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September 22, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Amy Lukavics

Kate Hart
Writing introductions for people I know well is always the hardest. How can I begin to describe Amy Lukavics? She has one of the kindest hearts of anyone I know. Her books are so terrifying I can't even read them. Her parenting, friendship, and tattoo games are all equally strong. My favorite thing she's ever said is, "Are we going out or can I take my eyebrows off?"

Maybe I should just let Amy's badassery speak for itself below, but I can't neglect to tell you that she's also generous: Scroll down for a chance to win signed copies of her books -- and keep an eye out for her second novel, The Women in the Walls, coming this Tuesday!

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cover of The Women in the Walls by Amy LukavicsKate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Amy: I write horror novels, and I freaking love it. It's fun, intense, and rewarding. My first book, Daughters unto Devils, came out in 2015, and my sophomore novel, The Women in the Walls, comes out this September 27th. I have two more books on contract-both horror, one of which is called The Ravenous and was pitched as The Virgin Suicides meets Pet Sematary, and comes out in 2017. The fourth book hasn't been announced yet, but it'll come out in 2018.

It's strange, because even though I've always adored reading, writing, and watching scary movies, I never imagined that I could become a horror author someday. My hometown is small and very conservative. I didn't really have any serious career aspirations, except for a period of maybe two months in early high school, when I became obsessed with the idea of becoming a journalist for a big-name magazine for teen girls.

UK cover of The Women in the Walls by Amy LukavicsWhen I researched the financial realities of moving to and attending college in New York City, as well as discovered how imperative an unpaid internship would be to landing the job, that dream died pretty quickly. (The unpaid internship thing specifically is kind of funny to me now, considering that I spent six years writing novels before I actually sold one.)

After high school, I didn't have anything I wanted to do badly enough to justify paying for college, so I never went. Instead, I went through a little local program to learn how to be a dental assistant-which was super fun until I had to, you know, actually assist the dentist. So I worked as a front office medical assistant for a while instead, then got fired unexpectedly a year in, which sent me into a spiral of worrying about my future and wondering what in the hell I was supposed to be doing with myself. During that time, I found solace at the local library, which I hadn't visited in years. I rediscovered this intense love of reading that I had as a child, and after I finished a book that I wished had ended differently, it finally dawned on me that hey, maybe I could write a story of my own. I spent the entire next day outlining my first novel, and I never really looked back.


watercolor of a snowy starry night with pine trees by amy lukavicsKate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Amy: I find a lot of joy in playing video games when I can find the time, as well as participate in the occasional Dungeons & Dragons campaign with my friends. I love to paint with watercolors (even though I am not very good at it). I also adore cooking, which is probably the creative outlet I engage in the most. I used to watch my great-grandmother and my Nonny cook all sorts of delicious dinners for my family as a kid, and now I find the hobby to be pretty influential on my work-I've noticed that all of my books have pretty vivid descriptions of food, haha!


Amy Lukavics's journalsKate: What's your biggest challenge?

Amy: In the past, it was being patient. Even when I only had a single chapter written of my first book, I wanted to be published now now now, to the point where I would rush through my work and not do nearly as great of a job on it as I could have. I think that had a lot to do with why my first three novels didn't sell-I never really slowed down and concentrated on what I was actually doing, particularly during the revisions process. It took awhile.

Once I realized that it wasn't going to happen as quickly as I'd dreamed, I took a step back to assess: what did I really want to write, and what would creatively fulfill me the most? That was when I decided that I would try to write my very first horror novel, which was my fourth book and would eventually be my first sale.

Now, I think my biggest challenge is writing on deadline when I'm creatively drained. My second book, The Women in the Walls, was particularly challenging in this aspect, but thank goodness I had my editor and agent to help me get through it without losing my sanity! It was really rough, but that made it all the better when I finally finished writing the book and proved to myself that it can be done, and in a way that I was still proud of. The book I'm currently working on could not be more different of an experience, but I'm vaguely aware that if it happened once, it could happen again. And this time, hopefully I'll be a little more ready.


cover of Daughters Unto Devils by Amy LukavicsKate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Amy: There was a time before I was published that my debut novel, Daughters Unto Devils, came so close to selling. I had an R&R with a big house (R&R stands for revise and resubmit, where you work with an editor on your book without a contract, in hopes of an eventual sale.) I had my heart so set on getting that book deal-I worked with the editor for months to completely rewrite the book from the ground up, only to have it rejected in the end. I remember my brother-in-law was sitting next to me on the couch when I got the call, and I got so embarrassed at how much I cried about it. I'd endured so much rejection by that point, but it was easily the most devastating thing I'd gone through in my journey to becoming an author. I had been so fucking close.

Still, that one rejection ended up teaching me the most invaluable lessons about my own writing process that I never could have learned otherwise. I learned to trust my artistic instincts if an edit suggestion didn't feel right, whereas before I would have done whatever edits were asked of me if it meant getting a sale. In the end, it was that blind willingness that prevented me from writing a book that was capable of selling-there was just no heart in it, no real creative input on my end. I took those lessons with me when I picked up the pieces and attempted another R&R, on the original draft, with a different house...but this time, the novel ended up selling in a two-book deal.

I cried my eyes out at the time that big rejection happened, and I felt like the biggest failure ever. But now, I wouldn't change or trade the experience for the world. It made me so much stronger and had a direct influence on making me the writer I am today.



Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Amy: I think I nearly fainted when Paul Tremblay approached me before our panel at San Diego Comic Con and told me that he loved my book. It was the kind of moment I literally never would have believed was possible when I was aspiring-the fact that I was at Comic Con for writing horror, and the fact that an author I had so much respect for actually knew who I was, and liked my work.

What I think I'm most proud of, though, is that I've come into my career while simultaneously raising a small family, without having it hold me back. So many people love to talk about how having kids ruins your organic creativity and any chance at a legitimate writing career, and that just couldn't be further from the truth. Personally, the experience has had the opposite effect-it's enriched my life in a way that carries over into everything I do, including writing. That's not to say that it's easy or that it's for everybody, but it is absolutely possible, especially when you have a spouse that is so understanding and supportive. (Hi Eddie!)




Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Amy: Before I started trying to get published, I didn't have anything to go off of beside what I observed in my direct vicinity, and like I mentioned earlier, my town is small and conservative. Once I started getting into publishing and living online a little more, I was able to see new perspectives from people in other places, and among other eye-opening things, I learned that 'feminism' was not nearly as dirty of a word as I had previously thought.

Before, I sort of equated the word with hating men, and being bitter, and making mountains out of mole hills. But then I learned that a feminist is simply someone who believes in the political, social, and economical equality of both sexes, and any other connotation that people carry along with the word is on them. It does not demand that women be treated more specially than men, it simply points out when things aren't equal and it does it in an unapologetic way. It doesn't have to be something that requires constant rage and shouting (although I do sometimes find those reactions from others to be liberating in a way, since sexism is so frustrating). All that is encouraged, in my perception, is a healthy amount of awareness.


Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Amy: Do just that-support them. Support them in their dreams, support them in their accomplishments, be aware when someone has been wronged directly as a result of misogyny and don't be afraid to point out that you've noticed.


Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Amy: Take good care of yourself. Try to spread kindness where you can. Read. Tell the voice inside that insists you can't do it to kindly shut the fuck up.



GIVEAWAY

Win a signed hardcover of The Women in the Walls 
as well as a signed paperback of Daughters unto Devils! (US only)


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badass ladies you should know logo
Amy Lukavics lurks within the pine-topped mountains of Arizona, along with her husband and two precious squidlings. When she isn't reading or writing creepy stories, she enjoys cooking, crafting, and playing video games.

website  //  twitter  //  tumblr



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September 6, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Amber McCrary

Kate Hart
Amber McCrary headshot holding a drawing of a sheep
Today, I'm happy to bring you Amber McCrary, the other half of the team behind the zine Native American Feminist Musings. Don't forget to read last week's profile of her partner Melanie Fey, and enter to win copies of all 3 editions of their zine!




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Amber on the rez in front of graffiti reading "Remember who you are: Native America"
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Amber: Currently, I work for University of Arizona, I teach Nutrition Education to various organizations within the Salt River Reservation, basically I tell kids and adults to eat their fruits and veggies whether it’s through healthy food demonstrations or me dressing up as a strawberry. I’m waiting for the program to order an apple costume so I can be “Amber the Apple.” Gotta love that alliteration. Also, my second job, well to me it’s not really a job, it’s something I love to do, is making the Native Zinestress/Native American Feminist Musings Zine with my zine husband, Melanie.

Paths that led me to my current job and projects, mmmm let’s see, I would have to say it started when I transferred to Arizona State University and when Melanie and I were roommates for a couple years. I had just returned from study abroad in England and I decided to take a break from school. Melanie needed a roommate, from there I remember her introducing me to Sherman Alexie and other Native writers which sparked my interest in writing. When I transferred to ASU, I took an American Indian Studies class and everything just started falling into place. I finally started to understand the world around me such as the anger, sadness and confusion I felt growing up in a racist bordertown (Flagstaff). Eventually, I finished school, majoring in Political Science and minoring in American Indian Studies. From there, I moved back to Flagstaff, worked at a Native American non-profit for a couple years and realized I wanted to work with Indigenous communities for the rest of my life. Backpacked Asia for a bit, moved back to Phoenix and here I am. :)


Amber with zine at the Heard Museum
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Amber: Does blasting music on the freeway count? Other creative outlets would be water coloring, traveling and working on my social (lack thereof) skills. I can’t draw so I feel a little closer to art when I water color plus it just makes me extremely happy and calm. I love to travel, although my first traveling experience to England was a bit of a bust, but my second traveling experience made up for it. I spent a couple months in West Africa (Ghana). I took a summer class and had an internship there and man, it made me want to travel the world, learn about different cultures, taste new foods, meet lovely people I could laugh with and sit on the beach for the rest of my life. I love traveling but I have to do it in smaller increments these days.

Lastly, my social skills help me to be more creative because they help with my communication skills, learning to talk to people about my zine and being inspired to expand the zine (i.e. topics, interviews, collaborations, etc.). From this I have been able to meet other inspiring and talented artists/writers/feminists/zinesters. Growing up I was very shy and awkward and suffered from low esteem but as I have gotten older I have learned to be the person I would have wanted to talk to when I didn’t know how to socialize (somewhat engaging and approachable). These influence and affect my main work because these are passions of mine. I incorporate water coloring in my zine for backgrounds or watercolor fruit for the kids I work with.

Through traveling, I have shared stories in The Nizhoni Beat zine about my adventures and encouragement of telling other Native girls to go and travel the world because there is a lot of love out there. This has influenced my main job in many ways, I can tell kids or adults about eating mangoes the size of their heads every morning before going to my internship in West Africa. Plus, it sparks the little ones’ interest about how there is a bigger world out there. At a former job, a little Navajo girl that is very smart always used to tell her mom “When I grow up, I want to go to college and go to all the weird places like Amber!” Her mom and I always smile when she tells me this story because we know she sees all the opportunities that are out there. My main work has helped me a lot with my social skills in the professional environment which has helped me so much when it comes to the zine. I worked in retail from ages 16-24, I never realized how much those computer and video customer service orientations would be such an important skill not only in my professional life but my personal life and creative/artistic life, which is weird to say, haha.


Amber and Melanie with a display of their zines
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Amber: For me my biggest challenge is always trying to find that balance in life, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.


Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Amber: Oh man, I’ve failed so many times, I have so many embarrassing moments flying through my head right now (falling off A mountain in Tempe, ripping the back of my pants and walking into poles) but a particular time I bounced back from failure would have to be my sophomore year of college. I moved to England for study abroad. I was certain this was my ticket out of small town life, I was hoping to leave and not look back. Once I got to England, it was not what I expected at all. It was cold and cloudy all the time. Plus, I was in the North, so the racism was just as bad as Flagstaff, people didn’t know I was Native American but still treated me as the “Bad Brown Person.” It was funny, going half way across the world and I still found the same old shit I was running from. Anywho, I was pretty miserable and depressed during this time, I missed my family like crazy and cried almost every day the first two weeks. Although it was a really shitty time for me, it made me realized how grateful I was for my family, culture and the land I come from (Northern Arizona). This moment made me realize I was taking a lot of things for granted back home. Every day, I wanted to go home but I knew I needed to finish my semester but all I thought about was the 12 hour plane trip back home to the mountains, desert, Arizona sunsets, my grandma, burritos and TACOS. I ended up failing half my classes then returned home with my tail between my legs. Afterwards, I took a break from school for a couple years before figuring out what I was doing with my life. However, from this and my break from school, I realized many things, mainly how important my family, home and culture were to me. At the time, I was devastated by it all but now that I look back, I’m grateful this happened because it made me realize how resilient I am and that my family always has my back.


Amber in Thailand
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Amber: What makes me really proud is getting feedback from Native girls around the country and world telling Melanie and I how much they enjoy and relate to the writings in the zines. Nice reviews from academia are always great and all but the ones that really hit me and make me remember why I write is when Native girls tell me the zines sound like something their sister or cousin would write. When we get compliments or comments like this, this is when I know we are on the right path in terms of the zine’s objective.


Amber on the rez
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Amber: The biggest misconception about feminism is that we are man haters. I love being a Native woman and coming from a matrilineal society (Diné), all the women in my family are very close and supporting of one another, this is something that I’ve always known. However, I’ve always had a very complicated relationship with the Native men in my life, my dad and brother. As I have gotten older and become a feminist, I think it scared them at first because of the stereotypes behind feminism (angry, man hating women). But through feminism, it taught me to speak my mind and learn to finally address the issues I used to keep bottled up about my dad and brother. At first it was very intense but as we put everything out in the open (with the help of a therapist), we opened up and finally learned to talk to one another. Through this, this has brought my brother, my dad and I closer. We talk every day and I try to tell them I love them as much as I can. Through feminism, I learned to voice my hurt and silence to them and they listened, stepped up and I feel loved and protected by them every day. In result, I hope I am able to reciprocate to this to them as well. This has broadened my understanding and I hope others understanding about feminism, it’s not about hating men but letting men know we want to be heard and respected.


Melanie and Amber at LA Zinefest
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Amber: As a youngin, I wasn’t popular, I was mainly close with a small handful of nerdy, goofy girls and the women in my family. I didn’t encounter jealousy and the “mean girl syndrome” until I was in my mid-twenties, so the thought of bringing down women is new to me. But for me, I think we need to stop this thing called jealousy and girl hate. There’s this meme, quote or whatever they’re called that says “Another girl being smart does not mean I’m not smart. Another girl being pretty does not make me ugly. Another girl being liked does not mean I am unliked. Girl competition needs to stop and self-love needs to start.” Which I totally agree with, there are so many awesome women out there and we need to encourage and help other women that are trying to do good in the world rather than bring them down. Like M.I.A. says “Pull up the people!” We need to pull up the women!


Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Amber: This may sound SUPER cheesy but follow your heart then the rest will fall into place. Also, don’t be afraid when you are new to something. We all have started from a place that was unfamiliar to us but don’t let fear or inexperience hold you back.


Giveaway!
Win all 3 editions of Native American Feminist Musings zine!
US only

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Amber McCrary was born in Tuba City, AZ, grew up in Flagstaff, and currently lives in Phoenix.

etsy  //  blog


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August 31, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Melanie Fey

Kate Hart

headshot of Melanie Fey
Today's interview is a two-part feature, because this pair of ladies presented too much badassery to fit in one post. Melanie Fey and Amber McCrary are a pair of Native writers who create, among other things, a zine called Native American Feminist Musings. They both turned in stellar interviews, so a coin flip decided on sharing Melanie today -- be sure to come back next week for Amber's, and scroll down for a giveaway!

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"Native Zinestress: etsy.com/nativezinestress  Send zine inquiries and submissions to: NAFeministMusings@gmail.com"
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Melanie: Right now I am a book minion at Multnomah County Library which I do love enormously but one of these days I hope to be a full-time writer and hopefully not a starving one. When I'm not trying to figure out what to do with my life, all of my energy goes into making zines and/or writing poetry and prose. Fingers crossed that I'll have my first book of poetry completed by the end of this year. I've also been threatening to write a novel for some time now; we'll see if that actually happens. As for passion, I've always had this really freaky obsessive need to write, even when I was a little kid. Beginning in elementary school, I remember trying to write short stories and poetry and getting extremely frustrated by not being able to express myself the way that I wanted to on paper. By age 18, I saw college as my only ticket out of my home town Flagstaff, AZ, which I loathed at the time. So I packed up, went to ASU and majored in Creative Writing because it was really the only thing that I saw myself doing. I just wanted to get my kicks and write it all down Jack Kerouac-style. I still don't know where the storyteller craving comes from though. It's just always been there, embedded in my bones.



Native Zinestress poster
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Melanie: The thing I love about making zines is that you can tap into all sorts of creativity. Writing, drawing, painting, collaging, Xeroxing, Photoshoping, etc. It's like a whirlwind of different art mediums colliding onto a single page. Absolutely delightful. However, when I get hit with a creative block, all I have to say is: one person dance parties. Get creative with it. Get weird. Lots of ideas get born if you allow yourself to get weird.


all 3 copies of Native American Feminist Musings on displayKate: What's your biggest challenge?

Melanie: My biggest challenge would have to be myself. It's a serious juggling act: managing my time, constant pep-talks, self-discipline, self-care, breathing exercises to keep anxiety in check, etc. Oh, and fighting white male capitalist patriarchy. That's a pretty tough challenge too.


Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Melanie: Failure is one of those tricky words because I've found that oftentimes people are reluctant to use it. An example being that failure isn't so much failure as it is a learning experience that one is expected to grow from. Growth means progress and progress couldn't possibly mean failure, right? But sometimes that "failure" feels so soul-crushing that it's nearly impossible to put any sort of positive spin on it. I've only felt like this one time and it took years to snap myself out of it.

I had graduated from ASU in 2008 when the economy had just gone into the crapper. My head was filled with idealistic dreams at that time and I was convinced that I was going to be wealthy and accomplished despite the current financial status of the economy. At the time, teaching English in Japan seemed like a pretty sweet gig. It paid well, I'd be able to travel new territory, hopefully make enough cash to pay off my student loans and then return to grad school in the next year or two. I'd somehow swindled a Japanese ELL company into hiring me, boarded a plane and arrived in Fukuoka, expecting to call the Land of the Rising Sun my home for the next year. However, within a matter of days, I began to question my decision. It was one obstacle after another, having to fend off the harsh judgments of other white male ELL teachers who criticized and gossiped about me behind my back. I felt awkward and uncomfortable in the business suit I was required to wear every day. As an introvert, I found it incredibly difficult to be "on" all the time as an instructor, teaching between 6-8 classes a day. My body wasn't adjusting to the food and my anxiety was through the roof. It was the loneliest place I had ever been in my entire life and by the 4th month my brain broke. Physically and mentally I was not well. So I made a quick decision to get the hell out of there. I scoured my contract and found one loophole that I could use to break it. I scrubbed my apartment, gave away all of my belongings that I couldn't fit inside my suitcase, and then delivered a letter to my superiors with details about the loophole I had found. And they were pissed. After having survived an intense interrogation where several of them tried to make me stay, I ultimately made my argument convincing enough that they had no choice but to let me leave. Now, in any job this would look bad, breaking your contract. But in Japan, where their work ethic and standards are more rigid, this was like sacrilege. And yet, I was still determined to go, for my own self-care. They brought in an emergency teacher; I bought a ticket last minute, got lost on a subway and then finally made it on a plane heading for LAX. All of this had happened over a matter of 5 days with very little shut-eye and by the time I got home, I fell into bed and slept for 20 hours straight. Once I had come out of my delirium, my self-esteem plummeted through the fucking floor.

When you're in college, everyone tells you to follow your dreams. What they don't do is prepare you for when those dreams catch fire and explode right in your very chest: failure. I was so embarrassed when I returned home. I was afraid to let people know that I had come back because everyone had been so proud of me for getting hired overseas in the first place. I hid out and acquired several mediocre jobs that I hated, grad school sinking further and further away into the background as I struggled to pay off my student loans (I'm still trying to pay them off to this day). But then, with an insurmountable amount of determination, I managed to get hired at the library. What can I say? Books saved me. I slowly gained back my confidence, began to take pride in my work again. Then I discovered the library's zine collection (they have over 1,400 zines!). I had found my outlet. Once Amber and I decided to make a zine, I decided to go all in; there'd be no catching the quickest flight out of town this time. Although I'm still not fully recovered from my Japan experience, I'm still accumulating more self-confidence every day. Healing takes time but patience is what matters. Patience, compassion and movement are all essential for growth along with knowing when to say no. Basically, in a nutshell, your gift is always calling out to you, but sometimes you have to go through a lot of bullshit to find it. But once you do, accomplishment feels like laying your head on the warmest, softest bosom imaginable.



Melanie Fey performs at a poetry reading
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Melanie: When people ask me to read poetry at their events! And then other people actually show up! And stay the whole way through the performance! I've written a lot of bad poetry, so I was always kind of scared to put myself out there. But when people come up to me after my readings, and let me know that my work has got them thinking and feeling, well, that gives my life meaning. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Melanie : A defining moment that galvanized my understanding of and commitment to feminism was when I got my mother's name, along with the medicine wheel, tattooed on my left shoulder several years ago. My relationship with Shimá (mom) was a tumultuous one. My parents divorced when I was 3 and my father was given full custody of both me and my older sister which most can probably agree is incredibly rare and maybe even odd. We hear a lot about single mothers in our society, not a lot about the single fathers.

My mother's tendency to indulge in drink often kept her away and unreliable. When she did show up, drunken fiascoes usually ensued. It's confusing enough having an unstable and absent parent, but this was doubly confusing for me because traditional Diné culture is matriarchal. Diné women typically own the land and the livestock which they then pass down to their daughters. Also, at birth, every Diné person is given 4 clans which are passed down to them through family lineage, but that first clan always comes from the mother. So, as a kid, I often wondered, where is the matriarch? And why did she abandon me? When she finally met her demise and passed away when I was 15 years old, I came apart at the seams. With nonexistent positive female role models in my life during my early childhood, I became extremely distrustful of all women, maybe even misogynistic.

It was only after the passage of many years that I met and read the work of some very strong and wonderful women. I buried my head in books where I learned about addiction, intergenerational trauma, colonization and boarding schools, all factors that contributed greatly to who my mother was as a person. For the first time ever, I also decided to put my self-destructive tendencies aside and focus on healing. And healing gave birth to decolonizing. I discovered the medicine wheel which represents emotional, mental, spiritual and physical equilibrium. The combining of feminism with decolonization informed my decision to identify as an Indigenous Feminist. I realized that the only way for me to heal and move on with my life in a good way was to forgive my mother, and to realize that despite all of the hardships that she put me and my family through, she did/does truly love us. I could choose to remember all of the bad things, or choose to remember the times she held me when I was sick or when she made me hot milk when I couldn't sleep. Getting her name and the medicine wheel tattooed on me was a kind of permanent peace offering, a constant reminder about how empowering forgiveness and letting go can be.



Amber and Melanie in a pumpkin patch
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Melanie: Please don't see other women as your competition! It is a toxic mindset and only serves to further divide us which makes the abolition of patriarchy that much more difficult. Instead, give each other high fives. That's my advice. Oh! And one more thing, I think using any sort of position of privilege as a means of highlighting the struggles, pointing out injustices or raising awareness about inequality is huge. My college degree, my print hookup for the zines, my ablebodiedness, etc. are all means of privilege. I acknowledge that not everyone possesses these things and so I've decided to utilize them in the best way that I can. By making the zines, Amber and I can raise awareness about not only feminist issues but Indigenous, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, etc. issues as well. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.


Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Melanie: Hózhǫ́ homies! That's my best advice. In traditional Diné culture, hózhǫ́ is what every Diné person is striving for. It can be loosely translated as beauty, balance, harmony, peace, everything in moderation, etc. Once one steps outside of hózhǫ́, her equilibrium and medicine wheel is thrown totally out of whack! So basically, hózhǫ́ is just a way of telling you to empower yourself before you wreck yourself (but in a humble way mind you). But on the off chance that you do wreck yourself (which we all do eventually), channel all of that discord into whatever creative passion you have. Turn it into something cathartic and productive and move on. That's about as badass as you can get.



Giveaway!
Win all 3 editions of Native American Feminist Musings zine!
US only

*

badass ladies you should know logo
Melanie Fey is a Diné (Navajo) writer, zinester and Indigenous feminist. She hails from Flagstaff/Dinétah, AZ but currently resides in Portland, OR. She acquired a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from Arizona State University and spends her days working as a public library book minion. Melanie is one of two co-creators/editors of the Native American feminist zines Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself, The Nizhoni Beat and Shik'is ShiHeart. Look for her other published works in Red Rising Magazine, As/Us: A Space for Women of the World and Fix My Head #8.

etsy  //  tumblr  //  zine


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August 22, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Lygia Day Peñaflor

Kate Hart
headshot of Lygia Day Peñaflor

This week's Badass Lady is Lygia Day Peñaflor, teacher to the stars and author of UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD, a debut YA novel releasing tomorrow -- don't miss your chance to win a signed copy!



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chairs and a table inside Lygia's on-set school trailer
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Lygia: I’ve been teaching child actors for ten years. I love the job, but I always wanted to be a published author. When I first started working in the film industry, I was struck by how young and accomplished everyone was—directors, producers, writers, and crew, not to mention my own students who had Tony awards and Oscar nominations. As I got to know everyone, I realized they weren’t any different than I was, and this motivated me to write seriously. I figured, if these young people could achieve their goals, so could I. I wrote UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD during my commute, during lunch, and on breaks. Eventually, I had a book about a child star that was the direct result of my surroundings and experiences.



Lygia's remodeled kitchen
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Lygia: I love home renovation and design. I recently remodeled my kitchen. Unfortunately, it directly affected my writing because it’s pretty much impossible to write a novel when walls are coming down and you’re living in a dust cloud. But I lived through it, and now I can write again. Check out my kitchen reveal here!



the cover of UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Lygia: It’s a challenge to remember to write for me first before worrying about what my agent or editor or readers with think. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my head down and block out expectations. There was a luxury when writing a first novel in that no one cared about it but me. That gave me a certain level freedom and courage that’s hard to recapture now.


Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten?

Lygia: When I was in 9th grade in an all-girls school, everyone was being particularly mean and cliquey, so our theology teacher had each of us say something nice about someone in the class. A girl I barely knew said, “Lygia doesn’t need a group to know that she’s cool.” That stuck with me all these years and is still the greatest compliment I’ve ever heard.



Lygia and her mom on their way to the premiere of Boardwalk Empire
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Lygia: When I started dating, my mom told me that I should always have money on me so that I could leave on my own if I wanted to. As an adult, this translated into being able to live independently at any point. In UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD, Viva is a single mother raising her child star daughter, Joss. More than anything, Viva wants Joss to be able to stand on her own someday. Viva’s methods may be controversial, but her intentions are good.


Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Lygia: Be present for each other during times of success as much as moments of difficulty because success comes with new stresses and pressures. Celebrate achievements together. And here’s a personal plea: don’t use the word “bitch” as a term of endearment.


Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Lygia: Know exactly what you want, down to the outfit you’ll be wearing when it happens and the song that will be playing in the background.



GIVEAWAY

Win a signed finished copy of UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD!
[this giveaway is now closed]
US only

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Badass Ladies You Should know logo
Lygia  Day Peñaflor is a YA author and academic teacher to young actors on television and film sets. Her debut novel, UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD, about a child star struggling through a demanding shoot, releases August 23rd with Roaring Brook/Macmillan. Her students have included cast members of Gossip Girl and Boardwalk Empire, as well as I Am Legend. She lives on Long Island where she is an avid equestrian and old-school roller skater. Lygia is represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency.

website  //  twitter  //  IMDB

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August 2, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Christa Desir

Kate Hart
headshot of Christa Desir
2016 has been a big year for Christa Desir, book-wise: In January, Simon Pulse released her third novel, Other Broken Things. In February, she was part of The V-Word, an anthology looking at virginity and the loss thereof, and in May, she and co-author Jolene Perry celebrated the release of their novel Love Blind.

I've always admired Christa's willingness to take on tough topics -- and not just in fiction. From her work with rape victims and incarcerated women, to her willingness to share the ups and down of publishing, speak up on issues of injustice, and share her own story as a survivor, Christa's combination of vulnerability, determination, and bravery make her a truly badass lady. (Make sure to scroll down for a chance to win ALL of her books!)

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Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Christa: I’ve had a million jobs in my life, starting at the age of 11 when I made tiny piecemeal napkin rings using a hot glue gun and fake tree sprigs. Probably there are few jobs I haven’t done: I taught kickboxing, I negotiated talent for the Marlboro cowboys, I was a receptionist in a dentist’s office, I edited erotic romance novels, I was a CFO for a small music company, I stage managed plays at a community theatre, I wrote free-standing inserts for Summer’s Eve douches. I get restless and like to try new things constantly. Mostly, I like to help out people who need it which is where many of my jobs came from. I’ve always written in one form or another, but writing novels is relatively new to me. I started late (about 6 years ago) and fell in love with this type of writing. My passion has always been working with rape survivors. I’ve done that longer than probably anything else in my life. I started volunteering for Rape Victim Advocates in hospital ERs when I was 22. I’ve done advocacy for survivors in one way or another for almost 20 years. My debut novel, FAULT LINE, came out of a writing workshop for rape survivors and half the proceeds from that novel go back into supporting future workshops.


Christa Desir in roller derby gearKate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Christa: I co-host a podcast with Carrie Mesrobian about sex in YA books. Demystifying and reclaiming sex has always been an interest of mine. I would say that the podcast probably makes me think about the topic more in my own writing, but it’s hard to say which came first there.

Additionally, my advocacy and politics have always influenced my writing. It’s hard to separate the two. I tend to include “helpers” in my books, even if the helpers don’t end up solving any problems. I want them there. I want teenagers to know they’re there.

Until very recently, I also did roller derby which was a more creative outlet than you might suspect and helped me channel a lot of stuff into my writing that I otherwise might not have. When you surround yourself with badass strong women in gold sequence shorts who are constantly cheering you on or trash talking about your crappy t-stops, it sort of reminds you that you’re amazing to be doing this crazy thing at 42. It became easier for me to write female characters who really believed in themselves.


Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Christa: Feeling like I don’t deserve to be invited to the table. Not just in writing, but in life. I am quite aware of my own flaws and that self-actualization sadly doesn’t translate as well into an awareness of the things I do well. I apologize too much. I often think I’m unworthy of any sort of esteem. I have excellent taste in people and books, and it is difficult to be surrounded by greatness when you mostly feel like you should be back down in the minors getting water for everyone.


Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Christa: I have a book that I love more than anything (OTHER BROKEN THINGS). I’m unapologetic about how much I love it because it’s incredibly personal to me. Even now, I read it and love it and wish more people would read it because it got sort of lost in the shuffle. I got a Kirkus review for it that said it had “a lot of potential but only achieved mediocrity.” I cried in the car for four hours on my way home from my inlaws after I read that. I asked my editor to stop sending me any reviews. I’ve had lots of shitty reviews, but that one hurt the most because it fed into my fear that this part of me is really not all that great. Not the writing part of me, but the human part of me. The part that put all my heart into something and presented it to the world only for the world to say “mediocre!”


cover of BLEED LIKE ME by C.Desir cover of FAULT LINE by C. Desir cover of LOVE BLIND by C. Desir and Jolene Perry cover of OTHER BROKEN THINGS by C. Desir



Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Christa: I’m proud of the letters my readers send me. Most of those who write me are not big readers and they tell me that they hadn’t read in a long time until my book. I love this. I want us all to be in the business of cultivating more readers. Publishing needs more readers before they need more books. If my brand becomes “writes books for kids who don’t read” then I would be super pleased with my life.



Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Christa: I was raped when I was 6, but didn’t tell anyone about it until I was 15. My feminism roared to life my senior year of high school. I was pretty done with the way you always had to pretend to be something else if you wanted to have someone fall in love with you. I think I wasted a lot of years trying to get someone to fall in love with me because I thought it would make me happy. I was unprotected as a child and had bought into the whole notion that if I could just be better in some vague way, then I’d be more lovable. But by my senior year, when I’d had lots of sex and no real love, I figured out that I wasn’t going to find love until I started to really like myself. So I surrounded myself with women who built me up instead of tearing me down. I got deep into the politics of sexual assault and consent and how to reclaim your own sexual agency. I found my voice slowly over time, volunteering in domestic violence and then in sexual assault and then becoming involved with incarcerated teen girls (whose rate of sexual abuse is staggering).



boxes of books to be donated to Cook County Juvenile Center
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Christa: I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking through the Voices and Faces Project. But at the end of the day, the best work I’ve ever done is when I’m out in the field. Some people are better at public policy and working towards female empowerment on a macro level. For me, I’m better in crisis situations or in one-on-one direct service. Everyone has a role to play in dismantling the patriarchy. Mine happens to be in making connections on a personal level. For example, I have lunches or book club with the incarcerated teen girls at Cook County and we talk about sexual violence and what consent really looks like. It’s eye opening to hear about it from their perspective because it’s not like they’re all enlightened feminists who have a solid sense of self. They’re mostly unprotected with very few resources. So even explaining that sex doesn’t have to be transactional on any level (and by transactional, I mean that girls don’t owe guys sex just because they did something nice for them) is a pretty intense conversation. Similarly, talking with high school students about writing testimony and using my story to change how people view rape has opened a lot of doors. I’m not shy about my story and made a decision a long time ago to never be muzzled by what happened to me. I want that for other girls and feel like we can all model that.

The other way I encourage women to support other women is to endeavor not to fall into comparison and competition. Women are works of art, masterpieces in their own right, so treating them like mirrors in which we compare ourselves only perpetuates unnecessary insecurity and self-loathing. I try hard to approach most things in life with a “mercy before judgment” motto because God knows I’ve needed plenty of mercy in my fuck-ups. I’m doubly conscious of that when it comes to women. We’re criticized enough; we don’t need to go after each other.

Above all, listen. To me, the path to empathy has always been in listening to the experiences of others. Particularly when it comes to intersectional feminism and stepping aside for marginalized women to take the stage in feminist circles.


Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Christa: Read, listen, observe the world, think, be curious, trust your instincts, don’t follow a crowd, learn as much as you can about as many things as you can, be gracious, allow for anger when it’s warranted, don’t apologize for taking up the space you deserve, but recognize that compassion and forgiveness are valuable qualities and integral to building bridges to understanding. And wake up every day knowing what matters to you and working to achieve that.


GIVEAWAY

Win a copy of ALL of Christa's books!
(US only)

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Christa Desir writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her novels include FAULT LINE, BLEED LIKE ME, OTHER BROKEN THINGS, and LOVE BLIND. She lives with her husband, three children, and overly enthusiastic dog outside of Chicago. She has been working as a rape victim activist for nearly twenty years, both in hospital ERs as an advocate and as a public speaker. She is a founding member of the Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit organization for rape survivors that conducts an international survivor-based testimonial writing workshop, including working with incarcerated teens. She also works at an independent bookstore.

website  //  voices and faces  //  twitter  


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July 20, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Bea and Leah Koch

Kate Hart
headshot of Bea and Leah Koch

Feminist. Sex positive. Welcoming, Fun and Pink.” That's how Bea Koch, one of the sisters behind The Ripped Bodice, describes the store. The Kickstarter campaign for the sole romance-only bookstore in the US (and the Northern Hemisphere) got a lot of attention in my neck of the internet woods, and rightfully so: A store that respectfully and earnestly caters to the much-maligned tastes of female readers? Sign me up.

Sadly, The Ripped Bodice is about a 1500 miles from my house, but Racked has a great profile of the store, and my LA friends are definitely fans. I wanted to find out more about the ladies with the great idea, and luckily they were willing to share their badassery with us.


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sidewalk shot of store window with The Ripped Bodice logo and a pink awning overhead
The storefront
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Bea and Leah: We are the owners of The Ripped Bodice bookstore in Culver City, CA. We are the only exclusively romance bookstore in the Northern Hemisphere.

The story of the store is one that relies heavily on timing. We were living across the country from each other as Bea finished her graduate degree at NYU and Leah attended USC. Bea visited Leah one weekend, and over the course of one conversation the Ripped Bodice began to take shape. We were full speed ahead basically from the moment we had the idea.

The bookstore - and the idea of running our own business - was so appealing from the get go that we never second-guessed it. We knew we wanted a home for all of our creative interests and this seemed like the perfect place.


Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Leah: Quilting is so relaxing for me. I was using it to make money in my last year of college so now it's quite nice for it to just be a hobby I can do in my (admittedly not very much) spare time.

Bea: Writing is definitely not relaxing, but it's something I need to do. I've always kind of lived in my own world, but owning a business requires a very different mindset that I've had to cultivate and work on.


Bea and Leah Koch with cover model Fabio
The owners with Fabio
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Leah: We are both very introverted and that presents a lot of difficulties for us in our work. Retail is a very person to person job and we engage very directly and deeply with our customers. Given our introverted tendencies, it can be very draining for us. We both work hard to make sure we have time to replenish the energy we are expending. For the first couple of weeks we were both in the store, all day, everyday. We learned pretty quickly that we need days off to recharge.


Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Leah: I am always tickled when people ask if we had a designer for the store.

Bea: There have been a few customers who have had such a strong emotional reaction to the store. They keep me going. To see someone instantly recognize that this space is for them - specifically for them - is such a special thing for me.


a tabletop display at The Ripped Bodice
A store display

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Leah: Our mom was probably the biggest influence in our personal feminism, with our dad following closely behind. We were taught from the beginning to be strong and self-sufficient. That helplessness is not cute. If there was a problem we should step in and fix it ourselves, not wait for someone else.

Bea: Feminism is a thru-thread in everything we do. And I am reminded by the importance of visible feminism every time a man recoils or laughs upon entering my store. It's like #masculinitysofragile on display 24/7. Our storefront is pink. We have a large sign proclaiming that we are "romantic bookstore" and you would not believe (or maybe you would) the amount of men who walk in and ask "is anything in here for me?" It's for everyone! This genre is for everyone and anyone. But we did design the space for women. There are so many other spaces for men, that women contend with every day with no complaint. This one bookstore is designed to make women feel comfortable. If that makes you uncomfortable, I think you need to ask yourself why?


cards for sale at The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice sells
more than just books!
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Bea: Any way you can! For us, that's been working with other female owned businesses, makers, and authors.


Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Leah: Work, work, work, work, WERK! (and Peggy!)

(that was a Hamilton reference for those of you that are confused)

Nothing is going to happen if you don't put the time in. I think younger women need to start soul searching earlier and really figure out what they want to put their energy towards. That is not going to be career for everyone. If you would be happy in a low stress job and put all your energy towards climbing mountains in your spare time, do that! If your goal is to have a family, start thinking about that early and how you are going to make that happen. If you want to rule the business world, get out on your own early. Take what you can learn working for others and then start failing on your own. Also find a business partner who is your sister. Doesn't have to be biological. You want someone who is going to care more about you then the business and more about the business then herself.



GIVEAWAY
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(US only)


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Bea and Leah Koch are sisters and the owners of The Ripped Bodice. We grew up in Chicago. Bea went on to attend Yale and NYU, where she wrote a graduate thesis titled, "Mending the Ripped Bodice." Leah moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, graduating cum laude with a degree in visual and performing arts. Our family also includes our Dad and our brother Jacob and his lovely wife Olivia, our dog Chester who lives at home with dad, and our cat Clementine. Bea loves her boyfriend Charlie, Bravo reality shows and french fries. Leah loves pizza, Hamilton and weirdly inspiring reality shows like American Ninja Warrior.

website  //  instagram  //  twitter

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June 30, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Taté Walker

Kate Hart
headshot of Taté Walker
After a short health-related hiatus, the Badass Ladies series is back! Today I am thrilled to bring you a profile of Taté Walker: Lakota storyteller, activist, social services professional, and, among much more, the editor of Native Peoples magazine. Her life and career path have given her a unique and valuable perspective on feminism and creating change, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share it with you.



All content copyright Kate Hart 2016

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