Staying with the Discword series, and really looking forward to this one.
I’m sad to say that I didn’t love the last Discworld book, Sourcery. There were a few reasons for my disappointment, although one particular assumption the author made stood out for me. This is what I wrote about it on Goodreads:
Not his best effort. For the record, the scientist who discovered the shape of DNA was a she, not a he, and her name was Rosalind Franklin (although two male scientists did go ahead and take the credit).
Not that authors (especially ones as prolific as Pratchett) aren’t entitled to make mistakes or have an off book here and there, but the Rosalind Franklin thing seemed like straight laziness from him and his editors (the editing in general on this book wasn’t great, actually). Hopefully Wyrd Sisters and future Discworld books will get things back on track.
I also wanted to comment on This Charming Man, now that I’ve re-read it.
In my post where I shared that I was about to re-read this book, I said I’d forgotten a lot of the details since I last read it. Well, it turns out I’d forgotten almost everything about it. I remembered This Charming Man as being mostly fun with a satisfying ending. I’ve since learned I can’t trust my memory. Like, at all. The book is well written and compelling, and there’s humour too, but it’s actually quite dark and difficult to read at times because of that. It goes into painful detail on violence against women, abusive relationships, and alcoholism (all important topics, but emotionally draining, to say the least*). I also noticed there was a fair bit of fat shaming (ugh), and some less-than-enlightened comments about “trannies.” It was published in 2008 and parts of it have clearly not aged well. It did have a satisfying ending, though, so at least I got that right.
What are you reading these days? Have you ever re-read a book and realized it was completely different from what you remembered? Share in the comments…
Aspasía S. Bissas
(P.S. If you want to see what else I’ve read, check out my Goodreads page.)
Some writers work for money. Some work for the sake of the art. But if there’s one thing just about all writers expect in return for their work, it’s credit. Unfortunately, this basic acknowledgement of a person’s contribution to the world isn’t always accorded to women.
The French writer Colette’s first husband, after encouraging her to pursue writing, went ahead and took credit for her work. At one point, when she refused to write more stories for him, he locked her in a room with nothing but a typewriter. Although Colette eventually divorced him and got back credit (after his death) for her popular Claudine series, her husband owned the copyright and she never saw a dime from the books, the stage adaptation, or the extensive Claudine-themed merchandise.
“Anonymous,” a published author, recounts how at a meeting in Hollywood with actors and a showrunner (all male), her story was casually taken, altered just enough, and used for their own benefit without consideration or credit to her. They profited while she got nothing for her work. She is now forced to write as Anonymous because her ex-husband, also a writer, has been violent and is a threat.
Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), has a reputation as a free-spirited (some would say wild) flapper who ended up “crazy.” As it happens, she was also a promising writer whose celebrated husband stole entire passages of her work, letters, and diaries to use in his own novels (he also helped himself to his friends’ words and experiences, and accused Zelda of writing about their marriage in her book before he could do the same in his). He may have spread rumours that she was mentally unfit and likely intentionally pushed her to a nervous breakdown. Today Zelda’s writing is hardly known, while F. Scott’s is required reading.
Sadly, these are only three examples of women not getting the credit they’re due. Throughout history women’s work– writing, as well as every other kind– has been diminished, ignored, sometimes destroyed. Men take credit for it without hesitation, as famously happened with scientist Rosalind Franklin. The women who create get buried and forgotten. On this International Women’s Day, take a moment to think of all the women throughout the centuries who have had their legacies taken by men who felt entitled to their credit.
From the start, women writers have had to endure an unending slew of sexist attitudes and commentary. Pick a writer and she’ll tell you about comments claiming women aren’t serious writers, that they don’t write “important” works, and aren’t worthy of awards or acclaim. Women writers can tell you about how there is a constant assumption that they must write romance or “chick lit,” that they don’t write anything a man would want to read, that they can’t write certain genres, or that women’s fiction is fluffy and sentimental. We can tell you about how we’re questioned in a way male authors never are about work-life balance, how we can possibly work and take care of our children and homes and partners. The list goes on. And when we dare complain about any of it, we’re accused of being “whiny” and “privileged.”
Sci-fi author Gérard Klein about Ursula K. Le Guin: ” … her art is the product of ‘a happily resolved childhood, an active feminine genitality, and her intellectual indebtedness to her historian husband.'”
Audience member at a reading, to Julia Fierro: “Who is taking care of your children?”
A reader, commenting about The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris: “The novel is ‘capitalising on the fandom of Tom Hiddleston.'”
Author David Gilmour, on not teaching women authors in his class at the University of Toronto: “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.”
Author V.S. Naipaul about Diana Athill: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not… My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”
Interviewer to Victoria A. Brownworth: “I don’t think women should be writing about this kind of violence.”
A lecture attendee to Joanne Freeman: “How does your husband handle your wit?”
A one-time boss of hers, about Clarice Lispector: “She was ‘a smart girl, an excellent reporter, and, in contrast to almost all women, actually knows how to write.'”
Random people, to Lis Harris: “Oh, you’re a serious writer? But you’re so pretty!”
N.S. Willis, to his sister, Fanny Fern: “[…he stated that] her writing was ‘too vulgar’ and she should continue with her needlework instead.”
To these I’ll add a quote from Charlotte Brontë, which she wrote in response to harsh reviews. This is (or should be) the unofficial motto of women writers everywhere:
“It would take a great deal to crush me.”
The problem of sexism in publishing is improving–the fact that it’s finally being acknowledged is an important first step. Will it be solved anytime soon? As with other forms of inequality, probably not in my lifetime (although I live in hope). But there are things everyone can do to help get us there:
Read books by women (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, comic books, essays, articles…)
Review books by women (whether on a book site, store site, social media, or your own blog)
Buy books by women (let publishers know what you want to read)
If you want to start right now, you can download my free story Blood Magic. One reviewer wrote about it: “A sign of the times, this short story should be folded up, put inside an envelope, and slid inside the goody bags ready for the male attendees of the next Golden Globe Awards.”
Happy International Women’s Day. Show your support by reading more women.
When I was much younger and just beginning to realize that I wanted a future as a writer, I had starry-eyed notions of a major publisher recognizing my talent and jumping to offer me a contract (with a generous advance, of course). Yeah, not so much. Instead I have a pile of rejection letters, mostly of the form variety, some with encouraging words about how my writing is good (just not quite right for them). I had to learn the hard way that being a good writer isn’t enough to get published. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be able to write at all as long as you have a big enough name to guarantee sales. Depressing doesn’t even begin to cover it.
A recent article in the Washington Post shares how Madeleine L’Engle and other well-known writers have suffered rejection over their careers. So how to deal with it when it happens to you?
Like L’Engle, stick to your vision. Don’t compromise your work to suit the industry’s sometimes narrow definitions of salable. Your readers are out there, even if your book is genre defying and a little odd (something readers are a lot more open to than publishers).
Like J.K. Rowling, keep persisting. Just because 12 publishers reject your book doesn’t mean 13 won’t be your lucky number. [Edited to add: Also like J.K., if you’re a woman, you might want to submit under initials or a gender neutral name instead of an obviously feminine name–especially if you don’t write romance or “women’s fiction.” Sexism in publishing is real, and I wish I’d realized that years ago.]
Like Beatrix Potter, do it yourself. Self publishing has been around a long time and is only getting bigger. When traditional publishers have let you down (or you don’t even want to bother with them in the first place), don’t be afraid to go the indie route (which is what I did with my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding–and what I will also be doing with the new novel I’m working on).
Whatever you do, don’t let rejections get to you. They are common, they are inevitable, and they don’t reflect the quality of your work or you as a person. Just remember: a good story will find a way.
How do you deal with professional rejection? Share in the comments.
[This was originally posted on 13 March 2018. Re-posted with minor edits.]