Monday, March 30, 2015

Collecting My Thoughts

So, the announcement that Jane Litte of Dear Author was also author Jen Frederick came across my feed pretty quickly last week. Reaction was mixed.  There have been a lot of posts about it include Wendy the Superlibrarian and Olivia Waite and the Passive Voice and this post from Book Thingo which rounds up a goodly list of the posts as well as has some great reflections.
First, I think using pseudonyms is fine.  People have day jobs, lives, kids, they may wish to keep separate.  All cool.  Using multiple pseudonyms with a level of separation between them, also can make sense.  Often authors writing under multiple names out themselves after a bit, both because it becomes unwieldy and because the idea isn't (usually) to trick readers or fellow writers, but to say, the person who writes these things writes gritty mysteries, and this person writes literary, or this person writes romantic suspense, and this person writes young adult.  I have met people using one name for erotica and another for children's books.  They tend not to out themselves for somewhat obvious reasons. So basically I can envision scenarios where you would want to make the reasons for the separate pen names clear, and those where you would expect little to no crossover in your audience and not want to advertise the relationship between those names. 
In this scenario, there was obviously huge overlap in the audience.  Again, I get why Jane wanted to keep her blogger self separate from her author self in order to prevent the appearance that she was using one to launch the other.  But, it does fundamentally change the appearance of things.  There are plenty of author/bloggers and reviewer/author/bloggers.  But just like FTC requirements ask for bloggers to disclose if they got a book for free, you want to know where you are.  Are you at a site run by a blogger/author or run by a blogger/reader? 
And, as the Bookthingo post points out, this points to the limited number of places that readers have to go to for broad discussion of the business of romance books.  One of the reasons so many people were upset at the lawsuit over a Dear Author blog post about goings on at a publisher was that Dear Author is one of the places people go to for such information.  (It got picked up more widely only after the lawsuit.) Another big place for such news is Smart Bitches, who, well, knew about this already.  (Yes, I realize that not all the reviewers at Dear Author knew, and likely, many of the crew at Smart Bitches didn't yet either). This discussion about things that people wish had happened differently is overall (I'm sure there are pockets where it is not) about where the problems lie. 
So. Is the world broken? No.  Are some people understandably hurt or concerned? Yes. And, as Olivia's post pointed out, the biggest loss is to readers, who have lost what they thought was a reader focused site.  There are still plenty of reader focused sites.  But Dear Author was a giant site, that got that way over time, and so it may take time for some of these other sites to get to the size or breadth (assuming that is even their goal).
Also, while I haven't talked much here about the lawsuit, I think the idea that a publisher would spend it's money suing a blogger (even if it's a blogger/author) who posts concerns about their business drawn from multiple sources is a best an interesting financial choice and at worst an attempt to quell free speech.  That this news reveal was forced as a result of that does nothing to change my opinion on that.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Three Interesting Things

RWA board members get the happy job of notifying finalists today.  So, I have fingers crossed for folks waiting on that call.
1. A FOIA request for complaints to Amtrak led to a surprising level of retractions.
2. Belgium has decided to eliminate prison sentences under a year.
3. Someone has come up with a cat for each Myers Briggs type.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Widening the Scope

A while back, I was telling someone about something I was reading and she asked, in all sincerity, how did I decide what to read.  Now, it was in some ways a hard question, because I've been reading for so long and with such consistency, that I am now so plugged into things that can be read that often my biggest problem is that I have too much to read.  But librarians, booksellers, internet blogs, etailers with recommendations, recommendations from friends on line and in real life are all part of my decision making process.  Of course, it can then become easy to just keep reading the same things.  To get a good stable of authors and just keep reading their stuff.  And none of these things are bad.  But, if you do that, then you keep reading the same kinds of books. 
One of the things the folks behind things like #weneeddiversebooks and #weneeddiverseromance are trying to do is make people who aren't even aware of some of the additional book choices available to them be more aware.  And once you start reading some of those things, it expands out.  You become aware of even more authors that might not have made it across your radar before, the recommendation algorithms shift to add new suggestions for you and then next thing you know, you have even more author choices (and yet, sadly, not more time to read them). 
I read something back around the 2008 election, that while social media was, of course, helping folks stay in touch with friends and family who has moved away, but a lot of people were hanging in some sort of homogenous group (in this case politically) such that many thought certain candidates winning were a foregone conclusion because they spent all day talking with people who were all planning to vote for the same candidate.  It's easy to do this with books and other media choices.  But, if you want to widen out, add to your choices and possibly discover additional auto-read authors, it's not that hard.  The first steps in widening your choices will lead to huge changes in your general awareness of what's out there. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. Sara Zarr has an interesting ponderance on her long relationship with the internet
2. This book looking at some misinformation in how we view sexual arousal sounds fascinating.
3. And a warning to those of you who follow me on the Twitter, DABWAHA has begun and I have feelings about several of the nominated books, so weird tweeting may occur.  (Actually, there's probably always weird tweeting, but you know.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

7 Things It is Not

There were several flare ups in book world recently, where an author said something problematic, was called on it, and then things happened.  I'm not going to link to either because part of what I want to discuss is the reaction, but, suffice it to say someone made a joke about slavery that was both not funny and not clearly a joke, and someone made a comment about how difficult it is to understand women when one is a man. 
In the interest of disclosure I will say that my social media friends overlap more clearly with one of these authors than the other, so I may have a better understanding of the response.
In both cases the internet rose up in indignation.
And then in a separate issue an op ed addressing a blog post that suggested for people to give up reading straight white men for a bit, looped in the We Need Diverse Books campaign, implying that they were part of this "attack" on white male authors which is incorrect and problematic on so many levels. 
1. It is not impossible for people to write things that you enjoy and also be flawed people. It is not impossible for people to be super nice and also be flawed people.
2. It is not impossible for people to have been attacked unfairly once before, and for them to now do something that is problematic.
3. It is not mean to say to people: This thing you said is hurtful.  You may not have realized that, but there are hurt people now. 
4. It does not shut down people's ability to admit flaws if others address the hurtful things they have done or said.
5. It does not absolve you if you say, I am working on this thing.  But saying: I have seen this flaw in myself and am working on it, it still a helpful thing.
6.The reality is that many people who are authors have a platform and a place of privilege.  And the reality is that as much as we as authors, writers, and people work to be more aware, there are going to be stumbles. We have to be able to talk about these and address these.  Addressing them is not attacking people.  It is not saying the people who have made mistakes are terrible and should never be spoken of again.  It is not saying that people are never allowed to admit flaws.  The discussion is not the problem.  The discussion is in fact what all the people claiming they want better gender representation and better racial representation, have asked for.  Missteps will happen, but this isn't like a fart or something we brush under the rug and never speak of again.  We not only help our friends by allowing and encouraging discussions like this, but we make help make the space the safe welcoming one for everyone, marginalized or not, privileged or not, by showing that these things will not go unacknowledged. 
7. And I can't believe this even needs to be said, but calls for diversity are not calls against white people or males.  Yes, one person wrote a post suggesting people trying not reading white males for a period of time.  First, that is neither anti-white, nor anti-male.  That was a suggestion for people who might be finding their shelves a little full of a certain kind of author.  Second, this derailing to try and say that this is reverse sexism or reverse racism.  Third, yes or course we all want to live in the world where people choose their books based entirely on what they want to read.  But, you may really want to read a story today about an ancient Korean demon hunter or a Brooklyn cupcake maker.  But to make that choice, you have to know that both of those books exist. 
And as I was writing this, someone sent out this Storify (about another different but similar issue) that addressed many of the same things, so I'll just leave this here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. As someone with a day job that requires a lot of time with HIPAA protected information, I found this loophole where colleges have access to student health info if the student sues the college both interesting and concerning.
2. My cat showed no interest in the music for cats, but it is not bad to listen to as a human.
3. Author Tom Pollock wrote a post about living with, rather than conquering, mental illness.

Monday, March 09, 2015

NoVa Teen Book Fest 2015

Saturday was the second annual NoVa Teen Book Fest and I somehow left the house without my charger, therefore limiting the tweeting so here I am with a recap. 
I missed Jon Skovron's opening remarks, but he was a wonderful emcee in the main auditorium for the whole day, running a mike into the audience for folks to ask questions and generally being wonderful. 
The first panel was about books and characters operating in two worlds and had Tracy Clark, Matt de la Pena, Alethea Kontis, and Robin Talley. They talked about the challenge of writing characters straddling worlds or coming from opposite sides of things.  Matt mentioned that he had with other books had some librarians say something to the effect that they really liked his books but didn't really have students "like that" at their schools, and so he had made a conscious attempt to come up with a story that was something that still addressed the themes and such that he wrote about and yet could be spun broader.  Robin said that these days people mostly are not asking her and her book to places where they don't want to talk about such issues, but it was important to her to add to the total of books out there that included LGBTQ characters.  Tracy said the tension of writing opposites was really interesting.  And Alethea mentioned that she hadn't realized she was doing something groundbreaking by writing a YA book with a big family. 
I went to a breakout session after that with Lydia Kang and Jessica Khoury, who both wrote thrillers.  There were a lot of questions about their writing journey (I suspect the audience had quite a few aspiring writers).  Jessica also talked about her research trip to Africa for her latest book.  And both of them talked about the challenges of things like titles and covers.  The diverse books movement came up and Lydia said that people often assume that because she Asian, that she's got the diversity thing covered, but that she grew up in a town where most of the kids she went to school with weren't Asian, and reading books that primarily featured white kids, so it's easy to fall into that unless she makes an effort to really think about the world her characters are in.  Jessica talked about writing a draft without assigning ethnicity and then going back later and assigning that so she wouldn't fall into any stereotype traps.  (I don't know that that is her process every time, but it's an interesting exercise for people willing to build their characters on the back end.)
After lunch, I hit the breakout session about bravery with Sara Raasch, Morgan Rhodes, and Alethea Kontis.  They talked about building series, and what inspired them to write, and the things they love to read.  They talked about writing bad guys, and Morgan mentioned how depending on how far through the series you were you might have more thoughts on a particular character, and Alethea said she had realized that all her bad guys were women.  (I blame fairytales.) 
And then I went back to the main auditorium for Out of the Woods with Seth Fishman, Lydia Kang, Jessica Khoury, Sara Raasch, Morgan Rhodes, and Krysten Simmons.  The first question they were asked was, given the paranormal and/futuristic bent to their stories, did it given them more freedom to address certain issues.  The panel agreed yes.  Krysten (who Seth outed for making origami while she sat on the panel, something I knitting as I listened totally got) said that the idea of women being sold and traded, was sadly not even a little hard to find in our world.  They also talked about titles, Seth, Lydia, and Jessica talking about how theirs got changed.  Lydia's original title for Control was a spoiler for the book, although she did fight for Catalyst. There was one question from the audience for Seth which seemed to boil down to, why did he decide to write about a female main character when he was a male author.  (The questioner was female, so I think she wasn't against female protagonists, just wary of men writing them.) Seth said there was certainly research - like the difference between a sweater and a cardigan - that one had to do to write a character of a different gender, but all characters required research. 
Matt de la Pena wrapped things up with a wonderful keynote talking about his journey toward becoming the first college graduate in his family, and finally finishing reading his first book, (which he's talked about other places like here - this story moves me every time) and how books became the place it was okay for a tough guy to feel.
I skipped the signing (the line was intense!) but that's okay, my ereader is a little fuller now.  Can't wait to see the lineup for next year.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. The lovely Corrina Lawson (who I happen to know) wrote this piece about mental illness and superheroes and the good and bad of such representations.
2. I has seen some of these weird metal bits in sidewalks in some cities, I had not realized their purpose was to dissuade homeless folk from sleeping in that spot.  This article talks about why these are a bad idea.
3. Vicki Pettersson writes about how sometimes not writing is the choice to spur on your next project.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Serving Multiple Audiences

Or how not to yuck other people's yums. 
So, here's the thing.  Somewhere on the internet (and again, I'm not linking because I both don't want to reward such silly, and suspect it may have been genuinely unintentional slamming, but still very problematic) but, oh, hi, somewhere on the internet some books folks wrote a reading list.  Since it was February it featured romance.  Since some people have a kneejerk ugh romance reaction they entitled attempted to frame it as books that will make you like romance even if you generally think romance is dumb.  And in the descriptions of some of the suggestions they said things like: this one is even written pretty well.
Now here's the thing.  There are lots of book types that I have an, eh, not for me reaction.  And I totally expect that this place knows their core audience better than I do, so I assume they know they have a number of ugh, not romance folks. But, there are two ways to approach this.  One is: here are several things we think are amazing or interesting enough that you will like even if this is not normally your thing.  And the other is: here are several things that are pretty good even if they are from this silly genre. 
There is absolutely something to evangelizing, especially book evangelizing beyond people who have already signed on to the romance reading train.  Certainly there are books outside my normal genres that if there are recommendations from the right people, I will dip a toe into. But framing it as here are things that don't suck, versus here are things that might interest you doesn't really excite those who think that romance isn't their thing.  If your selling point is it's not bad for this kind of thing, no one wants to try that, not people who love it and not people who avoid it.  It only serves to reinforce stereotypes people may have about the genre, and piss off those who know that isn't a fair assessment of the genre. 
One of the things I'm really working on this year it not yucking other people's yums.  I can express my taste, my preferences, without taking out others.  This doesn't mean I will stop disagreeing with people, or that I will start watching that TV show or reading that book I already told you I didn't like.  But it's not just niceness, that leads me to this approach.  Slamming other people's entertainment, directly or indirectly, is not just unnecessary it can be mean.  Measured criticism is one thing.  But, if you loved a story, then yay for you.  It may have rubbed me all the wrong ways.  That's fine too.  Much of life is figuring out what works for you.  But the other part of that is figuring out things that work for you, don't always work for others, and vice versa and this doesn't make anyone wrong.