The good news is that I finished the short stories that were grossly overdue. It took me forever because I was not in a short story mood. So I had to chase myself around and make me do it, which is always the hard part of writing. Though this time it might also have been “there was a lot to do around the writing” and even “I was too tired to concentrate that long” I’m saying this because I seemed to crash and burn after an hour or so.
Well, that’s better and now I can work on the ridiculously overdue novels, both for indie and for Baen. (Yeah, indie can be overdue. I need a sequel for Witchfinder to pick up the sales again. Should have been at least six months ago.)
So why bother with short stories, you say. Well, individually they pay almost nothing, but they pay when I sell them first, and they pay in collections, which I can do after a year. Anyway, never mind.
My friend who self identifies as a raccoon shape shifter wandered around Twitter arguing with a feminist writer who self-identifies as a white knight for ChiComs.
I had clear nothing to do it. I was busy trying to finish a story and he kept popping up with excerpts of what we must call for lack of a better word their conversation. I say this so you understand I was neither controlling nor directing him (as if. I don’t know how difficult raccoons are to herd, but cats are easier I’m sure.) and that he didn’t seem to think what I thought out of the exchange.
Their exchange was peculiar in the extreme for two reasons: one because it touched on an ancient and ongoing argument about writers and writing, but neither of them (and in defense of my friend, he is not only not a literature major, he’s a journalist and they would consider those arguments self-copulating… which in a way they are) seemed at all aware that it was an ongoing argument, and she didn’t even seem aware that it was an argument, but took her position as proven.
Second because she didn’t seem aware of the inherent contradictions or the gaping logic hole in her position. It had the feeling of something she had learned, and therefore couldn’t think around it. As though she was just repeating over and over “But the sky IS blue.” My friend meanwhile got distracted (there is a reason he talks of being a shifter raccoon by hot-key words instead of pursuing the central argument. Which allowed her to fall into her learned pattern and not think. (Which at any rate wasn’t likely to happen because thinking — really thinking — about this issue could easily take her outside her comfort zone and make her think thoughts that would cause her circle to turn on her.)
So for the record I have a year short of a doctorate in Modern Language and literature. Sorry. I didn’t have a choice. They wouldn’t let me have the language without the literature. I was good at it, and enjoyed portions of it (some German Literature, mostly. Okay, a lot of French Literature. You already know I loved Shakespeare with an unnatural love and Austen almost as much. I’ll be d*mned if I remember either Portuguese literature (except Eça de Queirós. I loved Eça de Queirós. I wanted to name second son Eça and got told no. sniffle. Though of course in English it would be spelled Essa, and you can see the issue, right?) or Italian Literature. I never got far enough in Swedish (only three years) to study literature, and though I heard about Spanish literature and my brother liked some of it, culturally it simply wasn’t taught.)
So much, btw, for the whole GRRM’s slam that the puppies formed because we aren’t literate. We’re not only literate, some of us have a grasp on the literary and know what is not so. Never mind.
One of the ongoing arguments in literature is how do works of art emerge. (mostly because the artist needed rent money, is my cotention, but I’m a cynic.) In the past there were various theories, and simplifying brutally, they ranged from the genius theory which means that something inside just clicked and created a genius. This theory is somewhat in disuse because go far enough down that rabbit hole and you find eugenics and the theories of inherently superior men.
Another way to identify how the art came to be is to study the artist’s biography. This is the old fashioned way to do it, saying, for instance, that the Three Musketeers were inspired by the stories Dumas heard from his father.
Which incidentally is why the ongoing argument of whether Shakespeare was bi or not. It’s not his private life people care about but how it affected his art.
When I was in college, the first year this (rather old fashioned) theory reigned, so we got told about the author’s heartbreak and his difficult potty training (only somewhat exaggerated.) I think this is where the “you must suffer for your art” comes from.
However, after that they got the memo that it was new days, and we heard clear nothing about the author’s life. Because the new hotness was Marxist theory. Or, because even in a country where Marxist was not an insult they’d rather not tell us that in the open, it was “social analysis.” A piece of writing was art if it captured the class struggle, or the feminist struggle, or whatever we were struggling against that week.
You’re going to say that’s just the author’s biography writ large. Well, sort of. You don’t actually need to know the author’s biography. You don’t actually need to know if they’re white, black or purple. You need to look at the work and note if it displays the right — left — class consciousness and depicts the struggle. This is how we got all the very rich guys writing about how poor the poor were and how horrible this was, and how they hated the rich. (I don’t know if we got it here, never paid much attention to so called “literature” here, but I do know it’s that way in Portugal. And as someone who grew up what they’d consider very poor, they were wrong from top to bottom. For one we didn’t hate the rich nor revel in breaking bourgeois morality, because that has nothing to do with how rich you are but with software in the head.)
Of course, in the way of Marxism, they’ve now stumbled around again to the old theory and mixed it with their favorite way of thinking. Because it’s impossible to imagine the writing has nothing to do with the head that produced it, they’ve come around to deciding that the writer matters MORE than the writing, provided the writer fits in with the theory of Marxist struggle and writes stuff that can be imagined to conform to Marxist analysis.
So they care desperately whether a writer “suffered” in the APPROVED manner. Because only then are their works worth reading.
The problem, of course, is that art is not the artist and art is certainly well not the Marxist class/theory which frankly doesn’t apply to anything in the real world.
The art comes from the artist, certainly, or as the vileprog told my friend “doesn’t the artist’s experience count towards the art?”
Well, of course it does, but the artist’s experience IS not the art. And the artist’s experience can’t be inferred from the artist’s skin color or any other external characteristic, because the world is not a Marxist fantasy, and people aren’t arrayed according to how they “should have suffered” or what they should have experienced.
To imagine for instance that any two lesbians had the exact same experiences in childhood is profoundly dehumanizing (and completely wrong if my friends are any indication.)
To imagine that even two people from my village had the exact same experience is borderline ridiculous. My best friend came from a family with 13 children, and she was way higher class than I (until my parents built the new house, for instance, she had a bathroom inside, while ours was outside.) Her parents were from high-but-impoverished class from the city and moved to the village to live more cheaply.
So, she never spoke village dialect. They learned manners from birth. (A lot of the ones I have I learned from her parents.) More importantly, they had the experience of a very large family, while my brother and I were both technically only children, due to the huge difference.
If my friend were a writer, or even wrote blog posts, you’d see the village as completely different through her eyes.
Technically, from afar we were both Portuguese village girls from the North and roughly the same class, both our fathers being white collar. But the problem was in the details. And of course, arguably, that’s why we were friends. We each reveled in the other’s fascinatingly different family culture.
Which bring us to the plea of the progtards “Why would we want all white males writing science fiction? Don’t you want different perspectives? Why not let the world in?”
Well, first of all the last one is incredibly arrogant and will require a separate post, but for now WHY WOULD THE WORLD WANT IN? Why do you think you’re so fascinating that the entire world wants to play in your pool? I know if I’d stayed in Portugal I’d be writing in Portuguese and while it would probably pay less, I’d get WAY more fame, as the pool there is very small indeed. And there are rewards to that. But let’s leave that aside, shall we?
Yes, I like reading writing from different perspectives. Even if it’s about a subject I know I find it fascinating when people bring it to life in a different (but not wrong) way. Take P.F. Chisholm’s mysteries. I find them fascinating because the Elizabethan England in her head is so different from the one in mine (more on that later) and though both accord with evidence, there is no way to tell which is right. (Probably neither, really.) Because past, another country and blah blah blah.
But different perspectives have very little to do with the writers’ … official life/class/etc.
It’s not the official large stroke stuff that make people fascinating. It’s the real, individual details. And it’s those little, individual details that fall into a work and make it art (in the right hands.)
As a minor example, I’m sure most people reading my work think I grew up at the seaside. I didn’t. It can be argued that ALL of Portugal is the seaside, since it’s a thin strip of land by the sea. But in the absence of adequate roads and transport, distances magnify. Now, with both roads and transport, my dad can drive to the sea in ten minutes. We took after dinner walks there, when I was visiting.
When I was a kid, getting to the sea took two hours on buses — if it was not the season, when it took longer — and we only did it for the month a year without which Portuguese believe that you’ll grow up sickly. And mind, those days at the beach involved 2 hour bus trip each way every day because we couldn’t afford a rental.
Later, when I made friends who had vacation homes by the sea, I often went by myself for a mouth or two there, in summer.
But then, you ask, why are so many of my stories set by the sea. Because I love the sea. And I probably love it more because I only experienced it in the summer and on vacation.
In the same way, notice that while my stories involve close knit families and communities (often) which is a reflection of my upbringing, this is not necessarily from being “Portuguese” as I knew tons of people who didn’t have that stereotypical experience.
Or consider my friend, Dave Freer. He’s white. He has blue eyes. But he grew up in Africa, and speaks native languages as a matter of course. He also did a lot of subsistence-living that involved hunting and cultivating his own food, and because he’s an adrenaline addict, he climbs and dives and does all sorts of fascinating things you couldn’t pay another white male — my husband — to do. My husband grew up in the US, granted, but despite his and Dave’s similarity of coloration (my husband is darker) they are completely different INSIDE. Their experiences are completely different and their writing will be completely different.
Now take the girl my son had his first crush on. Her dad is part black part Amerindian, and her mother is Irish. So, yeah, she’d have the approved skin color and if she wrote the right — left — things she’d be the sort of person who is “diverse” enough for the establishment of SF.
Only really, when our kids were all playing together, they had about the same experiences. Oh, sure, both their mothers had different accents. BUT in actual point of fact, her parents were science fiction geeks. We were science fiction geeks. Her mom wrote books and her dad composed music while working a day job as a programmer.
Discrimination? Sure. I’m sure she encountered it. WHO DOESN’T? And some of it was even based on her skin color. (I know this for a fact because both she and Robert were victims of a first grade teacher who picked on what she perceived as mixed race children.) But heck, Robert got an awful lot of discrimination too, based on always being a little chubby (yes, he was very active, no he didn’t eat a lot and candy only on Halloween) and being about a size and a half larger than every other kid.
In the end, though, neither of them had half as hard a time in life as even my pampered classmates in the village because a) life is easier here. and b) even our most exclusionary/xenophobic people are not nearly as tribal as in a small village in Portugal fifty years ago, where who you were related to mattered more than anything else.
The ridiculous thing about the progtards is that they want to decide what’s art based on the two or three characteristics of the author they’ve been taught to pay attention to. They — as they’ve been kind enough to reveal — don’t even find reading the book necessary. It is after all an ‘inefficient’ way to find out if it’s good. They judge these “different” voices from the outside in by “does it have the right markers, and does the author have the right beliefs?”
Art is not that. And most books aren’t art. They’re entertaining pieces of craft. Art is not necessary to make a piece of literature enjoyable. Note no one has college courses exclusively about other playwrights of the Elizabethan era except perhaps Marlowe. BUT several men made their living at what to us now is entirely forgettable drivel.
Art might be in a book, but if it is, it’s not derived from the author’s melanin content or social class. It is a happy and fortuitous combination of experiences and subject.
And it is not Marxist whining about oppression. Because the first rule of art, or even good craft, is “though shalt not bore” and at this point it’s really hard to whine in a new fashion. We’ve heard it all before.
Anyway, yeah, sure, the artist matters to what art is produced, but to reduce the artist to bullet points: Female Tongan Lesbian with a Missing Leg, say, ignores the ability of humans to take all that and make it absolutely different.
I’d say I have way more in common with most progtard writers — having had a demanding education which dipped heavily into Marxist principles — than I have with my friend Dave Freer, because if you put me in a wet suit and had me dive, I’d probably die before getting in the water just at the thought of doing it. And this doesn’t cover cliff climbing which eeep. Not me. Otoh if you drop Dave in a large city and tell him to find the best diner by nighttime, he’ll go back in his hotel room to read.
We’re very different people and what we write is fascinating to each other because of this, but none of us is going to give you a Marxist paean of oppression by the numbers. Which is good because those are boring.
Now would some minorities, left unfettered, write fascinating stuff based on their experiences. Sure. Same as some white people would (and don’t because they’re busy writing Marxist class consciousness.)
But then the question becomes: do they want to? And do they want to write science fiction? And do they want to write science fiction in the US? And more importantly, if they’re good at their craft, why would they need white-knight white feminists to open doors to them.
That’s a subject for another post. For now:yeah, experience of the author matters, but it neither makes, or destroys the art. It neither makes nor destroys enjoyment of the work either.
There have been authors with profoundly boring lives and lively imaginations and I KNOW writers with rich experience who were too traumatized by it to write about it, and who write soft, fluffy fantasy.
The writer is not the art. You need a long and expensive education to confuse the inside and the outside of a person to that extent, and to think that the writer literally writes with his (or more likely her) Marxist-victimhood points, tm.
Or it could all be a rationalization to allow rich white bread guys (and in our field often women) to claim victimhood on behalf of other people and get unearned success.
If you look at the facts, that might be the most obvious explanation. And historically it would seem to be the true one.