Friday, August 03, 2007

Book Promotion and Personal Stories

A week ago I participated in an Autograph Party for member authors at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Seattle, and last night the Writers Faire (sponsored by both Oregon Writers Colony and Willamette Writers) at the kickoff of the Willamette Writers Conference 2007 here in Portland. Being a published writer does have actual perks, if sitting with your books while perfect strangers glance at them, pick them up, and put them down again can be described as a "perk."

Strangely enough for someone with my perpetual level of anxiety (and as I told my writer/webcomic artist friend Evan Nichols last night, medication works wonders) I had a good time at both events. My expectations for sales were rock bottom, so any sale was a miracle to be savored, and I simply embraced both events as nights I could dress up a little, put on sexy shoes and sit on my ass most of the evening without guilt. Often it feels as if from the moment the children awake, to the time the four-year-old lies down at night, I am in a combined obstacle course/marathon that leaves no time for sitting, relaxation or finishing a sentence.

But besides the networking I did while making short jaunts to other writers' tables, the best part of both events were the reactions of people when they looked at my book cover and realized what it was all about. I don't mean the ubiquitous "Is this a true story?" that indicates memoir is a category not every writer is familiar with, or the "Is this your story?" sometimes followed with a "So you're gay?" comments that indicate I am so urban soccer mom that no one knows I'm a lesbian unless I wear a label--the tattoos don't even help since everyone has one these days.

What were priceless were the stories that tumbled out after the three second pause: "my sister is a lesbian" out of the late middle age woman who looked like the stereotypical parish worker in an English mystery, "two of my friends got married today" out of one conference attendee pitching her screenplay, "my friends says I'm a big fag hag" out of the Catholic woman who struggles with her church's doctrine, "my partner and I were married that morning, too" out of the exquisite man who sat down and told me about his idea for a book, "I'd buy your book tonight but the person I'm with doesn't know" out of the woman who married her partner twenty-five years ago and glanced back at my table from across the room, maybe in wonder at how things have changed in the last decades, "what about gay divorce?" from the man who announced that he was against gay marriage, but wished me well with my book, "so you were married to a man before?" out of the teenage conference attendee who had never heard of sperm donors, didn't think same-sex marriage was ever legal, and told me her parents were conservative Christians dead set against same-sex marriage, but she hadn't made up her mind.

I can't remember the details of all the tumbling tales of neighbors, co-workers, daughters, friends, but the spark of the book brought those stories directly to the surface. Perhaps the most amazing conversation was with my table-mate at the PNWA Conference in Seattle, an Episcopalian minister in his seventies, about the changes in society and the church over the last decades, and his admission that he was against ordaining women until he truly asked himself what was wrong with it and couldn't find a reason. He felt the same way about same-sex marriage.

It is my belief (and here I go, standing on my soapbox again) that changing minds one person at a time is powerful political action. My own core statement would be that gay rights are human rights, and everyone's business. Clearly, the writers at the conferences were intermingled intimately, lovingly, with gay men and lesbians in their lives. The legal status of those neighbors and friends is their business too.

The negative side of anti-gay legislative effect came out in a story told second hand by my mother-in-law, about a friend with a great-niece who thinks she may be gay. The girl is fourteen, with a history of cutting and other self-destructive behaviors, and her great-aunt would like to help.

Being a teenage girl is hard enough in this culture, without adding in institutionalized homophobia so blatant it outlaws stable, legally protected relationships because we are so unworthy. I don't know if my book, with its references to my own troubled adolescence and startling allusions to the rigors of motherhood and the joys of Diet Coke, would make any impact on her teenage world. But I do know that seeing that being a lesbian isn't the end of the world, doesn't make her weird (unless she wants to be), and doesn't bar her from any of the joys that life has to offer could make a difference. My mother-in-law is passing on that message.

Writing can touch others in surprising ways, ways that writers will never see. The stories will keep me writing despite the obstacle course-slash-marathon of life, changing minds one at a time.

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