UPDATE: The author of this book no longer goes by this name or uses these pronouns. She now goes by the name Kiki Swan. After talking with her about this and then not hearing from her for a little while, I reverted this post to a draft due to concerns about deadnaming her, but she has asked me to leave it up because she likes it, so I am republishing it now, with no changes except this update.
This book is no longer available. Kiki is currently working on a new version of it, with an editor and co-writer helping to make it the best it can be. I am excited to read the new version, and I will post a new review when it is released! :)
I’m generally glad to see a new book crop up about asexuality. A few weeks ago, I saw My Life in Hetero: An Ace in the Closet by C. Kellam Scott pop up in my Amazon recommendations. I noted that it was a self-published memoir, which automatically made it somewhat dubious, but I bought it anyway. Priced at only $3, it’s not a huge investment.
It’s a familiar story, for most of us who identify as asexual. Going through life with confusion, feeling like somehow we are broken or shouldn’t exist. Finally finding out what asexuality is, feeling that weight lifted as we see our own lives reflected in our new-found community.
It’s a story that needs to be told, and I’ve long held that it must be told in non-fiction before it will be widely accepted as fiction.
Unfortunately, like many other self-published endeavors, this book suffers from the sore lack of an editor.
Paragraphs in this book are generally long and somewhat hard to follow as the sentences themselves begin, meander, and end in odd places, with commas placed almost haphazardly—sometimes where they would be expected, but more often not. There are also several instances of choosing the wrong word when words sound the same, like using “bizarre” instead of “bazaar.” On the level of the individual line, the book needs to be combed through by an editor to catch such common mistakes.
But even more than that, there needs to be a deep editing, a drastic revision. There may be an interesting story there, but it gets so lost in extraneous anecdotes about the author’s day-to-day life that the most important parts don’t stand out. The entire book is written without entering a scene: translated from writer’s lingo, that means that it’s written as if it’s someone telling you something, but not showing you. Instead of recreating a setting from his life, describing it with sensory details, and showing you a dialog between himself and the people around him, Scott just tells you that he said this and so-and-so said that. This makes it very, very difficult for me to connect with his story. It makes the narrative fall flat, because everything sounds so much the same that it’s like a voice that goes on for so long you start tuning it out, skimming, and losing track of what’s going on. What’s saddest of all about this telling-not-showing approach is that the voice of Scott’s past self is not represented at all; we as readers only get to hear his present self telling us how things used to be, and so his anguish comes out muted, suppressed. It should be represented like the rage of the mosh pit (which he does describe well), but instead we only get to see this mediated by the calmer older self, instead of seeing it described directly.
The other major issue I had with it is that I really couldn’t keep track of the large supporting cast of friends, coworkers, and romantic non-interests. Most of them are mentioned by name first, and only later do they get introduced with a very brief description, though I’m fairly sure there are a few who must have slipped through the cracks. Because there are no scenes in the book through which to display any identifying characteristics, I know nothing of their personalities or quirks. It reads like someone’s report of their day on their livejournal with the names of friends sprinkled in without any explanation, except I’m not in the author’s circle of friends, so I don’t know who any of them are at all. What few descriptions there are get lost, and as years pass the cast is shuffled around without re-introduction, so that if I have any inkling where and when Scott met this person, how well they had known each other and kept in contact, or whether they had fallen out of touch and gotten in contact again, it is only the barest, vaguest guess. In the most extreme example of this confusion, I couldn’t tell dogs from people and it took me a while to figure out which “ladies” Scott had taken on a walk.
There is an issue here that I want to be sensitive about, and that is the author’s lack of education beyond a high school level. Within the book, he admits having a sense that he was allowed to graduate from high school only because the administrators of his high school “wanted to keep their numbers up.” Sadly, in light of that fact, he decided not to pursue higher education just to deny those administrators one more graduate who went on to receive a college education. This author is not stupid, but he was never encouraged to pursue his education in any way that felt genuine, so he has been left trying to educate himself with far fewer resources available to him. Of course he is not going to know the ins and outs of writing (and especially editing) a memoir, in that case. Few resources about it are free, and finding a serious writer’s workshop group that is actually open to works of non-fiction outside of meeting other writers at school is hard. Most likely, the only people available to critique Scott’s work would have been his friends and family.
What the book does have going for it is that it is very much genuine and raw, so if that is your thing, you may still enjoy it. But unfortunately, it was published prematurely in what I suspect was a rush to be the first asexual memoir on the market—probably not to make money, but rather to spread visibility—and because of this rush and the author’s lack of resources/knowledge about the process of editing and publishing, it ended up being ineffective.
If this is meant as some sort of healing journal, then it’s served its purpose and nothing more needs to be done. But if this is actually meant to reach an audience and do real visibility work, then it needs lots of editing. As it stands, I cannot recommend it, especially not to people who are not already familiar with asexuality. And for those who do already identify as asexual, it doesn’t add much that can’t already be found elsewhere for free.
The best I can hope for is that this author has learned a lot about both writing and himself through this process, and will continue to grow despite receiving criticism. I wish him luck!
5 thoughts on “Book Review: My Life in Hetero: An Ace in the Closet by C. Kellam Scott”
“The entire book is written without entering a scene: translated from writer’s lingo, that means that it’s written as if it’s someone telling you something, but not showing you.”
Wow, that is a good phrase for that. Somehow hadn’t heard that one before. “Entering a scene”. Thanks for that.
“This author is not stupid, but he was never encouraged to pursue his education in any way that felt genuine, so he has been left trying to educate himself with far fewer resources available to him.Of course he is not going to know the ins and outs of writing,”
I think that’s a bit of a tenuous connection to make. There are people that did not get a post-secondary education that do know the ins-and-outs of writing and are quite adept at it. There have been novelists that were published before they completed high school, and their work is at least adequate. Sure, tertiary education makes better writers of many, but it’s not so necessary to good writing that one can blame bad writing on it, or state that it’s a needed component to being a good writer.
Augusten Burroughs, for instance, was a high-school drop-out who flunked out of community college. Mark Twain dropped out at 12 (of course that was far more common in his time, but the point stands: a formal education beyond grade school did not give him his writing skills). There are many others out there as well.
I’m not saying it’s not possible, and I’m well aware of the many examples of autodidacts who succeeded. I can name several more in addition to the ones you mentioned—for example, Walt Whitman. I’m just saying that the resources available to someone in that situation are FAR fewer than those that would be available at a college level. You have to spend a hell of a lot more time looking for others who can give you an honest and good critique of your work, and in this case? That probably wasn’t available to this author. Being sensitive to that fact is not the same as saying that it’s not possible to succeed without tertiary education. It’s just way fucking harder, and that’s the reality of the situation.
I say this, by the way, as someone who has tried it both ways. The amount of networking with other writers you’re able to do at college workshop classes is staggeringly higher than if you try to go it alone. Tertiary education isn’t necessary, but especially in the case of autobiography, critique and outside perspectives ARE necessary. Without the benefit of critical eyes helping you refine your work, how will you see where people aren’t understanding what you’re saying?
With memoir especially, these days there seems to be this perception that it’s easy, that you can just write it and publish it without applying the same high standards that you would fiction, if not exactly the same rules. The vast, vast majority of free writing groups available outside of college courses are focused very strictly on fiction. Most people, including even a lot of fiction writers, don’t even know that there is a difference between memoir and autobiography, much less how one would distinguish a work as one or the other, so how could they help? That’s why I said of course he wouldn’t know the ins and outs of writing… I was talking about writing a memoir, specifically. The reason the wording is so vague is because I had written a whole other paragraph that I decided not to get into, and when I removed that I didn’t fix the previous sentence, but I’ll go fix it now to avoid any further confusion.
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Oh dear! It doesn’t sound a good book at all. If we want visibility and to be taken seriously, I guess we need someone else to write a well edited book instead. I guess any publicity, is good publicity?
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