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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

17 Comments

  1. SAO
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 05:07:54

    Every reader I know overseas has a Kindle. So many of the kids in the Anglo-American school have them that our new book fair is no longer going to sell many books for HS students and adults. There’s a huge, huge market out here for English books at American prices, and it’s not limited to English speakers.

    E-readers are common in Russia, but no Russian will buy a Nook if there isn’t good Cyrillic capability and a very large selection of Russian books for it (meaning no proprietary format).

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  2. Laura Florand
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 06:37:01

    I think it does get asked, a lot. I’ve certainly seen it raised here. And that was a huge deal with Kathryn Stockett (The Help). I’ve got a character in a book out next year whose mother immigrated from North Korea, and I worry about evoking her cultural background correctly all the time, since I’m not speaking from inside it in anyway. I know a lot of people who came from Korea and/or whose parents did, and I do research, but is that enough? But I also don’t think it helps matters for authors *not* to write about people from other cultural & ethnic backgrounds than their own, so…sometimes you just have to do your best.

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  3. Carolyne
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 07:58:52

    A “why don’t you write about your own culture?” attitude is unfortunately prevalent among big-house editors, who, for an example, if they have a promising science fiction author whose passion is epic military fic but whose grandparents are from India, salivate over trying to get the author to write contemporary fic about immigrant families and samosas. And it’s meant with good intentions, I’m sure–a sort of commodification, though, while the “ordinary” writers don’t get the pressure to stop writing about galactic exploration.

    In my experience.

    The brief quote from Cheng’s novel was very poetic. Not usually my sort of setting, but I’m intrigued.

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  4. wikkidsexycool
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 08:03:16

    Thanks for the link to the article Jane. I really wish it had been more in depth about this issue. There was an author a few years ago who had a court case against a major publisher because all her white characters were changed to African American. I’ll see if I can find the info and link. In any event, its too bad The Help didn’t face the scrutiny it should have.
    I can never understand why some authors think African Americans hate the skin we’re in, and write in such a way that they forget their book will be read by the very culture they’re fictionalizing. I think I’ll pick up Cheng’s book, and so long as he doesn’t have overdone, thick southern dialect for the black characters and none for the white, or doesn’t insert the trope of either the violent, no-account or absentee black male, and also the sassy mouthed, heavy set black woman or the docile, blindly loyal black domestic who has no real backstory of her own and only gives advice and love like some angelic, chaste martyr (yes, I’m referring to The Help), it may turn out to be a good read.

    Edited to add: The author’s pen name in the court case I mentioned above was Millenia Black, and she sued Penguin over her novel The Great Betrayal. Here’s a link regarding her case: http://www.tessgerritsen.com/blog/the-downside-of-suing-your-publisher-race-and-publishing-redux/

    And here’s a blog that lists an actual copy of the lawsuit: http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com/2007/01/millenia-blacks-complaint.html

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  5. Laura Florand
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 08:38:35

    @wikkidsexycool: I thought The Help was challenged all the time? I know it still sold extremely well and all that, but I thought every single interview she did brought that question of, “How can you write about this?” I thought I remembered her media trainer even talking about how they had to prep for that to always be a question. I just remember this as being the huge debate around this book and the most prominent criticism of it.

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  6. wikkidsexycool
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 10:06:55

    @Laura Florand:

    No, Stockett really didn’t get challenged imo. Some focused solely on the dialect, but that wasn’t the only double standard in the book, as some of the things that came out of the black characters dialogue read to me, as highly dismissive and demeaning of their culture.

    There was also a major error that somehow made its way into the novel, yet it was overlooked:

    Stockett stated in three audio interviews that Medgar Evers had been “bludgeoned” to death even though her book stated he’d been shot, but somehow on Pg 277 of the hard copy text it has Skeeter stating Evers had been bludgeoned, then it made me wonder where her editors and what sort of research she’d really done. One of the audio links is still up on Barnes and Nobel:
    http://downloads.feedroom.com/podcasts/t_assets/20090727/Kathryn_Stockett_REX_MP3_40WA.mp3

    She says it at about 3/4 of the way through the interview.

    Also, no major media outlet in the US picked up on the real life maid of her brother, named Aibleen Cooper who stated the book character Aibileen had pieces of her real life and name.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2033369/Her-family-hired-maid-12-years-stole-life-Disney-movie.html

    What I’ve listed are just part of the issues I have with the book and the portrayals of the black characters.

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  7. Jane
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 10:29:39

    @wikkidsexycool – whether you think Stockett was challenged sufficiently on the issue of whether she accurately portrayed southern black culture is likely a matter of opinion rather than fact, but the lawsuit between Stockett and her brother’s maid, Aibileen Cooper, was covered in almost all the national outlets in the US.

    I covered it here: http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/tuesday-midday-links-8/

    But you can also see the search results here in Google: https://www.google.com/search?q=aibileen+clark+lawsuit&oq=aibileen+clark+lawsuit&aqs=chrome..69i57.368j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 and https://www.google.com/search?q=aibileen+clark+lawsuit&oq=aibileen+clark+lawsuit&aqs=chrome..69i57.368j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#q=stockett+lawsuit

    Today, CBS, NPR, WashPo, Times, etc.

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  8. SAO
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 10:58:26

    @Wikkid
    Maybe fewer people challenged Stockett up on her stereotypes because she was an equal opportunity offender. With the possible exception of the main character, everyone was a stereotype and the white characters were far less likable than the black.

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  9. wikkidsexycool
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 11:02:41

    Hi Jane,

    Thanks, I stand corrected on the Aibleen Cooper story being covered. Perhaps I should have stated that Cooper’s allegation didn’t appear to be taken seriously, imo. I’m not sure if she only granted an interview with that UK paper I’d linked, but I don’t recall a direct US mag or TV interview with her talking about her claim. The end result was that the case was dismissed due to the statue of limitations, from the last piece I’d read on it.

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  10. wikkidsexycool
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 11:12:22

    @SAO:

    Hi SAO,

    I can agree with you on that, because I did think the white characters were stereotyped. I think what saddened me was how there were scenes where a black character compared her skin color to a cockroach, advised against drinking coffee because it would turn someone colored, and not one black character was considered attractive/goodlooking unlike some of the white children and even Skeeter herself (Skeeter’s boyfriend thought she was pretty, though Skeeter felt otherwise). That’s what I meant by some writers not realizing their books being read by the very culture they fictionalize. I also picked up on how the lighter in complexion black characters didn’t have a pronounced dialect, but those considered darker and heavier did. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox. In short, I ended up flinging the book across the room, that’s how pissed I was. Still, it did make lots of money and I believe its even being used in classrooms around the country.

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  11. Jane
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 11:14:34

    @wikkidsexycool – The Times article contains a quote from Aibileen Cooper so I presume that they interviewed her. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/18/books/18help.html?_r=1&

    The Forbes article did not but clearly thought she got the shaft (and that she should use her celebrity now to cash in).

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  12. Willaful
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 11:38:23

    @wikkidsexycool: Because I like Harlequin Presents, I have a lot of GoodReads from all around the world. It’s so interesting to see their comments (usually scathing) on things they have personal knowledge of. Then again, I recently read an HP in which I think the author went to trouble to get the details right, but the cultural attitude overall perturbed me, much in the way you mention.

    I recently came across the phrase, “Men are people, women are women.” Seems equally applicable to white and black in our culture. :-(

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  13. Mzcue
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 12:40:25

    @Laura Florand: You make a very good point.

    When I discovered the number of apparently female authors writing about romance and passion between men, I certainly wondered how authentic the stories could be. In fact, I often find peculiarities in the internal dialog and observations that female writers construct for their male characters of any persuasion. I suspect that the same could be said for male authors creating female characters, although it may be the absence of certain thoughts and details in that case.

    Ultimately it’s the authors’ skill at perceiving, imagining and conveying the realities of characters different from themselves that elevates those genuine artists above others. As a reader, I’m always grateful for the guidance of reviewers who can alert me to the books that rise above stereotype and cliché. The misstep comes not because an author writes outside the boundaries of personal experience, but because of capabilities limited by craft and talent.

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  14. Laura Florand
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 14:09:24

    @Mzcue: That’s a good comparison, and I agree. I actually think it’s because people tend to be *quite* critical of those who write outside of ethnicity that authors become more self-conscious or wary of “getting something wrong” perhaps, but outside of memoir, all our characters are Other in some way and all writing is trying to put ourselves in that other’s heart.

    And I’m not trying to defend The Help, by the way; I understand the frustration it can cause. But I was just surprised by Grace Lin’s assertion that more criticism was directed toward Bill Cheng than toward a white author writing across cultures. I don’t think that’s the case at all, but this is anecdotal observation on my part. (On hers, too, I think.)

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  15. Jane
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 14:58:40

    @Laura Florand: I disagree Laura. I’ve seen POC authors get asked questions about why they aren’t writing characters that match their skin tone. There are a lot of questions POC authors get asked that white authors don’t. The fact is that the people who retweeted this article were also POC authors. Obviously it resonated with them.

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  16. SAO
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 23:24:42

    @Wikkid

    I’m horrified that kids in school are stuck reading The Help and I certainly hope it’s not true of very many. The one that annoys the heck of out me is To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is a cultural hero, but what exactly, did he do?

    1) He defended Tom Robinson because he was appointed by the court to do so. He didn’t volunteer. He merely didn’t refuse to carry out his duty.
    2) He defended Tom Robinson against the lynch mob, although it’s not clear he’d have been effective if Scout hadn’t come along. Okay, this is heroic, but hero Atticus tells Scout that Walter Cunningham, a lynch mob member/leader is basically a good guy if you get to know him. Huh? The lynch mob was protecting Robinson’s white and false accuser from the shame of having to testify, because the life and liberty of a black man is trivial in comparison to a bit of embarrassment on the part of a white girl and her family.
    3) When Bob Euwell, the accuser’s abusive father, tries to kill Jem and Scout to revenge himself on Atticus, Atticus conspires with the sheriff to hush it up and asks Jem and Scout to tell a lie which will prevent the community from knowing what an evil thug the white man whose name they protected really is.

    In short, when his duty is to defend the falsely accused black man, Atticus fulfills it, perhaps heroically, but in many other actions, he accepts and supports the social norms that say the life and liberty of a black man are acceptable collateral damage in the fight to keep the white community’s comfortable illusions about their own superiority.

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  17. Divya
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 06:46:33

    @SAO:

    I’ve always loved TKAM, but I never quite thought about Atticus like that. :)

    Regarding your third point: yes, they conspire to keep the scumbag’s name a secret, but it wasn’t because (IMO) of white superiority, but to spare Boo Radley of all the public attention and scrutiny. Just my two cents. :)

    If you want to talk about annoying classics, I HATED Huck Finn. Not because of the writing (I loved Tom Sawyer), but I became so mad at Tom at the part when he came up his dumbass idea to execute a “thrilling rescue with secret messages and a tunnel” to free Jim, rather than easily freeing Jim in the first place.

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