Recently, I witnessed a good friend, someone who loves what I do get caught up in yet another terrible game of catfishing. The whole debacle was rather painful for her which only brought about pain on my part because you never want to see any of your friends go through something like that. What made this round particularly painful was that my friend only recently started writing herself. She is a champion of my works, something I still find astounding, so naturally I wanted to comfort and help in any way I could. You’d have to be living under a very large rock, and have been there since the early 2000s to not know what catfishing is. For those that don’t, I’ll give you a quick rundown – I looked it up.
Oxford’s online dictionary defines it as:
US informal [with object] Lure (someone) into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.
In the case of gay fiction writing, particularly in the MM Romance genre, it is generally a woman who professes to be a (gay) man in order to establish legitimacy within the genre. Catfishing should be a thing of the past – indeed, if there was any real reason for it to have existed at all – because I’d always assumed (yes, I know where that gets me) that the feminism cause was to have parity with their male counterparts in every way. Full equality, right?
Evidently, not so much.
I’ve come to think the real danger of Catfishing is that it sets the feminism cause back decades when someone does it. Sure the degree of that “resetting” is tempered by how prominent or prolific the catfishing author was at the time of exposure. But you see, that’s where I start to scratch my head. Why do it if you’ll run the risk of being caught? And you always get caught. I’ve not witnessed any catfishing author that wasn’t found out at some point in their career.
I get why authors use pen names. There are a great many good reasons to do so. Anonymity being just one of them. I use one. Not because I want to hide behind it – on the contrary, I’ve made it quite public via the Wrote Podcast how I came to use a nom de plume. It was a gimmick on my part. I used it because the book I was writing at the time was being told by the main character’s (MC) point of view. I thought, rather silly of me at the time, why not have him write his own novel? Thus, Sebastian Alexander Collins became SA Collins. That’s the only reason I did it. Which is now rather odd considering that I’d shelved that particular book’s development in favor of my current series.
So pen names, yeah. The reasons to use one are varied and have been used probably for as long as publishing has been around. I get that part of the game.
What I don’t get is the need to use one to purposefully to employ deceit in the name of legitimacy. That part escapes me. Why profess to be a gay man at all when you are a woman? I think that women who do this aren’t confident in their own work enough to let it stand on it’s own under your own (female) name or a pen name that doesn’t try to come across as a (gay) male. And that part is most puzzling to me.
I have a daughter and granddaughter that up until recently had lived with my husband and myself. A multi-generational home. I spend a great deal of my time worrying about their future. Fretting over what society will try and throw their way as they make their way though life. I’m a parent and grandparent – it’s part of the job. I want what’s best for them. I want them to have amazing lives that are (hopefully) better than mine. It’s how my parents reared (not raised, by the way – you raise corn, you rear children) to be. I want equality for them with as much passion and conviction as some of the staunchest feminists out there. The recent women’s march that consumed the globe a little over a week ago was so incredibly awe inspiring that I often misted up as I watched all the videos play from around the world. Truly breathtaking stuff.
Which brings me back to this whole catfishing thing.
I mean, even JK Rowling (arguably the most successful female writer of all time) used a male nom de plume for her first book written after the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter. But she was quickly found out and when asked, she simply said that she did it because she wanted to see if the work could stand (it was her first adult oriented novel) on it’s own – separated from her fame. It was an experiment of sorts. Got it. And she quickly copped to it when it was discovered. I don’t consider that catfishing – and if some do, then I’d like to understand how this fits into that category. Rowling didn’t do it to deceive and establish legitimacy as an author. She already had decidedly established that. I think her use of a male pen name was only to push that association with her even further out to watch if her work really was as good as people kept telling her. Could she be equally successful in the adult fiction category? Would it stand up under that level of scrutiny? Maybe the male pen name didn’t hurt in that regard, I suppose.
But back to the MM romance genre (which is where most of this catfishing seems to come from as of late). I struggle with their reasoning of why do it at all. MM Romance (as a recent genre) was started by straight women writing for other straight women – something that when pressed up into my grill I often fire back that while they can write what they want, they need to understand they are writing about a very oppressed community and with that comes great responsibility. I am all for women writing about we gay men. But if they cross that line and try to tell me how gay men are I’m gonna step up right into their grill and push back … HARD.
But maybe that’s where this catfishing thing stems from. I don’t have any answers here, just pondering the whole thing as I watched the recent events concerning a woman who not only professed to be a gay man writing MM romance, but a veteran, a staunch Trump supporter (which I think was the beginning of her undoing – that one is a real red flag for queers though there are some who actually do support him which is beyond all reason), and always tried to come across as if the IQ level in the room rose significantly the moment they arrived. She kept telling my friend that her male catfish persona was the smartest person around.
To which I replied to my friend, “Yeah, people who feel the need to profess their intelligence, often aren’t that intelligent at all. If you’re intelligent, people will glean that for themselves. You don’t have to go charging into a room like the proverbial bull and bellow I’m the smart one in the room. People will perceive that for themselves.” In reality, that was probably the biggest red flag of all. The audacity to presume they were the smartest at anything. This was revealed to great effect when the catfisher’s author persona “had a heart attack” but was released the following day. As someone who has gone through FOUR such situations as I have with my husband I can tell you that NO hospital would do such a thing. The catfish was unwittingly revealing herself. It was the biggest stupid move she could’ve made, thereby proving my earlier statement. Not the brightest crayon in the box by any stretch of the imagination.
This is something that my husband has always maintained – “Just keep giving those type of people rope. Eventually, they will hang themselves with it. You won’t have to lift a finger.”
But it was still painful to watch someone I cared about go through the reveal. Practically everyone in the writing community that writes MM Romance chimed in. I was just as angry as my other gay brothers. It bordered on nothing less than queer culture appropriation. And again, that brings me back to why not just be who you are (as a sex – not the name being used)? Some of these women don’t seem to get that on the social totem pole Queerdom is at the bottom and not likely to move any time soon – especially with Tyrant Trump and his ilk in office.
Some female authors have said to me on the topic (and we’ve interviewed several on the podcast) that females struggle to “make it” in the business. So let’s look at that, shall we? I think you’ll find the answer to that question rather telling at dispelling (to a degree) that myth.
The first interesting article I read came from the Guardian in the UK. This pretty much has been the established argument. But what I find particularly telling is that while women find it extremely hard to get their works reviewed and taken seriously, a number of those reviewers are women. Why would women not value or press to review other women’s work – if anything, just to give rise to it’s legitimacy? That particular point I find very troubling. I realize there could be extenuating circumstances that preclude them from doing just that. I don’t presume to “have the inside scoop” on the goings on of the reviewing side of the industry.
But it was this little ditty that really was an eye opener … while it doesn’t remove the stigma women face to get noticed, it does however show that in terms of moving vast numbers of book units, women are the dominating factor here. The headline alone explains it –
So while there are more male writers and reviews for their works, it seems that if you’re a woman who cracks the top and becomes a major player, you sell big. BIG TIME sort of big.
Admittedly, this was published nearly two years ago. But I don’t doubt it’s validity. So maybe it’s just getting the work noticed? Because once you do, female writers are extremely successful.
As I said before, I don’t have answers. I am only pondering this as I help my friend pick up the pieces of her burgeoning writing career (she was doing PA work for said catfishing author who insisted that she (my friend) personally endorse this author and recommend them to others). My friend’s personal and professional integrity were called into question because she had unwittingly put herself in the cross hairs of this recent catfisher.
So here’s my takeaway – ladies, write from who you are. I’d rather have truthfulness and authenticity in picking up a book and knowing who the author is to whatever degree they make their lives public. I don’t crave to know everything about them, but a little goes a long way to forming an opinion of their work. I’ve stopped reading other catfishers work simply because I can’t stomach it. That deceit clouds everything. And that probably is the hardest part to swallow. I know what goes into writing a novel. I do it myself. It’s lonely and (at times) grueling work. Literally your blood, sweat and tears go into it. So why run the risk of having all that hard work tarnished by publishing it under a lie? It’s a waste, that’s what it is.
Maybe that only points out the lack of confidence in the work or some form of self-loathing that is just convinced that the work won’t be taken seriously unless it is written by a man. But if women never push at that with author names that proudly proclaim it was written by a woman, will we ever see parity? JK Rowling did it. EL James, Toni Morrison, the list goes on. Women can be extremely successful in the industry. You just have to find some inner Rosa Parks and sit further up in the bus and demand that parity. I know it’s always easy to say, “but I’m not big enough to take this on.”
I would say, “Remember this: the history makers are those who put themselves out there, taking the risks; they don’t play it safe. They don’t go with the status quo. They lean into the hardness that come their way. You, my brilliant sisters, can do this. On your own terms. But it has to start somewhere. Why can’t it be you?”
I once asked an author on our show why she wrote MM romance and not MF romance with a strong female character. The response was rather telling – they claimed that they just couldn’t envision that type of strong female character within the confines of a MF romance trope. I was flabbergasted by that. My immediate thought (I just know the ghost of John Adams rages inside me) was, why not upend the trope then? Why can’t it be you? And maybe that’s the critical difference between male and female writers. Men take risks. They are not adverse to them because from our youth we are conditioned to be that way. Maybe that’s the cue women need to take then in order to bring their cause forward? I’ve always been a supporter of women moving into fields dominated by men. I think it benefits both when there is parity. The world would certainly be a better place if we did.
There is a brilliant book I think all women should read – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, ISBN 006223062X ASIN: B00DB368AY. It is written by two women I admire greatly. I think they’ve nailed it when it comes to women seeing the value in themselves and believing it. I highly recommend it to anyone. Men would find it fascinating.
But as I’ve said, I don’t claim to have answers, just musings on this recent catfishing scheme within our gay fiction writing community. One thing is abundantly clear: when it happens no one wins. That much is certain. I just wish that women wouldn’t feel the need to do it. Believe me, there is nothing lower on the totem pole than a gay man. Our lesbian sisters are oppressed, too. But in a male dominated society, gay men are still seen as the most perverted, the most reviled. To be honest, writing as us in the MM Romance genre is probably not going to win you any points as an author anyway. So why not be the “you” you’re willing to put out there (nom de plume or not)? I’d love to hear some thoughts on this topic.
Until next time …
– SA C
“Nothing in life is free, baby! Everything’s got a price. You may not see it right away, but if you dig deep enough or wait long enough, you’ll find out you still have to pay the piper.” – Mi Tia
Face it, we’re all hookers of some sort. Whether we hawk our time out to an employer, hawk our wares (books, music, art … what have you) to the masses, or that housewife who does her damnedest to keep the house in order, put food on the table, get the kids here and there – giving the hubster a little pickle tickle that will hopefully keep you both sexually satisfied and maybe, just maybe, he’ll get you a little sparkling bauble for your anniversary to let you know how much he appreciates you.
Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Hell, I’m in the same boat, so it isn’t like I’m trying to be all elevated and shit about this. We all hookah’s, bitch!
One way or another, that is.
So why am I going on with the whole prostitute thing? Well, when I have the need to promote what I do, it feels a little like standing on the corner watching the John’s roll by:
That’s what it feels like. I know I said on many occasions that I write for the sake of writing – that releasing it and promoting it isn’t my thing. It still isn’t. So why do it? Especially if it makes me feel all hooker-ish? Well, oddly enough, for the same reasons that I write – I just like the creation process. I release the damned things to see what will happen, but I’m not tied to it’s success. Actually, if it flops I find that more fascinating. Lessons learned and all of that rot, ya know?
So over the Christmas holiday I spent a fair amount of time working on a book trailer. Mostly to flex my video and special effects editing muscles (yeah, I got those … my daughter went to film school at SFSU … who do you think assisted in production of her school work?). Between Seven Styles on YouTube and Andrew Cramer’s brilliant VideoCoPilot.net site, I am fairly well stocked with the special effects and editing arsenal that I need to do some serious book trailer damage.
So when I decided to give my series a go with a book trailer (… btw, are they still a thing?) I wanted something different. So I dug around until I found an effect that looked promising. For those not in the know, Seven Styles produces some of the best damned photoshop actions (think of them as self running applets within photoshop that can speed along your creative process) in the business. It also doesn’t hurt that you get to hear his lovely Aussie accent in his training videos on his YouTube channel.
So why divulge this little gem to you all? Because the whole process is adjustable anywhere along the creation spectrum that what you would produce with it wouldn’t be the same as what I produced with it – even if we were using the exact same base images. The whole process is completely customizable. But there is a rather large caveat – while it’s easy to work with the elements that make up this particular effect – you do have to have Adobe Creative Suite (which includes Photoshop and AfterEffects) as well as a working knowledge of both programs. So it’s not for the novice to try and kick it out. The concepts in AfterEffects alone might make you run for the hills. I happen to have several semesters of AfterEffects training so I’m fairly comfortable with it all.
Next up … Andrew Cramer’s Video Co-Pilot offerings:
For those who don’t know who this guy is I’ll lay dollars to donuts you actually do. You just might not know his name, but you are very aware of his work in the industry – have you seen either of these?
Or this one?
Yeah, he’s that guy. Andrew Cramer is not only infinitely talented in the SFX arena, he’s also extremely generous with what he knows. His tutorials on his website are both entertaining and informative. Here’s a video I made using one of his tutorials – it’s from a AfterEffects class I took in college. I shot the video on my hi-8 camcorder – I wanted a rough look to it. The wind wasn’t generated by me – that was just my dumb luck that I caught it on tape. I just timed that when the column of energy spirals upward it was in sync with the wind gust I recorded on the video.
So, what do you think?
Not too shabby, eh?
But a hookah’s gotta have his tricks in his back pocket if he’s gonna be somebody, right? So, uh, yeah, I nearly bought the whole damned farm from Andrew’s site. Same with Seven Styles, too. So I’m bringing game. Been thinking I’ve enjoyed making my trailer so much I might want to start making these for other authors out there. Who knows what I can come up with? Taking me away from writing is a concern, but hey, nothing ventured and all that rot, right?
So any John’s out there wanna rent a hookah? This bitch is up for grabs …
Until next time …
New Year’s didn’t go so well for me. A few hours before the chiming of the new year I succumbed to a 101.9 degree fever and came to the quick realization I was down for several days ahead with the flu that I’d watched warily as my fellow co-workers and friends drop like flies around me.
But one thing all that bed-ridden time gave me was enormous time to contemplate what I had been doing up to this point. Sure, I’d been writing quite a bit. My current published works number in the 746K words range between four published works (approximately 1,913 printed pages of text), with another 718K words (or 1,836 printed pages) wrapping itself up for publication this year.
I’m sort of the James Mitchner of Gay Lit Fic … well, as far as massively sized books go.
They’re the stories I feel I need to tell. So, I write what I want to write, almost to the point of it being irrespective on how they’ll be publicly perceived. I am very much a different writer in that sort of way. I don’t require the adulation. I spent a number of years in professional theater and had my fill of what “people think” about your art. I’m no longer concerned with that – just the creation process of an evolving story. Sort of in the same vein as one of my artistic heroes: Alfred Hitchcock. For Hitch, the creative process of coming up with the plot – and more importantly sequences of events he new would stimulate the crowds visually, he was in his element. The actual casting, directing and filming bored him to tears. I get that. I truly do. If people like what I do, the stories I tell, great. I’m happy with that.
But it’s not why I write.
I am also not one of those bloggers who feel the incessant need for people to read their shit daily so they feel the need to blab about shit that 99.9% of the time they have no business blabbing about, but since no one else is doing it – if they’re lucky – then they have the table for about five precious minutes and a little fame (or sometimes infamy) can come out of it. I mean, I wish Tyler Oakley all the success he can handle, but really, what does a cis-gendered, queer white gay boy have to truly say when a great majority of his audience are straight white teeny-bopper (yeah, I know that just dated the fuck outta me) girls. From what I can tell, he doesn’t have a massive gay male following. So he’s capitalizing on queer life to the straight young female crowd. The very same crowd who often make it into our queer spaces once they reach adulthood and feel through their long audience following have some special status in our queer spaces.
Put bluntly, they don’t.
Millennial queers like to say that when queer men resent women moving into our spaces that it’s a form of misogyny – no, we’ll let lesbians and our trans brothers and sisters and any bisexuals into our queer spaces just fine, thank you very much. I have many lesbian friends that I adore the crap out of. I am not a misogynist. I just want queer spaces to be our own. But a straight woman needs to fucking understand that our spaces (and yes, our goddamned fiction and queer literature) are sacred to us. We have precious little as it is. And here’s the rub: Those night clubs and bars everyone has been ditching all of a sudden are probably going to be needed in a big way. Why? Well, a little thing called The Trump Administration.
Here’s a brief history lesson from someone who lived through our toughest and darkest times, lost so many friends that it is hard to recall them all, and survived to do our best to never forget the fight we had to get to where we are now. So those queer youth who think a social app or a hook up app will satisfy a real life gathering watering hole environment are about to learn a valuable history lesson. We’re going to need those spaces again. I’m just sayin’…
Okay, queer youth, prove me wrong. We’ll see how history will write this next chapter once Trump and crew have their way. They just tried to gut the independent ethics committee from any external oversight. They walked it back once word got out, but make no mistake, it remains one of their goals. They’ll just do it quietly … as slow methodical dismantling. Why? So there is no way to see behind the curtain of their next dastardly deed. These are truly horrific people in power now. Even George Takei sees it coming. If George can see it, that’s good enough for me. He lived through it already. He knows the warning signs. The same signs I’d been noticing since the 1980’s – yeah, kids, it’s been that long in coming. Anyone try to tell you different is a fucking fool and I am probably safe in saying they weren’t alive and of an age to understand what was going on way back then. But the GOP plan started when they successfully ousted Carter from office. That was the turning point.
My husband, who is sixteen years my senior, argues it was even started earlier when his own father (who was a superintendent of schools in Ohio) said that the GOP had started to make inroads in dismantling public education. This was in the 1950’s. I wasn’t around then, so I have to take his word for it. And I do.
And this brings me to the crux of this post. You see, I only post when I truly have something to say. I’m not one of those writers or bloggers who just have to post about those fab new sandals they just bought or some brilliantly amazing food they ate. Or even about craft. I sort of laugh when authors try to give advice about what’s correct or not.
Darlin’ everyone’s journey to get there is just that – their own. Your yellow brick road to mid-level fame and dwindling fortune may turn out to be just a piss stained sidewalk – not a yellow brick road at all. I mean, sure, share your perspective if you think something is interesting. I’m not saying you can’t (I’d never tell a writer not to write – ever). But just keep it tucked into the back of your mind that what you went through may not, in any way, come close to another writer’s journey or perspective on writing. Short cuts, learned lessons, yeah they’re helpful to a point. But really, how many wheels do you think your reinventing? I mean, honestly. Hasn’t it just become babble? That whole “pressure of speech” but with writing.
Which is what I’d been contemplating all along. And I realized what came back to me with the incoming administration was: I don’t want social media to link my shit together. I don’t want people at LinkedIn to know what I am posting in Facebook. It only provides an easy path to collect all my data. Not in a Trump age. It’s not a perfect plan and I am still working on it.
Also, as a writer it was always incumbent for us to be public figures, right? Yeah, for me, not so much. I mean from the time I grew up I didn’t have social media and I got along with people just fine. I didn’t need it. It’s a nice convenience to know what some of my beloved friends from my school days or from other venues are up to … but do I need to know EVERY facet of what’s going on? It’s a bit much. I think most peeps probably think the same of others. We spend far too much time yapping and posting to one another when we should be actively writing and using our quills to do some damage to the oppressors coming our way.
Another point I needed to consider – I recently had an email exchange with a young man living in queer hell in Indonesia. He told me the story of finding my Angels of Mercy series and how reading it gave him something to hold onto. That man, and my queer brothers and sisters like him, are the very people I write for. I don’t require adulation or praise from people whose lives are not effected by what it’s like to actually live the queer life. Allies are great, but they often forget that salient difference – you are NOT one of us. We may share a thread of humanity between us, but you will never know our pain. You may empathize until hell freezes over but it does not give you a special voice within our community. You do not know what it is like to live in our world – even if you write about us. You still have no idea what it means to live the life. This young man in that oppressed country, where their burgeoning queer activism was on the rise until their prominent leader (and their growing rights) was literally hacked by machete wielding Islamic thugs in a very public manner that completely killed any hope of freedom they had from that horrible assassination. That man, that precious soul trying to find some hope in all of his oppressed world, and his emails to me, changed everything. I know what I am meant to do.
My New Year’s resolution: (it’s two-fold) I’ve scaled my social media presence way back. Twitter, LinkedIn and other accounts can’t troll or post for me. I don’t want the connection. I want to know when something hits a certain service. I’ve also let my author page be my public presence. My personal timeline is now just that – personal, for friends and family only. I’m good with that. I’ve even disabled public presence in other social media apps or completely killed them outright and removed them. The second part of my New Year’s resolution is that I plan on writing more in both my blogs. But only when I have something to say. It’ll probably be limited to queer rights activism for my author blog, and my own queer childhood through adulthood on VioletQuillRedux. Maybe one or two postings over at WrotePodcast, too.
This is also a call to my queer brothers and sisters to take up their quills and prove the pen is far mightier than any sword pointed in our direction.
I think my efforts would be better spent using that certain John Quincy Adams passion within me to be a true pot stirrer. 1776 is one of my all-time favorite musicals. Not because of the music or the production, but because as a young lad, John Adam’s character made absolute sense to me. I got him. I got his passion and his unwavering voice in the face of adversity. Now, that I can and will be vocal about.
I’ll continue to write fiction, but I’m not going to go all out with marketing. As I said, the creation is the fun part for me. Whatever happens after, happens. It’ll get little prompting from me. Not when I have bigger battles to wage.
I may be old now, well beyond years where I would be accepted in my own queer spaces (ageism is something we are still dealing with in the community) but I still have some fight left in me. That same boy who at twelve years of age took on his local school board and challenged their decision to change my district school to a traditional school from a year-round program I’d grown up with. Yeah, I’m still very much that same twelve year old activist. It served me then (my side won), it’ll serve me now (crossed fingers).
Some might say why post about this at all if you don’t want people to “like” what you do. I’ll simply smirk and think to myself, because these postings aren’t about liking anything. They’re just my queer POV as a man who lived through one of the most hellish times in our community’s history only to find himself near the end of his days and realizing that that battle was merely the rehearsal of what is to come. We have rights now. But there is no guarantee we’ll get to keep them. Any administration that wants to remove oversight has clearly put the writing on the wall. The backlash is coming, Winter is Coming. That’s what I choose to write about.
I’ll just will have to do all the individual postings in each of my social media points of presence – or not at all. But it’ll be my choice.
I’ve never been about the sales. But I’ve always have been about the activism. With the incoming administration, that’s where my passions lie.
It’s time to pick up that John Adams hat, give it a good dusting, and get back to work.
Until next time …