Stop, collaborate and listen! Blogging goals for 2015 January 25, 2015Posted by dolorosa12 in announcements, blogging, internet.
Tags: blog housekeeping, blogging, community building, internet, life, sff, writing
1 comment so far
One of my goals for this year is to post a lot more on this blog, and to do so with a bit more coherence in terms of content and aims. Last year was my year of speaking up. I made a conscious choice to talk more, to join conversations online, and to ignore the little voice saying, ‘but why would they want to speak to you?’ and just see what happened. The result was a whole bunch of new friends, some really interesting conversations, and the courage to raise my voice in situations where previously I would have kept quiet. So I want to build on this and approach blogging — and the entire online conversation about books, media, writing, reviewing and stories — with my intentions laid out clearly from the start.
These intentions can be summed up rather handily with the phrase ‘stop, collaborate and listen’ (with apologies to Vanilla Ice and good taste, I guess). It’s not as silly as it sounds.
This is probably going to be the hardest element of the three. The current culture of the internet communities in which I hang out is primarily one of passivity: passively reblogging and retweeting other people’s words without engaging or reflecting to any great degree. This is something that is very hard to unlearn. This is not to say that reblogging or retweeting are terrible things in and of themselves: it’s crucial to get other people’s words and perspectives out there, and there are many occasions in which spreading news and information quickly is of critical importance. But I sometimes worry that we’ve sacrificed context and reflection for ease of dissemination.
So when I’m talking about stopping, what I really mean is taking the time to stop, think, and evaluate the wider context in which particular tweets and posts appear. Can I guarantee that the information being spread is correct? Do I have the time to investigate the truth of any given post? Do I have the time to investigate the context in which it appears? Is the poster or source someone whose voice I want to amplify? If not, is there someone else saying the same thing who is more deserving of what little amplification I may provide? Are there multiple people saying the same or similar things, and would the information benefit from adding their voices to the mix? Would a post benefit from additional commentary by me, and do I have the time and ability to provide such commentary? These are all things I’m trying to stop and consider before hitting the reblog button or firing off those 140 characters.
Essentially what I’m saying here is that if I don’t have time to stop and investigate the wider context of something, I don’t have time to hit retweet, reblog or share.
One of the things I love the most about the internet is that it has opened my eyes to myriad, diverse perspectives. I can talk and listen to people from all over the world, people whose life experiences are different to my own, and who carry these experiences with them when telling their own stories or reacting to the stories of others. I am only one person, and no matter how much I listen to and empathise with people whose backgrounds and experiences are different to my own, I can only bring my own perspective to any given piece of media or any given situation. And I think our understanding is enriched and deepened by seeking out a broad range of people and listening to what they have to say.
It is with this in mind that I want to work harder at finding opportunities for collaboration in writing and reviewing. In some situations, co-reviewing might be the way to go, although it remains to be seen whether my blog (read on a good day by about fifty people) is an appropriate venue for such reviews. I also feel very strongly that I should be hosting guest reviews or interviews, but again, my limited reach might be unhelpful in this regard. However, I wanted to at least raise the possibility and say that yes, I am very interested in opportunities for co-reviewing and hosting guest bloggers, and please do get in touch if you want to participate.
There is one other form of collaboration which is a bit more passive, but certainly more achievable by me at the moment. I’m talking about linking to and sharing the words of others. I want to make regular link posts a feature of this blog (probably with a mirror at Dreamwidth). One of the features I admire most in my favourite review blogs is the provision of multiple links to other reviews of the same work so that readers can get a wide range of perspectives and thus a bigger picture of the conversation going on around any given text. That is definitely something I will be incorporating into this blog.
This is probably the most important goal of all, and it is ultimately all about context. I want to stop and think before sharing the words of others or adding my voice to the conversation, and I want to work with others so that the conversation is enriched by a multiplicity of perspectives, and this involves listening and investigating the wider context. This means finding a balance between the source and the words or actions themselves. I will continue to give more weight to praise and criticism by reviewers praising and criticising depictions of things they themselves have experienced. But I will give even more weight to the words of writers and reviewers who work hard to amplify marginalised voices, who act as mentors, who offer kindness and support, who take abuse and harassment seriously, no matter the target, and who welcome conversation, collaboration and the space for dissent and a diversity of opinion.
That’s why listening is so important. Whereas last year I was trying to find the confidence to speak, now I want to find the patience to listen. My impulse has always been to leap right in, as I feared missing out on important conversations if I didn’t react in real time. But the words will all still be there, and I will still have my spaces in which to respond to them. Listening will allow for a more thoughtful response.
I want to reiterate that these are goals and guidelines for me, and for me alone. If others find them helpful and want to make use of them, feel free, but I intend no prescription here. But I talk so much about judging people by how well their actions match their stated intentions that I thought laying my own intentions out here would give me a bit of accountability. We’ll see if I live up to these lofty intentions of my own at the end of 2015, at which point I will pause for reflection and, if necessary, adjust or rework my goals. For now, however, they seem like a good place to start.
Negative capability March 4, 2011Posted by dolorosa12 in books, internet.
Tags: books, internet, online literary community, reviewing, writing, ya literature
Typically, it was the whole YA Mafia kerfuffle that tempted me out of my hermit hole. I’ve been kind of absent from most of my online haunts recently, and wondering if I would ever get back into blogging. And then this happened. For the best summary of events thus far, you should probably check out this roundup on YA Highway. As you can imagine, I have Opinions about the stuff that’s bouncing around.
Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way first. I’m obviously a book blogger. I maintain this blog, a fanblog for Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas series, and a Livejournal. I’m also on Twitter and participate in the discussion on various authors’ and publishers’ blogs. I am also an ‘old media’ reviewer. I’ve written reviews for an Australian newspaper (mainly on YA literature) for the past nine years. Although there’s very little overlap between my online and newspaper work (and it’s not exactly a secret in either sphere that I’m reviewing in the other), my online reviews tend to be more about books I like, although I may write from time to time about a ‘phenomenon’ in literary trends with which I’m uneasy or displeased. My newspaper reviews range more widely in tone, since by definition, I have less control over what books I review there, and so I’m likely to come into contact with books I dislike.
My reviewing both online and for the paper has occasionally brought me into contact with authors. There are several with whom I have some sort of relationship (which mainly consists of discussing books and ideas either online or in real life). In both spheres, however, I’m small enough fry that, to be honest, nothing I say is going to have a huge amount of impact or be noticed by that many people.
I am a reader of The Sparkle Project, and I agree with its general point that there is an unsettling trend of misogyny, if not downright romanticising of domestic violence and abuse in some popular YA literature today.*
This is where I’m standing, then, and what follows is the perspective of a person ‘quietly observing standing in my space’, so to speak.
There is a bit of fail on both sides of this debate, but as far as I’m concerned, the biggest fail by far is the problems both sides seem to be having in understanding one another’s grievances. However, most of the failure in this regard is emanating from the authors’ and publishers’ corner, although I accept that Ceilidh_ann on the Sparkle Project was probably not strong enough in shutting down some rather nasty comments on her blog.
Ceilidh_ann herself puts it better than I can in relation to authors Just Not Getting It.
The Mafia thing wasn’t just about that; it was about watching authors tell reviewers and future authors to “be nice” or else they’d risk bad karma and people like Becca Fitzpatrick would take any opportunity to mock you about it and having her author friends congratulate her for supposedly taking the high road (the original entry has since been Flocked on LJ but is available to read on GoodReads.) It was about watching author friends give each other cover quotes when to me it felt like “doing your friends a favour” instead of judging the work based on its merits (hell, I can’t even review the book of an author who I’m friends with on LJ and twitter, it just feels too close for me.) It was about seeing authors brag about their good connections and how they helped them get publishing deals, as was the case with Aprilynne Pike and her friend Stephenie Meyer, who passed her book onto her agent Jodi Reamer. It was about hearing from other bloggers who has also been on the receiving end of bad author behaviour (said people do not want to be named so I hope you respect that, even if you don’t believe me). It was about watching bloggers be accused of something akin to censorship for discussing what they saw as extremely problematic, then twisting their words around to fit their argument better (The Book Smugglers’ review of “Sisters Red” being the prime example here, especially in the wake of the Bitch media mess). It was about watching author after author fawn over a mediocre writer with a documented history of fandom plagiarism solely because she sold well.
In other words, we, as book reviewers, are saying one thing, and authors are hearing another. And what we are saying, over and over again, is, ‘If you in the YA publishing world are not going to be negative about any other YA book (which is totally okay) then we are going to be negative if we think there are grounds for negativity‘. Earth-shattering, I know.
What on earth are book-reviewers for if not to inform the world at large – and potential readers in particular – of their opinions of a particular book? We are not here to provide blurbs so that authors can sell more books (although if we do so – and some of my quotes have been used as blurbs on authors’ books – well, yay for us). We are here to tell people what we thought of a particular book, and why. We are here to help people decide if a particular book is something they’ll enjoy, or something they should flee to the hills in order to avoid. Sometimes, unfortunately, this requires us to be critical. An experienced reviewer is able to be critical without being cruel, to be honest without being rude and to explain his or her problems with a book clearly in a way that makes it obvious that such problems may not be problems for every person.** And if authors ask us to ‘be nice’ (with just a hint of a threat), as Becca Fitzpatrick has done, it is preventing us from doing our job.
As a reviewer, I feel very strongly that if I’m not able to express my dislike of a book, I have failed in my duty to readers.*** I have seen what happens when reviewers fail to express an opinion. The reviews become bland, neutral plot summaries. On the surface, that may appear to be sensible, since it ostensibly allows readers to make up their own minds based on plot alone, but in fact it’s a bit intellectually dishonest. Book reviews need to set the book in a broader context of trends in the field, thematic concerns, why particular elements of the plot failed, how it compares to the author’s other work – and that’s only the bare minimum. Think of the plot of a book you read and dislike, and imagine reading just that bare outline. Would that inform you whether or not you’d enjoy the book? I think not.
Being a reviewer is a balancing act. Rather than affecting neutrality and pretending that your own tastes and preferences are non-existent, embrace them. Think about them, categorise them, work out your own quirky likes and dislikes. Let them shine through in your reviews while at the same time owning and acknowledging them, and recognising that other people’s tastes might be different. All of this needs to come across in a review. And this means that sometimes, you are going to have to be negative.
A bad review is not going to make or break an author’s career. Neither is a single good review going to make an author a success. With all due respect, the single greatest thing that will aid an author’s success is that author writing an absolutely fantastic book.
*’It was about never seeing authors or people in the YA industry discuss some of the anti-feminist attitudes prevailing in an increasingly popular trend, where a character is simply a sexy bad boy for holding a girl down on a bed against her will and saying he wants to kill her. I understand being professional, I really do, but I didn’t think then, and I still don’t, that professionalism included putting your fingers in your ears and ignoring the obvious.’
** I, like all readers, have various idiosyncratic preferences and turn-offs, and sometimes a book will trigger these. If I’m doing my job properly, I’m able to communicate that while such and such a thing doesn’t appeal to me personally, other readers may enjoy it.
*** This is sometimes heartbreaking, especially when it requires me to be critical of an author whose works I adored as a child. But I still do it.
Updated links May 17, 2010Posted by dolorosa12 in internet.
Tags: blogging, internet, writing
You may have noticed that I’ve added some new links to the blogroll and a new category of links. You can see them to the right of this post, but I thought I’d explain what they all are.
First up, Catie’s blog, which is a mixed bag of real-life updates, book reviews and quirky commentary. Then there’s Penny Red, a blog by writer and activist Laura Penny about feminism and UK politics, from a geeky perspective.
On the 90s nostalgia front, we’ve got Tales of a former walking highlighter, which focuses on the 90s in all their trashy, neon glory. The final new blog is Nef’s Enid Blyton blog, The Blytonly Obvious. She’s rereading all the Blyton books she read as a child, and snarkily blogging about the experience.
I, myself, am blogging at a couple of new places. The first is the blog for ABC Radio National’s The Book Show. There are five of us blogging about all things literary (I seem to have turned into the resident ‘books, meet the internet’ commentator, which pleases me immensely) and you should definitely check it out.
Secondly, it’s high time I mentioned the blog of my department at Cambridge, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (no, it’s not a white supremacist group, but rather, as the blog explains, a group of people who ‘study the history, languages, literatures and material culture of medieval Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia’). I’ve blogged for this blog a couple of times.
Finally, I’ve got a Tumblr. It’s the first time that the ‘dolorosa’ username hasn’t been taken, and that is reason enough to check it out!
Honour among ‘thieves’ May 4, 2010Posted by dolorosa12 in fandom, internet.
Tags: blogging, books, fanfiction, internet
Please note, the word ‘thieves’ is in quotation marks for a reason: it’s ironic. I certainly don’t view fanfic as theft – quite the opposite. Also note that this post contains spoilers for Gillian Rubinstein’s novel Terra-Farma.
Some of you may have noticed author Diana Gabaldon’s rant against fanfiction. As well as this highly condescending post, she goes on in her comments to compare fanfic writers to paedophiles, spouse-stealers, flower-thieves and lynch mobs. (Surely a Nazi comparison isn’t too far away.) I am not intending here to address her ‘points against fanfiction’; her commenters, many of whom are producers and consumers of fanworks themselves, have been doing so with great eloquence for a while now. What I intend to do here is comment more broadly on the kind of mindset that provokes opinions like Gabaldon’s.
Fanfic can seem alarming when you first discover it. I remember the first time I heard of fanfic. I was about 16, it was the early 2000s, and one of my school friends told me in hushed, horrified whispers that ‘people wrote stories about Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. As a couple. ON THE INTERNET!‘ I was shocked and disturbed. I didn’t really understand why anyone would want to do such a thing, or how such people could see such a relationship in Rowling’s fiction. But I wasn’t involved in online fandom at all then (in fact, I detested the internet), and I promptly forgot about Harry/Draco slash.
When I got involved with online fandom (in 2007), fanfiction came back on my radar, and I was more equipped to think about it in a less sensationalist manner. What suddenly occurred to me was that, in my own way, I’d been writing fanfic my entire life.
As a small child, I’d been obsessed with a short story called ‘The Deep One’, where a prisoner named Sam is thrown into the eponymous dungeon, only to realise that he’s already dead and is haunting the gaol. I promptly began playing a game (which I would pick up on and off for years) where I was a female prisoner called Sam(antha) who lived in a modern-day gaol with the entrance to The Deep One being a trapdoor under her cell. A modern-day AU, with added gender-bending!
My sister and I spent ages writing picture books about dinosaurs who went to boarding school. We were writing crossover fic based on the boarding school novels we read, and a series of books where dinosaurs go to school in a modern USian setting!
As a teenager, I wrote a dreadful, novel-length story where Pagan Kidrouk from the Pagan Chronicles married a medieval Irish woman called Amber (Amber spelt R-O-N-N-I) and they had twins named Lyra and Pantalaimon. A crossover fic! With a self-insert Mary-Sue!
I also rewrote the ending of Gillian Rubinstein’s Terra-Farma book so that Allyman and Presh escaped, lived for a while in Coogee and then started working at Cirque du Soleil Alegría, being chased by Project Genesis Five the entire time. A fix-it fic!
What I was doing was a crude, less intelligent version of what most fanficcers do when they create a fanwork: engaging with elements of my favourite stories as a way of expressing my deep love of said stories. This is what Gabaldon, in her condemnation of ficcers as thieves and rapists, profoundly fails to grasp.
Some ficcers might be writing in order to get writing practice, or to reach an inbuilt audience, or to garner praise, or because they’re unable to create original characters of their own, but ultimately, what they are doing is expressing their love for a particular story, their love of writing, and their love of communicating with a group of like-minded people. The difference between the Naruto slashficcer on Fanfiction.net and my self-insert Pagan/His Dark Materials crossover, between the writer of that Merlin high school AU and the Emma high school AU that is Clueless is one of quality and degree, not in kind.
One thing I’ve discovered in the years I’ve been online is that most fans have a highly developed sense of morals about the works with which they’re engaging, and the creators of those works. No ficcer would dream of claiming ownership of their source material; most fics begin with disclaimers. Authors who are opposed to fanfic are generally well-known (I, for example, know that Anne Rice, Anne Bishop, Robin McKinley and Anne McCaffrey have requested that people do not create fic based on their stories) and their wishes are respected. None of the commenters on Gabaldon’s journal were suggesting that she was wrong to ask them not to write fic, and I daresay most of them will comply with her wishes. What they were objecting to was being told that they were an immoral bunch of thieves.
The whole debate reminds me of a spat I got involved with on Livejournal a while back. I followed the blog of Karen Miller, an Australian fantasy author who also writes Star Wars tie-in novels. She posted an angry rant about fans who perceived a gay subtext in her latest Star Wars book, and seemed unable to grasp that the fact that the fans were reading a gay subtext into the book did not take away her own interpretation of the book.
What I see happening is partly generational and partly related to the extent to which such authors engage with online fandom (since there is some overlap between age and lack-of-online-participation). I see a profound incomprehension of postmodern, remix culture. For authors such as Gabaldon, there is a book, and its meaning is limited to what the author intends it to mean, and readers interact with it passively.
But we live in a world where Danger Mouse makes a mashup of The White Album by The Beatles and The Black Album by Jay-Z and calls it The Grey Album. A world where people paste satirical subtitles on the bunker scene in Downfall and stick the heads of Batman and The Joker onto the figures in ‘Caramelldansen’. A world where Emma and The Taming of the Shrew can be transplanted to 90s American high schools and a bunch of university students in the US can make a musical of Harry Potter. And a world where, yes, I can imagine what would’ve happened if Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale or Castiel had been a demon instead of an angel or the vampires from Twilight had found themselves transported to ninth-century Ireland or, Goddammit, where Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter were doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel over the course of seven books – and write stories about all these ‘what ifs’ and share them with other people.
What Gabaldon doesn’t seem to understand is that none of this has any effect on the words that she has put on the page. Her book is still there. I’m reminded of what Philip Pullman said, when asked what he thought of the film adaptation of Northern Lights (called The Golden Compass) ruining his book. He went to the bookshelf, pulled a copy of Northern Lights from it and said, ‘Look. Here is my book. It’s not ruined. It’s right here, and that film, whatever its quality, doesn’t change that.’
Gabaldon is completely within her rights to request that no fanfic be written about her works, and I suspect if she’d done so, the reaction would’ve been very different. Where she falls down is where she suggests that fanfic writers are somehow lesser, bad fans. They are not. They are engaging with the objects of their fannish devotion in a way that is natural to them. They are participating in a multilayered, ongoing discussion of the source material among like-minded fans. They are not claiming to own the source material. What they own is their reaction to it, and calling them thieves and rapists does not take away the ownership of that reaction.
To conclude, I’d like to restate what I said in relation to the Karen Miller Star Wars debacle:
‘Your book is not my book. I may not see what you want me to see, but I’ll defend to the death your right to see it.’ And I’ll defend to the death the value of fanfic as a form of fannish engagement.
Link me up, link me in November 26, 2009Posted by dolorosa12 in blogging, internet.
Tags: internet, writing
Many of the posts on Geata Póeg na Déanainn are inspired by debates, stories and essays I’ve read elsewhere online. As you probably know, I’m an avid reader of blogs; you can see most of my favourites listed in the blogroll to the right of this post. My favourite thing about the internet is the way it’s made it much easier for like-minded people to come together and discuss the things that fascinate them. The internet, for me, has become like several overlapping circles of cafe chairs where people who think about the things I think about can gather together, sip their virtual coffees and share their collective wisdom, anecdotes and enthusiasm.
I thought I’d walk you through my favourite corners of the internet. It will be ‘a day in the virtual life of Ronni’, as it were.
My first port of call on the internet is always Livejournal. I started off using Livejournal as a way to stay in contact with high school friends who lived in different towns during university, but I soon spread my wings into Livejournal’s numerous communities. I follow everything from Fantasy With Bite, a community devoted to discussion of left-field fantasy novels, to What Was That Book, where people can post half-remembered details of books in the hopes that other members of the community will recognise and name the forgotten book.
Several of the authors’ blogs I read are on Livejournal: Kate Elliott and Jo Walton have particularly fine blogs there, full of details about the writing process, the publishing world and the science fiction/fantasy community.
But my favourite place on Livejournal is probably Metafandom, which, as the name suggests, is a community devoted to gathering links to all the interesting meta posts that are setting the fandom agenda on any given day. I appreciate Metafandom in particular because it links to off-Livejournal blogs that LJers otherwise may not stumble upon.
I like Livejournal’s friends-page feature. It’s one of the most useful elements of the site, in that it gathers all the new posts in blogs one reads in the one place. I suspect that I would read even more blogs more avidly if they were also on Livejournal.
However, I do step outside my LJ comfort zone for quite a few outstanding blogs.
Abigail Nussbaum’s blog ‘Asking the Wrong Questions’ is one of the best review and commentary blogs out there. I might not agree with all of her opinions, but I greatly appreciate the detail that goes into every post, and the depth of knowledge from which she is writing. I’ve always tried to model Geata Póeg na Déanainn on Nussbaum’s blog, and I hope that sometimes I come close!
Hal Duncan’s blog, Notes From The Geek Show is another fantastic one. Duncan’s posts are witty and knowledgeable. They’re often very long, but are well worth reading.
John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, should be the first port of call for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in SF/F, publishing, or the places where writers meet online. Scalzi blogs on a wide range of topics, and can always be relied on (as can his commenters) to provide erudite entertainment.
After you’ve checked out Whatever, you’d do well to visit Boing Boing. If something is happening on the internet, it’s happening at Boing Boing. The site, a ‘directory of wonderful things’, is geek Mecca. Posts range from the quirky to the disturbing, from the nostalgic to the political. There’s a strong focus on reforming copyright law, which is the pet cause of all the Boing Boing bloggers.
I find it hard to explain why my two favourite authors’ blogs are those of Neil Gaiman and Justine Larbalestier. They couldn’t be more different. Larbalestier’s is much more the typical author blog, with a focus on the writing process and the broader concerns of young-adult and ‘genre’ literature. Gaiman’s is much more like a stream of consciousness, and posts tend to be on whatever the hell Gaiman wants. What they have in common is a genuineness and warmth, and a real sense of carrying out a conversation with their readers. I’m a reviewer, and I sometimes have real trouble navigating authors’ dysfunctional websites. If all were as wonderful as Gaiman’s and Larbalestier’s, the world would be a much better place.
The next two blogs focus on a particular interest of mine: feminism in pop culture. Tiger Beatdown is a fabulously intelligent look at that subject. The blogger, Sady Doyle, writes irregularly on a wide range of texts, looking at them in relation to feminism. I particularly enjoy her INTELLIGENT USE OF CAPSLOCK. The Hathor Legacy is also a blog focused on feminism in pop culture, but its concern is reviewing texts to see if they pass the Bechdel Test (that is, do they have two women who have a conversation about something other than a man). It’s been useful to me as a place to get recommendations for books, TV shows or films.
The final blog I will link to here is The Intern. It’s written by a woman who worked as an intern in a publishing house over the summer, and it’s a really good (if often depressing) look at the publishing world from the inside.
I could mention more places, but the blogs I’ve linked to above are my main ports of call (aside from friends’ blogs, which I also read at the same frequency, but aren’t really the subject of this post). They’re only a tiny fraction of the myriad fascinating conversations that are going on all over the internet, but they’re my fraction, and they’re quite enough to be going on with!