Thursday, April 13, 2006

Selling Your Soul

I admitted yesterday that the one thing my husband made me promise not to blog about was politics.

As any of you who’ve been regulars here know, I can be a bit opinionated. Stubborn. Verbose. And you don’t really want to get me started on a rant, unless you’ve got all day.

Evilkev made me promise not to blog politics because he said it was one of the quickest ways to cause controversy and stir up arguments. He’s probably right. That’s why the odd time I touch on a politically sensitive topic, it’s the odd time, not the norm. And I try to be careful here to express my opinions without intentionally offending the regulars.

But occasionally, one has to decide where they draw the line between being the face of a product and being a real person with opinions that they have a right to express.

I’ve been thinking about this, in part, because of Barry Eisler. Actually, you can add Terrenoire and JD Rhoades if we’re making a list.

What am I talking about? Authors who aren’t afraid to talk politics.

I mentioned to a few non-blogger friends that there were some authors talking politics. “Are they insane?” my friends asked.

Why? Why should it be such a risk – such a concern that my husband will tolerate me discussing oral sex and porn and all manner of things like my obsession with eating M&M’s in their colour groupings* - to discuss politics?

What automatically comes to my mind is something that happened in the country music sphere. Natalie Maines, lead singer of The Dixie Chicks, openly spoke out about the present US government and the backlash was fast and brutal. The received death threats, their music was banned by some radio stations and records were burned en masse.

The Dixie Chicks, it seems, were not entitled to freedom of speech to express their political opinions.

The extent of the backlash was even documented in Wikipedia. It was definitely not something that came up one day and blew over the next. Type in the words “Dixie Chicks political backlash” and you’ll come up with numerous articles scrutinizing their fall from grace.

It’s funny, because most people seem to fall into one of three political categories.
1. Very political, very passionate about their views.
2. Not interested in politics at all.
3. Generally indifferent, occasionally get rattled by tax increases or talk of war or something extreme, but usually pretty apathetic.

I have a number of friends who fit in the #2 definition. Their minister tells them who to vote for, or they may not even bother. They don’t watch the news. They don’t concern themselves with politics at all.

And then there are a number who do watch the news, know a bit but don’t tend to get too rattled unless it means more money out of their pocket.

I’m a #1, through and through.

I’d been living in Europe when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. It was an interesting time to be there, instead of here, because I’d seen so many things happen. I’d witnessed the Berlin Wall coming down. I’d been through a bombing scare in Spain, when they actually did find several tons of explosives in the town I was in, set to blow the forthcoming Easter parades to kingdom come. And then, that August, there were the murmurings of war looming on the horizon.

And I remember being in Canada, visiting a friend, the TV on when the news broke.

We were at war.

I don’t understand how people don’t have an opinion about something like that. How they don’t care enough to find out what’s going on.

I can’t be indifferent. Any decision to go to war is one that is complex and important, and not to be taken lightly. I can’t shrug dismissively about Afghanistan – but then, I have friends over there wearing Canadian uniforms. I can’t be so dismissive of what a long-term war could mean, not when my husband was in the reserves.

But I digress. You all know I’m political. You all know I’m opinionated. And, as I recently stated on DorothyL, “anyone who has a goal to try to make me see the error of my ways off-list would have better luck trying to overthrow the US government.” (This was because I stated that I don’t read reviews, by the way. Who knew it was such a contentious topic? Okay, okay, I read The Great Russel McLean’s reviews, but don’t tell the DLers. So I make one little exception. I still prefer reading author interviews to reviews and…

Never mind. Not here to rant about reviews.

Getting back to the point, I wondered how it is that I can read blog posts by Barry, David and JD and not be offended. Not feel the need to raise the flag and lead the charge. Even if I disagree with them.**

I think it’s because, like all things, there’s a way to do things with tact and discretion that people will respect, even if they disagree with you.

And there’s a way that involves getting in someone’s face, which people won’t be so likely to respect.

These gentlemen have shown that there is nothing wrong with expressing opinion, even political opinion. Done in an intelligent, insightful manner, it can actually be a stimulus of great debate and interesting discussion. And I’m confident JD*** will catch up to the other two in that regard.

A blog will be what you make it. And the blog environment of the commenters and readers will also be what you make it. I hope everyone feels free to comment here. I mean, if Terrenoire and I can discuss acts of a sexual nature and Boy Kim can say… well, all the stuff he says, everyone should know that just about anything goes. I have been fortunate thus far. People have not abused each other in the comments. The only time someone insulted me, they did so as ‘anonymous’, which showed me just how much they believed in their post, since they weren’t willing to stand behind it. Water off a duck’s back.

Oddly enough, as I was typing this up, Bonnie, a blogger with a wicked sense of humour, posted, “I like Barry's site also! Love discussing politics!...and religion! Both no-no's in our world...”

I think it’s time to trash the taboo list.

While on the one hand, the example of The Dixie Chicks demonstrates that there can be swift and severe retribution for taking a political stand, there is one thing I really respect about them: They didn’t put money ahead of honesty. I watched them be interviewed and they said right out they doubted they’d ever sell 5 million albums again. But there was no bitterness about that.

I do believe that perhaps with a bit more tact and discretion that the consequences of stating an opinion don’t have to be so extreme. But regardless, I don’t think someone should sell their soul and become a shell simply in the hope that they’ll sell a few more albums or books.

This doesn’t mean you’ll drop by every day and find my latest political opinions. I know some of you were surprised at the nature of my post on Sunday. But there will be times when I feel political commentary is warranted, and I may dip a toe in the pool.

Although, having given you all fair warning now, this isn’t going to be any more my soap box than it is already. I blog on my life. On my writing. On things happening in the business, and things happening in the world.

In short, whatever catches my attention.

But I have a question for you. How do you feel when people from a different country comment forcefully on your politics? Does it offend you? I’ll tell you truthfully, there isn’t as much political commentary in Suspicious Circumstances as there is in my Canadian series, because I didn’t feel I had the right to stand in judgment on a country I’ve never lived in. I stuck only to small-scale local politics, not anything on a national scale.

But now you know why all the Canadian publishers that saw Echoes and Dust were scared to death. It just doesn’t keep with our nicey-nice image.

If you’re off for the long weekend, have a good one. See you next week. And if you’re around, I’ll be here too. With a mix of the humorous, bizarre and slightly irreverent.

As always.

*There is an explanation coming this weekend about why I eat so bizarrely, by the way. But I wanted to wait for Sunday to put it up.

** So it hasn’t really happened yet, but I’m sure it will…

***Not holding my breath though. But I’m playing nice.


Vincent said...

The only problem with talking about the big two - politics and religion - is when the points of view become people. It's a very different thing disagreeing with your point of view to just plain disagreeing with you. The former can get heated, but it's the latter that gets nasty.

Sandra Ruttan said...

See? There are really smart people who read my blog.

Well said Vincent.

Bernita said...

I have opinions on both politics and religion.
The reason I don't blog about them directly is because people tend to put you in a box and label you - right-wing red-neck, left-wing nut, etc.,( I'll lick my own labels and stick them to my own forehead, thank you) and I get very tired of political blogs that develop a cult mentality - everything George Bush/Hilary Clinton does is evil/baaad.
People are sometimes willing to go to any length to be "sensitive" about the angst of a terrorist, a serial killer, a child molester etc. etc. but will not attribute the same humanity to those who oppose the same.

Another thing you mentioned is editor/agent perceptions - the "nicey-nice" factor..
Makes me wonder if one has Islamic fanatics in a novel, if an agent/editor reading a summary/synopsis is going to think one is bashing all Muslims/Arabs...and if there is a need to introduce one of those nicey-nice disclaimers somewhere in the text.

Excellent post, Sandra.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I have very little desire to post at length on religion. And really, there won't be much in the way of declaring my political leanings (guess, go on, I dare you all).

I've touched on a few things politically- the seal hunt, for example. I'm just discarding the rule, really.

But this blog will still be about me and whatever springs to mind.

And Bernita, it's a good point that you never know how an agent/publisher will react to something in a book or proposal. Whole books were scrapped last summer after the bombing in London. I was over there for Harrogate Crime Festival, and there was a fair bit of talk about it.

I've even heard some agents say there's form rejection code words for, "you named your killer after my favourite aunt and I don't like that" as a reason to reject a work. And people wonder why I didn't go the agent route to get a deal - so many of them felt the need to remind me I'm Canadian.

I figured if it was such an issue to them, then obviously it wasn't about the writing first. Which is why I smile when I think of all the people who told me I couldn't sell my work in the US, since my publisher is based in California.

But for some, politics will go ahead of anything else, no matter how good the writing, how strong the story.

You can't get hung up about it. Just make the best decisions you can and move on. I refused to relocate the Canadian series south of the border, and I don't regret that for a second. That would have been selling out, for me. SC is set in the US, so it isn't about an opposition to doing that - it's that the Canadian series would never ring true set in the US. SC was written to be in the US - the other series wasn't, and I know people would see right through that.

David Terrenoire said...

I would never post on politics or religion. I have far too much respect for my readers.

James Goodman said...

I tend to steer clear of the big two (with the exception of the occasional joke). It's not that I don't care, or that I don't have an opinion, but I also don't want to be labeled.

For The Trees said...

I don't like to post on politics or religion because I don't like the way I feel when I do. And if **I** get upset just talking about how **I** feel, I can imagine all too well what someone else might feel. I don't wish to upset anyone that much.

Call me chicken, but I tend to be a lot less suave and debonaire than I like. But then I have other qualities. Can't tell you what THOSE are, but I know I have them.

Thanks for a great post, Sandra. And you go and post on whatever you want. It's your blog. I'm not gonna label you, I'm just gonna say, "That's Sandra." And let it go. After all, it's just a blog, it's not a policy pronouncement.

For The Trees said...

What I CANNOT understand is how, here at 0800 Central Daylight Time, Blogger says I posted my comment above at 2:04 PM. Just doesn't make sense. But then, a lot of things don't. I usually can just let them slide right over, and not bother my pretty little head. But 2:04 PM?

Bernita said...

Another thing is that many readers on internet speed skim/scan a post and on to the next and never see the careful context and caveats imbedded in the discussion.

Anonymous said...

The problem with entertainers jumping into politics is that they are either intentionally or unintentionally using their exposure to communicate their opinions. It's like a mailman using the delivery truck to run a his own pizza delivery business. It seems self-indulgent. My issue with the Dixie Chicks is that no one went to the concert to hear political views.

As an aside, Philadelphia has a tradition of a Christmas light show in a old time department store. After 911, they added a new part to the show. A huge flag with the national anthem playing. What the heck? Don't mess with Christmas, man. Maybe the Easter Bunny should go check Iran for uranium enrichment.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, who knew what this would stir up?


David makes commentary in the most interesting of ways. Vietnam. The current economy. Right wingers. Go to his main page and scroll down to Bullshit: Past, Present and Future. Great post.

Forrest is just going to call me Sandra. Which is entirely appropriate.

Jason, you hit on a valid point. I respect the right to express an opinion, but there is a time and place.

There's nothing you can do about skimmers. Anything a person says can be taken out of context and misconstrued.

Forrest, I'll have to look at my clock and see what setting it's on.

None of you guys have been able to peg my political nature, though.

And Jason, YEAH. Don't mess with Christmas.

Erik Ivan James said...

I come to the specific blogs that I do to learn about writing, not about political issues. I also enjoy the "personality" aspects of these blogs.

If a particular blog becomes political in the nature of its content, I will likely abandon it for another which stays more on topic of writing. Nothing personal or no offense intended toward the former blogs author.

I have stong political and other social issues views but I don't expect to debate them in a "writing" community. I'll visit politically intended blogs or other such if I feel the need to have those discussions.

Vincent said volumes.

Trace said...

*Giggle* Here you are posting about politics and things that matter, and today I posted about the defition of the term "asshat". How do you like being buddies with the female version of Forrest Gump, Sandra?

Adam Hurtubise said...

Since I spent ten years as a political consultant and I'm working on a political thriller, I have no fear about posting on politics.

But religion... I don't think I could do that (again). I put up a post once about Sam Alito and the fact that he and I share affinities for hunting and a certain Jersey musician, and I made reference to one Supreme Court case, and I got hate mail from all over the country.

Apparently, because I believe in certain rights, I therefore do not believe in God. At least that's what the hate mail said.


Sandra Ruttan said...

What I find staggering, guys, is that I've posted on 'political' issues before, but because I said I might from time to time post on politics, I think everyone means I'll talk about who I vote for and why.

Which wasn't what I meant at all.

Trace, I love your blog! Geesh, sometimes, you just need to lighten the mood!

Adam, I totally get what you're saying. I've made the most simplistic comments from time to time and earned myself reams of hate mail. I once posted on a listserve that I was sorry if I hadn't responded to something (because there was a reference to a post that seemed to be addressed to me) because I was only getting 50% of the posts for some bizarre reason. And it's happening again, actually.

I just said that I was having a technical issue and not getting all the digests, so sorry if I was missing something I should have addressed. I got mail lecturing me that I shouldn't have posted that.

Which proved to me that it doesn't matter what you talk about, someone will disagree with you and probably tell you all the reasons you're wrong.

I'm actually surprised I don't get the odd bit of hate mail off my blog.

You're all very tolerant. Even if Erik's threatening to leave me. Sniff.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I'm a raging moderate. I hope that doesn't offend anybody. I don't talk politics on my blog because...I have enough to stress me out in this life. I pay attention to issues. I use what political clout I have at the voting booth. I vote with my checkbook when possible. I write letters to congress if an issue stirs me enough.

I'm loving Barry Eisler's blog. It's refreshing, well-tempered, the points made in a careful and considered way. He has good manners. I love good manners. He's making all of us mind our manners, also. He's the Miss Manners of Writerly Political Blogging, the Emily Post of thoughtful commentary, an ambassador of reason in a world gone shrill.

Okay, that's over the top. Blame Lala.

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Mindy!

Although I think some people forgot their good manners and that tempers have gotten a bit flared over there.

On the up side, I can now check my blood pressure without visiting Konrath's blog.

The ambassador of reason in a world gone shrill is good. But I'd lose the Miss Manners part.

I should've blogged about this sooner. I've gotten a huge number of blog hits this morning.

JD Rhoades said...

I was a columnist before I was a novelist, and I still am. I write more than just fiction, and most likely always will. If that upsets some people, so be it...but others have written me that they bought one of my books after reading me in the paper or online. I hope they're not disappointed when the books turn out not to be overtly political.
And I also find it strange that the people being told "oh, don't write political stuff on your blog, you'll alienate readers" all tend to lean liberal.Nobody, to my knowledge, is telling Orson Scott Card to keep quiet because his ultra-conservative views might alienate readers.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks JD. As much as I poke fun at you, I really respect you. Actually, I usually insult people I respect. I don't know why that is...

And I think there's one thing about blogs that are more about the person - you can't easily compartmentalize yourself. I've blogged about bipolar and being diagnosed with that. I've blogged about my mother and our fucked up family problems. I've blogged about sex and porn at length. I've blogged about the people in my writer's group and what happened there and how I felt about it.

So, if a friend dies in Afghanistan or my government does something I disagree with, I shouldn't be able to express my frustration?

My book set in the US is nowhere near as much of a social commentary as the Canadian series. I didn't feel I had the right to do that about another country. But at the same time, sometimes your views seep through in your writing - be it a book, a column or a blog.

And I won't not make the comment just because some people might not like it.

Disappointed reading your books? You're a damn good writer, which comes through loud and clear on your blog and your comments elsewhere. And you have so much cynical wit I just love it when you state your opinions. You don't pull your punches. I don't ever feel I'm talking to an image - you're the real deal.

Bernita said...

I belong to the Militant Middle myself.

M. G. Tarquini said...

The ambassador of reason in a world gone shrill is good.

Liked that, huh. Maybe I'll blog about it tomorrow, too. If I say anything else pithy, let me know. I like to keep track. Y'know, as reference in case Terry Gross of National Public Radio ever wants to do an interview.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bernita, I'm not militant, middle-aged or otherwise, or card carrying.

But I really did think all the militant types lived in Klein country. (Ducking now!)

Mindy, we'll try to help you build that list. Tough job but somebody has to do it.

(Getting out while the getting's good!)

Christa M. Miller said...

I'm opinionated, but I stay out of most political debates largely because I don't have time to become as well-informed on both sides of an issue as I would like to be. Of course, a *good* debate informs in and of itself, but so many debates are not good. Also, I have a hard time thinking on the fly when presented with something I didn't know before. Too analytical.

I suspect most people are apathetic because they're cynical. We all know Big News is driven by corporate interests/ratings/the bottom line, and everyone lies anyway, so why believe what we're told? I think most people would rather be taken for apathetic than naive.

The Great Russel McLean said...

I tend to avoid politics because I always feel I'm not informed enough and besides I know where I lie in the great social scheme of things (I'm left of centre). I just don't know that my blog is the place for politics although I'm always happy to talk about it provided no one gets nasty (There's one author with whom I frequently disagree on politics: in fact we're so far apart on the political scale its amazing, and yet we remain good friends because we never allow it to get personal and because we both have thought through reasons for being where we are on the scale).

And you know, Sandra, you've just swelled my head to the Nth degree with that comment on my reviews... heh...

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I welcome people who disagree with my politics, provided that I can have a rational discussion. I look forward to seeing things from a different point of view, and possibly help educate someone else as well. Hopefully we'll both walk away from the discussion better for it.

When it degrades into fanatacism and an unwillingness to see that there might be a different way of looking at things, there's no point in continuing the discussion.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think I'd rather be taken for naive than apathetic. You can learn and grow beyond being naive easily enough. But to change someone who's apathetic? That's tough.

Russel, I love your reviews. You always back up your opinions with substance and you aren't ignorant about it either. But again, don't tell anyone I said so.

Stephen, I agree that political discussion can be a way to learn more. That's the thing - everything we get is filtered through the media and slanted. So what do we really know? A distorted version of the truth. News junkies read multiple international news articles to get a more balanced perspective. Yep, I subscribe to The Scotsman, for example.

But we don't always have time to do all that reading, and having a discussion can be very informative, expose you to a point of view you hadn't considered previously. It boils down to whether or not your goal is to convert everyone to your way of thinking, or to really discuss the issue. I'm interested in hearing opinions on things, because it also goes to the psychology of people. How can writers NOT be curious about what drives one person to be a zealot, another crazed individual to be left of center, another to be a militant? (joking Russel)

Seriously, I like to try to understand where others are coming from. And sometimes, in dissecting my own views, I understand more about myself.

I've even been persuaded to change my mind on occasion. I think Barry's done a good job of setting the ground rules, and likely his blog will do well because of it.

Bernita said...

I meant trying to avoid extremes.
OK, I'll go sit on my hands now.

JamesO said...

I thought Trace's post today was about politics.

Me, I like to rant from time to time, and if the object of my rant is political, then watch out. But mostly what I'm ranting about is incompetence - set yourself up as a leader of men and you'd better be bloody good at it or I'm going to poke you with a sharp stick.

Kate said...

"But I have a question for you. How do you feel when people from a different country comment forcefully on your politics? Does it offend you?"

It doesn't offend me at all. I'm always curious about what people in other countries think. I prefer people to get their facts straight, but that's the same as for home-grown commentators.

Discussions of political issues are different here. Australians are much less likely to have a strong allegience to a particular political party so we don't take it so personally.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Kate! I like the external POV because sometimes people from different regions of the world have fresh viewpoints that we're too close to something to see.

James, I think I know what you mean...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Like you said...I love to discuss both....maybe I was dropped on my head as a baby...LOL...and I'm on the Conservative right!

Martyn said...

Great post (and comments too it has to be said !)

Lisa Hunter said...

My view is that people who take the time to actually HAVE an opinion about another country ought to at least get a listen. Someone who's curious enough about the world to follow international events can't be totally stupid -- even if his or her conclusions are based on misinformation.

As an American in Canada, I get a lot of opinions about my home country. But then, I'm an American IN CANADA, so I tend to agree with a lot of them.