The official blog of Susan Landis-Steward, writer of whatever she likes, and co-founder of Puddletown Publishing Group

Archive for March, 2011

A is also for Alien

Some of you are wondering, or at least I hope you are, why I have all these alien posts. I have this thing for aliens. As a child, I believed I was an alien princess and someday my people would come for me. Yes, I had an imagination then, too.

I’ve also seen some weird things, in the presence of witnesses, and I don’t rule out the possibility of life on other planets. So I’ve merged my old blog, Aliens Spotted Near Beavercreek, with this one.

There. Now you know all you need to know.

Although I’m not going to tell you if I really am an alien or not. That you have to decide for yourself.

This post also brought to you by the letter A and the words alien, artichoke, androgynous, and asparagus.

A is for Audience

As writers, one thing we need to be aware of is our audience. My primary audience is lesbians, but mystery buffs might like my books as well. One of my protagonists is blind, so I need to make sure that I don’t just make stuff up about blindness that may not be true.

I’ve seen some interesting things lately about audiences. I recently edited a great book that my publishing house, Puddletown Publishing Group, is going to publish. It’s for middle grade kids, and features a Chinese-American family. Named Wang. Now, if you’ve spent much time around middle grade kids, and as a former teacher I have, you see the problem. Every teacher on earth will curse you if they have to make a fifth grade boy read aloud about the Wangs.  The author got it immediately when I pointed it out. Name change is in the works.

Place is also important to the audience. I live in Portland, and I write about Portland. When I read books set in Portland, I build mental maps based on my lifetime of experiences in Portland. I have no problem with made-up neighborhoods set in Portland, or made-up locations set in real neighborhoods. But if you put something in Portland that is illogical—for example, say you put a huge park in the middle of the downtown area, or a giant mall where I know for a fact none could ever exist—I, as the reader, am not going to trust you. If you have a character ride the light rail to someplace the light rail doesn’t go, I’ll know. And all my “willing suspension of disbelief” will fly right out the window. So, think about your audience when you write about real places. Some of them will live there, or will know the area well. Give them what they expect for the most part, and you can mess with the little details without messing with their heads.

I’m sort of surprised by how many straight folks are interested in reading my book. Now, some tell me it’s enough to turn them gay (hello, toaster oven!) but most of them don’t care. They just like good stories. I made an assumption that limited me in my marketing options. Yes, the women in my books are lesbian, and some of the men are gay, but why am I ghettoizing myself? I read “straight” books all the time and, unless it depicts really explicit sex, I don’t even think about the sexual orientation of the characters. Unless they are homophobic. That I’m going to notice. Or racist. Or classist. Or misogynist.

Anyway, this blogpost brought to you by the letter A and the words aubergine, antithesis, angst, and angel.

Thursday’s Three Theological Things

  1. As a person who trained as a theologian, I can’t help but see the numinous in all parts of life. Some days this is like an infestation of termites, chewing away at me. I call this the dark night of my soul. Those days where the Holy Whatever breaks through and I want to pull the shades and tell it to go away. Fortunately, those days are few.
  2. About the Holy Whatever. I believe in something some people call God and other people call by a huge variety of other names. I have no presumption that I know what that thing is, hence the Whatever. Yes, I do call it God at times, but I don’t ascribe it gender or human characteristics. But I think God with a big G is taken way too seriously by people of all faiths in ways that are not life-giving. I like to keep my humility by reminding myself that I don’t have the “true” God by the tail anymore than anyone else does.
  3. When I started seminary, someone told me that by the time I finished I would have lost my faith. In some ways, that’s true. I no longer am as limited in my perceptions as I was back then. This larger perspective informs my life (and my writing) but it sure makes it hard to admit that I am a follower of Christ. People interpret that so narrowly sometimes, and put me in a box. Being a liberal Christian is not easy in 21st Century America.

If you want to know what I really believe, here are some sermons. Here or here. If you need proof that I can find something theological in everything, check out this post on football here.

Three things I learned today:

  1. I worry too much, sometimes senselessly, and there are good people in my life who can help me calm down.
  2. How to use Networked Blogs
  3. That hot peanut butter on apples is really good.

Please Welcome the Beavercreek Alien

Yep. The alien has decided two blogs are one blog too many and will now be posting here on a semi-regular basis. Please follow this blog (see that RSS thingy over there?) and get two blogs for the price of one. All the Alien favorites have been moved over.


What on earth is going on?

Okay, sorry for all the confusion. I decided I like WordPress best after all, so I imported my blogger blogs into this one. Then, deciding that one blog is better than two, I also imported the Aliens Spotted at Beaver Creek blog into this one. This may mean a few weird things. I’ll fix them when I’m not trying to keep the lights on and food on the table.

So, enjoy. I hope. There’s some pretty funny stuff back there someplace.


My Book is OUT!

My first book was part of the first Puddletown Publishing launch. Blind Leading the Blind is the first in a lesbian series about Erik(a), a defrocked detective, and Liz, a blind psychologist. It’s mostly a mystery, but there is romance, a dog, even some discrete sex. It’s also funny. I like neurotic characters, I am a neurotic character, and can’t imagine writing about perfect people. (Even though Erik does believe, at times, that Liz is the World’s Greatest Blind Lady. Don’t worry, she’s not. In fact, she can be a royal pain.) Also features horses, Portland, snow, and did I mention sex?

Anyway, you can buy it from that carousel over there to the right (—->) for $4.99 at Amazon. (once I figure out how to get it back).  As soon as B&N gets it’s act together, you can get it for Nook. Also available at in all sorts of formats..

Other books in the launch, also available ——-> and at Smashwords are Kidnapping the Lorax by Pat Lichen (a real-life Greenpeace pirate) and Volunteer for Glory by Alice Lynn (a Civil War historical romance.) Sanna, Sorceress Apprentice, a middle grade/YA fantasy by Roxanna Matthews, is at Smashwords. Amazon is  having hiccups over it, but it should be there soon.

If you buy any of them, and I hope you do, please leave a review on Amazon or Smashwords. Thanks.

Some Thoughts on Sex in YA

First, I want to say up front that I don’t write YA. I don’t read a lot of it either, except when I’m editing it for publication, but I do have a 12-year-old granddaughter who reads voraciously, and she has a 30-year-old mother who reads right along with her.

On Christmas Day, my daughter called me all a-flutter. Her husband, the dashing Army Pilot, had ventured into the local B&N to buy the GrandGirl a vampire book. I know New York says vampires are so last year. Well, they clearly don’t know their market. It was the only book GrandGirl got this year, and she immediately started reading it. A few pages in, she started asking some questions that raised  eyebrows among the adults. A few pages later, the book was taken away and marked for return to B&N. Why? Sex. Inappropriate sex.

As in references to c&*k s*cking in the school hallways. Did I just shock you? I hope so.  It was worse than that but I’m not going there. My granddaughter is 12 and her mother is pregnant. GrandGirl knows how babies are made. But she is way too young to be exposed to that sort of explicit sexuality.  Now, my daughter is no prude. She and her husband, then boyfriend, had GrandGirl when they were 16 and 18 respectively. She knows that teens have sex, I know that two of my daughters were sexually active in the later years of high school. I got them the contraceptives myself. But come on folks, explicit sex in YA?

YA spans a huge developmental range, from 12 to 18, or 14 to 21, or even 12 to 25 as some are now saying. But a 12-year-old is vastly different than an 18-year-old, or even than a 15 or 16-year-old.  How do I know this? Well I was one, and I’ve raised a few, and I taught and worked in child welfare for a couple of decades. Trust me on this. My credentials are in order. Not to mention the fact that a lot of kids leave the YA section at 15 or 16 and move on to the adult books. So I’m assuming a lot of YA readers are in junior high or early high school.

Even so, YA authors battle back and forth on rating systems. Some call it censorship. I call it parenting. Yes, telling me what I can and can’t read as an adult is censorship. Giving a parent of a minor a heads up about the contents of a book is not. Parents are supposed to protect their children from premature exposure to adult matters. One reason we took kids away from parents in child welfare was exposure to pornography. And the sections of the book in question I had read to me were definitely approaching porn.

I recently happened on a discussion of sex in YA and the question being batted around was whether or not it interrupted the story to have the teens practice safe sex or discuss the harsh realities of teen sex, like contraception, pregnancy, and STDs. Several of us, mostly grandmothers or mothers of teens, weighed in on why this discussion was even happening. Safe sex for teens is a no-brainer. The bigger question is why explicit sex at all?

J.K. Rowling made a fortune with a series with no sex. According to my daughter, Stephanie Meyer’s books don’t have graphic and explicit sex. I’m almost 60 years and I’d rather not read a lot of sex scenes. (Well, a good lesbian mystery is okay, but I still don’t want page after page of sex.) I want it used appropriately, to move the story along. The story is important. Gratuitous sex is unneeded.

As a publisher, my business partner and I have decided to bypass the debate. Our books will be rated. For sex, language, and violence. We want parents to make informed decisions for their younger teens. We will have books that are for everyone and others will be marked MT for mature teens.

We’re not prudes. We understand teens, we were teens. I, at least, was a sexually active teen. (I don’t know about my partner as it’s none of my business). I have an active sex life, I swear like a sailor, and I love a good RPG with lots of things to kill. But kids are prematurely sexualized in our society already.

As a child welfare worker, I took more than one baby away from a teen mom who wasn’t ready to parent. I worked with women in their early 20s who had already had five or six babies removed. Permanently. Yes, there were other factors at work, but why do we as authors want to contribute to it? (For that matter, the number one factor was drug and alcohol abuse leading to neglect and abuse of children. If your book glorifies drugs or drinking, it may just be a contributing factor).

I’m not saying don’t put sex in your YA book if it’s important or moves the story along. I’m saying think about why you are doing it. If it’s gratuitous, remember that some parents actually care about things like that. And if you do need it to move the story, don’t make it graphic or explicit. If that’s what you want to write, there’s a whole genre called erotica out there.

My daughter returned the book to B&N, and made a big stink about it. She told her friends and the mothers of her daughter’s friends. I passed the information along to my friends who still have kids at home. An author lost a lot of possible sales. My daughter also called her publisher mom and asked me to rate our books. Which we were going to do anyway. We may be trailblazers. But if the things I’ve seen in some YA books continue, we probably won’t be the only ones.

Some Thoughts on Language and Diversity

We’ve been having some interesting discussions the past few days, here in Puddletown, centering on language and diversity. We’ve got a great book coming out, an historical romance set in the Civil War, and we’ve had to take a long look at what we will publish in terms of language. The words used in the book were common in their time. They were used appropriately. They were not used gratuitously. And Mark Twain used them in his work. Of course, he was writing in a different time.

I finally had to take a personal look at how I felt. My immediate family has African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, people of many faiths and no faith, extremely rich folks, and folks living on welfare. It’s a very large family, a true microcosm of America, and I love them all. I don’t want to hurt any of them. I want every one of them to be able to read any of Puddletown’s books without being offended by language.

So we have decided that our books must not contain words referring to any ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation that would offend a member of that group. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, I’m a lesbian, writing for other lesbians. I can use words that non-lesbians, writing for a non-lesbian audience can’t. African Americans can use words I wouldn’t presume to use. A Jewish person writing about the Holocaust can take liberties a Christian can’t.

Yes, it is political correctness. However, it’s important to remember that political correctness has been co-opted by a segment of our society as a slur, much like the words “liberal” and “feminist” have been turned on their side and used to mean something they are not.

The idea of politically correct language came out of the early feminist movement as a way to make people aware of the ways language can be used against people, particularly woman. But it’s not just women who are hurt by language. Most of us probably belong to a group that is maligned through the use of words we’d rather not hear used against us.

Just for myself, I am a woman, a lesbian, a liberal Christian, the granddaughter of a Jewish woman, and the grandmother of the Hispanic Wonder Babe. My other grandchildren are the whitest of the white, and Army brats to boot. I have several friends who are transexuals. My comadre y compadre are Hispanic. I have several African American nieces and nephews, and an Asian niece and grandniece.

I’m sure if you think about it, you probably have friends or loved ones in some of those groups, or maybe in others. Please, as we write, let’s remember that we are writing in the 21st century, and we know better.

>Questions for you Blogger Experts


What is that gadget called that lets you show three other posts folks might like? I can’t find it because I don’t even know what to call it. Thanks.
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Moving Day

As of March 3, 2011, Wiggle Room has moved here. I finally gave up on WordPress for this blog. After seeing so many cool Blogger blogs, I just had to give it another try. PLEASE, go to my new blog and follow me from there. Thanks so much.

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