Go for it, US peeps!
Stay tuned! Next week I expect to give away a signed Advance Reading Copy of BARDWELL’S FOLLY!
Go for it, US peeps!
Stay tuned! Next week I expect to give away a signed Advance Reading Copy of BARDWELL’S FOLLY!
by Sandra Hutchison
I’ve been contemplating bringing THE AWFUL MESS: A LOVE STORY (2013) in from wide distribution to Kindle Select, where various promotional opportunities can give it a boost. But the cover was a problem. Because it had a naked lady on it, sort of.
Still widely distributed, without any recent promotions, I get the occasional foreign sale through Kobo and almost nothing in domestic or foreign sales from any of the other retailers except Amazon. About one in five Kindle purchasers of THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE (2014), which is in Kindle Select, also buy THE AWFUL MESS, which is nice, but will never get it ranking high on its own.
As indie authors with any experience know, if I go back into Kindle Select, even for a while, I can more easily try to goose those sales a bit. (This will indeed hurt my ranking at the other sites, but as noted above, I don’t have really have one.)
However, there was little point in going back into Kindle Select if I couldn’t at least promote it on Amazon from time to time. And so I had an exchange with Amazon about their AMS marketing standards and whether this cover would meet them. (Thankfully, they were willing to consider the question.)
No, I was eventually told, there could be no nudity. Not even tasteful, blurred nudity.
So I tried going back to a more professional version of my first (homemade) cover. But sales fell during that test, so I returned to the naked lady.
Next, I tried drawing a blurry underwater bathing suit on that naked lady. That was pretty funny.
Then I decided to try to cover up her blurry naked behind with a nice blurb. Would that be okay, I asked Amazon? Nope, that was still no go. Even if we couldn’t see it, nudity was being suggested. (The helpful representative told me that standards have toughened a bit recently — even a male nipple disqualifies AMS marketing nowadays.)
I suppose this sensibility may also explain why I’ve had a harder time getting BookBub and other slots lately. Who knows why, though? My books are getting dated now, definitely backlist, so that’s a possibility. I won’t shut up about the current election, or race issues, or whatever, so maybe they think I’m too outspoken. Or maybe they blacklisted me for my post “The Five Stages of Grief of Being Rejected by BookBub,” even though it was free advertising.
Making your opinions public as an author or any small business person is always a risk. But so is publishing a book, right? I’d rather err on the side of telling the truth as I see it than tip-toeing around.
Of course, I’m not depending on my writing to pay the bills, so I get to make that choice from a position of privilege. Many others cannot.
Besides the really beautiful design by Damon Za, what I like about that semi-nude cover is that it signals the book might include some racy stuff. Which it does, in two short sex scenes. Some readers have an issue with that, which is understandable, although I could wish they would read the whole product description before they start reading.
Meanwhile, of course, other readers are disappointed when I don’t have any explicit sex, as I’ve noticed with my beta readers on BARDWELL’S FOLLY. It has some bedroom scenes between heroine and hero, just as RIBS does, but getting graphic about slot A and tab B in the two of them didn’t, to my mind, serve any non-prurient artistic purpose.
Occasionally I’ve thought of excising the explicit aspects from THE AWFUL MESS, too. But I feel those explicit scenes do add something to the characterization in that novel. And anyway, what’s done is done (except, cough, with covers and typos).
I do still, sometimes, toy with bringing back the clean PG-13 version, much as MM Jaye did with a recent romance, but since my clean version sold a total of two copies back in the day I doubt it would be worth the trouble.
It’s not as if a novel addressing misogyny and gay rights is suddenly going to find great favor in Amazon’s Christian romance market. The only reason I still toy with the idea is that I’d just like to try marketing it as a progressive Christian novel. Many Evangelicals are more progressive or at least less prudish than you might expect, and there are plenty of Christian readers like me who are quite liberal.
Anyway, I just recently purchased from Tugboat Design a pre-designed cover of a fully dressed woman that I hope gives at least a suggestion of sex while also, perhaps, hinting at the theme. I really like it, even though I personally envision Mary having slightly darker brown hair and even though I’m still not entirely sure what is going on in this photo. (What do you think?)
As long as I was investing in real design work, I had Deborah at Tugboat clean up my design for BARDWELL’S FOLLY, and get the paperback cover done, an effort I was procrastinating figuring out for myself. Hopefully this means the ARC will be ready next week to start going out for review. (If you’re a blogger or reviewer, feel free to request one).
Or, if you’re a reader who has strong opinions one way or the other, I’d love to hear from you. Do you think explicit scenes usually add to your experience of a novel, or get in the way? And even if you don’t mind them yourself, does it keep you from recommending a book?
“Bardwell’s Folly” has been read by five beta readers now, and thanks to that feedback I’m making some good revisions. I’m hopeful this version will be done by the end of the week. Then it goes to my fussiest beta readers in the hope they will throw in some proofreading, too. Then it’s into Kindle Scout, unless I chicken out and just put it up for pre-order. I did stick a toe in the water with regular querying (if a tweet and one query count), but my heart just wasn’t in it.
This week I finalized a new (or, actually, old, re-imagined) cover for the ebook edition of “The Awful Mess” because Amazon won’t allow me to advertise with a nude-ish person on the cover. (They also refuse anything with blood, I’m told by author Julie Frayn.) Now I just have to upload the new cover and update, like, everything. (Actually, the paperback will retain its lovely and striking and not exactly prurient Damonza.com cover — and I did lean heavily for inspiration on an option he’d given me back in the day, when I’d asked for something with those rocks as well as an original option.)
Of course, having made that decision, I finally got an offer to do something interesting just because it’s a SELF-e Select title, so I might hold off on trying it in Kindle Select until after then. I’m still going to change the cover, though. For all I know, that’s why BookBub keeps turning it down lately.
Speaking of Self-e, why Amazon considers a program that gives curated indie ebooks to libraries free as infringing on Kindle Select is beyond me. If I were them, I’d be happy to see my indie authors building a library readership, especially since SELF-e books now include buy links.
SPECIAL DEAL FOR KOBO READERS: Use code 50Jun through June 27 (midnight EST — that’s coming up fast, of course) to save half off “The Awful Mess” and many other indie titles.
For the next book I keep stalling out on my original plan. I’m thinking of returning to Lawson, New Hampshire instead. They do say series are the way to go. I’ve had a story in mind that would offer interesting challenges to Winslow and Mary, one related to issues that sometimes arise over immigration in small town New England. And Annie Soper deserves a love story. But I’m just beginning to flesh those ideas out.
While you wait for a new book, you or your reading friends might want to sign up to enter the Goodreads giveaway of an autographed paperback of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.”
My husband and I made it through 23 years of marriage before certain fundamental issues caused us to decide to part as friends. I doubt we would have made it anywhere close to that long if we hadn’t, fairly early on, participated in a workshop at our church on something called Imago Relationship Therapy.
Have you noticed that you (or your friends, since it’s always easier to see it in others) tend to fall for certain types of people … who tend to have the same issues? We do this, Imago Theory says, because what makes us feel warm and loved is very much based on what we experienced from our primary caregivers when we were growing up. Yet these same things are also guaranteed to make us absolutely crazy.
Imago Theory posits that we are all seeking to heal the wounds of childhood through our choice of mate, which is what drives romantic love, but in the process we will inevitably exacerbate those wounds — cue the power struggle.
I bring it up here because, although I am by no means an expert at this theory and its practical applications, it can also be useful to look at what drives your characters to each other, especially since what attracts people to each other is also what may ultimately heal them … if they can survive the conflicts along the way.
And conflict is the heart of all compelling fiction, isn’t it? Sometimes, but not always, with a nice healing resolution at the end.
(Those of you who know anything about typical patterns of codependency in alcoholic/addicted families will recognize similar patterns in Imago Theory.)
When I was writing The Awful Mess, I gave Mary an alcoholic father, a powerful, critical mother, and a mean-tempered alcoholic first husband for a reason. Winslow definitely has a judgmental streak, and I’m willing to bet that Mary unconsciously grooves on that, just as she manages to feel comfortable with his almost comically judgmental Bible-thumping father. But Winslow being a cop and ex-Marine also freaks her out, since it means he has the potential for violence, which is what scared her the most in her first marriage.
Similarly, I suspect Winslow is unconsciously drawn to Mary’s bordering-on-depressive, withdrawing personality (though she also has a pretty mouthy judgmental streak of her own) because of what he experienced when he was growing up.
David’s emotional remoteness in The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire echoes Molly’s experience of her own distant father, which is probably why he becomes so compelling to her when he does begin to establish a bond of affection with her. Meanwhile, Molly’s plainspoken exasperation probably echoes something from David’s wife and his mother, who hadn’t made any bones about her disappointment in him at key moments — which is why Molly’s affection can be so healing for him.
I won’t claim that I actually plan this stuff out when I’m writing (I’m a pantser, and I’m also probably too busy unconsciously working out my own demons), but once something is written and developing I do look hard at it and try to evaluate it in these terms. What are the wounds my characters carry with them, and how might they seek to heal them? (Not necessarily consciously or wisely, mind you.) Because that is one way to drive any character forward in a believable way.
If you’d like to learn more about Imago Relationship Theory, whether for your writing OR your love life, here’s a really helpful page: http://www.imago.com.au/. You might also want to check out the many books by its originators, Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.
And here’s wishing you a happy, healing heart!
And not just in writing. This blog post is going to be short because I spent today doing something I’ve been meaning to do ever since I moved in: getting rid of this hideous shed.
It was ugly, it was damaged, it was in poor repair, and animals I don’t know personally were using it. My son and I started unscrewing it and quickly realized that a crowbar, some muscle, and listening for the satisfying sound of screws going pop-pop-pop was a lot faster. Eventually we got to the point when we could just pull the whole frame down and start twisting it apart.
I’m not going to replace it. I don’t need a shed. I have a garage, which already holds more stuff I need to get rid of (a vanity inherited from the previous owner, for example), and I haven’t even added shelves to it yet. I have a basement, too. So why bother with a shed? It’s just one more place in which to lose tools and equipment.
I think this space full of potential is much better.
Obviously, this is still a work in progress. The locust on that awful slope needs to come down, but it’s on my neighbor’s property (which could also stand to see some paint — it looks fine in the front, but I think they like to pretend this side doesn’t exist). The arborvitae that is half bald and split under snow this winter needs to come down, too.
I’d like to build a retaining wall, but I don’t have the budget to pay someone else to do that right now. So I’ll have to see what I come up with. If nothing else, it would be nice to try to fit my son’s car in the driveway the next time we’re getting 20 inches of snow.
At least I don’t have to start every morning with a view of that hideous shed anymore. I consider that great progress! Tomorrow morning I’ll get up early and drive it and the other accumulated dead appliances and scrap metal to the scrap yard.
As I told a friend today, I’m trying to get a lot of stuff done before I come up on my first-year anniversary in this house. I’m afraid that, as she put it, inertia will take over. I still have Chartreuse green walls, for example. But now I have central air instead of window air conditioners to wrestle with, and those walls are going to go ivory as soon as the semester is done. I even have a solar roof to power that central air, although I’m still trying to figure out what is going on financially with that — I’ll do a blog post when I have wrestled THAT mystery to that ground.
So I’m feeling pretty accomplished today. Hey, I even got the weekly blog post done. AND I fit in a friend’s play reading. One of these days I’ll even get the onions planted before they give up on me.
April 30 is the last day US residents can enter to win an author-signed copy of The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire, and I’m not sure if that ends at the beginning of the day or the end. Until then, there’s an easy way to enter right on my home page.
I’m still formatting Chapters 1 and 2 of Bardwell’s Folly, the next novel, and sending it to my subscriber list soon. They get the first peek. Sign up for that list here.
Last month, an article in the Romance Writers of America newsletter Romance Writers Report by Jennifer Fusco caused quite a bit of controversy by recommending that authors avoid controversy. It gave specific examples in telling authors what to avoid comment on: “…religion. Gay marriage. The ruling in Ferguson, Missouri. Politics.”
And thus, ironically, Fusco did exactly what she was advising authors not to do.
The response apparently began with Racheline Maltese, who writes LGBTQ romances and was understandably offended by the idea that she should shut up about a matter of basic civil rights.
Sean Munger took it a step further, noting that the kind of author who would avoid any comment on matters like this is just plain boring. I think it’s a brilliant analysis.
Then again, it’s convenient for me to think that, because I find I just can’t shut up about this stuff. I did try. One of the first things I did before starting out into social media was read M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyer’s What to Do Before Your Book Launch (which is quite useful, yet oddly costs at minimum $115 new at Amazon right now — and, I’m sorry, but it’s not THAT useful — the first link up above is the ebook for Nook at $5.99). It essentially offered the same advice, without the specifics to rile people up.
It was advice that resonated for me at that point, because at the time I had just taken my son’s computer for fixing to a local guy whose shop turned out to be full of rabidly anti-Obama stuff. While this was still arguably better than going to get some high school kid to work on it at the national chain where I’d bought the machine, I swore that I was never going back to that guy again. (Incidentally, his web site gave me no clue of what I was getting into.)
It’s not that I boycott businesses owned by Republicans — I have a number of Republican friends. I occasionally even vote Republican in local elections. But I felt practically assaulted by all the vitriol in his shop — and I couldn’t help but conclude that anyone THAT rudely in-my-face about his politics didn’t really deserve my business.
And in social media there’s often no mediating personal relationship. I may not know that you are at heart a kindly fellow who will go out of his way to help the poor at the local food pantry. I only know that you are spreading what I consider racist propaganda. CLICK! You’re unfollowed.
This works both ways, of course. I notice that if I get specifically down on, say, the GOP’s attitude towards what they call “entitlement” programs, I immediately lose some Twitter followers.
Of course, it doesn’t pay to be too fast in our judgments, especially in an age of irony. Is this guy joking or is he serious?
— Jed (@jedgoodman) April 13, 2015
The thing is that while I do indeed try to employ what Mary Maddox describes as “a benign detachment that leaves room for readers to draw their own conclusions,” anyone who reads my books with a keen eye may notice a strong point of view about feeding the hungry and marriage equality (and other aspects of inclusiveness in the Episcopal Church) in The Awful Mess, and about women’s rights and justice issues surrounding rape in The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.
So if I’m going to anger people who disagree with me on those issues anyway, why should I hold back before they buy the book? Is it my job to try to fool people into thinking they’re going to read something else?
Of course, after teaching college English for some years, I have also noticed that people will read pretty much whatever they want to believe into any given book. Seriously. So … yeah, if I didn’t want to chase away any potential readers, I suppose I could keep my views hidden and they might never even notice that I disagree with them.
But I still can’t do it. These views matter, or I wouldn’t have written in the books in the first place! I didn’t write the books to be able to say, “Hey, look, I wrote some books! Aren’t they shiny?” I wrote them to say something. It’s all working towards the same end. It’s all living out loud.
So I’m just going to be as obnoxiously opinionated as I feel called to be by my concept of the truth. Yours may well vary from mine. We can still respect each other’s right to speak. You never know, the world might even benefit from our discussion.
1. I’m feeling confident enough about Chapter 1 and 2 of the next novel, Bardwell’s Folly, to release them to my email subscriber list as soon as I can get them formatted. So make sure you’re signed up for that if you want to have them earlier than anyone else. (And your feedback at this point could affect the course of the novel, so feel free to weigh in.)
2. The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire was awarded a “Seal of Excellence” by Awesome Indies this week. I got two lovely reviews from the site, too.
3. I attended my first Book Group event as an author. It sure was nice to be in a room full of people telling me they couldn’t stop reading my books — one even told me she kept turning her phone back on in the middle of the night in bed to read more. (If you read my most recent “Made It Moment” at Jenny Milchman’s blog, you know how much it thrills me to mess with people that way.)
It was really fun, and not just for the parts where my author’s ego got stroked. (Among other things, it included a hilarious discussion of sex scenes in books.)
4. And that’s it for this week, because the other piece of good news is that a certain cute grandchild is turning three, which will be keeping me pleasantly occupied today.
Publishing expert Porter Anderson had an interesting post recently, asking if it might be time for self-publishing to get over itself. He points out that:
It’s a valid question.
My answer to him (literally — I commented on the blog post) was this:
…I have a friend who asked me why I didn’t just fake it, since my books could “pass” for traditionally published. And he had a point. But I’d be nowhere without the helpful information provided by indie authors who went before me (and are still figuring things out faster than I am). So I feel an obligation to participate as well, to the extent I can, as a matter of paying it forward. I also find it genuinely interesting. (I have a background in traditional publishing, so I find the whole industry interesting.) I do think it is unfortunate when self-publishers get militant about their status. I understand the temptation, but I think it’s rooted in insecurity. There’s nothing inherently evil about traditional publishing. Or about agents. Or about bookstores. How many of us would be writers today if we hadn’t benefited from that low-margin book industry all our lives? Yeah, it can be corporate and risk-averse, and some of those contracts bear close examination. But the Big Five are not in a deep, dark conspiracy to ruin authors’ lives. If we care about literature, we should hope that they and bookstores continue to prosper, and that we all find our way to eager readers.
(He responded, if you want to check it out.)
Now, my personality is part of this equation. I compulsively truth-tell for the most part — sometimes unpleasantly so. My mother practices the fine art of being a polite Southern lady, but I think I have taken after my journalist father — we’re both prone to occasional crankiness and self-righteousness. (Yes, Dad, I said that.)
Over a decade ago I remember telling an agent at a conference that I wouldn’t self-publish because “that way lies madness.” And in those days, that was true. Self-publishing was largely the realm of crazy people utilizing vanity presses, stocking boxes of books in their garage, and hand-selling to everyone they knew. Then Amazon and print-on-demand technology changed all that.
I do remember still feeling an inhibiting shame about self-publishing, even after I’d decided it was something I would probably enjoy doing, until I came up with the name Sheer Hubris Press. That gave me the freedom to just do it. Yes, people, it says — Yes, I’m publishing myself! Yes, I think my stuff is worth reading!
I just can’t fake anything, and I don’t want to have to. Yes, I know there are things that are definitely Too Much Information or too cruel to say, and I’m not recommending you tell your boss you can’t stand him or her before (or even after) you have another job lined up, but for the important stuff, the stuff that gives life meaning, I want to be my genuine self.
There is still sometimes an element of shame involved. For me the worst shame was discovering that my proofreading of The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire was not at all up to snuff. Fixing that meant sitting with perhaps the most visceral feeling of shame I’ve ever experienced — literally, I put off the work for days because of the awful feeling I got in my guts. I had prided myself on being a better publisher than that.
So, yes, sheer hubris can lead to spectacular failure. Except… so what? Ultimately, it was just another hard-won lesson along the way. The book has been fixed (mostly — there are at least three typos left, which I’ll fix when I add the information about the next book). And it’s doing well enough critically to make me happy, even though I doubt its sales will ever match The Awful Mess, which has the great advantage of crossing over into romance.
As I once told a library audience when presenting about indie publishing, there are people who will react to a self-published book as if someone in the room just farted but they’re too polite to say anything about it. What I didn’t say is that I don’t give a flying **** about those people. They care more about status than whether a book has something valuable to say.
There’s enormous joy in living your life the way you want to live it — living out loud — and sharing what you’re good at with others. If you can accept that publishing is hard work if you plan to do it well, puts you out there where not everybody will be kind, and is extremely unlikely to result in fast fame or riches, then you’re going into this with your eyes open. If, knowing all that, you still feel called to do it, go for it.
One of those 2015 resolutions: building my email subscription list
Jo-Anne Kern won the first quarter’s $20 Amazon Gift Card for being a member of my email list. (This is not the same list that gets you this blog sent to you in your email, just in case you’re confused about that.) If you’d like to be entered for the next quarter’s drawing, subscribe. You’ll need to confirm your subscription for it to really take. I send out occasional news and give you access to bonus materials and stories.
I’ve been investigating how to build the email list. There seems to be a whole industry of authors who claim to have the magic secret of doing this, which they’re happy to tell you about (and you can learn more for only $____!) One of them involves adding annoying pop-ups or slide-overs to your web site. I may yet try this, but I’m not at all convinced it would help. I click out of those sites fairly often.
One thing that would help would be having a web site that is actually up and running fast enough. Bluehost has been letting me down this week. Sorry about that.
A signed-copy giveaway
I decided to run another Goodreads giveaway for a signed copy of Ribs (for US readers only). Naturally, I just read a book promotions expert saying that you should never give away books unless you can get an email address in return. (On the other hand, giving away books is exactly how I managed to do quite well with The Awful Mess.) If you’d like to enter for this, here’s the information:
This week I was fortunate enough to enjoy two big events in the life of The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire, my second novel.
First, BigAl of BigAl and Pals reviewed it very positively. Of course, like most reviewers he also notes that it may force you to ponder things you never wanted to. That may make this book harder to sell than The Awful Mess, which is easier sailing once you get past that pesky committing-adultery-with-a-married-priest thing.
Later in the week I had an interview on The Indie View, which asked some great questions. I enjoyed answering them — though it was something I did a while ago, so it was a little funny to see that some of my ideas (for example, about how to market the book) have already changed.
They decided to highlight the one bit of name dropping I did, so I’m going to assume that was clever somehow, and keep going. Yes, I used to sit in Marilynne Robinson’s living room while her husband Fred Miller Robinson, then a professor at UMass/Amherst, taught the undergraduate creative writing workshop I was taking. I remember being impressed that they were so hospitable with a bunch of scraggly undergrads. (I was of course even more impressed later, when I read her first novel, Housekeeping. Amazing book for those of you who appreciate beautifully-crafted literary fiction.)
That shameless bribe I mentioned
I’m trying to grow my subscriber list, so in order to entice you to join it, I offer the following:
I’ve finished the short prequel to The Awful Mess that began with “After that Slap.” (Those of you already on the list may remember this.) It’s in production at the moment. It’s now called “Motivated Sellers” and I will soon make it available free to all members of my reading list. You get to spend some time with Winslow and Bert and watch Mary’s real estate agent dodge that issue of how the house smells. And then I’d love it if you’d let me know whether you think I should make it available to the general public or not.
Those of you already on the list know I don’t send a lot of email. Right now if you want blog posts, that’s a separate subscription. I may combine the two lists, just so the update people don’t forget who I am. Blog posts only come every two weeks unless something exciting is going on. (I tried doing it weekly again recently and while I enjoy it, I find it takes a major amount of time that really ought to be going to fiction writing.)
And yes, spring WILL come
I want to end on a cheery note for those of us suffering through the worst winter in decades in the American Northeast (as I write this, it is snowing AGAIN.) I forced these branches from a sick tree in front of the house into blossom this week. It’s a reminder that those buds out there really will swell and break into flower and leaf someday.
Want to try it yourself? Cut some branches, put them in water — maybe with a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide to discourage bacteria — and be patient. It took about three weeks, and I had just been about to dump it all as a failed experiment when I noticed the buds swelling. Forsythia and willows are the easiest to do this with, if you have those. But fruit trees can work. I used to do it with ninebark, too. If you hammer the ends of the branches flat that is supposed to help them take up water, but I didn’t bother with that.
Those are primroses underneath the branches. I picked them up at the grocery store on sale this week. (They are often on sale about now.) If I keep the spent blossoms pinched and keep them moist, they should continue to bloom for quite some time.
Stay warm and think spring thoughts!
Some time ago this t-shirt made the rounds of Facebook and Twitter, and met with general approval from the wild-eyed feminists I tend to hang out with:
I certainly approved of it as an antidote to some other much more macho versions I’ve seen, like this one:
Talk about being hostile and possessive. (Though I totally agree with the doorbell thing.) It all seems to amount to this, really:
And that’s just about as patriarchal as it gets. Also, I’m the mother of a teenage son, and I don’t really appreciate these sentiments being directed at him. It’s as if these guys were all such sleazes in their own dating days that they expect the worst from every other young man.
Not that I’m going to suggest typical young men — and quite a few older men — are not highly, highly motivated to get some.
Which is, of course why there are risks out here for young women who are dating (or just trying to get a meeting with Bill Cosby). And my novel The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire demonstrates at least one of those risks fairly dramatically.
But how many people would really be willing to apply “She makes the rules. Her body, her rules” to their own teenage daughters?
The heroine’s arguably wacko feminist mother in The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire DOES hold this philosophy and actually puts it into practice at a key moment …. and plenty of women I consider feminists react to that moment by saying “WHAT? She said WHAT?”
Not without reason. The 17-year-old may be legally of age (in Massachusetts) and unusually mature, but she’s recently survived a harrowing ordeal. And the fellow she wants to make her own rules with is a much older man who is messed up in his own way, though I don’t consider him a predator.
And perhaps it’s easy for me to try to support the idea that SHE makes the rules, because I don’t have a biological daughter, and my stepdaughter is now safely grown up (though we had plenty of nail-biting moments), and I myself avoided most of the dangers of immature sexual experimentation by being a total nerd for a long, long time.
But I was a daughter. And while my childhood was thankfully not much like Molly’s, I do remember how I felt about being protected from my own opportunities to grow up: I resented it.
My old Clearwater High School friend Gayle recently posted on Facebook about how I had a “purity of purpose” in high school, whereas she was obsessed with boys. The reality was that I just kept my obsessions quieter. Yes, I campaigned for Jimmy Carter at age sixteen. And yes, I was enthralled by him (a Southern liberal! It was such a refreshing concept!). But a lot of that effort had to do with the fact that I was canvassing with the lovely young Michael Billiris. (He never laid a finger on me, I’m sad to say, though I’m not sure I would have had the slightest idea what to do if he had.)
When Carter won, Michael and I were of course invited to the local campaign party to celebrate, and that was when my dad said no. My father was a local journalist and he knew what those parties were like — probably not at all a safe place for a naive 16-year-old. Even though I know this now, that “no” still rankles all these decades later. I worked on that campaign, damn it! And Michael Billiris was going to that party!
Maybe Dad saved me from some horrible trauma. But as far as I was concerned, when it came to all that stuff I was always waaaaay behind my peers.
The thing is, learning how to handle sex is part of growing up. For girls as well as boys. There’s fumbling around and figuring out what the deal is, especially since everybody has been trying so hard to keep you from learning it.
There’s learning how to cope with people who want it from you — perhaps especially if you don’t want it with them — or to cope with people who don’t want it with you when you desperately want it with them.
There’s crappy beginner sex, getting-better-with-practice sex, and, hopefully, some really great sex. Maybe you’re lucky and it’s all with the one great love of your life. Most of us aren’t that lucky. (And do people that lucky actually know how lucky they are?)
The thing is, you can’t ever just check sex off your bucket list as something you’ve done. All your life, you’ll be affected by your own and your partner’s (or partners’) libido. You are going to have to cope with the sometimes heartbreaking difference between sex and love, between sex and actual emotional intimacy, between sex and commitment. You may be faced with betrayal or boredom or disability. You may be one of those sad people who compulsively pursue sex even against your own best interest (see Bill Clinton, or Arthur in The Awful Mess).
As parents, we’d love to make sure this area of life always goes well for our kids, along with everything else. Hopefully, we teach our sons and daughters to respect themselves enough that they won’t do things they don’t really want to do just to be accepted. Hopefully, we teach them to respect others enough that they won’t wreak horror on someone just because they can.
And perhaps fortunately, there’s a sort of natural limit after which it becomes creepy to the rest of the world if we don’t let go and let our children make their own decisions about it.
Their bodies. Their rules.
But, oh Lord, please help them get them through it safely.
As I told a reader at the Sand Lake Town Library this weekend, if reading The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire keeps just one young woman (or young man, for that matter) from getting drunk at a party and paying the price for it, it will have been worth everything I put into it.
And if it prevents even one person from judging someone harshly for a youthful misstep in this area, that will make me happy, too.
What about you? When do you think “her body, her rules” kicks in?