Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Big Five-0 and A Hiatus

The past six months have been a whirlwind of writing and submitting, and rejections and acceptances. To give some context to just how much of a tailspin I feel in: in the eight years between two thousand and two thousand and eight I placed two short stories with online magazines. In the past six months I’ve placed pieces of fiction--be they poems, prose poems, flashes, or short stories--in forty-eight different literary journals, and tens more are subbed and awaiting responses. Hence, it’s that big Five-0.

Needless to say I’ve received five times more rejections than I have acceptances. If not more! My “successes” have been fueled by the drive, perseverance, and downright obsession that I think all writers and artists can relate to, but my writing/submission cycle is veering toward addiction and that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to take a step back from it all for a time.

The other reason for my "hiatus" is a much more sobering affair: I am a sexual and physical abuse survivor. Given my recent, and perhaps too much too soon, widespread publication of some deeply personal works in several online journals, I’m feeling the need to step back from everything for a time and reassess who I am as a person and writer, and to explore the direction I want to pursue. I do not want to rewound or misrepresent myself. However, I do want to continue to take risks in my work and life, otherwise what’s the point? Where’s the growth, the energy? But I want to take risks that feel more calculated, and that I can fully stand behind.

In particular, I’m concerned that some of my recent publications, taken outside of the context of healing, female sexuality, and female literature, might be misinterpreted as merely provocative or erotica. I’m working hard to be authentic in my life and work, and I’m just not “erotica” or raw for the sake of "edgy" or sensationalism. I’d like to think that I’m earnest and honest and that just like everyone else I'm working through my "stuff" and finding my way. I do feel the need in my work to visit issues of abuse, recovery, and the darker sides of human nature, and I’m struggling with how to best do that in a way that does not in turn injure me or alienate my readers.

Frankly, I feel so much in a panic around the work that I’ve recently published or that is forthcoming that I’ve seriously considered pulling everything and taking to bed or a dark cave for the rest of my life. Yet I find I can't do that. I can't retract what I've written or adopt an alias or run away and hide. I’ve spent a lifetime pretending and feeling ashamed, and I just can’t go back there.

It’s interesting to me that there’s still so much taboo around female sexuality, in particular around women writing about women’s sexuality—their fears, confusions, and celebrations around it. These are themes that won’t go away in my work because they’re an integral part of who I am. I write to explore. I write to get answers. I write to speak the truth. I write to give voice to my fears, and to try and triumph over them. I just need to find ways to do all of that that will generate good and bring more light to our world.

So this is a farewell of sorts for me, at least until I know what to do next.


  1. My dear, talented, courageous, writing friend, my thoughts are with you.

    You can email me any time:

  2. I, for one, will be awaiting your return. Take care of yourself, and know that we'll be happy to "see" you, any time.

  3. Your bravery shines a light for the rest of us who are still hiding in the cave. There is no shame in doing anything you have to do to keep from coming back here. Pride and love from another survivor.

  4. I read this yesterday and tried to leave a comment, but it didn't go through - I hope this one does.

    I want you to imagine a peer of yours - a wonderful writer - pouring her heart out, because of the same issues you have shown concern about- and I want you to think about what you would say to her. I bet you might want to support her feelings and respect her choice to pull back, but you would want her to know she is a gifted writer and gifted writers write about EVERYTHING including uncomfortable memories and sex - even if they are braided together at times - the unpleasant memories of sexual encounters. I bet you'd even go so far as to want to reassure her she isn't really being judged by others as much as she may fear. I hope you'd even tell her to take a break from writing about things that upset her and stick to complete fiction maybe even whimsical topics to show that fun-loving side of herself as well.

    Ethel, I respect your decision, but I think the fact you are writing so much and submitting work - getting published - shows your desire and how serious you take writing. Writing, submitting, and letting rejection roll off our backs sort of goes with the territory.

    My friend, don't give up - just switch gears for a time. You are on a roll. Remember, most of the best writers lived less than charmed childhoods and often write about horrible things, but isn't that life? beautiful and ugly - We all have many facets. Don't underestimate the people who read you - most will embrace your versitility and admire your bravery to be vulnerable and reveal your scars.

    Anais Nin wrote erotica and often it wasn't sweet at all, but she is noted as being one of the best writers of her generation - not because she wrote shock value naughty things, but because in spite of the topic being far from lady-like - she was a great writer and so are you, Ethel - so are you.

    If it makes you feel any better - I write some erotica too sometimes - I've been rejected a ton and ....umm yeah - I'm a survivor of child abuse and sexual molestation - instead of giving that darkness permission to cause me to stumble in my adult life - I've decided to let it fuel my writing in anyway it will - let it burn in ink leaving skid marks as I move forward.

    Much love to you, Ethel - I hope you have a fun weekend, maybe write a little something for your daughters - sweet and funny - imaginative and delightful - let yourself embrace light, see the flowers, hear the birds and feel peace.

  5. I just read "A Family Outing" and really liked it. Thanks. Enjoy your hiatus; it seems you have been quite prolific. Even writers need a vacation and I'm sure you'll come back from it with lots of material. Take care.

    Kristin Fouquet

  6. Wow. What an honest reflection. I know it's hard stuff to deal with-- revealing yourself as a survivor of abuse. And I also know what you mean by the need to step back. Hang in there.

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE..
    Ch. 1 is online

  7. we are here and will support you, the real you. We are your community. you will work this out - your words are magic.


  8. We’re very happy to be publishing your story in Cantaraville Seven, Ethel.

  9. Dear Katrina, DaviMack, Tanita, Paula, Kristin, Beth, Cantara, and The Writer's Spark. Thank you all so much for your kind and supportive comments. I am deeply moved and grateful. Sincerely, Ethel.

  10. I understand a lot of what you write here. And we at PANK are thrilled that you are going to appear in our little magazine. I also agree that female sexuality still seems to be risque, in 2009. I find that shocking. I've published erotica for 8 years under different names, and its all literary (whatever that means), but its not respected. I can't (or is it don't?) put it on my vita because I know how people will react. And that's fine, whatever. But still, I do think it speaks volumes about where frank explorations of sexuality rank. I hope it will change. I hope you keep writing what you write. It inspires me to keep writing what I write.

  11. I'm late to the comments here, but Ethel, know that I'm glad you're back and I always wish you the courage and the positive feelings you need to continue. Your writing and your successes constantly inspire me and make me envious (I who have not a single fiction publication despite numerous attempts!). Creativity is never an easy road, but having company along the way really helps.

  12. Thanks so much, a.fortis. I so appreciate your kind words and support. I'm here cheering you on also. Go, girl!

  13. Ethel,You’re in my terrain, with this post. Thank you for your thoughts--when I first heard my essay “Sheila’s Vine” was being published in the Labor Pains and Birth Stories, I retracted it. The editor, Jessica, helped talk me through it--cutting out a graphic paragraph on rape helped. But I can relate to the anxiety--there‘s a “public“ fallout when things get published, isn‘t there. I just got a “No” on a story I realized I was holding my breath hoping it’d be rejected for some of the reasons you listed. I’ll wait til my psyche can live with it out and about. At the same time, I’ve been aware of the simple truth that we never know whose life we might save (even if it is just our own) (by who we had to be in our past--what savage misadventures we might have survived to nail down in a tale or a poem or an essay). Here’s to the writing time, and the balance of marketing self and writing self. Glad to be in your company.