Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What I Learned in 2014

Per usual, I'm hesitant to give any kind of writing advice or truths about publishing because I think all of our journeys are different, and frankly, as I sit here in the same pajama pants I wore most of yesterday, I'm hardly a shining example of "how to get it right". That being said, I'm two books in now and I did discover a few noteworthy things this year that hopefully will help some of you.

1. It turns out everyone is a writer. Seriously. Everyone. I'm at my block party or the grocery store or the kids' winter fest and people tell me about the book they've published or the one they're going to write or this big idea they have. And the way my brain processes this is usually in three steps. First: YES! AWESOME! Everyone should be a writer because it's awesome and I want all the people to come to this party. Second: For the love of cheese, I hope you're not in this for the money because that way will only lead to frustration. Third: Oh God, please don't ask me to help you because I don't have the first clue what I'm doing. 

2. It turns out everyone is working their ass off. So you know how you wish someone would email you back? Or that they'd provide you with this stuff you no doubt deserve? Or that they'd send you that one thing they said they'd get to you by last week? Well, the reason that's not happening is they're working their asses off. I'm quite lucky that I get to see publishing from both sides of the desk because patience is hardly my strong suit, so when I say people are working their asses off, I'm not lying. Writers, editors, agents, publicists. Every damn day is a fire drill of some kind. If you're not being attended to, it's probably because you're a smaller fire behind a giant blaze. (Note: this doesn't mean you should allow yourself to be treated badly and ignored for 6 months, but I trust you know the difference here.)

3. It turns out that people in the publishing community are really for you. You will be absolutely astounded at the number of people in the publishing community who want you to kick ass and sell a million books and have all your dreams come true. And they are generally a hundred kinds of awesome about trying to make that happen. They don't owe you shit but they do it anyway because they're good people. So be gracious and thankful and buy their books and love them back. And if they can't always help you sell all your books because they've got shit of their own to deal with, continue to love them and buy their books and be gracious because that's what friends do. 

4. It turns out that writing is hard sometimes. I failed NaNo this year. I wrote 100k that will never see the light of day. I started and stopped about six books. It wasn't the easiest year in writing. That happens. I kept writing anyway because I love it enough to know that it'll come back to me. I also kept writing because of all the great encouraging things people said to me. I seriously love the writing community. (See #3).    

5. It turns out you don't have to do or be all the things. I talked about this over at PubHub, but really it is worth repeating: do not spend time doing a bunch of things you don't love to sell your books. Yes, you're going to have to do some promo. And sadly that promo cannot just be a Lenny Kravitz Pinterest board (though I highly recommend everyone have one of those as a happy place on the Internet). But promo that you sort of hate doing comes across as promo that you sort of hate doing. So I think it's worth figuring out what promo you like and focusing on that. And if you hate all promo, then you can at least be funny about it. My "Teen Vogue lists BLEED LIKE ME as a great YA book to read over the holidays because there's nothing that says Merry Christmas like self-mutilation and co-dependent relationships" FB post got way more likes and comments than my "Hooray my book is on sale" release day post. Of course, my friends may just like my twisted sense of humor, so there's that.

6. It turns out readers are awesome. By far my favorite part about this year is the number of readers who reached out to me to tell me that my dark and gritty books were the best things they read this year. THIS NEVER GETS OLD. Teen readers in particular are effusive and awesome and basically everything I ever wanted out of this writing gig. I don't have the first clue how they found me, but I love, love, love that they have. 

So that's what I got. In preparing for this blog, I also re-read last year's post which I think is still totally valid, particularly the part about having other things in your life. I don't have another book coming out until January of 2016, which means that 2015 will be a year of learning and stumbling and falling and trying all sorts of different things and I cannot wait. As ever, my life is so full and rich because of all the love and support from this community. Thank you, friends!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What It's Like To Be Left Behind

I lost my friend Michael two years ago this week. Of course, I wasn't the only one. We all lost someone when Michael died. Even those of you who didn't know him. The world grows a little dimmer whenever anyone decides to take their own life. It all seems a little more hopeless. And those of us left behind ache for more time with them.

Whip-smart and thoughtful and funny and sarcastic as hell, Michael figures so prominently in many of my best memories about college. When I returned to Grinnell earlier this year, there wasn't a place I could go on campus where I didn't recall a story about this amazing man. And I know I am one person of many. My college friends talk about him to me often. Not stories of college shenanigans, but stories of deep emotional connection. Of Michael being kind and compassionate and thoughtful and so understanding.

I have blogged before about the guilt I feel for not staying connected with him beyond Facebook messages and social media. The shame at not knowing how much he was hurting. The worry that this is how people slip away from us. That we see a status update from them and think that means they're okay. These feelings haven't gone away in the past two years.

I don't like walking around in a world where Michael doesn't exist. I feel like that about so many people who I've lost. I told a friend the other day that sometimes I feel surrounded by ghosts. Memories of people who I want to call back to me. At the end of his life, Maurice Sendak said, "I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more." That is how I feel about my ghosts. I want more time with them. I want them not to have left me. It's a tremendously selfish thing to say, but I'm saying it anyway. I want them back.

I wanted to write this post because I have so many people who are struggling in their life right now. So many people who are hurting for one reason or another. Who feel hopeless or isolated or filled with sorrow. And I want you all to know what it feels like to me on the other side. That I wish I could build all of you nests and take care of you and make things better. I wish I was more. I wish I could keep you all here forever with me. Remind you that you are loved and the world is better with you in it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

BLEED LIKE ME: Brooks & Gannon Black Friday Scene

I thought it might be fun to do a sexy little BLEED LIKE ME teaser scene for Black Friday to thank all my readers for being so awesome. I hope you like it.

“Gannon. Gannon. Wake up.”
I creaked open an eye and peered at Brooks, his long, thin, shirtless frame crouched on the edge of his futon. I still couldn’t believe we were here together. “What time is it?”
“A little after ten.”
“Why are you waking me up? I don’t have anywhere else to be.” I nestled down in his scratchy blanket and watched him roll a cigarette.
“Where do your parents think you are?”
I arched my back and sat up, holding out my hand for one of the cigarettes he was rolling. “I left at midnight last night, they think I’m braving the crowds at some super store to get all my Christmas shopping done.”
Brooks offered a half-smile. “That’s right. Black Friday. Are they gonna say something when you don’t show up with anything?”
I smiled back. “Well, I’m showing up with about seven hundred hickeys, do you think that counts?”
He lit his cigarette and tossed me the lighter, sliding closer to where I sat. “I only put them in places no one but me would see.” He waggled his eyebrows.
I peeked down the front of his T-shirt, the one I’d shrugged on last night before slipping into the futon next to him. My chest was practically covered in bites and bruises.
I inhaled the strong smoke from the Indian Spirit cigarette and rested my head on his shoulder, feeling the tense muscles in my neck ease. He put his arm around my hip and tucked my body even closer to his.
“What should we do today?” I asked after a few minutes of silence, punctuated by exhales of smoke.
“Movie?” He leaned forward and dropped his cigarette in the tin can on the floor beside him.
I shook my head. “It’s gonna be packed and I don’t want to see anyone from school.”
“So I guess the mall is out too?”
“God, yes. Who do I even have to get gifts for? I give my parents a gift certificate to Red Lobster or the Olive Garden every year, and I already bought Ali a set of belly button rings, and God knows I’m not getting my brothers anything.”
Brooks slipped his hand beneath my borrowed T-shirt and stroked the bones of my hip. “Maybe you should get your brothers handcuffs?”
I snorted a laugh. “They’d just figure out a way to use them on me.”
“Well, that sounds promising.”
I laughed and shoved him. “Don’t be gross.”
He plucked my cigarette from my fingers and put it out, then pressed me back on the bed, straddling my hips. “You like when I’m gross.”
I rolled my eyes. “No I don’t.”
He leaned over me and kissed my neck, my collarbone, the spot beneath my ear that made goose bumps rise on my skin. “You do,” he whispered.
“No. I just like you.”
He lifted his head and grinned. “Well, that’s good news, because I like you too.”
Then he kissed me, long and hard, sucking and biting and wrapping himself around me until I didn’t know where I ended and he began.
Finally, when he pulled away, both of us flushed and breathless, he traced the hoops on my ear and said, “I’m glad you came over last night.”
I drew my fingers over the scabbing tattoo on his chest, the bloody heart with my name in piercing straight pins coming out of it. “I’m glad I did too. Now, can we go back to sleep?”
“Nope,” he said, putting his hand over mine. “Black Friday. We don’t stop till we drop.”
I sighed and laced my fingers with his. “Okay. But we’re probably going to need to get food.”
He winked at me. “And more condoms.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Five Things I Learned By Failing NaNo

Yesterday, I threw in the towel on NaNo. After starting three different books in the course of a month and ultimately giving up on all three of them, I decided there wasn't any chance I could win this year. I hate giving up on things. I hate setting goals and then watching them pass me. I ran a half-marathon,  I published two books, why for the love of cheese couldn't I knock out 50k in a month?

Well, here's what happened and what I learned about myself:

1. I had no plan at the start of November. I'm not a planner, I have written every book by the seat of my pants. But when I actually sat down to write on November 1st, the vagueness was overwhelming. Maybe I could write a book about depression or angry girls or roller derby or being in love with a gay dude or killing your parents or some other thing. But I had too many maybes and no character voice in my head. This is what people who write by the seat of their pants forget: You cannot write anything if a character has not crawled into your head and taken up residency to tell you their story. This is why I've never bought into the "write every day" thing, because if no one is in my head telling me what to write, I don't have anything to put on the page.

2. It is hard to write a book when you're trying to promote a new release. It is not like the obligations of promo take up all your writing time, it is the defeat of post-release that makes writing a novel basically impossible. If you're not familiar with this, I wrote a post on it here. Bottom line: it is damn hard to find the energy to write shiny new words when you've just read a review on GoodReads that says they wanted to reach into the pages of your book and punch every character in the throat.

3. I have gotten excellent at figuring out what doesn't work. This may be because of editing for my day job, or this may be because I've shelved so many unworkable books, but I am now able to tell by about 15k into a manuscript if the story has any hope of becoming a real thing. The problem with this ability is that the NaNo advice of "just keep going, get your crappy stuff out there, you can go back and fix later" does NOT work when you can tell a book isn't going to ever be a thing. It's like telling someone to keep training for a marathon, even though they definitely will not be participating in the marathon. Going out to run in crappy weather becomes damn hard, and what is the point?

4. There are still things too close to me emotionally for me to write about. I started a book on depression and had to stop writing it because my friend Michael kept weaving himself in my head. My heart has not healed yet over losing Michael. It might not ever heal, and I need to honor that. Sometimes our blood on the page can't ever become anything beautiful. It's just blood.

5. Fake deadlines aren't really effective for me. My next book comes out in early 2016. That's a while away. I have several other projects that are in various states of completion on my desktop. Writing something brand spanking new, which presumably should re-invigorate me, mostly had me questioning: to what end? So I can revise for the next four years and maybe this could be a 2019 book? That way lies madness, my friends.

In the end, I would like to say I learned a TON by participating in NaNo this year, but mostly I learned that this wasn't a good year for me. My 12yo, on the other hand, kicked huge butt and is about 5 pages away from being done with her NaNo book. So I guess congratulations are still going to happen in my house on November 30th. Just not for me.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Bunker Diary & Writing Hopelessness

Nothing To Hold On To

I read The Bunker Diary a few months ago. Since that time, I’ve probably read 40 books (hazard of the day job). I could probably have read 400 books and I still wouldn’t forget The Bunker Diary. I first heard about this book after I read a piece in the Guardian that compared it to John Fowles’ The Collector (though the Guardian claims TBD lacks The Collector’s humanism and poignancy) saying, “It is depressing both in its nature and its lack of redemption…” This book won the UK’s Carnegie Medal, and has been the source of a tremendous amount of debate over its worthiness ever since.

When a book hits a note like that with a reviewer or several reviewers, the first thing I must do is read it. To have elicited that sort of reaction usually means at the very least, it’s worth investigating. I have written before about how I’m not super interested as an author in making people comfortable. Some authors write books full of love and hope and wonderfulness; this is a valid and great thing. I edit many of these sorts of books for my day job, and yet, I would never want all the books in the world to be like this. As a reader, I would grow bored very quickly with the lack of depth resulting from a book selection limited to only those that entertain us or make us feel good.

My first two books don’t have happy endings. Sorry, not sorry. I’m not incapable of happy endings. I’m not incapable of offering hope. But in my core, I can’t seem to shake the hopelessness that plagued my high school years. I read books where rapists get caught or justice is served at the end, and I think: huh, that didn’t happen to me. I read books where a hot mess of a girl and a hot mess of a guy get together and their love saves them both, and I think: well shit, I must have done something wrong because I didn’t get saved and neither did he. And I start to wonder if maybe there are people in the world who feel/think like me. Who wonder why these books always seem to turn out so happily or hopeful when the shitshow of their lives is nothing like that.

We live in a dirty, depraved, unforgiving world. We live in a beautiful, tender, redemptive world too. It’s always going to be like this. The older my own kids get, the more I realize the value in providing them access to all sorts of books with all sorts of stories. Do I want my kids to be able to escape into a fun book? Yes. Do I also want my kids to sometimes learn about the world from books? Yes. Do I also want my kids to develop empathy and learn to ask questions about what they believe about themselves and the people around them? Absolutely.

Do I think this is all the responsibility of a fiction author? No. I really don’t. An author can be trying to do all sorts of things, teaching all sorts of lessons, hoping that their book will save a life. They may achieve things with their books that they never could have dreamed of, and yet, this to me is all gravy. We have one job as fiction writers: to tell a story.

I’m fascinated by the burden of responsibility that seems to fall on the shoulders of those of us who write for children. I’m not completely clear who decided on the rules about YA books, but there seems to be an insistence that if the books are going to be about difficult things, then they need to somehow “save”. I have long hesitated at this notion that YA Saves because I think it puts us in the position that we must then acknowledge that the opposite can be true too. That if we’re going to assert that YA books save lives, then we have to allow that they can damage people. And this power makes me very uncomfortable.

So when I read The Bunker Diary, I went in knowing that this was a “problem” book for some and tried to think like those people. Tried to figure out what about the hopelessness of this story would make me get all up in arms enough to want to keep it out of the hands of children. The book itself is raw and sparse and gorgeously written. It leeches at your emotional landscape with every page. It is a horrifying type of “No Exit” that pushes us to the point of not only examining the complicated dynamics of interpersonal relationships, but also examining truths of our world. But in the end, for all the emotions the story elicited in me, I didn’t step away thinking that this was a guidebook to morality/immorality or that it was a strong message book or anything else. And frankly, I think we’re better for not being spoon-fed answers or having everything wrapped up in a tight bow of satisfaction. We learn about ourselves and the world because we experience both the difficult and the beautiful.

I finished The Bunker Diary with questions about my own life. I didn’t think, “what would I do trapped in a box?”, I thought, “what am I going to do about my loneliness?” And there is value in that self-examination, but I don’t think authors should be held accountable if readers walk away from a book without that.

But Christa, you’re saying, isn’t it nice to offer a glimmer of hope?

Of course it is. Lots of people do that. But should this be a book mandate? Hell no. We don’t always get into the college we want. We don’t always make the team. We don’t always get asked to prom. When we pepper young adult books with this constant hopefulness without any recognition of the reality that there are shitty things that happen that we have no control over, we create a false expectation of everything turning out at the end of the half hour if you just work hard enough, fight hard enough, etc. Sure, it’s fiction, we can do that. But isn’t it more interesting to also have access to the fiction that doesn’t solve everything for us?

I happen to have 3 ARCs of The Bunker Diary and 3 extra copies of BLEED LIKE ME that 3 of you can win by entering the Rafflecopter below. You want to get your hands on this book. It's worth it.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In Gratitude on BLEED LIKE ME's release day

About a year ago, when FAULT LINE debuted, I wrote a post about what it's like standing on the edge of possible where your book can become anything and everything. Many, many things have happened in the past year, and this morning, I wake up to the release of my second novel.

And the message I want to get across most, a year later, is how incredibly grateful I am. This job can be difficult. Publishing is hardly the most stable of career choices and there are days when I wonder why I ever signed on for this. But then I talk to my writer friends, or I get an email from a reader, or I see cover art for my next book, or I get a good trade review, or, or, or…and I remember that I am leading a life many people dream of. People I've never met can read something I've written and it can crawl underneath their skin and make them think, and ask questions about their lives they might not have before.

So I'm grateful. For all of it. I'm grateful to my publisher, my agent, my editor, my friends, my readers, the writing community. I'm grateful for reviews (even shitty ones) and the person who tweets me that my book kept them up all night. These things all matter to me. They make this journey better.

Thank you, all of you, for being part of my dream. It means so much to me.

From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just "Gannon" to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.

Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.

But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she's standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She's given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.

Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat.

IndieBoundBarnes & NobleAmazon 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Awkward, Inappropriate, and On the Fringe

This weekend I attended a YA conference with 45 other authors. It's one of my favorite conferences because it's in Chicago and hosted by one of my favorite book stores. Conferences are some of the best parts of being a writer, particularly if you're an extrovert like I am. They are about connection and community and feeling part of a bigger thing as opposed to just typing away in my kitchen every morning.

But conferences are sometimes difficult for me because within about seven minutes of opening my mouth, I've usually said something awkward or inappropriate. Add to this the fact that my books frequently contain "edgy" material that push boundaries and I'm left with this doomed feeling of "other". Like no matter how hard I try, I don't quite fit in. (Nowhere was this more obvious than when faced with a room full of 12 and 13yo's who I had to pitch my book to in 60 seconds. For those interested, the pitch went something like this: "You probably need to wait a few years to read this book, but it's about a hot mess of a girl and a hot mess of a guy who fall in deep, intense love and that love makes them 1000 times worse off until it all goes to hell.").

Then I started to look around the room at the other authors and wonder if they felt the same way as me. If they felt awkward or like they didn't quite fit. If they worried that they would say something or do something that would impact their sales or make librarians/teachers stay away from their books. (The fact that who we are and what we do/say as authors is important now is a blog topic for another day. Bottom line: it does matter.)

And then I started thinking about Heidi Cullinan's CARRY THE OCEAN which I was lucky enough to read early. It's a beautiful gay romance between an autistic guy and a guy with major depressive disorder. I can't say enough great things about this book. Emmett, the autistic guy, has this whole way of explaining how no one is really normal, but he also understands that people have relative expectations of normalcy. People who function every day within a pretty standard life without having to make several modifications are "on the mean".

On the mean. I love this way of looking at things. Because it also makes me realize that no one is "on the mean" about everything. There will always be some part of this world where you will be on the fringe. Just like there will be part of this world where you fit in. It's not a binary insider or outsider existence for most of us. We are rich and varied and flawed and perfect.

And if you start to really look around, you will see that everyone is like this. Good at some things, terrible at others. I include sex in my books. This frequently makes me feel like I don't have a lot in common with most other YA writers. But then I was talking to a friend at the conference, and she told me she feels awkward because her books are so "clean". See? We're always so convinced we're on the outside when it turns out it has more to do with your perspective than anything else.

The great thing about so many books in the world is that you can find what you're looking for. So even though at first I sort of cringed when my book was pitched as "a story for non-CW teens", I now realize that there are a lot of non-CW teens out in the world and I want to write for them. And really, I don't mind being the author on the panel who says, "I wish there were more female masturbation scenes in YA books" because while it may be awkward, it's the truth. And it is something I wish that more girls would talk about in high school in the way it's been normalized for guys.

So maybe the best thing for me is to stop worrying so much about fitting in and start seeing the bubble as big enough for all of us. Start realizing that there is no taking the me out of me. And maybe the truth of that means something to other people as well.

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.

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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Not that bad" and Sex-positivism as a means to empowerment

I read this article yesterday about women in the gaming community and the daily harassment they experience. Before you click on the link, prepare yourself for very graphic language/threats. Seeing the things that some guys said to these women made me disgusted and fearful.

I'm no one. I wrote some books. I have some FB/Twitter followers, but mostly I'm not worth anything in terms of online harassment. I'm not in a male-dominated field and I don't write for the Internet so I have not been a victim of that level of hate.

Which is not to say I haven't experienced it. I don't know a woman in the world who hasn't experienced something that has left her feeling hated for her gender. But my experience of it has been "not that bad."

I'm interested in women's experience of "not that bad." It's a bigger article. It's a bigger anthology. I believe somewhere it's being planned out right now. For my own part, "not that bad" means that everything I experience that isn't rape feels like a gift. Like if I'm just ogled, pushed up against, catcalled at, etc. this really is nothing in the grand scheme.

I reread Margaret Atwood's "Rape Fantasies" short story last night. I will always remember this story as one of the first I wrote a paper on in my Fundamentals of Literary Analysis class. I remember my teacher not giving me a grade, but instead writing a note at the bottom of my paper that said "See Me" and when I went to see him, he said that he'd never read such a beautifully written paper that misunderstood the text completely.

I know why I misunderstood the text. Of course I know why. I focused on Estelle's humor. I called it a dark comedy. I comped it to things like Heathers. I don't think I was completely wrong, but the bigger point, the point that Estelle was in fact talking to a man at a bar, trying to engage with him, trying to suss him out so that he understood her fears and that she was terrified of being raped, terrified of leaving the bar with him, I didn't talk about that part.

I don't talk about that part. Or I do, but I talk about it academically. I talk about it in terms of books. But I don't let that part slide beneath my skin. I cannot. It leaves me way too exposed. So instead, I talk about sex. A lot. I chose my day job for a reason. I wear sex-positivism like a cape. It buys me something, being able to talk about sex without flinching. And I do like sex. But I also understand the defense behind it. I understand that for me, I need to have that or I will have nothing. I will curl into a ball and not be able to come out. So sex-positivism has become a source of power for me. My willingness to engage in conversation, to ask for what I want, to write an essay about 'first times' for The V-Word, all of this is power.

And that in the end, is what I think Margaret Atwood's Estelle was grappling with. In describing these scenarios, she was attempting to control a situation, hoping to empower herself so that these things would not happen to her. Which is really silly. This is not on us to prevent. We can't make ourselves "un-rape-able", but I 100% understand the instinct to try.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On the Bittersweetness of Bookstore Visits

I went to the bookstore last night. My kids had some time before their big camp-out so we went to the huge mall Barnes & Nobles. I almost never go to the mall with my kids by myself, but I thought the bookstore would be okay. A safe place.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a big bookstore like that. I shop local and my indie isn’t that huge. If I want to make the longer drive, I go to Anderson’s which is a pretty big and absolutely wonderful indie bookstore.

But last night I went to the Barnes & Noble and as I walked through the aisles, I grew increasingly sad. Not because the selection wasn’t massive (it really is a HUGE selection of YA novels), but because for all the excitement I felt seeing friends’ books on the shelves, I couldn’t help but notice the books that weren’t there.

Yes, my book wasn’t there, which I always prepare myself for so I don’t experience disappointment, but neither were: CarrieDahliaAndrewTedNovaMollyKathleenKatieJoleneSharonBrandyCourtneyStephKateJustinaShannonAmyAllisonTrishEricaetc’s. Do you see? You start making friends with writers. You start reaching out and connecting and then when you go to the bookstore, you become a little sad.

I love my writing life. I love my friends. I love so much of what publishing has brought me, but I miss the magic of going to a bookstore and just discovering books. And not fretting over what is and isn’t being shelved. This worry is an unexpected fallout of publishing. Sort of like when you get on a church committee and realize it’s not all spiritual and wonderful, now you see the politics behind things and there’s just no going back.

So instead, I didn’t buy any books for myself and walked behind my children as they experienced the bookstore. And that was a little wonderful too. Seeing them get excited about the latest Big Nate or the second book in Erin Bowman’s Taken series or that there’s a guide to Plants vs. Zombies (believe me, I rolled my eyes at the last one too and had to be very Zen about reading is reading is reading).

I love the magic of new readers. I may never have my pre-publishing bookstore gaze again, but at least I get to witness that in my kids still. And that's okay. It's enough.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

PRIDE: GLBT Books in YA that I loved...

It's Pride weekend and I wanted to post a bunch of my favorite GLBT YA titles for those interested in reading the excellent books that are now out in this world that include this issue. For a more comprehensive list, I highly recommend you go to Dahlia Adler's compendium here. I also want to express tremendous gratitude to all the writers who are including this issue because it's important. And if you go hunting at the bottom of this post, you can even get a teaser of my girl-girl love story which I'm currently drafting.

Excerpt from my WIP:

I move toward the bathroom and start to take off my bikini. I slide my jeans on and tug my cami over my head. The door clicks and Emily’s there, inside this too small space with me. All the air in the room shifts. The energy has changed and my breath hitches. I lick my lips and she follows the movement and everything is warm and all I can think is how much I want to feel this. Her. Us. But I’m so terrified. She takes a step and drops her hands on to my hips. And it is nothing, nothing like how Luke’s hands felt. She spins me around so I’m facing away from her and toward the mirror. I can feel her breath on my back.

Her fingers move over the scars there. Trace the patterns up my neck to the base of my skull where my bald patch is. Her other hand is still holding on to my hip and I want to lean back into her. I want to wrap her around me, feel her strength.

And without much thought, I know I want her mouth on my mouth. I want to taste her kisses and the wetness of her tongue and see if the orange Tic Tac smell is her all-over flavor. But she stays behind me with her hands continuing to trace my scars.

“They’re beautiful because they’re part of you,” she whispers as her finger circles smooth raw skin. “And you are beautiful.”
“Emily, I want…”
But she drops her hands and steps back. “You don’t know what you want. And I shouldn’t be getting involved with this.”

Then she’s gone. My hands tremble as I pull my shirt over my head. I leave the bathroom, ready to confront her, ready to ask what she wants, but she’s not in the classroom either. And I’m left even more confused than ever.

Friday, June 20, 2014

My body...

I ran 8 miles this morning. For the first time in my life. 8 miles. I'm still sort of stunned. It hurt like hell and I ate 2 burritos afterwards, but I ran 8 miles.
Post 8-mile run
As I was on the last mile, I started to think about my body and how much it's sort of amazing. How I never appreciated it when I was seventeen. How frankly, I was very hard on it. Looking back, I would say I was at war with my body.
Me at 17
The war was a very long one. Played out on several fronts for many years: food, drugs, sex, pain. There is never a day when I don't wonder how my body has survived it. I have been an aggressive opponent against my body, and still my body survived it. Not completely unscathed, unfortunately. I have mysterious "health" things that no doctor can quite explain. Scars from the war, I think.

I ran 8 miles today. When I peeled off my clothes afterwards to take a shower, at first I felt the familiar disgust towards my body. Because no matter how laminated my feminist card is, that hasn't gone away. That knee-jerk reaction to be a pretty girl. I didn't know how beautiful I was at seventeen until my body made it to 40. I am covered in bruises and scars and stretch marks and cellulite and sagging skin. I don't have abs anymore. I had three babies who were nine pounds. No abs, just skin that sometimes hangs over my jeans.
With my midwife the day I delivered my first child
And yet, today, I shook off the resentment at the way my body looks now. Because I ran 8 miles. And somehow it feels like finally the war with my body is over. I want to do good things for it now. I want to feed it and take it for walks and make it part of me, not something that I have to fight with. That is why I'm grateful for 40. Because my 40 year old brain is clever enough to say: Enough. It's enough now, Christa.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Be Quiet and Listen...

Yesterday, I was on a panel at Printer's Row about sexual violence and testimony. One of the questions that came up in the conversation was speaking on behalf of survivors, those who have honored us with their stories and allowed us to use those stories in an effort to make cultural change.

This is not a responsibility to take lightly. I think whenever anyone is a witness to testimony and later uses that testimony for macro purposes, we always need to be careful. We need to honor the spirit of the testimony, not overlay our own agendas on it. Consequently, a large part of promoting cultural change is not only providing testimony, but the ability to listen.

We forget that sometimes. We say we need to listen more, but we forget because we live in a world where knee-jerk reactions and an immediate POV on something is important. But immediate reactions are often to the detriment of the work being done. And I'm quite certain I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I want to be an AUTHORITY. I want to have an OPINION. I want to take all these things that I know and put them into a place. But, sometimes it is not the right place. Sometimes they aren't our stories to tell. Sometimes we just need to listen and DO NOTHING but add it to our own foundation of empathy, our own efforts to understand something better.

Nowhere is this more obvious in my life than with regards to race. I'm a white woman married to a black man with biracial children. I spend a lot of time listening to Julio about his experience, but sometimes I forget about my kids. I want to tell them what it's like as if I'm an authority, when the reality is that I have no idea what it's like living in their skin. Which means I need to talk to them less about what I think and listen to them more.

I quite liked this reminder of listening this morning from Daniel José Older because YES. I need to do this. We ALL need to do this.

It is Pentecost today, which has always been a baffling church holiday for me. Because what does it even mean? My rational brain has never understood this event. Until today. When our pastor spent the whole sermon talking about the barriers between those living in poverty and those making laws for those living in poverty. And he spoke of these barriers as if they were a language barrier, a barrier to understanding, a barrier to compassion. And then all these things clicked with me.

The best way in to compassion is the act of listening. I believe in breaking silence, in telling truths, in bearing witness, in providing testimony, but I also think that the first step to all of that is listening.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

There are 699,999 books that people want more than yours. Perfect.

The first semester of my freshman year of high school, I was ranked first in my class. I was in a class of 802 kids and having a #1 next to my name felt like a really big deal. I couldn't maintain it, of course. First, I didn't want to only take honors classes my entire high school career. I wanted to take Creative Writing and Typing and things that actually helped me in my life, even though they pulled down my GPA. And second, I worked my butt off first semester freshman year and was no fun because I was always studying and I didn't really want to compromise having a life for having a good class ranking.

Fast forward twenty years, and it's release day for FAULT LINE and this happens:

I get a little #1 next to my name again. (Yes, it was only in hot new releases in social issues, not overall Amazon rankings, but still...). And the awesome feeling from freshman year of high school returns. Like this bubble of amazing possibility inside of me.

I loved everything about release day. I've heard lots of debut writers say the same thing. All this good will is showered over you and your little labor of love is out in the world and it's a social media frenzy of congratulations. But then, after that first day, that first month, those first six months, you wake up to the morning when your book is ranked 700,000 on Amazon. So basically the world wants to read 699,999 books more than yours. Perfect.

And then you start going into this panic mode of: have the fifty people I actually know in real life all bought my book? should I be going to more conventions? should I be talking up my book more? should I hold a giveaway? should I do another blog tour? should I have a fire sale in my garage? should I stand outside the high school giving away copies of my book to anyone who also buys some of the 50 extra boxes of girl scout cookies we have? WHAT MORE CAN I DO? 

"I need to do this BETTER" is a mantra of daily self-flagellation. And suddenly your shitty Amazon ranking becomes this albatross around your neck. Until tomorrow or next week or seventeen days from now, when it unexpectedly drops to 150,000 and you wonder if some blog posted a review and what happened and whatever did happen, how can you recreate that? (Btw, I don't really know these things, but apparently the difference between rankings of 700,000 and 150,000 is like, three books. When I heard this, I laughed really hard because OF COURSE it is. Oh Amazon.)

If I start panicking about not doing enough to sell my book, I take a deep breath and say to myself, "Now is the time to STOP. Let this go and go for a run. Volunteer in your kids' classrooms. Do some tip sheets for your day job. Brainstorm roller derby names. Google pictures of Lenny Kravitz." Because the reality is, that doing MORE to sell my book would bug the crap out of me and all the people who are my friends and family. I only know fifty people. They have all bought my book. There are no eggs left in this basket, so I need to refocus on the things that I can control.
"Don't worry, baby, you're doing just fine."
I have said over and over again that writers need to have definitions of success that are not based on sales or awards or reviews. They need to have something of their own that they can hold on to as a measure of how they've succeeded in this life. They need to have moments where they remember why they're doing this. Otherwise, there will be inevitable slumps and self-doubt and a whole crapload of other stuff that will cause more grief than it's worth.

For me, I had one of these "success" moments yesterday, when I was lecturing to a class at Northwestern University about using FAULT LINE as a way to promote dialogue about sexual violence and start moving toward social change. (I love doing this class, btw.) After the lecture, a guy came up to me and said, "I thought I was just going to skim your book, but then I read the first few pages and I thought, 'this is really good' and I read the whole thing in one sitting. Thanks for writing it. I'm glad you're getting guys involved in this issue."

And it was these words that re-calibrated me. Made me get off the self-flagellation train and get back to work. Get back to having a life instead of worrying about this book which really no longer belongs to me. At the end of the day, writers need to remember that they created something and it is a thing that some people will love and some people will hate and some people will never know even existed and really that's okay. Go about the business of being you. Find success in the little things. Be grateful and compassionate. Live as fully as you can. That is enough of a gift to this world. 


Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Slut-Shelf & Sexual Violence

So Alexandra Duncan is in the midst of doing a book giveaway of YA titles that have been criticized for the “slutty” behavior of the female protagonists. As I am frequently fairly vocal about my feelings on sexuality and sexual violence, I wanted to take a bit of time to discuss the intersectionality of slut-shaming and sexual violence. And I would like to discuss it from the perspective of a rape victim advocate and a mom. I have spoken on this issue multiple times before but for those who are new to me, welcome to the feminist fun house.

I think that culturally we have a knee-jerk reaction when faced with rape survivors to distance ourselves from them so that we have a reason why that could never be us (or our mothers, sisters, daughters, GFs, etc). And I have also seen way too many rape victims throughout my life in ERs and in the work I do with the Voices and Faces Project to buy into any truth in the notion that rape can be prevented by some action the victim takes. 

When you have seen rape victims as young as 3 and as old as 87, when you have seen men, women, QUILTBAG, all races, rich, poor, etc, you start to realize that there is nothing that makes a person unrapeable. So every time I see things like “no rape panties” or “sassy self-defense classes” or “save your life apps”, there is a part of me that appreciates the well-meaning intentions behind these, but there is also a part of me that wants to point out the fact that these things do not stop rape. Perpetrators are the only ones who stop rape. By NOT RAPING.

Which brings me to the slut-shelf and what happens when we culturally place judgment on a girl’s sexuality, on a girl’s choices, on her clothes, on who she dates, on what she drinks, etc. A few months ago, my eleven-year-old came downstairs wearing leggings as pants (meaning leggings with a regular t-shirt on top so you could see her pantyline). And my husband asked her to go upstairs and change. And I smarted about this for hours because I worried what kind of message we just sent to her. And then I realized that I have never once considered buying my daughter a bikini, even when she begged for one at the age of 8. And I have been pretty solid on that stance. And the reason for it is that I knew children who were photographed underwater at the pool by a pedophile. And I don’t want anyone looking at my daughter like that.

But, in trying to protect her, I have bought into the idea that shame can be a shield. That if I make her cover up, she will be somehow safer. And the reality is, she will not. I have told the story of the high school girl who followed the guy into the boy’s bathroom at school and came out saying he raped her (which he admitted that she did not consent to sex...so yes, that's rape). And many of the girl's classmates said, “What did she expect when she followed him in there?” (The answer, btw, is always: SHE EXPECTED NOT TO BE RAPED.)

So that’s the thing about judging and labeling girls “sluts”. You put their sexuality on trial in a way that justifies sexual violence against them. This is the very reason rape shield laws came about in the first place. Rape and sex are not the same thing, and yet some people instinctually judged Daisy Coleman for sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet an older guy. And it is the perpetuation of that which is most problematic to me with regards to the slut-shelf. Because it leaves girls unprotected. It makes them an “other” wherein they are more “rapeable” because of their actions. And it also opens the door into perpetuating notions about purity and value and victim-blaming that ignores the very real onset of sexuality that teenagers are grappling with. Which is really bullshit, but that's a post for another time.

So I’m going to add to this giveaway as part of TeenLibrarian Toolbox’s Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project with copies of: Jennifer Mathieu's The Truth About Alice (ARC) and my book Fault Line. (U.S. Residents only please). Just leave a comment in the box below & consider yourself entered. Random.org will do the rest. I'll announce winner on my blog on May 20th.