Sunday, June 22, 2014

Benefit for Homeless Youth - Pre-Order Books for GCLSCon

The short version: Want to be sure that I have the books you want at GCLS in Portland? Pre-order them now. Plus, a portion of the sales are going to support Portland homeless youth through Outside In, a local youth resources organization that helps over 9,000 people every month find food, jobs and hope.

All The Details

It's just a few more weeks to GCLSCon, my favorite reader event of the year (Golden Crown Literary Society 7/9-7/13/2014). Look for me at the Bella Books tables in the vendor area during the Meet and Greet on Wednesday evening, during breaks and certainly during the Author Autograph Session on Friday afternoon. I will sign body parts, your book collection, laptop - anything. Though, generally, it's helpful if the books are ones I've written because I've found the other writers get a little testy about it when I've already taken up the space on their title page. That KG MacGregor - no sense of humor, ask anyone. 

It's always a busy, fun event:
  • Wednesday afternoon I'm making a brief appearance at the Writer's Academy with Lee Lynch and faculty to share some insights into the writer's life and thoughts on issues facing new writers today.
  • Wednesday evening is the Meet and Greet. Please say hi! Get a hug, pick up your books if you've ordered them, have me sign books you've brought from home, enter the Bella drawings.
  • Thursday morning, I Wish I'd Written That! moderated by KG MacGregor. Katherine V. Forrest, Georgia Beers, Lori L. Lake and I will be talking about books we love and elements in them that we outright envy. 
  • Friday afternoon, Author Autograph Session. More hugs, perhaps you sense a theme...  
  • Saturday morning, Eat Your Heart Out, moderated by Lynn Ames. Food in our books is the subject. I have not a clue why they thought of me or Mary Griggs, Georgia Beers or RG Emmanuelle.
  • Saturday afternoon I get to introduce six new writers in the annual So I Had This Idea* panel: Heather Blackmore, Marie Castle, RG Emmanuelle, Sandra Moran, Cindy Rizzo and SY Thompson.
  • Saturday closing Clown Car Author Chat, what is sure to be a riot with moderator Mercedes Lewis, I'm joined by Erica Abbott, Salem West, Erica Lawson and Ann Roberts.
  • Saturday night - The Goldies! This year servicemembers and first responders will be in uniform as we celebrate the demise of DADT and the rise of visibility of our community heroes - it'll be a night to remember.
So as you can see, it's sort of a "try and get rid of me" situation.

Ordering the Books

The upside of writing a lot of books is that in all of these sessions I have plenty to talk about. Though it's possible the other writers might wonder if I'll ever shut up, and sometimes readers ask me about a book and I have no recollection whatsoever of that particular element. An undeniable downside is that there's no way I can bring a couple of copies of every book and leave room on the table for anyone else.

So I'm only bringing a few copies of my latest few, and books that are specifically pre-ordered for delivery at the Con. This is the time to stake your claim to the books you want, and I've added an incentive, as you'll also be helping a local Portland youth resource group at the same time.
For every order between now and the Con I'm donating a portion to  Outside In based on the order total.
$0 - $20 -  15%
$20 - $39 - 20%
$39+ - 30%
To access my shopping cart you can look at the full English bibliography and click "Add to Bag" for any book, or open the catalog to browse.  Check these other language lists for titles in those languages: Spanish, French and German.
Be sure when you check out to pick "Bring to GCLS in Portland!" as the shipping method so I know not to ship your books to your billing address! I'll bring the books to Portland and sign them for you when we meet. All you need to do is leave some room in your suitcase for the trip home.

Questions? Comment at the blog, on Facebook or Tweet me. 

Thank you for considering joining the support of the youth in Portland. Thank you also for reading this blog! As always, a "like" or "share" or "tweet" to spread the word is very much appreciated.

Don't need any books right now? Consider donating directly to Outside In. You made it and you know it gets better. Pay it forward. Not going to GCLS and want to order a book? Yes, I'll still give a portion of the proceeds as above to Outside In, until July 2, 2014.

* Dr. Pol Robinson

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Art and Monsters - On Not Looking Away

Trigger warning. This blog deals with child rape and a writer you probably loved.

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a rare talent as a writer. Unfortunately she was also something even more rare: a female pedophile. How do people with the power of art inside them commit monstrous acts? The emerging truth about MZB irreparably soils my love of her work. I can only imagine the state of mind of the many, many writers who got their start through her zines and anthologies. For so many lesbians, Thendara House was the first time we saw ourselves in a mainstream book. She saved lives and these documented revelations taint the wonder.

Of course, perspective is important. She abused children, including her own children, and she enabled her husband to abuse more children. The children’s ruined lives matter far more than the loss of regard for the writer and the diminishment of the magic of her books.

Before you say “What the hell?” here you go. Trigger warnings. The Importance of Books and the MZB Timeline and Marion Zimmer Bradley - It's Worse Than I Knew. In the latter, I found Moira Stern's Mother's Hands - in “honor” of my mother, Marion Zimmer Bradley incredibly moving. Truly only for the strong stomach: Breendoggle Documentation Now on a Wiki . But please note this quote, it is important:

Many of us have been through some really dark times, and we have the pieces that spoke to our hearts that got us through those times. It genuinely gives me no joy to know that, for those whom MZB’s works were those pieces, I’ve dislodged that for them. – Dierdre Saoirese Moen

Writer Ari Marmell expressed his anger at this revelation (and more) and also a need to do something more productive than just be angry. It was through him that I first saw the full MZB story after seeing only hints of some shocking news. I considered my own heartbreak and anger, and decided it made absolutely no sense to engage my own energy with people who are refusing to see (you can go looking at comments, but it’s much like reading comments from rape statistics deniers). That is the first and hardest thing to do: Whatever venal behavior it may be we have to learn to see it. And then learn not to look away.

In this case, which I am just absorbing myself, it is easy of course to cast the abusers into the depths where they belong. But that is not the whole job. As those writers who worked with Marion Zimmer Bradley (On doing a thing I needed to do - Janni Lee Summer) deal with complicated emotions, this blog by Natalie Luhrs' (Silence is Complicity) points out the greater danger, and one we see around us in groups of all kinds: Abuse is allowed to flourish because it finds a social setting where the rules make an exception.

Stuebenville did not happen in the 1970s. Penn State did not happen “in a different time.” In both cases, people committed monstrous acts. Some people refused to see it while it happened. Some people saw it and looked away. When facts became undeniable, some people excused the monstrous acts because the perpetrators were somehow exceptions.

What Luhrs' blog addresses within the Science Fiction Fandom - and is applicable universally - is this: We are the exceptional/persecuted, therefore we allow/ignore deviant behavior lest we become the unexceptional/the persecutor is the atmosphere that abusers exploit. This atmosphere is how coaches and priests prey upon children and teens, how rape culture permeates sports, why people who report abuse are shamed and ostracized, and how, in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s home, adults did nothing to stop public displays of adults sexually touching children and caregivers ignored long-term child abuse.

There are people who defend or excuse Bradley based on her tremendous artistry, or that the drain of great art engendered a kind of mental illness which manifested as abuse. Incest practitioner Paul Gill has defenders, after all. (Marion Zimmer Bradley - The Ethics of Artists I call B.S. on that too). Did I want to find out this information about an admired writer, one who also had a part in The Ladder? No, I did not. But I will not look away.

No special talent, gift or oppression can ever have been so great that we say rape is okay or abusing children is an eccentricity – and any whisper within a group that this is the case should be, at the very least, a red flag. 

To answer Ari Marmell’s call to do something with his anger that is productive, I think the call to action is to examine our own personal bank accounts of privilege and power and spend our balances in resistance. Refuse to be part of saying "we" get a pass on the basic rules of decency because "we" are somehow an exception. When you see this presumption developing around you, name it, call it out, because you can. Because people younger, newer, weaker than you can't. Be the hero that these kids didn't have in rooms full of people who wrote about heroes. That's the irony that breaks my heart.

Closer to Home

In my own corner of the world, based on accounts after the fact, it appears that a man masquerading as a lesbian penned several lesbian romance-adventure books that included kidnapping, torture and rape followed by the victim professing love for her rapist. This “rape her, then marry her” plotline was standard fare in straight romances until feminist critique called out writers for using “rape is okay when it's love” plots. Unfortunately, when I investigated reviews for myself, there were few criticisms of this writer's plots voiced until after the writer’s identity deception was known.*

Rape as a prelude to romance, in my opinion, is always worthy of ridicule regardless of the author’s gender or sexuality. Was this "lesbian" writer allowed so much leeway with rape as a getting-to-know-you device because of the lesbian fiction community’s wariness of turning into persecutors? We have been oppressed, so we must not oppress? To be very clear, I am not equating failure to call out a writer over “rape is okay if they fall in love” plots with being silent about actual child rape. But my mind immediately drew a parallel between the silence that was afforded "one of us" that was withdrawn when the perpetrator was found to be not one of us. I see a red flag and I don’t want to look away.

I am heartsore at the loss of Mists of Avalon, of Darkover, of Thendara House. And this is, at least right now, what I am doing about it. Let’s be sure to keep our own house in order. Rape is never okay, no always means no, in life and in our books, no matter who writes them.

*I have no wish to reveal this writer's name or in any way promote this writer, so I ask that any comments respect that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Women's Fiction" - A Sign or an Answer to Sexism in the Book Industry?

British novelist Joanne Harris’s Capitalize. This. is a blistering blog about sexist assumptions she routinely receives about her work. Women writers have heard them all – from the suggestion that if you write about a topic that was ever touched by a man, you’re capitalizing on the man’s involvement, to, of course, that you slept or in some way partnered with a man to get any success that you may have. Even lesbian writers get these belittling, dismissive statements that our careers somehow revolve around men.

There was one aside in her brilliant rant that would likely not have disquieted me all that much had not Guardian writer Alison Flood picked it up for further examination, and then blown it up into a larger discussion. Harris’s comment was
It doesn’t help when “women’s fiction” is still considered a sub-category. (Amazon; Goodreads; Wikipedia; take note.)  ... "Women's fiction" is not a genre. - Joanne Harris

Flood (and/or The Guardian) headlined and interpreted these statements as
Joanne Harris says the book industry is sexist. Why else are there categories for 'women writers' and no equivalents for writers who happen to be men?
That’s the headline that made it into the publishing industry airwaves. And that’s when my hackles rose. Because that’s not what Harris said…not quite in that context. Further, Flood’s discussion was unquestionably uninformed about the history of “women’s fiction” in categorization. She asked for an explanation from Amazon (got none), received further quotes from Harris, and included feedbook from a bookselling representative who brought up the valid perspective of readers needing to find the books they want and how categories like "women's fiction" help them do so.

Harris's blog is certainly worth reading, my sisterfriends. You will recognize the echoes from your own life. The Guardian article is also worth your time because of the perspectives. It's important to note that there are some differences in how books are categorized for sale at Amazon and in bookstores. "Women's fiction" is a category at Amazon, while bookstores (at least in the U.S.) use various subject headings such as "Fiction-Contemporary women," and "African American-Contemporary women." Note that these categories for the databases are about the books, not the writers of the books, and the categories are almost always chosen by the publisher/author.

The question before us, then, is why are there categories for "women's fiction" and not for "men's fiction"?  Flood's restatement of Harris’s words is the claim that the entire industry is sexist because of the existence of a category highlighting minority writers and the lack of an offsetting one for the prevailing class. To me, that seems dangerously close to the argument that Women's History Month is sexist because there is no Men's History Month.

To bring the issue to our shores, I guess that an African American category would make the industry racist because there is no Caucasian category. We would have to believe that women are not oppressed as writers - a fact that Harris's entire blog disproves - to think that the writing by and for women did not need emphasis and visibility. I have to stress here that just because a book has been categorized - by the publisher or author - as "women's fiction" that does not mean it is not also categorized at least two other ways, and perhaps a dozen other ways as well. The categories for bookselling purposes are not the same as the slings and slurs used by critics who dismiss women writers and women's books in the many ways that Joanne Harris captured in her blog.*

Therefore, I found Flood’s framing of the discussion na├»ve, as if the category "women's fiction" fell from the patriarchal sky and women lack any agency in its use. By looking only to Amazon as an example of cataloging and only at "women" vs. "men," the discussion had no thoughtfulness about how categories for minority writers and readers, that is, Women, Gay, and Lesbian writers and readers use "sub" categories as a way to be SEEN in a marketplace that until very recently did not reflect their existence at all. This is the same visibility that African American, Latino and Native American writers and readers claim with categories as well.

The creation of these diversity categories within the bookselling catalog system, on shelf labels, and on distribution headings addressed systemic sexism and racism by creating visibility where none existed before. Yes, Harris is right - they are not genres. They are signposts. 

So, for me, The Guardian's simplistic framing of Harris's comments left a lot to be desired. After finding myself disquieted there, I went back to more fully read Harris's blog. While I yet again cheered her many recitations of the ridiculously casual sexism women writers face, I found more pinpricks of uncertainty of exactly what it was that Harris was calling out in regards to the phrase "women's fiction." I believe that Harris has conflated the idea of coding and categories that allow writers and readers to claim space in the marketplace for themselves with the pejoratives that are heaped on women writers.

I share her ire at the latter, but am truly puzzled that she doesn't see the need for the former as a necessary economic counterbalance. Perhaps her market is large enough now that she connects without using "women's fiction." But I believe that a number of women writers who also sell a great deal better than I ever will, right down to women writers in a small niche like myself, know that "women's fiction" - and other diversity categories - are a vital necessity as a simple matter of bookselling.

Ultimately, from both Harris and Flood, it suggests a lack of understanding of where "women's fiction" as a catalog category actually comes from, hence the irony. The patriarchy may have come up with the phrase as a scourge, but feminists reclaimed it. In a world where women writers were virtually invisible, publishers believed the only women who bought books were housewives buying pulp romances. With notable exceptions, a book with a woman author's name on it was cataloged as a "romance," end of story. Feminists, busy building the Women in Print movement which would unleash thousands of books by women writers, insisted on the "women's fiction" category as separate from "romance" to connect women to women. They also argued for codes to show that women main characters existed (e.g. a code for women sleuths, which is still used today).

As diversity for women's writing showed that readers found the books they wanted, categories for African American, Gay and Lesbian, and eventually Hispanic-Latino writing appeared. As book sales supported the tracking, these categories have persisted. Readers use them to find the books.

Readers are the people who put money into the system, so the categories remain. I would even say that for those readers who use "women's fiction" (or another diversity-based category like "lesbian fiction" for example) those categories are a treasured part of their relationship to their books. 

No, none of the other categories are referred to with the casual contempt and seething rage that women's writing receives. Well, lesbian writing gets the extra added bonus of being dismissed as porn, just written by women, and often presumed written as porn by women for male readers because everything is about men, even what lesbians do.  

Harris feels that the categorizing of books, in part, as "women's fiction" contributes to the sexist attitudes toward women's writing, and I don't disagree that it has that potential. I feel that it's our job not to let men turn the phrase against us. If some people say "women's fiction" with a sneer, then in the parlance of the three-snap, That's Ms. Women's Fiction to you. I understand why she finds the categorization of her person as "woman writer" demeaning - and I applaud her and Flood's call to action that we not allow "writer" as exclusively the descriptor of a man's status! 

But do away with the category that creates visibility for the writing by the largest minority, women? What message does that send to the disenfranchised women everywhere when - I must point out - women privileged enough to be writers for at least part of their living decide they are no longer minorities? I fear it jeopardizes all the other diversity categories as well in a world eager to claim we are post-sexist, post-racist, one big happy family. In that eventuality how are readers to find little old me, now that the women's and LGBT bookstores have all but gone? I'm not an MBE with ties to BAFTAs and Oscars. My fate does indeed hang on digital coding in the great morass of online cataloging. Let's not mix that up with being disrespected by the boys. 

Let me be extra clear: I choose my community and my identity. I live where I please. But I will not be told what is my place, and that is all the difference. 

We do indeed have a very, very long way to go and Harris is dead right about that. Read Harris's blog again about the pervasive attitude of men who simply won't read anything written by a woman. Nothing changes until parents read their boy children books about girls and boys equally from the cradle onward, and everything from Muppets to Legos have girls holding up half the sky. The sneering attitudes Harris talks about have to be confronted continuously. 

* Harris references Wikipedia probably because of this situation last year. Wikipedia made several changes since then. For example, Joanne Harris is categorized as an English novelist and an English woman novelist, among many other things.