What Would Voltaire Say?

It has always been tough and even dangerous to write fiction. Someone is always going to second guess or be irritated by something they may read. If kings weren’t feeling threatened by it, religious zealots were, or dictators were… and still are.

Today, apparently it is also some “community” that writers are supposed to heed? I had never heard of this writer before bumping into this tweet, and I have no idea what she wrote; but in the end both are actually irrelevant to the bigger issue she inadvertently raises. Evidently she has “offended” some readers pre-publication because she wrote something… and she’s not… uh, blah, blah, blah….

[Screen capture of Twitter.]

First, I will assert here – more clearly than perhaps I ever have – that I believe there is no such thing as a “book community.” Yes, there are writers and others in the business I may have high regard for as like-minded friends; and I’m certainly pleased when readers enjoy my books. But the term “community” implies writing is a group activity, and it isn’t.

Nothing is in fact more individual and personal than writing.

Second, I employed, and continue to do so, a pen name mostly for family privacy reasons. I also – I admit – did not want some possible problems down the road in outside work from a potential non-publishing-world employer who does not “understand” my novels…

[Excerpt from Frontiers: Atlantic Lives, 1995-1996, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

However, being fearful of critics who choose to assert, for instance, that there’s some “identity” issue over me writing novels that, say, include non-American women when I am an American man, isn’t high on my “reasons for the pseudonym” list, nor does it keep me awake at night.

Third: the nature of the craft is that there will always be those out there chest-thumping over something some writer writes. It’s up to the writer to be tough-minded in response. If you can’t be, you are in the wrong craft.

Publishers are in business to make profits, and that may mean giving in to the mob such critics on occasion. Naturally, writers would like to make some money too; but ultimately most writers know we won’t likely earn much from our writing. So what critics think about your tales or your characters should not be of importance to you as a writer: your intellectual honesty and your creative integrity should come first.

Writers – those who have English literature or creative writing degrees appear most likely to do this – have to stop applying the terminology of “lit crit” (I mean here specifically the academic arena of literary criticism, as well as everyday book reviewers on the likes of Goodreads who seek to employ it) to themselves and their own books. Leave doing that to “literary critics” – the probing of your “essentialism” or your “agency” or your “appropriation” or your “coding” or whatever other terms academia comes up with next week to “interrogate” your fiction. It is NOT your role as the creator to write to attempt to please literary criticism; nothing ever written fully “pleases” all critics.

[A snowy early morning today. Hertfordshire, England. Photo by me.]

Critics overall are free to make whatever criticisms they choose, of course; that’s their role, or the reason they received tenure. Last time I checked, though, writers have freedom of speech. My freedom to speak up from my novels and to create as I deem “appropriate” is not contingent one iota on some fanciful “book community” applauding that text.

Writers: NEVER EVER EVER apologize for YOUR imagination and YOUR creations.