The Feminist and The Cowboy: An Unlikely Love Story, New York Times bestselling author Alisa Valdes’ latest title, was released early in January of 2013. The book details her relationship with a conservative cowboy who challenged some of her life-long beliefs and made her re-evaluate her stance on male/female relationships. A few months before the memoir was released, Valdes suffered heartbreak and by the time the book hit the shelves, she publicly opened up about how and why the relationship ended.
Valdes, whose numerous titles include The Dirty Girls Social Club, All that Glitters and The Husband Habit, told Mamiverse how she feels about the reactions to her memoir and discussed writing, publishing and freedom of speech in the United States.
Mamiverse: How has writing and publishing a memoir been different from writing and publishing novels?
Valdes: Beyond the obvious—memoir is nonfiction, novels are fiction—what has most fascinated me is the seeming inability of some in the reading public to accept nonfiction as “true” because it is more complicated, generally, than novels. In novels, or at least in the commercial fiction I have written up until now, the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, period, and there’s not as much overlap and nuance as there seems to be in real life, or at least in my own real life.
I write in the memoir about a love affair I had with a complicated man, a man who had some wonderful qualities, but who also ended up apparently having some abusive, narcissistic behaviors. This kind of duality seems to make some readers’ heads explode, because they like simple narratives, simple characters, black and white thinking with no shades of gray: He can’t be both good and bad at the same time! That must be a lie! The writer must be manipulating us! The writer must be an idiot! What this has taught me is that people in our society don’t have a very clear picture of the gradual, insidious and often seductive way abusive relationships develop, how they often look in the honeymoon phase—which is to say they can be very good—until they become very bad. Also difficult has been the personal attacks people have been making upon me for writing my own life story.
They don’t agree with my choices, so they call me stupid on blogs, or, as one commenter on one blog said, hope for me to walk in front of their car so I can get run over. It has been interesting, to say the least.
Mamiverse: Could you describe the creative process behind your memoir?
Valdes: It’s probably not as romantic or fun as it seems. Writing is a job to me, and so I approach it methodically. I came up with the idea to write the memoir one afternoon as I was riding around on the back of the cowboy’s four-wheeler with him. Who would ever have thought I’d end up in this kind of rural, conservative, cattle-ranching world? I wondered. It just had the makings of a good story, I thought, and I’d longed to write memoir for a while. I mapped out the story, outlined it, and sat down to fill it in with as much detail as I could remember.
Mamiverse: What has been the best and the worst part of seeing it in print?
Valdes: The best part has been when people have read it and understood that it was nothing more than a snapshot in time, one woman’s personal journey. The worst part has been the cruelty of some bloggers, the knee-jerk reaction on the part of the extreme feminist and liberal world that has made all sorts of assumptions about me and my story and message without bothering to read the book or talk to me.
One reporter did a very good job of actually reading the book and interviewing me, trying to get the true story, and she has been tormented by bloggers and trolls because of it. She came to one of my readings and told me she had to put her blog on private because of the deluge of hateful and threatening email she was getting. This makes me sad.
Not only have the bloggers been overwhelmingly lazy and wrong about me and the book, they have been hateful, vile, disgusting. It makes me sad for the state of what passes for journalism in America. That is the takeaway from all of this: That we have sunk to embarrassing new lows in press freedom and accountability in this country. Reporters Without Borders, a nonpartisan watchdog group, ranked the United States #47 in the world for press freedom in 2012.
You’d think that a nation that mentions freedom of the press in its constitution, a nation that likes to refer to itself as the “leader of the free world,” might actually have a freer press than, say, Botswana, or Ghana. But, nope. We don’t. We rank just below Taiwan and Comoros. We don’t have a functional news media anymore, and this ridiculous gossip mongering and hatefulness is the result of sometimes unqualified bloggers stepping in to fill the void with nonsense. It is dangerous and sad.
Mamiverse: How are you able to open up and be so honest in your writing? Are you ever scared of people’s reactions?
Valdes: Writing and honesty go hand in hand for me. What is the use of being a writer if you’re not honest? I didn’t used to be afraid of people’s reactions. I had a naïve sense that people were reasonable and could understand nuance. I now think I have grossly overestimated the ability of many people to think for themselves. The herd mentality among hate mongering bloggers is terrifying to me now.
Writing is my one great love, but the level of pure extremist crazy out there is so high, and the polarization of our nation so massaged and manufactured and necessary for the ruling class to perpetuate, that my having stepped out of the predictable “liberal” or “conservative” boxes, and having done so with writing I believe is clear, good and compelling, is just too dangerous, perhaps. I’ve actually posited moderation—moderate thought, moderate ideas, open-mindedness. I’ve been crucified for it. Everyone in American media seems to want a fight these days, instead of a respectful dialogue. It’s depressing as hell.
Mamiverse: What would you like readers to take away from The Feminist And The Cowboy: An Unlikely Love Story?
Valdes: All I hope is that people read it with an open mind and heart. I hope that they appreciate it for what it is, one woman’s personal story and nothing more. It isn’t polemic. It isn’t a guidebook. It isn’t a handbook. It’s a diary. That’s it. It is a snapshot in time, of my own little life, and the way I thought during that time.
I have evolved since then, my views have changed in light of new experiences. In retrospect I can see that the relationship I thought I was describing as wonderful was actually quite toxic, so I think the book might be most useful now as a portrait of the honeymoon phase of an abusive relationship. I was brainwashed by the cowboy, my self-esteem was dismantled, I was for all intents and purposes a cult member, with him as the charismatic leader.
Some say that to admit this is to sabotage the book. I don’t think so. I think it helps to make sense of the book. I feel embarrassed, to some degree, on the other side of the whole thing, to have been as blind and hopeful as I was. But I also know from talking to lots of other people who’ve been in similar situations, that this is how it happens, abuse.
Smart women also get abused. Strong women. Women like me. I never thought that was possible, but now I know that it is, that the right sociopath or narcissist can fool and manipulate even the most intelligent and successful of women. I hope that people can respect me for being honest about that, too.
The only thing left to do is ride it out and try to heal from all of it and make some sort of a life for myself from the wreckage.
Mamiverse: You are always writing something: what is your next project?
Valdes: I’m working on a novel based upon my father’s life. I’m also producing a film adaptation of my first novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club. Those are eating up most of my time. I’m toying with releasing an e-book “afterward” to the memoir, explaining how the relationship turned clearly abusive, and how I finally came to see just how stupid I’d been. I’m not sure anyone will want to read it. I’m not sure if it won’t just give the hatemongers more ammunition to attack me with. I don’t know.
But I do think that what I went through—the intense love for a controlling man who seemed, at the time, to simply be confident, charismatic and seductive—is not unique to me. I do think there might be some value in saying: I screwed up, I made some poor choices, I made some outlandish statements that I regret, and I suffered because of my own inability to see red flags, and here’s what they looked like, in case you see some of them yourself, so that you might avoid the pain I’ve been through.
I don’t know. I just…lately, I just don’t know anymore. People are mean. That’s what I’ve learned from all of this. The cowboy was mean. The critics are mean. The commenters on blogs are mean. There is a capacity for cruelty in this world that is almost beyond comprehension, and right now I sort of just want to curl up and sleep for a long, long time…