A few people asked me why don't I ever say anything about Red Carpet fashion, or celebrity fashion in general; and the reasoning is probably deserving of its own post, since Golden Globes just happened, and we had a thorough media coverage of all the pretty dresses worn by nice enough ladies. And I just don't consider that fashion -- or rather, this is such an explicit shill that I just can't bring myself to care. Basically, there are two issues at play: first, the designers who give away their dresses for free (to some of the very few people who could afford them), in order to make them into walking, occasionally talking, super-expensive billboards (it's not a secret to anyone that actresses do often get paid to wear certain designers, right? Right.) Billboards selling shit to us, people who cannot afford the dresses, in hopes that we'll remember the designer's name shopping for nail polishes, scarves, perfume and other revenue generators for luxury manufacturers. It's the tiny aspirational purchases that drive their profits, and it's the actors who help ignite the aspiring flame in us. So yeah, not interested.
The second aspect is what some call the Joan Rivers effect - the tendency to dress blandly and prettily and in the strictest conformity to heteronormative paradigm in order to avoid ridicule and being placed on worst dressed list and having Guiliana Rancic, as Tina Fey so eloquently put it last year, take a steaming dump on them. (Guiliana Rancic aside: I don't watch her show, so I have no idea of what that was in reference to, but in one of the show's promos, crying Guiliana says something to the effect, "But we're good people! Why are we being punished?!" Disclaimer: I neither wish harm on Guiliana Rancic nor do I believe that anyone is ever 'punished' in some vast cosmic justice sense, or deserves to be. However, a person who made a career out of ridiculing other women's bodies and dedicated herself to most fervent enforcing of patriarchal paradigm is NOT good people. Just saying. Anyway, long aside!)
So. Celebrities are so terrified that any hint of originality, personality or daring self-expression will lead to extensive media mockery (a justified fear, I may add, as Jessica Simpson and so many others well know), that their fashion choices tend toward safe. They hire stylists for fear that some uncontrollable bit of idiosyncratic taste will break through and spoil their otherwise unoffensive look. I mean, stylists only exists because there are so many grown wealthy women who cannot dress themselves, even with all the free designer swag thrown at them because they're worried that Fashion Police will take issue with the size of their earrings or unorthodox shoe choices.
So we're pretty much left with Tilda Swinton (pictured above), who is seemingly the only person left in Hollywood who knows she is awesome enough not to care, and Helena Bonham Carter who has the whole crazy avant-garde look down (her dress choices are routinely described as 'wacky' by people who seem to think it's a bad thing. She also wears Vivienne Westwood a lot, and can I just say how jealous I am?) Both of these actors routinely end up on various fashion faux-pas watchdog lists; I just hope that they will continue not to care. Wake me up when the rest of celebrities stop caring and fire all their stylists; meanwhile, I'll be perusing fashion editorials and street style blogs, because red carpet to fashion is like a burger joint to a petting zoo. Fashion is about self-expression, something that simply doesn't exist here.
I never make New Year resolutions. I'm a big believer in fixing a problem as soon as I notice it exists rather than waiting for January; and am generally suspicious of set dates for anything. (Like NaNoWriMo – for me, it makes sense to write when I have a desire to write a novel and not write when I don't.) I also know that other people aren't me and many DO like set dates – and hey, whatever works; but I can't help but to get all judgey when your New Year resolutions affect my gym time. Like, right now. As every gym rat will be happy to tell you, January is the worst. You have to find new times to work out because there's a gazillion people waiting for an elliptical. Lifting becomes an annoyance since neophytes can't be bothered to read the signs asking everyone to put back the weights and wipe the machines after use, and don't know any better than to sit on a leg extension machine for good half an hour, texting or just spacing out. And all of this would be a lot less annoying if these people were there to stay and gradually learned the etiquette – but they don't. 90% will disappear within 2 weeks, while another 5% will eke it out til Valentine's Day and then disappear too. They will come back next year though, just as clueless. An additional perk is getting to listen to conversations of those resolutioners. It is shocking to me how many are there to lose weight they gained during the Holidays. How many view physical exercise as a temporary thing, a quick solution to a problem – to exercise 2 weeks and then not do it again until next year. And I am terrified at how the notion of exercise became tied into the whole weight loss industry: instead of exercising consistently because it's the sort of thing that's good for you, REGARDLESS of weight loss, it becomes the means, while the weight loss itself became a signifier of health. That's so backwards it makes my eyes cross. And this is not just people at the gym, you know: perfectly respectable personal trainers to the stars and Victoria's Secret models advocate only working out with small weights and avoiding resistance on the elliptical because it will make your muscles bigger. But hey, it's all about health! Physical fitness experts sell cleanses which make you lose weight fast (and we all know that starvation diets permanently lower your metabolic rate, but hey, that's an acceptable price for thinness! We mean health.) Jillian Michaels, the terrifying trainer of the Biggest Loser, advocates dehydration and starvation diet as means of quick weight loss for an important event. But hey, she just wants fatties to be healthy. Even on supposedly pro-women internet forums, questions about exercise quickly devolve into weight loss tips. (I especially love the advocates of circuit training – which is awesome, don't get me wrong – making fun of those of us who spend an hour on the elliptical. "It's not necessary," they say, "circuit training makes you lose weight faster." Sure, and aerobic training builds endurance and has tons of other health benefits. But silly me, I thought we were talking about health.) And you know, I understand why people might choose not to exercise. I understand that being healthy might not be a priority, or the opportunities might be lacking, or whatever. But if health is a priority, I'd say ditch the resolutions and a New Year, and start an exercise program when it suits you, with long-term goals in mind rather than viewing it as a quick fix for a month of overeating. After all, health at every size (HAES) means that your weight is not the main factor in your health – thin people need good diet and exercise too. And if you're a regular, I won't give you a stink-eye for hogging the elliptical.
Queries has been addressed, contributors confirmed, and BEWERE THE NIGHT has a ToC. The order might change, but otherwise this is the lineup:
Introduction "The Thief of Precious Things" A.C. Wise "Poison Eaters" Holly Black "Go Home Stranger" Justin Howe "The Heavy" Cherie Priest "Tusk and Skin" Marissa Lingen "A Song to the Moon" Richard Bowes "In the Seeonee Hills" Erica Hildebrand "The Sinews of His Heart" Melissa Yuan-Innes "(Nothing but) Flowers" Nick Mamatas "The Coldest Game" Maria V. Snyder "Red on Red" Jen White "Extra Credit" Seth Cadin "Thirst" Vandana Singh "Grotesque Angels" Gwendolyn Clare "Blue Joe" Stephanie Burgis "The Werewizard of Oz" Lavie Tidhar "Seven Year Itch" Leah Cutter "An Unnatural History of Scarecrows" Mario Milosevic "The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall" Kaaron Warren "Snow on Sugar Mountain" Elizabeth Hand "The Aphotic Ghost" Carlos Hernandez "The Fowler's Daughter" Michelle Muenzler "Moonlight and Bleach" Sandra MacDonald "She Drives the Men to Crimes of Passion!" Genevieve Valentine "Coyotaje" Marie Brennan "Swear Not by the Moon" Renee Carter Hall "Infested" Nadia Bulkin "Watchmen" Aaron Sterns "And Neither Have I Wings to Fly" Carrie Laben
I came across Summer Brenner's book, My Life in Clothes, due to a usual confluence of events: I blog about fashion a lot and my next anthology will be about fashion. When I mentioned it to Nick Mamatas, he introduced me to a bona fide fashion writer Summer Brenner – she just published her book of short stories with Red Hen Press. Of course, I asked for a review copy, and Summer was gracious enough to send one.
The stories here, strictly speaking, are more vignettes than short stories – if they were paintings, they would be small nature mortes, often built around a single vivid image, and sometimes not expanding past it. They draw from the past and the present, for the narrator's own life and her grandparents, and become fused in one cohesive meditation on history, personal growth, and their sartorial corollaries. In other words, it's a lovely book.
The premise, as the title indicates, is a simple one: each of the stories is built around a sartorial memory – clothes being sometimes central, sometimes peripheral, and memories of them often serving as a metaphorical hook to hang a story on. But they are always vivid, always honest, and story by story, the narrator's (author's) past unfolds, garment by garment: it's almost like helping a friend to sort through their closet and listening to them reminisce about each item. Of course, it's never as simple as that.
"Limping barefoot from the hall, I rested on Elaine's arm, strands of French twist falling, stockings ruined, my cousin's lavender dress stained, the rabbit cape askew. It had been the sweetest night of my life." (From "The Dancing Shoes") Not the best – sweetest. Brenner's writing is concise and precise, words like paintbrush strokes, spare and assured. Memories so vivid you can smell them and taste their perfume on the roof of your mouth.
There's also a fair amount of humor in these stories. This is from "My Life in Clothes": ""I never saw a girl who attracted so many boys." <...>Edith's voice choked with admiration. She had conceived a blond, willowy wildcard in a gene pool that normally favored short, heavy, and mousy brown." The gentle poking at relatives, the self-deprecation creates a particular warmth and a gentle counterpoint to the harsher, more revealing moments, because Brenner doesn't shrink away from ruined relationships or family dramas.
Indeed, the dominating feature of the book is its sometimes painful honesty. It ranges from the earnestness of a plain teen (""Everyone says she'll be beautiful someday." Someday made it sound like I existed only in the future." (From "The Red Beret")) to almost mournful self-revelation of an adult in a failing marriage. Garment by garment, story by story, the author reveals more and more of herself, until you feel like you know her and would recognize her in the streets, if not by face then by her wardrobe.
And what a wardrobe! "On the rack of a hospital charity store, I found the very thing I needed: sheared raccoon. Its ugliness called to me. It cost ten dollars and weighed ten pounds. When real winter fell like an instrument of torture, I was prepared. I wore the coat every day and slept under it at night. It was a lifesaver.
"As the months dragged on, the coat began to fall apart. Pockets ripped, and the rotten lining tore. I left one cuff as a souvenir in New Haven. The other, I flung from the eighteenth floor of a New York Hotel." ("The Spring Coat") Well, you get the idea.
Intertwined throughout, are the stories of the author's relatives – grandparents, parents, cousins... "Psychic Shopper" tells a fascinating tale of cousin Peggy, who could select a perfect wardrobe for any client without ever meeting them. This unlikely tale is punctuated with accurate and hilarious observations, that ground it beautifully:
" Never trust a man to describe a woman accurately Men's impressions are generally vague Men and women never agree on what's attractive If men had their way, a woman would never cut her hair or wear loose pants."
It is also worth mentioning that this book is not what you would call a fashion or personal style exploration. It is possible to be obsessive about clothing without putting forth any familiar signifiers, such as specific designers or styles. Clothes here are often plain, old, thrifted, borrowed, bought on a whim... their value comes from the associated experience rather than themselves. In that sense, this is the Velveteen Rabbit of fashion books – and well worth spending time with. It's now on sale at Amazon. If you love clothes, memoirs, and family histories, this book will delight you and possibly make you want to go shopping for vintage fur.
And that's a wrap! All the responses went out, so please query if you haven't received yours. I will announce the final ToC as soon as I confirm a couple of contributors, but for now some things I've learned while dealing with an open call anthology. Was it worth it? Yes, considering that less than half of the stories in the antho were solicited. The rest were received over the transom – some from writers familiar to me, others I only heard of, and finally some new ones to me. In the course of reading 300+ submissions and many more queries, several things struck me as worthy of talking about. Take this list as descriptive of my experience and nothing more. Guidelines contain all the information a writer needs. Some guidelines are very detailed and particular – and as a writer I tend to not submit to places which threaten eternal damnation if things aren't formatted just so. For most venues, standard manuscript format is fine. No need to email the editor asking about margins – in fact, I feel that it's counterproductive, since the time I'm spending reading emails asking about my format requirements is the time I'm not spending reading subs. As for definitions of what is and isn't urban fantasy: unless specified, assume it is broad. Same for sex and violence: unless specified, assume there are no restrictions. I want stories, not assignments. I hate themed anthos that only allow for the narrowest possible interpretation of the theme because they end up bland and repetitive. Surprise me. Addendum: Do not email me with advice – really, I got this. I post my guidelines where I post them because it works for me, and I put all the info I care about into them. If I don't have font specs it's because I don't care. Cover letters: the time I'm spending reading cover letters is the time I'm not spending reading subs. Keep them short. Chatty covers about nothing in particular work against you. So do summaries of stories in cover letters, more than five credits, explanations of your credits. The last one worth mentioning separately: don't tell the editor in a cover letter of how good/respectable the venues you've sold to are. Because I either heard of them and already have an opinion, or I haven't heard of them, and thus it's irrelevant. Also, don't let your cover letter write the check your story can't cash: if you tell me I'm going to be terrified, it sets up certain expectations. Blog comments: time I'm spending reading... you get the theme here. Asking about tropes is pointless since if the story is good, tropes are irrelevant, and if it isn't, tropes aren't going to save it. Informing me of the story you plan to write is not particularly helpful, since I won't remember anyway, but not harmful either. Considering the amount of subs I'm receiving and the fact that I'm just one person with a full-time job and a writing thing of my own, I cannot provide detailed feedback, suggestions, referrals etc. Writers entitled to editor's response but not feedback. Emailing a followup asking what I REALLY thought about your story will likely meet with silence. So, editors in the audience! Any other helpful tips you can share?
So Tom Ford feels that fat women shouldn't wear clothes. Of course, he disguises it as concern for poor dears, what with the pinching and the squeezing and the sausaging. Not like he would actually, you know, design clothes for fat women that would fit them. I was never a fan of his designs, since his Gucci days -- he tends toward the sexy silhouette and his overall esthetic is so about male gaze it's not funny. So I don't get why people get so excited about his return to women's wear -- don't we have Herve Leger and Bebe (for the not-so-wealthy) already for all your sexpot needs? But generally, I didn't care until he did this:
Oh Tom Ford, must you go ahead and represent everything that is wrong with fashion?