The follow-up: on privilege.

So it’s a month later. The mail volume has finally slowed down, which is good, because I have a book to write. I’m glad I’m no longer getting hate mail, though possibly it’s because I’ve set up a pretty comprehensive set of filters. I’m not looking in the trash to check. At this point, I have some things to talk about, mostly behaviors that people may not even realize are an -ism. (An -ism is where you are actively part of the problem).

1) “I know people of your group who never had this happen.”
Your experience / observation (or those of your acquaintances) does not define the universal truth. If I have never seen a pumpkin in real life, does that mean pumpkins don’t exist? Of course not. Your argument is silly, so shut up.

2) “I know him, and he’s actually a really nice guy.”
Then our experiences differ. Maybe he’s only nice to people he perceives as belonging to his same social subset. Maybe he thinks you could be useful to him in some fashion. Regardless of “niceness”, that’s not an excuse (or a defense) for bad behavior.

3) “I’m sure they didn’t intend to make you feel bad.”
Intent doesn’t govern injury. It’s possible to offer sincere apologies for things you didn’t realize were hurtful, after the fact. But at the time of this writing, only one of the parties involved in the many incidents I wrote about has contacted me. Therefore, I can only surmise that the guilty parties don’t think they did anything wrong and that I’m (insert classic derailing argument here).

4) “You’re too emotional / sensitive / search for reasons to be offended.”
This is a classic. With any of these statements, the blame is deflected. The offending party is not responsible or liable for outcomes resulting from his behavior! This is patently a ridiculous allegation. But if you say something like this, you’re part of the problem. No, I’m not kidding.

5) “You’re alienating supporters by using foul language / being so angry.”
Really? You said / typed that with a straight face? This is generally insisted upon by those who don’t really care about an issue; they just don’t want to be guilted about it either. People who can flounce away from a discussion just because their feathers were ruffled? Guess what? That’s privilege. I can’t walk away from being a woman. I’m a woman, no matter what I do or how I do it.

There are more derailing tactics; you may not be aware that you’re using them. Why? Maybe because you don’t want to admit you have a bias. There’s a more comprehensive list here.

I’ve heard all of the above, sometimes by people who thought they were posting / sending me a supportive message. Guess what? In the past, I’ve made the mistake of saying some of those things–about other issues. Then someone smacked me on the nose and said, “Look, you’re being a privileged asshole.” And she was right. The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging that there is one. When people say, “Oh, I’m (color / gender / religion/ creed) blind, I don’t see what the big deal is,” I narrow my eyes at them. Because claiming that and having it be true? Are two wildly different things. When people say that, they are refusing to acknowledge that the world is a fucked up place that badly needs sorting out.

So don’t be part of the problem, okay? Don’t be an -ism.

This week in SF

So this week, two notable things happened. First, two dinosaurs went on a rampage.
Granted, that didn’t happen this week, technically, but this is when the backlash occurred, first for the initial column that ran in the SFWA bulletin, and then there was the rebuttal, bemoaning the spate of anonymous complaints. dino2

I’m not anonymous. And I don’t think any of this is okay. This post is going to be anecdotal… because it needs to be. I’ve held my silence when I probably shouldn’t have. But I was in the minority, a woman writing SF, and I was afraid of career backlash. I was afraid of being excluded or losing opportunities if I didn’t play nice.

I don’t care about that anymore. If this means I don’t get into anthos or invited to parties, I don’t give a fuck. I care more about doing the right thing, about speaking out, so maybe other women who have had these experiences will do the same. If enough of us gather the courage to say, “Hey, look, this is NOT ALL RIGHT,” maybe the world will change. And if not, well, at least I stood up. I spoke. I didn’t sit quiet as a victim of sexism and let it happen.

In 2007, I sold my first book, Grimspace. It says it’s SF on the spine. I believe it to be SF, though it’s certainly written differently. I write in first person, present tense, and the protagonist is a woman with a woman’s thoughts, feelings, and sexual desires. But the book(s) take place in a rich, well-built science fiction world. There’s FTL travel and lots of planets to explore and aliens. Sounds like SF, right? Apparently not. And that’s the dismissive, occasionally scornful attitude I’ve received since 2008 when I made my first appearance as a professional in the SFF fandom.

At that con, I watched a respected male SF author get sloppy drunk and make women uncomfortable, fans and writers alike. I was one of them. I watched a respected SF writer break an elderly female fan’s heart by refusing to spend a minute talking with her. He was everything brusque, self-important, and rude. I consoled her afterward. I had a respected SF writer call me “girlie” and demand that I get him a coffee, before the panel we were on TOGETHER. When he realized I was not, in fact, his coffee girl, he didn’t apologize. And once we got into the panel, he refused to let me (or anyone else) speak. He interrupted me. He talked over me. He responded to questions that the audience asked me, when they asked me, by name, and he wouldn’t respond to the moderator, who was also female.

The panel was supposed to be about pseudonyms but he made it about how sad it was that the glory days were over. Point in fact, his wife participated more in the panel, by shouting out suggestions on what old stories he should tell next. If the panel had been called, “WHAT SF WAS LIKE IN 1969”, that would’ve been fine, I suppose, and I wouldn’t have been sitting there, feeling embarrassed, powerless, and ashamed, as I wasn’t born at that time.

I went home from that con feeling very sad and ashamed, because my colleagues had treated me like nothing, even though my book, Grimspace, sold out. There were over fifty copies in stock at BAMM, and I signed every last one of them. In fact, by the time my “formal” signing came along–with Sherrilyn Kenyon–they had none of my books left on the shelf. That was pretty cool. But despite good sales, I still felt bad.

Maybe it was a fluke, I thought. So I was excited when I found out I had been put on a SF panel at Comic-Con. I went, full of excitement and anticipation. But once I got there, I found more of the same. The moderator checked the pronunciation of the names of all male guests. (They were all male except me.) She did not ask me–and she got it wrong. Then in introducing me? She called me “the token female”. None of the male panelists objected; they were fine with it, apparently, and I was too new and scared to stand up for myself in a room full of men who were ex-military, who were actual rocket scientists, or worked for NASA. I wish I had. But I let them diminish me. I let it happen. I had a broken mic during the panel and nobody bothered to replace or fix it. The writer sharing his with me frequently took it away from me, or wouldn’t hand it over when I wished to speak. The male guests were dismissive and scornful of my work and my comments. I have seldom been so belittled or ashamed. By my peers. Why? My only difference is that I’m a woman and I’m writing SF the way I enjoy it. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, I thought. Maybe the audience didn’t notice. I was, frankly, on the verge of tears.

But then, David Brin, who was in the audience, came up to me. He shook my hand and said, “I liked what you had to say.”

The subtext I took from that was this: “Hey, sorry. Not all male SF writers are like this.”

So yeah. The audience noticed. I had slightly better experiences at WorldCon and ArmadilloCon, but I suspect it wasn’t as bad because I was roaming around with Sharon Shinn, who has more power and cachet than I had at that time. But I still encountered more than my share of fans, who dismissed my work. At that point, I was disheartened, and I stopped attending SFF cons entirely. I decided I’d rather spend my travel money otherwise. To quote my wonderful friend, Lauren Dane, “If I want to feel bad about myself, I’ll go swimsuit shopping.” My professional work shouldn’t be impacted by my gender, my appearance, my religion, my sexuality, my skin tone, or any other factor. The fact that it is? Makes me so very sad. I’ve had readers and writers stare at my rack instead of my face while “teaching” me how to suck eggs.

I’ve been fighting this battle for five years now.

And now, here’s the second thing: I’ve been made aware of a post (that I’m not linking to)  from a guy who is swinging at me again. Why? Because I’m getting my girl cooties all over his SF. He implies I’m incapable of grasping sophisticated SF references due to my gender–that I don’t actually write SF because it has women, sex, and feelings in it. I’m so tired and disheartened right now. The one bright spot was my experience at KeyCon in Canada, where I was not only made to feel welcome but valued. Not a single soul at the con questioned my credentials or my quality of fiction, due to what I don’t have in my pants.

But I’m still here. I’m still writing. You cannot shut me up. I will NOT SIT DOWN. I will not stand quietly by anymore. I am a woman. I write SF. And it’s not acceptable to treat me as anything less than an equal. I won’t stand for it. And I won’t get your fucking coffee.

—– ETA:

So this post has been up for a few hours now. It’s gotten some reads. And the hate mail has begun. Warning: some of them are fairly horrible & may be triggering.

Email 1:

“Dear Ann:

Quit your bitching. Obviously your work is drek or you couldn’t crank it out so fast. Who cares what anyone calls the crap you write? So fuck off and stop whining about equality. Shit is equal to shit.”

Email 2:

“Your such a cunt. You need a good cocking. That would give you something else to think about.”

Email 3:

“Its bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?”

Email 4:

“You think you write SF? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. SF is about important issues and there is no filth. The men on those panels were right not to let you talk if this is the stupid shit you have to say.”

(All errors made by OP.)

I have proof that Wal-Mart is the devil

This is going to be long and ranty, so buckle up, children.

I had a lovely stay with the Bree half of Moira Rogers, and I did get to meet the Donna half more than once. She’s fabulous, as is her counterpart. Both their husbands are charming. I enjoyed myself immensely; that part of my trip to Alabama was fantastic. But I needed some alone time to really dig into this book. If interesting people are around, I want to chat, not work, so I removed myself to a hotel for the last few days I’m in town. At this point, you’re thinking it’s all roses, right?

Well, I was writing away today when I got an email from my husband. He tells me there’s a problem with the Peru trip; they require passports to be six months from expiration before they can book the trip. Do I want to miss a company-paid trip to Peru? HELL NO. Plus, I should / need to go to add detail to Shady Lady when I get copyedits back. This is not just a fun trip, though it will surely be that. Assuming I survive the hoop-jumping. So my passport only has four months left on it; it expires in December.

So I immediately use my Google-fu to find an agency that can expedite the order and get me a new passport next week. I find one that is recommended by Forbes magazine. (We leave on August 26th.) Don’t do this if you have any other choice, by the way. It costs an insane amount, on top of the governmental fees. But I am between the proverbial rock and a hard place today, so I start getting things together.

I should’ve known it was not gonna be like a hot knife through butter when it took me half an hour to print all the required forms and documents in the Holiday Inn business center. That was due to computer mess. Note to Holiday Inn, you should NOT buy E-Machines, seriously. These are the jankiest machines on the market.

So I finally get this stuff ready to go. It’s 4:30pm now, but I still need to get a passport photo taken. The agent at the front desk tells me that she thinks Wal-Mart does them, and there’s one right up the road. So I call the Wal-Mart to confirm. The woman on the phone assures me, “Yes, we do passport photos.” I ask, “Is there a certain cut-off time? Like before five or six?” Because I’m not sure how long it will take me to get there. She replies, “No, they do them until 9pm.”

I’m pleased. The cabbie is quick and prompt (later Randy will save my bacon). The Wal-Mart is, indeed, right up the road, so he drops me off, and I promise to call when I’m done. Thus, begins my descent into hell. It started slow. I went into the money center and got a money order. The line was long, but I did get the money order. (I have a checking account, but I literally have no printed checks. I use my debit card for everything or I just use Bank of America’s BillPayer to cut a check for me. So an agency that requires this form of payment, well, it has to be a money order.) I got the $200 MO, government fees for the passport, rush, and the passport card.

This taken care of, I go back to the photo center. Dear Mercy. Nobody was there. I waited 5-10 minutes before she came back and I asked to have a passport photo done. The clerk replied, “I don’t know how to do that.”

Utterly nonplussed, because I CALLED to confirm beforehand, I ask, “Well, can you call someone who does know?”

I wait another 10-15 minutes. The supervisor comes to the back, where I am waiting, once more alone. She says, “What’s wrong wit’ you?” (Awesome customer service by the way. I think she thought it was a complaint.)

I said, “I just need a passport photo taken and I was assured on the phone you could do it at this location until 9pm. Surely someone in the store has been trained. A manager?”

She then gets on the phone to call a manager. I wait another 10 minutes. The manager comes. “Nobody knows how to do this, ma’am, but the girl who is supposed to be working called in to say she’s running late and will be in at 6.”

It’s now 5:30 btw. So I’ve already been waiting close to 45 minutes. I say okay, what’s half an hour more at this point, and I go buy the blue pen I need to sign all the forms and eat supper at Subway. I read some of THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO on my Kindle. At 6:10, I reckon Ebony ought to be at work by now, so I go back to the photo center. Sadly, there is nobody there. Again. I wait until 6:45. She never comes. The manager never checks back on me. Nobody apologizes for my time or inconvenience. Shame on you, Wal-Mart! This is the one at 1600 Montclair Rd, Irondale, AL, btw. Feel free to boycott them. If they couldn’t serve me as promised, they should’ve done something to make up for the trouble I went to.

At this point, I give up. I look for other alternatives, because I must get these photos done today. I speak to a woman at Kinkos and she promises they can help me. I am not feeling hopeful. I call Randy, who comes to get me. We go to Kinkos but it’s almost 14 miles away. In a cab. So, yeah. You can imagine what that cost, there and back.

I do get the photos made. But I lost two hours of my work day, plus all that cabfare, because Wal-Mart is the devil. There are no words for how much I hate them right now.

On Health Care

I debated about whether to post this because it’s a sore subject for me, and I will have to get personal before you understand how deep my anger runs. So if you have no taste to learn some disquieting facts about my life, then perhaps you should click away.

Now then. I read this and I nearly went blind with rage. (Link courtesy of Carolyn Jewel) For the love of all that’s holy, people who are sick should NOT have to fight the insurance battle while they are also fighting for their very lives. It’s all kinds of wrong. An astronomical number of people cannot even afford health insurance. Some qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. But even more do not for various reasons. They fall through the cracks. So in this festering mess, there used to be the bright spot of, well, if you’re covered at least you’re set. NOT ANYMORE. Now insurance companies will take your money happily… unless you need to file claims. And then they will dump your asses faster than a dirty diaper.

I have no words for how wrong this is. It lights me up like the 4th of July. I’m so mad I can’t sleep right now, which is why I’m about to rant. And share.

When I was pregnant with my first child, it all went pretty well. Right up until the delivery. I was in labor for 25 hours. They eventually had to perform a C-section. My doctor was not available so they tapped a random resident who had NEVER PERFORMED THE SURGERY BEFORE. She butchered me. I have nerve damage; there are places on my stomach where I can only feel pressure, not pain. After the surgery, I asked them not to give me narcotics. I typically cannot take them well. They told me I must take them, and forced Vicodin on me. I did not react well to it. Before I left the hospital, I weighed more than I did before the baby was born. I told the nurse this was wrong. She said, no, a certain amount of weight gain from fluid is normal.

Only it was NOT. They sent me home. I kept gaining more and more fluid at an astronomical rate. By the time I was rushed back to the hospital, I had gained a hundred pounds in water, and my lungs filled. My heart stopped. My oxygen levels were down to nothing. I woke up in the cardiac unit. I had suffered complete cardiovascular failure; at that time I discovered I have a congenital heart defect, WPW, which had gone undiagnosed until the drug taxed my system with a horrendous allergic reaction. (The defect has always been asymptomatic and still is to this day, apart from my body’s response to Vicodin.)

They denied all wrongdoing. But here’s a fact. I had to choose that hospital because it was in my network. I had NO CHOICE but to take that resident to butcher me because she was in my network. I had NO CHOICE but to listen to that nurse, who forced Vicodin on me and who did not listen when I told her before I went home that there was a problem and I didn’t feel right. The insurance system nearly killed me.

Later, when I had my second child, due to insurance, they forced me to labor to deliver vaginally even though I had suffered nerve damage in the C-section, DUE TO INSURANCE. Later, the doctor told me I’d had less than a 33% chance of delivering that way, due to my past medical history and the permanent harm inflicted on me. But my daughter and me? We beat the odds. I did it. I suffered injury (not an episiotomy) that required stitches, but I did it! Fucking bastards. And I am still proud of that success to this day. But with better insurance? They most likely would have just induced and taken her. I would not have labored for 17 hours, due to health risks. But the company I had at the time cared more about minimizing cost than safeguarding my life.

My experience is not unique. Carolyn Jewel nearly died too. Due to insurance. The system is broken. And I am fiercely furious right now about the women who have breast cancer, who are fighting the toughest battle of their lives, and who have been betrayed by the “most civilized country in the world.” As I said on Twitter, running health care for money is beyond immoral. If it’s for profit, it’s not for people.

The Confusing & Constantly Changing Landscape of My Brain

Damn, that’s a long-ass title.

I was talking about this with Lauren Dane yesterday, and it seemed to me it was post-worthy, which is sort of like sponge-worthy, only it’s a measure of how much I want to spend the time formalizing my thoughts. Roughly equivalent to the Seinfeldism, no? Anyway. I have a point to make. Stay with me.

A few years back, my goal was to find an agent. I found one. But it didn’t work out. So the new goal became find an agent who can sell my work. I signed with Laura Bradford and omg, she was the THE ONE! So that goal met, instead of being happy and basking in my accomplishment, my brain chemistry immediately rewired itself, so it wasn’t enough. My new goal became sell a new project ASAP so if Jax tanks, you’re not screwed for a follow-up contract. And so we sold Corine! Woohoo! Time for me to be really proud of myself. I can relax, yes?

HELL NO. The devil brain in my skull casing whispers to me, is this really enough? Yes, you’ve diversified, but you need lots of irons in the fire. You need to build buzz around your name! Are you promoting effectively? You need to get on a bestseller list!

At this point, I am thinking, brain, why are you NEVER HAPPY? But I am a slave to my brain; I carry it around all day, and it is like a nagging spouse. Sometimes it doesn’t let me sleep at night. So I busted my ass, and lo, and behold, I made the bestseller lists. I can now put national bestselling author on my books.

But the brain is not satisfied. It still wants more. As I level up as a writer, it is constantly updating my goals. But some of them (like making the NYT or whatever) are pretty far out of my control. I can’t make one of my series “take off” magically. Of course I want them to, but I seriously have little impact on it. And it’s frustrating because my brain is like, None of your slacker-talk, missy! Make it happen! But I really feel like at a certain plateau, you almost need a lucky break or an increase in publisher support to bump you up to that next level. So the “goals’ I make at this point might as well be find a magic lamp or locate a four-leaf clover.

I write all this out in hopes of opening a dialogue. I don’t think there’s a magical formula for hitting big; otherwise more people would do it, surely! Is it confluence of timing, subject matter and publisher push? I know there are no magic beans–I’m the original proponent for hard work. But does there come a point where the success really can’t be improved at the author’s hands? Is there a mid-list plateau?


Showing Empathy

Have you ever thought about what this means? Are you a good listener? By which I mean, you’re not thinking about other things or plotting a scene in your head, or deciding what you’ll say when it’s your turn to talk next.

Maybe it’s because authors can become egocentric that I’m thinking about this today, but I decided to write this post because I think it’s an important reminder for all people that the world is a big place, and everything isn’t about you.

I mean, we all have a tendency to make things about us and filter things through our experiences. Sometimes we don’t get what the other person is saying because of it. We all have a tendency to do it. But we can’t let our self-involvement get in the way of caring and making connections. We can’t let jealousy or envy color our responses. We live in an age of ennui, when there’s an excess of everything except compassion and kindness. sad_smiley

I challenge you to think about your last conversation. Were you an engaged listener? Did you come into it without an agenda? When was the last time you talked to someone just because you wanted to, not because you had something you needed to get out of it? To some extent, this behavior is natural and human. It’s only when it occurs to the exclusion of showing empathy at all that it becomes problematic.

If you tell me your sister has broken a bone, and I’m like, I broke a bone once, that’s a problem. The proper response should be along the lines of, OMG, how? Is she ok otherwise? I hope nobody else was hurt. Are you all right? Or some combination thereof. Not because you know your friend’s sister or because it impacts you in some way, but because her hurt presumably hurts your friend. Right?

I wonder if all the modern conveniences have impacted our ability to focus on other people. We live in a me-world, and sometimes it makes me sad.

My problem with epublishing

In the wake of the pie in face closure of Quartet Press, I am left shaking my head. Not at the closure — I think it was probably wise to shut down before wasting a lot of time and money if the plan was flawed. That’s not what leaves me gobsmacked.

I was mostly offline working when Angela James announced she was moving to QP from Samhain, but even in my writing cave, I heard the angry murmurs and mutterings. It was not altogether clean or painless, I think, although I am far from an insider on the situation.

And that’s my problem with epublishing. It’s not that I question its validity or that I think digital is an invalid form of publication. It’s none of these issues. It’s the fact that it is, at base, still for the most part a cottage industry, run by people who get too emotionally invested in the process. It’s crazy that anyone would be offended that someone takes a better job.

I mean consider the insurance game. If an agent goes to work for State Farm, do you really think the Geico people are like, “OMG, we HATES Ron Jones now! Traitor!! He crossed over!” It’s just not like that in any other business venue I’ve seen, and it makes no sense at all. It’s that kind of behavior that makes it impossible for larger publishers to take the indie presses seriously. It becomes about ego and one-upsmanship instead of professionalism.

So now that QP is no more and Angela has posted her reaction, I’ve seen some perfectly hateful buttmonkeys muttering that she got what she deserved. Really, people? REALLY? To take the insurance analogy one step further, do you really think Ron Jones’s former coworkers at Geico would be gleefully pissing themselves with bitter schadenfreude over the fact that his State Farm office closed? Nuh uh. Number one, they just don’t care that much because it’s a job, not their lives or their religion.

This behavior keeps people on the outside viewing a select chunk of you as hormonal, hysterical women, who couldn’t get publishing contracts in NY and so opened your own companies to peddle your own work. Rightfully or wrongly, that is the perception, and by acting like a gaggle of angry Tasmanian she-devils, you’re only confirming the stereotype.

If the independent digital publisher has any hope of surviving and thriving, it has to be staffed by people for whom it is a job, first and foremost, not a red wagon to wheel around their bloated egos. Get over yourselves, people, and realize you’re being assholes before it’s too late.

Today’s peeve?

Miracle sperm.

Not just in books, movies too. The reason I’m thinking about this — Andres and I watched Baby Mama last week, starring Tina Fey (who I love) and Amy Poehler (who I don’t hate). The movie was funny and offered a lot of laughs; don’t get me wrong.

But it’s been bugging me, and here’s why. The basic plot is this: Tina plays an uptight career woman who ignored her biological clock until she hit 37, and then all of a sudden, she contracts baby madness. She wants a baby and doesn’t care about whether a man comes with it. Fine, I’m on board with that, as far as it goes. She tries to fertilize herself at home with a spermcicle, but it doesn’t work, so she goes to her ob-gyn, who tells her she has an awful T-shaped uterus and her chances of getting knocked up are one in a million. This is why she ends up with a slightly crazy-eyed Sigourney Weaver, who runs a surrogate program. Tina gets matched up with Amy to be her baby mama, and they go to the fertility clinic together, where Amy is implanted with Tina’s baby.

As it turns out, Amy does get knocked up, but not by Tina. She’s sort of a white trash dumbass and she sleeps with her boyfriend after the test comes up negative. So she’s pregnant, just not with Tina’s egg. Amy moves in with Tina under false pretenses and they attend birthing classes together, becoming friends despite their great differences in class, education and overall attitude on life. That’s all fine and good. Amy helps Tina relax. Tina helps Amy realize she’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like her.

So what’s the fly in my honey, you might ask? Well, due to relaxing, Tina meets up with Greg Kinnear along the way, and she decides to bang him like a crazy woman. And even though she’s been told she has a one in a million chance of getting pregnant, guess what happens (after she finds out Amy’s bun in the oven isn’t hers?) You got it. Of course, Greg knocks Tina up with his super-sperm. (First of all, Greg Kinnear = ultra-virile? Really??)

This is what bugs me. Infertility is a problem that plagues many, many people. They spend millions of dollars on treatments, in vitro and surrogacy. And yet in movies (and books) the woman who has been unable to get pregnant is knocked up 95% of the time before the thing is done. That bothers me, I think. Sometimes I do want the fantasy and the escape. I want the sweet feel-good syrup that makes reality a little less bitter. But y’know, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I want the book or movie to show me that this person can find love, no matter his / her issue might be.

What do you think? Feel free to put your $.02 in the jar.

In praise of the idiot

You read that right.

I wrote a post over on It’s Not Chick porn, wherein I confessed to finding Frye’s love for Leela deeply moving. Sure, he’s an idiot and never does anything right, but he’s loyal and devoted and sometimes…yes, even… heroic.

There, I said it. Like that episode where Bender falls in love with the AI that runs the Planet Express ship (voiced by Sigourney Weaver) and they end up having to disable the crazed AI manually because the ship has turned off their oxygen. Leela is busily saving the day while Frye tries to warn her that her tank is empty. But she won’t listen. Why? Because he’s an idiot. So he quietly connects her hose to his and …yes, nearly dies for her. You’d have to watch the show to understand why his devotion is so moving, but if you’ve never watched Futurama, I’ll say this much: she rejects him constantly, and yet he still loves her. That, too, probably makes him an idiot, but such a sweet one.

So I had that post percolating in the back of my mind this weekend when I took up one of the Loretta Chase books I bought at Romance World when I was in San Diego hanging out with the lovely Laura Bradford, my agent. It was called LORD PERFECT. I read the first few pages and marveled at the wonderful writing. Then two lines jumped out at me:

“Even Rupert draws better than that, and Rupert is an idiot.”

Rupert laughed.

I have to tell you, every nerve tingled to life. An idiot, you say? I was immediately intrigued. I quickly surmised that LORD PERFECT wasn’t Rupert’s book. He was already calling a woman named Daphne ‘my love’, which made me think he had a book. What’s this? An author who shares my penchant for the lovely lunkhead?

Nothing would do but for me to track down Rupert’s book. I quickly discovered I needed to read MISS WONDERFUL first, and then MR. IMPOSSIBLE. That meant buying the ebooks and getting them on my PDA, which I did post-haste. I tore through the first book and I enjoyed it, but I knew somehow that the real treat was yet to come.

I cannot express how deeply I fell in love with Rupert Carsington, a big dumb lout — so unmanageable his father sent him off to Egypt to be rid of him. And yet…I do not think I have ever been so singularly charmed by a hero. He was…perfect, not impossible.

He provoked the heroine, so she wouldn’t be afraid. He acted dumber than he actually was, so she would gain confidence by solving their problems. She was an incredibly learned and brainy woman, who was socially unsure. Backward. He had no angst, not much in the way of deep thought (which rung so true, as he was a creature of highly developed instincts), but dear Heaven, he was stupendous. For instance:

“But it isn’t simply your looks,” he went on, his gaze elsewhere, reflective. “It’s the enthusiasm. The love of what you do. You make it interesting because you love it. You may talk of the driest stuff, yet I feel like Whatshisname, listening to Scheherazade.”

All he thought about was the heroine, basically, from the time he met her. In simple and varying ways. There was an utterly breathtaking moment where he tells Daphne:

“When I don’t understand what you’re talking about, I pretend I’m in a picture gallery and you are all the pictures.”

There is a wrenching sweetness in the simplicity of his character. In reading MR. IMPOSSIBLE I ache to be Daphne, to have this wonderful, maddening man focused on me. It doesn’t matter if he’s a bit dim sometimes, though not so much as he pretends. He is loyal, strong, and true. And the best part? He has absolutely no guile.

At the end, when her brother says to him, “My God, you are in love with Daphne,” Rupert turns his face upward and says, “Huh, so that’s what it is.” And then he gently chides Daphne for not telling him. “I can’t believe you let me find out from your brother.”

It’s just impossibly, stupidly sweet and I want to cry just thinking about it.

As luck would have it, i received two boxes of books from Amazon today. One of them contained a new-to-me author named Tamara Lejeune. I’ve never heard of her, but I proceeded to devour her book, SIMPLY SCANDALOUS. You know why?

Her hero was an idiot. A good-natured, ugly, well-intentioned, hot-headed idiot. I don’t think I’ve had so much fun with historical romances in years. This book didn’t have the adventure of MR. IMPOSSIBLE, rather it was more a Heyer style comedy of manners with the ensemble cast of hilarious characters, but it was updated for today.

I thought Julie and Ginger were simply brilliant. He’s a redhead, you see, and she nick-names him Ginger to incense him. Eventually he comes to get used to it. I’ve never seen a couple fall in love in such a way. It’s hilarious and delightful, the way they torment each other. Shaven heads, dead rats, newts, wheels of cheese, carriage accidents… it’s… wonderful. And the hero is… make no mistake, an idiot. He has no idea how to go on, is clueless about women, and is so homely he’s never slept with a woman he didn’t pay. Half the time, the heroine is making sport of him, and he will simply do whatever asinine thing she says because he doesn’t know any better. And it’s …charming. He wins her heart because he’s a big, clumsy oafish puppy, and she wants to pet him forever.

I realize I’m probably quite perverse, but this is my latest thing. You can keep your devilish rogues, your wounded soldiers and your brooding angsty heroes with a Past. I’m off in search of more endearing dunces, for I can’t seem to get enough of them.

PS – If you can think of anymore books where the hero fits the bill, please tell me in comments. I’m off to the States on Thursday and I’ll pick up whatever is recommended in this vein.

Can I be serious for a minute?

And this is where you say, “I don’t know, can you?”

The answer is — yes, yes, I can.

I read the discussion over on Dear Author, called The Hysterical Reader, along with all the pertaining comments. It’s a long bunch of stuff, which you can read (or not), as you like.

Well, I’d never tell other authors how to do their jobs and any attempt to regulate their behavior according to my standards certainly falls under that heading. But for me? That’s something I’d never do.

I’d never post an excerpt from an email I receive, good or bad, without permission. If I get a fan letter that’s particularly exciting, I still email and ask for permission to use a snippet on my blog or website.

I think it’s matter of trust, honestly. I don’t know if other authors feel this way, but I see readers as my customers, my clients. And if you work at Nordstrom, what’s the first thing you learn? The importance of good customer service. That doesn’t include using my ‘status’ to try and prove my own superiority.

The fact is, I’m not superior. I just write books. True, it’s my dream job, but I still find myself dazzled to have it. Perhaps that will change, the longer I go on. But I hope not. I don’t want it to.

Each letter I receive is important to me and I answer every one. Maintaining a good relationship with my readers is important to me. No, not everyone will like my books, but when I do get that sort of mail, I’ll write back with, “Thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts. I hope you’ll like the next book better.” Now chances are, this person won’t buy any more of my books. And that’s okay too. If he or she goes on to harangue me further, I simply won’t respond. I’ve acknowledged the first letter privately, and to my mind, that’s all I need to do.

Further, it’s all I should do.

I would never want to behave in a way that makes readers feel they can’t trust me. I want them to be sure I can be relied on to keep their confidence (not that I necessarily want to become a personal confidante), but I want to be seen as an ethical person, someone who wouldn’t share private information on impulse or because it might benefit me in some way.

I just wouldn’t do that, in the same way I wouldn’t kill off a beloved character on a whim. These are trust issues, and whether authors want to acknowledge it or not, there is a certain rapport that ought to be present. When authors consistently display disregard or disdain for their readership, it gives me a sinking feeling. Without readers, I’d just be jilling off by writing my books, a specialized form of mental masturbation.

And so it behooves me to treat readers with the same sort of respect I’d want to receive. I don’t get to indulge in hissy fits, at least not in public. Because I’m a professional, and I don’t roll like that.