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the idea of someone calling that scenario erotic and continuing the disturbing trend of “rape culture” in America I unpublished the book.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.

I See You

Being an artist is about being raw and true to yourself and to your vision of the world around you. It requires you to be both fearful and fearless simeltaneously. I tell that to my students all of the time, but they are just words. I had forgotten what it was like to live in that limbo of being brutally honest, yet hidden in the depths. I had forgotten what it meant to be someone who creates because there is no other alternative.

You see I couldn’t stop creating if I tried. It’s built into me, into my genetic code. My grandma was the same way. Up until the arthritis curled her hands and bit into her hips she would sit for hours and paint or sew or crochet or string jewelry: anything to help create something in the world. 

She passed away this week, and I didn’t realize until then how much braver she was than I ever gave her credit for. I had spent my life looking at her through one lens, that of grandma. To me she was someone who raised her family and lived a typical housewife existence and who loved to craft as a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I loved her any differently because of this perception.

I just didn’t see her. I didn’t appreciate her fire, didn’t see her as a young woman who put her dreams on hold only to go back to college later when her children were grown so she could follow her dream. I didn’t see how much courage it would have taken for her to do this, to branch out into a world she didn’t really know and go back to school with people half her age in order to learn more and grow as a person.

After school she took her art on the road, going out with the items she created and putting them up for people to look at and criticize. This is the hardest thing for any artist to do, and she did it with grace and style. She never lost her love of her art or her desire to create.

One painting has always stuck with me. It was a Bengal Tiger standing in wispy blades of yellow grass against a coal black sky. His eyes were not filled in but he stood strict and at attention, his entire body poised against the unknown. When I was younger I used to stare at it for hours and beg her to finish. She never would. She told me once she just wasn’t sure if she could. I didn’t understand it then, couldn’t understand why someone would invest so much in something they could not finish. I understand now. In fact, I’m fighting with some of my own demons on my unfinished stories. This painting is with me now, a constant reminder to not leave things undone.

I was going through pictures after the service and all of a sudden I saw my grandma as she had been, a fully formed person. There were smiles and laughter, tears and doubts, and through it all the story of her life. The story I had always missed because I couldn’t take off my glasses and adjust my view. I see it now, though. I’m sorry I missed it before, Nene.

I see you now.

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.

I Lost Heartsy

I had intended to spend yesterday working on my book. I’m trying to wrap up a storyline and merge in the elements for the next book. Weaving plot points around my characters in a believable manner is something I love to do, and in fact is one of the things that keeps me writing. I have an office that I share with my daughter’s art supplies. She is usually happy to paint and create while I write.

The day’s plan, however, went astray as soon as my daughter walked up to me with tears in her eyes.

“Mommy, I can’t find Heartsy.” She sobbed.

Heartsy is her latest stuffed animal cohort. She has no less than a hundred of them, but she randomly picks one out to be her favorite. This one was a white dog with blue hearts that her uncle had won in a claw machine.

And he had apparently gone MIA during the night.

To many kids stuffed animals are just toys to be played with, but to my daughter they are real living creatures, which was evident when I told her that I would help her look for him as soon as I was able to save what I was working on. Her tears grew heavy and she started heaving in great giant sobs.

“He’s alone and he’s scared and I have to find him right now.” Her voice was begging with me as she clutched my side.

“I know baby, I just need a second.” I tell her trying to calm her with one arm while simultaneously clicking on the save icon on the computer with the other.

“I’m his mommy. I have to find him. You would find me if I were missing, right?”

And with that, I was done. I closed the laptop and stood up. “Of course I would, baby. Tell me, where did you last see him?”

With that we set off on an adventure in cleaning and discovery that would last us until that evening. We found him, but along the way we found several different toys she’d thought she lost, a few pairs of socks and underwear the cat had hoarded under the chair, and the favorite toy of my 20 year old cat who had passed away a few months before.

Sometimes I’m very hard on myself for not writing and not completing my goals, but yesterday was a day of discovery that I needed on a different level. Without even meaning to we had a fun day of laughter and playing and imagination.

In the words of Ice Cube, “It was a good day.”

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.