Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cleavage, Cackles, and Cookies

Blogging live from WAM, yes, yes, yes. It's Sunday morning, and I've been looking forward to this session since before the conference started. Analysis of News Coverage of Hillary Clinton and the Presidential Election by Allison Stevens, the Washington Bureau Chief of Women's eNews, Barbara Lee, social activist and philanthropist, Betsy Reed, executive editor of The Nation, and Carol Hardy-Fanta, director at the UMass Boston's Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy.

I'll give you all more info about this fantastic panel soon.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Beating the Old Boys' Club

One of the best things about WAM! is its dedication to discussing strategic change in journalism and media. It's way beyond a "this is what's happening" conference. Already in this session I'm in, which is all about working within the system for change (ie, more women's bylines, combating racism and sexism in the workplace), the panelists are discussing strategies for Not Shutting Up (which could be the unofficial theme of the weekend---or WAM! at large for that matter).

Here's some of what the panelists are saying: Be a squeaky wheel. Be outraged. Have a voice. One longtime journalist in the audience said that antifeminist stories make good copy. Don't stand for it! Email the editor. Complain. Panelist E.J. Graff said that women do not ask for what we want. Editors get one pitch for every five they get from a man. So if you're a writer/journalist, speak up about the type of stories you want to read or write.

I'm remembering now that mixed sense of heartfelt optimism and soul-crushing hopelessness I felt at this conference last year. Talking about media coverage of women (and feminism and race and and and...) is distressing, but engaging in honest conversations about how to effect change (with progressive, feminist, incredibly smart women no less!) is that wake-up call we all need---even for those of us who only get it once a year.


Helen Thomas: Legend

Last night's keynote was amazing. It was more a rundown of Helen Thomas's experiences as a female journalist in the post-WWII years, fighting against the old boys' club, and of all her years covering U.S. presidents---from JFK (her personal favorite) through the current Bush43 (she didn't say her least favorite cause she didn't have to).

Krista and I sat ten feet from Thomas, in the front row. She's tiny. She can't be more than five feet tall. Ann of introduced her as the Patron Saint of Not Shutting Up (which she got from a comment to a post she did about the famous journalist).

Thomas's talk was touching because of how much she's seen, and because of the history she's lived. Her criticism of George W. stems from having seen others come before him and actually be accountable to the people. She called this "the most secretive Administration there is."

Afterwards, during questions from the audience, a college student from Brandeis asked Helen if she thought it was okay to support Hillary for president just because she's a woman. Helen thought on this and answered, "Yes" followed by a creeping, mischievous smile. She qualified this, of course, but it was interesting to hear her talk this out---this eighty-seven-year-old woman who has seen so much change in our country, and who has never not questioned why things are the way they are. She's a model for noncomplacency, and an inspiration: a woman who's proven that you can make a difference by holding to your guns and having courage and, yes, not shutting up.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

tune in for WAM! coverage

Krista and I are leaving for the Women, Action & the Media conference tomorrow and we'll be posting live from Cambridge through the weekend. So do stay tuned!


Keynote speaker Helen Thomas, the first woman officer of the National Press Club, was the first woman member and president of the White House Correspondents Association, and the first woman member of the Gridiron Club.

Screening of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, a movie I've been wanting to see ---but it's very difficult to find---featuring Daniela Sea (Max on The L Word).

An amazing list of presenters!

And at least a few feminist celebrity sightings.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Report IT

Did you know that Angela Shelton Day is coming? It's April 29. At least the mayor of Asheville, North Carolina has dubbed it that. The filmmaker and actress will report her father's abuse of her as a child online and to police on that day to launch Report IT, a website that will allow survivors to voice their stories anonymously and will also encourage them to report to authorities.

According to a fantastic report by Alison Bowen on Womensenews yesterday, rallies are also planned at B&N stores nationwide on April 1 calling for women to report being sexually assaulted and coinciding with the release of Shelton's autobiography, Finding Angela Shelton, published by Meredith Books.

You may recognize Shelton's name. She wrote the incredible and partially autobiographical screenplay Tumbleweeds, which was made into a major motion picture starring Janet McTeer (won the Golden Globe for Best Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award and a SAG Award) and Kimberly J. Brown, and directed by Gavin O'Connor.

She also created the 2001 documentary Searching for Angela Shelton. You may have heard about it. It began as a show she pitched to HBO: Gather all the women with her name in one place, say, Vegas. As Bowen reports in her piece, when Shelton interviewed 40 other Angela Sheltons, she found that 70 percent of them had been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused. And if those odds aren't scary enough, consider this. Not one of the women she interviewed had reported the abuse. And neither had Shelton reported her own abuse.

Thus came
Shelton and PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment launched the site in 30 cities last month. Please, check it out, and report it. And thank you, Angela Shelton.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Friday everyone!

We feel fortunate that you're reading the blog. Thank you.

We're enjoying blogging, and it's great to know people are reading, but we only know you're reading from the comments we receive when we happen to be talking with you on the phone, communicating with you over email, or if we bump into you at an event, or pass each other in the hall. We'd also love to hear from more of you through comments here on the blog. We know more people are reading the blog than are commenting on it. I suppose that's just the way it goes in the blog world. Hell I'm certainly guilty of that myself on the blogs I read regularly, and we're committing to commenting on our favorite blogs more as a result. We will strive to post interesting and provocative things that spur you to comment. Know that we'd love to hear from you, even if your comment is a brief one. Let us know you're out there and that you're reading, and tell us what you're thinking about. It makes for better books.

Speaking of books, my goal this weekend is to find a new book to read. I typically read non-fiction, but I'm ready for a novel. Let me rephrase that. I NEED a novel. Do you have recommendations for me? What are you reading?


Until next time.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

bookmark these blogs!

Here's TakePart Blog Network's picks for the Top 10 Feminist Blogs.

We thought we'd post these here to get readers up to speed and amped up about the awesome work these women are doing. And send out an official congrats to our authors, Jessica Valenti and Jenn Pozner.

1. Feministing
2. Feministe
3. Our Bodies Our Blog
4. Jezebel
5. Broadsheet
6. Finally Feminism 101
7. Women in Media & News Blog WIMN's Voices
8. Holla Back NYC
9. MediaGirl
10. Bitch Magazine's blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

get rid of it!

Having come from a family of hoarders, it's not easy for me to let go of things. It used to be that I could guarantee going to my mom's and finding that jar of peanut butter, or Ovaltine, or you name it, untouched since my last visit. And my dad's collection of magazines and toothpicks is such that he can't even have passengers in the back seat of his car.

In my adult life I've been acutely aware of this tendency to hold onto things, and so it's been a slow and steady process of learning how to let go, first of all, and then actually finding the joy in letting go.

I'm sharing my spring cleaning story because it's about books. I took two carloads of books to the recycling center this weekend, where the book vultures nearly jumped into the bins where I was doing my unloading. The fact that one of them cried out, "This is the Motherload!" actually helped me stop feeling like I was abandoning a child. Seriously.

For years I've been collecting books for what I dreamed would be the eventuality of having a library to rival the likes of Jackie O., or Joan Didion, or Susan Sontag. Every time I've read an article about some famous, accomplished woman who had a library, it served as motivation to hold onto those hundreds of books, many of them in boxes I hadn't opened in years. I've moved more times than I care to count, and they've always come with me, even as the collection continued to grow. I do work in book publishing, after all.

Anyways, they're gone. And I cut off my hair on Friday, too. And I feel lighter. Physically. Spacially. Emotionally. Who knows if I'll ever even have the space to house a library anyways. Not to mention that those books have been more of a burden than anything, and I've coveted them, I think, as some measure of my worth. It's odd. I don't think anyone ever once commented that I had an amazing collection of books. So were the books for me or about me?

If you feel compelled to share something huge you let go of and were better off for, let us know. Who knows, maybe there's an anthology in here somewhere.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Think GREEN!

Happy Saint Patrick's Day everyone. We have more than a clover to offer you.

We want to help you find the green, manifest the green, build a welcoming home for the green. And we can, too. Well, it's not really us. It's Marcia Brixey, the fabulous author of The Money Therapist, coming out April 1. Marcia is the founder of Money Wi$e Women. She specializes in teaching women how to get a handle on their financial lives, and if you're like us and Suze Orman scares you a bit, you'll love Marcia. She is encouraging and supportive. She understands, and she doesn't scold. No matter what kind of a relationship you have with money right now, Marcia CAN help you.

After reading this book, I have really started turning things around this year. I'm getting on top of my finances, and I'm not ignoring the issues. That just makes the anxiety worse. We know that, but we continue to ignore sometimes. Let's face it, it seems easier in the short-term, but it takes more energy in the long-term. The stress begins to have lingering effects. I know I was worrying about money all the time. I swear to you that I feel less scared about money now than I ever have.

Check Marcia' schedule to see if there's a Moneywi$e Women forum in your area: or

We can't say enough good things about Marcia and this fantastic book. Check it out.


Friday, March 14, 2008

nothing like a huge scandal to squash a big one

I was just thinking today, How lucky for Peggy Seltzer that the Eliot Spitzer scandal hit when it did. It sucked all the life out of the whole I-invented-an-entire-fake-life-and-am-in-fact-
not-even-Native-American-like-I-claimed-to-be scandal and rallied the country around the much bigger I-am-above-
the-law-and-the-biggest-hypocrite-ever scandal. Seltzer and Spitzer. They sound like a mouthwash ad, don't they?

At the heart of the Peggy Seltzer scandal is racism and lies. At the heart of the Spitzer scandal is sex and lies. One of them claimed to be someone she wasn't; the other asserted to be something he's not. Both of them thought they could get away with something. Seltzer's motives seem fuzzier to me. Was it money she was after? Could it really have been some misguided form of altruism: These people's stories need to be told and I'm in the position to do it. Spitzer's motives are very clear: Sex is sex is sex. And I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "He's a very aggressive guy." It scares me a little bit to think about what he was needing to work out in the bedroom.

Regardless, Seltzer should be thanking Spitzer. His timing couldn't have been better for her. I've never seen something get swept under the rug so quickly. Every time I think of the Seltzers and the Spitzers of the world, though, I can't help but think what will become of them. How do you recover from something so massive? And yet they will. They'll have productive private lives. And who knows, if Spitzer is lucky there's another even bigger scandal just waiting in the wings. I'd be willing to bet money on that, in fact; it's just that I don't think he's going to be so lucky with the timing.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

more face-out titles equals fewer books

So Borders has announced plans to increase the number of titles they display face out on their shelves. It's called "a radical move" by The Wall Street Journal (syndicated here). The biggest shift we'll see is that Borders will carry fewer titles, and there's some speculation that this is bad for small preses. This type of news is hard to react negatively to, though, because the reality of book sales is already so harsh. We sell a lot of books outside of the major chains. Lots and lots on, maybe because we have such web-savvy readers. That's been our own explanation, anyways. And that lots of our authors have blogs that direct readers to buy online.

The saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover" is soon to become obsolete and old-fashioned if all of this catches, and it probably will. Because the whole face out thing is all about luring people in with the attractiveness of the cover. John Deighton, editor of the Journal of Consumer Research, says in this article, "People don't want choice, they want what they want. And what they want is sometimes constructed for them in the store by the attractiveness of what's on offer."

This is why we care so much about our covers. I've heard that consumers take 1.2 seconds to scan a book's cover and in that time they decide whether or not they want to look at the back cover or table of contents. 1.2 seconds. And that might be a conservative estimate.

This post isn't postulating anything. This business just flat-out scares me sometimes. All I want is for people to buy more books. More Seal books in particular, but generally just more books. Maybe the face-out program will increase book sales, I dunno. I have to say it feels like another step toward fewer and fewer people making all of our buying decisions for us. I know I shouldn't be so naive, though. We're pretty far down that road already.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

a theory on women and depression

Yes, it's my own. No, there's no scientific proof. I haven't done any studies. But here goes: The supposed increase in women's depression is a direct result of how absolutely impossible it is to live up to social and family expectations that are placed (often forced) upon us. What do you think?

Amanda Marcotte, author of the very recently released It's a Jungle Out There!, debunks several of the more prevalent theories (bullshit assertions) in her March 11 post. She provides important facts women should know, lest they believe that feminism is to blame, which it is, according to Dennis Prager.

Dennis says, "Feminism raised women's expectations beyond what life can deliver to the vast majority of them."

Isn't that interesting? Feminism raised our expectations. I didn't realize that. I guess I think that my expectations are high because I have grown up to believe that I have the right AND the capacity to make choices. As women, we can choose to work and have a family and have a fulfilling social life, too, or we can work and not have a family, or stay home and have a family and not work. But you see, it's these choices that are the problem, because in having choice, women are maligned pretty much no matter what.

Here's what it's like for women (and I can confidently say that men, by and large, do not have this same experience): When you're perfectly happy but single, you're delusional. When you're in a perfectly happy relationship, just enjoying your partner, the question on people's lips is, "When are you planning on starting a family?" When you're single and dating, you're looking for a man to knock you up. If you're over thirty and dating, you're to be pitied. If you're fulfilled by your career and putting off children, you're naive, because if you wait too long you're going to be infertile, or too old to be a good mom, or you're going to have a child with birth defects.

So you see, back to my theory, women don't like letting people down, especially people they love. But you do when you're a woman, because that elusive, perfect life---having a great husband (not a lover or a partner or a boyfriend or girlfriend, no), an amazing family life (with at least two kids), and of course a job that has flexible hours and really good benefits---is either out of reach, not in line with your values, or doesn't exist. The desire for that picture-perfect life is so so strong, and so that thing we do to women---assuming that they must be miserable for any combination of the abovementioned things they're lacking---probably does make a lot of us unhappy. I wonder what it would look like if a study were done that focused on the support women have for their choices. A sample question might be: "How would you feel if the people who love you were supportive of you no matter what choice you made?" It's revolutionary, I know, but I wonder.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What's she thinking here?

Inquiring minds want to know. And yet, it's so personal, and now so public. We already know so much. Spitzer's penis needed to roam, and he assumed he was above the law. Hell, he is the law. He owns the law. And you can't handle the truth.

So there's his wife Silda, standing by his side. We don't know her. But our hearts go out to her. I kind of hate that she's standing by his side everywhere. But of all the photos, this one says it all. "I need a drink." OR
"Mother was right. I should have stayed in school." OR
"Go to hell and die. $4300? Believe me, you're no freakin' emperor."
"I shouldn't have married monkey man."

She's standing by his side, but what's she really thinking? You tell me.


Monday, March 10, 2008

the feminist divide

Hillary and Barack are still fighting it out for the time being, and this means more election coverage---here and everywhere.

Today, catching up on my reading from last week, I saw that Jessica Valenti in The Nation, and Courtney Martin and Deborah Siegel in The Washington Post, wrote about the need for women---feminists, specifically---to come together and focus on the "bigger battle" ahead.

These writers are all critical of second wave feminists who have been furthering the divide by insisting that you have to vote for Hillary if you want to call yourself a feminist. Jessica hasn't come out to say who she's supporting, though she quotes Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, who is an out and ardent Obama supporter (and feminist, people!). And Deborah and Courtney say that one of them is for Hillary and the other is for Obama, though they don't say who's who.

The underlying unfortunate thing that's going on here is older than this election. It's something that keeps getting played out, time and time again, across all kinds of different issues: Second wavers think that third wavers (and beyond) somehow don't get their struggle. And so rather than try to bridge the gap, too many of them are critical of the choices and viewpoints of the younger generation, which causes the younger generation (rightfully so, I think---though I hasten to add that I'm part of that generation) to bristle and fight back. Because guess what? We're not twelve years old. We're in our twenties, thirties, and forties now. It's time for the second wavers to take notice that we've fought our own fights, too, and that we're capable of critical and nuanced thinking. We want to call ourselves feminists, and we don't have to adhere to all of the old rules. Apparently there's some manual that we're not privy to that details all of the ways you need react, choose, vote, and be in order to be a proper feminist.

I am a feminist. This time around I'm voting for Hillary Clinton, but I'd be a feminist tomorrow if I changed my mind and decided to vote for Barack Obama. The feminist divide definitely exists, and I'm sad to inform those who don't already know that it's not helping Hillary, and it's not helping women. It is, in fact, only hurting one group of people. That's right. Feminists.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

fact checking or PI work? an editorial defense

This week's publishing news is all about the fallout from the industry's most recent memoir hoax. Two years ago, after the James Frey debacle, I remember feeling defensive. I remember how quick people were to blame the publisher, to say that obviously they could have/should have fact checked Frey's claims. Now, again, similar admonishments are being thrown about. Riverhead could have/should have; her agent could have/should have; her friend Inga Muscio could have/should have.

Here's the deal, though: Peggy did more than just lie. She fabricated an entire life. Probably even to the extent that she started to believe her own story. Clearly she'd reconciled the enormity of what she chose to put into motion. Regardless of her motives, it's pathological. And so I feel empathy for Faye, Seltzer's agent, and for Sarah, her editor. It's not that agents and editors are gullible; it's that we go on our gut instinct the best we can. We create relationships with authors who would never be our friends outside of the book we're helping to create. When someone presents us with their truth, it's our job to make it sound as good as it can sound, to read fluidly and logically, and to be the best book it can be. It's not our job to get all FBI and start asking questions like, "Did that really happen?" Because the very nature of memoir is that it's supposed to be true. I don't think the fact that the James Freys and the Peggy Seltzers of the world choose to lie in their books mean that all agents and editors should be required to turn into paranoid skeptics about every word of memoir we have to read for our work. The moment that becomes part of my job description is the moment I want to leave publishing.

Literary agent Laurence J. Kirshbaum, former head of Warner Books, is quoted by CNN saying, "It's a business where honesty prevails 99 percent of the time," and that feels true to me, too. I hope that Peggy's story serves as a warning to other liars that they can't get away with it, that the consequences are dire, that it's not worth it. I don't want to work in an industry that requires its memoirists to take polygraphs just because a handful of writers---out of hundreds and thousands---have such poor judgment and faulty morals that they have to contrive their "truths."


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

We were all duped by Peggy Seltzer

And we're pissed off about it.

What does it take for someone to decide she's going to fabricate an entire life? Did Peggy Seltzer wake up one morning and think to herself, how would it all have been different for me if I'd grown up in a foster family in South Central instead of with my biological family in suburban Sherman Oaks? Sure, we all wonder how our lives might be different had we been dealt different cards. But what's going on when someone decides they're going to create that life for themselves in a memoir? Writing is creative expression, but to invent a past that never existed, to betray friends, to hawk your traumatic "life story"? It's unbelievable. And hurtful.

One of Seal's most-revered and best-selling authors, Inga Muscio was duped by Peggy Seltzer right along with the rest of us. In fact, her betrayal was more severe. Inga befriended Peggy. She believed her, like so many others have. And she gave of herself to Peggy. And now to find out, it was all a lie!! Inga Muscio didn't deserve that. We're pissed off for her.

As a publisher and a fan of memoir, I'm also disgusted by what this does for the genre. When we receive a proposal for a memoir, we want to be moved, we want to find something people identify with, we want more than anything else to believe that the brave and honest truth we're publishing might inspire or at least resonate with others struggling themselves. That's the beautiful part of standing up to tell your truth, no matter how painful it might be. If it's your truth, it's going to affect others. It will speak to them. We have to trust our gut instinct when we read memoir proposals. It has to fit the list, and we have to feel it will find its audience, but we also have to feel the author has something to say, something to add, something worthwhile to share. We can't hire a fact-checker to make sure it's the truth. We have to believe our authors.

Peggy Seltzer, and those memoirists before her who've lied and been caught--or not, it doesn't really matter--they're all contributing to the demise of this incredibly powerful genre. It ruins the reading experience to think, is this true? Could this have really happened? Was this traumatic life survived by this strong individual real? Can I trust my instinct? We look to memoir to comfort ourselves. Others have triumphed. If she was strong, I can be strong. There's a lesson here for me. We need this, people. It leads to hopefulness. It leads to finding that additional pocket of strength you didn't think you had. And Peggy Seltzer, (aka Margaret B. Jones, author of Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival) has really fucked that up for all of us.

I'm sad for readers today. I'm sad for Inga Muscio. And I'm sad for anyone who felt writing about a traumatic life she did not have was going to be OK--that somehow the world would be best served by a multitude of lies strung together and marketed as true. I'm sad for Peggy's editor, who felt surely she had connected with Peggy, that she could help the world in her own way by editing and sharing the heart-wrenching experiences of one woman who survived and thrived an impossible life.

And Peggy, whoa. The private Episcopal school in North Hollywood? That and losing your foster brother Terrell to gang violence in front of your South Central home? Uhhhh, they're not the same.

Until next time.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Gwen Araujo lives on

Sitting on the runway out of Seattle last night, I wasn't looking to talk to the passenger next to me. I had my headphones on. I was tuning everything out. I felt impatient. We were running late. I was ready to get home. The woman next to me was trying to make small talk and I was responding in short clips, wondering if she noticed my headphones. Cue for don't talk to me. But there was something about her, something open and authentic and compelling---and persistent. As it turns out, she was Gwen Araujo's mom.

Sylvia and I talked the whole way home, two-plus hours, about Gwen's life that was cut too short, about Sylvia's own work as an activist, about the many lives she's been able to touch in the five years since Gwen's brutal murder. Sylvia travels the country talking to teens and young adults and parents about compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance.

I've felt incredibly lucky to work with my authors who have given me insight into the complexity of living as a trans person, and hearing Sylvia's stories about Gwen nearly made me tear up at times. I asked if Gwen made a conscious choice to "pass" as female, and Sylvia's passionate response was that disclosing her gender identity shouldn't have fallen on her as a given in every social situation. She was only 17 years old, trying to figure out how to navigate this totally huge and complex thing on her own. Sylvia spoke to how little support there is for teens who know they're trans (despite the relative progress we've made in supporting gay and lesbian teens). The trans community is monumentally more maligned. Can you imagine trying to negotiate that as a teenager? Gwen started transitioning when she was just 14.

Gwen's death prompted recognition for how horribly off the "Gay Panic" defense is, and in 2006, Schwarzenegger signed into law A.B. 1160, also known as the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, which disallows this as a defense. Thank god.

Check out the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education and donate. They need the money, and it's such an important cause.

Sylvia touched my heart last night, in a time and a space when I was specifically not looking to be touched. She said that Gwen is with her, and that the energy force she puts out is the force of two people---her and Gwen. I believe that, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to listen and share and learn. And for Sylvia's continued efforts. And for growing awareness. And for everyone who's working to effect change in our communities and promote understanding.