bookbanner
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, May 14, 2018

DESENSITIZING

"We are literally turning umbrage into an industry."
--Lionel Shriver

One of the hazards of modern writing is a sector of the public who is ready to find fault and discomfort in nearly anything they encounter.  This oversensitivity and zeal to run to social media and decry what one finds objectionable.  An author can run into this movement to their discomfort, particularly in certain genres.
There is such a thing as the "Sensitivity Reader" being used at big publishing houses, and you can hire one or more personally as an independent writer. What they do is go through your book to see if there are any of a certain sort of stereotypes, biases, or what they consider to be "problematic language."
This has the advantage of giving your work a seal of approval that is likely to avoid most of the social media outrage machine, and prevent people from complaining to your publisher (or you) about certain elements of your book.  However, there are many disadvantages.
I would warn authors to be cautious having a "Sensitivity Reader" edit their book for the basic reason that conflict and uncomfortable characters and situations are what make for drama and engaging storytelling. If you sanitize everything out of the book that certain groups may find objectionable, you're likely to defang your story and may even ruin your plot.
Its important to remember that an author has a story to tell and uses characters, situations, language, and events to move that story along, entertain, inform, and interest readers.  Having someone pore though your manuscript to remove all the objectionable bits is very likely to ruin the story. 
Mark Twain's books include racist terms and peoples.  Should that be removed for being objectionable to minorities?  JK Rowling's Harry Potter stories have very unpleasant people doing mean things, should those be removed for triggering those who have experienced similar events?
There’s a thin line between combing through manuscripts for anything potentially objectionable to particular subgroups and overt political censorship. Is it any longer acceptable for characters to be bigoted? Can a character in your novel vote for Brexit? And if all the characters speak with the same courtesy, and voice the same standard left-of-centre views, contemporary fiction can’t hope to contribute to the understanding of a world that elects Donald Trump.

Fiction won’t help younger readers to make sense of their real lives, if in books Muslim men never groom white girls or become radicalised through the internet, transsexuals never regret transitioning or conclude they’re actually gay, women are always confident and empowered, and the terminally ill are always brave (or whatever they’re supposed to be; ask the experts). These days, with all hell breaking loose in Europe and the US, the left’s sensitivity run amok seems to be coexisting in a bubbled‑off alternative universe.
Sensitivity Readers are expensive, one quoted in the Guardian piece about them quit while making $100 an hour to go through books.  Another reference states that it cost $250 for a single book examination.  
Further, based on the article, they can be difficult to work with.  The retired reader complains:
“I quit doing them because they were exhausting and sometimes authors wanted to argue with me,” she says. “They weren’t open to the feedback. They weren’t trying to understand the feedback. They were insisting on the rightness of what they were writing.”
Now, that's not the voice of a skilled, engaging editor, that's the voice of a tyrant.  And to be honest, anyone who reads other people's writings in order to find things the consider objectionable is not very likely to be flexible and understanding.  They aren't typically the sort of person who is there to engage in a discussion or consider what other people think, only to impose their viewpoint.
And it is important to understand that these readers only come from a specific and particular viewpoint.  They are not going to worry about how poorly white men are portrayed or what insults are directed at Christians.  They won't care if a conservative nationalist is treated in a story.  They will not object to the depiction of southerners as ignorant incestuous bigots. 
So the end result is that an expensive Sensitivity Reader is likely to just slant your book in a manner that is objectionable to another group of people, rather than clear up any objections.  And that's not a big win for authors at all.

Friday, April 13, 2018

WRITE GIRLS

"We need more children’s books with female main characters"
--Chelsea Clinton

Recently a piece of news reached me through the Ace of Spades HQ blog and it made me chuckle.  It seems a Cleveland Ohio book store decided to highlight all the books by female authors (that they were aware of) by turning the books by men backward.  See, that way you can't see their titles or author, just pages.
They did it for a few weeks for "Women's History Month" according to the article at the Cleveland Scene, as a way of "silencing the male voice."  One publishing house raved:
This articulates the display’s effect admirably in terms of speaking and silence, but the visual effect—a clear picture of the gender disparity in the canon—is what’s stunning.
But are there so few female authors out there?  Are women in  disparity in publishing and literature?
As a published author with 8 books under my keyboard, I've got some experience in the publishing and literature business.  I have self-published them all, for a variety of reasons I've gone into elsewhere.  There was a time when I tried very hard to pitch my book to agents.  My theory was, self publish the first one and establish that I have readers and the ability to do it, and use that as a springboard into what at the time I thought was the "mainstream."
I noticed something while pouring through the lists of thousands of literary agents.  There was a consistent theme, a repeated fact that stood out very noticeably after a short time.
Literary agents are mostly women.  By a fairly large margin.  In fact, it became surprising to find a man who was an agent.  After a while it was kind of an amusing game, picking through the list like looking for a four leaf clover.  This is a pretty well established and known fact, one examined in this Quora article.
I was going to question whether there really are, since in general people tend to seriously overestimate the percentage of women in any mixed group, but then I checked the AAR membership list and saw that 37 of the first 50 names are indeed female.
The author claims this is some cruel trick by the publishing business to keep women down because of the "glass ceiling" of course. But if you examine publishing, you find the same phenomenon in place.  Most editors and people who work at publishing houses are also women.  That article about the bookstore above?  No men work at the shop.  In fact, women's voices are very well represented in publishing overall.
Publisher's Weekly ran an article about this phenomenon entitled Where The Boys Are Not.  They said comfortably that everybody knows that women dominate publishing:
It’s no secret that lots of women work in publishing. But just how many more women work in publishing than men? In PW’s recent Salary Survey (Aug. 2) one statistic stuck out: 85% of publishing employees with less than three years of experience are women.
In Random House, they reported that more than half their executives are female.  Women by a huge margin are the ones in publishing from top to bottom.  Even in this Book Seller article that complains too few women are in charge of publishing they admit:
  • Eighty percent of Pan Macmillan's staffers are female 
  • Women sit on HarperCollins' UK executive board 
  • Penguin Random House UK has core divisions run by women 
  • Hachette UK operates with women as division heads
Look over a list of desired books from publishers and the genre agents are looking for the most: Women's Lit.  Chick fiction.  Strong female characters.  Romances (strongly preferred by women over men).  They are actively seeking these kind of books.  Why?  Because women read more than men, on the average.  According to industry studies, women account for a whopping 80% of the fiction market.  And that's the audience publishers are trying to reach.
They do worry about how they aren't getting the male 18-35 market which for some reason advertisers believe is their sweet spot (the age range of adult men with the least disposable income and interest in books).  But they focus on their reliable market.
Further, women are dominating sales.  Female author sales have been accelerating over time.  In the last decade, the top 10 best selling authors in the last 10 years are women.  21 of the top 50 are by women.  Women's total sales are booming, dominating the literary book sales for 2017.
I brought this up, based only on perception rather than hard data, in a writing group as an effort to encourage the women writing there.  Instantly I was jumped upon and told that with a quick internet search, thousands of articles by women complaining about sexism and lack of representation in the industry were easily found.
Which was baldly ridiculous -- people complaining about something does not indicate its presence, only their discontent -- but not worth arguing over. I just found it odd that this person was so determined to undermine confidence and hope in these ladies.  But that's a very common theme online and in the publishing world, with people complaining that women don't get enough attention and fame and publishing.  Even in this article celebrating female dominance of publishing, there are complaints that women aren't taken seriously in literature.
Part of that effect is just authors angry they aren't getting published, and thinking it must be some cruel conspiracy against women to keep them out.  Sexism is always an easy excuse for your own failings.  But the thing is, there might be something to it: just not against women.  Reading the list of agents, I found another oddity: many agents who said specifically that they would only take female authors. Not a single one said that about male authors.
There was a time, long ago, when female authors would pitch a book under a male name, in order to be published.  Women were considered frivolous, not writing serious books, and often the male-dominated publishing industry wouldn't even consider a book by a girl.  Now, its getting to the point that everything is reversed: you're better off using a female name to get an agent and a publishing contract.  Mind you, I wouldn't go through traditional publishing, but its an interesting thought.
Why do women dominate publishing?  I don't know, probably a natural attraction to editing and print, probably the same reason women buy so many books, and probably at least in part because of a deliberate effort by publishers either to achieve some social justice goal or because as I've seen happen a lot, when a woman gets into a position of hiring, they tend to hire other women.
This effect it does cause some problems for men trying to get books published that men like, which then leads to fewer men buying and reading books, which makes women dominate the industry even more.
But in the end, one thing is clear: women do not need help in the book publishing and printing business.  And certainly they don't need to hide men's books to bring some mythical sense of equality and justice.
Mind you that won't stop the calls.  Just like the ridiculous myth that girls are ignored in school and need more attention (a myth everyone knows is a lie from their personal experience in school) the lie is more useful than the truth, so it gets repeated.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

THE DEAL THAT WAS ART

"What we can't establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent"
--Former FBI Director Comey

Right now, special prosecutor Meuller wants to interview President Trump about Russian collusion and whatever else he can come up with, as part of an investigation.  So I have some suggestions (courtesy Sheryl Atkisson on Twitter) for how he should set up this interview.  Here are the rules:
  1. Prior to the interview, lead official meets privately on a plane at the airport with Trump's wife.
  2. An exoneration letter is drafted in advance.
  3. Immunity is given to top Trump aides (and they’re allowed to sit in on interview)
  4. The interview isn’t recorded.
  5. Lead official (Mueller) doesn’t attend.
  6. Interviewer's family and boss has received large donations from Trump political friends.
  7. Main interviewer has expressed disdain for Trump’s opponents, such as discussing an “insurance plan” with higher-ups to undermine them.
  8. As long as they believe Trump didn't intend any harm, he's let off the hook for any violations.
These are the terms Trump should do the interview under.  What's that you say, that sounds unjust, rigged, even ridiculous?  There's no possibility of justice under these conditions?  That reads to you like some kind of ridiculous piece of fiction, that no prosecutor or law enforcement official would ever agree to?
That's what Comey set up for the Hillary Clinton email server and espionage law violations interview.  That's how the investigation was handled for her.  These exact, precise conditions are how her "interrogation" was agreed upon and carried out.
All that Sheryl did is say Trump should get the same deal as Hillary Clinton.
As long as there have been rich and powerful, the rich and powerful have gotten away with more than you or I could possibly consider.  The difference here is that the American system and philosophy of equality under law should be the last place on earth it should take place.
Yet what McCabe, for instance did in lying three separate times to federal officers and leaking materials to the press, we'd be in federal prison for doing.  He's still free with his pension.
And the more people come to see this happen and realize its taking place, the less likely people are to continue following and obeying the law.  If people can get away with rigging the system and breaking the law without consequence, that simply undermines any trust and faith in the law across the entire society.
You probably stopped at a stop sign or light today.  What makes people keep doing that, even when nobody is watching?  Honoring the law, trusting that its good for us, and obeying a system we agreed upon.  What happens when that honor, that obedience, and that trust is undermined far enough?
There cannot be anyone "too big" or "too important" to prosecute and punish. In fact, there's a good argument for the idea that the more powerful, public, and wealthy you are, the more the law should come down upon them for violating it. Doing so publicly and severely proves to the nation that there is no one above the law, and hence we all are treated fairly and equally. Failing to do so proves the opposite, and leads to chaos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

THE MORAL CONFUSION OF MONICA LEWINSKY

"I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky"
--President Bill Clinton

For those of you too young to remember, Monica Lewinsky was one of a long line of women which president Clinton had affairs with, sexually harassed, and allegedly even raped over the course of his life and career.  She was a young woman working as an intern, and a big star-struck fan of the president, and infamously she wore a special blue dress to a session with the president in the oval office which ended up being front page news involving oral sex and DNA.
Monica Lewinsky became kind of a cultural touchpoint involving the presidency and that blue dress emblematic of Clinton's time in office.  She sort of disappeared from the public after a while, and some despised her for her part in harming Clinton's legacy and leading to his impeachment for perjory.
Indeed, the events surrounding Lewinsky killed a growing movement at the time trying to define sexual harassment as "anything a woman at any point decides she didn't care for" in the broadest possible terms.  Even a consensual relationship initiated by the woman was being argued as being sexual harassment if the man was in any position of authority.
Then the news came out that the darling of the left, the icon of progressivism, President Clinton, was having an affair with an unpaid White House intern, and suddenly the talk about all that disappeared.
Until recently.  A few months ago, Monica Lewinsky admitted that she was having second thoughts about the events, events which she previously was completely comfortable with.  Why?
Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair magazine about how she had "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" following the affair, and went on to write:
"I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege. (Full stop.)"

"Now, at 44, I'm beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern. I'm beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot. (Although power imbalances—and the ability to abuse them—do exist even when the sex has been consensual.)"
This is all, of course, in the context of the "Me Too" movement, about sexual harassment, molestation, and rape by figures in government, entertainment, sports, and media.  This has largely died down, probably because it did not have the desired effect of toppling the president, but still it has had the impact of making many on the left admit that yes, President Clinton was a scumbag who abused his power and probably left a long line of abused women in his wake.
The Confusion
But Look at what Ms Lewinsky says here.  Why was this a bad act, why was it wrong for President Clinton to do this?  Because of the "power differentials" rendering consent "moot."  Her entire moral calculus is based on relative power, the oppressor/oppressed template of the modern left.  At no point does she even begin to mention any culpability on her own part.  At no point does she talk about how it was adultery and damaging to the relationship of marriage. At no point does she mention this being bad for the country in terms of moral corrosion.
Her whole argument is not that this was sinful, wrong, adulterous, or improper behavior, only that President Clinton was a bad guy for being so powerful and she so minor in the grand scheme of things.  Even though she was a willing and eager partner, she still suggests it was abusive, non consensual behavior.
So she's blameless in this, and its not wrong to commit adultery, there's nothing innately immoral in what they did.  Its just a power differential problem.  Why this bizarre approach?
The Reason
Well partly because to admit otherwise admits an overarching absolute standard for moral behavior.  If you admit that its sinful and wrong to commit adultery, that's an admission that marriage is a special state that should be protected and further that there is a moral code that we are supposed to follow, one that is outside our personal whims and ever-changing cultural ideas.  And that's a bag of responsibility and moral significance that the left really does not want to even consider possible, let alone admit to.
But there's another reason for this strange approach.  It is the desire of the left to portray men as predatory monsters, dangerous, awful creatures who need to emasculate themselves in order to function in their utopian cultural dreams.  Its men who do all bad stuff, or lead people to do bad stuff, and hence men need to change, being the nexus and source of all terrible things.  A man being in power is by its self an abuse, no matter how willing a woman is to go along.
And this scheme extends its self further, condemning any man in any position who sleeps with any woman at any time.  He's the oppressor, even if she was willing and happy.  Consider President Donald Trump who is accused of over a decade ago of having an affair with a woman subordinate to him.  She came to him seeking work on a show, they claim.  He's one of the #MeToo types that abuses women!  He's another Harvey Weinstein!  He's a monster!
She was certainly willing (being a prostitute, nude model, and porn star), but because of the "power differential" well, it was wrong, it was as bad as Bill Clinton and we all know what happened to him, right?  Right?  They impeached him for having sex!  Those prudish Republicans!  And now they elected another Bill!  Hypocrites!  Impeach this one, too!
Never mind that it was consensual.  Never mind that it was twelve years ago.  Never mind that he wasn't the president of the United States with an intern.  Never mind that there is no evidence or hint of anything since then.  Never mind that Bill Clinton did it in the oval office while on the job.  Never mind that he was impeached for the federal felony of perjuring himself in testimony before a grand jury and lying to a federal officer.
Its all about leverage to try to get rid of President Trump.  And that's the end of it all.  Monica Lewinsky continues to be a used tool of the left, manipulated into this ridiculous article which admits that the entire Democratic Party, leftist America, entertainment community, and news media were all completely, in full knowledge, deliberately wrong about Clinton for decades.  She had to word it in a way that ignores every sense of morality and justice so that they can lever this into yet another wearying attack on the president.
And its not working, so far at least.  The story interests people but they largely are indifferent to yet more news that President Trump used to be a philandering scumbag.  Everyone already knew he was a serial adulterer in the past.  This isn't news.
But sadly, Monica's confusion about morality isn't restricted to her or this article.  Its just an example of the sad, bizarre pretzels people can spin themselves into while trying to avoid the obvious truth and build their ideology on sand.