Boys Don’t Cry: Sexism and Gender Representation in Publishing

15 Aug

I love reading to my niece. It’s one of my favorite things to do and last time I was at her house she picked a new book.

51ZnaboAxRL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_

It is the story of Duncan’s crayons who previously quit due to what they saw as unfair practices by Duncan. In this the crayon’s are all returning with tales of their adventures. We had a blast reading it until we got towards the end and I cringed. All the crayons in this book are clearly boys or otherwise ungendered. There is one exception.

Wait for it……

………….

……………

……………

The unused pink crayon. OF COURSE.

giphy-3

In the pink crayon’s letter to Duncan she calls herself a “girl’s color” and laments the fact that Duncan has only used her once. Then she congratulates Duncan’s little sister for doing a good job of staying in the lines. Cause, you know, that’s what good little girls do.

They behave.

This is all highlighted in a really amazing article about children’s books on the Washington Post the other day. The whole thing is worth a read but the gist of it is that there a significant lack of girl representation in picture books, and that when there is, they are incredible sexist. The fact that publishing, on the whole, has a significant gender problem.

That J.K. Rowling has no middle initial but they gave her one so they could use just initials because how else were they going to sell a book to boys written by – *gasp* –  a woman!

I thought back to some of my favorite stories growing up and sure, I had Meg in Wrinkle in Time but her utter lack of self-confidence made her more of a pawn in her own story than anything else. In fact it is only through Calvin’s constant affirmations that she overcomes her insecurity. The boy tells her she can do it. So she believes it.

When I first decided to write a story about the last living descendant of Shakespeare, my main character was a boy.

I remember standing in the kitchen talking to my husband as he made dinner about my idea about this boy and his muse named Jonathan and how I wanted to incorporate Shakespare and Greek mythology when he looked at me and said, “Honey, why would you make your main character a boy? Why wouldn’t you make it a girl?”

It took someone else pointing it out before I realized that I had internalized that idea that the Hero is a Boy. So even as  a girl reader who grew up into a woman writer, I still initially went with a boy.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with this:

Lukeonskiff

and not this:

tumblr_o4t1go2fsx1v02jqro1_500

But if my neice grows up to be a writer it will be different for her. I certainly hope so.  All the same, feminism fail, Ally.

But I didn’t forget that when I started my next book, This Is Sarah. The story started out as a ghost story – a boy haunted by his dead girlfriend and then warped into something very different – a boy broken by his girlfriend’s disappearance.

To Colin, I gave distinctly  “non-masculine” if not “feminine” traits:

  • He’s was very into his relationship with Sarah, to the point that he alienated friends.
  • She’s basically all he cares about.
  • He cries. A lot. Sobs really
  • He needs to see a therapist because he’s falling apart
  • He gets hysterical
  • And he fails the Bechdel test every single time.

He is raw and tender….traits that are steroetypically female but in actuality, as Wendi pointed out, typically human.

And as Jennie Yabroff said in her Washington Post piece:

As Monfried says, “When we read our children picture books, we’re saying, ‘There’s a world here that will give and give and give for the rest of your life.’ We should want to show our children that anybody can do anything.”

To which I’d add, we should want to show our kids that girls can be anything — and anything can be a girl.

Anything can be a girl. Because ultimately we all laugh and cry and mourn and love in similar ways. Far more similar than they are different.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Better Luck Next Year is officially for sale!

1 Aug

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The writer Joanna C Valente said that “A trauma is a funeral for one; there is no one to mourn you but yourself. The coffin is empty, since you are still alive, but you must fill it with something, and that becomes your former self.”

Or it becomes a book of poems.

BLNY

Better Luck Next Year is officially out and about and available to buy.

And the City Paper wrote a nice review about it saying:

Malinenko’s witty, conversational tone keeps Better Luck from veering into weepy sentimentality. When her speaker describes the sonogram of her tumor, it’s “[l]ike the red spot on Jupiter / a hurricane the size of a planet / here now / inside me” — a brilliant use of simile. When she writes of this news sinking in, “I whisper. Fuck. / The smallest hurricane of a word I know,” it’s powerfully restrained.

The reading last weekend went well. I think. I was pretty nervous and anyone who was there can attest to my incessant shaking. I’ve read poetry plenty of times but never anything as personal or as hard as this. I think I underestimated how hard it was actually going to be. I nearly lost it reading the last poem – the title track Better Luck Next Year – specifically on these lines:

 

and I took the ribbon pin off my bag

because I am not a warrior

or a survivor

but just a young women trying to live with a disease

Specifically the word warrior. The language that we use to talk about a situation – any situation – reshapes it. It frames people’s experiences. The warrior myth – and it is a myth – turns individuals into an amorphous mass stripping them of their unique experience. If you have “winners” then you, in turn have “losers.” As many obituaries read, people “lose their brave battle.” As if I could will myself into better health. As if it were just up to me. That is without a doubt the most dangerous form of magical thinking I can imagine. And it is an aspect of this experience that I feel most strongly about which is why that little word carried so much power.

In the end, I’m sorry I had to write it – that I ever had a reason to write it – but I’m so glad it exists.

So thanks to Kris and Nathan for all their hard work in turning this into a real live book. And if you do get it and read it and have a second to post your thoughts on Amazon or Goodreads, I would be eternally grateful.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

 

 

 

Better Luck Next Year: or How I Learned To Talk About My Boobs

20 Jul BLNY

BLNY

So in just three days Better Luck Next Year will be out in the world.

As I’ve said before I’m really excited for you guys to meet this book. We’re having a little reading party with Jason Irwin, author of A Blister of Stars and John Grochalski whose new book Wine Clerk is now out. It’s this Saturday in Pittsburgh at the East End Book Exchange at 7pm. If you can make it, very cool.

We’ll talk about my BOOBS. It’ll be fun.

I want to thank Rege at Tribune Review for taking the time to talk to me about the book. You can read that interview here and if you like what you hear check out Littsburgh.

They asked me “What do you hope readers take away from Better Luck Next Year?”

And I said:

“I think the reason anyone writes anything, or reads anything for that matter, is to connect with another person. To put something into the universe that a stranger picks up and says, ‘Yes, I know that! That’s me!’ To cultivate empathy – something we could all use a little more of. Cancer is an incredibly universal disease. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has been affected. But it is also exceedingly isolating. There is a clear demarcation between the life you used to have and the life after diagnosis and it bleeds into nearly every aspect of your existence. So what I tried to do is speak to that as honestly as I could. It was an attempt to dismantle the ‘warrior myth’ and fetizishing of breast cancer. When you scrape away all the ribbons and charity walks you’re left with some very harsh realities. So if there’s anything I hope that people get out of it it would be the ability to speak more honestly about our shared fears and hopes. To speak as honestly as we can about mortality – our own and that of those we love.”

There’s also a few samples of the poems that you’ll find in the book!

And they did a nice spotlight on Jason’s A Blister of Stars and on Low Ghost in general which is an incredible press that I’m so proud to be on.

Or you can listen to what Karina Bush said (a poet that I don’t know, I swear):

“I am impressed by Ally Malinenko, her poems about her experience with cancer are excellent. I think she has a book coming out soon.”

I do! In three days!

(Also that was sent to me by the guy who published her book and did some broadsides for me so I wasn’t like…googling myself, I swear).

This has been a long week. I had back to back appointments, one of which was treatment. While I was there something…happened.

I was bullshitting with my oncologist as he checked my lymph nodes, he got a phone call about another patient. Her numbers were bad. There was discussion about changing her meds. He told the nurse that he needs to see her and to make sure she gets an appointment by tomorrow and that she can’t start the other medication until she comes in. After he got off the phone there was a beat and I could see how distracted he was by this news. Then he just started chatting with me again.

Me, one of his “healthy” ones.

And I realized that in this ugly twisted fabric of terrible luck, there are pockets of good luck and I am in one of those pockets. And I am so thankful.

And then today, my mammo came back clear. And I’m good for six more months.

So I bought myself some starbursts

starburst

I love you guys.

Peace, love and Starbursts,

Ally

 

 

 

Books are Coming! Books are Here! Books Books Books!

14 Jul

Howdy from the hot garbage smell that is Brooklyn in the summertime!

Yummy!

So real quick, couple of thank yous before we get to the nitty gritty on the books, books, books.

First off thanks to Anti-Heroin Chic for taking these three poems and to Your One Phone Call for this one. Speaking of poetry, I was incredibly sad to find out that Dead Snakes is no longer. It was a great site for writers and readers and Stephen was a tireless champion of all of our work. I can’t thank him enough for all the poems that he’s given a home to and for all the writers he’s introduced me to. I hope the archive stays up.

So books!

BLNY

Next Saturday the 23rd is the official book birthday for Better Luck Next Year. I am super excited for this book to be out in the world, not only because of the subject matter (stupid cancer) but because I think that the folks at Low Ghost helped to put together a really solid book out of the hot mess manuscript I sent them. In the meantime you can add it to your Goodreads To Be Read Pile (should be so inclined).

And if you’re on the fence, here’s what the (amazing) James Duncan of Hobo Camp had to say about it:

Malinenko is so simply eloquent and true that she makes the most personal of her trials too universal to resist, makes those midnight terrors so real you can feel your throat clenching as you pass from one stanza to stanza. I wept as I read her suffering the endless runaround as she searched for medical help, as she picked apart her life for the mistakes she might have made that brought this cancer to her body, as she searched her familial history for tell-tale signs too late to help, as she discussed buying a pizza with her husband on the way home from the hospital because that’s what a human being with or without cancer does when they have to keep on living, right? It is cliché maybe, but I’ll say it: I cried when I read her poetry, because it’s good and real and true and it hit home.

You can read the whole things here!

 

13511051_1091114170954684_8513973920325876059_n

If you’re in Pittsburgh please do come by the East End Book Exchange at 7:00 pm on Saturday July 23rd for some beers and some poetry and some stories about my boobs, and some possible rants about the “warrior myth.” It’ll be fun. Come.

Also! It’s the release of Jason Irwin’s A Blister of Stars which is a beautiful poetry book – and I’m so glad we’re paired together as it also deals with illness and physicality – and John Grochalski’s Wine Clerk. If you read his first book, The Librarian, then you know what an amazing character Rand Wyndam is and how funny John’s books are. Also, come on, this cover is sweet!

417Y9U-aEjL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Some things people have said:

John Grochalski’s is a line that extends back to Steinbeck and Sinclair and up through Fante and Bukowski. Wine Clerk is another brilliant evocation of how miserable the world can be and how surviving with a drink in a dive bar is our only shot at victory.

-Dave Newman, author of Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children

You can preorder now!

 

Next up Epic Rite is including my chapbookI’ll Be So Still You Won’t Even Notice Me – in the Punk Chapbook Season Two. Basically for a paltry $40 you get 12 books of poetry. This is a good deal folks. You can pre-order that one too from the link above!

And finally I got this:

CmCxCadWkAAxltE.jpg large

It was made by the crazy talented Janne Karlsson from Sweden. Now I know how comic book writers feel. Drawings making words better. I’m completely overwhelmed with how cool this is. He also illustrated a poem of mine which will be out later this year.

So that’s about it. Again, if you’re in Pittsburgh please swing by for the book launch.

Peace love and starbursts,

Ally

 

 

Better Luck Next Year

10 Jun

Cancer is a rare and still scandalous subject for poetry;
and it seems unimaginable to aestheticize the disease.
-Susan Sontag from Illness as Metaphor

 

BLNY

Cancer poems, meet the whole world. Whole world, meet the cancer poems.

Low Ghost Press. Out July 23rd.

It’s a limited edition 100 copy run.

I’m eternally grateful to Kris Collins at Low Ghost Press for turning the hot mess manuscript I gave him into an actual book and to Nathan, for copy editing this thing like a champ.

And to all the presses that published these poems beforehand – 48th Street Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, Beechwood Review, The Blue Hour, Carcinogenic Poetry, Clockwise Cat, The Commonline Journal, Dead Snakes, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Drunk Monkeys, Exercise Bowler, Eye on Life Magazine, Hobo Camp Review, Homestead Review, Horror Sleaze and Trash, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Mad Swirl, Mas Tequila Review, Misfit Magazine, Pine Hills Review, Pyrokinection, Red Fez, Revolution John, Verse Virtual, Yellow Chair Review, and Your One Phone Call – thank you.

Thank you for giving me a space to scream and cry and laugh. I’m eternally grateful.

You all helped keep me alive through this.

And while I’m saying thanks, thanks to In Between Hangovers for taking The Bridge That Doesn’t Go To Manhattan and Cancer Math and also thanks to Drunk in Midnight Choir for taking these three poems. Also thanks to CommonLine Journal for Radiation Day 17 and Red Fez for My First Visit to the Apple Store: April 2016

BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR is, thus far, the most honest and personal writing I have ever undertaken. I’m glad it is going to exist in the world. It is literally the lemonade from the lemons.

If you’re in Pittsburgh on July 23rd we’re doing a reading at the East End Book Exchange. Come on out. I promise not to be depressing. I mean honestly how bad could it be. I’m gonna spend some time talking about my tits!!

Oh and I’ll have a bunch of broadsides from Chris at 48th Street Press to give away.

Like this:

poem002

Give the title track a spin. (originally published in Red Fez)

Better Luck Next Year

I’m not even sure why I kept it so long

this pewter pink ribbon pin

that was given to me during radiation treatment,

 

that first day when the nurse walked up and said

I have something for your collection

nodding at all the pins on my bag

and placed in my hand a little pink ribbon

a symbol

 

a mark

 

and I took it with quivering fingertips

there in my hospital gown

waiting to be burned

 

because I didn’t know what else to do.

I put it on my bag with the others

and there it stayed

through all of treatment

 

through the tears

and the panic

the sick dizzy feeling

in the middle of the night when I got up to pee

the one that told me

 

You’re going to die. Sooner. Painfully.

It stayed there through the injections

and the long hours spent in the waiting room.

 

It stayed there through telling my parents

and my friends and the depression

and the anger that crashed against me like a tidal wave.

 

It stayed there until

yesterday

when I looked down at it

and realized

I don’t want a symbol

and I don’t want to be a warrior.

 

I thought of all the young women that came before me

the ones that died

and the ones that lived

and all the others out

there right now blossoming

this burden in their holy bodies.

 

I thought of all of things people told me

when I told them about this hurricane of a tumor in me

 

and it was yours that came back to me:

 

Better luck next year, I guess.

 

You said it not insincerely

but with the exacting honesty

of the unchangeable

unfairness of this life

 

and I took the ribbon pin off my bag

because I am not a warrior

or a survivor

but just a young women trying to live with a disease

and I hurled it over the

wrought iron of the cemetery fence

and I kept walking

not caring to see which grave it landed at

 

knowing that at least

it wasn’t mine.

And finally, today, June 10th, is Cancerversary Year 2.

This girl’s still alive.

Suck it, cancer.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Where the Fuck Did May Go?*

24 May

*Yes it’s a David Bowie reference. Yes, I’m still upset. Leave me alone.

We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavoring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination. – Tchaikovsky

 

So wow….I seemed to have lost a month. During the beginning of which I turned 39 (!!) and by the end of which, today, my husband reached over and plucked a white hair out of the top of my head.

I’m not even kidding. It was WHITE. I’m officially old.

So in between now and then I have a few people to thank, list-style

In other writing news, I’ve been working with Six Gallery Press and Low Ghost Press on edits to Better Luck Next Year which should be out end of July. In case you don’t know it’s the poetry book that’s all about the cancer escapade. I won’t say journey cause I hate that term. Anyway, I gave Kris at Low Ghost a giant hot emotional mess and out of that he has helped to carve a really honest and raw look at what 2014-2015 was like from the days before diagnosis to the end of treatment.

Caveat: So I’m just going to put this here because a number of people have asked me about treatment lately, specifically Am I done? and if not When will I be? That’s a hard question to answer, even as I come barreling towards Cancerversary #2.  I’m not going to be “done” for a few more years. I’ll be on tamoxifen for at least three more years unless it causes potentially dangerous side effects. I’m still going to be getting injections of ovarian suppressants (Zoladex) for another year and a half. But what I do each month is not at all like what people typically think of when they say “treatment” which is chemo. So I guess the answer is yes-ish but also no-ish.

/end caveat

I’m really excited for Better Luck Next Year. I think it contains some of my best writing – and if not then it’s definitely got the rawest and most honest stuff I have done. I promise it’s not to terribly “woe is me” or too terribly depressing.

In other writing news, I’ve been doing a lot of hand wringing lately over Palimpsest (the massive nightmare that is the sci-fi book.) I’ve been querying agents and I’ve had some very promising leads and bites and interest but nothing that has panned out into an offer. Which is fine, these things take time. That said, at the beginning of the month I had a really interesting conversation with an agent who made some suggestions that would require a big revision.

Big.

And I have been heming and hawing about it for a month now, whinning to friends and beta readers if I should go through with it and “one person’s opinion” and “am I willing to do the work” and whine whine whine.

Ultimately the problem is the end. Endings are HARD. And then a friend shared this list of suggestions from Billy Wilder to Cameron Crowe:

  1. The audience is fickle. Grab ’em by the throat and don’t let ‘em go.
  2. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  3. Know where you’re going.
  4. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  5. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.*
  6. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you for it.
  7. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees; add to what they are seeing.
  8. The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  9. The third act must build, build, build in tempo until the last event, and then …
  10. … that’s it. Don’t hang around.

 

* emphasis mine

My friend wrote a whole post about it here which is great and you should read it. It was number five from this list that hit home for me.

And I think I found the problem in the first act. So the only question is should I cut my loses, scrap this to “one person’s opinion” and move on?

Or am I able to do the heavy lifting – the WORK – that will be turning this book around? Am I willing to put my other stuff on hold to go back into the trenches with Palimpsest again?

Oh who am I kidding?

My alarm is already set for 5 am. There is no spoon.

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s All Go Down To The River and See What We Find

28 Apr

Bruce Springsteen opened his show last Saturday at the Barclays Center with Purple Rain. He walked on stage, bathed the audience in a sea of purple light, said absolutely nothing and just started singing. It was a beautiful tribute to a legend lost too young.

Forever Prince. And then he said:

“We’d like to dedicate this show to Prince. There’s never been anyone better … Bandleader, showman, arranger … Whenever I would catch one of his shows, I would always leave humbled. I’m going to miss that. We’re going to miss that.”

Afterwards, he played Meet Me in the City and then as promised he played the entirety of The River and then another hour of some of his best songs: Badlands, No Surrender, The Promised Land,  Backstreets, Because the Night, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Thunder Road. His encore was Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, and finally Shout. Yes, the Isley Brothers.

It was 3+ hours of pure rock and roll like only Springsteen can, and has, delivered for decades. The man crowd surfed at 66 years of age. CROWD SURFED.

At which point my husband leaned over and said, “Oh please don’t drop him. This has been such a terrible year already.”

And while the hits were great, it was really hearing The River in it’s entirety that was really amazing. Like this chilling rendition of Fade Away.

That ending, my God.

And for as great as these clips are, the really amazing part of the concert was not recorded. And that was Bruce, talking about making that album. Before he played Independence Day he said this, “I was 24 or 25 years old and trying to talk to my father. He was never that vocal, so I thought, I’ll write him a song. I’ll write him a song.”

And then he went on about writing The River. About looking around and seeing the things he didn’t have in his life – a love story, a family – and how he thought if he sat down and wrote about all those things he wanted, maybe, somehow they would come true. How he wanted to capture it all, for himself, yes, but for all of us, too.

And I felt so lucky to be there. To be in that space listening to a man whose music I have adored my entire life talk about his PROCESS.

And I looked around at my fellow fans, in the hope of some sort of communion only to find a sea of people dicking around on facebook. I’m not even joking. Bruce Springsteen was on stage RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM talking about how he wrote some of his greatest songs and the people around me were bullshitting and on twitter and facebook.

Why do we constantly devalue art-making? So much of his music is iconic. This is the man who said, “Is a dream a lie if it doesn’t come true? Or is it something worse.” And he’s standing up there telling you how that happened and you’re on…….facebook.

And I know things have changed. I’m not that blind. But in the same way I watch people photograph art at museums and then walk away not really seeing it. Not even bothering to look. Just recording it. The same way people next to me at the concert were more concerned with how many people liked the video of Bruce singing Purple Rain that they just posted.

We aren’t living right now. We aren’t experiencing things as they happen anymore. Everything gets recorded and photographed and posted and paraded around online. We’re losing something here. Something important.

My friend, Brad, said this in a beautiful post he wrote about Prince:

There will never be another Prince or a Bowie. Music isn’t valued anymore. Money (and the lack of it) is the motive. So is social media outreach. So are Facebook likes. Rock and roll is fading from the airwaves, like a weak radio signal as you drive out of its radius, flickering out before going to static. Alternative rock is too fragmented to make a difference. Rap and hip-hop have gotten boring. Pop is disposable more than ever. We’re living in the future Warhol predicted. Everybody’s famous; especially the ones who don’t deserve to be. Our 15 minutes are almost up. Our rock stars are dying off. Soon our radios, our Spotifys, our streams will be filled with the voices of ghosts.

And it’s true. Music isn’t valued. Writing isn’t valued. Art isn’t valued.

I used to drink at a bar and one of the guys there was a big music fan. He used to talk about music all the time and when I called him out for stealing music from the people he claims to love he said, with a whiny voice, “Oh, poor indie rockers!” And all I could think was, yes, poor indie rockers who aren’t going to make it because you can’t bother to pay them for what they do. Because to you, it has no value.

Prince was famous for policing how his music was shared. He’s not an easy guy to find online. But what some saw as greedy, I saw as a calling. Prince believed in the sacred exchange between a creator and a fan. He believed in the value of art.

So when Springsteen is up on that stage talking about how the music that these fans adored came into existence, that it wasn’t just sitting in lyrical heaven waiting to be plucked down, that it took work and heart and sweat and tears and pain and heartache and hope and love because that what it takes to make art….well….when Springsteen is saying that, you better fucking listen. Because  as this year has so painfully taught us these artists are not going to be around forever.

Now I know that in that sea of fans I wasn’t the only one listening.

I just wish there were more of us.

All the same, I heard you, Boss….. Untill the end.

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,265 other followers

%d bloggers like this: