Hello, everybody! I’m embarrassed to say I completely missed the month of October—at least as far as posting on Authors Speak blog. A lot was going on! In fact, a lot has happened in the last year, on a large scale and in the lives of the people involved with this blog. After a good run of a year and a half, we’ve decided to let the blog lie. This is my last post here, and throughout the month of October other authors will post their farewell posts too. I hope you’ll stop by, and if you’ve particularly enjoyed an author’s posts maybe let them know.
But, as my title suggests, this isn’t really goodbye. The blog is over, but the idea of an Authors Speak quarterly newsletter is being kicked around (in a good way), and taking shape. Looks like a debut issue may be forthcoming (fingers crossed) at the end of February, 2018. We hope to have articles from authors you’ve seen here and maybe others, a Readers Say corner where readers can speak (write) their piece, book and event announcements, and who knows what else. Sound good? (I hope so…) If it does, and you’d like to be sure and be on the mailing list for the inaugural issue, you can let me know in the comments. (I don’t recommend posting your email address, but I’ll follow up with you.) Especially, if you’re an author or a reader and you’d like to contribute, please let me know! Otherwise, you can watch my personal author blog, sylvre.com, for news and (eventually) a way to sign up for it. Speaking of that blog, expect to see some good stuff (like author features) coming up. Want to suggest your favorite author for a feature in the coming months? Let me know!
Now, this: Last time I posted I started a contest. I had only two entries. I’m pretty sure my failure to put the info out about the contest and the questions I was asking is to blame for that dismal showing. Be that as it may, the two answers I did get were excellent. How does one choose a winner from two entries, though? So, they both win. K.L. White and Didi, you have my thanks and congratulations. (I’ll contact you privately about your winnings.)
That’s all I have. Please feel free to leave your comments about any of this, or about the blog in general, below. And, of course, always keep reading.
Hi, Lou Sylvre here, making my September appearance on Authors Speak. September has always been for me a month of changing perspectives, and I’m going to ask you to help me change my perspective on a topic we all know and love—Goodreads.
In 2011, when I made my debut in the M/M genre with Loving Luki Vasquez, I used Goodreads a lot. I had a blog there, regularly posted, and gathered a small following. My publisher organized chat or party events for new releases and the like on that platform, and although the format could be challenging, the events were well-attended and fun, and always led to me meeting new readers and fellow authors alike. I had a group where I posted news bites, art, and things of interest, and readers joined in, also engaging in discussion and asking me questions, which I loved to answer. (I’m not sure if the group still exists, but if it does it’s been derelict for quite a while now.)
I also posted reviews of my fellow authors’ writings, letting people know that if it didn’t get at least four stars or more likely five, I wouldn’t review it. I wasn’t there as a pro reviewer, and wasn’t interested in slamming anyone or bringing them down, and just didn’t have the time and energy to invest in reviewing something I wasn’t all that thrilled about. People liked the reviews, I think, and maybe that brought me to the attention of some new readers too.
Then, in 2014, I ran into personal hard times, and basically had to cut back on all my activities for a couple years. I didn’t write as much, I didn’t publish much, I didn’t promote much. Sometime around then, my publisher also stopped setting up chat and party events on Goodreads. Long story short, Goodreads sort of fell off my radar (along with a lot of other stuff). Now I’m wondering whether I should, so to speak, reinvest.
Please tell me what you think:
—About blogs on Goodreads. (Do you blog there? Do you read blogs there? Have favorites?>
—About Goodreads groups. (Do you have an author group, or other group that you run? Do you belong to groups aside from the major ones like M/M Romance?
—About Goodreads author events? (Do you hold them? Do you attend events others are hosting? How often? What piques your interest to make you want to attend?)
—About Goodreads reviews. (Do you post reviews on Goodreads? How much attention do you give other reader reviews on that platform?
—Anything else you’d like to share about your Goodreads experience. (Are there other features you utilize? Things you dislike? Etc.?)
In appreciation, for each substantive answer to one of the above questions, I’ll enter your name in a drawing—win any two of my books! Answer multiple questions, get multiple entries, and I’ll keep the entries open through September 30th. (Note: I have to exclude the V&J series bundle, and my most recent book, co-written with Anne Barwell, Sunset at Pencarrow
Thanks for reading. I’ll do my best to respond to comments appropriately, and I’ll be back with a new post next month!
Hello readers! To my chagrin, I realize we Authors Speak writers posted not one single post in the month of July. I, for one, didn’t realize I’d missed my day to post until it was long gone. Some of us were more on the ball than that, but just had a crazy calendar and didn’t make it. I hope this month is better, and I’m going to kick off August by posting on time. But… (isn’t there always a but?) because my calendar has gone crazy this month, I’m recycling. Don’t get me wrong! This post is completely right for the day!
Let me explain.
As you may have realized, I like to talk about other authors’ books. A few years ago, on my sylvre.com blog, I did that by featuring “lessons” at Gay Romance University. In 2014, I made a lesson about Anne Barwell’s book, Shadowboxing, the first book in her World War II historical Echoes Rising series. Read on to revisit that day in class!
Why is this the right post to republish today?
Because today, the final book in the series has been launched at DSP Publications! Happy release day, Anne, and congrats on creating a series truly worth the read.
Please take your seats people, we want to get started…. What’s that? Boxer shorts? Certainly they’re allowed…. Yes, sir, briefs, certainly. Sure, speedos are not only allowed but encouraged. Be comfortable, but do pay attention in class.
Even though Kristopher Lehrer’s last name means ‘teacher,’ as we examine the early pages of our textbook, Anne Barwell’s novel Shadowboxing, it is Kristopher who is most in need of schooling. Oh, he is a learned man, it’s true—a physicist working on an important, possibly world-altering project. Unfortunately Very Important Projects often become the clouds where a scientist’s head is most comfortable. Kristopher’s attitude, as the novel opens, is reminiscent of the fearless forward motion of a horse with blinders.
To illustrate, consider this: Kristopher’s friend—the man that could have been his first true love if Kristopher had been honest—is Jewish, and in World War II Germany the yellow Star of David he must wear means that he is in danger every time he steps out in public. And, though David is a respected physician, he can no longer practice medicine for the same reason. Yet when Kristopher meets him for coffee he has no clue why his friend is upset, or scared. Read along in your text (or look over your neighbor’s shoulder if you haven’t yet picked up your text). We look at what happens when David challenges Kristopher’s naivety, beginning on page eight.
“Have you any idea what kind of people you are working for?” David spoke quietly, as always, but there was an underlying tone of fear in his voice that Kristopher didn’t remember hearing before. David’s emotions were always controlled; it was something that Kristopher had envied. “Have you any idea of their real agenda?”
Kristopher snatched his hand away, trying to ignore how fast his heart was beating. Why had David come to him? Surely he couldn’t have presumed to use the closeness they’d once had to further whatever agenda he had? “I’m a scientist, David, trying to make the world a better place, just as you are. We are working for the advancement of science and for the good of the Fatherland.” The last sentence came out sounding like the mantra it was. Any doubts that Kristopher had were always dealt with efficiently when he repeated those words. While he knew the potential danger of the device they were working on, the chances of anyone considering utilizing the catastrophic component of it were remote.
“You always were naïve, Lehrer.” David raked a hand through his hair and replaced his glasses, adjusting them when they slipped down his nose. “Wake up and take a look at what’s going on around you before it’s too late.” An edge of desperation and fear sharpened his voice as he lowered it to almost a whisper; it sounded as though he was talking about the end of the world.
“Too late? Too late for what?” His earlier fears of being used vanished at David’s tone. Kristopher’s voice rose in pitch, all attempts of hiding his conflicting emotions lost as he tried to desperately work through his rapidly escalating confusion.
David shook his head, unwilling to say more, his eyes darting nervously around the small Kaffeehaus before his gaze settled on the man who had entered several minutes earlier. “I have to go. I’ve said too much already.”
“Wait!” David was already halfway out the door before the word was out of Kristopher’s mouth. He pushed his chair back, ready to follow his friend, then hesitated, suddenly unsure as to what had just happened.
A week later, dining at home with his sister Clara (whom he loves and depends on) and his father (with whom he has a strained relationship), he is shocked to hear that David has disappeared, and clueless as to why such a thing had happened. What’s more, he is just as dumbfounded when Clara says (on page 11)…
“Poor Kristopher.” Clara rolled her eyes. “You’re so involved in your work that you haven’t noticed what’s going on around you.” There was no teasing in her voice now. Whatever this was about, it was something very serious. “It’s because he’s Jewish, of course.”
… as he is when his father says…
“They are Jewish, Kristopher. What other reason is needed? Better that they are rounded up and sent somewhere more suited for their place in the scheme of things. We must not lose sight of the fact that the Jews are nothing more than parasites interested in taking control of the economy for themselves.”
We, the readers can take our first lesson from this, and the downhill spiral of father-son relations that follow. Please take this down in your notebooks. It will be on the test:
The longer you keep your head stuck in the clouds of denial (about anything, really), the more it hurts to pull it out.
Our next unit of study follows Kristopher as he goes about his work the next day. The clouds around his head have been disturbed, but not quite dislodged. Feeling cranky and a little wooly due to a poor night’s sleep, he enters his boss’s office when the boss is out, and rather clumsily knocks a pile of papers on the floor, and reads this sentence on one of them:
Cue ominous music.
We look forward to putting these plans into reality. Such a device will ensure the continued success of the Fatherland during this war against our enemies.
Kristopher’s head falls from the clouds with a mighty thud, which hurts and can’t be ignored even by a dreamy physicist.
Gott im himmel, as my very German mother would have said. Here Kristopher had been, believing he was working on nuclear fission for peaceful purposes, and suddenly he realized he’d been living in a lollipop world.
For a number of minutes, our scientist is unable to think straight. He knows what he saw, but he’s unsure of what he might do about it, or even how to keep from getting in trouble for standing in his boss’s office with his pants down (figuratively of course, because that would be far too weird).
But a guard comes along, Obergefreiter (Sargent) Schmitz, and helps him organize his brain and move his body, thank goodness. Of course, at first, Kristoffer is afraid that Schmitz will actually contribute to his danger, but he soon realizes he was lucky the Obergefrieter came along. He leaves the office that day still waffling about what to do. Like most ordinary Germans of the day, he loves his country and has some significant blind spots about it—a phenomenon not unknown at any age of the world in just about any country, including all of those where readers of this blog might be living today. But you don’t become a leading physicist if you are slow-witted. Once Kristopher’s sight is forcibly cleared, he cannot escape the truth about the leaders of the Nazi regime and what their intentions are.
After much soul-searching, presumably some hand-wringing, and a few horrid nightmares, Kristopher Lehrer confronts his boss… and is told in no uncertain way to mind his own business. The encounter goes from bad to worse. (You can read about this in home study, chapter three of the text.) When he is discovered in the room with his dead boss by the same Obergefreiter Schmitz, he figures his number is up.
Thank heaven for pleasant surprises, large and small. When Schmitz asks Kristopher if, as smart as he is, he can come up with no better plan than to threaten the guard with broken glass, here’s what happens (at the beginning of chapter four).
“My plan? […] I don’t have a plan. […] Do you honestly think I would be standing here waving a piece of broken glass if I had a plan.”
“Good point,” Schmitz admitted.
[Text elided by blogger… er, I mean university professor Lou Sylvre. Kristopher says:]
“Have you come to hand me over to the Nazis?” Whatever happened he didn’t intend to go easily.
The corner of Schmitz’s mouth turned up in a half smile before he shook his head. “I’m here to help you, Herr Dr. Lehrer.”
“You expect me to believe you?” Kristopher wished the desk behind him would disappear into thin air, although it still wouldn’t be of much help as Schmitz was blocking the path to the only door. “I know you’ve followed me for the past week.” He noticed the slight look of surprise on Schmitz’s face with a degree of satisfaction.
“You need to trust me, Dr. Lehrer.”
You may guess that Kristopher isn’t so sure that’s the best course of action, but like people everywhere when they’re in danger and want to trust someone, he looks for a way to do so.
“Give me one good reason.”
“The Nazis will be here in, Schmitz said, consulting his watch, approximately ten minutes. Either you trust me, or you tell them what you’ve just told me. I doubt they will believe your story.”
His voice softened. “I do.”
Now, students, you may have guessed that the Obergefreiter isn’t really the Obergefreiter. His real name is Michel, and he’s not even German. And his interest in Kristopher, like Kristopher’s trust of Michel, soon weaves into a whole new feeling. After negotiating much hell and highwater together, Michel soothes a startled, overwhelmed Kristopher in his own native tongue.
“A l’aise, Kit. Je suis ici… Ssh, tout est bien.”
Yes, Michel is there and all is well for the moment. There’s a whole lot more trouble to face, more evil to evade, more heroes to meet—all kinds, German, foreign, soldiers, everyday people. But Michel does whatever he needs to do to keep Kristopher alive. And since this is Gay Romance University, it isn’t giving away secrets to let you know, that once Michel has seen to the matter of Kristopher’s continued existence, he gets the opportunity to use a little French term of endearment.
“It’s all right, mon cher. I love you. I’m not letting you go.”
That is the end of our lesson, today. If you are interested in learning more on the subject, click the link provided above (just below the gallery of cover images) to find the books in the DSP Publications store.
I thank Anne Barwell, Kristopher, and Michel for the privilege of treating the serious story of one of the world’s most painful times with a bit of irreverence. Truthfully, the heroes in this story are a reflection of all the real life heroes on every side of that war and every other, especially the quiet ones not lauded in headlines. They all deserve our gratitude, and I take no such service or sacrifice lightly.
Hi, Lou Sylvre here for my monthly post on Authors Speak. Before I get to anything else, thanks everybody who entered the Merry May giveaway. Our winner has been contacted and will soon be the proud owner of a new Kindle Fire and a bunch of books. Next, I want to say happy Pride Month, everybody on the queer spectrum and all allies!
Next, I want to say, this post is short. I know you can see that for yourself, but let me explain. I wanted to write all about my experiences co-writing (something I’ve not done before) Sunset at Pencarrow with Anne Barwell, but I have been delayed getting this post done, and now I find out my grandsons have a band concert performance tonight, the final one of the school year, and for the oldest, the final one of before high school graduation! That means I need time to make myself presentable. Others have written about the juggling act that being a writer is, and I won’t add to that, but I will say, dang. The phrase “free time” is an oxymoron.
So here’s the brief, bare-bones, bullet-point version of my report on the adventures of co-writing:
We approached the task by each taking one character as our own, writing the scenes that called for their point of view. While we didn’t stick to this religiously, and we suggested tweaks to each other’s writing, this method worked out great, in my opinion. It wasn’t half the work, nor was it twice the work. The work, aside from the actual writing was just different.
Having a work partner helped keep things moving according to plan. Of course, I didn’t want to let my co-author down, nor did I want to hold Anne back. But, more than that, the input from outside my own brain stimulated my creativity like a second muse. When I read a scene she wrote, I felt a need to respond on “my” character’s behalf.
Sharing the character couple’s story with another writer made them and their romance all the more precious, and added to the rewards that came with getting to “The end.” All struggles along the way, the hours spent on chat hammering things out, the research to make sure the character world was as accurate as could be and matched between scenes—all that was more than worth it.
Long story short, Anne and I will write together again, and I’m looking forward to it.
Let me leave you with that, and with a little info about Sunset at Pencarrow. Here’s the blurb, some links, and the giveaway.
Kiwi Nathaniel Dunn is in a fighting mood, but how does a man fight Wellington’s famous fog? In the last year, Nate’s lost his longtime lover to boredom and his ten-year job to the economy. Now he’s found a golden opportunity for employment where he can even use his artistic talent, but to get the job, he has to get to Christchurch today. Heavy fog means no flight, and the ticket agent is ignoring him to fawn over a beautiful but annoying, overly polite American man.
Rusty Beaumont can deal with a canceled flight, but the pushy Kiwi at the ticket counter is making it difficult for him to stay cool. The guy rubs him all the wrong ways despite his sexy working-man look, which Rusty notices even though he’s not looking for a man to replace the fiancé who died two years ago. Yet when they’re forced to share a table at the crowded airport café, Nate reveals the kind heart behind his grumpy façade. An earthquake, sex in the bush, and visits from Nate’s belligerent ex turn a day of sightseeing into a slippery slope that just might land them in love.
World of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the globe.
Hello! Lou Sylvre, happy to be here for my monthly blog. In this post, I’m all about launching our biggest giveaway yet, and I’ll get to that in a flash. First though, I want to talk a little about Authors Speak, what we do, why we love having you be part of it, and opportunities for everyone—readers and writers—to be heard right here on this platform.
Authors Speak is designed to be a different kind of writers’ blog. Yes, we do talk about our books, our genre, writing tips, and the industry. Sometimes, we just have post something because it’s fun. But other times, we have something to say about the world in a broader sense. As authors, we live in the world like everyone else, and we respond to “big issues” like elections, laws, wars, poverty, corporate greed, and hate crimes. Our lives as humans isn’t separate from our lives as writers, and sometimes we blog here on Authors Speak about how it all ties in, and what we try to do about it. In other words, Authors Speak is a place for Authors to do just what our name says—speak our minds.
Of course, speaking out is pointless if nobody is listening, so thank you to everyone who’s visited the blog. And you know what? We realize readers sometimes want to speak out too, and you can! As you know, comments are welcome and appreciated, but here’s a new offer:
Authors Speak now has a Readers Say, page! Can’t find it? That’s because it’s blank. You might be our first reader guest. If you’re interested, comment below (which also counts as an entry for the giveaway drawing), or if you’d prefer, email me at email@example.com, and we’ll discuss particulars.
We’re know some who read our blog are fellow authors. If that’s you, we invite you onstage too! If you’d like a guest post in the spirit of Authors Speak, of if you have a cover reveal, new release, or other news announcement, please comment or email me. We’ll do our best to fit you in.
Hello readers and fellow writers. I’ve switched my monthly date here at Authors Speak to the first. This month I’m going to do something a little different, but first a word as to why. Lately, I’ve been all about the politics, and I feel that’s as it should be. The most inclusive definition of the word “politics” is well-stated in Merriam Websters free online dictionary as the last (5th) meaning: the total complex of relations between people living in society
So, it’s not about votes and executive orders and petitions and protests. It’s about people. Persons. Individuals in relation to the world of individuals. What does this have to do with my blog post? Hang on, I’m getting there.
Not quite five years ago I had one of my big ideas. Ruh-roh, right? This particular idea was for a project on my author blog, sylvre.com. I decided to have a whole passel of M/M romance authors answer the same set of questions. One of my favorites was specifically about politics—in other words, human relations—from a writer’s perspective. Here’s the question followed by a dozen of the answers from authors. I’d absolutely welcome comments answering the same question from a reader’s viewpoint, or anything from the same authors if their thoughts on the subject has changed, or anything else you’ve got to say—anyone.
Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.
Andrea Speed: “Friendly, cordial. But not so friendly restraining orders are involved.”
Ellen Holiday: “I don’t know that I can speak to an ideal, but I can certainly say that I’m so delighted when readers take the time to leave a review or a rating or drop me a line or a tweet (@ellen_holiday!). I’m always so glad to hear from folks and have had some wonderful conversations with readers. There was a gentleman from England who emailed me, saying he wished he could vote for a politician like Davis Hudson (the protagonist of “Inside the Beltway”) – that was a great compliment! So readers, if you like what an author has to say, don’t hesitate to drop them a line. They may not all respond — they might be too busy writing the next book you’ll love — but it will give them great validation and motivation to keep writing.”
Anne Barwell: “An open relationship, where the author is free to be true to what she/he wants to write, and where readers feel free to give honest constructive reviews. Emphasis on constructive. It saddens me that as writers, if a reader reviews a story (which often sounds nothing like what we’ve actually written) an author often doesn’t feel as though she/he can reply to it. Tactful honesty should be a two-way street. As a reader I love to be able to chat to authors about what they’ve written, and the same is true in reverse.”
Vastine Bondurant: “Oh, wow. What a cool question. I suppose the ideal is for the readers to feel as if they know the author. For them to be comfortable, to feel free to do as the question above stated—to feel free to suggest what they’d like to see in my stories. But, above all—respect, both ways.”
Chris T. Kat: “It should be based on mutual respect. I like to connect with the people who read my stories, to know what they liked and what not. As a reader I’m mostly shy but if I found an author whose books I like I’m very loyal.”
Cornelia Grey: “I never really stopped to think about this! I guess an ideal relationship would be one where I behave and write all the requested sequels instead of chasing after the latest sparkly toy that strikes my fancy. Then obviously the readers would unconditionally love every word I ever penned, including grocery lists, drunken texts and the like, monarchs and presidents would offer conspicuous sums of money and private kingdoms for me to write their biographies, and my notebook from first grade with my early short stories would be framed and exhibited at the National Library with the Magna Charta. Well… you did say ideal ;)!”
Elizabeth Noble: “One of my favorite things to do has become the chats where I can interact in some way with readers. Some people seem to be intimidated and hesitant to email or participate in a chat and I wish they wouldn’t be. I may always be a writer, but I wouldn’t be an author without readers. I love the sorts of sites that allow and encourage interchanges between the authors and readers.”
Lisa Marie Davis: “Writing (for me, at least) is a very emotional experience and I tend to become quite attached to my characters. They are real for me. I want to write them, share their story, in a way that makes them real for the reader as well. I want the reader to care about each character as much as I do, to feel for them, root for them, maybe even miss them when the story comes to an end. ”
Jacob Flores:“The ideal relationship would be that the readers loved everything the author wrote. LOL! But I know that’s not going to be the case. You can’t please everyone, but I hope that the readers would be invested enough in my book to understand the choices the characters made. On the same token, authors wouldn’t be successful without our wonderful readers. The relationship needs to be symbiotic, a successful joining of creative minds traveling together on a wonderful journey.”
Jamie Fessenden: “Ideally, readers will provide useful feedback for an author about what does and does not work for them, and the author will be responsive to that, taking into account things that pushed a lot of readers’ buttons, for instance, and learning to work with that. I’ve also had readers nudge me to get back to work on my cyberpunk story and I think that’s great! I love knowing that there are people out their interested in knowing how the story will work out.”
J. L. O’Faolain: “An ideal relationship between an author and said readers is probably best compared to a dysfunctional family unit, except the screaming takes place over the internet rather than via phone calls and Thanksgiving dinners.”
Kim Fielding: “Ideally, what I love to write is what readers will love to read. Also ideally, my stories can entertain, can stir emotions, and can maybe make people think about things in new ways. If my stories inspire people, even better. And of course readers are really important to me, because otherwise I’m just writing for my own amusement.”
KZ Snow: “Interactive, in a way marked by mutual respect and appreciation. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either.”
Zahra Owens: “Very selfishly I’d like a reader to love or trust me enough to buy anything I bring out, even if, at first glance, it isn’t their cup of tea. As a reader, I have a few authors like that (not naming names, because these people know me!). Also, I’d like to get some feedback from them. Just honest, tactful, right off the cuff feedback.”
If perchance you’d like to see one or all of the complete interviews (which are all accompanied by bios, blurbs, covers, and excerpts), you can find them on sylvre.com by checking the list of archived months in the righthand side bar, and looking in October through December 2012. If one of the authors I’ve mentioned is new to you and you’d like to know more, as far as I’m aware they are all still in the M/M writing game and a Google search should yield results.
A tiny update about my current writerly antics: I’ve asked for the rights to A Shot of J&B in order to keep the series it truly belongs to together. They’re mine again as of April 10th. I admit to sadness, especially because I will no longer be able to use the absolutely beautiful cover by Reese Dante, pictured here. If you’d like a copy of the book with that cover now is the time, available at Dreamspinner, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all the usual places until that date. On a brighter note, I’m currently enjoying the rare chance to go back and make a story I loved writing, and which got some strong reviews, even better with a re-edit—a little new material, along with some refinement on the old. As an author, these two main characters are a joy to spend time with. Not quite as sassy, say, as a Luki Vasquez, but responsive, surprising, and pushy enough to keep me on my toes. Make it fun!
Finally, look for another Authors speak big giveaway coming up very soon! (Stay tuned. Really.)
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you around—the sooner the better!
Hi, Lou Sylvre here, switching places with Lou Hoffmann for my February blog post on Authors Speak. I apologize to readers and fellow bloggers for being absent from this blog for a while. I’ve taken to combing the news and spreading the word via twitter and facebook about how the USA and the world are in acute danger, worsening every day. To do that, I’ve let the writing and promoting of books—including blog posts where I usually talk about books, either mine or someone else’s—fall woefully behind schedule.
The reason I’m doing this isn’t that I don’t think my books can make a political difference. They can, especially if someone reads them who is not already “on the same page” politically.
This is true even though I write genre fiction, not the “literary” stuff, as it’s generally classified. In a New York Times (NYT) “Bookends” discussion from February 17, 2015, Karen Prose quoted a 2013 NYT “study” as showing that “after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” I didn’t read the NYT study conclusions or methodology and therefore can’t comment on it. However, Prose then goes on to opine that “Though the novels of Charles Dickens failed to radically improve the lot of poor children in Victorian England, they did raise public awareness of the Oliver Twists and Little Dorrits whom readers might otherwise have ignored.” Indeed, that seems accurate as far as it goes, though I believe there may be more to be said about the overall impact of Dickens on the world of his day, and it of course says almost nothing about his impact on readers ever since. My point, however, is that using Dickens to illustrate the difference of impact between so-called “literary” fiction as opposed to “popular” fiction is in itself questionable.
By all reports Dickens work was wildly popular during the nineteenth century. Many of his novels were serialized, which would suggest it was intended for the masses (at least those who could read and had sufficient leisure to purse the pastime), and he is said to be one of the earliest novelists to produce work with mass market appeal. Popular fiction? Now—now—his works are “classics of literature,” but they wouldn’t have seemed so then, I think. Of course, the pedantic distinction between popular and literary fiction is not about how many people want to read it. Research it a bit and you’ll find two ideas:
First: literary fiction focuses on reflecting society to itself, so that society can figure out the world, whereas popular fiction only seeks to entertain.
Second: literary fiction focuses on character and is character driven, while popular fiction hinges strongly on plot.
To the first, I say pshaw! Read quality genre fiction and you will come away with the feeling that you know yourself, your world, and humankind better. And guess what? Entertainment is engagement, and engagement improves learning.
To the second, because I already used “pshaw,” I’ll begin by raising the ghost of Aristotle, the creator of the seemingly sanctified arc in fiction. To the great Mr. A., fiction and its arc was about plot, though we have learned to apply it to various things like character and relationships as well. So, for starters, if Aristotle liked plot-driven fiction, who are you literary pundits to walk on his grave? Another thing, though certainly Dickens (our man of literary fiction) wrote character foremost and best, his plots were well-planned, twisty, purposeful, and very present. But more importantly perhaps, plenty genre fiction is character-driven, and the fact that genre writers are also good at giving those characters a compelling story, as well as the fact that genre readers prefer fabulous characters to do something, doesn’t mean the writer hasn’t succeeded in doing what all quality fiction does well—reflect society back upon itself!
So why, then, am I neglecting my books to promote awareness of the current political catastrophe? First, I write male/male romance, which means that my readers are by and large people who are already aware and in general agreement with my political outlook. Twitter ad Facebook provide the possibility of reaching outward from that base. Second, and more significant, the progression of political disaster in the Unites States is unfolding rapidly and accelerating every day. Yes, my books address (though I hope not in soapbox fashion because that’s boring) political realities. No, they can’t make people aware of what donald trump and his tribe of white supremacists, plutarchists, science-deniers, and people with poor grammar did an hour ago.
Writers have some skills that come in very handy when it comes to promoting awareness. The job of “Fiction Writer” in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles is rated as requiring an education and skill level of “8.” This is a high value—only advanced scientists, medical doctors, and similar have a higher rating. The level doesn’t mean writers have to all be super-smart, but it means they have to achieved proficiency in skills requiring education (self-education counts!) and lots of practice before they are perfected, and the skill set is broad. One such skill could be described as the ability to assess information, assimilate it, extract or synthesize underlying concepts, and express them in ways that are understandable, meaningful, and impactful.
That’s the skill I strive to use when I write that tweet or Facebook post. I don’t always get it right, but after many years, I still feel I’m learning my craft. If I come close—if I convey my outrage and urgency along with accurate fact, if something I write might make someone more aware of the thin ice they are perched upon, I feel I’ve done some small bit of good. Tweeting and Facebook posting certainly isn’t all I’m doing to resist the disaster that is a trump presidency, but I will keep doing it. I am also returning my attention to my fiction—what writer can keep from writing stories?
But if my time on social media is spent on politics rather than promotion, and if that means I sell fewer books… well, I hope that won’t happen. But if it does, so be it.
Those are my thoughts, for today. Thank you for reading them! Also thank you if you keep reading my books despite everything. My characters will get very lonely without you.