Monday, September 19, 2016

Too Old to Scold

Sacchi Green

My family have always been book lovers, but on the whole they haven’t looked down on any particular genre, or on genre as opposed to “literary” fiction. Erotica may be an exception, but by the time I started writing it and mentioned it in passing when they’d ask if I was still writing, I was too old to scold, if there can be such a thing.

My parents couldn’t even get their minds around the science fiction and fantasy I wrote, so they didn’t expect me to share any more of my writing with them. The only story I ever published that they really understood and liked was a short story I wrote for one of those “One Hundred Little (whatever)” anthologies Barnes & Noble used to put out, in this case One Hundred Crafty Cat Tales. The stories were supposed to be mysteries, but it turns out that not very many mystery writers wanted to—or maybe could—write very short stories. The editor had connections in the sf/f community, so he circulated his Call for Submissions there, and I dashed off a story about a cat and a homing pigeon military station on the English Coast during WWII, where the pigeons were used to bring messages from the troops in Europe. (My title was Cat Among the Pigeons, but as it turned out, the cat wasn’t guilty of pigeon murder, but he did inadvertently help to catch a German spy.) Anyway, that story is the only one that has been shared with various relatives, most of whom have passed away by now.

My mother would have liked me to write mystery novels.  She was a librarian who read widely and kept abreast of book reviews, etc., in order to know what to order for the library and recommend to readers, but mysteries were what she read for pleasure, along with some kinds of romances. She introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances before I ever got to Jane Austen. My father preferred non-fiction history and biography, but his comfort reading was westerns. I don’t recall them ever prompting me to write “serious” or “literary” books, but I think they did wish I’d write things with a wider appeal.

At this point I kind of wish I did, too. I was in NYC this weekend—in fact I’m writing this post on a bumpy bus ride on the way home—and made a dispiriting discovery. I always go the Barnes&Noble Mothership in Union Square to see if they have my books, and they always used to have at least the newer ones. The B&N branch near my home stopped displaying any LGBTQ fiction a year or so ago (just in time for the edition of Best Lesbian Erotica that I edited not to be on the shelves,) but surely the big store in  new York would still have them! But no. I asked where that section had been moved to, and was directed to a small table at the back of an escalator that had maybe a dozen nonfiction gay books spread on it,. That was all.  I checked the small anthology section, too, where one used to be able to find straight erotica anthologies like Best Women’s Erotica, but still with no luck. I suppose the rationale (and reality) is that people only buy that sort of thing online these days, but not having them visible on bookstore shelves is bound to cut into our sales and readership severely.

My New York trip was not, however, all that dispiriting. I was there to do a reading with writers from my latest anthology (including our own Annabeth Leong) at Bluestockings Books, one of the few surviving and, as far as I can see, thriving “alternative” bookstores that were fairly common in urban areas a decade ago. All of my readers were outstanding, and so was the audience, absolutely filling the space, showing appreciation, and even, I think, buying a fair number of books. One of the workers told me she’d never seen such a big crowd in all the time she’s worked there, but I missed my chance to ask her how long that was. I’ve seen audiences that big there a few times over the years, but not recently.

What I take from all that is that yes, erotica writers are in trouble when it comes to showing up in major bookstores (if, in fact there are any “major” bookstores left,) but there’s still an appreciative audience out there, which is something.

I can’t resist going off-topic here to say that after the reading, several of us (including Annabeth Leong and Jeremy Edwards, who wasn’t in this book but has been in others of mine,) staked out a table at Katz’s Famous Deli and discussed the evils and occasional joys of the writing and publishing world well into the night. We don’t know how to solve the problems, but we sure know how to have fun ranting and gossiping about it. Actually, I may have been the only one gossiping; my mind gets fuzzy after matzo ball soup and too many blintzes. And mustard, but that’s Jeremy’s story, so I won’t tell it here.

13 comments:

  1. I wish I could have joined you! I'm really happy the reading went well. As for the publishing industry, well, it's a mess. Thank heaven for self-publishing.

    Jeremy, c'mon. 'Fess up. We all want to know about the mustard!

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  2. I thought you'd never ask!

    After we'd navigated the confusing waters of the Katz's food-ordering system (even experienced sailor Dena Hankins saw her plate of latkes fall overboard), I announced, "You're about to see a mustard fetishist in action." You see, I had ordered only a beer, no food, but the squirt-bottles of house-brand deli mustard looked mighty appealing to this mustard enthusiast, and I planned to squirt a little bit onto my napkin and sample it with my pinkie, as one does.

    Well! The nozzle must have been clogged or never properly punctured, and, squeeze as I may, squeeze as I might, no action. For some reason loosening the lid a smidgen seemed like a good idea (hint: it wasn't)—I guess I thought it might relieve an airlock or something. Now when I squeezed... BLOMPH!!! Off came the lid, and a huge mustard spill now graced the table, the floor, and my "superannuated twee-pop kid" windbreaker (which I now love even more, having learned that mustard stains come off with just a little water and dish soap).

    In the wink of an eye, a Katz's employee was at my elbow with his bussing cart. He made quick work of the project, but not without meeting my eye with a Buster Keaton–like deadpan stare. He whisked away the malfunctioning mustard bottle and gave me a new one, seemingly out of nowhere.

    He returned a few minutes later and moved a mustard bottle from the far end of our table closer to me; and (if I recall correctly) he returned a third time with yet another mustard bottle. I was being brilliantly and subtly ragged by Buster Keaton, with his stony face never showing the slightest sign of levity. He did not speak.

    The reading was awesome, by the way, as, of course, was the conversation at the afterparty. Thanks for letting me tag along, Sacchi and Annabeth! "We can take you anywhere," you kindly said at a certain point at Katz's. Or did I mishear? (;v>

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    1. I remember a few of the details somewhat differently, but heck, everybody has their own perspective. I don't think you heard me when I said, as you were first trying to squirt out some mustard, "I'm just waiting for it to go Splat!" (That was just because that's the sort of thing that always happens to me.) And when the waiter removed the first tube, I reached around to the table behind us and grabbed the mustard tube from there just before the waiter brought back our original one. So that accounts for one of the tubes. I actually used some myself then, on the huge matzo ball in my soup, and it really was very good mustard. Plus I managed, for once, not to Splat! it.

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    2. Your memory for the details here is more accurate than mine. I'm glad you reminded me that you had a hand in the great mustard migration! And you're right, I did miss your prescient remark—haha, excellent.

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    3. Be grateful nobody caught it on video, Jeremy!

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    4. I seriously want to hire that guy with a bussing cart and put him and Jeremy together in some sort of wild piece I write for the Providence Fringe Festival.

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    5. Speaking for myself, I am at your disposal.... but I suspect my foil may not be quite as easy to book. I hear his agent, Cutter #9, drives a hard bargain.

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  3. So dispiriting about B&N marginalizing an entire genre. (At least I'm in good company -- to my knowledge, only a single B&N, one store in Santa Monica, ever carried my dictionary of one-letter words.) At least Bluestockings provided a counterpoint. And what a delightful mustard anecdote! :-D

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  4. In 2007, Momma X retired as Director of Design and Production at a well-known publishing house, after 30 years experience in the business. Says she probably couldn't do the job today; the technology and market have changed so much.

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  5. I'm glad the reading and afterparty went well. I've been to Bluestockings several times, and to Katz's Famous Deli once, where I interviewed Laura Antoniou on tape in 2003. On the subject of disappointment in the publishing biz, I approached Girlfriends (which was then still a glossy print mag) about running the interview with a review of one or more of Antoniou's "Marketplace" novels. Girlfriends wasn't interested. Neither was any other print publication, site or blog I approached (including some BDSM sites that are now long-gone). Years later, I discovered that I had accidentally recorded over part of the interview, but I had enough left to offer it to Cecilia Tan for the Circlet Press site when Circlet reprinted the "Marketplace" novels. So apparently the interview was not a complete waste of time for everyone involved. I suppose the company of other writers has to be our consolation prize.

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  6. I'm glad you had a good time on Saturday, Sacchi. I did, too. The reading was profoundly moving, and it was great to see Bluestockings so full. I really feel like Me and My Boi is a special book. I hope it gets a wider audience.

    Jean, given how loud and chaotic Katz's was, at least on a Saturday night, I have no idea how you managed to record an interview there. The food was delicious, but the noise level and crowd were rather panic-inducing, I thought.

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    1. But let's not forget that Jean has spent many years in front a classroom. I'll bet she's quite an effective "Shush!"-er when she needs to be.

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    2. It was quiet when I was there in the afternoon in Feb. 2003.

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