I’m so grateful for Kristen M. Ploetz’s fierce, thoughtful review of Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology, just published at JMWW Journal. It means everything to know that our intention was understood and that the quality of the outstanding work collected in this book is appreciated. ✊💖🔥
Huge thanks to Read Her Like an Open Book for allowing me to explain how Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology came to be. As Editor Bill Wolfe said on Twitter: “When enough is enough, it’s time to take out the bullhorn.”
From Not Feckless: How a Writer Becomes a Publisher in a Moment of Rage: “I became a publisher impulsively, in this moment of rage. My own words failed. But I knew there were writers who still had theirs, who could articulate their fury, indignation, sorrow. That’s how it works, in this resistance marathon: we take turns. We share, and our collective words carry us. … I had no idea how to publish a book. I figured I would learn.”
I get it. Some of you are uncomfortable with the word “cunt.” You certainly don’t want to hear it said aloud. You don’t even want to see it written, each letter just sitting there, brazen, unashamed, like a naked body sprawled across the floor you have to step over and can’t avoid:
C U N T.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sorry. I won’t apologize for Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. Never. I will not tiptoe around your discomfort. I will not even soften it by inserting asterisks where letters belong. Although, of course, I realize that some people and publications will require asterisks, I will never use them. Words are powerful, yes. If a word makes you uncomfortable, look at it harder. Your discomfort is the point. If you’re not a member of a marginalized group that has had “cunt” used to oppress you: YOU DON’T GET A SAY. If it has been used against you, I’m sorry. And, also: I think you’re going to want to read this book. These 36 fierce contributors have the guts to confront this word, and—more importantly—the sexist culture that defined and weaponized it. These contributors take back “cunt.” They take control of the narrative of our own lives.
These 55 lean, feminist pieces (poems and very short prose) don’t back away from controversy. They run headlong toward what we’ve been told not to say, think, be. They reject the patriarchal idea that we’re forbidden to speak the words used against us. I invite you to join us.
It’s okay if you’re not ready. But do not ask me to spend time and energy explaining or excusing myself. The time for that sort of endless, unpaid, emotional labor by women is over. Read Feckless Cunt to understand why I think it is not only okay but necessary to write and say
C U N T
as many times as it takes to change the world, a little. You do not have to listen. You do not have to stay in this room where C U N T is sprawled across the floor. I just ask that you let us speak and write and confront what needs confronting. I am not afraid of words or your disapproval. I am afraid of losing my freedom of speech—an understandable fear, I think, considering how the current administration makes daily noise against the free press and dissent. Speak now or forever…better yet, listen: Feckless Cunt will be available for order in the next couple of weeks. I will let her have the final say, without asterisks or apologies.
In Joshua Tree, California, we have a community lecture series called “Teddy” Talks, a take on the famous TED talks. They’re held at Beatnik Lounge, an art space and JT’s unofficial community center. This month I appeared with two other authors, Rose Baldwin and Gabriel Hart. We had a blast. The crowd was kind and interested, the conversation stimulating. My talk was titled: Rejecting the Rules and Criticism that Derail Writers. The subject is dear to me. I also discussed both my novel Not On Fire, Only Dying and my brand-new, flash fiction chapbook, Swap / Meet.
So if you have fifteen minutes for my two cents, click below.
The latest issue of Cholla Needles is out, and I’m thrilled to have 3 short pieces included. Buy it here for just 5 American dollars. Cholla Needles Press started earlier this year and has published books in addition to the magazine, which is now on Issue 12, so that gives you an idea of the literary energy here in Joshua Tree, CA. They hold monthly readings on an outdoor stage behind local bookstore Space Cowboy Books, drawing together a vibrant and welcoming crowd that includes many talented local writers and others who regularly come through to visit and read.
These are my first publications since moving out here. They were all written in this ecstatic creative flurry I’ve happily and gratefully surrendered to since I finally unpacked my boxes. There is something about this place: the expanse, the silence, the glorious sunshine.
My 3 pieces are: “About a Month In The Desert,” flash CNF about my experience moving to the desert from someplace very different; “HUMAN | NATURE,” micro prose inspired by the view from the mineral-encrusted “rainbow” terraces, or cliffs, of Thermopolis, WY; and a flash piece called “1 table, 2 chairs: ugly,” part of a series I’m working on called SWAP/MEET (virtual).
There is so much good work within these pages and I am honored to have mine included. And I’m thrilled to see my name against the brilliant blue sky that is making me a writer again, at last.
It’s not like I had no idea what to expect. As a bookseller I assisted with author events both swanky and huge (Pat Conroy at a Connecticut yacht-club brunch) and tiny and spare (local writers at my used bookstore in Kingston, New York). As a book buyer for the wholesaler Baker & Taylor, I bought everything from small press titles to kids books to some of the largest adult trade lines (all of which have since folded into Random Penguin–yes, I know they prefer the names reversed.) Book promotion is an enormous challenge at every level. Even backed by a corporate publisher’s PR machine, many books struggle to attract interest. Every year, thousands of excellent books are published and ignored. It’s an honor to reach any readers. And if you hear from a few who loved your book and got what you were trying to say–well, let that wash over you, because that connection is everything. You get used to the non-responses from places you’d hoped to appear. You get used to leaving readings with unsold books. To empty seats in the audience. To other books getting more attention and praise. You stay grateful throughout.
So, to celebrate Not On Fire, Only Dying‘s first year, a multimedia look back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you for hearing me.
Pics or it didn’t happen: proof it wasn’t a strange, beautiful dream with too much public speaking:
Original music composed by Naomi Hamby for Not On Fire, Only Dying:
“Marko’s Theme” was used for the book trailer. Here it is accompanied by the previously unreleased “Lola’s Theme.”
Speaking of the trailer:
Maybe you’d like another listen to Marko’s mixtape?
Select blog posts written through acceptance, publication, and promotion. Short and honest:
Thank you for hearing me. (12/31/14)
Cats get in the way. (1/23/15)
No big deal, but…MY BOOK HAS A COVER. *swoon* (3/26/15)
Blurbs and Preorders and THANK YOU. (5/4/15)
Presenting my book trailer! And insecurities… (7/3/15)
Brooklyn, beginning. (9/5/15)
Have I mentioned I have a new book out? (9/29/15)
But is it art? On book reviews. (10/18/15)
More than chocolate? (2/4/16)`
What do you want? (5/11/16)
Thank you to everyone who read this book (and to those who have a copy and might yet get around to reading it–no worries. Trust me, I know how that goes. Maybe once in a while something small and unrelated will remind you of Not On Fire, Only Dying.
Happens to me all the time:
Nature isn’t dependent on an audience. Life happens, often without a witness. -p. 213, NOT ON FIRE, ONLY DYING pic.twitter.com/MIRlO23kIR
— Susan Rukeyser (@SusanRukeyser) May 19, 2016
— Susan Rukeyser (@SusanRukeyser) April 29, 2016
Curious about my publisher Joan Leggitt and her press, Twisted Road Publications? Then you’ll want to read this brief article from The Florida Writer, written by fellow Twisted Road author Darlyn Finch Kuhn:
It’s an excellent portrait of Joan the person and publisher: savvy, supportive, selective. She seeks “literary fiction from sharp-eyed truth-tellers with a gift for creating fully-rendered characters that get under our skin and expose our deepest humanity.” Check it out..
Every step of this process, preparing my novel for its September release by Twisted Road Publications, has been an EMOTIONAL EVENT: I have a publisher! I have an ISBN! There is an author photo! There is an ARC! And now—a gorgeous, evocative, perfect cover (blurbs to be added soon.)
It’s been a lot, and quickly. I am a Taurus, and whether my bullishness is in the stars or just my DNA, I find change difficult. I know that’s true for a lot of us. The intersection of defeat and hope was where I’d hung out awhile. This was new territory, this joy. This celebration! This YES, after so much no. After the encouraging rejections that all included the word unfortunately.
I’m getting it together. I’m searching the manuscript for certain passages, starting to think about what I might read aloud. How I’ll explain Marko and this story. How I will explain my reasons for writing it, beyond “The characters insisted.”
How I will explain myself.
Ah, now we’ve returned to strange lands. I feel the bull in me huff and puff and paw the ground. Adjusting to a new reality is challenging, even when it’s a dream come true. This is, after all, everything I wished for, all that time when I was trying, failing, failing better. I am ready for this. I can’t wait to show you Not on Fire, Only Dying. I can’t wait to hear what you think. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I believe in this book, always have.
The last few months have been a trip: shock, exhilaration, gratitude, confidence, terror. All of it, all at once. This morning, however, I’m just fine. Because, no big deal, but…
MY BOOK HAS A COVER. *swoon*
What cats lack in size they make up for in sheer bloody-mindedness. Nothing, least of all an inelegant primate such as I, will interfere with their quest for the perfect perch, preferably on paper still warm from the printer, stacked in a box just a bit too small.
Which is to say, cats get in the way.
Recently I sent my publisher a revision of my forthcoming novel, in preparation for its fall debut. I went through the manuscript page by page, scribbling notes. I was at it for weeks, the loose pages corralled by a plastic box at my side. Usually there was a cat in that box: Percy, short for Perseus. Percy the cat is blind in one eye and suffers no fools.
He obstructed my progress throughout this revision: Wait, where is that page I need? Oh, there it is, under the cat. Shoot—I need to look back a few pages, but they’re all…under the cat. The notepad I was JUST writing on? Yup.
My kind-hearted teen son insists that Percy loves me and want to stay close. He likes the feel of paper. But I know that, with his one good eye, Percy sees straight into my worst self-doubt. You’re right, he purrs. You give this book to the world and you give yourself. Better to let me hide it, hide you.
Cats are not without mercy.
So if cats get in the way, maybe it’s because we need them to. For a while. Maybe we need the writing, the revealing, to go more slowly. We need to take our time and work hard for it. Maybe it’s not contrariness but compassion that leads a cat to curl upon a stack of unpublished work, smooth with sharp edges, full of possibility and potential disaster.
This year I wrote an essay about my failure. I wrote about the years, two decades ago, that nearly did me in. I lost a marriage, a literary agent, a job. For years I did not write. In this essay, I wrote about redefining success, celebrating the work of writing, publishing small pieces, connecting with those who get what I mean. I was thrilled when this essay, “Believe It, She’s Tried”, was named a finalist for Cobalt‘s 2014 Creative Nonfiction Prize. (It will be published in Cobalt‘s Issue 3, available for pre-order here.)
And then, the best news. My novel, Not on Fire, Only Dying, a book I have believed in and worked on for years (and years), found its perfect home with Twisted Road Publications. It debuts next Fall. I can’t wait to show it to you.
It took awhile to sink in, let me tell you. Hearing Yes, after so much No.
Of course, no year is entirely wonderful. Loved ones face illnesses. There is worry and grief. There is the daily grind. But you owe it to yourself to raise a glass, make some noise for what is right at the end of another year. Personal or professional, no matter how small. Allow yourself a moment of gratitude and pride. Fill yourself with it.
Thank you, editors, for publishing my work. Thank you, readers, for reaching out when something stuck with you. Thank you, writers, for your words. For your stories and books that remind me I’m not alone. The world is filled with people who get what we mean. We just have to be patient. We will find each other. And when we do, let’s say thanks.