Cloaked

Lock, Rain Drop, After Rain, Drops
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Miss B is beside herself, since I’m in running clothes and she suspects, hopes, dares to believe I’ll be taking her with me. I will, but not until my coffee settles. It’s a goddamn Monday, and I need caffeine.

There’s a thing going around on Twitter–“describe yourself the way a male author would.” I’ll bypass the explanation of how we got there–it’s here if you want it–and also bypass a description of the most hilarious responses.

My own description? “Invisible.”

As soon as I typed it, I began thinking. Yeah, I’m over 40, and I’m carrying weight despite the running. I am by and large invisible to men now, except for when they want to cut in line and I hiss you know better like a venomous creature with exhausted patience. I’ve survived longer than I ever thought possible, which is part of why I have no plans for retirement.1 Food is a friend that does not judge, and I ate in self-defense for a long, long time. I hated–and still hate–predatory stares, men throwing things out their car windows at me whenever I lost a few pounds, the interruptions while reading or even just minding my own damn business on public transit, the need to be constantly alert because some asshole will assume I exist just to listen to his patter.

I am no longer a frightened child hoping my abuser won’t slither into my bedroom at night, no longer a teenager desperate for any affection at all, no longer a young woman struggling to keep her head above water. I’m past the sell-by date put on female beauty, and each line on my face is a lesson I’ve worked for. Now, instead of eating to pad myself against voracious male gazes, I’m actually losing that protective cushion. There’s a freedom to being a bitchy older broad, a release from the hunter’s gaze, that means I no longer need to keep a weapon within arm’s reach.

Of course, I still do. Relaxation is one thing, foolishness is quite another.

My cloak of invisibility is purely and simply age. Experience. Patriarchy’s toxic insistence that I only have value when I’m attractive to men, too young to fight back, and not possessed of the life experience to know better is exploded daily by the fact that I give zero fucks anymore and I am finally largely free of the roving eyes and catcalls.

I know I’m not safer, of course. I represent a bigger threat to patriarchy than ever, and my lack of perceived attractiveness won’t save me if a male decides he has to reinforce his fragile sense of self-worth with violence against any available female body. The danger isn’t gone, it’s just shifted.

Still…it’s good to heave a sigh of relief and know there’s a smaller chance of being accosted at the grocer’s, a smaller chance of beverage cans flying from car windows while I’m running, a smaller chance of some random guy thinking I want to date him because I’ve been polite, a smaller chance of stalkers fixating on me.

It’s nice to feel free, and I suspect the freedom will only intensify as I age further into invisibility. At the same time, there’s a ramp-up of my privilege–older white women may be invisible when it comes to catcalling, but we can shield others, deploying that cloak of unfuckability and perceived respectability (there’s a song chorus in that phrase, I can sense it) to cover those who protest to provide them with some safety as well as deploy said respectability as a megaphone, boosting those who have a hard time being heard.

If there’s a gift in my survival, it lies there. And also in the liberating feeling of being invisible enough to live my life largely unaccosted.

I can’t wait to get started on that.

Walking Away

I’ve walked away from a lot of things in my life. Toxic lovers. “Friends” who weren’t. Bad publishing deals–you get the idea. I used to think never walking away, never giving up, was a point of pride. But then I got older, and I figured out that saving your energy for the things and people that deserve it is a more honorable way to live. You can’t be effective if you’re spending yourself on the black holes of sick systems.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because of the whole Cambridge Analytica/Facebook thing. I’ve known for some time that Facebook is toxic, has bad business practices, and is run by a bro who calls his users “dumb fucks.”

I haven’t checked my Facebook messages for years, because they were always stuffed full of dick pics and strangers assuming they were entitled to my time and attention because some aspects of my author-life are public. (The two overlapped a lot, actually.) I never “liked” things there because of anxiety–the idea that I might upset/hurt someone by not pressing the button for their posts was overwhelming, and that’s turned out to be lucky, since it robbed Facebook of a great deal of information about me. Keeping my fan page from degenerating into a circus took more time than I liked, and it’s grown progressively worse. The fact that I can’t even be sure any of the fans who have signed up for updates will see them was only icing on that shit cake.

So. I’ve deleted my official fan page and deactivated my personal Facebook account. I was going to just straight-up delete the latter, but someone made the excellent point that I don’t want (yet another) impersonator causing trouble on a social media platform, so…yeah. I guess that’s where I’m at, and when the inevitable crash comes and FB becomes Myspace, I can quietly delete it at that point. I had a few moments of Fear Of Missing Out, but really…every time I dealt with FB I disliked it, and I don’t feel safe.

In short, it was time to walk away.

Twitter is a garbage fire, but it doesn’t have the access to my personal info Facebook was so intent on getting and using. Plus, I can just crosspost from my Mastodon instance if I don’t want to log in and see the burning. There’s also my Living Room, which is a much better platform for a fan page.

What I wasn’t prepared for when I hit the “delete” and “deactivate” buttons, though, was…the feeling of liberation. There was a flood of relief that damn near knocked me onto my heels. I wasn’t aware the FB juggernaut was irritating me so much, and the measure of the toxicity is the depth of the release.

That’s today’s news. Whether or not it’ll lead to increased productivity, who can tell? I need to get into Atlanta Bound and cut out a bunch of girlfriend to make way for some roller derby. Ginny, Lee, & the gang are about to have a Very Bad Day.

Over and out.

On Wish Fulfillment, and “Art”

Someone made a snotty comment about art and entertainment being mutually exclusive (yes, this was on Twitter, how did you know?) and it irritated me enough to pop off a thread in response. It also got me thinking about wish fulfillment.

Inevitably, whenever someone starts making the case for entertainment being art too, goddamn if someone doesn’t trot out the Schlock Argument. The Schlock Argument is “this very popular thing is also critically panned and will not Stand the Test of Time, therefore your argument about entertainment being worthwhile is invalid.”1

Glossed over by the Schlock Argument are two very important things: who are the “critics” and how much time are we talking about standing the test of? In literature, critics have historically and overwhelmingly been old white men, and coincidentally (or not) it’s those same old, privileged white men who get to decide what gets kept and taught, held up as example and poured into malleable young minds. I’m sure you, my discerning reader, can see the problems inherent in that.

Which brings us to Twilight, and Fifty Shades.

No, I’m not joking.

I have often called the Twilight series “Mormon Housewife Wish Fulfillment”, with varying degrees of insolence, amusement, and sometimes even a touch of disgust. I can’t count the number of times in a private setting I was privy or party to a hashing out of the problems with characterization, narrative structure, plot, believability, or anything else involving Sparkly Vampires. The massive popularity of very weak tea indeed filled plenty of other writers with head-scratching bemusement or fury. “This is just so bad,” they would say to me. “Why, dear God, why?” And I agreed. Twilight is, by any standard, a hot mess lacking any real characterization or craft, and full of questionable things. (Renesmee, anyone?)

It is also art.

Twilight provoked a massive emotional and financial response. The latter has little bearing on this, except to underscore the intensity of the former. Twilight was genuinely, absolutely bonkers–but it was true. It provoked that emotional response because it was the absolute, unfiltered wish fulfillment of a human being in a particular time and place. I wish Livejournal hadn’t gone over to the Russians, because way back when the Sparkly Vampire Fandom was at full throttle, I read a marvelous piece by a former Mormon detailing how Latter-Day Saints theology and peculiarities filled the books to the brim. I remember exactly where I was sitting while reading that piece, because it burst upon me like blinding sunshine. I would love to link it here and give proper credit, because it was a dilly.

Bella as a character is a fabulous nonentity, so vague and dim the reader can project the reader’s own self onto her with little trouble at all, and therein lies an attraction, a powerful (and somewhat guilty, for me) pleasure. We all feel clumsy and at sea, and we all dream of finding out we’re special–not just everyday human special, but freesia-scented special. Stephenie Meyer either got her ego out of the way or sank so deeply into it as to become unself-conscious to the point of enlightenment; the result was a pure, grade-A, unfiltered wish fulfillment fantasy that was so specific to her time and place it became universal.

A paradox of art, that. Everyone alive has wanted to be freesia-scented special. Everyone wants a soulmate, if only to be completely understood. Everyone likes the idea of being protected by supernally beautiful creatures, everyone wants excitement and danger that isn’t really danger because you know you’ll be saved anyway.2 Twilight launched a billion fanfics and a massively profitable phenomenon because it went all-in, and readers could sense and responded to that commitment.3 It reminds me of the craze around Gothic novels, especially the ones wildly popular in their day and all but forgotten now because they were largely written for (and often by) women. Repressed sexuality and wish fulfillment is a powerful combination, and speaking truly about either is magnetic.

I’m sure you can guess why I mention Fifty Shades, as well. Yes, the fanfic (and the eventual book) is problematic as fuck. Issues of consent, authenticity, suppression of women, the poison of patriarchy run through both Fifty Shades and Twilight, which Fifty Shades was written mostly in response too. But both hit it big, because both evoked a huge emotional response–both are fantasies of wish fulfillment, of endless love, of submission becoming a power without the drawbacks normally accompanying real power.

Wish fulfillment isn’t just for women, either. Just look at Tom Clancy novels, or any movie starring Tom Cruise.

“Yes,” I hear you saying, “but, Lili, come on. Art? You’re calling them art?”

Yes. They were true, people responded to them, they are art. The false dichotomy between “art” and “entertainment” exists only to oppress; it’s a fucking classist fairytale. The idea that art has to be Serious, Disturbing, Approved by Professors, or Have Survived The Test of Time Plus Racism, Sexism, and Other Isms is pure bullshit. Art must be true, and the audience will respond to that truth. Whether or not art “survives the test of time” depends on cultural narratives of importance and who’s funding the fucking universities, not on any worth inherent in the art or artist themselves. Which sucks ass–how many beautiful, amazing things have been lost because nobody thought an artist a real human being because of their dangly bits, skin color, or socioeconomic position? The answer, always, is “too many.”

Yes, Twilight and Fifty Shades are badly written. The craft of either is bloody abysmal. They’re messy, farfetched, and often incoherent. But they are true. The artists behind them went right to the wall with gusto, refusing to water down the fantasy, the wish-fulfillment. Both of them were incredibly lucky to hit during a historical era where they could reach wide dissemination and reap financial returns. Both of them were fortuitous in their timing, and in tapping a few deep cultural veins.

None of the luck means they are not art.

Art is made for humans, by humans. It is to evoke an emotional response. I have often told my writing students the flavor of the response doesn’t matter–hate, love, laughter, weeping. It’s the response itself you’re going for, and the only way to get it is by telling the truth, in whatever fashion you can and refusing to look away. Don’t ask, is it art? Ask instead, is it true?

And if it’s not, revise until it is. You may hit it big, you may not, but either way, you’re a fucking artist. End of story, period, amen.

***

Nutrition

Two of my favorite things: a book that I must read with a dictionary handy, and spicy noodles.

Hating school is one thing, but learning is quite another.

Liberation Adorable

So after a lot of back-and-forthing, and desperate attempts to write a dead book even though it made me physically ill…I no longer have to write the dead book. I don’t even have to attempt it. Instead, I can work on something that doesn’t make me stress-vomit each morning.

Needless to say, this is a welcome development, and when I got off the phone with my agent yesterday after making sure this was the case, I almost collapsed. My knees haven’t been that rubbery since I heard from my lawyer that the divorce was final. Pure relief and liberation tends to knock me right over, whereas pain just makes me more stubborn. (This, I’m sure, surprises none of my regular readers.)

As a result, this morning I feel liberated. Like the prison doors have opened and I’m free. The relief is intense enough to make me a little silly. Along with more snow dumping last night and both dogs deciding to be EXTRA adorable today. They’re always super adorable, but some days Miss B puts her paws on my chest and sneezes, and Odd keeps bringing me toys in order to bribe me to get out the door for walkies, and the adorbs is turned up to eleven. Especially when Miss B rests her chin on my knee and deploys the Big Doggy Eyes of “Yes, drink your coffee, I’ll just wait here. Patiently. See how patient I am? I am REALLY patient. Just waiting for you, Mum.”

Like that.

I’m excited to get to work today, which I haven’t been for a while. I’m flat-out gleeful to go into a book that won’t make me retch with stress.

But first, yes, finishing the coffee. And walkies. Before liberation, walk dog and drink coffee.

After liberation…walk dog and drink coffee.

Somewhat Cranky

Of course, the instant I step out the door to take both dogs for Odd Trundles’s constitutional, EVERYONE has to come down our street, from the rattling delivery trucks Miss B lunges at to schoolchildren she and Odd both desperately want to make acquaintance of, and bicyclists Miss B wishes to herd as well. And then there’s the guy walking his Rottweiler who sees me retreat into my driveway with both my dogs, OBVIOUSLY not wanting to interact, but crosses the street with his dog anyway and walks at the edge of my driveway while Miss B barks and lunges and Odd, excited now that Someone Is Making Noise, does everything possible to get in on the action. Then, once he was past my house, he went back to the other side of the street. He just could have stayed on that side to begin with and saved us all trouble.

Thanks, Creepy Dude. That was a beautiful fucking start to my morning.

Anyway, we persevered, and now Odd has been walked and is settled for his morning nap. As soon as I absorb some coffee and am relatively sure it will stay down, it’s out the door for a run, and I’m seriously considering not taking B. I’m not sure I have the patience to cut traffic for her today; both of us are somewhat cranky. I might simply make a circuit, take her for half my planned distance then bring her home and finish the other half on my own.

My subscribers get a fresh new chapter of Pocalypse Road today, and I aim to get at least 5k of wordcount in between Atlanta Bound–which is season four of Roadtrip Z–and the not-really-YA. It’s the latter that will really make me grit my teeth, probably because I’m worried my agent wants to sell the YA despite me telling her it’s not going to. And…well, I have feelings about YA publishing. Not writing books with teenage protagonists, which I like doing well enough when there’s a story that wants me to tell it. But the constant pushback from institutions scared of Bible Belt buckle-idiots clutching their pearls if a teen character says “fuck” or thinks about sex or drugs or any of the normal things teens sometimes do think about is exhausting, and was the thing that drove me away from YA. I still read it when I can, and I write stories with teen protagonists, I just…really don’t want to have to fight those uphill battles anymore. I do not have the energy.

Regardless, my agent asked for this book, and I promised, so it’s going to be as good as I can make it before it goes out the door to her. Which means serious wordcount, and putting in that POV I had no idea needed to be inserted until the zero draft was done, and which gave me a vertiginous feeling of telling the story from the wrong point of view anyway…but not really, because we need the other main POVs to understand just why this one is so compelling.

All in all, never a dull moment a la Chez Saintcrow. Also, this morning, I went down a side-road involving telepathic dogmen and frontier myth-making. So yeah, I can tell today’s going to be fun.

Over and out.

I Get Mail

Man Reading his Mail
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Yeah, I get mail.

Yesterday I sent out my monthly newsletter; this particular edition was titled Not Spring Yet. Since I’ve received quite a few emails asking if Steelflower at Sea will be released in ebook, I decided to answer the question directly. Here’s what I said:

I’m also getting a lot of questions about more Strange Angels books–which there are no plans for–and about an ebook edition of Steelflower 2. There is a third Steelflower book in my production schedule this year, and hopefully I’ll be able to work on it between other projects. I would at least like to get through the Highlands War; after that, I think I can let the further tale of Kaia and D’ri’s eventual journey back to G’maihallan remain unwritten.

A lot will depend on if Steelflower 2 & 3 sell in paper, frankly. But I love Kaia, and eventually, the Highlands War will have its tale told.

In addition, I captioned a pic of the Steelflower at Sea cover with this:

A lot of you have asked me about an ebook edition of Steelflower at Sea.

There will NOT be one for the foreseeable future.

Apparently, the newsletter reached someone with…well, I’m not gonna say a guilty conscience, but it’s interesting.

from: *redacted*
to: Lilith Saintcrow
date: 15 January 2018 at 21:19
subject: Re: Not Spring Yet

I have cancelled my subscription, because your actions imply all the ebook owners; and yes that means the people who have bought your books; out there are crooks. I wanted to catch you up on the internet news. In the past 18 months, all of the major pirate sites have been shut down, all the equipment impounded, and charges brought to the operators. So, your exposure to pirating is virtually nil now. In addition, all the largest internet providers police their customers, and act on the reports of copyright holders who tell them any website dealing with illegal materials, and anyone who has been involved in downloading copyright materials is dealt with. I suggest you have whoever handles your business operations check out what I said above thoroughly. And lastly, it only takes five minutes with Google search to find the sites who have your books. Just search by your name, and or book title, and all the little shit’s web pages pop up. Then report them. This is much easier than mistreating your fans, and is as easy as locking your door at night. Good luck with the paperback sales, but don’t be disappointed if they are dismal. God Bless.

Well. *sips tea* I could tell this person that there is an antipiracy service that does Google searches and reporting, and there are literally HUNDREDS of sites out there breeding with a facility rabbits might envy, and that if I spent my time reporting all of them I’d have none left over to write, feed myself, shower, or sleep, but why bother? Facts, I suspect, will be of little use here when someone’s convenience has been momentarily impinged upon.

I’m sure opting out of my totally free and voluntary newsletter was satisfying in the extreme to this person. I am also left with the nagging notion that perhaps, just perhaps, this person has torrented a few of my works, and is upset because one of my *counts on fingers* MANY series will not be released in e-format for…oh, reasons completely unrelated to entitlement and the ability to easily steal said e-formats. Completely. *nods sagely* Yes, definitely.

Yeah. I get mail.

*sigh*