Monthly Archives: March 2015

Pay to Play

It’s a well-established business strategy: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. I’ll give you the project if you give my nephew a job. We’ll include your business in our directory as long as you give us contact info for your customers. Your band can play at my venue if you sell X number of tickets.

payorplay-signThe Optimist may see this type of exchange as an extension of the Barter System. Everyone wins! If your band helps to sell tickets to the show, then the venue owner will have enough money to pay you to play. The Pessimist, however, will scour the fine print and spot the clause that requires your band to sell X number of tickets, or you will be financially responsible for the difference.

I recently stumbled across a troubling new form of this pay-to-play approach while perusing the online literary magazine The Offing. I’d heard that they were looking for new writers and thought I’d check it out. After reviewing their content and tone, I proceeded to the Submit section. Across the top of the page, it read:

Due to volume, submissions to The Offing will be closed until March 30, 2015. After that, there will be a $3 fee per submission.

The Offing isn’t simply requiring writers to pay for publication*, which would be bad enough. The Offing is requiring writers to pay for their work to be considered for publication.

In the happy world where I’d like to live, literary magazines and the writers who provide their content are partners. They appreciate what the other brings to the table, and mutually benefit from this supportive relationship. But this particular literary magazine has sent a rather inhospitable message to all writers: I’ll consider being your friend, but only if you pay me first.

Okay, so it’s only $3 and most people spend more on their morning coffee. But this is a matter of principle. And the clincher: when The Offing does accept a submission, they pay $20-50 depending on the length and type of work. Would you buy a $3 lottery ticket with a top prize of only $50?

To be fair, I suspect that The Offing’s recent call for new writers brought in more submissions that they were able to handle. After all, there are a lot of writers out there looking for a venue. But while I can understand the need to establish some parameters in order to narrow the herd, this could be affected in a way that does not demean the value of the writers’ work. For instance, The Offing could limit submissions to one per person at any given time, or within a certain time frame. Or they could just post this statement on their site: We are not currently accepting submissions.

This pay-to-submit model insults all writers while simultaneously preying on and “rewarding” those who are willing to lose money for a chance at a byline.

No one should have to pay to write.



*This unto itself is a dubious practice…as a reader, how do you feel about content curated on the basis of money paid rather than the quality of the writing?


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A Visit to Bluebird Park

I admit it: I quite enjoy writing in the voice of a pissed off teenage boy. My character, Nate Chapman, is more real to me than a lot of people I interact with on a daily basis. Nate and I share many youthful experiences and emotions, which makes perfect sense because I made him up. He is part of me, just as I am part of him. Deep, eh?

I am more than halfway through the third draft of my novel-in-progress and well into the book’s third section, which is told from the viewpoint of my teenage friend. I gotta say, I’m going to miss this kid when it comes time to revise the fourth and final section. Until then, I’ll treasure my time with him, and hope that you will like him too. Happy reading!

Small Legends Part Three: Nate, Chapter 12

Me and Kevin didn’t hang around as much by our senior year of high school. He got this girlfriend named Summer and that was sort of it for him. She was okay, I guess. At least she wasn’t annoying like a lot of girls in our year, girls who got drunk at parties and ended up locking themselves in the bathroom, crying about how some guy – usually some guy right in the next room – had used them for sex or weed. Summer didn’t get drunk but she did have this sorta power over Kevin. Power of the Pussy, we’d say. What she said was how it was, and Kevin would’ve sworn that the sky was fucking green if she’d told him to. That’s how it was.

But sometimes when Summer went to visit her sister off at college somewhere, or if she was out with her friends, Kevin’d turn up at the park or at my front door, asking what I was up to, and if I wanted to go down to Telegraph Ave and look for used CDs. And if I wasn’t doing anything, I’d say sure. And we’d go.

Over spring break, Summer went to Palm Springs with her family and suddenly Kevin was like a barnacle on me. I couldn’t shake him if I’d tried. Not that it was so bad, just that there was a girl on my mind, the girl who’d been on my mind ever since that first time in Bluebird Park. Cassandra had already graduated but she still hung around in the park sometimes, and I was on a mission to at least get a hook up in before I left for college. But it was really hard to get in with her while Kevin was hanging around. So instead, we spent a lot of time smoking weed at the park with a couple of guys from school, Tim Wheaton and Dave Carter.IMG_3462

I’d known Wheaton and Carter since junior high but we didn’t really hang out, mostly because trouble seemed to follow those two wherever they went and it was best to stay out of the line of fire. They’d both done some time in juvy for possession and public intox, and word was that Wheaton once forced some girl at a party to suck him off. Also, they were assholes. But they usually had good weed, so I could put up with them for a little while if it was worth it.

That night at the park, Cassandra was hanging around with this fucktard junior kid who kept putting his hands on her knee, and then on her thigh and then up near her cooch, like he was playing chicken or something. She didn’t seem too bothered but it drove me fucking nuts.

Wheaton and Carter were scoping out some freshman girls. They were newbies to the park for sure, their squeaky voices and endless giggling giving them away to the predators hiding in the weeds. I’d just pinched out a joint when Wheaton turned to me, stroking the pathetic scruff of hair on his chin and sweeping back his long white-boy dreads, which stood in sharp contrast to Carter’s dark skin and shaved head. For some reason, Wheaton always smelled like Vaseline.

“Hey Chap Man, I saw your sister coming out of the 7-11 the other day,” he said, throwing a grin in Carter’s direction. Carter grinned back, wisps of smoke escaping from his crooked mouth. “How old is she now? Fourteen? Fifteen?”

Teen-potI glared at him, certain this was going nowhere good.

“Thirteen,” I said, “and if you so much as look at her, I’ll rip your eyeballs out through your asshole.”

Wheaton leapt back in mock fright, throwing his hands up in the air in surrender.

“Relax, Chap Man. All I’m saying is that she’s growing up real nice, turning into a pretty girl,” he said. “Too bad she got all the looks in the family.”

My fists were clenched and I was about a second away from clocking the guy when I felt Kevin’s hand on my arm. He wasn’t trying to restrain me, just trying to calm me down.

“Dude,” Kevin said to Wheaton, “uncool.”

But Wheaton had found a sore spot, and like assholes all across the universe, he couldn’t help but keep poking his dirty hippy fingers into it.

“Relax,” he said. “She doesn’t even have tits yet. But maybe, in a couple of years…”

I looked over at Cassandra, who was still over by the swings with that horny fucktard. All I’d wanted to do that night was come to the park and see if I could get her to make out with me. And now I was going to have to hit Tim Wheaton and hope that Kevin would come to my aid when Carter jumped into the mix. Wheaton was pretty scrawny and I was sure I could take him, but Carter was built like a linebacker and easily had 30 lbs on me. And I’d seen him take down guys much bigger.

“I mean, she might not even be your sister,” Wheaton went on, his voice getting louder and making the giggling freshman girls tturn around and look. “I mean, you two don’t look anything alike. Maybe when she’s got her tits in, you can– “

image-3-for-paper-pics-22-02-2011-gallery-25587119Outside of a couple months of karate classes in the fifth grade, I’d never actually taken a hit at anything other than a punching bag, so I was completely unprepared for how bad it fucking hurts to grind your knuckles into someone’s face. Wheaton, who by all accounts had been hit in the face on numerous occasions, seemed more surprised than pained as he staggered back a few steps, nearly falling into the sand moat.

“What the fuck, Man?” he spat out, along with a mouthful of blood.

Kevin gripped his hands firmly onto my shoulders and tried to steer me in the opposite direction.

“Let’s go,” he said.

I knew I should listen to him and split before everyone clued in to what was going on, before Carter knocked out my teeth with one hit. But I was pissed off, and feeling reckless. So I pulled out of Kevin’s grasp and went back in for another on Wheaton, who barely dodged my second punch. This time it was Carter who grabbed me by the arms, and try as I might, I couldn’t wriggle out of his grip, so I planted my feet as best I could and tried to brace myself for the beating I was about to take.

When a few moments passed and none came, I looked up at Carter. So did Kevin, and even Wheaton. We were all watching him now, waiting to see what he was going to do. But he just shrugged and let me go.

“You get one,” he said, “but that’s it.”

He looked over at Wheaton, whose jaw had dropped open like a cartoon cat.

“You talked shit about his sister,” Carter explained indifferently. “You know that ain’t cool.”

71916198Wheaton was too dazed to respond. By then, several curious onlookers had gathered around, obviously hoping for a fight.

When Kevin leaned in and said, “Let’s go,” I didn’t protest.

We were almost to the gate when Cassandra caught up to us.

“Hey, are you okay?” she asked, her voice a little breathy.

“He’s good,” Kevin responded, not stopping.

“Those guys are assholes,” Cassandra said, gesturing back towards Wheaton and Carter. “Tim tried to rip me off on some ecstasy last year. Fucker.” When neither Kevin nor I responded, she went on. “Hey, so Nate…are you staying around over the summer and everything?”

This made me stop. Four years I’d been coming to the park and I still wasn’t sure if Cassandra knew my name. I felt an involuntary twinge of pleasure located somewhere below my belt.

“I’m moving down to L.A.,” I said. “In July. Probably won’t come back for a long time.”

Cassandra reached out and touched my arm. Her warm little hand on my skin was enough to bring on a very unwelcome boner, and I thanked fucking God it was dark out and that my jeans were on the loose side.

“We’ll have to hang out then,” Cassandra said, “before you go.”

She was at least half a foot shorter than me and I could see down her tank top. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

“Yeah, that’d be cool.”

Kevin was shifting around uncomfortably nearby, like he wasn’t sure if he should wait it out or just walk away now.

“Well, see ya,” Cassandra said, taking her hand back.

I wanted to reach for it, reach for her. Maybe put my hands on her bare legs like that fucktard back at the park. But I was too late and she was already walking back to the park.15rfd-image-custom3

“See ya,” I called back.

“Holy shit, Dude,” Kevin said as soon as we were out of earshot. “I guess the nature shows are right.”

“What do you mean?”

“The females are always hot for the alpha males.”

“I don’t know if hitting Tim Wheaton makes me an alpha male. Maybe just stupid.”

“Being alpha is all a state of mind anyway,” Kevin explained. “Half the time when animals fight, they’re just putting on a big show to impress everyone. Besides, it’s not like you could let him say shit about Alice and get away with it. I mean, if some guy looked sidewise at my sister, I’d have to kick his ass just on principle. It is weird, though. I guess I never thought about it before but you and Alice don’t really look alike, do you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I look more like my dad. And Alice looks like…“

I was about to say she looked like our mom, but that wasn’t right. They had the same eyes, sure, but that was about it. Alice was already as tall as our mother, and she was the only one in the family with blond hair, except Aunt Margaret but I don’t think that was her real color. Alice’s nose was different from our mother’s, than any of the rest of the family. But then again, she was still practically a kid. Who knew what she would look like when she was older.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess she’s still growing and everything.”

Kevin shrugged. “Yeah. Probably. Hey, so do you think you’re going to nail Cassandra before you leave?”

I glanced back over my shoulder to make sure no one was around. It was barely 9 o’clock but already the neighborhood was quiet, the houses dark except for blue flickering TV light. A light breeze shook the trees, their newly leafed branches creaking slightly.

“I’m sure as hell gonna try,” I said.

Kevin grinned.

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Whose Story Is It?

Writing about real life can be tricky.

I am currently writing a new KQED Perspective that includes less than entirely flattering assessments of several former boyfriends. The piece is not mean-spirited nor does it call anyone out by name, however these men would surely recognize themselves by my descriptions. And although I am clearly telling my side of the story, I can’t help but feel a little prickly about doing so in such a public forum.

I am a product of my experiences. And as a writer, I write about these experiences. I share my stories, my viewpoints. I decide how much to reveal about myself, and have the power to portray myself – and others – as I see fit. Because it’s my version of events.Two Sides

But what about the other half of the equation: the people with whom I’ve shared many of these experiences? How do I walk the line between MY story and THEIR version? If we were both there, whose story is it anyway?

If this new Perspectives piece is accepted, I will record it in my own voice, and then it will be broadcast to thousands of people across the Bay Area, and very possibly to one or more of my former boyfriends. For the sake of the piece (length, tone, etc.), I portrayed each of these complex people and my relationships with them in one sentence; it’s not quite an emotional sucker punch so much as a sharp pinch. But I doubt anyone would be pleased to hear him or herself summed up in this way.

It’s unclear to me how to balance people’s feelings with my version of the truth, and also create compelling work. Do I cross my fingers that none of my former boyfriends ever hear my Perspective (or read this blog)? Or do I kill the piece all together in order to avoid potential strife? After flip flopping on this for a while, I started to wonder how memoirists tackle this conundrum. So I asked my dear friend Mari, who has published two graphic memoirs and has a third in the works. She encouraged me to tell my truth, but also noted:

“If there’s the remotest possibility they could hear it, you should give them a heads up before the rest of the world knows, as a courtesy. Trust me, it’s ultimately far less awkward this way.”

In short, if my Perspective is accepted, I’d better be prepared to send out some slightly uncomfortable emails. And be prepared for some less than favorable reactions.

When it comes to sharing our real life experiences, I think we writers must ask ourselves this question: Is the story worth a potentially awkward conversation? If the answer is no, then the story must not be very good.

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