LBGTQ+ History Month Spotlight: Take My Wife

October is LGBTQ+ history month, and I want to celebrate it by talking about the T.V. show, Take My Wife. Take My Wife was a television show on Seeso that focused on the marriage of two comedians, Rhea and Cameron (played by real life wives Rhea Butcher and Cameron Esposito). The show had an all female writer’s room, 43% of whom were women of color, employed LGBTQ+ actors in more than 47 roles in their second season, and actively sought out queer people in the industry to be a part of their production team. The show is considered one of the most inclusive T.V. shows available today. On August 9, 2017, Seeso announced it would be shutting down, throwing the fate of Take My Wife into limbo.  

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Photo courtesy of Seeso

I’m a huge fan of T.V. This started at a young age when I became captivated by the various adventures of those little guys on The Rugrats and continued when I heard my parents laughing in the living room while they watched Friends and Will and Grace. Anytime I scampered in to join in on the fun, they shooed me away, saying I was too young to watch and the beautiful people on the screen were just being silly. I started calling Friends The Silly People Show for this reason, and ever since I was (appropriately) censored from seeing it as a five year old, I have wanted to consume as many sitcoms as possible.

As I’ve gotten older and more pretentious, I’ve been drawn to more sophisticated stories that explore deeper, more complicated themes. However, I haven’t been able to shake my love for the sitcom. There’s something comforting about the genre, but I’ve become intensely frustrated by these shows’ lack of diversity. I’ve come to expect the same patterns when I watch these shows: predominately white, straight, and written by men.

Enter: Take My Wife.

Women write the episodes, the stars of the show are openly queer, and the supporting cast and folks behind the scenes are diverse in their race, gender, and sexuality. The aura of the show, unlike the shows I had grown used to, is completely inclusive. I had finally found a sitcom I could get excited about.

For the sake of time, I’m going to focus specifically on the pilot, which you can watch here. The show had me immediately after the opening. Close shots of everything in twos: toothbrushes, mugs, crusty cereal bowls. We are welcomed into the intimacy and warmth of our two main characters’ world. We don’t know how they came together, we don’t know how they came out, but we know that in this moment, they are together, and they are happy.

Except they aren’t quite happy, it turns out. Each are unsatisfied with various elements of their careers. They’re trying to find their rhythm, their balance. They face misogyny and failure and frustrations in the work place. Rhea practices her standup and gets continually interrupted by her needy boss, and Cameron eats soup alone in her car. They celebrate one another. They argue. They spoon.

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Photo courtesy of ew.com

And that’s what makes Take My Wife so innovative: its normalcy. Rhea and Cameron play a couple pursuing creative careers. They miscommunicate, make mistakes, support one another, and manage to slip in some wacky escapades along the way. No one dies (sorry, that’s a spoiler I guess), the main characters aren’t made to feel morally compromised for their sexuality, and the show’s lack of toxic masculinity feels like a breath of fresh air. Sure, there are ways the show could improve, but it only had six episodes to find its voice. The fact that it succeeded in that venture in such a short amount of time is an indication that Cameron and Rhea and their team are on to something really great and innovative.

I think this show is important to highlight during LGBTQ+ history month because it does what few shows before it have done: it celebrates queer people, it celebrates diversity, and it doesn’t cast queer characters in the margins of the show as quirky sidekicks or characters fated for tragic endings. This is enormously important. I can’t help but think that if more stories like Take My Wife were on mainstream networks, there would be less fear and hatred surrounding queer people—less discrimination, more empathy. At the end of the day, what Take My Wife shows is that Rhea and Cameron are just two gals trying to navigate their careers and personal lives while remaining deeply in love and attracted to one another.

My love for T.V. remains as strong as it did back in the days when the sitcom remained a mystery to me. I think I love television so much because I believe it has the capacity to bring about real social change due to its ability to showcase the stories of so many different people. However, these diverse stories only get told when someone takes a chance on them. So take a chance on Take My Wife; get lost in the warmth and complexity of the world Rhea and Cameron have created, which reflects the lives that they live. America needs to see lives like these because, to me, they look a lot like hope.

Madeline Sneed, Intern

 

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Don’t Overlook the Newly Published Novel, Drag

As our intern Brooke Knisley has suggested in her blog post “The Intellectualization of the Genre Novel,” we’re apt to skip novels excluded from the list of Editor’s Picks: those novels considered ‘under the radar’. When Brooke refers to genre novels, she includes thrillers we can’t put down; romances that play on our sentiments; and murder mysteries published by all but a select set of recognized serializes. The Genre Novel tag has often extended, when they first appear, to works pockmarked by expletives; while in retrospect so many of these rise to occupy the status of classics, such as Kerouac and Burroughs.

Nonetheless, whether mood or presentation/sensibility relegate Genre Novels to airport turnstiles–on the one hand–and beer-soaked basements–on the other–they are, as Brooke contends, far more than “guilty pleasures.” For they are “indicative of larger events surrounding (their) creation.” Perhaps best poised to present to our current condition is the after-work writer, seated at the kitchen table, under the glare of the florescent lights. If we read only hardbacks displayed in bookstore windows, though, we are we are apt to miss out on new voices, keyed in when the house is silent. It is in this spirit that I choose to write about a recently published novel, Drag, by Domenic D. Augustus & S. M. Dudley, and edited by CambridgeEditors.

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When Drag’s main character, Vincent, initiates his divorce, he checks off every decency point: “(He) would pay bi-weekly child support, and cover Kaye’s and Emmy’s health insurance, and Emmy’s future college tuition.” (p. 47) Displayed here are Vincent’s eerie, picture-perfect planning skills. Scanning into the future and back through the past, he fends off blame before his ex-wife, Kaye, has time to vocalize it. Besides, insofar as his daughter is concerned, Vincent wants to continue seeing Emmy, a foot-in-the-door but authentically held gesture. Nonetheless, father-daughter outings, once Vincent has severed all conventional ties, feature the consequences of Vincent’s break with the American Dream. When moments of routine togetherness turn aggravating, Vincent’s bitterness rears up, and is expressed in gratuitous side-remarks playing within his closed-off psyche. Common-place pleasures increasingly evoke sarcasm. His obsessions are on autopilot. What thoughts come to mind when his daughter drops her ice cream cone? “They should put a human kiddie car wash in these family bathrooms. Slide the kids on a conveyor belt to clean face, hands, and fannies all at once.” (p. 99) Relationships with family members have become strained.  He no longer perceives their three-dimensionality. The experience of washing up his daughter concludes inwardly with the comment, “So gross.” Involuntary thoughts document the Twitter feed of his decline.  With tunnel vision he maps out his master caper.

In the divorce’s immediate aftermath, Vincent allows his appearance to go messy. Once his plan for the future coalesces, though, Vincent rebounds as if to the call of duty. Re-employed and respectable, he dons the look and trappings of his former self. This holds true even after the snag that bungles the first run of his caper—when he is called in for questioning: “[Vincent’s] intent is to remain calm and cool and emit the emotion of a man not entering into a police station to be questioned in a crime, but rather that of a man entering into a post office to retrieve his mail.” (p. 86)

A twinge of ‘wrong’ does tap on Vincent’s shoulder sometimes, personified by his mother in heaven, and by his interrogating officers, their suspicions not entirely quelled. Nonetheless, he enjoys a spell of successfully duping those with whom he comes into contact: on a daily basis as the company man; and when a try at his plan short circuits, receiving the sympathy owed the hapless, injured patient. So why does the ruthless risk that drives him not dissipate? Having found his way out of the status quo, why does he push his luck? The thrill that Vincent derives from each new dare is, the novel suggests, psychologically diagnosable. Nonetheless, what are readers to infer from the way the novel progresses with increasing speed away from Middle Class family conventions, occupations, and expectations of sustained intimacy? Here, I suggest, Drag breaks new ground.

On the theme of perfectly good marriages ending in divorce, when Drag’s central character leaves his life–unlike in Cheever’s and Updike’s novels–his goal is not to maximize seductions–others’ wives–nor is it the pursuit of a generalized lust. The trope of consummating, bonding with another, for however briefly and even when that “other” is objectified, cannot be the motivating feature here. It is precluded by the focus self-preoccupation. None of Vincent’s reasons fit familiar, prior molds. Although Vincent is wistfully envious of those born into the haves, greed is not a motivation. In the course of the novel, drink and bad company are too transitory to count. And although apathy precludes guilt, Vincent wishes no one harm. This would explain why we are inclined neither to damn, nor pity, the character or his plight.

Vincent may be a character to whom the paradigmatic American notion of responsibility does not apply. Does it give way to a determinism of sorts? And if we yield to this notion, does it apply, by extension, to the incomprehensible landscape of our new, American times?

Find out more at the author’s website: https://writtenraw.com/.

– Dr. Harte Weiner

CambridgeEditors founder and lead editor

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Representation Matters: We All Want a Seat at the Table

Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program offers many literary events throughout the year. On October 3rd, one of these events entitled Gayly Forward: The Future of LGBT Publishing brought together a panel of queer writers and editors to speak on the topic of queer representation in the publishing industry.

The Panel:

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Although the panel consisted of four well-spoken, well-versed, and well-read writers, only two letters of the titular acronym had a presence on the panel: lesbian and gay. Ironically, the topic of representation composed a large portion of the event: should queer writers have their own section in bookstores or be interspersed among the different genres within the store? Are queer writers more inclined to take the position of activist or journalist when covering gay events? Are Young Adult novels the only texts doing a good job of portraying queer stories and characters?

The panel had a large load to unpack over the hour and a half talk. First, unanimously, the group made a quasi-tongue-in-cheek decision that queer novels should appear alongside of non-queer books and have their own section, claiming to “want it all.” And after so long without adequate representation, why shouldn’t the gay community have it all?

The moderator, assistant professor Benoit Denizet-Lewis, broached the question of conflicting identities for queer writers, especially on the newspaper and magazine side of publishing. Activist or journalist? Is there a way to embody both identities without sacrificing the integrity of either? The group was unable to reach a verdict, instead deciding that the truth mattered most, no matter which stories were being told.

Young Adult novels, the panel concluded, not only have been doing an excellent job of representing queer stories but are planting the idea in the minds of young writers that these stories can—and should—be told. Chee’s comment on J.K. Rowling’s post-publishing reveal that Dumbledore had, in fact, been gay was especially poignant: he said it sounded as if she had regretted not explicitly adding that detail in the text and only felt “safe” to make that apparent after the book series’ completion.  This is the crutch of representation: safety. When do we feel safe to be ourselves and share our own stories?

The panel and the panel’s audience constituted a strange moment for me, a cis woman who identifies as pansexual. I felt like an outlier in an already sidelined community—not just underrepresented, but lacking all and any representation. Outside of a brief mention of the ostracized bisexual community, the panel focused on only the experience of gay (the majority) or—severely limited—lesbian experiences. No trans men or women made an appearance either in physicality or anything more than a passing mention.

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Writing this post harkens back to the moderator’s query: activist or journalist? I was hesitant to describe the event as anything other than an all-around positive experience with meaningful talks of representation. And, for all intents and purposes, it was a great look into the publishing future of “L” and “G.” Although the length of the acronym itself was briefly touched upon, not all of the letters it contained received equal representation.

–Brooke, intern

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The Author and The Media Age

Social media has become a part of the language we speak. Facebook incites argument, Instagram provokes envy, and Twitter is used for foreign policy. Because of this, social media is one of the best marketing tools available for artists today. Likes, shares, and retweets bring artists in obscurity to prominence through a series of successful social media campaigns.

For a writer, the best social media platform is Twitter. Confined to 140 characters (though the site is thinking about introducing a new 280 limit), the social networking site is ideal for those who deal in words. However, some prominent published writers seem to scorn all forms of social media, either to prevent themselves from becoming distracted from their work or because they believe the medium to be a frivolous time waster.

I, however, believe that a well-managed Twitter account can increase an author’s readership, help market their new work, and connect them to a network outside of the literary world. Today, I am going to explore the Twitter accounts of three reputable (and remarkable) female writers: Nayyirah Waheed, J.K. Rowling, and Jennifer Egan. I will analyze what their accounts do well, their limitations, and how they allow these women to reach new audiences.

Nayyirah Waheed

I am in many ways limiting Waheed’s social media influence by analyzing her Twitter profile because it was her Instagram that expanded her audience and allowed her poetry to garner attention. She takes pictures of poems from her collections (my favorite is salt.) and posts them, captioning the collection and title of the poem.

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Her tweets are similar. What I find most effective about Waheed’s Twitter is that everything she tweets is a poem. Her poetry consists of fragmented sentences that explore issues of race, love, and gender.

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Because her poetry is so sparse, Waheed is able to fit an entire poem in 180 characters. She’s created a distinct form of tweeting that allows her readers to see new work daily. It also extends her readership more quickly since other users can browse her profile and get instant access to her poetry. If a tweet resonates with a follower, they can like or retweet it, and the poem will show up on their timeline. Then, one of their followers can see the poem, and if they like it, they may follow Waheed or even buy one of her collections.

Some limitations to Waheed’s Twitter include her use of pictures, retweets, and her promotion of other poets. While this is normally a great way to utilize social media, Waheed’s tweets are in such a specific format that her profile as a whole loses some potency when she breaks from tweeting poetry. Ideally, her account would consistently stick to her “poem as tweets” format.

However, this has not stopped her from garnering nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter and over 350,000 followers on Instagram. Waheed’s use of social media has had a tangible effect on her career. She self-published her first collection, salt. By posting her poems on social media, Waheed gained positive attention from various followers. Because of this rise in popularity, Waheed’s collection started to be taken seriously by critics who had at first blown off her poetry for its non-traditional form. Her work is now studied in high schools across the country.

J.K. Rowling

Rowling holds nothing back on her Twitter. She uses it for marketing new work (especially by retweeting promotions from Robert Galbraith, her pseudonym’s account), for connecting with her fans, and for confronting political issues, both in the US and the UK. Since joining the site in 2009, Rowling has tweeted almost 9,000 times, gained over 12 million followers, and averages around 1,000 retweets for her unlinked tweets.

Rowling’s tweeting is partly a product of her prominence in the world as a celebrity. She has used her platform to speak out against Brexit and Donald Trump, and she frequently calls out British journalists on Twitter. Also, because she is a celebrity and doesn’t have to worry about gaining or losing followers, she can tweet whatever she likes, for example:

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And she will receive a receive a generally positive response from her followers (like me!):

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One limitation of Rowling’s account is that, because she tweets such politically charged material, she’s bound to lose followers and receive flack from other users on Twitter. What makes Rowling a master of the medium, however, is her ability to respond to those comments with concise, biting turns of phrases:

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Rowling has plunged head first into the social media world and has used Twitter to cultivate a specific voice outside of her creative work. People who may not be interested in reading her fiction still follow her because of her engagement on the social media site. Through her tweets, Rowling has made herself a prominent voice in today’s volatile political climate.

Jennifer Egan

Egan is an acclaimed writer and an elite presence in the literary world, and her twitter reflects that. Egan uses her twitter account exclusively for marketing purposes. She was active in 2014 when she was the editor for the anthology Best American Short Stories (and, during this time, retweeted Joyce Carol Oates’ thoughts on the collection). She then stopped tweeting. Her account ceased its three-year period of dormancy to market her new book Manhattan Beach, which comes out October 3rd.

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While this strategy will not garner you the most followers (Egan has just over 12,000 followers and averages at or under 100 likes per post), it is a great marketing strategy. If I was a curious reader wanting to see what projects Egan had coming out, it would be super easy for me to find that information on her sparse account. Additionally, because her account isn’t inundated with a constant stream of tweets (both personal and professional), she would be an account someone who likes an uncluttered feed would be more likely to follow.

Egan’s account is not geared toward gaining new readership. There’s nothing on her account that would make someone who has never read her work follow her. However, because she does have a Twitter, she can be tagged when she’s nominated for prestigious honors, like making the National Book Award Long List. This can direct readers who are not familiar with her work toward her profile.

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There are a number of different ways for a writer to manage their social media accounts, and these are just three examples. Whether you choose to manage your account like Waheed, Rowling, or Egan, know that your Twitter can have a positive effect on your professional work when you utilize the medium creatively and effectively.

Madeline Sneed, Intern

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The Intellectualization of the Genre Novel

Academics and those concerned with literary theory turn their noses up at the concept of “writing in genre.” And yet, those same critics of genre surreptitiously consume popular fiction in the bowels of their favorite bookstore, saying to themselves, “I know this is trash, but…”

The debate of genre versus literary fiction is not a new one: The New Yorker and The Guardian have both discussed the topic in the past. Chances are you’ve actually been assigned genre fiction for a class during your high school education. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed Sherlock Holmes is part of the detective fiction tradition, a subset of the more generalized crime fiction faction. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is an example of 19th century adventure fiction. The list continues.

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Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon

But it’s undeniable that these novels have merit—so what about the intellectuals who read notoriously bad genre novels, both in form and content? Is it pure escapism or fulfilling another need?

The phenomenon of certain texts gaining in popularity reflects more about the society that embraces them than the actual texts. Think about the political and social climate that gave rise to the first Twilight book.  The year was 2005, President George W. Bush had begun his second presidential term, Chris Rock was the first black man to solo host the Academy Awards, and Terri Schiavo’s right-to-die case spurred activity from the pro-life movement, the right-to-die movement, and disability rights groups.

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Twilight fans camping out, photo by National Post

The first Twilight book did not deal with these issues, but by the end of the saga the notion of violent versus non-violent conflict resolution, racial (or species) prejudices, and pro-life arguments found their way into the story—and not just as casual mentions. These topics situated themselves as pivotal plot points, and, in the case of non-violence, the actual climax and dénouement to the entire series.

The next time you find yourself ensnared by a piece of genre fiction, don’t think of it as a “guilty pleasure.” Instead, turn it into an intellectual exercise—a sociological experiment, if you will. What is the larger rhetorical situation this text is responding to? What about it is drawing the attention of its audience? What is that audience, for that matter? And how do you fit in with that audience?

Remember, no text—novel, poem, or otherwise—is created in a vacuum. A discerning reader will look at the larger events surrounding its creation—and the implications of its existence. Reading “guilty pleasures” doesn’t have to be something to be guilty about; all you have to do is approach ‘mindless’ reading mindfully.

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Intentionally Introductory

Introducing myself in any capacity always reminds me of the opening pages of a novel. Just as Holden Caulfield quips in the opening pages of The Catcher in the Rye, maybe I should start with where I was born and “all that David Copperfield kind of crap.”

But where’s the fun in that? Instead, I’ll start by saying I actually hate The Catcher in the Rye. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t hate J.D. Salinger’s writing style or anything; I just feel the book is a poor example of a coming-of-age story and thusly shouldn’t be taught as such in the general high school curriculum.

However, I will say this: My name is Brooke Knisley, a new intern at CambridgeEditors. I’m also in Emerson College’s Writing and Publishing M.A. program. My main concern is hearing and acquiring stories, and my definition of “stories” is a broad one. I like to know why people elect to share certain stories and what narratives are intrinsic in seemingly innocuous pieces of text: a scribbled note, an improvised tune, a birthday invitation. Graffiti counts too.

Me

I’ve traveled throughout the world in search of stories (Chiapas in Southern Mexico being my most recent destination) because the literary landscape is as diverse as our physical one. No text exists in a vacuum and the place of creation affects the production of a text as much as the narrative’s locale, whether intended or not.

But intentionality does matter in any story. The choices an author makes (or doesn’t) reveal the project at work behind the narrative. Which is another reason every introduction reminds me of the beginning to a novel. Why did this person use that piece of information to construct an identity? And why did they want to show you that specific side of their personality?

Which begs the question: If every introduction is a contrived text, why did I choose to introduce myself this way to you all? What is my larger project?

I look forward to revealing it to you over my tenure as an intern at CambridgeEditors. Hopefully, you will stick around so we can work through it together.

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Intern Introduction

Hello! My name is Madeline Sneed, and I am one of the two fall interns at Cambridge Editors this semester. I moved to Boston from Houston, Texas (the greatest city in the world), just a couple of weeks ago. Though I miss the Lone Star State, I’m so thrilled to be in a completely new environment, and I love Boston already. I am here to pursue an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. My goal after graduation is to write novels while teaching English or creative writing.

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Just bein’ a Baylor Bear

 

I have a BA in English literature from Baylor University in Waco, Texas—yes, I have been to Magnolia, and no, I have never met Chip or Joanna Gaines. During my time at Baylor, I fell in love with the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Colum McCann, and David Foster Wallace. While post-modern American literature is my jam, some of my favorite novels include A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, and Crime and Punishment. In addition to novels, I love enjoying stories told through film and television. I know too much about Game of Thrones for my own good, I can’t seem to stop watching Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, and my two favorite films are Dead Poets Society and Carol.

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Reading in front of Baylor’s English building

When I’m not consuming stories, I love to travel, hang out with my friends, work out, listen to music, and try to get celebrities to respond to me on Twitter. I’m an avid Houston sports fan, and the biggest struggle in moving to Boston has been stomaching all the Patriots paraphernalia. I truly believe that the Houston Texans will win the Super Bowl this year (I say this every year). Additionally, I love to cook and am a wannabe oenophile. A fun fact about myself is that I won four consecutive intramural racquetball championships at Baylor, and I believe that is when I peaked in life.

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Peak of my existence

I’m very excited to work with and learn from the Cambridge Editors team, and I hope you all enjoyed reading a bit about me. Look out for future blog posts from yours truly in the future!

Madeline Sneed, Intern

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