Who's up for some good news? As I thought: everyone. Well, here it is. In this crazy, crazier, craziest world - (This way hell; handcarts available) - some things are getting better. Fairer, kinder, saner, upliftinger. It's my absolute delight today to be welcoming Renee James to Les Femmes Fatales, to talk about her new book A KIND OF JUSTICE - and her writing journey. There's a giveaway too.
And now, Renee.
C: Can you tell us a bit about your background and the premise of your new book?
R: For background, I'm transgender—born with a male body and a mental and emotional makeup that prefers femininity. My first novels have been about a transsexual woman's struggles for acceptance and survival. Transition to Murder (originally self-published as Coming Out Can Be Murder) told the story of Bobbi Logan's year of gender transition and her determination to bring a violent sexual predator to justice. A Kind of Justice, released last week (October 4, 2016) by Oceanview Publishing [Congratulations! CMcP] picks up Bobbi's story five years later, as she tries to save her loved ones and her business from the clutches of The Great Recession while a transphobic detective builds a case against her for the ritual murder of a sexual predator.
C: And can you tell us a bit about your journey towards this happy day? Congratulations again! I’m a jaded old crone in comparison but it still feels pretty fab every time a book is born and I’m guessing you’re on top of the world right now. But back to the interview . . .
My journey to publication began more than a decade ago, when I finally came to grips with being transgender. After I made the decision not to transition (many of us don't), I began writing a fictional memoir that tried to imagine what my life would have been like if I had transitioned earlier in life. That memoir created a character I liked very much, so I wrote a book about her.
By 2011, I had a novel that had been vetted by an editor and several beta readers, and I started searching for an agent. My queries mostly brought no response, or standard form letters. A few agents sent single-sentence declarations that they didn't handle "this kind of material." Not one of the dozens of agents I queried requested the manuscript.
In the end, I self-published Coming Out Can Be Murder in 2012. When I solicited reviews for the book I ran into a lot of people who found the whole concept of a transgender heroine unappealing. Most just rejected my queries, but several were honest enough to say they found the subject of transsexuality unpleasant.
Still, my self-launch was pretty successful, and while some blogger/reviewers rejected me for being trans, there were others who were intrigued by the possibilities of seeing the world through a different lens and reviewed the book—almost all of them favorably. Later, the book won awards from the Chicago Writers Association and ForeWord Reviews, and was re-published with a plot change in 2014 as Transition to Murder.
C: Did you feel disadvantaged because of your gender orientation?
R: It's not like being called a derogatory name, or persecuted by police, but my experience with agents served notice that the publishing industry had little or no interest in me and my writing, and many reviewers weren't ready to accept a transgender heroine.
Still, even then, the overwhelming prejudice in the publishing industry was its great suspicion of new authors and their first novels. This prejudice applied to all new authors, even the classic white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male with a wife, two-and-a-half kids and a house in the suburbs.
The publishing industry was then and still is in survival mode, which means its primary focus is on sure bets and known markets. Those of us trying to break in face the same problem—until there is an established market for our work, we are risks in an industry that is risk averse.
C: Any glimmers of hope or silver linings?
R: Absolutely. The publishing industry is part of a capitalistic society, so it will go where the money is. If a market develops for transgender fiction, doors will open for people who write it. Same with stories by and about other minorities. And storytelling is the best way to portray marginalized people as human beings we can all identify with.
Also, attitudes in American society are dynamic, and I've witnessed that, first hand. In contrast to the rejection and negativity I encountered with my first Bobbi Logan book, just five years later, reaction to A Kind of Justice from agents, editors and reviewers has been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, it was reviewed by more than twenty bloggers and critics before it even came out, and many more establishment review publications are expected to cover it after its release date.
What happened in those five years? Caitlin Jenner, several popular television shows, and a national dialogue about transsexuals in America changed American attitudes toward transgender people.
I believe we are ultimately a good-hearted society, despite some dramatic, mean spirited exceptions, and my hope is that our literature and the reading public will continue to evolve to embrace our diversity.
C: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in this crazy business of ours, what would it be?
R: I would bring the entire market into some kind of rational order based on the realities of the 21st century. It would start with a massive review operation like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus, but for readers rather than sellers. It would evaluate every new title every month for a set fee, paid by the publisher or author. This would save the reader from hundreds of thousands of bad, vanity-press books and elevate the status of professional-grade self-published and traditionally published authors. It would also give new and mid-level authors a better chance of being seen by prospective readers and thereby enrich the reading market.
The other part of that revolution would be an infusion of merchandising creativity for brick-and-mortar book stores, nearly all of which practice a model that's at least a century old. Traditional stores need to be good places to shop for books, to find new authors and new genres, and to do that they must be far more dynamic in their displays than they are today.
C: Tell us what you love most about Bobbi? (I’m guessing you’re very fond of her after spending so much time in her company, right?)
R: I am very fond of Bobbi. I love her wit, intelligence and grit, but I think what I love most is her goodness. She has her fears and prejudices, like everyone else, but she does battle with them. We need more of that in our society.
C: And, finally, what’s next for Bobbi and for you?
I just submitted the manuscript for the third Bobbi Logan book to my editor and I have very high hopes for it. It is set in present time, so all the main characters are older and have different wants and needs than before, especially Bobbi, who has met nearly all the challenges in her life and is approaching that "is this all there is?" wasteland. It has strong mystery/thriller beats, and Bobbi is still growing and developing.
Right now, I'm searching for ideas for my next book. I'm not sure if it will center on Bobbi again, or a different character from the previous books, or go in a completely new direction. Whatever happens, thanks so much for your interest and for the opportunity to speak to your readers. Best wishes to you and them, always!
C: It's been a pleasure, Renee. And I'm thrilled to hear that there's a third Bobbi in the works. Readers, what do you prefer once you've committed to a character: a trilogy, quartet or quintet with the hope of a grand-finale happy ending or the promise of a long series?
Comment to win a copy of Renee's award-winning debut, and Bobbi's first tale, TRANSITION TO MURDER. And find more info about Renee's writing at www.reneejames-author.com