Yes, it still matters

It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Coming Out Day, and the theme is “Coming Out Still Matters.” If you don’t think it does, I urge you to read the information available on the Human Rights Campaign web site. Being honest about oneself is an act of courage. Don’t do it until you’re ready, and once you are, my wish is that you have a good support system in place. With that in mind, it remains important for advocates for and allies of the LGBT community to be equally visible. There’s also a guide on the HRC site for straight allies.

To all my LGBT friends who’ve shared themselves and their stories with me, thank you for your trust. You always have a safe place with me.

You can see the summit

The last panel I attended at Saints and Sinners was “State of the Art: LGBT Writing Past and Present.” The panel was moderated by Thomas Keith and the lively discussion was driven by Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina; Cavedweller; She Who), Andrew Holleran (Dancer from the Dance; Nights in Aruba; The Beauty of Men; Grief), Val McDermid (author of 26 novels including The Vanishing Point; Wire in the Blood; Fever of the Bone), and Felice Picano (The Lure; Ambidextrous; Like People in History; Onyx; Late in the Season). This is one of those events about which I’m going to say–not meaning to be either coy or cruel–that you had to be there to fully appreciate the personalities of the panelists and the passion of the discussion.

Keith, Holleran, McDermid, Allison, Picano

What makes a piece of writing LGBT? Is it the sexual orientation of the author or the theme of the writing? For example, there are writers who identify as gay or lesbian who write mainstream fiction without gay characters or themes. There are gay and lesbian writers who write fiction with primarily gay characters and themes. There are straight-identified writers winning awards for novels about transgendered, bisexual, or intersex characters. There are writers who identify as straight writing mainstream fiction with secondary gay and lesbian characters. There is fiction which takes place primarily in gay urban enclaves with almost all gay and lesbian characters, and no one is exactly sure who writes it because the authors’ names are initials or gender neutral (“It’s Pat!”).

You might be asking what difference it makes, which means you’ve probably never been witness to the (figurative, I hope) blood baths that happen when these questions are discussed among writing groups as applied to getting published, finding readers, and winning literary awards. I’ve seen my own writer name bandied about in those battles a time or two, and I don’t have much desire to refight them, but it’s never good to make assumptions about my point of view. If you didn’t hear something from me, you don’t know what I think. And at that, what I think may evolve.

When publishing is talked about in general terms–as in, all publishing, not related to particular niche markets or genres, or even format (newspapers, for example, as well as novels and short story collections)–I often think of the history of commerce during my lifetime. When I was growing up among the small towns of the Southeast, we generally had a “downtown” or a town square, where most of the merchants were located. To shop, we walked in the open air from one store to the next. Most businesses were locally owned, and even if they weren’t (Western Auto or Sears, for example), they were franchised or managed by people we knew. The sun or rain beat down on you, and you stopped into the drugstore or the local sandwich stop for lunch or even just a cold Coke, then you finished your shopping (or “just looking”) and piled into the car and went home. If you lived in a larger city, there were shopping centers: an L shape of mostly locally-owned stores around a parking lot, often anchored by a grocery store for one-location shopping.

Then came the great reign of the malls, when all the stores were inside and the climate was controlled and music was piped in. You might still know a few managers or merchants, and mostly you just wandered, a little dazed, with the sound of water splashing in a center-court fountain where you dropped pennies and wished for more money to buy more stuff. You might even forget what city or town you were in, because malls, even with different anchor stores, were generic: department store(s), gift stores, novelty stores, home decor, maybe a store that sold pianos where an employee sat, day after day, playing alone, because almost no one went inside, gender-specific fashion stores, a jewelry store or two, and around it all a parade of seniors walking in their pastel track suits during the day and groups of bored teens on weekends and summer days–mostly in the food courts and arcades.

Then the super discount chains began to steal customers from the malls: Walmart (and for a while, KMart), Sam’s Club, and Costco, where you could also sometimes buy gas for the cars you had to drive to get to these monoliths. Then people began to complain about where the merchandise comes from and how the buildings themselves are a blight on the landscape, and suddenly, popping up in the suburbs, came artificial town squares and outlet malls, places with landscaping and brick “streets” where shoppers walked from store to store in the open air and dashed into a sandwich shop…

Everything old is new again.

There used to be a few big publishers and they wouldn’t touch LGBT-themed books because they were controversial or they thought they couldn’t sell them. Small presses formed to give LGBT writers a chance to tell their stories and market them. And they did sell, and as these marginalized groups fought for and won more visibility, along with the writers who wrote about them, the big publishers caught on and some of those writers were published to acclaim and awards. Then the small independent bookstores that once sold titles for and to that limited market (and other limited markets) were gobbled up or run out of business by the chains and big box stores that could stock more titles. Except publishing also changed, because, according to some observers of the marketplace, other entertainment was available 24/7 so people weren’t reading as much. The big publishers with high overhead struggled and the brick-and-mortar stores, blaming e-books for their diminishing business, began to sell non-book merchandise and when that didn’t work, to close, and nobody wanted to publish anything unless they thought it was a sure seller (written by someone with a proven track record or a celebrity or at least someone with a TV show of some sort)–and where did all this leave LGBT writers or LGBT-themed books?

Into the breach arrived the small presses. And the university presses. We’ve been here before: see above.

Some of the best books I’m reading may have a limited print run or be available only as e-books, but as I said in an earlier post, if you write something good and you are persistent, you can find a publisher. People still love to read, and in time, more people will discover or develop that love and they will buy books, and good books will sell more than bad books, and because of that, the work of editors will be valued again, and well-edited books will sell more than poorly-edited books. The manufacturers and sellers of e-readers are fearing that their market has reached its peak, that readers are already tiring of the novelty, and from consumers, I’m starting to hear more, “I just want to go to a little bookstore where they know me and what I like to read and can recommend and sell me a book. A real book I can hold in my hands and loan to a friend and that no vendor can ‘erase’ from my e-reader because the vendor is mad at the publisher…”

What do I think this all means? That no one really understands this industry in flux, and it will evolve to sustain itself. If the “experts” don’t know, how can you? Write what you want to write. Let your creation begin with love. Treat it with kindness and discipline. Don’t write to markets or trends. Publish what you write the best way you can find. And then–here is the final piece of advice from me that I wish every writer would heed–LET IT GO. I don’t mean don’t promote it (although sweet baby Veg-O-Matic, not every day, over and over, on every bit of social media available to you, because you are alienating the shit out of everyone, including potential readers). Yes, blog it. Sign it. Send out postcards. Whatever. But LET IT GO in terms of, don’t compare your sales to every other writer’s sales. Don’t obsessively read your reviews and engage in discussions–dare I say, fights?–with people who don’t get it or don’t like what you’ve written. You can’t control how your work is received, and not everyone will understand and love everything. Don’t resent other writers whose work (you think) is selling more than yours. Don’t feel like another person’s success robs you. There is room for all the books and all the authors: Books are like drugs. The more people read, the more they want to read, and I can’t tell you how many times, as a bookseller or when attending events related to books, I’ve heard people say, “I read this one book with a (gay or female or teen or detective) character and then I went to my library (or bookstore) to find more books like that.” Every success builds the market and gives you a greater chance of being published and read.

The book that sells a million copies may end up with a disgraced author and can’t even be located in a remainder bin a year later. The little book that never took its author out of obscurity suddenly finds an audience twenty years after his or her death. Hateful comments from a reviewer–or a lot of them–sometimes make a person like me pick up a novel out of sheer orneriness (“If it pisses off the mob, must be something to it!”). As a writer, you really can’t control all of that. You can control what happens when you sit down with your iPad or smart phone or computer or legal pad or Moleskine to write that story.

And then what happened?

Rowr

It’s Be Kind to Animals Week and my camera is in the shop and can’t document how good The Compound Canines have it. Will it be back before the week is over? Should I just go ahead and plan to be kind to animals next week, too?

Seriously, if you want to be kind to animals, here are some ideas.

  • Never give an animal as a gift–in particular, an unexpected gift. It’s shocking how many animals adopted from shelters and pounds are no longer living in their new homes within six months after adoption.
  • Teach children to respect animals. Don’t let them tease your dog or cat. It’s not cute, and it could be dangerous. Don’t leave small children unattended with dogs. Dogs are not people, and their behaviors are dog behaviors. Be a responsible pack leader and stay in charge of the situation. Also, oversee children as they interact with cats, rabbits, hamsters, etc.
  • If you can’t have an animal in your home because of lease restrictions or allergies or expense, there are still plenty of animals who can benefit from your attention and affection. When rescue groups have adoption days, hang out, walk a dog. Volunteer to walk dogs or spend time with cats at your local animal shelters. Help out in whatever way works best for you: donate time, money, supplies, food. There will always be animals and organizations who need your help. You will be repaid a million times over for kindnesses toward animals, in ways you may not even think about.
  • Yes, your pet is perfect and never misbehaves. But as a responsible dog owner, follow leash laws. And clean up after your pets. That way your neighbors will love them, too.
  • NEVER NEVER NEVER leave an animal unattended in your vehicle. NEVER.
  • If you see or suspect mistreatment or neglect of any animal, report it. At the minimum, animals kept outside need shelter from weather (heat, cold, rain, snow) and access to water.
  • Don’t buy animals from irresponsible breeders. In fact, if you’re looking for a specific breed, do Internet searches on rescue groups for that breed. Consider adopting older dogs and cats. You may find the best friend of your life.
  • If you choose to eat meat or use animal products, try to find cruelty-free sources. If you must wear fur, check resale or vintage shops. Let corporations know your feelings about animal testing and animal cruelty for food, drugs, cleaning supplies, and cosmetics.
  • Try to use animal-friendly cleaners, lawn and gardening supplies, and pest control substances. If at all possible, make your yard a little sanctuary for any creatures you don’t mind having around (butterflies, birds, squirrels). Be wary of wild or feral animals. Find healthy ways to coexist.
  • Be careful with plastics. Consider shopping with reusable bags instead of getting more plastic bags that can end up harming wildlife on land or in water. Cut the plastic rings that hold soft drinks before you put them in your trash or recycle bin.
  • Spay and neuter your pets. Keep them up-to-date with vet visits and shots. If you can, get them chipped; at the least, make sure their collars have up-to-date identifying information in case they get lost. Keep them inside during thunderstorms or fireworks so they don’t become frightened and run away.

I’m sure there are lots of things I’m not thinking about; feel free to add more in comments!

Aw, SCOTUS, for ME? You SHOULD have.

Seeing a lot of this on your social media networks today? The Human Rights Campaign created it as an alternative to their usual blue and yellow equality logo for people to show support of marriage equality. Because today, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Hollingsworth v Perry, a case having to do with the legality–or its lack–in California’s Proposition 8. Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

It’s no secret I’m a proponent of marriage equality. To me, it’s a simple matter of civil rights that has nothing to do with religion or social custom, as first, our government is not a theocracy, and no individual or law can compel a religious institution to conduct a wedding ceremony, and second, social custom does not always reflect what is right or fair. Further, the religious and legal (or state, or federal, call it what you will) entities called “marriage” are not the same thing. I believe the beauty of the system we live under is that we protect people’s rights to worship as they choose, and in return, we do not live under a church-sanctioned government, nor can or should a particular religious or social entity infringe on an individual citizen’s freedom to enjoy the same rights and privileges as all other citizens.

But what to me is a no-brainer is to others a hot-button issue, so we have arrived at the Supreme Court hoping for clarity in the law.

The Supreme Court won’t be tallying how many pink and red equality logos are showing up on Twitter and Facebook. This is not “American Idol”; nobody gets to flood the judges with phone calls or texts to influence their votes. Why then, will so many of us share this symbol online and maybe even on our cars and in our businesses? The best reason is summed up in what I read on Cousin Ron’s FB page today: “Nice to see so much red on my wall. I have good friends.”

We display it to show that we support the equal rights of our friends and neighbors. We want them to be treated with legal justice and civil fairness. We value them and their relationships, and if marriage is what they choose for those relationships, we want them to marry.

I love that the Supreme Court began hearing these arguments on my birthday. Their ruling will likely not come until June. Tom’s and my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is on June 18, and I can think of no greater gift or way to celebrate than for the Supreme Court to say all those I love, and those they love, have relationships that are equally respected under our laws.

Peeves

I’m not all about the abuse of apostrophes. There are other things that make me twitch.

One
I wanted a cheap ebook to download to my Nook last night–just something light I could read before falling asleep. I found a collection of six novels that sounded interesting, and the set was only $1.99. The first book is funny and engaging–heavy on the dialogue, but it’s snappy dialogue–but the writer has used “effect” and “affect” incorrectly every time so far. At the moment, I can’t remember the main character’s name. But I can remember this misuse of two words. Anything that takes your reader out of your story matters, so don’t shrug at the rules of language. If you don’t respect your writing, why should anyone else?

If you’re publishing your own ebooks, it’s important to find yourself an editor or proofreader. I’m expensive–and worth it!–but I’ll bet you could find an English major (either in school or someone who graduated long ago) or English graduate student in need of money who’d be willing at the very least to correct the grammar in your manuscript for a modest fee. You’ll be repaid when readers keep buying your books.

Two
I just brought this up on Twitter, but I can elaborate here. If you never took a logic or debate class, then maybe you don’t know what “fallacies” are. Simply put, a fallacy is a flaw that renders an argument invalid. There are many fallacies that can ruin your chances of making a sound argument, and one of those is called “begging the question,” that is, drawing a conclusion in an argument by merely repeating the premise. This fallacy has NOTHING TO DO WITH A QUESTION.*

Here’s an example of how to use the term “begs the question” INCORRECTLY:

“Even the highest speed limit on U.S. roads is eighty miles an hour. This begs the question: Why do U.S. automobile manufacturers build cars that will go 120 miles an hour?”

I repeat: “Begs the question” is used incorrectly here. What is meant is, “This raises the question.” If you mean raises, prompts, provokes, encourages, invites: SAY SO. Don’t say “begs.”

Here is what “begs the question” actually means.

When you say, “I was late because I didn’t get there on time,” you are begging the question. You’ve proved nothing except that you speak in circles. The conclusion is the same as the assertion, so nothing has been proved logically. A logical statement would be, “I was late because I overslept.” This is a simplified example of a fallacy that can be quite complicated, but I’m not trying to give a logic lesson here. I’m trying to show that “begs the question” is a phrase that doesn’t mean the same thing as “raises (or invites) the question.”

Three
When did people start using “than” when they mean “from?” One thing is different FROM another thing, not THAN it.

When you mean two things are unalike, use “from”:

My house is different FROM yours.
My language peeves are different FROM yours.

When would “than” be correct? When characteristics of things are compared:

The rooms in my house are smaller THAN the rooms in your house.
You may think my language pet peeves are more pedantic THAN yours.

Note: Use THAN for comparisons, not THEN, which means time or a sequence of events. But that’s a whole ‘nother pet peeve, as they say.

*If it has nothing to do with a question, then why is the word “question” used? The Latin term for this fallacy is petitio principii, a translation of the Greek to en archei aiteisthai (“at the beginning to assume”), but aiteisthai literally means “to beg.” I suppose at its simplest, the debate raises a point of contention that demands someone question its veracity. I can provide more illustrations of this, but someone is sure to get miffed if his or her own particular faulty logic becomes my example.

Legacy Writing 365:252

In an episode of Sex and the City (the one with the Post-It), Carrie Bradshaw is already having a bad morning and she’s on her way to meet her friends for breakfast. A man walking toward her plows into her so hard that it spins her around. As he continues walking briskly away, she shouts at him, “Oh, you’re SO BUSY,” but he never looks back, apologizes, or even acknowledges her. Whenever I see this scene, I cringe, because I know that I’ve been the person who’s SO BUSY, though I don’t think I’ve ever actually run into anyone, certainly not without an apology.

I suppose a parallel in my own life would be from the years when I worked outside my home. There would be mornings I’d stop at the grocery store because I needed to take food for a meeting, or I needed to grab something microwavable for breakfast or lunch, and I’d encounter That Old Person™. You know the one: He or she is watching the register monitor like a hawk, slowly pulling out coupons, writing a check, scrutinizing the receipt. And all the while, I’m there mentally shrieking, WHY WHY WHY are you doing your grocery shopping during rush hour, can’t you just wait until everyone’s at work, you have all day, blah blah blah… And I’m sure I was looking desperately toward other registers for a faster line or rolling my eyes or sighing. In other words, being a bitch.

I’m willing to bet nine times out of ten when someone annoyed me on my way to work or to an appointment or whatever mandated my being somewhere by a certain time, my own time management skills were less than optimal. But oh, let me resent and mentally castigate some person who moves a little slower, with a little more fragility, and with less compulsion to rush around like an idiot who’s just SO BUSY.

I’ve been mostly out of the work force for about ten years now, by choice. Maybe that has changed my perspective. Or maybe it’s just growing older and seeing some of my own limitations develop. Or maybe it’s that I watched my mother struggle with an insidious disease that robbed her of her independence. Because there was no way she could remember passwords and ATM codes. She had to write checks, and sometimes, she struggled to do that, and would have to write two or three before she could get it right. Sometimes she’d go days without having anyone to talk to, so when a store employee was nice to her, she liked having a conversation. And I would think to myself, as I watched her navigate and hesitate and try to get her bearings without exposing her confusion and anxiety, A stranger has no idea who this woman is, the life she’s lived, the things she’s seen, her losses, her triumphs, her spirit. She’s just an old woman slowing them down. And sometimes, I was the person who was hurrying her along, trying to get back to my SO BUSY life, trying to keep her from inconveniencing other people.

I think I know better now. I try to do better. Last week, Lynne told me about an experience she had at a business that was set up almost like a maze. She saw an elderly woman come out of the restroom, and she realized the woman was having one of those moments of feeling utterly lost. It could have been the confusing layout, or she could have been having what gets called a “senior moment.” Lynne offered her assistance, but even so, neither she nor the woman could find where she was trying to get to. So Lynne took her back to the reception area, where an employee was less than understanding, even rude. As Lynne told me the story, I shook my head and said, “One day, if she’s lucky, she’ll be old, too. Then she’ll know what that’s like, how scary and overwhelming things can be.”

Really, so much of the pressure we feel to be somewhere, get somewhere, is self-imposed. And even when we do everything right, we can’t control the train that stops on the tracks, the freeway that turns into a parking lot because of an accident, the business that suffers a power outage. Nothing is going to be fixed with our sighing and eye-rolling, our lane-switching and tail-gating and meltdowns, our rudeness, our Tweeting and Facebooking to the world how much we’re being inconvenienced and thwarted by it all.

Something silly made me think of all this. I like finding people’s lists, and the other day at the grocery store, the woman ahead of me had set her list down while she was paying. I fully intended to grab it after she walked off, but she picked it up with her purse. However, there was another list beneath it, from an earlier customer, so I grabbed that one. And the spidery handwriting made me smile because I believed it came from someone elderly. But some of the quantities led me to think the person is not cooking for one. However, I can’t decipher everything, so I leave it to you to fill in my blanks. (If you need to, you can view a larger version here.)


pork roast, 6 orange roughly filets, 1 1/2 pounds squash, milk, 28 oz Italian [indecipherable], 10 oz package spinach(?), [indecipherable], shebert (sic)–this one makes me laugh because I can’t for the life of me pronounce sherbet correctly–to me, it’s sher-bert, and the list-maker has put the “r” in the wrong place, which makes me think that person has the same problem as me–fruit, OJ, V-8, eggs

I hope whoever was behind That Old Person™ wasn’t SO BUSY that s/he couldn’t be as patient as I’d want someone to be with my mother.

The world of plastic can be treacherous

Excuse me for a moment while I wallow in self-pity because of this.

Over the years, I’ve shown nothing but love for Mattel, Project Runway, and Tim Gunn. For no compensation–other than wonderful gifts from friends and blog readers–I’ve done every challenge and presented a final collection for five–now beginning my sixth–season. When other people said, “I don’t like Project Runway since it moved to Lifetime,” or “I’m over Project Runway,” or “I’m not watching again because I didn’t like this season’s winner,” or “All Stars sucks!”, I kept plugging along, stabbing my fingers with pins and needles, burning myself with the hot glue gun, sometimes sewing into the night until my eyes were crossing. Did I receive big cash prices or a car for my efforts? An HP TouchSmart or EliteBook? Even a crumb of recognition from the corporate entities for whom I’ve been a goodwill shill?

I did not.

Now Tim Gunn has designed for a line of Barbies, including accessory packs, and it’s as if the concept is ALL NEW. All over the Internet people are dazzled and full of praise. It’s NOT NEW. For example, PR’s Nick Verreos designed two looks for MyScene Barbie, one of those a challenge in Season Two (you can buy that doll right now online for around $195.00). That challenge was an exciting one for the contestants because they knew in the past Mattel has teamed up with dozens of designers including Diane von F├╝rstenberg (doll available for $135.00), Badgley Mischka (doll available for $181.00), Vera Wang (dolls available from $90.00 to $470), Anna Sui (doll available for $168.00), Juicy Couture (set available for $155.00), and Christian Louboutin (dolls available from $83.00 to $299.00).

Fortunately for everyone who thinks this is the best and greatest idea ever, Tim Gunn’s dolls are reasonably priced. Unfortunately, they, too, will be snapped up by resellers who’ll gouge consumers and collectors for whatever the market will bear.

I’ll still be here in my lonely garret designing and sewing. But I refuse to gush about this Tim Gunn project. Although….I’m pretty sure I can be bought if Mattel or Project Runway wants to open their pocketbooks. Perhaps they could offer me a vintage red truck!

Make good choices!

Tuesday Tom came in from work and told me a story. On one of the busy roads he drives, a car ahead of him was going excessively slow, so he finally passed it. When he did, he glanced over and saw that the driver was looking ahead, toward the road, but she was also holding up her phone in front of her face so that she could text.

People texting and driving has become as commonplace a sight in our neighborhood as sidewalks buckled by decades-old Live Oaks, people walking their dogs, and near-jungles of bougainvillea. Guess which one doesn’t belong?

I hadn’t done one of these in a while, so inspired by Tom, here’s a new one. The perils of texting have been on my mind lately because of two works I helped edit.

Put the phone down, people, and watch where you’re going, whether you’re in a car, on a bike, or on foot.