BORN TO BE BAD
A few years ago I wrote a novel called Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior. (link: http://tinyurl.com/je6es8u) The protagonist was a saucy, outspoken writer named Emma Jean (amazingly enough), who, well, behaved badly. She blurted out what she thought to people, harbored dark thoughts about a competitor (a best-selling memoirist and former student), and (accidentally), slept with an adorable younger man, all of which led to her life falling apart. As happens when one behaves badly.
But, when I started marketing the book, I couldn’t sell it to save my life. I got the best rejection letters you’ve ever read, with agents lauding my writing skills to the skies—but I also got told that Emma Jean was unrelatable. Because. She was a bad girl, she got drunk on airplanes, enjoyed sex, and thought dark thoughts about other people’s success, among other things. The unspoken, underlying message was that nice women don’t do that.
And she was a writer, which apparently was also problematic to the sixty-some agents I queried. This puzzled me. As a writer myself, I always thought it was the most fascinating career on the planet, and surely there were many other like me? But then I remembered—Emma Jean was a writer who behaved badly. She might even be guilty of writing about some of those things she liked, such as sex and wine. And that transgression apparently could not stand.
Because words have power. Putting them on paper has power. Lots of it. Writing just might be one of the most radical acts a woman can do. To dare to be herself. To dare to disturb the universe. To dare to allow her words to make her large, instead of confined to one little corner.
A small publisher in Florida took a chance on Emma Jean, and published it, and it sits on Amazon with sales perking along but not burning up the interwebs. And I can’t help but wonder if Emma Jean wasn’t a bit ahead of her time. Because when women, real or imaginary, take action, it becomes a radical thing. Writing—expressing the truth about our experience as women, be it fiction or non-fiction—becomes a radical thing.
I think it’s the best radical thing in the universe, and I think every woman everywhere should take pen to paper and write, whether you do it for publication or in the pages of your journal, where you figure things out about yourself, and maybe, just maybe, decide to indulge in some radical bad behavior yourself. Like being a bold, saucy, woman. Because I know you are one.
Charlotte Rains Dixon mentors creative writers from passionate to published. Charlotte is a free-lance journalist, ghostwriter, and author. She is Director Emeritus and a current mentor at the Writer’s Loft, a certificate-writing program at Middle Tennessee State University. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Spalding University and is the author of a dozen books, including The Complete Guide to Writing Successful Fundraising Letters, and Beautiful America’s Oregon Coast. Her fiction has appeared in The Trunk, Santa Fe Writer’s Project, Nameless Grace, and Somerset Studios and her articles have been published in Vogue Knitting, the Oregonian, and Pology, to name a few. Her novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, was published in 2013, and she is represented by Erin Niumata at Folio Literary. Learn about her annual writing workshops in Europe at letsgowrite.com, and visit her blog at www.charlotterainsdixon.com, where you can find all kinds of tips and techniques on writing and creativity.