Elitism in the Arts

This is a post I’ve dreaded writing, because in order to do so, I have to relive some painful memories. But I feel like this is a message that needs to be said. And so, though it comes from a negative part of my life, I’ll try my best to keep it positive. First, some raw honesty:

Throughout my creative journey, I’ve tried many different branches. And I’ve felt like an outsider every time. The writing community has been welcoming, but recently, I realized that the literary one is a completely different beast, and that I will once again be facing down the enemy of being different. This isn’t a battle that’s new to me, though. In art, I was ostracized for being too commercial. In the Martial Arts, I wasn’t traditional enough. And in writing, I’m not literary, coming from a film background rather than one in English. But, you see, the problem isn’t me. Those are all things I’ve been told, things that have created scars I’ll never fully erase. They’re not the product of a lack of ability, or talent. No, they’re the product of a phenomenon that should never exist — elitism.

People hold the arts up as this ideal place for individuality, where you’ll be free to express yourself without fear of judgement and prejudice. But those people are wrong. Rooted in subjectivity, the arts are actually worse than other industries. Instead of embracing the different, the weird, the innovative, they shun it, viciously tearing down anyone who dares to try something new, or becomes too popular. And who can blame them? People who do things differently risk the status quo. And we can’t have that. (Even though that’s the motto flying on our brilliantly-colored flag of creativity.)

Humans are pack animals, no matter what we’re led to believe. And nowhere do you see that penchant for cliques more prominent than in the arts.

I came face to face with it for the first time in college. (Now, you should know that I went to college at the ripe age of 16, so I was still highly impressionable.) There I was, testing my wings for the first time in what I thought was a safe environment to do so. College is all about experimenting, right? Finding one’s self, and blah blah blah. Well, I had the good fortune to find a college professor whose close-minded bullying nearly had me hanging up my pencils for good.

I don’t know the story behind what was happening in that woman’s life, but that also shouldn’t matter. She was an educator, someone entrusted to help mold the minds of our youth. And she abused that power. I was stuck with her for three classes that semester — color theory, figure drawing, and beginning painting. Things started off great. I’d never been exposed to formal art classes, so I was a sponge, putting my best into every assignment. (I’m also a perfectionist with a compulsive need to get A’s, so you can connect the dots on my level of participation.) She seemed to like me, and I did well in all three classes. Until one day, about halfway through the semester, when she asked me the fated question I would learn never to answer honestly — what kind of artist do you want to be? Stupid me, I told her the truth:

“I want to be an animator,” I said, not realizing that word was akin to the most vulgar thing in the dictionary.

She looked like I’d spat in her drink. She backed away from me, a completely disgusted look on her face, mumbled something snide and walked away. After that, my grades plummeted, she wouldn’t call on me during class, and it was like I didn’t exist. But the kicker was the final project for the painting class. The assignment was to create an abstract painting that had no clear top or bottom. I’d never done abstract before, but I did my best, following the assignment to the letter.

Like all teenagers, I was battling some emotional instability, so I tried to capture that turmoil in paint. Doesn’t get more “tortured artist” than that, right? Well, when it came time for the final critique, this woman took my painting to the front of the class, turned it on its side and said, “Oh my God, where’s Bambi?” (Yes, that’s a direct quote.) I’ve never seen a room full of young people so silent. I swear, they all stopped breathing, staring at me with wide eyes as this teacher continued to ridicule me in front of them all, informing me I had failed because clearly, I had portrayed a forest fire.

I left that class in tears, dropped out of school and gave up on art for the next five years. All because I’d made the mistake of uttering the “A” word.

That’s not the only time I’ve run into that kind of elitist attitude either. Over the years, I’ve been accused of plagiarism (because I happened to write a sci-fi story that featured a weapon mildly resembling a light saber), told I wasn’t good enough to amount to anything, and been patronized because I don’t do things by the majority norm. And I know I’m not alone. These kinds of experiences are par for the course in the arts.

You want to be a singer? Too bad, you suck.

You want to paint? Well, you’re not Van Gogh, so you may as well give up.

You want to be published? Every door will be slammed in your face.

Overcoming adversity is the very definition of being an artist. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So what if someone wants to play the violin with their toes. Or paints murals on street signs. Or writes something a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t make them any less of an artist. The different creative communities claim to be so welcoming and open-minded, but instead, offer only elitism and rejection. If you’re not the alpha of the pack, then you’re the scapegoat. Or worse, lost somewhere in the middle, amongst a sea of sheep.

What’s the point to all this? Simple — don’t let yourself fall prey to elitism. Words have power, whether they be said in jest or seriousness. And that power lasts. To those of us in a position of authority (agents, editors, publishers, teachers, etc.) I implore you to think about what your rejections do to the people who receive them. So it wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s fine, but be nice about it. There must be something good you can give them, some piece of encouragement and/or advice. There’s no reason to get up on a high horse and strip them of their dignity. It’s our job to be the mentors, to help people achieve their creative dreams. Falling into the pack mentality is easy to do, but if we all try a little harder to remember our humanity, and not our need to feel important, we can eliminate experiences like those I went through.

And for those of you who have suffered, or are suffering, under the sword of elitism, keep your head up. Just because one person says you can’t, does not mean you can’t. It took me a long time to get over what that painting teacher said, and I would have destroyed the piece if my mom hadn’t saved it. But I’m glad she did, because I no longer see the emotional turmoil it represented. I see a fire-breathing dragon. It’s a reminder of what I’ve overcome, and that it’s okay to fight for your dreams. So remember, as the great Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We all have a choice. We can become victims, or we can become dragons. I chose to be a dragon, to fight back against elitism and approach my creativity with strength and resolution. Which will you be?


Abstract Painting


by Kisa Whipkey

Copyright: 2000
All Rights Reserved


The Writing Process Blog Hop: Take Two

Before you start, yes, I know I’ve already written a post about this. But Jon over at Jumping From Cliffs (you should totally check him out! His posts are full of dry wit and helpful advice) tagged me again, this time as a writer. What do I mean, “this time”? Well, if you recall, the last post was morphed slightly to impart my views on the process as an editor. Not necessarily my views as a writer. But, contrary to how it may seem, I am actually still a writer. Editing may have taken over my life, and I may often feel like I’m trying to bail out my sinking schedule with a spoon, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my writing. In fact, quite the contrary.

So Jon has graciously given me a second chance to participate in the blog hop, not as freelance editor extraordinaire, or even Editorial Director for REUTS Publications, but as just little old me, the author.

How does it work? It’s really quite simple: I answer the following four questions and then send you off to read about some truly amazing folks. And trust me, the four I’ve chosen each have something unique to offer that you won’t want to miss.

But first, the questions:
1) What are you working on?
I already spoke about Unmoving in that previous post. So, rather than repeat myself, I’ll talk about the series it’s part of as a whole. (If you want to find out more about Unmoving specifically, simply click here.)

Unmoving is the first in a long urban fantasy series (I think I’m up to about 15 plot bunnies) that I’ve dubbed The Synchronicity Series. For those unfamiliar with the term, “synchronicity” is a psychological theory developed by Carl Jung. In it’s simplest definition, it means you find meaning and connection between two seemingly unrelated events. This concept is the foundation of the series, making its presence in the series name an obvious, yet essential, choice.

Each book technically stands alone. Unlike other series, there’s no common character, or place, or even theme linking them all together. How is that a series? Hold on, you’ll see. Instead of the usual conventions that link a book to its sequels, I use the principle of synchronicity. Each book contains at least one Easter egg, what I’ve been calling a jump-off point, a place where the various plots in the series momentarily intersect. It could be a brief encounter on the street, a phone conversation someone overhears, or even something seen along the road, but somewhere in each book, you’ll meet the main character of the next one. The characters all lead completely separate lives, so to each, the jump-off point is an irrelevant, unrelated event in the grander plot of their story (one you’ll get to see from both sides), but to the reader, it has meaning. If you’re willing to look for it.
2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?
Aside from what I just outlined? Hmm, that’s a hard one.

I suppose I would say that my work tends to be very multilayered and complex. It’s never just one genre. I tend to pull from several — fantasy, horror, thriller, mystery, etc. — to make one strange and twisted blend. Then I’ll infuse that with another layer of psychological torture and a dash of cinematography. I’ve always said that I don’t write like a writer. I write like a film director. So I think, (well, hope) there’s a definite cinematic feel to my generally somber stories.

But even though my work is classified as dark, there’s always a ray of hope laced through it. And there’s always a message buried somewhere. Nothing pretentious or preachy, just something subtle that I hope readers will pick up on and that will give them pause to think.

Does that qualify as different? You tell me. 😉
3) Why do you write what you write?
Honestly? Because I don’t know how to write anything else. As a reader, my tastes are as varied as they come. But when it comes to writing, only one thing comes out — dark fantasy. Fantasy has always been my go-to genre of choice, and until recently, it was more of the high/dark fantasy variety. I never expected to branch off into urban or paranormal. So maybe that’s a good sign. Maybe I’m not as rigidly defined as I think. I do suspect that I’ll always stay somewhere within the speculative fiction genres though, as trying to create a contemporary novel literally boggles my mind. I truly don’t understand how its done, how you create tension and conflict without the aid of something supernatural. (The fascinating part is that I totally get it when it comes to editing. It’s only my writer half that’s completely baffled by it.)

Maybe that makes me a little dense as a writer, but I choose to think of it as self-knowledge. I know exactly what I’m meant to write, so why bother trying to force something different?
4) How does your writing process work?

I actually wrote an overly detailed version of this about a year and a half ago: How Does She Come Up With This Stuff?

But the short answer, for those that don’t want to sludge through that previous post, is music. I have a very strong connection with music (as most writers do) and literally everything I do creatively stems from it. The core story idea directly correlates to the song that inspired it, although I seem to have a distinct gift for taking even the happiest, sweetest songs and making them dark and twisted. (Unmoving being the prime example. It was inspired The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved”.)

I’m not a big outline person, though I do tend to write very linearly. So once I have an idea, I only create the bare minimum in terms of a road-map. I’ll block in the scenes on a spreadsheet, with only a few words to summarize the goal. This allows the writing to remain very organic, while still progressing steadily toward the final point of the tale. Technically, I suppose I fall somewhere between a pantser and a plotter, since I like to have a sense of direction, but also like to be surprised by the details that appear as I’m writing.

That concludes my portion of today’s program. Now, I get to introduce you to four of my favorite people:
Priya Kanaparti: Author of Dracian Legacy, Priya is a ray of sunshine. Seriously. There’s something about her voice that feels warm and happy, even when she’s writing the most heart-wrenching scenes. Her enthusiasm for life is infectious, and she’s probably one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. She’s also extremely determined and focused. Her regimented writing schedule leaves me in awe. I’m sure she’s got a few tips and tricks we could all benefit from, so be sure to check out her writing process in the next few days!
Drew Hayes: Drew is one of the funniest people I know. His posts are full of sarcasm and brilliantly wicked analogies that have me laughing out loud on a regular basis. Author of several self-published works, including a serial web novel, and the upcoming The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, The Vampire Accountant, Drew has experienced all the various forms of publication. His latest experiment — live-writing a novel during the month of April — is one you definitely won’t want to miss!
Cait Spivey: Fellow editor, and newest member of the REUTS Publications family, Cait has plenty of insight to offer. Author of the serial short story I See the Web, as well as several NA novels, she also bridges the fence between writing and editing. Her blog features a lot of helpful articles on writing and publishing, and I highly recommend it. She shares a lot of the same viewpoints I do, so if you enjoy Nightwolf’s Corner, you’ll find a lot to love in Cait’s work too. 😉
Summer Wier: Summer is one of the most genuine, supportive people I’ve ever met. She’s also a brilliantly gifted writer. Her debut YA novel is currently making the querying rounds, but she’ll have three short stories in the REUTS Publications anthology of retold fairy tales releasing this fall. Her posts range from book reviews to personal experiences in the writing world, but the one thing contained throughout is her signature wit and humble honesty. So definitely show her the love she gives to the writing community and check her out!
And, of course, be sure to stop by Jumping from Cliffs. Jon has been one of my favorite bloggers for a long time now, and his quick wit never disappoints.
Andrew Toynbee is another person I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know, as we (along with Jon) started blogging around the same time. He, too, is participating in the blog hop, and his post is nothing short of epic. So if you’re looking for even more writer awesomeness, be sure to check it out!

Next week, I’ll have something insightful and snarky for your reading pleasure. What that will be? I don’t know yet. So if you have a request, now’s a great time to let me know. 😉 Until then, happy reading!

From the Editor’s Desk: A Need So Insatiable by Cecilia Robert

As an editor, (both freelance and under REUTS Publications), I have the wonderful opportunity to see amazing novels during their developmental phase. And I wanted to find a way to share them with all of you as they became available. (I also wanted to find a way to help support the authors that trusted me with their manuscripts.) So think of these posts as my own personal book recommendations, straight from the editor’s desk.

This week’s edition brings you the latest release from self-pub powerhouse Cecilia Robert:

A Need So Insatiable

By Cecilia Robert


A Need So Insatiable by Cecilia Robert


“You’ve owned me from the moment I walked into that music room. You’ve wrapped yourself in my heart and mind. I can’t get you out. I don’t want to.” ~ Rafael Van Rees

Sophie Fisher’s life is on fire. If she’s not ducking around corners or slipping out of windows to escape the debt collectors her father’s death has left knocking on her door, she’s dealing with her rebellious, fifteen-year-old sister, Lilli. And, as if that’s not enough, Rafael Van Rees crashes into her life—literally—bringing with him a past the public has no idea of. Can she unravel his mysteries before he unravels her, or will his presence finally force her to face the demons she’s trying to outrun?

Rafael Van Rees prides himself on being in control of his destiny, music and women. As far as he is concerned, his past is a black cloud in the distance–until he meets Sophie, that is, and his world spins out of control in more ways than one. He knows the darkest sins and secrets eventually reveal themselves, but when it comes to Sophie, he’ll stop at nothing to protect her from his past. Even if it kills him.

A Need So Insatiable is the first installment in a new Romantic Suspense series. Featuring a split POV between the female and male leads, it’s a fast-paced, high-intensity read that combines all the strengths of romance and mystery.

Sophie is a budding opera singer dealing with a bad hand in life. Orphaned at 24, she’s trying her best to raise her teenage sister and deal with the overwhelming debt her father left her in — debt that comes with a side of vicious loan shark.  She’s a snarky heroine who manages to keep her head up throughout all the turmoil. But the one thing she doesn’t expect is the storm known as Rafael Van Rees.

A prominent maestro and music director, Rafael is a mystery. As far as the public knows, he appeared fully-formed, lacking any shred of a past — an illusion he created on purpose. But that past slaps him in the face when Sophie waltzes back into his life. The only thing he can’t figure out is why she doesn’t remember him. He’s waited for this reunion for 14 years, and he’ll stop at nothing to win her over, even if it means confronting the demons he’s tried so hard to outrun. Moody, passionate, and gorgeous, he’s everything the male lead in a romance should be. I dare any female to read this and not swoon, at least a little bit. 😉

Sophie and Rafael aren’t the only great things about this book, though. There’s also a supporting cast that fills that role to a tee, providing everything from comic relief to the voice of reason for the main characters. And the writing is grounded and realistic. Romances that keep everything flowery and perfect in the love scenes are one of my personal pet peeves. Ms. Roberts didn’t choose that approach, portraying everything (yes, even the sexy parts) in a realistic tone that was both relatable and refreshing. Some people may not like that level of realism, but I did. It made the characters feel more human.

Classified as a New Adult book, A Need So Insatiable does contain some adult (as in mature) content. So if swearing, sex, and moderate violence isn’t your thing, I would recommend against reading this. But if you like your romances with a bit of action, realism, and lots of steam, this book will more than satisfy. And, as a bonus incentive, it’s currently on sale! So take advantage of the release week extravaganza and pick up this little gem for only $0.99! You won’t be disappointed. 😉
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To learn more about Cecilia and her other YA/NA books, visit her website, or follow her on Facebook/Twitter. And if you simply want to purchase A Need So Insatiable, click here!

How I Became an Editor

I’ve had some requests recently for the story of how I became an editor. Which means I have to pull on my big girl shorts and do that thing I don’t like to — talk about myself. Blerg. (Yes, that’s a word. At least, in the House of Whipkey. ;P ) Those who have lingered around these parts for a while know that I do tend to make my posts personal, relying on self-deprecation and personal experience to impart advice, tips, and (I’d like to think) humor. But rarely do I actually talk about just me, as in my life story. Making what’s about to happen the perfect example of what I said not to do in my post about exposition a few weeks ago.

I’m not one to leave a request hanging though, so **deep breath** here goes:

How I Became an Editor

When someone sets out to become an editor, there’s a very clear path they usually take — love books, realize they’re kind of a nerd for grammar, excel in English classes, graduate with an English degree, move to New York, become someone’s coffee gofer for a bunch of years, and then poof! Editor status. Yeah, that’s not the path I took. My journey to editor-land looks more like the one taken by an ADD squirrel in the middle of nut season. In fact, I never set out to become an editor at all. Editing was always on my radar, but it was one of those mystical, unattainable jobs — like astronaut, or unicorn breeder. I never actually saw myself becoming one. I just didn’t understand how to get there, what series of life choices ended with that shiny prize.  And so, I set my sights on a different career altogether.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself though. If we go back to the very beginning of the story, you’ll see that I was always destined to find my way into editing. One of my first memories as a kid (like young, before I could read, kid) is taking every single picture book I owned and stacking them on the floor. I’d then sit next to that massive pile taller than I was, and read them one at a time. Except, as I just noted, I couldn’t read yet. So I would look at the pictures and make up my own version of the story. Now, some of you might be thinking that sounds like a writer more than an editor (and a massive red flag for OCD). But the thing is, I didn’t actually create new stories. I took what I knew of the existing one (because my parents were awesome and read to us a lot) and then changed accordingly. Which, in case you haven’t put two and two together yet, is one of the main things an editor does.

Reading remained one of my favorite activities as I grew up, often becoming the highlight of a lazy summer day. (When you live an hour away from civilization and the nearest neighbor kid is like two miles away, there’s not much else to keep you entertained.) I also dabbled in writing and drawing. I actually thought I’d be a writer, until I turned eleven and saw this:

And, like the proverbial spotlight from heaven, complete with angels singing, I found my calling. (Or so I thought.) From that point on, I was dead-set on the fact I wanted to be an animator. I taught myself everything I could about traditional animation, (via various Disney books) and even spent cold winter evenings out on the back porch with a light table my dad built for me, drawing away.

I kept that dream alive for a long time, intending to go to Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) for college and then, eventually, work for Disney. But, by the time I got to college-age, I chickened out. And then, shortly thereafter, the traditional 2D animation industry died. So I bounced around a couple of Junior Colleges for a while before finally transferring to a State University. What did I pursue there? English. I tried their art program for about a semester, but fine arts and I are like oil and water. They don’t like me because I’m too “commercial”, and I don’t like them because they’re pretentious and close-minded. But that’s a story for another time.

During my obsession with animation, I kept writing. (In fact, the majority of my current 300 + plot bunnies originally started life as animated movies.) I decided that if I couldn’t pursue art (which had been made abundantly clear by some horrible experiences with art professors), I’d fall back on my second love and become a writer. I loved my classes, and did well for a couple semesters. I started writing more frequently and finally felt like maybe I’d found a career path.

Enter the worst romantic mistake I ever made.

You know that ex that makes you shudder with revulsion and embarrassment when you think about them? Yeah, I happened to find mine right as I was trying to figure out my writing style. His lack of support and pretentious condescension (he’d already graduated with an English degree and thought he was better than, well, the world)  resulted in my giving up. On everything. I quit writing, I quit school, and I ended up working in the mall. Yes, the mall. It was a dark time in my life.

Fast forward about 3 years. I’d dumped his sorry ass, moved back home with my parents, and was floundering around for some direction. I worked on repairing the psychological damage that relationship had caused and picked up all the things I’d let go, but never forgotten about — writing, drawing, martial arts. Happiness returned, but I was still a twenty-four-year-old living with my parents. And that scared me. I refused to be thirty and living at home. So I started reconsidering applying to Cal Arts, breathing life into my original dream again. The animation industry had changed completely, though. 2D animation didn’t really exist anymore. 3D was all the rage. And I wasn’t (and am still not) that good at 3D.

Which brings us to career epiphany #2 — video games need animators too. I was playing Bioware‘s Jade Empire and watching the beautiful load screens rotate between levels, when I realized: “they must need artists for video games. Maybe I could do that.” (Don’t ask where I thought video games came from before that moment. Apparently, they just magically appeared out of thin air.) After a bit of research, I stumbled on Westwood College Online and their Game Art and Design degree program. Hallelujah! Direction. I enrolled, and three years later, walked away with a degree in video games. Still intending to pursue animation, mind you.

Overpriced piece of paper in hand, I started investigating my job options. I even attended the Game Developer’s Conference, where all the game industry professionals gather to trade notes. (Unlike the other gaming cons, you don’t see any costumes, just nerds in business suits.) I found myself gravitating toward the lectures/classes on writing more than the ones on animation though. Which led me to the idea of becoming a game writer. I’d been writing during all this flailing, so game writing seemed like a natural progression, combining two of my loves into one. All right, I thought, I’ve found my niche. I’ll apply to Bioware (which had taken over Disney’s exalted place as the ideal company to work for) and finally start my career.

Once again, fear kicked in and I chickened out. Instead, I opted to move (with my fiance, because during my flailing, I managed to meet the most amazing guy ever) to Portland to spend about a year near my sister. (Yes, I just said that move was supposed to be temporary. Clearly, I got stuck, because that was four years ago now and we’re still here.) Since Portland doesn’t have any game companies that I’m aware of (at least, they didn’t back then) I decided to pursue my own thing, going into freelance art instead. (Are you starting to wonder when we’ll get to the editing? Don’t worry, we’re almost there!)

I joined Deviantart in 2011, and started Nightwolf A.D.E. (which stands for art, design, and editing). Overwhelmed by the level of artistic talent on the site, I ended up frequenting the literature forums, and eventually realized I could try my hand at freelance editing. (I’d done a lot of editing over the years in writing groups, or as favors for friends, so I knew I was at least moderately talented at it.) I scored my first client in the summer of 2012, and, not three months later, stumbled on a call in the job postings about a new press looking for editors. And voilà! I became an editor.

So there you have it — my long and winding journey to becoming a professional editor. Was it something I always wanted to do? Yes, I think so. Though it was never at the forefront of my thoughts the way other careers were. (Remember, I viewed it as elusive and impossible to achieve). Did I set out to do it? No. It found me. But I do firmly believe in the idea of fate, and that everything happens for a reason. My path may not be the straightforward, traditional one, but that doesn’t mean I’m not exactly where I’m supposed to be. If I hadn’t chickened out of going to Cal Arts all those years ago, I wouldn’t have tested the waters of being a writer and published three short stories. If I hadn’t moved home when I was twenty-four, I wouldn’t have met my loving husband, or gotten my degree. If I hadn’t let fear drive me to Portland instead of Edmonton, I wouldn’t have joined Deviantart. And if I’d stayed focused solely on art, I never would have found REUTS and my true love of editing.

So, I suppose, the point I’m trying to make is that you don’t have to follow the beaten path to become an editor. If you love it, (and have what it takes), then you’ll find a way. Or, like me, it will find you. 😉