…and take their good liquor on the way out the door

…and take their good liquor on the way out the door.

I love to write. I love throwing myself into an alternate reality, rooting through my imagination and digging out things that amuse, surprise or even alarm me. I love when a line pops into my head and makes me laugh out loud. I want to run out my door and read it to someone. Of course, I have to make them sit still for the 50 pages of backstory that lead up to the line, but I’m willing to do that.

I love that my series requires my protagonist to “MacGyver” weapons and concoct escapes with nothing but what is at hand. Although, that has proven to be problematic. There was the time I was testing a weapon that my scientist-protagonist made of what was in a victim’s pants pockets: car keys and condoms. To make certain that the device would hold up under impact, I threw it at the calendar on my wall. But, as it happens, I throw like a girl and I catch like a blind girl. I missed the target. And it turns out that certain lubricants don’t wash off paint.  Still, I was tired of the color anyway, so I’m not complaining.

I even love when my characters take the story in a different direction than I intended. The protagonist from my first book decided to fall for a character that I had only meant to be a red herring.  No matter how many times I rewrote the scene, they ended up groping each other! And the guy was kind of jerk. But she wouldn’t listen to me, and I ended up having to make him a major recurring character. Yet, I had to admire her moxie.

Are there things about writing that I hate? Oh, yeah! I hate staring at a blank screen while the cursor steadily blinks at me, condescendingly nagging me to write something, anything, have a thought, use your words, don’t just sit there and stare at the screen!

I hate rereading my last ten pages only to realize that what the cat wrote as it just ran across my keyboard is infinitely more interesting than what I spent the last four hours pecking out.

And I really hate it when a member of my critique group hands me back a draft chapter dripping red ink with comments like “boring”, “I don’t get it” and “I have no empathy for your characters.” (Yes, please stab me in the heart! That’s why I belong to critique groups.)

Ah, but this is what writing is. And if you’re a writer, you get it.

But do you know what I really love? I love proving narrow-minded, nasty, naysaying bigots wrong.

Okay, what does that have to do with writing? Well, follow me here. First, I should tell you that I’m a newbie author. I’ve just published my first novel. And I still have a day job. Fortunately for me, I really like my day job. I’m a scientist and physics will always be my great love. But I’ve always had this unrelenting urge inside me to create through words, to write. After years of writing after work late into the night, on every business trip and on every snow day or holiday, I finally wrote a book that a publisher was willing to take a chance on. Yay! But there were a passel of people who’ve tried to shut me down along the way, both as a scientist and as a writer.

As a kid I devoured Arthur C. Clark and Robert Heinlein.  I was glued to the T.V. set every Thursday night (first season) or Friday night (second season) watching Star Trek. And I sat in stunned silence as Armstrong walked on a grainy, black and white moon across the screen of our neighbor’s rounded-edged Philco TV set with the broken horizontal hold. But it was the early days of women’s lib and I was a poor kid in the Deep South. I was told that woman weren’t smart enough to be scientists and that “your kind of people never amount to anything.” If I’d met their expectations, I’d have dropped out of high school, married an abusive drunk, and raised half-a-dozen angry kids who’d grow up to repeat the pattern. Nah. Not for me.

And it didn’t stop when I left home and enlisted in the Air Force to earn money for college to be told that only low class women joined the military. Even after getting my commission, a PhD in physics, retiring from the military and joining federal service—where I am fortunate enough to lead dedicated researchers who are  passionate to make a difference—it continues. There was, and is, always someone trying to put me into a box because I’m a woman, a scientist, ex-military, a government employee, etc., in order to justify their predetermined world view.

So it should have been no surprise to me when my first agent told me that I should pick a “gender neutral” pseudonym so that my books aren’t rejected out of hand by readers who don’t read books by women (or men). Seriously? And how about the publisher who didn’t want to look at my series because someone of my age won’t have a long enough career to make it worth their while? True story. Oh, by the way, did you know that genre writers aren’t as talented as writers of “real” literature? That’s what they tell me. Ah well.  Human nature. What can you do?

With regards to the sciences, I have a plan. I’m trying to use my writing platform to make a difference. As part of my day job, I work to find ways to help young people, especially women, minorities and the economically disadvantaged, pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Despite advances since my childhood, many economic and societal barriers still stand in the way of would-be scientists achieving their dreams. So, I’m using my author’s website, http://kennedyquinn.com, to advertise a small scholarship program that I’ve created for high-school and college students in the STEM fields. Check it out and pass it on to anyone you think might be interested.

And I’ve tried to make my series protagonist, Madison McKenna a different kind of scientist heroine, one who’s sassy, sexy and smart. I hope she’s real enough and interesting enough to negate the stereotype that some people have that women scientists are lame, unfeminine and terminally uncool.

But what about combating stereotypes people want to slap on writers?  I mean, it’s hard enough to perfect your writing skills, to learn when to act on criticism and when to ignore it, to slog through rewrite after rewrite until you finally get that ‘aha!’ moment that tells you you’ve got it right. If on top of that can’t even get a read because a publisher decides that you’re too old for it to be worth their while to work with you, what do you do? Or what if you’re pegged as being too young to have enough life experiences or depth of character to write something of interest? That happens too. Maybe you’ve been dismissed out of hand as too white bread or too ethnic to write credibly on a topic? I have friends who’ve been told that.

I’m afraid that I don’t have as actionable plan to deal with these issues. Frankly, I got lucky. I hung in there long enough to find a publisher willing to take a chance on me. Now it’s up to readers to decide if my writing is good enough to make the grade.  Fingers crossed.

Look, you can’t make stupid people do smart things. But you can’t let them stop you either. It’s going to be a matter of persistence.  There absolutely are agents and publishers who don’t give a rip about age, sex, ethnicity, etc. They just want to see good writing.  And I believe they are in the majority. You just have to be prepared for encounter the others.

And for when you do, let me give you the advice an old mentor of mine gave me. When you run across one of these narrow-minded idiots, look them straight in the eye, smile at them and politely tell them of the value of their opinion to you.  Then turn on your heels and take their best liquor on the way out the door.

Then get back to writing and prove them wrong. Trust me

Kennedy Quinn

Kennedy Quinn has a Ph.D. in Physics and Master’s in Nuclear Science and is a director of research by day. But this scientist-turned-administrator didn’t get there the easy way. She enlisted in the Air Force immediately after high school and served as an aircraft mechanic before achieving an officer’s commission and earning her multiple degrees. After a diverse military career, she retired to federal service where she continues to lead research on a wide array of science and technologies. By night, she grows roses in Northern Virginia with her family; they’re owned by two rescue cats.