Lost in Translation

I might have lost my first reader because of what I’ve been writing.

If you don’t write there’s this thing that seems to be something that even the most carefree, fearless of writers goes through–somehow, someday you’re going to write something that is going to get you into trouble. Writing has caused an uproar before, for sure. There’s what happened with Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code or the many people made about the portrayal of sex and just relationships in general in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Notice that both of those books sold very well.

That’s not an invitation to write the worst things that you can, but there’s obviously something to be said about the controversial selling or the shitstorm that brews around a thing actually helping to fuel its ascent.

We could only hope to be that lucky. In my case I passed a story along to a woman who I wouldn’t call a friend quite yet, but there was something budding there. She had asked to see something I was writing and as she actually reads a lot I thought that this could be a common ground for us.

I e-mailed the first chapter to her, because I almost never send out the complete manuscript, expecting to hear back in a couple of days. The idea was that she would read it and make some comment like “that was really cool, I’d read this” or “nah, not really my kind of thing”. In the past I’ve gotten either.

I’ll interject here that one of the things that I read in Stephen King’s On Writing that has always rang true with me was that the writer in us has this desire to find an ideal reader–usually a spouse or friend or family member whose feedback they write for. This person would be the audience you have in mind. Maybe not so much in the sense that they are the type of person that you’re writing for, but more that you write everything to filter through them. The writing process is lonely by necessity, even when you’re writing with a co-author. That first time that you hand someone the printed stacks of paper that are your novel or send out that little file attachment is a big step. Their impression of the thing is your first impression of what anyone else thinks.

And in a way I’m kind of searching for the person to be that. It takes more than just being the first to read a thing; they have to be honest enough and brutal enough to be willing to take a stab at something very personal that has, up until then, been your own little secret creation.

Sure, you learn to get hardened to criticism and to take it as a critic of what’s on the page and not you, but it’s still a part of you. It’s still a very vulnerable give and take relationship.

So when I didn’t hear back, I figured that it was because she didn’t like it and was scared of hurting my feelings. I actually like hearing someone didn’t like it, someone telling me that they loved it doesn’t usually tell me what needs to be fixed.

Something always needs to be fixed.

She and I talked over the next few days about photography and kind of joked around. We came to the point where she was going to meet up with me the other day and then the day of she backed out. And I did what I do when anyone does anything, even a small thing. I over analyzed it.  It really works in my favor some of the time. If there’s a problem that needs a high level of scrutiny I can do that.

The phrase she used was “no contact” and it seemed like a very specific sort of language to use with someone who you had very lighthearted contact with in the first place. Looking back over the conversations we’ve had since I got the iPhone (and looked for an excuse to text anyone I knew had one to see the little blue bubbles) there’s nothing alarming in my language with her. We had breakfast together once a while ago and haven’t seen each other sense, but I wondered what I’d said to get this response.

The old “what did I do that upset you so much” conversation isn’t one I usually have to have. I know what I’ve said, I probably said it on purpose. I was careful this time; I’m usually extra careful because i can get carried away with jokes that are too much for people and topics that shouldn’t be discussed.

Then I realized the only place I hadn’t been careful was my writing. The first chapter of the novel I sent her has some choice words in it and some choice imagery. She actually questioned it when she first started reading the whole thing, but that was the last conversation where we mentioned it. At that point she seemed fine with there being a little adult content. It wasn’t there for no reason, that’s for sure.

I think she read the rest of it either days ago or very recently and had been thinking it over. Is this the kind of person that I want to be friends with? Someone who would write this must be sick or someone who would write this must have a real problem. Authors aren’t the people they write about in their stories, although part of us does go into the process. I’m no more Lissette than I am any other character written by someone who just had the idea. But she’s up here in my head, she came from there and I can pull that personality forth and put it on the page (haven’t been doing it as much lately).

The writing scaring her is all that makes sense to me with the scant information that I have. This isn’t really the first time this has happened, but it is the first time that someone has not wanted to be my friend anymore because of it and it’s sad because she seemed really sweet and I wish her the best.

Does this mean that I stop what I was doing before or change how I have been writing, no. I don’t have direct feedback to know what it was that caused her issue nor do I want to be the kind of person who censors their writing. I’d rather write things better and strive to take offensive subjects in a thought provoking way, rather than hiding from them or appealing to the lowest denominator.

If I’m published someday I hope she sees the book in a store or while scrolling through Amazon and decides to take it look; I hope she gets that what I’m trying to say is clear. I hope she keeps turning the pages and finally gets what I’m trying to say.

Male Chauvinism in Geek Culture

There is a huge problem within geek culture that I think people needs to be addressed, especially with some of the recent things I’ve heard about from Readercon. The basic story goes that a very influential fan (yeah for some reason we have those) was reported for harassing a female author. The harassment wasn’t fought by them an in question and when the convention (which has a zero tolerance policy) got wind of it they just slapped the guy with a suspension. Mostly because he was this super-fan.

Readercon did go back and actually give the guy a lifetime ban. But there are numerous stories about this and there is a large problem with sexism and harassment in the science fiction/fantasy community. This same problem spreads to the video game fandom and their conventions (which probably isn’t made any better by them hiring models to parade around in bikinis to attract men to the booths and calling them “Booth Babes”).

There are times when it’s a joke and even the women involved laugh and it’s not meant to be malicious. But we can’t just have a good time picking on someone when it hurts them or makes them feel uncomfortable. I have friends that really don’t mind picking on one another and even then there are times where it can go too far. Even then, you can usually tell when something comes from a malicious place.

In 2010 there was a Penny Arcade comic featuring a rape joke. The joke itself I didn’t even see as being offensive and when there was a slight uproar on the internet about. The comic had been around for years and made many, many edgy jokes. They’d even touched on rape before and they admitted to not being advocates of rape or hating women. They’re both married and have gamer wives whom they seem to keep very close to them and the business.

But the appalling thing to me, at least, was that people started to champion rape and harass women who had actually been raped to support Penny Arcade. They even made a Team Rape website in support of the comic and that was when the site’s creators stepped in and made their apology. While the situation debatably started out as an innocent joke, the way it was handled by a lot of fans just reflected badly on men in general.

There are other stories like this, like about the girl who was wanting to study sexism in gaming and got slammed with a first hand experience of sexism in real life. Even when I was a regular on an anime forum some years ago whenever there was news story posted about rape a lot of the men and even some of the women would blame the woman involved for being stupid or even claiming she was probably a slut who lied about what happened to cover her reputation.

And when you hear about the treatment of women in the Middle East or China or Africa and you think, “how can someone let this go on?” You have to remember that right here we still have issues with women doing everything a man does. Or we have a lot of men who think they can say anything sexist to women who are attractive because they put themselves out there for that. Remember that we have a whole group of men in geek culture that want it to be boys club and want to treat the women who step into it like objects or receptacles for abuse. Probably more frightening, we have people like Atkin who think date rape isn’t real rape.

I would like to say that I think a lot of the problem is related to the comment I made earlier about making women being receptacles for abuse—I think that it really comes from men being upset with women and feeling like they can’t get what they want from the women they want. In turn they take it out on the women they have access to.

The way to deal with this best seems to be to have awareness. Treat the problem seriously and if you see someone being made uncomfortable by someone else or being picked on, it’s okay to step in if they won’t stand up for them if they won’t do it. If you’re being harassed by someone you really don’t need to take it, we need to get the word out that it’s not okay. It seems that a lot of people seem to think it boils down to women whining (which is pretty offensive). At one con a woman who was harassed and reported it was told to go find a man to corroborate the story because then they would know it was true (which is funny because some Middle Eastern countries have a rule that four men have to have witnessed a rape and report it for it to be true).

We need to treat this like what it is, harassment. Just because someone is a woman doesn’t mean that she’s not just as much a fan of something as you(or more so). And just because someone is dressed a certain way doesn’t give you permission to harass them.

The Question of Fan Fiction

I used to love to read novels based on shows that I liked on television when I was younger. I had some X-Files books and some Angel ones and even a few others that included Law & Order. There was always a difference in writing quality between the authors who wrote them and therefore I had to be careful in buying them. Usually I would flip through some of the book and read an online review. I didn’t want to buy a book without characters I liked in it or that just had a bad concept to begin with.

More lately I have decided to bring that back by reading some of the Doctor Who novels by the BBC and some of the Supernatural novels. From what I hear the Supernatural ones are really hit or miss so I’ve only got one on my kindle thus far.

Back when I was a kid I didn’t really make the connection between what these writers were doing with these books and my own desire to write fan fiction. As frowned upon as it once was in the industry (and probably still is) fan fiction is only separated from these kind of books by being not-for-profit.

People love to rag on authors for writing fan fiction and in many large writing circles mentioning that you like or write fan fiction will get you mocked. But what’s the difference between the guy who writes a Star Trek novel and the guy who writes a series of Star Trek fan fiction? Some people put a lot into their fics—they do series research and know the universe extremely well and they’re characterization is sometimes more believable than the source work. What makes that author any less valid? Not having their own characters? Not owning what they’re writing about? Not having gone through professional editors (a lot of fan fiction still goes through beta-readers)?

There was a time after my love affair with fan fiction ended that I was very against the idea of it and I sprouted the same rhetoric that a lot of aspiring authors do about the evils of fan fiction. As I grew older I learned my lesson. I don’t want to be one of those writers. You know the stuck up ones who are mad that the times have passed them by and they missed out on having fun while they were doing what they supposedly love.

If there’s one thing that Fifty Shades of Grey taught us is that fan fiction is relevant. It reiterated the point that fan fiction is helping create new writers (my roots are in Zelda fan fiction to be perfectly honest). And it showed, once again, how much people are willing to accept something that was thought to be taboo, fan fiction has a lot more where ‘too taboo’ came from.

While not a fan of the book and not really sure why it’s caused this frenzy that it has, I think it’s for the best that the world learn now that writing is just writing. Judge it on it’s true merits. Not who’s making money or who’s got a book on the shelf.

Beta-readers

One of the most important things, as I have been saying for a while, if I’m going to self-publish Keep Austin Weird is that I get it completely free of mistakes and continuity errors before I ever let one penny come in for the book itself. The best way to do that is to let a fresh pair of eyes look at it. Many of my friends around me here don’t read or have heard so much about this thing in the planning stage because it started off as more of a joke.

They’re not my ideal beta-reader. I’m stealing the phrase from Stephen King’s On Writing, though he used ideal reader. What I basically want is a person who knows either nothing at all about the story or who knows the bare minimum. Anyone who’s interested in reading and giving feedback would be greatly appreciated, though I’m kind of wary about letting this thing out on the internet so you might be met with some skepticism if I don’t know you personally.

To my friends elsewhere, in other countries or parts of the US: I would be happy to share my work with you when I am done if you’re so inclined to read it. As it gets closer to competition and once it gets completed I will be looking for people more aggressively.

Anyone have a good strategy for finding someone?