By now you’ve probably heard about Alisa Valdes, the romance novelist who penned a memoir about how she let a right-wing cowboy named Steve rope and tame her like a mustang mare. You’ve probably also heard how all the right-wing anti-feminists seized on that tale and crowed about it, claiming it validated their half-baked theories about women “needing” a dominant male to “take a firm hand”; that it was “just human nature”, and so on. And you may also have heard that she later tried to come clean on her personal blog about what horseshit that memoir actually is, revealing that Cowboy Steve didn’t merely tame her, he broke her. He lied to her, cheated on her, and insulted her (and her son), and that was just the beginning; he also raped her. In every sense, he abused her. And you might even know that her publicist freaked, and warned her to take that harrowing blog entry down. Alisa Valdes complied. But Google still has it cached, and it reveals not only the details and extent of the indignities she suffered at the hands of Cowboy Steve — but also, of all people, her own publisher:
I’ve had more than a dozen books published, but never have I had a publication day come and go without so much as an email from my editor, wishing me well — until now. With the recent publication of my first memoir, The Feminist & The Cowboy: An Unlikely Love Story, I have had the odd experience of having been essentially shunned by my publisher, one assumes because the reality of my life more than a year after having turned in the final manuscript is different from the ending one might have liked to have seen if my life were the made-for-TV movie or fairy tale my publisher seemed to have hoped they might market my book as. I have been advised not to discuss any of this publicly, to just accept this cold shoulder and lack of support as my penance for the crime of being openly broken up with the cowboy when I should have just pretended we were still together long enough to sell books.
Nice, eh? Big Publisher is more intent on racking up sales than on making sure the whole story is told in an honest, above-board manner. Big Publisher wants the writer to pretend that everything is exactly as it is not. Big Publisher, in short, is playing the censor. And who suffers the most? A woman who, one would think, has already suffered more than enough:
There is a LOT you don’t know about the cowboy and how he treated me. I kept a lot of it under wraps, because I had turned a book in and I was trying to be a good contract employee and not completely sabotage the book by telling the whole story on my blog. But with my publisher’s complete lack of support now, and with the reviews so clearly describing for me the fact that healthy women, whole women, are able to recognize in the cowboy a dangerous man that I was, in my blindness and lack of experience with abusive men, unable to see, I feel that the only possible way for any of this to make sense to anyone is for the entire story to be known. To be honest about it puts me in danger — real physical danger — so I am reluctant.
Again, note that lack of concern on the publisher’s part for her well-being. “Trying to be a good contract employee” is like trying to be a “good” abused woman; it’s bound to cost you your integrity, and it may end up costing you a lot more than that. The Cowboy refuses to compromise and let Alisa be herself; he must have her perfectly submissive or he will not “put up with” her at all (his words). The publisher shows zero willingness to hold off publication and give the author a chance to revise the manuscript into the cautionary tale it actually is. One can’t excuse them for jumping the gun, since the publication process is at least a year long between receiving the manuscript and putting the book out in print. That is plenty of time for revision, and they would not consider that. Nope, they had what they thought was a sure-fire bestseller on their hands, something that would generate tons of buzz, so they wanted to go with that.
I am inevitably reminded of the prude-shaming backlash against feminists who criticized the movie Deep Throat. And how the star, Linda Lovelace, later wrote Out of Bondage, telling all about her abusive ex-husband, Chuck Traynor. Ol’ Chuck brutally strong-armed her into not only making the porno, but smiling through all the incredibly phony promotional appearances she had to put in afterwards. But there’s a difference: Linda Lovelace had her publisher’s support for that memoir. Alisa Valdes doesn’t. The terrible truth — and the uppity woman who dared try to tell it — could just go hang.
So what to do next? Well, how about this:
I have been working on a sequel about the cowboy and me, and though I am quite sure my publisher won’t want it I will likely self-publish it soon. In it, I plan to detail the ways I was fooled and manipulated, the mistakes I made in choosing to ignore red flags, the many unfortunate ways that I started to subsume and lose myself in order to please an unpleasable and controlling man. I hope that in doing so I will help to make sense of the first book, both for you guys and for myself. What I want to emphasize here is that the first book was NOT an attempt to sell a lie; it was a sincere, heartfelt memoir that came during the honeymoon period of an abusive relationship, before I understood just how much danger I was putting myself in, with me justifying the hints of violence through my own romanticized version of the American cowboy icon and, unfortunately, with me blinded by this man’s almost unfathomable physical beauty, which was almost impossible to reconcile with the brutality that this most handsome shell encased.
I’m sure I’ll get shit for posting this. I’m betraying my publisher, who would have liked for me to be the next Ree Drummond. Hell, I would have liked for me to be the next Ree Drummond. But I wasn’t. I was the only Alisa Valdes, learning as I went along, living honestly and hopefully, trying to love. The only way the memoir works is if it is allowed to be what it IS rather than what others might like for it to have been. What is it? It is a guidebook for women on what falling in love with a controlling abuser looks like. It is a handbook on what NOT to do, what to run away from. I did not know it then. Then, I felt safe and thrilled, impressed with myself for having secured such a hot, strong, strapping, manly man. It was an illusion. Underneath it all was a scared, insecure boy, who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk, a man who only felt good enough when he was making others feel badly. The memoir is important, and it is valuable, but not without this afterward. The message of the book, as I see it? Even smart, educated, self-sufficient, thoughtful women can get sucked into abusive relationships, and it will happen slowly, a little at a time, like a frog in a pot of cold water that is placed over a low flame, that even someone like me can, sometimes, be slowly boiled to death.
Well, she DID get shit for posting this, but I’m still glad she came forward. Even leaving out the gory details of the Cowboy’s abuse (which other bloggers and journalists have already covered ad nauseam), this is a nightmarish experience nobody should have to live through. Alisa Valdes has a long and muddled history to process here, and I don’t envy her the task. I hope she’s on a better road now.
I also hope this cautionary book she talks about does come to light; I’d buy it in a heartbeat. It could teach a lot of women not only about the perils of loving an abusive man, but the more insidious dangers of sticking with an irresponsible publisher.
And I’d leave that sugar-coated cowboy romance on the fiction shelf, where it belongs.