There’s a whole lot that’s awesome about roller derby, and I’m pretty sure it might become a sport that I actually follow. It’s a sport dominated by women and, even better, these women come in all shapes and sizes. They run all across from short to tall, skinny to fat. If you can skate, you can be a derby girl, and each body type comes with its own advantages. Little girls can slip around the other skaters. Big girls can easily block the opposing team or slam through the pack.

Watching the bout made me feel kind of amazing. I don’t know if I could personally ever do roller derby because I bruise easily and don’t always have the best balance, but neither of those have to do with my weight. If I wanted to ignore the bruising and learn to skate, I could be a derby girl and my weight wouldn’t be holding me back. It would even give me advantages that the skinnier girls wouldn’t have – just like they’d have advantages over me.

If you struggle with body image issues, go to a bout. If you aren’t sure what this whole body positivity thing is about, go to a bout. See those women of all sizes working as a team and kicking ass, and you’ll start to feel a lot better and find a great understanding of body positivity.

Writing in a Funk

This is the saddest sloth I could find. Sloths don't get gloomy. What is your secret to eternal happiness, sloths?

This is the saddest sloth I could find. Sloths don’t get gloomy. What is your secret to eternal happiness, sloths?

One of the most difficult things for me to do is write when I’m gloomy, and that’s been me this week. Maybe it’s the cold, maybe it’s because I didn’t get the job I wanted, maybe it’s because I really miss Game of Thrones. Whatever it is, it has me in a considerable funk. I can barely get myself to do homework, much less write.

This week’s writing check in proves it. I only wrote 837 words between 1/16 and 1/22, and I had five zero days. That’s worse than last week on both counts, and most of those words were written yesterday when I was trying to sleep. Not the best writing routine in the world.

I try to write in this mood, sure. I open Scrivener and stare at my chosen story, but my brain just empties out. I am inexorably drawn to iPhone games or the sweet, sweet release of the midday nap. I think that if I can just start writing, if I can just get a few words down, those words will turn into sentences and into paragraphs and pages and I’ll feel better.

This post isn’t about me having a magic answer to this problem. I’m still trying to find it. I know that I need to learn to power through these moods and write. If I want to write for a living – which I do – then I have to learn that I can’t be so prone to skipping writing for a week just because I’m blah. Writing is what I love, yes, and it can be fun and exhilarating and magical – but it’s also work. I need to be able to write even when the magic’s not quite there.

Writing Fat Characters

This is a lot funnier if you know YA cover trends.

This is what your headless YA heroine could look like.

I’ve been reading and writing for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been significantly overweight for just as long. I have always been the fat kid, and you can bet that caused some baggage. I had trouble fitting in desks. The idea of going on an airplane terrified me simply because of the seat size. I could never find cute clothes in my style that also fit. I got teased. For most of my life, I’ve heard over and over again that most of America is overweight – so where were they? Why was I the only one in almost all of my classes?

What’s a ten or thirteen or seventeen-year-old bookworm to do but escape into books? Books, after all, are a refuge. They take you into other worlds where anything is possible. You could captain a pirate ship, defeat dark wizards, fly, and, of course, get the fairy tale romance.

Unless, of course, you were fat. If you’re fat, you’re the ugly friend. You’re the villain. You try too hard, and people pity you. You’re jealous of all the “pretty” girls. You’re the sassy best friend with a brain full of quips and no character depth. You don’t get the guy unless he’s also been presented as equally undesirable, and then you’re a loser couple to laugh at.

And let’s not forget the guys. Fat guys are the lazy, sloppy stoner friends and the nerdy virgins that the protagonist has to put up with and will maybe teach them something or other about acceptance. Also, again, the villain (though recently, conventionally attractive villains have been more popular so of course they’re all toned muscle).

I love young adult fiction more than anything else. For the most part, the body type of a character doesn’t bother me. I don’t really pay attention. But when you’re a fat girl and every protagonist is slim, it gets to you. You start to get the message that you don’t count and don’t deserve to have adventures and happy endings. You start to think that your life won’t really begin unless you get skinny.

If an author does try to give other body types a try, they’re tall, skinny, and awkward. The default is for all the guys all have defined abs and arm muscle and their bodies are all hard and the girls are all soft and it’s totally not euphemistic at all. When a fat girl does show up, they usually mean that they’re a few pounds overweight, or they fall into the aforementioned categories.

But wait, you might say. There are YA books with fat protagonists! Why are you complaining?

Look at those books. They’re all about how horrible it is to be fat, and how the protagonist has to diet and get thin. Eventually there’s some theme of acceptance, but they usually still end up skinny in the end. Don’t get me wrong, bullying due to weight and eating disorders are very real problems and should be addressed. But there are other sides to being fat. It’s entirely possible to be fat and happy with yourself. With the society we live in, it can be really hard, but it’s a thing that does happen. I’m really fat and I spent most of my life dealing with self-esteem issues. I still do. But I’ve also learned that I’m fucking beautiful and not just “on the inside”. I’m not a skinny girl trying to get out of a fat body. I’m me, and I’m just as worthy of respect and being treated with decency as anyone else.

I want to see a fat girl in YA fall in love, and not have it be hopeless. I want to see her get kissed, but not out of pity or a cruel prank. I want to see her have amazing sex (and trust me, I’ll be talking about sex in YA later). I want the same for fat guys, too! I want to see a fat couple that isn’t the subject of pity. “Awww, at least they have each other!” They’re people, and I want to know the trials and tribulations of their relationship and fuck yeah I want them to have amazing sex. I want a fat girl to end up with the hot guy or the average guy or the fat guy. I want her to end up with someone that truly loves her and not despite her fat.

(For more on the sort of things fat girls deal with in the dating world especially if you’re wanting to write a fat girl but don’t have first-hand experience, you should really check out this post.)

I want to see a fat girl go on an adventure. I want her to go to Faerie and be just as tempted by fairy food as anyone else and not think about the calories. I want her to ride dragons and steal magical artifacts and seduce a pirate captain (I really like pirates, can you tell?). I want a fat guy to get into a sword fight over a lady’s honor and win. I want him to defend a castle, or be the best mage in the land.

More than anything, I want to have fat protagonists in YA and have them be treated as more than their fat. I want it to be a fact of their character – they are fat – and then that’s it. Their entire lives don’t revolve around them being fat. It doesn’t run their life and it certainly doesn’t ruin their life. Can we just have that? Please?

Of course, being a writer, I can’t expect to just put this plea out into the universe and not do anything about it. I try to have a lot of body diversity in my stories, because I think it’s important, and my preference is to not make a big deal out of it, because I think normalization is also important.

I’ve struggled, though. I’ve been afraid that people will see me writing fat characters, see that I’m fat, and go, “Ohh, that’s why the girl’s fat. Self-insertion/wish fulfillment/etc.” Being fat does lend me towards being really passionate about having more positive fat characters, especially in YA since it’s what I want to write, but it’s not about wish fulfillment. Still, I always feel the need to defend myself and I hate that.

I want to get to a point where I don’t feel awkward or ashamed at all of the fact that I’m writing a fat protagonist. I want to celebrate the character just like I would any other, and give him/her just as much attention and love and care. I want to think more about her personality and her emotions than about the fact that she takes up a little more room in the world.

I spent a long time going out of my way to never say the word “fat” or to never talk about eating a lot of food because it was like, “Oh no, they’ll all notice I’m fat!” I hated being that way. Now it doesn’t bother me at all. I can suggest that I shouldn’t be one of the people in the crowded backseat because I’m bigger and not feel ashamed. I can talk about how pizza is a godsend and not feel like everyone thinks I’m a pig. I want to write characters that can do the same, that don’t feel like they have to somehow hide their bulk. This includes not necessarily using euphemisms like “curvy”. What’s wrong with the word “fat”? What about chubby or plump? (Plump is my favorite because it has all sorts of beautiful connotations to do with really good fruit and fertility and things.)

Being fat does have an every day impact. A lot of fat girls I know deal with chafing thighs. It can be hard to fit through narrow spaces when you have a large belly. There are plenty of small, practical details that could go into the story of a fat character just like they do for anyone else. And yeah, being fat, especially in a society like ours, can absolutely have an impact on your worldview. There are loads of things that impact your worldview but don’t take over your life, though.

What about the issue of health and fitness? I know you’re thinking it. How can a fat character go on an adventure if they’re out of shape and can’t run from the bad guys?

Here’s the thing. Being fat doesn’t mean being unhealthy, and being skinny doesn’t mean being healthy. That’s the same for whether or not you’re in shape. There are fat people who can easily run a mile, and skinny people who struggle to run a block. The default for most YA protagonists seems to be “in shape”, even if they never work out or do anything to keep their bodies fit. You can certainly write a fat character who struggles with the running aspect. You can write a skinny character who does, too. Just know that you can also write a fat character who’s in shape. That is something that exists. For more on fat health, totally check out this blog, which also links to even more resources on the topic.

I want to give fat teenage girls someone to look up to. I want them to see that, oh, this girl is fat like me and she’s still having an amazing adventure. She has confidence, but also struggles with the sort of things that I do. She has depth. She is fat, but she is more than that. There’s no point in ignoring the fat of a character, it just shouldn’t be the only thing that they are. They’re also people.

Here’s the part where I ask for your opinions. What do you think about this? I’d love to get a dialogue going on this. And if you have any book suggestions that involve fat characters presented in a positive or human way, please share them! I’ve been pretty critical here and it would be great to have some positivity. I’d also like to do a post in the future for Tuesday Reads about good YA with fat protagonists.

Editing

editing slothEntries for the Dell Award are due tomorrow. I have one short story that’s currently being read by some friends, so that I can get critiques and edit it. So, today, we’re going to talk about editing and my love/hate relationship with it.

In writing this, I’ve been trying to think about what the hardest step in editing is for me, and I think it’s actually step one – sending an unpolished draft into the world.

More often than not, the stories I send out for critiques are recently finished and I haven’t looked over them at all. They’re missing pieces I haven’t even thought of yet, there are plot holes and awkward sentences and typos. These brand new, zero-draft short stories are misshapen, vulnerable parts of me and I’m giving them out to be examined and criticized. It doesn’t matter that I give these drafts to people (usually other writers) that I know and trust. It doesn’t matter that they know how much first drafts suck. All I can think is that they’ll see it as a reflection of me, and if that first draft is too awful, they’ll think I’m a terrible writer and terrible person.

Part two of step one is waiting. I’m in that stage now with my Dell story. I’m still waiting on two of my five readers to get back to me. Five, for me, is a good number of readers (though three will be fine, too). With 3-5 readers, I can see what they’re all agreeing on and get a variety of opinions. I also don’t get overloaded with too many opinions.

Once I get all of my crits in, I’ll move on to reading them and sorting through all of the edits and suggestions. When I’m on less of a deadline, it can take me awhile to do this. I’m eager to see what was said and to make my story better, but damn, it can be hard for me to read crits. I get really stressed out and am prone to hiding my face when a particularly embarrassing mistake is pointed out. I’m still in the stage of worrying that my draft readers are going to think I’m a terrible writer/person.

Eventually, I get into a groove. I print out my story, print out the comments, and take a lot of notes. I figure out how big of an overhaul I’m going to have to make. It can be anything from adding/subtracting a couple scenes to deciding that the entire story was told incorrectly and starting over. I have one reader who frequently tells me that the short story needs to be a novel, and frustratingly enough, she’s usually right.

Once I know how much I’m going to have to do to the story, I can make a plan. Based on the responses I’ve gotten on my Dell story so far, I think it’s going to be mainly adding scenes and making existing scenes actually, you know, make sense. I’m going to worry about these big things first. I need to make the story flow and make sense before I can worry about the sentence level. When I’m ready for that, I’ll print the story out again and read it through. Often I’ll read it out loud. If I have time, I’ll send it back out to a few more readers, sometimes the same ones.

Unless I’m on a strict time limit (as I am now), it becomes difficult for me to get out of the cycle of rewrite and critique, rewrite and critique, over and over, trying to make it perfect. It can be hard to find the time to just stop and send the story out to a magazine. Eventually you just have to let it go.

What’s your editing process?