On Stepping in as Fiction Editor and Advice to Our Submitters

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

I’m extremely lucky to be Blue Mesa Review’s new Fiction Editor. I have the good fortune of immersing myself in the worlds you’ve created through your stories. The writing world is a community of talented, tenacious artists, and that I’ve found myself in a leadership role of sorts within this pocket of the community is something I take seriously. Each story is a new mystery to solve, a unique conflict to navigate, an opportunity to learn something about people.

Our magazine receives a staggering number of fiction submissions, and for me, that’s enthralling, because every story contains the possibility of showing me something I’ve never seen. But often, stories with monster potential are still a draft or two away from publication, or simply haven’t done enough to stand apart from other submissions. So how can you make your story stand out in a submission pool this large?

For starters, the basics matter. Standing out through fresh prose or scintillating dialogue is one thing. Doing so through over-the-top cover letters is another. We don’t read them prior to reading your submissions, so you’re better off spending your energy revising your draft rather than trying to sell us on the story via the cover letter. Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced manuscripts are what I prefer, and you should take care to read and follow our submission guidelines.

When someone asks me to tell them what a story is about, I inevitably wind up describing its characters. Characterization is paramount. I’m not interested in labeling characters as “likable” or “unlikable.” I deeply admire writers who, instead, show me the varied possibilities for human behavior. Unshackle your characters. Do not keep them neatly tucked away, safe and removed from the conflict’s stakes. Let their flaws and desires drive the story’s plot. Have them take you where they want to go, not where you want them to wind up. I like being able to answer two questions when I can’t get a character out of my head: what makes them interesting and why do I care about them?

Above all, I gravitate toward stories with heart. It’s no secret that our current political climate is chaotic, haphazard, turbulent. I’m of the mind that every piece of writing is inherently political. So, to me, it makes sense that stories published today depict characters grappling with the many social dilemmas in our society as they are manifesting today. Show me these conflicts under new, fresh lights through the senses of characters with flawed, genuine humanity.

Lastly, thank you. Your writing and readership make this magazine possible. Reading your stories is a joy and I can’t thank you enough for submitting them. Your efforts make this Fiction Editor position exciting and rewarding. Best of luck with your submissions.

The Strange Beating Heart of the Thing

Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

I was a reader long before I became a writer. Diving into a book an entire pile of books—ok my house is full of books—has always been the animating factor in my life. Whether I’m reading poetry, a history of some moment far off in time and place, or the careful exploration of a character, the best writing has the power to set the world still for a time and engross its reader in its own beautiful particularities. As the new Nonfiction Editor of Blue Mesa Review, I want to read submissions that ground me in the reality of your story and make me forget about my own.

The best nonfiction submissions will have moments that shine a brilliant gleam of light from an angle I’ve never experienced. Nonfiction provides a pathway into this that no other genre can. Each moment layers the strange particularities of this world on top of themselves. The earthly is made unearthly. This defamiliarization has the same effect on me that a strange noise might have on a dog. My head tips to the side, all life pauses around me, and then I can return to the world—some new experience in hand, shaping how I read my own life. I want to read your submissions that have this power to change the way our readers see the world.

Content, however, is not the only place where I love to see nonfiction push into new territory. I am a sucker for formal experimentation. The prose block is a solid shape. It’s served writing well for centuries and no doubt will for centuries to come. But there are so many possibilities to write into new forms, new shapes. I do not simply want writing to ask questions about its subject matter. I want it to seriously contemplate the way that its structure engages with that subject. Don’t just ask yourself “What do I want to say?” Ask how your piece wants to be said. Can your essay take the form of a furnace repair manual? Could you write lyrical prose that borrows its shape from that interminable stretch of paper at the bottom of a certain unnamed pharmacy’s receipt? Be ambitious, challenge my understanding of what an essay can be, can look like, can do. I want to read the forms that I cannot imagine as I sit here writing this.

I don’t want to just read your strange heart, I want to understand it.

Life is far too short for the safety and detachment that irony gives us. Write toward your strangeness, write toward your unique experience of the world. Wherever that writing leads you, I can’t wait to read your work.

Poems Need Teeth

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

As the new Poetry Editor of Blue Mesa Review, my goal is to look for poetry that is both well-built and takes risks. I’m anxious (in all kinds of ways) to continue the pattern of publishing excellent poetry, and I want to do my best to serve Blue Mesa’s legacy. As for what I’m looking for, I want to uphold the standard of powerful work that previous editors have chosen over the years.

I believe a poem should be greater than the sum of its parts. Imagery, narrative, and strong diction give a poem a good backbone. These things are important. But craft and form can either become a strong exoskeleton or a cage. A poem needs to find the body it will inhabit. It will develop its arms in enjambment, its ground speed in rhythm, the span of its scope in temporality. And once the poem has been given a body, give it breath. And give it teeth.

Give it teeth that sink into someone and refuse to let go. An evolved poem has a nose like a bulldog so it can clamp on and still breathe. Its jaw muscles and nasal cavities must be developed over time—to make it an apex predator, to give it the best chance to succeed in the ecosystem of poetry that it has been born into. Revision and evolution are key to putting your poem at the top of the food chain.

But a good poem also adapts to the ecosystem around it. Poetry has always been the internal language of human beings. Whether it’s music, spoken word, chapbooks or epics, poetry has flowed through us for millennia, connecting us to one another’s experiences, tapping us into universal human truths, sharing lessons and bestowing wisdom. We love movies because they are story and image, but poetry used to be our main vehicle for expression and connection. How do we do that now, in an atmosphere that dismisses art and poetry? In a world where the written word is monitored and censored? How can poems evolve past words on a page to have a life of their own?

A poem should be conscious. Poetry should be aware of the climate of the world we live in and reflect it in a way that disrupts our preconceptions. A poem, whether it dodges or takes a bullet, should teach us something about how to survive. How to flourish. Poetry is what reminds us that we are human. Poetry is what brings us together.

I’m constantly looking for ways to do this in my own work, but I look for it in others’ poetry as well. I look for poetry that corners me, poetry that I can’t stop thinking about. I look for poetry that begs to be shown and shared with others, so that it can latch onto them, too. When I recall the lessons that a poem taught me, or relate it to a feeling or a moment I’ve felt in my own life, then I know I did not escape from it. I know that others have had or will have that same experience. This is how poetry unites people, by expressing something that we don’t have the words to say ourselves, and connecting us over borders, tangible and perceived.

Now that you have an idea of what I’m looking for, please send me your best work. I can’t wait to be bitten.

A Message from the Incoming Editor-in-Chief

It’s that time of year again! As our summer contest begins, our editorial board has passed on their duties to the next round of elected editors. Before I welcome our new editors, I’d like to thank our outgoing team.

Thanks to Tatiana Duvanova and Ruben Rodriguez for their hard work and dedication over the past year as the Fiction and Poetry editors. They made sure the best work rose to the top of our submission piles for Issues 36 and 37.

Thank you to the brilliant Lydia Wassan, our Managing Editor, for organizing a successful year of Works in Progress readings, and editing and curating our fantastic blog content.

Finally, a huge thank you to Steve Howe, our Editor-in-Chief, who improved so many aspects of our magazine this year. His passion for producing a high-quality literary magazine shows through in Issues 36 and 37.

I would encourage submitters to read through our recent issues for great examples of the work we like to publish. While aesthetics can change from year-to-year based on the editorial staff, we’ve always been looking for writing that pushes boundaries, tells a complex story, and teaches us how to move through our lives in new ways.

As I move from my role of Nonfiction Editor to Editor-in-Chief, I look forward to working with our incoming team, who will, without a doubt, continue pushing Blue Mesa Review to be an inclusive magazine whose pages reflect not just one type of story, but many.

Introducing our new editors…

Mitch Marty, who has been working toward giving BMR a fresh look for the past year, is stepping in as Associate Editor. Fun Fact: Mitch can pretty much jump over anything you put in front of him. Tree. House. Car. Whatever.

Ryan Murphy, whose experimental limitations know no bounds, is our new Nonfiction Editor. Fun Fact: Ryan can read approximately a zillion words per minute. Has been fact checked.

Ari McGuirk, who has the clean prose and natural voice we all strive for in our writing, is taking over as our Fiction Editor. Fun Fact: Ari can make a mean raspberry cheesecake. Decadent AF.

Tori Cárdenas, master of pun and wit, and also of tackling some of our most complex social issues with words, will take on the role of Poetry Editor. Fun Fact: This is what Tori’s dog looks like. 15/10 will invite to be BMR mascot immediately.

Be on the lookout for the next few blogs, where our genre editors will discuss their aesthetic and tips for submitting this year! For now, you can learn more about the team on our Staff page.

We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to publish your work and can’t wait to see what you send our way.

Check out our summer contest submission guidelines here.

Announcing Our 2018 Summer Contest Judges!

As we make our final selections for the spring issue, we’re excited to announce our summer contest details for 2018! Beginning June 1, contest submissions will be open on Submittable. We’re proud to share our awesome judging line up for 2018:

Leslie Jamison for Nonfiction, Luís Alberto Urrea for Fiction, and Franny Choi for Poetry. See below for bios.

Contest winners in each genre will receive $500 and publication in Issue 38 later this year. Second place will also be published in the issue and receive our standard contributor payment.

We accept previously unpublished work in Fiction (up to 6,000 words), Nonfiction (up to 6,000 words), and Poetry (up to 3 poems). We’re seeking strong voices and lively, compelling narratives, and of course, a fine eye for craft.

For more information on the contest and submission guidelines, click here.

 

Leslie Jamison – Nonfiction

Leslie Jamison was born in Washington DC and grew up in Los Angeles. Since then, she has lived in Iowa, Nicaragua, New Haven, and Brooklyn. Leslie has worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. Every one of these was a world; they’re still in her. These days she teaches at the Columbia University MFA program, where she directs the nonfiction concentration and leads the Marian House Project.

Her new book, The Recovering, comes out in April 2018. Leslie has also written a novel, The Gin Closet, and a collection of essays, The Empathy Exams. Her work has appeared in places including The New York Times Magazine,  Harper’s, Oxford American, A Public Space, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Believer. For several years she was also a columnist for the New York Times Book Review. Leslie lives in Brooklyn with her family.

 

Luís Alberto Urrea – Fiction

Hailed by NPR as a “literary badass” and a “master storyteller with a rock and roll heart,” Luis Alberto Urrea is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea is most recognized as a border writer, though he says, “I am more interested in bridges, not borders.”

 

Franny Choi – Poetry 

Franny Choi is the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) and the forthcoming Soft Science (Alice James Books, 2019), as well as a chapbook, Death by Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017). She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and the Helen Zell Writers Program. Her poems has appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New England Review, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow, Senior News Editor at Hyphen Magazine, co-host of the podcast VS, and member of the Dark Noise Collective.

 

 

Man Out of the Woods

By Josh Tise

Justin Timberlake has returned from his hero’s journey and come back as a “Man of the Woods” – or so his latest album would have us believe. It is a storied process meant to incite some creative stroke of genius: the artist isolates themselves in the woods, and something or someone (maybe a friendly forest sprite) grants them breathtaking inspiration. Whitman, Auden, and Thoreau were sure of the method’s success. But while there’s no doubt that it has produced some fantastic work, it’s also produced some clunkers (sorry, Justin). I say, the isolated artist misses the many varied stories found in the hustle and bustle of humanity when they decide to take a one-person journey into solipsistic solitude. The most interesting writer is the writer who is interested in the world. Their task is to translate and interpret that world, with empathy, to the reader.

We live in the age of the internet, so it’s easy to access a myriad of raw human data. A short exercise of the finger muscles away, float countless examples of fascinating humanity, without leaving your chair. Of all the interesting stories and characters to be found in comment chains, news stories, and social media feeds, I think the coolest corner of the Internet may just be Craigslist. An updated version of newspaper wanted or personal ads, it is impossible not to find something unique each time you visit a Craigslist “missed connections” page. To prove it, I’ve included some particularly intriguing ad excerpts, featuring some seriously compelling (and fantastically real) features of literary craft.

Take this gem:

About me: when I was 13- I lived on a dive boat in the Caribbean learning to scuba dive. At 14 I studied Chinese in Shanghai and traveled around S.E. Asia by myself. In my 20s I went to Bosnia during the war to volunteer as medic in Mostar and Sarajevo. I’ve traveled and lived or worked in 48 countries, delivered babies, saved a few lives, lost others, learned to speak several languages, fly airplanes, do blacksmithing, and just finished a History/Philosophy degree. In my spare time, I’m translating the 17th century diary of a Russian ambassador to the Qing emprise, [and] write articles on law…

There’s enough content here to create a series of thrillers to put Dan Brown to shame. I would read a book about the person. In fact, I would read several. This is the sort of character that can’t be made up – and that’s exactly the sort of inspiration and excitement that Craigslist personal ads can provide. There’s something moving about opening a link and finding oneself face-to-face with a linguist-medic-pilot-scholar-blacksmith. And character isn’t the only literary element that these Craigslist ads can provide inspiration for.

Read this one:

Waffle House at 2am is awesome. Weird, very sketchy, but really an awesome place to have a coffee and shoot the bull/philosophize/play cards. I’m pretty good at least two of those things, btw.

Here’s a scene lifted straight out of a “Best American Short Stories”– only this time, it’s real. It’s local, specific, and already sketches out both the conflict and the reward the scene can offer. I want to read this in long-form, preferably sitting in a booth at Waffle House at 2 AM, with someone who is “good at least two of those things, btw.”

The old adage “truth is stranger than fiction” proves itself to be true. The truth is more empathetic too. For me, the point of combing through Craigslist personal ads is not to laugh at or mock them, but to wonder about the humans behind them. It is also to begin to care about someone I’ve never met, and find myself in situations I may never have experienced.

As a reader, I’m looking to be communicated with. More than that, I’m excited by things that are unknown and surprising. I don’t know how well self-imposed isolation achieves either of those things. Rather than retreat to the woods, writers should be rushing into the thicket of humanity. The world is too interesting, and empathy too important, for me to be in awe of the “Men of the Woods” anymore. If they fall in the forest, no one is around to hear them.

 

Josh Tise is a staff reader for Blue Mesa Review

AWP After-Blog

We’re all feeling a little exhausted after this year’s Association of Writers and Writers Programs (AWP) Conference in Tampa. A lot of us traveled from across the country, and spent hours in panels and on the book fair floor, and drinking and hanging out at the after parties. It felt a little bit like a vacation actually. But when I got back home, it felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation. Here are a few things that might make next year’s AWP even better.

An augmented reality map. It’s the way of the future. But it would be great to have step-by-step directions to all of my favorite panels and booths, a menu for the café inside the convention center that mysteriously doesn’t have one, a gauge for how many people are in the bathroom or Starbucks, and maybe an estimator for how long it will take to walk from one panel to another when they’re in different buildings and I still have to pee, and grab coffee to stay awake.

More quiet rooms. Let’s face it: A lot of us are a little crazy—that’s why we’re writers. Some of us make great connections and have good conversations at the book fair that covers a floor of the entire convention center, but the noise-level was so overwhelming that I was constantly running outside to catch some rays and just have some quiet time. If more quiet rooms are not in the cards, maybe the AWP tote bags could include a pair of earplugs.

A disclaimer before panels: Please don’t bring up your own work during Q&A time. Panels aren’t a chance to pitch your own work. Writers go to AWP to learn from other writers and support each other. If you talk about your own work during question/answer time, I also assume you like your own Instagram posts and have annoyed a lot of teachers over the years.

Food trucks inside the bookfair. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I don’t want to pay $10 for a sandwich I could slap together at home in between revisions. I’m not saying I need a food truck with literature-inspired dishes (like the Crepes of Wrath, A Raisin bran-muffin in the Sun, or the Leaves of Grass iceberg wedge) but that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Time-Turners: There is no way one mortal can attend every single panel they’re interested in. Most of the coolest panels are at the same time, and when I was going to a bunch throughout the day, I was too tired for later ones (A nap at the hotel room would hit the spot, but can’t miss the panel on Suspense at 4:30!). This is where Time-Turners would be perfect— Pick up the device at the Information Desk and simply turn back time, and then I can attend as many panels through the day as I like. And later, maybe hit snooze and the dancefloor at the same time. Problem solved.

Maybe next year, I’ll get a couple of these features. But even if I don’t, I’m still coming back. Where else can I stand in line two hours for the one-hour of open bar?

 

Tori Cárdenas is an MFA candiate in Poetry and incoming Blue Mesa Review Poetry Editor for 2018-19. Her poetry explores folklore, science, and the collective unconscious, and has appeared in Conceptions Southwest, Cloudthroat Journal, Lavender Review, and the Taos Journal of Poetry and Art.

AWP – Blue Mesa Style

With AWP starting Thursday, we’ve been planning how to best spend our time, aside from nightly dance party and open bar. When not tearing up the dance floor or working our table (T338), the Blue Mesa Review staff shares the panels they’re most looking forward to attending.

Steve Howe, Editor in Chief

My MFA experience is wrapping up this spring, and I’ve been working on an essay collection for my final manuscript. I’ve felt the nature of the project has left me too steeped in traditional form. Once this project is done, I’ll need to reinvigorate my interest in atypical forms of the essay, so I’m looking forward to the Friday morning session, SpeculativeNonfiction: The Act of Invention in the Context of Reality.” The panel promises to “define speculative nonfiction as writing in which actual or verifiable material is not at war with material invented/extrapolated/speculated/fantasized.” I’ve read the work of most of the panel and have been moved by the chances they take, so this one is a “can’t miss” for me.

Lydia Wassan, Managing Editor

This AWP, I’m going for panels that dig into the nitty-gritty of getting a book published: manuscripts, the editing process, agents, contracts, and all that. I’m thinking a great place to start is “How Do I Know When This Thing Is Done? featuring some high-level editors (also writers in their own right) and literary agents. I’m expecting savvy insights about editing nearly-finished manuscripts. I also be attending “Writing Before You Write: How to Write a Book Proposal,” which discusses shaping a Nonfiction book proposal so publishers will bite. Oh, and I’ll be up early for Yoga for Writers, too.

Fiction Editor, Tatiana Duvanova

I’m looking forward to “Structuring the Novel: Methods, Approaches, Ideas,” featuring Janet Fitch, Lindsey Drager, Christian Kiefer, Matthew Salesses, Derek Palacio, because I should really be working on my first novel right now instead of procrastinating with the help of short stories and essays. I hope this panel will help me figure out where to start and how to approach a project that quite frankly seems unwieldy as of now. Most importantly, I am looking for a kick in the butt. And I just want to see Janet Fitch—I loved White Oleander in my time.

Ruben Rodriguez, Poetry Editor

I’ve been going to AWP for the last five years. This year, I am excited to see some of my friends present at the conference. I wholeheartedly suggest getting up early on Saturday to see the panel “Re-defining a Writer’s Success Through Intuition, Vulnerability, and Community Service.  I am most interested in the “Community Service” aspect of the discussion. I would like to see more writing programs, including my own, become the bridge between the academy and the community inhabiting university locals. I believe that this panel with offer some insight on how to do just that.

Hayley Peterson, Nonfiction Editor (incoming Editor-in-Chief)

The panel I’m most looking forward to is In Search of Our Essays’ Mother(s): Women and the History of the Essay.” Although most of my contemporary reading list is made up of female writers, I find that in my coursework and in my own personal research, it’s difficult to find the same presence even going back only 50 years. How does the female essayist fit into the canon? How has she changed the canon? I want to know.

Tori Cardenas, Graduate Reader, MFA in Poetry (incoming Poetry Editor)

This AWP is going to be my first, and there are way too many panels that look super interesting. However, I’m proud that a lot of panels are following a theme of resistance. “Writing Resistance: LGBTQ Writing as a Platform for Change” looks particularly cool, and specifically features “LGBTQ writers known for their politically driven content, who use their writing as a platform for activism and change.” I mean, I’m in. Duh. And “This Pussy Fights Back: Poems of Witness and Resistance” would go well with “Stranger and Truthier Than Truth: Fiction in the Age of Tr*mp” but they’re at the same time. So, I’m going to have to decide between these two at some point. I’ll definitely be at the LGBTQ Caucus, so I can talk with my fellow queers about issues of the day, like body politics and why I can’t find a tailor to fix the extra-small men’s suit I found on ThredUp.

Mitch Marty, Graduate Reader, MFA in Fiction (incoming Associate Editor)

It’s safe to say I still have far too many panels I’m interested in attending, but the one that stands out is “Writing Dementia: How We Give Voice to Fragmentation and Decline with Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Brendan Constantine, Kate Carroll de Gutes, Sarah Leavitt, and Tina Schumann. I spent a substantial amount of time in the nursing home with my great grandma who lived with Alzheimer’s disease when I was a child. And as I’ve seen dementia creep into the lives of aging family members, I’ve been reflecting more on how my identity and relationships have been shaped by this over time. This panel offers a unique perspective on how to write about these experiences through the lens of the panelists’ recent works.

 

Remember to stop by table 338 to visit with BMR staff, see our latest issue, and learn about the truly amazing judges we have on tap for our summer contest. Really, we’re blown away and think you will be, too. See you in Tampa!

Let the Movida Live

By Olivia Padilla

As I sift through the synopses of the New York Times bestsellers, I can’t help but grumble. Same old, same old. See, I can’t relate to contemporary literature – never have. I first came to this realization during my middle and high school days when I began reading young adult fiction. I didn’t see myself in the characters. What could a girl living in Rhode Island, who is on the crew team, and bikes around town at all hours of the night, have in common with me, a girl who grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico? Albuquerque is a dry and rough city, where walking around at all hours of the day or night is not advisable. We might as well have grown up in parallel dimensions. Now that I’m older and read literary fiction, I still find myself reading characters who have little or no connection to the world I live in.

I can’t relate because most literary characters do not share the same identity as I do – the Hispanic identity that thrives off movida and órale. Of course, some will say that I can always turn to the list of classic reads by Latin American and Chicano authors, like Blue Mesa Review’s founder, Rudolfo Anaya, to quench my thirst. But why should I have to continually refer to a specific list to see myself reflected in writing? I don’t want to use several filters before finding what I want. Instead, I want to find multiple works of literature that are widely recognized that feature Hispanic and Latino characters. Why doesn’t contemporary literature include characters that have the movida and burst into an órale once in a while?

I mean, movida is simply a great character trait. It’s the ability to get anything and everything on the cheap. We all have that one cousin who can find deals. He’s the one who always has tickets to the big game that he got from his “work,” – the same one who will travel a state over to purchase a boat for $150 cheaper than any of the others in town. He’s the guy who hacks all the family’s Amazon Fire Sticks to get the movies that are still in theaters, and makes Christmas gifts of the coats that he was “left with” after volunteering at the local news station coat drive. He has the movida. And since movida is universal, literature should depict it.

Also, órale is arguably one of the most versatile phrases of all time. ¿Órale? (slight lift of the chin) means “What’s up?”; ¡Órale! (yell out loud) means “That’s cool!”; ¡Órale! (furrow the brow and puff out the chest) means “What the hell!” It can also be used to get in and out of trouble, or when at a loss of words. Its meaning is ever growing and everlasting.

According to the Pew Research Center, the Latino population in the United States is around 58 million people. But the number of Hispanic authors featured on the New York Times bestsellers list simply doesn’t correlate with this rapidly growing population.

I have gone far too long without identifying with characters in books. I’m waiting to see the spirit of movida emerge in print, and hear órales roll off the tongue of characters in mainstream, contemporary literature. After all, I’m sure there is a Latina in Rhode Island somewhere rowing away, shouting “¡Órale!” after reaching a personal best.

 

Olivia Padilla is a staff reader for Blue Mesa Review

On Female Characters

Recently, I was sent a submission. I looked over the cover letter and the summary of the piece, and I really wanted to like it. It dealt with an important topic, was set in a place I wanted to know more about, was relevant, current. But—the author was male, and the story was told from a perspective of a female, and it was one of those stories. The protagonist was thinking about her period, tampons, pads, cramps, and possible leaks most of the time, and when she wasn’t, all she could focus on was dreaming about an engagement ring and getting sexually aroused by powerful and dangerous men checking her out. In the end, she got shot. I guess the writer just didn’t know what to do with her, so he decided to kill her off. She was a disposable thing, much like her tampons.

I am not saying that a man can never write from a woman’s point of view. There have certainly been a lot of great works of fiction written by men about women. Leo Tolstoy was not in any way a feminist, quite the opposite, yet Anna Karenina is a complex human being, not a caricature who is only able to think about her vagina and what is coming out of it. Similarly, being a woman doesn’t guarantee an automatic ability to craft female characters without fetishizing and objectifying them (think 50 Shades of Grey), but quite frankly, having read for Blue Mesa Review for a while, I do notice that a lot of stories with disposable, poorly written female characters come from men. Once, I was sent a piece that began fetishizing Russian women on the very first page. As a Russian woman, I did not appreciate it.

When we create disposable sexual objects instead of female characters we harm much more than our own story or our reputation as a writer. We add to the dangerous and widespread narrative that women are commodities. Every story like this reinforces the message that women are things to be used.  Fiction obviously isn’t the sole source of such messages, but it can be a powerful source. I remember when my brother was a teenager with zero dating experience, he came up with a wonderful idea that women like men who ignore them and don’t treat them too nicely after having read A Hero of Our Time, a famous Russian novel by Mikhail Lermontov. My brother never thought much about the fact that the novel was written by a twenty-five-year-old man who probably didn’t know much about women. Instead, he instantly bought into the narrative. The stories we are exposed to matter, they shape the way we see the world.

The writers who send us pieces like this aren’t necessarily bad writers. They aren’t necessarily bad people. We all have grown up with narratives where women are disregarded, tossed, casually raped, or used as a decoration or as a reward for male characters. We take it for granted that every time a woman appears on a page, her physical attractiveness or lack thereof must be mentioned. I myself have read and even enjoyed plenty of stories like that, and it took me years and years to finally figure out what was it about them that always left an unpleasant after taste. Luckily, now I can recognize sexism, misogyny and objectification in fiction when I see them. Even more importantly, I am in a position where I can reject such narratives. And I do.