Pushing back on gendered expectations: the Otherwise Award

I’ve had a hard time talking about what happened to Ruth George last week; I look at her, and I see my sisters, cousins, daughter. It’s heart-breaking. Shattering. This is what I have so far.

I was talking to my students yesterday in our gender & sexuality in lit class about manners, and the way manners are enforced differently for men vs. women. Manners can be a way of making it easier for people to live together, but at the same time, they so often act to prop up the existing power structure. (We’re in the midst of Ann Leckie‘s _Ancillary Justice_, and chapter 19 has some excellent material relevant to this.)

We connected that to modesty culture and the way so many of their parents enforce it in their homes (this class was all young women, and they were full of frustrated personal stories). Wildly differing standards for sons and daughters. Policing of the wearing of bras, leggings, tank tops.

We also talked about how one of our UIC students, Ruth George, was brutally raped and murdered last week, after walking to the campus parking garage late at night; she tried to ignore the man catcalling her, and he got angry.

We discussed the balancing act — what you want to do is change the parameters overall, expect better of men, demand that they resist the patriarchy and the sexist soup that they’ve been swimming in their whole lives. We have to try to reshape the world to be a better place. But in the meantime, we also have to live in the world we’re in, and try to survive it.

So sometimes we’re pushing back on gendered expectations — look, women get to wear pants now, and go to college, and become doctors, and have their own bank accounts. We get to vote, and at least run for president. (Kamala Harris has just stepped out of the race, but a black & Indian woman was a serious contender for president of the United States. I have to count that as a victory.)

Yet at the same time, I’m still going to talk to my daughter about walking alone at night, and being careful with her drink at college parties and bars. I hate that I have to talk to her about this, especially since I know there’s no way to anticipate every act of possible violence. There is nothing Ruth’s parents could have done to guarantee her safety. And yet.

Tomorrow is the last class of the semester, and we’ll be trying to connect all of this to what the various writers we’ve been reading are doing in their work. How Le Guin and Tiptree and Delany and Butler and Leckie all tried to offer us different visions of gender in society. They disturbed the entrenched sexist assumptions in our brains, making it possible to envision different futures. Better futures.

Long-term, we keep having the conversations that hopefully change the behavior of the men around us. Some of the men, at least. And we try to raise better sons. But in the meantime, we balance that urgent need for revolution against today’s hope for health and sanity.

We hope to live to take the fight a little further tomorrow. We mourn our losses.


The award that is closest to my heart is the Otherwise Award, given for works that expand or explore our understanding of gender. I was proud to serve as a juror for it, and recommend its annual finalists and winner to you as a reading list. It would be an excellent basis for a college or high school class.


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My favorite holiday decor

What’s your favorite holiday decor? I think this might be mine — Kevin’s parents’ always hung up all the family cards together, and I loved seeing the progression of Kevin from a little kid to a grown-up.

So we save ours and do the same, and I swear, every year, it’s magical, hanging them up again. I’m not a very sentimental person; I don’t keep every scrap of the kids’ artwork. But these, I just love. Look at the munchkins! They were so wee!

Side note: taping them securely to a ribbon makes it incredibly easy to take them up and down each year. I think that was a Martha Stewart tip. (I haven’t even taken photographs for this year, much less ordered cards, but we’ll get there. I’m going to have to start a new door, I think!)

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Wild Cards story draft DONE

Wild Cards story draft done (a little over 10K words) and sent to George and he only had to ask me for it three times and it was only two months overdue and GAH. I feel so unprofessional, but I really got totally stalled out on this story, and I don’t even know why — once I actually started writing, each time, it went FINE.

I mean, there are ten things I want to fix about it already, and I’m sure the Spanish is a MESS, but that’s what the second draft is for, and I’d better wait for his notes because sometimes George makes me kill off major characters or otherwise chops the story up in unexpected ways. (He always makes it better, though. He’s an excellent editor.)

And now, I am very tired, and I have to be up at 7 to get Anand to the bus, and I somehow ended up making leftover turkey soup in between scenes tonight, which has hopefully cooled enough that I can put it in the fridge now. It’s not actually done, but it’s at a good pausing point; I kind of want to experiment with it tomorrow. But first, the refrigeration, and then, the sleeping.

I am very very relieved to finally have this story drafted.


“I’m sorry, abuelita. I can’t help you.” Jesús sat back on his heels and shook the loose dirt off his hands, careful not to shake too hard. Wouldn’t want to lose a finger. They didn’t usually drop off that easily, but still, best to be careful. “Lo siento.”

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A big bet on my beautiful book

People have been so sweet and complimentary about the cookbook, but then they say something like, “You must be so happy,” and I don’t quite know what to say. Because I am, but also, I still don’t know if we’re going to lose something like $20,000 on it, and so I’m hovering in this sort of frantic anxiety-ridden space in the moments when I think about it too much.

I mean, it’s fine, we’re not going to lose the house or anything if this book bombs and I end up with 2000 copies sitting in a warehouse in Kentucky. But Kev and I don’t really have much margin in our budget (we are house-poor, in that we chose to buy a big, beautiful house that we can only just barely afford on our academic salaries), so if we do lose 20 grand, it’s going to mean some serious budget stress for a few years.

He and I sat down a few months ago and had a tough conversation about whether we wanted to bet on this book. And honestly, we didn’t really know what we were getting into — it’s not as if we had intensively researched budget numbers for the Sri Lankan cookbook market or anything. We just…decided to have faith in how hard I’d worked on it, and my 25 years as a working writer and a good home cook, and take the gamble.

The Kickstarter doing so well was definitely encouraging, but maybe it just reflected my friends and family support? It’s super-hard to tell whether this book will appeal to a broader market. I just don’t know how many people are actually interested in a Sri Lankan cookbook, even if it *is* beautiful and well-done.

I’ve honestly been a little dismayed by how often I hear people saying they wish they could try my food, but they can’t do spicy or are allergic to capsaicin, so they can’t — I hasten to reassure them that in fact, you can make almost everything in the cookbook with no capsaicin at all, and there are plenty of Sri Lankans who neither like nor eat spicy food, including people in my own family.

Sri Lankan cuisine is also mostly coconut-milk based, so it’s great for the lactose-intolerant (and if you’re allergic to coconut, you can totally use regular milk instead)! It works so well for vegetarians and vegans too, both in the fact that most of the book is already in that category, and that almost all the meat / seafood dishes convert easily to vegetarian…

But I can’t personally talk to everyone who might otherwise be interested in the book! I hadn’t realized “Sri Lankan food = super-spicy” was such a pervasive idea. I mean, it *can* be. But it doesn’t have to be!

This coming week, Mascot Books is going to take my cookbook to big buyers. Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Costco, etc. This is one of the main reasons I chose to go with a hybrid publisher, instead of just doing an offset print run with a printer directly; Mascot has industry contacts I don’t, and I honestly have no idea where I’d even start with trying to set up a meeting with Costco! (I actually think this would make a BEAUTIFUL Costco gift book. Will Costco think so? I have no idea.)

I’m also talking to Mascot tomorrow about buying some more publicity services from them — there’s a lot I can do on my own, but there are things they can do that I can’t easily, that will amplify our reach. So maybe another $2000 invested there. Which is, frankly, nerve-wracking. (You may have seen me talking about doing a Buy Nothing January? There’s a reason. I was also thinking of spending the month trying to feed my family well, as cheaply as is manageable with our daily lives, and documenting it all.)

I’m just feeling in limbo right now. Part of me wants to run out and pick up a part-time job as a cashier every time I see a store advertising such, just to have a little more money coming in, to counter all the money that’s gone out and is still going out. That’s REALLY not a good use of my time, when you think about hourly rates!

I probably shouldn’t be making so many bath products either, because I’m not even sure I’m breaking even on those, much less making any money. Kavi was doing them with me, and she started calculating how much it would take for her to make a profit making lip balm and selling it to her friends. She didn’t think the numbers were very good. I do like the creative aspect, though, and doing something with my hands, and blogging about it, so maybe it’s okay if making bath indulgences doesn’t make money.

Better if they don’t lose money, though. And I have to be more disciplined about doing the things that actually do make money, like writing essays and stories and sending them out. And publicizing publicizing publicizing the cookbook. I spent an hour or so on that this morning, and I probably should spend an hour every morning from now until the end of time. Or at least for the next few months.

Mascot sent me a guide for publicizing indie-published books, and I’m going to sit down with Pem and Stephanie on Wednesday to review their recommendations (actually, maybe I should ask them to look at it in advance), and decide what on there we actually want to do. Me being able to keep paying my very part-time publicist & assistant is dependent on this cookbook actually making a profit, so that’s the main thing I should have them helping with.

Anyway. This is all mostly a Sunday afternoon anxiety ramble (ah, Sunday afternoon — the long, dark teatime of the soul, h/t Douglas Adams), and thank you for indulging me.

I *am*, of course, delighted that people seem so happy with the book. I *am* really proud of it, however the money works out.

But if anyone wants to whisper praise for it into the B&N book buyer’s ear, I’d be okay with that….

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Lovely having friends drop in

Deborah Jian Lee stopped by on Thanksgiving to pick up her copy of Feast. I like the Thanksgiving open house thing — I think we’re going to lean more in that direction in the future, if we continue to celebrate the holiday. Lovely having friends just drop in. Even better if they walk away with books. 

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