"I have always thought of myth as something that never was but is always happening." ~ Jean Houston, "The Possible Human"

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" ~ Margaret Atwood, "The Handmaid's Tale"

Monday, August 11, 2014

What Conventions Without Harassment Policies Look Like

This weekend, I attended a con that I wasn't working for the first time ever.  A couple friends of mine, the dynamic Twisted Twins (a.k.a. Jen and Sylvia Soska) were guests as was the actress Katharine Isabelle.   Since I have a real fondness for women in horror and I wanted to see the Soskas again, I decided to get myself a ticket and make a mini-vacation of it, something my GP has been on my case about doing.

For the most part, the convention was a blast.  In my experience, fans of the Soskas are some of the most amazing and nice people on the planet.  This con was no different.  Everyone who stopped by their table was polite and wonderful.  There was one guy who seemed to think being a fan was some kind of dick measuring contest (and he brought his little friend along, because assholes rarely travel alone), but for the most part the Soskas table was a safe space, as was the "American Mary" Q & A.

Now that we've got the positive out of the way, let's examine the absolute massive failing of this con (also known as why I'm never going to attend again and why no one should):  Chicago Flashback Weekend has absolutely NO harassment policy.  Nothing, nada.  Part of me is wondering if this might be why there is an absolute lack of diversity (no guests were POC, there were no indie women authors in attendance, and both guests and attendees skewed heavily towards white cis-gender men).

Many people often mistakenly assume harassment policies are to prevent overt sexual harassment from occurring.  Actually, a working harassment policy should prevent any form of harassment (verbal, emotional, sexual, etc.) or abuse.  Harassment policies should be to make a space safer.  There will never be an entirely safe space, but it can be made easier to navigate.  If you don't have a clearly drawn harassment policy, you are giving free reign to people to police themselves.

Let's see exactly what that looks like, shall we?

I occasionally experience extremely mild anxiety attacks.  Having experienced them since high school, I know exactly what my body is going to do and how to shorten the episode.  When I'm experiencing an anxiety attack, my body freezes and I can't move.  My heartrate jumps up and my breathing quickens.  In order to pull myself out of this, I often have to lean against something (usually a wall) and occasionally, I need to sit down.  Sometimes counting very slowly helps and sometimes thinking about a good memory will lessen the attack.  These attacks can last between 2 - 10 minutes, 5 minutes being the average.  While I'm never entirely sure when they'll happen, they're more likely to occur in a crowd.  I've had a couple at cons, but since I'm usually working behind a table, I can usually hide what's happening and pull myself out of it (working does wonders for these attacks).  It's a rather embarrassing experience, thanks to the stigma that accompanies all psychological health issues.

On Sunday, while on my way to the registration desk, I suddenly got that feeling of my heart speeding up slightly.  Quickly recognizing that I was probably about to have an attack, I leaned against a wall and shut my eyes.  I started hearing angry grumbles and within minutes, people were shouting at me and about me about there being a line.  I muttered something about needing a minute, but they kept shouting.

Not.  Okay.  You know the #1 thing that is not going to help somebody experiencing a panic attack:  shouting.  Shouting is going to make it worse and it makes you a horrible person.  I literally have no tolerance for the kinds of cunts who are so insensitive and rude to people who suffer from psychological disorders and anxiety attacks.  Fuck the lot of them.  There's this whole mindset that cons are a refuge for people who have been rejected and bullied their entire life for being passionate about things considered geeky or nerdy.  I'd like to know:  when did a good portion of these attendees become bullies themselves?

As I attempted to force myself to walk, I watched as these rude assholes proceeded to shout at an older woman walking with a cane, who asked if there was a shorter line for people with mobility issues (you would have thought this woman beat a child with her cane the way these people were speaking to her).  They also shouted at a woman and her young daughter who were just a little lost.
Let me make one thing clear:  everyone in this line had already paid for the weekend.  Everybody had a ticket, everybody was getting in.  There was no need for the kind of behavior I witnessed on Sunday.  None at all.  If that's the way you behave in public, you are a horrible worthless excuse for a human being.

To me, this is a perfect illustration of the stigma attached to mental disorders.  I have friends who suffer from different psychological disorders, some more severe than others.  I have friends who have chronic anxiety and it is a shitty thing to live with.  Too often, mental disorders are blamed on the individual.  I can't count how many times I've heard someone say something like, "Oh you just need to be more positive" or "You're putting too much stress on yourself" or "Why did you put yourself in that situation in the first place?" or, my personal favorite, "Shouldn't you be on medication, if that really happens?"

Newsflash:  people can't fucking decide when they're going to have an anxiety attack!  They can't decide that anymore than they can decide when they're going to get the flu or, for cis-gendered women, when they're going to get their period!  I'm lucky that my occasional anxiety is so mild.  People who have full blown panic attacks sometimes think they're dying.  Not everyone who experiences anxiety needs to be on medication.  Sometimes they just need people to act like decent fucking human beings for two minutes.  Oh, but I'm sorry, that requires effort.  And if it doesn't directly affect us or someone we know, effort is just too much to ask, right?

I'm getting a bit off tangent:  my point is, had there been a working harassment policy in place, this kind of behavior could be dealt with (ideally).  You'd have a security officer come by and say something like, "What you're doing right now is really not okay.  If you don't take it down a notch, you will be asked to leave."  Instead, you had a bunch of ignorant people getting into a needlessly defensive territorial pissing match and making the entire situation a hundred times worse.  I'm actually surprised there wasn't actual violence, because let me tell you, it was building up to that.

After that incident, I sat in the hall and read my book.  I did not trust myself to be inside any space with those jackasses (I'm still angry, hence my writing this blog).  Cons need to be safe for everybody and that's why working harassment policies are so vital.  Not all harassment is sexual in nature.  Berating people with psychological conditions, people with mobility issues, and young children, those are all forms of harassment too.

Though I dearly love my friends who work in horror (most of them women), I don't know if I will ever attend another horror convention.  I certainly won't go to one with absolutely no harassment policy.

Chicago Flashback Weekend:  yet another convention that needs to get its damn shit together.


*Sorry for this unscheduled break in my spy series.  Rest assured, the Josephine Baker post is going up very soon.  She just led such an incredible life that it's hard to condense all the information down into a single blog post :)

*I should mention that almost all fans of women horror directors that I've met have been really kind and amazing individuals.  It's the people who are into the testosterone-driven macho bullshit that are overwhelmingly assholes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mad Anne Bailey: Pioneer Scout

Anne Bailey wasn't exactly a spy per say, she was actually more of a scout, but I chose to include her because her story is an entertaining one and she was quite the badass.  She was also a storyteller and I can't resist a woman storyteller.

Bailey earned the nickname "Mad Anne" for her exploits, which made her a bit of an eccentric for a woman of the time.  She was born in Liverpool, England in 1742.  She was an educated woman, but a poor one.  Anne lost both her parents when she was 18.  At the age of 19, she sailed for America in the hopes of a better life.  Some sources suggest she worked as an indentured servant to pay for her trip.

In 1765, Anne married Richard Trotter and her life seemed to take a turn for the better.  The couple had one son, William, and lived in the Kanawa Valley in Staunton, VA.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of settlers moving out west and it was causing a lot of tension with local Native Americans.  Numerous fights were breaking out, which led to the governor of Virginia to organize a militia to keep the peace (because if there's one way to ensure peace, it's organizing a bunch of angry settlers into a militia).  Anne's husband joined the militia and took part in the battle of Point Pleasant.  This battle prevented the Native Americans from allying with the British during the American Revolution.  Both sides suffered heavy losses in this battle and Richard Trotter was one of the ones who fell.

Anne Trotter was pissed.  The "swearing bloody vengeance" kind of pissed.  She dropped off her seven year old son with some neighbors (she had no relatives) and promptly took up arms.  I like to think she said something like, "I'm going out to spill some blood.  Look after my boy while I'm gone."

Baily began wearing men's clothes and taught herself how to shoot, ride a horse, hunt, and soon becoming a very adept scout.  She volunteered her services as a scout and messenger.  She was dedicated to the colonists cause and wanted to make sure they won the war.  She drummed up support for Washington's army, often riding from station to station along the Potomac recruiting volunteers.  Anne would carry messages between Fort Randolph and Savannah, a distance of 160 miles.  She knew the paths like the back of her hand and the settlers along her route highly respected her.

In 1785, Anne married John Bailey, a member of the Rangers (frontier scouts), who loved her somewhat wild ways.  She was known to enjoy drinking, cursing, and telling stories, behaviors that were anything but lady-like.  The two were a good match for each other.  In 1788, John began duty at Ft. Clendenine.  Again, the settlers and local Native Americans were clashing and the situation was becoming volatile (probably in no small part to the settlers once again trying to push the Native Americans off their lands).  Anne still worked as a courier and warned settlers of impending attacks.

In 1791, the militia learned the Native Americans were planning an attack.  Worse, they were severely low on gunpowder.  So low, they would not be able to hold off the attack.  Someone had to ride 100 miles to Lewisberg to get more gunpowder, a suicide mission.  The colonel in charge asked for volunteers to ride over a hundred miles through hostile territory and very likely to his death.  The men remained quiet, likely looking at their shoes, which probably became inexplicably fascinating.  Anne, realizing none of the men were going to volunteer, raised her hand and stated that she would do it (probably after insulting the men).

Anne hopped up on her horse and raced off into the wild.  Legend says she rode day and night, up the Kanawha Valley to the Greenbriar Mountains.  Once she reached her destination, Anne retrieved the gunpowder and a horse to carry it.  She was offered an escort, but turned it down (probably saying, "fuck that.  He'll just slow me down!").  She returned to Fort Clenendine and the soldiers were able to fight off the attack the morning after she returned (hopefully while she took some much deserved rest).  Anne's impressive ride was eventually immortalized in a poem by Charles Robb (Anne Bailey's Ride).  It's a somewhat embellished version of the ride and the description of Anne is entirely wrong.

John Bailey died in 1802.  Anne Bailey went on to be a trader and storyteller.  She often slept outside, having no desire to remain indoors for long stretches of time.  She continued to act as a messenger for settlers, bringing supplies they needed.  She made her last trip in 1817, at the age of 75.  After that, she went to live with her son.  William, knowing his mother valued her independence above all else, had a cabin constructed next to his home where she lived out her days, often entertaining guests with vivid tales of her adventures.

Anne Bailey never feared death.  She often bragged that she could chop and shoot as well as any man.  Coming from a humble background, Anne lived the life she chose and on her own terms.  To me, that is incredibly impressive.

Image found here

Works Cited

Howlett, Charles F. "Anne Trotter Bailey." Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006. 46-47. Google Books. ABC-CLIO. Web. 11 July 2014.

"Anne Bailey." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 May 2014. Web. 11 July 2014.

Diece, Albrey. "National Women's History Museum." Education & Resources. National Women's History Museum, 2006. Web. 11 July 2014.


Next week:  the force of nature that was Josephine Baker

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sarah Aaronsohn: The Heroine of Nili

Picture can be found here

Though she only lived to be 27, Sarah Aaronsohn lived a remarkable life.  Like many women, she was often overshadowed by men.  Reading about her, one can't help but be impressed with how much she was able to accomplish in such a short life.

Sarah Aaronsohn was born on January 5th, 1890 in what is now Palestine.  At the time, it was still under the Ottoman Empire.  Her father was one of the founding members of Zikhron Ya'akhov, an agricultural colony.  The Aaronsohns became one of the most prominent families in the colony.  This was partly due to her brother Aaron, a respected agronomist and botanist.

Sarah was highly intelligent, despite never completing formal education.  Encouraged by Aaron, Sarah studied languages and became fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish, Turkish, and French.  She taught herself English and knew some Arabic.  Sarah also worked as her brother's apprentice, often accompanying him on his travels while learning about agronomy and botany.  She also had an active outdoor life and was an accomplished rider and shot. Being an attractive woman, Sarah also had a lover in the charismatic Avashalom Feinberg, a close friend and later ally of Aaron's.

This affair ended and Sarah wound up marrying a wealthy merchant, Chaim Abraham.  This union didn't last very long.  Abraham took her to Istanbul and Sarah did not like the bustle and chaos of the big city.  She had nothing in common with her husband and soon left him to return home to Zikhron.  The trip home would not be a happy one and Sarah would witness something that changed the course of her life.

In the autumn of 1914, Turkey joined with the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) in their war on the Allied Powers.  Around mid-1915, Aaron and Feinberg established the spy ring Nili.  Their mission was to supply the British with intelligence and the spy ring became one of the largest pro-British espionage network in the Middle East.

On her way home from Istanbul to Haifa, Sarah witnessed the Armenian genocide.  She may have seen as many as 5,000 people murdered and others loaded into trains.  The horrific incident traumatized her and for the rest of her life, she would experience severe panic attacks when she heard anything about the Armenians.

Upon returning home to Zikhron, Sarah joined up with her brothers and sister in their underground resistance.  Though Nili started before her return, Sarah soon took a leading role in Nili.  She oversaw most of the activities of the ring, decoded information, encoded it and passed it to British agents offshore, often using carrier pigeons.  Whenever Aaron had to travel, he left Sarah in charge.
She was frequently in charge of at least 40 agents as well as her brother's agricultural station, which was important to Nili's success.  Sarah was also in charge of finances and had to make sure Nili was fully-funded.

Sarah sometimes traveled throughout the Ottoman Empire to collect valuable intelligence and meet with contacts face-to-face in Egypt to exchange intelligence.  Though some tried to brush off her activities as a result of familial ties, the British never saw her as a proxy for her brother.  She was a respected and valuable asset.

As hostilities began increasing and the Central Powers began closing in, the British urged her to leave Palestine and return to British-controlled Egypt for her own safety.  Sarah refused.  In 1917, her brother begged her to remain in Egypt.  Sarah still refused and returned to Zikhron to continue Nili activities.  She was the only one in Nili's top hierarchy to do so.

In 1917, the Ottomans intercepted a carrier pigeon from Nili and decoded the message.  Knowing the Ottomans were onto her, Sarah worked fast to disperse the evidence of Nili in order to protect her agents.  On October 1st, the Ottomans arrived at her door and arrested her.  What followed was four days of torture as they tried to force information out of Sarah.  She refused to yield.  No matter what they did, Sarah remained silent.  She didn't reveal anything.

Upon finding out she would be transferred to a prison deep inside the Ottoman Empire, Sarah requested she be allowed to return to her parent's home and clean up.  Her captors, obviously not having realized the determination of their prisoner, agreed.  She somehow convinced her escorts to allow her some privacy in the bathroom.

As soon as she was alone, Sarah quickly got to work.  She wrote a quick note, expressing her wish that Nili's activities continue and explaining that she did not think she could withstand anymore torture.  As soon as she was done, Sarah removed a pistol that had been hidden in the bathroom and shot herself in the mouth.  It took her four days to die.  She never gave her captors a single bit of intelligence.

Because of Jewish views on suicide, Sarah was originally refused burial in a traditional Jewish cemetery.  Refusing a war hero tends to be an unpopular stance and it was no different here.  Sarah was allowed burial in the cemetery, but as a compromise, a fence was erected around her grave to separate it from the other graves.  Her mother is buried beside her, as per her last wishes.

The intelligence gathered by Sarah greatly helped the Allied forces.  Much of Sarah's legacy was attempted to be censored by conservative historians.  Thankfully, they were unsuccessful.  Sarah eschewed most traditionally feminine roles.  She frequently cross-dressed when in the field and sometimes referred to herself with male pronouns.

Occasionally described as the Jewish Joan of Arc, Sarah Aaronsohn led a heroic life.  WWI is a strange period in history, one that generally isn't studied in depth.  If it were, I wonder if students would learn about a brave young Jewish woman who stayed behind in enemy territory when even the men fled.

 Melman, Billie. "Sarah Aaronsohn." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 8, 2014) .
 "Sarah Aaronsohn." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 Jan. 2014. Web. 08 July 2014. .
"NILI." Freedomfightersofnili. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2014. .
Warner, Jennifer. "Stiletto Spies." Google Books. Golgotha Press, 13 June 2014. Web. 08 July 2014.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Elusive 355

"I intend to visit 727 [New York City] before long and think by the assistance of a 355 [lady] of my acquaintance, shall be able to outwit them all" ~ Samuel Culper Sr. (Abraham Woodhull) to General George Washington
This is the one specific reference to 355, a much debated figure in the American Revolution.  So little is known about her that it's incredibly difficult to sort out fact from fiction.  Some consider her to be the first American woman spy.  Others doubt she was anyone of importance, merely a convenient acquaintance Woodhull used once.  This doesn't quite stand up though when you look at the circumstances surrounding this message.

In June 1779, Woodhull recruited Robert Townsend (who used the alias Samuel Culper, Jr.)  to gather intelligence from New York.  Woodhull operated solely out of Setauket.  Because Townsend had business in New York, he was less suspicious.  He also interacted with the British officers frequently through his various businesses (newspaper, tailoring, and a coffeehouse he had an interest in along with James Rivington, another member of the Culper Ring).

In August of 1779, Townsend was having difficulty gathering decent military intelligence, which is when Woodhull wrote the letter.

This is when the information gets a little murkier and difficult to sift through (thanks in part to an amateur historian at the end of the 19th century and his tendency to over-embellish things).  Around the time of Woodhull's visit, information on John Andre was more plentiful.  The British Major John Andre was the head of England's Intelligence Operations in New York.  Andre had a reputation for being a ladies man and frequently kept company with a number of women.  It is likely 355 was able to gain access to him this way, hence the sudden abundance of information.  Washington would later order Andre hung for being a spy.

Many speculate she also crossed paths with Benedict Arnold at some point and could very well have helped expose his treason.

In October of 1780, Woodhull wrote of the capture of several friends during one of Arnold's spy hunts and referenced "one who hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence," leading some to speculate this was the 355 he traveled to New York with.  Many point to Townsend's emotional devastation after this event as evidence that 355 was among those captured.

There are skeptics about the existence of agent 355 and point to the fact that she is only mentioned once in Culper correspondences.

Personally, I think its more likely she did exist.  It just seems like common sense that the Culper Ring would make use of women.  The women of the time would be under less suspicion and could go places men couldn't.  Women have been underestimated for a good part of history and many have used that to their advantage.  I like to think Woodhull recognized this and made use of his friends, both male and female alike.

As a writer, my imagination runs wild when reading about someone as elusive as 355.  I imagine her being a feisty woman with strong sense of morality, braver than most of her contemporaries.  Perhaps a little reckless, which may have led to her capture.  She is a woman who will forever be a mystery, someone whose name is forgotten in the ages, but she has become legendary in her own right and she will never be completely forgotten.

Picture is from here
 Phelps, Mark A. "Agent 355." An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. By Lisa Tendrich. Frank. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013. 528-29. Print.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Most Unlikely Writer

"I don't understand how you think you can be a writer.  You can't string two thoughts together.  How on Earth do you expect to write an entire novel!?"

This was said to me by a high school English teacher.  She didn't like the cut of my jib . . . or my taste in books.  We just didn't get along in general.  However, throughout my life, I've had people express disbelief at my desire to be a writer.  And it has always been for the wrong reasons.

It started in grade school when we would have these timed reading tests.  I would always fail and be knocked down a level until I was reading what amounted to remedial passages.  However, the teacher noticed my comprehension was through the roof.  What little I managed to read, I had insights into that were beyond what anyone my level was getting.  You see, I'm a very slow reader and I always have been.  I digest every word, every symbol, every detail so I can paint a clearer picture in my mind and better understand what the author is saying.  Unfortunately, our education system doesn't reward this kind of reading.  It's speed or nothing.

This drives me absolutely insane.  I know speed readers who have a very high comprehension and that's just the way they read.  I know readers who are more like me and take a very long time to read.  That's also fine.  I don't understand why one kind of reading is rewarded and the other punished.  If you're understanding the words and the story, what the hell difference does it make how fast you read?

Unfortunately, when I got to high school, things got worse.  Not only was I a slower reader (which is not beneficial when it comes to standardized tests), but I've never been a good "assignment writer."  I tend to delete almost half of what I write and I'm stubborn to a fault.  I'm not kidding:  if a work was sub-standard, I did not want to turn it in.  A lot of assigned work was sub-standard in my eyes.  Add my introverted nature into the mix and I was labeled "difficult" and "afflicted with a learning disability."

The problem with high school is there's no room for imagination or creativity.  Everything is so uniform.  They want you to write about "X" and only "X."  So when I was told to write a persuasive paper or expository paper or whatever, I just completely tuned out.  My English papers were so incredibly dull and I didn't put half the effort in that I should have.  As a result, most of my English teachers thought I was struggling with writing.  My grades were average at best.  Except my senior year, my only good year.  I was so happy that I was never going to have to return to that wretched place that my grades went through the roof.

When I went to college, a lot of my professors were surprised that I had been labeled a difficult student.  Apparently, I'm the dream student for most professors:  I engage with the work, I'm endlessly curious, and I read like a fiend.  Give me some room to tackle a subject in a creative way, and I will attack it like nobody's business.  This isn't to say I've gotten along with every professor I've ever had, but I still keep in touch with most of them.  I have kept in touch with exactly one teacher from high school.

3 novels, soon to be 4, later and I'm still writing and reading.  I hate that so many people are dissuaded from writing because they don't meet the standardized idea of a writer.  I still get bullied by some writers from traditional publishing who don't think me a "real author" but I don't give a damn what they think of me.  I just keep on writing, because it's what I'm meant to do.


I'm going to try and keep a fairly regular blog from now on.  I'm working on a number of projects for blog entries, including one on women spies and resistance fighters, as well as more author profiles.  It might take me a bit to get up and running (lots of reading required and, as I've mentioned above, I'm a slow reader),  but I'm determined to do it.

Also, I'm trying to ramp up my marketing.  I'm in a bit of a sales slump at the moment, so please spread the word about my novels.  All support is very much appreciated.  Thank you!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Questions and Statements I Could Do Without

I only started publishing last year and also attending conventions.  It's a learning process to say the least, but there are already some things I've noticed that I've found rather unpleasant.  Last year, I was harassed in varying degrees at every convention I attended.  This year, thankfully, I haven't been harassed yet.  Oh how I hate adding that word.  But, when you're a woman in genre, it's never "if" only "when."

However, I have noticed a lot of microaggressions, which seem to be experienced more often by indie authors.  These pesky little condescending slights, while not outright harassment, are sneakily subtle ways to chip away at a person.  They make you feel as if you're being measured and found wanting.  Worse, those who point them out are often accused of being overly-sensitive.  These slights are often sexist and classist.

So I want to make note of a couple that I've heard at almost every con I've been to and partially deconstruct what is being said/implied by the speaker.  As you're reading these, please ask yourself if you've ever heard a traditionally published writer asked these questions or told these things.

"Self-publishing is a form of lazy writing"

 At my first convention, I was on my very first panel and I was nervous to say the least.  Also on the panel was a literary agent.  Three times he said some version of this sentence, knowing full-well he was sitting right next to an indie author (a new one, who had already mentioned she was nervous about being on a panel and wasn't sure what to say).  Three separate times.

This is a way of othering indie authors, by suggesting they're not real writers.  The last day of this same con, I was harassed/bullied by another man who felt it his place to explain to me exactly why I was not a "real writer" (and tossed my book at me.  Perhaps because I wasn't a real writer, that wasn't a real book.  Also, I probably didn't have real feelings.  Oh no, am I a real person!?).

Existential humor aside, slapping the label of lazy onto a person suggests they have nothing to contribute.  In a conversation, in a society, in the world at large.  Indie authors are therefore not really writers, they're just taking up space.  Someone once emailed me that I would never be an artist if I self-published because (1) I'd be too concerned with profit and (2) If I did so, I was destined to fail.

I see a lot of this reflected in posts that some Facebook friends share:

"I don't trust self-publishing"
"You can just give up and self-publish.  Or you can buckle down and get to work."
"I'll never review books by any of those writers."
"If you want to be a serious writer, you need to find a traditional publisher." 

The running theme is indie authors churn out sub-standard work, which isn't really work at all.  Because they're lazy, remember?  There's also this weird kind of suggestion of indie authors being imposters.

Never mind the fact that indie authors are some of the hardest working writers in the business.  We do all our own marketing, research, and selling.  Lug boxes upon boxes of books up stairs, escalators, and elevators.  We pull just as many all-nighters, probably a few more, as our traditionally published colleagues (whom we never accuse of laziness).  We experience just as much frustration as the next writer, but receive none of the credit unless we succeed in a similar way to traditionally published authors.

"Did you write this/these book(s) all by yourself?"

Why the hell am I always asked this question?  Seriously, at almost every convention I've been too, a guy (always a white man) asks me if I wrote my books by myself.  I even had one go so far as to say I was much too pretty to have written two books all on my own.

First of all, my name is the only name on the front cover.  I'd like to think I'm a good enough person to give credit to another person had they helped me write a novel.  Secondly, are you serious?  It's 2014!  Yes, some women write books all on their own.  I could see if I sat with someone at a table, but even then, wouldn't a better question be, "Which one of you is the author?"  Because again, one name on the cover.

I can't imagine a traditionally published author ever being asked this.  I can't imagine any guy ever being asked this (unless maybe, maybe, he was really young).  The suggestion here is quite obvious:  how could I, a woman, write multiple books all on my own?  And this isn't a compliment.  This is sexism, plain and simple.  The suggestion is that I couldn't possibly have a brain in my head, at least not one as superior as the cis-gendered male brain.

"Smile/Don't Look Like That.  You'll Give People the Wrong Impression"

There has been a recent feminist revolt against street harassment.  One form of this has been the annoyance at constantly being told to smile.  Because heaven forbid a woman experience anything other than constant joy all the time.  No, the only way we should ever be is constantly smiling.

I have what some would term "bitch face."  My face is rather serious and smiling is not something that comes naturally to me.  My eyes are also rather unusual, judging from people's reactions to my natural expression.  Do I need to consider getting a mask at this point?

I had back-to-back conventions the past couple weeks.  To say I'm worn out is an understatement (particularly after one con where I got to play a rousing game of "avoid the serial harasser" for four days straight).  When I arrived at the second con, I had to run straight from the car to my table in the dealers room after an almost three hour drive.  The chairs were murder on my back, I hadn't gotten a lot of sleep the night before, and I was still feeling a little worn out after the con the week before.  Still, this is my job and I'm a professional.  Unfortunately, being a professional isn't enough.  I had two separate people tell me I looked despondent/sad.

Indie authors, like traditionally published authors, are human beings.  We have our on days and our off days.  I'm always friendly and polite.  I love my readers and enjoy talking with them when opportunities arise.  I cannot change my face, nor the fact that I'm human.  Sometimes I just need to rest my head for a moment.  Also, I hate how sore my face is after conventions.  You would not believe just how much a plastered smile can make a face ache.

So why does one author look "serious," "intense," and/or "dedicated" and another, with the same expression, is labeled "aloof," "despondent," and/or "sad."

"You're turning this into us vs. them"

You'll usually see this rebuttal when an indie author raises concerns about different standards applied to them compared to the ones applied to traditionally published authors.  Basically what the speaker is saying is, "Shut the hell up!  You don't have a clue what you're talking about!"

You know what's interesting:  the amount of vitriol thrown at indie authors when they complain.  No matter how legitimate the complaint, we'll often be labeled unprofessional.  Sometimes this extends to those who associate with us (reviewers, bloggers, etc.).  I'm not saying there aren't some unprofessional indie authors out there, but there are also some unprofessional traditionally published authors too.

I see this kind of othering as akin to women-led movies.  No matter how many do well at the box office, people will usually focus on the one that bombs.  It's very similar in publishing:  no matter how many self-published novels are perfectly written, edited, and published, those in traditional publishing will always hold up the fuck-ups that are littered with errors.  If I had a nickel for every traditionally published individual who said something along the lines of "one thing holding self-publishers back is the sheer amount of drek that is published," I'd probably be among the richest women on Earth.

Also, I'm getting real sick and tired of hearing traditionally published authors talk about self-published authors behind their backs like schoolyard bullies.  I once heard an author at a con talk about how one writer politely asked for a quote and his book was just loaded with typos and errors.  Why in the hell would you tell that story!?  Just politely decline and leave it at that.  That's a human being, not your freaking anecdote.


I can already hear the chorus of "not all traditionally published authors are like that" starting up.  No, they're not.  However, the system of traditional publishing has created this hostile environment where indie authors are the "other."  There are many traditionally published allies who are working to make things better, but unfortunately, there are many who aren't following their examples.  For every good editor, there's one who speaks to an indie author as if s/he is incapable of rational thought or opinion.  For every good author, there's an agent/publicist who's a shark.

I don't think I'll ever stop hearing some iteration of these question and statements in my lifetime.  I do hope eventually they stop becoming so regular.  In the meantime, I just have to keep writing and producing work for the readers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Power and Privilege in Publishing

*Warning:  Some salty language to follow

I recently received an email from the moderator of a panel I'll be participating in next month.  The panel is about harassment in the publishing industry and I will probably be the only indie writer on the panel.  The email, while polite and well-meaning, really got under my skin because it suggested there was a certain kind of writer who deserved protection from sexual harassment and bullying.  "How do we help them?  How do we become better allies?"  This moderator, without realizing it, is following a really fucked up kind of pseudo-feminism that I refer to as "trickle-down feminism."  I borrowed it from the idea of trickle-down economics.  Much like that idea, trickle-down feminism does way more harm than good.  Practitioners of trickle-down feminism believe that if they make things better for themselves (and people like them) things will magically get better for everyone else.

Um, no.  It really won't.

I have many issues with the whole institution of traditional publishing (most of it having to do with the exploitation of unknown authors).  Traditional publishing operates under a "gatekeeper" system, which weeds out the undesirable writers and selects only the elite for placement on the bookshelves.  The gatekeepers (who, nine times out of ten, are privileged white men) decide whose voices are worth hearing and discard the rest.  This is reflected in the media around books and authors.  Whenever there is a harassment scandal, it's almost always about a known author, a traditionally published one.

A good example:  last year's WisCon.  An individual who runs in traditional publishing circles (mea culpa:  I originally posted the individual was herself a traditionally published author and a sharp-eyed reader pointed out that was incorrect.  My apologies for the confusion and thank you to the reader for correcting my error)  was inappropriately harassed (which should never have happened, just like I shouldn't have been bullied by the exact same individual who had harassed her) and she tells her story on a fairly well-known blog, run by a traditionally published author, a very popular one.  This would never happen for an indie author.  When anyone connected to traditional publishing is harassed, they have multiple outlets to tell their story and call out sexism.  They are given support from multiple avenues.  Blogs and websites will run articles about how horrible and wrong this is.  How could this happen to this person?  What is the world coming to?

When it happens to an indie author?  Crickets.  Indie authors are harassed as often as (and most likely a fuck lot more than) traditionally published authors. So why aren't our stories told?  Well, as I've written before, a lot of indie authors probably feel as though they need to be tougher and show they can take it.  Some of them might not even know who/where to report the inappropriate behavior.  Most of us:  we are deemed not as worthy as protection because we didn't get approval from the gatekeepers.*

Another really annoying thing about this gatekeeper system:  more often than not, it protects the harassers.  I was once on a panel where a traditionally published author stated that she would never want to gossip about someone with a reputation for sexual harassment because "I don't want to gossip about someone who I might work with one day" (and then my brain almost exploded).  So harassers are worthy of protection so long as they only target the "right kind of people."  In other words, harass as many indie authors as you like, but if you harass a traditionally published author, that's crossing a line.

Feminism without intersectionality is not feminism and trickle-down feminism has literally zero intersectionality.  It doesn't take into account that different women experience discrimination differently based on race, socioeconomic class, education, sexual orientation, or any other factors.   By doing so, it only protects one particular type of woman and this narrow focus means the harassment problem will continue unabated.

Traditionally published authors and those who work in traditional publishing are often horrified when they experience any kind of harassment or discrimination (no matter how tangentially).  Indie authors?  Well, we usually call that shit the second day of the event/convention.

*The archaic gatekeeping system is also much to blame for the lack of diversity in storytellers and characters.  That's a whole other post I need to write at some point, but one need only look at who gets on the bookshelves.

Various Odds & Ends

There's a lot going on in my life at the moment, so my updates will be sporadic at best.  At some point, I'm going to write a blog about the recent trend of nihilism in the fantasy genre.  Right now I'm in the middle of a huge rewrite:  my 4th novel is going to be released in August (fingers crossed).

I have a lot of convention appearances coming up, so please check out my scheduled appearances page to find out where I'll be.  I always love meeting readers and I'm a very pleasant person (contrary to what my ranty blog would sometimes indicate).

A good friend of mine is helping me with marketing (Hannah Forman of Neuroticamedia, who is 1,000 kinds of awesome).  Check out the Ax Wound Zine, a feminist horror zine which will be out very soon.  Hannah graciously agreed to help me when I had a nasty encounter with a publicist (in publishing, many agents/publicists look to exploit indie authors and will often offer sub-standard services, which are costly and pointless).  I'll soon have a website to share with you, which has me super excited.  So keep an eye out for updates and announcements.

My next event is C2E2, the huge Chicago convention this weekend.  I'm really nervous about it, but also kind of looking forward to it.  I'm presenting on Genre Feminism with a couple super talented filmmakers.  That should be a lot of fun, provided I don't bolt and/or vomit on myself.  I'll also be in Artist Alley, likely grinning like an idiot.