Saturday, January 18, 2014

Inspiration for Sneaking Candy

I know this is a YA blog, but it's been a little while since I've written YA and inspiration is our theme here. I thought I would share where I got the inspiration to write my latest book which is a contemporary NA comedy.

By now most of you have probably seen the disgusting words of writing Professor David Gilmour, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."
See the full story here.
His word are sexist, racist and unbelievable to anyone living in the 20th century, but they are not an exception when it comes to the world of writing programs.
I can only speak from my experience. I entered an MFA program 12 years ago, ready to become the next Margaret Atwood (who by the way is a prolific, bestselling, award winning Canadian author like Mr. Gilmour), but what I found when I arrived was not a place that read her books, or taught her.
The break out of male to female professors in my program was as follows: Fiction: 2 male full-time, 1 female adjunct; Non-Fiction: 1 female full-time; Poetry: 1 male full time, 1 female full time and 1 male adjunct.
Pretty even as things in writing go, but notice 2 male full-time for fiction. Those men were my main professors. They were the ones who were going to teach me how to write as a woman and certainly they were equipped to teach writing, but not that. As a result, my literature classes were absolutely male heavy. There were females sprinkled in: Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O'Connor, Alice Munro but mostly we read men: Phillip Roth, Vladamir Nabokov, Chekhov, Michael Chabon, Chaucer, Homer, etc.) (You'll notice they were also all white, but this blog post isn't really about that.)
I never really thought about it at the time. I was so excited to be in a writing program (you have to be accepted based on talent) that I never questioned if I was getting an equal education. Additionally, the sexism in my program was never as overt and possibly my professors didn't even realize it. They were men who both went to Iowa, which if you know about the history of writing programs was one of the first and a boy's club from way back.
I know that has changed now and a lot of amazing women authors are coming out of Iowa, but I would guess that they still read far more men in their literature classes. It's what the old guard want.
So what does what David Gilmour said have to do with me, aside from having in a small way experienced it?
A year ago, I started writing a book titled Sneaking Candy about a twenty-something woman in a graduate writing program who writes erotic romance under a pseudonym because she is afraid she will not be taken seriously by her peers. I thought at first it would be a book about a woman trying to find her authorial voice, her sexual voice and finding love in the unlikeliest place, but as I wrote it turned into something much different.
I realized it was my story in a lot of ways. Even having left my program, my peers from my MFA days do not consider me a legitimate author. They don’t say it, but I can feel it. I’ve never been invited back to read or talk about my publishing experience, even though I am one of the 10% or less from the program that have published novels. Truly, I am Candice. I don’t write erotic romance, but all my books have been published by a “romance” publisher and as such their literary value is lessened.
What I was hoping to show in Sneaking Candy, apart from telling a funny, raunchy story was that writing is writing regardless of genre. MFA programs tend to breed genre snobs (I was one) and I think that’s wrong. I think if you have a story to tell people should be able to read it regardless of who published it, or if you published it yourself.
Without even meaning to, I could feel my book turning into the battle cry I believe many romance writers and would-be writers feel.
I am not less important or valid than you for writing stories about love and sex.
I think this applies to YA writers too.
Stories for teens and about teens are no less valid than stories for and about adults.
I hope Sneaking Candy will make professors like Mr. Gilmour might see that there is a problem in what and who is taught in writing programs; that a change needs to come, but probably not because I am a woman who writes romance and YA.

7 comments:

  1. I think you are spot-on, Lisa. I had a bit of a different experience in my MFA program--it was new and one woman, a poet, was heading it up. But there was an underlying suspicion between the grad lit students/professors and the writers. I always thought it was weird that the literature people (who supposedly love books) were so uncomfortable around the people who, um, WROTE the books!

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  2. Your post speaks to me on so many levels and touches on the same issues that often bug the you-know-what out of me. I'm thinking of declaring 2014 the year I only read women writers--from all genres. (I just downloaded Sneaking Candy to my Kindle so that it can be included on my list!) I often feel like when men write about love and sex, or happen to be funny, their works get elevated to another level. Writing is hard work and so is getting published and continuing to get published. I like your point about romance and YA being no less important and valid. That's a quote for my bulletin board.

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  3. If women wanted to be sexist, we could easily assert that the only "serious" worthwhile subject is the giving of life, and since only women can bear children, we are obviously superior. We could put down any literature about "traditionally male" subjects (war, for example) as destructive, immature, and trivial.
    I don't happen to believe that either--I believe in embracing all of human experience, and that any of it can be the subject of quality literature and serious study--but it just shows how vulnerable these quality judgments are to the frame in which they are placed.
    Before accepting any measurement, I like to ask what scale is being used!

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  4. Good point, Jennifer! I totally agree.

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  5. This is so true. Love is one of the most important human emotions. So is laughter / comedy. In no way are they less important than drama...

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  6. Amen! I've definitely been dismissed by people in this way. "Oh, so you write children's books."
    Seriously?

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  7. I hope you'll send a signed copy of your new book to those professors! Great post :)

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