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Reflections on my first convention & blogger blackouts

This past weekend, I took my self-published dark fantasy novel to Vermont ComicCon as a vendor. I’d last been to a con in college, so it was a pretty exciting thing. First signing event, first vendor event, lots and lots of firsts.

I’d love to be one of those people who could construct for you an organized narrative of how things progressed, but unfortunately, that sort of writing only seems to happen in my fiction. So let’s make a list of awesome things that happened at the first VTComicCon:

  • Selling and signing books! After years of going to various events and seeing the authors behind the tables, it was pretty awesome being the one there with my pens at the ready.
  • Seeing all the amazing cosplay. I’m more likely to be found in my geeky T-shirts than rocking a styling X-23, but I have so much admiration for people who have the visual creativity to put together some of the amazing costumes I saw. I tweeted some of my favorites.
  • There was a moment when an author came up to my table-buddy and myself and shook our hands, and said “I’m going to be published in a month, how do I get one of these tables, and what do I need to know?” It blew my mind, being the one who is considered to have the authority to answer those questions. Very very cool.
  • Being in a room with so many people who are passionate about the thing they love. I was very strongly reminded of the great answer Wil Wheaton gave a while back to the question of what’s awesome about being a geek, and that it’s not about what we love, it’s about how we love it. It seems like every time I look at Twitter, there’s authors being jackasses to bloggers, there’s Gamergate, there’s nasty and miserable crap happening everywhere. No good.

About the blogging blackout. I support it, both as an author and as a kind-of-blog-reviewer. Book bloggers do not exist to be the PR machine of authors. Book bloggers are book geeks. They do it because they love it, not just reading, but sharing the books they love (or don’t love) with their fellow book geeks. They deserve respect, especially because their love is so useful and important to us. I don’t feel like I’d be doing anything more than lip service by saying I was participating in the blackout, because nothing I’ve reviewed recently, or plan to review in the near future is a new release. I’d be lying if I said I was doing that deliberately.

I may spend the next week focusing on more writing topics rather than reading topics, or talking more about what the con meant to me. I also have an exciting bit of news that I’ll share tomorrow!

Review: The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.

Also, he’s taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

Year we fell downLike many of the books I’ve read recently, I came to this book in a roundabout sort of way. I read a few stellar reviews of the third book in the series, and added the first book to my sample list on my Kindle. Then, I read Bowen’s post on NA Alley where she questioned whether or not an author could put an m/m title in what was otherwise an m/f series. In that post, she says that she’s gotten at least a few responses to her newest book, The Understatement of the Year, where some people decided to pass on it because it’s a m/m story.

My feelings about this are deeply conflicted. On one hand, no one is obligated to read anything, and if you don’t want to read a story about two men, then that’s fine. On another hand, the fact that most m/m romance is written by women with a target audience of women also kind of weirds me out. Most stories are awesome and amazing, but there are some that I’ve read that are pretty fetishizing and creepy. Of course, some section of EVERY romance genre is kind of fetishizing and creepy, so why pick on m/m romance? On YET ANOTHER hand, I’d like to think that the average reader might be willing to give a m/m romance a try, if they know and enjoy the author, and possibly have a new genre of romance open up to them. On another hand…

You see how it is. This is an octopus issue for me, and I don’t have an easy answer. But, I did have something I could do. I commented on Bowen’s NA post that I would be buying the book to read myself, and “so there mean reader,” or something like that. (I was very tired at the time. I might have had a beer. My husband regularly disregards my requests that he take away my internet when I’ve been drinking, because I entertain him.)

I read The Year We Fell Down hoping to enjoy myself, but I had no idea that I would be so blown away by this book. Corey Callahan is the main character. She is currently using a wheelchair for mobility, and she needs braces and forearm crutches to walk. She is mad about this, mad about what she’s lost, and she’s not apologizing for that, but she’s also not a bitch to all and sundry just because her life has changed. She is actively trying to figure out how to live when her life has taken a sharp left turn.

She is intrigued by Adam Hartley, her cross-the-way neighbor who has broken his leg very badly, and so is also sitting in the “gimp section” as they put it in their gallows humor. Hartley slowly encourages Corey to reconnect, slowly convinces her that it is possible for a man to see her, and not just the chair or the braces. Corey is rapidly falling for him. Only problem? He’s already got a girlfriend, Stacia, who by all accounts brings out the absolute worst in him.

Things I absolutely loved about this book:

  1. It is made clear that Hartley and Stacia have an “arrangement” while she’s in Europe for her semester abroad. Hartley’s flirting and … more with Corey are therefore easier to stomach without making her “the girl he cheated with,” something I hate.
  2. Corey never defines herself in terms of Hartley. She actually recognizes at one point that her reliance on him is keeping her from making other friends, and she tells him that they can’t be friends right now, because she needs to find her own feet.
  3. When Hartley makes up his mind, and realizes that he’s treating Corey like crap, he acts decisively. He doesn’t hem and haw and tell the reader all about how AWFUL this is, he just does the right thing. Bam.
  4. Did I mention that Corey is freaking amazing, and strong, and powerful? She’s neither the angelic girl in a wheelchair who’s going to make everyone appreciate their functioning legs, nor is she the angry, bitter cripple out to ruin everyone’s life. She’s a girl, a girl who has some “shit to shovel,” and she’s going to move that crap as best as she can.

Excellent book, wonderful, brilliant, I love it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, and it’s not even just so I can stick my tongue out at some random email person anymore.

Queerness and privilege

A friend recently linked me one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. This is from a 2013 article on EverydayFeminism:

Although a queer person may pass as straight if they’re in a heterosexual relationship, straight privilege by definition doesn’t exist for them because a) they’re queer and b) they still have to deal with prejudiced assholes on all sides, and I’m pretty sure that cancels out any ephemeral benefits of temporarily passing.

…I’m sorry, but are you joking?

pansexual transgender

I am a cis-woman who is attracted to a variety of genders. I’m not a huge fan of the term bisexual because I feel that it enforces the concept of gender binary, which I think is misguided, but I also dislike pansexual. It sounds like I should be off cavorting with satyrs. Pan was a jackass in the Greek. So we’re going to go with queer for the purposes of this little rant, if you don’t mind.

I’m a queer cis-woman in a monogomish marriage with a heterosexual cis-man. Just a few of the examples of how I  absolutely receive straight privilege unless I choose to out myself are:

  1. When people ask after my spouse/husband/partner, and I mention my husband, or say his name, their automatic assumption about the gender of my partner is correct and reinforced. There’s never been a moment since I’ve been with him that people say “Oh!” blink several times, and then start telling me about how all their best friends are gay. That happened a lot when I was with my girlfriend.
  2. When my husband and I decided to get married, we had the support of our families and the church I attended at the time. In fact, my relationship with a certain segment of my family improved, as they decided I was now “fixed,” despite my attempts to explain the concept of orientation fluidity to them. (I will admit I only tried so hard. There was a certain place where it became clear they weren’t listening, and didn’t care.)
  3. When my husband and I had children, there was no hubbub about his name going on the birth certificate. He didn’t have to fill out special paperwork, and we didn’t have to invest money in him adopting our children.

These are just a couple of examples, there are a near infinity more. Of course, one of the things about privilege that seems to confuse so many people is that you don’t just have privilege. It’s not an all-admittance pass. I can easily point to white privilege, able-bodied privilege, and class privilege in my life. When I choose to pass, I also easily gain access to heterosexual privilege and Christian privilege in my life. But that’s the key here. I have to choose to out myself. I have to talk about my girlfriend, or people have no idea. The fact that I don’t have to deal with people’s nonsense in my face every day, that I get included in these higher power groups unless I remove myself, that is a big part of what passing is. Passing is its own kind of hell, I don’t discount that for one minute, but the whole point of it is that you do it because you gain privilege (and remove perceived threats) by doing so. And when I do out myself, sometimes the backlash is…intense. I once blew up an entire parenting message board by asking the question of how someone like myself spoke to her kids about sexuality to avoid reinforcing heteronormativity. That…was an intense week.

I don’t like passing. I did it for a very long time, for a variety of reasons, and my personal experience was that the costs outweighed the benefits. I am loud, now, about my queerness. I stamp my feet when clients or editors demand bi-erasure in stories.

I don’t know if it’s enough, I’ll never know. But it’s what I can do.

What does success mean to you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what success means to me. After all, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you know when you got there, right?

For me, I think success looks like affecting someone deeply. I don’t need to be famous, or make a ton of money, or have a car that looks like someone should be reclining on the hood. I want to be at a signing some day, and have someone look me in the eyes and tell me that something I wrote made a difference to them, that it was a little easier to get through a dark night because of the words I wrote.

What does success look like for you?

I’ve been too serious.

And there’s only so much seriousness a person can take.

So! Today I’m going to talk about a word that I hate.

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Now, I very much subscribe to the George Carlin school of language. “There are no bad words. There are bad thoughts…bad people…and woooooooooooooooooooooords.” I hate the term “bad word.” I tell my kids that certain words aren’t appropriate for a given situation (i.e. don’t repeat any of the things Mama says after she drops her coffee at school or in front of Grandma, thanks), but I don’t chastise them particularly for using words.

But there are words I like more than other words. And there are some words I don’t like.

My least favorite word lately: cum.

Yetch.

Funny one for an erotica writer, I know, but I hate it. I have since my Mulder/Scully fanfiction writing days. I hate it like other people hate moist. I don’t want you to cum in my mouth, I don’t want pre-cum in my hand, and for the love of GOD don’t cum on me. If you shout “I’m cumming,” this reading relationship is over.

Why do I hate cum so much? No clue. I’m not normally one for flowery language. Get out of here with your sword of his manhood and the flower of her lust. But I will talk about the fluid of his arousal, the pearl of wetness on his tip, and I’m constantly going on and on about people coming (although I still have no respect for announcers; if I can’t tell from other signs, you’re doing it wrong). But seriously, I’d rather hear about his jizz, his load, or even (if you can imagine it) his semen than his cum.

What words turn you right off?

On the importance of romance novels

Something I’ve heard a lot from various authors who write “genre” fiction is the idea that they aren’t doing anything important. That their books don’t change the world. I’ll tell you the truth, when my favorite authors make the switch to writing fiction that’s “important,” I tend not to follow them. I read stories. And I find stories to be incredibly important.

In our current culture, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy continues to thrive. Walking this morning, I heard a man blasting music from his truck. I heard a lyric about “She’s not Cinderella as she gets undressed / cuz she rocks it like a naughty Wicked Witch of the West,” and wondered (not for the first time) why she couldn’t be both. Every actress who has thrived on Disney, from Annette to Miley, has taken control of her world by claiming her sexuality publicly, causing criticism about “what happened to that sweet little girl,” because of course sweet little girls don’t twerk.

Or for the most nefarious example that’s hit close to home recently, my friend Stacy was walking home after a theater performance a few nights ago. It was late, it was dark, but we live in a fairly sleepy little town. She was on the phone with her boyfriend as she walked, and a car pulled up beside her. The man inside began trying to talk to her, keeping pace with her as she tried to speed up. He began to shout. She began to run. Thankfully, there was an open store on the corner, and she booked it inside. She is one of the strongest women I know, an advocate for feminism and female equality, the kind of amazing person who can make me laugh until I snort milk out my nose, but also call me on my privilege and my bullshit in a way that makes me rethink what I’m doing instead of just getting defensive. And yet, when the clerk at the store offered to call the police, she thought to herself what good will it do, he hasn’t done anything illegal. She thought, did I do something to make this happen? She thought was this my fault in some way?

The beauty of romance novels is that they are read. They are read by scores of men and women, and they, I truly believe, have the power of offering an alternative to the porn-star poses found in magazines and certain movies. Romance writers write about heroines who are not perfect, either physically or emotionally, but still deserve to be treated properly, and be loved. Romance writers write about enthusiastic consent being incredibly sexy and hot. Romance writers include safe sex in a normalizing way.

One of my favorite moments in my freelance erotica career was when I was writing a scene where the very Alpha male ended up asking for consent from the woman he was with. The client objected to his asking, and told me that the man should just, you know, take what he wanted, and the woman would just submit.

I spent about an hour boiling over with rage, and then wrote back and politely informed my client that I did not write non-consentual encounters (negotiated non-con is a different beast, but we’ll leave that for now), and perhaps i had misunderstood him? And if I had not misunderstood him, well then we could talk about whether he wanted to give me a partial payment for what I’d already done and find another freelancer, or just call it done.

He backtracked quickly. I did rewrite the scene to make the Alpha more Alpha-y, but he asked for and got his yes before he laid a finger on the woman in question. Thank you *very* much.

Another of my friends likes to say that I’m saving the world through porn by writing what I do. I write about broken people who manage to tape themselves back together again, and get their happily ever after, even if it doesn’t look like they thought it would. I write about poly families establishing long-term couples that are happily ever after for everyone. I write about women who are strong, and make their own choices. And, maybe even more importantly, I write about partners who love how independent their women are, who don’t view it as a challenge to be conquered, but as an asset in their joint battle against the forces of the world.

My friend Stacy did end up letting the clerk call the police. The police were very respectful. They never once asked what she was doing out so late, on her own, or asked if she thought she should be out by herself. They didn’t blame her, or accuse her, though she still found herself explaining why she was out alone. The guy who shouted at her was, of course, long gone by then, but she got home safe. She gave me permission to tell the story here and use her name, because, as she said to me this morning, “What good is freedom and autonomy if using it puts you in mortal danger?”

To every romance writer out there: don’t believe for a second that what you write isn’t important. What you write is read, and it matters. It helps women see that there is hope, that we can demand more from the people around us. That’s crucial, if we’re ever going to change this world, and make it better for our daughters and our sons.

Keep going.

Publishing is a business, people.

Or at least, it’s supposed to be.

Back in the days when I thought an MFA would help my career, I attended a talk by Bruce Coville, one of my absolute favorite writers of all time. In a talk full of gems (“If America valued children, teachers would be paid like ball players, and ball players would be paid like teachers,”) Coville said that one of the greatest tricks the “establishment” (my word, not his) had pulled off was convincing artists that they are not business people.

This stuck to me, and while I fall pray to moments of being an artiste when I’m writing, I’ve worked hard to always be a businessperson when it comes to the work of actually getting my stuff in print and out into the world. Because when I’m at home and writing, and it’s just me and my fountain pens, it’s all about whether or not *I* think the paper and the ink are worth it, but once I try to push those words outside of my house, there are business decisions to be made. I get that, and I try to be understanding when my artistic whims have to flex to other people’s business decisions.

Perhaps this is why I lose patience when publishers do not run their businesses like businesses, but instead like sledgehammers they can use to get their way.

When I signed with Ellora’s Cave this summer, I signed a three book contract, essentially. The first contract was for Sweet Mistake, and the second and third were “To Be Determined.” My editor and I discussed some ideas for what those other books might be, but nothing was firmed up, as I wanted to see how Sweet Mistake did. I ended up writing and sending them a longish Quickie to fill out the second contract, and am still waiting for a response from my editor for that.

Today, in light of all that’s happened, in light of the impossibility of promoting a book through Ellora’s Cave in light of the (correctly!) agitated atmosphere in the book blogging community, I sent notice to EC Contracts division that I would be unable to complete the third contract.

The response I got back had no salutation (Dear Ms. Croteau) and no sign-off. What was in the email didn’t even relate to my situation, as it specified that there was no contract language for rights reversion at this time.

I emailed back saying yes, I was aware, and that was what I was trying to tell them.

They informed me that they were not terminating *any* contracts at this time, and that I was contractually obligated to write that book for them, and that I could not write it for anyone else, or write it and self publish it.

Since the contract was for a TBD concept, that means they have claim on the next piece of erotica or erotic romance that I write. My choices are to write it for them, or to stop writing erotic romance entirely.

Because holding authors hostage is a totally valid business model.

I am beyond enraged, and anything I write from here on out is just going to be an angry rant, so I think I’ll just drop the mic here and walk out for today.

Becoming a romance writer

This isn’t a thing I actually did on purpose, if you can believe it.

The story starts like this: I was about eleven, and a family member who was about my age knew that I loved to read, and wanted to give me an awesome Christmas present. Somehow, he got his hands on a subscription card. The deal was that you sent in this card, and then the person that you registered would get six books in the mail every few months. He thought this was the best thing ever, and signed me up right away. Neither of our parents knew about it until the first shipment of books came.

As you may have guessed by now, the books in question were a bunch of the Harlequin imprints.

My mother took the books away, but I figured out where she’d hidden them, and took them back. I read them all, and hated them. There was something cloying about those romances, about the way the heroines always let their men come first, no matter what else happened. I hated the secret babies and the ugly ducklings and the smart girls who pretended to be stupid. Oh, I hated those girls the most. But you know what I loved?

I loved the sex scenes. Oh my goodness, did I ever.

So I read the sex scenes until the books fell apart, looking up words like turgid and tumescent in the dictionary, and trying to figure out how they would relate to a penis. (This was 1991, after all, and we wouldn’t have internet access for another four years at my house). But other than that, I went back to my Stephen King, and my Mercedes Lackey, and my Anne McCaffery.

I loved the romantic elements in those books. I sobbed over Talia and Dirk, Vanyel and Stefen, Elspeth and Darkwind. But I didn’t try to read romance again.

When I started to write my own books, I found romantic plotlines creeping into the stories, but they were never the focus. And then, I went through a really bad patch for a lot of reasons (this is a theme I run into for a lot of people who get WAY into genre fiction, and it always interests me), and I found the works of Lani Diane Rich. I devoured every single book she’d ever written, then moved on to her alter-ego Lucy March, and her roommate, Jennifer Crusie. I realized that something had happened in the world of romance in the twenty-mumble years since I’d been away, and I found that I wanted to play in this world in a way I never had before.

I’d started my freelancing career writing blogs, both for independent clients, and also for content mills. All of that work dried up over night, though, and I went looking for more places to write. I found my way to oDesk, and I found a request for erotica. The pay was better than any of the blog offers I’d found on the site. I stared at it for a while, and then I shrugged my shoulders, and thought “Well, why not give it a try?”

One try turned into another, and within about six months, I was paying my bills by writing erotica and erotic romance in a work-for-hire environment.

There’s something incredibly freeing about just writing the story. It’s made me a better writer overall, because I don’t doubt myself like I used to. And because I don’t want to sell my work for a flat fee forever, I’m here, working on writing things for myself, that I can eventually sell, and hopefully see royalties for.

I never thought this is where I’d end up. Especially, all the drama with That Publisher that everyone is currently trying to weather. But early on in the debacle, someone tweeted something about how Romanceland is like a big French family (going with the heritage I can actually lay claim to here); we may not all agree with each other, but holy hell, if you unite us together? A force to be reckoned with.

I know I’m just a wee baby in this word, but I’m glad to be a part of it.

Finding a groove; Thor #1; strong women.

Today is the first day since the news of EC’s IMO reprehensible lawsuit against DA was announced when I’ve been able to focus enough to get any work done. I got some words down this morning, but once my younger child was off to prek, it was on, baby. I turned on Tool’s Lateralus and got my headbang on while I carved out three thousand words of freelance fiction, and a couple of blog posts for content creation websites.

As a reward for actually getting work done early, I then crashed with some new comics.

Some history here; I loved the concept of comics when I was a kid, but my father told me they were for boys (subtext: reading them will turn you into a dyke), so while my mom would occasionally sneak me ALF or Archie or something, I never really got into comics as a kid. I loved the first Michael Keaton Batman movie, adored the Superman movies, but other than that…I read a ton of fantasy at the direction of my librarian, but never got into either Marvel or DC in any real way.

Then the X-Men movies came out, and like a lot of people, I suddenly realized that comics could be impassioned, amazing, gorgeous vehicles for storytelling. I found Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Garth Nix’s Preacher, and the early issues of Spawn, and I found that graphic novels were much more than picture books for grown-ups, they were something entirely other.

And then I married a comic book geek, and I found myself falling happily back into that world.

I take my geekdom seriously. Some friends and I played a game of Murder-Screw-Marry this summer with the choices as Bruce Wayne (Batman), Steve Rogers (Captain America), and Tony Stark (Iron Man). We argued about it for WEEKS and it still gets referenced in conversation. (Murder Tony, Screw Bruce, Marry Steve, and I will naked-Jell-O-wrestling match ANYONE who disagrees).

When Marvel announced earlier this summer that it was time for the inscription on Mjolnir to change, I held my breath. When I heard the title would be written by Jason Aaron, I started to bounce around in my seat. When the title released today, I bought it as soon as my forefinger could tap the button.

I was not disappointed.

The art is gorgeous. The conflict between the All-Father and the All-Mother which sets up this need for a new wielder of Mjolnir feels powerful and interesting. And the moment when we saw the inscription change? I’m not gonna lie, I cried.

Many of my friends are blogging right now about strong women in fiction. I have spent the past twelve months falling in love with strong women in comics. Laura Kinney (X-23), Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), Natasha Romanov (Black Widow, in her new stand-alone title), Kamala Khan (the new Ms. Marvel). So many fans are calling this new story a gimmick, a way to cater to the female audience–as if that’s somehow a bad thing.

I think Mr. Aaron’s going to do it right. Time will tell, of course, but I am hopeful. I’m incredibly hopeful.

Mjolnir_metallic_2

(Image By Nyo (Own work) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Today was supposed to be…

…the most exciting day of my writing life to date.

I’ve actually been planning today for years. What I was going to say, how I was going to do the Big Reveal. The cutesy things I’d reveal about the story.

I don’t get to do that.

I got this in my inbox last night.

SweetMistake_HiRes

I’m not going to link to the publisher. I’m not going to tell you where to buy it. I don’t feel right asking you to purchase it, because it seems fairly obvious that profits from that publisher are going to silence free speech and reduce blogger rights (IN MY OPINION, lawyers, go the hell away). But I couldn’t face letting it just die in my inbox.

I just wanted you all to see.

I want to say as well that my experiences with my cover artist, my editor, were amazing, and everything this was supposed to be. I’m quite proud of this little story, and the work that went into it. But I said it on Twitter last night, and I meant it: some things are more important than our individual sales or even our careers. This is one of those things.

Thanks for sharing this moment with me, even if it’s not what it was supposed to be.