Links: Thursday, March 26th

March 27, 2014 Links 5

Long, straight, tree branches form the stem and an enormous mound of flowers form the crown of a large art installation that looks like a giantess' bridal bouquet. A bunch of flowers.

  • Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally – I waffled on linking this because it appears to be written by a white woman, but the advice seemed solid and she does include other people’s answers at the end. YMMV

    To answer your other questions: it’s always possible that someone will be offended by a white person writing about a person of color, but generally, most readers I’ve talked to who care about diversity in fantasy and science fiction want that diversity to come from everyone, not just writers of color. This is why I emphasized alpha readers—it’s important to make sure that if you’re not from that background, you do your research (which it sounds like you have) and then run it past someone other than yourself who understands that culture or background (in this case, you’ve got two cultures going on: African American and military, particularly Air Force, which has a completely different culture than Army).

    A few someones is even better, to ensure that you get different points of view and can mesh that feedback into something that works for your particular character, who will be an individual in his own right and not a representative of a group that plays into a stereotype.

  • Race, Gender and Comics… Oh My! – Comics writer Jacques Nyemb talks about representation in comics then lists some reading suggestions at the end of the article.

    Comics, when I grew up, made it the norm to think that minorities and women could not be realistic characters in their books. Women had to be objects of affections and minorities, comic relief or athletic angry men. But somehow I stuck on and consumed these stories. As time grew I found myself indoctrinated and normalized the very thing that alienated me when I was younger.

    Subconsciously, I defaulted everything to be white males. Because it was all I saw in the comic world. From Asterix and Obelix, to most of DC’s lineups. All of the characters worth caring about where white and male. That does something to a kid’s brain.

  • When Vanilla Was Brown And How We Came To See It As White – Rebekah linked this Code Switch post on Twitter, I think, and I thought it was pretty cool. Not sure how to describe it, though.

    So how did vanilla become a kind of cultural metaphor for whiteness? It’s not too far of a stretch to say that we’ve seen this SAT-ish synonym match in real-life: vanilla is to whiteness :: chocolate is to blackness.

    Metaphors like this don’t work in isolation, says Harryette Mullen, a poet and professor who teaches English and African-American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Think about the expression “plain vanilla,” she tells me. When you consider that phrase, you’re probably thinking of something that lacks other flavors.

    Whiteness has always, always been defined in proximity to blackness.

  • Reading and reviewing, then and now – Sunita has a great post about the current state of reviewing in Romanceland and it spawned a vigorous discussion with lots of insightful comments.

    I worry that general interest review sites just aren’t worth the trouble anymore. However much bloggers have ambitions to be “influencers,” as the horrible online vocabulary terms them, blogs are still a lot of work.* The newer blogs I’ve seen that aren’t intentionally limited in their scope tend to be cheerleading blogs. I find this intensely depressing.

    To me, the fact that the hole Wave left hasn’t been filled, and the fact that DA and SB (and others such as Bookpushers and SmexyBooks) are still the main players speaks to the change many of us are afraid is happening. There has been churn and movement in romance reviewing for nearly two decades that I know of. Now many of the new blogs are tied to publishers or function as venues for author publicity. Those aren’t the same kind of public good providers. And yes, blogs do provide public goods. You don’t pay to access the content and you don’t have to be anyone in particular to lurk or comment. You don’t even have to give your real name and email at DA.

  • Nearly 4,000 first world war diaries made available online – What a time to be alive. The amount of information out there in easily accessible online databases is enormous and just keeps growing.

    First-hand accounts of trench warfare, gas attacks and battles involving horses and machine guns, are contained in nearly 4,000 diaries released online on Thursday to mark the centenary of the 1914-18 world war.

    The diaries, digitised by the National Archives in a joint project with the Imperial War Museum, reveal the sheer stoicism and black humour that helped troops – on both sides – survive the slaughter in Belgium and northern France. They include accounts of the battle of Loos in September 1915, a notoriously unsuccessful and bloody offensive in which the British army used poison gas for the first time and suffered more than 60,000 casualties in less than a month.

  • Sex and the Romance Novel: Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry – I don’t usually link to reviews for whatever reason but I really liked what Brie had to say about a book that finds the cure for a heroine who’s never had an orgasm is PIV sex with the right guy.

    Romland is filled with sex talk, but the conversation is monotonous and not as critical as it could be. When we defend the genre to outsiders, we usually say that it allows women to explore and express desires, fantasies, and sex. But can we talk about a true exploration when the sex always reaches the same tired conclusion? Where is the variety? When are we going to take a closer, critical look at the message we send when we constantly portray PIV sex and multiple vaginal orgasms as being inexorably linked to romance, love and happiness? Is there no happiness to be found in other types of sexual relationships? Is there no satisfaction outside of an orgasm? Just as sex is a key element of the genre, critical discourse is fundamental for the growth of the community, so I hope books like Satisfaction encourage more discussions.

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An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre's most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.

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5 Responses to “Links: Thursday, March 26th”

  1. Heidi Belleau

    That post by Sunita is interesting but I’m really uncomfortable with how she specifically talks about Jessewave. What happened with Jessewave has nothing to do with changing review culture and everything to do with the fact that Jessewave chose to run an explicitly biphobic, transphobic, and misogynistic site in an M/M genre that (kicking and screaming) is being dragged into something that’s vaguely more legitimately LGBT or at the very least to something more professional/valid than slash fandom. Can you imagine if DA made posts talking about how disgusting vaginas are? Publisher relationships or no, they’d lose their legitimacy within the genre, and with good reason. The fact that none of that got mentioned in favour of treating the fall of Jessewave as being a part of this larger (unrelated) trend is avoiding the point that if Jessewave had spent as much time reviewing books and being a positive force within the genre as it had making ranting posts defending their right to find vaginas gross and their right to define trans men as “not real men” then maybe they’d still have a platform and clout within the genre.

  2. Liz Mc2

    “your particular character, who will be an individual in his own right and not a representative of a group that plays into a stereotype”

    Glad to see not all writers think stereotypes aren’t a problem and readers who object to them are just bringing their baggage.

    I especially liked Brie’s review not just because this is an issue I’ve long been thinking about too, but because she discussed it in a review of a book she really LIKED. I’m trying to think about why that mattered to me. I think 1. she didn’t handwave an issue she saw just because she liked the book/enjoys the writer’s voice. 2. It shows that we can have these kinds of mixed reactions–that romance *lovers* can raise these questions, and doing so doesn’t make us haters. Sometimes it feels that saying these things is perceived that way, like we should never harsh someone’s mellow or, you know, shame their fantasies. She discussed it in a way that IMO never did that.

    That bunch of flowers is great. It’s all flowery here, and I hope you get spring soon too.

  3. Sunita

    Thanks for the link and compliment. The comments have been fantastic and really thought-provoking. They’ve reminded me how much the landscape has changed, something I see much better when I’m looking at internet communities that I don’t have such a big personal stake in. It has also made me realize I need to comment more at the blogs I visit. I read many blogs religiously but I don’t always comment, so the bloggers don’t know how much I value them, and I’m sure that’s true for many non-commenting readers besides me.

    @Heidi Belleau: I don’t disagree with your criticisms about the site and their anti-everything-but-cis-gay-men policy resulted in my own decision to visit it less and less often. But I disagree that site did not provide a service that many authors and readers wanted, however prejudiced it was. Lots and lots of people visited it and lots of authors and publishers sent books for reviews and giveaways. Including publishers whose owners and editors badmouthed Wave in private.

    I think that the legitimate and important criticisms that were made about the site’s refusal to consider books with *any* amount of non-cis-gay characters and relationships contributed to her decision to close the site, but I do not think it was even close to the only reason. I think Wave’s growing dissatisfaction with the genre overall, especially within the areas she chose to read, played a bigger role, as did the time and expense of running a large site with many contributors.

    I don’t make these claims based on personal knowledge of Wave, but if you have evidence that the number of books to review/give away and visitors to the site was declining, I hope you’ll share it, because that’s not consistent with the information I have.

    As for the point I was making for which I included Wave as an example, I’d say that I haven’t come across or heard discussion of a site that reviews m/m (either in the same way as Wave or more inclusively) that is getting a lot of traffic, and I didn’t see anything in the months before they closed for good. But that could be ignorance on my part and I’m happy to be corrected.

  4. Heidi Belleau

    I don’t have insider knowledge of Jessewave, nor do I claim to. I found the environment completely toxic to me as a queer woman so I didn’t patronize it by giving it pageviews or my time/trust. I don’t know the numbers. I’d like to have enough faith in people to believe that the prejudice that site was steeped in drove down their viewing numbers and participation, but who knows. Truth is, there are probably a lot more people willing to look the other way than I want to think about.

    Frankly, I think a lot of the “dissatisfaction” you refer to had to do with the fact that the genre has largely outgrown Jessewave. If she’d have grown with the genre rather than stubbornly insisting that it conform to her outdated opinions, then maybe she wouldn’t have gotten so disenchanted. After all, when she talked about “disrespect” from authors toward readers she wasn’t talking about street teams or harassing reviewers. She vaguely mentioned declining “quality” in the genre, but the hill she chose to die on was “surprise vaginas”. Sadly, her voice was becoming irrelevant long before she finally gave up and shut down shop. She very obviously didn’t like having her opinions undermined or people disagree with her. She didn’t like that people weren’t treating her as the go-to “voice” of the M/M genre.

    You’re right that I don’t know of any one blog that has taken the place she once occupied, (personally as a reader I prefer to get my reviews from trusted goodreads members I follow that I know don’t bullshit or shill vs. get them from any one review BLOG) but to be honest, I don’t think even Jessewave occupied that place for months before she shut down, and I think her declining influence in the genre (from increased competition, from shooting herself in the foot by being vocally and publicly transphobic and misogynistic over and over again even after the tide of public opinion turned against her). To me, she stopped running the site because it was no longer an echochamber. She got more and more visibly upset every time she defended her indefensible opinion and every time people challenged her on it. I wouldn’t want to expend money and effort running a website in that case, either, but then, I try not to be a prejudiced asshole about things.

    I genuinely do hope that we see the rise of a new M/M website that provides balanced, trustworthy and critical reviews for readers. But I have to be honest and say that Jessewave may have been that website once when the genre was newer, but I really don’t think that was the case in the last months to a year, and that Wave’s behaviour was a contributing factor to its falling influence in the genre.

    Frankly, though, if having one go-to M/M review website means relying on Jessewave, I’d much rather have the current situation of multiple competing smaller blogs.

  5. nu

    Re: first link. I am wondering what kind of multicultural fiction will come out of an author whose first question is a stereotype.

    As for Brie’s blog, I agree we need more variety than PIV and more attention to the clitoris in sex scenes; that’s realism. But tbh, I keep seeing people saying “orgasm isn’t everything,” and I wonder if we’re asking women to settle or unconsciously still internalizing that women are less sexual than men. Would we tell a man this if he wasn’t orgasming when he had sex? I don’t want to shame any women, there are a lot of factors and nothing wrong with it, but I really wonder if it’s biology, as many have accepted, that women don’t orgasm as often as men, or if it’s socialization/society. Considering 50 Shades was a revelation to so many people, I’m thinking it’s the latter and we’ll see women’s sexuality develop more in the future. Women’s lib wasn’t that long ago.