An open letter to my fellow writers.

Please, act like adults.  Act like professionals.  Respect the long and varied literary tradition that includes rigorous criticism and the assumption that readers are autonomous.  Readers have no obligation whatsoever to writers.

No compulsion to read books a certain way, or write only constructive reviews, or agree with other reviewers, or hold their tongues if they do not like something.  And unless a reviewer is paid by a publication or a website or another organization they have no professional obligation at all.  

We do.  We’re the pros.  We need to remember that.  We take the produce of our psyches, be it beautifully or terribly written and place it in front of the general public for their paid delectation.  After that it’s up to them.  To enjoy it.  Or not.  To give it lavish praise or rip it into small shreds as they see fit without fear of censorship or reprisal.

There are outlets for creative expression where the critical norm is gentler than in the paid marketplace, such as fanfic sites or your blog, because the assumption there is that this is an amateur endeavor, done for love rather than profit.   I love what I do, truly, but I am aware that I am also releasing a product for sale into a competitive marketplace.  The consumers of my product can do as they wish with it as long as they respect copyright law.  Incidentally, quoting from a published work in a review is almost always protected under “fair use”.   Readers or prospective readers are under no more obligation to say nice things about a book than the patrons of a fast food restaurant are about their dining experience.

A book’s being a deeply personal creative effort doesn’t exempt it from that.  It’s more removed, but the person who developed that hamburger recipe undoubtedly put a lot of energy into it, and was probably very proud of his or her finished product.

Incidentally, when a reviewer is a paid professional, their overwhelming obligation is to their employer and their audience, not to the author of the reviewed work.  It goes without question that the reviewer should not be employed by the writer of the item under consideration.  The only widely accepted constraint on a professional reviewer is that they should not veer into the realms of the personal.  This has not been considered appropriate in literary criticism since the early 19th century.  The only time a reviewer is substantially accountable to a writer is in certain peer to peer settings, ie. one writer to another furnishing a professional opinion, usually solicited.  Even in that instance, the accountability is usually confined to furnishing the rationale for the opinion.

Please, we’re all adults here, or should be.

Modesty, how it’s largely been co-opted by conservatives, and why maybe liberals should try to take it back.

First of all, I’m a modest dresser but I wasn’t always one.  It’s sort of crept up on me over the last four years or so.  I am very comfortable in the clothes I wear now, and I think it unlikely that I’ll go back to a more “normal” standard of dress.  I was raised largely Episcopal, I have been a Christian for many years, I vote Democratic, and I hold many “liberal” views.  My upbringing was a little quirky, and my mother was not on board with things like make-up, pierced ears, hair dying, high heels etc.  She strongly felt that women should wear pants, and that if you were going to wear a skirt it should be fairly long.  It wasn’t conventional modesty per se, but feelings about appropriateness, lack of display, and a desire not to commodify beauty.

I broke with a lot of those ideas as a teenager and a young woman for a number of reasons, including that I just really like having dangly sparkly things in my ears.  I still do.  I don’t wear them everyday but I love earrings.  They make me feel pretty.

Looking at various resources and blogs of modest dressers on the internet it is clear that standards of modesty are extremely personal, as they should be.  I cover my shoulders and most of my back, but not my arms, and I don’t do cleavage, but I don’t necessarily wear my necklines as high as many modest dressers do.  I almost always wear skirts, at least to mid-calf, usually with shorts or leggings underneath, depending on the season.  Hose is dependent on the shoe, the season, and the length of the skirt.  On the rare occasions I wear pants, they’re “traditional cut”, usually elastic waist, and fairly loose.  I wear my hair, which is graying, long and almost always up, but I don’t cover it.  I always wear a slip, and usually double up on the shirt to prevent clinginess.

My appearance is conservative enough that I’m aware people make assumptions about me based on the way I dress, some of them correct, some of them incorrect, some of them possibly silly, and some of them objectionable to me.  Particularly that because I cover more of my body than many women and wear my hair a certain way, that I may hold certain political, religious, or social views that are frankly abhorrent to me.  Most especially about homosexuality, but not limited to it.  I have occasionally been tempted to get a little button made saying “Modesty, not Bigotry” or something similar.  

I find this infuriating.  I can also find the assumption that modesty is antithetical to various liberal ideas equally infuriating.  Particularly feminism, because apparently it is liberating for women to be ogled by strangers.  Or judged by their public presentation of their sexuality and appearance.  Or that women who choose modesty have it imposed upon them, because the motivation to starve oneself into a double zero and appear in public wearing collections of string and band-aids is obviously completely internal. 

And I think some of these assumptions make it difficult for women to choose modesty.  Fashionable clothes are very skimpy.  Adopting a particular standard of coverage usually means either dressing and shopping very, very carefully and wearing a lot of camis, or wearing clothes that are frankly unfashionable.  For me, it’s worth it.  Modest standards say “My appearance is not a commodity; my sexual being is private.”   They do tie into both my religious beliefs, and both me and my husband’s beliefs about what’s attractive and appropriate, but neither of those are paramount.

The real shocker?  I feel pretty most of the time.  I feel attractive, and I am closing in on fifty.  I think the general treatment I’ve gotten from men has become more respectful, but I haven’t become invisible, which is something many women my age complain about.  I get flirted with, but I don’t get propositioned, and very few people make off-color jokes in my presence unless they know me fairly well..

I’ve concentrated on women in this post, because it’s much more of an issue for them, but I do occasionally see a man (almost always young, and probably often gay) that I’d like to put some more clothes onto, and for pretty much the same reasons.  Beauty shouldn’t be a commodity, and the sexual self should be private, for yourself and whoever you choose to share it with.

Rant over, at least for now.

The perils of writing LGBT Christian fiction

Other than the funny looks, and trust me, I get those.

Paramount is the risk of offending both Christians and the LGBT community at the same time.  Which is a sort of two-for-one deal, but not what I’m after.

The other ever-present risk, and the one I’m actually inclined to worry about, is that I’m getting it wrong.  That someone will read my work and say to themselves, “No that’s not my experience, and what on earth has that writer been smoking?”

While I like to think my faith informs everything I do, I also write plenty of stuff that’s not overtly religious, some of it very light, and some of it more serious.  So why bother?

Part of the reason is that I believe very strongly that being gay, or bi, or trans, or whatever, is NOT a sin, but part of God’s plan, and just some of the ways he makes us in infinite and wonderful diversity and that God has opened a way for me to share this with other people.

Some of the rest of the reason, and the one that’s more selfish, is that every now and then I’ll open a pm or look at a review, and realize that someone else got exactly what I was trying to say.  And the last part?  The hope that someone, somewhere will read one of my books and not only understand what I mean, but gain comfort and self-acceptance from it.