Thursday, October 9, 2014

Violent Ends

It's been a busy couple of weeks!  I got some great news last week that The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is going to be translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil, which to me is just amazing and humbling.

The other big thing was the announcement about the anthology I'll be editing selling to Simon Pulse.  This project means so much to me.  It's not even properly an anthology.  Whenever I pitch it, I describe it a story with 18 authors because it all takes place in a shared world.  I'll talk about why I wanted to do this project and how important it is to me in another post, but the rockstar authors that agreed to contribute a story is just amazing.

  • Kendare Blake
  • Steve Brezenoff
  • Delilah Dawson
  • Trish Doller
  • Margie Gelbwasser
  • Christine Johnson
  • E.M. Kokie
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Tom Leveen
  • Hannah Moskowitz
  • Elisa Nader
  • Beth Revis
  • Mindi Scott
  • Brendan and Neal Shusterman
  • Courtney Summers
  • Blythe Woolston
Anyway, I think this is going to be absolutely amazing, and I'll be putting up a website and talking more about it in the coming months.  Anyway, here's the announcement, and you can see the cover above.  

There's lots more to tell, but it'll have to wait for another post :)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

In Search of Echo

After reading Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale (which was wonderful in case you're wondering), I decided to revisit some of my favorite Whedon works.  I watched Serenity, some random episodes of Buffy and Angel, and The Avengers.  Then, I decided to go back and rewatch Dollhouse.

I skipped most of the first season, just watching a couple of episodes to reacquaint myself with the beginnings before burning through the second season.  And I found myself wondering why the show never found an audience.  Sure, Eliza Dushku might not have been the strongest actress on the show (that title belongs to Olivia Williams who killed it as the ruthless Adelle DeWitt) or the most versatile (a title that Enver Gjokaj steals every time he's imprinted with Topher's personality), but she was gritty and had a lot of heart.  So I don't buy the argument that casting her ruined the show.

I also don't buy the argument that the dark and dreary subject matter sank Dollhouse.  Even at its very worst, Dollhouse made viewers question their own identity.  It made viewers ponder the idea of personhood.  If what we are is merely a collection of traits, then what makes us unique?  Those are worthwhile questions that need to be asked, even if the answers (of which there are few definitive) are unsettling.  Speculative fiction is supposed to unsettle us.  It's supposed to force us to face those things about ourselves and our culture that make us squeamish.  And there are plenty of movies, TV shows, and books that do just that and have also found an audience.

So why then, did this show which, in my opinion, offered some of Whedon's most original ideas, fail so hard?

I've got a theory (it could be bunnies)...

Actually, I've got two theories.

1.  A lack of stakes.  We're introduced to this world where people sign away a few years of their lives in order to become dolls, blank slates that can be imprinted with any personality a client desires.  When their contract is completed, they're paid handsomely and sent on their way, without any memories of the things they did.  It sounds horrible, right?  Except that we're given to believe for most of the first season that every doll in the house chose to be there.  Parallels were drawn by early reviewers between the dolls and people who are forced into prostitution, which becomes closer to the truth as the series progresses, but in the beginning, that's not the case.  Men and women are not kidnapped off the streets and forced to become dolls, they walk into it with the full knowledge of what they're agreeing to.

For me, it begged the question: why should I care?  We root for Mal and the crew of the Serenity because, even though they chose to be outlaws, they were doing so to avoid giving up their freedom to the Alliance.  We cheer on Buffy because she's fighting to save the world from evil.  We love Angel because he's seeking redemption.  But why should I care what happens to Echo?  What are the stakes? 

At the end of the first season, in the brilliant episode Epitaph 1, we jump into the future and finally learn what the stakes are.  The technology that makes people into dolls will eventually, through misuse, lead to the downfall of humanity.  But we have to muddle through 12 episodes before we get there, and by then most of the audience had dropped out.  

Another Whedon show, Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D suffered the same problem in its first season, though for different reasons.  When the show begins SHEILD is a well-funded organization whose sole mission is to stamp out evil.  But there are no stakes.  They have everything they need, all the resources available.  We know they're going to save the day; it's a forgone conclusion.  They have a helicarrier for pete's sake.  It isn't until SHIELD is wiped out during the events that transpired during Captain America 2 that SHEILD becomes a rag-tag band of misfits trying to save the world but lacks the resources to do so.  The become vulnerable.  

If Marvel had pushed SHIELD off a season and begun after the events of CA2, I guarantee most of its audience wouldn't have disappeared.  And if Dollhouse had shown us glimpses of that apocalyptic hellscape right from the beginning (or maybe shown us that Echo hadn't come to the Dollhouse willingly), we would have understood the stakes and had a reason to root for her.  

Which leads me to my second theory:

2.  We had no characters to root for.  Holly Black's brilliant Curseworker trilogy should be a must-read for anyone looking to write an anti-hero you can sympathize with.  Cassel Sharpe is a criminal.  But he's also at odds with his criminal past.  He wants to do the right thing, he tries to do the right thing, even if he usually ends up going about it the wrong way.  In the Dollhouse world, every character is complicit in the treatment of the dolls, including the dolls themselves.

Ruthless Adelle DeWitt runs the house; mad genius Topher Brink imprints them (taking immense satisfaction in his work); Echo's handler, Boyd Langdon, makes sure none of Echo's clients abuse her, but even in that you never get the sense that he cares about the person.  She's his charge and nothing more.  The FBI agent Paul Ballard is supposed to be our entry point into the Dollhouse, the lens through which we're supposed to view it, but we're never given a clear reason why we're supposed to believe him.  The things he says never line up with what we're shown.  He says it's evil, that they're brainwashing people, but his statements don't match reality.

So who do we root for?  Echo? Why?  Based on what we're shown early on, she chose to be there.  Why would we root for her to leave?  I think it must surely be hell to practice law, and it's not something I would choose to do, but some people do it anyway.  I certainly wouldn't have chosen to be a doll, but we're made to believe that every doll in the house did make that choice.  As the series progressed, we learned that some dolls were taken against their will, but that came far too late in the series to save it.

The missed opportunity, in my opinion, is Echo.  It's hinted in the beginning that Echo the doll is becoming a fully realized person separate from Caroline, who she was before the Dollhouse, but again, there are no stakes so we don't know that we're supposed to root for her or why we should.  If they had introduced the idea early on of Echo becoming a unique identity and thrown in the idea that Echo would "die" when Caroline's contract was over, that would have given us a person to root for and a reason to do it.

I make fun of Star Trek: Voyager frequently because it was mostly silly.  But there was one episode called Tuvix that I thought was quite brilliant.  The episode centered around a transporter accident in which two crew members (Neelix and Tuvok, both horribly uninteresting characters on their own) are fused into a totally unique entity known as Tuvix.  It takes a while, but eventually the crew figures out a way to separate the two crew members.  But doing so would cost the life of Tuvix.  Who had more right to live? Did they have the right to terminate Tuvix to restore the lives of Tuvok and Neelix?  It's a horrific moral dilemma for both the crew and the viewer. No matter who you root to live, someone dies.  But regardless of which side you fell, you still had someone to champion.   If Dollhouse had raised this kind of question regarding Echo early on, viewers would have formed a deeper connection the character.  Viewers can deal with moral ambiguity so long as they have someone to root for.  Sadly, that one episode of Voyager managed to tackle the scenario with much more finesse and emotional depth than the entire run of Dollhouse.  

If Dollhouse had started as the show it became in its second season, I have a feeling it might still be on the air today.

So the question now is: why should you care?  Well, if you're a reader or a TV watcher, maybe you don't.  But if you're a writer, then hopefully you'll take away from this what I did.  That no matter how morally ambiguous your characters, no matter how batshit crazy your story, you have to have stakes that matter and you have to have characters people can root for.  You have to show readers who to care for, why they should care for them, and why what they're doing is important.  And you can't wait.  Readers (and viewers) want to know they're not wasting their time.  They want to know that they're investing in characters that are worthwhile.  If you don't give them something to latch onto early enough, you'll lose them.  And once that happens, it won't matter how amazing your story is because there won't be anyone around to read it.

By the way, did I mention that The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is going to be published in Brazil?  Yeah...that happened  :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Depression and Anxiety in the Digital Age

I haven't been very good about keeping up my blog.  Life has a way of getting in the way.  I've been revising a manuscript I absolutely love that I have high hopes for; I went to DragonCon over Labor Day weekend, where the ever-awesome Delilah Dawson got me onto a panel discussing romance in YA (which veered heavily into non-heterosexual romance in YA...and a great member of the audience questioned the lack of inclusion of asexual characters in YA and books in general) and allowed me to do a short reading from The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley; I found out I'll be attending the Texas Library Association's Young Adult Round Table in April (which is AWESOME!); and I've been working on another project that's still under wraps but about which I can't wait to discuss.

So, lots of stuff.  Lots of amazing stuff.  

And yet, I've fallen into a funk.  I've talked about my history with depression but I don't often talk about how depression affects my present.  Usually, I can tell when depression is coming on.  It feels like the beginning of the flu.  Lethargy, malaise, a general sense of hopelessness.  And when that happens, I tend to hibernate.  I eat poorly, watch bad TV and movies, and ride it out.  A therapist gave me that advice when I was...oh 19 or so.  He told me to just accept that I was going to go through phases of depression, acknowledge them, know that they would pass, and ride them out.  For the most part, it works (for me...I qualify that because while I go through depressive episodes, I haven't gone through a major depressive episode in a long time...those are much different), but I've been wondering lately (as depression crouches in my brain) if my digital life isn't exacerbating the situation.

Take Five Stages for instance.  The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes out at the end of January.  I've gotten absolutely mind-boggling blurbs from Bruce Coville, Brent Hartinger, and Trish Doller.  The love they've shown my book is just beyond my comprehension.  The earliest Goodreads reviews have also been brilliant.  And yet, I refresh Goodreads 10, 20, 50 times daily, looking for more reviews.  Wondering why more people aren't talking about it.  I Google my name and the title an absurd amount of times.  Even though I warn other writers not to do these things, I do them anyway!  I know there's nothing I can do about it.  I've written the best book I could, I've got the best editorial staff, marketing, sales, and publicity team behind it, rooting hard for it to win.  The rest is up to readers.  And aside from physically shoving it into the hands of readers (which I did until I ran out of ARCs), what happens next is beyond my control.

Facebook allows me to connect with people and writers who live outside of my area...people I probably wouldn't get the opportunity to talk to otherwise.  But it also shoves their accomplishments in my face, reminding me of everything I haven't achieved.  I am genuinely happy for them—they're my friends, how could I not be?—and yet every starred review, every movie deal, every award is an irrational knife twisting in my gut.  

And it goes beyond the sort of professional jealousy we all feel but rarely admit.  Last week, I got involved in a heartbreaking conversation on Reddit about an LGBTQ float being excluded from a St. Patrick's day parade.  I don't even know why I got into the discussion, but I was assailed on all sides by people who believed that all members of the gay community are sexual deviants, hedonists who can't help whipping out their dicks and masturbating in public whenever they get together as a group.  By people who told me that homosexuality was equated with pedophilia. I was told I was a selfish human being for standing up for the LGBTQ community's right for self-expression.  I know those things aren't true.  It shouldn't have bothered me that somewhere, someone on the internet hated me.  

But it did.

The more time I spend on the Internet, the more I feel a kind of soulless disconnect from my actual life.  I begin to wonder if I'm really me or if I'm a collection of Likes and retweets and down-voted comments.  I begin to lose the joy of each and every minute as I obsessively reload my AT&T order page to see if my new iPhone has shipped yet.  

The more I connect with people on-line, the less connected I feel to the people in my own life.  The less I feel connected to myself.  

And I wonder, as the frequency of my depressive episodes increase, as doubt and anxiety become the houseguests who refuse to leave, whether these feelings are merely symptoms of my existing disease or whether they're partly the cause.  

If I had an answer, I wouldn't be writing this blog.  I've thought about cutting myself off from the Internet—blocking reddit and facebook and twitter and all those other dark digital caves in which we gather to watch shadows on the walls—but I'd miss my friends, the ones I only get to see on-line.  I'd miss connecting with readers, which is probably the very best part of the internet for me.  

I could become a hermit—block my internet and hide away from the world—but the internet isn't a passing fad.  It's not going to go away.  If anything, we're going to become more connected. Our world will become both bigger and more insular.  People will know more about us and yet they will know us less well.  

Like I said, if I had an answer, I wouldn't be writing this blog.  I suppose, at the end of it all, the best I can do is ride it out.  Wait for the next Twitter high, the next Goodreads fix.  

Or maybe I'll go for a run instead.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

YA & Sexuality - Rewind

It's 2AM, and for some reason I've been going through my blog (all the way back to 2007) and reading the posts.  Blame it on insomnia.  Anyway, I cam across three posts that I wrote about YA & Sexuality back in 2010.

Deathday included a gay best friend and FML included a totally open and drama free gay couple, but with The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, I've finally done what I set out to do.  I wrote a book featuring a gay main character in a story that's not about being gay.  I've written exactly the kind of book I needed to read when I was a teenager.  With Five Stages, I feel like I've written something that might have kept teenage me from wanting to kill himself.

So I thought I'd repost those three blogs here because they're just as relevant now than they were back then.

YA & Sexuality
Part 1 - Full Disclosure
Part 2 - Why This Matters
Part 3 - Do Something

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Readers Unite? WTF?!?

So that Amazon, huh?  What're you gonna do?

I woke up this morning to an email in my box from Amazon to its KDP authors.  I am not, in fact a KDP author.  I think I may have signed up for the KDP program at one time to see their self-publishing terms, but I have never actually published anything through them.  My books, however, are sold through Amazon.  Amazon is a distributor for my book from Simon & Schuster.

The gist of the email, which uses a quote taken out of context by George Orwell (a poor choice since it only serves to remind people of the Kindle-1984 debacle where Amazon deleted 1984 from a bunch of devices without asking) is really just more of the same.  Ebook prices should be lower, Hachette wants higher prices, World War II, something...something...something.

The email annoyed me.  Not because Amazon was trying to get its point out, but because they'd used my email address to send me their bullshit propaganda.  You can read the letter on their website.  In my opinion, it's a load of shit.  At the same time, I think the equally creepy advertisement taken out by 900 authors in the New York Times is also bullshit.

I'm not going to rehash the entire argument.  You can read about the Amazon letter here on the NYT website.  You can also read some balanced and well thought out responses from John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig.  On the page, there are links to pro-Amazon articles, and if Hugh Howey or JA Konrath post about the email, I'll edit this post to include links to them as well.

I actually only have a few things to say about this situation:

1.  I agree with Amazon that lower ebook prices would be nice.  Four years after its release, Deathday is still in print, but I'd love to sell more copies of it, and having the ability to drop the price to $4.99 or $3.99, even for a limited time, could help boost sales.  Lower ebook prices could increase sales so that total units sold makes up the difference in revenue from a lower price, but it's not as much a guarantee as Amazon would like people to believe.

2.  I disagree that Amazon should enforce an artificial price ceiling of $9.99.  That's the job of the free market.  In Amazon's letter, it makes sure to highlight the fact that Hachette, along with Apple and other publishers, were caught colluding on prices.  This is true.  However, raising book prices was a gamble.  Books are not a necessity.  You don't need them to survive.  And if the publishers had raised prices too high, people would have stopped buying them and the publishers would have had no choice but to bring prices down to something more reasonable.  That's how the free market works.  Companies charge for a product the amount they think they can get you to pay for it.  I can make iced tea at home for 50 cents, but I love Starbucks' iced tea and am willing to pay their insane prices.  If they priced their iced tea too high, I wouldn't buy it, others wouldn't buy it, and they'd lower the price.  I think Starbucks' prices are nuts, but I pay them, and I don't begrudge them their right to charge me the highest amount I'm willing to pay.

Amazon's attempt to create a price ceiling, however, attempts to side-step the free market approach by enforcing a maximum price for all ebooks.  Amazon's statistics may be correct that the sweet spot for ebooks is $9.99, but that's not going to hold true for all books.  I might not be willing to pay $12.99 for a debut I've never heard of, but just last night I spent $12.99 on the newest book in the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey (which is a brilliant space opera, by the way) because I wanted to read it immediately, and $12.99 was what I was willing to shell out for it.  Had it been $14.99, I probably wouldn't have bought it.  Amazon's price ceiling takes away a publisher's ability to determine the best price for each and every book, and that's not good.

One of the secrets of publishing is that the best selling books—the Snookie biography and Stephen King's latest and even Twilight—prop up the books that sell moderately well or not well at all.  Without the ability to maximize the profits of bestselling books, publishers would have less money to spend acquiring riskier books, and that would mean less variety for readers.  You know, I read once that Christoper Nolan had to agree to make Batman in order to be allowed to make Inception.  New, untested properties are a risk, and though Inception did well, there wasn't the same guarantee as with Batman.  That's how publishing is.  Publishing the sure things gives them the latitude to publish the riskier books.  

3.  Amazon doesn't give a single flying fuck about readers.  They care about customers.  Buying customers.  Another tidbit that's come from the fight is that Amazon wants a most favored nation clause from Hachette, ensuring that they always have the lowest prices.  This is the same thing that many people demonized Apple for requiring.  It's not illegal.  But Amazon wants to cap the maximum price of ebooks and also ensure that they can't be beat in a price war.  Why?  Because ebooks still only make up about 20-30% of the entire market.  That means there's still a metric shit ton of readers to convert to Kindle users.  Bringing the prices of ebooks down is how they intend to lure readers away from physical books.  And it's a smart strategy!  I won't deny that.  It worked for Apple.  They forced record companies to allow them to sell songs singly rather than forcing customers to buy the entire album, and they made the price point 99 cents.  Apple didn't give a fuck about music; they wanted to sell iPods.

But digital music was relatively new.  As the space matured, Apple was forced to allow music companies to raise prices.  The ebook market isn't exactly a mature market yet, but it's not new either.  And quite frankly, the publishing industry isn't floundering the way the music industry was when Apple came along.  Publishers are still posting profits.  People are still buying physical books.  Publishers don't need Amazon to come along and save them.  Amazon's actions may align with those of consumers who are generally predisposed to want lower prices, but Amazon is doing this to bolster its control of the ebook market, and not because it loves books or readers.

4.  Publishers don't give a flying fuck about readers.  Listen, I've got books published by S&S, and I love my editors, my publicists, the art designers.  I love the whole team of people there.  They're amazing, hard working people who love what they do.  But S&S, and the other traditional publishers are owned by media conglomerates whose sole job is to make money.  This fight they're having with Amazon is about protecting their interests.  It's not about authors, it's not about readers.  It's about corporate profits. If they wanted to get authors on their side, they'd change their boilerplate contracts to offer authors a higher percentage of ebook sales than they do now.  The individuals inside of those publishing houses may care about their authors, but those people have bosses, and their bosses have bosses, and if you aren't making them money, you're worthless to them.

5.  Though I disagree with Amazon's tactics and have made my feelings known by not purchasing from them since this whole mess began, there's nothing inherently wrong with what they're doing.  Bookstores frequently don't stock certain books.  B&N doesn't stock books published by Amazon, and indie bookstores with limited space frequently have to pick and choose which books to stock.  What Amazon is doing is shitty, but it's their right to do so.  If you agree, taking out ads in the NYTs is a stupid way to voice your opinion.  Corporations respond to one thing and one thing only:  $$$.  Tell them how you feel with your wallet.  I'm doing it with Amazon now and I did it with B&N when they fought with S&S.

6.  Amazon's KDP authors should be the most concerned by Amazon's demands.  I honestly don't understand why they're taking Amazon's side in this.  The biggest weapon in a self-published author's arsenal is the ability to control the price of their books and to undercut those of traditional publishers. If Amazon wins and sets a ceiling on the price of ebooks, KDP authors are going to have to price their books even lower to compete.  If I self-published my books, I'd be furious with Amazon for trying to narrow the price points of ebooks and cripple my ability to compete with traditionally published books on price.  I know there are a lot of fantastic, polished self-published books, but public perception is that traditionally published books are of higher quality (and I'm not going to argue whether the perception is true...there are shit traditional books and shit self-pubbed books).  Price has always been where self-published books ruled.  People are willing to overlook the perceived difference in quality because the price is so much lower.  It boggles my mind that Amazon KDP authors are fighting to allow Amazon take away their greatest advantage.

7.  I've said this before and I've said it again:  if traditional publishers want to keep the price of ebooks high (and I totally understand the economics of wanting to do so, even if I disagree with the rationale) they need to offer more value.  Extra chapters, author notes or interviews.  Blu-Rays offer extras, and ebooks should too.  They're easy to add and can help increase the value of ebooks.

8.  Publishers are missing a huge opportunity by fighting with Amazon.  If they don't like Amazon's terms, they should simply withdraw their books from Amazon and sell direct to readers.  The short-term consequences would be outweighed by the long-term benefits.  They need to invest in startups that compete with Amazon.  Ebooks aren't going away.  I don't think physical books will ever go away either, but ebooks are a thing, and publishers need to get behind it in a big way.  They've allowed Amazon to control their destiny, and now they're paying the price for it.  They need to pull up their britches, stop bitching, and do something about it.

9.  Finally, I just want to throw this out there about price:  My next book is out January 20, 2015.  Right now the MSRP is 17.99 but you can find it on Amazon and B&N for about $14.  The ebook version's MSRP $12.99.  You can get it for $11 at B&N, and $10 at Amazon.  Maybe you think that $10 for an ebook is too much, but I've spent approximately 2000 hours over four years writing, rewriting, and editing that book.  My agent and I worked on revisions for almost a year.  My editor and I worked on it for about a year.  A copyeditor tore it apart.  An team of designers created the brilliant cover, jacket, and inside designs.  Christine Larsen, a truly amazing artist, drew the Patient F comic that lives inside the book.  This isn't just a bunch of words, it's not simply bits and bytes.  It's thousands of hours of work.  It's missed time with my family and friends.  It's all the weight I gained and lost and gained again while working on it.  It's a little piece of my soul.  And hopefully, for readers, it will be a few hours they can escape into the world I created.  I don't think ten or twelve bucks is asking too much for that.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

On Diversity, and When to Shut Up and Listen

One of the things I love about the YA community is that they're fearless when it comes to calling attention to things that matter—things like diversity and bullying and the way we treat each other.  Having conversations about these things is important and necessary.  But sometimes it's more important to listen than to talk, and that's something I'm slowly coming to realize I haven't been doing enough of.

A few months ago, I read a blog post about non-minorities and their role in the conversation about diversity.  The gist of the post was that, while it's good that we're calling attention to these issues, non-minorities have a tendency to hijack the conversations.  Not out of malice, but because they feel like they have something worthwhile to add.  And that tendency ends up drowning out the voices of minorities.  I read the post a couple of times and—I'll admit—I didn't get it.  I was annoyed at the tone, which I felt was essentially saying that if you're not a minority you have no business discussing issues regarding minorities.  So, rather than listen, I spoke up.  My point was simply that any attention drawn to the issues minorities face is good, no matter whose responsible for drawing the attention.  As a gay man, yes it's annoying that so many gay, lesbian, and transgendered roles in Hollywood are given to straight actors, who then go on to win awards for their work, but the fact that they're drawing attention to the LGBTQ community is a good thing.

I exchanged comments with some people on that post, and I walked away feeling like I'd made my point.  Yet, here I am, months later, still thinking about it.  

I am an American white male who grew up in an upper middle class town.  I went to college, though I never graduated, and I live a comfortable middle class life.  When I write, I include diversity in my work.  I include diversity because I'm writing the world I see around me.  But am I doing more harm than good?  

Here's the thing:  I believe there's a huge difference between writing about a black character and writing about being black.  As a white male, I don't know the first thing about being black.  I didn't grow up in a black household, I didn't have many black friends growing up because there weren't many black families living in my town.  When I wrote the character of Shane in Deathday, I based him partly on a young man I worked with at The GAP when I was 16.  When I decided that Cassie in FML was going to be mixed race, I based her on a girl I very, very briefly dated in high school.  But neither of those characters deal with their otherness.  They are characters of color as seen through the lens of a white male character and as written by a white male author.  They don't speak at all to the challenges of growing up black or mixed race, and they shouldn't because I don't know the first thing about those issues.

For a while I labored under the false notion that being gay gave me insight into what it's like to be a minority.  And, in a very small way, it does.  I've been afraid of holding my partner's hand in public, I've felt the stares of people who thought I deserved to burn in hell.  I've worried about walking out of a gay club and being assaulted.  But at the end of the day, I can still pass as a white male.  When I walk into a store, no one instantly looks at me and flags me as a thief.  No one has to know that I'm gay unless I want them to, and that means that I don't have to worry about discrimination unless I want to.  Most minorities don't have that option.  I can wait to tell people I'm gay until they've gotten to know me as a person, whereas most people instantly judge a person of color immediately based on the color of their skin without bothering to understand them as a person first.  

I can write about being gay because I am gay.  I get it, I've been through it.  And I can write minority characters into my novels because South Florida has a huge Hispanic population and because I have Jewish friends and black friends and Asian friends.  But I can't write about being any of those things because I'm not Jewish or black or Hispanic.  Maybe, if I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people, I could learn to write about what it means to be black, but why should I?

That's the point the original blogger was trying to make.  There are so many minority writers out there writing about what it's like to be them and to live their lives that adding my voice to their discussion needlessly draws attention away from theirs.  As writers, we should celebrate diversity by writing about the world we see around us.  But if we want to understand what diversity really means, we should look to those who really know rather than trying to add our voices to a discussion that we can't ever truly understand.

I wish I could find that blog post because I'd go back and tell her that I probably still don't fully understand all the points she was trying to make—hell, I'm probably still getting some of it wrong even now—but I'm ready to shut up and listen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Thoughts About the Documentary Bridegroom

When we talk about equal rights for the GLBTQ community, I think it's often too easy to forget that we're talking about real people. Real human beings. Not abstracts, not ideas, but men and women who love each other.  People with histories stretched out behind them and lives still ahead of them.  

The documentary Bridegroom offers one of the best arguments I've ever seen in the fight for equality.  Most of the first half of Bridegroom tells the stories of Thomas Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone. Where they grew up, how they each came to terms with their sexuality, how they met, how they fell in love, and how they lived their life together.  The second half tells the story of what happened when Tom died in a tragic accident.  How Shane wasn't allowed to see Tom in the hospital during his last moments alive, how Tom's parents barred Shane from the funeral and threatened him with violence if he tried to attend, how Shane began to put his life back together.

The love that existed between Shane and Tom is really the only argument it presents, but it's the only one it needs.  

I didn't expect to be as affected by their story as I was, but their story could have been anyone's story. It could have been my own.  I can say with 100% certainty that if Matt was in the hospital and someone tried to keep me out, they'd have to arrest me and throw me in prison to keep me out of his room.  My heart broke into a million pieces watching Shane's video journals at the end.  

The thing is, I'm mostly preaching to the choir here.  If we're friends, if you're reading this because you know me or because you've read my books, then you're probably already a believer in marriage equality.  I hope, if you haven't seen Bridegroom, that you'll watch it (it's on Netflix!), but you're really not the people who need to watch it.  It's people who don't believe in GLBTQ equality who need to watch this film.  It's too easy to dismiss gay rights when all your fighting against is an idea.  But Tom and Shane aren't an abstract.  Their lives and their love were real.  I'm real. Matt's real.  All of the gays and lesbians past and future are real, and that's what people need to understand.  They're not fighting against an idea, they're fighting against us.

In the end, I don't think marches or court cases, though insanely important, are going to change the hearts and minds of people who think that being gay is a sin and that we don't deserve equal rights.  That kind of change is going to have to happen one person at a time.  And this documentary is a great place to start the conversation.