Controversy (or not):
The New York Times has an interview with Jodi Picoult, which apparently caused some stir in certain circles. Honestly, I went into the interview thinking I was about to read something incredibly controversial and offensive, but the worst thing she says is that she doesn’t like Nicholas Sparks and that she finds the fanfiction origins of Fifty Shades of Grey problematic. She doesn’t even say anything dismissive about chick lit (even though the title implies it), indeed she says that she has nothing against chick lit, she simply does not write it (which is correct, Jodi Picoult writes women’s fiction) and implying that her work is chick lit just because she is female is somewhat condescending. Oh yes, and she repeats her point that female writer get fewer reviews and attention than male writers. Honestly, I love a good literary dust-up as much as the next girl, but I fail to see the controversy here. Where’s Christopher Priest when you need him?
Now I don’t care for Jodi Picoult’s novels at all and I actually put her in the same category as Nicholas Sparks, writer of terribly depressing women’s fiction, the sort of thing I sometimes call “breast cancer lit”. But I do like that she speaks up about the discrimination of women writers. I think a lot of people are insulted that Ms. Picoult, writer of commercial women’s fiction, supposedly dared to put herself on the same level as Jonathan Franzen. But did she really? She doesn’t even say anything negative about Franzen (except that she preferred The Corrections to Freedom), only asks how many reviews and features does one book need. Nor does she actually say that she should have been reviewed instead – all she says is “A woman who writes genre commercial fiction would be great, even better if it’s a woman of color.” I can’t really disagree with that. As for the question whether Jodi Picoult would be taken more seriously if she were a man, I honestly don’t know. I suspect she’d be treated like Nicholas Sparks or John Green rather than Jonathan Franzen. I also suspect that if Nicholas Sparks had said the very same things Jodi Picoult has said, it would be considered far less controversial.
Romance (with or without speculative elements) and Sex:
At The Night Bazaar, Betsy Dornbush has a nice post about sex scenes in speculative fiction and why so many readers don’t like them, even though a well written sex scene reveals a lot about the characters and their relationship to each other. On a related note, all the books where I felt that the presence of a sex scene, no matter how subtle, would have improved the book were SF.
At Amazing Stories, Chris Gerwel discusses paranormal romance and urban fantasy from a speculative fiction POV. This is a very thoughtful article from someone who has made attempts to understand the romance genre (he quotes Beyond Heaving Bosoms) and a far cry from the “Wah, it’s all porn and has icky girl cooties.” attitude described so well by Betsy Dornbush in the article I linked above. Though I would place the origin of today’s paranormal romance with its supernatural heroes a bit further back in time than Anne Rice (though she was an important influence) with Dark Shadows in the late 1960s/early 1970s, because Dark Shadows was the first time vampires and werewolves were portrayed as nuanced beings rather than outright monsters and even potential romantic heroes.
Dave Farland a.k.a. Dave Wolverton discusses the appeal of romance in his latest Daily Kick in the Pants writing tip. I like what Farland/Wolverton has to say about romance, why it asks important questions and why it appeals to so many readers. However, he loses me in the last third when he attempts to differentiate between romance and pornography. Not that there’s anything wrong with attempting to differentiate between romance, erotica and porn, since a lot of people seem to be confused about those points, at least judging by occasional discussions in places like Kindleboards. But unfortunately, Dave Farland is a bit confused on those distinctions as well, since he seems to view any explicit depiction of sex as pornography and therefore “bad”, because it might lead to objectifying others, porn addiction, divorce, destruction of families and STDs, therefore authors shouldn’t treat sex with impunity. I actually agree with part of his point – writers shouldn’t objectify characters and reduce them to sex objects and as for STD prevention, that’s why I’m fervently in favour of including condoms in sex scenes in contemporary set novels. But fictional sex scenes do not lead to divorce, family breakdown, porn addiction and a host of other social problems. Furthermore, sex is a normal part of human life and human relationships and therefore should be included in fiction, when and where appropriate. Besides, fiction can be very good in pointing out the differences between objectifying sex and intimate sex and even provide positive models of what a good and healthy sexual relationship looks like. Foz Meadows explains more in this great post.
Lindsay Buroker has interviewed Irish-Swedish women’s fiction writer Susanne O’Leary about literary translation for indie authors. I can only speak from my own experience here, but my overall sales have definitely gone up ever since I translated some of my stories into German.
The current issue of the scholarly journal Science Fiction Studies is entirely devoted to Chinese SF. This promises interesting reading, especially as I know very little about Chinese SF and Chinese literature in general. Found via iO9.