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Month: December 2019

The Top Ten Most Bonkers Moments From This Weird Ass Damon Suede Interview

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Not long ago, I declared 2020 The Year Of Minding My Own Business.

But it ain’t 2020 yet.

If you haven’t been following the coup taking place behind the scenes at Romance Writers of America, you’re probably going to want a primer. As always, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great explanation of what went down, and Clair Ryan broke it down Barney-style for those of us who couldn’t keep up. So many people who are more familiar with the RWA than I (a non-member) am have written eloquently about the problems in the organization that are systemic and extend far, far past any one individual. I have no real contribution to make and didn’t plan on blogging about any of this. My voice is not so unique and insightful that I could somehow stampede into the organization’s business after leaving it in 2005 (and briefly rejoining a couple of years ago for one year before I bounced again) and say anything other people haven’t already said better and with more authority. I’m 100% on Courtney Milan’s side in this and staunchly against the trash fire RWA has been for a long, long time, and that’s really all I have to say about the overall kerfuffle.

But Damon Suede. Boy howdy.

In addition to sending his husband into a social media battle on his behalf, Suede has been revealed to be a name-dropping opportunist and outright liar (which you can read about in Ryan’s post). Suede has always been a gifted self-promoter. A constant fixture at the biggest conventions, charismatically holding events and speaking on tough-to-get panels, he somehow managed to book speaking gigs and keynotes throughout the ’10s despite publishing his first book in 2011 and not releasing any new romance fiction since 2017. After writing only five novels in a genre that routinely sees authors putting out that many books a year, Suede decided to write books about writing and charge a rumored $3,000 per day to give workshops to whatever certified MacArthur Fellows would pay that ridiculous amount of money to him. Then, with the unwavering confidence of a mediocre-at-best white man, he decided that with less than ten years as a romance novelist, he was ready to lead the genre as president of the Romance Writers of America. Which he ran for unopposed. Because he manipulated the other candidate into dropping out.

Since straight cis white ladies love nothing more than the idea of having a Gay Friend™, Suede managed to rise to elite circles in Romancelandia, like a genre fiction Anna Delvey. Anyone who criticized him or had negative experiences with him were hushed up with accusations of homophobia (even if they weren’t straight, themselves) or by the mere power wielded by people in high places. One friend remarked to me that she’d “always had a bad feeling” about Suede but was too afraid to voice it to anyone because “he hung out with all the big names.” Now that his desperate power grab to turn Romance Writers of American into RWKKK has been exposed, people have started airing their grievances in public, including passing around this interview from September, which…shouldn’t have reflected well on him at the time but for damn sure doesn’t now.

Damon Suede is not the sole cause of the Make Romance Racist Again initiative. He’s just trying to direct the current assault. The genre and organization have been rife with white supremacist ideals for a long time. In no way should the Suede narrative drown out the much, much more important issue surrounding how and why Milan was removed from RWA or the numerous stories from RWA members of color who have been victimized and discriminated against (check out the links on Ryan’s blog). While I have no vote in RWA, no experience or helpful insight in repairing an organization that has been damaged by Game of Thrones-level maneuvering, and nothing that could even remotely resemble any kind of even hypothetical solution that a smarter person hasn’t already come up with, I am super bitchy, hold big grudges on behalf of my friends, and have long been waiting for this dude to step one damn toe out of line. In the midst of all this heartbreak and chaos, my contribution is mockery. For we must laugh, even in the darkest of times.

Theydies and Gentlethems, I give you…

The Top Ten Most Bonkers Moments From This Weird-Ass Damon Suede Interview

  • He claims to have read 1200 words a minute in childhood. 1200 words a minute is 72,000 words an hour, which means that as a child, Damon Suede would have been capable of reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in a little under twelve hours. The target reading speed for a third-grader in the United States is 107 words per minute. The average for adults hovers around 200 without any speed-reading training.
  • He believes acting is a “blue collar” job. There are many reasons child actors drop out of the game in their teen years. I guess we have to add “too posh for it” to that list now?
  • The interviewer is super psyched about kids committing suicide at college. At around the 1:47 mark, Suede begins explaining why he didn’t go to Cornell, a.k.a. “Suicide U,” to begin his career as a theme park designer (seriously). For some reason, perhaps it was just an inability to follow Suede’s frenetic conversational pace, the interviewer gives a long, slow, “Niiiiiiice,” upon learning that the university has a high suicide rate.
  • Suede’s jewelry-obsessed Disney-lawyer family apparently inspired him to destroy the RWA. “For me, I wanted to take everything apart and then put it back together and make it tick. And so, it’s that Aristotelian biology thing.” A man can reveal a lot about himself when he opines on his desire to destroy everything made by others and resurrect it under his own power. Honestly, maybe we all should have seen this coming, at least since September. Special recognition goes to comparing himself to a legendary Greek thinker while also inadvertently implying that Aristotle was some kind of Dr. Frankenstein. Perhaps most chilling is the smile he gives when the interviewer asks if Suede is still smashing things apart. Suede’s reply? “Everything I do.”
  • Suede comes at writing from the unique perspective of being aware that readers exist. Due to his extensive background in theater and movies and television and comics and watchmaking and living at Disney World like a special, special boy, Suede thinks about how readers are going to read what he writes. Unlike the rest of us, who don’t have such a learned and interesting background (or seemingly endless disturbing metaphors about splitting readers open) and who are uniformly shocked at the revelation that other people can see the words we put down in the books we write. While most of us are concentrating on writing stories just the right length to level our coffee table in paperback form, Suede has figured out that the true secret to great writing is putting the words in the right places to make a reader enjoy what they’re reading. I’m so glad a man has finally explained this and apparently gets paid $3,000 a pop to explain it in person.
  • Despite the fact that he’s only published five books and never made a bestseller list, he has the type of fans only a rockstar could love. Suede claims that his readers are so unhinged in their worship of him that he’s been chased Beatles-style through hotels, ripped out of taxi cabs, had fans camped outside of his home, and thirty-nine people have tattooed his name or book covers on their bodies. In other words, Suede is in that exclusive sphere of author worship usually reserved for authors like Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Cassandra Clare.

    With five books.

    And no bestsellers.

  • His readership is a lot cooler than the old fuddy-duddies who follow much, much bigger names in the genre. Name dropping Eloisa James, Suede says she complained that her fan base is made up of “gentle, seventy-year-old women who cry over their walkers,” while his readers are “young, browner, cooler,” and have piercings and tattoos. Now, I don’t know Eloisa James but I know that she writes historical romance and that “gentle, seventy-year-old women” basically sign her paycheck. If his claims are true, that would make James a real dick to talk about her readers in such disparaging, misogynistic stereotypes. If his claims aren’t true, he’s a real dick to talk about her readers in such disparaging, misogynistic stereotypes and attribute them to her in a damning soundbite. But hey, at least he managed to work in that people of color read his books, right?
  • Gay romance is anti-patriarchal despite being all about men? Somehow? Girl-on-girl books, though, not so much. Suede asserts that women are the primary readers of M/M romance because the stories involve relationships where “everyone has power.” Not only do power imbalances in gay relationships exist, but that imbalance also exists in tons of M/M fiction aimed at a predominately straight female audience who want to read a hetero relationship they identify with, but without any women in it. Still, Suede considers f/f books a tough sell due to the lack of male vulnerability in the narrative and not, like, straight lady homophobia and internalized misogyny. Considering the fact that publishers used to reject f/f books with phrases like, “no pink parts,” I’m inclined to say that misogyny, not feminism, drives much of the m/m romance market. But what do I know? I’m just a queer person with a coochie.
  • The first reference made to a female author’s work comes seven minutes into this ten-minute video about a genre pioneered and dominated by women. And the reference is to Jane Austen.
  • Suede’s vision for Romance Writers of America is…wait for it…diversity. After the interviewer asks Suede what his vision is for RWA, Suede rattles off a lot of statistics about the genre, followed by, “Somebody asked me what my vision is for RWA […].” Like, dude…the guy sitting across from you, desperately trying to get a word in, is the one who asked you that question. But the rest of Suede’s answer is somehow even more shamelessly lacking in self-awareness. “I believe everyone deserves a place at the table. Everybody,” he insists, turning to the camera to clap his hands and issue the directive, “We need to step. it. up.” Of course, he’s very careful to insert the caveat that while everyone deserves opportunities, that doesn’t mean everyone gets to be successful and every author is responsible for their own success. And we’ve seen proof of that philosophy in the past week. Apparently, Suede is fine with his “browner” fans tattooing his name on their bodies and hell, they can even have a seat at the table if they want to try their hands at writing, but god forbid they criticize an RWA member for overt racism. God forbid they take up too much elbow room at that table, or speak too loudly. And by the way, if you don’t succeed, it’s probably not due to any systemic issue in publishing. You’re just not self-promoting as hard as Jacqueline Susann.

Watching this video, I can only shake my head. This man has been telling everyone all along exactly who he is. Why did so many people ignore it? Why did so many big names signal boost him and bring him into their cliques? How did someone this obnoxious win so many hearts? And how much OTC allergy medication can an adult male take before he turns into Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch? This interview was from September. Has it worn off yet? When it does, will Suede regain the power to feel shame? Or was he born without that gene? So many mysteries. Sadly, they probably won’t be solved before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, so I’ll be left to wonder while minding my own damn business in 2020.

Bitchy New Year, everybody!

Allow me to address your bullshit, Lucia Franco defenders.

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CW: CSA, Rape, Grooming, Reproductive Coercion

Update: Lucia Franco defenders are now doxing those who dared to speak up about this, posting their home addresses and, in the cases of pseudonymous authors, their real identities, online. This puts people in real danger. If you are a Lucia Franco fan, please let her know that this is happening and that she has a moral obligation to speak out against this strategy of “defending” her. The one-star bombing and mass-reporting of books to Amazon in an attempt to see them removed as punishment? That’s shitty behavior. But the sole purpose of doxing is to terrorize. Those of you in groups with her or who follow her FB page, please tell Franco that this reflects incredibly poorly on her and that a statement of some kind to her fans is necessary to avoid being seen as complicit in endangering other human beings.

If you’ve never heard of Lucia Franco, she is the author of the indefensibly popular Off Balance series. The story, regarded by one Twitter user as “a phenomenal work of FICTION,” is a five-book series about the sexual relationship between a fifteen-year-old gymnast and her thirty-year-old coach who is grooming her for the Olympics. Oh, and obviously, to commit statutory rape with her.

Rejecting this premise, especially in the wake of the Michigan State assault cover-up, should have been obvious. A fifteen-year-old girl can’t consent to a thirty-year-old man, let alone a thirty-year-old man who has sole control over her success in her chosen field. Add to that the fact that this thirty-year-old man has a live-in girlfriend and refuses to engage in safe sex practices (relying on his partners to repeatedly take morning-after pills)…nobody would see this as romantic, right?

The first book, Balance, is, in fact, categorized as romance and has been embraced as a swoon-worthy love story by many readers on GoodReads (names redacted to avoid accusations of an attack or pile-on):

“This story was HOT. I mean, call the fire department and have them on standby hot. I’m in the middle of a heat wave and this was just added kindling to the inferno, hot.”

“Raw and intense, yet sensitive and touching. It will keep you hooked till the very end. Forbidden Romance at its finest.”

“Nothing could have prepared me to be hooked that much by Adrianna and Kova’s taboo relationship. Lucia Franco achieved to shape a story bursting with sinful attraction, but also containing a level of raw emotion that left me overcame by all the feels!”

“To all the fans of fifty shades of grey, kova is the new christian grey. Oh my heart!”

Please note that last one.

This book has 2,095 ratings on GoodReads. Over half of those are five stars.

Balance came out in 2016. So, why is all hell breaking loose just now? I have no idea. In October, the romance media site Frolic recommended it to readers (the recommendation has since been removed and the article edited; at the time of writing this, they had not included any explanation for its removal or acknowledged that the article was edited). This week, bloggers were discussing it openly on social media. The latest book in the series just came out, so maybe that got this whole thing kicked off? All I know is, the Lucia Franco defenders have crawled out of the woodwork to defend her right to classify this “beautiful, complicated love story” as a romance right alongside books featuring heroines who are not being groomed for abuse by their gymnastics coach. As usual, accusations of “bullying,” “trolling,” “persecuting” and “a witchhunt” have flown and the usual defenses have come out. I would like to address them all in one place. Because they are willfully obtuse.

“Free speech! You can’t censor someone just because you don’t like what they write!”

You’re right. Authors and readers on social media can’t censor anyone unless they have access to governmental power that would allow them to do so. I agree that Lucia Franco has every right to pen whatever kind of story she would like. I do not agree that criticizing the book is somehow quashing her free speech or censoring her. Allegations that authors worked together to get her book removed from Amazon out of “censorship” are laughable; Amazon isn’t the government and the book violated KDP TOS, which states:

“You must ensure that all Book content is in compliance with our Program Policies for content at the time you submit it to us. If you discover that content you have submitted does not comply, you must immediately withdraw the content by un-publishing it or by re-publishing content that complies through the Program procedures for Book withdrawal or re-publishing. We are entitled to remove or modify the metadata and product description you provide for your Books for any reason, including if we determine that it does not comply with our content requirements.”

One of those content requirements vaguely specifies that they reserve the right to remove objectionable content or remove books that provide a disappointing reader experience. If readers complained about the book, Amazon can review and pull it (according to some bloggers, it’s possible this is not the first time the book has been removed). Them’s the breaks, kids.

“Don’t like? Don’t read!”

This is not, Sunshine Susan.

“You probably haven’t even read it!”

You don’t have to read a whole book to know if you enjoy the themes it contains. That’s what the blurb is for. If I pick up a book about military intelligence, I’m going to put it back down. I’m not going to read the whole thing to decide if I was interested in the subject. And if I picked up a book that sounds like it could be just awful, I don’t have to read it before deciding whether or not I want to read it. That’s what critical reviews are for. No one is required to read a book romanticizing pedophilia before they’re qualified to say that romanticizing pedophilia is wrong.

“Wait, you’re reading it? Why read it if you know you’re not going to like it?”

Because you told us that we have to, Sunshine Susan. In order to criticize the book, we have to read it. Those are the rules you set down. Now, you don’t want us to read it? What are you afraid we’re going to find? Evidence? Because people are finding evidence.

“You don’t understand the genre!”

Many of the people criticizing the book are avid consumers of Dark/Taboo Romance but found that actual child rape was a step too far. Some of the critics are authors in the genre who don’t want their work associated with child rape. Go figure.

“Authors work hard! How would you feel if someone got one of your books pulled?”

I know as well as anybody how much work goes into creating a story and making it happen on the page. It’s grueling. After almost two decades, I almost don’t even enjoy it anymore. And I do feel for authors who’ve seen their books yanked off of Amazon by mistake for weird, vague reasons. But this isn’t vague. This isn’t an author who’s had their book about consensual age play between two or more grown adults removed because the guy’s name is Beast and it got flagged as zoophilia. This is a story about a thirty-year-old man having intercourse with a fifteen-year-old and how romantic and passionate their affair is. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have a book like that pulled from Amazon. Because I would never write that.

“It’s just fiction!”

Time and again, “It’s just fiction!” has been used to justify the nurturing of reprehensible attitudes. “It’s just fiction!” people cried about the novel that, purely by coincidence, published right before a huge spike in sex-toy related injuries. Sure, individuals are responsible for their own choices but that extends to authors, as well. If your choice as an author is to dangerously misrepresent a subject or craft a story that feeds into damaging cultural biases, readers can choose to speak about that.

“That stuff happens in real life! This is an important issue!”

Is it fiction or not? The defense, “It’s just fiction,” doesn’t wash if in the next breath we’re being told to value the realism inherent in the work. And yes, child sexual abuse is an important issue. Writing about important issues requires delicacy. If the authorial intent here is to raise awareness of sex abuse perpetrated by coaches in junior sports, perhaps she shouldn’t have chosen to frame it as a beautiful love story. The relationship between the coach and the gymnast is portrayed as sexy, desirable, and forbidden. It’s written specifically to titillate the reader when they’re consuming this story about a grown man having sex with a child. If you’re defending it as an “issue book” or positioning it as some kind of statement piece then you’ve just cast Franco in the role of a person advocating for pedophilia, not against. That’s probably not as helpful as you think it is.

“I dated older men and–”


“The author is a really nice person and–”

Nope. She could make Tom Hanks look like Ted Bundy and her book would still be about a kid getting raped and manipulated by a predatory authority figure.

“Women should lift each other up, not tear each other down!”

This is not a petty, Real Housewives-style backstabbing spat here. This is a social media discussion about a book that was made freely available for public consumption in which child sexual abuse is dressed up like a consensual sexual relationship. No one is “tearing down” Franco. They’re responding rationally to the normalization and romanticization of pedophilia. Yes, she’s a woman. She’s also furthering attitudes that harm women and girls. It is impossible to “lift her up” without turning away from actual victims and potential victims. If people are less concerned with helping an author achieve success than eradicating cultural attitudes that create more sexual assault victims…boo hoo, I guess?

“Frigid bitches, assorted misogyny in the name of supporting women.”

Obviously, the disgusting crones attacking this book are doing so because they don’t enjoy sex, or don’t get any sex because their lives are joyless. Our spider-infested genitals haven’t known a moist touch that isn’t just mildew from neglect and disuse. When we open our legs, it sounds like a door creaking in a haunted house. And of course, it’s undeniably feminist to insinuate this by calling us prudes and making references to straight-laced Victorian literature and Jane Austen. Oh, how boring are we, the unhappy, sexless few who don’t find child molesters the sexiest, most Alpha panty melters of all time. And this isn’t a misogynist position to take; everyone knows that saying a woman’s value is based solely in her sexuality is okay, so long as you’re defending child rape. So, too, is using, as one defender did, the quote, “God save us from women,” from an Outlander book. Yes, it’s women and their womanishness that is causing this problem. If only women could just be cooler with rape and abuse and stop being so ugh, gross and girly. Also, they should stop being jealous because jealousy is clearly the only motivation a woman ever has when criticizing another woman, as we have no critical thinking skills.

I’m sure there are many other ridiculous, eye-roll worthy takes out there but I’ve been away from blogging lately and my tolerance to abject bullshit is astonishingly low. In closing: you can write or read whatever you want but you can’t escape criticism or analysis of your work.

Oh, and since this needs to be pointed out: FUCKING KIDS IS WRONG AND THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE LAWS ABOUT IT.