Inside the Writing Life: Am I A Writer?

Do you write? Congratulations, you’re a Writer! It’s really that simple. Now, becoming a PUBLISHED writer is harder. I was a freelance writer for years (magazines, newspapers and radio), and now that I’m transitioning to fiction, it’s really no easier. The querying process can be brutal on your ego, and for some reason one negative comment often outweighs a hundred positive ones. But…

none of this has anything to do with whether or not you’re a Writer
(and if you are, put that big capital W at the start of it. You earn that W over and over). Any Writer has questioned whether or not s/he’s even a small-w-writer, let alone a Writer. That you care enough about the quality of what you write to have doubts earns you that capital W, so long as you don’t let your fears stop you and you actually write.

Don’t want to publish a book but you like to write? Write, and you’re a Writer, whether you publish or not. Self-published? Writer! Taking a break, whether it’s a day, a week, or a month (life can be hard, let’s face it), but you’re thinking about writing and the minute you can get half an hour of your own, you’re there, putting pen to paper or fingers on keyboard or whatever your method is? Writer!

Enjoy that part of it. Enjoy being one with every human being who has contributed to that precious thing, human literacy. Enjoy the fact that there is less of a difference between you and Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Stephen King, or any successful writer you admire than there is between you and anyone who hasn’t earned that big W. You’re members of the same club.

If you dream of writing but haven’t yet started, start. Earn that big W. No matter how awful (and trust me, any Writer worth mentioning has cranked out some really smelly junk while learning the craft, it’s inevitable), the moment you start, you earn your W. The only thing that might cause it to tarnish or fall off is if you stop. So long as you’re writing, you’re a Writer.

If you yearn to be published, to add “Author” to your shiny Writer badge, do so. Online for free, self-published, or, if you have the stamina and determination, chase that “traditional publishing” big A. But no matter how you get it, it will never erase the importance of that big W, so keep that W shiny.

And if you’re doubting yourself because the people in your life aren’t supportive, repeat after me, “Phooey! They don’t understand.” They don’t. Maybe they’ve chosen not to pursue their dreams, or to honor their talents, or they don’t appreciate the music and beauty of well-crafted words, or whatever, but they don’t hear the siren call. You can’t make them hear it, and you may not be able to make them understand, none of which drains even a teaspoon of importance from that beautiful, shiny, big W.

What polishes your W and keeps it shiny? Writing, of course — if all you can come up with is 30 minutes a day, 30 beats zero, go for it! Editing really polishes that W. I’m great at editing the work of others, but only mediocre at editing my own, so I rely on the help of people who see my work more clearly than I do (since I’m standing so close), but learning to be as objective as you can about your own work and make it better makes your W glow. Plotting, research, all can polish your W (but won’t earn it unless you use it to write).

Earn that W. Keep it polished. Add to it whatever you wish (in my case, I felt as though when I’d been paid to write for magazines, newspapers and radio, I’d earned a special badge, like for Girl Scouts, and it’s sewn on my mental sash). Enjoy it. You earned it. Give yourself the credit you deserve. Going after your dreams takes some courage and effort in a world that doesn’t respect most dreams or dreamers. Wear your W with pride.

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Welcome to

We are members of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

Joey Jones has published and edited many newspaper and magazine articles, radio stories, advertisements and commentaries, and has ghostwritten everything from speeches to love letters. She is a past Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting semifinalist and Fade In: Screenwriting Awards quarterfinalist. She also gathers sound and conducts interviews as a freelance field producer, and her on-air performance as “The Dying Fish” can be heard in the Water Education commercial series. You can read Joey’s political humor blog, Dear Donny: Presidential Pen Pals, by clicking the link, and see some of her artwork in our Redbubble shop, or fine art exhibits.

Mark Jones produces radio shows (like Connections on CapRadio’s Music Station). As Martin Jenkins, he’s been heard on CapRadio’s four news stations, and sometimes—during fund drives—on the Music Station. Mark also writes radio ads and stories, and has sung, acted and directed local theater and TV.

We’re about the story and the process. Do your best work, and on time. Life’s too short to make things harder than they have to be.

Like quirky, snarky, sweet artwork? Find some at our Redbubble shop.

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Showing Up When It Matters

The January 6 Committee hearings were televised tonight and will continue during the next week. We’re in Watergate territory again. When I was little, the school library left the Watergate hearings on tv all day, so if we wanted to watch it during lunch or on a class visit to the library, we could. It was history. The adults around us knew, and talked about, how important it was, that nobody, even the President of the United States, was above the law.

Nixon wasn’t accused of anything half so bad as what took place on and around January 6, 2021.

One of the stated reasons for televising part of the Watergate hearings was transparency, the idea that our government shouldn’t address something so important in secrecy. The other reason, discussed but not front and center, was that elected officials were looking for public support to deal with what Nixon had done. Had people not watched the hearings, listened, and been appalled enough to contact their legislators, Nixon and his co-conspirators would have gone unpunished, and their actions would have become normalized, part of the day to day operation of political campaigns.

Few people are willing to lose their jobs over issues no one cares about. Politicians, despite some evidence to the contrary, are people. If few of us care about the events of January 6, if we’re willing to forget and move on, why should members of Congress risk their jobs? If it’s not a priority for us, why should it be a priority for them?A thing that doesn’t get mentioned enough is that our “rights,” those freedoms we argue about but count on, require our government to be functioning and strong to enforce them.

If anyone who doesn’t like the results of an election can then try to overthrow the elected government, we enable the dictators who want to force their views on everyone regardless of the will of the people. We normalize force as the way our government operates and make violence just another tool in a politician’s tool kit. All the other things we argue about, gun laws, reproductive rights, voting rights, all of it, are meaningless unless we have a functioning government to enact the things we demand and enforce them.

Listening to the Capitol Police officer who testified was heartbreaking. The harrowing account of what she and fellow officers went through would chill the blood of any reasonable person. The documentary footage was sickening, jumped-up, white supremacist, military cosplayers bragging and plotting. Trump was right, there were conspiracies — but his followers weren’t responding to conspiracies, they were bringing them. The footage of them desecrating our capitol will never cease to disgust me. That we might shrug and so tell the world that we condone what they did is frightening. The very thing we use to sell democracy, the idea of the peaceful transfer of power, is at risk. They spit on it, on the Constitution, on everything that makes us American.

So this matters. It matters a lot. It matters so much that if we don’t show up and show we understand that, nothing else we talk about matters. We will have voted for fascism and dictatorship, and said that we want whatever lives the people who can force themselves into power are willing to give us.So yes, I’ll be watching. I expect it to be mostly a bit dull and sometimes a little confusing, but I’ll show up, and I’ll talk to my friends and neighbors, and contact my elected representatives to tell them what I think and what I want, because it’s important. I’m showing up for my community. I’m showing up for myself. I’m showing up because if I don’t, the people in power will rightly assume I don’t care, not about my rights, not about any of it. I hope you’re showing up, too.#January6th#Election2022#politics

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Mirror, Mirror

Three young women at a high school graduation.

High school graduation day. This is the only photo I have from that day. I’d meet Mark a few months later, so this is basically what I looked like when he met me.

Not looking for feedback on how I looked — for one thing, that was years ago and my avatar photo is much closer to what I look like now. For another, I’m older, and my self-worth doesn’t hang on my appearance (one of the big benefits of growing up). To talk about why I posted this, I have to tell you one important thing about this picture: I never felt even passably pretty, not one day in my entire life.

If asked, I’ve always rated my looks as *shrug* “Okay.” If pressed, I’d add, “Well, I haven’t noticed anyone making the sign of the cross or building torches, so I guess I’m all right.”

My family definitely thought I was on the homely side. Mom started working on my looks when I was still a toddler, battling my fine, straight hair. I got my first home perm when I was three. The rods yanked painfully at my hair, and the solution burned my skin and stank like moldy road-killed skunk. I had to sit very still in an uncomfortable chair in grandma’s kitchen, choking on the fumes. If I fidgeted, Mom or Grandma would remind me that, “A woman has to suffer to be beautiful.”

I was put on a weight loss diet for the first time when I was five. I was a solidly-built little kid, strong from dancing (started lessons at three). We were a family of stress eaters, so various family meltdowns meant I got Hostess snack cakes (I still have a fond spot for Ding Dongs and Snowballs) whenever things were stressful, as they often were. Mom was in a perpetual binge/diet cycle, and we tried them all. Whatever was in the women’s magazines, that’s what we ate. The Grapefruit Diet (both the one where you eat little but grapefruit and the one where you take grapefruit pills), The Hard-Boiled Egg Diet (you live mostly on hard-boiled eggs and celery), Metrecal (a diet “shake” that tasted like Milk of Magnesia and tin can), and a diet supplement with a name that hasn’t aged well, “Ayds.” These were advertised as candy that made you lose weight and contained benzocaine. We drank cabbage soup and tried Weight Watchers. Before I hit high school, I was an expert in it all.

What did all of this accomplish? I was probably at a healthy weight most of that time — I was an active kid — but my weight went up and down. When I hit puberty, my mom blamed my weight and put me on yet another diet. My breasts were “too big,” so we went to war with them, trying to reduce them by any means, but they just wouldn’t go. By high school, I had a naturally hourglass figure, which I was taught to be ashamed of. It brought me attention I didn’t want (as a shy person, an introvert, and convinced I was “wrong” in almost every way, I didn’t want to be the focus of attention — yes I was a performer, but that wasn’t my idea, long story). I got creeped on starting at about age 12 by adult men who insisted my junior high student body i.d. card was a fake. Teenaged boys groped me like my body was a public park (a girl’s best friend is the ability to deliver a biting insult or a good, solid punch). All the time, Mom tried desperately to fix me. Instead of telling me I was fine and they were the problem, she put me on diet after diet, seeking to make my curves go away.

As a young adult, I continued to have to Defend The Castle from creeps. I wore baggy clothes. I gained weight (much to my mother’s dismay — she lamented that I had “let myself go”). I parried propositions, and all the time I rebelled (give me those Oreos, damn it!), I also hated my appearance. A lifetime of fad dieting had left me with a messed up metabolism, I perfected the family stress eating habits, and ballooned up until I reached 400 pounds at my heaviest. My sense of self-worth (what of it I had) came from being “useful” and “a good person,” defined largely as being useful to other people and good to them — not myself.

When Mark and I married, my mother’s wedding gift was a case of diet drink mix. Even then, people who were trying to live on that diet were dying (it would help lead to changes in how “replacement nutrition” diets are used). I had told her I was seeing a therapist and dealing with the issues that made me eat instead of trying to lose weight — and she gave me a case of diet drinks that were killing people. Dying for beauty, indeed!

This is what we do when we reduce a person’s value to appearance. First, we declare that there is only one right way to look, whether that’s thin, light-skinned, or what have you. We set up a standard almost no one can reach, naturally or at all. Everything from our noses to our feet gets measured against that standard and there are only two groups of people: people who don’t meet that standard, and people who do but worry about “slipping” in some way so they no longer can. You might attain it briefly, but God forbid you age. Aging is not on that approved list.

In order to be “okay,” you have to meet that standard. At the least, you have to be seen to be actively trying, although that won’t get you to “okay,” just “barely acceptable.” Even though I work out more than the average American, I would get comments about my weight from perfect strangers. People I hardly knew or didn’t know at all would ask me, “Are you really going to eat that?” For quite a while, I only ate salads, and sparse ones at that, in public, because being judged perpetually gives you the feeling that you are being judged constantly. God forbid some random stranger saw me eating a cheeseburger! How was he to know I hadn’t had one in months?

Getting crow’s feet? Run to the plastic surgeon. Run! How can you be okay if you have a wrinkle? Hair is a whole ‘nother subject and again, almost never right. Long, short, gray, not gray, curly, straight or none at all — boy, there’s a whole list of things our hair is supposed to be, or not be. Don’t even get me started on hair where it’s “not supposed” to be.

Next, we reduce that person to nothing but the ability to match that arbitrary standard or be seen to be actively striving to meet it every damn moment. That person’s opinion, accomplishments, everything are judged through that lens. As one young woman told me, “It wouldn’t matter if I cured cancer unless I looked hot while I did it.” But if you look good, that’s not okay, either — when I was a young journalist, I wore glasses I didn’t need when interviewing people. Ugly glasses, at that. Otherwise they didn’t take me seriously.

Especially for women, every single thing you ever do, think, are is judged through that beauty lens. We’re supposed to chase being sexually desirable (with all the baggage and problems that can bring) but, we’re also supposed to pay all the freight for how other people handle that. If you’re insulted for being judged not desirable, well, that’s your problem, isn’t it? If you get creeped on or dismissed because you are, hey, you’re responsible for handling the reactions you get. Someone makes you an offer you don’t want to accept? Let him down easy, no matter how insulting that offer was, or the problem isn’t him, it’s you, you bitch.

Finally, we move the target and keep moving it. Beauty standards change. Companies who make money selling us things declare this characteristic “in” and that one “out.” Over the years, flat chests, big chests, and medium-sized chests have all been in or out for men or for women. Same with hips, hair, the lot of it. By moving the targets none of us ever get to be okay for long and the cash keeps flowing. By the way, I have to wonder what this does to people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. Good Lord, if I, a straight woman, find those standards punishing, what must it be like to be anything left or right of the Approved Gender List? Yikes.

Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to be reasonably fit and keep yourself clean and as put together as you decide to be. That’s healthy. But most of our relationship with our bodies and faces is not healthy. It encourages self-loathing and self-harm. The moment we look at someone else and say, “Wow, look at her,” either in praise or condemnation, we imply that the world gets to weigh in with an opinion on every single one of us, that judging is the primary way we want to engage with each other. Worse yet, we encourage doing that to ourselves.

Welcome to the world in which little kids are worried about being “sexy,” diets and plastic surgery are more and more common for young people, and our problem with creepsters does not seem to be getting better. The system we have supports self-harm, self-loathing and abuse, plain and simple.

At my heaviest, as a reaction to my totally dysfunctional family and my relationship with them and with myself, I weighed 400 pounds. I weigh a lot less now, although I’d still qualify as obese. That girl with an hourglass figure has become a woman who shops in the plus sizes. I’d like to say I’m totally fine with that, but while that’s mostly true, it’s not 100% accurate. There are moments when I lament my figure. I eat a healthy diet, I exercise, but as has been explained to me, my metabolism is very messed up and losing enough weight to no longer be considered “fat” would require strict, stringent and even somewhat punishing efforts.

I’m not working on that. I’m working on living in a healthy way, both physically and mentally. I’m working on just being okay with myself, however I show up. I’m working on not giving a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of my appearance with the exception of two people, myself and my husband, who loves me as I am and likes me more than anyone else he knows, so what else do I need?

I don’t think I’ll ever feel “pretty,” but that gets less and less important. I like myself. My hair is what it is and I like it. My body is what it is and I’m grateful for it. I’ve hopped off that hamster wheel of constantly trying to reach a moving target to be okay with myself, and I’m extending that grace to other people. Hopefully, if I help take just a bit of that pressure off myself and others, we can all be more okay, and that’s a target worth pursuing.

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Prince Charmish

So I’m talking with Mark about fairy tales, and it occurs to me… Prince Charming. He’s been a literary character, a cartoon, a meme, and yet…

What is it about Prince Charming? I read the Brothers Grimm version, as a kid and as an adult. I swallowed the animated, kind of 2D-Ken doll versions as a kid. I’ve absorbed the cultural visions of him through my pores like almost every woman (it’s not just Western culture — other cultures have their own versions) in movies, in books, magazines, television, songs…  It’s embedded into our view of the world, the idea of the perfect man. It’s so prevalent that it took me years to examine it. When I did, I realized something…

Nobody tells you what makes him charming. We’re simply told he’s charming, and that’s that. In the original, he’s simply a prince, and that’s enough. Then he becomes a handsome prince. He dances with Cinderella, and he’s charmed by her, but does he do anything particularly charming himself? Not really. In later versions, he acquires the name, Prince Charming, but still we’re not given any evidence that he is, indeed, charming. He ignores the other guests at the ball to dance with the most beautiful girl in the room, flattering for her, but hardly charming for everyone else there. He chases a girl who’s trying to get away from him. Not so charming, that. He takes her shoe on an obsessive quest,  prepped to marry the first woman who wears that size shoe in the kingdom, assuming there’s only one, and it must be her. Not too bright. If you find intelligence charming, you’re out of luck.

To a lonely, abused girl, maybe the very fact that he could take her away and presumably give her a place to bathe, a change of clothes, and a bed that wasn’t the floor was probably enough, to start. How likely is it that her standards were high? We don’t hear from her five years into the marriage. By that time, he might be “Prince Too Dim To Follow A Thought From One End To The Other,” or “Prince I Think He’s Sleeping With The Maids, And Not One At A Time, Either.” 

So what is it that drives the myth of Prince Charming? He’s a mirror. You bring to him whatever needs and desires you’re carrying with you. He’s featureless. You can hang whatever fantasies you want onto him, and he’ll wear them, much like dressing a Ken doll. We all know Ken only exists so that Barbie doesn’t have to go stag if she doesn’t want to. Pre-media celebrity, we had Prince Charming. Much as we approach celebrities with our load of issues and paint them to suit us, we create our own Prince Charmings, one for each of us. Mine might be, probably is, very different from yours.

All of which is fine, if you see it for the fantasy it is. Instructive, even, if you look at why your Prince Charming looks and acts as he does. That could tell you a lot about yourself. If, however, you go out in the world skipping any guy who doesn’t fit the suit, Prince Charming becomes a problem. He gets in the way. Which isn’t charming.

Yes, guys have their own versions of this (“Hooker with a heart of gold, beautiful but unappreciated, disease-free, no addictions, not planning to steal my wallet, just needs someone perceptive and kind to rescue her”). No, I don’t have any deep, insightful lessons to impart from it all. I just find it interesting that in looking slightly to the left or right of the real people standing right in front of us, we might be missing something.  — Joey

What makes him Charming, anyway?

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Rose that looks like it's sticking its tongue out. Message "Happy Valentine's Day from most of us." I once wished someone “Happy VD!” without realizing the double-entendre. Oops. He wasn’t amused. Valentine’s Day can be a field full of heart-shaped land mines.

In junior high and high school, the cheerleaders used to sell carnations for a dollar each. You could write a little card and around Valentine’s Day (or on it if it was a school day), they would interrupt classes to deliver the carnations. You’d sit in class, knowing Today Is The Day, feeling a bit sick. You never knew exactly when it would take place, but at some point, two cheerleaders would walk in with a tray. They’d announce names as if picking teams for dodge ball. “Lindsay Flag Twirler?” Then they’d present you with a carnation. If you got more than one, they wouldn’t just hand them all over. No, each was announced separately. It was torture. People who got bunches of them gloated, people who got none looked sick. It was school-sanctioned torment.

From my tone, you’d think I was one who didn’t get flowers, but I always got a few. Sometimes more. But my mom was worried I’d have to sit there, unflowered (insert “deflowered” joke here) in front of everyone. You wore them through the rest of the day. Popular kids looked like Rose Bowl Parade floats while most people looked… like they’d rather be anywhere else. Mom used to send me one (she’d give the money to a friend of mine and it was from an “anonymous” admirer, but I knew). That was sweet. She was trying to protect her kid from humiliation. My friends and I would send them to each other. I often had a boyfriend and we’d exchange them as well. I was middling-popular in school, neither the bottom nor the top of the pecking order.

And still, I hated it. I’d cringe for people who had to sit through all of that only to be embarrassed. Being human, everyone looked about to see who got what, and who didn’t. We might as well have pinned big letters to our clothes stating our status in the school popularity rankings. It’s been long enough that I can tell my secret — I used to pick people at random and send them an anonymous flower, probably because my mom used to send me one. I’d change my handwriting, just in case. I even sent one to myself one year, with extravagant praise I could read aloud to make people laugh.

In addition to the flowers, another team (JV cheer? Flag twirlers? I don’t remember) sold boxes of conversation hearts. So you got to go through it twice.

The pandemic has brought us few benefits indeed, but one is that not having school in person has meant that awful tradition became impossible. As we slowly, cautiously come out of our pandemic burrows (because, let’s face it, the pandemic isn’t over, and so long as some of us insist on behaving as if it never happened, who knows how long we’ll be dealing with it), let’s consciously ditch that which wasn’t working to begin with, like school-sanctioned popularity contests. Ugh. I want to reach the day when I tell a school-aged kid about it and they don’t believe it was ever a thing.

Just so you know, you have the capacity to be absolutely wonderful and you deserve flowers. Heaps of them. On Valentine’s Day and other days, too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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