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Category Archives: Privilege

Should Authors Respond to Reviews of Their Books

Quite randomly, I stumbled onto a web of posts and tweets detailing an incident of an author commenting on a review of one of their books, being taken to task for it, and then spending what I see as way too much time further entangling themselves in the resulting kerfluffle.  I won’t name this author, because I’m not posting clickbait.  I read both sides of the argument, and while I sided mostly with the reviewer whose space was invaded, I do think some of the nuance on both sides that was over-shadowed by this author’s bad behavior offers valuable insight into both review and more general netiquette.

First, I want to establish some premises:

  1. Posting to the internet is a public act.  That’s true if your post is public rather than on a private blog or Twitter account, say.  But it ignores the complexities of human social interaction.  If I’m having a chat with my friends at IHOP (Insert your franchise pseudo-diner of choice), we’re in public.  So it’s a public act.  But not quite!  If some random patron three tables down were to start commenting on our nastily engaging discussion of who should fuck who in the latest, greatest reverse harem anime, we would probably consider that quite rude.  In fact, we have lots of terms for that sort of thing: butting in, nosy, etc.  I think a valid analogy could be made for the internet.  Sure my Tweet stream is public, but as a nobody with no claim to fame or blue checkmark, it’d be quite a shock for the POTUS to retweet some comment of mine about the economy or the failings of the folks in Washington.  The line can be a bit blurrier if I run a popular but niche politics blog, or if I have a regional news show on the local Fox affiliate.  But just because you can read what I wrote doesn’t mean I expect, much less desire, a response from you.
  2. My blog/website is my (semi-)private space.  Yours is yours.  I own the platform, I decide the rules.  You can write whatever you want on your blog.  Your right to write whatever you want on mine is much less clear-cut.
  3. You have institutional authority over your own work.  While most authors may not feel like they have much power in the publishing world, as the “creator”, they have enormous implied power in the world of fandom and discussion of their own specific work, or maybe even someone else’s, if they’re well-known friends of Author X, say.  If I criticize the War in Vietnam or Iraq, and a four-star general comes knocking on my door the next day, you better fucking believe I’m gonna be uncomfortable.  An author may not have a battalion of tanks at their disposal, but they sure as hell have presence, possibly very intimidating presence if they are well-known in the industry or for throwing their weight around in fandom.

Given these basic premises which I hope I have elaborated on specifically enough, I have some conclusions about what I would consider good standard netiquette.  I won’t say “proper” because I have no authority in this area, nor does anyone, really, to back up such a wording.  But a “reasonable standard of” at least I can make logical arguments for.

  1. Say what you want on your own platform.  And you can even respond to what other people have said, especially if you are not an asshole and don’t name names of people who are not egregious offenders of social norms or who haven’t made ad hominem attacks.
  2. Respect people’s bubbles.  We have a concept of how close to stand to someone we’re in a discussion with in real life, for example, that can be a good metaphor for on what platforms we choose to respond.  Especially as regards critique, since responding to negative comments about oneself is something we know from past experience can be fraught with dangerous possibilities.  I would posit that a person’s private blog is reasonably considered part of their personal space.  A column on a widely-read news site might be considered more public,but then  you have to weigh the consideration of news of your bad behavior being far more public and spreading much faster.You should not enter it without a reasonable expectation of a good reception.  If there is a power imbalance between you and the individual whose space you wish to enter, we have rules for that.  real-world analogies.  For example, before you enter someone’s house you knock or ring the doorbell.  A nice email to the specified public contact email address asking if they would mind if you weighed in is a fairly innocuous way to open communications, and can save face on both sides by avoiding exposing one or the other to the possible embarrassment of being refused or the stress of refusing a local celebrity with no clear bad intentions.
  3. Assume permission is required unless otherwise explicitly  stated.  This one gets its own bullet point, because I think it’s the easiest way to avoid the most trouble.  A public pool you might enter without announcing your presence.  Would you walk into a stranger’s house without knocking? One would hope not.
  4. Question your reasons for engaging.  Nobody likes to be  called sexist.  Or racist.  Or shitty at doing their research.  Or bad at writing.  But reactionary  defenses against what could be construed as such an assertion do not in my mind justify an author wading into a fan discussion.  Or a reader discussion, if one considers “fan” as having too much baggage.  An incorrect narrative fact is likely  to be swiftly corrected by other readers or fans.  Libel or slander is probably best dealt with legally.  A reviewer is not your editor.  You should probably not be quizzing them for advice on how to improve your writing, or story-telling, or world-building.  Thanking a reviewer for a nice review might be best undertaken as a link on your own blog.  They’ll see the pingback, and can choose to engage or not.  At best, one might pop in to provide a link to their own blog where they provide answers  to questions raised in the post in question or a general discussion of the book they may wish to share with those who read the review.  But again, such a link would probably be best following a question on whether any engagement by the author might be appreciated.

Overall, I think I’ve suggested a good protocol for an author tojoin in fan or reader discussions without causing consternation or full on flame wars, and at a cost barely more than a couple minutes to shoot an email.

 
 

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Privilige and How it Affects Your Characters

I’ve been reading a lot about privilige lately, and I’ve always gotten that there are various kinds of privilige:  white privilige, class privilige, male privilige, heterosexual privilige.

But the concept of privilige is so much more wide-spread than that.

There are all sorts of little ways in which we judge people, and all of these involve privilige, sometimes they are tied into bigger chunks of privilige.  And sometimes it’s just this one little thing, and because you can’t tie it into a larger idea of privilige, you classify this person as less because of it.  There are all sorts of things that fall into this category.  Using a credit card at the store, writing a check, how to hug somebody properly.

And I know that if everyone in the world read my post, many of them would be saying:  “What do you mean ‘hugging somebody properly’?  You just hug them.  How could you not know how to hug someone?”  But hugging is a learned behavior.  You learned how to hug people during some period of time (if you have learned how to), likely when you were growing up.

And so when you go to hug your 21-year-old roommate, or girlfriend, or cousin, or friend, and they pull back, or are a limp fish, or manufacture some excuse not to hug you, just consider: maybe they don’t hate you, maybe they aren’t secretly angy, maybe they don’t not care about you, maybe they aren’t planning to break up with you, stop being friends, or whatever else.  Maybe they just didn’t grow up in a household where they learned how to hug.  Or maybe the reason they’ve never been in physical contact with you is because due to something in their life, they associate physical contact with negative feelings or treatment.

The same thing goes for writing a check, or making an appointment with a doctor, or anything else.  Maybe they didn’t get a bank account when they were sixteen to keep their birthday money, or their trustfund.  Maybe they don’t know how to call a doctor because they didn’t have money for medical care.  This person is probably already feeling awkward, or scared, or like shit, because they know they don’t know how to do this thing.  And they know how people are going to react.  I’m sure most people have seen this happen.  “How do you not know how to use a computer?”  “Anybody knows the “A” button means “yes”.  “How can you not work a dish-washer?”  “Dude, how hard is it to order a drink at the bar?”  “What?  You can’t read?  Are you stupid or something?”  “You can’t ride a horse?  What the fuck have you been doing with your life?”

Some of these things we already associate with privilige.  Some of them we feel are bigger problems, and desverve more sympathy.  But what they have in common is they are all learned behaviors.  Do you know why this person doesn’t know how to do that thing?  Because they didn’t have someone to teach them how.  You know how to do it because someone taught you, or you learned yourself.  But even if you did learn yourself, guess what?  This person is going through exactly what you went through:  watching other people do this thing while trying not to be too obvious, covering up the fact that they don’t know how and hoping they won’t be found out, feeling like shit because how dumb must they be to not be able to do something everyone else seems to know how to do, and knowing that if they are found out, that’s exactly the question other people are going to ask about them.

Now, I’m only here to preach at you a little bit.  I do actually have a writing-related point to this.  When you’re trying to figure out how a character would act in a given situation, or what they might reasonably know how to do, consider:  What skills would they be in a position to learn?  Did they cook the dinner in their house as a kid?  Did they have spending money?  Are they familiar with physical forms of affection?  If their parents don’t trust them with money, there’s a good chance they won’t know how to write a check or use a credit card.

Perhaps more relevant: How might they react to what other people can do?  What do they see as common life skills?  What do they see as a common reaction to a situation?  Someone who butchers their own animals for meat might see being scared of blood as weak and a personal failing.  Someone with rich parents and a trust fund might be surprised to find a friend doesn’t know how to pay with a credit card, or order in a fancy restaurant.  Someone with an old hand-me-down for a car might be curl their lip at a rich kid who needs a mechanic to check their oil.

All of those are pretty obvious examples.  But your characters will have specific set of prejudices and abilties, based on their background and social group and living situation.  And if these factors don’t match up with what your character actually knows or can do, I’m going to be very suspicious.  The same for if they are mysteriously blind to various forms of privilige when they shouldn’t be, or aware of them when their background doesn’t explain why.  And I’m going to wonder if maybe you as the author are blind to this privilige.  I’m unlikely to judge you personally for this, but I’m not going to have any sympathy when someone else calls you out.  Because as a writer, this is something I expect you to know.  Writers research all kinds of things during the course of writing a book, and privilige in all its forms is something you damn well better be aware of if you want to portray the real world accurately and fairly.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in atsiko, Authors, Character, Privilege, Writing

 

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