A Letter to Amazon

librarianDear Mr. Bezos,

I was very excited to receive your Email request this morning, asking for my help in your battle against Hachette. Not since Carrie White got invited to the prom has a girl been more pleasantly shocked to be included. And you’re right; those big publisher types are just fuckers. I was a mid-list romance author for Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster all through the 2000s, and let me tell you—

Oh, right, sorry, you want to talk about your thing. No, yeah, of course; it’s totally fine. So anyway, okay, Hachette and its other big nasty “media conglomerate” friends have been being all hateful to you at Amazon about your e-books. I heard about the whole collusion thing – those bastards! You and the Supreme Court are so right; I don’t blame you one bit for being upset. I mean, I know in my heart that if you hadn’t already put every other bookselling outlet that could possibly affect the market at your level out of business, you and those peers you don’t have would never, ever sit down in a New York City restaurant to try to come to some sort of price fixing agreement. I can just see them all in there, smoking their big cigars, drinking their martinis – they probably pinched the pert derriere of the cigarette girl as she passed. Kudos to you and your lawyers for bringing them to justice. So now they’re coming after you one by one, starting with Hachette, and you’ve come to me for my help as a writer to fight back. I’m flattered; I really am.

But let’s talk about the pig’s blood before I put on the tiara. (Sadly, unlike Carrie, I don’t have evil superpowers, but this also ain’t my first prom.) You talk in your email about the “invention” of the paperback “just ahead of World War II” and how some writers like George Orwell didn’t like it and how they were wrong and how the current debate about e-book pricing is just like that. Leaving aside the nagging knowledge I have of yellowback novels being published way back in the 1870s and magazine serials blazing the trail for pulp fiction decades before that, let’s talk about Orwell’s fears about what paperbacks would do to what you call “literary culture.” At that time, there was no such thing as “literary fiction” or “genre fiction;” there was just “fiction,” and Orwell, who wrote dystopian sci fi with straightforward political commentary, was part of it. So were Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. So were the Bronte sisters, who wrote romance, and Sir Walter Scott, who wrote historicals, and Mark Twain, who wrote YA and comic satire, and Mary Shelley, who wrote horror. And all those books from Orwell’s era that we now consider classics too dense, boring, and “literary” for anybody but aging academics and film directors to read, like The Great Gatsby and The Sound and the Fury and Moby Dick and Ulysses, those weren’t considered “literary novels,” they were considered “novels,” and everybody who read novels read them right alongside the lighter stuff.

Paperbacks are awesome; I’ve built my life as a reader and my career as a writer on paperbacks. And they did “rejuvenat[e] the book industry and mak[e] it stronger,” in that a lot more books got published and read because they were so much cheaper, and ultimately publishers and booksellers made a lot more money. (Authors maybe not so much, but maybe so. Bigger business meant bigger demand which meant bigger paychecks for the bigger names, and more people probably got published, too.) But those bigger numbers created the need for some kind of genre categorization, at least in the minds of those publishers and booksellers, which led to the big divide between so-called “literary” fiction and “genre” fiction that plagues every author alive today and threatens to destroy any notion of a “literary culture” in English completely.

So maybe old George was on to something after all.

You (or to be fair, your spambot) also talk about how paperbacks, because of these snooty objections from the literary establishment, were first sold in drugstores and newsstands, casting Amazon as the humble newsstand/drugstore of today’s e-book world. Well . . . maybe. If we’re talking about a drugstore that first puts all the other drugstores out of business. Then sells their paperbacks at somewhat less than cost so they can sell more candy bars and condoms by luring in more customers. Then decides to just give the paperbacks away to special customers who have credit accounts with them to buy their much more expensive prescriptions, explaining to the people who make their living off the paperbacks that they’ll pay them a percentage of the nothing they’re charging, they promise. And when those people who make their living off the paperbacks object, accuses them of wanting readers to die because they’re being denied access to cheap medicine. Then, yeah, the comparison is probably pretty apt.

So in response to your request, I would like to suggest a new marketing model to you and Facebook and Google and all the other companies who hire marketing copy writers (most of whom probably wrote at least the first couple of chapters of a novel at some point) to write this kind of mass communication to me and the rest of us content providers and customers and such; sort of a new mission statement. It’s not a new concept; my grandfather was fond of it, but it has the kind of folksy charm I think you were going for here.

Stop pissing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.

Love and kisses,

Lucy Blue

(Credit for the groovy writer girl graphic to the brilliant Isabel Samaras)

A Blasphemous Conversation

prince lestat UK coverIn which lesser vampire authors Lucy Blue and Alexandra Christian bemoan the fate of their idol.

LUCY:  How much do we hate Anne Rice’s new UK cover?!!??!

 LEX:  WTF is wrong with them??!!! It looks like a cheap romance novel.  And I say that as an author of cheap romance novels…

LUCY:  My cover for Tender Bites was better than that.  Your covers for the Mocha Memoirs trilogy are MUCH better than that.  They probably spent a fortune hiring a semi-recognizable model (I think I’ve seen him in a Ralph Lauren ad, him or someone who looks just like him), and the costuming is extremely pricey – that jacket alone cost a fortune and was probably made specifically for that shoot.  But then they use the image in the cheapest, most obvious way imaginable.  Almost nobody who sees it is going to notice how pricey the individual elements are; they’re only going to engage the cheap, amateurish product.

Never mind that my whole reaction to a book entitled “Prince Lestat” is a big fat groan.

LEX:  They’re counting on the name Anne Rice to sell it.  But the cover is just horrendous.  Blech.

LUCY:  And here’s the thing – the name Anne Rice isn’t selling all that well at the moment. Which is probably why she got pushed into this cover in the first place.

It all comes back to what we’ve been saying for months – nobody knows nothing no more.

LEX:  Well if she’d write a book that’s worth a damn….

LUCY:  True . . . I think the problem is, she was always psycho.  But before, her version of psycho was sexy.  But she’s done that now, and as she’s aged, she’s moved into an older, more mature version of psycho that doesn’t connect with anybody any more.

LEX:  Well she keeps plowing the same dirt.  And when she’s not plowing that dirt, she’s doing something that’s so off the wall that it doesn’t make sense.

LUCY:  I think the plowing is her trying to reconnect and the off the wall is what she really wants to write.  It makes me sad because I think she’s brilliant; I think there are probably many more great novels inside her head wanting out.  But I think she has had some kind of weird religious conversion that has made her feel guilty and apologist about some of her early stuff (which is ridiculous), and just like she does in these monster series (serieses?) she writes, she’s trying to write her way out of the corner with plot that just gets nuttier and nuttier.

I feel her pain a little bit because part of the problem is, she was the Mother Goddess of this entire paranormal/gothic/romantic movement, and everything that has come since feeds off her original creation.  But that has gone on long enough that it’s moved beyond imitators into contrarians – people don’t write like Anne Rice any more, they specifically write vampires and werewolves and witches that are NOT like Anne Rice.  But she’s still around and still writing; she’s not ready to be the compost in the general soil just yet.  So she’s got a choice – she can either write in the sensibility she’s always had and be perceived as out of touch with the times and the sad crone who doesn’t know when to leave the party or she can try to adopt some version of the new sensibility (hence this cover) which isn’t hers, doesn’t fit, and results in rotten books, and she looks like the sad crone who bought a lot of make-up and has had a bit too much to drink.  And with trends cropping up, blooming, and dying in the space of months now, it’s happening to more and more content creators faster and faster.  As soon as something succeeds, it immediately becomes a punch line.  And once it becomes a punch line, it’s dead.

LEX:  Well sadly, she IS out of touch with the market right now.  She asked on Facebook if anyone would be interested in reading an erotic romance.  I mean, really Anne?  Where have you been in the last five years?  So I feel like we’ll be seeing a freako copycat of her Beauty books in the near future.

LUCY:  Oh but see, I suspect if you asked her, she would sniff aristocratically and point out that all of THOSE books came from independent publishers and smut mongers; she’s only interested in REAL erotic romance from Random House.  She probably considers 50 Shades beneath her notice, too.

So yeah, a new Beauty-esque saga is most likely in the works.  Jack and His Amazing Beanstalk?

I feel like a cretin for making jokes; I love those books; I love her writing – anybody who has read a sex scene I’ve written knows how much I love her style of erotica; she’s been a huge influence on me.  But yeah, it’s like she’s been up in the ivory tower for decades, only to discover that the world changed without her.  And now she’s trying to climb down and make art, and it’s just not working.

That said, if I had the sales numbers she had on her past couple of “failures,” I’d be a happy little writer indeed.

LEX:  Exactly.  She could never sell another book and be perfectly happy.

Gentle readers, may the same be said of all of us someday.

AHS: Asylum – Thanks, but no thanks

SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE VERY FIRST EPISODE OF SEASON TWO.

Last year, I was an avid, obsessive, totally addicted viewer of FX Network’s erotic horror series, American Horror Story.  Even when I hated it, I loved it.  So this year, even though I’ve been booked solid with writing commitments and family commitments and day job commitments and everything else, I had no doubt whatsoever that I would watch Season Two:  Asylum, just as voraciously.  Even when my baby sister who knows me well warned me after the first episode that it dealt with one of my least-loved horror tropes, the evil insane asylum, I was keen to watch and downloaded the first two episodes from the PlayStation Network.

So yesterday, after we finished hanging the ceremonial bat lights and spider webs on the front porch in prep for trick or treat, Max and Sister Lex and I sat down to watch the first two episodes.  I made it about halfway through episode 1 before I said, and I quote, “Turn that shit off my TV!”

Please understand, I am not offended at all by the sexual content or the manipulation of religious symbology; I’m not bored by the 1964 settting; and I believe any storyline that results in the maiming and possible death by bleeding of Adam Levine can only be a blessing.  I would also sign any petition to have Jessica Lange declared a national treasure.  But y’all . . . aliens?  Unanethesized surgery?  It’s like Hostel raped the X-Files, and it gave birth to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was immediately strangled by Agnes of God

Which may be the point.  The first season of AHS was just as much a mash-up of true crime mythology and pop horror, and it may well be that I liked it better because I liked the component parts better.  Lex is right; I have a real and very personal twitch about horror stories set in mental hospitals (don’t even get me started about the 1999 remake of The House on Haunted Hill).  And I absolutely loathe the entire “torture porn” genre, which is obviously a powerful influence and component in this story.  (The opening sequence with Levine, for example, could have been lifted straight out of a new installment of Saw or any of its imitators.)  But Season 1 just seemed to have so much more story.  Yes, there were pure shocks – who had ever seen a gimp suit on non-pay cable before?  But everything seemed slotted into the central drama of this seemingly-gorgeous American family held together with lies and delusion, and the setting, Murder House, felt like the perfect, even inevitable vessel for that drama.  Season 2 may well gel beautifully at some point, and I freely admit I haven’t seen enough to judge it as a narrative whole.  But what I have seen felt more like four or five separate SHOCKING!!!! vignettes, all shot and edited like slasher flicks, with only the most tenuous connection to one another than it did any kind of cohesive story that could carry on through an entire TV season.  And the connections to the asylum itself seemed just as tenuous.  Season 1 was like an infuriatingly clever and jaw-droppingly sexy postmodern, post-deconstruction take on The Haunting of Hill House.  What I’ve seen of Season 2 felt like a sick stoner’s staged reading of an old issue of the Weekly World News

Which again might well be the point.

Again, I’m only speaking for myself here; a lot of smart people I know are absolutely enthralled so far, Lex included.  But I’m really disappointed, and I’m cutting my losses early.  Like I told Lex yesterday, I don’t get why the new season has to be so completely different, why we needed a whole new setting and a whole new genre of paranormal – aliens instead of ghosts.  Like I told her, in the second season of Friends, they didn’t celebrate their success by recasting with six ugly people who hate one another and hang out in an alley smoking crack.  And yes, I totally get that AHS is NOT Friends, nor should it be.  But it ought to at least be fun to watch, and for me, this season, it just isn’t.