Shutting Up: On writing, audience, and representation

Every writer has a pile of drafts that have never been published. Some of it just doesn’t deserve to see the light of day, but other drafts? Some of them are held back because we as writers just aren’t ready for the sort of attention that it would inevitably bring. Some of them are about topics we aren’t quite able to focus on long enough to bring to completion, because they are topics that sap so much mental and emotional energy that they would leave little room for the rest of… well, life, and especially enjoyment of it. Sometimes it’s a topic that has to be thought through very carefully in order to reach any sort of clarity about it, and that thinking-through period can last months or even years, well before the actual process of writing things down begins. Some writers like to go on about how nothing except the part where you actually sit down and do the writing counts as writing, but I disagree. I think the part where you do research and careful critical thinking about the subject you’re planning to write about is just that—critical to the process of writing. Writing without the benefit of reflection results in very shallow words that don’t offer anything truly insightful. Writing without being (or while trying not to be) vulnerable results in similar shallowness, and when your writing is very personal, you can end up with layers of dishonesty—unintentional, probably, but nevertheless real.

I’m going through a weird transitional phase right now as a writer. I’m not a student anymore, but I’m also not quite at the stage of publishing anything that will give me any sort of royalties, although I’m certainly working on it. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out how to support myself while working on it, which projects to work on, and how to find the support and self-care methods I will need to get through it.

This post is partly for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces (this month’s theme was the Unassailable Asexual), and partly something I would have eventually written anyway.

[Content Note: The rest of this post discusses sexual violence, minimization and victim-blaming, and vulnerability to abusers, as well as exploitation and privileging of certain narratives over others for the purpose of pushing compulsory sexuality. All links in this post also come with a huge warning. Please be mindful of your triggers and practice self-care. Please let me know if you think anything else needs to be included here.]

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Book Review: My Life in Hetero: An Ace in the Closet by C. Kellam Scott

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! :)


Cover: My Life in Hetero

Cover of My Life in Hetero: An Ace in the Closet

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!