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Context and Anne Rice

astolat wrote haven't read the fandom_wank response in particular, if that happens to be what mainly inspired this post, because in general I find f_w to be kind of disquietingly mob-like even when it's funny. But I have to say I'm on board with everything flummery said, and I do understand the general wave of hostile response.

Yes, it was the f_w board that I found unsettling.

I've read flummery's post and dissection. I agree with the first part -- the message sent is the message received. Full stop.

But while I agree with some of what she said, I think it lacks a certain context. She has, of course, quoted relevant sections of the Anne Rice rant. Which I won't bother to do, because, why cover the same ground?

Instead, for the edification of everyone who's reading this: Some of the annoying review bits at amazon.com that preceded Ms. Rice's very ill-considered response. I've selected only one (1) sample of each type of annoying bit.

"God willing she'll realize why people are so angry about this book. …To all of you who enjoyed the book, I regret to say you have been bamboozled."

Realizing that because she's the author hers is an overweening arrogance, I'd just like to say that I saw about eight variants of this -- all pre-rant of course -- and just chose this one. It is the inverse of her unfortunate rant:

Anyone who likes this is stupid. Which is just about as meaningful, and probably somewhat upsetting -- to her. Otoh, the author not being Anne Rice, I doubt anyone else really cared.

Okay, I can't count (again). The next two (2) snippets are examples as well. They're of the "question authorial identity" variety, as in "this wasn't written by her".

"… Even when her books are mediocre (Pandora), she still makes the reader feel as if they were in the room, you can almost smell the atmosphere. her descriptions of places, cities, homes, feedings, hatred, and death are exquisite. ... That is why I do not think this book was even written by Anne Rice. … Please Anne, if you read this, we, your loyal fans will forgive you if Lestat awakes and we find out this book was a dream sequence, (ala Dallas) and you decide to do this right."

Note that this ends with a lovely offer of forgiveness, which is very … magnanimous. Or condescending. Depending on your authorial frame of mind. I'm sure that all the authors out there would accept this in the generous spirit with which it was offered.

"I know many diehard fans may wish to throw stones at me for what I am about to say but it must be said. Please to not take it in poor taste in speaking of the dead, but after the drivel that I found in Blood Cantacle it left me curious as to whether Anne's departed Stan may be the real writer behind the Vampire Chronicals and perhaps other of her works as well. It seems totally incomprehensable that the same author who gave us Memnoch the Devil could spew forth such juvenile literary garbage."

This is much worse, to me, because she was by all accounts enormously fond of her husband. It's the happy double-dig; one: he must have written all her books because now that he's dead they suck, and two -- well, two, he's dead, remember? Bound to make me a happy, rational, logical person if I were the type to, say, hold on to my period of mourning. I of course failed to correct the amazon reviewers' mistakes because. Well. I'm that kind of nice.

So Anne Rice's rant about every single word being written by her were in part a response to these. Of which there were very, very many; they were more numerous than the "you're stupid if you like this" variety, which I suppose supports the theory that not every amazon.com reviewer wants to insult their reading audience.

I failed to clip out anything that I thought was merely harsh textual criticism, and which she thought was obviously an attack; there's no point. We've pretty much all agreed that it's the job of the writer to make the reader understand, and the onus therefore lies on her text, and her.

There were a lot of "get an editor" or "the editor should have been ashamed of him/herself", but I'm not entirely certain those weren't genuine instead of somewhat disingenuous.

flummery -- and everyone else whose been kind enough to post about this particular segment today (and that does include you, schulman) -- are completely right about the "words too perfect to be edited", so she gets the full chin-hit for that.

I've felt that myself -- but it's always about someone else's work. And, umm, rabid a bit about defending what I think is perfect in someone else's work. I've otherwise been blessed by a yhlee sense of certainty and confidence in what I am writing at any given point, about what I have just finished, and about what I am required to edit.

And for my last clip, because I posted too many over at Making Light and will stop now, honest:

"Anne Rice, do us all a favour, STOP WRITING. Mourn your dead husband instead and shut up."

Which I thought was the height of sensitivity, but hey, it's the Century of the Internet (which is entirely unlike the Fruitbat), and all sorts of sensitive and caring behaviour is given free public rein. Or paid public reign (no, wait, no religion or politics. Ahem. Sorry about that). flummery seemed to feel that the author was allowed to respond in these "discussions" only if invoked directly. And you don't get much more direct than that.

Shortly after that one, I lost heart and ground to a halt in my reading of the arranged-by-inverse-date reviews; there were of course more, but I'd established for myself some context in which to set the rant. I therefore have no idea if the first reviews were as heated, as entitled, or, in the last case, as cruel. There were certainly multiple and equally unflattering "Anne Rice if you're reading… we'll forgive you if … you owe us this … you owe your fans …" posts that I could have picked, but one of above had two examples of button-pushers rolled into one.

So… do those count as the questions to the Author that would allow the Author not to "Just stay the hell out of it and let people have their discussion, unless they ask you a question directly"? At the point that she is being addressed, usually at the tail end of a lashing, for her horrible crime of writing a bad book which she believes is a brilliant book, is she then allowed to partake in what is otherwise effigy burning, or is it still a big case of her huge old ego? At what point do the direct appeals, ugly and less ugly (there were some nice ones, too) allow her, in your opinion, to respond?

I mean, yes, clearly she's not able to step back from her work, and I was wincing on her behalf too, but I also think she was deliberately asserting an unreasonable level of authorial privilege. From her previously-posted comments in the essay, I think it's fair to say that she does in fact believe in that level of privilege, that this was not simply an explosion of frustration. And I think fandom, at least the highly engaged, interactive side of fandom, naturally rejects that notion with great force.

I don't actually understand what you mean by "asserting an unreasonable level of authorial privilege." :/. I have my own views on fandom, texts, etc., which I'll also respond to in a separate post. This wouldn't have been separated out into its own post but it went -- everyone look surprised -- long.


Sep. 23rd, 2004 03:35 pm (UTC)
Your sampling of asinine criticism (and don't apologize for "losing heart;" cripes, no sane person can wade through this morass indefinitely) hits all the notes-- I think there are five basic sorts of Worthless Comments Bound to Piss Off Authors that readers and critics can make. Off the top of my head, let's call them:

1. Solipsistic Presumption: "I know how you should spend your time. In fact, I know better than you do."

2. Imagined Intimacy: "I know better than you do how [insert personal event here] has affected your writing life and what you should do about it."

3. Argument from Fan-Obsession Authority: "My special knowledge of all things you tells me that you should keep on writing books like the last several you wrote, and I mean this in the best possible way, as there are no fans more loyal than I, but your work will continue to suck miserably if you don't magically turn back into the person you were [x] years ago, the person I still hope to see again."

4. Simple Elitism: "Everyone who liked this book is a stupid monkey, and I alone am escaped to tell thee-- you suck."


Anne got all five of those in spades in that Amazon thread; plain old "I didn't like this book" reviews really aren't anywhere near as insulting and useless.

I guess my initial snarky contempt for her Amazon post had a great deal to do with her previous website post about why she doesn't allow others to edit her precious sentences. In the first place, she thoroughly mangled and misstated the nature of how writing in drafts works for those who use the technique (hey, that's me). In the second, she went on to build a mount of condescension a mile high as she explained that she could never, ever do anything so sloppy and careless and awful as write in drafts.

So, there's my context. But upon reflection, the fact that Stan's loss is still a huge hole in her heart makes her Amazon flip-out, if not exactly wise, somehow understandable. In her place, I might have confined my bitching to those posters presuming to bring her deceased husband into the discussion-- and I might also have been ten times more vicious and out-of-control. I have deep protective feelings about my better half, too.

I guess I don't blame an author for publicly taking a reviewer to task for being ignorant or presumptuous, and I don't sympathize with the reviewer when they are being ignorant or presumptuous. On the other hand, Anne has said some ignorant and presumptuous things in her time online as well. Maybe that's a long-winded way of saying I'm still scratching my head and sighing over this one.
Sep. 23rd, 2004 10:34 pm (UTC)
I guess my initial snarky contempt for her Amazon post had a great deal to do with her previous website post about why she doesn't allow others to edit her precious sentences. In the first place, she thoroughly mangled and misstated the nature of how writing in drafts works for those who use the technique (hey, that's me). In the second, she went on to build a mount of condescension a mile high as she explained that she could never, ever do anything so sloppy and careless and awful as write in drafts.

It's funny -- I read that post. I think, working at the bookstore and having a lot of contact with different authors and their often less-than-perfect public behaviour has done two things for me: It's made me distance the author from their work (in all cases; some people I personally adore write books I almost can't read, and the inverse is certainly true as well), and it's also made me aware that an author is incapable of evaluating their own work. I don't actually listen to their own evaluation. If they apologetically tell me the book is garbage, I don't care. If they tell me it's the gift of fire to man, or its equivalent, I also don't care. What I mean by I don't care is this: authors are funny about their own work; praise or gloom are just sides of a coin. Oops. Digression.

I read her post about her writing process. These were the impressions it left on me:

I didn't get that she thought it was awful to write in multiple drafts -- what I got out of it, sifting for author-centric language -- was that she found it horribly disrupting to turn in a partially finished book and have someone else tell her how to fix it or change it. It's clear that the partial is in no way a finished work; that she's constantly in the process of revising as she writes. She has to know that what's behind her is as good as it can be. One of my best friends (who had, by that time at least ten novels published, and yes, I'm being too lazy to count) once spent months and months rewriting the same damn chapter over and over (chapter 1) because she knew it wasn't working -- and if it wasn't (as) perfect (as she could make it), she simply could not go on. I'll go back. I'll throw out 600 pages. But if I spent those months on chapter one, there would never be a chapter two.

I know writers who would lop off both their legs before they turned in a work in progress to anyone. I know writers who will happily give chunks and sections to people to read. I know writers who work in a zillion drafts, sometimes losing hundreds of pages in the process, and sometimes gaining hundreds. I know writers who can write a brilliant book in six weeks, and writers who can write a book in four years. . Clearly I'm tired, because I try to limit myself to one digression per post.

My general impressions of Anne Rice's explanation were, therefore, coloured by my experience with any number of writers and our discussions about how our processes differ. I can turn in the first ten chapters of a work in progress if I want an outside opinion. I can write in drafts, if it's necessary. It's not my preferred way of writing. But if someone were to tell me, ten chapters in, how to start changing the story -- I'd put in ear-plugs. Story first, all of it -- and then, once the whole is there and the structure is clear and the characters are clear -- then suggestions, editorial comments, revisions.

Absent the horror of having someone else tell her what to write before she's finished the writing, I understand what she says about process. Well, okay, also, less the perfect part. Whenever she used the word perfect, I was mentally inserting a "as I can make it". Because we're all trying for that.

Sep. 24th, 2004 09:24 am (UTC)
ETA: That is was awful for other people to write in drafts. I think it's clear that she personally hates them.
Sep. 23rd, 2004 10:44 pm (UTC)
But in her post on her own site about her writing process, I was always very aware that this is her writing process. She wasn't offering this as advice. She wasn't telling anyone else what to do or how to approach their books. She was speaking about how she approaches her books and her writing. I understand that she can be seen as arrogant -- but she does certainly allow her books to be copy-edited, as she very clearly stated in that same essay.

And copy-editor horror stories? If I started, having heard any number of authors in misery about this, I could go on for days. Yes, I can do that anyway, but still. She does allow her work to be copy-edited; she does -- she said -- pay attention to the queries that arise from that process.

She could -- at her dollar value in publishing terms -- tell them not to copy-edit the book either; she doesn't. So she's aware that there is value in that process -- but I think it's also easier for her to accept because at that point the book is finished.
(Continued from above)

If I had no choice but to take editorial direction for something that wasn't finished yet (and that's what I inferred from her post, or rather, that she felt that she had to accept this in the partial process) -- if someone was telling me, before I had managed to discover the characters, the interactions, the huge unpredictability of my text, that I had to already start to change things before they knew where I was going? I'm not sure I could finish the book; I would feel hamstrung, caged, and blinkered. In that order.

I was talking with a writer whose work I like at Worldcon. We started to talk about writing process -- because it fascinates me, and always has -- and about three sentences in, he sort of hestitated, and then apologized for possibly sounding like a Prima Donna.

And I thought "Huh??" Because, to me, he sounded like a writer. He was talking about process. He said nothing nearly as arrogant in tone or in words as Rice -- in fact, he said nothing even remotely like.

But given the response to her process post, given the way it's raised hackles across the Internet, I suddenly have a blinding insight into why the discussion came with disclaimers.

I write; I assumed, because it seemed natural to make that assumption, that Rice's statements were about her process. Not mine. Not anyone else's. No two writers have the same way of getting through a novel anyway. I didn't feel spit on, I didn't feel derided, I didn't feel that she meant for me to feel inferior.

And when she used the word perfect? I read it as the subjective perfect. Perfect to her. As good as she could possibly make it before the copy-editor showed her how to make it better.

But that's me. That's the impression I took away. If you argue on the face of the text, I can respond to the arguments, but it didn't tweak me.