Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On the underbelly of blurbs...

So yesterday, there was this very interesting article on blurbs for books. Overall, I think the article did a really nice job addressing the challenges for authors in both giving and getting blurbs. Admittedly, blurbs are my Achilles' heel in publishing (I'm pretty sure I've discussed them before on different forums). There are a lot of things that I have developed a thick skin about, but for some reason, blurbs are not one of them.

In my opinion, blurbs are the equivalent of having to figure out who to go to prom with, which overall is a mostly losing prospect on either side:

1. The thing is that everyone wants a blurb from someone who is big enough to make a bookseller take note and purchase copies of your book because of being blurbed by X. But the reality is that X only has so much time and frankly can't love every book and also doesn't want to blurb everything in the world because then their name on a book doesn't really hold any weight. Yes, we want to all go to prom with the hottie, but the hottie can really only go with maybe three people and even then it's slightly awkward for the other two people. So all the people ask the hottie, but s/he must choose. Which is horrible for the hottie and everyone who didn't get chosen.

2. The back-up to not getting a blurb from X is to get a blurb from someone you sort of know, who was maybe nice to you at a con once, who wrote you a sweet response email to a question you had about promo, or who responds to your tweets, etc. The quarterback already has a date to prom, but maybe the wide receiver is available, after all, he held the door open for you once. So this is the blurb ask where you think, "maybe I have a shot here", which is sometimes worse than a lack of response or a rejection from the hottie. Because we actually get our hopes up. And when that doesn't pan out because author Y didn't like your book*, is a slow reader and already has 3 books to blurb, has a personal struggle that is triggered by your book, is dealing with their own shit and can't read another YA book at the mo, well, then you're a mess of hurt feelings again. Most of them look like this: "Jesus, my book is so shitty that even Y couldn't stomach reading it or didn't want his/her name on it." Yes, that insecurity looks very nice on us, thank you very much.

3. The back-up to this is to ask someone you know really well. Someone you talk to on the regular, have had coffee with, exchange legit b-day greetings on FB with, etc. This is asking the person to prom who you know doesn't have a date because you talked to them last week and they told you so. This can pan out one of two ways. First, they can say, "Sure, I'll go to prom with you" and then you can spend the next six months wondering if everyone who sees their blurb on your book is thinking to themselves, "Of course that person blurbed it, they're practically besties/that's her cousin." Or this person can tell you "they didn't have a chance to get to it" (which is blurb-speak from these particular friends for 'I can't blurb this book'). Which means that your friendship has to weather your pal not liking your book or not wanting to put their name on your book. These things can be weathered, there is grace and forgiveness and understanding in all of us, but when it's your book baby, it does take a little bit of time. So on either side of this, be prepared for awkwardness. (Side note: if the person you know really well happens to be author X from number 1 above, and they decide not to go with you to prom, that is a really different level of 'ouch' but still stings).

4. The back-up to all of this is to be punk rock about it and say, "Screw you, I'm not going to prom." There's something pretty great about being in this place, as a giver and a getter. Because your policy of removing yourself from the whole thing saves you a ton of grief and worry. Only, as someone who gives blurbs, then you feel like a huge asshole who isn't paying it forward. And as someone who decides not to get blurbs on your books, you are left with that nagging feeling like your mom's voice in your ear saying, "How do you know no one would have wanted to go to prom with you when you didn't bother asking anyone?" (Side note: my favorite thing about the above referenced article was that Gayle has a POLICY in place for dealing with blurbs. I think a policy is a very good idea for everyone because it really does soften the blow in the asking if the reason you aren't being blurbed is because this author only blurbs debuts, etc).

5. I would be remiss in my discussion of this if I didn't acknowledge that BLURBS HAPPEN. And they happen fairly frequently. Whether because someone in scenarios 1-3 said yes or because someone stumbled upon your book and loved it (thank you, Ellen Hopkins) or because you have a friend who knows how much you hated asking someone to prom the first time and decides to ask you first (thank you, Carrie Mesrobian), books can be BLURBED. And this is both amazing and awesome and makes you feel super good if you're the giver that you've helped someone. Only, maybe the publisher decides you're not a big enough name to use as a blurber, or maybe they got a bunch of great blurbs for this stupendous book and your name as the blurber ended up getting bumped. Hi, welcome to hurt feelings all over again.

I know that there are a lot of people who see this as part of the business. There are a lot of people who shrug it off, move on, don't care, think it's NBD. There are a lot of people who deal with the rejection of the blurb process in the same way that they do everything else ("whatevs, I didn't want that guy blurbing me anyway."). But I also know that there are a lot of people who aren't going to prom or are going to prom with their cousin and this experience has been hard. And I'd like to acknowledge that.

So. Should authors who are looking for blurbs be part of the process? For my part, mostly I think no. I think we shouldn't have to compromise our friendships to ask a favor that may or may not sell books. I think we shouldn't be put in a position where if we know no one, we feel that we're at a disadvantage. I generally try to avoid scenarios where I end up feeling shitty and as a rule, I think blurbs tend to put people in that position at least 50% of the time (as giver or getter).  That's my two cents.

*There is no good way to say "no" when someone asks you to blurb a book so you're basically stuck with "I don't have time" or "I'm overcommitted". These are probably legit reasons sometimes, but they can't be ALL THE TIME because we're all swamped and yet we all manage to find time to read. But there's very little room for a "no" other than "I don't have time" because anything else leaves the door open for the person asking for the blurb to start questioning you on why. Which frankly can only go south fast.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday Truths

1. Yesterday I didn't want to be a woman in the world. Between naked celebrity pictures and the cop who sexually assaulted 8 black women and the female video game critic who has gotten death threats, I had had enough. I forget that everyone hasn't experienced the same things that I have. I forget that they don't meet rape victims as often—or at least they aren't aware that they're talking to rape victims. I felt worn down and exhausted by it all. I don't ever wish that I was a man, but there are many days when I wish I didn't walk around feeling so despised as a woman. Most days I don't feel that way. Most days I think it's just me and people will love me or hate me based on who I am. Yesterday, I felt that the very existence of my girl parts is a problem to a lot of people in the world. 

2. I had a sleepover night on Saturday with my college bestie and my daughter. My daughter is like a heart walking around in the world. I want to protect so much of her, but she needs to know some things. And so I try to tell her these things in a safe way. Sometimes she understands and sometimes she doesn't. Most days I feel like I could be a better mom. Probably most days everyone feels that way. I am proud of who my kids have all become, but mostly I'm baffled as to how they got that way. Deep in the core of me is an impenetrable feeling that I'm not enough.

3. Fault Line comes out in paperback this month. And Bleed Like Me comes out the week after (Oct 7). I wonder how many books we have to have out in the world before we have the confidence to tell people about them. I bury the lead about my writing a lot. First, because I'm not entirely sure it's that interesting a thing about me and second because it involves an unending amount of explanation and rationalization. I think trying to make a living as a writer is not for the faint of heart. My dad said this weekend that he hoped I liked all the stuff I was doing and wasn't just looking for fifteen minutes of fame. I don't think my dad realizes how much his words sometimes hurt my feelings. We don't really ever grow out of being hurt by people we love.

4. Julio and I are three months from celebrating our 15 year anniversary. We started dating 17 years ago on Labor Day weekend. We have had a lot of STUFF happen in 17 years. I love him more now. I don't think it always goes that way, but it did with us. Some days I'm grossly sentimental about it all. Some days I hate that he leaves dishes in the sink. It doesn't really change anything though. I still can't imagine my life without him. I have changed in a million ways since I met him at 23, he's barely changed at all. He must have understood the ride he was getting on with me. I am mostly baffled why he chose to stay, but he did. And now when I get grumpy about the dishes with him and later apologize, he says, "Yes, honey, we have a lot of dishes behind us and a lot of dishes in front of us. It's going to be okay." There is nothing like the contentment of having someone you love assure you that it's going to be okay.

Friday, August 15, 2014

On Don Jon, Bad Feminist, & the conundrum of Internet Porn

It's been a crap week, which normally means that I take to my bed early on most nights and watch either lesbian indie movies or Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember. This week along with indie lesbian films, Netflix recommended Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon to me. I like JGL so thought, why not? Ninety minutes later, I took off my headphones and said out loud, "well, that was sort of gross." Three days after and I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS MOVIE.

On the surface, it's a bro movie about a guy who can't have meaningful relationships because of his addiction to internet porn. There's a lot of fapping in this movie. A lot. There's also quite a few "money shots". But the thing is, and why I can't seem to shake the movie, is that I feel the same way about this film that I felt about Alissa Nutting's book Tampa and Bruce Norris' play "The Qualms". Which is to say that I feel incredibly uncomfortable. And I think that's the point.

I used to volunteer for a domestic violence hotline. I had to stop because guys kept calling during my shift, asking about DV against men, and then masturbating as I explained it. After the third time it happened, leaving me shaken and like I wanted to take a scalding shower, I gave up on hotlines. It was sad because I think there are legitimate guys who are in DV situations, but there are too many creeps who abuse the hotlines. I have heard this from friends who work on sexual violence hotlines too.

Don Jon left me feeling similar to the DV hotline. Which is perhaps why it's so masterful, because it gives every viewer of that movie the experience of that level of ick. Like Tampa, this is arguably one of the least sexual movies I've ever experienced that is thematically all about sex. At one point during Don Jon, JLG brags that he masturbated 11 times in a day—a new record. I couldn't help but laugh at the pathos of this. At the reality that this bro is expecting some sort of internet porn bozo button for his masterful fappery. And the brilliance of the movie is that Julianne Moore as a character in that movie is right there with us. She calls JLG out on the one-sidedness of porn, on why this isn't real. The entire movie leaves us asking ourselves if "all guys watch porn", what does it actually buy them?

(Side note: another reason I think this movie is sort of masterful is the absolute lack of acknowledgment in the age disparity between Julianne Moore & JLG. It's in the line of fire as an easy pot shot about "sexiness" in many ways for a movie like this and they don't ever mention it. Additionally, the way that church and absolution of sins is subtlety deconstructed throughout the film is pretty much worth the price of entry).

***

I am reading Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist. I love this collection of essays. I have long struggled with my own feminism and how I constantly fall short of what I'm sure my foremothers wanted from me. The reality is that I need Julio. He is my health insurance and the majority of the income in our home. I would survive on my day job and writing money, probably, but I couldn't support my kids on it and health insurance would be through the state.

Another reality: I edit romance novels for a living. I am proud of the books I edit. I am proud of the strides I've made in the books I've acquired. I am taking risks on new things (non-binary romance), I have a significant number of authors who are writing male/male romance, I seek out diverse characters/books. I don't acquire books that slut-shame or create romantic rivalry among women. But. The truth is that women are bottoming in most of the traditional books I edit. I wonder what Bell Hooks and Simone de Beauvoir would think of my day job.

Of all the essays in Bad Feminist, I think my favorite might be the one about Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". I felt this one inside of me because there are times I so very much want to be a woman who is easygoing and game for anything. I am sex-positive. I edit erotic romance novels. I watch JLG fapping. But, at the end of the day, I can't get wholly behind this easygoing appearance of mine. I have to understand it for what it is, which is a safety measure to keep me off the radar of MRAs or people who want to hurt me for my feminism.

Gay writes in her essay, "It's hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you're not imagining things. It's hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you're going to float the fuck away."

***

Yesterday, I gave a lecture to high school students on sexual violence for the Voices & Faces Project. Mostly, I use survivor stories (with permission of survivors) to dispel a lot of rape mythology. At the end of my speech yesterday, I opened it up to Q&A. The first question a girl asked was whether I thought advertising/media perpetuated the idea of girls wanting to be dominated by men. It was an easy answer. Of course I do. But the layers behind it are complicated and nuanced. Because I also think that a knee-jerk reaction of banning such things is futile and exacerbates a madonna/whore complex in girls who are just figuring out their own sexual agency. I think criticizing advertising for the perpetuation of rape culture is valid, but I also think that these things will not just go away. It's the Mackinnon/Dworkin argument against pornography and I never thought it would get us anywhere. 12% of the internet is now said to be porn sites. To me the solution lies in understanding that those messages exist and figuring out how you feel about them and what you want for yourself.

The Q&A then devolved into a discussion about whether particular scenarios were considered rape. This is a slippery slope and not something I wanted to get into. At one point, I had to stop and say, "Look, if you're asking me if I think a state's attorney would prosecute this as rape, the answer is that I do not. Because I think state's attorneys want to win and they often won't take on things that are 50/50. But the legality of this is less the question here than are WE ethically okay with this? Is this what you want for yourself? Is this what you want for your friends? Guys, do you want to be in a position of having sex with a girl who doesn't want to have sex with you? Do you want your friends in that position?" I think we often get mired in the legal definitions of rape and forget that sometimes it's as simple as having a very open and honest conversation about what people want. This, of course, is a failure in all of us with our children, not encouraging these discussions. Not asking them questions when they start to have their own sexual agency. And yet, I can't help but go back to Don Jon. Internet porn is where a lot of teenagers are getting their information. And isn't that just a big problem? Because it isn't real and it's one-sided. This, above all else, is why I like having these discussions. This is why I'm grateful for Roxane and JLG and all the struggles I have with my own feminism. It starts a conversation, which I think is what we need most what it comes to sexual politics.