The 4 jobs I have (Other than Writing)


As a freelancer, without a dayjob office to go to or set shifts, I end up working every day, and some days, weeks, blend together. To better organize my life, I track it — what I get done (and what I don’t), if I sleep, eat, take my medication, how I feel. With that data, I now know that my life is chronically overbooked, and most of jobs are unpaid. And, most of what I do isn’t what I wish I was: writing.

Freelancer: This is my dayjob (night job, weekend job). What I do for a living, the editing and content creation part, I love. The business side of it is hard, stressful, and I’m underpaid. (I don’t make enough enough month to pay my bills, putting me further into debt each month, and part of my job is to chase down more work, to remind clients to pay me… which doesn’t always happen.) I have some flexibility, though, which I badly need so I can do all of the other jobs I have, too.

Child care/advocate/special needs teacher: I’m the only parent and full-time caregiver for a very bright boy with a serious speech disorder, so I spend several hours a week being not only his mom, but his teacher, and the connection between him and the rest of the world. I have meetings with his school, his speech therapist, and the county agency that acts as the state intermediary. I interview and hire his staff, research therapies, take him to doctor’s appointments, manage his medication, and create different exercises to teach him new words in different contexts. Plus the parenting bit — feeding him and buying clothes when he grows and snuggling him when he’s sick. I’m happy to do it, no matter how much time it takes, but it does take time, every day, and I don’t have help to do it.

Housekeeper/Cook/Home and item repairs: All the things you need to do in order to keep your house clean? I do that. Cleaning up after a child? I do that. All the shopping, cooking, and figuring out how to feed us well on a small budget — which means lots of cooking from scratch — is on me, too. Because I can’t afford to replace anything, or hire anyone to fix things, I do all of that as well. On a given week this might be sewing up a ripped shirt, gluing a wooden chair back together, or  — this week — diagnosing a plumbing problem, ripping out a toilet (including cutting out rusted bolts) and replacing it with a new one, to save the labor cost my landlord would have charged. When you’re poor, you learn to fix a lot of things. I actually feel lucky that I’m capable of doing as much as I am.

Nutritionist/Trainer/Medical Care: There’s been a lot of this, the last couple of months. Surgery for the thyroid cancer, and then getting tested for everything my new insurance will cover, has meant changes to what I eat (anemic and lactose intolerant means more iron and less dairy, to start with). In the process of being sick, I put on almost 80 pounds I didn’t want, so now I have to get it back off, and learning to do that safely at this size has been a new challenge. I’ve had doctor’s appointments or blood tests almost every week for 3 months — this week alone I have four appointments and lab work. I have three daily medications (soon to be four) and a weekly one, that need to be taken at certain times, and a rescue inhaler for when I exercise. Like everything else, learning what’s causing me to be unhealthy so that I can work to be healthy takes a lot of time.

Between each of these “jobs”, I don’t leave the house as much as I’d like to. I don’t go out. I don’t watch much tv. I don’t read enough to make me happy, or sleep enough, or take a day off. Trying to find time to write fiction in the spaces these other tasks don’t occupy feels impossible, and my to do list is neverending. The stress over not being able to reliably pay my rent causes me a lot of worry, and honestly, I’m afraid on a regular basis.

But I love to write. I think it’s the thing that is going to matter the most, at the end of my life. It’s the way I can make a little bit of a difference in the world. Maybe a tiny difference, but I’ll take it if I can get it.

So, with every task and every worry I’ve got weighing me down, I still look for writing time every day. I’m not going to give up.

If you love writing too, you shouldn’t stop looking for time to write either. We can do it together.

Why I’m taking (another) Sociology class this semester

I’ve taken several classes in art history, humanities, psychology, sociology, and ethnic studies, but I managed to skip taking an actual SOC101 class. I’m doing that this semester, in a 10-week accelerated course I started last week. As part of the introductory assignment, I was asked:

Please write a few paragraphs describing what you think this class will be about.  What is sociology?  Why is it important to study sociology?

I thought you might be interested in my answer, so I copied it below for you:

Sociology is the study of the development and structure of a society, but is not limited to seeking to understand large-scale cultures or countries. Sociology can also be used to explore an organization, clique, or family, and the way those smaller units reflect and interact with the larger societies they are a part of. By applying scientific methods to these investigations, we can reduce the amount of bias inherent in the ones who gather and interpret that data. By comparing both information and methods – analyzing and critiquing past sociological studies – we can expand our understanding of societies as we evolve ourselves. This class should provide us with a basic understanding of these methods and a brief history of sociology as a study.

I’m interested in both views of the world: the macro and the micro. On a grand scale, I’m interested in the way that societies are formed, grow, and die, like a current moving through the ocean of time. I’m also interested in how to understand individual people by understanding their place in their societies, where the venn diagram of their interests and relationships overlap, and how a society exerts pressure on an individual to deviate from their own desires. No person, no group, exists in a vacuum, and by better understanding the influences we exist under, I can better project the future of those societies, whether in the real world, or in my own fiction.

I left out the part where I’m basically a squeaky fangirl whenever it comes to learning new things, and how much I love the way studying sociology feels like discovering new pieces in the puzzle of the human experience. I’m a sucker for cleverness and insight, not just labeling a new find but truly exploring it, seeing it from all sides, and beginning, a little, to understand its importance.

Tin House / Electric Literature Reading at Powerhouse Arena Bookstore – A Recap

Yesterday afternoon I saw a post by Small Beer Press (on Facebook) mentioning that Kelly Link would be reading at a bookstore in Brooklyn and right about there I decided that I wanted to go – no, NEEDED to go – and then suddenly had to figure out how I was going to do that.

I currently live in New Jersey, towards the middle, next to Trenton, which is just over the river from Philadelphia. The bookstore is in New York, the city (and the state) making it a whole other state away from me.

The problem is, though, that I had to go. Not only was it Kelly Link, whose work I adore, but Tin House and Electric Literature (warning, current cover art – posted on their home page – is NSFW), both great markets that are nearly impossible to get into, and it was a chance to adventure into Brooklyn, where I’d never been. It was also possible, thanks to a combination of trains and subway rides, and since I’m due to leave NJ for upstate NY in a few months (where there are no trains) it was a trip I won’t always be able to make. This particular event would never actually happen again. Add to that my feeling that as writers we’re not just supposed to write but also to read, to listen, and to learn from the writers we admire. To not attend these kinds of events is to sit alone in our apartments, only learning from ourselves. Continue reading

The Problem With Pen Names

There are a lot of reasons for using a pen name these days. From wanting to keep your writing a secret from friends or employers, wanting to keep two distinct writing styles separate so that readers from one genre aren’t turned off by the writing you do in another, or preferring a pen name which is less gender/racially specific than your legal name*, the reasons behind wanting a pen name are many and varied and for the most part, I don’t have a problem with any of them. However, I’ve run into a few people whose actions, enabled by the use of a false persona, are running dangerously close to unprofessional or even illegal.

Author Seanan McGuire also writes under the name Mira Grant. It is an open pseudonym, in that McGuire openly admits to using it. From her FAQ’s:

Q: Why are you Mira Grant?

A: I wanted a pseudonym for my science fiction because I wanted to create some “distance” between it and my urban fantasy work. Mostly, I wanted people to judge the Mira Grant books on their own merits, not based on how much they read like something they’d expect me to write. I believe this was the right decision, and I’ve been very happy with my life as Mira Grant.

Both websites use photographs which are actually of McGuire, and while the Grant site has a brief faux-bio blurb, the rest of the information is factual – release dates, book info, and the bio and the FAQs both end with pointing out she’s also McGuire. Author Joe Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, the son of author Stephen King, and felt a need to write under another name in order to be judged on the merits of his words instead of his father. His website and Twitter feed and books all say “Joe Hill”, but the pictures are actually of him, and when he talks about his children or his predilection for pie, he’s actually talking about his own life. These are just two examples of what I consider to be acceptable use of a pen name: you’re changing the name for the purposes of story submission, so you’ll be judged “fairly” when a publisher considers your work or a reader buys your novel, but the rest of your life as it’s presented under that name is close to 95% true.

Submitting stories under a pseudonym without informing your publisher that you have another, legal, name – or much worse, signing a contract under your pen name – can cause legal issues and certainly makes me less likely to want to work with you, but we’re still talking about just one mistake – not disclosing your legal name. I’ve had authors do that, and learn from it, and stop making that mistake, in which case, I’m happy to keep looking at their work. At what point does it go beyond acceptable use of a nom de plume for work purposes and pass into unacceptable, creepy, or disturbing? That point differs for everyone but for me it’s when the fiction becomes not just a mask but a lie. There are authors who use more than just a new name: they create a whole new life. Websites, Facebook pages, even in chatting online with others, they use not only another name, but false images and fake biographies. Posting pictures taken from the Internet, of people who are not you and don’t know you’ve stolen their image, to support your pen name is one example of going too far. Writing lengthy blog posts about the life you don’t actually have, with people who don’t exist, supported by pictures you didn’t take … unless you label the site as itself being fiction, you’re trying to convince your readers that you are someone who doesn’t exist. What’s the purpose of that? If it’s just to support your pen name with what you consider to be a reasonable back-story, then it’s possibly only poor judgment on your part.

What really makes me angry are the people who create this fictional life and use it to prey on others. Creating a persona that is (for example) a young, sex-hungry woman and then using it to flirt online, manipulate others, play games with their emotions … or use it to turn a profit, soliciting donations from others to support what is essentially a hardworking avatar … that’s cruel. It’s a lie, it’s wrong, and when I find out that authors are doing this I will never, ever, accept work from them.

Personally, I don’t use a pen name. I made a decision a long time ago to be read and judged and known for who I really am. I like knowing that my friends actually know me. I feel lucky that I’m not in a situation where I’d be forced to hide my writing, which is so much a part of who I am, in order to get a job or maintain peace with family members. I understand wearing a mask in this business, but you should ask yourself if you really need it. Do you think a white-washed name or a bio photo which is younger/thinner/prettier than you think you are is protecting yourself from being judged wrongly, or is selling more books? Are you honest about yourself within the confines of your persona, or is everything you present to the world a lie? And if it is … why?

* For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not using the phrase “real name”. What that is can be very different depending on who you’re talking to, and no one has any right to decide what’s your real name but you. I’m only interested in the distinction between “legal” (often but not always “birth name”) and “pen name”, a fake name under which you write and publish, which is not the same as your legal name.


Synopsis: Fiction or memoir? Stephen Elliott’s blistering new collection inhabits a mysterious area in between. As with all his work, these stories have the raw ring of truth filtered through Elliott’s downbeat poetic sensibility. No subject is too controversial, no image too taboo to put to paper in these brilliant first-person narratives. (From Cleis Press)

I almost don’t think I should review this book, because I’m not sure what needs to be said about it. Elliott presents a collection of short stories, all based on his real life, though fictionalized to different extents. He doesn’t dress it up or down or sideways, he just presents it. Here you go, he seems to say. Do what you want with it. Then he hands you the book, and doesn’t stick around to find out what you thought. The book just is. It’s simple. It’s honest. It is almost pedestrian, the way Elliott describes being tied up, beaten, cut, abused, and loved. His stories, though probably more extreme than most people’s, aren’t that unusual either. They’re familiar, if you’ve been there, and that’s kind of what adds to their brilliance.

The thing is, there are two kinds of people drawn to the BDSM scene. Of course, there a million kinds and everyone is special and no one wants to be pegged (unless that’s your thing, in which case, there’s nothing wrong with that), but the truth is, it’s those two kinds that make up the biggest population. The first are people who’ve experienced it all before, in nothing like a good way, and are eroticizing their abuse in order to get a happy ending to an event or a lifetime which scarred them badly. The second people are the ones who don’t feel enough, who want to feel more, and they’ve tried everything else. They weren’t loved enough, or wanted enough, or desired enough, and they’ve usually given up, and maybe don’t even think they deserve it anymore, to feel something so strongly, but they’re still hoping. In a way, Elliot’s book is like a good scene – you get what you wanted out of it. Either you read through to the end, past the hurt and fear and subjugating your body to the whims of crazy people, and you find the happy ending, or you feel what you’ve been longing to feel. You experience this man’s alternative history. While in the pages of the book your heart has raced, you’ve been scared, disgusted, compassionate, aroused, and curious, depending on the page. Either way you got what you came for.

Would I recommend the book to others? If you’ve read this far and aren’t certain this is a book you need to read, maybe you don’t. It’s too personal to force onto people, too specific in its kink to pass around to the mass market readers. It’s a book for people who look at it, and know.

MY GIRLFRIEND COMES TO THE CITY AND BEATS ME UP. Elliot. Cleis Press. 144 pages. ISBN 978-1-57344-255-8