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Halfway to the Stars EBook Publication

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Hot off the Press! Halfway to the Stars, a novel by Marcy Sheiner, now available as an ebook!

I’ve just published my first ebook on Smashwords.com!  Titled  Halfway to the Stars from the old Tony Bennett song about San Francisco, it’s a birds-eye view of the city’s sex scene, a busy, thriving, outrageous night — and day — life of sex parties, masturbat-a-thons, S/M dances, sex workers, sex-positive radicals, and  workshops on a plethora of sexual techniques that includes everything from fisting to dominance.

Halfway to the Stars is actually my fifth novel. None of them have ever been published, though believe me, I tried with the first three. The third one got as far as an enthusiastic agent who sent it to every major publisher in New York — and there were more of them at that time (c. 1980). I had high hopes for that book, not to mention plans for what to wear on Oprah and who’d play me in the movie (Barbra Streisand, of course!). I even wrote my own reviews, mimicking what people with different points of view might say about it. These were by Ellen Willis (politically pro),  Andrea Dworkin  (politically outraged) and Anatole Broyard (snobbishly offended). (Interestingly, all three of those critics have since passed away.)

I’m still here, and still writing — but by the time I finished Halfway to the Stars — around 2005 — I’d lost the motivation for trying to get into print. I only sent it to two agents, both of whom represented writer friends of mine. One of their rejection letters said, “Rachel {my main character} is simply not my cup of tea.” I don’t remember the other letter — but after so many years of being subjected to this kind of crap, I just didn’t have the heart or energy for the process anymore. It wasn’t just the five novels — I’ve also sent out short stories, and articles to mainstream women’s magazines (Cosmo, Redbook, etc.), that got similar treatment. In those days submitting work meant making copies and sending out self-addressed stamped envelopes — and sometimes we didn’t even get those pricey stamps back!

Why am I telling you all this? First, because this is my blog, and where else do I get to be so self-indulgent? The more important reason, though, is that my decision to epublish is a political act. I did not make this decision out of the desperation of not getting into print; I made it when I heard Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, speak at the Berkeley library about his electronic publishing site and his reasons for starting it. Like me, Mark was fed up with the publishing process as dictated by a behemoth industry. Not only did he rant and rave in the best progressive tradition about the low advances and royalties, the lack of publicity for midlist writers, and the usual stuff we all complain about — he also talked about the psychological damage inflicted upon writers by an industry that treats us and our work carelessly, with their insulting rejection letters, making us believe our work isn’t good enough to be presented to readers. They’ve become the gatekeepers who decide what will and will not get read, and if they don’t like our work, the failure is surely ours.

For years I’ve been hoping, and pretty much believing, that the Internet would some day deliver the means of book production into the hands of writers. We were getting closer with all the self-publishing venues for print, print-on-demand, and ebooks–but we usually had to pay to publish, and didn’t make much money on sales. Mark Coker’s Smashwords is something entirely new: he doesn’t charge the writer a penny, and authors get about 80% of net sales. That alone got me pretty excited — but it was Mark Coker’s fire, his outrage, his commitment to writers that really spoke to me. As I said, I’d been waiting for the day when we’d take over the publishing process. With Mark Coker and Smashwords, my friends, that day has come.

I believe that electronic publishing is the wave of the future. Just today, a story in theNew York Times on the state of print noted, “In 2008 e-books were 0.6 percent of the total trade market; in 2010, they were 6.4 percent. Publishers have seen especially robust e-book sales in genre fiction like romance, mystery and thrillers, as well as literary fiction. In 2010, 114 million e-books were sold.”

Now for a few words about the book:

HALFWAY TO THE STARS is the story of a 20-something rookie journalist who

leaves her small New England town on a quest for adventure, love, and meaningful work, in that order. After a brief stint in LA with her two best friends, she ends up in San Francisco, working as an editor/reporter for Libertine, an online sex journal. Making her way through a maze of sex parties, sex workers, and sex-positive radicals, Rachel discovers aspects of her own eroticism, not all of it welcome news, and finds it quite a challenge to write about sex in the upbeat, lighthearted tone demanded by her publisher/ boss. The love and adventure she’d been looking for turns out to be a lot more complicated than she’d anticipated.

I think readers will  find the descriptions of the SF sex scene authentic, considering that I spent the better part of a decade writing about it for On Our Backs, The Spectator, and several other publications, including one in Norway. No, Rachel Max is not me, and Libertine is not On Our Backs, and the characters and plot are pure fiction — but the stuff Rachel encounters and learns are, if not exactly “ripped from the headlines,” taken straight out of reality.

So get thee over to Smashwords, buy my book, and take a look around. If you’re a writer, consider epublishing there. If you’re a reader, buy a few books.

Marcy Sheiner’s Smashwords Author Profile:

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Marshein 

Book page to sample or purchase Halfway to the Stars:

http://smashwords.com/b/79277

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Big Sex Little Death: Review

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Susie with Cocktails at Bruno's in the Mish

Big Sex Little Death
A Memoir by Susie Bright
Seal Press  2011

I wasn’t certain I’d review Big Sex Little Death, Susie Bright’s long-awaited memoir, since I’m too close to some of the material to be purely objective — but as it turns out, I just can’t stop myself.

 

Full Disclosure: Susie Bright was one of the first people I met when I came West from New York some 25 years ago, and one of my first acts as a San Franciscan was to submit my sex stories to her Herotica collection. Shortly afterwards, I joined the On Our Backs staff as Susie’s assistant, a year later became their fiction editor, and, finally, was second successor to the editorial throne. Shadowing Susie didn’t end at OOB: I assumed editorship of Herotica with the #4 volume, when Susie moved on to more lucrative projects. I told her I  seemed to be following in her footsteps; she replied with her radiant million-dollar grin, “I’ll just keep warming up the chair for you.”

 

That charm and generosity are quintessential Susie, and they permeate Big Sex Little Death, her journey from childhood to teen socialist to feminist to sexual activist and public figure. I was familiar with much of this history, but seeing it all together in one place, I recognized, for the first time, how much Susie and I have in common, beginning with abusive mothers who lost their own mothers at an early age. Being a “motherless daughter,” I’ve recently learned, can affect a woman more profoundly than any other aspect of her life; it particularly influences the kind of mother she becomes. My mother was emotionally abusive; Susie’s was mentally ill (apparently undiagnosed), and  physically abusive:

She pinched the top of my arm and dragged me out the door. I remember her grip on my arm—and her disgust at my blubbering. I was pathetic, I knew it, but I couldn’t stop. I could see in her eyes how loathsome I’d become.

All this because Susie missed her cat, which her mother had unceremoniously abandoned.

I know all about that look in a mother’s eyes; that Susie was on the receiving end of it makes it that much more astonishing that she grew to become such a strong powerful woman. Lest anyone foolishly credit such experiences with helping to radicalize a person, it was not her mother’s abuse but her father’s love and support that pushed Susie forward. He stood proudly behind his teenage socialist firebrand, and he welcomed her home when the fires went out. Both parents – Mommy dearest was not all bad – were “braniacs; they were language, poetry and music fiends; they took enormous pleasure in big ideas and the power of word. They were literary sensualists.” Not a bad heritage for a feminist leader.

Susie took a dollop of this and a plateful of that from her parents. She incorporated socialist ideas into feminism – and took feminism even further, insisting that female-centered sexual representation and expression were its logical extension.

I wish she’d probed a little bit deeper into her life as an active Socialist. As her one-time editor, if she had asked for my opinion I would’ve urged her in that direction. Some of her anecdotes of life among the Commies aren’t reflective enough to satisfy, and while I loved what I read, I wanted more.

One of the major differences between Susie’s journey and mine is timing: I was a young mother when I first became, as I see it, conscious — while Susie seems to have been highly conscious from birth. I don’t know of many teenagers who can be as confident as Susie seems to have been in her beliefs, especially since they ran against received opinion.

The first time she stands up for women and their bodies is, appropriately, the day she first bleeds. Late returning to school after lunch, sent to the principal’s office, Susie marches right in “like a mad bear,” protesting, “This is not right…My period just started at noon, and I had to figure out the Tampax all by myself….and you can’t discriminate against me just because I’m menstruating…” The mortified principal nearly passed out and practically begged her to leave his office, showing her the power of her sexuality in one fell swoop. She has continued to confront sexual ignorance and patriarchal privilege ever since.

Although I ate up the first two sections of the book, I was, naturally, in something of a hurry to get to the part about OOB. Reading Susie’s account of each incident, from the founding of the magazine to its change in ownership, I kept receiving little shocks of recognition with every turned page. If this was a comic book, light bulbs would be hanging over my head, popping off in every panel, so faithful is Susie to what happened, at least as I remember it. For those who weren’t  close to the scene, I direct you to the book. It’s a helluva story; maybe someday I’ll have enough distance to write more about it myself.

Big Sex ends on a positive note – the day that Susie and Jon and baby Aretha move to Santa Cruz to begin family life anew. That too I remembered….then I eagerly turned the page…and was confronted with a page headlined “NOTES.” I could not believe I’d reached the end! And more than 15 long years ago!

Now,  I have been waiting since the day Aretha popped out of Susie’s belly to see what kind of American girl/child/woman Susie Bright’s daughter would become. As a mother who feels that I fucked up the sex education along with everything else, I was dying to see how Susie did with the hardest job on the planet. Unfortunately, a veil descended and I didn’t find out.

Susie has a right to put in or leave out whatever she wants from her memoir – but as a reader, and as her friend, (and as an editor) I wanted more. I especially want to know what happened in the years since the time of this book’s ending. I want to know about her mothering: how did being raised in an atmosphere of, or at least lip service to, sexual freedom affect Aretha and her attitudes? What about their relationship? My daughter is still angry about some of my sexual openness; what’s the story with Susie’s? More than most people, I understand the delicacy of the mother-daughter relationship, as well as the desire not to violate a child’s privacy – but surely some of Susie’s story can be told without inflicting damage. This is not just idle curiosity, either: I honestly believe that Susie has something important to contribute to  this other area of female experience that’s been historically shrouded in darkness.

Because of this and a few more minor gaps, it doesn’t feel like Susie’s story has been fully told. Then again, nobody’s story is ever fully told, is it? Still, Susie has a lot more livin’ to do: I’m looking forward to a sequel.