Before I left on Book Tour I wrote this post https://monsterhunternation.com/2019/01/31/to-the-book-community-go-fuck-yourself-an-anti-apology/ about how the “Book Community” (more like the Screaming Harpies of Tolerance) attacked a new author for being politically incorrect, until she pulled her book from publication (even though regular sane people couldn’t figure out what the hell it was she supposedly did that was so bad). Then she wrote an apology letter to the perpetually offended for offending them.
Here we are a month later and it has happened AGAIN.
Some other writer just pulled his book, and issued an apology that sounds like one someone would write before getting sent to a communist gulag.
I don’t know any of these writers (I’m not super popular in liberal writer circles for some reason, go figure) but apparently this author has previously been part of that same “Book Community” (i.e. the angry mob) that was destroying other writers for badthink: https://reason.com/archives/2019/02/28/he-was-part-of-a-twitter-mob-that-attack?fbclid=IwAR0wzRPtd1uctHBZcUBXpgAv6dtWYHCmZWa9C9nrRfeoZ9_q4Uo25yX6u6w
So the lesson this week is, live by the social justice, die by the social justice.
At this rate there won’t be any more YA books published. They’ll just pull them all shortly after releasing the ARCs.
I’m not going to repeat everything I said last time. If you are a reader, author, or aspiring author, read my link above and heed my advice, because this shit is nefarious and these bullies will never ever stop. They create nothing. They can only tear things down. These perpetually offended bullies only have power over you if you let them. It’s a handful of assholes pitching a fit. Ignore them. Then hope your publisher has the spine and the basic sense to ignore them too, and if your publisher doesn’t then you have my sincere condolences, but you’ll be better off long term working somewhere that doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.
But this time I want to talk about a few specific things and aim this at the aspiring writers in the crowd.
Something that has come up in discussions about this fuckery is the concept of “Sensitivity Readers”. People have asked me what I think about Sensitivity Readers. A Sensitivity Reader is usually some expert on Intersectional Feminism or Cismale Gendernormative Fascism or other made up goofiness who a publisher brings in to look for anything “problematic” in a manuscript. And since basically everything is problematic to somebody they won’t be happy until they suck all the joy out of the universe. It is basically a new con-job racket some worthless scumbags have come up with to extort money from gullible writers, because there aren’t a lot of good ways to make a living with a Gender Studies Degree.
Writing advice time. If you are going to write about somebody different than you, or stuff outside your area of expertise, don’t be a lazy asshole, do your homework. And if you know people who are experts on that topic, or they come from that world, there’s nothing wrong with bouncing it off them to make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row. But I’m talking about regular people, not professional grievance mongers.
Note, these Sensitivity Readers are always the typical progressive buzzword vultures, looking for racist/sexist/homophobic microaggressions, because it’s pretty obvious to anyone who has ever read a book from mainstream publishing that they don’t give a shit about offending any other group… Or even getting their basic facts right about anybody who isn’t Team Blue.
Seriously, I specifically set MHI in Alabama because of how sick and tired I was of how southerners are always portrayed as ignorant redneck hicks in most fiction. And I’m a westerner (though I lived there long enough Alabamans adopted me). Where are the “Sensitivity Readers” for combat vets? Where are the “Sensitivity Readers” for Christians? Or gun-nuts? (holy shit, these people are bad at writing action scenes, so they really could use that one)
Those don’t exist in Manhattan publishing. And that’s actually a good thing, because a right-wing finger shaking scold would be just as obnoxious as these left-wing fun sucks. Anybody who demands artists make art a certain way can fuck right off.
Now as writers, it’s our job to entertain people and make them happy. A good way to do that is don’t screw up your portrayals of them and their friends. You don’t need some bullshit Sensitivity Reader for that. You just need to not be a lazy dickhead.
Note, I said lazy, not “insensitive”. Because fuck your sensitivity.
You can’t make writing decisions based on whether somebody else got offended or not, because as we’ve seen time and time again, somebody is ALWAYS OFFENDED.
Screwing up your portrayals of people or rendering them down to cardboard stereotypes is just lazy writing. The key when you are writing about some group is make them people. Good characters are interesting, period. They have good traits and bad. Some of them will be smart, dumb, heroic, cowardly, good, evil, moral, or depraved. That’s true for any group.
If you listen to these Sensitivity Readers and the Twitter Mob, then you’re going to create boring shit characters who are totally predictable, because they’re all going to be the same and act in an approved way, and thus BORING. Any time somebody forces a checklist on the writer and makes them check boxes, it’s going to be crap.
It leads to clichéd writing. Here is Strong Female Character and her sidekick Noble Person Of Color/Gayness (and you’d better not give them any character flaws like an actual human being would have because that’ll upset the mob). Oh, there is the Rich White Guy. Gee, I wonder who the villain is going to be! (well, obviously it can’t be anybody else, because then they’ll yell at you on Twitter until you pull your book)
That’s just weak. It’s lazy. And the reader can tell when you are being lazy.
And before I get yelled at by random strangers who inevitably drift into my blog comments but haven’t read my books, I’m not saying you can’t write any of those. I’ve written all those character types, many, many times. I’m not the one telling you what you can’t do. I’m the one telling you it is okay to do whatever you want.
This guy got yelled at for having a Muslim terrorist bad guy. How does that make sense? There are Muslim terrorist bad guys in real life, but you can’t have one in a book? That’s just dumb.
But if you’re a good writer who actually gives a shit, you’re not going to just phone it in. You’re going to make that bad guy interesting, or bad ass, or scary, or even sympathetic (like the old saying goes, the bad guy usually thinks he’s the hero in his story). And then you’re going to have other Muslim characters who are good, ambivalent, or bad, heroic or cowardly, smart or dumb, moral or not, so on and so forth, just like you would any other bunch of humans. I’d do the same thing if the bad guy was Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic, or was into Nurgle.
Because—and this is the super important part that progressives always miss, not just in books, but in real life—humans are INDIVIDUALS. You can’t just stick millions of distinct humans into an easily managed voting block because they share one trait, and act like they all think and feel the same way about everything else. You can’t declare that everyone in Group A must be X, and everybody in Group B must by Y. Identity politics is goofy in real life, and it’s artificially limiting in fiction.
The best characters are the ones who feel like actual human beings the reader could interact with in real life. They are flawed. They make bad calls sometimes. They talk like people would actually talk.
A bad character doesn’t feel like a real person. They come off as a cardboard cutout that takes up space. They may fool sheltered people who’ve never interacted with that kind of person before, but they’ll come off as obvious caricatures to anyone who ever has. It is why us flyover red staters laugh at how Hollywood usually portrays us, but we are used to it.
Sixteen years ago the Wire came out. It was one of the most successful TV shows ever because every character had meat to them. Nobody was just a collection of arbitrary traits. Every single one of them felt like a person, and none of them were perfect. That’s good writing. Yes, race, sex, and sexual orientation was part of each character’s identity, but it was only part of their makeup, just like in real life. Yet if you wrote Omar Little right now in a book in 2019, I GUARANTEE that somebody on Twitter would be super offended because you made a black gay dude a criminal. And depending on their mood, and how much they like you that day, they may or may not try to ruin your career because of it.
But Omar is one of the best characters on a show filled with interesting characters, which is why perpetually offended assholes should never be given veto power over what artists want to create. Perpetually offended assholes are short sighted, and frankly, shit at creating anything of value. So what do they know about making audiences happy?
If I had been forced to listen to Sensitivity Readers I would never have written Big Eddie, or The Chairman, or Toru Tokugawa, or Ashok Vadal. Sometimes bad guys are your best characters, and sometimes the story is about the bad guy becoming a good guy, and sometimes the story is about a good guy becoming a bad guy, and sometimes who is the bad guy depends on where you are standing.
All that matters is that you tell the story you want to tell, and don’t let some assholes boss you around about it.
EDIT: I was just reminded of something.
To further illustrate how Sensitivity Readers stifle creativity and suck all the fun out of books, at a recent writing convention I attended there was a panel on Intersectional Feminism or something like that. I didn’t attend it (I’m not a glutton for punishment) but several of my friends went because they were curious to see how much of a train wreck it would be.
The panel was a bunch of feminists and the whole thing turned into a big competition of who could be more offended, and who could speak for more “marginalized” people. At one point a certain author (who is an upper class white lady) had to establish her street cred, so she actually called her professional Sensitivity Reader and put her on speaker phone.
Seriously, this shit is like the victim Olympics. It has fuck all to do with creating books that readers will actually enjoy.
I went to a party that night where a bunch of people who’d attended that clusterfuck of a panel were talking about it. Apparently the only panels at this event which were more dreary was the one about the evils of capitalism (I shit you not), and the one about writing comedy which degenerated into authors who’d drank the social justice Kool Aid telling everybody what not to write because it might be “offensive”.
Luckily the vast majority of the convention was free of this crap, but never ever give them an inch. Anything in the creative world that gets infested with social justice identity politics gets corrupted and strangled until its nothing but artists cancelling their art and issuing Maoist style apology letters.