Christa Desir's Blog

August 15, 2014

It's been a crap week, which normally means that I take to my bed early on most nights and watch either lesbian indie movies or Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember. This week along with indie lesbian films, Netflix recommended Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon to me. I like JGL so thought, why not? Ninety minutes later, I took off my headphones and said out loud, "well, that was sort of gross." Three days after and I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS MOVIE.

On the surface, it's a bro movie about a guy who can't have meaningful relationships because of his addiction to internet porn. There's a lot of fapping in this movie. A lot. There's also quite a few "money shots". But the thing is, and why I can't seem to shake the movie, is that I feel the same way about this film that I felt about Alissa Nutting's book Tampa and Bruce Norris' play "The Qualms". Which is to say that I feel incredibly uncomfortable. And I think that's the point.

I used to volunteer for a domestic violence hotline. I had to stop because guys kept calling during my shift, asking about DV against men, and then masturbating as I explained it. After the third time it happened, leaving me shaken and like I wanted to take a scalding shower, I gave up on hotlines. It was sad because I think there are legitimate guys who are in DV situations, but there are too many creeps who abuse the hotlines. I have heard this from friends who work on sexual violence hotlines too.

Don Jon left me feeling similar to the DV hotline. Which is perhaps why it's so masterful, because it gives every viewer of that movie the experience of that level of ick. Like Tampa, this is arguably one of the least sexual movies I've ever experienced that is thematically all about sex. At one point during Don Jon, JLG brags that he masturbated 11 times in a day—a new record. I couldn't help but laugh at the pathos of this. At the reality that this bro is expecting some sort of internet porn bozo button for his masterful fappery. And the brilliance of the movie is that Julianne Moore as a character in that movie is right there with us. She calls JLG out on the one-sidedness of porn, on why this isn't real. The entire movie leaves us asking ourselves if "all guys watch porn", what does it actually buy them?

(Side note: another reason I think this movie is sort of masterful is the absolute lack of acknowledgment in the age disparity between Julianne Moore & JLG. It's in the line of fire as an easy pot shot about "sexiness" in many ways for a movie like this and they don't ever mention it. Additionally, the way that church and absolution of sins is subtlety deconstructed throughout the film is pretty much worth the price of entry).

***

I am reading Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist. I love this collection of essays. I have long struggled with my own feminism and how I constantly fall short of what I'm sure my foremothers wanted from me. The reality is that I need Julio. He is my health insurance and the majority of the income in our home. I would survive on my day job and writing money, probably, but I couldn't support my kids on it and health insurance would be through the state.

Another reality: I edit romance novels for a living. I am proud of the books I edit. I am proud of the strides I've made in the books I've acquired. I am taking risks on new things (non-binary romance), I have a significant number of authors who are writing male/male romance, I seek out diverse characters/books. I don't acquire books that slut-shame or create romantic rivalry among women. But. The truth is that women are bottoming in most of the traditional books I edit. I wonder what Bell Hooks and Simone de Beauvoir would think of my day job.

Of all the essays in Bad Feminist, I think my favorite might be the one about Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". I felt this one inside of me because there are times I so very much want to be a woman who is easygoing and game for anything. I am sex-positive. I edit erotic romance novels. I watch JLG fapping. But, at the end of the day, I can't get wholly behind this easygoing appearance of mine. I have to understand it for what it is, which is a safety measure to keep me off the radar of MRAs or people who want to hurt me for my feminism.

Gay writes in her essay, "It's hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you're not imagining things. It's hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you're going to float the fuck away."

***

Yesterday, I gave a lecture to high school students on sexual violence for the Voices & Faces Project. Mostly, I use survivor stories (with permission of survivors) to dispel a lot of rape mythology. At the end of my speech yesterday, I opened it up to Q&A. The first question a girl asked was whether I thought advertising/media perpetuated the idea of girls wanting to be dominated by men. It was an easy answer. Of course I do. But the layers behind it are complicated and nuanced. Because I also think that a knee-jerk reaction of banning such things is futile and exacerbates a madonna/whore complex in girls who are just figuring out their own sexual agency. I think criticizing advertising for the perpetuation of rape culture is valid, but I also think that these things will not just go away. It's the Mackinnon/Dworkin argument against pornography and I never thought it would get us anywhere. 12% of the internet is now said to be porn sites. To me the solution lies in understanding that those messages exist and figuring out how you feel about them and what you want for yourself.

The Q&A then devolved into a discussion about whether particular scenarios were considered rape. This is a slippery slope and not something I wanted to get into. At one point, I had to stop and say, "Look, if you're asking me if I think a state's attorney would prosecute this as rape, the answer is that I do not. Because I think state's attorneys want to win and they often won't take on things that are 50/50. But the legality of this is less the question here than are WE ethically okay with this? Is this what you want for yourself? Is this what you want for your friends? Guys, do you want to be in a position of having sex with a girl who doesn't want to have sex with you? Do you want your friends in that position?" I think we often get mired in the legal definitions of rape and forget that sometimes it's as simple as having a very open and honest conversation about what people want. This, of course, is a failure in all of us with our children, not encouraging these discussions. Not asking them questions when they start to have their own sexual agency. And yet, I can't help but go back to Don Jon. Internet porn is where a lot of teenagers are getting their information. And isn't that just a big problem? Because it isn't real and it's one-sided. This, above all else, is why I like having these discussions. This is why I'm grateful for Roxane and JLG and all the struggles I have with my own feminism. It starts a conversation, which I think is what we need most what it comes to sexual politics.


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Published on August 15, 2014 10:33 • 29 views

August 7, 2014

1. I got to see my college bestie Emily Bergl in Los Angeles. We hiked to the Observatory and walked on the beach. She is one of the most amazing people I've ever known.

2. I want to the SCBWI Conference and got to spend time with my collab partner, Jolene Perry, and one of her other collab partners, Allie Brennan. And one night we got to stay with our friend Cindy Shortt who makes me smile so wide. We talked a lot. And danced. And it was pretty awesome.


3. Jolene and I took some pictures at the Pink Taco. Which made me giggle and feel like a 12yo boy. Heh. We didn't eat there though because the hostess ignored us and we were too hungry to get into it.

4. Andrew Smith and Carrie Mesrobian. They are beautiful people to me every day. Along with T.M. Goeglin, Jay Asher, Gayle Foreman, Ellen Hopkins, and a whole bunch of other amazing writers. I'm deeply grateful they are in my world.



5. This is me dressed for roller derby. I'm sort of terrible at it, but I love it and I fall really well. I think it's important for everyone to know how to fall.


6. Bleed Like Me comes out 2 months from today. You can preorder it here, here, & here. I got a really nice review from Booklist for this book. This is what it said:



Bleed like MeDesir, C. (Author)

Oct 2014. 288 p. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, hardcover, $17.99. (9781442498907).
Seventeen-year-old Amelia—better known as Gannon—felt shut out of her family at age 12, when her parents put their energy into three wild boys they adopted off the streets of Guatemala. From that day forward, she retreated and became invisible to most everyone, and the only way she can feel anything is to cut herself. Then she meets Michael Brooks, an obnoxious, paranoid manipulator and dangerous rule- breaker who makes Gannon feel needed, wanted, and visible to her core. Both know the deep ache of solitary existence and their painful worlds collide in hopes of agonizing salvation. Like a Chicago suburbs Sid and Nancy, the two develop an enslaving, codependent relationship that both frightens Gannon and feeds her need for validation. Brooks chips away at her until she gives up everyone and everything for him, but is even that enough? Edgy, dark, and turbulent with passion, Desir’s second novel offers a bleak yet compassionate rawness instead of a lecture. Be prepared to have your heart wrenched from your chest as Gannon struggles with her silent cries for help.
— Jeanne Fredriksen 
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Published on August 07, 2014 15:09 • 10 views

July 24, 2014

I read this article yesterday about women in the gaming community and the daily harassment they experience. Before you click on the link, prepare yourself for very graphic language/threats. Seeing the things that some guys said to these women made me disgusted and fearful.

I'm no one. I wrote some books. I have some FB/Twitter followers, but mostly I'm not worth anything in terms of online harassment. I'm not in a male-dominated field and I don't write for the Internet so I have not been a victim of that level of hate.

Which is not to say I haven't experienced it. I don't know a woman in the world who hasn't experienced something that has left her feeling hated for her gender. But my experience of it has been "not that bad."

I'm interested in women's experience of "not that bad." It's a bigger article. It's a bigger anthology. I believe somewhere it's being planned out right now. For my own part, "not that bad" means that everything I experience that isn't rape feels like a gift. Like if I'm just ogled, pushed up against, catcalled at, etc. this really is nothing in the grand scheme.

I reread Margaret Atwood's "Rape Fantasies" short story last night. I will always remember this story as one of the first I wrote a paper on in my Fundamentals of Literary Analysis class. I remember my teacher not giving me a grade, but instead writing a note at the bottom of my paper that said "See Me" and when I went to see him, he said that he'd never read such a beautifully written paper that misunderstood the text completely.

I know why I misunderstood the text. Of course I know why. I focused on Estelle's humor. I called it a dark comedy. I comped it to things like Heathers. I don't think I was completely wrong, but the bigger point, the point that Estelle was in fact talking to a man at a bar, trying to engage with him, trying to suss him out so that he understood her fears and that she was terrified of being raped, terrified of leaving the bar with him, I didn't talk about that part.

I don't talk about that part. Or I do, but I talk about it academically. I talk about it in terms of books. But I don't let that part slide beneath my skin. I cannot. It leaves me way too exposed. So instead, I talk about sex. A lot. I chose my day job for a reason. I wear sex-positivism like a cape. It buys me something, being able to talk about sex without flinching. And I do like sex. But I also understand the defense behind it. I understand that for me, I need to have that or I will have nothing. I will curl into a ball and not be able to come out. So sex-positivism has become a source of power for me. My willingness to engage in conversation, to ask for what I want, to write an essay about 'first times' for The V-Word, all of this is power.

And that in the end, is what I think Margaret Atwood's Estelle was grappling with. In describing these scenarios, she was attempting to control a situation, hoping to empower herself so that these things would not happen to her. Which is really silly. This is not on us to prevent. We can't make ourselves "un-rape-able", but I 100% understand the instinct to try.


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Published on July 24, 2014 05:15 • 9 views

July 19, 2014

I went to the bookstore last night. My kids had some time before their big camp-out so we went to the huge mall Barnes & Nobles. I almost never go to the mall with my kids by myself, but I thought the bookstore would be okay. A safe place.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in a big bookstore like that. I shop local and my indie isn’t that huge. If I want to make the longer drive, I go to Anderson’s which is a pretty big and absolutely wonderful indie bookstore.
But last night I went to the Barnes & Noble and as I walked through the aisles, I grew increasingly sad. Not because the selection wasn’t massive (it really is a HUGE selection of YA novels), but because for all the excitement I felt seeing friends’ books on the shelves, I couldn’t help but notice the books that weren’t there.
Yes, my book wasn’t there, which I always prepare myself for so I don’t experience disappointment, but neither were: CarrieDahliaAndrewTedNovaMollyKathleenKatieJoleneSharonBrandyCourtneyStephKateJustinaShannonAmyAllisonTrishEricaetc’s. Do you see? You start making friends with writers. You start reaching out and connecting and then when you go to the bookstore, you become a little sad.
I love my writing life. I love my friends. I love so much of what publishing has brought me, but I miss the magic of going to a bookstore and just discovering books. And not fretting over what is and isn’t being shelved. This worry is an unexpected fallout of publishing. Sort of like when you get on a church committee and realize it’s not all spiritual and wonderful, now you see the politics behind things and there’s just no going back.
So instead, I didn’t buy any books for myself and walked behind my children as they experienced the bookstore. And that was a little wonderful too. Seeing them get excited about the latest Big Nate or the second book in Erin Bowman’s Taken series or that there’s a guide to Plants vs. Zombies (believe me, I rolled my eyes at the last one too and had to be very Zen about reading is reading is reading).
I love the magic of new readers. I may never have my pre-publishing bookstore gaze again, but at least I get to witness that in my kids still. And that's okay. It's enough.
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Published on July 19, 2014 06:51 • 7 views

July 7, 2014

Today marks three months until BLEED LIKE ME will be released. I'm very excited for this. I love that book and I love that it will be out in the world soon.

From Goodreads:

From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just "Gannon" to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.


Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.

But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she's standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She's given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.

Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat.


Pre-order links: IndieBound, B&N, Amazon

To mark this momentous occasion, I am doing a giveaway of all the books below. YES, all six of them in one package. This is limited to U.S. residents only, but otherwise feel free to spread the word about this and just enter with the little Rafflecopter thing below. The contest will end on July 31st and books will be shipped to you in August.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Published on July 07, 2014 05:38 • 7 views

June 28, 2014

It's Pride weekend and I wanted to post a bunch of my favorite GLBT YA titles for those interested in reading the excellent books that are now out in this world that include this issue. For a more comprehensive list, I highly recommend you go to Dahlia Adler's compendium here. I also want to express tremendous gratitude to all the writers who are including this issue because it's important. And if you go hunting at the bottom of this post, you can even get a teaser of my girl-girl love story which I'm currently drafting.















Excerpt from my WIP:

I move toward the bathroom and start to take off my bikini. I slide my jeans on and tug my cami over my head. The door clicks and Emily’s there, inside this too small space with me. All the air in the room shifts. The energy has changed and my breath hitches. I lick my lips and she follows the movement and everything is warm and all I can think is how much I want to feel this. Her. Us. But I’m so terrified. She takes a step and drops her hands on to my hips. And it is nothing, nothing like how Luke’s hands felt. She spins me around so I’m facing away from her and toward the mirror. I can feel her breath on my back.
Her fingers move over the scars there. Trace the patterns up my neck to the base of my skull where my bald patch is. Her other hand is still holding on to my hip and I want to lean back into her. I want to wrap her around me, feel her strength.
And without much thought, I know I want her mouth on my mouth. I want to taste her kisses and the wetness of her tongue and see if the orange Tic Tac smell is her all-over flavor. But she stays behind me with her hands continuing to trace my scars.
“They’re beautiful because they’re part of you,” she whispers as her finger circles smooth raw skin. “And youare beautiful.”“Emily, I want…”But she drops her hands and steps back. “You don’t know what you want. And I shouldn’t be getting involved with this.”
Then she’s gone. My hands tremble as I pull my shirt over my head. I leave the bathroom, ready to confront her, ready to ask what she wants, but she’s not in the classroom either. And I’m left even more confused than ever.
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Published on June 28, 2014 05:39 • 10 views

June 20, 2014

I ran 8 miles this morning. For the first time in my life. 8 miles. I'm still sort of stunned. It hurt like hell and I ate 2 burritos afterwards, but I ran 8 miles.
Post 8-mile runAs I was on the last mile, I started to think about my body and how much it's sort of amazing. How I never appreciated it when I was seventeen. How frankly, I was very hard on it. Looking back, I would say I was at war with my body.
Me at 17The war was a very long one. Played out on several fronts for many years: food, drugs, sex, pain. There is never a day when I don't wonder how my body has survived it. I have been an aggressive opponent against my body, and still my body survived it. Not completely unscathed, unfortunately. I have mysterious "health" things that no doctor can quite explain. Scars from the war, I think.

I ran 8 miles today. When I peeled off my clothes afterwards to take a shower, at first I felt the familiar disgust towards my body. Because no matter how laminated my feminist card is, that hasn't gone away. That knee-jerk reaction to be a pretty girl. I didn't know how beautiful I was at seventeen until my body made it to 40. I am covered in bruises and scars and stretch marks and cellulite and sagging skin. I don't have abs anymore. I had three babies who were nine pounds. No abs, just skin that sometimes hangs over my jeans. With my midwife the day I delivered my first childAnd yet, today, I shook off the resentment at the way my body looks now. Because I ran 8 miles. And somehow it feels like finally the war with my body is over. I want to do good things for it now. I want to feed it and take it for walks and make it part of me, not something that I have to fight with. That is why I'm grateful for 40. Because my 40 year old brain is clever enough to say: Enough. It's enough now, Christa.


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Published on June 20, 2014 11:28 • 5 views

June 8, 2014

Yesterday, I was on a panel at Printer's Row about sexual violence and testimony. One of the questions that came up in the conversation was speaking on behalf of survivors, those who have honored us with their stories and allowed us to use those stories in an effort to make cultural change.

This is not a responsibility to take lightly. I think whenever anyone is a witness to testimony and later uses that testimony for macro purposes, we always need to be careful. We need to honor the spirit of the testimony, not overlay our own agendas on it. Consequently, a large part of promoting cultural change is not only providing testimony, but the ability to listen.

We forget that sometimes. We say we need to listen more, but we forget because we live in a world where knee-jerk reactions and an immediate POV on something is important. But immediate reactions are often to the detriment of the work being done. And I'm quite certain I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I want to be an AUTHORITY. I want to have an OPINION. I want to take all these things that I know and put them into a place. But, sometimes it is not the right place. Sometimes they aren't our stories to tell. Sometimes we just need to listen and DO NOTHING but add it to our own foundation of empathy, our own efforts to understand something better.

Nowhere is this more obvious in my life than with regards to race. I'm a white woman married to a black man with biracial children. I spend a lot of time listening to Julio about his experience, but sometimes I forget about my kids. I want to tell them what it's like as if I'm an authority, when the reality is that I have no idea what it's like living in their skin. Which means I need to talk to them less about what I think and listen to them more.

I quite liked this reminder of listening this morning from Daniel José Older because YES. I need to do this. We ALL need to do this.

It is Pentecost today, which has always been a baffling church holiday for me. Because what does it even mean? My rational brain has never understood this event. Until today. When our pastor spent the whole sermon talking about the barriers between those living in poverty and those making laws for those living in poverty. And he spoke of these barriers as if they were a language barrier, a barrier to understanding, a barrier to compassion. And then all these things clicked with me.

The best way in to compassion is the act of listening. I believe in breaking silence, in telling truths, in bearing witness, in providing testimony, but I also think that the first step to all of that is listening.
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Published on June 08, 2014 09:55 • 5 views
Yesterday, I was on a panel at Printer's Row about sexual violence and testimony. One of the questions that came up in the conversation was speaking on behalf of survivors, those who have honored us with their stories and allowed us to use those stories in an effort to make cultural change.

This is not a responsibility to take lightly. I think whenever anyone is a witness to testimony and later uses that testimony for macro purposes, we always need to be careful. We need to honor the spirit of the testimony, not overlay our own agendas on it. Consequently, a large part of promoting cultural change is not only providing testimony, but the ability to listen.

We forget that sometimes. We say we need to listen more, but we forget because we live in a world where knee-jerk reactions and an immediate POV on something is important. But immediate reactions are often to the detriment of the work being done. And I'm quite certain I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I want to be an AUTHORITY. I want to have an OPINION. I want to take all these things that I know and put them into a place. But, sometimes it is not the right place. Sometimes they aren't our stories to tell. Sometimes we just need to listen and DO NOTHING but add it to our own foundation of empathy, our own efforts to understand something better.

Nowhere is this more obvious in my life than with regards to race. I'm a white woman married to a black man with biracial children. I spend a lot of time listening to Julio about his experience, but sometimes I forget about my kids. I want to tell them what it's like as if I'm an authority, when the reality is that I have no idea what it's like living in their skin. Which means I need to talk to them less about what I think and listen to them more.

I quite liked this reminder of listening this morning from Daniel José Older because YES. I need to do this. We ALL need to do this.

It is Pentecost today, which has always been a baffling church holiday for me. Because what does it even mean? My rational brain has never understood this event. Until today. When our pastor spent the whole sermon talking about the barriers between those living in poverty and those making laws for those living in poverty. And he spoke of these barriers as if they were a language barrier, a barrier to understanding, a barrier to compassion. And then all these things clicked with me.

The best way in to compassion is the act of listening. I believe in breaking silence, in telling truths, in bearing witness, in providing testimony, but I also think that the first step to all of that is listening.
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Published on June 08, 2014 09:55 • 3 views

June 5, 2014

I did not start out with love in mind. We were both otherwise occupied. And when it popped inside of me, I didn’t expect it to gnaw at me the way it did. But I’d find myself walking along and wondering what she would say about that, what she would think. And I found myself craving something strange and foreign: the wholeness of being completely myself around her. The truth that comes from morning phone calls and late night emails and the foundation of a friendship where you can say anything without judgment.
I didn’t want to sleep with her. I didn’t close my eyes and imagine what her mouth would taste like or how her hands would move over me. I might’ve, earlier on, but we were so far past that. The window of opportunity when you consider sex with a friend isn’t that long, it turns out. And it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that lack of judgment is a way better commodity than sex.
At first I was okay with this itchy love, this bubbling need for validation from her. Until I found myself in the space of tremendous anxiety when she wasn’t around. When she couldn’t immediately tell me what she thought, when I reached out and she didn’t answer back. I feared I was suffocating her, that my insatiable neediness was smothering the best parts of the two of us. This fear existed alongside my love and both troubled me.
My love was a force, not a gift. She was an escape from this world, from the difficult and disgusting parts of myself that I did not want to address. She was the person who I could tell my worst secrets and she would say it was okay. And I desperately needed that, but the sacrifice for this neediness was great.
She did not care about my love. She tolerated it, she understood where it came from and why I was greedy about keeping her to myself. She understood that she was my solace, my way of evading the things that terrified me. But she never understood the force of it. She did not understand the parts of me that I had to suppress to keep her. That I let go of the things that didn’t have to do with her.

There was never balance in this friendship-love. There was her on a pedestal, her opinions, the weight of her words, and there was me below, always looking up. Always hoping for her to understand that which she could not. And in the end, I was left starving, more hungry, more desperate, more alone than I had ever felt before.
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Published on June 05, 2014 06:20 • 4 views