March 27, 2015

Being Jewish & Speaking Out

I'm Jewish. If you happened to see this post or my tweets last night, that shouldn't surprise you. Making my nationality (and religion) a part of the conversation was something I had intended to avoid, because I didn't want my work as a writer to be judged based on that. And though it shouldn't be, any more than it should be judged based on my being 5'6, I know it will be. 

After the despicable article by Lena Dunham (not linking intentionally, but I'm sure you can find it), comparing her Jewish boyfriend to a dog, and because of some strong reactions to said article by many Jews, and by Jewish authors (including Dahlia Adler), I don't believe I (or any of us) have the luxury of staying silent, of keeping that part of my identity private. Because the stereotypes continually perpetuated in the media are harmful, to individuals and through the rising tide of antisemitism throughout the world — including on U.S. college campuses. Did you know a Jewish student at UCLA was questioned about her religion during her confirmation process to the UC's judicial board? Can you even imagine that happening with any other religion? 

Or can you imagine the New Yorker publishing a supposedly humorous article comparing a black boyfriend to a dog? Or a Mexican girlfriend? Or any combination that didn't include the word "Jewish"? 

And yet Jews are repeatedly ignored in discussions of minority profiling, racism, etc. And we're similarly often ignored in the discussion of diversity in literature. "Faith-based" books almost invariable mean some sect of the Christian faith, ignoring every other type of religion. Judaism is more than a religion, it's a cultural identity, but a book about a Catholic family would be mainstream, whereas one about a Jewish family would be pigeonholed.

I was worried initially about being typecast as a Jewish author — i.e. not one who is Jewish, but one who (supposedly) only writes for Jewish readers, even though I wouldn't market my work as "Jewish" books. I'm still worried, that being Jewish, and unabashedly reminding the public of that, will mean losing readers, or someday, if my work is ever at some critical point of success, a slew of virtual threats in addition to the pervasive messaging all around us that this is, really, a country focused on Christian-based faiths.

I'm more worried about the erasure that hiding our culture, keeping it within segregated communities, creates — and which we help create. It makes sense, really. If no one remembers you're there, you're less likely to be attacked, right? Self preservation. 

It's terrifying going against that instinct, which has been honed through so many generations. I'm doing it anyway. There's more to me than my culture, but of course, without my culture, I'm not me. And in the face of thousands of micro-aggressions against Jews, not to mention a growing global tide of antisemitism, keeping that part of myself hidden, out of the conversation, isn't an option.

March 23, 2015

Finding a Way Back to On Track

I've been doing a horrible job with my Mon/Fri blog schedule lately. To be honest, I feel like I've been doing a horrible job with everything lately. And hoping that rut is at least predominately in my mind doesn't help me get out of it. 

One thing I missed mentioning is a guest post on Melissa Petreshock's site (site is down), addressing the difficulty of creating an endless stream of content that is sufficiently interesting to stand out in the social media world. This was followed by a rather lovely 4.5-star review of Mending Heartstrings from Melissa's sister Jen, and their resident Psychocat.

I've also, quite obviously, been failing at contributing to the weekly Flash! Friday contest. This is partially because I've felt that the time I spend writing, or trying to write, or facing writer's block is better served focusing on my latest WIP, Fallen.  This project has proven to be quite a challenge, and has been progressing at a much more, shall we say, leisurely pace than my other books. I started it back in July, and it hasn't yet reached 10,000 words. As I work, I'm constantly reminded of Hemingway's statement:
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

In truth, with this WIP, adding a few hundred words has literally been an all-day endeavor at times. I used to think the pace of my other books was slow — compared to writers I know who can get down 10-20K words a day. This project has shown me that those were the easier times. But I'm trudging on and chipping away.

How have your 2015 projects been going?

March 19, 2015

Turning Down Your Dream('s Fine Print)

Recently, I've written a lot about contracts (you may have noticed). And the hush-hush aspects of the industry have meant that I haven't or can't share many details about what's going on. In fact, it's pretty standard to share only the positive result ("I signed an offer!") and maybe some statistics on what got you there, but authors, and agents, rarely talk about the offers they get and then turn down because negotiations can't find a middle ground. 

The thing is, when I write about contracts, I'm not speaking hypothetically. Yes, I absolutely do lots of research and collect information from much more experienced sources than myself, especially for things like the publishing contract basics sequence. But ultimately, I write about contracts because I have to deal with contracts. As an author (currently) without an agent, understanding and negotiating my contracts is entirely in my hands. I've seen a spectrum of iffy clauses, from slightly unfair to wildly ridiculous. I wish my books would have an easier time being published, and of course I am willing to compromise on some things to make that happen, but I have and will likely continue to refuse to sign the blatantly unfair or ridiculous clauses. 

Still, it does get me down occasionally. The first offer I received for Muse came back in November 2014. That contract had so many red flags in it, it took me hours to go through and mark up. What I heard back was that their contract was nonnegotiable. They thought it was "fair." Remember how I've mentioned that someone claiming a contract is fair doesn't make it so? Just like my claiming a given book of mine is a bestseller wouldn't make it so — it would make me a liar, or delusional. Same with the term "standard." I recently had someone tell me a contract clause was industry standard, when every other industry professional who's written or spoken about this topic confirms that it isn't.

Walking away hurts, because it means that the dream of having that book published is being destroyed — and in some sense by my own hands. But I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not in it for one book to be published. I'm in this to build a career, and for many (hopefully all) of my books to be published, which means I can't have my future strangled by unfair, nonstandard, or ridiculous clauses. I'm also a person outside of my career, and I can't agree to clauses which threaten more than just my identity as an author, and which yes, I've seen in some contracts.

Hopefully sometime soon, I'll have exciting news about my currently behind-the-scenes efforts. Meanwhile, I'm trying to remind myself (by reminding all of you) that a bad contract is much worse than no contract at all.

Update: If I'm not convincing enough, check out this post from amazing agent Kristin Nelson.

March 9, 2015

The Minefield of Contract Negotiations

Contracts are not a happy topic for most of us, and writers who don’t know all the many other ways a good agent is indispensible for an author’s career know at least that they’d prefer to have an agent handle contract negotiations on their behalf.

The thing is, contracts themselves aren’t fun reading, but they’re not impossible to understand. I’ve gone through many of them, including of course the one I’ve signed (for Mending Heartstrings). But contracts always come with people on the other side, and somehow, people who are otherwise likely very kind and intelligent, become condescending, manipulative, seemingly dense, or otherwise difficult to deal with. [Obviously, some people are exceptions, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on this particular subset.]

Photo Credit: One Way Stock /
Foter / CC BY-ND
For one thing, everyone who hands you a contract wants you to sign it as is. They know it’s already weighted in their favor, and you signing will save them (and their expensive lawyer) time. So they’re going to try to convince you that they’re supremely trustworthy, the contract has everyone’s best interests in mind, and you don’t have to worry about that fishy clause because it’ll never come to pass.

Ultimately, though, if it’s in the contract, it might come to pass, and you better be ready to live with it when it does. All the promises in the world won’t help you if things go poorly, which is when a contract really matters. Many contracts will even include a section that says anything promised, e.g. through email, but not explicitly included in the contract is invalid.

March 2, 2015

4 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me

I haven't been sure what to post about, so I've decided to share some facts you may not know about me. After all, that's one of the benefits of the modern relationship among writers, bloggers, and readers, right — the personal connection. And while I've written about the industry and about my writing, I haven't spent much time writing about myself, partially because of #3 and #4 below. Here goes:
  1. I'm a naturalized U.S. Citizen, or in other words, I'm an immigrant. In fact, I didn't become a U.S. citizen until my freshman year in high school, which I remember most vividly because my classmates didn't believe me the following day that that had been the reason I missed school. The assumption was that since I spoke English like a native, I must be a native. But I was born in the Soviet Union, and I first learned to read and write in Russian.
  2. I'm Jewish. Rampant antisemitism was part of what drove my family out of Russia, and its drastic resurgence is part of why I haven't much referenced my religion or nationality, even though some may have suspected simply because I went to Brandeis (which has a lower percentage of Jewish students than you might think). At first, I was concerned that making Judaism part of the conversation when it came to me as an author would potentially push certain readers, or possibly even agents and publishers, away. If my Judaism offends you, though, that's your call, and you can feel free never to read my work or to return to this blog.
  3. I'm terribly introverted. So not only is it difficult for me to reach out to or connect with people, virtually included, but I'm also horrible at it. Even Twitter chats make me anxious.
  4. This post initially had a higher number in the title, but I honestly don't know what else to share which might be of any interest. So feel free to ask me any questions in the comments!