4 min

Riddled with self-improvement

Serving the writer's market

Credit: Xtra West files

Last Monday night was writing-class night. One of my students shows up wearing this awesome skirt, like all black and white geometric funkicity with matching nylons and pumps. Eileen likes to be matching.

Eileen, I say, putting the kettle on, what a smoking skirt you have there. I would totally wear that, you know-if it was a shirt.

I love Eileen. Eileen’s specialty is comedy. She’s dead funny. She’s one of those women the girls in the office would say was a gas. Her stories are about being the best friend of the pretty girl, the bridesmaid, the neighbour whose lawn isn’t dandelion-free. She’s funny-deep kinda funny.

Eileen went last during the Writing News of the Week. She waited a remarkably long time before blurting out to us that she had sold an article she had written in class to a huge supermarket ladies magazine for dat-da-da-dah: a cool US $1,000. I almost sucked cinnamon tea into one lung. One yankee dollar a word.

We are all beside ourselves. She has sold a couple of things to CBC, and the North Shore News, but this was the cheque. The one you get to call your mom about. The one you have to photocopy and frame. The one where you get to start telling people at staff parties that you’re a writer.

You have been one for a long time already, but now you say it.

I am proud like a father whose kid scored in overtime. She fills us in.

“I didn’t even really like the story that much, you know. It’s the one where the woman wakes up and writes the list of all the reasons she hates her husband and then kills him? Well, I read the writer’s guidelines for Women’s World, and it said they were looking for happy endings so I changed it to so she doesn’t kill him; instead, she figures out that she in fact loves him still through the process of writing about why she hates him, and ends up staying married, and they bought it. The check will be in the mail as soon as I fax back the contract.”

I am amazed. I have never written a story that you could buy in the line-up in Safeway. I look over at Jan, the other dyke in the room. She is thinking what I am thinking, I can tell. One thousand dollars. We look up Women’s World in the Writer’s market. See, this is what I instruct my students to do. Research your market. Find out what they publish, what they’re looking for. Read the magazine. Write something you think might fit, and send it in. That is exactly what Eileen did. Eileen is no square. She’s hip. But she knew they were looking for something unabashedly family-oriented with a happy heterosexual ending, and she gave it to them. Now her plane ticket to Europe was paid for.

I could do that, I think.

“I should do that,” Jan says.

According to the Writer’s Market, Women’s World is a “women’s service magazine.” We laugh. Jan and I have that part down, at least, we all agree.

They offer a blend of “fashion, food, parenting, beauty and relationship features, dramatic personal women’s stories and articles on self-improvement, medicine and health topics. Human interest stories and service pieces of interest to family-oriented women across the nation.”

We were perfect for this gig. I had had dramatic food-filled affairs with fashionable women who were parents, and needed medicine later to regain my health, and the whole experience had been riddled with self-improvement. No problemo.

They wanted stories of triumph and courage (my favourites, too) or a light romantic theme, written from a masculine or feminine point of view.

We could even do both, we reckoned.

They were also accepting mysteries, from crime to even murder, provided the story wasn’t too sordid or grotesque, and it included a “resolution that clearly states the villain is getting his or her comeuppance. Women characters may be single, married or divorced.”

Okay, so it didn’t say queer, of course. Here we were, typing away at a living in the alternative press, when we could be bringing in some decent coin if we could just straighten up and fly right, if only for 1,000 words or so.

Maybe we could even take our old homo stories and change the pronouns, (if need even be) so they sound straighter.

“I would need a pseudonym,” I say, and then remember that I already am a pseudonym. My birth name was discarded years ago for both obvious reasons and for the fact that it sounds a bit like a fake porn star’s name, and I never could hack the razzing it took. I would, ironically, need a pseudonym for my pseudonym to pass for straight.

Blanche Payne, I decide, because it is Franglaise for white bread, a loose translation from the root pain blanc, in my Grade 12 French.

Jan will be Dotty Yves, because it sounds good. We will pose as nice ladies in order to sell family-oriented stories of triumph and courage for other ladies to read in doctor’s offices and Wal-Marts all across America. I’ve written lots of stories of triumph and courage, after all, only they were for less family-oriented periodicals and the pay was for shit. One in 10, they say. Do the math, I figure. I always did like a good comeuppance. We would then turn around and use the profits to fund our seamy, sordid, homosexual novels, where the villain gets the girl.

In the end.

And I would get to tell my grandma to make sure to pick me up at the CostCo. What could be better? We weren’t even lying, as they would only be stories.

“My mom was really impressed, because she can even get Women’s World in Indiana.” Eileen tells us.

Jan and I make arrangements for Eileen and Michelle to go over our stories for us, a little straight-eye-for-the-tomboy guys, and make sure we don’t let anything strange or queer slip by unawares. “Who knows what could tip ’em off, eh?” I tell Jan.

“I couldn’t do it for my parents, or my husband,” Jan confesses, but for a buck American a word?

Eileen and Michelle will be there for us. Later that night, Jan sends me an e-mail, just to help me get into character.

“Dear Blanche: I love your column in The Definitely Straight. Where was such a wholesome woman like yourself raised? You’re not from here are you?


Dotty Yves.”

They’re gonna love us.