It’s Here: The Nov/Dec Issue of Verily Magazine

October 21, 2013

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time. The November/December issue of Verily Magazine is finally for sale, and it features my article, “Natural Wonder: Understand Your Cycle to Regain Your Sanity and Appreciate Your Body,” on page 87. In case the title doesn’t make it clear (and I think it does), the article is about the Fertility Awareness Method, focusing on the non-reproductive benefits, and how understanding it can give women tons of insight about their bodies.

I’m thrilled about the article, and I’m also thrilled that Verily Magazine exists. Its tagline is: “Less of Who You Should Be: More of Who You Are.” While not as overtly feminist as magazines like Bust or Bitch, what it adds to the genre of women’s magazines is distinctly refreshing. The Nov/Dec issue includes articles about female bullying, an examination of dating “rules,” the effects of pornography on women, men, and relationships, and the prevalence of rape as a tactic of war. There’s some great advice about keeping your sanity in the sometimes-insane holiday season. It has some fashion spreads and tips, too — which feature real women instead of models. There are no ads and no airbrushing.

Its target audience is women ages 18-35, which is probably why so much of it resonated with me. It reminds me of the “grown-up” version of New Moon Girls, a magazine and web community for girls ages 8-14, which I’ve worked on in various capacities for 11 years. New Moon Girls is also ad- and airbrush free, featuring girls as they are and not as the world tells them they “should be.” Both publications would make great gifts for the girls and the women in your life this holiday season.

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On Letting Your Writing Leave the House

January 21, 2013

Back in 2007, I made a decision that is continuing to pay dividends. I decided to let my writing leave the house.

For years I’d been journaling and writing novels and had even submitted a couple times. I’d sent a few letters to the editor and had begun to feel both that it was part of my calling to start writing for social justice, and that it was important to my development as a writer to start writing for a real audience. So, a little worried about what I might find to say twice a month, I volunteered to become a writer for the Young Adult Catholics blog.

I’ve already written about how my involvement with the blog led to the book deal for Hungering and Thirsting for Justice. It also led to me writing an article for Dignity USA about being bisexual and Catholic. And that’s what led Marie from the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing to me.

A few weeks ago, Marie was referred to me via Dignity USA to discuss her work on creating resources for religious institutions that specifically addressed the needs of ministering to bisexual persons. She wondered whether I knew of resources or of out bisexual clergy who would be willing to serve on the project’s board. I told her that I, unfortunately, didn’t know of any clergy that fit the bill and that I felt my plate was too full to serve on a board right now even if I did fit the description. I did pass some resources along and asked that she keep me in the loop as the project developed.

Last week, she contacted me again because she said my name continued to come up in regards to the intersection of a bisexual and Catholic identity. She wanted to talk to me about a way I could be involved that was “time-limited.” We set up a phone call. I expected her to ask me to share my experiences, perhaps to use as pull quotes in the guide, or to write something, both of which I was totally willing to do. But I didn’t expect her to offer to fly me to New York City so I could attend a one-day meeting with other people of faith to create a theological statement that will be the basis of the faith and bisexuality work they continue to do.

But that’s what happened. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

When she told me that I kept coming so “highly recommended,” I joked that I was probably just the only out bisexual Catholic in the world. She chuckled and said that might be true. But I know it’s not just that. I know I’m not the only one.

But I might be the only one who is writing about it. And by writing about it, I say to the world, I exist. And what’s more, others like me probably exist, too. And by telling people that I exist, I make myself vulnerable, and in some ways I’ve paid the price for that. But it’s also allowed people to find me who care deeply about the same things that I care about. And by finding each other, we can hopefully make the world better for others.

When I put the phone down, I kept marveling at how none of this would have happened if I’d kept my writing and my thoughts to myself. How none of this would have happened if I’d refused to write “for free.” More than ever, I believe that true writers must love writing enough to write for free, whether it’s in a journal or a novel that nobody sees or a blog that thousands of people see. That writing will pay dividends — whether in benefits to mental health, your checkbook — or even in helping to create the world you want to live in.


Writing About Catholicism and Marriage

October 23, 2012

My latest post, a reflection on how much power the Church should have in dictating individual wedding ceremonies, is up on Young Adult Catholics. Also, the issue of DignityUSA’s newsletter featuring my article about being bisexual and Catholic is also now available. So much Catholic and marital subject matter today!


My Changing Reading Tastes and What It Means for My Writing

September 24, 2012

Over the past year, I’ve noticed a distinct change in my reading preferences. While Young Adult and speculative fiction (even better, both!) used to be my genres of choice, now I find myself more compelled to read memoir and other non-fiction genres. And while I used to regularly read literary fiction, now I sometimes bypass the general fiction category at used booksales altogether. It’s not that I’m not interested in realistic human stories anymore … it’s just that, if there’s a book about something that could actually happen … I’d rather read a book by someone that it actually happened to.

While memoir has always been on the margins of my reading tastes, I’ve hypothesized several reasons that I have a renewed interest in it now.

  1. There’s a definite correlation between beginning my relationship with my husband almost three years ago and my interest in non-fiction. Although I’d been in love before, this was my first “serious” relationship, and I was hungry to see how other real people navigated this terrain. Not even six months into my marriage, I’m drawn to memoirs about lifelong partnerships and both successful and failed love. There are a lot of people who know this road better than I do.
  2. I’ve also had a pretty strong shift in my internal world in the past several years. Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that I’ve made a shift out of my internal world in the past several years. While I used to prefer to hide in my own imagination and would often choose its sanctuary over my real life, I’ve since become much more integrated into the real world. My reading taste seems to reflect this, although it was about two or three years behind my shift in consciousness.
  3. For a lot of my life, I’ve needed or thought I needed to escape for one reason or another. Although everyone needs an escape once in a while, myself included, I’m much less prone to it these days. I think it’s because I like my life, and so I seek to read books that help me understand it more deeply, rather than that help me get away from it.
  4. It may be that my genes are finally catching up with me. Although both my parents enjoy a good novel (especially a good sci-fi novel), they’re also strongly drawn to non-fiction. My dad devours biographies, while my mom, a nurse, seems to crack open books about health far more often than any of the hundreds of other books on her shelves (although she listens mostly to fiction audiobooks).
  5. I may simply have OD’d on fiction. Although I’ve been picking up non-fiction about subjects that interest me (mostly religion and feminism) for years at used book sales, I haven’t actually read all that much of it. I often asked myself if I ever would get around to reading all that non-fiction when novels were so enticing to me. Well, perhaps I was more prescient than I thought, and I now find myself quite well-stocked for my increased non-fiction appetite!

While I still try to read across genres, and actually set something of a reading “schedule/system” to guarantee variety, I do wonder how or whether this new attraction to non-fiction will play out in my writing. Of course it makes sense to write within the genre that you read the most in — but right now, I have very little interest in writing non-fiction aside from journaling, blogging, and responding to requests to write articles. Still, the first book with my byline is not a novel but a collection of true stories from young adult Catholics — in essence, a collection of short memoirs. And my own short memoir-esque piece about being bisexual and Catholic is currently set for publication in two separate collections.

So although I have no immediate plans to write heavily within the non-fiction genre, I find myself wondering what might emerge after all this has settled in several years. I’ve always loved reading retellings, for example, but didn’t write my first retelling until about seven years after I began reading them, and it was a very loose retelling at that. Now, I’m working on a retelling of “Rumplestiltskin” with plans to retell “Rapunzel” during NaNoWriMo and, eventually I hope, “The Little Mermaid.” Does this mean a non-fiction book will be beating at the edges of my brain about ten years from now? I guess I’ll just wait and see, and enjoy all the writing and reading in the meantime.


Write Like It’s Work

July 9, 2012

I’ve often heard the advice that you need to treat your writing like a “real job” even before you’re published. That means you show up on time. You don’t skip days. You prioritize it over TV, or doing the dishes, or playing with the cat. To take it a step further, maybe you don’t let yourself “off the hook” with anything less than what you’d feel comfortable telling a boss. “Sorry, I can’t come into work today because my dishes are dirty,” or “I’m not going to make it — my cat is being SO cute right now,” isn’t going to cut it.

I’ve taken this advice to heart for a good part of my writing life, which means I do try to work on my writing every day (but I allow my schedule to be flexible), and I take two days off a week (my boss isn’t a slavedriver), and I give myself a break when I’m sick, or vacationing, or grieving (although, in the latter case, writing might be the best thing to do.) But lately, I haven’t been just treating my writing “like” it’s work. It really has been work — with real deadlines, real audiences, real editors, real publications.

I feel as though I haven’t “written” in a while, but what that really means is that I haven’t worked on my “personal writing” (writing without a waiting audience) as much lately as I used to. I have this guilt monkey in my mind who nags, saying, You haven’t worked on your novella since Thursday! Stop slacking!

And I have to tell that monkey, I’m not slacking. I’m just reversing my focus.

For most of my writing life, I’ve been making resolutions that this year I’ll redirect all that energy I usually put into writing new stories into writing for a real audience. And yet, again and again I couldn’t resist the shininess of a new story, and I’d welcome it as a distraction from the much scarier task of marketing myself. At last, I’m finally making good on that resolution, and things are happening because of it. I’ve learned that the key is to have concrete, measurable goals, like:

  • a goal to start writing more for a real audience. I made this goal about five years ago, and as part of it, I made an effort to take opportunities for writing that might be a good fit for me, even if I wasn’t totally sure what those opportunities would entail. That’s how I ended up writing for, and eventually co-editing, the Young Adult Catholics blog — which, by the way, directly led to my current book project, Hungering and Thirsting for Justice (ACTA Publications). The writing for the blog was and is unpaid — but it’s for a real audience. And for many writers, communication is a far more enticing reward than money.
  • a goal to become published three times in one year — or, barring that, to submit six times in one year. That goal is what led to the publication of my short story, “The Man in the Mirror” in Queer Dimensions, as well as my article, “Kids Keep me Closeted” for the Bi-Women newsletter, and the upcoming publication of my essay, “Where I First Met God” in Unruly Catholic Women Writers Volume II (SUNY PRESS).
  • a goal to submit my young adult novel, Ever This Day, to one publisher/editor, agent, or contest a month. So far, I’ve missed one month–the month I got married. I hope to submit it twice some other month this year to make up for it. Currently, I’ve got it out to the Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction; this month, I plan to submit it to the MsLexia award for unpublished women novelists.

Making concrete, measurable goals (I’m going to write five days a week, I’m going to submit six times a year) proved to be so much more successful than the more nebulous ones I used to make (I’m going to focus more on my writing, I’m going to submit my stuff more often.) These days, my writing time has been consumed by lining up reviewers and making final tweaks to Hungering (going to the typesetter as we speak), Unruly (manuscript due mid-September), and writing an article about being bisexual and Catholic for Dignity USA. After all those years of “acting as if” I was a real writer, I’m finally beginning to believe it.


Writing for the Web

June 30, 2009

Over the weekend, I talked to a friend who was stressed out about some web content she was writing. Since most of the writing I do for a “real audience” these days is web writing, I thought I might pass on some of what I’ve learned to her–and to you.

  1. Think short. This is probably the most important thing to remember when writing web copy. Most people don’t have the time or the inclination to scroll down a LONG document or to page through many screens to read. They’re reading quickly before they go to work, or between projects at their desks, or on a cell phone screen in the airport. If you can’t keep what you’ve written below 600 words–and even if you can–consider breaking your piece up into subheads, with each section reading about 150 words apiece.
  2. Web users don’t read; they scan. Understanding how readers use the web is crucial to web writing. Most folks online have found your writing by entering keywords into a search engine; they’re looking for that one bit of information that applies to them. If it’s buried in a treatise, they’re likely to get frustrated and go someplace else.
  3. Search is key. I’m not yet the expert on SEO (search engine optimization) that I’d like to be, but I do know that a lot rides on whether your writing contains words or phrases people are searching. As such, you can throw out that old “print” rule of varying things up by using synonyms, unique phrasing, and SAT-words. Instead, use the words people are likely to be searching–and sneak them in more than once.
  4. Be conversational and clear. Folks aren’t looking for the latest literary masterpiece when they’re reading online. They’re looking for interesting, quick information. They’re also coming from diverse educational and occupational backgrounds. That old rule about writing to a “sixth-grade reading level,” definitely applies to the web.
  5. Be direct. In other words, avoid passive sentence construction. Passive sentences generally add length to your work, and they make the writing lethargic. The New Moon editors’ manual said passive sentences were like, “sentences that lay around in their pajamas and refuse to do any actual work.” You can think of your readers in the same way; while you don’t want lazy sentences, accept that you’ll have lazy readers. Make your writing do all the work so they don’t have to.

Pros and Cons of Writing for Content Sites

June 18, 2009

Pros

  • With all the content writing sites available, there’s a good chance you’ll find something that jives with the type of writing YOU want to do.
  • The Internet now presents more opportunities to make money off your writing than ever before.
  • Your work is viewed by a real audience.
  • You determine the size of your workload and when and where you will complete it.
  • You build a diverse portfolio.
  • The work is steady.
  • There’s large potential to earn residual or “passive” income — your articles can continue to bring in money as long as they’re on the ‘net, without you having to put any additional work into them.

Cons

  • The pay is often low, sometimes ridiculously so.
  • It’s difficult to rely on content writing as your only income, as you’ll have to write a LOT of content before it can start paying off in big ways.
  • The lower pay on the “write what you want” websites makes it hard to devote time to writing about your interests; instead, I tend to commit most of my time to websites that promise an upfront payment, even if the topics interest me less.
  • The return on your time investment varies, depending upon how efficient a writer you are. The slower you write, the less payback you’ll receive for your time.
  • Writing for content sites does not necessarily increase your credibility as a writer or expert. Like self-publishing, people in the industry know that not all content sites have quality control; as such, they may not perceive you as an expert when they read your article on Associated Content the way they would if they saw it on the Mayo Clinic website, no matter how much you know.

I’d like to experiment with more content sites and build up a healthy pool of articles that could earn residual income. But for now, monetary concerns restrict the amount of time I’m willing to devote to experimentation. But I definitely encourage writers to try it; getting paid for your writing is good, even if that pay isn’t quite the figure you fantasize about.