Girls Go to Jupiter … To Kick Ass and Take Names

I spent the last week obsessing over a Twitter event called Pitch Wars. It’s a mentorship contest where writers team up with writers and editors to workshop a full manuscript, then parade the selected winners in front of literary agents later this year.

The whole thing is a fascinating study in community and identity. Brenda Drake is the queen bee for the event, having started it a few years ago. I don’t know her, but kudos to her spirit to help others. Sure, it promotes her own work. Why shouldn’t it? The same is true of her colleagues who help.

Pitch Wars, and other events she organizes, is by writers, for writers. They just went out on social media and did it, demonstrating many times over how the Internet empowers people. The mentors volunteer a huge amount of effort and time. Judging from the blog posts and especially the Twitter posts, writers get swept up with enthusiasm and camaraderie.

The community is mostly women. Most participants are in Young Adult or Middle Grade fiction. Romance comprises a huge majority. Science Fiction and Fantasy are widely represented and celebrated. My manuscript is an adult international thriller, which absolutely is part of the contest, just in the minority overall.

It’s the kind of exercise my skeptical, cynical brain can’t figure out. Hell with it, I thought. Why not! So, I participated this year. I submitted my query and first chapter to three mentors (one is a tag-team duo). My expectations for response were low given the descriptions of what mentors said they wanted. 

That’s not meant as criticism. I’m wading into dangerous waters here. Pitch Wars and all its participants are doing a good thing. It’s worth celebrating. If I’m criticizing anything, I’m criticizing myself and possibly others like me — especially other men.

I’ve spent the last couple years attending various writers groups, workshops, and conferences. The women outnumber the men at these events by a huge margin. Several times, I’ve been the only guy in the room. This isn’t by design to exclude men. It’s just the tendencies of who participates. That’s not very surprising. Besides, we men could use a little dose of experiencing the minority position to better understand things in general.

What is surprising to me is the spirit these women engender. The feeling is one of open-armed, de facto sisterhood (who also welcome men, I should note). They are enthusiastic and emotional in a way many men usually aren’t. They make what appear to be sincere and strong relationships in ways the men I know don’t. They organize and support one another, leveraging their strength as a group.

Men, by contrast, seem to stand against the crowd. I observe a kind of individualism among male writers I know. They’re not withdrawn misanthropes. But each tends to be making a name for himself, without anywhere near the level of mutualism I observe in women writers.

When a guy like me wanders in, doubt wanders in too. Am I too off the mark for their interests? Does my writing have a shot? Maybe it’s not fair or right to think that way, but I think it’s honest.

I’m speaking in generalities here. Of course there are many healthy exceptions. And, of course men participate in Pitch Wars. Of course there are more individualistic women and more community-minded, more emotive men.

But, on the whole, the difference to me seems significant. Many men are working just as hard with — anecdotally — less success and support. Some become bitter, and they think that proves their point. It’s a lousy reaction, but I understand the frustration in that.

Remember that skeptical, cynical brain of mine? I suspect there’s more behind-the-scenes drama among the women (and the men, for that matter) than I realize. The cynic in me sees all the congratulatory enthusiasm and the dreamy, hyper-referential animated GIFs and it just feels … off. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, a gender thing, a social media thing, or whatever else. It’s not my “scene” or sense of humor. There’s no harm in that. I’m not asking the tribe to change for me. That’s on me to adapt or be the change. And they’ve done nothing but welcome anyone willing to participate. Still, I keep wandering the wilds for my tribe.

Without a doubt, finding writing partners has been the hardest, most frustrating reality for my writing path. I think that’s mostly from my cynical nature. I’m awful at making new friends and fitting into social circles, though I’m no misfit either. I’ve got a strong individualist nature that resists community, all while knowing I’d benefit from a bunch of fellow creatives.

It’s not that have I none. I’m in two local writer’s groups, and I’ve started working with a good friend on a “guy’s fiction” (as in: action thrillers) cooperative that I’m hoping takes off.

So, here’s to hoping communities like Pitch Wars thrive. It’s a fantastic event. I sincerely hope it helps many writers — of all kinds — achieve their dreams.

Goodbye Blue Monday

One of my favorite authors died tonight. Kurt Vonnegut was 84.

Loving his goofy, bleakly humored novels seems like some guilty pleasure to me. I remember once when I went back to visit my favorite English professor at the University of Iowa years after graduation, he asked me what I was reading. Already embarrassed that I hadn’t been reading much at all, I told him the only thing that was true. “Some Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions.”

I get the feeling he bit his tongue to keep from revealing some displeasure. “Oh that,” I could almost hear him say, like I was reading stuff that’s too damn easy! Maybe I was wrong. Hell, at least he got me to read some Jonathan Lethem. Good ol’ Brooks.

It’s just whenever someone asks me my favorite authors, I keep thinking saying Vonnegut is like saying “Well, I read this book in high school and it was funny and good the end.” I’m supposed to say clever bullshit like “So-and-so has such incredible structure!”

Breakfast of Champions is probably my favorite novel. I mean, the guy draws a picture of his asshole for crissakes, which makes me laugh. Yet, every time I read it — it’s among the very few books I’ll read over and over again — I just about die inside for ol’ Kilgore Trout. Poor bastard. Today, I think I know how he feels.

Make me young. Make me young. Make me young.

Nothing?

So it goes.