Hi, Society

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Back in 2007, I was bouncing from coasts between high schools for what was left of my sophomore year. Guitar Hero, synth-pop, leggings in lieu of pants, along with the prominence (and pervasion) of forums were all the craze. Haute was being subverted through kitsch avant-garde that was nonchalant and nihilistic, somewhat nostalgic of Warhol and the dystopian edge of the eighties.

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Social media was also taking on a new life and meaning. Platforms like Blogger, Myspace, and MSN faded out against Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; the latter of which offered more immediacy and interconnectivity with clicked connections that enabled prompt, personalized content as opposed to tailored templates. Despite their more multiplex and expedient advances, these new sites and services were as accessible and user-friendly as their predecessors; but they were also as frenzied. The individualism was indulgent and immoderate, because there was—and still is—no oversight of this mass connectivity. People connected easily and swiftly, but not necessarily nicely.

The late 2000’s cultivated countercultures through cyberspace which were amenable to activists, but conversely bred toxic trenders and trolls; and unlike the live moderators or some semblance of staffers (however arrogant) of the ‘old days,’ amoral algorithms and unresponsive personnel then supplanted management or moderation. Which is why Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram operate as walled gardens whose fruitful objectives are more quantified than qualified. They’re bigger, better playgrounds, but there’s nothing or no one to prevent somebody—or if you’re targeted, legions—from dunking your head in the sand or cracking your teeth off the monkey bars.

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But, I could’ve honestly cared less back then. I was a sophomore, soon-to-be junior, then senior who was absorbed in aces and university applications. Social media didn’t really appeal to me either since I wasn’t keen on being social. I didn’t have many friends. Between relocations, burying myself in school and work, and what would become clinical anxiety: I couldn’t. I also just wasn’t into what was trending. Around that time, most folks in my generation (and some before) were swooning over sparkly, stalker vampires whose concept of romance was obsession—and that yielded an even creepier offshoot which nauseated me, and still affirms an apocalypse or the inevitable extinction [via self-destruction] of our species. These trends, however tripe, dignified the somewhat conspiratorial theories posed by the anti-tech crowds. The internet had bred the means and ends to not simply imposing insights and ideologies, but indoctrinating them. People became content creators who could—and did—cultivate and capitalize upon followings whose interests were not merely interconnected, but intertextual.

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Positively, this fractured the gatekeepers. Esteems earned through some establishment were no longer the exclusive determinants of merit or success. The con was pure, unadulterated populism. Free press risked the reverence and redistribution of rubbish. Catharsis could be captured, then consumed through clickbait. Our concept of that surplus, simulated connectivity bled into our concept of real life in very real ways. Society itself is social; but when media mitigates that, the social can wholeheartedly supplant rather than strengthen or subvert the personal and political. Everything becomes a spectacle: a matter of subscribers, shares, likes, hashtags, and filters in which an audience is amassed and applauds. Practice, pleasure, and personality become more performative because it isn’t about catharsis; it’s about a curtain call.

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The prospects and power of social media are well-known today, many of which have produced some notable celebrities; but it was only the tip of the iceberg when I was in high school. Social media could create social moments. Folks were eager and excited to navigate their news feeds and create their own headlines. The ludicrous albeit lucrative trends had entertained and inspired people to share, sell, and sympathize; because trends are temporal and definitive. And, these new [social] networks enabled some superfluous signs of the times.

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Maybe that was why Gossip Girl was such a hit. The series was created in the same vein as its producers’ prior hit, The O.C. which I was probably too young to get into when it first came out. It was based off a bestselling young-adult series of books, but moulded in the interests of teen angst which meant crucial, liberal departures for the sake of television. Families were drastically scaled down from their literary extensions as were the more marginalized identities of sexuality and gender fluidity, which made for a relatively tame cast of pretentious personalities. What made Gossip Girl distinct were its subtexts of classism, nepotism, elitism, and oligarchy. Most of the characters were woefully wealthy and wicked, whereas the poorer people were craven for acceptance. Everyone was envious, enchanted, and entitled to each other. Everyone had a story that simultaneously anguished and admired avarice and artifice—which was the tragic irony of it all.

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The eponymous ‘Gossip Girl’ was an online persona who ran a notorious blog devoted to narrating and knocking the lives of the main cast, for richer or poorer. Its surrealism is marked by its presence as operant as opposed to just existent. The blog was frequented and functional. It incorporated tips from onlookers which were substantiated by pictures, texts, or other messages, some benign and others malicious. Gossip Girl was effected as an equalizer who humbled its loathsome, lavish subjects amongst pessimistic peasants whom came to climb and rival their ranks. It provided a fictional, but resonant account of how real lives are affected by the ‘reality’ of social media; even if that ‘reality’ isn’t real.

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Which is why the recent #MeToo hashtag assumed a life of its own in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s cancellation and comeuppance as a pig who weaponized his industrial interests and insights to extort sexual favours and rape with impunity. #MeToo went viral shortly thereafter to signal the solidarity of women whom had predominantly been victimized, antagonized, and otherwise objectified sexually by men whom had nonetheless prospered. Celebrities applied the hashtag to their own experiences in Hollywood, whereas others used it upon reflection of their overall assaults and ensuing traumas which were enabled by rape culture: a rape culture that social media has not only exacerbated, but aided in its venues which range from chauvinistic forums to crash dumps of revenge porn; all with faulty algorithms that discern offenders are somehow not in violation of Community Standards. Gossip Girl explored this briefly in some of its seasonal arcs, where the titular blogger is privy to sexts, sex tapes, and sexual histories of women whom are subsequently scorned or [slut-]shamed.

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I only watched Gossip Girl for Chuck Bass. He was suave, seductive, and surrealistically shrewd amongst the other moneyed misfits and hated the have-nots. He was also a rapist. The first season saw him as a misogynistic misanthrope whose toxicity is haphazardly implied to be justified by his unresolved Mommy and Daddy issues. After trying to force himself onto another character, he attempts to rape a freshman some episodes later—which is pretty much glossed over after he’s consequently punched and he somehow manages to become a redemptive, definitive personality of the overall series.

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Chuck was someone I related to family-wise and in the sense of how I internalized. I disliked people; and I was actively aware—sometimes, in awe—of how they could be airy and artificial on instinct, even to their detriment. My cynicism prevented any suspension of disbelief which was a requisite for imagination or immersion. I was more avoidant than escapist, but I preferred to take more than I gave. The difference is that I didn’t just take; and I exercised empathy in that I likewise felt wasn’t not entitled to anyone’s time or energy, because I knew (or at least, liked to think) nobody was entitled to mine. Chuck never quite got that. Maybe money, masculinity, misogyny, and misanthropy prevented him from making that leap. For all of the paltry politics and pretenses, he saw society and social media as walled gardens—and believed any- and everything were simply a means to sow his own oats. The more I watched him, the more I hoped he would change with each passing season.

But, he didn’t.

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Chuck’s progression was defined by his own permissions and parameters which would caustically, characteristically violate those of others’. The series stretched on for years and I started hating him, because his privileged, profound, and profane prerogative nullified literally any redeeming aspect. There would be glimpses of reflection, realization, along with some erratic, but earnest effort to be accountable—and it would be completely disingenuous.

Which now kind of correlates to the actor who brought him to life: Ed Westwick.

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Westwick was flying pretty high during Gossip Girl’s run, and lived relatively privately despite that while his cast mates were more in the public eye via their relationships or scandals. The only mention of him people really got were his rooming with co-star, Chance Crawford (Nate Archibald), and relationship to his co-star Jessica Szohr (Vanessa Abrams)—which only made waves since fans were annoyed he wasn’t dating his onscreen love interest, Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf). Some other tidbits about his hobbies also surfaced. I vaguely remember folks mentioning him being a musician and theatre buff?  After Gossip Girl [colossally unsatisfactorily] ended, I think he just gradually faded out. There wasn’t any mention of his colleagues, co-stars, or confidantes in following projects; and the rest of the Gossip Girl cast had moved on with their lives in a comparably similar obscurity.

Now, Westwick has gone viral in real life akin to Weinstein and other Hollywood personnel whom have been divulged as predators.

And, I really can’t say I’m not surprised. Not because I link Ed to Chuck, but because this is a story I’ve heard before, one that I will likely always hear; one that I have myself told. Bad people can be those you’d least expect; those with an abundance of assets which are underlain with some fundamental flaw; and those you would expect given the premise of their positionality that prompts them to simply pluck or pain whom they choose. Westwick may be of either likeness in his own way; and I quite frankly find it unnerving that his response to such a grave accusation is a mere note—which oddly coincides with the concept of social media as a delineative, distributive, destructive, and sardonically disconnected force reality must reckon with, if not resolve.

UPDATE: Westwick now faces another survivor’s narrative. 

If It Isn’t Love

 

“Love” and Hip Hop

I’m seeing an old clip of Joseline Hernandez and Stevie J going off on Benzino and Althea at the season three reunion of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta (LHHATL) resurge and go viral on Twitter. But, I find myself kind of numb rather than sharing the collective keke that echoed across the Internet.

I don’t know what other people were watching that season, but all I saw was trash.

For one, I never forgot this. Everything made sense afterward. Dee was never “overprotective” or comical. She’s one of those toxic mothers with internalized misogynoir whom coddle their sons’ rather than hold them accountable. I mention her because she “apologized” on Scrappy’s behalf; and proceeded to gently walk him through why men shouldn’t beat up on women, tit for tat, even though he had prior knowledge of Erica’s survivorship within other abusive relationships.

The cycle then extends to Bambi—who later went on to order an attack on Erica in a nightclub—whose instinct was to drag Erica regardless; as if expression of condolences was disrespectful, as if she’s responsible for Scrappy’s suspected indiscretions, as if she’s delusional and her attraction was unfounded, as if he did nothing.

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Then, there was Mimi Faust—whose sex tape with her then-boyfriend, Nikko Smith [London]—was leaked. Even though the slut shaming she received from her fellow castmates was atrocious, what hit me hardest were her ‘friends’ whom were less inclined to be supportive than sanctimonious. Which is innately contradictory to the emphatic declarations of “girl power” and “womanhood” the women in these series so earnestly and evidently, superficially cite. The condemnation and condescension she fared against from her ‘friends’ as if she were to blame for her violation; as if any resultant discrimination or abuse aren’t yielded from chauvinism and rape culture within society at large. Moreover, there’s the fact that if your friend does have a sex tape leaked, you don’t have to watch it. Nobody does. In fact, if it was leaked without their consent, your viewing is violatory. For me, there was little consolation in the fact that the video was ultimately staged. If anything, that fact just made me think of the more chilling prospects had it been real; how utterly unsupported and undermined a woman would be by her very ‘friends’ whom would rather condemn her as culpable in her victimization.

It all made me think of how and why I’ve always hated LHHATL the most: because, it’s got the ashiest characters whom reinforce the ashiest stereotypes. I know Love & Hip-Hop is already chalk full of slut shaming, internalized misogynoir, amidst the beckies and chads (and anybody else) whom blackfaced; but there’s something about LHHATL that I just can’t shake, and I feel nauseated whenever it comes on.

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It’s like a caricature of every toxic trope in a trash song: the serial cheaters; the fools who take them back time and time again; the other women or “side pieces” whom are dragged or demonized for the whole thing; the ignoramuses fighting over ain’t shit mates; and the kids who get caught in the middle, often sadly and naively encouraging their adulterous parents to reconcile. LHHATL has that on loop, and there’s no semblance of anybody remotely evolving.

I just think season three was particularly trash; between Scrappy putting hands on Erica, Mimi being slut- and body shamed for her leaked sex tape, likewise with Althea, and Kayo Redd’s suicide—all of which were glossed over, save for when they were gassed up for kekes or feels at the reunion. It makes me think of how much “reality tv” is divorced from reality, yet isn’t.

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These personas lead arrogant and airbrushed lives because folks tune in to see trainwrecks; and yet, their behaviours on meaningful issues reflect exactly what we’d expect from peers only we’re not as indulged or infantilized. We don’t have heaps of money to throw at our problems; and I have to wonder if anybody is truly as inclined to forgive and forget, as if materialism and exhibitionism can supplant intimacy in the wake of infidelity.

In the realm of performativity, are people just innately prompted to pretend when they’re being watched? Or, is it a defense mechanism wherein ignorance insulates us from painful reality? Moreover, what’s to be said about the truths translated by the lies: the simplicity that is irrevocably inconsistent and inapplicable to the reality, the enormity of life.

Mierda

 

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Critical race theory amongst other modalities of marginalized peoples have fostered indispensable, insightful discussions about privilege and positionality. For me, they have also provoked reconsiderations of reparations and reservations; which spurred my support and service to groups in grassroots, advocacy, and aid.

And, I’ve decided to ease off—if not, completely disengage with most of them. The years have taught me that social justice collectives are themselves communities; and like every community, their pillars and populisms predominate their praxes. The earnest efforts envisioned are seldom enacted; and when they are, they are attributed to proxies. Spokespeople overshadow the ‘little people.’ Compared to them, I noted how I was treated; and whose stories were amplified while mine were muted or otherwise obscured. This conflicted with the principles that people cited, the principles that I was taught. We were supposed to cultivate comradery. We were supposed to collectivize and carry the weight of our causes to ensure that none of us bore heavier loads. We were supposed to make and stick to resolutions. There was supposed to be a mutual merit in what we did, stood for, and espoused; and that merit would manifest for us all.

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Not just a select few or those most visible.

The irony of the social justice spaces I have occupied is that the very morale that inspires me to persevere is the same that vindicates my disdain for the selective solidarity these spaces enable. I resent radicals whom are ratified by the mainstream; many of whom are supported by classmates, colleagues, and comrades. I find it not only unfair, but absurd that celebrities spur ardent sympathies from my contacts; whereas for me, they can only muster meagre condolences. It is hypocritical how these people ‘gently’ dissuade me from pursuing my own justice while assuming the charge of another.

There are a number of cases that have circulated rather widely within my locality regarding inequality, doxing, and the censure of social justice activists. They are all warranted and I sincerely hope the superiors involved will be held accountable, if not curbed or culled. However, I cannot help but note the absence of action, if outrage surrounding my own similar—and sometimes, more severe—experiences institutionally; and the more I have disclosed, the more I condemn my confidantes. The same people whom listened intently as I detailed my cases within the academe and the judicial system amidst other injurious social contexts are the same people whom urged me to “let things go,” accept the injustice, and move on to better things; yet these same people have taken it upon themselves to advocate for more visible victims; the same people whom swear every little bit counts, but are more inclined to acknowledge and aid the hubris of headliners.

 

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Earlier this summer, I relocated to dissuade the cause of my own pursuer whose puissance has yet to waver. I try not to dwell on the reality of this necessity. My survival is starkly succinct, contingent on my mobility and vigilance.

And solitude.

Because, my agency and anxiety are augmented as well as admonished by the artifice of my allies.

This has shown me that there are truly good people. I am grateful to engage with them, and I make active efforts to reciprocate. They have offered substantive feedback, aid, and resources; intermittently as well as immediately. And, they also understand the inconsistent imperatives within communities whose constituents are driven to delude or dally with dignitaries sooner than they would support their own.

Pay it forward. Just don’t go broke, beloved.

Shout Outs to Wine Cellar Media, Single Simulcast, Kinfolk Kollective, Americans United Again, South House, Sweetsouthernradio, and Africa is a Country

Art by John Rodriguez

 

Erotic Esteems

How Emancipation Became Exclusion

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The first thing that struck me about erotica was its narrative. Not first person perspectives—although, I do love those—but its overall outlook. It’s vivid. It’s vibrant. Intimate as well as invocative. Sex simultaneously subdues and liberation. It supplants or staves off reality.

Unlike in romance, sex doesn’t abide affection as affirmation. I remember what a revelation that was, that pleasure didn’t need to “make sense”; that the endgame of an encounter didn’t have to be engagement; that lust didn’t lead to love or lifetime partners. In a world where woman’s worth is likened to her productivity being akin to passivity and Prince Charming: the reality of [her] pleasure being valid in itself, by itself, is novel; and knowing that eroticism could be emancipatory.

After reading Anaïs Nin and the abundant, anonymous authors of the Victorian era, I spent most of my time enveloped in a library of erotic epics. I was alone in that reading considering I came from a pretty conservative upbringing; and the adults in my life were largely unable (or just unwilling) to acknowledge the spectrum of sexualities and gender roles, which included inhibitions that were institutionalized and state sanctioned. Erotica was a wondrous reprieve whose prose and art not only uplifted me, but vindicated my voice. At least, my inner voice. There were many things I couldn’t say out loud. There still are. But, erotica gave me some validation. I found closure in its carnalities.

Which is ironic, because I have an aversion to physicality. Most people would pen me as ace, but I’m actually demi—which essentially eliminates any prospects that should arise in our current climate of hookup culture or noncommittal nonchalance. Many swear intimacy is about initiative more than consideration, but I suspect there’s some narcissism involved. The Self is our primary point of reference and likeness so, why wouldn’t your attraction be some reflection?

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But, it’s hard to piece things together if you peer beyond the looking glass. I think a part of why I wanted to look beyond was because I’d internalized some insecurities and wasn’t inclined to really look at myself. I was isolated and inadequate who saw myself as exemplar of everything beauty wasn’t; and I wasn’t the only one who saw myself that way.

When your every experience revolves around rejection, you don’t know how to put yourself out there. You find that the people who push you to drive past your doubts don’t know how that feels; how you feel. They don’t (maybe can’t) know what being undesirable is like; that just like all politics, even the politics of desirability are rigged out of your favour—and those politics can pervade even pleasure or prerogative.

If you’re like me, people don’t expect you to be happy; they expect you to be grateful. Not “Count your blessings” grateful, but “You should be thankful someone would ever tolerate the likes of you” grateful. And, that has never sat right with me. I have never been one to settle for scraps whilst others feast. Somehow, being inadequate and insecure (and isolated) didn’t equate to being undeserving. I still had dreams and desires that I wanted to dignify, even if I couldn’t; and I refused to compromise.

Erotica enforced that conviction. The pulsing, prominent pleasures throbbed much like my heart. The characters weren’t just uninhibited, but unvarnished. They compelled me to widen my worldview. From carnal kitsche to sublime sensuality, to excruciating and exhaustive excerpts, I could see how identity and indulgence were fluid. The emotion was within sheer sensation, not convention. It didn’t change me either. It just showed me. I could finally come to terms with who I was, what I was, and what I wanted. The body positivity and sex positivity contained in each volume has a place within many positionalities, including my own.

That’s why the quality of the writing is so important. To me, it was never a gimmick. Writers looked beyond the looking glass to indulge their idylls. They got to an itch we couldn’t scratch and tore into us well past satisfaction. They shovelled into our sex; knowing that if they dug deep enough, they could unearth our most delicious desires and carve out a piece of us to call their own. They asserted sex was a weapon of choice or last resort, not a sport where players always lose by virtue of fouls or kyriarchal cues. There was tact, tantalization, and tenderness.

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There was meaning.

The advent of social media and platformed publishing marks our time as one of serious supply and demand, where success is symbolized by likes and shares. We’ve been given the tools to socialize and monetize, but we have yet to harmonize or critically consider the selective spotlight. These days, “erotica” has become a pastiche of poignant pandering and profit margins, not so much illicit as immeasurably incessant. It appears to be a risqué rite of passage amongst hobbyists erring to be edgy and thus writing to rouse away from the romance domain; and it’s recognized as a (re)definitive standard given its uncritical reverence. This new age [social] media works as a double-edged sword: giving people opportunities and tools to build their brands, but also imparting and implementing the ideology that actual value is a matter of branding. Because, free access isn’t the same as free reign.

Privileges still serve as selective determinants of just whom and what flourishes as an enterprise. Diversity is dispossessed or disdained. There is little freedom involved in the ‘free market’ since its profiteering principles are founded upon the rejection of a reflective welfare state. Intimacy isn’t intensified when it comes to oversharing; inequality is. Occupational and sectoral segregation are more pronounced through tenuous tropes and trends. I can speak to this a lucrative ghostwriter whose life gets harder, whose quality of life ties me to ghostwriting because it serves as my only viable source of income as a writer. People want me as a labourer or sharer, not an equal. The very existence of ghostwriters as an open secret sourced by many bestsellers in comparison to the condemnation of plagiarism is a testament to how traditional publishers as well as contracts provide service and security to demographics and distributors, not individual authors.

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The erotica I knew (and still struggle to find in this time) alchemized certainty and sensation. It assured readers and writers alike that flesh was life’s only guarantee: that you could only feel, even if you were not felt by another; and that your skin may not perfect, but it was yours to live in. Erotica enthralled through the power of pleasure. It stirred for its own sake, knowing anything less would disservice the desire it deifiers.

I’m sure many people still like this, but it has a special place in the hearts of those like me: those displaced by their desires than driven by them.

Art by Tadija Savic (Tadija)

The Onus of Original

Pride & Plagiarists

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When plagiarists are exposed, I always pay attention to their readers. Besides the pursuant anger and disbelief, they are utterly bewildered. Contrary to popular belief, most of my money in writing doesn’t come from my published work. The good chunk of my paycheck comes from ghostwriting various oDesk assignments and defecting any rights to those. That was actually how I got into writing. Amidst looking for literary agents and traditional publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts, these ghostwriting jobs were the only ones payable. Everything else was a matter of marketing and investing a pretty piece of change.

So, when I see cases like Laura Harner, it strikes me as both bold and ironic—because it’s no secret that a number of bestsellers employ ghostwriters. The only difference is that whoever’s written it has sold them the rights to their composition. Which is why it sounds stupendously sanctimonious when plagiarism incites an outcry of what counts as ‘original’ content. The thing about Harner (and recently, Lynn Hagen) is that they ripped off published authors who held their rights. That’s what it makes it so deplorable. By no means is it original. In fact, it’s literally copied, pasted, and adjusted with a few name or setting replacements. But against the grain of ghostwriting, you could draw some obvious parallels.

And nobody seems to have drawn them—like, at all. This is one of those “You reap what you sow” moments where readers have to wonder just how much they’ve been swindled. Harner herself is a bestselling author (or was? Not sure if that badge gets revoked; I doubt it because its broken the bank as it stands). Anyone who knows what terms like ‘bestselling author’ or ‘bestseller’ mean knows that those distinctions don’t easy. Think of how many readers paid into that prestige—and payment isn’t just out of pocket. Payment is also paid in lip service, time, fangirl flights of fancy… You get the idea.

Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it? Not just for this question of authenticity, but for the little guys—or gals. Namely, gals like me who ghostwrite so we can buy bread to break; and just how much of our work is reworked by other, typically wider known authors who can afford to hire us. It also makes you think of just how and where you play into this.

As a writer, I respect my readers and am grateful for every purchase. I always say I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for them, and that’s true. Which is why I find what these current authors did to be that much more deplorable. Nothing is ever really ‘original’ in the sense that everything’s been done (seriously, there’s no new ground to break; find another tagline!) but to deliberately deceive and rip off someone else’s hard work so you can put a pin in your own…? I see red from both sides: as a reader and a writer.

Nobody likes to be duped. Nobody likes to see their work copied and peddled for someone else’s profit either.

The Antitheses of Mainstream Romance

Hearty Heroines and Contrarian Queens

My name is Fallen—think Allen with an ‘F’ in front, not the past participle of fall—Matthews and I’ve been a writer for years. Which is kind of how I stumbled onto this literary insight amongst other interesting (inspirational) outlets on writing. While I’ve written into a variety of genres, my main focuses are romance and erotica. Suffice to say, when something like Fifty Shades hit and was lauded as being revolutionary eroticism or literary genius, I wasn’t exactly thrilled; especially since every query I’ve sent traditional publishers has been rejected. I’ve won literary contests, received generally positive feedback from readers and authors alike, in addition to securing an endorsement. Yet my work is ultimately passed up while society reveres stuff like Fifty Shades.

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People who’ve read my blog or online rants probably know I can be quite the Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer—and right now, I could just as easily get down. Most people wake up to check into social media, email contacts, tune into weather reports, and updates connected to their favourite pastimes. You must know that authors wake up to do all of that and brave the business. It starts in advance—way in advance—where they coast that ocean of opportunity. They’re kind of like captains. They man their own ships, anchor their ambitions, and fish through their franchise. Hopefully, they snag some sales. But, every author knows it’s far from smooth sailing. In fact, some might fancy themselves as more Ahab than the likes of Jack Sparrow or Captain Crane.

For me, social anxiety and spurring standards takes the wind out of my sails. If it came down to it, I’d rather be a mermaid than a captain. Maybe writing erotica steers me to find Prince Eric than search for success. You could also say I’ve got many Ariels in my stories: independent women who are strong but sentimental, defined by will and sense of wonder. But, industry standards don’t want Ariel. Or at least, they don’t want too much Ariel. My stories revolve around strong female protagonists. Recently, I’ve written a series of narratives—from men. Men who muse upon the women in their lives. Women who are leading ladies in more ways than one. It’s not exactly mainstream, but I wouldn’t call it radical.

So, when I resolved to at least pursue the mainstream perspective, I figured I did fairly well. I had a strong but stakingly sentimental female lead. And, she had a handsome man whose hookups humbled her hangups. It read like a romance. Or, so I thought. So did a handful of beta readers, my editor, and a former English professor.

Too bad that those thoughts doesn’t count. My manuscript could get a million thumbs up, but publication boils down to…well, the publishers. And sales. All the positive feedback in the world doesn’t guarantee a sale. Likes and reviews also don’t equate to sales. Ariel didn’t get where she did climbing the backs of others. She wasn’t exactly encouraged either. Sure, she had her sidekicks and love was on her side; but ultimately, she speared her success. It came down to her. She was her own means to her end. And, we both know she had quite a happy ending.

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Ariel might be a legendary princess and the picture of perseverance, but would she fare well as a writer? For all that industrious insight and her former fins, could she tread the tides and tear onto the bestsellers lists? Ariel made her mark through a movie. To date, the classic fairy tale isn’t something that comes to mind as it’s been notoriously reworked to better market and captivate critics. The original Ariel sacrificed and agonized more than her contemporary counterpart—and she didn’t end up with Prince Eric. In fact, he ended up marrying another princess and left Ariel to find her own, ascendant happy ending.

So, does that make Disney’s Ariel any less awesome? Not really. Both heroines are independent idealists with hearts of gold. Disney’s Ariel is just more known, more marketable. But as a movie, not a book. As much as we like to think anything or anyone can make it if they’re well-written or try hard enough, that’s not how the world turns. Success might be subjective, but sales aren’t. Neither is approval.

Which is why I can understand why publishers or agents wouldn’t be inclined to take chances or stray from standards. Their priority is profit. The sociologist in me could easily argue they also invest to ensure the status quo, but that’s another rant for another time. Right now, I’m focused on my current mainstream manuscript: the Ariel I anticipated would be accepted by a traditional publisher.

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And wasn’t.

As in: I woke up today, stepped to stern, and steered sea bound—only to find a rejection letter sharking to the surface. And it definitely was a shark. Cannonballs, leaks, even termites: those are things I can come back from. Obvious problems that have clear albeit serious solutions. Every seaboard wartime drama saw the villains raise white flags. Michael Bolton and The Lonely Island spoke to the glory of pirates plundering for booty against the odds. And well, I actually don’t have anything for termites but I’d likely make a trip to the ‘ye olde exterminator.’

Not exactly the case for Jaws. Or Deep Blue Sea. Or Shark Attack. Or Great White. Even Shark Tale’s sharks were mobsters. So, sharks: not exactly a solvable scenario.

That’s the thing about rejection letters. Most of them are automated. Besides a line for your name and submission title, it reads as something coldly contrived. As an author or committed captain, it also reads as insultingly impersonal. Even though it’s unrealistic to expect personalized feedback since publishers have to go through tons of submissions, it still stings. It doesn’t just put a hole in your sails. It takes a chunk out of your boat. But considering how confident I was—all the positive feedback I’d received, the extensive edits, and just bucking against the ache of my anxiety—and how something like Fifty Shades was making literary waves, it wasn’t just a chunk out of my boat. It was more like I’d delved through my demons and waded ashore with new forces. So, it wasn’t just a boat. It was more like an annihilated vessel.

Imagine if Jack Sparrow scoured the seas only to find himself barred from the Black Pearl. Then, imagine if he’d braved Blackbeard’s treasure hunt only to discover no treasure lay where X marked the spot. Now, imagine if he’d been drowned by Davy Jones.

You must see how that is quite literally the creative process: writing, drafting, editing, rounding up your crew for feedback, and arbored ambitions keeping you afloat. Only to drown. You don’t get shipwrecked. Forces haven’t flung you overboard. You don’t wake up, awash on stranger tides. Your ship has sunk—and so have you. And you can’t bargain with Ursula for another shot. For me, my Ariel wasn’t a fish out of water just because she didn’t make the cut. The lack of direction or meaningful feedback is what sealed her to the sea. When you get an automated rejection, they’re generic. They’re tailored to say one thing, a formal “No.” There aren’t any explanations or suggestions as to how to improve, or just why the publishers aren’t meant for your manuscript. So, Ariel doesn’t get to scrape her way to the surface and fight for her fairy tale. She doesn’t get anything. Well, she kind of does: she gets expunged by the elements.

If I had a time machine, I’d tell the old me to flush every spare penny into a piggy bank so I could have a nugget to invest in a prime publicist. Then, I’d have a viral campaign. My Ariel would break onto some bestsellers lists since she resonates with readers. She wouldn’t have to be submitted because she’d have already [significantly] sold. Traditional publishers would be keen to liken her to their label. Instead of soldiering a ship, I’d smoothly sail into the sunset on a cruise.

But, I don’t have a time machine. At this point, I don’t even have a paddle. What I do have is my mind. I mean, I’m fairly sure I haven’t lost it.

Not yet anyway.

Ariel might be sanctioned to the sea, but my mind is set on the stars.