Independence Day: Stranger than fiction

This website was launched in April of this year to announce my first published work. At that time, my novella The Devil's Garden had just been accepted by The E-Book Publisher Who Shall Not Be Named (TEBPWSNBN). Five days ago, my editor at TEBPWSNBN had a sudden realization that the publisher had a strict policy against underage sex in their books. This was news to me, and apparently, the first page of my manuscript in which my character's age and history was very specifically mentioned, was suddenly news to my editor after three months and one round of revisions. There are a number of things about this epiphany that are particularly odd. The publisher's submission guidelines as currently listed say nothing at all about underage sex. They do, however, state that nothing glorifying, justifying, or excusing pedophilia will be accepted, a position I wholeheartedly agree with. My editor, however, explained that underage sex, in TEBPWSNBN's opinion, would somehow do just that.

Strange and outrageous, but that's their stance. However, my book contains no underage sex. What it contains is a 17-year-old character who is a well-established courtesan in an archaic fantasy setting in which 13 is the age of consent. Because my character was thrown out on the streets at age 12 to fend for herself, the history of the character does include underage sex, but the story does not, unless we're calling 17 underage, which most of the world does not.

Setting aside the character's current age and the fact that her history is just that, I was asked to increase her age by six years to make her 18 instead of 12 at the time of being thrown out. I explained that in a world in which the age of marriage was 13, one would not throw out an 18-year-old (an 18-year-old living with parents would be unheard of), and in the strange event that one did get thrown out of one's home at 18, it would hardly be tragic; finding work would be no more difficult than for any other adult in her society.

I offered to change the initial age to 13, but was told that this was unacceptable. The editor suggested that for the character's history to imply any kind of sexual activity before the age of 18 would open TEBPWSNBN up to prosecution under US law. If we were not in The Land of Make Believe prior to this statement, we had firmly entered it now.

If I were desperate to be published under any circumstances, perhaps I would have consented to making my story a rather silly tale about an aging courtesan who began her career at the age of 18 after being a drain on her family for the first five years of her adult life. A few people suggested I should let the story go; once written, it was just a commodity, and had no personal meaning. But this story has a great deal of meaning for me. I wrote it in honor of Gwen Araujo, a young trans-woman who was murdered at the age of 17 for being true to who she was.

My publisher had agreed in my contract not to make any material changes to the text of my manuscript, and this was most certainly a material change. I remained firm in my position, and TEBPWSNBN cut me loose.

For me, saying no to this compromise of my story and my character was an easy decision, but a brutally painful one just the same. I have been working toward this goal for more than 30 years. It is all I have ever wanted: to see my work in print and to put the word "author" in front of my name. Perhaps this will turn out to have been my one opportunity to grab the brass ring. Unlike my character Ume Sky, I am no longer in my prime. But like Ume, I cannot be bought cheaply. I know the worth of what I'm selling.