RIP Ann Crispin; Toni Morrison Responds to Book Ban

RIP Ann Crispin

The blogging world lost a long time member this summer, Ann C. Crispin, who founded Writer Beware with Victoria Strauss.

Ann Crispin, best-selling author, Writer Beware co-founder, fearless fighter in the scam wars, beloved wife and mother, my friend, died this morning after a two-year struggle with cancer.

You can read more here. The post was written by Strauss, Crispin’s co-founder.

Writer Beware was a blog I used to follow more regularly, but as things in the publishing world started to change I stopped following it as regularly because it wasn’t something that was directly related to anything I’ve been doing for the past five years. Though I haven’t always agreed with everything on WB, I have learned a great deal through them and Crispin was another consummate blogger who was passionate about what she did.

If you are a new writer and you haven’t read WB, I would advise checking it out. As I said, I do think that with many of the changes happening in publishing some things should be rivised (like warning authors about literary agents and other authors who are working together as e-publishers and not disclosing this up front…and yet still claiming they are self-publishing so everyone thinks is just another simple self-publishing venture), but there’s still a great deal of good information that might help keep you from getting screwed over by shifty editors and e-publishing services, among other pitfalls that prey upon good unsuspecting people, that seem to be popping up all the time. The e-mails I get from scammers daily would turn this blog into something completely different if I started posting about them daily.

In fact, Tony and I are planning to start an e-publishing service in the future, and one of the things I pay close attention to are posts on WB about other e-publishing services. Our goal is to create something affordable, and that has quality books, where the author always maintains control, and his/her rights at all times. The last thing I would want to see happen would be to get slammed on WB as an e-publishing service. So far, I haven’t seen anything at WB with regard to e-publishing services that I haven’t agreed with. Most of what they’ve posted makes sense…and I come to this thinking as a writer, not a publisher or agent. I know what I wouldn’t want happen to me.

In any event, Writer Beware will continue on.

Toni Morrison Responds to Book Ban

One of the things that sometimes frustrates me about writing gay fiction of any kind, even gay romance, is when people who are NOT gay challenge what I know to be true and to be fact as a gay man. When I write gay fiction I don’t try to turn it into a heteronormative frolic through suburbia like you see on TV shows like The New Normal. I do use heteronormativity sometimes in books because I think there are many gay people who are leaning toward that as we gain more equality. Just look at the marriage proposal video that went viral this weekend and you’ll see what I mean. And look at all the gay couples who want children and the typical heteronormative family. But what I never do is fake gay culture, and some things that are rooted deeply in gay culture, and I’ve been slammed for doing that more than once by non-gay people who *think* they know all about gay people.

And this is exactly how Toni Morrison seems to be responding to comments made about her book, The Bluest Eye. Some have even gone so far as to call the book “porn,” which I’ve posted about on this blog several times. I have read the book more than once and it’s not only literary masterpiece, but also an account of African American culture we don’t see often. For me, as a gay white male, to even begin to criticize anything about Morrison’s personal knowledge when it comes to the African American experience would be ludicrous. It wouldn’t even occur to me.

“The book was published in the early seventies and it has been banned so much and so many places. That I am told I am number 14 on the list of 100 banned books,” Morrison told Columbus TV station NBC4.

“I resent it. I mean if it’s Texas or North Carolina as it has been in all sorts of states. But to be a girl from Ohio, writing about Ohio having been born in Lorain, Ohio. And actually relating as an Ohio person, to have the Ohio, what- Board of Education? Is ironic at the least,” Morrison, a Lorain native, told the TV station.

I understand exactly how she feels, from a slightly different POV. Though I would never even suggest that my books be in schools, or read by minors, I feel the same kind of resentment each time I see someone question something I’ve written about gay men, as a gay man. I’m not the only gay man who feels this way either. It’s something we discuss often in private, yet there’s nothing to do about it because there are some who don’t really want to hear gay voices as they really are. They support gays, they support equal rights, and they support the concept of all LGBT people. But when it comes down to *listening* to gay people they go dead blank and think what they want.

I’m glad Morrison responded to all this, and I’m glad she’s not just sitting back and taking it. You can read the entire article in full, here.

She also deserves the last word on this topic, as an African American woman, and a writer.

Anne R. Allen on Blogging; Beekman Mortage Lifter; The Bluest Eye Called Porn

Anne R. Allen on Blogging

There were so many things I wanted to post about last week and didn’t get a chance, and this is one of them. Anne R. Allen is a blogger and author I’ve posted about before. And now she’s giving advice about blogging that I thought was interesting. She is, from what I’ve seen, the consummate blogger.

If you are interested in trad publishing, this quote below is good advice. In full disclosure, I have not followed most of these blogs in a while. However, I still do follow one of them (Bransford’s) and I usually find something worthwhile. The only reason I don’t follow the others is because I don’t need to know anything more about querying. But if you don’t know anything about querying, I suggest you find blogs like these to learn about it. It’s a skill that will follow you throughout your publishing career, especially when it comes to writing your own book descriptions for your published works. It’s important to “hook” an agent with a good query. It’s 1000 times more important to “hook” readers with your book description. And that book description not only has to hook the reader, but also be accurate. If not, you will pay a price with reviewers.

If you hope for a traditional publishing career, you should also be regularly visiting agents’ blogs like Janet Reid’s and Kristen Nelson’s and former agent Nathan Bransford’s to find out how the traditional publishing process works. You can also interact with other writers who comment on the blog.

This is important, too.

Your blog can spin a good yarn, make people laugh, provide information, or all three, as long as you put it in your own honest, unique voice and you’re not too whiny or preachy. (Although experts generally advise against fictional yarns. More on that below.)

In other words, keep it real and don’t screw around. I’ve seen what has happened to some authors who created fake blogs and it wasn’t pretty. I actually once made the mistake of starting an author blog with a pen name and I started such a category five shitstorm without even realizing it I shuttered the blog after two weeks and never returned to it. It freaked me out, and that’s not easy to do.

The Internet can be a nice place, but also a mean place, and if something doesn’t add up on your blog, there will always be someone who can’t wait to expose you, even if you are harmless. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I can stand behind everything I publish here on this blog, and I’ve never had any regrets. It also gives you leverage and freedom, not to mention the ability to sleep well at night.

The only thing I can add to this is that you want to stick with it. You don’t have to blog every day. But you want to keep some kind of consistency going. As a blog reader, nothing bothers me more than going to a blog and seeing the blogger hasn’t posted anything for over a month. What happens is people lose interest and they don’t come back.

Beekman Mortgage Lifter

I’ve posted about “The Beekman Boys” before a few times. I’m on their mailing list and I’ve been following their mortgage lifter plan. (I think Tony and I need one of those mortgage lifter plans, too. Maybe we could raise pachysandra; we have two acres of it here.) In any event, this is what they are doing now.

From my inbox:

The woman who helps us with our book-keeping (math is not our strong suit,) recently got an email from the company who makes accounting software, Intuit. Apparently Intuit is hosting a contest in which they will pay for a 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl for one lucky small business.

We immediately thought of our “Mortgage Lifter” sauces. As you know, 25% of the profits from all “Mortgage Lifter” products go towards helping struggling small farms. Our goal is to get “Mortgage Lifter” products into every major supermarket.

How cool would it be to have a commercial all about helping small farms in the freakin’ Super Bowl?! And think of the money that would be raised for farmers!

So, to get through this first phase of the contest, we need your vote. Please go to this link to our entry, scroll a bit down, and hit the “Vote” Button.
There are also a few other things of interest going on at Beekman.

The one hour video special about our wedding will be available for downloading on Amazon on September 21st! Until then, our friends at the production company are releasing one teaser video each week- with PolkaSpot herself as narrator!

You can check that out here. And here.

The Bluest Eye Called Porn

You know how I’m always talking about how there’s no set definition of porn, even though some people decide to define porn on their own terms all the time. Well, I think this is the perfect example of that. They are now calling Toni Morrison’s classic novel, The Bluest Eye, porn. And, the entire post to which I’m linking has put a spin on something serious and made it sound frivolous and wrong. I’ve read The Bluest Eye multiple times, at various points in my life, and I have never once considered this book to be porn or obscene. In fact, it’s one of the most important books I think I’ve ever read in my life. It changed me, and when  a book can change you there’s something more to it than just words and sentences on a page.

The Bluest Eye is the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, who prays every day for beauty: for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to fit in. As her life begins to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife, such as being raped by her father and beaten by her mother, she finally appeals to Soaphead Church, a pedophile, to help her attain blue eyes. After being impregnated by her father, she loses her baby and ultimately loses her mind.


The reason this all came about is because The Bluest Eye is on a list for 11th graders. That’s a junior in high school.

When the blogger says this I cringe when I read it.

I understand that after reading those excerpts a lot of you may be angry that this is approved for reading in any school. I could probably end the article here.

Either she hasn’t read the book in full, has no empathy or understanding of the cultural aspects handled in the novel, or she just wanted to put a spin on something controversial to get attention.

If you have not read The Bluest Eye, I highly recommend you go out and find a copy. It is not porn.

Still Reading Toni Morrison…

Actually, I just re-read Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE. I read it back in the late 80’s, and wanted to go back and revisit the characters this winter. It’s probably the book that has had the most impact on me both personally and professionally.

Right now I’m in the middle of BELOVED, and then I’m moving forward with JAZZ. But I wanted to post something a lot of people may or may not know about. It was something that I didn’t know about until I read BELOVED. Morrison describes the use of an iron bit as a torture device used for slaves. Though it’s painful to read, not to mention comprehend that human beings would ever do something like this, I think it’s important to know.

Below is an excerpt from a web site that goes into far more detail.

Morrison writes candidly of “the iron bit” (70) in describing Paul D’s slave experience, and carefully details the horrific nature of its use as a torture device. Marilyn Sanders Mobley writes of Paul’s “personal stories of enduring a “bit” (69) in his mouth – the barbaric symbol of silence and oppression,” (196) outlining the item’s cold, constraining capabilities. Morrison uses the symbol of the bit, carefully woven into the novel’s interchange between Sethe and Paul D, to represent Paul D’s slave experience, and, taken on an allegorical level, to represent also the slave experience in general. Her introduction of the bit into Paul’s “rememories” ushers in comment on the iron’s structural qualities, i.e. “how offended the tongue is, held down by iron,” (71) indicating the metal’s constraining, unyielding nature. The author’s inclusion of rich imagery in explaining the bit to the reader aids in delineating the iron’s less obvious characteristics aforementioned. She writes of “The wildness that shot up into the eye the moment the lips were yanked back,” (71) a reminder of the metal’s unyielding, thoroughly rigid conformation and related effects. Immediately following, Morrison affirms “Days after it was taken out, goose fat was rubbed on the corners of the mouth but nothing to soothe the tongue or take the wildness out of the eye,” (71) thus reinforcing the concept of metal’s hard, unyielding nature. Essentially, the metal symbol of the bit becomes the slave experience through the shared characteristics of metal. Rigidity of the slave experience, represented by the metal in the bit, with Paul’s “own mouth jammed full of iron” (96) earns its own symbolic explication, as does slavery’s physical and mental constraint, itself discussed by Trudier Harris as “confining them in bits” (330). Even more importantly, the context of Paul’s “licking iron” (72) generates the symbol’s analogous context with slavery, as Paul literally cannot speak to Halle, whom he discovers freshly delusional as a result of witnessing Sethe’s rape. The animalistic nature of slavery reveals itself in the metal bit’s confining nature, with Paul kept from communication with his friend and forced into inhuman silence by the rigidity of the cold metal. The bit renders Paul incapable of sharing his friend’s grief, itself brought about by the nephews of schoolteacher, themselves representative of slavery.

Read More…

Something I learned This Year…Thanks to Toni Morrison

I know everyone is busy writing end of the year posts, and this might not be the kind of post that falls under that category. But I’m always interested in anything that has to do with books and publishing. And for me, personally, I learned something interesting that I’d like to share with other authors and readers.

In almost twenty years of publishing I am proud to admit that I’ve only had one incident where I didn’t agree with an editor and pulled the story from publication. It happened about five years ago, with a short story I’d submitted to a print publisher for possible inclusion. The odd thing was I’d worked with this editor before on other books and I thought I knew him. However, when the story came back and I had to review his edits, I was amazed at how much he’d cut, how many words he’d changed, and how he’d slanted the entire story in an entirely different direction. Ultimately, we couldn’t reach a compromise and I politely asked him to pull the story from the anthology. Three days later, I sold the same story to another print publisher and they didn’t edit a single word. They copy edited a few things, removed a couple of commas and removed a few superfluous words. But the story remained in tact. And, I eventually went on to work on something else with the first editor, and all was fine.

Since then, I haven’t had any other problems and don’t anticipate any. I love all the editors and copy editors I work with. I’ve always viewed their changes and suggestions as assets to my books or stories. And I’ve always agreed with them when they suggested minor changes. In many ways, working with an editor and copy editor is a collaboration between author and editor. It’s fun, we joke around a lot, and the e-mails keep flying back and forth. And if both remain open to all suggestions, the final edit of the book or story only gets better.

Then one morning this year I opened an e-mail with copy edits for a book I’d submitted a month earlier. In this case, I wasn’t worried. I’d always worked with a specific copy editor for this particular publisher and I’d always looked forward to reading her edits. In fact, I’ve learned a lot more from her, I’m sure, than she’s learned from me. But when I started reading the edits this time, I knew from page one something was different. And I knew this wasn’t my beloved copy editor, whom I’d always loved working with. This was someone new, with a snarky voice, who didn’t seem familiar with any of my books…or books in my genre. There were remarks and questions in the margins I normally don’t receive from my usual editor. One particular word that was integral to the book that I thought should have been capitalized throughout the book had been changed to lower case.

I always try to research as much as I can and I try never to assume anything, and I’d already researched this particular word the new copy editor had changed and found that readers, magazines, and most other publishers believe, very strongly in most cases, this particular word should be capitalized. So I went through all the edits with an eagle eye this time, addressed each comment and question. I made a few of the suggested changes and refused to alter a few other suggested changes. I was polite when I refused to take the suggestions. I used little smile faces. I’ve always believed it’s important to be a professional as possible, and still get the point across.

When I submitted my review of the edits (actually, she’d missed a few important copy edits I’d had to go back and fix myself), I was told the word would not be capitalized and given a good, solid reason. This was the only area where the publisher wouldn’t back down, and I didn’t mind at all. This particular word can be capped or not capped, depending on the style a particular publisher uses. And, though I personally would have preferred the word to be capitalized for the sake of the readers, I didn’t have a problem agreeing with the publisher this time. And, the publisher agreed with all my other replies to the copy edits. So I was fine; the publisher was fine; a compromise had been reached.

But, I couldn’t stop thinking about one particular phrase the new copy editor had questioned and I’d refused to change. I’d used this phrase in a steamy romantic scene in the book and the copy editor didn’t think it was real enough. She even went as far to say, “I don’t think there is such a thing.” I’d used this phrase before in other books. It’s about as minor a phrase as “The back of his neck.” But I disagreed, politely, with the new copy editor and refused to make the change on principle. But then started to question my own instincts the next day. Did the snarky new copy editor know better? Should I have agreed to make that particular change? At that point, though, I didn’t want to confuse anyone and decided to leave it alone.

The other night I sat down to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I’m a huge fan (she’s one of the few authors I’d bow to…lol) of her work and I hadn’t read this particular book in years (if you haven’t read this classic, run out and get it). By that time, the edits from my own book were way in the back of my mind and I was only interested in reading about the sad life of Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye. And then I came across a very touching scene that involved sex, where Toni Morrison used the exact same phrase to describe a particular body part that the new copy editor had questioned in my book. I put The Bluest Eye down and stared for a few minutes. I’d come across this phrase before in other books, but never by an author with Toni Morrison’s excellent reputation. And then I took a deep breath and smiled. I realized that if Toni Morrison can get away with using this phrase in a book like The Bluest Eye, so can I.

And I learned something new this year: trust your own instincts when it comes to edits and revises. No writer does anything by accident, especially when it comes to certain words and phrases. Although some copy editors think they know it all, they don’t. I know I’m only talking about a phrase that was a simple as, “The back of his neck.” And it could have been changed without altering the intent of my book. But I didn’t think a copy editor, who probably has about eighteen years less experience than I have, should have even questioned it in the first place, at least not in such a bold way. Of course I didn’t do it…but I felt like sending her a copy of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye just to prove a point.