Today I have the very great pleasure of being part of the Cover Reveal of Stacey Trombley’s new novel NAKED. For those of you who don’t know Stacey, she is not only an awesome author, a great friend to aspiring … Continue reading
Today I want to talk about the subject of diversity. It’s become a bit of a catch-phrase; which, frankly, always makes me nervous. It’s a bit like Political Correctness. Now, don’t me wrong, I am totally for BOTH diversity & political correctness. What I don’t like it people hiding behind these terms. Or using them as ‘band-aids’ as something to say (or write) to get out of actually dealing with the core issues of diversity (& political correctness, because seriously, can one be without the other?)
I’m a massive supporter of diversity in art. I want to see more social, cultural, sexual, age, religious, political, geographic diversity in all forms; in art, in business, in science… in other words, in life. But as Artists, we are in a privileged position. I believe that through art (visual, dance, music, writing, you name it) we open understanding and dialogue. I want to see more gay characters and non-Christian characters is books and in movies. I want to see more paintings and sculptures by and about indigenous people across the world. I want people with various religious beliefs depicted beyond stereotypical cliché’s. I want people of all ages represented in media and fiction. I want to discover new traditions and legends and myths. I want physical & metal health issues portrayed in movies and see people valued for their skills and talent and not just their cup size or height. I want to see plays and music and dance written and performed by groups I’ve never even heard of; so that I can hear of them and learn from them and understand them.
OK, so, have I made it clear I’m Pro-Diversity? Great. Now let’s talk about what I DON’T want to see, hear, read, touch, smell, taste.
A few days ago there was a link on Facebook to an article where Oxford University was recommending people not refer to pork products/references in novels because it might offend Jewish and/or Muslim readers. I will openly say I think this is taking political correctness too far. I also have to wonder why the same ‘study’ did not also recommend not mentioning beef products in case Hindu readers should be offended, or all meat products for fear of offending vegetarians, or all meat and dairy products, should that offend vegan’s. Sometimes things are so ‘politically correct’ that (in my opinion) they are simply wrong.
Personally, I think articles and studies like this are both divisional and unfair to the same people the studies are proclaiming to support/protect. I know a lot of Jewish and Muslim people; a lot. I would NEVER serve any of them pork, just as I never serve a vegan a piece of cheese. Having said that, my Muslim and Jewish friends don’t expect me to change everything about myself because their lifestyles vary from mine, after all, isn’t the point of diversity to acknowledge our differences and embrace what we can and accept openly even that which we ourselves do not adhere to.
Diversity. I want to see it in all its incarnations. Even so, there are things I do not want to be exposed to. I don’t wish to be exposed to bad writing or bad art. I don’t want to taste the bitter taste in my mouth with someone randomly picks a character with a political view or cultural background they know nothing about.
I don’t want to be made aware of just how poor an artist’s research is into a social group, or culture, or religion, has been.
I don’t want to be insulted, as a reader or a viewer, or an audience member (etc.) with any of these.
What I’m saying is this. Don’t write a Koori single mother into your novel and that’s it. Don’t create a gay or transsexual character and not do your research. Don’t make your character one dimensional, simply for the sake of being able to ‘label’ it GLBT or Ethnically Diverse (or similar).
Yes give me an Orthodox Jewish character but don’t end it at that. I want to know who this person is. Do they work in their own community or the larger community? Show me their struggles with meeting their religious obligations (religious holiday’s for example) while also being effective in the greater community. Give them dimension. Are they also mad-crazy about a sports team? If so, how do they manage their personal passions with their family commitments? Are they loud, are they introverted, are they studious, or do they like to go for a jog every morning? Have they struggled with inter turmoil or demons? Have they questioned their faith, or their place in the world? Have they been exposed to violence, a health issue, financial struggles?
THIS IS WHAT I WANT. I want a detailed, evolved, creative tapestry of character traits and experiences. I want interaction and intrigue and love and lust and danger and symbolism and manic behaviour and sadness and joy and hope and loss and opportunity… I want WHOLE genuine characters I can relate to, learn from and support. I want to be shown their world not simply told they are an Orthodox Jew or a lapsed Christian.
Think about it. Do you have gay friends? Conservative friends? Muslim or Hindu friends? Communist friends? How do you introduce them? Do you say, “This is Sue. Sue just move in next door.”
(because that’s what I’d say)
I bet you don’t say, “This is Sue. She used to be Peter, before the operation, oh and by the way, Sue is a Communist.”
There is nothing natural about the second version. Everything after “This is Sue” will (or should) be part of the development of the character. I want to be drawn in, shown who Sue is, what struggles Sue has faced, why she is who she is. I want to learn about the relationships Sue has. This is what I mean by TOKEN. If ‘Sue’ being a Communist is part of her character arc, fantastic, lead me on the discovery. If it’s simply a line you throw in here or there, as a way of saying “look at me, I’ve got a Communist in my book” that’s a diversity fail for me.
If you’re going to create a character like ‘Sue’ DO YOUR RESEARCH.
I’m not gay, nor a man.
My current WIP has a male main character, (actually its duel POV so it also has a lead female character, but you get my point). When I write in a male voice I work hard to channel my inner guy, but I also make sure I have male reader’s giving me their opinion. My male MC has a best friend who is mixed race and openly gay, and has a crush on my straight male MC. In this particular WIP there is a lot of out right sex, drugs, violence, lust and magic (it’s a re-tell BTW). There is also a lot of suggestive stuff. Some of the sex scenes (outright and suggested) are gay and to do justice to my character’s as well as my gay friends, I have various people read scenes not long after I’ve written them. I want the scenes to sound and feel authentic. I want them to be true to the people I am representing and I DON’T want them to come off as cliché.
Because of this (and other reasons), the current WIP is taking me a very long time to finish even draft one. But I know it’s worth the struggle because, frankly I don’t want to insult the cultures or the friends I’m representing. I don’t want them to be cardboard cut-outs. I don’t want them to be stereotypes or cliché. I don’t them to be single dimensional. Being labelled diverse IS NOT ENOUGH, they must be real and true and thought out and developed and multi-faceted.
A few years ago I finished the first novel in a series. It was (is) a historical dark fantasy which begins in 10th century Europe and finishes (Vol#3) in 2038. The history is based on Croatian, Bulgarian & Austro-Hungarian (royal) history and the mythology is Pagan Slavic mythology. I had one agent tell me they liked the writing but STRONGLY suggested I pick a better known history and mythology. I didn’t take this advice. I didn’t take it because this is what I know and this is what I wish to share. That trilogy has been set aside, but not shelved forever, as I work on other pieces. Personally, I believe that piece of advice was wrong Wrong WRONG. I know that I can make the trilogy stronger, when I do eventually return to it; and I will. I also know that my culture and history has a market. I write what I know and what I’ve studied. I write (and paint) what comes to me, naturally, infused within my core. I write this because I know the voice will be real and genuine.
I did explain that I happen to live in Melbourne Australia and African-American’s are very few and far between. In fact, I have only ever met two African-Americans. One while living in France (and trust me USA friends, she was not the kind of person I’d want to base a cultural representation on) and the second, less than two months ago. The second woman is ½ African-American & ½ Turkish. She also happens to be Muslim. Her father and mother split up when she was a toddler with her (African-American) father returning to the US and having practically nothing to do with her until she was in her late teens. In other words, she knew (and still knows) virtually nothing about being African-American. She considers herself a mixed-race Muslim Australian.
What’s my point?
Do not write about people you have little or no knowledge of, without GAINING knowledge. If I happen to write about a group I‘m not so knowledgeable about, I make sure I have REAL people I can talk to, study and ask to read pages, in order to ensure I am doing them justice.
But wait I hear someone screaming, do I write about Koori’s (given I’m in Australia). My current WIP refers to Koori culture; however, as there are so many Australian Aboriginal languages, I tend to refer to more generic aspects of Koori life. For example, in my current WIP I use the myth of The Rainbow Serpent, (which I mix with Slavic, Druid and Celtic beliefs). I’ve known several people from various aboriginal groups. And because I have known several, I also know that each group has their own uniqueness. As I cannot do justice to any one group, I use my overall knowledge to represent Koori people but I don’t go into specifics, the same way I would for say a Croatian or French character.
Why? If a Koori were to read my novel(s) I don’t want them feeling insulted or misrepresented.
So I write (& paint) what I know and if I need to study a culture, or belief, or tradition, or geographic environment or era, I REALLY study it. And that is what I expect when I interact with another artist’s work.
I titled this post, Diversity; Life Imitating Art – Hopefully, as I believe that through art we open discussion and acceptance. But as artists we have an obligation to represent uniqueness and diversity with integrity and honestly. We have a duty beyond not falling into clichés; we have a duty to break them. We have a responsibility to push boundaries rather than perpetuating (often wrong) stereotypes. We have a calling to show humans for what they are, one race, and to help other’s not push people and groups into pre-conceived boxes.
We must encourage diversity but we must also acknowledge each of us comes from our own unique place. We should draw on the relationships we have and then expand our knowledge, our circle. We should be reading non-fiction as well as fiction. We should be the leaders in expanding our horizon’s, before expanding our art.
But most of all, (I believe), we should have a need, a hunger to present diversity with respect and with conscious endeavour to embrace all, not simply want to follow a catch-phrase or trend. We have the power to effect change, both as a consumer and as a creator. Or we can perpetuate indifference and lack of tolerance either by not embracing diversity or by not respecting the responsibility of creating diverse art. OK, jumping off my soapbox now. I would very much like to hear what others think about this post.
Given we are past the 1/2way mark of the first month of 2015, I thought it an ideal time to update everyone on upcoming competitions & workshops.
Please note: this is NOT a complete list, but rather a few competitions I know work and are run by extraordinary women with exceptional writing credibility & gianormous hearts.
Description: Writing comp with agents requesting pages/material
Hosted By: Michelle Hauck & Amy Trueblood
Submission open: 26th Jan 2015
Where to find info:
Description: A pitch + first 250 Workshop (lottery-style)
Hosted By: Abby Annis assisted by Angelica R. Jackson
Submission open: Right now! Lottery closes Friday, Jan 23rd at 11:59 pm EST.
Where to find info:
Description: Writing comp with agents requesting pages/material
Hosted By: Brenda Drake
Submission open: 20th Feb 2015
Where to find info:
Description: 35-word pitch Workshop
Hosted By: Nikola Vukoja & Rhiann Wynn-Nolet
Submission open: Date to be confirmed, will be between mid-Feb to early March, please follow this site & Rhiann’s blog for updates
Where to find info: Please look over 2014 info sheet, (https://nestpitch.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/35-word-pitch-clinic-is-now-open-for-business/)
2015 Post-It-Forward info will be posted soon.
Description: Writing comp with agents requesting pages/material
Hosted By: Nikola Vukoja
Submission Window Opens April Fools Day (April 1st 2015)
10pm Aust. Eastern Standard Time
7am USA New York Time
12 noon London UK Time
Submission Window Closes Good Friday (April 3rd 2015)
10pm Aust. Eastern Standard Time
7am USA New York Time
12 noon London UK Time
Info to follow closer to the date. Please note, there will be some changes. Please refer to this post update: https://nestpitch.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/nestpitch-2015-st-nicholas-day/ for a general overview
And also please note that Nestpitch 2015 WILL NOT be accepting Picture Books. We are planning something for Picture Books (& possibly MG) in December 2015.
Hi All, I’m so excited about this. Today I have a super treat for you – an interview with the Co-Founders of City Owl Press (can I get a WooHoo). For those of you who don’t know, the magic Team … Continue reading
Before Christmas I mentioned on my Facebook Page that I was reading an international best seller which had been awarded two prestigious awards & how I could not comprehend either the awards or the best seller status. I also promised that, when done, aside from getting around to posting my review on both Amazon & Goodreads, I wanted to fully explain my intended rating (1-star) here. Since then, I’ve also received 1x 1-star review for a piece of (short) non-fiction I wrote.
Given I was about to do the same to another author, I thought I’d not only explain my 1-star rating, but also discuss how I felt about my own 1-star review.
So here we go!
I should say from the get-go I’m expecting some negative backlash for my 1-star rating on Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book” novel. I’m expecting it because:
(i) people who are likely better qualified than me have raved about this book
(ii) this novel has won two awards
(iii) this novel is a best seller
(iv) it was written by a female author (not enough of us truly) with the main character being an Australian (again not nearly enough novels see the light of day with Aussie characters) and being a woman.
(v) I’m sure I am about to break some unwritten law about not supporting female Australian authors who write about Australia and have Australian main characters
Firstly, let me say, this is the FIRST time I have ever given ANY novel a 1-star review & I did not take this decision lightly, however, if I am to be honest in my reviews then I cannot be swayed by popular opinion.
Without giving the entire novel away, in order to demonstrate my issues, I will give a brief synopsis of the novel.
The main character, Hanna, is an Australian who was born and raised in an elite area of Sydney, attending the best schools (etc). Her mother is a world renowned neurosurgeon who lectures around the world (mostly US) in between doing the most complex surgery and saving lives. Hanna has double honours degrees in chemistry & ancient Near Eastern languages, a Masters in chemistry & a PhD in fine art conservation. She too is among the top in her field (she restores old manuscripts and saves pieces of historical and archaeological significance) and travels all over the world to do her work, write papers, give lectures etc. She is an only child and (almost until the end) she has no idea who her father is. Additionally, the relationship between mother and daughter is strained to say the least.
Hanna is given an assignment in Bosnia, just after the War of Independence, to save a magnificent Jewish document. She intends to not only restore this treasure but to try and work out where it has been (it’s over five hundred years old) and how it has survived so long in such war-torn and religiously and politically unstable climates.
Basically this book had everything I love in a book. It had a female main character. It had links to Australia. It was written by a female author. It had lots and lots of history, much of which touched on my own Croatian history. And it wasn’t the standard “girl-meets-boy” yadda yadda (they don’t appeal to me & therefore I neither read nor review them). In other words I was super excited to read this.
That excitement dwindled from Chapter #1 – onward.
Chapter #1 was so long-winded, with so much exposition (unnecessary exposition) that I ended up skipping ½ of it. Funny thing was (or perhaps not so funny), when I started Chapter #2, I found I’d missed NOTHING.
I should add that the novel is over 400 pages. That in itself was not an issue, I have read books in the 700+ pages and devoured them, but this dragged on, and on, and on, and on. There are three chapters that are (each) over 50 pages – no break. I found myself skipping page after page and getting more and more disillusioned. What’s worse is, when the author stopped waxing on and on with mind-numbing details that added nothing to the pace, there were some truly brilliant parts. Some of the pages brought me to tears – literally. This is what made it difficult to simply stop. Because there was brilliance beyond words, I kept going, hungry for more pages and passages like this. Sadly there was not enough greatness to out way the mundane & unnecessary.
Let me start listing my biggest hang-ups.
As I mentioned, the MC was from a well-to-do part of Sydney, yet, on occasion, she’d use terms which, as someone who has lived her entire life in the CBD (or near) parts of Melbourne, I’ve only heard used by Steve – The Crocodile Hunter – Irwin or the fictional character Mick “Crocodile” Dundee (is it a crocodile thing?). Now, don’t get me wrong, some people, especially in the country and even more so in the outback, do say G’day, but not city people (and that’s far from the worst of it – Bonza and other utterly cliché words were used throughout), and certainly not by someone with a doctorate, with a mother who sent her to the finest private schools (etc). But even this I was willing to overlook, some marketing ploy perhaps, except then the author goes ahead and uses American English. Words like TRAVELLED became TRAVELED (one L) and everything had a “Z” in place of an “S” – even her mentioning her honours degrees, the word honours has no “U” – any degree she got in Australia would 100% have the U. This sort of inconsistency DRIVES ME CRAZY. I found myself saying out loud things like “oh please!” referring to some of her language and rolling my eyes at USA English. Again, I have no issue with USA English, but this is AN AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR writing about AN AUSTRALIAN MAIN CHARACTER, one who has finished a hell of a lot of schooling IN AUSTRALIA. Franking it was annoying.
This is a biggie for me. If you’re going to write a historical novel, then please oh please check your facts. There are so many minor historical inaccuracies I could list, but I don’t want this to be a 10-page blog-post, so I’m going to identify two of them.
a) The author refers to the Habsburg Empire. That’s fine. Except she calls them HAPSBURG – with a “P” not the correct B. Now, I should say that the surname is often written as a P, incorrectly, and the Habsburgs accepted both spelling forms (this came about because of a miss-spelling centuries ago & has remained), however the correct spelling is with a B. Given the MC is supposed to be this big-shot PhD, a specialist in her field, someone who details with history and antiquities and parchments and documents, (the MC even did her residency in Vienna FFS!), one would think she’d KNOW how to spell the name correctly, after all I and 1000s of other people do.
b) Still in reference to the Habsburgs, the MC gives us a history lesson on the final stages of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, explaining that it included parts of Croatia, Bosnia & Serbia. Correct. But then she goes on to say that this ended in 1908. INCORRECT. How do I know this? Simple. Once upon a time Croatia was 3-4 times the size it is now, covering what is now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Serbia. (If you don’t believe me google the First King of Croatia King Tomislav & you’ll find he was crowned in Bosnia – part of Croatia – & you’ll also see reference to The Battle of the Bosnian Highlands in the 10th century) In the middle ages, most of Croatia, Bosnia & Serbia were ruled by the Habsburgs (from Vienna), up until (almost) the end of 1911. How can I be so sure? Easy. My grandmother on my mother’s side was born in 1911 in Croatia and my grandfather on my father’s side was born in Bosnia, also in 1911. Their birth certificates stated: Nationality: Croat Citizenship: Austrian. 1911 Ms. Brooks – why did your people not check their facts? Frankly it’s insulting.
a) The author makes an effort to use words (places, people, things) in foreign languages, primarily German, Croatian & Bosnian. Trouble is, she is not consistent. I have no issue with words being Anglo-fied, to allow the reader better ease to read them, but this author picks and chooses which words she will Anglo-fy. Some German words have “umlauts” others, which should have them, don’t. (an Umlaut is when there are dots over a vowel, eg: ä, ö, ü). Some German streets have the symbol “ß” while others, that should therefore also have them, don’t. It’s even worse with Croat, Serb & Bosnian words. For example I defy anyone from an Anglo-only background (who has not studied Slavic Languages) to correctly pronounce DŽEZVA or FILDŽAN (on page 68), the Ž is not pronounced as a Z, or any of the following letters: Š, Č, Ć, Đ – for example Đ makes a “kind” of J sound like in JACK but not exactly. Again, I don’t have an issue with this, EXCEPT that the Author chooses where she’ll use the spelling correctly and where she’ll put a C instead of a Č (which makes a CH sound) or she adds letters, like SH for the letter Š. On page 41 (for example) she spells the word RAKIJA (a very strong plum brandy) but then on other pages she spells it RAKIJAH – adding an H for no apparent reason. This inconsistency is not only frustrating for the reader (regardless of if you can’t pronounce the words or if you look at them and say “that’s wrong”) it’s unacceptable in an award winning, international best seller.
b) At one point the author refers to Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his death at Mayerling with his mistress, 17-year-old Baroness Marie Alexandrine von Vetsera, who the author refers to as MARY VETSERA and doesn’t even give Marie the title of BARONESS. Again, choose already? Either both have their correct names or neither, surely?
c) Throughout the novel, almost to the end, the MC whines at not knowing who her father is. Yet, she has all these degrees. She has access to files and documents that allow her to discover that a white hair came for a specific type of cat. She can tell a document is a forgery by simply looking at it, with her bare eyes, because of the size of the pores. She even has access to Scotland Yard DNA experts at one stage, but she cannot figure out who her father is? WTF?
Yes, it’s clear her mother is an indifferent “mother figure” and is disappointed her daughter did not follow her into medicine, but Oh My Frigging God! Get over yourself! The MC is well educated, well travelled, (double LL as I’m in Australia), a leader in her field. Not every mother is “motherly” some are simply not drawn that way. I am so over 1st world country characters whining “Woo is me” when they actually have nothing to whine about. Was she homeless? Living in a car? Was she fostered out as a child? Abandoned? Molested? No, no, no, no… this sort of “I blame mummy” character I expect in someone who is perhaps 15-20 years old, who doesn’t know what they want in life, who is still growing up and who DIDN’T get a wonderful start to life and an extraordinary education. It’s insulting to people who have really had to struggle to survive.
OK, so I’ve had my say; well almost. There are some exceptional parts in this novel. The mix of countries and cultures, the mix of Jewish, Muslim, Christian Orthodox and Catholic, the historical elements are all wonderful. The trouble is, a lot of it is swathed in dull, over-written, exposition ridden, historically inaccurate, culturally insulting blah, blah. If I was BETA reading this, I would have suggested cutting about 150 pages, correcting the inconsistencies, fixing the historical inaccurate parts and cutting the massive chapters into more bite-size pieces. I am sure I will be hanged, drawn & quartered for expressing these views, however, this is how I see it, take from it what you will & remember, this is but one persons view.
Right at the beginning, I mentioned I recently got a 1-star review for my own writing. The piece in question is a short non-fiction I wrote. I wrote & Self Published it because I wanted to start a conversation on my hypothesis. I did it all in a few days, wrote the words, did my research, designed my cover & published it. I added in the prefix that this was not intended to be anything more than an opening to a larger discussion.
My first review was a 1-star review. One of the issues was “a few spelling mistakes” which I am sure are true, (evidently I wrote SEE in place of SEA). The reviewer also seemed to have missed that I wrote this to start a discussion (another issue was it was just under 30-pages and apparently this was not long enough). Some of the comments were justified and some hit me hard.
My first reaction was: “Oh God, I’m so super stupid & shyte at this”
My second reaction was: “I need to get in touch with this reviewer and explain that they didn’t really ‘get’ what I was trying to achieve here and maybe if I explained…”
My third and final reaction was: “Oh what the hell, he/she didn’t like it, so what? Is there still food in the fridge? Is the power still on? Is the earth still rotating around the sun? YES, Great! Someone I don’t know read my words & isn’t that the ultimate objective of all writers? YES, 1000 times YES”
My point is, 1-star reviews are harsh, no matter what the reasoning, but they happen. Don’t NOT read something that interests you simply based on one or two bad reviews. I will never, for the life of me, understand how People of the Book became a best seller when I know so many authors who I consider to have written masterpieces in comparison; will never see the same level of success. Some may never even get published.
Life sucks sometimes, that’s just the way it is, but if your field is the arts, whatever the area, you have to be open to 1-star reviews. Accept and move on.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
When life gives you 1-star reviews, make a smiley face and write & read something else.