Saturday, May 3, 2008

Good chatter over drinks and oatmeal

To clarify, the chatter over drinks was separate from the chatter over oatmeal. I suppose mimosas with my oatmeal could be okay, though usually when I'm drinking in the early hours it's Bloody Marys and a slight hangover is involved, so oatmeal would not be as appealing as greasy hashbrowns. Drinks occurred Wednesday night with Melissa Marr; oatmeal occurred this morning with Josh Adams who is the managing editor for the Forest Park Review. Given my stressful week of playing catch up from vacation and the car break-in, good chatter was a much needed relief. I shall discuss in chronological order.

I must gush immediately that I heart Melissa Marr. She is one of the coolest people I've met in a long time and of course I love love love her writing. When I read Wicked Lovely it instantly became one of my favorite books and I'm reading Ink Exchange now and feeling an even closer bond to it. She requested to read IWBYJR a while back and apparently really loved it, which well, I can't even put into words how it feels when someone you admire so much thinks highly of your work. Pretty damn awesome basically. So Melissa and I have chatted back and forth through cyberspace and when her tour brought her to a Borders somewhat near my town, I went to see her and we planned to have drinks afterward.

I really enjoyed her event because she basically just sits and chats with whoever shows up. Very casual and friendly. To me it was the author version of a Fireside Bowl show, where there was very little boundary between you and the band, and you feel more like a participator than an observer. I made a mental note to do this at my events. Probably a good thing to see because I had no idea what I would actually do at my events.

Following Borders, I took Melissa to the bar I used to work at, the infamous (to my friends and blog readers at least) Beacon Pub. How people react to the Beacon is usually indicative of how well we will get along. The Beacon is not hip, it is not swanky. It is comfortable like your favorite pair of jeans. I like people that I can feel that comfortable around. I knew Melissa was one of those kind of people before we even got to the bar, but I appreciated that she admired the scuffed floors, searched for a functional stool with good humor, and posed with me under the lady legs. Here we are (and I know regular blog readers will be excited for this glimpse of the Beacon), please excuse the way the flash whitewashed us:

Anyway we chattered until somewhere around midnight, talked writing, bartending, life in general, etc. like old friends. We discussed two things in particular that are close to my heart and I wanted to bring up here:

Books that are good for our daughters. One of the things I like most about Melissa is she's a feminist and proud of it. Too many women even now think of feminism as another f word (personally I like f words...), so it was refreshing to listen to her talk about how she's not gonna write female characters that are pushovers. Ash from WL makes decisions on her terms, not on some guy's, even if he is the very handsome Summer King. Obviously I also try to write empowered female characters. This is probably why Melissa and I liked each other's books in the first place, but good to discuss it further. And definitely something I wanted to discuss here because I would love recommendations for more books with strong female characters. We need to buy these books and draw attention to them because I still remember all too vividly how it felt to be a teen girl sorely in need of reminders that I could be strong.

Speaking of my teenage years, another thing that Melissa and I have in common is that we were both labeled as "bad girls" as teens and it hurt and we fought to overcome it. At her Borders event, Melissa spoke about being voted "most likely to end up in jail" in high school and why she mentions it in her bio. I'll be honest, I thought perhaps she just put it in there to be interesting like her mention of bartending at a biker bar, but she did it to make a point. (I should have realized this as I made certain to include the word feminist in my bio even though the context may seem light and fun.) She explained that she was a straight A student, who did rebellious things and ran with "a bad crowd" because she was coping with difficult things, namely being a rape survivor (and she has spoken publicly about that, obviously if that was told to me in confidence, I would not say anything about that). Rather than address the root of her issues, the school just labeled her "hopeless" and overlooked her for scholarships that she deserved and needed badly. So her point was along the lines of "they voted me most likely to end up in jail, they didn't help me, but I worked against that label, overcame it and now look at me." Seriously, people, look at her, she's a New York Times bestseller.

I bring all of this up in a public forum because it's very important to me. Both my female main characters in IWBYJR struggle with their reputation for a reason, because many girls do. I know a lot of the people who read my blog and who will read IWBYJR will likely be in a similar situation of unjustly being labeled. I was in practically the exact same situation as Melissa. Straight A kid who was subjected to lots of locker checks because she hung out with drug dealers and skipped class a lot and no one really cared to investigate why. My peers labeled me slut because of how I dressed, which was hurtful because the one sexual relationship that I had in high school was abusive and unhealthy and I was confused enough as it was. It was hard, hence my first few years post high school being filled with substance abuse. But eventually I went back to college, I got straight A's all the way through my master's degree and now I have a book coming out. So, I want to say this and I will say it very strongly and not apologize for my language: fuck labels. Don't let people cut you down. Don't believe it if people say you are going to end up a loser, go out there and reach for your dreams and prove them wrong.

*jumps down off soapbox and shrugs sheepishly*

So, in all, it was inspiring to talk to Melissa as a writer and also extremely empowering to talk to her as a woman. Very cool.

Meeting with Josh over oatmeal (he had coffee, I thought about having tea, but froze because I am being very careful about caffeine consumption and couldn't locate the decaf tea list) was completely different. He was asking me if I would consider being a columnist for the Forest Park Review, my local paper. Even though it barely pays at all and doesn't pave the way to an obvious fame and fortune, I am very excited about this for a few reasons.

Like probably every creative writing major, while I was in college I was repeatedly asked by people concerned about my ability to make a living, "Why don't you consider journalism instead?" I have never been interested in journalism, preferring day jobs that are not directly related to my field. I always have admired my freelancer friends, but for the most part I like to write about made up things. Also I face enough rejection as a fiction writer, facing more as a freelancer is too intimidating. But this was someone coming directly to me, so that eliminated that concern. And they are asking me to write a column, which I basically see as being like a blog except I can't swear and I need to be less ramble-y. I see this is a writing challenge, and I like writing challenges.

The other reason I'm excited is because I get to write about my town. I like my town quite a bit and I have strong "support your local scene" ethics from growing up punk. This will give me opportunity to talk about the Beacon and my favorite record store (Old School Records) where I got 5 cds for 20$ today, and Centuries and Sleuths, the cool history and mystery bookstore, and the Farmer's Market (well, they call it the French Market), and the new restaurant (Gaetano's) that my best friend is a chef at, which is like her dream and I am so extremely proud. I can also explore more things about my town like the toy factory that Jodi from Old School told me about. Yes, Forest Park not only has a famous candy factory (Ferrera Pan, makers of Lemonheads), but a toy factory. Can you see now why I live here? And the public pool has a waterslide, which I still have not been on.

It just feels nice to be invited to be a part of the community in this way. I have only lived here for four years, but feel much more a part of it than my hometown, the neighboring Oak Park. Maybe I still have my resentful teenage feelings about Oak Park, but yeah, sorry Forest Park is just cooler and friendlier. Can I say that in my column? Hmmm.

So I have to write some practice columns for Josh first, but hopefully he will like them. He was very nice and insisted on paying for my oatmeal. I see that the columns do appear in the online version of the paper, so should it all work out, you will get to read them once a month.

I think I'll go try my hand at writing one now. Or I'll go read more of Ink Exchange. Decisions, decisions...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's the strangest thing... this post makes me want to drink an oatmeal stout.