Friday, November 13, 2015

Shame on All of Us

Can nothing of worth come from someone who is racist, sexist, or homophobic? Should we reject any writer or artist – refuse to read/see/hear/acknowledge his or her works – because he or she holds views we find repellent? Should we have some sort of tolerance threshold, some level of flaws we’ll allow in a creative person before we say, “No more!” and refuse to consume any more of his or her products? And, in the age of social media, should we publicly call out these artists? Should we “shame” people for continuing to enjoy their art?

The question is often phrased this way: Can or should you separate the art from the artist? But I think it’s more complicated than that. There are so many other issues surrounding this central one.

The genesis of this post for me was the recent decision by the board of the World Fantasy Awards to change the look of the award statuette it bestows upon fantasy authors each year. Since its inception, the award has been a bust of the author H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, though revered as a writer (mainly by horror fans, I believe), is what you’d called “problematic.” He held racist and xenophobic views. These were evident in his letters, which may not have been made public during his short lifetime, but were also painfully obvious in a few of his stories and poems. So one author started a petition to have the World Fantasy Award bust changed, possibly to a likeness of author Octavia Butler (Lovecraft is known mainly as a horror writer, Butler as a science fiction author, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose). The petition was successful, and the bust will no longer be of Lovecraft. You can read more about the story here.

Now I love some of Lovecraft’s stories. I don’t usually write horror, but I would say that, by reading his works, I learned some things about the craft of writing, for which I am eternally grateful to him. I even based a recent short story of mine – “Polarity” – and one of his (“Polaris”). Yes, absolutely, when I read some of his racist words, my gut sank. It was disgusting, frankly. But somehow that didn’t – for me – taint all his writings.

Of course there have been times when a creative person’s public persona has made me feel unable to enjoy his/her output. When Charlton Heston became an enthusiastic booster of the NRA, and made his “cold, dead hands” speech, I’ll admit, my joy at watching “Planet of the Apes” or “Touch of Evil” was diminished. And sometimes it’s easy to “give up” a particular artist: if you’ve never been interested in Orson Scott Card’s books, for example, it’s not that difficult to boycott a big Hollywood production made from one of them (Ender’s Game).

What seems “newish” to me, though, is the many people who take to Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets to “call out” or “shame” anyone who continues to enjoy the work of one of these problematic creators. You need to be “schooled” in why it’s wrong, they say. “Continue to read so-and-so,” they offer, “but at least admit you’re supporting a racist/sexist/homophobe/etc.”

I suppose this sort of thing is a valid tool for change. Of course the shame merchants have the right to say what they do. And peer pressure can make people either change (at least publicly) or expose their darker natures. But some of it has this strange air of “I’m more pure than you.” You must meet the shame merchant’s standard or you are flat out bigoted and worthless.

So what’s “right” here? What is the right thing to do? I still read Lovecraft and admire his writing. What do I do? Do I admit I’m a racist? I don’t think I am. I am guessing most human beings have some racist aspects within their beings, whether they are conscious of them or not. But I don’t believe people are different/inferior/superior because of their skin color. So then am I supporting a racist? Well, I could point out that Lovecraft is long dead, so is getting none of my money. Would I read his works if he were alive and able to profit from them? I don’t know, truthfully. Should I be shamed for liking his writing (to be clear, that which does not contain racist themes)? If so, should I work to shame others for their likes as well? The argument could go round and round – someone criticizes me, I could find out what they like and why they are not as pure as they hold themselves out to be. “How can you slam me for liking Lovecraft, when you like [fill in a name here]?”

I’ll end by linking to some articles about some problematic authors. Are any of your favorites among them? Well, should you stop enjoying their work now, or what? Toss it into the dustbin of history? What would we gain and what would we lose?

And this is just Norman Mailer!

Monday, November 2, 2015

To Write to Market or Not To Write to Market ... That is the Question!

Writerly musings: Lately I’ve been dogged a lot by the question of whether to “write to market” – to try and write what will sell – or to “write what I love/feel/know.”

Of course it’s not entirely a choice. Maybe I can’t write a bestseller, even if I want and try to. Maybe I can only write what I love, which, who knows? Could turn out to be a bestseller in the end. Or maybe I’ll never have anything else published, no matter what I try.

But I guess it centers on what I want to try for. I’ve seen some of the popular works – maybe not the million-sellers, but series with followings, and which seem to have new volumes added just about every six months to a year – and I think, “I could maybe do that, couldn’t I?” And part of me wants to give it a go. Even if I want to keep writing my personal, idiosyncratic work, it might not hurt to learn how to write what sells, right? If I can, I mean?

What do you think, fellow writers and readers? Writers: do you wrestle with this at all? For you, is being a writer and a success synonymous with making sales and being famous? Or would you be happy writing what you love, no matter how weird, even if few people ever read it?

Readers: Do you take chances on obscure work, books and/or movies or TV shows you’ve not heard much about? Would you rather read books in extensive series, in established genres, by authors you’ve heard of, whom you might hear interviewed on NPR or something?


Writing news: We went to Rockport, Massachusetts, for the Halloween weekend, and the folks at Toad Hall Bookstore were nice enough to take a chance on a few copies of our books. So, if you happen to be there, or like to order from indie bookstores, AND you’d like to check out our books, consider Toad Hall. They don’t make too many like Toad Hall anymore!