Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On J.K. Rowling and Books

by Stephanie Osborn

By now many of you may be aware of a certain article on the Huffington Post which calls down J.K. Rowling and berates her for her work, and for not stepping aside to allow others to move up. I'm not linking to it because I don't want to give that kind of tripe the time of day, let alone the hits. I must admit it's caused a bit of a stir in writing circles.

But I am giving it some time of day now, because such thought is double-plus ungood. In fact, it's just plain stupid.

Larry Correia and me, waiting for a panel to start.

It came to my attention on Facebook the day it was published, and again the next day when a friend/fan tagged me with it. I'll paste my comment in below:
"I read the article last night. I was, frankly, shocked. Summmarized, the message was, 'You've made enough money now. Go away and let the rest of us have it instead.' 
"While I might debate the worthiness of a popular offering (ONLY if it is particularly bad), I would never EVER go so far as to say that ANY writer should ever stop writing. (Quite aside from the fact that it is, for any true writer, impossible to do.) 
"It's very much an entitlement viewpoint. I have no interest in it, or her.  
"And as many have already said, she caused me to lose all interest in reading anything she has ever written. If her logic is this faulty, I'm pretty sure I'd throw it through the window well before finishing it. And before someone tosses out the argument that I'm doing what she's been accused of doing (condemning without reading), I HAVE read something she wrote: I read this article. In detail. It's very much akin to my refusing to go see [the movie] Armageddon after having seen the trailer: there were so many factual errors just in the trailer, I knew I'd walk out before the film hit the halfway mark.  
"Much thanks to Fritz for the compliment to my writing. I'm not sure scifi/mystery crossovers can truly be termed "literary," though many (including my publisher) have done so. I shall, I think, simply accept the accolade and move on from here. *bows*"

I would like to add that said debate of an offering's worthiness would be in private, with only a couple of other people, and certainly not trumpeted from the rooftops of social media.
Me at the release party of my Displaced Detective book 3

There is also this bit of disingenousness that I caught and tagged. The below is a compendium of my posted comments on Larry Correia's blog on the subject:
"I think I’mma call bullshit on her whole claim of, 'I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute)' of the stories. 
"Why? She refers to Rowling’s body of work as a 'Golgomath.' 
"Now, I’ve read all the HP books and seen all the HP movies, and I still had to Google the word to discover that it’s the name of the “new” leader (the old leader having been assassinated by same) of the tribe of Giants in Russia, from one of the later HP books (Order of the Phoenix), and he’s on Voldemort’s side. Probably the most obscure and least-referenced of all the Giants mentioned in all of the HP books…yet she manages to zero in on it and use it. 
"I’m an HP fan too, though maybe not as fierce as some, and I didn’t catch it. 
"And if you wanted to use a simile riffing on giants, why use one that nobody, not even HP fans, would instantly recognize, and that requires hunting to find, when you could just refer to Rowling’s body of work as a 'Goliath' which is a metaphor that most everybody is likely to at least recognize? 
"And if you’ve never read any HP, how do you even know there are any giants IN it? 
"What’s wrong with that picture…?"
The notion that one author has to step aside so others can move up is utter claptrap ridonkulous. Now, if one is at a convention, where the attendees have only the funds available on their persons, there's something that approximates a zero-sum model. Note I said APPROXIMATES. These days we have credit cards and Squares and electronic swipes and ATMs to get around that problem, and while I'm not Larry or J.K. I still do pretty well at a con. Outside, in the world at large, there isn't a zero-sum game -- nowhere close. 
In the company of Les Johnson and Chris Berman.

More, and frankly, telling Rowling to knock it off is telling a grand master of the game to take her chess pieces and go home. Note I didn't use a simile there; I didn't say it was LIKE telling a grand master to go home. I said it IS TELLING a grand master to go home. In the end, it's no different from someone having told J.R.R. Tolkien, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or even Shakespeare, the same thing. They also wrote for love of writing and for the paycheck. Doyle even revived a character that he hated -- Sherlock Holmes -- for the sake of the paycheck, and because he got so many fan letters wanting more...much the way Rowling is getting fan letters wanting more Harry Potter books. Last I heard, she was considering (depending on who you talked to) either an adult series about the aurors they became, or a series involving some of the other children at Hogwarts. Whichever, I'll be getting them. If she writes them, we will buy.
And that is good, because the kids will also buy, and they will become avid readers. And they will grow up to be avid readers, and they will buy our books too.
But tell me this: how can you criticize and put down another author's work as childish (which the writer of this article did, because she said it was a shame that adults ever read the books), when you claim never to have read the material? How can you know it really is the way you think it is, without seeing for yourself?
The first book co-authored with Travis S. Taylor.

Yes, I freely admit it. I am a Harry Potter fan. I am not a particularly rabid one, but I did enjoy the films, which in turn introduced me to the books, and I ended up reading every one, and waiting for the latter books to come out -- though not with bated breath. It was more a case of having piqued my curiosity to see how it would all work out in the end. (This is, by the way, the sign of good writing -- she made me care about the characters. If there are other problems -- punctuation, grammar, awkward wording and structure, too much description, all these accusations have been leveled at Rowling -- look to the editors; it is their job to see that those things are corrected by the writer.) More importantly, I am a writer myself. I know how the business works, on many levels. I know what constitutes good writing, and I know that success in this industry is to some extent dependent on whatever the Next Big Thing is, and whether or not you manage to catch that metaphorical wave with the surfboard of your writing. Okay, crazy sounding analogy, but still, it fits. 
The second book co-authored with Travis S. Taylor.

You know what I tell interviewers -- and students -- when I'm asked how to become a writer? I tell them to READ. Then read, and read, and read some more, and read the GOOD STUFF. The stuff that becomes, or already is, classic literature. Because in the end, they all started out the same way we do: potential writers sitting down with a blank piece of paper and an idea, having never written a story before. But they do it in such a way that it speaks to the human condition, to the human heart, and that's how and why they become classics. In reading classics, modern and historic, the conscious and subconscious mind picks up on how and why these stories "work" for us, and then when you sit down to write your own stories, your brain 

distills out what it learned from reading the classics, and your own writing becomes better for it. If you're lucky, like I have been, you have friends among those upper levels willing to take you under their wings and mentor you, teaching you to make your writing better and better. If not, why not? I've found that the majority of authors are more than willing to sit down and talk to a newbie writer, or to a writer who hasn't had the same level of success, and offer suggestions and advice. How do I know? Hey, look at some of the pictures in this particular blog article -- I took my own advice and ASKED 'em!
What you DON'T do is tell the writers of those classics, those best-sellers, to take a hike.
The HuffPo writer started off by saying her friend told her people would think it was just sour grapes.

Hey, Ms. Shepherd? She told you so.

--Stephanie Osborn

P.S. There are some other really good commentaries over on Sarah Hoyt's blog and the Mad Genius Club blog.


Unknown said...

Very well stated Stephanie and I applaud you for your point of view on this topic. I do enjoy reading your books as well as other books by many other authors... I am in fact one of the adults that enjoys the Harry Potter series.... some of my favorite things to read are aimed at the YA audience. I look forward to reading more of your writing and look forward to seeing if J.K. comes out with anything else coming from Hogwarts.

Unknown said...

I'm not surprised though... pandering to the lowest common denominator is always a win with some markets; in this case it's pandering to those people who won't take responsibility for their own failure, preferring to insist that competence and success are somehow predatory.

Stephanie Osborn said...

I get you. But no, competence and success are about hard work and keeping at it. "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." ~Thomas Alva Edison.

Stephanie Osborn said...

Based on some commentary on Facebook over my blog article, in which Ms. Shepherd and Ms. Rowling were termed competitors, I replied, "Well, see, that's kind of the point of my whole blog. They aren't competitors. In fact it could be said that Rowling is the 'gateway drug' for the rest of us."

Rabbit said...

I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion and apparently the Huffington Post will probably publish them. Yes she sounds like very sour grapes but you have to wonder if part of her view may have been influenced by the trend in giving everyone a ribbon and awarding mediocrity for the simple reason of participation. I see this attitude more often lately. It is a strange level of entitlement when someone thinks the very best of us must step aside so that the least of us can shine as well. Give her the green participation ribbon and pat her on the head, then go on with celebrating the works of her betters.

Stephanie Osborn said...

I would have a hard time even giving her the participation ribbon. See, you're exactly right -- her attitude is one of entitlement. "I showed up so I should win." But it doesn't work like that, and the quicker people with this attitude learn that, the faster they'll actually get somewhere and succeed.

FatSingleMom said...

The first thing I want when I finish a good book is another good book! Authors BENEFIT from other authors feeding and building that craving!

Stephanie Osborn said...

EXACTLY! So BRING ON the J.K. Rowlings, the Stephen Kings, the David Webers, the Larry Correias! If I'm a smart author (and I'd like to think I am), I will try to cultivate a positive relationship with these people! Maybe, just maybe, Jerry Pournelle will mention in his blog who sent him that science article, and suddenly people will start looking at ME! (Yes, this happened. Recently.)

Is that schmoozing? I suppose it depends on your definition. To me, no it isn't, because I honestly respect them, I can and have had courteous disagreements with them, and they seem to return the favor. And in general they have been wonderful about trying to help me get a leg up. Often offering to do something without my ever having to ask. I'm more apt to simply want to pick their brains anyway, than to ask them to promote me directly. If they want to, I surely won't say nay, though!

See, it isn't about competition -- because we're not; it isn't about how much they sell/make vs how much I do. We are COLLEAGUES. In some cases, we are friends. If one of 'em gets in a bind, and I can help, I do. Because I want to. Not because I'm fishing for brownie points or promos or whatever. And I DO ask questions, and they answer. Sometimes the answer is, "I dunno," and I'm okay with that. But one of my personal raisons d'etre is to learn, and to get better. If I get better, pretty soon people are gonna start noticing, and then hey.

Stephanie Osborn said...

Oh, and let me be honest, here: there HAVE been a couple of best-selling books that I have seen that I have grumbled about; they were by almost all accounts poorly written at best, and were not the sort of thing I enjoy reading anyway. I'll not name titles or authors. But the gist of my very private gripe was something along the lines of, "Why are people wasting money on this when there are those of us who write better?" So in a way it was the same, and in a way it wasn't; but at no time would I EVER even THINK of telling an author to sit down and shut up. I was frankly shocked that the HuffPo writer did.

Unknown said...

Years ago - this "everyone wins simply because they participated" behavior would have "laughed off the playground" without a second thought. Today - our children (and soon THEIR children) are taught to EXPECT this... Then... They arrive in "the real world" and find out that the job market does not operate that way. So, they clamor and groan about the "unfairness" of it all (much like the author of the original blog post). I, for one, just cannot wrap my head around that mentality. I have been in my particular field for 30 years. I started out in apprenticeship and have worked my way through to being "Senior Level" now. However, I see kids coming right out of college that expect to be "Senior Level" in 3-4 years??? Some eyes really need to be opened. Just because you BELIEVE you are "entitled" to something, doesn't make it so...

My apologies for this rant - in advance - but the original author's mentality really "tweaks my cookies"!

Stephanie Osborn said...

Rant earned. Welcome.

Laura in Alabama said...

I'm betting that she's counting on all the furor making her name stick in our heads, and we won't remember why, so we'll buy her books. Politicians use this trick all the time.

Stephanie Osborn said...

If she is, then it's backfired. From what I hear, on Amazon her books have started garnering 1-star reviews, which read something like, "If you can do it to Rowling, I can do it to you."

That's NOT going to help her sales any.

And this is only one reason why what she did was not exactly bright.

Disclaimer: I AM NOT advocating that anyone should post such a review. I'd like to think my readers wouldn't stoop to such things. Let's all be fair here.

Curmudgeon said...

Umm. "Step aside"? Really. And I suppose Scholastic, et alia, are going to quit printing the books, too. Instead, I propose the HuffPost and the WAPO "step aside," that we bring back the Richmond News-Leader and Kilpo.

Stephanie Osborn said...

Well, I'm not going to tell anybody to quit operating their businesses.

That said, there is such a thing as voting with one's dollars/clicks/likes/etc.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like one of those pieces, Stephanie, where the writer is trying to be deliberately provocative just to be provocative.

I agree with you that it's beyond asinine to tell someone who writes for a living to stop writing. It's up to the person to decide that, if he or she *ever* does, just like it's up to the person to decide when he stops composing music (Aaron Copland stopped writing music at 65 and stopped conducting at 70, but some conductors, like Joseph Haydn, kept composing to the ends of their lives and lived *well* beyond 70).

Telling a writer not to write makes no sense.

Telling readers not to read . . . well, I'm a book reviewer, and I do that now and again. But when I tell someone I don't like a book for whatever reason, if I can recommend something else by that author, I do it. If I know it's a debut author, I mention that. I always try to be fair.

So in this case, the only arguments people should have with J.K. Rowling are these:

Are her books well-constructed, logical and sensible?
Do they interest the reader throughout, or are there areas that drag?

And those are the two questions, really, most people ask of _any_ author -- do your books make sense, and are they of interest to you?

Anything else smacks of incivility at best and dunderheadedness at worst, IMHO.


Unknown said...

Since the day I tagged you, I've checked out her Amazon reviews. She's been HAMMERED.

But, if one read beyond the current reviews, anything posted prior to Feb 20, 2014, they would find out that a lot of her books were already hammered for not being well written.

If Lynn Shelley would like to learn how to better her skills at writing Literary Mystery, she should ask for your advice. I only say this because you have obviously nailed it.

Stephanie Osborn said...

Nicely said. And, as I think I mentioned, if the book does not hold up to the questions you put forth, then there is somewhat to be said for the editor(s) sharing in the blame, because that's what editors are there for. Granted, the author doesn't have to listen, but if there is a serious problem and the author doesn't listen to his/her editor, it just might be time for the editor in chief, or even the publisher, to step in. I have seen it happen.

Stephanie Osborn said...

Wow, Fritz, is it really that bad? I feel sorry for her. I have had the occasional one-star review, like any other author, and they HURT. I'm getting better at letting those slide off, as a professional should, but dang. It still smarts. And to think she brought it all on herself -- at least this latest brouhaha.

As for asking me, I dunno. I'm hardly on the level of Larry Correia and those guys -- yet. (Working on it.) I am fairly pleased with the work I've been doing, and I think I mostly just need a bigger audience, which means the improvement will be found in the marketing and promotion, and not so much the writing.

Note I said "FAIRLY" pleased. I think I'm always going to be "fairly pleased" with my writing. Because I'm always going to see room for improvement.

Unfortunately I don't think this girl is going to be the type to take constructive advice, even if I knew her to offer it.

(BTW I say "girl" only because I have the impression that she is quite a bit younger than I am, not because I'm trying to put her down. I also call Fritz "boy" or "son" on occasion, because he's a good bit younger too. And I'm Southern. So there.) ;-P

Unknown said...

:-) "And I'm Southern. So There." LOL - My "Southern" has caused me some issues when working with "outsiders". Example: A "girl" (chronologically MUCH younger than me) came to me at work to ask me to review something. I was already neck deep in a project, so my response was "I'll look at it in just a second, dear."

That, apparently, was enough to garner me a verbal warning from my manager for sexual harassment...

Stephanie Osborn said...

Which is why I posted an explanation.

Also, my blog.

Stephanie Osborn said...

This came in this morning from one of my science beta readers. For whatever reason blogspot wouldn't let him log in to post it himself, so I thought I'd post it for him.

"Tried to post the following, but it would not recognize any of my allowable credentials.

"Well said, Stephanie. This person (I hesitate to say 'lady,' she hasn't earned that) definitely has an entitlement mentality. You are working hard for what you have accomplished and plan to accomplish; this person wants to live in the work of Harrison Bergeron, or the 'no book shall be printed in more than 10,000 copies, to permit the lesser lights to flourish' of Atlas Shrugged. Which probably still sells more copies in a day than this person has in her entire life."

Stephanie Osborn said...

Ooo, I just found another author blogging about this same situation, and doing so very well! Have a look at Falling Down The Creative Well:

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