No Name Key, publishing, rant, writing

How Imagination Became Appropriation

 I have a fraught relationship with publication. Although I love writing and being read, I’ve never conquered the childish sense that I’m asking for ‘more porridge, please,’ whenever I submit something to be considered for publication. And I’ve been writing long enough to remember a time when extra porridge was possible—but even then I rarely asked. The price I pay is having hundreds of stories and poems camped out on my computer, unread. But I’ll get to them…eventually.

This year was particularly tragic. I watched excellent manuscripts get rejected time after time. Even those fortunate enough to have both agent and publisher make very little money and are ‘encouraged’ to promote their work vigorously on all social media or risk getting dropped. One friend considered identifying as LGBTQ, citing one genuine experience for legitimacy, betraying the desperation she felt at being shunned by the industry. She is an excellent writer- just writing in the wrong era.

The sequel to No Name Key is coming up soon, and that’s a good thing. I’m proud of what I’ve written. Again, publication will be a two-person show, myself and husband, Sean. To do this with self-respect, I pay editors, proofreaders, and handpick beta readers. Many of us have become an agency of one, opting finally to publish our own work. It’s a hugely crowded landscape, but if the work is good, if the writer is conscientious, I believe it will be read. At the very least, I’ll be spared the indignity of sparring with a sensitivity reader (SR) who chips away at the character of my imagination to become acceptable in the landscape of their imagination. It might be an excellent creation, but it’s not what I meant at all. That is not it at all…

Sensitivity readers are part of a long list of terrible decisions in the industry that began with great intentions but have run amok. To step outside of one’s cultural identity is stealing someone else’s place at the table regardless of how well that character is written. And it turns out most SR’s are freelancers and so the same power players really haven’t made more room at the (executive) table. The underpaid marginalized SR’s chief purpose is to convey street cred to the same old winking execs.

Unless I love the author, I wait approximately one year after publication before reading new work. By then the buzz is over and the hoi polloi take over the conversation. The collective reading audience has an enormous sensitivity detector—previously known as a BS detector. I have zero desire to have my feelings protected- please oh please offend me. Bukowski mon amour…

Imagination — characters who contain opposing traits are beloved, complex and original but someone uniquely unqualified will tell you different and let you know fill-in-the-blanks would never say that do that be that but we have to tell these authorities what writers were put on this earth to say. Quietly and politely, we can say, “no, that’s not true. My character does exactly that. See, read this little bit, right here…”

I had hoped this insidious form of censorship of the imagination had an upside, looking to SciFi and Fantasy for sanctuary from the righteous-where the wily writer asserts authority over his/her/their universe, but that is now becoming a new ground zero. Some, like me, turn to historical fiction when it was ok to eat meat or go to church because, “see they did that back then.” They – not me are just soooo politically incorrect.

5 thoughts on “How Imagination Became Appropriation”

  1. Connie Turgeon says:

    Well done and well said. I would like to think , most writers sentiments.

  2. Thanks for the truths with humor for all of us struggling with every stage of creation, publication and marketing. Endurance and the hard earned joy of writing blank pages into a world worth reading are the gifts we receive and bequeath.

  3. Dawn Davis says:

    More of this.

  4. Interesting that you landed on the newest permutation of the PC era-the SR. It should be relegated to the vestigal organ dung heap. The pendulum will swing for a while and then land at its intended mark. Unfortunately for me i do have to be highly aware of how i phrase things. Sometimes hiding behind my yiddishisms which allow for a freer expression. Its a brave new world my friend, one in which i m just getting my toesies wet.

    Cant wait fior book two

  5. BJ Condike says:

    Excellent observations on the use of SRs in our industry. Taken to its extreme, no writer should be describing any traits of his/her/their/its characters that aren’t positive and praiseworthy, regardless if that’s how another character sees them. Everyone must be beautiful, noble, and saintly, for fear that an SR will complain that the characterization is stereotypical, prejudicial, profiling. The same argument goes for cultural/ethnic/gender appropriation. Current opinion says that an author should not be writing about a character different than he/she/they/it because they haven’t lived in their shoes and don’t possess a commonality of identity. That of course implies that a young, white, middle-class professional American female can only populate their stories with other young, white, middle-class professional American females. Poppycock.

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