☆ Guest Post ☆
Two days ago, my eagerly awaited book, Unconventional Lovers came out. Lest I fall into the writer’s trap of embellishing, let me clarify. A handful of people anticipate the book’s release. Those readers had either read the beta version or caught snippets of my teasers for the past several weeks—not the masses.
I tend to push the envelope sometimes and write about characters who don’t fall within convention. My main characters land decidedly outside of the lesbian leading lady box. I’ve written about: 1) a woman with a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder; 2) a bi-polar woman who brings her nightmares to life; 3) a middle-aged woman who was one hundred pounds overweight and with a visual impairment and; 4) killers who seek their own special brand of justice. This time I’ve deliberately obliterated that envelope and written about two young women with Down Syndrome.
Last year, imagine my surprise when Bella Books accepted my short story for their anthology, Conference Call. I suppose I thought for sure they would reject the manuscript. It was a kind of test balloon for Unconventional Lovers. One of the characters was a middle aged woman with Down Syndrome.
Unconventional Lovers almost did not see the light of day. For that, I was truly saddened. I’d like to share a little of the history, not to shame anyone, because books are like art and people like what they like.
Two years ago, I was coming off the high of my Goldie win for Locked Inside. I had finished Unconventional Lovers and knew before submitting the book it was a huge risk. Our community likes to say they want to read characters that don’t fit the mold. The data I’ve seen does not support this. The reaction from a few betas also confirmed that notion.
I persevered because the book was very important to me. I had the kind of passion for this baby like none other before, including Locked Inside. Every single one of my betas had given the draft an enthusiastic thumbs up. Many stated it was by far the best book I’d ever written and I agreed. I’d sent the draft out to a village (yes I know hyperbole) because I knew it was controversial. Every beta agreed it was well written, but…well…data does not lie and readers are fickle. From a business perspective, there is a pretty good sense this book will not be a hot seller.
A good suggestion came my way. Go back to the drawing board and put more emphasis on the conventional couple. This will make the book a bit more marketable.
I did go back to the drawing board but did not want to diminish the love story between Bri and Siera. I wrote about Siera and Bri to blast away the preconceived notions about people with Down Syndrome. Both of the young women are talented, fully functioning members of society. Both graduated from high school and one goes on to community college. This was an important message to convey.
Instead of diminishing Bri and Siera’s story, I added quite a bit to the other love story. The story now shares top billing. Even with those drafts, the book remains a huge risk. I’m a stubborn little shit. I metaphorically jutted out my chin and dug in to fight for my book to see the light of day.
I worked with Affinity to explore several options: 1) self-publishing; 2) putting the book out for free and donating the proceeds to charity under Stone Soup Community press and; 3) going with the brand new self-publishing arm of Affinity Rainbow Publications. I was elated to find out Affinity was expanding. Staying with Affinity was a strong preference for me. I was not letting this book die on the vine.
A few months later the most glorious news came my way. Affinity wanted to publish Unconventional Lovers regardless of its mass appeal or rather lack of mass appeal. I applaud their decision because let’s face it, this book is a major risk to them and not a solid business decision. I suspect they knew how much this book meant to me and decided it was worth the risk.
I want this book to do well for Affinity who is taking such a chance. They are my heroines in this story. If I’m honest, I also want the book to do well because I’d like nothing better than to prove the data wrong. I say this not because I want to shout I was right all along, but because I have far more faith in our society to recognize love is love. I’d like to think a love story between two young women with Down Syndrome will do well despite all the fancy graphs. Love is not restricted to the beautiful people or the perfect people. Love knows no bounds. Love is not a stingy old man, only doling out small doses to a tiny part of the world. Love is unconventional, unique, and infinite in all its many forms.
Unconventional Lovers may not appeal to everyone. I understand that. I hope the reason is not that people don’t believe individuals with Down Syndrome are entitled to that form of love. I hope everyone knows the kind of love where your partner can’t wait to tear off your clothes and have glorious heart pounding sex with you. Most of us are sexual beings deserving of those wonderful feelings. Sexual intimacy allows us to experience this.
I will continue to shake those trees so the leaves gently fall down around us in a shower of love and acceptance. I hope you will take a chance to let those fall leaves touch your heart and soul.