Wednesday, April 29, 2009

West Bend, Wisconsin, follows amazonfail

According to Publishers Weekly, the County Council of West Bend, Wisconsin, dismissed four members of the library board because they refused to remove "controversial" books (i.e. books about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues) from the public library system.

GLBT? Gee, where have we heard that before?

It seems two library patrons complained about glbt books in the YA section of the library. Hey! That's the section where young people questioning their sexuality might discover that they don't have to off themselves! The patrons accused the library of promoting "the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda in our community."

The library board members refused to remove the books and they were fired.

Was it only a few blog posts ago when I relegated job discrimination to the dim past? I guess you can't be fired for being gay, but you can be fired for being pro-gay.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Why I'll read anything Nicola Griffith writes

Nicola Griffith had her own choice words to say about the Amazon "glitch."

Check out her blog post about it.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Amazon and the F-word

Among the categories of books disappeared by Amazon while in the throes of its "glitch," feminist and feminism seem to have joined gay, lesbian, bisexual, homosexual, transgender, sex, sexuality, and erotica as subjects considered "adult."

I can see how someone with limited exposure to literature might consider the glbt categories as "adult," but in what way is feminism something that should be hidden from children? This smacks less of excessive prudishness than of excessive right-wingishness.

And while I was puzzling over the inclusion of feminism in the list of suspects, I remembered something a knowledgeable publishing person told me about marketing my novel:

"Never, ever use the word 'feminist' in describing the story or characters. It's a terrific word, but it's as loaded as 'Communist' was in the '50s."

That sentence stunned me, and I hastened to look up the definition of "feminist" in case some lapse in my formal education had prevented me from appreciating its dark side.

Feminist (n):
a) a person who believes that women should have political, economic, and social rights equal to those of men.
b) one who believes the implementation of feminist principles will create a more humane type of political power.

WOW!!! I don't see how any reasonable person can argue with a), but b) blew me away. That's exactly what my book is about!

While I wrestled with the advice of the publishing guru quoted above, I wrote a defense of myself and my work that I can now make a place for here:


How is it that the f-word inspires such terror and contempt that a woman who writes a book about women who are the equals of men is enjoined never to speak it?

It seems to me that women and men are equal, but not the same, and that the patriarchal societies in which humanity has lived for the last few thousand years are neither wrong nor evil, but simply out of balance. At one time there may have been survival value in the patriarchal organization of society, but I believe we have entered an age in which the old model will work against our survival and that the time has come to imagine the world differently.

In a world where men's values are deemed right and noble, women's values must be condemned as weak and dangerous. If the "rationality" of men is extolled, the "emotionality" of women must be trivialized with words like sentimental, frivolous, hysterical.

When the hearts of women are accorded equal respect with the minds of men, and when women are acknowledged to have minds and men are permitted to acknowledge their own hearts, we may be able to create a society that supports the expression of the full range of our humanity.


One way of undermining the credibility of an idea is to join it to an unpopular or discredited idea. That's how universal healthcare becomes socialized medicine, and how any liberal social program becomes a communist plot. That's how the right wing made "liberal" a dirty word. Say anything with enough contempt, and the contempt is what people perceive and remember.

By lumping feminism in with glbt, the author of Amazon's "glitch" let slip that he or she holds a bias that exceeds simple homophobia, which is all the more reason for Amazon to reveal the algorithm or human error that resulted in the de-ranking of 57,000 books.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Amazon's "glitch", a personal perspective

Clay Shirky claims that #amazonfail failed.

Fagadget claims that #amazonfail was a great success.

Both make excellent points.

Clay Shirky portrays the outrage felt by many as something like a lynch mob, carried away by emotion and feelings of self-righteousness, and what if everyone was wrong about Amazon and we rushed to judgment?

Fagadget points out that Amazon had had many complaints before the issue achieved critical mass on twitter and provoked the storm of outrage. If Amazon had paid attention to the authors' individual complaints, they might not have suffered the outrage of the mob when the rest of the world caught on.

I'd like to address this issue from my very personal point of view.

I noticed that my Amazon sales rank was gone on Friday, April 10th. I assumed it was a glitch. Yep, I did.

I figured Amazon was doing some site maintenance and that my sales ranks would soon re-appear. A few of the publishers' groups I subscribe to mentioned that sales ranks had vanished from books categorized as erotica, but as that label certainly didn't apply to my books, I gave it no more than a passing thought.

Only when I learned about sales ranks disappearing from books with lgbt content did I catch on. They were aiming at me!

Worse, the sales ranks of books that are anti-lgbt people, like A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, still had their sales ranks.

Maybe if you're not a member of a suspect class (defined by the Supreme Court as a class of people likely to be discriminated against) you can't imagine what it feels like to be singled out. Especially to be singled out to be invisible. As in, you don't exist. It's a very small step from "you don't exist" to "you have no right to exist."

I might just be a little touchy right now, because I watched the movie Milk last night. I was in San Francisco when Harvey Milk was assassinated, and the movie really put me back there, when the idea that a gay or lesbian person might be teaching your children was enough to strip an entire class of people of their civil rights. I'm not talking the right to marry here. I'm talking about the right to keep your job or your apartment, the right not to be fired or evicted just because someone finds out you're gay.

In the movie, the people who believe gay people should be discriminated against in jobs and housing look like silly bigots. Who could possibly believe the drivel they were spewing? But in those days, people did believe them, and gay people who wanted to keep their jobs and apartments had to keep their private lives a secret.

Prop. 8? Oh, let's not go there.

Oh, OK, let's.

Allowing gay people to marry takes no rights away from heterosexuals except the right to regard their relationships as superior to ours. To keep that right, they would actively cause real harm to others. I just don't understand it. After Prop. 8 passed, I had brought home to me again that a majority of the people who live where I live hate me and actively desire my unhappiness.

So when Amazon decides that just because my books include loving relationships between women they should be hidden from, not only children, but from everybody, I get that creepy feeling again that I'm going to be excluded, that I don't belong, that there is no place in this country or in this world for me. And that creepy feeling kills queer kids every day.

On the one hand, what Amazon did scares me, but on the other hand, what the power of the crowd did encourages me. Most people don't want anyone else to control what they have access to, either for information or entertainment. And plenty of people don't want me shut out of the national conversation. So I have my voice back, and I have a vocal group of outraged people to thank for it.



Friday, April 17, 2009

Curiouser and curiouser, Amazon

Just as the uproar begins to die down, other shady dealings come to light.

It seems that censorship of Kindle books categorized as gay/lesbian has been going on since January of 2008. Francine Saint Marie claims her "novels have been aggressively censored by Amazon since ... they were first released as Kindle editions." She also tells how she rigged the game in her own favor by hiding her lesbian tags when she uploaded her books as new and added the tags back in later.

Check out her story in her own words at the AfterEllen website.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good Timing, Amazon

Just as I launch this new blog, steps in it. I'm talking about what so many people have been twittering about--the fact that stripped the sales ranks from lots and lots of books, many of which were tagged gay/lesbian/bi/transgender/homosexual ... and like that.

If you haven't heard about the bruhaha, google "amazon gay lesbian sales ranks" for endless articles and blogs on the subject.

If you have heard about it, I won't bore you here. But I would like to draw your attention to an excellent article by a techni-geek who understands what an algorithm is. While Amazon blames a computer glitch, she with great scholarly-ness explains that computers run on algorithms (an algorithm is essentially a recipe) and SOMEBODY (not a computer) chose those tags.

Here's my story:
On Thursday evening (4/9) I had sales ranks on the trade paperback editions of my books.
On Friday afternoon (4/10), I didn't.
But my Kindle books still had their sales ranks. I guess they hadn't gotten around to de-ranking Kindle books yet.

The problem with losing sales ranks is that unranked books don't show up in searches. So when I searched on my books, even by exact title, the Kindle editions showed up but the trade paperbacks didn't. So nobody would ever be able to find my books on Amazon. And that is where almost all of my sales come from. So Amazon could have put me out of business. Just like that!

I soon learned about the sh*tstorm on twitter about Amazon discriminating against glbt books, and that explained why my books had been de-ranked. My books are categorized as 1) historical fiction, 2) women's fiction, and 3) lesbian fiction.

Oh, the dreaded L-word.

My books have also been tagged by Amazon's own customers as lesbian, lesbian romance, and lesbian fiction.

My books have also been tagged as the other L-word, literature, but that evidently wasn't enough to save them.

Actually my books were in very good company--Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Randy Shilts, E. Lynn Harris, Andrew Holleran, Dorothy Allison, Sarah Waters, James Baldwin, and many other distinguished, award-winning authors were de-ranked too.

On Monday the 13th, I called Amazon. Actually I had them call me. There's a nifty feature where you can enter your phone number into a box and submit it and they will call you back. Immediately. You still have to wait on hold a little while, but I was soon able to speak to someone who couldn't apologize enough and who assured me that my books would soon have their sales ranks back.

My sales ranks were back by late Monday night.

So is that the end of the story? I'm still unsettled by all this.

Customers have tagged my books with other things that someone might find offensive, like witchcraft, paganism, feminism, women, goddess worship, magic. Suddenly something that was supposed to help people find my books can be used to make sure that nobody finds them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New blog

Hey, check this out! I have a blog! I have no idea what I'll find to blather on about, but if anyone stumbles across this and wants to make a comment, feel free.