Adventures in e-Publishing, Cat Valente is right about everything ever, and night of the (not-gay!) living dead
It's still February, which means my essay, "Writing Our Own (Alternate) Histories," is still in this month's issue of Crossed Genres. If you've got the time and inclination, check it out!
Speaking of things you can read without pulping trees first, Aleksandr Voinov is doing an experiment. He's posted his and Raev Gray's short story, "Spoils of War" on Smashwords, and is letting readers decide how much to pay for it. So far, it's been interesting to see the results. Check out his first three posts about it here, here, and here.
If you haven't read Cat Valente's blog lately, you've probably missed out on her posts about angry-making gender coding in hygiene products and the hell that is gender relations in popular media.
Please go read them. If it seems a little angry, that's because these things are worth being angry over.
Jim C. Hines added some commentary on the topic, which is (as usual) spot on as well.
And you know, I'm interested in this as a writer because I want to innovate and imagine and make good stories that don't propagate harm. When I say that, though, that's such a small thing compared to how important it is to look at this problem of culture as a human being living in it.
Regardless of your gender or sexuality or politics, these are the messages we see and hear and read and repeat, over and over, without thinking. We are so accustomed to it that we think that, "oh, it's just the way things are," when men are violent, or when women are victims, or when relationships fail because people don't know how to have them properly, or when people are harassed in the workplace, or when a boy likes dolls or a girl likes to climb trees, and it's exhausting because all of us have to invest so much time in either a) conforming to something which is not natural to us, or b) fighting the tide of expectation and everyone who tries to enforce these roles.
As human beings, this is a matter of life and death.
In less cheerful news, an upcoming anthology I'd planned to submit to has recently been withdrawn by the publisher because of anti-gay sentiment expressed not by possible readers, but by other authors who've submitted work the publisher.
When I write here about LGBTQ stories being harder to sell, or about LGBTQ writers having a steeper hill to climb in order to earn respect and make a living at their writing, I often get notes from people who tell me that these problems are long since past, and to get over it, and that there is no movement that actively wants to silence people like me, or the stories that we want to tell.
And yet, apparently the idea that the living dead (and those who survive to fight them) might exist in ways that transcend mainstream attitudes about gender and sexuality, and that someone might want to put this stuff in a book, is sufficiently robust a threat that multiple someones acted to shut it down.
I'm hoping this project will find another bigger, better, and more badass publisher. I was already writing my submission more for the love than for the money. Now, though, I'm writing it because I've got something to prove as well.
(And, because a post about zombies warrants a mention of it, if you dig both zombies and poetry, check out Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes. I'm in there, my friend John C. Hay is in there, and everyone I know who's bought a copy has said exceedingly nice things.)
So this weekend's publishing industry fracas seems to have resolved itself, at least for now. Macmillan, which is enormous and has imprints for everything from textbooks to science fiction, threw down with Amazon over ebook pricing. Macmillian wanted variable pricing at $14.99 or less, while Amazon dug in its heels and demanded a $9.99 cap. Macmillian refused, and Amazon pulled all of Macmillian's books (print and electronic) from the virtual shelves until late today, when Amazon agreed to Macmillian's terms.
Amazon is, unsurprisingly, trying to look as populist as it can and making an effort to paint Macmillian in a negative light by calling them a monopoly (which, seeing as this is Amazon, is kind of like Mussolini complaining that somebody is a fascist).
Of all the commentary I saw on this, probably the most useful was Tobias Buckell's, in which he explains why Macmillian isn't being unreasonable. It's a long read, but worth it. Also worth reading is Catherynne Valente's post about how Amazon's strong-arm tactics harm writers in the long run.
I'm a bit uncomfortable, though, at the resurrection of the #amazonfail hashtag on Twitter. (If you're unaware, #amazonfail was previously been used to describe the de-listing of LGBTQ books on Amazon early last year.) I'm trying to draw an analogy of why I found it disconcerting, but coming up blank.
Okay, so I confess I'm still working through comments on the last post, which turned out to be so much more about slash than the pro m/m romance and erotica market in the end. That being said, Ann Somerville appeared as if by magic and linked me to her breakdown of authors by m/m romance imprint, which is very interesting indeed.
Other things I can't help but share:
- Out In Print - All queer book reviews all the time.
- Galco's Soda Pop Stop - I just want to order a ton of juniper berry soda, Fentiman's dandelion and burdock, or some shandy.
- N.K. Jemisin's article about sex, religion, and the gods - I confess, I'm not familiar with Jemisin's work, but this article's great, which means I'll be checking shelves when I've got disposable income.
- Offered without comment: The True Risk of Airborne Terror.
So apparently Bloomsbury didn't get the hint last time about how hiding PoC protagonists between white covers is offensive. Witness Jaclyn Dolamore's debut novel, Magic Under Glass, which has a very pale figure on the cover indeed.
I'm thinking I'll be making like Ellen Datlow sometime this week and dropping them a complaint. If you feel so moved, it couldn't hurt to do the same.
January continues apace. I took it easy(ish) on Sunday and took last night off entirely because I'd managed to run myself into the ground and needed an extra hour or two of sleep. That means I'm a day behind on prompts -- I've got 31 for the month of January that I'm banging around with -- but I figure I can get that sorted at the weekend.
It looks like the matter of the Women in Fantasy issue over at Realms of Fantasy has developed somewhat, with Douglas Cohen posting an apology and a new call for submissions, and with Shawna McCarthy's new online presence. (Note: it looks like she's posting both there and at the RoF site, but the LJ blog looks to be the most up-to-date. If anyone wants to point me to a preferred link, though, I'll be glad to change it.)
I think that I'm supposed to say that the editorial staff's shift in position is encouraging, but aside from being pleased that Cohen was receptive to a friend's good advice on how to speak of women using terms which describe them as equals, not much has changed. There has been no about-face, and no real change in direction. The issue is still problematic for many of the same reasons people have been citing all over the place (namely that one issue on the topic doesn't represent any kind of sea change, and that the execution is problematic), and while I am cautiously optimistic that some consciousness got raised, RoF still has a hell of a lot of work to do.
For the record, I don't think that anyone at RoF spends time sitting around in a darkened room with steepled fingers dreaming up new and exciting ways to oppress women. I believe Cohen when he writes that he didn't intend to offend anyone. I also believe that when someone says something insulting without meaning to, it is because they're missing a crucial bit of data somewhere in their worldview. Sometimes more than one.
It's that unconscious bias -- that gap in knowledge -- that's so insidious because when we fail because of it we don't mean to. We think we are being good people, and having our failures pointed out to us is both painful and comes out of nowhere. It's hard to listen when that happens, or to change, because it can challenge some pretty fundamental things that we carry in our heads.
So, you know, credit where credit is due. Just not 'job done' just yet.
A couple of days ago a little bird mentioned that Apex Books has the upcoming Dark Faith anthology on pre-order for $20, and that the first 500 preorders get an additional chapbook to sweeten the deal.
I'm ridiculously excited about this book, not least because J.C. Hay (one of my dearest friends and one hell of a writer) is in it, as are Catherynne M. Valente, Brian Keene, Richard Dansky, Jennifer Pelland (whose Unwelcome Bodies anthology is also a must-own), Lucien Soulban, and a whole heap of amazing people. This is seriously the most diverse Table of Contents I've seen in a long while, and the idea behind it had my attention months ago.
So yes. Go. Order.
A few people I read (including Jim C. Hines and Catherynne M. Valente) pointed out that Realms of Fantasy has announced that they're doing a "women in fantasy" issue in August 2011. Specifically, their guidelines:
1. For this issue the sign on the proverbial door says “girl writers only.” Sorry gents.
2. While being a woman submitting a fantasy piece to us is enough to get your manuscript considered for this issue, submissions dealing with gender, sexism, and other areas important to feminist speculative literature are particularly welcome.
3. If you’d like to have your story considered for this issue, stories should be postmarked no later than November 15th, 2010. This will provide enough time to find the right artists (ladies, of course) for the stories. I’ll provide periodic reminders about the submission deadline as we move along.
Oh, the mixed feelings.
There's a reason many female writers (J.K. Rowling being just one of many) mask their gender by using initials, or why James Chartrand's story isn't as unbelievable as it could be. It's because gender bias is alive and well in publishing. We saw it last year, we'll see it again this year, and we'll keep seeing it until editors start working proactively to offset assumptions (conscious and otherwise) that undermine equality in the industry. I'm supportive of well-considered, well-applied affirmative efforts to manage disparities until women writers are broadly assumed to be equal to their male counterparts. This is why organizations like Broad Universe are so necessary. There is still work to do. A lot of it.
Realms of Fantasy making a visible commitment to do the work, especially in light of their long-standing reputation for gender bias and consistently utilizing cover art targeted at the (heterosexual) male gaze, would be incredibly welcome.
A "girl writers only" issue isn't going to achieve that. It's particularly not going to achieve that when the call for submissions makes it sound like they're setting the bar low, is badly worded, and is full of diminutive language (ladies, girls). They want girls to show up and write about girl stuff. It's condescending, and considering how often RoF's Table of Contents trends male, I'm not surprised that some women writers have already said they feel like it's an empty gesture that they can point to later and say "but we did a girly issue!" when people complain.
It's galling, because the editors appear to have good intentions, but still aren't hearing the feedback they're being given. Until they do, though, RoF is going to keep running into this kind of thing. And that's a shame, because with the sort of circulation RoF does, they could be turning their audience on to some seriously brilliant writers without resorting to a ladies' night approach.
At the end of the day, I sincerely think RoF can be so much better than this. To do that, though, they need to make a real and constant commitment to improve their practices year-round, not just for one issue.
If you know me in my free time, you're already aware that sometimes my reading and writing habits veer a little saucy. I'm not above a bit of romance, or even slash, erotica, or outright porn. I might use a pen name when I indulge in transformative works, but who I am isn't much of a secret. When writing is a hobby as well as a job, business and pleasure can dovetail nicely.
So you can imagine how over the moon I was earlier this week when I heard about Harlequin's forthcoming Carina Press e-book imprint.
There are three beautiful things about Carina Press.
One, they're actively seeking work that doesn't always get a lot of play from more traditional houses. Their guidelines for romance and erotic romance are inclusive of LGBTQ themes, multiples as well as couples, and genre crossovers. They're open to genre fiction, and particularly genre fiction aimed at women.
Two, they're committed to a DRM-free e-book model. DRM-free means consumers can easily back up what they buy, share it between devices, and enjoy the books they buy without having to invest proprietary equipment or software.
Three, they're actively working to welcome new talent into the pool while maintaining editorial quality. I've heard nothing but good things about Angela James, for example.
In short, Carina looks poised to be a very good thing for Harlequin, for the industry, and for writers who want a digital-only imprint with some solid backing.
Which is what makes the introduction of Harlequin Horizons all the more perplexing. Even the most cursory click through of their main site makes it obvious that they're a vanity press.
And when I say "vanity press," I don't mean a friendly little PoD service like Lulu. I mean the worst sort of vanity press that wants to dupe rich hopefuls into spending $20k on a 60-90 minute trailer in hopes that it will make them bestselling authors.
And no surprise. Harlequin Horizons is a partnership with Author Solutions, Inc. Author Solutions, Inc. is a vanity press that's been snapping up PoD houses left and right. Compare Harlequin Horizons' services to PublishAmerica, and you'll come away with a not-so-fresh feeling that can only be remedied by intensive therapy.
No, this is not good at all. And it's a shame, because it makes the whole PoD industry look shady when it isn't. PoD makes a lot of small-press and specialty market publication possible.
What makes companies like Author Solutions, Inc. scummy is not that they'll print on demand. It's their sales pitch. They offer services that mimic some of the services a book and author might receive from a traditional publisher, but without the clout, professional relationships, or the good reputation of same.
Are there times when self-publishing is appropriate, or even a better solution? Sure. But those are few and far between, and are best entered into without the fairy tale. If it really worked that way, we'd all be Stephen King right now.
To quote Cassandra Claire: "Still not King."
At the end of the day, the real insult (as pointed out to me by a friend) is that the imprint that's likely to give us quality and a heap of great new talent isn't the one that Harlequin put its name on. And yet, somehow I'm not surprised. After all, how else are they supposed to lure the rubes into writing that check for twenty grand?
Some weeks it seems like I can't walk across my own living room without tripping over some new moment of !fail in the genre. This weeks glittering gem: "The War on Science Fiction and Marvin Minsky."
Now, before I go on, it bears pointing out that the blogger -- who believes "technology is the key to defeating feminism" -- is the sort of man who feels threatened now that the dominant-heterosexual-breadwinner-in-charge-of-his-women-and-children model of masculinity is no longer the only game in town. When men are made to share the cultural mic in a proportionate, appropriate way, he lashes out at women and declares that he is being oppressed.
In short, this man is a gutless, whinging wingnut. His opinions should by rights be beneath the notice of sane (or at least observant) people anywhere. Even ignoring the batshit rhetoric, his post is so riddled with half-truths and inaccuracies (Dirk Benedict's personal butthurt notwithstanding) that debunking him almost a waste of time.
And yet, while his screed is the kind of tripe that I ought to be able to dismiss out of hand -- like so -- his attitude is something that I keep seeing played out in the industry. (See Also: the aforementioned !fail problem.)
That writers who are not white, male, heterosexual, or cisgendered have to work twice as hard as writers who are (just like everywhere else) isn't exactly a secret. You only have to look as far as a certain anthology, or consider the matter of gender bias where certain awards are concerned, and...
Well, to be frank, if we're not being That Guy, many of us are certainly walking in his footsteps. The writers I know, read, and listen to are still complaining that it's harder to sell books with female protagonists because the industry thinks 'boys won't read girls, but girls will read boys.' There's still fallout from Amazon!fail. Queer writers, writers of color, and women writers often see their books pigeonholed based on content, who they are, or both. I can't count the times I've heard women writers talking about using a pseudonym or initials.
This isn't a zero-sum game, people. The LeGuins, Atwoods, and Butlers writing in the genre haven't diluted it, nor have the Captain Jacks and Kara Thraces diminished it. It's the small-minded men who throw little tantrums when confronted by the possibility of having to work and succeed according to their merits rather than the privilege afforded them by their masculinity that make us smaller.
It's a ridiculous lack of imagination that locks people and characters out, and if one boy fails to be inspired by a hero of science fiction because she happens to sport a pair of breasts, or he happens to like kissing other men?
Well, he's probably not somebody I'd want my friends' kids to be an astronaut with when they grow up anyway.
1 Women have written science fiction as long as it's existed; Captain Jack Harkness was created by a married heterosexual man; the SyFy name change happened on Dave Howe's watch, not Bonnie Hammer's, though the WWE came to the channel while Hammer was President of the channel; and Captain Kirk was doing aliens long before Captain Jack, so drop the shock-horror act, Techie-boy.