I’m thrilled to have Entangled Embrace author Lisa Burstein here today, talking about the problems with today’s writing programs and how her latest book, Sneaking Candy, is a call to arms for writers and readers everywhere…
You go, girl!
By now most of you have probably seen the disgusting words of writing Professor David Gilmour, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
See the full story here.
His word are sexist, racist and unbelievable to anyone living in the 20th century, but they are not an exception when it comes to the world of writing programs.
I can only speak from my experience. I entered an MFA program 12 years ago, ready to become the next Margaret Atwood (who by the way is a prolific, bestselling, award winning Canadian author like Mr. Gilmour), but what I found when I arrived was not a place that read her books, or taught her.
The break out of male to female professors in my program was as follows: Fiction: 2 male full-time, 1 female adjunct; Non-Fiction: 1 female full-time; Poetry: 1 male full time, 1 female full time and 1 male adjunct.
Pretty even as things in writing go, but notice 2 male full-time for fiction. Those men were my main professors. They were the ones who were going to teach me how to write as a woman and certainly they were equipped to teach writing, but not that. As a result, my literature classes were absolutely male heavy. There were females sprinkled in: Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro but mostly we read men: Phillip Roth, Vladamir Nabokov, Chekhov, Michael Chabon, Chaucer, Homer, etc.) (You’ll notice they were also all white, but this blog post isn’t really about that.)
I never really thought about it at the time. I was so excited to be in a writing program (you have to be accepted based on talent) that I never questioned if I was getting an equal education. Additionally, the sexism in my program was never as overt and possibly my professors didn’t even realize it. They were men who both went to Iowa, which if you know about the history of writing programs was one of the first and a boy’s club from way back.
I know that has changed now and a lot of amazing women authors are coming out of Iowa, but I would guess that they still read far more men in their literature classes. It’s what the old guard want.
So what does what David Gilmour said have to do with me, aside from having in a small way experienced it?
A year ago, I started writing a book titled Sneaking Candy about a twenty-something woman in a graduate writing program who writes erotic romance under a pseudonym because she is afraid she will not be taken seriously by her peers. I thought at first it would be a book about a woman trying to find her authorial voice, her sexual voice and finding love in the unlikeliest place, but as I wrote it turned into something much different.
I realized it was my story in a lot of ways. Even having left my program, my peers from my MFA days do not consider me a legitimate author. They don’t say it, but I can feel it. I’ve never been invited back to read or talk about my publishing experience, even though I am one of the 10% or less from the program that have published novels. Truly, I am Candice. I don’t write erotic romance, but all my books have been published by a “romance” publisher and as such their literary value is lessened.
What I was hoping to show in Sneaking Candy, apart from telling a funny, raunchy story was that writing is writing regardless of genre. MFA programs tend to breed genre snobs (I was one) and I think that’s wrong. I think if you have a story to tell people should be able to read it regardless of who published it, or if you published it yourself.
Without even meaning to, I could feel my book turning into the battle cry I believe many romance writers and would-be writers feel.
I am not less important or valid than you for writing stories about love and sex.
I think this applies to YA writers too.
Stories for teens and about teens are no less valid than stories for and about adults.
I hope Sneaking Candy will make professors like Mr. Gilmour might see that there is a problem in what and who is taught in writing programs; that a change needs to come, but probably not because I am a woman who writes romance and YA.
PRETTY AMY May 2012 Entangled Publishing
THE NEXT FOREVER January 2013 Entangled Publishing
DEAR CASSIE March 2013 Entangled Publishing
SNEAKING CANDY December 2013 Entangled Publishing
THE POSSIBILITY OF US March 2014 Entangled Publishing
All I ever wanted was to make a name for myself as Candice Salinas, creative writing grad student at the University of Miami. Of course, secretly I already have made a name for myself: as Candy Sloane, self-published erotic romance writer. Though thrilled that my books are selling and I have actual fans, if anyone at UM found out, I could lose my scholarship…and the respect of my faculty advisor, grade-A-asshole Professor Dylan.
Enter James Walker, super-hot local barista and—surprise!—my student. Even though I know a relationship is totally off-limits, I can’t stop myself from sneaking around with James, taking a few cues from my own erotic writing…if you catch my drift. Candy’s showing her stripes for the first time in my real life, and I’ve never had so much fun. But when the sugar high fades, can my secrets stay under wraps?
Lisa’s latest book, Sneaking Candy, is on sale right now for just 99-cents. Pick up your copy now!