50 Shades of WTF?

The book I recently finished writing deals with themes related to sexual consent.

Because of this, I needed a narrative device to make the romantic relationship so overtly consensual as to be hyper-consensual.

The end result is that I’ve been writing a relationship that has elements of BDSM at a time when 50 Shades is all the rage. Yuck.

First things first. I am not a member of the kink community. However, I took care to ensure I was accurately portraying that relationship dynamic. Probably MORE SO because it isn’t one I have ownership of.

Sexuality is deeply connected to identity, and just as I would take care to responsibly portray someone else’s culture or race, I felt I needed to treat these people with as much respect as possible.

Second things second. What I’m writing is not porn. (Though my mother might disagree with that statement). So it is by definition inherently more complex than spanking and tampon yanking. The stakes are higher.

Sexuality and identity get messy fast.

Third. I really did try to read 50 Shades and the writing was so awful, I couldn’t get through it. But the books are universally accepted as badly written, so that is not my point.

My criticism is not of the book. My criticism is of the devotees of the books who argue, “It’s just a book. Relax.”

Incidentally these devotees tend to be the same women who go through relationship after relationship, then look at me and say, “You’re so lucky. You have such a good husband.”

Oh, you mean the man I chose? He didn’t fall out of the sky. I picked him. What’s more, we work very hard to maintain open communication and respect for one another. Luck has fuck-all to do with it.

If you’re following along on this conversation, you’ve heard “It’s just a book. Relax.” a lot. If I were a sociologist, I would conduct an experiment to examine the relationship patterns of the population of people who enjoy this book.

But I’m not. I’m a writer. And as a writer, my central point is this:

Stories matter.

To say, “It’s just a book” is to say, “It’s just a romanticized projection of our rape culture’s social norms that reflect what we wish to attain. Relax.”

I know it’s easy for me as a reader and a writer to place a premium on stories. Much the same way that in Hollywood, the movie about show biz always wins the Oscar. (I’m looking at you here, Shakespeare in Love).

But how can anyone say, “It’s just a book?”

It’s “just a book” about a horribly unhealthy relationship idealized as romantic.

Relax?

To be absolutely clear – the kink is not the abusive aspect of the relationship portrayed in the story. The RELATIONSHIP is the abusive part. When we equate stalking with love – we have a problem.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “If only he would completely violate my privacy and pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do, then I would know he loves me” then you, my dear, are the reason every woman who is raped is tagged as “asking for it.”

This is precisely why I developed such respect for the BDSM community as I worked on my book.

They’re grown ups about their sexuality. They don’t tolerate wishy-washy assholes and their petty drama.

As Louis CK puts it, “I’m not gonna rape someone on the off chance that she’s into it.”

Seriously, ladies? I’m trying to raise daughters here. Could we please just grow a modicum of self respect?

Do I really have to post 700,000 links to articles about how narratives are important and influence our emotional development?

Do you need studies that prove our ability to empathize is learned from stories?

Will you shut the fuck up about it being “just a book” if you see anthropological reviews that detail how narrative is the embodiment of what we are, what we wish to be, and what we must be warned against becoming?

Or are you a grown up?

This is basic.

Stories matter.

It’s never “Just a book.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go revise mine to amplify the consent aspect of the relationship. I know it will never sell 30 gazillion copies.

But I’d rather be broke than sell women shit-sandwiches and call it candy.

50 Shades of WTF?

Early Readers

Just a quick note to say that my early readers have finished with the manuscript and I’ll soon be starting revision #10.

Yay! It felt really done last time. But now that I look at it again, I see that it’s solidly good but needs some muscling up. It’s nice to get to a point where it feels like it is it’s own being. My little book’s all grown up.

Hopefully after this edit, I’ll be able to narrow my focus for my other two projects. I’m at that lovely messy point with them where I have NO IDEA what the plot is doing. It’s both exciting and exasperating.

A note on early readers:

I chose 6 people of the 15 or so who offered:

2 bailed. 1 because of over-commitment. (But she gets a pass forever, because years ago she was one of the saints who slogged all the way through the god-awful 200,000-word first draft of my first attempt at writing a novel). And the second because she didn’t care for the genre.

1 commercial fiction reader. This was very helpful. I write lit fic. But having a commercial reader gave me lots of useful criticism on pacing and plot.

1 actress. Always a good choice. Actresses know how to give constructive criticism. They also appreciate emotional nuance.

1 English teacher. I haven’t gotten this critique back yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

1 wild card. Someone I know only marginally, but who, if they hate it, I won’t run into in the grocery store. I’m awaiting this one as well.

My husband has also read it, but his feedback is almost useless, because he loves everything I write. (I’m sorry, darling. You know it’s true).

I feel primed and ready. I want to jump on the beast and start surgery. I have a game plan and notes. I know just where to start.

I just wanted to take  a moment to say how very grateful I am for my early readers. If you find early readers who are honest and insightful, treasure them. They’re worth their weight. Also, keep a rotation of people for different projects, because you don’t want to burn anyone out.

And reciprocate. Read for others. Even if they haven’t read for you. What goes around comes around.

Now. To the manuscript!

Early Readers

Prepping to publish

Forgive my two month hiatus. It was the result of a combination of the holidays, a grand tour of the southwestern US, a long, deep, terrible chest cold, IT issues, and mid-winter hibernation instinct.

Yesterday, I recommitted to my 2015 writing goal, by taking a workshop on preparing to publish.

The class was offered by 49 Writers  and taught by Deb Vanasse .

I cannot recommend it or her book “What Every Author Should Know”  highly enough.

Since I started writing fiction 4 years ago, I’ve been avoiding thinking about publishing.

Writing a book is like hiking up a large mountain. You keep your eyes trained on the ridge ahead of you.

“There’s the top,” you tell yourself. “I’m almost there. I’m almost done. I’ll be done just as soon…”

As soon as I’ve completed the story.
As soon as I’ve revised and edited.
As soon as I’ve fixed that one scene.
As soon as I’ve scrubbed away that one character.
As soon as I’ve rewritten the last four chapters.
As soon as I’ve finished the 10th revision.

Every time you reach the ridge, there’s another one just ahead. Just a little higher. Just a little farther.

But now that I’ve finished my book and delivered it into the hands of my early readers, I have to admit something I’ve become increasingly aware of. The last few years have felt like a mountain, but they’re only the foothills.

The mountain is still ahead. Publishing.

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While the mountain is largely obscured to those who are on the trail, it is fully visible to your friends and family who are not making the climb.

They helpfully stand at the bottom and say things like, ‘When are you publishing your book?” or (my favorite) “When will you be a rich and famous writer?” (Seriously, just because I’m climbing a mountain doesn’t mean anyone’s going to crown me king of it when I get to the top).

I haven’t avoided the topic completely. I just haven’t delved.

It’s obvious that so much is changing in the world of writing and publishing. Self-publishing. Agents. Print on demand. E-books. When you’re trying to get a good story right, and get it on the page, the changing landscape of modern publishing is enough to make your head spin.

There’s so many routes up the mountain and so many people climbing them that it’s easy to find wild success and wild failure stories for every path. But I think I’m finally ready to tackle the mountain. I’ve decided (for now) to try a traditional path. Networking. Queries. Agent. Editor. Publisher. Sales team.

With a different project, I might choose a different path. But this seems like the right route for this time and this book.

One of the exercises we did for the workshop was to imagine two different outcomes both set in the future five years after publishing.

The first was our wildest fantasy of our lives as published writers. Fame? Fortune? Accolades? Independence? (My fantasy involves Emma Thompson swooping in to insist she direct a film version of my book and mentor me in screenwriting).

The second outcome is the reality of what we expect. To be able to pay our bills? To write a sequel? To teach in an area of expertise?

Looking at the two futures side by side, Vanasse encouraged us to look at the one item on the list that was the same in both futures. In other words, in your wildest dreams and your most grounded reality, what is the same? This will tell you why you are writing.

For me it was this: Five years after I publish my first book, I want to be working on my second or third or fourth.

No matter what, I want to keep writing.

So, it looks like the ridge just ahead is destined to be a part of my permanent landscape, and when I reach it, there will always be another one, a little further, a little higher.

There will always be edits to make, continuity errors to fix, queries to send, synopsis to write, and revision upon revision upon revision upon revision.

This thought is both exhilarating and exhausting.

But at least I know now – while there may be resting places, there is no summit. There will always be another ridge to climb. The mountain goes up forever.

I’ve wiped off the sweat and had a drink of water. I’ll need to camp here for one more revision before I head toward the next ridge, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Except this time, I know what to expect.

Prepping to publish