Guest Blog – A. M. Leibowitz on Young Love, Old Hearts: When Men Were Men

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Recently, I polled a group of mostly women about what kind of men they like to read about. I got a whole lot of interesting answers, but by far the majority said they like reading about “alpha” males and really masculine men, and they like them to be flawed or in need of emotional rescue. I find that sort of fascinating, since my ideal man is nothing of the sort—not in real life or in fiction. Neither of my characters in “The Artist as an Old Man” fit the bill for societally approved masculinity.

When I write, a lot of real-life people bleed ink onto the pages. Of course, this is true of most writers. In my case, that means I don’t tend to write the kind of heroic, culturally masculine men a lot of people like. That’s because I hardly know any men like that. Not one of the men who influenced me as a child fits into the cultural mold for Real Man, and the vast majority of my male friends as an adult tend to color outside the gender expectation lines.

There’s often criticism for non-men (meaning women and people of other genders) writing male/male pairings for a variety of reasons. Some of them I absolutely agree with, and for that reason I tend to stay away from writing on certain themes or subjects. However, one of the criticisms I’ve seen is that people who are not men can’t write men “properly.” I find that somewhat strange, given that men have been writing female and feminine characters for ages, and I rarely hear that as a complaint. I do hear criticism for misogyny, but not specifically that male writers don’t “get” how women interact with the world.

The thing is, most of my male characters don’t come across as culturally masculine because I’m writing with people I know in mind. I know a lot of men—I suppose my experiences have led me to conclude that on the whole, I love men and value my friendships with them deeply. So when I write, I’m drawing on real-life personality traits: strong, gentle men; artists and hippies; peacemakers; intellectuals; nerds and geeks; musicians; emotive and expressive guys. I often find myself puzzled when I hear, “But real men act like _____.” Last I checked, all the men I know are in fact real, and they generally don’t have a set of ways they behave that conform to some cultural notion.

oldloveyoungheartsfinalI suspect some of the criticism for non-male writers is rooted in two forms of misogyny. One, there’s a belief that women are not as capable as men of writing in certain genres—chiefly action, high fantasy, and science fiction. Two, there are many people who have a low-level of underlying dislike of anything perceived as “too feminine.” I don’t mean this in just a personal way. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to form romantic relationships with people who fit the kind of personality you like. But there’s a tone of fear with regard to men who aren’t masculine in particular ways. Men who defy cultural masculinity norms challenge us in ways that women who challenge norms don’t. For example, it’s considered “normal” for women to wear pants. Whole blogs are devoted to androgynous people who are wearing more culturally masculine clothes, and articles about the hotness of women in tuxes abound. Yet we don’t consider it acceptable for men to wear skirts, androgyny centers on the degree of presented maleness, and there are no articles devoted to the sexiness of men in ball gowns (though I would argue that they are equally gorgeous).

It speaks volumes that anyone would be expected to write a narrow, one-dimensional stereotype of manhood in which there’s a list of characteristics they must possess. I find it much more fun to read and write about guys who are outside those margins. Messing with How to Be a Man is incredibly freeing, and I hope in the future to see many more people expanding their boundaries.

Author bio:

A. M. Leibowitz is a spouse, parent, feminist, and book-lover falling somewhere on the Geek-Nerd Spectrum. Ze keeps warm through the long, cold western New York winters by writing romantic plot twists and happy-for-now endings. Hir published fiction includes hir first novel, Lower Education, as well as a number of short works, and hir stories have been included in several anthologies. In between noveling and editing, ze blogs coffee-fueled, quirky commentary on faith, culture, writing, and hir family at

Find me on the Internet:
Web site:
Amazon author page: (A. M. Leibowitz)
Facebook: (personal profile); (author page)
Twitter: (@amyunchained)

Nonfiction on the schedule this week

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Edward LearI’ve been bitten by the short story bug this winter and spring, and was averaging one a week there at the apex of my ambition. However, reality has intruded. Am writing nonfiction this week, so it’s unlikely I’ll get to any stories at all. I really need to be working on some longer works, too. I have novels in various stages of disrepair. Hopefully my schedule will clear soon, so I can get back to the creative writing.

Illustration by Edward Lear.

My Guest Blog for the SFWA’s 50th Anniversary

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55327_girl-writing_mdThe aging writer hunches over her pen and paper in a cramped and cluttered room. The hour has grown late, daylight long since fled. The wicks of candles gutter as a cold draft of wind blows through the crevices of eternity. The writer shivers, pulls her tattered shawl closer around her thin shoulders. She has forgotten to pay the light bill, and now her fingers are blue with cold, the fingerless gloves she wears little protection against the frozen hells of reality.

Against the wall sits a computer, but without electricity, it won’t work, of course. So now the writer’s fingers are stained with ink, the sheets of paper on her table smudged and chaotic, with whole paragraphs crossed out and indecipherable lines scribbled in the margins.

The writer huffs out a breath, crosses out another line of work. Then she starts, shivers at a faint tap at the door.

She tries to ignore the tapping, but it comes again—and again. It will not let her be.
Finally she rises, stalks to the door.

“Leave me alone!” she yells through the flimsy portal. “I don’t want any Girl Scout cookies.”

“Hello,” says a sprightly voice from the other side. “I’m not selling Girl Scout cookies. I’m here to rescue you from your demons.”

“What demons?” says the writer. “I don’t have any demons. Go away!”

But now the demons appear. They are huge and hulking, with red, burning eyes. Their shadows flow over the ceiling, dance in a wild celebration of darkness and evil.

“Let me in,” says the voice. “You need my help.”

The writer throws open the door. On the threshold is a beautiful child, endowed with both youth and beauty. She is surrounded by the warm glow of magical powers.
The writer rubs one hand over her own ravaged face, vaguely remembering a time when she was young and beautiful, too.

“I’m busy,” she growled. “I’ve got no time to talk with you.”

The willowy child leans against the doorframe.

“The world has changed,” she says. “Networking can help you market your stories,”

“What?” echoes the writer.

“Aren’t you having trouble with a book contract just now? The SFWA can help you with that.”

The writer tries to slam the door, but the child has her foot wedged in it.

“Sitting here in darkness and isolation isn’t going to enlarge your fan base any,” she says. “You need to have a Webpage, a Twitter account, a…”

“Go away!”

“You could attend the Nebula Awards week-end. One of your stories was nominated last year. If anyone knew who you were, it might have won.”

“My work will stand on its own,” growls the writer.

“In a perfect world that might be true,” says the child. “But in this one, you need to be more proactive. This reclusive, starving artist methodology won’t do you any good in the 21st century.”

“I’ve got a deadline…” says the writer.

“Having trouble with a literary agent?” asks the child. “I can help you with that, too.”

“Alright!” says the writer, “alright. I’ll join. I’ll participate. Just let me get back to work, okay?”

The child smiles at her warmly, takes her foot out of the door.

“Thank you,” she says. “I’ll be back in touch.”

The writer shuts the portal, hunches back over her table and picks up the thread of her story. She thinks a professional organization won’t make that much difference, but when she looks up later, a couple of the demons are gone.

Okay, this is actually a little piece of flash fiction, but it does point out some of the advantages of membership in SFWA. The post should appear on their website here sometime today.

Guest Blog – Adrian J. Smith on the Craft of the Short Story

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oldloveyoungheartsfinalWriting short stories takes talent, a talent I’m pretty convinced I don’t have about ninety percent of the time, but this story takes the cake for me. When I think about it, I feel as though I hit the nail on the head in every sense of that phrase.

Short stories are about a balance of plot and characters. Or not really a balance, but for someone like me who tends to write a lot of novels that are decently lengthy, it’s a lack of plot and characters. What I realized through the writing of A Blizzard’s Blow, is that the amount of plot and characters doesn’t matter in terms of how poignant the piece is.

Those who write short stories and do them well consistently sit pretty high on the pedestal for me. They’re excellent writers, and they probably understand the craft and how to use words better than any novelist could. Yet, it seems short stories aren’t as popular as novels. I do wonder why that is often, because I remember short stories in childhood having a much higher impact on me than novels. That could also be because I have a short attention—squirrel! Ha, yeah, short stories are amazing, and I’m so glad and proud to be in this anthology with some amazing writers, writers who understand the craft of short stories so much better than I do, and so much more than I ever will.

One of my favorite elements to write about I was able to keep in this story (and no, I’m not sharing, because that’ll spoil it, which makes guest posts crazy hard to write). It’s a twist, a twist I didn’t even see coming when I started writing, but was able to craft into an excellent story through revision.

I still balk a bit when writing shorts; I think it’s because they make me work harder than I really want to work and they make me think. I’m still in awe at my compatriots in this anthology who do this far more often than I do. They are true talent.

Author Bio:

Adrian J. Smith is a Christian, author, editor, spouse and all around crazy person. She’s constantly doing something at any given time and never learned to practice the word “relax.” AJ loves stories with a dramatic flair, stories that aren’t afraid to take risk and characters that are as real as the person sitting next to her.

Where to find me!

FB page:

Guest Blog – Racheline Maltese and Erin McRae

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One of the things that has Erin and I looking so forward to reading the Young Love, Old Hearts anthology is that it is a mixed-orientation anthology with both M/M and F/F stories. These mixed-orientation anthologies often seem to us to be the exception rather than the rule. And, frankly, that’s fair: Many readers are only interested in either M/M or F/F relationship narratives.

But, the fact is Erin and I enjoy reading and writing both, and too often we feel like women who love women get less focus in LGBTQ publishing. As bi women, that frustrates both us a lot, even though we often write stories — including our piece in YLOH — about men.

oldloveyoungheartsfinalSo basically, we think this anthology is awesome. And we’re excited to read it along with you, not just because a story we wrote is included in it, but because stories that also reflect the wide range of our own experiences are included in it. We hope you get a kick out of these stories too and help spread the word about how much fun mixed-gender and mixed-orientation anthologies can be.

Social media links:

Joint Blog:
Joint Facebook Page:
Erin’s Twitter:
Racheline’s Twitter:
Erin’s Goodreads:
Racheline’s Goodreads:

Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae are also authors of the following series:

Love in Los Angeles:
Love’s Labours:

The Hugo Agenda

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55327_girl-writing_mdSilly me. I thought the Hugo Awards were a recognition of excellence in SF&F writing. Now I notice a series of blogs and articles about a political agenda that has infected this year’s slate of nominees. For anyone in the dark, the Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, founder of Amazing Stories magazine back in 1926. This award is administered by the World Science Fiction Society and presented at Worldcon every summer. If you buy a membership to the society, you can nominate and vote in a number of categories, including fiction and film.

You may have noticed the SFWA kerfluffle last year about sexism, closely followed by anthologies like Women Destroy SF and now Queers Destroy SF. These titles are tongue-in-cheek reference to a trend toward inclusiveness: more women and minority writers, more women characters, more minority and more LGBTQ characters in both published fiction and award nominations. So, now it looks like the backlash has set in at the Hugo Awards. From all accounts (see example here), a conservative group has stacked the nominations with white male fiction, excluding these uppity new minorities that seem out to destroy traditional SF. I agree that too obvious an agenda can spoil science fiction stories, but doesn’t a very visible political agenda devalue the science fiction award as well? C’mon guys. It’s the 21st century. Give it up.

The Joy of Writing for an Anthology

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oldloveyoungheartsfinalMagazines can be a hard sell for a writer. If it’s a popular magazine, you have to visualize something like 500-1000 manuscripts stacked in the back room, with one or two lowly slush readers doggedly slogging through the pile. Maybe it will avalanche and your submission will slide unheeded out the window, or maybe yours gets stuck somewhere under the bottom and the janitor sweeps it out years from now. After six or eight months, you send a query and get an instant rejection. So, was that because you had the audacity to query, or was it because they’ve really lost your manuscript? Maybe you just had no idea what they’re looking for.

Anthologies, on the other hand, take a lot of the guess work out of what the editor is seeking. Often anthologies are themed, and the editor gives you a prompt to write from—a general direction and maybe some hints about the characters, theme and conflict. Presumably there will be a smaller slush pile, too. This suggests you can find compatible markets by sifting through anthology calls and writing stories to suit. Over the years, this certainly has increased the number of stories I’ve had published. That’s a definite joy!

This post is also part of a blog tour. Look for Young Love, Old Hearts released this week by Supposed Crimes press.

The SFWA 50th anniversary blog tour

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Nebula_Award_logoIn honor of the 50th anniversary of the Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America, the organization is hosting a blog tour on its front page leading up to Nebula Weekend. Robert Silverberg has written the first installment, and I have an appearance scheduled for 4/26/15. I’ll also post the blog here. In the meantime click here to read the posts. Enjoy!


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mikeI didn’t finish a story this week. Have been on tour with a concert group. Am tired. Back to it next week.

Beginnings and hooks

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FeatherPenClipArtBeginnings seem a little easier than endings. They’re all about potential, after all. Beginnings set the tone and direction of your story, and may reveal the theme and central conflict. There should be a hook, too, that makes the reader willing to commit to the story. This can be startling, or maybe something unsaid, a mystery, a question about the conflict or motives–something suggestive. In order to get into the story quickly, it’s better to start somewhere in the middle of the action. You can always go back and fill in with exposition. Best to avoid trying to explain in the dialog, though. That sort of thing sounds really contrived.

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