Book Burning: Now Available Digitally

So by now, if you’ve got your focus enough on the book industry that you’ve got a decent feel for the pulse, you’ve probably heard a little about Amélie Wen Zhao. If not, well, here’s the basics of it.

Zhao was one of those individuals who wanted to be an author. So she worked hard, polished her craft, wrote a trilogy, and with a little (okay, a lot, it’s publishing) luck, got a publisher to bite for her first trilogy.

Note that I used the word “was” rather than “is” in that paragraph. That’s because Zhao no longer is. Why? Well, because the “eternally socially conscious” crowd descended upon her before her books had even been released, slamming her with one-star reviews and accusations of racism to the extent that she contacted her publisher and asked to please cancel the publication.

Why? What grave crime did this woman commit that could see her so hounded that she asked her publisher to cancel everything? Everything, mind, on the first of three books, which had already made it as an ARC to early reviewers where the feedback was averaging four out of five stars, no mean feat for a first release? What sort of horrible, socially unjust thing was she doing?

Actually it was two things. One was that she dared write a book where oppression was not based on skin color, but on something else. And, as one one-star Goodreads review put it, that ‘is just bad.’ Because clearly all oppression should be based on skin color, apparently. How dare Zhao write about people finding other ways to oppress people?

But second? She wrote about slavery, and she is not Black. Yes, you read that right. She was attacked for writing a book that had slavery in it because she’s Asian, and as such should not be allowed to write about slavery. Because clearly China  never had slavery or anything like that.

So yeah. In the face of mass harassment from these “socially minded” individuals (and sadly, even other authors), Zhao pulled her book, issued an apology, and backed out.

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When Did Ethnicity and Sex Become the Most Important Thing?

Bear with me for a moment, and take a look at these few excerpts from a book review I read this morning, posted on a fantasy review blog (which you can find here, though I’m loathe to give them a link after perusing the site since it’s a little messed up). I’d been poking around the place since they are a participating member of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, a contest between 300 different self-published fantasy books, and Unusual Events is one of those titles. This site is the one that will be handling Unusual Events review.

I’m not sure how I feel about that now. In fact, I may request to have it passed to another site, since I’m pretty sure I can already see how its going to go. Because I’ve been reading their other reviews, and I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Let’s look at some quotes:

Otherbound is that last sort of book.

I’m fairly certain I discovered it on Tumblr, recommended by one of those blogs which include lists of books that are commendable for their diversity.

Okay, that’s … interesting. A little background on the title. I guess that’s important? Let’s see what happens if we go further.

… fantasy novels are written by and about (and quite possibly for) white men who like running around with swords saving the world.

Uh-oh. Okay. Sensing a theme here, but—

As I said, it’s an incredible story, and honestly, I’d probably have loved the book even if both of the leads were white and straight.

Wait, what?

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Being a Better Writer: On Writing About Race

Oh boy.

Yep, this post had to come at some point or another. Given the charged climate of “PC” these days (that’s “political correctness,” not “Personal Computer,” sadly) days, this topic is one that’s come up again and again in writing. Online, offline … just about everywhere.

It’s also charged enough that simply based on the title of the post alone, I can already expect that there are angry comments being written to tell me how “wrong” I am … despite the title being the only thing those commentators will read.

Yeah, there’s a reason I’ve been okay with putting off this post for so long. It’s a charged topic, one that incites a lot of anger and rage from a lot of people.

That in mind though … it’s something that needs to be talked about if you’re going to write. In part because we can’t ignore it. That old adage about there being some readers who will never be happy? The concept of race is one area where there are definitely going to be people who are going to live up to that creed. No matter what you do, you’re going to do something wrong. Well, not really (though there are things you can do wrong). More like, … some readers are going to choose to see something wrong no matter what you do. They’re not interested in logic and reason. And they’re out there. They will make what you write “wrong” no matter what you do, because they can.

So what can you do in that case? Sure, you can’t please them … but you can make sure that what you’ve written is well-written enough that others will look at those complaints with a little bit of logic and go “No, I don’t see it.”

Right. So it’s a bit like writing anything else then. There are always going to be people that are unhappy. You can’t control that. What you can do,  however, is make sure that for the readers left, you’ve written something good. And now … we’re going to talk about that in the context of one of the most (in America) politically charged topics there is: race in stories and writing.

Here we go.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Descriptions

This post was originally written and posted November 17th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s topic inspired was by a bit of a firestorm I saw with regards to a story that someone had written. And while the firestorm in question will definitely not be the subject of today’s post, nor do I wish to get into that as it is nearly an entirely separate topic, today’s topic will brush up against it for a brief moment.

Today, I’m going to talk about character descriptions.

Character descriptions are something that every new writer struggles with, and often many somewhat experienced writers as well. Because when we get right down to it, character descriptions fall into one of those writing areas where no one teaches you how to do it, and everyone assumes that it’s fairly straightforward and to the point. “You shouldn’t need to be taught about this,” the public mindset seems to say. “How hard can it be? You just describe your character!”

Well, as it turns out, and as most new writers discover when they put their pencil to paper for the first time, describing your characters is much more difficult than it appears. It’s hard. Many writers, in a fit of panic (or without realizing it), will simply throw out a narrated description of basic looks—eye color, hair, figure, etc—and then just jump right into the story, without realizing how jarring and unappealing to the reader such a description is. Only upon going back do most of them realize how truly unappealing it is for a story to start off with “Bob was Asian, five-foot-seven-inches, with brown hair and brown eyes … etc, etc.” Only when they do realize how unappealing it is does the real panic set in, when they realize that they have no idea how to do any differently.

Which is why I’m talking about this today. Because to many readers, how you describe a character can be a make-or-break point for the entire book. Young writers don’t quite realize how important something as simple as a character description can be to the reader’s acceptance of a work. Plenty a time has been the moment when a reader has picked up a book, read only a few paragraphs, run across a poor character description, and put the book back on the shelf. Why? Because even if they don’t consciously realize it, a poor character description is often an indicator of other problems with the book, be they weakness of story, poor attention to detail, or just in general a low-quality read.

Yikes. Suddenly the amount and care for detail you put into your character description takes on a whole new level of importance, doesn’t it? It might not just be something that’s a nice part of your work, it’s something that the very reading of your work may hinge upon.

Kind of makes it important to get right.

So, where do you start? How do you go about making sure that your character description is going to be something that keeps your reader flipping through your pages? Well, to start, you’re going to need to know a few things about your work.

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