Why I spent the week debating toilets with narrow-minded folk! #LGBT #amwriting #SAGA

Why I spent the week debating toilets with narrow-minded folk! #LGBT #amwriting #SAGA

Of toilets, bigots and writing inclusive characters

It’s been a busy week. I’ve had some very interesting discussions online, mainly about the American regime’s move against trans people and their access to toilets. The ones to pay the biggest price are – for lack of a better word – the weakest, children and youths. I know that most of you who will read this are Americans, and your bathrooms are – how to put this politely – interesting? Privacy? No sir. Ten inches at the bottom aren’t closed, and between the door to the stalls (if doors are present in the first place), there’s a spring wide enough to get a great view of the inside. I’ve always wondered if that visual access was because Americans are particularly voyeuristic or if this is a result of the Anglo-Saxon double-morale around sex, because after all, people have been known to do it there. I don’t know.

The rainbow flag heralds love and inclusion. It’s the main reason I love it so much. Yet as humans representing the rainbow, we’re not always as loving… We are, in effect, merely human.

I’m an extremely private person, at least when it comes to going to the bathroom. I can’t pee standing, not when I risk onlookers. But in America, even inside the stall I feel exposed, vulnerable. I don’t know why Americans opted for such stalls, but what I do know is that school kids here, in Sweden, often try to avoid going to the school bathrooms. Usually, research shows, because those toilets are dirty. Instead, they avoid drinking, try to hold it, and go to the bathroom when they come home. The result: constipation, urinary infections etc.

Now imagine if you are trans, on top of all that. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, before most can even dream of hormonal treatment or corrective surgery. We are vulnerable enough as it is at that age, without having to deal with the added stress of having to go to a bathroom that isn’t ours. Imagine a boy forced to “intrude” on the girl’s lavatory or locker room, to face the ridicule and potential fear from other girls being there, or picture the girl, being forced to go to the boys room, even though she may wear make-up and a dress. The bullying will be guaranteed. Why? This isn’t about cis boys or girls being “evil” or “mean”. It’s because they don’t understand (yet). It’s because their parents are people like white supremacist Jeff Sessions, the driving force between this week’s transphobic action. Not to mention that children that age are the most confused, caught in the storm of raging hormones, their bodies changing, navigating sexuality and romantic attraction to others (or the lack thereof). And most people that age are curious, they will experiment, but they’re also highly aware of their surroundings, the judgements, expectations, and what is exciting and titillating one minute can be lashed out against the next.

I’m still amazed, from those discussions, just how many people do not understand what it means to be trans. What it means to be intersex. What it means to be gender queer/fluid. Not that it is easy. I read a great post yesterday about the importance of labels. Yes, labels are restricting. We don’t want to be labeled. We don’t want others to tell us “what” we are. However, when we are young and try to understand ourselves, get to know ourselves, labels can help. They help us identify with others, people who are like us, whether it’s “red head”, “visually impaired” or “jock”. Whatever the label, it creates a sense of “us”, of group, and as humans we are, after all, a highly social animal.

The cover for my new novel Last Winter’s Snow. The book releases April 6.

There is a huge difference between knowing who we are, and understanding what we are. Yes, at the core, we are humans, of course. But since we are a social animal, we fear nothing more than loneliness, to be “the only gay in the village” as the saying goes. No, we want to have a friend, let there be at least two of us! That’s where labels come in handy. They can serve a purpose.

It’s been an interesting week online. It’s also been an intensive writing week. My publisher recently asked for submissions for a SAGA (Sexuality And Gender Acceptance, a term more inclusive and simpler than LGBTQIA+) anthology. I’ve written two short stories that I worked on this week. One is about an older gender queer/fluid, asexual person, the other about a middle aged aromantic, asexual woman. I’ve met a number of people in the past couple of years who identify as asexual, and it’s been a topic I wanted to delve into. A very rewarding experience, and I thank both characters for allowing me a glimpse into their reality. We’ll see if any of the stories will fit the anthology’s requirements…

I’ve also, oddly, begun writing on a new novel. Or story anyway. There has been something on my mind for some time, and it sort of burst out of me the other day. I can tell how desperately I want to write about it. However, I’m also weeks away from launching my new novel and I’ve yet to receive the edits from my publisher. I expect them any day really. I’m also waiting for some Sami words that still need to be worked into the text. I don’t speak Sami myself, and particularly the Ume Sami language, with less than one hundred native speakers is an elusive one. I need to make sure to get things right. I expect those this weekend.

In order to prepare for the launch, I’ve worked on a trailer for the book. I’ve done a short trailer for every book since the launch of Jonathan’s Hope. That was an amateurish work, but it did the trick. I hope that the trailer for Last Winter’s Snow feels a tad more professional. I just upgraded my tools to a more professional version, giving me a lot more flexibility to do things “my” way. But that also means a lot more complexity. Have a look, leave a comment:

 

Anyway, I’m rambling. You all have a great weekend, and remember, no matter who you are, what you are (labeled or not), you are a wonderful and complex, valuable human being, worthy to be loved and cherished.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: Have you noticed the “Donate” button on my website? I’ve been contemplating creating a Patreon account, to help finance my every day life. But I’ve decided against it. I may write about that on Monday, why I feel it’s not the right tool for me. However, since I do not accept commercials on my website or my YouTube account, I don’t make any money on my blogging or vlogging. If someone likes my work, this is a way to show appreciation. No strings attached on either side. Thank you.

#MondayBlogs: Being an #author today, is it really that much different from say one hundred years ago? #amwriting #asmsg #amreading

#MondayBlogs: Being an #author today, is it really that much different from say one hundred years ago? #amwriting #asmsg #amreading

Being an author today is vastly different, in many ways, yet in most, it isn’t

Last week, as I revealed (not released, duh! I must’ve been really exhausted that day) the cover to my latest novel Last Winter’s Snow, I had already reached an agreement with my publisher to increase the price of the book by one dollar, compared to what we’d charged until  today. We’re going to increase the price on all our books in the coming weeks. I believe we’ve reached the point where prices need to be adjusted to fairly compensate authors for the work we and everybody else put into our books. To be an author today is a lot about the economy. Maybe that is one of the major changes to times long gone, although, for some, that is still valid, but for most of us, those times “long gone” never really existed. I’ll explain in a minute.

But first a bit of math. We’ll charge $4.99 for Last Winter’s Snow, the e-book. Of that, we get 70% from Amazon. That is $3.49 which we split 50/50, i.e. $1.75 for me. I am very open about this. Other authors keep their agreements closely to their chest, but my publisher is also very honest and up front, so no secrets here. I’ve always paid for my covers. All in all, the covers (e-book & paperback) is costing me somewhere along the lines of $140-175, depending on how much work Natasha has to put into it. I may also pick up some line-editing cost, while we are lucky that we have proof readers who work for free, because they love to get their hands on stories early. My publisher picks up the editing, type-setting and all the work associated with putting files online and selling them, plus all the bookkeeping etc.

Now, to pay my end of the cost of roughly $300, (which excludes any and all marketing and/or PR), I need to sell at least 172 copies. Before the price increase, just to give you an idea, that number was over 215, just to break even. In the indie industry, not every book even sells that many copies in a year or ever. That’s way before we’ve paid for conventions, marketing, PR, your website and what not. Mind you, the lifespan of a book is more than a year, and over time, the financials may look different, but still. A great many of us need to supplement their income somehow. Because to make an average US income ($55,775 for 2015 according to census numbers) I’d have to sell 31,935 books in a year. I came halfway in 2015 with ALL my books. However, a great many of those books were sold at a much lower price point, several thousand were even part of a Bookbub giveaway. I made considerably less. To pay those bills, most authors work part- or even full-time, some use other means of adding money, be it through donations on PayPal, a Patreon account and/or being supported by a loving spouse, parent or friend/benefactor. Some even use less than kosher methods and some even go all the way to being criminal (see below), which is – of course – sad.

But what was it like a hundred years ago? Not much different, at least not for the authors who did get published. Because unlike today, most wanna-be authors remained wanna be. Yes, there were vanity publishers who would put out anything for a price, but those books usually disappeared in the closet, basement or attic of the author never to be read by anyone, except a few selected friends or family members. But even those who were published often held other positions, as journalists, critics, teachers, etc. Some had family money (no matter what, it always helps you get ahead), some had benefactors or patrons. Without that, few ever got to the point that they were able to make a living off of their writing. Even Shakespeare didn’t make a living as a writer, but as the owner of a play house. The amazing literature he wrote was merely a means to an end, to set up plays. He earned his money from the people who paid to see the plays.

To be an author today isn’t therefore that big a difference from a pure financial point of view. The difference financially comes primarily from the fact that there are so many more of us, compared to a hundred years ago. Self-publishing, indie publishing and the changes the Internet and players like Amazon et al have brought to the industry have increased competition exponentially. Amazon’s entry into the book market is almost like a publishing big bang, and as with all major disruptions to an industry, it’s for the better and the worse. Yes, as authors and publishers, we often deplore the way Amazon abuses its power, changing review rules or how they impose pricing levels. On the other hand, we mustn’t forget that without Amazon, most of us would still be writing books the way my dear bonus mom did. For the shelf. For no one to ever be read. A shame.

Dying is one thing… But lying about your own death? Impersonate an non-existing gay husband? Commit identity theft (!) to write your own obituary? Fake identity papers?Really, is this what being an author today has come to?

Because contrary to popular belief when self-publishing was young and new, books that are self- or indie published are not “bad” books. Quite the contrary. Some of those books are the best I’ve ever read. However, there are of course, as in all things human, those who take short cuts, who do not pay ample attention to editing, proofing, type-setting, great cover art etc.

I’ve just recently seen an author who took pictures off Google to put on her covers. Without paying for them of course, which is highly illegal and then an amateurish execution. It takes more than Photoshop to create appealing cover art. Being “poor” is no excuse for not paying for an editor, proof readers or a cover artist. Publishing isn’t a human right. Surviving is, yet you can’t go to the supermarket and walk out without paying for your food, can you? Yet some writers feel that putting out an unedited, un-proofed book, as great as the story may be, is a basic human right. It’s not. Freedom of speech means that the government may not hinder you from publishing it, but it doesn’t mean a publisher has to pick it up. However, since the tools Amazon et al put at your disposal, making self-publishing basically “free”, some authors decide to publish unedited, un-proofed word documents with a home made cover anyway. Sadly, that crap (pardon my French) is quite harmful to all of us, serious self-publishers, indie authors, trad publishers, as well as those who cut corners. Why? It clutters search engines, makes it difficult to find the good stuff, it annoys readers, and – last not least – it seriously eroded the price point of books for many years now. A book that cost $0 in the making is likely to be offered more cheaply than a book that costs $1,000+ in the making (which is not an expensive price point, just saying!). That’s why there are so many $0.99 books out there. Over time, others have reacted, and even serious, long-time authors felt compelled to jump into the fray and offer some of their work for less than a dollar. At 35% royalty, that author would have to sell a whooping 161K books to make the above mentioned income. Impossible, particularly given the quality of the product.

Readers aren’t appreciating it. Because for every crap book they read, they get more frustrated and in the end, they may give up on reading altogether. And that would be a shame. Not to mention that an author who’s cutting corners will end up black-listed, not just by industry peers, but by readers alike. Don’t believe me? Ask Kathryn Perez, aka Cait Perez aka Byron Rider… She’ll find her miraculous recovery from death (!) is going to be short-lived if Facebook reader comments are any indication. Worse still, an entire industry ends up in disarray, and the more shit storms a genre endures (and my own, the LGBT one’s had a few too many of those recently) the fewer new readers we attract. We even lose readers, by the droves, if the 2015 crash is any indication. In the long run, no one is served by this all.

In a way, being an author today is no different from being an author one hundred or one thousand years ago. Money is tight for the vast majority of us, and always will be, just like it is for the average artist or worker out there. On the other hand, the “job” of being an author today has changed. Shiny objects like KDP, KU, CreateSpace, Audible and what not have changed the way we are authors, forever, putting new tools in our hands, tools that enable us to reach more people than ever before, in ever new ways. However, for every new “free” tool put at our disposal, we also need to assume responsibility for our work, make sure we provide our customers, our readers and fans, a high quality product. Not just for the sake of our own reputation, but to secure the future of an entire industry. I feel that being an author today is exciting, not the least because we reach new readers with tools like e- & audio books, and I can’t wait to get my first audiobook out there, reaching whole new audiences, e.g. the viewing impaired.

What’s your take? Author, publisher, reader? Where do you see the greatest changes to the publishing industry over the past century? Are you hopeful for the future? What’s it like to be an author today? I can’t wait to read your input.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week!

Hans

 

Cover release: “Last Winter’s Snow”, my new #novel coming 4/6 #amwriting #books #asmsg

Cover release: “Last Winter’s Snow”, my new #novel coming 4/6 #amwriting #books #asmsg

Last Winter’s Snow is released April 6th, by Beaten Track Publishing

Feels like it’s been forever, yet it isn’t. My last cover release was just a couple of months ago, for Common Sense. Now I’m back with fiction, and this book has been in the works for almost a year. I began writing Last Winter’s Snow in May last year, shortly after I was done with my short story collection SHORTS. After a chapter I realized that this would be a book that was different than anything I’d written previously. Why? Well, you’ll see at least one of the reasons when you read the book. I won’t give that away.

The second reason is no secret. I think I’ve shared many details of this book earlier, when I was traveling north for research: my main character revealed himself to be Sami. Not something I’d chosen consciously. But I had read a lot about how being gay and being Sami wasn’t all that easy, all that given even, and I know from friends who come from many different ethnic backgrounds, that very often, although far from always, homosexuality is still a bit of a taboo. As I did my research, I learned that – traditionally – the Sami lived in small family units, and that marriage and children was a necessity for the survival of the family. There just was nothing else. No priesthood, like the catholics have, and even the shaman was married with kids. But, after pressing and asking quite directly “do you never have unmarried people?” that question was answered with a “yes”. Grant you, not being married is far from being equal to being gay, they could be a-sexual, a-romantic or just unlucky, i.e. never having found a partner. But it’s an indication anyway, and it’s happened more than once.

Many indigenous Peoples have understood that the LGBT community has always been a part of their genetic makeup, while others, we see that primarily in former colonies of the west, being LGBT is still considered a “decadent western import”. Sadly. In other countries, e.g. India, being LGBT was only criminalized during the colonial age. Sadly it still is. And literally millions of people suffer all over the world, including risking the death penalty.

Nilas is a strong character, and his story is one of hope. While he chose the path of leaving his home to study and to be able to be true to himself, he always returns, the roots reaching deep into his subconscious. In the end, he is faced with the ultimate choice. But Last Winter’s Snow is so much more. Since the novel begins in 1982, things like the AIDS-panic of the era are a mandatory ingredient. LGBT history is long, but progress slow. I’ve often said that I feel that the HIV-epidemic is the main reason why we’ve reached marriage equality in so many societies. Call it a gay conspiracy theory. I have no proof, just a hunch, that straight majorities wanted to make sure we conform to the monogamous dream relationship of heterosexuals. An illusion, but still, everyone dreams about having one.

Just a year before Nilas meets Casper, the love of his life, the New York Times published its infamous first article about the gay cancer, and only three years earlier, Sweden removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. After that, things happen a lot more quickly, and in a way, the book is also a history of recent LGBT history in Sweden. This is, by the way, my first novel that plays out almost entirely in Sweden. It was an intensive write, a difficult one at times, but rewarding, as I’ve learned so much about Sápmi, the people and their amazing culture spanning over 8,000 years back in time. Not many people who can say that about themselves. India maybe?

Anyway, I feel I ramble… So, without further a due, here’s the cover of Last Winter’s Snow:

The cover of Last Winter’s Snow was designed by Natasha Snow, as she has for the past seven of my fictional releases, again a cover that really fits the story and the emotion the book conveys. I hope you like it. Pre-ordering has begun on Amazon, Smashwords and from my publisher, the latter particularly if you wish the be among the first to receive the paperback. Prices are set at US$ 4.99 for the e-book and US$ 11.22 for the paperback.

Here’s the preliminary blurb (I understand that I’m not the only one struggling with these…):

The story of native Sami, Nilas, and how he navigates life, trying to reconcile being gay as well as being Sami. Set over several decades, we follow Nilas and his Swedish partner Casper, as they build a life amid the shallows of bigotry, discrimination, and the onset of the AIDS crisis.

Last Winter’s Snow portrays recent LGBT history from a Swedish perspective, from the days when being gay was considered a ‘mental disorder’ to today’s modern anti-discrimination legislation and full equality. It’s also the story of one couple and the ups and downs of everyday life, as they navigate society’s changing rules and attitudes toward them and their relationship.

Last, not least, it’s a book that celebrates the rich history and culture of the Sami and their country Sápmi, as well as their ongoing struggle to achieve recognition and win back the right to self-determination over lands they’ve lived on for thousands of years.

Last Winter’s Snow is Hans M Hirschi’s first novel set almost entirely in Sweden, but it is the second time (after Fallen Angels of Karnataka) he takes his readers on a journey into the mountainous regions of Scandinavia in one of his acclaimed novels.

Have a wonderful weekend! See you Monday?

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Writing about minorities is mined territory, an encore #amwriting #asmsg #lgbt

Writing about minorities is mined territory, an encore #amwriting #asmsg #lgbt

As painful as the discussion is at times, we must persevere

I knew when I wrote last week’s post that not everybody would agree. However, what I had not anticipated was the level of antipathy, hatred even, that I faced. Within an hour of publishing the post I was facing my very first “shit storm” on Twitter. Not just for the unfortunate mix-up of two words in the heading (for which I am still awfully sorry and horrified) but for the views expressed in my post. It got so bad that for a couple of days, I was afraid to check my Twitter feed. I’m not used to so much hatred.

I had no idea that the concept of writing about humanity was so controversial, and that some people feel so strongly about who should be allowed to write about whom. To avoid further controversy and having people put words in my mouth, let me try and be as careful as I can be. Naturally, I respect everybody’s conviction and views. Given. And I listened, and I gather (feel free to add more arguments at the end of this post) that most of those who feel that only members of any minority should be allowed to write about said minority argue mainly according to these lines:

  • Publishing space is limited, and “our” (this could be any minority) voices are drowned out by the voices of the “others”, the majority. We need to make sure that more of our own voices are heard, not more “other” voices.
  • “We” are different, and “you” have no idea what it means to be “us”. Only “we” could ever write our own stories accurately.

Let me look at both arguments, one by one.

Publishing of minority voices

I have the utmost respect for the publishing argument. As an author who has never been published by the “big five” in any country, I know how difficult it is to get a publishing deal. And I understand that it is more difficult for minority voices to be interesting to a publisher. Even if we discount racism, misogyny, trans- or homophobia. Merely from an economic point of view, it must be more interesting to publish a book that reaches a wider audience. Sadly, today the large publishers are not in the business of the arts. They’re in the business of shareholder value, and that means to maximize the return on investment with the publishing budgets they have. No excuse (and please don’t shoot the messenger, again), just an explanation.

However, and this is where this argument becomes flawed in my opinion: publishing today is not what it was even ten years ago, much less three years ago. It changes all the time and the entire publishing industry is in a state of flux. To claim that the publishing space is limited though is simply not true. With the tools of self- & indie publishing available to almost anyone, minority voices have more and better opportunities to be heard than ever before. And a look at the number of books published shows just how much the industry has changed in recent years.

Are there no more hinders? No, of course not. I am fully aware that literacy, access to the Internet etc. are still big hurdles for many. Even more importantly, “finding” great literature that tells “our” stories is very difficult. As a writer and reader of gay fiction, I know how hard it is to find great books in the sea of M/M romance. I also acknowledge that it is challenging for many readers to find paperbacks that are self-published, and that most book stores specialize in selling books along the same lines as the big publishers publish, i.e. to make money, not to serve a minority.

While some book stores do an amazing job, I could mention a queer bookstore in New York, which does a great job servicing the LGBTQIA+ community. But again, only one city, in one country, and even they face the tough demands of the economy. While I was welcome to a reading there once, I was never welcomed back, on account that my books didn’t sell. Such is life.

I feel that the Internet provides amazing opportunities to help out on this front, to create portals for minority fiction, places where enthusiasts can gather information and resources about great fiction, focusing specifically on a specific topic and or group of people.

Only “we” understand what it means to be “us”

This second argument is much more difficult to argue about. Because, in my humble opinion, it’s a question of faith to a degree, but also a question of how we view ourselves, our human siblings and humanity as a species. I was once on the side of the argument that only gay people could really write about gay people. I no longer believe that. Why? Because I, as a gay man feel competent enough to write about non-gay people. If I can, why shouldn’t they?

Now before you get all heated and start calling me names again, please allow me to explain why I feel like I do. Being a minority is never “all” that we are. Being gay isn’t an all-encompassing part of my life. Neither is being gypsy (I use the word intentionally, as we were never able to ascertain the exact heritage of my grandmother. Roma or Sinti, we don’t know, hence I’m a quarter gypsy, something I have to live with, and I do so proudly), or atheist. I also wear glasses, have green eyes and mousey hair. All minority traits, viewed separately.

Racism, misogyny, trans- & homophobia are awful things, and it’s a given that we must all fight them. Authors must fight them using their tools, words. Now, if I, being who I am, privileged as I am to be able to write, use that power to help my own and other minorities, I think and I strongly believe that is a good thing. I add a voice to the choir. I add a story to the collection of stories about that minority. Because even writing about a wheel-chair bound white boy, I write about a minority.

This is where my empathy argument comes to bear. I am convinced, and nothing will ever convince me otherwise (so if you disagree, let’s politely agree to disagree here, and not resort to name calling), that being human is paramount, and that we all, no matter who (or what) we are, share so much more, than separates us. Even within a minority, stories differ, and a black man’s experiences are very different from a black woman’s experiences, and a rich black man’s experiences will be very different from a poor black man’s experiences. We are individuals, and there are almost ten billion individual stories out there.

Again, that doesn’t mean that being black doesn’t mean that most blacks suffer discrimination. Yet, being black in Nigeria is different from being black in America or say the Caribbean. So this is my strongest argument. Diversity means that I as an author look at the individual, and their plight in life. Some may suffer from the fact that the color of their skin makes them stand out, to some it may be a disability, or their gender or sexuality, or their age. As an empathic author, doing research, understanding the human aspect of it all, seeing what we share, and highlighting what troubles us, is what I do. I have no interest in writing clichés or stereotypes. That is bad literature, and I think we can all agree across the isles that bad literature is bad, period.

One argument I faced these past days was all about not being able (being “you” rather than “we” or “us”) to tell “our” story. This speaks to the very essence of literature, or, as we also call it, fiction. Yes, it’s fiction. It is not real life. The character an author brings to life must not ever be real life people, or else we write a biography, which is non-fiction. I write fiction. And the people I write about, as real and as alive as they may be in the depths of my mind, they are not living, breathing members of the species homo sapiens sapiens. They are derived from bits and pieces of people I’ve met through my life, but please, never ask me who and to what percentage. I couldn’t tell.

It’s fiction.

Therefore, how can anyone say that the character does not represent “what I am”? It’s not you. Now I understand that there are philosophical, political differences at play here, like I said Friday. I see us from an individual point of view, not from a group perspective, because while group membership explains some aspects of our lives, it will never explain it all. And the debate between socialism and liberalism has been fought fiercely since the 1700s, and we still have no definitive answer. We may never see one.

Like any good story, it has to be credible and plausible. Not real. We love Harry Potter because it’s credible and plausible. Yet the boy wizard was written by a woman, a muggle even. The anguish and despair of Italian Julia was written by a man, an English one at that, yet still, centuries later, we understand perfectly well, people of all ages, creeds, color, genders and sexualities, just how much in love and how desperate Julia is to drink the potion to join Romeo in death. Great literature captures the human essence, it transcends all that which is on the surface, not by making us all straight white Anglo-Saxon protestants, but highlighting that which brings us together as humans, not insisting on that which separates us.

Because I fear, that a consequence of the argument that we should only write about our own, we, as a human species are doomed to fail. If I can’t ever assume to understand what it is like to grow up poor, or blind, or Kenyan, or asexual, or gender queer, or, or or… Then neither will anyone else, and we are destined to remain all these separate groups, where whites discriminate against blacks, where Hispanics discriminate against the Indio, where men discriminate women, straight the LGBTQ community, etc. That is a view of humanity I refuse to subscribe to. While true today, are we really doomed to remain this way forever? And is it worth alienating our allies over it? All we achieve is further hardening the divide, rather than crossing it.

In closing, I understand fully that the discussion will continue, and that we most likely will not arrive at much common ground across the aisle. But let us do so without the name calling, because that, if anything, will only serve those who wish to preserve the status quo.

I look forward to hearing from you, preferably here, because Twitter is such an inadequate tool to debate, or Facebook, where last week’s post led to a very enlightening discussion with over eighty comments. Thanks everyone for weighing in. Who knows, we might even find a constructive way forward. I would also like to recommend you read my friend Amy Leibowitz’s very well crafted contributions to this topic, here.

Have a wonderful week. Greetings from my home town of St. Moritz where I spend a week with my dad.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

White people should not write fiction for audiences of color, or should they? #amwriting #asmsg #LGBT #amreading

White people should not write fiction for audiences of color, or should they? #amwriting #asmsg #LGBT #amreading

Empathy is needed to write about someone else’s fate and life

In this week’s Author Cave video I talked at length about how I find it problematic when minority authors demand an exclusivity of sorts to write fiction about themselves. I react instinctively against that sort of arguments. Maybe it is because I am a liberal (the European definition) and not a socialist. I think that at the core, we, as humans, all share so much more than that which divides us. But I also believe that the differences we have are individual, and must be explained as such, not because of what group we belong to (which is normally what socialists refer to when explaining the world).

Today, I feel compelled to also write about this, because of something I’ve read in a blog post the other day:

 

 

It is particularly the first point that had me stupefied. What is the difference between a book about people of color written by John Ashcroft or a book written by John Adams? See, you don’t even know which of the authors is of color and who isn’t. They don’t exist. I’m trying to make a point.

The problem isn’t the writer’s own ethnicity. It is their ability for empathy. Empathy to understand the plight of the people (or person) they write about. A good author should be capable of writing about ANY human being, no matter who they are. However, in order to do so, they’ll need to do research and get to know who they are writing about. I could make countless examples of great novels written by white authors about people of color, but I will not, simply because I’m sure there’s an equal amount of examples of bad novels. Am I then contradicting myself? No! Here’s why.

More books doesn’t necessarily equal more diversity

There are, increasingly, a lot of bad books out there. The ongoing development in the publishing industry, the rise of self-publishing, decreasing prices on books etc. all lead to fewer publishers / agents who vet manuscripts, less money invested in editing and proof reading and more and more manuscripts being uploaded straight from the author to Amazon et al. Anyone can write anything. Overall, this is a development we should celebrate, because it democratizes writing as a form of artistic expression. However, it also, inevitably leads to people searching their luck in writing, not to express themselves or an idea, but to simply make money. I recently wrote about one such author. And from a freedom of speech and enterprise point of view, even that is acceptable. It was the catphishing I was opposed to.

For the rest of this post, let us therefore disregard “bad” authors and ask ourselves: should great authors only be allowed to write about their own little group? My answer is still a forceful no. For two reasons mainly:

  • It is divisive. How can we ever hope to learn about the plight and lives of others if all we do is look within ourselves?
  • It is limiting. Because the consequence of majorities not being allowed to write about minorities will automatically lead to minorities not being allowed to write about the majority either. This is problematic not only from a philosophical point of view, but also economically.
  • As I’ve written before, the identity of the author should be irrelevant to the story. A great book lives on its own merits.

Allow me to explain. As a liberal, I truly feel and believe that if we use our empathic abilities more, to get to know each other, to better understand each other, thus tearing down the walls that stand between any dichotomy out there: white – non-white, gay – straight, young – old etc. But it’s worse than that. And I’ll use the romance genre as an example. The het romance genre is huge. Those novels are sold everywhere, even at our tiny grocery stores here on our island. They are translated to many languages, including Swedish, only spoken by some eleven million people. Many authors make money on the back end of that huge market. By comparison, the M/M market (i.e. gay romance) is tiny. Hence fewer authors. If gay authors were only allowed to write M/M romance novels, but not het, they’d be excluded from the potential opportunities of writing to a much larger market. The only people gaining from such a “rule” would be the het majority.

What’s the solution?

I believe the best way to move forward is not to exclude certain groups from writing about certain topics, or even to “prefer” one’s own to write about a certain topic, but to encourage more minority members to write in the first place. I am not naïve. I do understand that racism, misogyny, trans- & homophobia etc make it difficult for minority writers to be published by the large publishers who are largely in the hands of cis-white men. I also understand that minority members enjoy fewer opportunities to study and that fewer have the opportunity to set aside time for the arts. However, just because we can’t easily walk to the moon doesn’t mean we can’t get there at all. In my corner of the world (North America & Europe), the white man is the dominant part of society for now. That will only change gradually. One of the reasons why I write gay fiction is because I feel that I want to be a part of that diversity, adding more books for my “own kind”, but I also write about people who are not cis, not gay, not white, people who are disabled etc. Writing diversity, to me, is about empathy, not ethnic & group membership.

I do understand the call for books “written by my own”. It is a desperate cry after having read miserably written books by people who clearly have no clue what they do. They have no empathy, they completely lack the skill (or interest) to do research and get things right. However, I am convinced that if books were published without the name of the author on the cover (which is tested successfully in many HR departments when recruiting people, to give diverse people a shot), we would focus on that which is relevant: how the book is written, rather than who wrote it. We’d easily be able to sort good books from bad books without applying this sort of “reverse racism”, misogyny, trans- or homophobia, where white people can’t write fiction about people of color, women couldn’t write about men, and trans people couldn’t write cis fiction. I’d not want to live in such a world.

What is your take? Let’s have it… This is an important topic!

Have a good weekend.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: A first version of this post was headlined with two important words in the wrong order. While explained as a factor of English not being my first language, that is no excuse and I sincerely apologize for hurting anyone’s feelings. It was certainly not my intention.

#MondayBlogs: dead (or illegal) because of who I am, not what I do #LGBT #asmsg #resistance

#MondayBlogs: dead (or illegal) because of who I am, not what I do #LGBT #asmsg #resistance

Who you are is still more important than what you do, what you achieve!

But before we get started with today’s topic and just how deplorable it is that we still assign more value to who we are than what we do, I feel compelled to share this excerpt of Emma Lazarus’s poem The New Colossus, framing the importance of Lady Liberty guarding the doorway to the “new world”, the promised land, America:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

– Emma Lazarus, 1883

Nothing symbolizes the promise of America like the Statue of Liberty, as she stands proudly in the harbor of New York. Yet never before has this promise been as threatened as it is now. Photo: Private

Yes, there is a connection to today, as we, the world outside the promised land, once the land of the brave and the free, are no longer certain that we may set foot on its soil. Mind you, to a degree, this is a first world problem, as many people never even dream of setting foot in America. There are also significant numbers of people who wouldn’t want to. Yet ever since the declaration of independence in 1776, American has been the promised land. More than paradise, America was the land of opportunity, of freedom, a land where what you do is more important than who you are. Rich or pauper, skilled or hard-working, anyone had equal opportunities, or so it seemed.

Sadly, we all realize that in reality, this was never the case. America was the promised land for primarily Europeans, and even there, differences were made. And as George Orwell so eloquently wrote in his Animal Farm, all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Hence, Germans, English and Scandinavians were at the top of the pyramid, and if you had money, even more so. Italians, Spaniards, the Irish, not so much, contrary to popular belief when even a black president traces his roots back to Ireland… But far below came Asians, and the indigenous Peoples needn’t even apply. They were slaughtered or put behind bars, aka reservations. Africans were welcome, though more as machinery to fuel the progress of America. Not even seen as humans.

Today, the distinctions between Europeans is largely erased, but new frontiers have opened, while many of the old still remain. If you’re “red”, “yellow”, “brown” or “black”, you’re still not quite equal. To add insult to injury, another dimension is added: the Abrahamic faiths are divided amongst themselves, with primarily “Christians” kidnapping “Jews” against “Muslims”.

Traveling to America these days means that not only you’ll be judged by the color of your skin (which is of course no news to anyone), you’ll also be judged by your faith (or lack thereof, atheists are no more welcome than muslims in a true theocracy!), and your political convictions. It is a sad world we live in, no doubt. The other night, I had this strange dream about just how illegal I am, just based on who I am. There is nothing I can do about it, but just by virtue of my “genetic” makeup, I am either dead or illegal in so many places in the world.

As a gypsy, I may not be “dead”, but I am most certainly at risk for my life in many places in Europe. From Moldova in the east to the Adriatic Sea in the west, all across the Balkans, gypsies (Roma & Sinti) are persecuted, discriminated against and killed for literally no reason. Thanks to the breathing hole provided by the membership in the EU, many gypsies regularly travel to Northern Europe, where at least they are “safe” (there have been many reports of hate crimes here, too) and can beg for a living. I am proud of my gypsy heritage, even if it’s only 25% of my genetic makeup.

Born gay (yes, I was really, truly born that way), I am dead in eleven countries, were my husband and I ever end up on their soil: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Mauritania, and the United Arab Emirates. So no visits to Dubai for me any time soon, nor would I ever be able to fly Emirates or Etihad, no matter how good their service may be. Add to that list all the many countries (72 in 2016) where a visit of mine would end up with jail time. This also includes Bangladesh, where gay men recently were slaughtered, for lack of a better world, by extremists, even though the law only prescribes lifetime imprisonment… The irony!

As an atheist, there are even more countries where I am dead! A whooping thirteen countries would kill me if I ever ended up on their soil and they knew about my belief in science and humanism: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. This kind of excludes any more trips to the Maldives for me… Sad! I rather liked that country.

This satirical cartoon is spreading virally. No wonder. There is still hope for America, as long as Lady Justice prevails…

Now, there is of course nothing that says that I’d end up dead merely for switching flights at Dubai Airport. At least not automatically. But, mind you, I do usually travel with my family, and so it would be hard to hide who we are. Sadly, the recent attempts by the new American regime to also allow its border patrols to check for people’s social media accounts, search our phones will increase the risk of being stopped at the border, at random. Not just because of who you are, but also because of what you believe. Freedom of speech may be a civil right for Americans, but it does not apply to foreigners, hasn’t since the Patriot Act came to be. But after the recent elections, the respect for other people’s convictions, the most basic democratic value, seems to have evaporated. We’ve already seen Canadians (the most peaceful of people in my humble opinion) stopped at the border, simply because they opposed the current regime.

I plan several trips to the U.S. this year, but will they let me in? I don’t know. We’ll see April 27th, when I board my flight to New York to attend this year’s Rainbow Book Fair. I do have a valid ESTA, but in the end, it will be up to the local immigration officer to let me in or not. I’ve never before had to worry about this. I have lived in the U.S., studied and worked in the U.S., I have family and loads of good friends all across the country, and it is no exaggeration when I say I love America. I love what America stood for, as so beautifully expressed in the original Pledge of Allegiance:

“…the Republic for which it stands, one nation, with liberty and justice, for all!”

Not some, for all! Seems America’s forgotting the most important two words of the entire pledge…

Have a good week, and let’s hope that Lady Justice will keep us safe!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: Today we also celebrate the 100th national day of the Sami people. Still they are no closer to independence than they were 100 years ago. I wish my Sami friends and the people of Sápmi all the very best for the future. Another people oppressed because of who’re they’re born as…

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