Saturday, September 17, 2011

Link Stuff -- Writing and GLBT Issues

So for quite a while now I've been clicking on the "Share" button on my Google blog reader whenever I came across something there that I thought other people would enjoy, but they don't make it clear how to follow someone's shared posts, and in fact I don't remember what I did to sign up to follow the two people whose shares I'm following, nor did poking around the reader window enlighten me, nor have I heard anyone else mention following someone else's shared posts -- mine or anyone's -- in the last couple of years. I'm therefore assuming that's not something any great number of folks are doing. (Please let me know if I'm wrong.) I've been posting with commentary about things I wanted to comment on extensively, or occasionally things I ran across outside of the blog reader where sharing wasn't an option, and just sharing the rest, but earlier this month I started bookmarking links in a special folder so I could do linkspam posts with greater or lesser amounts of commentary on each item, with the idea that some people might actually, you know, see them that way. Then of course I was sick for a while (again [sigh] but luckily just a stomach flu) and a few more things have piled up than I'd planned to let accumulate, so I'm going to try to get through all of them in a somewhat orderly way. After this, I'll try to keep these shorter.

Things specifically of interest to writers first:

Mike Lombardo brilliantly refutes some gentleman who thinks people shouldn't ever get paid for their IP -- thanks to Colleen Doran for posting this. I don't watch many videos online, but I'm glad I watched this one. It's a point-by-point refutation of a blog post that's basically a regurgitation of every whiny excuse you ever heard a pirate give for why it's right and proper for them to steal whatever they want, and why you're a greedy bastard (blogger's words, quoted by Mike) for wanting to be paid for your work. About ten minutes, entertaining, lots of snickers.

That Awesome Time I Was Sued for Two Billion Dollars -- Another video, just to be all organized. This is Jason Scott, who runs, among other things. (He's also the guy who founded the Archive Team, the group that goes around rescuing terabytes of user-uploaded content (basically the internet's history) from sites like Geocities when they got shut down, and whatever all Yahoo is deleting this week. He gets legal harassment mail pretty regularly, and this is a talk he gave at the DefCon 17 conference about one of those times, when a guy who decided that anyone who might've downloaded a free copy of his book (which he'd originally given away for free himself, and which he was stell giving away for free from his web site even as he was suing people who had free copies -- seriously, you have to hear the story) took it all the way to a court case. Writers get sued sometimes, and so do bloggers, so I figured this might be interesting. At the very least, it's entertaining. (Note that I'm assuming nobody who reads me regularly has to be told not to act like this particular writer. [cough])

Important Versus Urgent -- novelist Camille Laguire talks about setting priorities, and the difference between important and urgent. A lot of common sense, with clear examples.

A Word or Two to Aspiring Writers -- Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff uses examples from an unnamed book by a "Nationally Bestselling Author" (I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds like someone who should know better) to discuss the ever-popular What Not To Do. Even if you're not an aspiring writer, this is worth a read, if only for the bogglement factor.

I knew the book had problems when I found myself reading the same dialogue over and over . . . at different locations and in different scenes.

There was a repeated dream sequence that, at each recap consumed at least half a page, often more. If that had been the only repeated element, I’d have been fine with it, but it wasn’t. The hero and heroine literally fled from place to place and re-enacted the same “push-me-pull-you” dialogue at each new stop. Sometimes a new piece of information would be brought forth or an epiphany would occur (to be promptly forgotten), but most often, the dialogue was simply repeated in its essentials.

It went something like this (broadly paraphrased):

“Trust me,” he says. “I’m here. I won’t leave you.”
“I can’t trust you,” she says. “I can’t let anyone in. I’m crazy!”
“No, your sister’s crazy. You’re wonderful. And I’m going to help you.”
“Really?” Can I trust him? I want to trust him. I don’t want to trust him. I …
“Trust me! I’ll protect you!”
“Good. Let’s get out of here.”
“No! I can’t trust you!”
(Repeat as needed, with varying degrees of mild physical violence.)

Ooookay.... [blink] You know, if I knew you could do that and still be a bestseller, I could've saved myself a whole lot of work trying to hit wordcount targets. [Angie macros COPY and PASTE commands]

My favorite piece of advice is the last one, though:

No matter what genre you’re writing, strive to make your characters self-consistent. Don’t make a brilliant cryptographer suddenly unable to crack the Sunday Crypto-Quote. Don’t have your Oxford don talking like Eliza Doolittle pre-‘enry ‘iggins. And don’t have to women who’ve shown Darth Vader-like abilities when threatened, suddenly helpless in the face of a confrontation they’ve been prepping for throughout your whole book.

Hallelujah! Seriously, if the only way you can create tension is to give your character(s) a lobotomy, you're doing it wrong. Really. I've seen this a lot and it's always good for a few eyerolls. And why aren't editors catching this? [sigh]


What Happens When an Author Dies? -- this is an excellent planning on death, wills and writers. Definitely read this if you're a writer, or any other creative producer.

Indie Author Goes Traditional – A Cautionary Tale -- in case you haven't heard, Kiana Davenport was a writer who signed with a Big Six publisher back in January of last year for a novel, after having what sounds to me like considerable success publishing short stories. She had the rights to the stories, after they'd appeared in various places, so she e-pubbed a couple of collections of these previously published shorts. Then:

In January, 2010, I signed a contract with one of the Big 6 publishers in New York for my next novel. I understood then that I, like every writer in the business, was being coerced into giving up more than 75% of the profits from electronic sales of that novel, for the life of the novel. But I was debt-ridden and needed upfront money that an advance would provide. The book was scheduled for hardback publication in August, 2012, and paperback publication a year later. Recently that publisher discovered I had self-published two of my story collections as electronic books. To coin the Fanboys, they went ballistic. The editor shouted at me repeatedly on the phone. I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of 'blatantly betraying them with Amazon,' their biggest and most intimidating competitor. I was not trustworthy. I was sleeping with the enemy.

Wow. Everyone else is figuring out that having more product available in the marketplace stirs up more interest in one's work. If anything, Kiana's publication of those two anthologies would generate more interest in the novel, not less. And the stories were already out there -- "Most of the stories in both collections had each been published several times before, first in Story Magazine, then again in The O’HENRY AWARDS PRIZE STORIES anthologies, the PUSHCART PRIZE stories anthologies, and THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, 2000, anthology" -- so chances are it wouldn't be too hard to get most of those stories from libraries anyway, right? All the publisher could see was that they were competition, and apparently the fact that they were competing on Amazon made a rather large difference.

So, here is what the publisher demanded. That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms. Plus, that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS. Currently, that's about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?) Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback.

Not only is that outrageous, it's impossible. And seriously, do you want a publisher that thinks it's even possible for an individual to delete "all Google hits mentioning" her and a book from the internet to be responsible for doing your marketing? Because I wouldn't have any faith at all in the ability of a publisher with that little understanding of the internet and of Google to do any kind of effective marketing online, where a lot of the current book buzz resides.

The publisher declared Kiana to be in breach of her contract -- although Kiana says she wasn't; it depends on the exact phrasing of the noncompete clause -- and demanded their advance back. Kiana has decided that it's worth $20,000 to be out of that mess, and to know who the enemy actually is. I have to agree. Wow. And as Passive Guy comments, this situation is a great example of why a writer might need a lawyer, even if she has an agent. Click through to Kiana's blog for more details.

And a follow-up to the previous post, with PG commenting on comments from Brian DeFiore, a publishing insider, on why Kiana "obviously" made a huge mistake in publishing her anthologies, and how if they were print books, "we would understand in a flash that publishing two books prior to a contracted-for work would constitute a breach of contract." Really? You know, unless Mr. DeFiore has seen Kiana's publishing contract, and knows the exact wording of her noncompete clause, I have no clue where he's getting this. PG can't figure it out either.

The reason an author understands publishing competitive books is a breach of contract is if it’s actually written in the contract. Passive Guy knows this is a shocking idea in the publishing business, but, alas, that’s the law.

Exactly. You know something is contractually required or forbidden because it's in the contract. If it's not, then it's just a publisher (or whatever party to any given contract) using hand-waving and intimidation and scary-sounding language to try to bully the other party into compliance.

Passive Guy is brilliantly snarky (and informative in his point-by-point demolition) in response to Mr. DeFiore's rather condescending comments. Definitely click through and read the whole thing.

Jutoh -- TPG linked to this software product that's supposed to help you format your manuscript for various e-book file types. I haven't tried it myself, but if it does what it says it does, it should be a great help to anyone self-pubbing electronically. There's a free demo, too.

What's going on with #yesGayYA -- as is often the case when a major issue goes nuclear, Cleolinda has a great summary and set of links. In case you haven't heard, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith guest posted on the Genreville blog on Publisher's Weekly.

Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

You can guess how well that went over. There were discussions, mostly pretty angry, on various blogs and sites.

A few days later, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, an agent who works for the same agency as the agent referred to above (who was not named by Brown and Smith, nor was the agency named) posted a refutation on another blog, essentially calling Brown and Smith liars, only slightly more diplomatically. More fireworks, including a bunch of people who decided that Brown and Smith must have lied since Stampfel-Volpe said they did, and anyone who took Brown and Smith's word was stupid because clearly Stempfel-Volpe's word was... wait, what?

What it seems to come down to is that there are people who are outraged and offended that Brown and Smith called them or their friends or their coworkers evil homophobes, even though Brown and Smith didn't do that. They went public not to talk abou their specific case -- which couldn't be done anyway, since they hadn't said which agent had made them the straightwashing offer, so there was no one specific for anyone to be angry with until Stempfel-Volpe outed her agency by responding -- but rather to discuss the institutional barriers to GLBT characters, or characters with other diversity characteristics, in YA fiction.

I've seen the same thing happen in race discussions, where someone says, "You know, this particular statement/action is kind of racist," and twelve people slam them with variations of "OMG how dare you call me/my friend a racist, you evil #$%&@!" and it's all mushroom clouds from there on. People don't get that an action is not a person. A statement is not a person. That it's possible for an action or a statement to be homophobic or racist without the person who did or said it being deliberately or even knowingly racist. That's not the point. If you take a step backward and land on someone's bare foot with your bootheel, you've hurt them; the fact that you didn't mean to doesn't make their broken toes hurt any less. When they say "Ouch!" the proper response is "Oh, I'm so sorry!" not "How dare you say I assaulted you!" There's a too-common disconnect between what's said and what's heard when it comes to bigotry issues; too many people assume that they always must be personal attacks, when often they're not.

Brown and Smith said in the PW post:

This isn’t about one agent’s personal feelings about gay people. We don’t know their feelings; they may well be sympathetic in their private life, but regard the removal of gay characters as a marketing issue. The conversation made it clear that the agent thought our book would be an easy sale if we just made that change. [bolding mine] But it doesn’t matter if the agent rejected the character because of personal feelings or because of assumptions about the market. What matters is that a gay character would be quite literally written out of his own story.

We are avoiding names because we don’t want this story to be about one agent who spoke more bluntly than others whose objections were more indirectly expressed. Naming names can make it too easy to target a lone “villain,” who can be blamed and scolded until everyone feels that the matter has been satisfactorily dealt with.

Colleen Lindsay, who hosted Stempfel-Volpe's response post, said, "I later discovered that not only did I know the agent in question, but that this person was actually a dear friend of mine, someone who most certainly wasn't homophobic." She's clearly taking this personally on behalf of her friend. The bolded passage above shows that Brown and Smith weren't attacking the agent for homophobia; they were addressing an issue with the YA fiction business as a whole, wherein there's a perception -- whether true or not -- that books with GLBT characters are harder to sell. Because that's all it takes, some number of agents or editors saying "No" because they think a book might not sell, or might be more difficult to sell, or might sell in lesser numbers. No one in the business has to be personally homophobic for that behavior to exist.

Some people came out and insisted that this never happened, that they'd be shocked if it happened, that nobody in the YA fiction business would ever ask for something like that and they should know because they know a lot of people in the business, or that they published a YA book with a GLBT character and no one had a problem with it therefore there isn't a problem. Uh huh. (That's like saying "But we have a black president now, so there can't be any racism in the US." [sigh] One person, or even a bunch of people succeeding, doesn't mean there aren't barriers. If there's a twenty-foot wall around the supermarket, some people will still get groceries. That won't stop me and my arthritis -- and a whole lot of other people who just don't happen to own grappling hooks or really long ladders -- from going hungry.)

Does it happen? Apparently so. A lot of people commented on the Publisher's Weekly article with their own experiences, and quite a few of them said the same thing happened to them. Cleolinda quotes quite a few of them, toward the end of her post.

Malinda Lo has numbers on GLBT characters in YA since 1969. The good news is that the numbers have gone up quite a lot. The bad news is that "up quite a lot" means that 0.2% of YA books published in 2010 had GLBT characters. Some generous estimates put the 2011 figure at about 1%, which is better, but still ridiculously low for a group of people who comprise 10-15% of the general population.

John Scalzi is wonderfully succinct, which is obviously not one of my skills:

My particular take on it is that the authors did the right thing by saying “thanks, no,” and that in general there should be gay characters in YA because a) surprise, there are gay folks everywhere and b) in my opinion as a father, there’s not a damn thing wrong with my child encountering gay folks in her literature, because see point a).

I hadn't meant to write quite so much about this issue, but this is important. There's more in Cleolinda's post, and I encourage you to click through.

Segueing into a Couple More GLBT Interest Links:

Why Can't You Just Butch Up? -- an article by Bret Hartinger about effeminate men and why they can't (or shouldn't have to) just behave more like macho dudes.

Gotta Love Clint Eastwood -- Clint's not the most liberal of guys, but I was mentally applauding while reading this article. In a nutshell:

"These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage?" Eastwood opined. "I don't give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We're making a big deal out of things we shouldn't be making a deal out of."

Go Clint!

The first chunk of comments is actually sane and rational, which is pretty amazing. Soon enough the homophobes and trolls show up, though. You have to love the people who can say with a straight typeface that if we legalize gay marriage, everyone will marry someone of the same sex, no more babies will be born, and the human race will die out. Wow. Logic -- get yourself some.



Suzan Harden said...

Thanks for the links on the Brown & Smith hoopla. I was wondering what the heck was going on when Colleeen Lindsey, who can be pretty direct, suddenly backpedaled on the issue.

Charles Gramlich said...

That publisher upset over the epublishing was pretty bizarre. Wow.

Angie said...

Suzan -- welcome. :) And yeah, a lot of people are chasing the wrong rabbit on this issue. [sigh]

Charles -- wasn't it? Seriously, that's just insane, to say nothing of horribly unprofessional.