Nothing but a Desk and a Typewriter

Delighted to host Elena Mauli Shapiro, who first appeared here when her debut novel, 13 rue Thérèse came out. She’s back with a sophomore novel, In the Red, which Koren Zailckas calls “exotic, dangerous, deviant, delicious.” – Meg

SHAPIRO_INTHEREDI was in college when she first came to me.  It was summer of my sophomore year and I was working as a teller at Wells Fargo Bank to raise tuition money for Stanford.

Bank teller is one of those jobs where the body repeats the same motions all day, over time acquiring muscle memory for the work.  Sometimes I could leave my body at work and send my mind elsewhere.  I would often write snippets of poetry on pieces of blank receipt tape when there was a lull between customers.  These small papers were all over my workstations, like white leaves fallen off the language tree.

The rhythm of the work made sentences pop into my head in voices that were sometimes not my own.  One morning I heard in a slightly accented voice the words I am not a child of America.  Until my lunch break, these words floated at the top of my consciousness like these insects that can skitter Jesus-like on top of water.

When time came for my half-hour lunch break I went to an empty room upstairs from the bank where there was nothing but a desk and a typewriter.  I rolled a piece of paper into the typewriter and met my new protagonist.

She was Romanian and her name was Irina.  A name that mirrored my own in structure and sound.  Over the years I wrote many stories for this double of mine, always of tortured love, always with an undercurrent of menace. I carried Irina inside me for seventeen years until she was ripe to be a book. Finally the story came to fruition as the novel In the Red.

authorpicIrina, a Romanian orphan raised by Americans, has never felt at home in the good life given to her.  When she meets Andrei, a dashing criminal from her unknown country of origin, she comes unglued from all the good things she has been given in an attempt to find out who she is.  The draw of sex, power, and money certainly plays a part in her decision–which never really feels like a decision.  It feels like being sucked down a tunnel with no light at the other end.  In this tunnel, she meets other criminals, both compelling and terrifying, and a young Russian mail-order bride named Elena.  Elena is a mystery who becomes her only friend.  Irina’s story, underpinned by Romanian myth, asks what is a lone woman’s place in the world, and how is she supposed to find it?

In the Red is a novel about foreignness, morality, capitalism, the meaning of America.  It is a novel about how trauma informs history, turns it into myth.  It is a novel that asks how we tell ourselves who we are, and how we hold ourselves up against a world that never ceases to swallow us. It is a novel about how Irina was wrong when she first came to me that foggy morning all these years ago: we are all children of America. – Elena

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Draft the Acknowledgments. Write the dedication.

I always love hosting debut novelists here, and ones who are lawyers from Ann Arbor–does it get better than that? Jodi Picoult calls Julie Lawson Timmer’s Five Days Left, released yesterday, “a beautifully drawn study of what is at risk when you lose control of your own life. Unique, gripping, and viscerally moving.” So yes, it does get better! And Julie’s story of how she got started is very moving, too. – Meg

5 Days Left, a novel by Julie Lawson TimmerMy husband is in automotive marketing, and he’s forever coming up with phrases I’ve never heard of. For example, you know that little plastic clip some cars have on the inside of the windshield on the driver’s side, that holds parking card passes? That kind of thing is called “a surprise and delight.” Who knew?

The concept of “push/pull” in marketing speaks to whether a company is pushing a product on you or whether you are pulled toward that product. Pushing a product–say, a car–would involve offering incentives like rebates and zero percent financing. When consumers are pulled toward a car, though, it sells at sticker price, or even above. (Ford Thunderbirds sold above sticker).

How does this relate to writing your first novel, or to how I wrote mine? Well, list with me all the methods you’ve heard about how to push yourself to write an entire novel: set daily word count (or page count) goals; get up two hours early; write for a certain period of time each day; do the 1k/1hr challenges on Twitter; sign up for NaNoWriMo; BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard); swap a chapter/week with a critique partner to keep yourself accountable.

I have tried every one of these push methods and for me, they all work because I am Type AAA–I would rather cut off a limb than miss a deadline or a word count target. But pushing yourself can feel like drudgery, and even the most disciplined of us can only deal with “Ugh, I have to write 498 more words before I’m allowed to quit for the day,” for so long. In Michigan, in winter, at 4am, “I have to meet my word count” is not as enticing as the warm bed you’re trying to drag yourself out of. If I had only push techniques to sustain me for the two years it took me to draft, revise, query, restructure/rewrite and revise again before I got an agent and a book deal, I’m not sure Five Days Left would exist.

What kept me going was identifying a pull. I’m sure you could list some of these with me, too: imagine yourself winning the Pulitzer/Nobel/ Man/Booker. Picture yourself at the premier of the movie you’ve sold the rights to–walking the red carpet with the star (Clooney) and the director (Scorcese). Draft the Acknowledgments section, in which you rave about your wonderful husband who, in addition to putting in long hours at his own job (say, in automotive marketing) also stayed up countless late nights with you, discussing character motivation and plot issues. Write the dedication.

Julie Lawson Timmer author photoFor me, it was this last one that did it: For Ellen. Ellen was a friend of mine who died after a long, brave and gracious battle with cancer. From the second I conceived of the idea for Five Days Left, I knew there would be a dedication page and I knew it would say, simply, For Ellen. Those two words, more than word count, page count, BICHOK, critique partner swaps, NaNoWriMo 50k-in-a-weekend challenges, 1k1hr Twitter challenges, more than any dream of a book deal or a movie deal or a literary prize, made me climb out of bed day after day after day. For two years. Even in winter. Even in Michigan. Mostly at 4am, but often at 3am. For Ellen. I cannot think about, or write, those two words without feeling my eyes sting and my throat close, nor can I think about Ellen without those things happening. And I cannot, and could not, conceive of a world in which I set out to write a book dedicated to her and then didn’t finish it. For Ellen pulled me out of bed, out of the depths of “I can’t finish this” despair and “I’m not good enough” fears.

Recently, I was struggling to finish my second book, which deals with step-parenting, foster care, adoption and the general question of what makes a parent/child relationship–is it biology, law, love, or what? I had piled up all the pushes I could think of–notations in a calendar about what chapter I’d reach by what date, a deadline I made a point of announcing to my agent so there’d be no way I could let myself miss it, and a few others. They were all leaning against me, those pushes, pressing me to write, and I was miserable. And then one night, it hit me: For the five children I’m most connected to: Jack and Libby, Sammie and Maddie, and Evan. Two by DNA. Two by law. One by baptism. All by love.

The pull. I finished the book ten days later. – Julie

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Getting to a Published Novel the Nanowrimo Way

Debut novelist Shelly King is a Silicon Valley social media strategist and information architect by day, but still found time to write The Moment of Everything, which Grand Central Publishing will release September 2. Tracy Guzeman calls this debut novel “a gift for those who believe in the magic of bookstores … and in the power of books.” Shelly’s stories have been published in the GW Review, Epiphany, Slow Trains, the Dos Passos Review, and the Coe Review. And if you’ve ever participated in NANOWRIMO–or even if you haven’t–I think you’ll enjoy her post. – Meg

The Moment of Everything by Shelly KingAbout ten years ago, I woke up and thought, “I want to write a novel!” So I tried. Then I thought, “Crap! This is hard!” You’d think that a lifetime of voracious reading would be all I needed. Well, that’s a big NOPE.

I signed up for a writing class with the amazing Ellen Sussman. I wrote some short stories that were OK, but the idea of the novel grew as big as Jupiter in my mind. I just couldn’t see any way of getting there. Just a 20-page short story was killing me.

Then one night in class, Ellen told us about a new thing called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Yeah, it was still a pretty new thing back then. 50,000 words in 30 days. No plot, no problem. Turn off that inner editor and just write. It sounded insanely nerdy. I was all over that.

During that NaNoWriMo, I wrote the first draft of my novel, The Moment of EverythingI kept a journal along the way, which I’m sharing with you here. I must warn you—beyond this point, there be ninja clowns.

October 31 (0 words) A few minutes before midnight, I sit in the back room at a Denny’s with forty other would-be novelists, our fingers poised over laptops plugged into a six-foot power strip called Gandalf the Great Stick of Power. Ten seconds to midnight, the countdown begins followed by an explosive cheer as the clock strikes twelve. NaNoWriMo begins! Ninety seconds later, the guy sitting next to me throws his hands in the air and shouts, “82 words! Woo-hoo!” Wild applause rips through the room. Another novelist yells, “That’s nothing! I’ve already killed twelve people!” Much wilder applause. Two hours and a Grand Slam later, I’m at 1999 words. I add “now” to my last sentence for a cool 2000 and stumble home, filled with beaming optimism that the next 30 days are going to be a piece of cake.

November 1 (2000 words) Sitting among several seasoned NaNos at a coffee shop, my optimism is now a puddle of sweat and tears. Less than 24 hours in, I’ve forgotten the cardinal rules of NaNoWriMo: Don’t stop. Don’t rewrite. Never look back. After several hours, I only manage to pound out an additional 500 words after rewriting most of what I wrote the night before. I bang my head on my keyboard in frustration. 50k is a million miles away.

November 8 (6867 words) I start nerding out on the numbers. 50,000 words in 30 days averages to 1667 words a day (about seven pages). A 50,000-word novel, double-spaced, is roughly 175 pages long. The veterans posting to the NaNoWriMo forums advise a goal of 2000 words a day to give yourself some breathing room. I create a spreadsheet to track my progress. According to the formula, I’ll finish around Valetine’s Day.

November 11 (8,201 words) My plot has completely stalled. A fellow writer suggests turning to the Idea Jar, a Costco-sized jar filled with slips of paper that hold ideas to help faltering plots. Basically, it’s a story defibrillator. Clear! My main character is now in love with a squirrel named Fenster.

Shelly King author photoNovember 15, (10,192 words) I can’t do it. I’m supposed to be at the halfway mark and the spreadsheet is telling me at my current pace, I’ll finish around the start of baseball season. I hate my story. My characters suck. I’m practically in tears. My fellow writers tell me I’ll catch up next week. I say many curse words.

November 16, (12,056 words) One of my fellow writers put another Nano writer in her novel and killed him off! There’s a forum started with posts detailing how other people have killed this guy off in their novels. So far, he’s been a Roman centurion, WWII soldier, a drug dealer, mail prostitute, frog in the road….

November 18, (15,325 words) Things are looking brighter. I’m still miles behind, but when I post my word count on nanowrimo.org I start feeling a little cocky. “Oh, puh-lease,” I say to myself, reading a post in a forum, “this guy only has 1700 words written and we’re supposed to listen to him? Hah! Come back when you’ve hit the 15,000 mark, buddy!” I read postings from people’s novels. My crappy writing is just as crappy as theirs! All is not lost. I’ll catch up next week.

November 19, (15,473 words) My laptop, Gladys, dies! Nothing but the blue screen of death! Thank goodness for backups. From my work computer, I post notice of her death on the forums and receive tender expressions of sympathy from other NaNos. I haven’t met people this nice since the last time someone tried to get me to join a religious cult…hey, wait a minute….

November 20, (16,124 words) Gladys lives! I owe the IT guy at work a six-pack. I plug in my numbers and it’s not pretty. But Gladys’ rebirth gives me new hope! I’m getting playful with my horrendously implausible plot. I use the word “pizzle” in a sentence which makes me ludicrously happy. If I write 3255 words a day between now and the end of the month, I’ll finish on time. No problem! I have the whole Thanksgiving weekend.

November 22, (16,498 words) I can’t think of anything to write today. I spell out all the contractions and give all my characters middle names, scraping up 374 words. I call it a win.

November 27, (18,071 words) I’m beginning to loathe people with a higher word count. I haven’t written for days. I bring a bagful of Tupperware to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner and load up like I’m preparing for Everest.

November 28 (25,071 words) Around 2 a.m., my cat starts talking to me in the voice of one of my characters. I sit down to write a short sex scene before calling it a night. That short scene turns out to be 4000 words. The female NaNos online at this hour tell me this is perfectly normal.

November 29 (34,482 words) Between scenes, I dash to the kitchen to dunk my arms up to my elbows in a cooler filled with ice to sooth my aching hands and wrists. I have a brief moment of panic when, honest to God, I can’t think of one other thing to write. “Use the plot ninja!” cry the NaNos in the forums and it’s my “Run, Luke. Run.” moment. The plot ninja is a pre-determined, out-of-left-field entity to restart a stalled plot. This year’s plot ninja is clowns. I cover my bases and make them ninja clowns.

November 30 (42, 672 words) A 9:00 a.m. phone call from my mother wakes me up.

“Have you finished your contest yet?” she asks.

“Nope, 8,000 words to write today.”

“What happens if you don’t make it?”

“Nothing.”

“What happens if you do?”

“Um, well, nothing really.”

“Why are you doing this again?”

Around 5:00 p.m., I check my word count. Only 3500 words to go! Time to wrap up this puppy! Then the panic comes. I have no idea how all of this will end! As despair overwhelms me, I feel my characters taking me by the hand and beckoning me to follow them. They know the way out of this. At 8:47, our journey is at last over at 50,199 words. My fellow NaNos give an online cheer as I enter my final word count and post to the winners forum. I’m overcome. I’m a novelist. I think I’ll celebrate with a Ben and Jerry’s. And a shower. Possibly at the same time.

So that was my crazy journey to the first draft of the novel that became The Moment of Everything. How much of that first draft did I end up keeping? Mmm…about 2%. But more important, I learned I had the words in me to write a novel. So go find your writing tribe. They will get you through the tough times. Give yourself permission to write badly. Good writing comes with editing. Whenever you get stuck, write a sex scene. And if that doesn’t get the words going, there are always the ninja clowns. – Shelly

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From Factory to Bestselling Author

If you think you have an excuse not to write, I have little doubt that today’s guest post by bestselling author Jean Kwok will disabuse you of that and send you to your writing chair. I’ve known Jean’s writing since the fabulous success of her first novel, Girl in Translation, an award-winning New York Times bestseller which has been published in 17 countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world. She’s back with a second novel which has already been named a Best Book of 2014 by Woman’s Day and Real Simple. Mambo in Chinatown is the story of a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing–a story which may sound a little familiar after you read her post. – Meg

Mambo in Chinatown coverAs a child, I did not dream of becoming a writer. I was a working class Chinese immigrant girl growing up in the slums of Brooklyn. I dreamed of leaving our grueling life working at the dust-filled garment factory in Chinatown. Many of the workers entered the sweatshop as children, like me, helping their parents as much as they could. When they became young women and men, they took on the most demanding and dangerous jobs on the sewing machines and steamers. As age weighed them down, they graduated to the slower and less-paid tasks until they hobbled to the factory as senior citizens to clip thread off of the finished garments.

For most of my life, my desires revolved around escaping that life somehow. I loved books and reading but concentrated my energies on becoming a scientist, which was a real job unlike being a writer. I did most of my homework on the subway or during breaks at the factory. Fortunately, I had a talent for school and with this ability, I tested into a high school for gifted kids and went on to study at Harvard. In college, I worked four jobs at a time to pay my own way and often had to stay up all night in order to do my schoolwork. During one of these all-nighters, I was trying to finish a paper and wrote a poem instead. I was as astonished as if I had laid an egg.

For the first time, I allowed myself to consider becoming a writer. After graduation, I was looking for a day job to support myself while I embarked on this writing insanity, and came across an ad in the paper that said, “Wanted: Professional Ballroom Dancer, Will Train.” Miraculously, they hired me. After waltzing by day and scribbling by night for three years, I went to Columbia for an MFA in Fiction.

I published a few stories before I finished my degree and suddenly, editors, a film company and agents were taking me out to lunch. It seemed like an instant success story but it wasn’t. I signed with a smart, thoughtful agent and then, because I’d fallen in love with a Dutch guy, I moved to the Netherlands. I dropped off the face of the literary world and struggled to write my first novel while I was adjusting to a whole new culture and language.

It took me ten years to complete my debut novel. By then, I was married to the same Dutch guy and had a toddler and a baby. I took care of my kids all day, then when they finally went to bed, I’d race to Leiden University and teach evening classes in English. I got home at 11pm, caught a few hours of sleep interrupted by crying children who woke up for the day at 6am, and then I’d do it all over again. I only had a few hours in a week to write.

When I finally finished my book, I sent it to my agent, who had encouraged me through all those years. His response was worse than my most paranoid nightmares. He said, “Jean, there is no market for this book. And if you need any help finding a new agent, I’d be happy to help you.” Not only had my most beloved and respected mentor in the publishing world just told me that my book was worthless but he’d dumped me at the same time.

Jean Kwok author photo

photo by Chris Macke

At that moment, I had to seriously consider the fact that I might just be a stinky writer. It happens to the best of us; we can’t all be talented. I had a family to take care of and with my working class background, I’d always worried that I’d made the wrong decision when I chose writing. I made a desperate phone call to a dear friend who told me to give myself some time, to give my book a bit of light and air.

I took her advice and a month later, reread my whole novel from beginning to end. I thought, “I love this book. Whatever might be wrong with it, I can’t write a better book at this moment in my life.” I needed to find a new agent. I decided to make a list of the biggest, most powerful agents who represented work like mine. My plan was to start with the top ten agents, who would all reject me, then I’d move onto the next ten, who would reject me too, and so on until I got to number 500 or so. If everyone rejected me after a year, I would reevaluate my life choices then.

I finished writing the query letters on a Thursday night in the Netherlands. Some agents accept e-queries, some only paper ones, and I had the first batch of e-queries ready. I knew I would wind up in the dreaded slush pile along with thousands of other query letters. I looked at the name at the top of my list – Suzanne Gluck, co-head of the Worldwide Literary Department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment – and I started to shake. An agent like this is not going to take an unknown from Holland who has no connections, no recent publications or prizes, I thought. This was ridiculous. I needed to rethink my entire strategy. Well, my hands were trembling so much during this panic attack that I clicked on the mouse and – whoosh! The e-queries were sent.

It was approaching midnight in Holland but still working hours in New York City. Twenty minutes later, Suzanne’s office emailed me to request the full manuscript. I almost fell off my chair. On Friday, more requests for the manuscript came in. On Monday, the first agent phoned to offer representation and on Tuesday, Suzanne called… and she is my agent today. I was so terrified while she was on the line that I started wheezing like a fat, asthmatic cat but luckily, she did most of the talking.

I had not changed a word of the manuscript after the rejection from my first agent. Not because I thought it was perfect but because I had no idea how to improve it. I think this whole experience taught me to trust my own gut feelings. Of course, it’s important to be open to criticism but in the end, a writer creates something that he or she is passionate about.  It’s essential to keep the heart of your writing alive, and to believe in yourself, no matter who is telling you otherwise.

That same novel, the one for which there was no market, sold to a wonderful major editor within a week and went on to become Girl in Translation, which has been published in 17 countries, won many awards, hit the New York Times bestseller list, and is now taught in schools across the world. My second novel Mambo in Chinatown has just been published and I’ve recently returned to the Netherlands after completing a great deal of national and international publicity.

Nowadays, when I’m facing a blank page, I still worry that I’m a stinky writer. But I’ve learned to move forward anyway. – Jean

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Every Writer’s Nightmare

A Pinch of Ooh La La by Renee Swindle just released yesterday! My friend Ellen Sussman says of it, “Renee Swindle writes about the complications of love with great humor, compassion and sass. A Pinch of Ooh La La is a pure delight!” Renee is the author of two previous novels, Please Please Please, an Essence Magazine/Blackboard Bestseller, and Shake Down the Stars.  Renee earned her MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. She lives in Oakland, California- Meg

A Pinch of Ooh La La CoverYears ago, I experienced every writer’s dream. After writing my first novel, Please Please Please, it went to auction and I earned an advance that allowed me to quit my day job and write full time.  Hoorah, right?  Uh… no. You see, while I may have experienced every writer’s dream, I also experienced every writer’s nightmare.

I based Please Please Please on a short story I wrote while in graduate school. After earning my MFA, I worked as a substitute teacher for a year while rewriting the first one hundred pages. This was in 1998, and during that time you could actually sell an uncompleted manuscript, so I thought I’d try to find an agent based on my partial draft.  I made copies of the first thirty pages and sent them off to several agents at once. Less than a month later, I had an agent and we were getting offers.

Mind you, this was during the days when Waiting to Exhale was widely popular, and it seemed every publisher was looking for the next Terri McMillian. Although Please Please Please is nothing like Waiting To Exhale, publishers didn’t seem to care, and a bidding war ensued.

All too soon I was living the dream. Only problem, along with the dream came an enormous amount of pressure. I still had to finish the uncompleted manuscript–with only an inkling of how to write the second half of the book–and I also had the pressure of a due date from a major publisher, the same publisher that had already released a fat check. I won’t go into my poor spending habits back then, but let’s just say, I was spending as much cash as MC Hammer during the heyday of “Can’t Touch This.”

Writer’s block took hold so fiercely I had no other choice but to find a therapist, someone to help me deal with the feelings of doubt and anxiety that took hold every time I sat down to write. It took several months for me to write the second half of the book–let alone get over my writer’s block, but I finally turned it in; albeit a year past its due date.

I went on tour, stayed in fancy hotels and then it was time to start writing the second novel. At this point, I wanted to prove that I was more than a commercial writer. I didn’t want to be compared to Terry McMillan; I wanted to be compared to Toni Morrison.

I spent the next year writing my literary masterpiece, an overwritten, boring story even I knew somewhere deep down was not working. This is when my editor gently told me she was passing on the book and I was dumped from my contract. Oh, and by the way? They wanted their money back. Money I’d already spent.

Luckily I had a fairy godmother in the form of my agent, who fought off the big publisher and told them, in short, that I’d turned the manuscript in on time and it wasn’t my fault that they didn’t like it.

My agent gave me about a week to cry, and then said, as if I’d ruined dinner and could simply make something else—write another book.  She was so matter-of-fact about it, so calm, I began to believe that I could do just that–start over and–write another book.

While her advice was exactly what I needed to hear, I was also at an emotional low point and felt I had to prove myself. Since my literary masterpiece had failed, I set out to write a commercial hit, a quick and easy comedy that would make lots of money. I wrote with various rules in my head and stuck to them even though I was not having a bit of fun; I doubt, in fact, that I laughed a single time while writing that book; and no surprise, it didn’t sell.

Renee Swindle author photoI’d written two back-to-back failures by that point.  My saving grace, besides my agent who said just as calmly as she had before—write another—was that I was so broken I was more than ready to drop all notions about how I should write and finally started writing with my own voice and style. What a difference writing from the heart makes. My third novel, Shake Down The Stars, sold to Penguin/NAL, as did A Pinch Of Ooh La La.

There’s something liberating about failing. Twice.  I now see how writing those two failures helped me build my craft, discover my voice, and develop fierce discipline.  Now I can actually say I’ve fallen in love with the process of writing. And falling in love with the process is something the highs and lows of publishing can never take away. I suppose that’s what I want to leave you with today. If you happen to “fail,” and I hope you never do—write another. - Renee

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Write Like a Girl

It’s not just about the running.

I’ve been a runner since the days when women were prohibited from running marathons on the excuse that too much exercise might hurt us. I attended the first women’s Olympic marathon and, in one of the highlights of my career as a writer, got to have breakfast decades later with Joan Benoit Samuelson, who’d taken home that first Olympic long run gold. I conceived the idea for, and many of the scenes of my first novel on long runs as I trained for and ran a marathon. But it’s not about the running or even about sports for me or, I suspect, for most of the almost 50 million viewers, and counting.

It’s not about girls, either. Let’s be honest here: we’re talking about an advertisement for feminine products. Its target audience is women of childbearing age.

And yet it has gone viral.

If you haven’t seen it, “Like a Girl” is a nifty video produced and directed byLauren Greenfield, about the very subtle ways we as a society shape gender presumptions. Older girls and women, and even boys and men, when asked to run or throw or fight “like a girl,” do so in silly, noncompetitive ways. Very young girls just run or throw or fight their little hearts out, in ways that look very like boys their age might do.

“Like a girl” is still thrown around as an insult, and yet if you look at the facts you have to start to wonder why. Women, who have long earned more than half of all undergraduate degrees, now earn more than half of all post-graduate degrees as well – and do it with, on average, higher grades than male students. On average, women’s IQs are now higher than men’s.

Yet we remain a society riddled with subtle and not-so-subtle gender presumptions that suggest females are something less than males, and we perpetuate those stereotypes in ways we often don’t realize.

In film and on prime time programming, women not only have far fewer speaking roles, but are far more likely than male characters to be hypersexualized, and far less likely to have identified careers. Is it a surprise that the percentage of women to men hanging out in director’s chairs or writing rooms is appalling?

In fiction, we ghettoize novels centered on women’s lives as “chick lit” – with the implication that men need not even consider reading some really fine books – while similar stories written by men are shelved in “general fiction” and not, as perhaps they ought to be, under “dick lit.” We identify fiction written by women, the novelist Meg Wolitzer points out, with covers that leave men reluctant to pick up books.

Teachers at one boys’ school, according to the novelist Mary Gordon, defended the fact that their students weren’t reading Austen or Woolf on the excuse that they were looking for works that boys could relate to, while at the girls’ school across the street, “no one would have dreamed of removing ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Moby-Dick’ from the syllabus.”

The question is whether that will ever change, and how we might make that change happen.

Run like a girl. Study like a girl. If you’re a writer, write like a girl. Dream like a girl. Achieve like a girl.

That’s what the viral spread of “Run Like a Girl” is about: the appetite for a world in which “like a girl” isn’t an insult, but rather something about which we all might be as justifiably proud as Joan Benoit Samuelson must have been when she took home that first Olympic gold medal for the marathon thirty years ago this Tuesday, on August 5, 1984.

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