It’s not only future right-wing conservative Supreme Court justices who engage in youthful hijinks involving blackface; once upon a time, the young Virginia Woolf and her friends did something much the same, impersonating the Prince of Abyssinia and his entourage and convincing the CO of HMS Dreadnaught to give them a royal welcome and an official tour.
(That’s Woolf on the far left, in drag and — frankly — fairly unconvincing makeup.)
Everybody seemed at the time to regard this as a jolly good prank, with the exception of the British Navy, which was embarrassed. (What the Abyssinians thought about the whole affair doesn’t seem to have been recorded — if, indeed, they heard about it at all.)
There’s a 2017 New Yorker article about the affair that waxes pontifical about the symbolic meanings underlying the hoaxers’ acts. It makes some interesting points . . . but as far as I can tell, the hoaxers were just upperclass intellectual twits whose agenda, if they had one, could be boiled down to “make Authority look silly.”
I’ve written here before about the necessity — in my opinion — of making one’s villains well-rounded characters and not merely evil mustache-twirling sockpuppets. By which I mean granting them their virtues as well as their vices, and giving them friends as well as enemies, and generally treating them with a certain amount of respect even as they go forth to meet their richly deserved ends at the hands of the protagonist of the tale.
I don’t know if what I’m encountering a lot of lately is the start of a disturbing new trend, or just the result of seeing a lot of plain old-fashioned bad writing and worse criticism . . . but readers and writers both seem to be getting more into villains who are evil all the way through, from the flaky top crust of their characterization down to the soggy underbaked bottom. Anything in the line of subtlety or multidimensionality or (dare I use the word?) empathy is decried as normalizing or valorizing their badness.
This is, in my opinion, wrong. We as writers humanize our monsters in order to drive home the idea that not only are they people just like us . . . we are, if we’re not careful, people just like them.
And yeah, there are always going to be some readers who simply don’t get it, in the same way that there’s always some genius in the English Lit survey class who thinks that Jonathan Swift was speaking literally when he wrote A Modest Proposal.†
But we shouldn’t have to be in the business of writing for those people.
†Spoiler: He wasn’t.
My annual editorial services springtime sale ends April 21. From now until Sunday midnight, all novel-length edits are 30% off. As always, you can purchase a gift certificate for a writer friend, or purchase one for yourself to be redeemed when your work-in-progress is ready for editing.
Yes, it’s time for my annual Springtime Services Sale!
From now through April 21, 2019 (that’s Easter Sunday, for those of you who celebrate), all edits on novel-length manuscripts will be 30% off the regular price. You can purchase an edit now to be redeemed at a later date of your choice, or you can buy an edit for a friend as a gift.
For more information, you can go to my about page.
My winter electric bill will thank you.
(Unless something horrible and unexpected leaps out of the bushes at us beforehand — which has, alas, been known to happen.)
Anyway. We’re going to be attending the Heliosphere sf/fantasy convention in Tarrytown, NY, and while we’re at it we’re going to be tacking a day or so onto the trip to do what Jim Macdonald is referring to as The Major Andre Tour. All the sites associated with the unfortunate entanglement of Major John Andre (even his enemies liked him) with Benedict Arnold (even his friends thought he was a dick) are within a few miles of each other in the nearby area, so it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
Jim will undoubtedly be writing it all up for his blog when we’re done, so keep watching this space (or his space) for details.
We’ll be doing the Tour on the Friday before Heliosphere, working out of a base in Nyack. Jim has the itinerary all worked out, with GPS coordinates and everything — once a navigator, always a navigator, I suppose.
It should be fun.
Back when I was first writing for publication, Jim Macdonald and I wrote a number of YA novels, mostly for book packagers (that was one of the entry points back then, before packagers turned into high-profile wheeler-dealers and were instead mostly borderline sleazy providers of work-for-hire content to publishers who were too dainty to make such deals themselves.) Some of the stuff we did I’m still quite proud of; and all of it was the best we could provide given the sometimes-weird constraints we had to work under.
But my golly, I’m glad I’m not working in that end of the business right now. We’ve come to a place where a pre-publication social-media campaign can — shall we say, bully? yes, we shall — bully an up-and-coming author into withdrawing her own book before it can be published. And that sort of thing can happen more than once.
Whatever happened to publishing the book and letting actual readers decide for themselves whether it’s a Bad Thing or not?
(Right. I forgot. This is YA literature, and therefore falls under the purview of all those good-intentioned people who want to Protect Impressionable Young Minds. Thank God for all the impressionable young minds who are already way ahead of them in finding the stuff that young minds actually want to read.)