Paulette (Tries to) Thin Out Her Books: Part I

IMG_1580I now have behind me the arduous task of self-publishing and promoting my novel The Answer to Your Question, and I finished teaching my on-line course on June 14th.  I set myself the deadline of July 1 to start working on my Willie Earle novel again.  I’ve signed up for Freedom, the software that blocks you from the Internet for whatever period you choose, and I’m going to try to work every morning for a few hours, without fail.  I know how important that is, and how hard it can be to do.

But in the two-week break before I settled down for the long haul of the new novel, I wanted to clean my study.  It made me feel crazy; I couldn’t find anything in all the papers and mess that had accumulated on every surface over the past four months.   I had a dream:  I’d start writing again in a clean, organized office.  And at the top of the list of things to do to achieve this goal was to organize my library, getting rid of books I’d never read again, actually clearing some open space on my crammed shelves and hopefully in my crammed mind in the process.

Only God knew when I had last cleaned my bookshelves.  Over the years, I’d accumulated so many books that I could no longer arrange them vertically, but was stacking them horizontally helter-skelter on the shelves.  They were in no order, so that whenever I needed to find a book, I had to look through them all.  Not to mention the dust!  I needed to take out every book, decide whether to keep it or not, wipe the shelves with Fantastic, and group the books so that I could actually find what I was looking for.  It seemed a daunting task, and indeed it was:  not only the physical labor of it, but what turned out to be a rather intense trip through the past. Cleaning my bookshelves involved an unexpected review of my life, at least my reading and writing life, which to a large extent has been my life.

I decided to start easy.  I have three wall shelves on the right side of my study, which hold my books onIMG_1578 (2) writing and publishing.   I started with the top shelf.  Piece o’cake!  I dropped Jeff Herman’s 2006 Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents and The 2007 Guide to Literary Agents into one of the several liquor store boxes I had for the rejects.  But next I was confronted with three ancient tomes from my graduate school days in the Stanford Writing program, in the early 70s, proving, I suppose, what an ancient tome I am myself: Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction; Bernard DeVoto’s The World of Fiction; and Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction.  These three volumes, yellowed with age, had the unpleasant, nose-itching odor of dead books; I knew I’d never look at them again.  Did anyone even read them anymore?

I opened The World of Fiction at random: Continue reading “Paulette (Tries to) Thin Out Her Books: Part I”

“Submission Mission”: a Blog at She Writes

A few posts back (June 21) I wrote about VIDA’s findings of sexual discrepancies in literary publishing.  In the July/August issue of Poets and Writers Magazine, I read about a blog by poet Anna Leahy, “Submission Mission,”  in response to the idea that women writers don’t get published as much as their male counterparts because they don’t submit as often.   “Submission Mission,” hosted by the social networking site She Writes, presents submission prompts, ideas for where to submit work (, a monthly chat session and an exchange of ideas around the subject of getting your work out there.  You can read Leahy’s blog at  If you want to post comments and participate in the chats, you have to sign up, but it’s free and easy to become a member of She Writes.  And you don’t have to be female.   She writes is a great resource for writers, with lots of groups and support.  It’s definitely worth checking out:

The comments posted at “Submission Mission” are interesting…expanding the discussion beyond the “women don’t submit as often” argument to talk about things like women’s fear of/taking rejection too hard, getting tired of beating one’s head against the publishing wall, economic discrepancies that hinder women, and who the people who are doing the selecting at magazines and publishing houses.  Here’s one thoughtful follow-up:  Be sure and read the comments too.

And Ruth Franklin (a senior editor at The New Republic,) wrote a fascinating piece in response to the VIDA statistics:

She and two other women at TNR conducted a small sample of books published last year to see if more men than women had books published (they did not include genre books or ones with primarily commercial appeal).  Here’s what they found:

Continue reading ““Submission Mission”: a Blog at She Writes”

Subtle but Real: the Influence of Gender in Academia

Soaking in a hot bath (backache from too many downward dogs in yoga), the day after my birthday (spent, romantically, with not one but two men: the AC repairman who came to fix the AC that wouldn’t come on after a sudden, awful 90 degree day in the Twin Cities; and “A.J.”, a darling dude at the Verizon Store who helped me with my new “smart phone” and who, after erasing everything on it and rebooting it, said, “Oh. All you needed was to have this mobile data icon turned on.” If you are over forty and need taking down a few pegs, I recommend an Android.)…

Anyway, soaking in a hot bath, I was disheartened to read in PAW (the Princeton Alumni magazine–my husband’s) about a report released in March regarding the underrepresentation of women among Princeton’s highest-profile undergraduate leadership positions and as recipients of the highest academic prizes.  You can read the full report or a summary at  or read a discussion of the issue at

PAW followed up on this report with two personal essays in the May 11 issue, one by Christine Stansell ’71, a scholar of women’s history at the University of Chicago who spent many years on the Princeton Faculty; and the other by senior Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, ’11 (GO AMELIA!), who shares this year’s Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, Princeton’s highest undergraduate academic honor.

Having been away from academia (thank god) for a number of years now, I had not thought about how women might be faring there these days.  So it was with a great sinking feeling that I read that women still have a lot of the same problems I had as an undergraduate, graduate student and faculty member.   It’s not really overt sexual discrimination.  We actually have come a long way on that one.  But according to the report, among other things, women consistently undersell themselves and sometimes make self-deprecating remarks in situations where men might stress their own accomplishments; in many situations, men tend to speak up more quickly than women, to raise their hands and express their thoughts even before they are fully formulated; women, more than men, are pressured to behave in certain socially acceptable ways, or, as one woman in the report said, to be “pretty, sexy, thin, and friendly” and to make it look as if they weren’t really trying so hard, that achievements came naturally to them.  On the plus side, women outpace men on campus in academic achievements, except at the very highest levels.  But men are more likely to be awarded major Princeton prizes and to win prestigious postgraduate fellowships.

Continue reading “Subtle but Real: the Influence of Gender in Academia”