Open Letter to Jeff Bezos Concerning Rape Culture on Amazon

Jeff,

I recently tried to publish my story on Amazon. I have other books and stories on there and have never had a problem. However, this horror story was put into the erotic category. I can only assume that it was because I put a content/trigger warning on the story about a non-graphic rape of a 13 year old girl. I called and talked to someone to explain that I was uncomfortable with the idea of a 13 year old being raped and having to endure the demons that come with that being put into the “erotic” category. The part of the story deals with her friend trying to save her and then being forced to comfort her afterward and how that changes their relationship. However, I was informed that there was NOTHING I could do to have the book placed in an appropriate category. Once it was labeled as “Erotica” it had to stay there.

Since I am DEEPLY uncomfortable with the idea of someone calling that scenario erotic and continuing the disturbing trend of “rape culture” in America I unpublished the book. I seriously think Amazon.com needs to reevaluate what constitutes being placed into the erotic section. You are doing nothing but feeding into the idea that women and young girls enjoy being raped and that it is considered sexual. One in four women have been the victim of rape or molestation. We need to be able to have books and stories that deal with this in a serious manner without being inappropriately labeled (sexualized/fetishized).
I also have to wonder if this would have happened to a larger publishing house. If someone had contacted me and asked about the content warning I would have explained. We could have had a conversation and tried to work this out. Instead I only found out when I checked the Amazon page to see how everything looked before launch. I am all around disgusted by this.

Your company needs to change its policies and the way it deals with the labeling of erotica material immediately. The longer this goes on, the harder it is for the 25% of women who are victims to find closure and move on in their lives. If someone in your department considers the discussion of a 13 year old enduring a rape to be erotic material then that indicates a problem on your company’s part that needs to be rectified.

Kristi Brooks

Things I Want my Daughter to Know

Things I want my daughter to know:

  1. It is okay to be weird. Truly.
  2. Love yourself, because waiting for someone else to do it is exhausting work.
  3. Don’t waste one moment. Not one, because life hits freaking warp speed sometime around 25 and living with regrets can weigh you down.
  4. Give one random compliment to a stranger every day. Seeing other people smile will make you happier. I promise.
  5. Talk to people for the hell of it. You’ll learn a lot more about life this way than you will in a book.
  6. Learn to take a compliment without feeling guilty. If someone says you’re beautiful or how you have a good smile tell them “Thank You” and smile. But don’t make up an excuse about how you could look or be better. Go with it.
  7. Also, know that you don’t owe them anything for the compliment. It is what it is.
  8. On that note, you also don’t owe them anything if they buy you dinner, or drinks, or even a house. LITERALLY YOU OWE THEM NOTHING IF THEY DECIDE TO GIVE YOU STUFF. That’s not how life works.
  9. If you love something don’t let anyone tell you that it is silly or stupid. Shut them down.
  10. Likewise, don’t tell someone that something they like is silly or stupid because it is different from you.
  11. Embrace your differences in your friends. You will grow into different things, but that does not mean you have to grow apart. Hanging around with people the same as you every single day would get boring.
  12. Don’t forget to be nice to the lonely/shy kids. Sometimes they just have trouble reaching out.
  13. Don’t let the world harden you. Smile whenever you get the chance. Laugh and feel it deep down in your belly. Know that there is still a tomorrow coming over the horizon and you can control more of it than you realize.
  14. Never lose your imagination.
  15. It’s okay to be angry and sad and happy all at once. I do this. I laugh when I’m not supposed to, cry at commercials, and smile when I’m tired. Try not to question it because….
  16. …thinking too much about things you can’t decipher will make you fall down the rabbit hole.
  17. Never stop expanding your horizons. Knowledge is not something to be ashamed of or to back away from.
  18. Please don’t use slang just because everyone else is doing it.
  19. For that matter, don’t do what everyone else is doing. Usually that way gets you in more trouble than it’s worth.
  20. Plus, every time you do it you sacrifice a little piece of who you are inside. The cost is too high to follow the crowd.
  21. I love you. I love every single moment of you. I miss your baby coos and your sweet bubbly giggles, and I love your jokes that make no sense and the way you crawl on me when you want snuggles now.
  22. No matter how mad I get or how frustrated I become when you get older, know that I still love you. Always.

A Story for My Mommy, Who is Hurting

I don’t know that I have the words to tell you how much of a powerhouse my mom has been. Growing up she was always so strong, so unfaltering that it left a deep and abiding impression on me. I, too, find myself trying to be as strong and as stoic as she has always been.

I wrote this story for her a long time ago. It’s been sitting around collecting dust. However, after this month and my grandma’s passing I think she needs it more than I need to hide it in my computer. So, this is for you Mommy, I love you.

Cracks

She wouldn’t have noticed the spot in the wall if it hadn’t been for Maribel.

After two days without the normally active cat trying to trip her when she was in the kitchen or doing other household chores, Connie Frampton began to worry. This fear caused Connie to set down the load of laundry she had been carrying and search for her pesky feline friend.

The grey tabby had been her own cat from the beginning, showing up on Connie’s front porch in the middle of the night, barely old enough to have opened her eyes. Full of curiosity and vitality, the kitten had brought joy to the Frampton household. Right now that joy was what Connie was searching for amidst the haphazard stacks of schoolwork, discarded socks, mismatched shoes, and general odds and ends that littered her house.

Connie tried to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be and to keep everything as clean as possible for her kids, but the fact she had children at all seemed to be enough to turn her house into a suburban jungle of extraordinary proportions. It was because of this clutter that Connie didn’t find Maribel until she began cleaning off the chairs surrounding the dinner table.

Once the bags, the skates, the hockey pads, and a pair of socks that appeared to have been transformed into moss-colored gelatin had been removed from the corner, she found Maribel staring at the wall.

“What’s the matter bella-kitty?” Connie asked, reaching down to stroke the cat’s back, the already tense muscles twitching under her downy fur. Maribel turned around, her pupils dilated until almost nothing was left of her green and gold flecked irises. She purred and twitched her whiskers, and, if cats could speak, Connie was sure this would be Maribel’s translation of Hello, friend.

After she stroked Maribel’s head for a few moments, the cat gently placed her nose into Connie’s palm and gave it a hard nudge before leaning back down to the small crack. Following Maribel’s lead, Connie quickly found herself crawling on all fours, leaning into the wall.

“Did you follow a bug into the hole?” Connie wondered aloud. Most cats were well known for their mouse catching abilities, but Maribel was more likely to stalk anything that happened to crawl by her. Whether it was beetles, ants, or flies, if it came in the house, it belonged to Maribel.

When she had been a very small kitten, barely able to jump on the couch, she had once sat in front of the kitchen cabinet door and meowed for two days straight. She had been so inconsolable that Connie had been close to just putting her out on the porch and letting her go explore in the backyard, mistakenly thinking the cat wanted to go back outside.

But when Connie had opened the cabinet and looked around, she’d found a line of ants marching across the tile. So she didn’t question the insanity of it all when she found herself crouched down on all fours peering into a sliver of cracked drywall that was only two centimeters wide. After all, if there was an infestation of something behind her walls, she wanted to know.

But it wasn’t bugs she found.

She could feel a soft breeze billowing out of the tiny crack. The tangy smell of ocean water assaulted her senses. Connie hadn’t been near the ocean in years, but she had never forgotten the sharp smell of the salt as it mingled with the air. Now, on the floor of her home in southwestern Oklahoma, the smell of the ocean didn’t seem as odd as she would have thought.

Another thing she hadn’t noticed before she leaned down was the way the crevice expressed a deep red light, as if a heat lamp were directly behind the wall.

Connie knew she should have moved, that she should have gotten up and shuffled around her house and tried to forget this, knew that if she stayed there too much longer the preoccupations of everyday upkeep and chores would somehow cease to matter. If she were to get up and move on in the next few seconds, however, she could put this whole incident behind her until the memory was filed away and forgotten.

After all, through the years there had been many things that had been buried. When she did allow herself to remember them, the only thing she could see or feel was the twisted metal of the wreck that had taken so much from her. It wasn’t enough that she had seen what the car had done to his flesh and bones, but sometimes, late at night, she could hear it shrieking as it twisted beneath him.

For a moment she thought about the cycle of grief that followed her and how there were things in life so tragic the best way to deal with them was to pretend they didn’t exist.

Besides, there were other things she needed to concentrate on.

Connie opened her eyes to the realization that she was lying on her side, her nose inches away from the wall. Maribel’s whiskers brushed the side of Connie’s face and she sneezed, causing Maribel to stare at her thoughtfully for a moment before inching toward the wall until the cat was so close her nose was pressed firmly against the crevice.

She then let out a long meow and began nervously pawing at the wall. The soft pads of her feet did nothing and it wasn’t long before she noticed the lack of progress and began clawing at the wall even harder.

Connie scooped Maribel up and carried her to the kitchen. At first the cat tried to climb over her shoulder and return to the wall, but the farther away they moved, the less she struggled, until eventually she was her normal, plump, purring self.

They stood like that for a long time, frozen to each other, neither one wanting to look back. Eventually Connie moved close enough to kick the swinging door closed before sitting Maribel on the ground. She poured herself a giant cup of coffee and leaned against the counter.

“What was that?” she wondered aloud. At first she had been afraid to say anything, afraid her recognition of the strange crack would cause the walls to split apart entirely.

But nothing happened.

Maribel continued to purr as she lay down in front of Connie’s feet and rolled onto her back. Without even pausing to think about it, Connie stretched out her foot and massaged the cat’s exposed belly.

Gradually fear and tension eased their hold on her, and although she knew it wouldn’t be much longer before the curiosity that had first pulled Maribel to the wall would return, she at least felt a little more balanced.

She rinsed out the cup in the sink, and then, to avoid opening up the door, she went ahead and unloaded then reloaded the dishwasher, scrubbed off the counter tops, emptied out the fridge (screaming only once when she encountered a Tupperware container that had completely changed colors on her), and swept the floor. When she was done, her kitchen was cleaner than it had been in months, maybe even years, but only two hours had passed. The kids wouldn’t be home from school for another three hours, and, until then, it seemed there was nothing to distract her. But somehow that thought didn’t seem as undesirable as it had only moments before.

Looking to the door, Connie noticed Maribel was sitting directly in front of it, staring back at her.

“Well, I guess we can’t ignore it forever, huh, girl?” Connie asked as she pushed open the door and the pair walked back to the dining room.

Connie’s cleaning rampage in the kitchen had not made the mysterious object disappear, but rather it was larger, widening to almost a half-inch across and over three inches tall. The warm, red glow now seeped out of its confined space and spread across the carpet, pooling in a circle on the floor as if it had substance.

Connie dipped her fingertips in the light and was immediately greeted with a tingling sensation that coated her fingers and spread out across her arm. She jerked her hand back and the feeling stopped.

Maribel sniffed at Connie’s hand and then leaned into the crack, pressing her nose firmly to the wall. Connie was about to push Maribel back when the cat disappeared through the hole.

If she hadn’t been sitting right there she wouldn’t have believed it, but she watched as Maribel’s full body flattened until it looked like a two-dimensional cartoon character, then slid through the gap.

Connie gasped, and called out for Maribel. A soft meow answered from between the walls, and Connie thought of her poor friend gone, lost to some other existence. There was only a brief moment of hesitation before she made up her mind to try and follow the cat.

Closing her eyes, Connie put her fingertips against the wall.

At first she felt nothing, not even the tingling that had greeted her earlier. Just the warm, salty breeze as it pushed against her hand and down her arm. She could smell the ocean and hear the cry of the seagulls. Her chest was burning and she realized that she was holding her breath, which she let out between clenched teeth as she opened her eyes. She had been curled on her side looking down when she touched the wall, but now she was sitting upright and she saw her bare feet were buried in sand.

Next to her sat Maribel, squinting against the brilliant rays of the setting sun.

Connie wasn’t sure what she had been expecting to find in between her walls, but a deserted island paradise was certainly not it. If nothing else, she had at least expected some odd form of talking cartoon cat to greet her. However, Maribel sat as stoic and as three-dimensional as ever, and the only vocalization was her constant purring.

“Connie.”

The call startled her, but she had been looking at Maribel when it was spoken so she knew that it the cat had not decided to talk. Although, she was not sure who was calling to her.

Connie looked up and put her hand to her forehead to block the sun. Someone was approaching across the sand, the form rippling as it moved. It could have been the heat from the sand, or an effect of the setting sun, but Connie knew it was an indication of what she was about to see. She held her breath, waited, and tried to decide if she should run or cry.

It had been thirty years since he’d died. The loss still hung hollow in her abdomen, and the emptiness ached when she saw his face form in front of her.

She hadn’t meant for him to come to any harm.

She was his sister, his family, and he’d told her he was going to miss her wedding. While his justification had been that he could not get off from his two jobs for the entire weekend, she’d suspected he was punishing her for marrying Daniel. So when James had told Connie he wasn’t coming, it had been inexcusable. She’d cried, begged, and cajoled until he agreed to make the ten hour drive, attend the wedding, and immediately head home.

Only he never finished the return trip. He’d fallen asleep on the long stretch of I-40 between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque and driven off the road. She’d been headed to her honeymoon when she found out.

James touched her cheek, brushing his thumb across her flesh, reaffirming that he was as real as anything else here in the space in-between.

“And when our dad died two years later, and Daniel just fifteen years after that, whose fault had that been? Surely not yours, Connie, you can’t control everything.”

He was faded around the edges, like an old photograph. He had on his favorite pair of bell-bottoms and the Hawaiian shirt he used to wear all of the time in high school. His dark hair flipped up a little at the edges, and his green eyes crinkled when he smiled.

Connie put her hand over his and let her tears go. There were too many pent up tears, and she thought she would pass out from dehydration before she stopped crying. He sat next to her and held her hand. The sun never moved in the sky, but they stayed like that for hours, Connie in the middle with Maribel on one side and James on the other.

She remembered that the kids would be coming home soon, knew she should be getting back before they thought their mother was gone forever, but the sun seemed to have sapped her energy and her limbs were so relaxed she could barely move. For once she felt as if there might be something else in the universe, some other form of meaning besides guilt.

It was a good feeling.

A while later, Connie opened her eyes and realized she was once again sitting on the dining room floor next to Maribel.

The crack on the wall was almost completely healed. Only a thin gold line stood out against the wallpaper. If she hadn’t known it was there a few moments before, she wouldn’t have seen it at all.

Maribel snorted and sauntered back to the kitchen door while Connie stood up and walked over to the other side of the wall. When nothing happened, Connie sat down and stared at her sand-crusted toes.

“Where were we?”

Maribel looked at her and cocked her head to the side before letting out a brief chirp. Connie stared fondly at her cat.

“You aren’t going to tell me one way or the other, are you?”

A tail swish was Maribel’s only reply. Connie thought it wasn’t much of an answer, but maybe there had never been any answers. All she knew was the guilt was gone, and that was something.

“Yes, Maribel, that is definitely something.” Connie said as she slid her bare feet into a pair of slippers and picked up the forgotten laundry basket. She might not be able to prove what had actually happened, but somehow she knew that if she ever needed it again the crack would return, and Maribel would find it for her.

And that was also something.

 

IMPORTANT!

IMPORTANT!!! For anyone who preordered my newest book, I’m sorry. I had to cancel the preorder and unpublished it. Because I put a content warning on it about a rape (The rape is not graphically described. It is something that happens to one of the main characters) Amazon decided to classify it as erotica and they have refused to allow me to appeal the decision. The story is not erotic and I WILL NOT allow someone to place a rape (especially of a minor as the girl in the story is 13) into that category. This is something that happens to one in four women, we should be able to have discussion of it in stories and books without it being sexualized/fetishized. I will try again in the near future to get the book up without being labeled “erotic.” Thank you for your understanding.

Picking Apart a Scene

I’ve been working on the new story now and it’s getting to the point where I need to pull apart and completely revamp a scene. Long story short, I added in another character long after the beginning and I need to find a way to get her fully integrated in the front half of the book. I don’t know why I work this way, but that is often my process.

Right now I keep going back and forth between what I need to do and what I want to do. I need to completely gut this scene and only take away the vital elements. The problem is over the last year or so I’ve grown attached to it and I don’t want to change it. It’s hard to create something from scratch and then tear it to pieces and rebuild it.

Think about how attached some people get to Lego sets they build. Now magnify that. Yep, that is what I’m going through right now. I need all of the luck you can toss at me.

The good news is that the new character, Orele, is pretty bad ass. I like her, and that lessens the horrible feeling that I have in the pit of my stomach when I sit down to write.

The Universe is Waiting

At birth we are given a roadmap:
goals and dreams to add to as we age,
each step changing the landscape into
something we might not recognize later.

Obstacles rise to greet us, what we become tied to our
ability to navigate the wilderness of our destinies, even the
branches that build new maps in unknown territories,
to recognize different dimensions in the lands
of what could have been and what must never be.

Passionate volcanos burn bright and hot,
lava-filled and waiting to erupt before fading
into the background of what was and falling into the
event horizon so new ones can rise up from the bones of nothing.

And still, the Universe is patient.

She waits for each of us to reach our treasure, never bothering
to ask if that is what we need. Assuming, instead, that the brightly held “X”
is the inevitable conclusion to each breath that passes through
our lungs.

 

She is Four

She is four, she leans back in the swing kicking her legs out and then pulling them back as fast as she can pump her muscles. The movement rocks her whole body until the swing begins to shakily fly through the air. The higher it moves, the better she gets it under control until she is gliding through time and space, her eyes narrowed against the rush of wind on her face. She continues climbing until her toes are pointed skyward at the apex of the swing’s curve; her hair flying behind her in soft golden tendrils.

I wonder if she will ever know how deeply I love her. I’m watching her from the corner of the window right now, carful to not let her see. As much as I want to run out there and make sure she is okay, I can’t. She needs to know that I trust her, she needs to learn how to play and explore on her own. After a few minutes she stops swinging and convinces the dog to play tag.

I’m still watching, and my heart is breaking a little. She is so happy, she is having so much fun, and one day this will pass. Time is a cruel mistress: unstoppable and relentless. Through my daughter’s antics in the backyard I can remember the past as vividly as if it were the here and now, and I can see the future as it unrolls before us.

She is my heart living outside my chest, my living time capsule, my world. I have to walk the careful line between being her friend and her mother, between guiding her on her way and setting down rules.

It is night now, and she’s sound asleep on her pillow, one hand wrapped around her stuffed Pete the Cat and the other arm thrown off across the bed. I run my hand along her cheek and brush the hair back from her sleeping face. She looks so peaceful, her face reminding me of when she was a baby. My arms ache to hold her like that again, to bundle her up and press her skin to me. I kiss her forehead and leave the room, and for a moment I swear I can feel the time slipping by: seconds, days, weeks, years.

An eternity of stolen moments, her body gliding back and forth through the air, her soft laughter, her eyes.

Ninja Turtle

She twirls through the air, staff ready
body tense, she sees all of the things
that might go wrong, both real and imagined.
Her tiny form swoops with a perfected balance
of grace and chaos. In her mind she is fighting
villians and eating pizzas in the sewers of
New York City, living a great life as a Ninja
Turtle. She is not interested in princesses or
tea parties, but instead wants to fight the bad guys,
team up with mutants, and ride dragons.

Right now she is only in love with
the idea of being more than herself, of
being a hero that can do anything, and I
do not plan on telling her otherwise. Instead,
I watch as her body slices through the air.
One turn, then another.