Leaping in Headfirst
By: Lauren Jankowski
I’ve always been a storyteller. Nothing gives me greater joy than crafting a story. Writing is not something I consciously chose to do, but rather it’s something I have to do. Growing up, I was most comfortable and happy when I was lost in a book. By the time I reached high school, I had probably read more books than most people will read in their lifetime. It was when I decided I needed to be a writer, a professional author. That was the only way I would truly be happy and satisfied in life. I wanted to write the stories I had never had a chance to read. A story that featured adoptees and strong empowered women in the role of heroes.
When I reached college, I had become jaded by the closed-door policy of the publishing world, particularly when it came to genre writing. I had received just about every sexist rejection you can imagine: I was “too feminine to write serious fantasy” (or “too feminist”), nobody is interested in “women-driven fantasy”, etc. etc. Basically the message I was getting was the same: I was a nobody and I didn’t know any of the right people. And on top of all of it, I’m a girl. Girls don’t write “serious genre,” so beat it! I have a literal stack of rejections hidden under my desk (which are ordered from most sexist to just basic form rejections).
Dealing with sexism is an unfortunate part of being a woman, particularly if you’re going against the tide and trying to get into a field dominated and run by men. Blatant sexism is still rampant in publishing and in genre. If you’re a woman and you don’t write romantic horror/fantasy/scifi, you aren’t going to find a traditional publisher. Adversity has never been a deterrent for me. If anything, it makes me fight even harder. I’m a novelist, dammit, and I had already decided that’s what I was going to be. If I couldn’t get published through traditional means, then it just meant I would have to make my own way.
So, in March, I decided to plunge headfirst into the scary and exhilarating world of self-publishing. I can’t remember a time when I’ve been more terrified. I’m poor and in debt, I don’t have any kind of name recognition, and I’m so new to this that I don’t know anything! But I do have passion and determination. I have also met many supportive genre feminists who have been there every step of the way to offer kind words of encouragement. I joined an organization dedicated to highlighting women’s voices in speculative fiction: Broad Universe. It’s one of the rare organizations open to both traditional and self-published authors.
I’ve started attending conventions and participating in panels. Public speaking is the last thing I ever expected to do. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with crippling stage fright. I used to be unable to answer questions in classes because of the sheer terror I felt when attention was focused on me. Even today, I find talking in front of a group of people to be somewhat frightening. At my first convention ever, I was put on my first panel ever, where we discussed Art & Activism, and I thought I was going to die. That may sound a little overdramatic, but I actually thought I would have a heart attack. My heart was hammering so hard in my chest.
I got through it, but I did stumble in my reading. My voice got shaky and my insides turned to Jell-O. I didn’t use up my allotted time. Thankfully, the convention was full of some of the nicest and most supportive people. I had plenty of people come up to me afterwards to reassure me I did just fine. The experience was good enough to convince me to submit a panel on genre feminism for my next convention and one on strong women. Both panels went exceedingly well.
The novels I’ve released have both been learning experiences. Sere from the Green, my first, was a very rough novel. I made the mistake of having it only proofread instead of an in depth edit. I learned from that experience and enlisted my brother, an English major with a knack for finding inconsistencies in plotting, to tear apart my second novel. After many sleepless nights and near-nervous breakdowns, Through Storm and Night came out in July. It is cleaner, reads better, and is a definite improvement on my first novel. Now, my third novel is coming out in October. It’s in a much better state than my first two books were and I can’t wait to release it.
I’m currently on a tour of the Midwest, hitting whatever conventions I can. I am speaking about genre feminism any chance I get. I’m pissed off about traditional publishing’s stranglehold on the market. Women are still being actively discouraged from writing genre. As a result, fantasy/horror/scifi is overwhelmingly told through the male gaze. Diversity is practically non-existent and it isn’t right.
When I first started writing, my goal was simple: I wanted to write an adoptee heroine. The one I was never able to find growing up. I want to write a story for adoptees where we’re the heroes and heroines. I want to write about diverse heroines of all different races, sexual orientations, backgrounds, abilities, and ages. I may not accomplish that with my current series, but I have so many other stories to tell. I haven’t put down my pen yet and I don’t plan to in the near future.
If you’re interested in my novels or my upcoming appearances, they’re listed on my blog under “Published Works” and “Upcoming Appearances”: http://lifeandtimesofawriter.blogspot.com/