It’s time to talk about fan culture and writing

Speaking as a prodigal, and somewhat skeptical, recently-returned nerd, I can tell you that much of fandom makes my skin crawl. My theory is that because nerd culture had been historically very accepting (One of us! One of us!) in terms of who can and can’t join in, the open-door policy has led to a refuge for people whose ideologies (as opposed to predilections) have marginalized them from mainstream society. Couple this with the North American obsession with using celebrity as a replacement for a weak-assed myth system predicated on individual accomplishment and gluttonous consumption, and sadly, this morphs nerd culture into fan culture: a sandbox for misogynists, racists, homophobes, and their allied tradespeople.

It used to be that nerd culture was a haven for those who didn’t feel included in, or felt threatened by, mainstream culture, but now, as happens with all secret societies, that threat has infected the group itself so that the most dangerous aspects of it come from within. Anonymity and a total hatred for anything outside your own narrow window of desire has bred a strange, fantasy-worthy race of Supertroll Babies.

Imagine being a person who was drawn to our culture by the promise of acceptance and fun only to find the place riddled with toxic manboys (let’s face it, it’s nearly 100% men who are like this) ready to parse, discredit, dismiss, and ridicule your every move. Gross.

Anyway, beside the Star Wars/GoT racism/misogyny of last the last 20 years, there’s a strange little corner of toxic fan culture that revolves around making demands of the very artists who fuel it. Remember the absolute stupidity of petition to change the ending of Game of Thrones? Or those who are constantly berating authors like George Martin and Patrick Rothfuss who take upwards of 10 to 15 years to get around to a book. (We can’t all be Brandon Sanderson.) They know you’re waiting. They’re working on it. It’s art, not a fucking Pizza Pocket. Who the fuck do you think you are that you get to demand an artist redo or speed up their work because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted or your obsessive mind can’t hold its proverbial horses? How privileged do you have to be to believe that you own a franchise simply because you like it? (I’d love for the next Star Wars movie to start with a pan across space to a planet that is just Kelly Tran’s head looking out at the audience and saying, “You’re all shit”)

Also, Goodreads is a cesspool.

But I digress (as I am wont to do) and ramble off-the-cuff (as I try not to do). Here’s an article from Bookriot about this very thing: Authors don’t owe you shit (profanity mine).

Cover painting for one of Sanderson’s books by Michael Whelan… If you’ve ever held a sword, you know how fucking difficult it must have been on the shoulders and forearms to hold it out like that… Fantasy isn’t just about dragons!

The access to our favorite creators that the internet affords us has instilled an expectation of said access—a truly awful feedback loop of entitlement and agitation. Such agitation is borne of when our favorite creators don’t perform to our standards. Content creators, including authors, have to in some way commodify their humanity in order to reach and satisfy their audience.

Everyone on the internet, from famous and successful artists to your weird uncle on Facebook, makes content of their personalities in this way. We are each performing a version of our personalities whenever we post something. You do it when you share pieces of your day on your Instagram story. Your weird uncle does it in his colorful rants about cancel culture. I’m doing it right now, in the form of this post on BookRiot.com.

No matter how smart and compartmentalized you believe your relationship is with the media you consume, there is no escaping the fact that the core essence of our digital and social media is predicated on this idea of access, and wherever there is access, so too will you find entitlement. Maybe someone who usually posts memes suddenly has a political take you disagree with. Maybe the comedy songwriter posts their serious music and you feel weird even giving it a chance. Maybe the fantasy author whose books you adore is spending what you think is too much time on Twitch playing Minecraft.

Speaking of the weekend: on writers and drinking

Drinking and writing have long been close pals. It almost feels like a burden sometimes. Especially when you come from a family full of drunks. My buddy Mark and I discuss this sometimes. I have watched a couple good pals over the years descend into drink and drugs as if they think it’s part of a rite of passage for writers. You know, emulate the boozy machismo of days gone by and perhaps the act will drag you along with it to greatness. They eschew all responsibility (parenting, jobs, love, etc.) in favour of a life dedicated to indulgence and freedom to behave like a child forever. It’s so performative…at first. Then you become the caricature you were playing and it’s a bit sad. They certainly get more attention and better jobs than a pair of dads who stay home and make lunches and drive people to piano lessons. But I don’t think you need to be a drunken douche to create great art. You just need to compartmentalize your world so that wild artsy you is still there to be called on when the creation process requires that line of carefree/careless thinking. Don’t get me wrong: in another universe, having made different choices, I could easily be that guy at the bar on his fifth martini, scribbling away in a moleskin with a haunted look in his eye, but mostly I turned out to be an ageing rebel trying to raise kids who will do better for the world than I did. Contribution! Anyway, Daily Beast looks at the difference between Hemingway and Fitzgerald on drinking and writing.

“Write drunk. Edit sober.”

This popular quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway since, you know, he was happy to have a drink or two.

I’ve never believed A) that he said or wrote it, or B) that he practiced it. In fact, through the bulk of his career, Hemingway categorically stated that he never drank while writing. In an interview in 1958 with Milt Machlin for the magazine Argosy, when asked if it were true that he took a pitcher of Martinis with him every morning on his way to work, Hemingway replied, “Jeezus Christ!…Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes–and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one. Besides, who in hell would mix more than one Martini at a time?”

Friday books on the brain

Well, not only is it Friday, people, it’s also the first day in a week in which we don’t have Canada Reads. The winner was announced yesterday (good news: a woman of colour won while defended by another woman of colour — SMASH that glass ceiling, people) and thus ends our nightmarish national attempt to behave more American for another year. Gladiators! Catharsis! Pathos! Victory! Huzzah! The entire book industry In Canada was, of course, shut down for the whole week so that no non-contest news would interrupt the flow of fluff articles from the CBC (as is evidenced by the fact that the CBC Books page has highlighted no articles except those about the show since last week.) We can finally get back to castigating our frat-boy in chief, who is doing a surprisingly good job on Covid, despite all his other failings, especially around race and reconciliation, for a “scandal” that wouldn’t even make a sidebar in the most liberal/anti-POTUS of news outlets in the United States right now. All is well and normal. Except, you know, everything. Please have a beer on me and charge it to the PM.

Is class a form of diversity in publishing?

Idk about this. I come from, originally, the poverty line, then increasing fortunes all the way up to the working class and then middle class before I left home and chose to become poor again for a while. We did okay. Just fine in fact. I had to pay my own way through school, but it never even occurred to me things would be otherwise until I got there. My dad never spent a day not covered in machine grease and bruises from wrench slips, but eventually he got a union job and the pay increased well over time. My relatives are poor Irish and poor Quebecois, some who have had arrest warrants out for them, and some who drank themselves to death. Would I call myself diverse? Maybe among White folk in hair-colour, handedness, and blood type, but that’s it. So, no. Until I encountered the arts scene, I always assumed that more people grew up like me than didn’t. But this young woman says that given how the publishing system works in the UK, she’s considered diverse because she went to a state school and doesn’t have a trust fund. I…. Well… You see…. It’s just that given what’s going on in the world right I wouldn’t… Uh…. So… Thoughts?

“It’s insane,” she says, of this perception. “Ultimately, I’m a white woman who grew up relatively comfortably and is university-educated, and yet, because I went to state school and I’m from the north-east and I have a regional accent and a working-class background, I’m diverse.” She had a similar experience when she finished school and went to Chelsea College of Arts: “I went from being in Newcastle, and being fairly privileged compared to lots of people, to going down to London and being like – ah no, I’m actually rough as arsehole. None of these people have ever set foot in a working men’s club.”

In Clark’s eyes, the north-south divide has become more of a metropolitan-rural one, partly because every city in the UK now has its own big university. But the lack of funding and opportunities in the north, and particularly the north-east, is still a problem. “There are these amazing, scrappy DIY scenes all over the UK, but national and international success is preserved for a privileged handful of people who have connections.”

Who knew the world of translation was so exciting?

What a fascinating look into the seedy underworld of rogue translation. It’s like if James Bond were reedy and pastyfaced and possibly had a sinus cavity condition that forced him to sniff after every sentence.

Close-up view of computer keyboard with national flags of world countries on keys and translate button

What Defert and Delporte describe is one publishing house’s attempt to solve an age-old problem. For as long as our modern notions of copyright have existed, publishers have attempted to slay the multi-headed beast of leaks and outlaw translations, which can be financially disastrous for highly-anticipated new releases. Brown’s Italian publisher, Mondadori, devised an intricate solution entailing collaboration with the American publisher Doubleday to fix a global release date with simultaneous publications in English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and Catalan. Eleven translators, under strict confidentiality, worked long hours over the course of two months in an underground bunker in Milan. Brown’s manuscript, along with the drafts of the translations, never ventured outside the room or the watchful eyes of the armed guards. Comings and goings were recorded diligently and access to the internet was restricted to a single computer provided for double checking vocabulary. The translators were advised to keep a low profile when outside and to have an alibi for being in Italy, as journalists were reportedly attempting to track down scoops on the novel. These harsh conditions proved successful for the publishers who, in May 2013, released the book simultaneously in dozens of national markets. 

On book reviewing in a time of no books

What’s it like to be a book reviewer stuck at home and unable to come into the office? All the books you’re getting are being sent digitally, or arriving in packages at an empty office, and so you’ve lost your connection with the physical book, not to mention your editors and colleagues at the paper. And then there’s the book room. I remember visiting Martin Levin at the Globe, back when it had an actual book review section that I reviewed for, and he let me poke around in the book room. It was like a library of forgotten dreams. All those books, stacked to the rafters, with no one to review them. I wanted to take them home like puppies at a pound. Anyway, the NYT is the gold-standard in American book reviewing, so let’s see what they have to say about the whole thing.

Every time I post this image, I think it’s Carmine

Before the coronavirus, the Book Review would receive hundreds of books and galleys (a printer’s uncorrected proof) in the mail every week. Books were entered into a database and divided between bins and shelves for preview editors, who look over galleys more thoroughly and decide if they warrant a review or some other form of coverage. Specific genres were set aside for columnists, like crime novels for Marilyn Stasio. The rest would head to a big blue dumpster.

Whether the galley was sent from one of the big five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster) or a small press, every book passed through the hands of at least one editor for consideration.

This is a point of pride on the desk. “It didn’t matter what publisher the galley came from, how big, how small, whether you’d heard of the author or hadn’t, the book was going to get a fair shake,” said Tina Jordan, the deputy editor of the Book Review.

The Times closed its office to most employees in March. Now, editors work from home and don’t have the cues of the Book Review’s physical layout.

“In the first week that we left the office, 167 packages of books arrived on the desk that no one was there to open or look at,” said Pamela Paul, the editor of the Book Review.

Canada Seethes

You’ll note there were no links to the CBC in the news wrap-up below; that’s because there were no articles that weren’t about Canada Reads, the ludicrous reality-tv-like radio show in which anyone, even a dude from Nova Scotia who now dresses like a rodeo clown from Alberta, can vie to direct the course of Canadian fiction sales for the next few months. Normally I ignore the whole maddening affair, in part because it’s a lie — it’s NOT “Canada Reads”, it’s “Canada Reads Prose” — and in part because I always find at least one, more like more than one, of the contestants either vile, facile, or annoying (sometimes all three).

But this year marks an interesting shift — the prize has never gone to a book by a woman that was defended by a woman (because, you know, patriarchy), but this year it will, despite the best efforts of the two guys on the panel. They tried to vote off Megan Gail Coles’ searing and unforgiving book twice now, but were stymied both times by the women — who, I should note, have provided a level of discourse that makes the guys look like they’re comparing cold cut hoagie preferences.

So regardless of who wins this year, it will, FOR THE FIRST TIME, be a book by a woman that was defended by a woman. What a time to be alive.

Even better, two women outside the whole thing — authors Sharon Bala and Jael Richardson — have provided some great post-episode commentary. Richardson has been nailing her analysis daily on Instragram, while Bala went off yesterday on her blog about Bucky McCapgun’s misogynistic “Girls, girls, girls” lament as his book was voted off (presumably, more because people were done listening to him than the book itself). Once again, women of colour for the win when it comes to parsing the shitshow in which we live.