Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are You Sure You Want To Say That? Just Wondering...

I recently noticed a blog post by an aspiring sf writer of African descent. She got turned on to the genre, apparently, by reading Harry Potter, and now she has a recently completed manuscript. Thinking she would look into what other black writers had accomplished in the genre, she looked for some titles to read, found Acacia: The War with the Mein, read it and... decided to blog about how lame it was. She didn't like it much. Found the characters mostly uninteresting, their names annoying, nothing much surprising in it and just way too many words for such a nothing story, that sort of thing.

Now, I have absolutely no problem with someone not liking a book of mine. She may think it's not a good book; I'd say it is, but it's not a good book for her. I wish people would understand that a bit more often. But so be it.

What I am interested in here is that she chose to write a blog post that included all the above information. Why, I'm inclined to ask, would an aspiring writer hoping to break into the genre and become one of very few black writers in the genre choose to begin by writing publically and negatively about one of the few other black writers to find success in the genre? Does that sound like the best career planning? Especially when they're writing on a personal blog that nobody is reading, but that the author in question is more likely to come across because it's their book being trashed. See what I mean? She's reaching very few people, but the one person she's most likely to reach is... me.

I'm not sure how much folks know this, but part of what it means that black writers are so few in this part of the literary world is that we tend to... ah, know each other. Go to a con and you're likely to connect with Nalo and Nnedi, with Alaya and Nora, with Steven and the Minister, Tananarive and Doselle and Tempest and... well, I was going to say Samuel, but the only time I was at a con with him I was too shy to say hello. But my point is that it's a small group, and the way we stand out in this community makes it easy to connect, strike up friendships, and find professional support. We don't all know each other, but in general we do know each others' work, and I reckon we keep an eye on each others' careers to some extent. None of these writers is doing exactly the same thing. None of us need love each other's writing without question (though I often do). But all of us benefit from looking out for each other. A blurb here, a recommendation there, a shout out on occasion, choosing a particular title for a course and thereby selling twenty books... It's small stuff, but it counts.

In my opinion, this aspiring writer has unintentionally demonstrated how little she knows about the industry she wants to be part of. After writing this negative review, what's she gonna do if she meets me at a con? It's fine if she says hi without commenting on my writing, but it's hardly a great opening to say, "Hi, I read your book and didn't like it and went out of my way to tell other people it wasn't that good. I'm hoping to be a writer myself, though. Can you help me get an agent?" Of course she never would introduce herself that way in person, but... that's exactly what she's done with her blog post!

Remember folks, when you post something on your blog people may read it. It may serve as your introduction to them. Just something to keep in mind...

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12 Comments:

Blogger Will Ludwigsen said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about reviews, especially given the little Star-Trek-episode-a-day stunt I'm doing at my blog. It occurs to me that each of these episodes I'm so blithely grading and judging were the work of conscientious people racing against a deadline, doing what they thought was good. Your point about a story not being good for this READER at this particular TIME is a good mine, and I try to be mindful of that.

10:56 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Will, Thanks for visiting! I imagine you're inherently a conscientious reviewer no matter what. The fact that you spend time thinking about it shows that.

I'm always amazed at how many "reviewers" seem to have no awareness of their own subjectivity. I love the reviews that start "I read this book because it was on the list of 100 best books ever and it won all these awards and stuff... but I read it and it sucked. It's one of the worst books ever..."

And that's that. To this person it doesn't matter at all that many other people may have found value, meaning, entertainment in that book. To him, it sucks. And that suckage means that the book itself sucked.

I wouldn't argue that books never suck. They do. I'd just ask folks to consider when they're coming to that pronouncement that the failure of the book is intricately intertwined with THEIR reading of it. Is the book a failure overall? Or is it a failure for that particular reader? Has the book not done its job? Or has the reader not done theirs?

11:29 AM  
Blogger Janeite42 said...

Too many words? That reminds me of the comment in 'Amadeus' about Mozart's music having too many notes! Your writing has what I would call a literary density that I appreciate.

By the way, if the Harry Potter books were her introduction to sf, I wonder how she'd feel about 'Acacia' if she'd already been truly familiar with the genre.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Ethan Iktho said...

I was just wondering...

You are writing in your blog about someone who is writing in her blog about what you wrote in your book(s).

It happens that this person is a girl (not very significant), black (seems significant)and wannabe writer (seems very significant). Nobody seems to know who she is. You take it that the fact she is black is kinda strange, because of this other fact : she doesn't like anything in your writing. Well, the lack of good taste is not a question of colour of skin, and it is the same for everything else, as we well know. All this could deserve a whole study, if I may say.

But imagine : she says in her (confidential) blog she loves "Acacia". What happens ? It's quite possible that you would have mentionned it in your blog, saying she seems nice. But the fact that she says she dislikes about everything in your writing gets on your nerves - and it is understandable enough -, and so you offer her a whole day blog.

And if it was precisely what she wanted, from the beginning ?

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a young writer, I have to say that I'm really surprised that this young woman would bash you like that. It tells me that she definitely doesn't read the genre, and she probably doesn't have any writer friends to give her advice. I actually feel sorry for her. Not only is she burning a bridge with you by her unprofessionalism, but she's also burning a bridge with prospective agents who will most definitely google her after reading her query. You'd think she'd know that. Or, worse, maybe she doesn't care. As for me, I LOVED Acacia. I plan on reading Book 2 after I finish Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.

3:30 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Janeite42,

"Literary density". I like that. Works for some. For others that density makes it sink like a brick. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

Ethan Iktho,

You wrote: "You take it that the fact she is black is kinda strange, because of this other fact : she doesn't like anything in your writing."

Well, no, that wasn't my point. I don't really care much about whether she likes my writing, and I certainly don't think that she should because we're both African-American. The emphasis of the post is that this shared label means that, in this genre, we're among a small group. What I'm questioning is the lack of forethought about what that may mean, and about the ways you may be shooting yourself in the foot by choosing to blog.

As for people that blog that they love Acacia... well, I do often give them shouts. I'm happy to. Not always, but I do that much, much more than I ever choose to say negative things about someone. In this case, again, my interest wasn't her opinion of my book. It was just questioning when/how/why one chooses to share opinions.

Anonymous,

Thanks for writing. You've actually just made my day. The fact that you "loved" Acacia AND are into Percy Jackson is pretty awesome. Why? Because it's like a bridge between me and my kids. They LOVE Riordan. My son is reading the series through for a second time. I still haven't read him yet - I do read and enjoy lots of YA stuff - but I will soon. For now, I'll go tell my kids that I share at least on fan with Mr. Riordan...

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David- I am not a writer but a reader. I read a lot of Fantasy Tolkien, Weis & Hickman, Hobb, Goodkind, Sanderson, Brooks, J RR Martin, Salvatore, Feist just to name a few. I enjoy your writing very much. It is sad that in life, blogs, religion, the press, politics people can't learn some humility, compassion, and respect for others on the planet and the planet itself. Glad you made it as a writer and hope continued success. I am almost finished with The Other Lands so write faster..... Scott

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Jellybean said...

The internet feels so anonymous. People write the things they would say to their friends ("I read the worst book last night!), forgetting that they aren't talking to their friends - they are talking to whomever strolls by. We all need to remind ourselves: if I write it, everyone can see it. Everyone.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The colour thing is all a bit strange. I bought and loved the Acacia because, the cover appealed and then, upon inspection, I discovered it to be well written high end fantasy.
Quite what relevance the shade of the author might be I have no idea.

Now I am no writer, but I think a perspective author is trying to get into the mainstream they should focus on the product not their ethnic origin!
Nick, UK

12:00 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Scott,

I'd love to write faster. Get people to buy more of my books! That'll help. What slows my writing isn't a lack of story or desire to spend time in front of the computer. It's that I really do have a lot of other work - mostly teaching writing - on my desk everyday. I'm not a complainer, and I know teaching is a privileged way to make a living, but it does take a lot of time and thought.

Having said that... Okay, I'll write faster!

Jellybean,

Agreed.

Nick,

Glad you liked the book. That's what matters, of course. So, thank you!

As for the color aspects... in this case I'm not offering that as having anything to do with the relationship between writer and reader. It was just in reference to fellow writers and how we form community among a larger body of writers.

When I began writing fantasy I was enthusiastic about joining that community in its entirety. I still am. That doesn't mean, however, that within that larger group there aren't different dynamics at work. If you haven't imagined that writers of color in this genre might not be particularly aware of or interested in other writers of color withing the genre... well, imagine it. It's true. It's not something that happens instead of being part of the larger group. It's a dynamic that's added to that experience.

But, again, that's only an element of what the post was about. Don't be distracted by it. The post was suggesting that aspiring writers keep their blogging presentation in line with how they'd handle themselves in person. That's it, really.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

It's just a bit mindboggling that she would make such disparaging remarks about any author, especially one in her own genre. I don't know, maybe because I spend so much time reading blogs from authors like you, Pat Rothfuss, George Martin, Brandon Sanderson, etc, I kinda got used to authors actually buoying their fellows. I thought that one of the good things about wanting to be an author is going into this community of people who aren't as competitive as they are complimentary (and complementary, as is the case in SF&F). Personally, regardless of the possibly positive reviews her novel may get, I'd avoid reading her simply because she seems to be trying to build a reputation by tearing others down. "Hey, Durham's book sucked, if you think so too, try mine instead!" Though if it makes you feel better, I believe there would be very few who found your books anything short of stellar.
PS I actually think the names are pretty awesome. A lot like Martin's flair for unique names that evoke familiarity (Aliver, anyone?). Keep up the great work!

2:02 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Dan,

Exactly. There's a lot of good energy to be found in this genre, and a lot of that comes out of our capacity to respect each other, despite our differences as writers. I'm not saying it's all harmony and love, but there's less tearing down and condescension and dismissive attitudes in this genre than on the literary side. That's a big part of why I'm glad to be here.

And you're right about the authors you mention. We've all got better things to do than trash other people's books!

2:14 PM  

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