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Like other girls

On this, International Women’s Day, I wanted to talk about the evolution of my personal experience of womanhood and femininity.

Two of the women who raised me were not what you would call feminine. They didn’t wear dresses or heels, and they didn’t put on makeup or style their hairs. They did perform many of the socially expected chores of women in the 1970s. They cooked, cleaned, and raised children, but it wasn’t really a natural fit for them. My grandmother was a farmer, who rode a tractor, and my mother worked for a natural gas company doing chemical analysis. They were boots, jeans, and pickup truck women.

Despite the best efforts of my other grandmother (a secretary) to turn me into a feminine woman, she failed. I became a secretary, but by most other measures, I’m pretty butch. I know more about guns and motorcycles than I know about makeup and manicures. I’m more comfortable with power tools than babies. These are all things I’m okay with. I like being the Friend with a Truck, the one who’s not afraid of getting dirty or throwing a punch.

What I’m not okay with is the idea that this makes me different from other women. I see these t-shirts sometimes, the ones that say, I’m Not Like Other Girls. I’m never sure what to make of them, but I frequently suspect I’m seeing myself in an alternate reality. One in which the notion that being rough and tumble means I’m not like other women, and the completely unsubtle suggestion that this makes me superior to other women.

I was raised to think that. I was raised to think men were superior to women, and therefore any inroads I could make into being more masculine would automatically elevate me above those other girls. It was such a desirable thing to be unlike other girls that I was even encouraged to make male friends. My childhood friends who were male were always made more welcome and judged less harshly than my sisters’ female friends. No one warned me that when we hit our teenage years, those boy friends would turn on me like a pack of hormone-crazed Highlanders, preparing to fight each other. There can be only one!

Thirty years on, how did I end up with some of my closest friends being female, instead of wearing a Not Like Other Girls t-shirt? Short answer: books. I read books in which girls and women were valued. I read books in which womanhood and femininity were not lesser or derogatory things. I read books in which female friendship mattered.

Also, I started writing, and in writing characters who weren’t men I learned about all the ways that masculinity wasn’t the most important, most valuable, most world-revolving trait for a person to have. I learned to value all kinds of people, because to write them, I had to know them and empathize with them.

This is why it matters that we have books with girls as heroes. Books with girls of all types doing all the many things that girls do. It’s the most important step we can take to break down the barriers that classify us and pit us against each other. It’s how we get rid of the message that there’s something wrong with being like other girls.

Tonight, over on Facebook, I’ll be hosting a live Q & A. If you have any burning questions about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things (or any other book-related things), I’ll be answering them from 7:30 to 9:30 CST.

If you’ve been wondering where January’s lost scene is, it’s available exclusively this week on the Book of the Month Club’s blog.

As we do, I went into 2017 with plans for all kinds of improvements to my life. At work, I cleaned my desk off, and so far it’s produced mixed results. I’m less depressed to come to work, because my space is more orderly, but the cleanliness of my desk seems to invite people to make more requests of me. Perhaps because my work is not so clearly displayed, they think I don’t have enough of it?

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I re-started my home yoga practice, which is almost completely to the good. Of course there’s time for it. There was always time for it.

nyt_bestseller_010416Oh, I made the NYT Bestseller list. Which is not quite the result of any change on my part, but an outcropping of a lot of years of work and several lucky breaks. Or maybe it was all my positive thinking. (Probably not, I don’t really do much of that.)

This week, however, I found a thing that I used to think I wanted to change about myself, but now realize I don’t. When my editor and agent delivered the good news that All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was officially a bestseller, they also asked about my next project. Did I have a synopsis I could share with them?

Welllllll … I don’t really do synopses or outlines or any sort of planning when it comes to writing. I’m a complete pantser (which Autocorrect thinks should be panther.) I write lots and lots of words and after I’ve put several thousand of them together, I start to see the shape of a story. Then I write more words. Usually a lot more words. Then out of this mountain of words, I carve the story I want to tell. It’s not pretty. It’s not simple. But I realized this week that it totally works for me, and I need to stop feeling awkward or ashamed about my messy, chaotic process to creation.

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Now, I did produce a synopsis for my agent and editor to look at, but it’s just a big pile of guesses. (Shh, don’t tell.) I don’t know if that’s what will happen in the story I’m working on. I’m okay with that. I used that crazy method to produce All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, and that seems to have worked out for me.

So whatever things you may have resolved to change in 2017, remember there are plenty of things about the same old you that are worth keeping.

Well, I may have been number two on Goodreads, but the Book of the Month Club has declared All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Book of the Year! This is really amazing, because this is the first time in their 90-year history that they’ve awarded a Book of the Year. They even have an adorable name for the award: The Lolly. (Named after their first Book of the Month Club selection, Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Fun fact: fellow Kansas William Allen White was on that first panel of judges who selected Lolly Willowes for the Book of the Month Club.) The Book of the Year even got a write-up in Parade Magazine!

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To celebrate being Book of the Year, I’m going to be taking over the Book of the Month Club’s Twitter feed tomorrow, January 4th. It should be fun.

Also coming up is a live Q&A with me on Facebook. If you’ve read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and would like a chance to discuss it with other readers and ask questions of the author, that’s what we’ll be doing on Tuesday, January 17th, 7:30-9:30 pm (CST). For more information on the Q&A, just visit the official event page on Facebook.

Hidden Cultural Gem™

On this otherwise dark day, I’m here to note that the ebook of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is on sale for $2.99 across all platforms just for today.
 
 Vogue Magazine called my book a “Hidden Cultural Gem!” This is simultaneously flattering and really funny.
 

And now I return you to mourning all the people we’ve lost in this dreary year.

When I was in high school, I was in the marching band. Depending on the venue, I played either the baritone saxophone or the bass saxophone. All 5’5″ and 90 lbs. of me, so it was no easy feat. During my sophomore year, we traveled to an away game that would decide whether the football team went on to the state championships for our division.

During that game it rained, it sleeted, it snowed. The marching band performed valiantly, and the football team a little less so. We lost to a team whose quarterback would become my brother-in-law a few years later. By the time we loaded onto the bus for the long ride home, the marching band was mostly frozen into our uniforms. We were lucky they were heavy wool, because although we were all soaked and frozen, we were fairly warm sealed up inside that wet wool. I spent most of the ride home with the harness for the bass sax still attached, because my hair was frozen to it.

On the drive there, we’d done much cheering and chanting, but the ride home was more subdued. A well-meaning, but misguided cheerleader started up a familiar cheer. At the point in the cheer when the audience was supposed to respond with “We’re Number One!” I answered in my loudest, crowd-piercing voice: “We’re Number Two!” I got some glares, but the tired and frozen brass section behind me took up the chant. Honestly, we weren’t bitter. The team had made it further than anyone expected us to. There was no shame in having come in second.

atuawt-cover-w-goodreads-badgeThat’s how I feel this morning, upon being informed that All the Ugly and Wonderful Things received the second highest number of votes in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Fiction. 27,000 people voted my book! I got more votes than Jodi Picoult (mind=boggled).

So in honor of all the second place runners up, I am celebrating!

I’m Number Two!

And thank you to everybody who voted for me! If you’d like to celebrate with me, please consider leaving me a review on your preferred online venue. Reviews really do make a huge difference.

I’ve had a not-so-secret dread of family gatherings ever since I was a child, and the holidays are a special kind of hell. For most of my life, Thanksgiving and Christmas involved herds of people who had some blood claim on me, crowded into a too-small house for hours on end. As a child, I can remember hiding out in a variety of places to avoid being forcibly squeezed in between a burly cousin who liked to tickle me, and an aunt who liked to pick scabs. It’s been my experience that it’s your family who most often feel totally okay about violating your consent with forcible contact.

all-the-cousinsFamily gatherings have always seemed like a recipe for an introvert’s nervous breakdown. Being forced to socialize, make pleasantries, endure hugs and kisses, be quizzed about your life, your love life, your profession, your very existence.

Over the years, my family herd has thinned, as the elderly members died, and my generation failed to reproduce in the numbers necessary to pack a room. As those blood relations died, we replaced them in smaller numbers with friends, until this Thanksgiving, there were more non-relatives than relatives. Someone remarked on this, and on the importance of being able to form your own family from people you’re not related to.

This struck me as wildly funny, since that is the very nature of marriage: forming a family with someone you’re not related to. It’s what we do, so why does it so often strike us as strange or modern to bring outsiders to our family table? After all, we’re building families around strangers, when we marry them. To me, the joy of holidays with non-relatives is that I’m allowed to set boundaries with people who aren’t my family.

I think about this today, sandwiched as it is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because of the deleted scene from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things that I’m sending out in my December newsletter. It’s about what happens after that awkward Christmas dinner at which Wavy’s ragtag family is reunited. It’s about making truces, setting boundaries, and agreeing on ground rules for all the future gatherings you have to face with people you don’t particularly like, but who are your family.

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