Trashy Books And Low Reads

Every one of us knows exactly what trashy books are, don’t we?  Whatever it is we hate to read.  This is the flaw behind gatekeepers and the problem with letting someone act as arbiter of universal taste.

There are objective ways to judge things like academic writing.  (Yes, it’s been gamed and twisted, but there are still objective ways.)  Does the research have good foundation?  Does it accord with how the world in general behaves/what we know about the subject and time period?  Are the cites in place and are they valid?  Neutral gatekeepers who know the subject can be employed in those.

The problem is extending that to fiction and creative non fiction.  Why is that a problem?  Because fiction (and creative non fiction) writing is done to be enjoyed.  The ultimate judgment on whether it’s “good” or no, whether it succeeds or fails is “does it entertain people?  Do they want to spend time reading it?”

For that I’d be at a loss to come up with a universal measuring stick.  Look – I can’t imagine a worse punishment than being subjected to “The Voice” but my husband watches it for entertainment.  You’d have to put needles under my fingernails to get me to voluntarily sit still for Two And A Half Men – but people ENJOY it.

You probably would have to light a fire under my bottom and threaten not to put it out till I read the d*mn thing to get me to read Fifty Shades.  Even then, I guarantee I’d skim.

The last issue of a particular popular fiction magazine I read was 10 years ago.  I read it and realized I felt vaguely nauseated and needed to drink several bottles of wine to erase the experience from my mind.  After that I let my subscription drop.  They still exist and are at least treading water, so clearly my tastes are not universal.  (Who knew?)

I’m not picking on the commenter who picked on furries and slash – weirdly – truly.  Although I have friends who write both (and some furs among my friends too) I will admit the genres attract any number of the semi-literate.  This is because – I think – its writership (totally a word.  Trust me.) trends young, which means it serves as the training wheel grounds for a lot of folk who go on to write a lot of better stuff.  (Which among us would want our early efforts submitted to the cold light of day?)

OTOH though I don’t dedicatedly read either, I have read some now and then because a friend recommends something (not slash but for the longest time all younger boy read/wrote was Harry Potter fanfic, so I’d get recommends), and I have to tell you while the percentage of cr*p might be slightly higher than in other genres (say 95% as opposed to 90%) there are gems in the muck and some of it is very good and of very high quality.  And, trust me, as weird as some of it is, there are authors you – or at least me – can get hooked on, because the storytelling art is so GOOD.

However, my commenter’s perception is very common, because when people who are not “into” some genre or subgenre dip into, what they’re likely to meet with first is OMG awful.  Law of averages.

For instance, if you don’t read romance go to the store and pick up ten books at random – and these are gatekept (of course it’s a word.  Look, yes, I lie for a living, but you’re not paying me.  I don’t volunteer-lie)  – and you’re likely to walk away swearing off romance forever.  OTOH, get a recommendation from a friend who also reads whatever you like, and who likes the same sort of books you do, and you might find a new author.

The reason I’m writing this, though, is that there is another hurdle and one that could make you recoil from a new field of reading – or might mean it’s never your favorite anyway – but is no reason to judge the whole field as unworthy.

This came up – sideways and backwards – in a discussion with a friend about specifically romance (actually I don’t think he was discussing romance.  I think I just took off down that side path all by my lonesome self.  I do that.)  Let’s say we were discussing set pieces in mystery and the fact that stereotypes are used and it’s not very realistic came up.  And then I took off into “genre conventions” which led me into romance.  (I think I’ve been arguing with myself for the last six messages, because he has a day job and stuff.)

Romance came to my mind because it was the last genre I found.  Meaning, I grew up reading historical, mystery literary classics and literary (It’s a genre.  No, really.  It has conventions of writing like the other genres and it has to fit them to belong there.  It’s not a judgment of quality, just of “does it fit this?”  “Literary classics” are different because it’s have they stood the test of time or not? But the stuff written now and labeled “literary” is just a genre.) because of dad.  I grew up reading science fiction, popular science, popular history and mindboggling philosophical treatises because my brother did.  I read Westerns because my sister/cousin (she was raised with us) read them.

She also read romances but Portuguese Romances are different.  (Well, were in those days.)  They seemed to be patterned on the Fados, so that the perfect romance the guy died in a horrible manner and she mourned him her whole life.  Say, Romeo and Juliet if Juliet survived.  (Though their both dying was an acceptable HEA [happily ever after, for the non romance initiated].)

I read these, because I read EVERYTHING (though it took me till sixteen to discover children’s books, but that’s a long story) including the paper, any forms anyone brought home, the back of detergent bottles, and instructions for how to repair machines we didn’t own.  When my cousins and brother studied for their college entrance exams, I read everything they brought home leading to the conclusion that were it possible and had I known the math [so, beyond the general knowledge] I could have entered engineering at 10.)

But I found the Portuguese style romances very boring.  The hero was likely to be a bullfighter, which was weird, because bullfighting isn’t even that prevalent in Portugal except in the South.  And you knew he’d die in the end.

Moving here added another layer.  Whoa!  Romances where they survive?  What will they think of next?

So for the longest time, when I needed to make a joke about a genre, I used Romance.  (This works well at sf cons.  Yeah, I know.)

A brief attempt to dip into the field at the height of the time-traveling romance made things worse.  I mean, time-traveling involves sf, (or fantasy) so you know, they’re putting their toe in my field.   The sheer lack of logic drove me insane.  No, I’m sorry, the logical response to a 9th century Viking appearing in my shower is for me to squirt shampoo in his eyes then run like hell (or steal his ax and behead him.)  It is not to get it on with him, hot and heavy.  And, I’m sorry, but just because you studied the linguistics of Scandinavian languages, you will NOT be able to converse fluently with this guy.  (And yes, that’s what they said, not that she spoke fluent Norwegian or whatever.  It’s possible she might have been able to cobble together a conversation in the second case.  I don’t know how evolved Scandinavian languages are – i.e. how much they changed.  It’s not my area of expertise.  If you spoke decent French and Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, you stood a chance of understanding a Portuguese or Spaniard of that era.  BUT probably not a Frenchman because they have a more ‘evolved’ language – and a ton now dead dialects.)  And no, for the love of Heinlein – I don’t care how smitten you are with your medieval knight, you really don’t want to go back and live with him there, and raise your babies in a place where infant mortality is 90%.  BUT if you absolutely MUST do it, why would you take back your tape player and your tapes.  WHAT do you plan to use for electricity?

So, I dipped my toe into time travel romance, and ran screaming in the other direction, waving my hands and screaming “bad, bad, bad, bad.”

I didn’t read romance again until Dave Freer – whom I owe a huge karmic debt – MADE me read Heyer.  In this, he beat my publisher, Toni Weisskopf by six months, though she made me read the ones I’d neglected, and then told me to diagram them.  (Do other people’s publishers give them homework?  Never mind.  I owe her a – huge – karmic debt, as well.)

Georgette Heyer gave me my “entry” into romance.  She was one of those writers so masterful and assured that you swallowed the most improbable things and kept on reading, and by the time you were done you were acquainted with the conventions of the field and could branch out into minor writers, and know when something was bad because the writer sucked or because it’s a “field convention.”

And it took me reading some of those minor writers to figure that some things WERE field conventions and you read around them, instead of taking them seriously.

So – four pages in I get to the meat of this: each field has conventions.  These are things – usually minor, sometimes huge – that wouldn’t work that way in real life, at any time.  Like… oh, you know the minute the guy kisses you that you’re going to love him forever.  Like, the suspect in the murder just happens to unwittingly give you the key thing you need at that moment; like, whatever the technology is that just made telepathy possible is not going to affect writing or reading or shopping or…  (Look guys, imagine someone writing the computer revolution.  Do you see them thinking of writing?  Education? News? As the fields first affected?  Nope.  It would be data or statistics or machine production or…)

These conventions come in to circumvent minor things that would otherwise get in the way of telling the main story – i.e. what the reader is there for.  In romance, for instance, the reader wants to know who the leads are so he can follow the progression of the romance.  So to have her know he’s the one the first time they kiss (or they look into each other’s eyes.  No, really.) saves time and gets the reader where he wants to be.

But a reader looking for a modicum of realism will go “Oh, that’s just wrong.”  And not everyone has the authorial voice and humor of a Georgette Heyer to slide it past the readers.

(This, btw, is why you should read in the field you write.  Chances are you readers read there too, and if you don’t know the conventions you’ll miscue.)

Does this mean that there isn’t real trash?  Well, define trash.

To me 90% of what’s out there is trash – in any field.  But I’m not only a power reader, but also a writer.  This means that I’m likely to have read the hackneyed plot twist before.  AND I’m likely to know how to fake that powerful ending too.  So…  It’s sort of like a busman’s holiday.  Things will annoy me that annoy no other person on Earth.  Which means I judge a lot of things harshly.  BUT I’ve learned not to share that judgment and not to condemn an entire genre.  (Not even mommy porn – NOT my cup of tea, but I’m not going to say someone won’t come along who’ll write it in a way I’ll read it.)

Normally all gatekeepers are doing is imposing their taste on what other people can/should see.  And they succeed about as well as I would.

So, don’t judge fields you don’t know anything about.  Read fields before you write in them.  And don’t judge your stuff too – this is why we have beta readers.  You are a writer and see the inside wiring of things.  Just because something seems to obvious and belabored to you, it doesn’t mean it won’t delight readers.  Get someone else’s opinion or, if that fails, put it out under a pen name.  Be prepared for that pen name to become a bestseller before you.

Strive to be the best according to your lights.  Let the chips fall where they may.

UPDATE: My — different — post is up on Mad Genius Club:  Some Advice to Avoid–  Squirrel!

246 responses to “Trashy Books And Low Reads

  1. Martin L. Shoemaker

    Two of my favorite movies are “Hudson Hawk” and “Howard the Duck”. I’m in no position to judge anyone’s tastes. “Trash” as a pejorative applied to entertainment indicates snobbery and self delusion.

    Side note: I may have mentioned this before, but Murray Leinster pretty much predicted the Internet (including its drawbacks) back in the 40s in “A Logic Named Joe”. Sometimes we get lucky. (Now where is my flying car?)

    • Hudson Hawk is one of our go-to movies (hubby and I) to pull ourselves out of a funk. It was several years after I saw that movie that I saw what the critics had to say– BAD CRITICS. They considered it a serious movie whereas I saw it as a comedy.

      • Hudson Hawk is a great flick! And so is Oscar. I don’t know what the heck kind of downer-juice the critics were drinking when they put those movies down.

        Howard the Duck is okay. It’s sort of Lucas’ farewell to himself.

  2. Does this mean that there isn’t real trash? Well, define trash.

    I’m tempted to go with the “I know it when I see it” formulation, but I think a working definition of trash would be stories that are just plain badly (or terribly) written, the kind where a savvy reader who normally likes that genre will throw the book (or manuscript) against the wall and look for the next one.

    Examples galore can be found in your nearest slush pile.

    • Or in the trunk of an author who knows that publishing is just too stodgy to handle his bold vision.

    • Yes, that works. (Hey, I’ve done my years in slush.) Though even there, after a while, you’re throwing back things because you can and you’re over-sensitive to typos.

    • Actually, sometimes the savvy reader knows it’s trash, but someone else really enjoys it. I had to make nice faces when someone was gushing about the DragonLance series, as so original. (Okay, so Kender were kind of amusing. And Gully Dwarves. And I will admit the “OH CRAP FIREBALL IN A 10×10 ROOM TAKE COVER” scene was funny…)

      But it was apparently the first accessible fantasy she’d picked up, so every painfully-obvious-but-competently-executed plot twist was new and shiny!

  3. Speaking of finding treasure in really weird places . . .

    My kids like watching two fan based radio shows on YouTube (and yes, in another era [any other era] the previous sentence would make no sense) based on My Little Pony/Doctor Who crossovers. And both series are excellent, with fun and interesting story lines, excellent acting, sound effects, etc. Something I’d never really expect to actually enjoy, but I really do. (Not enough to seek them out, but I do make sure to listen in when the kids play them.)

    And lately, the two radio series are doing a cross-over with each other, which is also excellent. ;-)

    And speaking of romances . . . I like them in small doses. [i]Way[/i] back in high school, maybe even middle school, we were visiting my grandparents, and they had a whole shelf full of Grace Livingston Hill books. I read one, thought it was great, read a second one, really enjoyed it, read a third and fourth one, started saying, hmmm, read some more, and realized that they were all the same . . .

    • Huh. That sounds just odd enough that I might want to check it out. Titles of said radio shows? And/or links?

      • One is named “Dr. Whooves and Assistant”. http://www.youtube.com/user/PierceSmoulder

        I’m not remembering off hand the name of the other one. I’ve been searching Dr. Hooves, and Dr. Whooves, and haven’t figured it out definitely. I’ll have to check with the kids.

        *Jasini

        Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

        On Wed, Dec 12, 2012 at 8:15 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

        > ** > Robin Munn commented: “… Huh. That sounds just odd enough that I > might want to check it out. Titles of said radio shows? And/or links?” >

  4. Well, there’s always the trashy sort of fiction that appeals to one’s base instincts and motives. Like, for instance, the fantasy that the rich are lucky or criminal or both, and that the reader deserves their wealth. . . . 0:)

  5. Harry the Horrible

    Trash is relative. To me it is the stuff I delete from my Kindle after reading the sample.
    I read for entertainment or information.
    If I am reading for entertainment, the book has about 10 minutes to convince me to finish it. In that 10 minutes it better do something REALLY exciting or present and interesting problem or mystery. And it needs to do so in at least a semi-literate manner.
    Failing that, the book (or its sample) gets deleted from the Kindle.
    Then it depends HOW interesting the subject is, and how flush I am. If it reaches “It must be MINE!” state, I buy it immediately. Otherwise it goes to the Wish list. My Wish list is about 483 books on it right now…

  6. Sometimes you like trash until someone rubs your nose in it. I’m not saying “And then you so crave for the approval of your peers that you stop indulging.” I’m saying “and then you can’t indulge any more with the same sort of abandon you once did.”

    For example, I watched the first two or three seasons of Dexter on DVD and liked it. A lot.

    Then an employee of mine said “You realize that the writing is horrible and no one aside from the lead guy can act at all, right?”

    And I went home and watched one more episode.

    …and it was RUINED.

    I couldn’t enjoy it any more.

    ( damn employee! ;-)

    • This is one reason why I rarely ever seek the perspective of others on the things I enjoy reading/watching for entertainment. There’s usually not much of an upside to it, and it’s all-too-easy to suddenly lose the perspective that made you enjoy it in the first place. My thinking is that I’d rather continue to enjoy something for what I see in it myself. Also, it’s a good excuse to avoid all the critical reviews that harp on all the ways some entertainment product is not politically correct and full of the various -isms so popular today :)

  7. Before I even got to the actual post, the title had me remembering when I was a baby writer in college. The writer in residence (I’d actually chosen that college because his novel had blown me away, then I got there and we couldn’t stand each other) thought I would learn as much from a “trashy” novel as from a “great” piece of the true modern literature he thought I should be emulating. So he gave me two books to read, one of each.

    Almost 30 years later, I couldn’t even tell you the title, the author, or anything at all about that great work of modern literature. But I still vividly remember entire scenes and characters from Jackie Collins’ “Hollywood Wives”…

  8. I think the top of the pyramid of trashy romance books belongs to Barbara Cartland (?). I know several people who have done everything they humanly could to buy every one of her books, mostly in paperback. My wife bought four or five of them, then quit reading them. The names and locales may change, but the rest of the book doesn’t. I think she had macros set up to inject canned information into her books that she then modified to fit the current work in progress.

    There are several science fiction writers that strike me as being much like that. Their books have no depth to them, and some that I’ve read once have no real plot or any entertainment value. I don’t throw books against walls, I just put them down and never go back to pick them up again. Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series was like that — I liked the first three or four books, but after that, the series had been pretty well milked dry, and the remainder were a hard slog to dig through.

    There are some books you read, and can’t wait to see what the author is going to do next. There are others where, when you finish, you want to say “nevermore”.

    • I was nearly certain that James Michener’s last couple of dozen books were based on a standard computer program; plug in the name of a country/place, a list of character’s names, a geographical survay and a history textbook or two … run the program … and a book the size of a brick popped out of the printer. Easy peasy.

      • I seem to recall he fell prey to the same trap that almost killed Doris Kearns Godwin and … Stephen Ambrose? Too much reliance on research assistants, too little reliance on doing more than stitching the patches together.

    • Barbara Cartland is one of those writers who works for me if I read her books only at very long intervals and when in a certain moods. Then they can be comfort food. But read them too close together and I’ll get an overdose fast.

      Too many too fast is a risk with lots of writers, even ones I really like. Pretty much everybody has some quirks you find if not in every story then in most. And then, if several stories are read fast and in a succession, those quirks can really start to stand out, and sometimes start to annoy me to the point where I may want to stay off said writer for a long time. So I have gotten into the habit of spacing myself – especially if I find a new writer I like I may read a couple of books in a quick succession, but at least after that I try to wait a at least a few months before the next one. With some it works if I simply read like two or three novels by other writers, preferably with very different styles, before tackling their next one, but there are lots of writers I wont read except at every second or third year.

      That ‘too many too fast’ happened to me with the Honor Harrington series, by the way. I read almost everything published until then, several years ago, and I still haven’t managed to get in the mood to continue with the new ones, and there have been five. I really, really liked that series, until about the last two I read, and the very last one was bit of a pain to finish. So I guess there may be some point to the way traditional publishing goes about it, by spacing what they publish from a writer, for some readers.

      • “Too many, too fast” is why I have learned to make a deliberate effort to commingle genres (and sub-genres) rather than plow through an author’s compleat works as fast as possible. I view it as a form of palate cleanser, preventing a particular style from becoming overwhelming. Alternating a Dresden with a Lackey with a L’Amour with a Robert S Parker helps keep all of them fresh.

        Of course, when an author is so considerate as to write in multiple genres and styles, say … urban fantasy, cozy mysteries, historical fiction and space opera I can enjoy the best of all possible worlds.

        • Yes.

          Hm. The value of writers like Barbara Cartland is that you know exactly what you will be getting. I can’t stand reading her books often, but sometimes when I have been in the right mood they have been the easy choice because of that. Plus she wrote so damn much that there seems to be an unending supply, even now, here, when they have mostly disappeared from the library every damn used books store seems to have several even if they don’t buy stuff like that unless it comes with something like an estate sale. Only problem is what to do with the book after reading, since those are among the ones I don’t want to keep, definitely in the read just once category. And I hate throwing books into trash, even the trashy fast food equivalents. :)

      • “Too many too fast” happens to me with Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael novels. If I read more than one or two at once, I can generally predict characters’ roles when they’re first introduced: this guy is going to be wrongfully accused of the crime, this girl is the girl he’s going to fall in love with in the process of Cadfael’s clearing his name. Sometimes the formula varies by having them already be in love before the start of the story, but that’s usually how it goes.

        Still very fun books when I read them one at a time, though; I just have to pace myself a little.

        • Cadfael I can read all one after the other. Romances, mostly I can’t. The formula is REALLY obvious for a particular author. I’ll read three or four, then need a break from that author.

          • Harlequins are all formulaic. Although I will grab one when I need fluffy. Otherwise I like to read paranormal/supernatural/mystery mixes, which is probably why I like Butcher and Simon Greene.

        • If you like Cadfael, you light look at Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma books. Sister Fidelma is a Celtic nun and law-giver. The author is an expert on early Christian-period Celtic culture, and he writes great fiction as well.

  9. Before reading the essay, I’ll give you my gut response. Trashy book: one you read furtively because you don’t want your coworkers to know that you really, really like Aga Sagas, Anne Rivers Siddons, and ancient aliens non-fiction. Low read: the ones you check out when the librarian who knows you is NOT on desk duty. (sloppy, juicy romances; Chicken Soup series; cat caption books).

  10. My mother and her friends used to pass to each other a huge box of Harlequin romances, which my mother hid. It was her escape hatch I guess. I used to steal one and read it in a night. Those Harlequins were sweet compared to what you see in the genre today. I quit reading them until I was almost 40 when my best friend introduced me to the field again.

    Romance was her genre and she had already written several books in the genre, but hadn’t been published it. Some of the top writers had been in one of her writing groups. So she introduced me to a few who were into the darker romances (mystery/romance) and I couldn’t get enough. I still will find a romance if I need to have a cleanse (kind of like my brain colonic). ;-)

    I do put elements of Romance in my book. But to write about a couple of people ??? only??? I would be bored quickly. I need a lot of other props. (I did write a Halloween romance, which was okay)

  11. Wayne Blackburn

    Things will annoy me that annoy no other person on Earth. Which means I judge a lot of things harshly.

    I’m like that with things which fall under professions I have worked in over the years. I look at signs, decals, and such that have been screen printed, and when I can see the obvious errors (blatant misalignment of colors and/or smearing), I’ll mock it. There are a couple of restaurants I go to occasionally which have cast aluminum door handles, and their finish work is atrocious, and I have a hard time opening the door for the want of beating the manufacturer about the head. It’s not like the things i get upset about are difficult. If they were, maybe I would be more forgiving, but I’ve done that work, and I could do better blindfolded.

    • I edit menus. And advertisements on placemats. And the printouts the teachers send home, if I have to read them. The menus, I just gripe about, but the latter two, I will mark up in red or purple ink.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        I have to force myself to leave those kinds of things alone, or else they will make my head twitch.

      • Yes. I’ve found though that it’s not a good idea to send back cooing letters to the teachers saying “Only two grammatical mistakes. Vast improvement. Well done.” … particularly foreign language teachers… for some reason. (It was a bad year, okay?)

  12. There is no such thing as total trash. There are many books I wouldn’t read voluntarily. the thing is that the same bood you hate this year may be decent next year…. besides, most of them do reach literary heights above the back of drain cleaner bottles, i have read them when trapped and desperate

    • Well — I have had books affect me differently at different times in my life. Even books I REALLY still like. For instance, I still love Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger because I recall “being Megan.”

      But the Hollow where the romance is a between a female artist and a married man, is still readable, but look… it doesn’t ring TRUE now. I can’t even tell you why.

  13. “… If you spoke decent French and Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, you stood a chance of understanding a Portuguese or Spaniard of that era. BUT probably not a Frenchman because they have a more ‘evolved’ language – and a ton now dead dialects.”

    I knew a Cajun who got to go to Italy and then southern France (son was stationed over yonder, and the grandson’s Christening was the occasion). While in France, he and the son were chatting in their Cajun French and one of the more educated folks told them “You speak Old Dead French!” He explained that their french was pretty much on its own from the mid to late 1700’s and then told of arguing with some French tourists on the proper name for an Alligator and a light bulb (the bulb is the same word french uses for a screw, I forget what cajuns call a gator). He also said they both did better communicating in pantomime with the old Italian who ran a hardware store than anything verbal.

    I’ve read one romance. I was on vacation in the middle of nowhere with no net access (known to me as Home. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan) without my laptop. That was the only book lurking around I could get past the first page of (the others were romances as well, this was the only non-Harlequin iirc) and man was it corny. The writer seemed to have a passing knowledge of handguns and Africa so I dealt and got through it.

    • I forget just where, but there are certain enclaves in the US (I vaguely recall them being in the South Carolina barrier islands area) where Elizabethan English is preserved. No, you ain’t gonna converse easily with any language which has not been frozen in amber (Zelazny’s, not fossilized resin.)

      • Wayne Blackburn

        I remember the Mountain folk of the Appalachia region being described as speaking “The King’s English” of around the Revolutionary period.

        • When the British started seriously looking for their folk-music, they went to the Appalachians and to parts of Canada to collect ballads and tunes. Cecil Sharp especially. Then the Americans started as well (John Jacob Niles, Alan Lomax).

          • Folks from Iceland actually speak something that the medievals would recognize. So if you assume the linguistics degree was focusing on Icelandic sagas and modern Icelandic….

            (And it’s very fun to watch the Iceland gamer movie, Astropia, right after doing a lot of Old English.)

            However, Cajuns and folks from the hollers and Icelanders would still “sound funny” to folks from the past. No language is preserved in amber by any living speaker. It’s just that the degree and distance of the funny-soundingness would be different.

            • I have on hand a copy of Stefán Einarsson’s Icelandic. The section on grammar is 180 pages long; the section describing the grammatical differences between Modern Icelandic and Old Icelandic is one page. Of course the differences in vocabulary are larger, since (for instance) Leif the Lucky didn’t have a mobile phone for some reason. Maybe he had trouble picking up a signal in the North Atlantic, I dunno.

              • Well – if he had a Viking helmet (kidding) he could have tuned it to those Alien signals– ;-)

              • Wayne Blackburn

                From what I gathered in my Anthropology class, Icelandic is unusual because they have a cultural tradition of NOT allowing changes to the language, due to wanting to be able to speak with their heroes (maybe – can’t remember exactly who it is they are supposedly waiting for) if they return some day, and it’s only changed 1/10th as fast as most other languages do.

                The same lecture said that on average, a language will change enough to be considered a completely different language in 1000 years or so.

                • The same lecture said that on average, a language will change enough to be considered a completely different language in 1000 years or so.

                  Such averages are pretty much meaningless, because they don’t account for the way in which change occurs. After a brief vogue in the 1960s and thereabouts, glottochronology is now very much out of favour. At that time, people thought languages changed in a slow, gradual, cumulative way, like radioactive decay; they would even talk about the ‘half-life’ of words and grammatical rules. Now they recognize that they tend to stay much (but not entirely) the same until there is a dramatic change in the environment; then they can change beyond recognition in a surprisingly short time. It is very much like the discoveries that have been made in evolutionary biology, where the term for it, I believe, is ‘punctuated equilibrium’.

                  Icelandic has remained in its linguistic equilibrium for a thousand years without any punctuation, chiefly because Iceland is a country of no economic or strategic importance, which nobody has ever bothered to invade and conquer. The only people who ever found it strategically important were the Americans in WWII — and they were the ones who commissioned Einarsson’s Icelandic, because they wanted to cooperate with the locals, not subjugate them.

                  • Portuguese is considered the least “linguistically evolved” of the romance languages, or it was in the 80s, when I was studying this stuff. If you compare it and French (Say) to Latin, you’ll see Portuguese is much closer. No idea why.

                    • I believe that is still considered to be true. I found it fascinating myself, when I began to study Latin, how much of Latin grammar (especially the active verb system) was preserved in Spanish, and how little in French: the only two Romance languages of which I have any useful knowledge.

                      My father once spent a year or so working in the upper Amazon, right near the border between Peru and Brazil, where Spanish, (Brazilian) Portuguese, and various Indian languages all coexisted. He told me once that the Spanish-speakers he worked with considered Portuguese a very old-fashioned idioma.

                      Put these two things together, and it adds up to the same conclusion that you discovered or were taught in the eighties.

                      As for the reason: I suspect one part of it is that Portugal never underwent the enforced mixing of dialects that happened in Spain after the union of Aragon and Castile, when ‘standard’ Spanish emerged as a literary language. That kind of compromise does tend to glaze over a lot of antique survivals and old grammatical curiosities. In terms of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, bashing two languages together into one definitely counts as punctuation — a big, bold exclamation point. (A prolonged conquest by a foreign power counts as a big, bold exclamation point in red ink — which explains Middle English. But I digress.)

                • The same lecture said that on average, a language will change enough to be considered a completely different language in 1000 years or so.

                  I’m not sure about that comment. IIRC, the English language adds between 1100 and 1500 new words every year. Part of that is based on greater knowledge and the need to convey that knowledge in a meaningful way that cannot be done with the current language, and part due to changes in culture. English has a long history of stealing from other languages, and for inventing words that other languages gradually adapt (check out how much the vocabulary of the average Latin American is based upon English, although they will insist they speak PURE Spanish). The only language that doesn’t change is one that is completely devoid of contact with any other society. That’s gotten to be almost impossible.

                  • Wayne Blackburn

                    Well (with the caveat that Tom’s comment above pretty much claims that what I was told then is now considered untrue), I’m pretty sure it had less to do with adding words than changes in the meanings of words and changes in the choices of what words to use for describing things.

                    For example, since a lot of the things I read when I was younger were significantly older than I was, I was very familiar with the phrase, “kith and kin”, yet no one in my circle of friends in college had ever heard it before.

              • I wonder how different his voyage would have been if he’d had GPS?

                • Not much different, since the Google Maps database would still have shown blank space to the west of Iceland. He might have wound up like those poor Aussies who got lost in the desert because the Apple Maps app gave the wrong location for a town. What a goat rope that was!

            • So if you assume the linguistics degree was focusing on Icelandic sagas and modern Icelandic….

              By the way, one of the appalling things about the modern academic field of linguistics is that you can get a degree in it without knowing any foreign languages at all. What you are describing would be a degree in Icelandic philology. Tom Shippey told me several years ago that there is exactly one university in North America where you can a philology degree nowadays. Even Oxford ripped most of the philology out of its curriculum in the 1980s or thereabouts. (The weird buzzing noise you hear if you put your ear to the ground is Tolkien spinning in his grave at 3000 rpm.)

              • I learned six languages in the process of getting my degree, which technically is Modern Languages and Literature — but I did study both linguistics and philology. In fact my final exams in each language involved extensive linguistic regression.

                I’m afraid most of it is gone now — with the languages.

                • Where and when did you get your degree?

                  I’m afraid there was a rather nasty revolution in the field beginning in the 1980s; and I don’t mean like the Industrial Revolution, where *NEW AND IMPROVED!* ousted the old ways, but like the Russian Revolution, where everybody who knew how to do anything was stood up against the wall. As Shippey told me, philology was banished completely from the curriculum of most universities in the English-speaking countries. You can’t study philology at the University of Calgary, where I went; and the U of C is the only university in Canada that offers courses in historical linguistics at all.

                  Basically, present-day academic linguistics (in North America at least) aims at producing three kinds of people: (1) speech therapists; (2) educational theorists, who can tell education professors the (wrong) way to teach ‘language arts’; and (3) doctrinaire Chomskyite linguistics professors, to pass the same bumf onto the next generation of students.

                  • Yeah, that’s my conclusion from what I’ve read in the field.

                    My degree was from Portugal, natch ;)

                    • That explains it. You’re lucky you didn’t get your degree in a ‘modern’, ‘up-to-date’ country, especially an anglophone one.

                      I’ve mentioned one of my professors in a comment to one of your other posts: Dr. Reyes Bertolin Cebrian, associate professor of Greek & Roman Studies at U of C. She knows language inside and out because she got her Ph.D. (in Indo-European linguistics) at Freiburg, beyond the reach of the Chomskyites. She was the one who expressed to me her deep gladness and gratitude that she had been able to find a job in the ‘GRST’ department, away from the insanity that was going on three floors up in ‘LING’.

                  • By the way, I had a talk once with my faculty advisor at U of C and expressed my interest in philology. He told me that after I got my B.A., I should consider going to — so help me — the Max Planck Institute. Apparently they still teach this stuff in Germany, if you can find a sufficiently erudite and specialized school.

                    • I was told in the early nineties that I could transfer my credits from Portugal and finish my doctorate with a year’s work.
                      Then I got pregnant with my older son and it was a BAD pregnancy, so I couldn’t do it. Then we moved. By the mid nineties, when I considered talking to the local colleges and seeing about finishing my doctorate, I read in the field and decided I didn’t want to go back. Then I became a no-account writer (much to mom’s chagrin who still periodically — okay, not since I won the Prometheus — offers to pay for me to get my doctorate already.) So…

                    • Is Candyce Dare’s family somewhat based on your family?

      • I think it’s there as well, and it’s changed, but not much and only really new stuff is not the Ol’ Stuff. iirc the slaves in the same area made a language of their own meant to baffle the owners. To my ear it sounded a bit like the northern African french.

    • Northern New Mexico Spanish has archaisms and place names that date to the 1680s, if not earlier. Drives Spanish teachers bats because they try and “correct” it to modern usage and the kids and their parents look at them as if the teachers are crazy.

      • Not to mention the loan words. And things like “tortilla” — whaddaya mean it’s an omelette?

        • In modern Spain a ‘tortilla’ IS a potato and egg frittatta/omlet. Very good and popular as bar food. Recipe available upon request.

          • You know, it may be very good, but as far as I’m concerned, if they are going to borrow ingredients from the colonies, they ought to break down and borrow the whole recipe. (My mother, who is Costa Rican, used to make those potato and egg things, but they do not call them tortillas in the New World. I forget what the Costa Rican name for them was.)

  14. I have often ruminated over the fact that the two most widely recognized characters in English Fiction are Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. Neither ERB nor ACD would ever be cited as paragons of the literary arts. I adore Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries but others of his novels leave me bleh. Louis L’Amour’s writing sometimes make me cringe, but his novels are compelling — it is a rare one that doesn’t capture my interest within the first paragraph.

    I am confident that there is some deep meaning to this, some enlightening secret of the nature of Reality which, should I decipher it, will lead me to wealth, health and eternal happiness. Or maybe not.

    • Louis L’Amour created a rip in reality. When I am reading his works, I am there in a memory. I can smell it, and taste it, –all my senses. I will read all his books at once if I don’t listen to the back of my brain saying– you are losing your life in there.

      The other thing I know about L’Amour’s writings is that when I am away from the books for a time (a day or two) I completely forget the actual story. When this was happening I had a really really sharp memory (not so much now). So yes, my only explanation then and now is that he created a rip in reality. ;-)

      • He’s like Anne Rivers Siddons. L’Amour captured places better than 80% of writers do. Siddons too has that gift of putting you into the landscape and making it a character in the story. For examples, I’d nominate “The Lonesome Gods” and “Shalako” by L’Amour and “Low Country” by Siddons.

        • That explains it TXRed– because I remember the places at least how they look in my mind. Names–not so much.

          • It’s curious that I recommend Heyer as a way to learn repartee in dialogue, and L’amour (I own most of them) to teach framing (actually what he does – better than Tolkein – is to make the _reader_ paint the scene vividly in their heads, by providing the ‘frame’ and the ‘specks’ of correct detail, which has a far better result than for example Michener, who described in painstaking detail. Actually L’amour did several things which are worth noting from a technical POV. The first and most important thing you can learn from him is that you are NOT that skilled. He breaks one of the cardinal ‘rules’- and rules are meant to be broken but only once you know HOW to break them and not be caught. It’s like the difference between a lifelong poacher who dies at 90 with his 10 000th brace of pheasants, and the bloke who gets bust taking his first pot shot at a buck (which he misses). In the course of framing setting – something Sarah does far better than I do, BTW, L ‘amour OFTEN tells, not shows. I could go on to his character and pacing lessons, but I feel like I’m lecturing already.

            • I think I learned from him that telling is sometimes necessary ;-).

            • BTW, L ‘amour OFTEN tells, not shows.

              Dirty Little Secret: In written fiction, it is all telling. The advice ‘show, don’t tell’ comes from the theatre, in which showing is physically possible. The advice has been taken wildly out of context and applied to literature, where the words — the telling — are all that exists; and arbitrary rules have been invented to say that certain kinds of narrative count as showing instead of telling, as they say, ‘within the meaning of the Act’. There is very little sense in any of it.

              ‘It is a misfortune that Drama, an art fundamentally distinct from Literature, should so commonly be considered together with it, or as a branch of it. . . . And criticism in a country that has produced so great a Drama, and possesses the works of William Shakespeare, tends to be far too dramatic.’ — J. R. R. Tolkien.

              • I once saw some online fan discussion where a person was complaining about the opening of Tangled where Flynn is giving a voice-over of the opening events. Because that was telling.

                Other people pointed out, fortunately, that the opening would not have conveyed what was needed without that, and that telling isn’t the magical poison ruining all that it touches.

                • Oh yea– you can blame English teachers for that piece of ruin (show don’t tell)–

                • I’ve found particularly with series, it’s easier to tell and get it out of the way. That way, the reader is level set and can enjoy the book.

                  BTW now WordPress has decided my gravatar, at least on the corner of the blog, under “Profile” is a bearded man. I presume it’s one of you? (Is completely puzzled.)

                  • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                    What “bearded man”?

                    • my gravatar shows, in my view, on the upper right corner. Normally it’s the one that shows with comments, but for a brief, confused few minutes, it was a bearded man. It gave me ontological doubts…

                    • When plagued by such doubts, simply recite the mantra: I am not my avatar, my avatar is not me.

                      OTOH, my avatar is a dead ringer for me, if you add a pair of reading glasses, situationally appropriate clothing and somewhat smaller ears. And less tail, much less tail.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      So, you’re saying, not enough tail? Hmm…

                • John Ringo’s excellent novel “The Last Centurion” is all tell.

      • Not much of a rip. I’ve read a couple of his books situated where I grew up, between Alamosa and Pueblo, and you could, if pressed, pretty much follow his descriptions to a character’s front door.

        • There is a book out there dealing with precisely this, Charlie. Some (I think he was an oil company) geologist found himself in the vicinity of one of L’Amour’s novels and spent a day exploring the landscape described (IIRC, it was the lava fields in Flint.) This ultimately resulted in a book correlating the real-life geography to L’Amour’s tales. I recall the article as a 20+ years ago book review in the WSJ.

        • Well – when I am transported to another place and time, it is a dimensional rip.

        • There was a Louis L’Amour novel (among the Sackett series??) where the character travels across the Mojave, and an amazing amount matched areas that I’d explored in a 4×4 in the ’70’s.

          • Yes, Mojave Crossing, one of Tell Sackett’s tales. The man knew his terrain.

            • Additional reading for those so inclined:
              Louis L’Amour’s New Mexico
              Originally published by Wild West magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006
              [SNIP]
              We had decided to trail L’Amour to the Flint hideout. After taking the trail south from the railroad at McCartys, east of the Malpais, to Cebolleta Mesa, the rain let up a little and we discovered the hideout and pasture in a kupuka (island of vegetation) in the lava beds. We hiked in and had a soggy overnight camp in Jim Flint’s hideout. It was much as L’Amour had described it: a grand, isolated island of vegetation–including some tall ponderosa pines — that was sunk 50 feet in an old lava flow. Despite the rain, we did not doubt at that moment that New Mexico was truly the ‘Land of Enchantment.’ Thus began an intense and fascinating journey in which I explored the New Mexico detailed in the novels of L’Amour, who wrote more than 80 Westerns before his death in June 1988.
              [SNIP]
              As a sailor, L’Amour knew how far the curvature of the earth would permit observations, and he probably knew how to calculate that distance. His fictional character Flint observes the famous ‘Inscription Rock,’ El Morro, to the west from the 8,200-foot Cebolleta Mesa. El Morro’s elevation is about 7,200 feet, and it is 30 miles from Cebolleta Mesa. Using the formula for the curvature of the earth, the square root of the elevation difference divided by about 0.6, allows you to determine that you can see approximately 50 miles with a 1,000-foot difference in elevation. So, indeed, you can see El Morro from Cebolleta. Did L’Amour see it himself, I wondered, or did he calculate that it was possible to do so from maps?
              [SNIP]
              But as Louis L’Amour himself said, reading is never enough. Visiting some of the New Mexico places that L’Amour writes about can be a highly rewarding experience. In addition to hiking into and camping in the Flint hideout in the Malpais south of Grants (Los Alamitos in the book), my sons and I have hiked the area of the hunters’ camp between the ‘Big and Little Hatchets’ in the novel Shalako. My wife and I have traveled to tiny Reserve (called the Plaza in Conagher, and indeed there were originally three separate towns in the area — Upper, Middle, and Lower San Francisco Plaza), a place that still calls to mind the wild days of the cattlemen in the 1870s
              http://www.historynet.com/louis-lamours-new-mexico.htm

    • I’ve read most of what Piers Anthony has written, and enjoyed it. I cannot, however, get into his “Mode” series. They just leave me totally flat. He has another series that I tried to read, but couldn’t. I have the same reaction to certain other writers as well. It just doesn’t “click” with what I enjoy. Those are the ones I put on the table and hope they get knocked off into the trash, or that go to a second-hand bookstore or Goodwill as quickly as I can deliver them.

      • I don’t recall attempting his “Mode” series, but thoroughly enjoyed his work until he got too invested milking Xanth. Somewhere about the 9th or 10th of those I just decided it was too much trouble to keep up with. But I very much enjoyed Omnivore, the “Battle Circle” trilogy and “Apprentice Adept”, to name a few. There was one series whose title escapes memory which involved an intelligence becoming travelling through various aliens which explored alternative to human bi-sexual reproduction. If you haven’t read his book Steppe I heartily recommend it as a very good telling of the story of Ghenghis Khan (his goal was to provide history in a way modern readers might consume it.)

        Harry Turtledove is an author I generally enjoy, but a few of his just left me … meh. Toxic Spell Dump was very easy to put down and required a deliberate effort to pick back up.

        And, of course, some authors are simply right for a particular time or stage in your life. Heinlein’s juveniles hit their mark consistently well.

  15. When I’m watching movie trailers, the question is never “will that movie be bad?” but “will it be bad ENOUGH to be fun?”

  16. Regarding gatekeepers, the editors of magazines serve that purpose to a certain extent, particularly “genre” magazines such as SF or Fantasy. However, the issue is not so much that they are imposing their taste, as that they are selecting what they thing the readers of their magazine will want to read, and will keep renewing their subscriptions to read. There is an obvious difference between the stories you will find in ANALOG and in ASIMOV’S. The stories reflect the presumed tastes of the readers as much as the tastes of the editors.

    • Sort of. Kind of. Most editors of mags I’ve talked to are still MORE interested in pushing the “right” POV. And you can see this when a mag changes editors. I loved F/SF under Kris Rusch for instance, then went off it.

      • So what we’re seeing is editors who are not only whores, but dishonest whores. Since nobody has to buy their mags I have no problem with their publishers allowing editors to devalue the franchises.

        There are probably reasons why a change in editor does not automatically trigger a termination of all current subscriptions and refund of fees.

        • Well, it is the editor’s job to put their imprimatur, so I don’t resent the successful ones, and since Asimov’s and Analog just raised their pay rates, one has to assume they’re doing well, right?
          So — carry on. OTOH the ones who crash mags, I have no respect for…

          • No disparagement of whores by comparing them to editors was intended. But editors who select Brussels Sprouts for their menu have to accept that they’ve limited their audience.

            Of course, some editors don’t want “the wrong kind of people” reading their mags, just as some streetwalkers disdain the unwashed.

            N.B. – all reference to whores and streetwalkers is speculative only; I have no actual knowledge of those professions other than their portrayal in novels and films — I particularly remember one documentary I saw, with Julia Roberts …

  17. Indeed. This is an argument I’ve advanced to any number of people, with mixed success. I may loathe the Twi-verse (they’re not #$*&ing vampires) on a personal level. The writing itself may be – or may not be: haven’t read enough of it to feel capable of judging – utter crap. The characters may be flat and uninteresting. But that’s all with the usual caveat of to me tacked on the end. The books are an unquestionable commercial success, and Ms. Meyer never has to work another day in her life, assuming she manages her ill-gotten gains appropriately. (Aside: I have a friend who does cover layout who argues that those books’ success is due in large part to their covers, and the argument holds up well.) And yet. And yet. I still think about the characters and want to punch most of them in the face. I knew better than to act like that when I was that age, biologically insane or not. Of course, the folk who argue with me on this one are generally the same folk who choose to uphold certain genre over certain other genre in terms of “quality.” YMMV, but mine generally does not.

    Actually, that brings up an interesting question: are there genre conventions there up on which I did not pick? Have to do some (secondhand, as I won’t be reading ‘em myself) research.

    As to genre conventions, oh my yes, hit the right points. Please. One of my concerns with my own writing is not doing this. I’m still very much in the learning stage (which never stops, but w/e) where I’m getting labels for things I know, but don’t know I know. Why is the MC going to make X choice? It’s obvious she will – she HAS to for the genre, and to advance the plot – but why is that? Why is there a villain, and why does he have to be just slightly sympathetic; why can’t circumstances just suck and that provides the opportunity for conflict? Why can’t my characters be relatively emotionally stable individuals who recognize truly stupid decisions when confronted with them? Still struggling with that one, though I find putting them in situations that magnify their fears does wonders.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      I have a friend who does cover layout who argues that those books’ success is due in large part to their covers, and the argument holds up well.

      I’ve read the first book, because it was brought home by younger son. Cover meant nothing to me, but I can tell that when I was a teen, I would have eaten it up (except for the “sparkly vampire” sh**), and I can also see where the teen girls would swoon over it.

      As an adult, it’s so full of angst I want to puke, but it was still something different to read. Once.

      • I read the first book and spent the whole of it wanting to slap Bella. I don’t need to read teen angst, I *lived* teen angst. On the other hand, I can respect Meyer as a successful businesswoman.

      • Yes, I think she nailed the “sickish teen dream” of girls perfectly. It makes me slightly ill that an adult can do this that well. I vaguely remember my sickish teen girl fantasies, but they turn my stomach now. (Including the lightening-rapid pregnancy, etc.)

        • UGH – I didn’t have time for those kinds of dreams– too much work to do– and when I was older, the dreams were not that interesting. It helps when farm life gets in the way–

    • Agree with the cover power. They catch the eye and were very different from all the other teen-type romances out at the time. Now, every single teen paranormal and a bunch of others seem to have similar designs (50 Shades included). Heck, I’ve seen pictures of cakes based on the Twilight covers and they are stunning – the images work, as my sibling the graphics designer puts it.

      • It put me off– White hands and an apple? What does that say to you– Sleeping Beauty. I was really not into that fairy tale even when I was a young girl. The thought of a prince rescue was not in my agenda. Plus Apple? Temptation. So the cover made me look twice at it, but I was not tempted. ;-) (another impression when I saw that cover– Eve and the Snake) It all ran through my brain that fast– the first time I saw it.

      • One of the important things to remember about a cover is that it’s an advertisement for the content, not an illustration of the content. It technically doesn’t need to have anything to do with the story details to work well as said advertisement. For example, Baen’s covers for Ringo’s Prince Roger series have people in shiny power-armor in a jungle with aliens: just enough to tell you what kind of book it is. Personally, I loathe those covers, but they are an effective ad for the stories. Similarly, one cover for Ethan of Athos has a man in futuristic clothing (if I recall correctly) holding a helmet against the backdrop of an obvious spaceship. Yet most of the story takes place on a space station. Those are the basics, from which cover design devolves into some pretty arcane crevasses, such as having human figures face away from (and look away from) the spine of the book toward the … opening part, color usage, pattern usage. One of the best things about the Twibook covers is the powerful simplicity: black, red and white in simple, recognizable forms that carry enough iconic power to grab and hold the imagination. And, as you said, difference from the rest of the field, especially at the time.

        • Which was my biggest complaint (cover is only an ad, but doesn’t always have elements of the story). I refused to look at covers and would read the back first and then the first few pages. If the cover was that bad, I would find ways to cover it– Always the story with me.

        • And that, boys and girls, is why you can, in fact, judge a book by its cover. SOMEBODY chose that particular cover for that perticular [sic] book and they had reasons for doing so. Some of those reasons may even have been rational, and a few may have been good.

          I had noticed the iconic quality of the Hunger Games books long before I had any idea what they might be about. Of course, I have been known to stand in front of book displays and analyse cover graphics … fireman and cowboys seem real popular at my local grocery store. I s’pose the cover trifecta would be a fireman cowboy pirate with a long sword and suspenders.

          I recall reading that John Campbell was wont to buy a cover for his magazine and commission a story to justify it. I’ve got a donut that says Sarah (and half a dozen of the rest of you lot) could easily come up with 10K words starting with a cover picture of a Musketeer’s style rapier, leather gauntlet in an upraised powered armor fist & forearm.

          • Is that a challenge for a group project? :) ‘Cuz it could be a wild set of stories for a little anthology.

            • Moi? challenge THIS group? Perish the thought.

              But if anybody wants to write such stories I will happily commence the reading of them (whether I finish or not is up to the individual writer.) Now as I ponder the matter, a group anthology might have its entertainement and commercial value — a good way of introducing lesser known authors to a wider audience is to include them in an anthology featuring a couple “name” authors — it also helps sell authors across genres.

              • OK, RES, I owe you a drink of your choice the next time we have a bar-b-q/ virtual patio party/ the first annual HoytCon, whatever. Your image solved a problem and now I can finish a story that’s been hung up for a while.

                • I should be most curious to know what story that could resolve, and look forward to reading the finished product.

                  Now I am stuck with an image of stories hung up like hams to cure.

                  • More like wine bottles or cheeses stacked up to age and ripen, but otherwise you’re pretty close to the mark. Source material gets hung up to cure until the ideas and flavors blend properly.

                    I really should not write this close to dinner, should I?

          • Wayne Blackburn

            That’s already been almost done, except that it was a Katana wielded by Samurai Jack wearing a power-armor-arm to take on some otherwise indestructible robots.

  18. The only thing I’d define as trash is the celebration of evil. Weird fetishes and convoluted sex that involves condiments and odd numbers of partners aren’t my thing, but they aren’t trash if you are bent that way. Promoting fascism as a lost golden opportunity that was snuffed out. Characters that celebrate hurting people or dominating them to their harm, well that’s trash.

  19. I work for a cataloging company and I see a lot of academic texts. Trust me, 90% of that is crap too. And that percentage is bumped upwards for the liberal arts and social sciences.

    • *Grin* Back in grad school, my Colonial US professor announced to the class that the next group reading had won the Bancroft award, and we all groaned. “Why? What’s wrong?”
      One brave soul (not me) told her, “The Bancroft winners are boring, dry reads.”
      The professor, bless her, didn’t argue. Turns out the book was not as bad as it might have been.

    • Alas, yes. The trouble is that old devil, ‘Publish or perish’. Publishing crap is better than perishing. Besides, if you publish enough crap, it becomes impressive by mere volume. Put 50 papers on your C.V., and nobody is going to check them all to see if you wrote anything of actual importance or value. Put one paper on your C.V., and it had better be ‘Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’.

  20. You speak of judging harshly, and you cited–at least indirectly–those who make huge allowances for a flawed work. (e.g the reader needs to know who the love interest is, and thus tolerated love at first kiss.) A lot of this business of judging fiction is dependent upon easy/hard judges. So much so that we’re attempted to say beauty inheres within the beholder.

    Yet we see some works that tell us the Truth about human nature, about being in love, about the airspeed velocity of the unladen swallow. Books that crank Truth to 11 without being heavy-handed about it are the best of the art. Yes, there is truth in beauty. Books may also crank Truth to 0 and I call such pornography. Not that anybody therein need get nekkid, but that the reader’s wish-dreams are fulfilled exactly as they want. Some of my favorite military SF falls into this category.

    I’m all over the map on this comment because writing is all over the map, too.

    I think the only real demand we can place upon a text is that it get the spelling and grammar right. (I’m looking at you, James Joyce!) After that the only thing is accuracy in advertising, lest you get an earnest disquisition on the obligation of the citizen to the state, when all you really wanted was a ripping yarn about a space-war.

    • Who sayes that fictions onely and false hair
      Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
      Is all good structure in a winding stair?
      May no lines passe, except they do their dutie
      Not to a true, but painted chair?”

      • Women and men(both little and small)
        cared for anyone not at all
        they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
        sun moon stars rain

        –e.e. cummings, “anyone lived in a pretty how town”

        (Well, I think he mostly spelt things right, but half-there…)
        ;)

  21. “Although I have friends who write both (and some furs among my friends too) …

    Hey, my beard is not a lifestyle, its just from laziness …

  22. So, I dipped my toe into time travel romance, and ran screaming in the other direction, waving my hands and screaming “bad, bad, bad, bad.”

    After a bout of pre-eclampsia and a 2-month-early kid, not to mention the thyroid issues, the only time-travel where I don’t want to be in my time… would be heading for the future. (…wait, isn’t this the plot of Restoree? Augh, I haven’t dug that book up in ages; I liked Mark of Merlin better as a kid, oddly.) And taking a lot of people with me. IN MY SPACESHIP. My FTL-capable spaceship, thankyouverymuch.

    (Hello, Doctor. Nice TARDIS. I’ll stay inside it, peeking my nose out, and wave. I’ve got a lot of books on my phone I can read while you go out and get into trouble. When we get to the high-tech place where I can get my medical conditions fixed, I might pop out, but then I’m back in till I’m back in my timeline again!)

    I got so fed up by the time-and-word-count-saving Lust At First Sight conventions of romance… I don’t think I’ll ever manage to use those, even though I seem to have committed to fantasy-romances for a while (or fantasy with High Romance Importance). Heck, I may even bait-and-switch once or twice! …This probably puts me in a Venn Diagram. *sigh*

    (As for Mommy Porn… I’m a Mommy! If I write Porn, then doesn’t that automatically make it…?)

    • I was talking about 50 shades. The publishing pubbahs call it “mommy porn” which makes wonder if they ever met a mom. (What? Whip me? Beat me? G-d, no. Kids do that enough!)

      • why do people or fictional characters want to be whipped?

        • Way back in the long long ago Beloved Spouse & I chanced to enter a shop hight “The Pleasure Chest” which offered, from front of the shop inward, lingerie, ointments & creams, battery-powered devices, plastic ahems, a variety of manacles and, in a cork-lined alcove at the rear of the store, leather-goods. Conversation with the proprietress (sales clerk?) provided the observation that the main clients for such accouterments were, apparently, high-powered attorneys and judges. I can only speculate about their motives.

          It has long seemed to me that, however pleasant or unpleasant it might be to be whipped, surely the whipper must eventually find the game tedious? Whether whippee or whipper I see no element of the process which strikes me as other than tiresome.

          • Well, I want a whip to go with the Webley revolver and brown fur felt fedora I also want. Need the whole set, after all.

          • Long time ago, and in another country, I read a fabulously funny send-up of the middle-class denizens of Marin, California (it was called The Serial, by Cyra McFadden). The wandering wife had a run-in with a local perv, whom she called “Jack the Whipper”.
            Yeah, I’m easily amused, but my parents who were blessedly sane, knew many types like the characters in the book.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Serial

        • No idea — it’s a mystery to me, but in fifty shades idiot character does…

        • Wayne Blackburn

          It’s actually a moderately complex question, because there are multiple reasons, as I understand it.

          There are some who feel they deserve it. I don’t know why, whether they were abused as children, or some other reason, but until they are punished for some perceived wrong, they don’t feel right.

          Others do it for the same reason that runners keep going so long. Endorphins. Literally, it’s “because it feels so good when it stops”.

          Still others want to show the person they are with that they can take it.

          How do they get this way? I dunno. That’s just what I’ve read.

          • Actually, as spanking has declined as a corrective measure the idea of spanking as sexual seems to be on the rise, so I wonder if it’s the opposite of “they were abused as children.”

            I was spanked (regularly and some would say too little) as a child, and I never thought of considering it “hot.” Pain comes in, arousal goes out (via the nearest window.)

            • I was spanked too as a child and teenager. Leather belt, wooden spoon, and other implements are just painful. Pain is not sexy in my opinion.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              Oh, I forgot the other part of that equation, that I got from my Abnormal Psychology class, many years ago: The abuse is typically an outburst, rather than a predictable event based on rules and such, followed up by the parent feeling guilty and lavishing the love on the child afterwards.

              If you had a parent who didn’t look at you crying afterwards and hurry to comfort you and try to “make it all better”, then the connection would not be formed.

              • Umm – no– after the spanking it was to my room for an hour… then there was a talking to– shudder

                • with me? Screaming and muttering until the horrible offense was forgotten. (Half the time I had no clue what the offense was, but that’s something else.)

                  • My offense was usually that I talked back to my mother– apparently she didn’t like my logic. ;-)

                  • I confess that the Daughtorial Unit would have found her butt beaten bloody if that had ever been effective, but it invariably initiated a refocus rather than remorse. Time-Out was comparably ineffective, kicking off a prolonged battle to put her in place, keep her in place and so refocused her animosity that she had nary an idea why she was in Time-Out (her speculation generally began with the premise that her parents were unreasonable and went downhill shortly thereafter, although speculation about our genetics was halted by the observation that her genes came from us.)

                    Thus began our experiments with Punitive Boredom, also known as lecturing. I finally convinced her that while she might be meaner and more stubborn than t I, I had a thirty year head start to develop and perfect my innate talent.

                    • I had this fairness gene– my mother started me on housework at five years old and would have started sooner if I could have held a broom. We would make deals on what was my job and what was her job. She would renege. My father would tell me that I had to respect her. I don’t remember a single time that she ever delivered on a promise– so I would fight her. My father would back up my mother (of course). So from the time I was 13 until 18, I was hit every day.

                      Also I would protect my brothers and sisters from her “moods.” I don’t think I could have done anything else. Anyway, I am more civilized than she is– I get most of my berserker blood from her. If I decide on a course of action, (I was really stubborn then– you can talk to me now) there was no way that I could be dissuaded even when I knew the punishment. I found that I would get punished whether I did or didn’t –so it was better to at least have some good memories, while I was laying across my bed, getting hit by a belt.

                    • I was six when I found out that they couldn’t PHYSICALLY make me obey. I could get beaten (never by dad. Dad hit me once, I think, and it literally hurt him more than me. But his frowning at me was worse than a beating.) I could get stuff taken away. BUT they couldn’t make me physically do what they wanted.

                      You can imagine how pleasant life with me must have been after that…

                    • Smack on the butt (mostly diapered butt) worked with the kids till about 4. well… worked with Marshall. With Robert we had to get creative. For a long time he was convinced I could get him picked up by aliens from the backyard. I’d call the aliens and the bad behavior stopped.

                      After four the most effective punishment was the computer cord being taken away.

                    • I can imagine Sarah… lol … I cried and screamed when I was spanked, but I kept crying and screaming– One time my mother set me on the top of the stairs– not too smart– I screamed down the stairs and through the apartment (it was a converted garage) for hours. It rang through the house. I think I learned then to make it more miserable for those who make it miserable for me. I was six then.

                      Actually this stubbornness helped me when I was raising my brothers. Anything they did, I had done better and more loudly. ;-)

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Oh, that would have been the worst thing to do with my cousins’ dad. He didn’t tolerate more than a little sniffling, or he would whip them worse.

                      He’d tell them, “Stop crying, or I’ll really give you something to cry about”.

                    • Oh I heard that too– yep I got hit worse and more– The worse part is I was not the usual child– you could talk to me. You couldn’t say “because I say so” because it just didn’t work with me. I had authority issues from way back. But at four or five if you sat and talked to me, we might have come up with a compromise. Unfortunately my parents default position was yelling or hitting–

                    • My personal opinion is that smacks don’t work after four or five. Then it is time for other methods. ;-)

              • Spanking as sexual play has a transgressive aspect that some may find stimulating. OTOH, it may just be one of those things porn authors create to vary the “tab-A => slot-B” action that (I expect) mostly constitutes the description that constitutes the primary content of pornography. It is worth noting that such things often have a self-fulfilling prophecy aspect, as (for example) there was (so I’ve read) very little “hot girl-on-girl” action until Bob Whassname decided there was no point depicting a man and a woman “artfully posed” when you could provide the reader with two females.

                It is rather like the whole “does size matter?” debate: it only matters if it matters; like all such things the only really important organ involved is between the ears.

            • I got spankings pretty regularly until I was in my mid-teens. My mother KILLED a peach tree cutting switches from it. Dad used a belt. There are no (physical) scars. Most of my punishments were for the same thing – being gone from home.

              I have a friend, Foster Cline, who is a child Psychiatrist. He is one of the founders of the “Love and Logic” programs, and co-author of the Love and Logic books. He privately says corporal punishment should not be banned, but allowed under certain conditions — use nothing but the hand, only swat on the bottom, and never more than a dozen times (fewer for small children. Children under five respond very well to a single swat). Of course, today’s Human Services over-reactive crowd would hang him if he said that professionally, which he won’t do. If our parents, teachers, etc., had that kind of leeway, I do believe we’d have a lot fewer criminal kids.

              • The last time my father hit me I was 20. I walked out the door. He apologized. We haven’t talked much since.

              • That was pretty much my parent’s operating system of discipline (and mine, as well.) Only with the hand, on bare bottom, never impulsively and in anger, and only for a willful violation of clearly established rules. The need for spanking pretty much evaporated after about the age of six or so – after that, there were other and more useful sorts of punishments; deprivation of a privilege, mostly.

                • Ditto here, down to the last detail. At one point when I was old enough not to need spankings any more, my parents explained their reasoning: if you spank a child with an object (switch, paddle, belt), it’s all too possible to inflict more pain than you intended, because you can’t feel what you’re doing. But if you spank with a bare hand, your hand stings about as much as the child’s bottom is stinging, so you KNOW exactly what level of pain you’re inflicting and aren’t likely to inflict too much by accident.

                  And there were times when they would tell me, “You’re going to get a spanking. Go to your room, and I’ll be by in a few minutes.” At the time, I had no idea why this was, and I thought it was deliberately cruel & unusual punishment, making me anticipate the spanking. Now I realize that they were giving themselves time to cool down, so that they would no longer be feeling angry when they spanked me.

        • The most famous story from the musical world is that of Percy Grainger, who’s known both for his music and for the fact that he openly discussed how much he enjoyed being whipped (by his wife or significant other). Grainger’s best known now for his arrangement of “Country Gardens,” though his best work was through pioneering electronic music and the forerunners of synthesizers . . . anyway, Grainger’s sexuality is well known in musical circles.

          As for why Grainger needed this? The best answer probably has to do with his childhood and his mother’s strictness (he was devoted to her, so this added even more to the stewpot). While there wasn’t anything incestuous going on, she did whip him and apparently that’s where he got the idea from . . . Grainger also was fanatical about physical fitness and was anti-Semitic (but also was against “the rise of German militarism”), and some of his lovers were barely legal as far as can be discerned (this is a challenge because it appears that Grainger was able to go to great lengths to find these really young women, partly because he was known around the world — and in countries where women didn’t have a lot of rights, it seems like he may well have indulged himself . . . freely.

          Anyway, it’s a psychological thing that I have to admit I don’t fully “get” — but it’s something I’ve known about since I turned 16 after playing one of Grainger’s other arrangements (“Linconshire Posy”). I’ve also played “Irish Tune from County Derry” several times in my travels — both are often played by community bands and wind ensembles in the United States.

          So the guy was a really, really good composer and arranger. But he also was seriously into S&M.

          No, I don’t get it.

  23. Back in high school, I read *one* modern romance. I went through phases of being bored, repulsed and annoyed. It was supposed to be a historical fiction, but..
    The historian in me kept getting pissed off. It wasn’t even about nit-picking over obscure detail, but at the basic “no Virginia, there are no telephones yet” level. Being a historical RPG fan, I like to think it’s more difficult than average to snap my disbelief-suspenders.

    To be fair, I have found mysteries in the library that suffer from the same problems. When people fundamentally misunderstand the entire gestalt behind a given time period yet choose to write a book that specifically speaks out against it– that’s when I slam the book against the wall.

    So, at my mother’s (and husband’s) urging, I took another turn at the genre. Especially since I’m told that my work more closely fits in with it than any other. This time, I was armed with some guidance and knowledge of how to avoid what I did not like.

    I guess I’ll admit in public that some of my favorite romance written by a modern person is Barbara Michaels. But then, I also like her mysteries, so it seems like cheating. She is a historian, too, so that helps my continuity twitches.

    Romance took on a different aspect to me when I started reading romance published in the late 19th early 20th century. Thank you! Relationships that make _sense_, rather than random people rutting at each other. I am not, in fact, puritanical about sex, but I have no concept of what attracts people to falling into bed with strangers. What is more interesting is what is behind the main character’s desire to do so, rather than actually watching them do it.

    I think there should be a terminology difference between relationship-based Romance and the bodice/bra/halter ripper type romance. I find it hard to credit that the two have the same audiences. However, publishing conventions have never made sense to me anyway.

    • If you like historical romances, try Eloisa James. I don’t know if it will twig your historian, but Eloisa James (It is a pen name btw) has a degree in the area she writes fiction in (I can’t remember if it is a Master’s or Ph.D.)

      • Warning: some of the absolute worst novels I’ve ever read were written by people with MFA or PhD’s in English or Creative Writing. Some of the best is written by people who have absolutely no expertise in the field they’re writing about (*cough Weber-Ringo-Hoyt cough*).

        • Well – she writes Romance and I have enjoyed her stories– I wouldn’t recommend someone who I didn’t like btw. And you are right, academic writing is nothing like creative writing. I have had lots of experience with both as had Sarah. ;-) Plus historical academic and literature academic uses much of the same writing– Eloisa James is able to write even though handicapped.

          • I have wondered how academic writing became a higher level of writing than CW. If you look at the writings logically, CW needs an apprenticeship period to get right. Academic writing can be taught in one class (less than eight weeks). To be hones I had a little of the prejudice against CW after earning my English degree until I tried to write in it. I have the highest respect for CW writers. —now. ;-)

            • Whenever someone tells me that they have a CW degree and they’re working on their novel I have to refrain from rolling my eyes. I can’t help it. Don’t “work on your damned novel”, write the mother fronting thing!

              *ahem* Sorry. Pet peeve.

              • CW degree? lol I know that I thought it was pretty funny when I heard there were BA’s in CW. The students are not being prepared to write CW, but to teach it. URG

              • Don’t “work on your damned novel”, write the mother fronting thing!

                I work on my damned novel all the time. One of my chair legs is an inch shorter than the others, and my damned novel is exactly one inch thick.

                Of course this has nothing to do with what I am writing.

                • Groan. *eye roll* :D

                  • If you get to know me at all, you will discover that among my many faults is a streak of arrant literal-mindedness, which I have to vent from time through silly jokes, or it turns sour inside me and becomes poisonous. In this I am rather like Bernard from the brilliant Yes, Minister. Example:

                    Hacker (the Minister): ‘We have to grit our teeth and bite the bullet.’

                    Bernard: ‘Actually, Minister, you can’t bite a bullet while gritting your teeth, because. . . .’ (He grits his teeth and mimics trying to shove a bullet between them.)

      • The last three or four by Ms. James lacked conflict. The plots wind up too easily. I reviewed one at Shiny Book Review and gave it a B-minus; the writing was good and much of the plot worked (as a fairy tale, which this was intended to be) so long as the two characters were apart — but getting ‘em together seemed to have been left to her research assistant. And apparently the research assistant does *not* do conflict.

        The first fifteen or so are very good, though, and I recommend them. So look for any James novel that’s from 2009 or earlier.

        The other two Regency authors that I’d recommend — well, Rosemary Edghill’s four Regencies are all excellent in one way or another, and she gets the issues right (she’s hoping to re-release them in e-book format, last I checked, as the rights have now finally all reverted). And I recently started reading Judith A. Lansdowne — her last book was published in 2004, and apparently she’s disappeared off the face of the Earth since then — but many of her books are sprightly and funny and have characters to root for (they’re not always perfect-looking or in the peak of health but seem like real people you could get to care about, similar to Ms. James’s first fifteen novels or so.)

        • Madeline Hunter — she makes the feminism thing work, but is also subtly subversive.

          • I’ll have to go find a few of hers, then. I’ve seen her name, but hadn’t yet read anything.

            Thanks for the recommendation!

            • Also good is Lisa Klaypas (sp) though I disagree with just all about her assumptions about society and the world. But you can’t read her as REALLY historical. it won’t work.

              • I know what you mean about Ms. Kleypas. Her books read well but they don’t always scan historically. It’s almost as if she’s writing an alternate medieval (or whatever) without portfolio. ;-)

                • Yes. But she’s fun while I’m reading, and if I find her used…

                  • Yep, I agree with that. Right now I’m looking for some of those books by Madeleine Hunter; as it stands, I’m reading a YA by Elizabeth Wein about World War II (“Code Name Verity”). It’s quite interesting (not a romance, but something I normally wouldn’t have picked up — did so anyway after reading one of her short stories and liking what she did there).

          • Oh yea– I forgot her name– I used to read her before I became ill. Need to write her name down–

        • I have to admit that I haven’t read James for two years– I really liked her first ones anyway. Other than Barbara Cartland (or Regencies –some) I haven’t read historicals for a long time. Rosemary Edghill wrote a book with Andre Norton (collaboration) I still like that book a lot.

          • Yep, “The Shadow of Albion” was really good, an “alternate Regency.” There was a followup set in New Orleans a few years later that was also quite interesting, but of course wasn’t a Regency. (Still very good alternate history for all that.)

            I really enjoyed the first ten or twelve of Eloisa James’ books. I especially enjoyed the quartet about the four sisters, even though two of ‘em were described as being astonishingly beautiful while the other two were merely “pretty” (the last being both pretty and plump).

            • Have you read any of Lee & Miller’s Space Regencies?

              • Yep. All of ‘em. I enjoy them quite a bit and have reviewed them extensively at Shiny Book Review (SBR). My favorite has to be “Scout’s Progress,” but “Local Custom” also is excellent . . . “Mouse and Dragon,” the sequel to “Scout’s Progress,” was outstanding in many ways, and was one of my best books of 2011. (That the most recent Lee and Miller book, “Dragon Ship,” postulates a way for Aelliana to come back from the dead via technology — well. I’ll have to see how they do it, though I have an inkling.)

            • Oh well — when you are dealing with four sisters they get labeled. I was the smart one, my second sister was the vivacious one, my third sister was astonishingly pretty, and my fourth sister was astonishingly tall (between 5’10” and 5’11”)— My dad called my fourth sister his English beauty because she had rosy cheeks and white skin with (we called dishwater blonde) honey blonde hair (my dad thought he was a poet). ;-)

    • Modern (written) romances can be a pain. They project feminism backward, for instance, which makes me want to tear my hair out and scream. Then there’s just stupid stuff. Like… no, a lady in the regency couldn’t just write to some guy, unless they were engaged. Any reader of Austen knows that, but not these bestseller romance writers. It annoys me at the “craft” level because most of those things could be easily done another way.
      It’s easiest if you think of it as a parallel universe where modern people wear costumes. But with all that, I still prefer Regencies to Modern-set books. Why? Because though the sex-as-plot has been invading the regencies (it’s a short cut I don’t like. If you can’t establish feeling without having her legs wrapped around him or some such, really, you must learn) it is still FAR LESS than in the modern-set romances I’ve found which usually start in bed, the turning point is in bed, and they end in bed. Sorry, I am a woman of this time, and I believe there is more to a long lasting relationship than horizontal acrobatics, no matter how amazing. For one, in decades, you’ll go through times one or both of you is deathly ill and other things must support the relationship. If all you do together is roll the melons and hide the sausage, you’re REALLY going to hit the wall fast.
      Perhaps I’ve been reading the wrong modern romances too, who knows? BUT now there is indie, and maybe not all romances will need to go down the path of “he touched her there and it set her world on fire.” Perhaps we can get back to expressing emotion without lust at first sight? Heyer managed it.
      BTW, unrelated, but just like I read kilteddave as kittehdave, I read your name as futtonofworlds — which I found very odd ;)

      • (giggle) I wrote in my own version of a historical bodice ripper: about the heroine’s dramatically tortured younger brother coming home to recuperate under her roof:

        “And perhaps he had a point, for he could barely stand, worn to thread-paper thinness by wounds and illness; hardly in a good state for winning a woman’s affections unless she had an unaccountable fondness for nursing sick and feeble things. In Margaret’s experience, unless love was well-established beforehand, such light affections wouldn’t last past the first wound-dressing or the emptying of a pan of vomit.”

      • Bodice ripping feminism?

      • LOL.. That is as appropriate as anything. “font” was my first id name on the internet, back in 1991 or thereabouts. (Actually, “Kilgore Trout” was my first, but I haven’t earned that one yet!) I used to bbs rather obsessively. On the other hand, I’ve spent so much time on futons at various points in my life, the name fits!

      • I once made my sister who does period clothes very happy. I was telling her about a steampunk heroine of mine — who affects artistic clothing.

        She was delighted and told me about all the silly goose authors who fudge up silly goose reasons for their characters to not wear corsets.

        • I like corsets. Now how tight you tie them is something else…

          • This sister also does period dancing. In, of course, a corset. The treatment of corsets when wore is another pet peeve of hers.

            • Yes!!! I find it mildly revolting when women wear corsets as outerwear, in lieu of other clothing. It gives me the same reaction as Denis Leary on seeing youths with those ridiculous crotch-high trousers that were in fashion some years ago, and acres of exposed long underwear above them: ‘Pull up your pants! Underwear goes inside the pants. Not here, not here, not here — inside the pair of pants. That’s why they call it UNDER-****ing-wear!’

              • Thank heaven we’re spared the sight of red woolen longjohns as fashionable outerwear.

                Although I can remember women’s overclothes becoming indistinguishable from their underclothes without significant societal disapproval.

              • There are corsets made for outerwear. I wear them for steam-punk look. I have bought a book on making the inner wear ones (back support. Great for someone with DD er… front mounted radar emplacements.) I just haven’t got around to it. Time!

                • There are corsets made for outerwear.

                  Yes, there are now. There weren’t in the period that ‘steampunk’ is supposed to be recreating.

                  • Sort of. There’s “future steam punk.” For me, it’s “I can costume cheaply with a corset and a long skirt.” I do these so rarely, it’s worth it.

                    • OK . . .

                      *pauses while mind boggles*

                      *BOGGLE*

                      If it’s set in the future, what the hell is steam about it? I confess I don’t understand this at all.

                      But then, my personal definition of steampunk is ‘where hard SF went to die’. It is so much easier to come up with gee-whiz future technologies when ‘future’ means ‘extrapolating forward from 1890 or so’. We already have the answers in the back of the book, so to speak, and can always cheat by consulting the actual future. Much easier than starting with our own vastly more complex science and technology, and our near-total ignorance of what our future will hold, and trying to extrapolate from that.

                      And my personal definition of costuming is ‘something done by strange people who think other people are looking at them’. Nobody ever looks at me unless I am doing something wrong. The idea of doing anything to decorate or show off one’s personal appearance is utterly foreign to my imagination.

                    • When I present at a steampunk con, they expect the authors to dress up.

                      And being a woman means dressing up anyway, but that’s hard to explain.

                    • Pish-tosh; it is EASY-Peasy to explain. Explaining it in a manner that doesn’t get you targeted by hordes of Political Correctness Nazis, now … that is difficult.

                  • Since when was steampunk about historical accuracy? Steampunk has always been about the gee-whiz coolness factor of the various toys, and the costumes also fall under the category of “gee-whiz cool toys”.

                    • (Growl) It does decent alternate history when i write it.

                    • Yes. There are very good ones. BUT again, it’s very easy to go back to Victorian times, or create a future where we go back to Victorian times, and things are different…

                      And guys, if you haven’t read Dave’s books from Pyr… I suppose I should do a review…

                • Given time and circumstances, corsets were an excellent adaptation to cultural realities. When women spent a significant portion of their late teens pregnant corsets would have provided much needed abdominal, bust and back support. They would also be a good preventative against scoliosis / curvature of the spine.

                  • Also, the fashion was rather plumper than it is now. And even nowadays, women find that a corset is more comfortable than a bra for the obvious engineering reason of not using two narrow bands as its sole support.

  24. A lot of what gets called trash is often someone with very good story telling ability who has fun being a storyteller and does not work towards art. Real trash is what purports to be art and the critics buy in and love what just plain stinks. Think Umberto Eco or John Irving. On the movie end think Traffic, Shakespeare in love. I also heard Salman Rushdie was in hiding from non-Moslems who actually did read his books.

    By the way a lot of trash is simply copying of well-done originials and eventually the good stuff gets respect. Think Hong Kong Kung Fu movies, stories by Robert E Howard, etc.

    • Actually I have read both Umberto Eco and John Irving– I liked Umberto and hated John. So even then tastes vary.

      • Umberto Eco is frustrating, because he loves so many lovable things about books, and has a real gift for exciting and interesting writing. But then he writes a lot of crud also. Still, you have to respect someone who bought a whole floor of apartment building to house his books.

        We have a sick twisted relationship at the moment, because he wrote Name of the Rose as his revenge on St. Beatus of Liebana for his Commentary on the Apocalypse (because he hated it including all sorts of different ancient interpretative traditions, some of which contradict each other, and because he thought it was depressing). And I got interested in reading the Beatus partly because I vaguely remembered its name from reading Name of the Rose (and I think it’s cheerful). I’m actually one of the few readers in a perfect position to get all his Apocalypse jokes, but we wildly disagree. So it goes, when you try to wreak literary vengeance.

    • A lot of what gets called trash is often someone with very good story telling ability who has fun being a storyteller and does not work towards art.

      This is true; though I would put it a bit differently. I should say that being a good storyteller is an art in itself, and a very important one. As G. K. Chesterton said, stories are a necessity; literature is a luxury. The trouble is that people (especially critics and English professors) are trained to be snobs, and they value the ‘high’ art of precious prose style precisely because the masses are incapable of appreciating it properly. Since ‘properly’ is defined in this case as ‘appreciating it to the exclusion of storytelling’, the masses will never go along with the gag and the snobs’ position is secure against attack from below. But it means that someone who would rather write good stories than precious prose will be called ‘trashy’ by the snobs.

      At that point, the trouble is that words like ‘trash’ lose their ability to describe work that is of little or no value considered as storytelling. We have to use other terms.

      One online reviewer came up with what I thought was a brilliant 10-point scale. A 10 was an acknowledged classic. An 8 or 9 was a book that nearly any reader could appreciate and enjoy to some degree, unless his tastes ran strongly against the particular genre. The further you went down the scale, the narrower the appeal: so a 3 meant a book with such serious flaws that you had to really, really like the subject matter to be able to overlook them. A 1 was a book so ineptly written that even a hardcore fan would find it unreadable.

      By the way a lot of trash is simply copying of well-done originials and eventually the good stuff gets respect.

      Yes, absolutely. And it can be comical when the good stuff got respect before it was copied. For instance, I (and others) consider The Sword of Shannara rubbish because it is a blatant copy of The Lord of the Rings, plot point for plot point, and almost character for character, and it doesn’t really make any improvements on the original. The only really good thing about it is the stolen plot; in all other respects it is rather shoddy work. And the one major change to the plot makes nonsense out of all the characters’ actions.

      I myself am not a big Robert E. Howard fan, but we need more Howards and a lot fewer Swords of Shannara. (I do not pass judgement on Terry Brooks’s work as a whole, because he has improved greatly since those early days.)

  25. My definition of trash is something that is impossible to read, an unedited, badly formatted first draft. Is there any to convince people that they need good grammar and good formatting? You know the kind I mean: You can’t read more than a paragraph before your eyes bleed.

  26. “Trashy” to me means two words: “‘Bot Fodder”. (Sadly, no archive of “Mystery USENET Theater 3000″ survives to show what happened to Trashy works….)

    As to “neutral gatekeepers”: Such cannot exist — the only way to be a Gatekeeper is to have an interest in the subject; and having an interest demands having an opinion, which opinion prohibits “proper” neutrality.

  27. Totally off-topic, but if anyone is using Opera, do not download and install version 11.50 (the latest update). If you open more than three tabs, the program will crash, and you cannot comment on Word Press. I just went back to version 11.10 to be able to do anything.

    • What OS, as my version is up to 12.11? (Win7 64bit)
      This though is done in FF.

    • This one is from a four tabbed Opera window (I read my ebooks in Opera)
      this part :
      Notify me of follow-up comments via email.

      Notify me of new posts via email.

      is in a font color I can barely see though.

      • oh, and Dave Freer’s blog commenting works better for me in Opera as well. Other Blogspot sites work fine in my FF setup but it is hit and miss.

        • I’m running the latest updated version of Windows XP. Dropping back to the previous version has solved all the problems I was having, so they were more than likely caused by the upgrade. It’s not the first time. I had several problems when I was running Windows 95 and some of the earlier versions of Opera came out. Some were buggier than a maggot farm.

          • and 95 had more than it’s share of critter carcases full as well. My XP box died. My laptop was win7 and it has issues with mp4 playback. I got fed up trying to sort it so I installed Ubuntu on it and lo, the same issue happens under that OS. Hardware issues.
            Opera shows 12 as the one for XP but I can’t vouch if it works or not.
            I had more issues with my old XP laptop with opera than I have had in win7 in either 32bit (my laptop) or 64 bit(this pc)

  28. I like to read good, funny romance, esp with mysteries involved. Jayne Anne Krentz, Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich/Luch March, etc. It’s light, entertaining fun. I mostly read for fun. When I’m reading for fun, I want to be entertained, not “made to think” or stay up with nightmares or pondering moral questions. I don’t read a lot of historicals because if the inaccuracies pull me out of the story, that’s not fun! Yes, a lot of people look down on them as trashy, but I’m not reading them to learn anything – I read other books if I want to learn, I just want to be entertained! That being said there is a ton of unreadable romance out there. Its so hard to find a new author that write really entertaining stories.

    • Denise, send me your email address, and I’ll send you a free copy of one of my novels. Let me know what kind of reading software you use, and what format you prefer. My email is mike dot weatherford at gmail dot com.