I'm thrilled to welcome fellow 2014 #PitchWars mentor and Florida Gator Julie Sondra Decker to the blog today! She's here to talk about her new, nonfiction book baby THE INVISIBLE ORIENTATION, which for me is soooo fascinating! So without further ado, let's hear more from Julie about her new book and her publication journey thus far!
What if you weren’t sexually attracted to anyone?
A growing number of people are identifying as asexual. They aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and they consider it a sexual orientation—like gay, straight, or bisexual.
Asexuality is the invisible orientation. Most people believe that “everyone” wants sex, that “everyone” understands what it means to be attracted to other people, and that “everyone” wants to date and mate. But that’s where asexual people are left out—they don’t find other people sexually attractive, and if and when they say so, they are very rarely treated as though that’s okay.
When an asexual person comes out, alarming reactions regularly follow; loved ones fear that an asexual person is sick, or psychologically warped, or suffering from abuse. Critics confront asexual people with accusations of following a fad, hiding homosexuality, or making excuses for romantic failures. And all of this contributes to a discouraging master narrative: there is no such thing as “asexual.” Being an asexual person is a lie or an illness, and it needs to be fixed.
In The Invisible Orientation, Julie Sondra Decker outlines what asexuality is, counters misconceptions, provides resources, and puts asexual people’s experiences in context as they move through a very sexualized world. It includes information for asexual people to help understand their orientation and what it means for their relationships, as well as tips and facts for those who want to understand their asexual friends and loved ones.
Buy: [Amazon] [Barnes & Noble] [Book Depository (USA)] [Book Depository (UK)] [Fishpond (Australia)] [IndieBound] [Powell's]
Tell us a little about your writer's journey so far:
I’ve always been passionate about fiction writing, and have done it since I can remember, but for some reason my nonfiction has always gotten more attention. After some epic struggles with manuscript length, I got my fantasy series signed to my fiction agent—Michelle Johnson of Inklings—and it went on submission to major publishers.
Everyone says you should distract yourself from submission anxiety by writing your next book, but writing fiction is a completely immersive and emotionally exhausting experience for me, and I didn’t think I was in a good head-space to dive into another book after going on submission. So I turned to my old pal nonfiction and began writing a book about asexuality. I’d repeated the content so many times in my own life that it only took me three weeks to write the first draft. My fiction agent didn’t represent much nonfiction (and none that tackled my subject, really), so I elected to pursue separate representation. The book found representation very quickly with Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger and sold even more quickly to Skyhorse/Carrel, and the hoopla involved in editing and promoting it has worked pretty well as a distraction. Meanwhile, as the first series remains on submission, I’m finally working on my next fiction project!
I think that's an important lesson for writers. Sometimes you do need more than one agent, but it's important to always consult with your current agent and make sure you're on the same page first. Okay, let's hear your Twitter Pitch! (140 characters or less.)
“Help! Nobody seems sexy to me!” Really? Maybe you’re asexual! Learn more about this underdiscussed experience in The Invisible Orientation.
What inspired you to write this book? How is it a book only you could write?
As a person who’s been actively promoting the “okay-ness” of asexuality since before there was a community surrounding the orientation, I’m more aware than most of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go before asexuality and its nuances are common knowledge. We now have movies, TV, articles, studies, fiction books with asexual characters, forums, blogs, and YouTube channels that cover this subject, but up until now the only book in existence about asexuality from an asexual perspective was a self-published book that is also available to read on the author’s website. I wanted a concise, accessible, somewhat comprehensive book about the topic that anyone could pick up at the bookstore, so I wrote it—partly to increase perceived legitimacy on the topic for those who look down their nose at Internet-based content and believe something isn’t real if there isn’t a book on it. I was uniquely qualified to get the book out there because not only did I already have a platform for the subject but I understood how to pursue mainstream publishing due to my efforts doing the same for fiction.
A definite case of playing to your strengths! What's your favorite thing about writing?
The written word has always been the easiest form of communication for me, so I love how the medium feels so effortless and that I feel so fearless about expressing myself this way. I love when a story or piece of writing gets going and I just dive in and let it roll out. And then seeing it affect people emotionally is incredibly rewarding.
It really is. And I think this book is going to help a lot of readers who may feel like they are alone on their journey. Okay, so writing wise, what's your least favorite thing?
Worrying that a poor choice of words or a glaring omission will lead to offense or disconnection with my material.
Now it's time to brag a little--What do you love most about your book?
I love that it serves so many purposes. The book isn’t just for figuring out if you’re asexual, but it can help you do that. It isn’t just for shooting down misconceptions, but it does so. It isn’t just for people who know an asexual (or possibly asexual) person and want to know how to act, but it will guide them through how to interact with that person. It isn’t just for those who want relationships involving asexual people, but it can provide perspective on how to do so. And most people will find their experience at least acknowledged and validated within its pages. Also, I didn’t want the book to come off as a biography or a personal memoir because I wanted it to be generalized, but I also didn’t want to lose the personal connection some people want to form with this material, so I got permission from various community members to feature illustrative quotes throughout the book. I love that they let me feature their voices and provide better connection between my book and my audience.
What was the most challenging part to write? Why? How did it help you grow as a writer?
There’s one potentially controversial section (well, more controversial than the others) regarding asexual inclusion in queer communities. This is a hot-button issue with some LGBTQ activists because some feel asexual people aren’t harmed as much or aren’t harmed in the same ways as LGBTQ people are, and they sometimes resent our desire to participate in their spaces. (This doesn’t reflect my personal experience; nearly every non-asexual LGBTQ person I’ve spoken to recognizes that even when our problems aren’t identical or overlapping, they are often caused by heteronormative assumptions that hurt all of us, which makes us natural allies; plus most queer activists do not define the queer identity or the “right” to participate in queer spaces as entirely dependent upon being hurt enough by the right people for the right reasons.)
So, because of that, I sought external opinions of this particular section, checking with members of queer communities and my own community to apply their perspectives. I expanded this to all the sections that don’t reflect my experience (e.g., asexual people of color, autistic asexual people, asexual people with mental illnesses or disabilities, asexual people with abuse in their pasts, transgender asexual people, nonbinary asexual people, asexual men, etc.). Including these demographic highlights and attempting to speak confidently about the quirks of their experiences was incredibly difficult and I had to lean entirely on the kind souls who offered their thoughts after reading the draft sections. My acknowledgments section is really big now as a result; dozens of people (close to a hundred) participated in this, and I had to slog through every single response to apply their advice. This whole process definitely made me a better writer because it reinforced my belief that nobody can write a book like this alone, and I learned to make my peace with that.
I think no matter where you stand in the world, you encounter people with biases and faulty beliefs to work through, particularly where something as personal as sexual identity is concerned. Hopefully this section of your book will help people who are feeling alone! What has surprised you most about publishing post-agent or post contract?
I haven’t been very surprised by anything. That sounds odd, but maybe it’s just because nothing too atypical has happened to me and I read a lot of blogs/follow a lot of writers. I’ve been *pleasantly* surprised by how much work my publisher is doing for me to get reviews, mainstream media attention, blurbs, and features. The only non-pleasant surprising things that have happened have been in regards to being out of the loop occasionally (like, I found my cover and release date on Amazon before I’d been told what they were, but this didn’t upset me; just surprised me). My agent and my editor both also seem very personally supportive of my subject matter and very, very friendly. Some unpublished folks may be surprised also that I’ve never spoken to anyone at my publisher on the phone and haven’t met any of them in person.
Okay, now a little about you. (And yes, I stole these questions from In the Actor's Studio with James Lipton.)
What is your favorite word?
If we combine both sound and meaning: Shine.
What is your least favorite word?
If we ignore hate-based words and slurs: Torso. (Don’t ask.)
What turns you on?
Enthusiasm, investment, creativity, bookishness, good listening skills.
What turns you off?
Judgmental attitudes, bigotry, inability to admit wrongdoing or mistakes, exploitation and mocking of the weak.
What sound or noise do you love?
Polyphonic choirs singing a cappella, rain, ringtones of people I like, tap dance, babies vocalizing, pleasant windchimes.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Mouth noises (sloppy kissing, sloppy eating, phlegm noises), upstairs neighbors who stomp and drop things, metal screeching on metal, snoring, loud bass music, car alarms, static, children whining, grown people whining.
What profession, other than your own, would you most like to attempt?
Musical theatre. My grandmother was a Broadway performer and I thought about following in her footsteps but never did it.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear G-d say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Uh . . . I’d like to hear that what happens next is dependent on what I’d like to happen next. That I get to decide where to go from here. And that there is something more to go on to.
Finally, what's the one question you've always wanted to answer in an interview? (And of course, you have to answer it!)
I like when people ask about what I have planned for future projects! After I finish the novel I’m working on—which is the second book in the fairy tale retelling series I have on submission—I’m going to write a YA novel with an asexual main character. I also want to write a YA science fiction. Besides that I have a New Adult fantastical romance and an adult science fiction romance already written, so hopefully those will see light soon.