Monday, September 18, 2023

Sins of the Past



I have a question regarding my WIP. I came up with a fabulous concept for a novel set in the ancient world about 8 years ago, but then (waves hands around) life intervened. I am still busy researching and writing my novel and it brings me so much joy.


But! I am increasingly concerned that in this political climate, it will be a) cancelled by the mob or, more likely, b) shunned by publishers like a plague-ridden ship overrun with toothy rats. Ancient slavery is a central theme and an important plot point could be construed as white saviorism.


I'm feeling discouraged.


Should I forge ahead? Abandon ship? Rework everything? Introduce multiple viewpoints that show I'm aware that yes, my privileged protagonist can be a complete idiot?


I'm fascinated by the complexities of Roman poverty, identity, and gender relations and really want to bring them to life.



There's only one right answer: full speed ahead and damn the (imaginary) torpedoes.


What you're describing is classic writer angst.


You envision  all sorts of slings and arrows, and probably better than most cause your writerly  imagination is a fierce weapon and sometimes .... well.... you turn it on your own sweet self.



You don't know what lies ahead. Neither do I.


The only thing you know  is you have a  great story.


And: the publisher of American Dirt is laughing all the way to the bank. Controversy sells.


I’m not saying you should be insensitive on purpose but if someone takes exception to your plot/characters, it's NOT the end of the world, it can be a darn good thing.


I've never forgotten something I learned from a brilliant publicist back in the day. An author was doing media in Portland, with a book signing slated for that evening. We heard via the grapevine (i.e. the radio stations where the author was doing interviews) that the event was going to picketed.


In a dither I called the publicist.  "Huzzah!" she yelled! "TV coverage!"


I can think of three or four books I've bought and read just because The Knicker Twisters were so incensed about it.


The thing to fear is NO ONE talking about your book at all.


So, get cracking!





NLiu said...

This is probably the most reassuring writing advice I have ever seen on the internet. Twitter permanently carried those horror stories of debut authors' books getting cancelled before publication because a reviewer took exception to something in an ARC and splurged all over The Interwebz, leading to the author's agent dropping them like a spider-infested welly. Thank you for reminding us it doesn't have to be the case!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I will join NLiu in my assessment. Best advice on the internet.

I am about to join the ranks of newly published, January 2024, pre-sales November, and as research, I have been watching all the Book Tubers. All of them. My TBR pile will no longer fit in the place I live. And I noticed some of them will do videos on books they hate. That they really hate. Hugo-winning books have been subjected to these rants of disgust. Some of the most popular books of our time have fallen to these BookTubers, some with 100s of thousands of subscribers. I contacted my publicist sure that I would be subjected to one of these rants of denigration, scared to death. She said, much as Janet has, at least they would be talking about my book. It's far worse if your book is ignored.

Write your book. Don't let your anxiety stop you as mine pretty much did for over a decade. I kept trying to satisfy the gatekeepers instead of my own passion and voice. That went badly.

Ignore the presentism of the situation. Things and tastes change with the wind. Do not write for now. Write for always. So tell the story that you want to tell, that tale of your heart. And, OP, your idea sounds wonderful and intriguing. Do it.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

This post hits close to my heart as I struggle also with white saviorism.

Opie, you're aware it's a trope, which creates a 1-dimensional protag and 1-dimensional characters of the marginalized people around the protag. You used the word "complexities" about the larger culture of an ancient world that the protag and characters live within.

Write of those complexities, of your research, from your passion and joy. Bring that world to life for us. Good luck!

BJ Muntain said...

Hey, OP.

You're worried about the politics that *might* surround your novel. I have a friend who obsesses over these things, too. I tell her what Janet told you: just write the dang book.

Ignore all your worries while writing the first draft. Worries are like kinks in the hose of the muse - they restrict the flow of creativity. Write the story the way it wants to be written.

IF anything needs changing, that's for revisions. Once you're able to step away from it and come back with more objectivity, you'll see if anything needs changing.

You can't do that while writing the first draft. So just write it.

Timothy Lowe said...

Yes, the current political landscape is daunting. Yes, it gives us wee writers pause. It's terrifying to look at the opinions out there and wonder what people will take potshots at. But I love that Janet brought it back to "there's no such thing as bad publicity." Because, after all, screw them. Most of those people have never written a book, and if they have, they are lucky enough to be writing stuff that is currently in vogue.

Gives me hope too as I try to overcome the dreaded voices in my head.

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks, Janet, for such a helpful post. And hi, fellow reef-dwellers! Congrats on the recent successes mentioned here recently -- wonderful to hear about!

I wonder if there's a bad writer angst and a good one. Perhaps the word "concern" would be a better word for the latter. My concern that's made me consider if I should be writing my WIP isn't so much about the possibility of bad press (while I hear the message that any publicity can be good publicity). I get very concerned about whether I'm putting out good into the world with my writing, just in case anyone actually reads it. Right now, I'm writing a middle-grade, speculative novel. And, oh, do I feel a sense of responsibility, especially when writing for children. I'm a Christian, and I consider the Bible verse that says, "If anyone causes one of these little ones -- those who believe in me -- to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6 NIV) Yeah, I sure don't want that. For me, prayer helped, and I think I'm supposed to continue with the project, so I am.

Hope all you reefy pals are doing great!

Craig F said...

I am currently writing an OP-ED piece to show my solidarity with those who hate the WOKE War.

It is going to be very derogatory to those Anti-WOKE defilers, because I am going to call them intellectual cannibals for eating the history of their own supposed party.

To me WOKE simply means having a social commonality with humanity. The most famous WOKE person was Martin Luther when he broke from the Roman Catholic Church.

Will it be reviled, threatened to be cancelled, and so on? I'll take bets on it happening, but it will only be 1/4 of America, at most. As long as I can make an impact against this divided country and make one person think more about humanity I will be ecstatic.

So write your book with that same dream, one of uplifting someone.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Dear OP, if you are afraid of your book being "cancelled", do not be the one to do the cancelling by not writing it in the first place.

"Cancel culture" is a purely American phenomenon. It doesn't really reach out here in the rest of the world, and believe me, we're a lot bigger than that fiddly little country across the ocean.

You'll be fine.
Write the book.
Stay true to the time period.
You'll be fine.
Every reader brings their own interpretation to a novel.
Don't bother trying to control it.
Write the best story you can.
You'll be fine.
Your true audience will love it.
Nobody else matters.
You'll be fine.
Write the book.

NLiu said...

E.M. you have a publicist AND they reply to emails? Count my gob officially smacked! I thought such things had gone the way of the dodo. Where is this, and can I move there?

(I'm really excited about your book, btw. Eeeeee!)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

NLiu I got super lucky. Her name is J.J. Hanna - she is amazing. She has been an agent, an editor, and I think she is still an acquisitions editor at her current publisher. She is very young but super enthusiastic. She really LOVES the marketing and publicity side of the publishing world, and it shows. My cousin, Elizabeth, set me up with her. J.J. takes on new clients from anywhere in their process - whether traditional, indie, or hybrid and she really knows her stuff. Reminds me of a certain shark. Although, a less experienced shark in that she is still learning a lot. Despite how crazy publishing is at the moment, she loves it all and knows how to navigate all the ups and downs. So, if you need a publicist that will return your emails within 24 hours, and support you with incredible enthusiasm, give you tools that a lot of writers do not know are available, she comes with my upmost recommendation. Most publishers do not do much for you in this area at all. As Janet has warned us for years. I hope Janet doesn't mind me gushing about J.J. here.

Kregger said...

What did Halle Berry say to Kurt Russel in "Executive Decision"?

"Just write the damn book!"

Or something like that. I should consider the quote a paraphrase, but we're among friends.

Our job has enough challenges without reducing the circumference of the flaming hoops by fifty percent and acetylene/oxygen to feed the flames.

Returning to the cave, he lowers his eyes and presses the Netflicks button on the remote...

KDJames said...

Thank you, Janet. I really needed to hear this right now.

:waves at fellow reefers from lurkerdom: I love hearing your voices. Hope you all are doing well.

Carrie said...

Thanks so much to Janet for taking the time to reply and to everyone for your thoughtful comments. My family is not very supportive of my writing and all your encouragement means the world to me.

NLiu said...

Amy Johnson I tried to email you but apparently your inbox is full! :(

John Davis Frain said...

Carrie (OP?),

Your family will realize one day that they should have been more supportive all along. But that day may come too late, so good on you for keeping up the fight. It's only one more obstacle on a path filled with them. Keep writing!