If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Come Sit By Me

Let's get one thing straight: I am a natural critic. I doubt. I rethink. I overthink. I was practically born with a side-eye. I love Project Runway and feminist critique and Dorothy Parker's hatchet jobs. I am one of the many romance authors who started writing because they read something sub-par and thought: I can do better than that. I dissect stories I love and stories I loathe with equal abandon, and I continue to do so as an author because you can't learn how to fix your own work until you learn what broken looks like.

This does not mean I am a negative person, nor does it make me a cynic. Quite the opposite. I believe, right down to my toes, that a negative review can absolutely have positive effects.

An illustration. Some years back, I was reading a young adult novel. (This one, in fact.) I was thoroughly enjoying myself: the narrator was hilarious and slightly bitter and awkward and had an incongruous love of classic rock records. At one point in the book, quite as a throwaway, he mentions that the Doors are the worst band in history.

The Doors, of course, are one of the great rock legends of the psychedelic era. They still get radio play over half a century later. Val Kilmer played their (tragic, drugged-out, idolized) frontman in a movie once, and there was a recent documentary about them that was supposed to be pretty good. And yet ...

The Doors are the worst band in history.

... And yet I kind of hate them. "People are Strange" is pretty great. "Touch Me" can be fun. But "Hello, I Love You"? That is some deep-fried faux-romantic sleaze right there, the kind of song only douchebags get laid to, the lyrics drenched in the lurid musk of the creeper. I realized now I'd hated the Doors for years, in a furtive and guilty silence. I hadn't felt permitted to confess this, because the Doors were supposed to be great. Their popularity and influence were presented as an objective measure of their inherent artistic worth, and my own individual tastes and preferences were trivial considerations. Who the hell did I think I was, that I could hate the Doors?

The Doors are the worst band in history.

It was like a bell had sounded, deep in some part of me I hadn't dared to acknowledge. I was allowed to hate the Doors. I was allowed to say that I hate the Doors. I actually closed the book and hugged it, wrapped my arms right around it, letting that sense of relief and freedom and the pure pleasure of not being alone fill me up until, swear to God, I cried.

Critiques, snarky book reviews, live-tweets like the recent #NobodysBabyButMine hashtag -- all these have, over the years, given me that same sweet release. Knowing that I am not alone in rejecting alphahole heroes and humiliated heroines, or in finding a lot of what goes on in paranormal romance super-creepy. (Fated mates? UGH UGH UGH.) And I have given as well as received: I recall in my pre-author days, writing a frustrated and intensely disappointed Goodreads review of one highly anticipated romance. Right up until I deleted that account, every few days would bring a notification that some other Goodreads user had liked that review. Some of them even commented, chiming in with relief: Oh, I hated this one too! I'm so glad you wrote this! I am not alone. I am not crazy. I just did not like this particular book. 

That book, as it happened, was the first in a series, and the author has not only continued the series but won a Rita for one of the later installments. My embittered review did absolutely nothing to hurt her career -- and I wouldn't have wanted it to. I didn't swear when I saw her listed as a winner, I didn't rush to the blog to write a thousand words on why this was a miscarriage of justice. I didn't send her a copy of the review, either, or write to tell her personally how let down I was. No, I was busy reading something else, something I probably loved, while she was earning a ton of royalties on a popular series.

All that is pretty okay by me.

My review tendencies have changed a bit, now that I'm in the author end of the pool. If a new book by a debut author from a tiny press doesn't work for me, I'll usually let it pass in silence. Always punch up; never punch down. Luckily for me, I'm small potatoes, so there's plenty of room in the up direction and I can vent my spleen with the knowledge that I'm in no position to do damage. Plus, there's always the legions of passionate readers and critics, amateur and professional and academic alike, writing those witty, sharp, observant pieces that do my venting for me.

But perhaps you, fellow author, are big potatoes. Perhaps you are an author so well-known and established that I can refer to you by the three letters of your initials, or simply your first name, and people will know at once who I'm talking about. Perhaps you were a bit stung that someone from a much less rarefied position in the book world had expressed displeasure at one part of your life's work, and you expressed that hurt publicly. You have every right to do so -- speaking short, brutal truths is precisely what Twitter is for. 

But I'm not part of your sisterhood. I'm going to be over here, reading those snarky tweets and gleefully agreeing with them. Not because I'm jealous of success and need to see big names cast down -- but rather because I don't believe negative reactions automatically have negative effects. Because I believe the culture of positivity is often suffocating and silencing, and I have been silent longer than I'd like. If we allow ourselves only nice things to say, we shortchange ourselves, our readers, and our genre. If we don't talk about what books let us down, we're going to find it harder to talk about what books lift us up. Criticism is a muscle and it needs balanced exercise.

And the Doors are still the worst band in history.

The Perils of Estate Planning for Writers

The lawyer was doing an excellent job at explaining the different structures available to Mr. Waite and myself. He'd clearly done this before, with people as or even more clueless than we were, and he had multiple color-coded graphs with lists of pros and cons for things like wills, living trusts, and everything in between. He was especially good at finding oases of clarity in the desert of legal terminology, and would occasionally spice things up by hinting at the ways in which the system could provoke familial conflict or trouble for relatives and spouses of the deceased. This was not, however, a good way to keep short a meeting with a writer. It was great fodder for a mystery plot.

"Your wedding ring, for instance," said the lawyer. "Right now it's yours, because you brought it with you into the marriage. But if your kind husband were to add stones to it, it would become joint property, because he'd put money into it."

"Really?" I perked up my ears. "What about, say, a family heirloom like my grandmother's ring? Would it become joint property if he just had it resized or polished, or would he actually have to add stones?"

The lawyer blinked at my sudden enthusiasm. "He'd have to add stones," he said.

"Ah," I replied, jotting this down in my notes.

The lawyer cleared his throat and continued explaining. I interrupted a few more times to ask about "trust mills" (a shady practice whereby couples are sold a living trust but the trust isn't funded, so that the seller keeps a boatload of cash and the surviving spouse is left with nothing on their partner's death) and sapphire mines in Australia (which I normally think of as exclusively opal country -- this was a bit of a detour, but really interesting). Soon we got into the meat of probate and post-death-of-a-spouse legalities. I waved off concerns about my own assets -- I'm a writer, so: what assets? -- and asked a lot of questions about the line of inheritance, trusts generally, the various opportunities for civil suits in inheritance law, that sort of thing.

And then, mid-note, I caught a sharp glance from the lawyer and realized: what I was doing was building up a pretty sizeable motive. This lawyer would definitely go right to the police and tell them all about my suspicious behavior. And then, officer, she specifically asked me to explain how to legally prevent someone from contesting a will. 

I'd better hope nothing untoward happens to Mr. Waite.

Ominous music.

Clap of thunder.

Shifty eyes.

This Star Trek Post is Brought to You by Not Getting Whooping Cough

So there is a pertussis epidemic afoot in our neck of the woods at present, and after one local news source referred to it as the Hundred Day Cough—the Napoleon of viruses!—I ran out and got myself vaccinated. At which point my brain fell all to pieces.

It's not whooping cough, and it's not an allergic reaction: it's just my body taking energy to make antibodies, like it's supposed to. But it has drained all the thinky-juice from my brain-parts, so instead of making headway on any of my works-in-progress I am weeping over episodes of My Little Pony (that poor tortoise just wants to be loved!) and watching a lot of original series Star Trek for the first time ever.

Which is why I want to talk about the Unnamed Female Romulan Commander.

A still shot from 'The Enterprise Incident,' featuring (among other figures) the Unnamed Female Romulan Commander in a long-sleeved, two-tone asymettrical mini-dress with black over-the-knee boots and sheer black hose.

That's her there, center left, in one of the greatest outfits Star Trek has ever given humanity. She appears in an episode called 'The Enterprise Incident,' which is also pretty fantastic. The UFRC is in charge of the Romulan flagship (!) with a cloaking device, and spends most of her on-screen time seducing Spock (!!) using her words, logic, and that incredible minidress-boot combination. (Which is, of course, what any right-thinking dude-inclined woman would do if dropped into a Star Trek episode.) All while trying to also seduce him into defecting, which somehow doesn't come across as evil so much as it does, well, strategic. Spock is clearly a badass and good to have on your side, plus if he's fighting with the Romulans then she can keep seducing him, and it feels like everybody wins.

Spock, of course, is there to steal the cloaking device. There's an elaborate game of espionage being played, though the episode goes to some lengths to keep the reveal from happening too early. It's one of Star Trek's most effectively plotted stories. And though the UFRC doesn't win, she's not humiliated, and she's treated with the respect due to her rank by everyone on the Enterprise, and Spock even privately admits that their brief sexytimes will have a greater impact on him than the theft of the cloaking device.

And then she disappears from the Star Trek universe forever.

This is unacceptable.

I mean, look at her accomplishments!

  • She can command a damn Romulan flagship, which bespeaks a certain amount of ruthless intelligence and political cunning, but she is never vicious or cruel in the use of her power.
  • She can seduce both the human and Vulcan sides of Spock, and very nearly bend him to her will without denting his awesomeness or independence. Not even Kirk can do this—except in the slashier areas of internet fandom (love you, K/S!).
  • She respects the rights and dignity of her prisoners, even those she has condemned to death.
  • She does not lose control when she discovers Spock's betrayal, and she is as gracious in defeat as she is in victory.
  • She has emotions and expresses them, but they are not her sole motivation.
  • She manages to find two flattering, tasteful outfits in the Star Trek universe—which let me tell you, is no small feat. I expect she has a personal dressmaker on staff, because every other non-Federation lady has the worst outfits.

I don't really have a larger point here. Just that one of the weaknesses of the original series is a tendency to ignore opportunities for long-form narrative arcs, as well as a distressing amount of sexism for a show that was/is considered a progressive benchmark. Following up on the UFRC would have been an excellent way to address both.

And if anyone knows where I can find a replica of that minidress, please let me know.

My Very First Pirate! And Why I'm Still Anti-SOPA and -PIPA

We here at Olivia Waite would love to introduce you to an anonymous internet denizen known as ioedpee on Dailybooth. If that first link does not work, it is because the account has been removed as a violation not only of Dailybooth's terms of service, but also as a violation of my own personal copyright. My publisher has sent them a cease-and-desist notice, but as of this posting they are not only still up, but still updating. You see, ioedpee is the first person to pirate one of my digital books.

Time was, I used to wonder if being pirated would change my views on ebook piracy—and so far, no, I feel pretty much the same about it now as I did then. I'm gently anti-piracy and vociferously anti-DRM; I'm pro-digital lending (even more so now that I've come to enjoy the digital collections of my local library); I'm even anti-SOPA (unlike the RWA) because it seems to cause far more problems than it will supposedly fix.

So it's nice that this new world where my books are being sold on the sly has not turned my opinions upside down.

Speaking of SOPA and PIPA ... This blog will not be going black tomorrow, only because I do not have quite the level of technical expertise to accomplish this fact. The best I can do is switch my posting schedule so I'm not actually posting on the protest day.

As for why I'm still against SOPA and PIPA, the best breakdown I've seen is from the eternal Sarah at Smart Bitches:

For me specifically, under PIPA, it would be my responsibility to check the provenance of every site I link to, making sure that that URL, or any other page at that domain, did not contain any content that was copyright protected or possibly pirated. If I did link to a site that, for example, contained a scanned copy of a Fabio-festooned book cover from 1993, I could be seen as encouraging piracy and could therefore be blocked, my finances could be frozen, and my domains could be confiscated. If I linked to a site that someone felt was infringing on copyright by including an excerpt of a book, I could be blocked, frozen and in a heap of trouble. The interpretations of PIPA are too broad for my comfort, and the penalties too severe.

These bills are essentially trying to use a hand grenade to kill a horsefly. The overly broad language penalizes individuals and trusts far too much in corporate goodwill to prevent abuses. This law is a terrible, terrible idea.

But! Back to the fun part of this post: my own personal pirate. It turns out that I am far from the only author that ioedpee is attempting to circumvent.

Here are a few intriguing selections on offer from my pirate (who obviously has excellent if eccentric literary taste). Important note: The links will not lead you to the pirate site. Instead, they point toward Powell's Books in Portland. Powell's has long been among my favorite bookstores in the world, and to my vast delight they recently added Damned If You Do to their ebook catalogue.

Some of these books sound really excellent, and I do hope you check them out.

{Disclaimer: because I am a member in Powell's Partner Program, actions you may take via the above links may prove beneficial to me personally. In other words, clicking those links helps me buy more books from Powell's. Click—click for your lives!}

Lessons From Disneyland

And so it was that Mr. Waite and I spent a day at Disneyland.

Tweet from Disneyland. Text reads: "Shuttle to Disneyland. A parent behind me: 'That's called a scab.' To the Magic Kingdom!"

As you can see, the day started off perfectly. A child learned something new! We had our sunblock and various layers, but not so many things that it was burdensome to walk for long periods. We also had two tickets for both Disneyland and California Adventure, courtesy of two very generous friends. It was determined that in return for their generosity, we would find them some sort of awesome souvenir.

But until then, grand adventure beckoned!

And then we learned that both Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean—our two top priorities for the day—were both closed.

But there was ... the Matterhorn.

Tweet from Disneyland. Text reads: In line for the Matterhorn to face my childhood demons. #Disneyland #badwithrollercoasters When I was about eight or thereabouts, my family came to Disneyland. It was when they were still building Splash Mountain, if that helps. So the Matterhorn was basically the scariest roller coaster at Disneyland.

Either I had to go along on the ride because my parents refused to separate the family in a place so crowded—it's true I had a notable tendency to get myself lost—or I had some fit of mistaken pride that I could rise to the roller coaster's challenge. Either way, I was horribly, horribly wrong. By the time the cars rolled to a stop, I was in tears and hysterics.

So of course, after two decades, I had to have another try.

Disneyland Tweet. Text reads: No wonder I was terrified of the Matterhorn as a kid: that was terrifying! #Disneyland #stillbadwithrollercoasters The first thing you do on the Matterhorn is ratchet up a steep tunnel in the dark. Pitch-black. Creaking, clanking, ticking sounds that are far from reassuring. You could go left, or right, or plunge into the depths at any moment. I felt the adrenaline kick after three seconds and had to tell myself to breathe normally.

Finally, after an eternity, we found the light. Two glowing Yeti eyes, with a roar, as we began to wind along steep mountainous curves.

I loved those monster eyes—anything was better than the darkness.

And then my seatbelt decided to loosen. So every time we went around a curve, I came up off the seat a little bit. Only my own grip on the bars inside the vehicle was keeping me attached. This was still not as frightening as that initial blind climb.

Soon enough, we were done, and I climbed off the ride with shaking joints and a noticeable lack of breath.

At some point in the course of life, we learn that our childhood memories don't always match up with reality. Yards and playgrounds were not as big as we remember, monsters were not as realistic as memory paints them, facts we put together ourselves from hearsay and conjecture are revealed as glaring mistakes (like how I thought soufflé was pronounced SOFF-ull for an embarrassingly long time).

At some later point, apparently, we have to face the fact that our younger self was right about something.

Childhood Olivia was right: I am not good at roller coasters.

Something else I was right about: Cruella de Ville is awesome.

Picture of a golden-haired, pale-skinned moppet with a dalmation puppy toy. The girl is unwisely offering the puppy to a white-fur-coat-clad, red-gloved, black-and-white-haired woman with pale skin, who more often goes by the name of Cruella de Ville.

We saw a lot of characters on our walk through two parks. Male characters tended to be encased in costumes: Mickey, Pooh (adorable!), Pluto, Goofy, Buzz Lightyear. But most of the female characters are princesses, who are very human and very interactive. And it was only at the end of the day, just before we left to see what California Adventure could offer (turns out, booze), that we spotted Cruella de Ville at the gateward end of Main Street.

I had no idea they had a whole set of villains. Most of them are found only seasonally and in specific locations—but we lucked out, and here was Cruella, trying to get the little girl to give up her dalmatian puppy toy.

It must be challenging to be a Disney character—staying sweet and cheery underneath all that makeup and in that costume and with all those screaming children. More challenging still to be a villain, to walk the fine line between giving children a bit of a chill down the back of their necks and making their experience (and by extension, their parents') a torture and a blot upon the memory.

We watched Cruella for a few minutes, and she was fantastic: pleasant and approachable, but with a sinister air they never let the princesses play with. Look at the way she's holding her hands in the photo above—any woman who wears red gloves and uses her hands that gracefully is probably up to no good. Even kids can figure that part out.

Please Enjoy My Horrible Author Bio

We here at Olivia Waite can talk blithely about anything, especially ourselves—but like everyone, as soon as we're asked, "Sum yourself up in ten sentences or fewer," we freeze right up and the only facts that come to mind are thinks like our place of birth and Social Security number which even we are not gullible enough to put out there on the internet. So it was nice to read this lovely piece on author bios in The Millions and realize this sort of anxiety is universal. What if I have no writing credits or fancy awards to name-drop? What if my employment history does not sound quirky and well-rounded when put in the form of a list?

And in the spirit of sharing, here are a few of my first attempts at writing my own author bio, discarded for what ought to be obvious reasons:

Olivia Waite has had a pretty uneventful life, all things considered. Except for four years of college, she has lived her whole life in the same city in which she was born—and those four years didn't take her abroad or even out of state. She regrets nothing.

A concrete wall displays neon blue letters that read YOU ARE HERE.

Olivia Waite wishes she could tell you she wanted to be a writer as soon as she learned about books, but this would be a filthy lie. She wanted to be a paleontologist because it involved both dinosaurs and long words that were hard to pronounce and that all the grown-ups found impressive. By third grade she'd changed her mind and wanted to be a librarian, but her mother told her that librarians don't make any money. Being literal-minded and a little too credulous for her own good, Olivia thought her mother meant that librarians were unpaid, and so she abandoned this path in despair. Once in college Olivia floundered through a series of retail positions in the book world and teaching assistantships in graduate school before it occurred to her that making money wasn't really her highest priority anyways.

A pin-up painting of a sexy blonde librarian perched pertly on a stool in a white dress holding books carelessly. The hem of the skirt has gotten trapped in the pages of a book -- how'd that happen? -- and is lifted to show a lot of leg in a black stocking and garter. She wears red heels, of course.

Olivia Waite was offered a publishing contract on her second-ever query letter. She knows that revealing this information will expose her to scorn and ridicule, but she also feels she deserves punishment because she does not have the obligatory mile-high stack of rejection letters. In short, she feels like a fraud. She also tends to play the martyr more than she should. You can send snark and vituperations to olivia@oliviawaite.com—but don't worry, her next book will probably be unpublishable and then she can start collection rejections like all the other hopeful authors.

A picture of a llama with eyes nearly closed and one ear folded over, looking really startlingly, recognizably smug.

Olivia Waite likes sex, likes reading about sex, and likes writing about sex. Maybe it's because she was raised Catholic; maybe it's because of all the naughty things the ancient Greeks and Romans got up to in all those classical texts she studied; maybe it's because she's just a naturally prurient person. Either way, writing erotic romances allows her to talk about sex, indulge her love of happy endings, and legitimately research porn and corsetry on the internet. Win!

A woman with pale skin and red hair wears long black gloves and a sparkly, curvy corset in dark gold peacock colors.

Everybody Loves a Villainness

When I was younger, my very favorite Halloween costume -- which I wore two years running -- was an Egyptian pharaoh outfit. It was a white robe with a huge sequined gold collar, matching headband, and gold sandals. I drew heavy black lines around my eyes and wore all the jewelry my mom had with turquoise in it. I felt amazing.

Looking back with grown-up eyes, it's clear I was borrowing this feeling from Anne Baxter's sizzling Nefretiri in Selznick's The Ten Commandments. Baxter smoulders around the Egyptian palace in clingy silks and lusts after Charleton Heston's Moses. She is loyal to those she loves. She is outspoken about how she feels. She might in fact be a little evil. If you really make trouble for her, she will push you right off a building.

She is awesomesauce.

Years later, I discovered another film: All About Eve. The young ingenue (who eventually turns out to be EVIL) was naggingly familiar. She spends most of the film being so sweet and self-effacing that it makes your eyeballs hurt, and only Bette Davis is suspicious of such a paragon. And then, in the span of one scene, she morphs into a figure of such naked ambition and malice that the viewer gets the kind of existential vertigo normally only experienced by astronauts looking back down at a distant Earth.

But why was her face so familiar?

Finally, the shoe dropped: Anne Baxter!

There she is with George Sanders, who plays the venomous film critic Addison DeWitt (swoon!) and who is also the voice for Shere Khan in the old animated Jungle Book.

In both films, the Baxter character is ambitious and opinionated. She lusts after a good man (Moses/Bill) but winds up with an evil man (Ramses/Addison). She plays by nobody's rules except her own.

I want so badly to figure out how to give her the happy ending she deserves.