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The Importance of Diversity

The great lie that old writers tell new writers is that your work is not you. Don't take criticism personally.

Here's the truth:

Authors take it personally. A generalised statement, but one that is, more often than not, true. Authors take it personally for a number of reasons. Some are just fragile care bears who need to be kept in a fenced area and patted. Others just never got used to hearing a bad thing about themselves. Even more are just desperately trying to make a living. A bad review--whether the following is true or not--will be seen to impact on that. Other authors are trying to start a career. Behind each author is a new generation, a new group of men and women, each trying to be an artist, to make a living telling their tales, and you're aware of it. There's a finite number of positions available for authors who want to make a living from their work. Criticism, the first stop in having your work out in the public, can be often seen as a measure of success or failure.

I don't really care about the opinions of authors in relation to criticism. I'm sympathetic to some of it, but at the end of the day, I believe criticism is its own form of writing, with it's own audience and that audience is not meant to be author of the book under discussion. I have an academic background and I like writing criticism. The work is best when it's engaging, when it is meant to be as funny and cruel and loving as it should be for my voice, for I have my own critical voice. It exists next to my fictional voice.

I don't use it much publicly anymore, however, because the former was stopping the latter, and fiction is more important to me. On his blog, Ian Mond (mondyboy) draws a line between the recent Christopher Priest comments on the Arthur C. Clarke award, and my time spent writing about the Aurealis Awards. "A few years back we did have our very own Chris Priest dissecting the Aurealis Awards. Ben Peek* spent two years commenting on each category.** His critiques were honest and harsh and weren’t necessarily met with smiles and congratulatory boxes of chocolate. It probably didn’t help that he also mocked the award and those involved on his LJ. Peek was also a lone voice and so when he decided not to bother anymore… well that’s when the crickets and tumbleweeds took residence."

I got tired of the personal abuse. There wasn't any engagement with it critically. There was either agreement or abuse, and the latter was pretty direct. I got tired of meeting people and having them think that they knew everything about me. I got tired of the fact that some people weren't nice when we met.

I didn't like that doors were closed to my writing.

I didn't like the fact that people could say to me, "You won't sell in Australia."

Now, in regards to Christopher Priest's post, there's nothing wrong with it. He didn't like something, he wrote a response to it, and in places it's funny, and in places, it makes a point about the literature on show. There are lots of problems in the world. Lots of real world issues, from war to starving children. The opinion of an author on an awards list is pretty tiny and it doesn't hurt anyone. It is an opinion. It offers alternative books. It makes some criticisms. It only drops the ball at the end, when Priest talks about the awards being canceled, because at that point, it's stopping an alternate view from co-existing beside his. It doesn't stop the alternate view from existing, but Priest would like it to die. He should just let that go. On the same level that there's nothing wrong with Priest's post, there's nothing wrong with the nomination list. It's a statement, you either agree with it, or you don't. That's it. At the end of the day, at the beginning of it, that's it.

In many ways, Priest's post is good. A diversity of opinions reveals a strength in a scene, and a range of opinions of what awards should and should not celebrate is part of that. Take a step back from it being personal and celebrate it.

Because the other side of it is here, in Mond's post, in Australia: "What’s interesting is how little commentary there’s been on the short list from Australian critics and writers, including me. Theres been no claims that the judges for each section were incompetent or that the awards should be canceled this year or that one of the books might have been written by a piss-soaked internet puppy. Instead we get some people note that the awards have been announced, the odd pat on the back to friends and colleagues and… well… that’s about it."

He later goes on to discuss how he has not read much of the list. There's been a bit of that going round. People asking what was the last Australian book they read. When was it bought. The results have been pretty predicable, but then, what do you expect?

Australian speculative fiction does not encourage diverse voices.


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Apr. 2nd, 2012 03:52 am (UTC)
Priest made an interesting follow up comment at Scalzi's blog where he outlined the position he was in re: his career, and basically why it was he could afford to say the things that he did, in the way that he said them.

And I really appreciated Catherynne Valente's follow up where she talked about how she could not have said the same things, had she wanted to, without inviting a ton of abuse down on to her head.

Apr. 2nd, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
yeah, i saw valente's post. i could appreciate it.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 07:39 am (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2012 08:38 am (UTC)
Well said, old firebrand...
Apr. 3rd, 2012 03:09 am (UTC)

it's true, isn't it? i'm old hat, now. it's why people miss me.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 11:03 am (UTC)
Thing is, I don't think the scene reads the voices so what does it matter if they are diverse or not?
Apr. 2nd, 2012 11:20 am (UTC)
it's true. i don't think they do anymore, either. i remember at the start of doing criticism how i thought i was going to be writing for peoople other than writers, and i did, but the larger audience was writers, and they, as perhaps they should, have a vested interest in both what they look for and want.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
Priest's post was a good, fun bit of writing. As a reader of sf I appreciated it. It's a stagnant, gutless field in many ways, when a relatively straight up thriller like The Windup Girl can be hailed as a seminal work.

I wasn't familiar with most of the shortlist, but I would upvote his criticism of Mieville, who has definitely been doing less than he should with his recent works, including Embassytown. Ideally he'd take more time and produce better books.
Apr. 2nd, 2012 11:42 pm (UTC)
yeah, i thought his criticism of mieville was fair enough, though i should be honest and say i haven't read embassytown.

in many ways, i think as a scene as a whole, sf has just become less and less about risks.
Apr. 3rd, 2012 11:50 pm (UTC)
Never mind the risks, feel the width!
Apr. 2nd, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
I don't think diverse voices, where some of those voices are harsh and critical, is ever particularly welcome when they come from authors inside the scene, and since we don't have many critics who are not fiction authors, that's who comments on works, and you end up with a community, and not just an Australian one, where voices that have anything negative to say are shouted down or hounded into giving up. Noted critics have received actual death threats for suggesting A Song of Ice and Fire is sexist on their blogs. We do not like diversity if it means that something we like might be attacked.

And thus, the conversation is not robust, and one single post saying an award ballot wasn't good is The Topic of discussion--because who else is dissenting?

PS Yes, he could have been less of a dick about it. But people love reading a dick. (Not a bitch, of course. That's different!) And the dickishness is part of what's getting people talking.

Edited at 2012-04-02 10:08 pm (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
yeah, the fact that the harsh voices come from within is not the best way for it. it's probably not going to change, either, and i think part of that is how new critical voices come through to the scene, and that's through the media fandom, or as fans of particular things. there's nothing wrong with that--it's actually good for the majority, but i do think then that when you look for actual diverse criticism, the vast array of people who first step into this scene because of a love and enjoyment aren't looking to do that. at least, that's this mornings thought on it, vague as it may be.

as for dick and bitch, i dunno. i like both. but then i'm that rare, special sort, and this is why someone will eventually build a statue of me with both genitalia ;)
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