Thursday, December 19, 2019

There's Room for Everyone

Recently, someone said to me that it was easy for me to get published, because I write horror, and there are a bunch of horror magazines. When I stated that there aren't many pro paying horror magazines, they shrugged and told me it's easier for me to get published, because I'm not a white male, that white males can't get published right now, because you have to belong to a minority group to get published.

I've been hearing this a lot lately, but this is the first time someone came directly at me and made a statement that blithely intended to diminish or cheapen what I've achieved. I can assure you, I get published because I do the work, I hone my craft, I learn, I write, and I submit. Neither my gender nor my race show up on my submission letters. I don't send in my submission with the following note:

Dear Editor,

I am a part-Native female author, and I want you to accept my story simply because of that.

No, actually I don't mention either thing. My submission letters are brief, as is expected in the majority of the short story world. They list my story title, word count, and genre, plus a couple publication credits. Oh, and my contact information. That's it. My name is actually gender neutral. In certain parts of the U.S., you're more likely to find a Shannon who's male. It all just depends.


More important is the fact that this is a pure fallacy. If you pull up a bunch of short story markets, they will likely ALL list that they're looking for diverse voices. Where people appear to be getting confused is in thinking this means that's all they'll take. Tables of contents say differently. What it actually means is that they're encouraging diverse voices to submit, and they'll consider them along with everyone else. This isn't a white male blocker. This is an attempt to not JUST have white males in publications.

I took a look through the publications I've been in, so I could break down the stated genders in the bios. I won't name them by publication, because this isn't an attack on publishers, and these are not in order of publication date. This is me bloody well being exhausted from having my achievements questioned by people who aren't doing the work, and are more than happy to blame it on whatever they can grasp at.

I only went through print publications that were still in print. I did not count the all female anthology I was in, because that came out in response to a major anthology featuring Stephen King in which there was ONE female author, and she was one of the editors. I also obviously removed any from consideration that were a single author. That left me with 21 publications to comb through.

Publication 1: M - 3, F - 2

Publication 2: M - 13, F - 4

Publication 3: M - 4, F - 8

Publication 4: M - 7, F - 4

Publication 5: M - 7, F - 7

Publication 6: M - 9, F - 2

Publication 7: M - 6, F - 4

Publication 8: M - 4, F - 1

Publication 9: M - 5, F - 2

Publication 10: M - 6, F - 1

Publication 11: M - 16, F - 2

Publication 12: M - 7, F - 8

Publication 13: M - 20, F - 9

Publication 14: M - 13, F - 6

Publication 15: M - 5, F - 8

Publication 15: M - 7, F - 10

Publication 16: M - 9, F - 6

Publication 17: M - 3, F - 3

Publication 18: M - 6, F - 6

Publication 19: M - 4, F - 6

Publication 20: M - 11, F - 11

Publication 21: M - 8, F - 4

TOTAL: M - 173, F - 114

Publications in which I was the only female: 2
Publications in which I was one of two females: 4
Publications in which there were more males than females: 13
Publications in which there were more females than males: 5
Publications in which it was an even split: 4
Publications in which there was only one male: 0
Least amount of males in any publications: 3 (there were two, one with 3 females and one with 2 females)
Largest difference between male and female authors in any publication: 14 (Publication 11 - 16 males, 2 females)
Largest difference between male and female authors in any publication where the majority was female: 4 (publication 3 - 4 males, 8 females)

Someone explain to me how much easier I have it, because I guess I'm just missing it. I especially need it explained to me how much harder it is to get published as a white male.

Happily, this shows me that the rate of females being published is improving. It also shows me that it's still skewed in favor of males. As far as race, sexual orientation, etc., it would take me forever to comb through and figure out how many of each author fit under which category, but I think we can all agree that cis white authors of any gender are still being published at a higher rate, despite calls for diversity. I count myself in that group. I'm entirely white passing, and I am mostly white. I don't feel it's my place to claim being a minority. I have mentioned it in relation to a novel I'm shopping, because the main character is mixed in the same way I am, and her experiences are similar to mine.

Why write this post? Because I've heard this so much lately. I've seen such indignation that calls are put out for diverse voices. That is not an attack or an attempt to force men or white people out of publications. It's simply a means to get the word out that publishers want to consider ALL writers.

It stings that someone in my circle would say something like this. When it's strangers or even acquaintances I can let it roll off my back (most days). When it's people claiming women can't write horror, I try to ignore it and keep writing and submitting to prove them wrong. But something like this sticks with me. It makes me angry.

It also makes me even more determined to move forward and to keep getting published.

I wish every single one of you good luck in getting published in the new year.

May you find your Muse.

*Volunteering Hands,, legacynola

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

IWSG: Making Time & Space, Plus Damyanti Stops By

It's the first Wednesday of December, which means it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, the brain child of Alex J. Cavanaugh.

All are welcome to participate. Just click on Alex's name above, sign up on the list, and post about your writing insecurities. There's a convenient optional question in case you're just not sure what to say, but want to take part.

Thank you to this month's co-hosts!

Be sure to visit, Alex, the co-hosts, and some of the other participants, so you can meet some new folks!

Last month was busy, and this month is shaping up to be the same. To get back to previous writing levels, I'm trying to guarantee myself one solo writing date out of the house per week at a local cafe, plus a writing date with friends, hopefully also once per week. A guaranteed two days per week is all I can do right now, but I get a ton done when I make the time. 

My office had also become crammed full and messy due to having to move things to have windows put in. Plus, I came off several appearances, and had just shoved my stuff from each engagement into the office and hastily packed what I needed each time. I find I avoid my office when it gets in a messy state like this, because it overwhelms me. I freeze up, because I feel like I can't get anything done until I clean/tidy it. I've now tidied it up, and am looking forward to getting back in there.

So my insecurities this month involved making time and making space. Now that I've completed that, I'm optimistic about getting some writing done!

Now that we've discussed my insecurities, I've got a guest post from Damyanti, delayed from what was to have been an earlier posting. It's about writing crime fiction, and her journey to publishing You Beneath Your Skin.

On Amazon USA:
It is not easy for me to speak about my journey into fiction, because I never imagined I’d be a writer. And ten years ago, if you’d have asked me if I’d be a crime writer I would have laughed.

I’d started writing by then, but I thought I would write realistic, literary stories.

Always been a compulsive reader—it is hard for me to survive without reading—even on days I don’t have time to eat or sleep—I read a little, of something. It is mostly reflex action. One of the reasons I write fiction is because I’m insatiably curious, and curious about people. Reading does not always satisfy this curiosity. I want to know what makes people tick, to figure out why humans do the mundane and extraordinary things they do. In my writing, my effort is to render the mundane extraordinary, and to examine the unusual and make it familiar.

Stories come to me from characters and my urge to understand them-- and in so doing, in a curious, intangible way, to understand myself.

Some of my first crime stories began as attempts to make sense of human nature—I wrote about a voyeur first, ( we had a voyeur in our neighbourhood) and then another story about an unrequited lover avenging the death of the woman he’d been devoted to. Yet another was a traditional woman, a forensic expert, who realised that the long-distance online relationship she’d been having was with a fraud, who’d been cheating her for money. She avenges this by shooting him and burying him in her backyard. I proceeded to write about a husband taking care of his moribund wife—we do not know if he mercy-kills her in the end, but we suspect it.

The turning point came with reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This was literary writing, but it described horrors we humans are capable of. It made me think of writing about the characters who had haunted me over the years. Anjali, specifically. And she appeared in Delhi, a city I’d spent many years of my life in, and one rather infamous for crimes against women. As the novel evolved, and I worked with Julia Bell, my mentor from Birkbeck University, I realised I had a crime novel on my hands.

I studied under various tutors, understood POV and characterization, plotting and dialogues, and the novel kept changing shape and size, morphing into the being it is today.

Engaged in telling the best story I could, I found acid attack as a plot point, and being the obsessive sort of person I am, I wanted to meet at least one acid attack survivor before I wrote the draft. That changed many things, because having met acid attack survivors, heard their stories and held their hands, it was impossible to turn back. I was still writing a crime novel, but you cannot reduce horrific pain and devastation into plot devices—you must either write about them exclusively, or if they fit into your story, write about them with the greatest respect and as much authenticity as possible.

Book Launch with Acid Attack Survivors

This is how You Beneath Your Skin came about. The framework is of a crime thriller, and it can be read as one. But my years of supporting Project WHY has somehow trickled through—the alleyways I’ve visited, the people I have met there. The acid attack survivors and their pain has seeped into the story as well, and all my proceeds of the novel go to Stop Acid Attacks and Project WHY.

Writing a crime novel, here’s what I have learned:
  • Characters are everything. Many readers have written to me about how much they cared about the characters, how pleased or disappointed they were for these fictional people—Anjali, Jatin, Maya, Pawan, Nikhil. How the novel stayed with them. So I believe characters must be 4-dimensional, unique, independent beings.
  • Setting. No one thinks of New Delhi as a cold place, but it gets close to freezing in winters. For the last few years smog has been a huge issue—New Delhi now has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most polluted city. All that grime and dark lent well to You Beneath Your Skin. When writing crime novels—whether cosy or hard-boiled or literary, the setting needs to be a character, and be used for the plot. In You Beneath Your Skin, the smog and traffic become effective blocks against the protagonists.
  • Motivations are important. Whether you’re writing a traditional whodunit, or a literary whydunit like my novel you must know what motivates each one of your characters. Who is doing what is important, but the novel becomes stronger if the reader knows why they’re doing it.
  • Pace is crucial. Not imposed pace, but pace that comes from all the story questions raised. Each chapter must end on a story question or a revelation that leads to more questions. The plot must follow this path: Incident> Insight> Decision> Consequences> Insight> Decision> Consequences.
  • You can’t be didactic. You Beneath Your Skin raises many issues, but that’s because New Delhi is a very complex city and all the issues are part of its fabric. In a crime novel, story trumps everything—if you raise issues, they should be a corollary of the story, not its main thrust.
  • Research. Make your novel as real as possible. If the details are right, the reader sinks into a fictive dream, believing all of that happens in the story is real. That’s what you need in order to keep them turning the pages.

Writing crime fiction is not for everyone, but it can be a very rewarding experience. It leads to tons of fascinating research, a deep insight into human nature and the thrill of creating scenes that lead neatly from one to the other.

About the author: Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and supports Delhi's underprivileged women and children, volunteering with organisations who work for this cause. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. She has recently been shortlisted for The Fay Khoo Award in Penang, Malaysia.

You can find her on her blog and twitter.  

Her debut literary crime novel is an Amazon bestseller, and all the author proceeds from You Beneath Your Skin will support the education and empowerment of women at Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.

What about you? Do you read or write crime fiction? What kind of crime novels do you read or write? Why or why not?

What are your insecurities this month? Do you find that a mess keeps you from writing?