January 28th, 2009


The Low Times

In the writing and editing circles of the net, the majority of this morning's conversation is about the closure of Realms of Fantasy. John Updike died too, but no one seems particularly concerned over this.

I figure the Updike is due, in part, to a lot of people not gelling with his work. Personally, it left me cold--I tried reading his Rabbit series a while back, but just couldn't get into it. I briefly considered reading his book from the point of view of an Islamic terrorist, but just couldn't find the energy for more post 9-11 American literature.

The news of Realms of Fantasy, however, is of slightly more interest not because I read it--I didn't, and in fact, you couldn't easily find it here--but because it can be taken as a sign of the economic situation currently going through the West. Last week I caught up with Cat Sparks (catsparx) and we talked a bit about how the next couple of years were going to be slow. Less cash, less opportunities, things like that. Things like the Realms of Fantasy closure, no matter if it is connected to it or not, feed into that feeling you have, just as the lay offs of editors and the such in big publishing houses do too. Local wise, there's not much in the way of anthologies and presses, and you hear stories of the dealers room being empty of people wanting to buy stuff. Part of that, I think, is the nature of the small press scene here. It has, near as I can tell, a ten year cycle, and we're at the end of that cycle now, where the presses and authors shuffle into a quiet year or two before there's a resurgence. In that time, new folk will emerge, old folk will disappear, and the same arguments about awards and inbred reading circles will come back and result in no change whatsoever. I don't quite remember if the phase at the end of the nineties fed into an economic downturn, but if it didn't, it's of no real concern: what is happening now is a turn down, and it's impacting the literature scene, and it'll make things harder for everyone.

I like to think I've got a fairly even handed opinion of what to do for myself during this time, opinions contained within the local scene in WA being ignored. A lot of the economics of being a writer is similar to running your own small business and, when you're starting out (no matter how long that period takes), you just have to be willing to live through the lean times. Things pick up, things move, you just keep going, find ways to do different things, find ways to get by. If you get a bit of cash you set it aside so you'll be covered for when it dries up. You try not to blow everything the moment it arises and you have to be prepared to be skint in patches when its bad. So long, really, as you keep the belief that it'll pick up and you'll be bringing cash in, I reckon you'll do fine.

Of course, you might want to take a look at my current situation in life before you go building me a statue and claiming that I'm your messiah after reading this.


More 26Lies

Some people will claim that last week brought controversy.

Personally, I thought it was a little blown out of proportion. Responses ranged from Robin Pen's 'The Ballad of Ben and Russ', in which generated such things as myself being likened to Aleister Crowely; it's funny, but on the other hand... And there were posts from people such as Shane Cummings who wrote:

There are good reviews, there are bad reviews, and there are reviews somewhere in the middle. Reviews vary, and in my opinion, most of the Australian SF reviews could be more polished and insightful, but that's not really the point. Published writers create work for the public domain, for better or worse. Your readers will praise or criticise, and as I've discovered from reading negative reviews of work I've loved or when selecting awards shortlists and disagreeing quite wildly with fellow judges, people's opinions just can't be fathomed, at times. It's what makes life interesting.

But here's the thing, and writers take note: if you allow your personal neuroses to spill out into a hissy fit/flame war against a reviewer, then editors will not want to work with you and reviewers will no longer wish to review your work. Editors and reviewers have long memories. Writers might think, "fuck 'em, it's just one editor/market" but it's more than that. Editors talk, editors remember. Editors have friends and colleagues and they all talk.

He also finished by saying, "opportunities drying up for some of the more vocal/head-fucked authors going around. Give 'em enough rope...." In response to my post, Grant Watson said, "The critic/reviewer has a job. They are going to read your work, and write whether or not they liked it. You don't interfere with their job. You don't usually complain if they like your work, so why the fuck would you complain if they don't? That isn't cool. That doesn't come across like the intelligent author debating their work with some hack critic. It makes you look like a sad, petulant child who can't take criticism." On my blog, he also added:

You have an alarming tendency to try and make everything about you, as if you're some kind of bad boy of Australian science fiction, when in fact you're arguing yourself into irrelevance. If you want to be a professional writer, start behaving in a professional manner. If you don't feel Russell is reviewing in a professional manner, then leave him to work that out or simply to have his readers abandon him in droves - just like a lot of potential readers may be abandoning you by the way you sometimes act here. Look at the way you treated Jonathan Strahan in your webcomic, for fuck's sake.

That bad boy thing has been thrown at me for ages.

Tansy Rayner Roberts, who ran the risk of being tarred as someone like me, responded to it all and said,

It's all in the execution. Some authors are able to respond to criticism in an interesting, thoughtful way that offers respect to the reviewers and adds an extra layer of dialogue. [info]margolanagan is one who regularly publishes snippets of all her reviews, good or bad, and analyses them in an entertaining manner. Her snarky, self-deprecating meta-commentary is one of my favourite things about her blog, and I love that when she does poke fun at reviews, there's a 50-50 chance it may be a positive or a negative one. Considering the amount of noise that tends to surround Margo's work these days, it's rather nice to have her there, poking holes in the pomp on a regular basis. I'm sure some of you out there can think of other examples of authors who do much the same thing. I'm normally bored to tears by blog entries that are nothing but reprints of positive reviews and blurbs - Margo does something a bit different with it, and I really respect that.

Of course, after that, Alisa Krasonstein said that she found Margo Lanagan's poking fun might be entertaining, but "[doesn't] always find it appropriate and she (Lanagan) often looks like she thinks she is smarter than everyone else in a condescending way." Which just proves that you can't please anyone. Of course, there was more round, but you can't go on linking this shit for everyone, and lets face it, the fact that it seems to have blown out of proportion--and that I can simply link more words written in response than to begin with--kind've shows how touchy people can get.

But you know what?

I win.

Because out of all this nothing, all the good and bad opinions, out of all the people who wish me ill, wish me well--those people aren't connected to the local scene, I might add--all those who agree and disagree, out of all this... Mondyboy actually went and read the book:

What with the recent controversy regarding this review of twenty-six lies/one truth, I thought I'd actually read the book and review it. That's the thing about controversy, it creates publicity and sometimes gets people off their arses and reading so they can make up their own minds.

There's something a bit detached abou 26 lies. I thought it would be angrier. I'm not sure entirely why. Maybe because I imagine Ben to be an angry man, gnashing his teeth at what he considers to be an unfair world. But that image of Ben is more my weird fantasy and has no basis in the real world. It's certainly not evident on his blog. I mean, he's obviously a bloke who likes to state an opinion. But even his rantings have a sort of detached style. As if he believes it doesn't matter in the slightest what he thinks or writes - no one is going to take him seriously anyway.

And that's a little bit how I felt reading 26 lies. I'd call it apathetic writing. Except that's sounds pejorative and that's not what I'm aiming for. There's something detached about the book. A little bit cynical as well - but that's not the main ingredient. If I had to put a finger on it I'd say world weary. As if Ben, a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met anybody, has become completely desensitized to his existence.

What I'm trying to say is that the book lacks intensity. That doesn't mean it isn't good. The writing is very good indeed. The little snippets about authors who have lied - pretending to be someone who they're not - are genuinely interesting. I even learnt what Factotum meant. But, whether the extracts of his life are true or not, I was hoping to engage with Ben, or at least the person represented in the book. Even his relationship with his girlfriend in Brisbane (the one bit that's probably false, but who knows) lacks punch. I didn't really care. The arguments - presented as lines of speech - are just that, arguments. There's some good stuff in there. But nothing I could hang my emotional hat on.

That said, some of the passages are simply superb and quite funny. Ben's writing shines when he talks about the things he genuinely loves, such as his adoration for Octavia Butler. I also really enjoyed the segments on Bukowski... and now I have a yearning to pick up some Bukowski for myself. In fact, the bright little snippets re-assure the reader that Ben isn't entirely dead on the inside. His still yearns for the things he loves. They just may not be the same things that you love.

Ben's also quite happy to throw around his opinion. And that's cool. I don't agree with him on a number of issues. Especially the bit about Nationalism. But even when I didn't agree with him I couldn't help but nod my head after reading Ben's thought on a particular issue. Also his section on Censorship and how stupid it is, is spot on. I liked his bit on sanctity as well.

Overall 26 lies is the sort of ambitious, clever book that's always worth reading even if it doesn't entirely succeed. While I didn't engage with Ben the character in the book, I never felt bored reading about his life. Not that the book ever dwells on one subject long enough to ever be boring. And the thing is, after finishing the book I felt I'd learnt a number of new things and felt inspired enough to check out the work of a number of writers who I'd never bothered with before. So on that level the book was a success.

So, yes, I do recommend 26 lies. The writing is strong, if a bit detached. And the subject matter is interesting, if a bit matter of fact. But it's obviously the work of a very talented author.

Have yourself a shiny day, all.