Thursday, August 16, 2007

Explosive Elements

Arguments may get you headlines, but they’ll also get you a lot of heartache.

Last night, I was having trouble sleeping because of an argument. Not the shout-it-out-be-angry-and-be-done-with-it kind, either. The worst kind. The kind that simmers and festers and spreads over time and touches on other people.* And then, when I got up and came to my computer I was drawn back to an argument ten months old, one I hashed out more than enough about here, which didn’t help the sleep situation.

Recently at The Outfit Barbara D’Amato asked, “Why can’t we all get along?” Barbara was talking about hostile reviews, the kind that tear a book apart not because it’s been assessed on its own merits and found wanting, but the kind that attack a book just because it isn’t a genre the reviewer likes, the very existence of the book considered an offense. She said attacks don’t usually come from writers. Writers, “know how hard it is to write a book, and they are appreciative of others who do it, even the book isn’t what they like to read.”

I had to admit to being aware of several times writers have attacked other writers, and what they’ve done. That’s part of the reason I was so offended by the “blood-soaked corrosive rubbish” comments in the radio discussion I blogged about recently. It was a carte blanche attack not only on what I write but also on what I read. And nobody should presume to tell anyone else why they read and what’s acceptable and not acceptable. (And it isn’t even like it’s an original discussion point, which about sums up my thoughts today.)

And that wasn’t even the most recent attack I blogged about.

These are but two examples.
I could dredge up a very
old argument,
one that has been done to death already, but is now making headlines.

In all honesty, I don’t even like posting the links. But there are other links too, ones that will be familiar to some of you, where I have already said more than enough on the subject.

I was still upset when I saw the headlines. In fact, this whole bloody discussion deeply affected me last fall, when the issue first came up. The reason it bothered me was the number of people who just jumped on a bandwagon and went on attack over it, including many people who have candidly talked on their own blogs about being misquoted in the press. But boy oh boy, when it’s one of the top sellers in the crime fiction community there isn’t a moment’s hesitation in taking out the clubs and striking the blows. We’d all hope if it was us, with the meaning of a remark in an interview being twisted and interpreted, that people would give us the benefit of the doubt, wouldn’t we? But when it’s IR he doesn’t even get a moment’s hesitation before some sharpen the claws. Some wonderful, caring, supportive community spirit there. Let’s all gather round the fire, join hands, sing Kumbaya and pat ourselves on the back for how wonderful we are.


So, I’m left wondering why ten months later, here we are, again. Stir up an old argument. Rip open wounds, go on the attack.

It’s good for headlines but it’s also good for a lot of heartache. You know, it may even be that the authors behind some of these arguments have complete agreement about using them as a marketing strategy for all I know…

All I can say to that possibility is that if it’s true, what a shame. It would mean we now draw our audience through attacks, have to resort to scandal in order to drum up interest in what we’re doing. How very Hollywood.

And there are a lot of people out there who have nothing to do with the other side of the writing community, left feeling uncomfortable over the comments made, feeling as though there's active hostility (which may or may not be true, depending on the argument and the people) and feeling as though they don't want to be around any of those people.

A wise person once told me, in regards to this business, that if anyone says “What knocks?” they’re lying. Ironic, that as I was searching for the old links, I came across one of my favourite (word dripped in sarcasm) people attacking me. Yawn. All I can say is, I’m like a field mouse at a fox hunt – I mean, if you think it’s worth wasting your time attacking me, really how sad for you that you don’t have something better to do with your time. Bottom line is, if you have to build your career by stepping on the backs of others it’s a sad thing. We’ve gotten pretty far from writing being what wins out.

Another thing someone said to me: A person’s friends will know the truth about them, and you have to trust that your friends will stand behind you instead of assuming the worst.

Indeed. That’s why at the lowest moments in our lives we often find out who our real friends are, and are not. I have never believed the inferred meaning (and this I stress, because his words have been twisted to infer he was attacking lesbians, which has me wondering who even read the original interview, with all the narrative added in by the interviewer) from the comment Ian made, from the very beginning. It contradicts everything I’ve ever read about him and things he’s said to me himself. In the end, all this did was show who’s quick to judge and form conclusions, without even all the facts.

Chalk it up as a real stellar moment in the crime fiction world, another reason for us to be proud and look down our noses at others. Next person who says it’s the romance writers who are brutal to each other will prove one thing to me – they live with their head stuck in the sand. It might be easier to pretend nobody’s slinging mud that way, but you still get dirty.

*The argument in question has nothing to do with the writing world at all.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Sometimes I wonder if writers are more hot-headed than the usual Joe. There always seem to be angry discussions going on on the discussion sites I lurk in. There's enough to be anxious about in this world. (See The Golden Rule).

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think we are Patti. And I think it's okay to be upset. I'll even go so far as to say if you need to rant, do it on your blog. Nobody's forced there, it's not like a public forum.

But when it spills over to public events, interviews, radio broadcasts it has a very different impact. There are many people who have nothing to do with the blog community, and there are many people who don't know the authors involved in these controversies. People become sticking points for issues, their comments twisted, the meanings inferred. There used to be a sense that the crime fiction community stood together.

Now it seems like it's tearing itself apart from the inside out.

Anonymous said...

I can see this from both sides, and you know, that's fair enough. If it was an arguement between two people and not the whole world. Thing about being a crime writer today i find. Is everything you say is elevated. A lot of people like to see this kind of arguement. Especially those who like to belittle crime readers/writers.
They don't need to battle with crime fans for they can pull up a chair and watch us battle between ourselves. Mores the pity.
Whats worse is those who put our genre down to the mud are rubbing their hands in glee over such things.
I like and respect both authors here but i feel there was no need for such drama.
Can no-one nip anything in the bud anymore.
I find myself more and more dissapointed by the bad press the crime genre recieves.
The final nail in the coffin is when they agrue publicly with each other.
It's like Jen and Angelina all over again.
Should we be forced to take sides?

Sandra Ruttan said...


If I could sit back objectively and look at this as an issue, I could see both perspectives and that would be fine...

The thing is, pretty much day 1 this became personal. Some authors made comments on the original interviewer's blog. Others blogged about how wrong Ian was. Others called him names, and took him to task for attacking lesbians.

Which he never did.

And in truth, I don't recall seeing one single comment come from outside the crime fiction community in all the stuff I read. I understand there was some discussion elsewhere, but it was barely on my radar. The crime fiction community was doing a good enough job of making a show of it.

All of that aside, when this blew up last fall I did talk to Ian about it. It's always been up to him to choose whether or not to speak out about this, and I'm not going to put words in his mouth. All I'll say is that I know enough to find it hard, especially this many months later, to be objective about those articles.

Things were said on the reporter's blog in October when this first blew up. Things were said on radio in November, a month after the fact. And here we are again? Ian has surely committed the unpardonable sin here and will be hearing about it until his dying day at this rate.

Note my sarcasm there. And what I fail to comprehend is that on the gender debate panel last year at Harrogate, with both Val and Ian on it, when people on the panel tried to guess who wrote different excerpts from books, a man or a woman, I distinctly remember the 'pool boy' description and the debate. And someone saying maybe it was written by a gay man. It was okay to joke about that, to infer that a gay man's sexuality might have an impact on his writing, but don't you dare go the other direction.

Pots and kettles. There may be a lot of problems in the crime fiction world and a lot of bias for women to still overcome, but we won't achieve that by lowering ourselves to the same type of attacks we criticize others for. ANYONE who's ever been interviewed (or for crying out loud, interviewed somone) knows how easy it is to misconstrue comments and misrepresent the meaning of words. When I interview I always give people a chance to read it over first so that the truth of their meaning and intent is what gets through, not a badly worded comment that people can blow out of proportion.

And anyone who doesn't recognize that men and women face different issues in their writing is naive. So many men I talk to express concerns about writing about pedophiles or rape. A man writes that and suddenly that's his personal fantasy. A woman writes that and she's offering an insightful look at the real fears women live with in our society.

Gender issues cut both way. They always have. And in the same way, people will face potential backlash about their writing based on religion, race and sexual orientation. If a white supremacist writes a book that has an Asian person being tortured that must be personal, right? Everything we know about a person can be used to judge their intentions writing even fiction. People have done this over gender for ages. The type of ammunition has just expanded.

The way this has been blown up is just beyond ridiculous. But it sure makes for notable headlines.


angie said...

Oy and vey. This one made my head hurt last year, and does so again. Whether or not Rankin's comments were taken completely out of context, it was a stupid thing to say to a reporter (as I'm sure he is painfully aware).

Does that mean I think he should be crucified (again)? No. Do I think women (hetero & lesbian) who write bloody/violent crime fiction have reason to be upset? Well, sure, okay. Is this latest kaboom kinda weird? Well, yeah. I mean, hasn't this been addressed publicly already?

I dunno. Sounds like there's quite a bit more going on here than I know about. I honestly hadn't realized the rift between McDermid and Rankin over this ill-conceived and incendiary comment hadn't been resolved. It's a shame all the way around. Under less angry circumstances, the gender divide (or lack thereof) in terms of how violence is portrayed in crime fiction could be an interesting topic.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think the gender divide and how that affects violence in fiction would make an interesting topic. Actually, in the link to my second post on the subject I link to an article Ruth Jordan wrote about that, which is very good.

Yes, things were said last October and again last November.

As for saying things to reporters, probably 75% of the authors I've interviewed have said something that could have been made to look very bad. Most authors I've interviewed have retracted, or rephrased, something in their interview after I've transcribed it. This always - always - happens when I interview people over the phone or in person. If we do the interview via email or messenger it's less likely, precisely because people look at words they type more carefully and realize how they can be misinterpreted or misread. When people talk to you they don't have the same luxury.

When I read an interview where I get a sense that the reporter has tried to lull the person into a comfort zone and then just springs something on them it automatically raises doubts for me. Scandal reporting. I used to credit authors with more intelligence than to buy that kind of crap wholesale.

Anonymous said...

Could have been an opportunity to raise awareness and discussion instead of a pilloring. Remember reading about it on your blog when it first came out. Such a shame it's still being churned up. Let it go people.