Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Pinky Swear

I read Becca Fitzgerald's blog post, "Be Nice" with interest, but the juicy part was the reaction online.  Her thesis is that as authors we should be nice to people because you never know whose good opinion you might need some day.  The reaction included some "Hear, hear!" but it also included a good bit of derision.

If I understand the backlash, it's that the "Be Nice" movement is telling writers (who are, obviously, consumers of other writers' work, and may even be reviewers/bloggers/commenters) to censor their honest opinion of specific books and their authors.  In other words, by being "nice" we're caving in to some stupid peer pressure just because The Man (Woman?) wants us to, and we're stifling our own free speech in the process.  (I wonder if latent contempt for authors generally fuels the backlash, but even if it's a straight-up free speech argument, I still reject it.)

This makes me flash back to RWA National last summer. That's when I realized that organization would really like me to make a metaphorical "pinky swear" to honor all my fellow RWA members.  (Which means honoring everyone in Romlandia because it's not that easy to see who is and is not in RWA.)

Thank you RWA for commanding me to do the right thing.  I'll admit, I resented it at the time.  I blog.  I wanted to keep blogging about what worked and didn't work in specific books.  Post pinky-swear, I wouldn't be able to mention authors by name.  But you know what?  I don't think it's resulted in self-censoring at all.  Read my last post.  I didn't censor anything.

What I did was mask the identity of the book, its author, and the reviewer.  I don't know the author at all, but I know and like the reviewer.  I treated them the same: as though both of them are my dearest friends.

Where's the lily-livered cowardice in that?  I'm writing about colleagues of mine.  People whom I respect and want to respect me.  Even if I don't like someone, I still want her to think I'm not the kind of person who would say in public, "I don't like X's work and you shouldn't either."

Now, I don't have a problem saying, "I don't like bad writing," and I agree I rather blunt the force of that statement if I discuss a book without identifying it.  That's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.  It puts the onus on me to make very clear what sort of bad writing I'm talking about.

I understand the human instinct to KNOW -- know who the author is, know the book title, know the review's name -- but why am I being courageous for satisfying that curiosity in public speech?  A conversation I have with a friend, privately, is a different matter.  That's not public speech, and anyway I trust my friends.  As they trust me.

So here it is:  I took a virtual pinky swear with a huge bunch of writers and would-be writers that I wouldn't bad-mouth them in public.  In effect, I'll be nice.  If that's elevating their interest in my discretion above other's people's interest in my unvarnished opinion, then you know which side you fall on and you know whether I picked you or the other team.

2 comments:

  1. It wasn't so much what she said but how she said it.

    As someone who's not a writer (of fiction, anyway), here's what I took from the post: Fitzpatrick is conflating "being nice," professional ethics, and personal integrity. Niceness is a personality trait--think Jane from P&P here. Professional ethics essentially means "making nice," i.e. don't rock the boat, keep your head down, don't bad mouth your coworkers and DEFINITELY don't insult your boss. This is obviously what Fitzpatrick and the rest of YA Mafia mean when they tell us to "be nice." I don't blame Fitzpatrick for not wanting to give that blurb; I wouldn't have, either. But I also would have told that editor exactly why I didn't want to give it. I think what really pisses people (i.e., me) off is the implication that even if you're not an author at the moment, should you ever become one in the future, you better watch your back because the YA Mafia will be after you!!!!!11!! They'll tell their agents and editors not to sign you. They'll refuse to give you blurbs for their books (shock! horror!). They'll ignore you at parties and possibly even give you the evil eye. I'm sorry, but that's freaking ridiculous. Basically Fritzpatrick and others are lording their status as published (and successful) authors over everyone and telling us we all have to be Yes (wo)Men whether or not we're part of their profession or not. EYE ROLL, get over yourselves!

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  2. Oh, well, if there's a YA Mafia, that's different. :-)

    I think this is a problem across the Internet. If people are going to hold our words against us, despite our having expressed our opinion as fairly and impersonally as possible, well, that's just too bad. I feel certain that I've pissed off some people I may, someday, wish liked me better. Do I think I did anything to deserve being blackballed? No. Can I see it happening anyway? Sure.

    Here's the thing -- the "Be Nice" doctrine is intended to be prophylactic, not proscriptive. (And if YA Mafia goons are using it proscriptively, shame on them.) I wish I had been a lot more cautious about what I said and where. If I'd heeded the "Be Nice" doctrine from the beginning, I'd have censored myself in certain forums but I might today have fewer enemies.

    I'm with you on the eye roll if anyone thinks she's so omniscient and omnipotent that she gets to decide who's a good person and who isn't. (Surely that behavior isn't limited to the YA Mafia - ?) But agreeing that they shouldn't behave that way isn't the same as protecting yourself against that retribution.

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