Post-Oscar Malaise, or My Grandmother, the Feminist Film Studies Pioneer

I am the last and least influential person on earth to weigh in on the whole Oscar misogyny debacle. It’s been talked to death and cataloged. So I guess I just wanted to add a personal spin to it.

I have watched The Oscars every year for my entire life. My mother and grandmother loved the movies–my grandmother especially–and we always settled in under blankets and watched the entire show, delighting in seeing the stars in our living room in their most beautiful and glamorous ensembles–and live, so we knew exactly where they were and what they were wearing (which, in the 1970s and 80s was a treat, believe it or not).

And I grew up enthralled with the movies, watching endless black and white films with my grandmother who knew everything about every star like she had memorized the Old Hollywood version of a Biographical Dictionary of Celebrity Gossip. It was like having my very own low-brow Anne Helen Peterson! We watched our favorites over and over. I really can’t count how many rainy or wintry afternoons we spent watching Gone with the Wind!

In my teens, I was sure I’d grow up to write for Movieline magazine, maybe Premiere. Maybe entertainment editor for Sassy! Oddly, I had no interest in celebrity interviews. I wanted to be Joe Queenan, Libby Gelman-Waxner–writers with wacky personalities and strong opinions. It wasn’t until college that I discovered Film Theory. I quickly switched colleges to pursue it.

Film studies taught me that I’d spent my entire life “reading against the grain” to find the points of and places in entertainment that I could connect to, that I could love. I read three classic pieces in feminist film theory that rocked my world (Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” of course; “Pre-Text and Text in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Lucie Arbuthnot and Gail Seneca; and Doane’s “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator”) and changed how I see movies entirely.

One might argue they ruined the movies for me, of course. But it also made me feel closer to my grandmother. who taught me how to watch movies. She wouldn’t just put a movie on and tune out. No, she offered context and celebrity gossip that taught me a great deal about film studies even though she had no idea what that was.

My grandmother was the one who said to ignore the last few minutes of any movie pairing Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy. “Men used to run everything,” she explained. And they made Katherine Hepburn capitulate in some way in the last scene of her movies so the men could continue to feel like they were in charge even though Kate clearly had the upper hand by being smarter and worker harder than everybody else.

It was through my grandmother’s lens that I learned to watch movies. She filtered them for me so that I understood how to enjoy them. She was a feminist film studies pioneer.

And so it was disheartening to be reminded on Sunday night that no matter how far we’ve come here we still are. Looking for points of identification and people to root for amid a bunch of insults and degradation. And so I did what I would have done had my grandmother been there: rolled my eyes and sighed through a dumb boobs song; cheered for Adele and Shirley Bassey; gasped for Jennifer Lawrence when she stumbled; debated the sincerity of Anne Hathaway’s “It came true”–my grandmother and mother would have debated that one all night; wondered why Harry Potter didn’t give Bella Swan a hand as she limped to the mic and delivered her trademark mix of snarly and spacey; speculated about the depths of Ben Affleck’s marital misery and whether or not he was actually admitting that those blind items are true; and shook my head in sympathy at poor Kristen Chenowith trying to put up her own  charm offensive up in the midst of MacFarlane’s unyielding smarm offensive.

My grandmother would have enjoyed a lot of it, even as she picked it apart.

Freelance Tips: Finding Clients

I have no idea how everybody else finds clients. Before I started freelancing I just assumed people had nice former employers who gave them work. Often because they got pregnant and didn’t want to be in the office anymore. At least that was the only model I’d seen presented in real life.

However, the number one way I got clients was through former co-workers, not former employers. I had been in editorial departments of one kind or another for about a decade when I got laid off. My employer in 2008 opted to operate their magazine without any writers or editors on staff.  My employer didn’t even extend freelance opportunities to their newly unemployed but entirely trained staff! They opted to use a press release writing service for their articles–one that I wouldn’t have price matched if they’d offered.

So, it was my husband that initially contacted one of our friends to ask if her company needed any help because I was looking for freelance editorial work. I wanted to but I was nervous. And I was mad at him for doing it at the time! Of course, that first client is now my employer so I owe him one, I guess.

From that confidence boost, I contacted a ton of friends, former co-workers and acquaintances, only a handful of whom were in a position to hire me. I spent a lot of time laying groundwork that went nowhere. But when a lead paid off? It really paid off.

I made a list of writing and editing skills (based off my own resume) that were selling points. I knew how to write and edit about architecture and construction in addition to book editing (mostly romance and non-fiction sex self-help). So I researched companies and made a list of publishers that meshed with my areas of specialty.  I also kept several lists I found online of top indie publishers and other “top” lists that I would use as my own private job leads list.

I sent queries when I had downtime. Most of those never panned out or paid poorly or had completely insane editing tests. But a couple did pan out and made the efforts worth it.

Overall, I wanted to send out feelers to what I considered to be top tier clients. I wanted to work with editorial professionals who understood the process, who paid on time, who paid reasonably well, and who gave realistic deadlines.

LinkedIn ended up being a valuable tool! Weird, I know. I reviewed tons of profiles of freelancers and, this is probably awful to admit, any that listed their clients I copied over and kept the company names in a Word doc. Now, I was not looking to poach their clients! That’s not my game. However, I figured it gave me a nice list of companies that I knew for certain had worked with freelance professionals at some point. And perhaps they might need someone in the future? I also learned a lot just from reading freelance profiles and looking at freelance editing websites.

Additionally, I joined LinkedIn groups that I thought might be of value. And then I watched the postings. Some were worthless. A couple offered real leads and one group landed me an association that needed editors who had a basic understanding of construction and felt comfortable with construction and health care terminology. It was a complete cold call and it ended up working out beautifully. I went from doing piecemeal work, to a long-term project and, eventually, weekly work.

For me the goal was to have a solid foundation of clients. So nailing down regular work was always a huge victory that was supplemented by piecemeal projects.

My Favorite Movies At This Moment in Time


My friend Dawn at Tales from the Motherland put together a very declarative list of the best movies ever (in her opinion). And I was jealous. So I slapped this together very quickly to ease my feelings.

My list is entirely subjective (including being subject to change at a moment’s notice) and includes only American or English language films at this time. I’m tempted to make a separate list just for nonfiction films but documentaries are included here at this point (they might be over-represented).

This is a list of movies I love that I also think are objectively good movies (I have a long list of movies I love that I know are not, objectively, that good—movies like Mallrats). I have tried to pull a handful of titles from areas that are under-represented in these types of lists (particularly movies written by/directed by/or about women) because I happen to love those movies more than movies about how old white guys are sad. This is No Country For Old Men, if you get what I’m saying (with a bad movie pun).


Freelance Tips: Starting Your Freelance Business

I’ve had a few people ask me about how to become a freelance writer or editor so I thought I’d pull together some of things I learned while I was full-time freelance. I recently took a full-time job that was extended to me from one of my clients so this website is evolving in a more personal direction. But still, the topic comes up frequently: How did you do it?

I don’t mean to brag but in less than two years I completely replaced my full-time income with freelance income. I know that sounds like an infomercial. But the answer to how I did it is that I was lucky and I hustled like crazy. It’s important to make that clear off the top: luck has a lot to do with it. And the generosity of your friends, former co-workers and even acquaintances can make a big difference.

So I started by getting laid off from a place I was miserable at anyway. And, after going out on several job interviews and finding myself unhappy with the prospects, I took matters into my owns.

Here are the basics:

  • Shake the trees! Tell everybody who might be in a position to hire you or know somebody who might hire you that you are available for work. My husband asked a friend I was too embarrassed to ask if she knew of anything and she hooked me up with her company (who I now work for). It turns out they did need a freelance editor who could turn things around quickly with minimal supervision. So I started out there. Once I realized the hourly pay for freelance editing was reasonably attractive I started seeking more clients. I learned to network and talk to people in ways I never had before.
  • Learn to network. And then wait. I told everybody at parties I was a freelance editor. I was all over social media as a freelance editor. That taught me that laying the groundwork for this takes a great deal of time. A friend of a friend took my card, I friended her on Facebook, and I never bothered her about work again. But six months later she sent me an email asking if I was interested in working with her company and she kept me busy the entire summer with work. Lots of the groundwork I laid never paid off (for example, I’ve been approved as a line editor at Harlequin for over a year but they never sent me a single project) but the ones that did made it worth it.
  • Act like a business even if you don’t feel like one yet. I had business cards made. I used because it was cheap but I can tell you the cards were quite nice! <–not an advertisement.
  • Utilize social media strategically. I’m not great at Twitter. I’ve gotten friendly queries via Facebook. But LinkedIn gave me one of my best paying and nicest clients. Join relevant groups on LinkedIn and then actually skim those groups. Know yourself and pick the social media platform that best suits you.
  • Befriend freelance pros. A friend of a friend invited me out for drinks and told me all about her freelance life and how she managed it. And she said that she loved to tell people how feasible freelance is as a full-time gig. And she was right. Sharing knowledge is something many freelance pros like to do (clearly) and the ones who are confident in their careers very often deliver leads to newbies.
  • Join associations. I joined the Editorial Freelancers Association. It was a bit pricey but they delivered real job leads regularly. They also have a supportive e-mail group that is always ready to help with any questions.
  • Be a great vendor. When you get a client? Always put them first on your list. Always make their deadlines and always deliver your work with a smile. Be pleasant and accommodating. They have plenty of options. And you want to be sure you leave a positive feeling with them in every interaction, particularly when you are establishing your relationship. And make no mistake: It’s a relationship business. 
  • Aim high. Give yourself a living wage. You have overhead, even if you don’t understand what it is yet. You have to pay for the internet and electricity to do business. You need health care. You need to pay for food for yourself and maybe a family. Don’t leave yourself impoverished. Aiming high also means aiming for great clients–ones who pay without hassle, provide a steady stream of work, and are pleasant to deal with. You should always be looking out for better clients, great projects, and a good wage. If you’re not getting it from your current clients? You need to reassess and weed some out so you can get the most from your freelance life.


New Personal View-Master Reel: Indie Bookstores

Pull out your 3D glasses (the red/blue anaglyph kind)!

This is tangentially related to publishing, right? I have a 3D camera and I’m making my own 3D view-master reels using!

Here is my second reel that I’ll be sending in soon! Get a sneak peak here of Indie Bookstores of the Midwest (that I visited and photographed) in 2012.

Click on any photo to enter the gallery.

A Banner Week in Entertainment Journalism

It has been an amazing week in entertainment journalism. There are plenty of weeks where tons of fascinating things happen and we all watch (like that time Katie Holmes divorced Tom Cruise and pop culture aficionados did nothing but hit refresh for days).

More rarely, there are articles written that detail the inner-workings of celebrity or some behind the scenes aspect of entertainment that are must-reads because they are well written, timely or revealing. This week has been filled with those types of articles and I thought I’d do a link round-up for posterity.

  •  Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie from the New York Times: “Schrader goes over some ground rules; no trailers on set and one contractually obligated, four-way sex scene. Oh, another thing, Schrader adds: he will not try to sleep with her. This was probably a more relevant point in 1982, but no matter. Lohan stands up and says goodbye, telling everyone how excited she is to be working with them. She leaves the restaurant, followed by her mother and the mysterious man with the presents.”
  • Miss Millennium: Beyoncé from GQ: “Anytime [Beyoncé] wants to remind herself of all that work—or almost anything else that’s ever happened in her life—all she has to do is walk down the hall. There, across from the narrow conference room in which you are interviewing her, is another long, narrow room that contains the official Beyoncé archive, a temperature-controlled digital-storage facility that contains virtually every existing photograph of her, starting with the very first frames taken of Destiny’s Child, the ’90s girl group she once fronted; every interview she’s ever done; every video of every show she’s ever performed; every diary entry she’s ever recorded while looking into the unblinking eye of her laptop.”
  • Scientology’s Seduction of Tom Cruise from The Hollywood Reporter: “[Marty] Rathbun assigned [Tommy] Davis to sit with [Tom] Cruise in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Hollywood while the star was doing his Tone Scale drills — guessing the emotional state of random people coming out of the store.” <–I don’t even know what that means but it’s fascinating!
  • Also? Justin Timberlake declared he cares more about music than anybody else in the world, which makes me wonder (when taken with Beyonce’s interview where she says she’s worked harder than anybody in the music business to get where she is) if there is some sort of correlation of fame and an exaggerated sense of self. But that can’t be true! Ha!

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm BodiesWarm Bodies by Isaac Marion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Minor spoilers included.

I adored this little book. I have quite a few issues with it, but I loved it anyway.

It’s basically Romeo and Juliet if Romeo were a zombie and the romance happened in a post-apocalyptic city. So that’s fun, right? However, the build up between “R” and Julie in this book is much more thorough than its prototype, even if R finds himself in love at first sight with our heroine.

Isaac Marion’s zombie world includes a host of zombies with some low-level forms of consciousness. They are, in effect, sleep walkers who wander in packs for hunting and live in groups, forming low-level friendships and yearning for relationships and family in a rudimentary way that is usually overpowered by their overarching desire to eat brains.

The book had some editorial errors that were unforgivable in my mind—there is a strange discrepancy about whether the zombies can die and how and there were a few gaffes that confused me. In one scene Julie takes her friend Nora’s drink away to spike it but Nora continues to sip from it and then Julie brings the drink back. Stuff like that should have been caught at some point! But I don’t blame the author for it.

[SPOILER] Early on “R” kills Julie’s boyfriend, Perry. In this world, zombies get flashes of the life of the person they killed when they eat their brains. Perry’s desperate desire to protect Julie is seemingly transferred onto R, and this is how R comes to protect her himself. R then falls for Julie after kidnapping her (presumably to save her from the other zombies but really he can’t stand to let her go). Now, killing Julie’s boyfriend should present a real problem for our star-crossed lovers—you would think that Julie would be horrified by this, but the author glazes over that very real problem by noting that Julie blames the situation—the plague that has taken over humanity and turned them into zombies—but not R personally. By glazing that over too easily—and having her basically forgive R with a “Zombie plague? Bygones!” moment, the author misses the opportunity to make Julie complex and veers her a little too far into saintly dream girl territory for me.

Despite the complaints listed above? I still think this was my favorite read of 2012 so far. Despite the handful of errors, some problematic world building issues, and the lack of complexity in Julie’s feelings? The author has created a charming narrator in R, a zombie who loves music and longs for love deep down under his grey skin. Marion makes R incredibly relatable, wistful, romantic, and a hero you find yourself truly rooting for despite the fact that he ate the brains of the heroine’s boyfriend.

The narrative moves at a swift pace, carrying the reader briskly through the plot while also imbuing R with a sense of humanity that is palpable. I found myself completely wrapped up in R’s head, the little world he builds inside it, and rooting for him and Julie completely. It’s actually the most romantic book I’ve read in a very long time.

I also found myself comparing Marion’s swift style to Stephenie Meyer. He shows a great deal more restraint than she does—his plotting is stripped down but the style itself has the same fast-paced first person narration with strong romantic overtones. And I mean all of that as a compliment since I know everybody loves to bash Stephenie Meyer but there is a reason Twilight is such a swift read and easy to get caught up in. This book has those same elements. It’s a very fun, fast, romantic read.

View all my reviews

Post-NaNoWriMo Thoughts on Authorship

I’ve always had an irrational reverence for book authors. Until I started working with them. Ha! Kidding like 85%!

So, for a brief period I was disenchanted with them because working with them can be challenging as a newbie book editor.

But that challenge is also what I love about them. Because they had the all-out cojones to write a whole book, edit it, send it out for feedback (and rejection), show it people they love (the horror) as well as perfect strangers and ask them to buy it. To PAY FOR IT. Can you imagine?

It’s all so deliriously insane when you think about it like that isn’t it? To believe in your little germ of an idea so much that you turn it into a full-length manuscript and truly believe you are worthy to be in the most sacred spaces –at book stores and libraries (say, next to authors whose last names start with K)!

So I have always thought maybe I didn’t have anything that important to say. Not important enough to be next to Dean Koontz or Nicole Krauss let alone Shakespeare or Whitman! So maybe I still feel that way. But most books are read for pleasure and are not viewed as sacred artifacts. So maybe, just maybe, my voice could bring someone a smile and an escape hatch from their day (like Dan Brown but with longer paragraphs, fewer villains, and more romance).

Just maybe.

NaNoWriMo Winner (I Was Wrong About Everything)

I have often started and failed the “competition” that is National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I have failed at it at least three times that I remember. Probably closer to five or six.

In the past I have come up with endless excuses for dropping out that included: this is a silly endeavor that will result in a poor product; this is a waste of time; this isn’t going anywhere so why bother?; I have real work to do!; I hate this story and the characters and myself for writing it; I am really too busy to do this in November!

Needless to say I was wrong about all of those things. And what I was really wrong about was that the lesson (for me) was the journey itself. It was the discipline (which I guess I thought I lacked). It was the journey I forced myself to go with characters (and myself) even when I disliked them (and me). I learned about my creative process. I learned about sticking with something I created even when it was going horribly off the rails. I learned I need to have a better road map for long-form fiction. I can’t keep everything in my head at once, it’s just not who I am.

More than anything? I learned that I really can do what I set out to do with the proper tools and mind-set. And that’s the most important lesson of all.

This has inspired me to tackle some further challenges. I am thinking of editing the entire thing–it needs A LOT of work to put it kindly. So the editing itself will be another journey.

Recently I’ve worked with and known a few people looking to self-publish their own manuscripts and I’m considering going through that process–not because I’m looking to be the next Jamie McGuire or Jessica Park (both self-published and had huge hits with their books that caught on like fire). What I’d like to do is understand the process so I’m of more help to my author clients.