Thursday, 29 August 2013

THREE THINGS ON FRIDAY

Hello, my lovelies! Happy Friday. Today I have a feast of linkity for you.

First up, here's a piece I did for Authors Allsorts about my favourite setting that I've ever written. It goes into a bit of detail and has many pretty pictures, so hopefully you will find it interesting.

My second link is to the lovely Nina's blog, Death, Books and Tea, where I give an interview about writing QUILTBAG characters in YA and where there is *also* a giveaway for a copy of The Night Itself.

The third and final link is to the blog of fellow Author Allsort Kate Ormand, because she's doing a cover reveal for Emma Pass's book THE FEARLESS. The artwork is gorgeous, and gives me grabby hands. *Want*

That's me done for the day, muffins! Sorry I didn't manage to get to anyone's questions this week - it's been a bit frantic around here. I'll start on them next Tuesday :)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

COME BACK TOMORROW!


I'll be doing a post on the Author Allsorts blog tomorrow - on the theme of my favourite scene or character that I've written. I'll add a link here when it's up, so check back then :) See you, my duckies!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

MASSIVE FANGIRLY SQUEE

Hi everyone! Today I was *going* to answer reader questions, but then a little thing called a gigantic uncontrollable fangirly squee got in the way, and I'm afraid that takes precedence. Guys. You guys. Avatar: The Legend of Korra Book - Two now has a release date! It's starting September 13th!

DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG I HAVE WAITED?

Well, since the last season finished in what, May? Last year? A long time.

And here is a trailer!

And it is spectacular!

And also a CLIP!


Also amazing! Although the voices aren't supposed to be squeaky like that... not sure what's going on there! By the way, I literally have no control of these exclamation marks! Someone stop me before I break the button or something!

*Rips fingers away from exclamation key*

Anyway, I am also supremely excited about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which I am going to see this weekend. All this joyful anticipation is blending to make me kind of useless for any thoughtful question answering activity, but it's also numbing my apprehension over taking Finn to the vet's tonight, so you won't hear me complaining.

Keep popping your questions in the comments and I will definitely get to them next week, I promise. So far there are some really good ones that I haven't answered before.

Read you later, duckies!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

PHEW

Hello, my chickies! Happy Tuesday. I hope everyone had a restful weekend. I did, because *drumroll please* I finished Darkness Hidden edits on Friday!

Yippee!
Yes, I hesitated over pressing the send button, then womaned-up and pressed the 'Send' button, and did the gibbering over the fact that I had pressed the send button and the edits were gone and I couldn't get them back etc. etc. I expect to get at least one more round of edits back before we move into the copyediting stage (because I'm pessimistic like that) but I decided to have the weekend off to catch up on some reading, try out a few new recipes, and gibber a tiny bit more.

My job now is to get stuck into the first draft of The Name of the Blade Book #3 and get as much done as I possibly can before that next round of DH edits lands. Which is easier said than done. Nothing, but nothing, seems to mess me up more than forcing myself to stop in the middle of the white-hot creative phase of writing something new, in order to move into cool, analytical editing mode on a different book. It's so tough to shift back.

After spending a full day staring blankly at my screen yesterday, I've decided to do the same thing with my incomplete bk #3 as I did when I returned to the Darkness Hidden draft after stopping to do all the revisions on The Night Itself. Print the incomplete WIP out, re-read and revise it, and then go on from there. It seems like the best way to think myself back into the headspace of who the characters are now.

You can probably expect slightly shorter and less ranty posts from me for the next little while (stop cheering at the back), as all my brain juices go into trying to bring bk #3 back to life again. However, if anyone would like writing, publishing or reading questions answered on the blog, leave them in the comments and, as always, I'll try to answer them here as soon as possible.

In other news, I was delighted with the thoughtful, civil, intelligent discussion in the comments on Thursday's post. Thank you so much, everyone! Read you Thursday.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

REAL GIRLS, FAKE GIRLS, EVERBODY HATES GIRLS

Hello, my duckies! Welcome to Thursday and yet another rant from me. What can I say - maybe the editing brings out that ranty side of my nature? It's as good an explanation as any. But this topic has been teasing my mind for a while. It was really brought into sharp focus by a fantastic quote from a blogger called Shin that I saw reblogged by Sarah Rees Brennan and Holly Black. Thanks so much to Holly for giving me the original poster's details! And thank you, Shin, for inspiring this rant.

Content warnings before we start: mention of sexual violence and forced marriage/pregnancy ahead.

Everyone knows how I feel about the term Mary-Sue. If you managed to miss that, you can catch up here and here. I think it's fair to say that regardless of the discussion about this online (which was amazing and diverse and fascinating, and involved all kinds of talented ladies) the term is just as popular and just as likely to show up in reviews as ever. Everyone hates Mary-Sue. She's supposedly this overly perfect, flawless, wish-fulfilment character who gets what she wants all the time with no meaningful struggle and is beloved by everyone within her fictional universe (unless that person is manifestly evil or jealous).

Now, leaving aside questions of who exactly decided that perfect characters with an element of wish-fulfilment are a deadly sin when they're female, but A-OK when they're James Bond, Jason Bourne, Captain America, Batman, Superman etc. etc. the use of the term Mary-Sue comes with an obvious assumption attached: if characters like this are simply unacceptable by definition, then there must be other types of characters out there that are OK. After all, not every single female character ever written can possibly be a Mary-Sue. Even the people who cling to the term Mary-Sue as if it was their long-lost twin would not dispute that.

The Mary-Sue is a 'fake girl'. A plastic girl, an unrealistic girl, a perfect girl. Her opposite number in that case must be a real girl. A human girl. A realistic girl. An imperfect girl. Fictional ladies whose failures and flaws are right there on the page. Ladies who cannot be dismissed as 'too perfect' or 'wish fulfilment'. Let's call this type of character a Sarah-Jane. 

Now, because Sarah-Janes are in total contrast to the Mary-Sue, defying all the traits that are supposed to make a Mary-Sue unacceptable, then the Sarah-Jane, by definition, must be acceptable. I mean, obviously they're not as tightly defined as the Mary-Sue type, and because their major trait is that they're realistic, they're going to vary a lot. But they must be the kind of character that readers want to see. The kind that readers will embrace. The kind that they will at least give a chance.

Right?

Yeah. No. It turns out the vast majority of talk about Sarah-Janes - realistic, flawed, prominent female characters in fiction - *still* centres on what is wrong with them, and all the reasons they are SO ANNOYING for... not being perfect?

No one likes Mary-Sues. But it seems like no one really likes the Sarah-Jane, either. Whenever there's a portrayal of a heroine who actually acts like a real person, a real young adult, the vast majority of discourse about them within their own fandoms will focus on how unlikeable, nasty, selfish, immature and *gendered insult with connotations of promiscuity here* they are.

Just what does a Sarah-Jane have to do to avoid being an annoying, immature w****?

Based on my reading, here is a list. Pay attention now! 

Heroines must be mature. Your fourteen to eighteen year old character needs to have the kind of lucid, logical, emotionally self-aware thought-process that would normally be expected of the Dalai Lama. It doesn't matter if she's a kid! It doesn't matter what turmoil she's going through! She needs to pull herself together! Any signs that she doesn't know exactly what or who she wants in her life, that she might change her mind, not exactly understand her own feelings, or still have some growing up to do? Whoops - she is an immature and annoying w****.

She must be utterly selfless. No heroine may ever make a decision which puts her own interest above another's - especially should that other be a man. She must never make a decision which causes her to inconvenience or hurt another, particularly a man. If she does this your book must severely punish her. And I mean severely. We're talking horribly disfigured in a fire, rejected by everyone she loves, beaten and left for dead punished. She must unreservedly realise the error of her ways and apologise and be shown to have learned her lesson. But having done so, she should never realise just how pure and selfless she is/has become - that would make her an annoying martyr w****.

She must get an A in relationships. If a male in the story has an interest in her - even if he never actually has the guts to tell her, or show her how he feels, even if he generally treats her terribly and gives her no clues that said interest could possibly exist - she must immediately figure this out and immediately know exactly what she thinks and feels about him and tell him kindly, nicely and gently. If the reader favours him, it doesn't matter if the character does or not - she must 'give him a chance'. If more than one boy expresses an interest this is even more important - her feelings are irrelevant and must take a back seat to making sure that neither of them could possibly be hurt by having to wait for her to make up her mind, or her eventual decision. She must never go out with more than one boy at once, even if both boys are aware of this and OK with it. And she must pick one of them eventually and give him Twu Wuv 4Eva. Fail in any of these and she is a selfish, annoying AND immature w**** (bonus points!).

Heroines must be smart. Preferably very smart. However, they and the rest of the cast must be unaware of this at all times (unless a potential love interest is offering a compliment, in which case OMG he's so perceptive and sensitive LET ME LOVE HIM). While excelling at most subjects (except maths) she must never singled out by teachers or other students as gifted academically or seem to take pride in being clever. She must never hold the plot up by failing to 'get it' before the reader does, even if the reader actually had a lot of information that she does not - but at the same time, she must never show off her brains by being right when others in the story are wrong, even if the plot has given her ample cause to do so. If she does, especially if her rightness is a cause of embarrassment for male characters, she should die in a fire, the cocky know-it-all w****.

Heroines must be attractive. But not too attractive. Naturally slim and naturally pretty, but not aware of it. A heroine must never take pride in her appearance, or make an effort over it (although it's OK if another female character pushes her into a make-over, or a male one if he's gay). There should always be at least one scene in which a heroine compares herself unfavourably to a female friend or rival, or else she'll be seen as vain. There must be no scenes of toe-nail painting, trying on outfits, or hair-fluffing in which the heroine seems to be enjoying herself, unless the heroine is adequately punished for caring about her appearance later on (preferably by a hero laughing at her ridiculous FEMALE habits, or angrily pointing out how shallow she is, how dare she). Heroines may slap on thick black emo make-up in order to make themselves *less* attractive as a sign of mental turmoil, but never because they just like it. Heroines may dye their hair, but only to bright red, black, or maybe pink. Again, this may only be a sign of mental turmoil. If they do it just because they like the colour, then it's attention-seeking and w****ish. Natural brunettes or blondes who get colour treatments or highlights in order to enhance their attractiveness are right out. We wouldn't want anyone to think that our heroine was a conceited w****!

Heroines must be brave. But only on other people's behalf, never her own - that makes her an unrealistic w**** because everyone knows there have never been any women warriors, or fighters, or brave people, ever. Women are only given bravery by the power of LOVE. She must never be reckless, enjoy fighting. or put others in danger; a hero may charge heedlessly into battle for honour, glory and idealism, but a heroine better only be there because she wants to protect the ones she loves. And then only if her love interest consents to it. And she promises never to put him in danger by getting in danger herself. Remember, having thoughts, feelings and wants that run counter to your love interest's makes you a selfish and immature w****.

This is only a short list, mind you. There are many other ways in which a heroine can mess up, but frankly if I kept on, we'd all be here all day.

This is all clear, right? Doesn't it seem just easy-peasy to create a realistic, flawed, yet likeable female character who readers will embrace? No? Oh good, I'm not the only one. Seriously, how could *any* character, male or female or other, live up to all this stuff? And yet these are the criticisms I see aimed at Sarah-Janes over and over again. It seems Sarah-Jane must be EXACTLY as perfect as the Mary-Sue is criticised for being, if she wants to avoid hate. The only difference is the criteria of perfection she must aim for.

Selfishness and immaturity are disturbingly often found endearing in a male character, signs that he is broken and vulnerable and just needs luuuurve, even if he hurts everyone around him. Self-doubt and the inability to make up his mind, going out with two girls at once, acting cruelly toward the heroine, ditto. A male character who murders people for purely selfish reasons will still be forgiven if we get a hint of a tear in his eye. A male character who directs violence or sexual violence at vulnerable characters will be judged 'unable to help it' so long as we get a few shots of his sad and lonely childhood.

Loki killed 80 people in two days and the fandom screams LET ME LOVE YOU. Loki, you poor baby, if only you had the care of a good woman I am sure you would stop slaughtering people and attempting to murder aged Holocaust survivors! None of it is your fault! I can't believe they put that horrid muzzle on your beautiful face at the end of the film, it's so UNFAIR.

Precious misunderstood baby with a heart of gold.
Despite the calls for 'flawed', 'realistic' and 'not-too-perfect' female characters, girls in fiction don't get to make mistakes or cause suffering, regardless of the reason, and expect forgiveness. Even unavoidably hurting or inconveniencing others in order to defend themselves or make themselves safe is not allowed. If they do and they don't get punished and learn from it in the story - 'leaning from it' basically means 'being shown to be utterly broken and destroyed' - a whirlwind of hatred descends. In order to deserve a place in a story, a place in our attention, girls in books and on TV have to SUFFER. They need to be flawed but not TOO flawed and - most important of all - punished and repentant for each and every perceived lack of perfection.

Tessa Gray had two boys fall in love with her. Her fandom (and it is her fandom - she's the main POV character) screams THE W**** MUST DIE. Being abducted and threatened with forced marriage, rape, and forced pregnancy are not punishment enough for deliberately ensnaring those poor helpless boys! Suffering the ultimate loneliness of the immortal, watching the ones she loved die around her? That was NOTHING. How dare she escape unscathed? How dare the story let her off, scott-free? She ought to have had her face ripped off, her eyes gouged out, and maggots poured into her mouth TO TEACH HER A LESSON.

Nasty, conniving, selfish, slutty w****
Sarah-Janes may never do anything bad, never hurt anyone or do anything wrong at all. They may display enough flaws to be 'realistic' and escape being labelled a Mary-Sue. But people will still vaguely dislike them anyway. The underlying attitude is: Why are they here? Why do they need to exist? Why are they talking? Doing? Being?

Why is this GIRL in the room taking up oxygen that my beloved tortured hero/antihero/villain needs?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What am I saying here? Am I implying that people who critique characters in these ways and using this sort of language may, in fact, be sexist? That despite being well-spoken, geekish and intelligent, people who react to female characters in these ways may be acting on the promptings of unconscious, internalised misogyny which basically means no female character can ever measure up against the male ones?

No! No, of course not. It's not that everyone doesn't LOVE female characters! Of course they do. They ADORE them. They're totally Feminists - spending all your time hating on female characters is totally Feminist - because *these* female characters... these are bad, you see. It's the writers fault! They always create BAD female characters - female characters that no one could possibly like. That's the problem. All these female characters are rubbish.

This one is too loud, too cocky, too over-the-top, too powerful - a total Mary-Sue. This one is too stupid, too useless, too passive - she's a Mary-Sue too. OK, this one may NOT be a Mary-Sue, but she thinks she's perfect when she's totally not, and what is up with how long it's taking her to make up her mind who she should spend the rest of her life with? This one is a w****, clearly, since she kissed two boys in one book. This one is OMG just SO immature and ANNOYING who does she think she is, getting all up in her love interest's face and telling him off when he is a poor sweet misunderstood darling who deserves so much better?

If writers just wrote better female characters, this wouldn't be a problem. Not perfect female characters! God no. We hate Mary-Sues. But... you know, BETTER female characters. Ones who are realistic... in different ways. Hey, that's the perfect female character, right there! We love her. Yes, she's a minor female character who has no significant relationships with any of the main characters, only gets two lines and doesn't really do anything meaningful within the plot but SHE is AWESOME.

Oh, except for in that episode where she got to be the main character once. She was an annoying b*tch in that one. But that was the writer's fault! They wrote her wrong! See! Not sexist - we're not blaming the character! We're blaming the writers.

Can you tell, Dear Readers, that seeing these attitudes over and over again makes me tired? Really tired? Deeply, sometimes-wondering-why-I-even-bother tired? Female characters who don't make enough mistakes are Mary-Sues and hated. Realistic Sarah-Janes who make mistakes are equally hated. They just cannot win.

What do female characters have to do to escape being called w****s and b*****s? To escape being hated? Ripped apart? It really seems like they have to stop existing. Go away. Get out of the stories and leave all the space and oxygen for the guy characters, who are so much nicer and better and more lovable, even when they're mass-murderers. That's the only way.

There is something seriously messed up about this, guys.

I am not in any way suggesting that everyone has to like All The Girl Characters. I don't! I have many times thrown a book across the room because a character (of any gender) has annoyed the cr*p out of me. I criticise characters all the time. I pick them apart with my friends and my writing group, analyse why this person was too stupid to live, why these characters could only exist in an idiot plot, why this person was presented to the reader as a good guy but acted more like a villain and got away with it because they were clearly the Author's Pet, and why these characters were unconvincing because they seemed to be reacting to what the writer wanted more than what they actually knew in the story. It's also true that oftentimes when a character is advertised as a Strong Female Character she turns out to be a caricature, and yes, that's annoying, and we need to analyse why that keeps happening. All that is GOOD stuff.

Criticism is good.

But hate is not good. And that's what I see on the net when I look for discussion of female characters - so much hate that it gives me a visceral little shudder.

When you dislike a female character because you feel she is badly written, or unrealistic, or her unacceptable behaviour is sanctioned by her writer in the narrative, that's that. Those are your feelings, and they are valid. Share them. Talk about what is wrong with the character in your eyes. But why do you feel the need to label her a w**** and a b****? Why write reviews where you praise every male character in detail, adding that you just can't stand all the female ones in a footnote, as if it went without saying? Why start Tumblrs dedicated to enumerating each and every way that a female character is imperfect and tearing them down? Why are you so seethingly furious that the female characters took up narrative space that should have belonged to someone - anyone! - else that you must write fanfics in which they are judged and rejected by everyone they loved, and flung out into the snow, and then horribly die?

The way the debate about female characters is framed, the language that is used, the sheer intolerance and lack of interest in their existence, comes from a place of hate. Disturbing and unjustified hate, aimed at female characters NOT BECAUSE OF ANYTHING THEY HAVE DONE, but merely for being female. This is a problem. We all need to open our eyes and admit it exists - maybe even within ourselves - before it can begin to get better.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

THE NIGHT ITSELF UPDATES

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday. A few lovely updates about The Night Itself today. Over the weekend a number of lovely things showed up in my Google Alerts or my Twitter feed. Let's start with this picture of The Night Itself in the wild in Malaysia from the lovely Lynn:


So pretty! Cosying up to her sisters FrostFire and Shadows on the Moon, too, aw.

And then! I got this picture of my hot pink precious looking great in a Waterstone's in Amsterdam:


This one was from long-time blog reader and commentor Alex. Thank you, Alex!

But as exciting as these pics are, even they can't quite compare to the news I had on Saturday morning. It initially popped up, as I said, as a Google Alert. A mention of The Night Itself... in The Times? The TIMES? Me? When I looked it up, the article was behind a paywall:


Which predictably sent me frantic because Amanda Craig is a really famous children's books reviewer and I had no idea if this was a good or bad mention, argh, what was happening? It was barely eight in the morning, and I was looking after my father, which meant that I couldn't go charging out in search of a copy of the paper. The suspense was killing me.

I appealed to friends on Twitter and Facebook. Did anyone have a copy of The Times? What did it say? Was it good? Bad? Break it to me gently, please!

Thankfully two lovely friends popped up on Facebook almost immediately. One typed out selected quotes from her paper copy of the review - quotes that made my heart go Ba-THUMP -  while the other went and copied the full review from the online paper that she access to and came back to paste it into the FB thread for me. This is what it said: 
"The Japanese cartoon-style manga, and its gentler, more sophisticated cousin, anime film, continue to exert their fascination over the young teenager. Zoë Marriott, a rising star of fantasy fiction, has taken its tropes for an enjoyable and unusual trilogy, The Name of the Blade, of which The Night Itself is the inception.
Narrated by the half-Japanese Mio, a 15-year-old living in London, it has a magical sword at its heart. A priceless antique katana that once belonged to Mio’s grandfather, it has been hidden away in the attic until she borrows it for a fancy-dress party and releases both its supernatural powers and danger. Trained to fight, our heroine is better placed than many to grapple with the ancient evil unleashed on our capital — but even before she discovers her sword is sentient, she knows she’s brought the “Hidden One” out too soon.
Of course, there is a beautiful Japanese boy involved in it too — something seemingly demanded by all young adult fiction these days — woken from a state of suspended animation and a spirit realm into which she must pass to confront her worst nightmares. There is a sparky best friend, Jack, and Hikaru, their guide who “looks like Neo in The Matrix’s younger brother”, but with the small addition of a tail. When Mio and Jack are transformed into foxes, it’s only one twist in a blend of Japanese folklore and modern adventure that is cool, fast-paced and fun.
 

Best-known for her prizewinning debut The Swan Kingdom, Marriott is terrific at rebooting fairytales. Her descriptions of the natural world, her literary intelligence and her scared yet courageous heroines are excellent role models in the mould first devised by writers such as Tamora Pierce , make her a katana-cut above the rest."
 Oh. My. Goddess.

My first ever review in The Times, and it was from Amanda Craig, and it was... glowing. More than glowing. Amazing!

You can bet that as soon as my dad had finished his dialysis and safely tucked into his armchair with an omelette and a mug of tea, I hightailed it to the bus-stop and into town to pick up my very own copy of the Saturday Times. When I found one and leafed to the right page to see it for myself, I was so overjoyed that I ended up getting the attention of one of the sales assistants, who came and celebrated with me right there in the shop. Because it was even better than I'd realised. The Night Itself was The Times Children's Book of the Week!

(Note: Mio is actually British born Japanese, rather than half-Japanese, just in case anyone was confused).

So all in all, that was an excellent weekend for me :)

In other news, I'm still hard at work on the Darkness Hidden edits, and am hoping to get those back to my editor this week. I'm also working on yet another post about female characters, Feminism, and the language that people use to talk about girls in fiction, which (surprise surprise) may be controversial. If I can manage to make sense of that, you may see it on Thursday.

Read you later, guys!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

THE ENTITLEMENT ISSUE

Hello, my duckies! I hope you have all had a lovely weekend? Welcome back to the blog.

So, you might remember that a couple of months ago I did a post called Readers, Writers and Pirates in which I looked at the sense of entitlement that allows some readers to happily steal income from writers while still expecting the writers to continue producing books for them.

That post has a few paragraphs which list other ways some people act out their entitlement issues when it comes to the producers of their favourite content. When I was writing it, that section was a lot longer and looked at the tendency of some readers to personally attack authors in a bit more depth, but it wasn't driving the main point I wanted to make, so I cut it for clarity and length. But I did continue thinking about that and wondering if I should do a post which specifically addressed it.

Then a few weeks ago I woke up and found an unusual message from a Goodreads user in my inbox, and I was given further food for thought.

(I went back and forth with myself over whether to reproduce the whole of that message here, but I decided that wouldn't really be fair to the writer, or help with the debate I want to have. So I'll paraphrase and hopefully you will get the idea.)

The message opened by telling me that the writer had recently been made aware of something I had done (self-reviewing my book, The Night Itself, on Goodreads) which they felt showed me to be an *sshole. They'd read and loved two previous books of mine, and had 'respected' me, but now they were sickened by my pathetic behaviour and in response they would add my books to their 'sh*tlist'. They would never be a reader of mine again. They peppered the post with other swearwords and insults, but that was the gist of it. The message finished by sternly admonishing me that while I may have thought I was being 'funny', in fact I had done something 'disgraceful'.

Disgraceful. Let's all just take a moment to savour that, folks. This is probably the first time I've had the word 'disgraceful' aimed at me since middle school. Feels a bit like being in a Georgette Heyer novel, which actually makes me smile a little. But the use of the word tweaked a memory and got me thinking.

I have no idea who this person is. We've never interacted in any way at all, even online, as far as I'm aware. How often do you write letters to individuals in which you call them an *sshole? And how often do you do this to individuals you have never met, never spoken to before, whose lives and actions have literally zero effect on your life or actions? Bearing that in mind, doesn't the tone of this letter seem a little... strange?

The message assures me that this person is never going to read or buy any of my work again. But surely, having severed that connection between us, it makes even less sense to write to me and personally take me to task, like a maiden aunt berating an unruly member of their Sunday School Class? I don't want to assume I know what's in this person's head, but the tone of the letter seems to be implying that I should... care. Care what they - a complete stranger - think about my behaviour. Maybe even adjust said behaviour accordingly. They seem to think that as the author of a book they liked, I owe them something.

Now, this post isn't really about the message or the person who sent it. It's about the attitude it betrays - which is part of a larger issue. The Entitlement Issue. his manifests in various ways, which often sound something like:

  • I spent good money on this book, and now I feel author owes it to me to justify their opinions/writing decisions when I question them on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook. If they don't then they're being disrespectful to me and their other readers, who are responsible for their success.
  • I really liked this author's books until they wrote this story/scene/ending that doesn't fit with my expectations/hopes. Frankly, I feel they betrayed/conned me and all their readers.
  • I spent all this time reading this book by this author, and now the next book isn't coming out for ages. Why aren't they providing their readers with more content on a reasonable timescale? How dare they disrespect me and their other readers like that?
  • I love this author and their previous book/series, but now they're writing something way out there that doesn't seem like it's aimed at their fans at all. I don't know if they're showing off or just being contrary, but they're being disrespectful to the people that are responsible for their success.
  • I thought this author was a certain person, but now it turns out they haven't divulged full details about who they are/their history/their opinions, and now that I know The Truth it's clear their deception has defrauded their readers.
  • This author used to provide free stuff, now all of a sudden they expect their loyal readers, who have supported and encouraged them, to pay for their stuff. I'm disgusted!

The Entitlement Issue. Don't get me wrong. I can see how easy one of these attitudes (or all of them) might be to fall into. The other day I learned something about an author whose books I've very much enjoyed, and my first reaction was 'Damn, I liked her books so much. I thought she was better than that...'

Which is where reality slapped me in the face with an OH HELL NO. Expected her to be better than what, exactly? A person who writes books? That is all any author is - a person who writes books that I may or may not like. Just what was I expecting, other than that? I'd picked up and enjoyed this lady's books, sure, but that doesn't mean I know her, or have the right to expect her to act the way I would, or even in a way I like.

You see, this is the root of the G.R.R. Martin is Not Your Bitch problem. This is the root of why Charlene Harris received death threats for daring to finish the Sookie Stackhouse series (links in prev post). This is the root of why, when Stephenie Meyer said in a public interview that she was burned out on vampires, a whole slew of readers on a Twilight message board called *her* a disgrace (which is what tweaked my memory) and told her that she should be ashamed of herself for disrespecting her readers that way. It's the root of why my former reader, on deciding that they no longer wanted to read my books, felt entitled to write me an abusive email about it.

We - I'm talking about readers now - connect to books in such a real and vital way. We take those words inside us and make them real with our own feelings and memories and interpretations. And then, we go online to learn more and find an author's blog and Tumblr, and maybe trade a few comments or Tweets with them. They're funny! They RT links about social justice! Wow, it really does feel like we've made this amazing connection. Like we know this person, have an insight into their deepest selves. Oh my God, how wonderful!

But how perilous, too. Because it's an illusion. I'm the first person to say that you CAN form deep, meaningful relationships online, because a good percentage of my real life best friends are people that I first met online. However, that takes time, and asking questions, and having real conversations, and falling out, and making up, and being there for each other through rough times, and meeting in real life and STILL liking each other. Getting a smiley face reply from an author on Twitter is not the same thing.

Many writers care deeply about their readers. Many interact online with them, answer their letters, spend a lot of time addressing their concerns, answering questions, and offering free, extra content. I am one of those authors. I desperately want my readers to enjoy my work, and I get a warm, motivating glow everytime I find out that they have. There are some readers of mine who've been on this blog since day one, who I feel I know really well, and am very fond of.

BUT. Just because writers chose to give their time to readers this way, that doesn't mean the connection between writer and reader is a statutory right that comes with the purchase or borrowing of a book. The author's time and attention is not a gift with purchase. And it doesn't mean that they are beholden to their readers.

The other week we had the revelation that J.K. Rowling published her debut crime novel under a penname and a pseudonymous bio, that of Robert Gilbraith. In and amongst all the expected sour-grape carping there was disturbing vein of outrage over the fact that J.K. had dared to publish a book under a different name and not tell anyone.

This, said a vocal group of readers, was dishonest. How dare J.K. Rowling bamboozle potential readers by coming up with a fictional identity which was entirely different to her own? This 'fake' name and mendacious biography were inexusable chicanery; readers were owed honesty about the personality and history of the people who wrote the books they bought. They had lost all respect for J.K.R. in the wake of this shameless fraud.

If you are easily offended look away now, Dear Readers, because I have to say it: this is BULLSH*T.

Writers have been publishing work under pennames and made up biographies for hundreds of years. This was either to protect their identities in a time when taking up the pen was considered to be a slightly shady profession, or enable their writing to be assessed fairly on its merits instead of condemned *because* of the personality and history of its writer. Many, many, many female authors, including George Eliot and the Bronte sisters, published their work under male pseudonyms because they knew that it and they would otherwise get a critical savaging. And indeed, when Charlotte Bronte outed herself as a woman, the same critics who had praised Jane Eyre as an astonishing literary work previously immediately turned around and mauled it, decrying it as melodramatical and worthless romantic drivel - in exactly the way that the first one star reviews of The Cuckoo's Calling only started appearing on Amazon after Robert Gilbraith was ratted out.

Now, if you're reading a piece of non-fiction - a reference work published by someone whose credentials are vital to the credibility of the work, or perhaps an autobiography which purports to depict true events of the writer's life - then the life and history of the writer may well be relevant, although they may still chose to publish under a penname.

But when it comes to fiction, the life and history of the writer are none of the readers' business. The reader does not have the right to know anything about the writer. They do not have the right to know the truth about their life or history or qualifications or *anything*. You are buying a book! A work of fiction! You are not buying the writer. If I chose to change my biography tomorrow to say that my mother was a Russian Olympic wrestler and my father a Prima Ballerina who defected together and opened a cake-shop in New York, from whence I fled to join the circus at the age of twelve, and that I now divide my time between juggling bears and writing novels, exactly what would it change? It wouldn't affect the quality of my books, or how much anyone would enjoy them. Therefore, it doesn't matter.

But things like this *do* matter to some readers. They matter exactly because those readers do feel that when they buy (or borrow) a book and spend those hours enjoying this form of entertainment, they have also purchased something else, something intangible, from the writer. The author owes them something now. Honesty, loyalty, consideration, love or respect, or adherance to a certain moral code. Readers who think this way consciously or unconsciously believe reading a book and liking it makes the author of that book accountable to them. Personally.

People can write reviews, even write to me personally, all day long to tell me that they hate or disapprove of my books. That doesn't strike me as odd or make any alarm bells ring. But whether the author has written something you liked or disliked, by the time you pick the book up, they have already fulfilled their part of the bargain in the writer/reader exchange. You have a piece of entertainment, created by them, in your hand. That's all you're actually entitled to.

If an author's conduct disgusts you - as, for example, Orson Scott Card's homophobic ranting disgusts me and so many others - then go ahead and stop reading their books. Call them an *sshole on Twitter. Write a blogpost about it, make .gifs on Tumblr. Go to town! But don't be pretending that they have somehow let you down, personally, because you read and enjoyed their work and as a result they owed it to you to act in a way that you, personally, find acceptable.

The author doesn't owe readers the ending they wanted (especially since it would literally be impossible to give *everyone* their ideal ending). They don't owe readers apologies if the book didn't give them whatever they might have expected based on the cover and blurb. They don't owe explanations for the choices they made in writing that story about those characters. They don't owe readers a career in which they only write the exact same types of books forever. They don't owe readers the next book by a certain date, or free extras on their website, or ebooks that come out on the same date as the physical book at a slight discount, or simultaneous release dates for their book in whatever country the angry reader happens to be in.

Wrtiers are entitled to publish work under a penname. To take as long as they need to write a new book, or to write entirely different kinds of books. To stop writing books at all. To respond as a human being when they - not the content of their books! - get attacked. To not actually care what readers think of them personally, regardless of how many of their books the readers may have read or how much they liked them. Most especially if, despite this, the readers in question are rude or scary.
 
Writers are people. They can be hurt by you every bit as much as you can be hurt by them. Being published doesn't give them an impenetrable armour which allows rudeness and abuse to fly off. Writers just want to do their jobs, send their books out into the world, and hopefully make a decent living at it. Please do not allow your entitlement issues to either elevate them to the status of gods, or dash them down onto the rocks like disgraced idols.

When someone buys a book, they own it. And that's all. They do not own a piece of the author.

This is my two cents on the topic. What do you guys think? Am I wrong here - do writers owe readers more than just books? Let me know in the comments.

NOTE: Please, please, please, no personal attacks on the letter writer. You don't need to defend me. I just want to talk about the issue, OK? OK. By the same token, personal attacks on me or anyone else I like will be deleted so fast your head will spin, because this is my place and I Haz Teh Banhammer. Other than that, fly free, my children!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

InCreWriJul: Giveaway Winner!

Hello - and a million apologies, Dear Readers! I got my days completely mixed up and thought TODAY was Tuesday (and even then, this would have been a very late post). This is what edits does to my brain. Pity me and forgive me, duckies! Especially since today I'm doing my random number mojo to pick a winner for the InCreWriJul Giveaway. FREE STUFF!

If you remember, the terms were that the winner had to participate, and check in on the comments to each InCreWriJul post, from the 2nd to the 30th of July.

So I assigned a number to each person who had done that, fed all the numbers into the random number generator, and the winner is...

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CHERIE ROSEMIN!

Congratulations, Cherie!

The prize will be a brand new UK paperback copy of The Night Itself, which will be signed and dedicated for you, and customised with extra notes and some doodling, making it completely one of a kind. You'll also get some signed bookplates which you can stick in any books of mine that you already own, or might get in the future, and a selection of marvellous swag. Note: if you already have a copy of The Night Itself, you can pick any of my other books and it will get the same treatment :)

Get in touch via email at z d marriott (at) g mail (dot) com and let me know your postal address as soon as possible, and I'll send your prize your way.

See you on Thursday, my duckies, for a controversial post that I've been working on for some time...

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