The Demon's Blah Blah Blah

by Wardog

Viorica was right, and Wardog was wrong. Wardog tears into The Demon's Covenant.
~
The Demon’s Covenant is the sequel to The Demon’s Lexicon, which I reviewed here, and very much enjoyed. I sometimes suspect that being liked is a mixed blessing at Ferretbrain as all it does is prepare for the way for a crushing disappointment, and I was, indeed, disappointed by The Demon’s Covenant. I’m vaguely suspicious that I might have read a different book to the rest of the internet, because every single other review I’ve seen has been full of love and squee, and I won’t deny that The Demon’s Covenant is full of Brennan’s usual charm, but it’s also extremely self-indulgent and does very little beyond set up the third book.

It reminded me most strongly of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire – not because there’s any real similarity between the texts themselves but because, at the point book IV came out, I was still a stalwart Harry Potter fan and, although I was surprised at the sudden jump in length compared to the third book, I decided to forgive the book its obvious flaws because I was so into the Harry Potter world. Of course by the time the fifth book came out it was clear that no amount of engagement in the text could save the series from what it had become: an undisciplined, unedited mess. The Demon’s Covenant is NOT Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but compared to the tight plotting and exciting twists of the first book it might as well be.

In essence, nothing happens in The Demon’s Covenant until the final thirty pages. The story opens some time after the end of The Demon’s Lexicon, with Mae trying to get her normal life back, when she discovers Jamie is in contact with the Magicians. Needless to say she calls in Nick and Alan and that’s basically it until the very end of the novel when there’s a big fight between The Goblin Market and the Magicians’ Circles. Yes there’s some politicking, with Jamie being passed about like the magical McGuffin he so clearly is, and Alan does another one of his trademark manipulative switcheroos, but largely there is a lot of “stuff” in the story but not much to make it a coherent narrative.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is the natural move from novelty to familiarity that affects every sequel. There is no sense of discovery here, only further information about the people and places and concepts that were introduced to us in The Demon’s Lexicon, information which largely serves to render these things less interesting, rather than the reverse. Also the “Is Alan going to betray Nick” dance is performed a second time, although less effectively because the answer is self-evidently either “NO NEVER!” or “Probably not in the second book”. And I do recognise it’s meant to be about character not action but as much I like the characters I still felt the amount of time given over to their delineation was excessive, and the degree of detail borderline obsessive.

For example, part of the book consists of extracts from Alan’s father’s journal, charting his son’s attachment to the young demon and his own developing relationship with Nick. It a chilling, and heartbreaking account (“when I drew the blanket back, Alan was sleeping with one arm curled around the monster. In his other hand was an enchanted knife”) and yet also completely unnecessary. It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, and it has to be bunged awkwardly into the narrative by having Mae read it aloud to Nick, who cannot read well when he’s emotionally distressed. Since the story is entirely told from Mae’s point of view, she spends a lot of time acting like Harry Potter with his invisibility cloak so she can be in on the right scenes for the sake of the reader. Furthermore, Alan’s father writes like a teenage girl with an LJ and literary pretentions, rather than a grief-stricken ordinary man, beset on all sides by enemies:
My blood ran heavy and cold through my veins, as if terror could turn me to stone, and I tried not to think of what bloody game or dark purpose the demon might intend for my son.

That night I went upstairs with an enchanted knife in my hand and stood over the cradle. Drowning hadn’t worked, but this knife had the strongest spells the Goblin Market knew laid on it.

The nightlight was on, casting a pattern of cheerful rabbits on the opposite wall. It [that’s the demon not the nightlight] lay sleeping in a pool light, but even sleeping it doesn’t look like a child.

Not quite.

I stood there sweating, the hilt of the knife turning slick my grasp. Then from the door, I heard Alan say, “Dad?”

I turned and saw him looking at me, and the knife, and the demon. My little boy’s face went so pale it seemed translucent. He looked like the tired old ghost of a child long dead.

I know the effectiveness of first person narration depends largely on reader being willing to suspend disbelief, but there was something so self-consciously dramatised about Alan’s father’s journal that it consistently detached me from the story it was telling. I also suspect there’s a difference in a narrative being in the first person from the outset – you know it is not literally a journal any more than an epistolary novel is literally an exchange of letters – and a first person narrative being included in the body of the text as a found item, in which case basic plausibility demands that it sounds at least a little bit like what it’s supposed to be. And I’m honestly not sure what the journal of guy protecting a crazy magician ex-girlfriend and her demon spawn at the cost of his own son’s life and future happiness would sound like (Number of times tried to kill demon today: 7 –v. bad) but as much as I like the line “He looked like the tired old ghost of a child long dead” it just struck me as far too constructed to support the ‘reality’ of the journal as a journal.

Although I’m away I’m whinging here, and I have to say, I didn’t like The Demon’s Covenant, Brennan is a talented writer. She has a lot of wit and style, and I genuinely enjoy the experience of reading her, even if, in this instance, I didn’t actually like the book. Although I’d kind of reached information-overload on the emotional and psychological intricacies of the characters by the midpoint, I do have a degree of fondness for Nick, who is just as hot, ruthless, confused and genuinely entertaining as ever:
She glared at the back of Nick’s head and said, furious and irrational, “You could have danced with him at the club.”

“I could have,” Nick said. “There were kids from school there. He gets hassled enough. Anyway, I don’t really dance for pleasure much.”

“Uh – so you, uh, dance professionally, or what?” Seb asked.

“Yeah,” said Nick. “The ballet is my passion.”

And I think I like Mae. She is strong, and compassionate and smart, and pretty much everything one would want in a female heroine, while still being flawed and human and making mistakes. The tone of the book is much more emotional than The Demon’s Lexicon, as one would expect now the point of view is not rooted in Nick, and perhaps Mae’s natural insight and interest in the people around her is partially responsible for the amount of time spent dwelling on the minutiae of character. But there was also a part of me that couldn’t shake the conviction that big advantage of Mae’s point of view for the author is that it liberates her to spend a lot of time describing hot dudes being manly and self-sacrificing at each other.
“Oh Nick,” he said in a soft, amazing voice. “No.”

He limped the few steps towards his brother, then reached out. A shiver ran all the way through Nick, as if he was a spooked animal about to bolt, but he didn’t bolt. Alan’s hand settled on the back of his brother’s neck, and Nick bowed his head a little more and let him do it.

Just shag already!

Although I got through The Demon’s Covenant with my appreciation for Nick and Mae relatively unscathed, the same could not be said for Jamie and Alan. Jamie, at least, has stopped wearing purple and being fabulous, but the quirky charm I found reasonably endearing last book has paled through overuse to the point at which I find him genuinely grating. Again, this is probably completely unfair of me but from the fragments of Brennan’s LJ I have read here and there, his style and general approach to life is so reminiscent of hers that he’s evolving into some kind of gay Mary Sue:
“I can cook better than you,” Nick corrected absently. “I think monkeys can probably be taught to cook better than you.”

“I’d like to have a monkey that cooked for me,” said Jamie. “I would pay him in bananas. His name would be Alphonse.”

Also I find his vulnerability when combined with his homosexuality bothersome. I know he’s a powerful magician, but he’s also sweet and forgiving to the extreme, subject to crazy crushes on unsuitable people (I mean he does kick off the books by canoodling with an incubus which naturally gives him a demon mark) and squeamish about violence. Couple this with a tendency to make a fool of himself in public and an inability to hold his drink and you’ve got a character so mind bogglingly pathetic I would be up in arms if she was a girl. Perhaps it is a symptom of my own internalised prejudice that I see these qualities as feminising but it’s less about Jamie being girly than the fact he is very much ‘other’ to the rest of the men in the text. I suppose I should probably just be relieved he’s not Magnus Bane but the implicit association of homosexuality with a ‘different’ set of virtues to those of straight men was not exactly comfortable for me.

And then there’s Alan. Oh dear. He was my favourite character in the first book, because he was unexpected, a supposedly “nice” guy, as cold and ruthless, in his way, as the demon he guards. However, in The Demon’s Covenant, his presentation seems to have moved into a space that is less interestingly ambiguous than completely unfocused. I skimmed a few reviews out there on the Internet at large and the general feeling is largely Squee!Alan. His fucked up, loveless life and his unrequited love for Mae seems to be winning him the pity vote. However, I found him icky, icky, icky and although that’s not a problem per se I couldn’t work to what extent I was meant to find him icky, icky, icky. The love triangle between Mae, Alan and Nick established in the first book is continued, or rather repeated, with little development. Alan is still in lurve with Mae, Mae still fancies the pants off Nick, Nick seems to feel some sort of reciprocal desire for Mae but obviously is supposedly incapable of love … and therefore thinks she should be with Alan, partially because he knows he can’t do the human emotions thing but also because he’d do anything, give up anything, for Alan, and if Alan wants Mae than Nick will probably do whatever it takes to ensure he gets her.

I don’t know if we’re meant to find this creepy and objectifying but it fucking well is, not least because it isn’t presented as a demon treating a human being as a trinket, but because everyone else in the book – including Mae – believe she’d be better off with Alan. And it’s annoying that Mae, who is a smart girl most of the time and managed to navigate the love triangle with some dignity intact last book, ends up in precisely the same mess this book – grinding with Nick while he’s pissed off with Alan until the point Alan interrupts them and Looks Sad. Get a new hobby, Alan, for God’s sake.

Mae also semi-encourages Alan’s attentions, even though she knows she doesn’t feel much of a spark, basically because she pities him. I know I am not the target market for The Demon’s Covenant but regardless of age and experience: pity is not the foundation of a healthy relationship. Just (wo)man up and tell him you don’t fancy him. Of course, midway through the pity fest, Alan lets rip with this little speech:

"After my dad died, I looked everywhere for someone to love me. I used to sit on the bus and watch people, see if they looked kind, try to make them smile at me. I had a hundred dreams about a hundred different people, loving me." Alan's voice was low, but he didn't falter. He reached out and touched her hair, very gently, pushing it behind her ear, "Of all the girls I ever saw," he said, "I dreamed of you the most.

Again, I know I’m not the target market here, so perhaps I’m more inclined to find things creepy that a teenage audience might find gloriously tragic and romantic but, seriously, if a man ever said that to me I’d run away screaming. Yes, right then, right there, because he clearly has a raging case of Nice Guy Syndrome. And guys who guild trip you into going out with them are so dreamy. Not. I’d take the demon anyday, he’s significantly less emotionally maladjusted.

And, this, I suppose was largely my problem with The Demon’s Covenant. I read lots of books for which I am not the market audience – I even enjoyed Twilight until I realised it had no sense of self-irony at all – but the more I read of The Demon’s Covenant, the more I felt the gap. I honestly just don’t get it, and I wonder if there’s just a fundamental disconnect between myself, the author and the world as envisioned by the author. One of the big themes of both books has been self-sacrifice – the brothers, and to a lesser extent Jamie and Mae, are always tumbling over each other to get themselves roundly shafted in the name of protecting the other person. I’m not saying that self-sacrifice is not a powerful device and all that, but it tends to work as a climax, or at the very least as a one-off. When people are constantly sacrificing themselves for each other, it soon loses its impact. I might be pulling justifications out of my arse here, but I also suspect is a trope that gets more play in fandom. Over-used, however, it rapidly degenerates into little more than emotional pornography.

And there’s an uncomfortable moral dimension to it: self-sacrifice, by its very nature, is an act performed in spite of, as much as because of, another person. Needless to say, because of this it tends to be largely non-consensual, which has the weird side-effect of infantalising and disempowering the sacrificee in a deeply unpleasant way. Ultimately every self-sacrifice involves a run-up of double-dealing and deceit, so that the act itself is a massive massive betrayal of trust – trust, that is somehow miraculously restored through the act of self-sacrifice.

To put it another way, mean, Sydney Carton’s sacrifice has nothing to do with Darnay – he does it for Lucie, because he loves her, and because she loves Darnay, and partially because Carton realises he’s wasted his life completely and therefore has little to give to the world, except his sacrifice for a better man. In the world of The Demon’s Covenant, Carton would love Darnay, and therefore trick Lucie into helping him look like he’s betrayed Darnay to allow him to sacrifice himself for Darnay instead.

Self-sacrifice becomes a closed system, in which the keyword seems to be “self” – it’s less about the person you save, than the personal act of saving, catching all the characters in a perpetual game of “I love you more”. Sacrificing yourself for the person you love is ultimately a pretty selfish act – essentially all you’re saying is that if someone has to live on miserably you’d rather it was then. Sacrificing yourself for the happiness of the person you love as Carton does actually has meaning. And, yes, I know, I know, Alan sacrifices himself for someone who isn’t Nick, but it’s basically sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, and thus as irritating as hell. Of course it doesn’t help that it’s only the second book so most attempted self-sacrifices get derailed, so it seems we’re meant to be enjoying the exquisite anguish without having to actually, y’know, be upset or lose a character.

I guess I’ve been pretty harsh on The Demon’s Covenant. Although I found individual things to like about it, for example the strength of the characterisation, Mae and Nick, witty, lively writing, I can’t really say I enjoyed it. I’m willing to chalk up, largely, to me rather than the book since it seems to be generating rave reviews across the internet. I think maybe I’m just too old and grumpy.
~

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~
Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 13:52 on 2010-09-01
I know this is absolutely nothing to do with the review, but what the hell is up with the cover?

I mean, seriously. If you ditched the title the cover only conveys four things:

- It takes place in London.
- There is a martial arts smackdown at some point.
- The weather is bad.
- Someone's been dying their hair.

None of which implies a fantasy novel, none of which implies demons, one of which implies pretty much anything I recognise from the review.
Dan H at 13:56 on 2010-09-01
To be fair, I don't think the cover of a book with demons in it has to have a demon on the front.

Also, the word "Demon" in the title might be considered a clue.
Arthur B at 14:01 on 2010-09-01
I dunno, "Enter the Dragon" didn't actually have any dragons in it. I think the chances of the book being mistaken for some sort of edgy modern day almost-cyberpunk martial arts thing aren't bad.
Dan H at 14:55 on 2010-09-01
I really, really think you're reaching here.

Urban fantasy hardly *ever* has anything explicitly supernatural on the cover. You might as well complain that because /The God of Small Things/ has a flower on the cover, people might mistake it for a book about botany.

I'd also point out that this is another argument in favour of the Dark Fantasy section. Otherwise people might accidentally pick up Urban Fantasy books expecting ... umm ... cyberpunk martial arts novels.
Arthur B at 15:11 on 2010-09-01
Actually I'm taking the piss. :P

Though that flower on GoST is floating down the river which is the allegorical spine of the book.
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 15:50 on 2010-09-01
I kind of disagree about Nick's father's diary. It gave me more insight into Alan, and I found the man's progression from extreme hatred into love and protectiveness for Nick rather moving. I also ended up admiring Jamie, who seems braver (morally, I mean) and clearer-eyed than anyone else in the book. He may be a hopeless idealist, but I'm hoping he succeeds in finding a way to use magic for good, not evil. And I'm hoping Seb may be redeemable, in spite of his cowardice. Oh, and Annabelle rocked.

Back to Alan. I think he is creepy, and meant to be creepy, and the insight we get into his childhood explains why. I actually asked Sarah Reese Brennan about this, telling her that I found the prospect of Alan in a relationship scarier even than Nick in the same situation, because Alan is manipulative and profoundly damaged. She said I was right.

My two cents, as always. BTW, did you read "Fire"? I keep asking that!
Wardog at 16:32 on 2010-09-01
I liked the arc, and I thought it was *interesting* - but I don't think it showed you anything you hadn't already seen, and in a book I personally found bloated with detail, it was simply one step too far. I might have liked it better had the book been generally tighter. Also the style bugegd me, as you know :)

I liked Annabelle, but I found the sudden intrusion of an adult presence a bit disconcerting, especially because of the role she plays. I think the problem with YA is that since they often function on an allegorical as well as literal level, adults strain, and sometimes break, that allegory.

I'm slightly comforted by the fact Alan was intended to come across as horrendously creepy - only slightly comforted, mind you, because that means most of the internet is REALLY SCARING ME now.

Your two cents are always welcome! I read Fire, and I loved it, I must review it :)
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 17:37 on 2010-09-01
What you say about adults in YA is interesting. I hadn't quite thought of it that way, and it makes me wonder what people will make of the adults in my story, when/if I get it published. Glad you loved "Fire"! I think she is awesome, and I have to review that one myself.
Sister Magpie at 18:43 on 2010-09-01
I, too, assumed that Alan was supposed to come across as unhealthy and damaged--and not really in love with Mae, tbh. I thought his late conversation with Mae was supposed to imply that, where she basically realizes that he's just manipulated her this whole time (and not even manipulated her through seduction but through pity) and seems surprised that he doesn't realized just how screwed up it is. I think she says something about how he made it impossible that he would be loved so he wasn't throwing anything away by betraying her. Like for him there was only manipulating her pity for him as someone disabled and loving her unrequitedly. Which was why his relationship with Sin seemed to have the most potential. Her repulsion to his limp made him want his good leg back.

One thing I wonder given your thoughts on Jamie--what did you think of Seb? Did he undercut the bad impressions about Jamie by passing for straight in Mae's eyes for so long?
Wardog at 21:16 on 2010-09-01
It's possible I haven't quite appreciated the complexity of Alan - or given Brennan enough credit. But I don't think the portrayal is quite clear enough, one way or the other, and that goes beyond interesting ambiguity into slightly over-ambitious or perhaps unfocused characterisation. I mean, like I say, I think there's enough scope to read Alan as endearingly broken (he just needs someone to wuv him), and it seems a lot of people have. Again, I'm probably lying issues of interpretation at Brennan's feet unfairly

And I also read his love for Mae as sincere, although it's still something he's willing to give up or use to further his own ends, which, again I think is more interesting and complicated than straight forward exploitation.

The general feeling of other characters seems to be that Alan is a good guy but, again, perhaps that's just meant to reveal how good he is at concealing what a manipulative wreck he is. I guess I'll see how the third book plays out - and, yes, I will probably read it. Because having started I'll damn well finish.

I guess I would be interested in all these layers if there hadn't been so much to wade through.

I slightly preferred Seb, but then again, he's just another stereotype: The One Who Is Mean To The Out There Gay Because He Is Secretly Gay Himself, Zomg!
Sister Magpie at 21:30 on 2010-09-02
And I also read his love for Mae as sincere, although it's still something he's willing to give up or use to further his own ends, which, again I think is more interesting and complicated than straight forward exploitation.


True. The reason I didn't consider him to be in love with Mae was really more that it seemed like the series in general, as stated by Mae, was sort of rejecting the idea that teenagers considering dating each other could be true love. Like at one point Mae said something about how nobody's going to "lose her" or whatever if they don't go out with her, they'll just date someone else. So it was kind of making a point of saying that romance at this point was not going to be the main driving force because nobody felt that deeply about anybody (perhaps only yet).

So the way I read the thing with Alan was that yes, he actually did have a crush on her. But once he decided to sacrifice that for Nick (like the self-sacrifice addict) that was what shaped his behavior. Like, if Alan was really hoping to date Mae he wouldn't be making speeches about dreaming about her the most because he's giving up anything like a healthy relationship chance in favor of guilting her and inspiring pity. But I could be totally wrong there. It's quite possible that that speech was Alan's true feelings coming out as a sort of tragic declaration out of hopelessness. As opposed to more of a perverse/bitter put down of himself as an object of pity that he's making work for him.
http://katsullivan.insanejournal.com/ at 11:18 on 2010-09-07
While I agree that Ryves Snr's diary did not read like the journal of a grown man, it's easily explained if you realize that Ryves had been a prose writer or poet before he became a demon huntert.

Again, this is probably completely unfair of me but from the fragments of Brennan’s LJ I have read here and there, his style and general approach to life is so reminiscent of hers that he’s evolving into some kind of gay Mary Sue

I definitely agree that Jamie comes across as authorial self-insert. Whether Brennan did this deliberately or this was subconscious is arguable. I don't think that automatically makes him a Mary Sue.

It's interesting that you found Book 2 so padded because I found it lacking in details about the mythology of the world. I still don't understand how Jamie's power is so dissociated from his free will that a Circle will go as far as to kidnap him to have it?



The reason I didn't consider him to be in love with Mae was really more that it seemed like the series in general, as stated by Mae, was sort of rejecting the idea that teenagers considering dating each other could be true love.

Interesting you should observe that, Magpie because that was definitely the impression I had got all through out the books and I found Mae's discovery that she is in love with Nick at the end of DC extremely profound because the distinction made it clear that it was no casual teenage-type of love that she was professing.

My one grouse with the characters is the lack of demographic diversity. All the main characters are White and this includes the protagonists and antagonists. Sarah Rees Brennan has written a lot of powerful articles about female represenation in stories but the fact is that a quarter of her main cast is female. And this person is also the most magically disempowered one. Her gay presentation, as you noted, is also problematic: Jamie and Seb.
http://katsullivan.insanejournal.com/ at 11:20 on 2010-09-07
I also found the death of Annabelle extremely problematic for the same reason. She reminds me of Spock's mother in the 2009 movie: she appears in the story just long enough for her to have a Meaningful Death for the benefit of her children's own story.
Sister Magpie at 21:19 on 2010-09-07
the main characters are White and this includes the protagonists and antagonists.


Except for Sin. Also I would quibble that while Mae is the one non-magical person, she's not exactly disempowered as she's being considered for what seems like a very important job in the magical world.
http://katsullivan.insanejournal.com/ at 10:12 on 2010-09-08
Have fun!Except for Sin.

*face-palm* Why is it that when the race-fail or gender-fail in a story/TV show/movie is pointed out, the first response you get is almost always: “It can’t be racist if there is one Black/Asian/non-White supporting character in a sea of major White players.”? How does it help the conversation about racism and under-representation in fiction and fictional work (and the way that under-representation spills into real life) if every time the topic is raised, tokenism is used as a defence?

Sin is racially ambiguous – her little sister is described as blonde in the first book. She is also a peripheral player until hopefully the third book which is written from her PoV. (This may still not make her a major player, just the narrator.) Apart from all these things, Sin is still one character amongst White characters like: Mae, Nick, Alan and Jamie, Gerald, Black Arthur, Olivia, Sebastian, the female leader of the other Magician’s Circle (whose name I can’t recall), and Merris Cromwell.

Also I would quibble that while Mae is the one non-magical person, she's not exactly disempowered as she's being considered for what seems like a very important job in the magical world.

A job that can go to either Mae or Sin. So that’s two women fighting for a position of power (or a White woman making a power play for a Black woman's own position of power), which is far better than two women fighting for a man, but still two women fighting for one point of significance! As opposed to the men who get to be fought over for being uniquely powerful snowflakes.
Dan H at 13:38 on 2010-09-08
How does it help the conversation about racism and under-representation in fiction and fictional work (and the way that under-representation spills into real life) if every time the topic is raised, tokenism is used as a defence?


To be fair, I don't think Sister Magpie was trying to present a defence so much as a clarification. I could be wrong but I didn't read her comment as dismissing your concerns, just highlighting that rather containing exactly zero non-white characters, the book in fact contains exactly one.

I'd also agree (although I haven't actually read the book) that "least magically powerful" is not necessarily the same as "disempowered".
Sister Magpie at 15:22 on 2010-09-08
Why is it that when the race-fail or gender-fail in a story/TV show/movie is pointed out, the first response you get is almost always: “It can’t be racist if there is one Black/Asian/non-White supporting character in a sea of major White players.”?


Dan is right, I didn't say anything about how it couldn't be racist because there was one non-white supporting character. I just corrected the statement that there wasn't one single main character who wasn't white, and who I considered at least as important as the villains. She's not racially ambiguous, I believe she says flat out what her background is and it's biracial. I thought it was just giving a neutral fact.
Leia at 09:52 on 2010-09-09
I think what Kat is saying and I agree is that nitpicking about supporting character Sin's race just derails the discussion about race and gender representation. And, for the record, I didn't know Sin was biracial until I read the comments.
Arthur B at 10:27 on 2010-09-09
I think it depends on how the nitpicking's done. Pointing out Sin's race but emphasising that this doesn't really change the situation because Sin is arguably only there for reasons of tokenism is different from pointing out Sin's race and dismissing the argument entirely.

Ultimately, it doesn't help to let factual inaccuracies stand unquestioned because people have this tendency to say "Well, this one thing you said isn't actually correct, so I'm going to dismiss your entire argument". If the nitpicking is done with a view to strengthening and supporting the general point that's a bit different to nitpicking done to rip the argument apart.
Sister Magpie at 15:01 on 2010-09-09
I think what Kat is saying and I agree is that nitpicking about supporting character Sin's race just derails the discussion about race and gender representation. And, for the record, I didn't know Sin was biracial until I read the comments.


And I just didn't see how it could be derailing a discussion to correct something that I figured was an oversight. It didn't even seem like nitpicking to me.
Dan H at 15:13 on 2010-09-09
I think the thing is that "correcting errors" is often used as a derailing tactic - while I don't think that was your intent in this case, people do tend to fixate on minor factual-level quibbles in this sort of discussion which isn't *necessarily* helpful.
Sister Magpie at 15:24 on 2010-09-09
I think the thing is that "correcting errors" is often used as a derailing tactic - while I don't think that was your intent in this case, people do tend to fixate on minor factual-level quibbles in this sort of discussion which isn't *necessarily* helpful.


True. Though in this case it seemed like the opposite to me, that you don't want to make it sound like it's important that there are absolutely no non-white characters anywhere when there is one. That just leaves you open to actual derailing in the future or accusations that you just erased the one non-white character.
Arthur B at 15:40 on 2010-09-09
I think it's like I said earlier - it really depends on whether you are correcting the mistake in order to derail the argument, or correcting the mistake in order to tighten up the argument against precisely that sort of derailing attempt. And the thing is, people do the former far more than they do the latter, so even though I think Kat jumped to conclusions in interpreting your original comment I think it's a completely understandable jump.
Leia at 15:41 on 2010-09-09
Maybe that wasn't the intention but the fact is that so far, all the discussion has been about a supporting character's ambiguos biracialness and there has been NO discussion about SRB's choice to make all the four main characters and all the principal villains white. Kat's point about Mae's mother's fridging has also been completely unaddressed. Whatever Sister Magpie's intention was, bringing up Sin's ambiguosly presented race has shifted the discussion from this.
Arthur B at 16:07 on 2010-09-09
To be fair I think the discussion very swiftly shifted from Sin's race to the subject of derailing itself as it relates to this conversation, and the fact that this particular point doesn't actually change Kat's point.

In fact, I think more or less everyone has declared that they actually agree with Kat's point. Which, er, leaves us with nothing to discuss.
Sister Magpie at 16:15 on 2010-09-09
Maybe that wasn't the intention but the fact is that so far, all the discussion has been about a supporting character's ambiguos biracialness and there has been NO discussion about SRB's choice to make all the four main characters and all the principal villains white. Kat's point about Mae's mother's fridging has also been completely unaddressed. Whatever Sister Magpie's intention was, bringing up Sin's ambiguosly presented race has shifted the discussion from this.


Yes, they are all white. But it still seems a bit sneaky to complain about everyone discussing Sin's race (which hasn't really been what people are talking about) while making an argument twice, once in bold-faced, about Sin's race with the implication that this will be the last word on the subject.

Sin refers to herself as a dark-skinned girl, Mae has a moment of awkwardness about not wanting to say something racist in response, and then Sin says that her mother was Welsh and her father's family was from the Carribean originally. I do not think this absolves the book of any and all accusations of race, sexuality or gender fail. But it didn't read as ambiguous to me.
Sister Magpie at 16:18 on 2010-09-09
p.s. Looking back on my original comment I can see how just saying "Except Sin" could read as a gotcha, like I was saying, "Um, except SIN! Who totally pwns your argument!" That was one of those times where how something sounds in your head doesn't come across on the page. In my head it was meant to be more, "Right, except Sin everyone is white."
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 03:16 on 2010-09-11
It was absolutely clear to me that Sin is a girl of color. Because this is set in England, it didn't especially bother me that all the other main characters are white. After all, one of the chief main characters isn't even human! But I did find Annabelle's death problematic, and can't quite put my finger on why. What I said to Sarah Rees Brennan in a recent q and a session was that she runs off with her fencing foils to help in the fight, and we are never shown that the buttons are removed. Everyone else has sharps. Sarah Rees Brennan responded that the buttons had indeed been removed, but she didn't feel it necessary to show it. So - really, I guess my problem is that Annabelle was a pretty awesome character, but she existed (as a powerful and capable woman) primarily to die. And that does bug me a bit.

OTOH, the scene between Nick and Mae in the aftermath was really, really well-done.

My two cents! (again.)
Leia at 05:45 on 2010-09-11
Because this is set in England, it
didn't especially bother me that all the other
main characters are white.


*sighs* Which is why it's never *just* a story for people who don't have the privilege to assume their race is default. If your impression of England's demography is based on SRB's fantasy monochromatic England, it's not surprising you can make a statement like that.
Arthur B at 16:32 on 2010-09-11
And in London, for that matter! Notable statistics are here. Note that this actually implies that London is more racially diverse than parts of the US.
Dan H at 17:36 on 2010-09-11
If your impression of England's demography is based on SRB's fantasy monochromatic England, it's not surprising you can make a statement like that.


Yeah, I was a bit confused by that as well.

I think this is one of the subtler and more pernicious forms of stereotyping, it's very easy to get into the habit of seeing ethnic diversity as something which only exists in America in the twentieth century - certainly I suspect that a lot of the reason most fantasy settings are so full of white people is that most people really believe that there *were* no dark-skinned people in Europe in the middle ages.

It's rather peculiar to see somebody applying the same logic to the country I live in - it's one of those things that encourages one to examine one's preconceptions.
Wardog at 18:00 on 2010-09-11
I'm pretty sure there are black people in England ...

Also I'm pretty sure nobody was trying to derail or racefail here.

To be honest, I find Sin genuinely problematic as a character; she does, in fact, seem there largely to fill the "except Sin" role, and I find her sexualised exoticism a bit, err, dodgy when she is the ONLY non-white character in the book. I mean I know we all like the idea of hot black women dancing around but ... y'know ... it's especially problematic, I think, because the gypsy/other feel to the Goblin Market.

Also the whole "hey, the person I have raised to take over this might be rubbish at it so let's call in the inherently talented white girl" plot is a bit icky.
http://cammalot.livejournal.com/ at 18:43 on 2010-09-11
Aw, I wasn’t quick enough. I’m a chronic lurker here, but I was going to come out of hiding to point out that England is an *incredibly* diverse society! (I have spent far less time in Wales or Scotland and so don’t feel comfortable generalizing, but I do know there are people of color in those areas as well.) Just taking into account people from the Anglosphere/Commonwealth who emigrate or are educated there takes in huge swathes of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and so on, not to mention the generations of non-Anglo-Saxons who are born there, or people not from the Commonwealth/English-speaking nations.

I would not necessarily attribute not knowing that to Mary’s (alleged?) race, though. There are plenty of non-white people who think that the UK is wall-to-wall whiteness. I’ve found myself unable to persuade one or two of my own relatives to visit it, due to that belief and the complex attitudes and nervousness bound up in it. Possibly this comes from them not being exposed present-day UK media or whatever, I don’t know.

For the record, I am very lukewarm about both books in the “Demon’s” series. I am going to take a bit of a departure from consensus here, though. And I’m going to be a be anti-Barthian and resurrect The Author, at least for the duration of this post: I agree with Kat’s points in terms of literature as a general body, but I’m not sure I agree with them as regards this particular book, on the subject of race. Aside: I’m glad someone above clarified above that Annabelle being “fridged” was not just a matter of killing off a female character, but that the character existed, basically, *only* to die. I’m on board with that point.

In terms of race (and I speak *only* for my individual self — I’m a black, U.S. woman, and speaking with, I guess, middle-class and Western privilege) I’ve found that I much prefer to *not* see people like me in the books of authors who might not be able to pull it off properly. I’m not keen on the idea of reading practice-run depictions of people like me in the works of authors who are just learning how. It’s upsetting, not entertaining, and it’s gotten more upsetting as I get older and more exposed to subtler types of fail. If I’m going to be misrepresented, I would rather not be included at all, thanks, and I would devote my energies to getting more diverse authors out there and telling their own stories instead.

Therefore if a white Irish/British girl (I believe she has Welsh family? Not sure) wants to write about a bunch of white Irish/British people, I am not going to have a problem with this. This is absolutely NOT to say that everyone should be restricted to writing only about people exactly like themselves — they should not, that would be horrible, and boring, and would diminish the quality of literature in general. But if something is going to be done, it needs to be done excellently, for my satisfaction. It should not be done to check off a list, and believe me, I can tell. And to be blunt, there are more than enough diverse depictions of white people in existence that one or two newbie authors’ screwups will not affect how they are perceived and treated in the real world very much. A white (read male, straight, cis, et cetera also in here, as applicable) character gets to be much more of a blank slate, un-prejudged. Screwing up a character of color feeds into far larger and more pervasive existing stereotyping, prejudice, and bad press. And, to narrow it way down, it affects how people respond to me, for real, in the actual world.

Now, I like Brennan’s blog, and the voice that she uses in it. I have also read and enjoyed her Harry Potter fanfiction. However, there were several things in her fanfiction that pinged me, as a black person, in an unpleasant way. One thing that struck me particularly was a definite sense of Hermione’s hair (large, bushy, frizzy, curly, et cetera — hey, kinda like mine come to think of it, and I know of readers of Rowling’s original work who thought that canon Hermione was actually intended to be biracial due to descriptions of her hair) being unattractive and somewhat mockable, and looking better when controlled with potions or other means of straightening. This in contrast to Draco’s (blond, fine, very pale, described as “the impossible color of childhood” in very romantic passages), mentioned in nearly every description of the character, and even treated as his one beauty when characters have called him less than handsome (Veelas think he is one of them, but wonder if he has had a disfiguring facial accident).

There were also characters she wrote about quite often that I did not know were black characters until I found myself sucked in by a Wiki one day and saw the pictures of the actors portraying them...because...I am more familiar with her fanfiction than I am with the actual Harry Potter-verse. (Yeah, it’s weird, I know, I know. I’m not a fan of those books). There were mentions of Blaise Zabini being black and attractive, but the one time I can recall that involved any detailed description of the character cited his “sleek black hair falling over his face” or similar. Now believe me, I’m well aware there are many people identifying as black with a wide variety of non-chemically induced hair textures; it would be very hard for me to have missed this. But “sleek” and “smooth” remain the only hair textures that get mentioned as attractive: I believe she referred to Ginny’s hair as both pretty and curly, but I was still bothered by the overall emphasis on sleek textures, even on a black character, while the one character’s hair that I empathized with was made fun of.

I don’t exactly hold this against the author. Fanfiction is, to me, a learning workshop, and for at least some of this time period she was a teenager. And much of the more flowery prose, I think, attributable to the fact Draco was the general fetish object of most fanficcers writing at that time; his particular characteristics would therefore be the ones that got lauded and raised above other people’s. And Brennan gets points for outright calling him point-blank unattractive to the viewpoint character(s) in a few stories. Variety!

The thing is, when you put something in writing it doesn’t go away. Even though all official sources of Brennan’s fanfic have been removed from the Internet, it’s still possible to find these examples with a perfunctory Google. How much more indelible would it be if a problematic depiction found their way into a mainstream-published work?

And I certainly don’t see how including a non-white villain would improve this.

I do not know the reasons Brennan neglected to include more non-white characters — it is entirely possible that she could write some quite well at this stage, without including the things that irked me in her fanfiction. I’d like that. I don’t know if she consciously felt she couldn’t, or if it did not occur to her, or if she just plans to do more of it later. But I would rather wait for her to do it at a point in her writing life when she can do it excellently, and I can read it un-irked. I guess I’ll wait and see how she describes Sin’s hair.

And now I’m going to contradict myself — with the books set in London, it’s WEIRD not to see more diverse ethnicities running about even in the background. Lots of times people tend to hang out with people of their own group, and that could explain the main cast, sort of. But there is a distinct lack of background color in this book, and not just in terms of people — I did not get much sense of place in any aspect. Not seeing a variety of people just *being there* is a mischaracterization, I think.
http://cammalot.livejournal.com/ at 19:48 on 2010-09-11
Not seeing a variety of people just *being there* is a mischaracterization, I think.


That should read "not EVEN seeing a variety of people just being there..." or "Not seeing a variety of people EVEN just being there"... etc. The way it reads above seems like I'm saying people of color *should* be relegated to just "being there," when in fact I'm trying to say that "being there" is a bare minimum, especially for a city like London.
Shimmin at 13:08 on 2010-09-12
@Cammalot:
I suppose one difficulty with having a varied background cast is that it's quite difficult to do subtly, because unless you highlight people's appearance (or names, but that can get a bit stereotypey) readers will probably still assume they're white. In fact, it may be especially difficult with lower-tier characters (identifiable individuals who aren't significant characters, your "Angry Commuter" and "Girl in Café" types) because they probably wouldn't merit much description in the normal run of things, and if you start highlighting their ethnicity it might seem rather heavy-handed. For crowd scenes and the like you can at least imply variety.

I'm not saying that's a get-out, mind.
http://katsullivan.insanejournal.com/ at 11:58 on 2010-09-13
@cammalot: I remember reading Hermione as a Black girl, too. For all her faults, Rowling did start at least by making Hogwarts casually multi-racial: the Parvati twins, Lee Johnson, Dean Thomas, Cho Chang... Of course in the end, the people that really counted were White. Maybe the silky-haired Blaise thing in SRB’s fanfiction was a call-back from the time the whole of fandom thought he was an Italian girl?

@Kyra Smith: To be honest, I find Sin genuinely problematic as a character; she does, in fact, seem there largely to fill the "except Sin" role, and I find her sexualised exoticism a bit, err, dodgy when she is the ONLY non-white character in the book.
Also the whole "hey, the person I have raised to take over this might be rubbish at it so let's call in the inherently talented white girl" plot is a bit icky.


THIS. Perhaps if Sin wasn’t the ONLY non-white character. But as it is, it’s so many kinds of problematic. And maybe it’s too simplistic a solution, but rather than insert the token non-White character with all the common prejudices (comic relief Asian best friend, exotic biracial dancer), how about making one of the ‘default’ characters non-White? What’s wrong with Mae and Jamie being siblings with Indian ancestry? Or Dan Ryves and Black Arthur being, pun not intended, Black?

@SisterMagpie: p.s. Looking back on my original comment I can see how just saying "Except Sin" could read as a gotcha, like I was saying, "Um, except SIN! Who totally pwns your argument!"

Yeah, that was the vibe I got.
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 15:56 on 2010-09-13
Um - sorry. I have lived in England, and am aware that it is racially and culturally diverse - and also that it's probably far more so now than when I lived there as a child, thirty years ago. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. What I meant was: is it always automatically racist if a white person writes about her own culture? If so, why?

That said, I think can seem more racist to have a token person of color than to have no person of color at all. And Sin does seem to be the token person of color. But -

1. Sin is going to narrate/be the viewpoint character for the third book. Before making judgements about her as a character, I'd like to see how Sarah Rees Brennan pulls this off. I, for one, liked Mae a lot better in "Covenant" than I had in "Lexicon".
2. And I repeat that Alan is creepy, and is meant to be creepy. So I do think, Kyra, that you're not giving Sarah Rees Brennan enough credit. But we can't tell for sure until we have the last book in hand. Heaven knows I gave JKR far too much credit! But everything I've heard from SRB reassures me that I'm not making the same mistake twice.

Which is not to say they are great, great books. They aren't on the level of Michelle Paver or Catherine Fisher or Kristin Cashore. But they are smart and fun and seem to me (so far, at least) to have a pretty solid moral core. I may be wrong, but I am willing to wait and see.

That said, the big problem I had with "Covenant" was Annabelle. I've got dead mother figures in my story, too, but there is a difference between a character's dying during a story and a character's existing solely to die. Annabelle exists solely to die, after having been a nonentity in the first book and a large part of the second, and that does bother me.
Arthur B at 16:26 on 2010-09-13
What I meant was: is it always automatically racist if a white person writes about her own culture? If so, why?

The thing is, the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention when folk start talking about white people's culture, because they're usually referring to one of two things:

1: The mainstream culture of the UK, or the US, or some other country which is thought of as a "white" country. The problem here is that, whilst the mainstream culture of white-majority places is obviously going to be largely influenced by the majority (that being why it's mainstream), you can't simplify that to "mainstream culture = white culture" - if you do that, you're saying people who aren't white basically can't be part of mainstream culture, which by definition is marginalising.

2: An exclusive culture which belongs solely to white people and which folk who aren't white can't participate in or understand. The thing is, when people get enthused about celebrating that sort of thing, it's usually because they're Nazis of some persuasion or another.
http://cammalot.livejournal.com/ at 23:37 on 2010-09-13
Maybe the silky-haired Blaise thing in SRB’s fanfiction was a call-back from the time the whole of fandom thought he was an Italian girl?

It’s possible. It didn’t seem to be a spoofy usage to me, though, and it was written well after Zabini’s identity was clarified. (SRB had a clever, funnier throwaway sequence in an earlier-written piece, about Zabini changing genders with the full moon.) And again, these were all relatively tiny things taken in isolation. They just had a cumulative effect on me. And her work is still, overall, a pretty freaking stellar example of Harry Potter fic.

I do wonder, and I ask this with no belligerence whatsoever, but genuine curiosity — would Lexicon and Convenant have worked better if SRB had simply not included a “token” person of color and a “token” gay person? (I’m using the quotes because the tokenism might be disproved in the third book.) If Sin and Jamie weren’t in there, would we have noticed an absence? (Hmm. I guess we would have, since there would have been even fewer female characters.)
What I meant was: is it always automatically racist if a white person writes about her own culture? If so, why?

I have a lot of contradictory feelings on this subject, all of which are extremely subjective and reflect FAR more of “what I would personally rather read” than “what should be done in society.”

1. If a white person has to be told to include non-white characters, their heart probably wasn’t in it to begin with, and they likely won’t do the best job. So they are better off writing white characters, and that in and of itself will not offend me. (Especially if the group of characters is small — e.g. involving a family or similar.) They need to write what they are enthusiastic about rather than checking off points on a list.

2. It will annoy me no end if the sort of writer above then goes on to write non-white characters half-heartedly (or with stereotypes and cliches) while a minority writer writing on the same topics nowadays will either get paid and publicized less, get marginalized on the store bookshelves, or be instructed by powers that be to shoehorn in white characters in order to be saleable.

3. A white writer who wants to write minority characters should be encouraged to do so. (I didn’t always feel this way, but I do now, strongly.) But I really want to see it done well, and such a writer has to assume the risk that they might not do it well and might be criticized -- and will definitely be more scrutinized as an outsider than a person writing from within the race/culture in question -- and must, well, regard that risk as an invigorating challenge, I guess. That whole “fail better” thing.

An exclusive culture which belongs solely to white people and which folk who aren't white can't participate in or understand. The thing is, when people get enthused about celebrating that sort of thing, it's usually because they're Nazis of some persuasion or another.

Yes. It also posits that white people have one big homogenous culture. (Or that anybody has managed to agree on what “white people” means in the first place.) There’s a difference between writing about “white people [within a larger, diverse culture],” writing about “*a* white culture,” and writing about “white culture” (which, come to think of it, could theoretically be done without white characters, like in postcolonial lit).

But no, I don't think it's automatically racist. I don't think it's a question of anyone being a big old bigot at all, what I'm seeing in this thread isn't an accusation of oooh-you-terrible-racist at anyone, but of leaving out things and people that are there and exist in the world that's being described. There are people in our society who need to see themselves included and represented more. (I'm just wondering how best -- and who is best -- to get that done.)

@ Shimmin: This is very true. I think it was Tobias Buckell recently writing about how if you say things like "bronze skin" people (well, Westerners of all shades) tend to assume you're talking about white skin that has been tanned. Maybe it's better at this point to go bigger with it, especially for minor characters? It's unwieldy to say "The East Asian girl at the corner table," but it might just be what needs to be done. (It bugs me to admit that, too, because I have in the past been very annoyed by descriptions that go "The Asian girl" and think they have actually finished giving an adequate visual.)

I thought China Mieville did a wonderful job using quite obvious names to denote ethnicity in "Un Lun Dun," for example -- and he let the South Asian girl be the heroine to boot. On the other hand, I've found myself, at my age, actually squeeing joyfully at a couple books when I realized the protagonist(s) I'd already made assumptions about were supposed to be dark-skinned. Neil Gaimian managed it in "Anansi Boys," and I think Holly Black pulled it off once by mentioning the color of a character's scars. I felt like I had unlocked a really cool puzzle. :-) And I loved how, in that subtle way, the dark skin was not presented as some sort of deviation from a norm. So I think it's a question of skill, not necessarily method.

All that said, the big problem *I* had with the "Demon's" series was the system of magic felt a bit scattered; I don’t really feel a sense of place; and for a preternaturally emotionless guy, Nick seems to be emoting left and right. (Which for me raises an interesting question — how clueless can you honestly be about human emotions and still manage to always be bitingly quippy? Can you *be * humorous, on purpose, if you don’t have emotions?)

I am tired of bad boys. I was never that fond of them to begin with. I loved Jamie’s saying out loud that whoever he fell in love with would be very nice to him all the time and try to make him happy.
http://cammalot.livejournal.com/ at 23:37 on 2010-09-13
meep! I got very wordy there...
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 02:03 on 2010-09-14
I'm glad you did! Basically, I agree with everything you said, except that I haven't (yet) had any major problems with the series - except for the gratuitous offing of Annabelle. And I'd been feeling a bit under attack, though I brought it on myself, I suppose, by writing in haste and when tired.

I do agree with you about Nick, but I think the so-called lack of emotion isn't really such; Nick has lots of emotions. It's just that they are mostly what we would call negative - rage, frustration, etc. But he is capable of what we (or more accurately, I) would call positive emotions, as well. It's going to be interesting to see what happens to him in the final book. At the moment, I'm shipping Nick and Mae, but expecting dead Nick. We'll see.

As far as the system of magic goes, have you read the Bartimaeus Trilogy? It's brilliant, and it almost seems Brennan must have borrowed from it - except that I think she hasn't read those books.
http://3stan1990.blogspot.com/ at 06:21 on 2010-09-14

Sorry if this is derailing, but katsullivan and cammalot's comments suggests this is the right kind of place to ask these kind of questions. Also, it'll be kind of rambling and will involve a lot of talking about me.

A bit of context: I'm a white, cis, middle class dude from a small Australian town where casual racism, sexism and homophobia was the norm, with a strong white English heritage (my grandparents are Welsh and English and moved here in the seventies). I've been trying to challenge my views and perceptions on race and gender in order to become a better, wiser person.

I'm also an aspiring writer, and I've been trying to work the kinds of things I've learned into my writing. The thing is, I'm not sure if the attitude I'm taking is still just well meaning tokenism.

As an example of what I'm worried about, I have an Indian character (currently nicknamed The Jack, after the video game archetype). Born in India, raised in India, moved to England to study engineering and medicine at the same time, snapped under the pressure, bought a gun, became a mercenary, and is now trying to live up to the 'ultra badass' stereotype. This is intended as a parody of the (as far as I know) Western concept of the Indian nerd (seen in shows like 'The Big Bang Theory' and the movie 'Inception', though Inception plays with the concept a little), as well as a commentary on ultra-badasses in Western media (he'll pull Kirk/Mal/Renegade Shepard style stunts, which will disturb and annoy the other characters). So basically I'm writing a white guy who happens to be Indian. Same with Noiry Thief Dude - he'll act pretty much like a classic Caucasian film noir protagonist, for what I think are perfectly legitimate reasons (analysing the concept of cynicism and the motivations stemming from it), except he just happens to be Japanese.

TL;DR I guess I'm wondering whether or not all my characters being heavily based on Western concepts, despite being from non-Western cultures, is a bad thing.
Wardog at 11:29 on 2010-09-14
I will second the recommendation of the Bartimaeus Trilogy - I LOVED those.

This is just a general rather rather specific point and apologies if I fail all over it but it was in reference to the tokenism of Jamie and Sin. I never felt Jamie was tokenistic - I thought he was a problematic depiction of a gay person, for me, because his vulnerability seems to go hand-in-hand with his sexuality, but it's obvious SRB is pretty damn interested in him, either as a weird authorial self-insert or because fandom, in general, is very into gay men. I know being "interested" can sometimes be an issue in itself (Jay Lake is clearly "very" interested in Green... altogether now EEEEWWW) but it tends to stave off tokenism. I found Sin much more tokenistic because it seems pretty clear to me that Brennan really isn't interested in the hot black girl, and she's just there to be a contrast to Mae, as well as to demonstrate Mae being friendly with other women to show it's not just about Mae and all the hot men who fancy her.
Wardog at 11:31 on 2010-09-14
Oh, and I meant to say thanks for taking the time to comment, Cammalot - I've found your take on the book fascinating, and I'm generally just delighted to discover I'm not the only person in the world who doesn't like it! :P
Dan H at 13:51 on 2010-09-14
What I meant was: is it always automatically racist if a white person writes about her own culture? If so, why?


I think this is a misleading question for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think getting hung up on questions of what is and is not "racist" is often misleading and distracting. It tends to lead to people getting defensive and turns the whole discussion into one about individual white people. Ironically the more seriously we take race issues, the more sensitive we get about the "danger" of calling a white person a racist.

This touches on what Kat was talking about earlier: if somebody says "hey, anybody else notice how all the important people in this book are white" then a lot of people will respond by saying "OMG HOW DARE YOU CALL MY FAVOURITE WRITER A RACIST" which simply isn't helpful. The question is not "is Sarah Rees Brennan a racist" it's "are people of colour underrepresented in Sarah Rees Brennan's imaginary world". The answer to the first question is "I don't know, but probably a little bit but hell so am I" whereas the answer to the second question is "yes".

Sorry, that was a long and distracting preamble.

To answer your question, the problem here is that talking about "a white person's culture" - as Arthur and Cammalot have pointed out - is actually rather misleading. One of the big important items on the White Privilege Checklist is the fact that your ethnicity *is not* a major part of your cultural identity. Although as Arthur points out, a lot of *extremely racist* people like to argue that this is actually a huge injustice.

Because I am a white person living in a white-dominated country (more generally, because I am a member of my country's ethnic majority) my "culture" is the entire culture of my country. In fact since I'm English, my culture actually includes pretty much the entire English-speaking world. Hell, it arguably includes large parts of the *non* English-speaking world, because my cultural heritage includes amongst other things the British Empire and Christianity.

Because my culture - whether I like it or not - is the dominant one in the English-speaking world I have to accept that my culture *does* include non-white people, and gay people, and for that matter women all of whom have been historically margainalized by my culture and whose contributions *to* that culture have been minimized.

If I write a book about - say - being a student at Oxford and that book contains only white characters (which, to be honest, it probably would) then not only would I be erasing and margainalising non-white Oxford students (of whom there are a great many) I would in fact be *misrepresenting* my actual experiences and therein lies the problem. When a white person presents a fictional setting which ignores or margainalises non-white people, it *is* reflective of a wider cultural tendency to ignore and margainalise non-white people *in general*.

Now from the point of view of an individual text, it might be far better to ignore and margainalize a group than to tokenize, fetishize, or demonize it, but that's a different issue altogether.

To draw a rather peculiar analogy, it's sort of like recycling. I generally recycle all of my rubbish but sometimes I don't, sometimes I will throw plastic bottles in the dustbin. The fact that I recycle 90% of my plastic does not change the fact that the other 10% of the plastic I send to landfill sites contributes to global warming. Even if a person's portrayal of race (or gender, or disability, or whatever) is 90% perfect, it is still possible for the remaining 10% to *actively contribute* to a racist society.
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 16:43 on 2010-09-14
Dan, in spite of saying mine was a misleading question, you answered it here:
Now from the point of view of an individual text, it might be far better to ignore and margainalize a group than to tokenize, fetishize, or demonize it, but that's a different issue altogether.


That's pretty much what I meant (and failed, initially) to say.

But it is interesting that, as far as I can remember, no one considered Sarah Rees Brennan racist when reviewing "The Demon's Lexicon". The issue arose in Kyra's review of "The Demon's Covenant", because Sin really does seem like a token person of color. As I said above, she is to be the narrator in the third book, and I'm reserving judgement on the series as a whole until after I've read the third.

I read "Covenant" a bit differently from Kyra. I thought the main issue was: would Jamie be seduced by Gerald into using his magic? And, if he was, would he be able to find a way to use magic for good, or is it always corrupting? That, to me, was the driving tension of the plot - Jamie's struggle with his magic, and Mae's struggle to protect him from the magicians. And I found it interesting.

Although I feel like I'm dancing around a live wire in even bringing it up again, as a white person, I'd be scared to do what Sarah Rees Brennan is attempting, and to write from the POV of a young woman of color in real, modern-day England. In a fantasy world, it's not so intimidating. But in a real-world setting, I'd be terrified to get it wrong - what do I know about being a person of color in England or America? Being an outsider - yes, I understand that. But what are the limits of imagination? Do I, as a white person, have any right to attempt to write from the viewpoint of a person of color? Especially when there are so many fine writers of color who cannot get the buzz that white writers get? As a writer, I do think I have an obligation to present the world honestly, and that definitely includes having varied casts in my stories. As a reader, I have an obligation to read actively and intelligently. As a librarian, I have an obligation to support and promote good writers of all types, and to aim for diversity on my shelves. I do take my obligations seriously. Sorry if I sound defensive here! As I said, I'm feeling a bit attacked, and I really didn't mean to say anything offensive. I apologize if I have given offense, nonetheless.

But - although I can see where Kyra was coming from in the original post, I do actually like Brennan's books so far. The questions Kyra has raised, and which others here have elaborated on, are good and valid, but, as I've said, I'm waiting to see how she completes her trilogy before judging it. After all, if Rowling had stopped her series with OOTP, I would have been convinced it was a good set of books. Even HBP didn't disabuse me of my love for the books entirely; it took DH to disenchant me and break my heart. It was only after the last book had been finished that I had all the information I needed to judge the series as a whole. I'm still a pretty optimistic reader, I guess, and I'm hoping Brennan won't disappoint me as Rowling did.

http://cammalot.livejournal.com/ at 17:44 on 2010-09-14
I do agree with you about Nick, but I think the so-called lack of emotion isn't really such; Nick has lots of emotions. It's just that they are mostly what we would call negative - rage, frustration, etc. But he is capable of what we (or more accurately, I) would call positive emotions, as well. It's going to be interesting to see what happens to him in the final book.

This is kind of what I mean about the magical system not hanging together -- as presented so far, this feels like cheating, to me. I want more clarification as to what the source of emotion is in her mythos, so that the scenes of emoting don't feel so convenient. I don't want "It was inside him all along." That would destroy the 1st book's twist. (Although, if SRB chooses to pull something in the final book like “Alan gave Nick a part of his human soul through being so loving, and changed Nick’s essential nature while they were kids”...I might buy it. I disliked “Lexicon” until the final twist convinced me that there was some real brilliance in it, so I’m willing to hold out. And SRB has earned huge amounts of leeway from me for her depictions of Pansy Parkinson. She rounded out, redeemed, and made pretty feminist a character created to be Rowling's buttmonkey, in my opinion.)

@Kyra: Thanks for clarifying about Jamie and Sin, re: tokenism. Sin is definitely a hard character to get a handle on this time around. (In Lexicon, I found the *majority* of the cast difficult to get a handle on -- their quip-ful conversations really got in my way -- so I hope that’s reason to believe there will be more to Sin in the third volume). I liked Jamie, but 1) a lot of that is because I like SRB, and I *did* see a lot of authorial-insertiness about him (he also has a great many of the qualities of her version of Draco, but with less of the overt strength and anger), and 2) I remember having been an embarrassingly zealous Minority Warrior for gay rights in my early twenties, and have since erred on the side deferring to the more knowledgeable and keeping quiet. I’m also trying to navigate writing gay characters properly in my own fiction, so...yeah. Shutting up and learning from others now. And I will definitely look into this Bartimaeus business. :-)

And that segues into Stan’s post -- this is so very difficult to tell without seeing the writing in question. As I said above: To me, it’s less about topic or method and more about skill of execution. You should have beta readers, and some of them should of the groups you’re dealing with, or as close as possible (and even that *will not be foolproof* for all readers). If you don’t have such betas IRL, get hold of willing and trusted Internet ones. Your heart’s in the right place, but you shouldn’t take chances. There WILL be small but telling things, and you WILL miss them unaided (because what reason would you have had in your life to know them?), and readers from those groups will notice and be annoyed. Betas. Get 'em. But don’t assume that just because a person is from the group(s) in question that they have the time or inclination to educate you. Get someone enthusiastic, and choose carefully and respectfully.

And I agree with everything Daniel just said.

But it is interesting that, as far as I can remember, no one considered Sarah Rees Brennan racist when reviewing "The Demon's Lexicon".

@Mary — I don’t think anyone is calling SRB (or you) a capital-R racist NOW. We’re giving the “R-word” too much power in this conversation now, I think, which is distracting: SRB’s character isn’t the issue. It’s not about attacking any individual -- you or Sarah. But racism permeates our culture, and sometimes it will manifest in us. Privilege also exists and will manifest. This is not something we can help. This doesn’t mean that anybody is an evil, irredeemable person, or that liking the books makes you terrible. (Wanna know something awful? I liked “300.” And that shite was “problematic” up, down, left, right, and backwards. Racist, *heinously* ableist, *laughably* homophobic considering the people it depicted -- all kinds of crap. There now. I’ve ruined my fledgling reputation already. In my shallow defense, I thought the creators were being more tongue-in-cheek than they really were).

But it does mean that we need to be constantly aware and vigilant of the problems and possible problems that exist, and how to deal with them. And I don’t think anyone has written off the upcoming third book. Try to look at this theoretically, not as personal attack?

SRB has proven herself a strong and resilient young woman, and she has lots of support. I think she’ll be fine and can deal with the fact that there are people who take issue with her work (as there are people who will take issue with any work; nothing’s perfect). And you should write what you feel passionate about -- but writing in public is an act of self-exposure and requires bravery.
Dan H at 18:47 on 2010-09-14
Wanna know something awful? I liked “300.” And that shite was “problematic” up, down, left, right, and backwards. Racist, *heinously* ableist, *laughably* homophobic considering the people it depicted -- all kinds of crap. There now. I’ve ruined my fledgling reputation already. In my shallow defense, I thought the creators were being more tongue-in-cheek than they really were


I think you have, in fact, ruined your FerretBrain cred forever.

My favourite comments on 300 have been from my Iranian students. Highlights include: "In my country ... we do not have ninjas" and "We remember Xerxes as a great man. He was not a Gay!"

The latter comment highlights another interesting point about this kind of thing, which is that a person can be offended by something while themselves being *quite offensive*.
http://cammalot.livejournal.com/ at 19:41 on 2010-09-14
I think you have, in fact, ruined your FerretBrain cred forever.

I know, I know. I am duly ashamed.

I was watching it with a bona fide history professor, at midnight, and we sat there going "La la la, swordy things, la la la, loinclothery, la la la, anachronistic rock music, whoo-HOO, half-naked acrobatics, and hey, isn't that the hot skinny demon guy from 'Hex' -- hey wait, did he just diss ATHENIANS for sleeping with boys?" And then it occurred to us that the rest of the theater wasn't reacting the same way, as in, no, that line was not coming across as hypocrisy, it was coming off as "time to giggle at the gay now". And then there were more things (like "holy shit, did they just VALIDATE throwing babies away??"). And then the lack of irony slowly dawned on me. Much too slowly, really. As in, not before I left the theater. Don't know what to say about that, I had thought I was more astute. And then I read the source comic. (I had not been familiar with Frank Miller before.)

I was also overly impressed that the film acknowledged that black people were around and involved in classical antiquity. Except, you know, then the beheadings and Unfortunate Implications and oh god I'm sorry I'm sorry...

(It's all...yeah, I don't know. I especially don't know what to say about the roars of theater laughter when the head flew through the air. This was, um, not a white theater, shall we say. Things are complicated. I think a lot of the audience were appreciating it as though it were a horror movie.)

a person can be offended by something while themselves being *quite offensive*.

Too true. :-)
Jamie Johnston at 16:49 on 2010-09-19
Just caught up on this discussion. It was interesting! I have nothing to add to it! This comment may be pointless and excessively exclamatory!

Hi to Cammalot & 3stan, neither of whom I've seen around here before (as far as I remember).
Montavilla at 20:55 on 2010-09-28
Coming to the discussion late, as I am wont to do.

Wow. This is a great discussion about writing different cultures from your own -- whether race, sexual orientation, so on. I really love how honest people are being about difficult it is to approach racial and cultural inclusion.

Long ago and far away, I edited children's reading textbooks and believe me, inclusion was a major consideration. Along with deleting any possible objectionable material, which makes for great stories. True one: I once as a joke scared my supervising editor by suggesting the team names in a story ("red" and "blue") might cause parents to think we were promoting Communism. She nearly fainted.

Anyway, we were tasked with making sure that the depiction of minority/majority race characters matched the current American demographic breakdown: 16% black, 12% Latino, 6% Asian, 2% Native American, 2% physically challenged, 2% "other." Since we were trying to use as much pre-published material as possible (as opposed to commissioned writing), we ended up changing race/gender in many cases. We also specced artwork to include crowds of racially diverse people whenever possible. Then we had to go back and actually count heads in order to justify the inclusion.

It was all very silly and artificial, but it did have the virtue of showing kids a world where not everyone looks the same. And the California State Board of Education eventually got savvier and started demanding that we follow a demographic breakdown of writers and illustrators, instead of making Ramona Quimby Hispanic. :)

As a writer, I do think about trying to include more diversity in characters. But it intimidates me at the same time. My racial heritage is Italian, Filipino, and Spanish-American. But I don't know diddly about any of those cultures, really. For me to write about a Filipina character would be as inauthentic as my writing about an Iranian woman. But I think I have to try. My only other choice is to set everything in a fantasy world where any real world culture doesn't apply. And don't think I haven't thought about it.
Cammalot at 17:03 on 2011-07-12
RE: The Demon's Surrender, the last book in this trilogy -- Based on the first few bits... I really wish Brennan had been writing from Sin’s POV all along. I’m much more immediately sucked in, this time.

(Heh. She is also much more obviously black/biracial now. Thank you, British bookbinder.)
Kat S at 09:40 on 2011-07-18
@Cammalot: The UK Cover of Surrender with Sin in front bothers me. It bothers me a lot. It is not in the same style at all as the previous two covers. When you line up the books, Surrender is a different size and the spine lettering is arranged differently. They did just about everything possible to make the book about the PoC look like if it was from a different series.
Cammalot at 21:03 on 2011-07-18
Hmm. It’s food for thought.

I know that there’s been a shift across the board toward more photographic-looking covers (the background skyline still seems similar, though also converted to more photo style, as is the saturated color and the backdrop-to-face size ratio. I don’t have a copy in hand yet, and have refused to buy the US versions. I can’t stand the US covers. Everyone looks stiff and mannequinlike, and Sin is whitewashed. And aged way up).

I can only guess at the rest, though. It’s weird.

I tend to hate it in general when the look of a series changes midway, and it’s been happening more and more lately. Busting out with much-pricier hardcovers to capitalize on a heretofore paperback series’ steady sales, and thus upping the per unit price by almost double, or more than double in some cases, that sort of thing. I’ve begun waiting up to two years for paperbacks to come out in order to have consistency — among them Simon R. Green, Patricia Briggs, and Jim Butcher (Yes I read some fluff. More important, I can wait a very long time to read fluff, there are other piles o’ books on my poor floor waiting for me, I will not be suckered in. ;-D). Similar happened with the “Monster-Ink Tattoo” series, and Patricia Bray’s books went from trade to hc too, I believe.

As I said, I don’t have a copy in hand yet. Have you got the hardcover? Is there a trade paper even out yet? Is your copy larger or smaller than previous?

This complicates things in my mind, but in a weird way. Publishers are driven by the desire to make cash. And they tend to think in very short and direct ways about it. (This cover sold well last week, let’s imitate it fortyfold, right this instant! Or, more annoyingly: This did not sell a million copies instantaneously, let us never do anything like it again! This is exaggeration on my part, but you get me. That last mentality has especially hurt books about girls and people of color.)

The photographic thing is a definite trend right now and supposed to up sales; this, I am sure, is the thinking, from what I’ve observed. (I’m in publishing. Sadly, never in a Big Decider capacity so far.) I’m kind of surprised they didn’t go that route on the first two. That plus the size change (opposite of what I would expect if they were trying play down the non-white angle) might make me think they want to call even more attention to it...so perhaps the previous two were not selling very well? (Based on what I see on chain-store bookshelves here, what’s actually on the floor displays and what’s even kept in stock, I would tend to believe this: I’m not seeing her on the shelves. Her series has to be doing well enough for them to let her try another -- unrelated -- book, but I don’t know that it’s a blockbuster.)

Increasing the size of this last book to hardcover might say to me that sales *are* going well, and they expect to shift just as many twice-the-price hardcover copies as they did cheaper paperback ones, and will likely even re-release previous entries in the series as hardcovers if the sales on this one hold steady. (Jim Butcher had a similar mid-series redesign, and hc versions of older books are being released. Briggs has had the hc re-release without the redesign, possibly because her books started out with semi-realistic pics of people to start with.)

Smaller size, on the other hand, might say they want to lower the price in order to sell more, possibly because the previous ones did not do as well as they’d hoped. (In this case, though, I would not expect them to put a person of color, and a girl, on the front.)

Either way, change says, to me, an attempt to get more attention.

Now, if they specifically want to CAPITALIZE on the non-white angle (as opposed to thinking “Well, this is surefire and will sell either way, so let’s take an easy risk and put a biracial girl on the front” -- I can’t imagine they’re thinking the third option: “Let’s put a person of color on the front and then downplay everything so no one will notice the book to buy it, and also let’s confuse and misdirect existing fans”) -- If they think a larger size and a brown face is going to move more copies or attract new buyers -- well I say go for it. I feel very mercenary about that. I’d like it if there were more of that sort of opinion happening in the States.

All this, of course, with the caveat that I am not British and so can’t claim insider knowledge of what might drive the British/UK publishing mind-set on the issue.
Kat S at 15:57 on 2011-07-19
The trend of photographic-looking covers was already on-going when the publishers produced the first two books. As for capitalizing on Sin's PoC-ness, they could have done that without completely changing the style of the covers. Frankly, I doubt it. The changes in Demon's Surrender versus the other books is too close to the way "Urban" romances are usually packaged by publishers.

Not sure how I gave the impression that the size was increased to hard-cover. Demon's Surrender is in paper-back.
Cammalot at 19:27 on 2011-07-19
You wrote:
Surrender is a different size

I couldn't tell from that wording in what way it was different -- bigger or smaller. (Thank you for clarifying.) On the webpage with the cover version we are discussing, Bookdepository.co.uk has it listed as available in a hardcover edition and a paperback. (The hardcover could actually refer to the U.S. edition, but I find the setup ambiguous.)

Yes, the trend towards more photographic covers has been around for a while, but 1. it hasn't been anything near universal even for North American books and would not necessarily have affected any one particular book we could select; 2. it hasn't been pushed quite as much in the U.K. (Google the original British covers for Melissa Marr, Stephanie Meyer, Rachel Caine, and so on); and 3. it is still trending. In my experience, at least for the past decade or so (possibly before that), British books have tended far more towards the artsy covers than towards the more full and/or photorealistic human representation that U.S covers were going for, especially in fantasy. It's still more or less down to editorial/marketing whim, and still doesn't really tell me anything.

That cover is the British version, and I don't know that "Urban" fiction is that big a genre or a draw in Britain. I would posit that it isn't, just because in my experience of the “Urban” genre as it is (euphemistically) defined here, it has been wildly, intensely, and kind of annoyingly) U.S.-centric, and because I haven't seen those marketing categories delineated in the U.K. in the same way they are in the U.S. at all. They do not divide up their shelves of genres in stores in the same way; particularly, they haven't, in my experience, been separating out "'urban'-aka-'black'-books" from other types of fiction in the way our "African American interest" sections do, but integrate their authors of various colors onto shelves by topic and subject matter, not ethnicity.

But, y'know, I wouldn't swear to it, since I haven't been there since '09. It could be a new thing. They seem to have a thing called street fiction. But not much of it expressly delineated as such, and still, the covers... do not look like that. Codes and subtexts are not the same for the two markets.

"Surrender's" differences from the previous two are not striking to me. Spine text is not a large enough indicator -- variations in spine text happen frequently with all sorts of series. The face on the cover, though photographic, is positioned in the same place and at a similar angle and size relative to background to the previous two (though more of her face is showing), and like the other two, does not involve her body. The background, though also more photographic, employs the same shading as the second book (indicating a progression of artistic vision, to me). The cracked-letter effect in the cover font is identical on all three, and in the same place. The author blurbs are also positioned in the same place across the board.

(I also think that there's too much fire in the background of "Surrender" [indicating subject matter larger in scope and apocalyptic than the usual plot of the "Urban" stuff I've come in contact with] and not enough of the young woman's breasts are on display, nor is she positioned "tough-ly" enough, for me to mistake if for Urb-Lit or Urb-Rom.)

Sizing also doesn’t tell me much, as it is not unique to this series and is far more often an indicator of either financial concerns (cost of physical paper fluctuates and has been going up for some time now -- some hardcovers have leaped to nearly $27 from $22 in just the past five years and non-genre authors are under a great deal of pressure to keep their novels to 300 pages or less), or perhaps an overall push to make paperback sizes more uniform. A quick Google tells me paperback sizes across the board have been in flux both in the U.S. and the U.K. since at least around 2008/2009. (As Brennan’s book hit shelves in mid-2009, most of the plans concerning its manufacture and release would have been well underway anywhere from 2 to 4 years before that, and the size change could easily have simply missed those first two.)

I'm just not seeing the publishers doing "everything possible" to make the book look like some other series. It doesn't exactly match, true, but this is not unique to this series or to books with women of color on them, and it seems to me that many elements were intentionally retained (I'm looking at Amazon UK right now) in order to link this book to its predecessors. I believe a redesign was intentional, yes, but I can easily see this new full-face style as an improvement, and --*if* the books sell well enough to go to a subsequent printing -- I would not be surprised to see the other two altered to match this one.

Further, I haven't seen any big push to masquerade books as more U.S-esque "Urban" style in the U.K., even with those written by actual black British people: See Katherine Bing or Mike Gayle, and I'm sure others can be quick-searched. (The Mike Gayle covers have indeed been revamped -- those versions are not the ones I own, so there seems to have been ample time to take him more "Urban," but this is not the direction they went in.)

The two Urb-Rom imprints I worked for didn't have much of a footprint in the U.K. (that is to say, no corporate presence at all, but you can get books nearly anywhere nowadays what with the Internet), but I can only speak to what I know; some British people might have to weigh in on whether or not going "Urban" would be considered an intelligent marketing strategy in the U.K., especially for Y.A. It also does not seem plausible to me that the marketing team would take the very last book of a trilogy and purposefully disguise it as a new genre (especially in a country that genre is not native to or apparently very popular in) in hopes of drawing a whole new audience and abandoning the previous one.

This is not to say that British publishing doesn't have its own problems -- it does. And I think your concern is valid. But at the moment, in the particular case of this book, I do not share the concern.
Leia at 09:28 on 2011-07-20
The times I have noticed UK covers make changes, they tend to adapt the US covers. That's what happened with Twilight and the Cassandra Clare books. Spine text is a pretty big indicator when you line up the books side by side. Are there considerably more letters in "Surrender" than in "Covenant"?
Cammalot at 17:10 on 2011-07-20
Spine text is a pretty big indicator when you line up the books side by side.

But an indicator of what, exactly? Intentional genre and audience shift and exploitation, or general reconsideration of overall design? Reconsideration of overall design is a given, here; it was publically touted as such. They did in fact reconsider the design, and took it in a different direction -- that's not in dispute.

I'm simply not seeing how it's more likely that the intent of that new artistic direction would be to mimic "Urban Lit," a genre for which I have seen no evidence of popularity in the U.K.; a genre which is extremely U.S.-centric and reliant on U.S. tropes, codes, and cultural signifiers; a genre that a great many British blacks (who are predominantly of direct-African and Caribbean descent) would be far less likely to relate to, understand, or drawn to purchase. Nor do I see how it would make sense to hype such a thing in the U.K. Instead of the U.S., or to trust such a thing to generate any hype. (Unless the thinking here is that they’re trying to get the book to fail?)

For my own, personal self, I am very, extremely wary and distrustful of overextending/overattributing U.S. mindsets to people it has no reason to apply to. We do this all too often, us Americans (in all our ethnic variety), and it gives us an inaccurate and offensive understanding of other people. I am speaking for myself here, and not assuming U.S-ness in anyone else.

There are a vast number of books being published every year in the UK, many of which go to multiple printings and show an evolution of cover design. A great many of these titles are never even available in the U.S. Often several versions of the cover art remain in print and available simultaneously. (For a very long time, they had both "regular" and "less-embarrassing, grown-up" covers available for the Harry Potter series in the U.K.) Saying that U.K. covers "tend" to adopt U.S. cover design, assigning this to an entire national industry, linking this phenomenon wholly to nothing but some attempt to copy America, is an extremely big and kind of presumptuous stretch, for me. (Not to mention there’s often a lot less “adoption” going on and a great deal more “importing the actual U.S.-produced physical product, because it costs less”.) Maybe for popular Y.A. American authors, they might -- it's far cheaper to “adopt” an existing design, after all, see parenthetical -- but I would hesitate very much to apply that reasoning in this particular case, when the U.S. cover actually features a red-headed white guy in an entirely different art style.

And it still bears noting that U.K. books, particularly in the genres in question, tend to start out more artsy and less photorealistic. (Sometimes they even have wholly different titles. It’s a different market — different things appeal.) I do indeed believe that with this particular book, this move to photorealism is an attempt to mimic the similar U.S. shift toward such trends in Y.A., since these sorts of Y.A. covers have proven themselves more popular (for now) in the U.S. market. That’s business, especially when speaking in terms of specific titles, and it doesn’t always go in one direction either (see the U.S. habitually copying Japanese horror films, or remaking Britcoms, or the fact that we get any translated works here at all — they have to prove popularity at home first). But I'm still not seeing a shift to "Urban Lit" in this particular case, when this specific book by Brennan is not readily available (not without high shipping fees, or secondhand purchase, or knowing about Book Depository’s no-shipping-fees policy — basically, you have to seek this thing out) to the audience that would appreciate or buy Urban Lit.

Sophia McDougall’s (UK, not available in US) books got redesigned mid-series, just in time for the last book of the trilogy to arrive this summer — a much bigger redesign, with no art elements in common with the originals at all. Terry Prachett’s Discworld went through this several times, the UK versions shifting from something that resembled a Benny Hill chase scene to a woodcut-type design. Ian Rankin’s (UK, can’t really find it quite as readily in the US) mystery/crime series underwent a spontaneous size change in or around 2009. Over here, Kelly Armstrong’s latest Y.A. series went from a something with architecture on the front for the first novel to closeups of the lower half of a girl’s face for the second two, and moved from mass market to trade paperback. Octavia Butler’s books got reissued under several different covers; the Patternmaster series that I owned had similar cover designs but a font and paper texture change midway through (less gold-leaf). Then they all got re-released with photos on the covers. This happens with a large number of manga titles in the past few years (money matters, again, as “flipping” manga for Western ease of reading costs more). Ranma 1/2 got size switched (not an improvement, IMO; I stopped buying) without even the excuse of switching to right-to-left reading. Samuel Delany’s “Neveryon” series came out under a redesigned cover quite some years ago, and there has since been a push to re-realease a lot of his older works with covers that resemble those, particularly his literary and social theory. I'm looking at the spine text on Simon E. Green's "Nightside" series (US version) and his "Drood" series, lined up on my shelf, and there is a noticeable spine text shift, particularly on the seventh Nightside one. (I actually think the text shift is very unattractive.) This doesn't, however, say "rebranding" to me. Fans of Green can still read his name very clearly and locate the book, even when only placed spine-out on the shelves. Fans of Jim Butcher were similarly not much deterred when his books stopped looking this way and started looking like this, and then gained nearly an inch in height (and a dollar and change in price).

And if we haven’t seen this happening as much with people of color on the covers, surely we must take into consideration hat getting people of color onto the cover of “mainstream” books has been and still is still a big huge fight, so no, we wouldn’t have seen that happening as much, but that was BAD.

Redesigns take place primarily for economic reasons, and the direction those redesigns take come with all sorts of rationales, most of which lead back to “we want more money out of this.” (Unless it’s “We can’t afford to do this anymore, how can we cut corners.” Which is more or less the same thing.) All too often this rush to the cash leads to oversimplified, racist, and other socially problematic decisions, yes. But I am not, in this case, convinced that a British publisher would have any sane reason to cynically target what we know as the “Urban Lit” audience with a book meant for release in the U.K., nor am I convinced it would be a sound financial decision for them. It just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

I am not willing to outright go: “They don’t have Urban Lit in the United Kingdom, or indeed outside the U.S. much,” but searching for “urban fiction” on Amazon.co.uk gives me this:
http://tinyurl.com/3gjp8oq

An “Urban Lit” search leads off with “urban fantasy/paranormal romance” titles and rounds off with books from America and books on city planning:
http://tinyurl.com/3nd54zn

Searching for “street fiction” gives me this:
http://tinyurl.com/4xf895g

And “street lit”:
http://tinyurl.com/3fvrer4 — again, the one fiction book on that page that fits the bill is an U.S. book. Not even a re-covered Brit version of a U.S. book — the U.S. version. (The major-player publishers of Urban Lit are a very rare thing -- independent publishers -- and they do not have international presence, as I said before. Which is cool, in its way— they haven’t been snapped up by conglomerates.)

And only searching for both together gives me some semblance of the very, extremely US-spawned and US-centric genre that we are speaking of.

The codes and tropes and shorthands are simply not identical. We are both part of the “Anglosphere,” and so the codes and tropes and shorthands are not fully foreign or impenetrable, but they are also not the same.

Now, what’s INSIDE the book is a different matter, and frankly I am filled with a great deal of trepidation about that. But I need to finish it first.
Cammalot at 17:17 on 2011-07-20
Arrgh. Dropped two links.

Old Jim Butcher:
http://tinyurl.com/3fdjgmy

New Jim Butcher:
http://tinyurl.com/3wfp5sd

And for comparison, Brit Jim Butcher:
http://tinyurl.com/3clzw7s
Cammalot at 17:50 on 2011-07-20
Completely irrelevant, but eye-catching:
http://www.amazon.fr/Furie-du-Curseur-Jim-Butcher/dp/2352944600/ref=pd_rhf_shvl_2

http://www.amazon.fr/Dossiers-Dresden-F%C3%A9e-dhiver/dp/2811203427/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311180535&sr=1-5

(none of these referrings I'm doing should be considered any particular endorsement, by the way)
Cammalot at 19:17 on 2011-07-20
Last edit for a bit: "and then gained nearly an inch in height (and a dollar and change in price)." should be "nearly half an inch."
Leia at 06:31 on 2011-07-21
Saying that U.K.
covers "tend" to adopt U.S. cover design, assigning
this to an entire national industry, linking this
phenomenon wholly to nothing but some attempt to
copy America, is an extremely big and kind of
presumptuous stretch, for me.


I said the times *I* have noticed... You clearly know more about this than I do. For the record, I'm not a, American or b, inclined to go witch-racist hunting for the fun of it. And maybe you didn't mean it but the tone of your responses is border-line implying that. Bottom line: I don't have a bone in this and I'm just going to bow out of this conversation right now.
Wardog at 09:57 on 2011-07-21
I'm sure nobody intended to suggest that you were witch-hunting - I think we've just hit on a topic which overlaps with Cammalot's professional experience.

I hadn't given much thought to this at all, to be honest, so I actually found this discussion really interesting. I remember feeling broadly positive about the UK covers of Lexicon and Covenant - I liked the stylised, slightly impressionistic art style for the characters (better for Lexicon than Covenant, though, Nick was very characterful, whereas Mae just looked like a girl with funny coloured hair). But equally I can see why you might have wanted Sin to look more "realistic", otherwise you've got a cover with an artist's impression of a black girl on the front. I think in this instance UK did way better than US, since I believe the US got a pouting pretty boy against an orange explosion? I do think replicates the major features of the previous covers, though - even if the artwork has changed. However, I do agree with Cammalot that the covers have enough stylistic elements in common (positioning, text style, etc) to seem to be recognizably connected to me. I certainly didn't see any attempt to distance Surrender from the other two books, because it has a POC on the front, or to make it look like another "type" of book.

And for the record, I know bugger all about this, so I could be talking out of my arse.

They do not divide up their shelves of genres in stores in the same way; particularly, they haven't, in my experience, been separating out "'urban'-aka-'black'-books" from other types of fiction in the way our "African American interest" sections do, but integrate their authors of various colors onto shelves by topic and subject matter, not ethnicity.

I do most of my book shopping online these days, but I have never seen anything like this in a British bookshop. You occasionally get "hey, read these books about black people!" displays but as a general rule you just get fiction, sci/fi fantasy, comics, crime, classic fiction, romance if you're very lucky and that's about it. The two genre emergences I've seen in the last few years have been "dark fantasy" and "young adult" - and I remember how tiny-mind-blown Arthur was the first time he saw a dark fantasy section in a bookshop. This being so, I can't imagine "urban" taking off any time soon, with relation to either adult or young adult fiction. But, as I say, that's an impression constructed from a position of absolute ignorance.

I haven't read this either, by the way - I am curious though. But it suddenly stopped being available on Kindle. MYSTERY!
Arthur B at 10:21 on 2011-07-21
I admit to not really going out of my way to look for any, but the only time I've seen an "urban" fiction book in a UK bookshop it's been a lonely novel by 50 Cent crammed into the Crime/Thrillers section.

Oh, and if I'm remembering right it was a US import. I guess they bought it in due to the name recognition or something.
Cammalot at 15:04 on 2011-07-21
I was in fact trying to be quite careful about assuming anyone else’s nationality when I said "For my own, personal self, I am very, extremely wary and distrustful of overextending/overattributing U.S. mindsets to people it has no reason to apply to. We do this all too often, us Americans (in all our ethnic variety), and it gives us an inaccurate and offensive understanding of other people. I am speaking for myself here, and not assuming U.S-ness in anyone else."

However, in retrospect, I guess I used some pretty nonstandard grammar and orthography in there. :-)

This topic does ping on... nearly every aspect of me, really: For the record, I am a combo of a few ethnicities of black American; both the U.S. and the U.K. have played large roles in my educational and professional life; and I've worked in publishing for most of my adult life, although I promise to stop that fairly soon; and I have a serious problem with Urban Lit. I am never sure how much I can express how very big and angry and depressing a beef I have with Urban Lit without impacting myself professionally, so I do try to keep it vague online. (But this is a fairly anonymous place, I think?)

And I can be a very longwinded pedant. I like to at least attempt to make sure my assertions are covered. I hope I’m not sounding too Minority Warrior. Can I even BE a Minority Warrior when talking about the UK??? :-)
Sister Magpie at 18:00 on 2011-07-21
I do think replicates the major features of the previous covers, though - even
if the artwork has changed.


FWIW, I would probably be more likely to compare it to the second book in the US version, since that one has Sin on the cover. She's dancing in a ring of fire, iirc.

Oh, and if I'm remembering right it was a US import. I guess they bought it in
due to the name recognition or something.


Do you mean this cover is an import? It's not. The UK has different covers than the US versions for all of them (the UK's are better imo)--and I don't think the UK is publishing them for name recognition. It's a first novel series in both markets published at the same time.
Cammalot at 18:17 on 2011-07-21
I think Arthur meant his Fitty-Cent book was an import. :-)
Arthur B at 18:48 on 2011-07-21
That's exactly what I was saying. :)
Sister Magpie at 20:24 on 2011-07-21
Ah! Now that I read it again that's obviously what you were saying. I think I ran several posts together in my head!
Leia at 08:29 on 2011-07-22
@Cammalot: Sorry for jumping to conclusions there. I think I was projecting a little: just out of a conversation with someone about how the casting of the Prince of Persia wasn't in the least bit racist, at all.. *le sigh*
Cammalot at 17:17 on 2011-07-22
@Leia -- Not at all, and rereading my thing I just want to make clear that I do think your and Kat’s question is an important thing to think about and ask, and keep asking, even though I don’t think it applies here specifically. There are a host of underlying daily frustrations and problems with publishing as an industry. When I said things like “not logical” I was talking about hypothetical British top-editors and marketers, not you guys.

(Actually I’m making assumptions by saying your question was the same as Kat’s; please correct me if I’m wrong.)

I’m sorry you had to deal with such a ninny. My own feelings on PoP are convoluted, filled with caveats, and pretty tl;dr (this is probably not surprising, by now ;-D), but it’s pretty ridiculous not to concede that they could easily have been much more inclusive.
Robinson L at 18:02 on 2012-04-16
Warning: extremely long and probably ramble-y comment.

In response to the article, I find it pretty amusing that what I interpreted as "cool and intense character development," you interpreted as "nothing happens until the final thirty pages."

I'm also amused that what I read as really sweet fraternal affection between Alan and Nick, you read as blatant slashing.

Dan Ryves' journal struck me as stupid and artificial at first, and I suppose it was mostly just a lot of padding. But I did warm up to it by the end.

I'm ashamed to say I sort of missed Alan's creepiness when I read the book. I might have missed his assholishness too, had Rees Brennan not explicitly pointed it out a few times, as discussed in my review.

By now, I've also read The Demon's Surrender, and I think what Rees Brennan did with
the Alan/Sin romance
was pretty interesting. Granted, there were things about it which bugged the crap out of me (about which more later), but all through the first two books, he's like this untouchable master manipulator who can deceive absolutely anybody. Whereas in the third book, we see that he has limits, and he's not able to deceive people whose life circumstances also require that they be skilled at manipulation. (
In this case, the metaphor is that of a performance, because it's from Sin's viewpoint and she's a performer.
) The implication to me being that the only way Alan will be able to have a happy functional relationship is if his romantic partner is someone who can see through his subterfuges. Which I think is pretty neat.

I'm pretty sure Surrender has a call-back to that creepy line of Alan's: "Of all the girls I ever saw I dreamed of you the most." I don't have the book to hand, but I'm almost certain in Surrender, Alan tells
Sin
that he never dreamed about her because she was too unobtainable. I wish I'd been paying more attention when I read that line, because now I think about it, depending on the context, it could have been a really creepy pedestal line.

I'm so relieved that you liked Mae, though, because I really, really liked her in Covenant.

with Jamie being passed about like the magical McGuffin he so clearly is

I find this interesting in light of the fact that he also reads to you like a self-insert character. I'm trying to figure out what to make of that dynamic.

Interesting analysis of the whole self-sacrifice motif – something else I failed to pick up on at the time.

Re: Annabel
Kat Sullivan: She reminds me of Spock's mother in the 2009 movie: she appears in the story just long enough for her to have a Meaningful Death for the benefit of her children's own story.

Yikes, I wouldn't go that far. I mean, the portrayal of Spock's mother is probably one of my biggest personal irritants from Star Trek|| because she was blatantly there for no reason other than to get stuffed into the fridge and further Spock's storyline. If you took that aspect of her out of the movie, she wouldn't have had any reason for existing in it.

Whereas Annabel, apart from being awesome, had her own nice little character arc, and played a part in other characters' story arcs which went beyond passively providing motivation. You could remove her death from the story and her presence in it would still have meaning and purpose. (To be honest, I didn't pick up on the whole fridging angle until I read this.)

And continuing the theme of Stuff Robinson totally didn't notice until someone pointed it out, the only person of color in the first two books (Sin) is exoticized and a dancer (though not an exotic dancer). And the "let's bring in a white girl to take over instead of her" aspect (ick). I didn't so much mind the "two women vying over leadership of the Market" scenario at the end of this book, but that was partially because I didn't realize what a large role it would play in The Demon's Surrender. (To be fair to Rees Brennan, it was significantly less terrible than it might've been, but it still wasn't pretty.)

Cammalot: I’m going to be a be anti-Barthian and resurrect The Author

I'm going out on a tangent to gush about how much I adore this wording; lovely. And only slightly more on-topic, I think in this post-TeXt Factor Season 2 world, citing the Author in this manner is entirely reasonable. (I'm thinking about how much people's perceptions of "The Host" were filtered by the knowledge that it was written by Stephenie Meyer).

Maybe it's better at this point to go bigger with it, especially for minor characters? It's unwieldy to say "The East Asian girl at the corner table," but it might just be what needs to be done.

Maybe so. Unfortunately, this still doesn't work if you're trying to write far-future or alternate world speculative fiction (like I am. Still haven't entirely figured out a solution yet).

and for a preternaturally emotionless guy, Nick seems to be emoting left and right. (Which for me raises an interesting question — how clueless can you honestly be about human emotions and still manage to always be bitingly quippy? Can you *be * humorous, on purpose, if you don’t have emotions?)

The part which always strains my suspension of disbelief is how, as a demon who finds human speech difficult, he's incapable of telling a lie, but is completely comfortable dishing out sarcasm. The characters even lampshade it in this book, but Rees Brennan never explains how it's supposed to work.

Kyra: I will second the recommendation of the Bartimaeus Trilogy - I LOVED those.

I'll throw in on this one, too; great trilogy. The more recent installment, Solomon's Ring is somewhat weaker, but still very enjoyable, and the title character at least is entertaining as ever.

Dan: The question is not "is Sarah Rees Brennan a racist" it's "are people of colour underrepresented in Sarah Rees Brennan's imaginary world"

Superbly articulated as usual.

Mary J: That, to me, was the driving tension of the plot - Jamie's struggle with his magic, and Mae's struggle to protect him from the magicians. And I found it interesting.

I think that's more-or-less how I related to it, too.

Jamie: Just caught up on this discussion. It was interesting! I have nothing to add to it! This comment may be pointless and excessively exclamatory!

Out of curiosity, were you trying to imitate the “Jamie” from the books there? If so: good job!

Cammalot: I can’t stand the US covers. Everyone looks stiff and mannequinlike, and Sin is whitewashed. And aged way up

I read Covenant with the US cover and I missed that there was an age-up, but I couldn't for the life of me tell if the character on the cover was supposed to by a whitewashed Sin or a Mae with undyed hair. Answer: whitewashed Sin. Figures.
Kat S at 12:08 on 2012-06-25
The whole thing is incredibly colonialist, and indeed functions as a miniature of the colonial narrative: Mae, the rich, white foreigner comes in and revolutionizes a native's land with "superior" organization and technology. But it's all for the better, and the "native" (in this case, Sin) admits that, and eventually comes to support the usurper.


This is an excerpt from a review that pretty much highlighted every issue that I have with this book. The way Sin was portrayed in contrast to Mae sickened me at every turn.
Wardog at 12:40 on 2012-06-25
I have the third book sitting in my tbr pile and I keep looking at it and making this face:

:/
...I’ve found that I much prefer to *not* see people like me in the books of authors who might not be able to pull it off properly. I’m not keen on the idea of reading practice-run depictions of people like me in the works of authors who are just learning how. It’s upsetting, not entertaining, and it’s gotten more upsetting as I get older and more exposed to subtler types of fail.


I know this is old (but recently commented-on! Who else watches the recent activity page?), but I feel pretty much the same way. I know there are good arguments on the other side*, but for my personal enjoyment I would MUCH rather read, e.g., a story which "just happens"** not to have any women in it, than one which is horrible and faily with its female characters.

*Like the "token x" thing being in some sense a step forward from an implied "x's just don't fucking exist". I guess I see it as being that they both fail, but in different ways, and it's legitimate for someone to be bothered more by one way than the other. I was going to also say something about it possibly being, for some authors, a step towards actually writing non-faily depictions (if they're doing it in good faith, I mean) and that they won't get there if they don't ever try, even if the trying itself can be pretty bad--but you're right; their "practice runs" don't need to be public.
**That's a little sarcastic because I don't really mean that I honestly think it actually just sort of happens by pure coincidence that a story is like that, but you see what I mean, right? In-universe there could be a plausible reason or it could be sort of coincidential, like being explicitly set in a single-gender environment, or your example of just small groups of characters which wouldn't necessarily be representative.
Cammalot at 01:48 on 2012-06-26
And the "let's bring in a white girl to take over instead of her" aspect (ick). I didn't so much mind the "two women vying over leadership of the Market" scenario at the end of this book, but that was partially because I didn't realize what a large role it would play in The Demon's Surrender. (To be fair to Rees Brennan, it was significantly less terrible than it might've been, but it still wasn't pretty.)

Yeahhhhh... I did not like that at all. I did try to think well of it, as I liked much of what was done with the character beforehand (especially her mixed family, which is something I'm noticing a lot more in London now). But as the story veered more and more in that direction... It's like when you're used to driving on one side of the road, and you go off to a place where they drive on the opposite side, and you're sitting in what your lizard brain can't quite grasp is now the passenger's side, and you find yourself desperately trying to slam on the "brakes" to no avail...

I did NOT want it to go there. And then I hoped it might be going there in a different way... but no.

Also, thank you, Robinson.

@ Melanie -- yes! Ha ha -- this is why I try not to be too harsh on fanfiction. Practice does need to happen. (Of course, I also tend to avoid fanfiction -- some, not all -- so that might not be saying much, on my part.)
Wardog at 09:37 on 2012-06-26
Hmm... I'm not sure but I think one of the, ah, 'problems' with fanfic is that is not, and should not be perceived, as 'practice' for 'real' writing (sorry for all the scare quotes). I think it's an entirely different entity, written in a different way, with a different purpose, for a different audience. I tend to get a lizard brain effect when I'm reading published books by authors who are influential in (and influenced by) fandom - it's rather like tea from the nutrimatic machine, y'know, almost but completely unlike a book. To be fair to SRB she's made the transition better than others I've experienced (peers at Cassie Clare).

Also I'm not sure if fandom could be sensibly relied upon to be a sensible practice audience - in the post you linked to, there's a response from SRB in which she basically criticises fandom for only being interested in straight (?) white boys.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure it is possible to practice run at these things. I mean if you 'practice' on yourself and your friends you'll just confirm your own prejudices and sit around congratulation yourself on your splendid portrayal of somebody who is not you.

On the other hand, published and be damned and upsetting a bunch of people doesn't seem a legitimate way forward either...
The only thing I can imagine fanfic being good "practice" for might be some technical issue like writing reasonable-sounding dialogue for an established character or setting up a scene. If the tv-writing business were less impenetrable, a lot of fic writers would probably do much better as guest writers on long-running series than they would as novelists.

As far as creating original characters or coming up with plots that haven't been done to death, I think fanfic-writing probably does more harm than good. I think another of Rowling's many crimes is making hackery look easier than it is.
Wardog at 10:25 on 2012-06-26
Yes! Hackery is a fine old art and should be treated with the respect it deserves! (and I mean that seriously).

Sorry to randomly bring up an old article written by me (!) but I remember trying to read City of Bones and being struck by how ... oddly it was constructed. I probably articulated it in a way that would enrage all fanfic writers everywhere but I found even the technicalities of it (the way characterisation worked, the dialogue) noticeably different from original fiction.
Arthur B at 10:48 on 2012-06-26
Genuine question: could there be a publisher-side role in helping writers get the sort of practice we're talking about without necessarily unleashing harmfully offensive texts on the public? I mean, commercial publication via a publisher is more or less the only place where writers are obliged to hold to any standard other than their own whim; self-publishing and fanfic doesn't really have any filters that an author couldn't bypass when it comes to getting a text to market. If editors took it on themselves to say things like "Are you sure your portrayal of this character isn't problematic for X reasons?" alongside points like "This looks like a typo but I'm not sure what you intended with it" and "Hang on, isn't this a continuity error?" then at least someone is flagging areas for improvement before a text is finalised.

Then again, that'd rely on the editors themselves being clued-in sorts who by and large "get it", and the publishers being willing to hold a book back until the author gets it right. And we live in a world where publishers are willing to put out The Straight Razor Cure so clearly offensive handling of race isn't enough of a commercial liability to put them off provided that there's a genre audience that's willing to accept it.

So basically bad authorial habits + fandom of enablers = more fail to come. :(
Sister Magpie at 15:39 on 2012-06-26
It's an interesting question, though isn't it, exactly how bad it is to recognize fanfic styles in an original work? Is it just jarring or actually bad? I mean, the CoB article imo does a great job in pointing out the ways it can be a problem (and I didn't take it as insulting to fanfic, but that's me), but otoh there's probably a lot of things in fanfic that aren't bad when done in original work because people enjoy them in fanfic and will also enjoy them in original fic.

Like the post above, I do think fanfic can be helpful in improving some things--any writing can be good practice. It's just that there are other things it's not going to teach you how to do, and it can also give you bad habits. At least some of the fanfic writers who have gone pro were *very* popular writing fanfic, and while there are a lot of dismissive reasons for why they were popular (right pairings, right friends etc.), I think part of it was that they were often doing things that a lot of fanficcers lack or ignore.

That is, just as one can read a novel and recognize a fanfic style, one can also be reading a fanfic and realize hold on, this person's actually writing fic like an original work, which can be great. Rare, but great.

I'm not even sure that fanfic is always a good starting point for writing for a series, actually. I've never really written much fanfic (I've done Yuletide twice now, but since that's a fest for small fandoms and a couple of the stories I did wouldn't even qualify as fanfic because of the source material), but I've done tie-in novels and I think they rely much more on the standard "pro-fic" model rather than fanfic. Not that one can't crossover--as at least some Star Trek fic authors did, of course. I don't make the distinction that notorious anti-fanfic author Lee Goldberg does b/w tie-ins and fanfic but most fanfic couldn't be a tie-in novel any more than it could be an original novel. When I read the Sarah Monette books they also seemed very heavily influenced by fanfic to me, yet I don't think she's ever written any. (She does read it, though, so it could still be there.)

Basically I'm just wondering about whether fanfic is fundamentally different from any other type of writing that can influence an author. Like, I've noticed that I'll pick up habits from different writing jobs. The magazine that I work for has a very specific style (a fiction style, that is) that I have to remind myself isn't the law.
Sorry to randomly bring up an old article written by me (!) but I remember trying to read City of Bones and being struck by how ... oddly it was constructed.

Yeah, I was actually thinking of that article. Like you said there, that stupid scene with the boy at the piano would have worked if he had been Draco Malfoy. If you have a reasonable idea of who a character is, or at least the fanon version of him, you can put words in his mouth and make him do things that feel authentic. That's why I think the skills used in fanfic would actually transfer to writing for established tv shows in a way that they absolutely don't transfer to writing novels. It's not that fanfic makes you better at writing original fiction, it's that it makes you better at writing fanfic.
I've done tie-in novels and I think they rely much more on the standard "pro-fic" model rather than fanfic.


I didn't know that, but that makes sense too. I'm thinking of the few really good tv-based fics I've read where the dialogue sounds like it could have been on the show itself, and I wonder why this person isn't writing for the show. But of course there are other issues involved in tv writing that I don't know anything about.
Sister Magpie at 16:11 on 2012-06-26
If you have a reasonable idea of who a character is, or at least the fanon
version of him, you can put words in his mouth and make him do things that feel
authentic.


Within reason. Because let's not forget that OOC! is a common criticism of fanfic. The Draco Malfoy discovered playing piano is, after all, often referred to as fanon!Draco for a reason. The key is to sit the sweet spot where you're revealing something new about the character that deepens them and feels authentic but also doesn't feel like shifting the gravity of the piece to revolve around how deep they are, or make the audience feel like you're just fangirling that character, which has certainly been known to happen too. If you start doing that you might get the same "it's like fanfic" criticism.

The CoB example, for instance, really brings up the conundrum. The reveal of the piano scene lacks something because it's not actually Draco. But was Draco in HP lacking something because he had no "piano scenes?" (He did have something close to one in the bathroom in HBP, but compared to the fanfic version that scene's cut brutally short and the emotional fallout immediately smothered. I admit I did find the canon version unsatisfying because it didn't follow through emotionally, but a full-out fanfic version would undoubtedly be out of place even without the porn!)
Yeah, the piano scene fits Draco because it calls up the popular conception that he has a lonely inner life and a genuine but somewhat strained connection to his family and his upbringing. I think the suicide mission of HBP fulfills essentially the same purpose. At this point it's arguably moot what anyone thinks is in character for anyone in HP, but back in the day I found fanon!Draco a reasonable interpretation of the character, mostly because there was so little to him that pretty much anything would have fit.
Cammalot at 18:53 on 2012-06-26
Kyra, I think I really, really need you to read book three. I find myself craving an article on it. :-)
in the post you linked to, there's a response from SRB

Please pardon my dumb -- can you point me to this? I've scrolled through several times and can't find this link.

My opinions on fanfic are complicated and changeable, and affected by the fact that I haven't been involved in it since about 1999, which was a bit pre-Livejournal and pre-Google and was indeed a time when you wrote the fic predominantly for your friends of like mind in "webcircles," and there was, for the longest, just one guy out there called "Minotaur" (now sadly deceased) who had a website "workshop" to teach people (mostly straight girls) how to write (gay) sex. It was not an enlightened time.

I agree that fanfic writing and fiction writing/novel writing are two different things and require significantly different skill sets. (The fanfiction skill set might overlap more with comic-book or television writing. Not necessarily with tie-in novels, as there's often a great deal of backstory creation and filling in internal-thoughtstream and motivational blanks going on there.) And proficiency at one doesn't mean proficiency at the other.

But it also looks to me, from the periphery, that in the fanfiction world of today, especially since the advent of more community-based (and less Geocities-esque) Livejournal-type sites and large fic archive-type places, there is a wider audience for it, more opportunity for feedback from people who don't know you, and more opportunities for education archived in the Wank blogs and fan history wikis and the various "Sue" and other critique (and snark) communities -- especially post Racefail.

So I'm thinking somewhat selfishly that if people are going to screw up, it might be best for them to do it there, under a pseudonym, in a place where I can comfort myself post-rage by saying, "Well, it's an amateur and at least they are not getting paid for this," or more likely, where I can avoid it entirely.

Also I'm not sure if fandom could be sensibly relied upon to be a sensible practice audience -- in the post you linked to, there's a response from SRB in which she basically criticises fandom for only being interested in straight (?) white boys.


I've read far too much critique of poor handling of characters of color in fiction to believe that fandom is [em]only[/em] interested in white boys. People are producing these versions of characters that are getting critiques. Overall, fandom might be [em]predominantly[/em] interested in straight white boys, but that is also true of the world at large (see the debacle over Rue in the Hunger Games). I feel like there is a growing movement to be inclusive and to get it right. Possibly not as large or as fast-growing as it could be. And there are still areas that need a lot more work having awareness raised than others -- awareness of racism far outstrips awareness of ablism, and acceptance of gayness is more prevalent and even more understood than issues of gender fluidity -- but [disclosure] I was born in the early 70s, so a lot of the progress I see around me looks HUGE.

So it might not be the best practice for excellent novel-writing skills, but overall, if done in public, I think it is at least starter practice for not pissing people off by being socially insensitive.


Tangentially, I saw a huge billboard covering the side of a bus for Cassie Claire's "Angel" series two days ago. I felt very resigned.
Cammalot at 19:12 on 2012-06-26
(Correction -- not pre Google, but it was very new, and I hadn't heard of it when I sort of petered out of fandom. It was all "search.com.")

Oh, and I've got typos in my html. Darn...
Genuine question: could there be a publisher-side role in helping writers get the sort of practice we're talking about without necessarily unleashing harmfully offensive texts on the public?


That is more or less what I was thinking of when I said it didn't need to be public, actually--it is at least the publisher's/editor's job to make sure the book is up to standards and ready to be published (as opposed to it not being the job of all [insert group here] everywhere to have to educate authors about how not to fail miserably when writing about [insert group here]). But that's thinking ideally (well, sort of ideally--ideally the problem wouldn't exist!) and the practical problems are as you said.

But it also looks to me, from the periphery, that in the fanfiction world of today, especially since the advent of more community-based (and less Geocities-esque) Livejournal-type sites and large fic archive-type places, there is a wider audience for it, more opportunity for feedback from people who don't know you, and more opportunities for education archived in the Wank blogs and fan history wikis and the various "Sue" and other critique (and snark) communities -- especially post Racefail.


Yeah, it does seem that with fanfic there is a bit less distance between author and audience and possibly therefore a better chance that they will actually see that type of criticism (because it's more likely to be in the same actual community they're part of), either about their own work or about someone else's (as sometimes you see something someone else has done criticized and go, "oh shit, I've done that, too, time to stop").
Cammalot at 20:29 on 2012-06-26
Genuine question: could there be a publisher-side role in helping writers get the sort of practice we're talking about without necessarily unleashing harmfully offensive texts on the public?

I wonder about this a great deal.

On one hand, yes, they should. On the other, A) the primary goal of publishing corporations (maybe not academic presses, but they're included, to an extent) is to make money -- to find the hit that will appeal to large numbers of people and make the cash so they can stay in business, and B) the publishing industry seem to be very homogenous, to me -- a lot of the individual editors mean *very* well but might not *know* what they're looking for in order to correct it. I spent more of my time in magazines than in books, and so I'm sure my viewpoint is limited in that way, but I have also spent time as the Only Black in the Village attempting damage control at relatively late stages in the production process pointing out things that simply did not occur to my white colleagues. Also C) the people who are doing the hands-on selection of books aren't the corporate bigwigs who actually make the decisions that stick.

I have to sort that out in my head some more.
Cammalot at 20:46 on 2012-06-26
(I forgot to disclaim I'm talking about the U.S., and the east coast U.S., for that matter.)
Robinson L at 22:02 on 2012-06-26
You're welcome, Cammalot; I greatly appreciate getting your viewpoint on the issues on this thread.

Cammalot: Kyra, I think I really, really need you to read book three. I find myself craving an article on it. :-)

I'd like that, too. I've read The Demon's Surrender and I'd really like to see - and take part in - a discussion about it. I don't feel motivated to write a review myself (although I suppose I'm somewhat open to being badgered into it).
Cammalot at 02:38 on 2012-06-27
*puppy eyes at Kyra*

I've read far too much critique of poor handling of characters of color in fiction to believe that fandom is [em]only[/em] interested in white boys. People are producing these versions of characters that are getting critiques.


CRIKEY. That was supposed to be "critique of poor handling of characters of color in "FANfiction." You know, I truly did do a preview...my screen is small... my dog ate my keyboard...



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