It’s weird to say, but things have been fairly normal here at Microcosm Publishing & Distribution the last couple of weeks.
Personally, I’ve worked from home for the past week, which isn’t usual for me but it’s always been an option. Our small staff of 13 people have always worked staggered shifts and worked from home regularly. There are definitely more bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes being passed around than usual. The skeleton crew in the office is practicing giving each other six feet. We’ve moved our bookstore operation to mailorder and curbside pickup only. But otherwise, we’re getting on with our introverted business more or less as usual. For now.
[Update, three days later: The State of Oregon just went on lockdown, which means… pretty much the same thing, but with even more working from home, even more handwashing, and asking all deliveries and pickups to come to our side gate.]
We’ve always printed our books here in the United States, and so right now we’re not seeing any significant delays in publication of our titles. Orders have slowed a bit, but we’re using the time to get caught up on a serious backlog of work that’s built up in our last year and a half of hectic growth. Far from reducing hours or laying anyone off, we’re cautiously moving forward with the hiring process we began last month. In other news: we aren’t going anywhere.
Ultimately, our strength has always resided in how we’ve built up communities around us, and so we’ve started to work on strengthening those where we can through a variety of ways:
Dr. Faith Harper is doing a live story time with her book Coping Skills on our Facebook page. She’ll be doing it nightly at 5 p.m. central until she’s done, and the videos will be archived on our page at least until this passes.
At the request of the author, we’ve made the ebook version of Teenage Rebels 99 cents. We hope we can inspire some of the millions of high school students currently sitting at home and help them continue learning. [Update: The author of Crate Digger has also requested we put both the ebook and audiobook versions of this Florida punk scene history on super sale!]
If you’re bored at home and starting to struggle, we’ve got a quarantine self-care pack for you – just $20 for the physical books, $15 for the ebooks.
We’ve curated a list of relevant titles on our Quarantine Survival Guide list of project-based books for people who are feeling anxious or just need something to do.
If you’re stocked up on books and want to help others, you can do that here! We’ve set up a “give books to people in need” program where you can support sending care packages to spread the book love. As always, we are stepping up to offer ways to offer our books to people who are most vulnerable and in need. We are matching funds from donations at link.
My first two books were both anthologies, and I found myself enjoying working with multiple authors considerably. When my publisher (and now employer), Microcosm Publishing, announced they’d start doing queer erotica, I knew I had to start doing anthologies for that too. I pitched them three (!) and they eagerly accepted all of them, which I was not expecting.
To get a better feel for the market, we’re doing them as a zine series, entitled Queering Consent.
To start Queering Consent off I’m looking for nonbinary pairings. Nonbinary folks with each other, nonbinary folks with men, nonbinary folks with women, nonbinary folks in polycules… So long as at least one of the characters is explicitly nonbinary, I’m not too fussed about who they’re with or what pronouns they use.
A really successful erotica anthology also needs a theme to go with the pairing. For that, I started asking what we needed more of, but in reality, I didn’t have to look any further than my own passion and knowledge of popular erotica and romance: historical romance, pre-1950s.
Submissions are due by August 1, 2020
The nitty gritty:
Word count: 1,000 to 3,000 words (longer stories are welcome, but may be published separately or considered for a later book version) or 2-6 pages of black and white comics
Format: Word, .ODT, PDF or Google document emailed to lydia(at)microcosmpublishing(dot)com
(If submitting comics, please ask for specs before submitting artwork.)
Works must be original fiction (no fanfic, sorry!) though reprints are allowed.
More about the theme: There simply aren’t enough nonbinary people represented in historical fiction, even though nonbinary folks have always been here. So… why not make it sexy?
Also, if it’s not consensual it’s not sex and not welcome in this series!
Payment: $25 flat fee; if we include your contribution in a book edition, there will be additional payment
I am encouraging marginalized authors who do not see themselves in most mainstream fiction to submit, including (but not limited to) BIPOC, disabled, neurodiverse, queer and trans folks. Write the stories you wish had been published and submit them to us. #OwnVoices work is encouraged, but not strictly required.
If this pairing or theme isn’t up your alley, the next two themes and pairings are:
woman/woman in science fiction or fantasy settings
man/man’s tender first times (with each other, or first time at all)
You can submit those whenever (or if you have an idea for future themes, let me know!) or you can sign up for my newsletter to find out when the submission period officially opens for future volumes.
Microcosm interns each have the opportunity to choose one of our books to review. Veda, one of our winter 2020 interns, chose to review The Courage Party, Joyce Brabner’s new illustrated book for young people about dealing with sexual assault. The Courage Party officially comes out in August,but we’re shipping directly from our warehouse now.
Content note: This review contains non-explicit discussion of child sexual abuse being poorly handled by authorities
“I wish this book had existed when you were little.”
My mother and I began to cry over dinner as I explained to her the premise of Joyce Brabner’s new book, The Courage Party. We got a few odd looks from the waiters and a few tears on our plates, but most importantly we got to reopen a conversation that had been shut for too long.
The Courage Party falls somewhere between a graphic novel and a children’s “chapter book”. It tells the true story of a child, Danielle, who is sexually assaulted and all of the actions she takes after the assault to combat and heal after experiencing the crime that was committed against her. In her story, she is seen as a “crime fighter” and not as a “victim” or a “survivor.” Her community celebrates her bravery by throwing her a “Courage Party,” Which is really something every crime-fighter deserves.
You might be thinking “that’s some heavy stuff, why would someone write about that? And why would you volunteer to write about them writing about it???” Because the topic of sexual assault should be normalized as the violent crime that it is. So when a child goes through something as painful and traumatic as sexual assault, they know that it is:
Not their fault
DEFINITELY not something they should feel ashamed of.
I want people to feel confident in reporting the crime, sharing their stories, and finding good support systems. There is no space to ask for help when you’re stuck in silence.
Before I begin the actual review, I think it’s important for you to have context to why my opinions may be the way they are.This review will be from a very particular and connected perspective, as I have personal experience with sexual assault. Reading Danielle’s story encouraged me to open up my feelings and the conversation surrounding my experience again, so as to start clearing out some of the residual shame. Because there’s no time to be ashamed when you tried your best to fight some crime.
When I was 9, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a member of what, at that time, was my family. Luckily my mom was a “good grownup” (as Joyce calls trustworthy adults in the book) and she immediately sprang to action. Unfortunately, the system is not always perfect and after months of legal struggle, I ended up living once again with my abuser. At this point in my life, I look back on that time period and wish I had more resources in knowing how to speak up for myself. But I have to remind myself, and anybody else, that it’s never too late to do some healing work, and now as an adult, after reading Courage Party, I’m ready to talk about it again.
So why is Courage Party is so important to me? Why should it be important to you?
If this book had been on the shelf when I was a child, I would’ve been able to see that I could empower myself in the situation, and be in control of what happened after I reported it. If my parents had read this book aloud to me as a child, maybe they would’ve recognized what was happening and stepped in sooner. From the perspective of someone who has been in Danielle’s shoes, this book has the ability to not only show children they have the ability to have a sense of control in the legalities after the assault, but also has the power to retract the shame that society connects not only to the perpetrators of this crime, but also the survivors (or, as Danielle calls us, crime fighters).
To the people who I hope will read this book, the children and their parents together, I know a lot of Danielle’s internal monologue may seem far fetched. It may be shaken off as ‘just a kid thing’ or something silly and added for effect. But I want you to know, her thought process during the assault gave me the ability, now as an adult, to be able to express and identify how I felt at the age of nine. Joyce and Danielle took all of the thoughts I was ashamed of having and put them on the page in a non-judgmental way. For example, the attention during the grooming process of the assault feeling simultaneously good and uncomfortable. You want to be loved by the person who has the upper hand. You want to be special in their eyes. That feeling is seen as so shameful and never to be spoken of, not even to therapists and caseworkers. There was an aspect to these feelings that I didn’t recognize was helping me invalidate my own trauma. Joyce normalized all of these feelings by putting them in public, not just behind a closed door with a therapist.
This book will be different for adults who can identify with Danielle, though it was written for children who have been through this kind of violence, I strongly suggest for the adults who have experienced sexual assault in their past, to flip through it. It was incredible to hear the experience through the narrative of a child who was supported in an ideal way, and given the opportunity to take part in each stage of crime fighting. The feeling will be therapeutic, I promise.
Aside from my overwhelming support of this project, I did have a couple, more personal, moments of doubt about Courage Party, but they were quickly resolved. At first, there seemed to be a lack of commentary on different types of sexual assault and an overemphasis on “stranger danger.” From the moment Danielle is praised for physically defending herself against her attacker, I felt once again, a sense of invalidation for not defending myself in such a straightforward way. I wanted more representation of different kinds of trauma responses besides just immediately fighting back. I wanted to see children called “crime-fighters” even if they responded to their assault with a flight, fawn or freeze response. According to the Darkness to Light Organization, 90% of children who have been sexually assaulted know their abuser before the attack and when there is no element of ‘stranger danger’ the fight response is not very common.
The book quickly redeemed itself in this aspect, including more diverse experiences later on, during the actual Courage Party. When multiple women shared stories of sexual assault from their lives. There was a wide range of responses, outcomes and ages. The best part was all of these older women were finally getting credit for their strength, no matter how they reacted during the assault. This was the part of the book which truly brought me to tears, I felt like I was having my own, better late than never, courage party.
Besides just validation of strength from the close community, I was shocked at how well the legal processes went for Danielle. I was overjoyed for Danielle, it’s not how the system usually works. From the first interaction she had with law enforcement to the trial, every adult seemed kind and supportive and helped her advocate for herself each step of the way.
It was great to hear it worked out for her.
For me personally, my case never went to court. It was as if the whole Judicial system wanted to “sweep it under the rug.”
So of course, reading Courage Party, there was a disconnect from what I experienced as my reality. That’s when I realized that this book isn’t necessarily written keeping me, or other adults like me, in mind.
This is written for kids who need help working through sexual assault in the present moment. It’s for children who need the extra support to be able to speak up, and it’s for parents to learn how to be supportive in all the best ways. Danielle’s story is the perfect conduit for getting this through to them. This is not just a storybook, it is a how-to book that holds more weight than anything else on the shelf. Joyce, Danielle, and Gerta want to show children the best things to do in these situations, we want them to fight back, we want them to tell a trusted adult right away, and we want them to trust that law enforcement will in fact help, when you ask for it. We want kids to feel empowered and be able to take back the control they lost. Though it may not always work out as simply as this in reality, it’s important to represent the best-case scenario for children in danger. We want them to kick and scratch, we want them to run to safety. We want them to be able to tell their story as much, or as little as they want. It doesn’t matter that my experience and Danielle’s didn’t align perfectly, this book isn’t about relatability, it’s a guide for self-protection.
On a final note, I would like to address the parents who will say it’s an inappropriate topic for their children; people can come face to face with sexual assault at any age. So instead of leaving our kids confused, scared and unable to identify the violence being inflicted upon them, let’s take age limits of life saving resources and give children the tools and knowledge they need to be able to know that your body belongs to yourself, and you get to choose what you want to do with it.
So thank you so much to Danielle Batone and Joyce Brabner, for being so powerful. Thank you to Gerta Oparaku for illustrating their story along the way. Thank you to Microcosm for getting this into the world. For representing and emphasizing the strength it takes to be a crime fighter, and using your personal lives to inform and educate the coming generations. I want to end this review with a strong recommendation for families with children to purchase this title, it is important to raise awareness around the topics that bring with them discomfort. Focus on why you feel unable to have an open discussion about sexual assault with your children, question that feeling and response and ask for help from your community. To quote from the “For Grownups’’ section of the book, “In our own way, we had “normalized” something terrible. This didn’t make it okay, but it kept trauma from digging in under her skin and developing like a life-destroying cancer.” Talking about, and releasing the stigma of childhood sexual assault, does not make it okay, or any less horrible, but it does make it less shameful for the people who have experienced it, and most importantly, educates and destigmatizes the crime for the children and families faced with it. It’s time to open up the conversation on sexual assault to everyone who could be, or has been, affected. No more secrets.
Have a lot of time on your hands suddenly? Need to escape for an hour or six into another world? Seeking creative inspiration at this unexpected social/life turning point?
Books are a magical solution for so many of these things. Here’s how to get your fix of great reading material without going out in public and while supporting the economic future of the book industry—authors, publishers, bookstores, distributors, libraries.
Put your book purchases to work
The worst way to do that is buying books through Amazon. We’ve always said that, and yeah, we have an axe to grind, but also—a book bought through Amazon results in the lowest possible payments to authors and publishers. Amazon has lured MANY publishers to rely on them solely for book sales—and has now completely stopped ordering books… which they’re framing as part of the current crisis, but is part of a disinvestment strategy they began last November. And now… the corporation run by the richest person in the world is now soliciting donations from the public to help pay delivery drivers? No thanks. /end rant.
Anyway, want to maximize every dollar you spend on books? The best ways to do that are the ways the most support authors and independent publishers. Like these many options:
Buy books and ebooks directly from the authors/artists themselves—they will get 100% of your dollars
Buy books and ebooks directly from the publishers—this ensures the best possible author royalty
Support your local independent bookstore—many are still operating with skeleton crews and you can phone in an order or place one online
Check out ebooks and audiobooks from your local library—you pay nothing (well, you pay at tax time, now likely delayed…) and it’s good financial support for publishers and authors. Libby is a great, easy-to-use app for this purpose, and many library systems are granting instant library cards if you live in the area
Bookshop.org is a new force in the market that offers new books at a sustainable discount. They donate 10% of every sale to independent bookstores, and have a 25% affiliate program (which they upped to 30% during the pandemic). (Check out Microcosmnoauts Elly and Lydia’s fiction recs on our Bookshop page.)
We’re also still shipping our big selection of books and zines and such from microcosmpublishing.com (you can select “pick up in store” shipping and we’ll bring your purchase outside for a no-contact handoff)
Pay it forward
Got enough to read but want to help someone else out with a pile of books?
Become a Book Benefactor — nominate someone (including yourself!) to receive a free stack of curated books. And/or just donate money to help make these book wishes come true! This program is run by Danny Caine of Raven Book Store (who also happens to be the author of How to Resist Amazon & Why).
Got some money to donate and want to get the most economic uplift for your buck? We recommend supporting BINC, aka the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a long-running, effective mutual aid organization that helps booksellers bounce back from unexpected hardships. They’ve long covered unexpected medical bills and helped with rent and utility payments, and they’re primed and ready to respond to the current crisis and its widespread layoffs and closures.
It’s a great time to ask for book recommendations, and share recos and reviews of books you love with your networks online. Let’s start a global conversation about books and never stop!
Stay connected, even without IRL events
Participate in Is Press’s virtual Quaranzine Fest! It’s not too late to make some zines to “table” during #quaranzinefest — or just tune in on social media April 4-5 and get ready to discover some great new super-independent reads!
There are so many storytimes on social media and youtube that we can’t even begin to list them all! One option: you can tune into Dr. Faith reading aloud from her own books (or check out the archives) every day from 5-6pm central time on the Microcosm Facebook page.
The illustrated, true, “gently explicit” story of what happens after 10 year old Danielle is assaulted in a park. The women in her life throw a party to celebrate her courage, not as a victim but as a crime fighter. Written for adults and kids to read together, but it’s a good and healing book for all of us crime fighters, even if we didn’t get to do the fighting part until way later.