(1) PUBLISHING CONTROVERSY REVISITED. Pamela Paul, former New York Times Book Review editor, returned to the three-year-old American Dirt controversy in an op-ed for the New York Times: “The Long Shadow of ‘American Dirt’”.
…From the moment Cummins’s agent sent “American Dirt” out to potential publishers, it looked like a winner. The manuscript led to a bidding war among nine publishing imprints, resulting in a game-changing, seven-figure deal for its author. In the run-up to publication, as the editor of The New York Times Book Review, I asked attendees at Book Expo, then the most significant annual publishing conference, which upcoming book they were most excited about. The answer was as unanimous as I’ve ever heard: “American Dirt.” Publishers, editors, booksellers, librarians were all wildly enthusiastic: “American Dirt” wasn’t only a gripping novel — it brought attention to one of the most vexing and heartbreaking issues of our time, the border crisis. This, its champions believed, was one of those rare books that could both enthrall readers and change minds.
But in December 2019, a month before the novel’s release, Myriam Gurba, a Latina writer whose memoir, “Mean,” had been published a couple of years earlier by a small press, posted a piece that Ms. magazine had commissioned as a review of “American Dirt,” and then killed. In her blog post and accompanying review, Gurba characterized the novel as “fake-assed social justice literature,” “toxic heteroromanticism” and “sludge.” It wasn’t just that Gurba despised the book. She insisted that the author had no right to write it.
A central charge was that Cummins, who identifies as white and Latina but is not an immigrant or of Mexican heritage, wasn’t qualified to write an authentic novel about Latin American characters. Another writer soon asserted in an op-ed that the “clumsy, ill-conceived” rollout of Cummins’s novel was proof that American publishing was “broken.” The hype from the publisher, which marketed the book as “one of the most important books for our times,” was viewed as particularly damning. Echoing a number of writers and activists, the op-ed writer said it was incumbent upon Mexican Americans and their “collaborators” to resist the “ever-grinding wheels of the hit-making machine,” charging it was “unethical” to allow Oprah’s Book Club to wield such power. More than 100 writers put their names to a letter scolding Oprah for her choice….
Dana Snitzky takes issue: “This Week in Books: It’s Pamela Paul Week”.
…American Dirt was merely criticized. Criticized, probably most famously (yet not by any means initially) in the pages of the New York Times Book Review. The New York Times Book Review as edited by Pamela Paul. Yes, friends, you heard correctly—as Max Read and others online have pointed out, Pamela Paul’s powers of discourse are such that she has established a vertically integrated outrage machine, seeing the process through from initial cancellation to reactionary backlash….
Silvia Moreno-Garcia addressed Paul’s op-ed in an extended Twitter thread that starts here. A few of her comments are:
(2) ELSEWHERE MONTELEONE KEEPS DIGGING THE HOLE DEEPER. It was taken down today, however, yesterday YouTube’s Hatchet Mouth posted their “Tom Monteleone Interview”, an extended opportunity for Monteleone to deliver more remarks in the vein of his now-removed Facebook post. He belittled a past Horror Writers Association award winner in derogatory racial terms (while making every effort to assign the wrong ethnicity to the person being insulted), and gave the same treatment to the woman who called for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer to be renamed (as it was). Copies of the YouTube auto-generated transcript are floating around. In fact, I made my own if you need to see one…
(3) BACK TO THE DINOSAURS. Apex Publishing’s Jason Sizemore, responding to a particular thread within the Monteleone kerfuffle, told Facebook readers what was wrong with the latest attack on an award-winning story.
There’s another old white male author who has found offense at the award recognition of non-white, non-male writers by the HWA. It’s been all over my FB feed.
Inevitably, the usual cadre of traditionalists and self-anointed old school sci-fi readers rallied around this writer rehashing the same tired arguments that showcase a poor understanding of capitalism, reality, and the depth of fiction they bemoan.
Apex Magazine was accused of catering to reactionary and psychotic (not my words) people.
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky was evoked. Again. This story came out in March of 2013….
(4) BUFFY SLAYS TROLLS & SLIMEBALLS. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Working now from a position of earned respect and power, Sarah Michelle Gellar expressed her opinions on mistreatment of women in visual media. In an interview with the Guardian, she takes shots at both the trolls who sit in front of the screen and certain slimeballs who reside behind the cameras. “’A lot of the demons seem a little cheesy now’: Sarah Michelle Gellar on Buffy, her burnout and her comeback”.
…For all its similarities to Buffy, Wolf Pack has one key difference: this time Gellar is in a position of influence, as an executive producer as well as the lead.
The title can be almost meaningless, a way to sweeten the deal for a star, but Gellar says she told Davis: “I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I have a lot of experience, and I have a lot to bring to the table. If you’re just looking for an actor that just wants to have the credit, I’m not your person. I’m going to have ideas, and I’m going to be vocal about them.”…
(5) IN MEMORIAM 2022. Steven H Silver’s list “In Memoriam: Those We Have Lost in 2022” has been posted at Amazing Stories.
(6) LISA LORING OBITUARY. TV’s original Wednesday Addams, Lisa Loring, died January 30 at age 64 reports the BBC.
…Her daughter, Vanessa Foumberg, told The Hollywood Reporter she died of a stroke caused by high blood pressure.
“She went peacefully with both her daughters holding her hands,” Foumberg said.
The actress had been on life support for three days, her friend Laurie Jacobson posted on Facebook.
“She is embedded in the tapestry that is pop culture and in our hearts always as Wednesday Addams,” she said in her post.
The Addams Family, which was the first adaptation of Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons, ran from 1964 to 1966 on ABC.
Ms Loring also appeared in the soap opera “As the World Turns” and the sitcom “The Pruitts of Southampton.”…
(7) MEMORY LANE.
1987 — [Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
And now we come to the end of the genre quotes (at least for now) with a most splendid one from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners novel. As y’all know, it’s the first work of the Riverside series which continues in The Fall of the Kings, was co-written with her wife Delia Sherman, and finished in The Privilege of the Sword.
Yes, it’s one of my favorite novels, and the series as well, to re-read. Preferably on a cold winter’s night. I do think that Swordspoint is the best of the novels though The Privilege of the Sword is quite tasty as well.
And you have to love a society where chocolate is the drink of choice among everyone.
BY MIDDAY, MOST OF THE NOBLES ON THE HILL COULD be counted on to be awake. The Hill sat lordly above the rest of the city, honeycombed with mansions, landscaped lawns, elaborate gates, and private docks on the cleanest part of the river. Its streets had been built expressly wide and smooth enough to accommodate the carriages of nobles, shortly after carriages had been invented. Usually, mornings on the Hill were passed in leisurely exchange of notes written on colored, scented, and folded paper, read and composed in various states of dishabille over cups of rich chocolate and crisp little triangles of toast (all the nourishment that ought to be managed after a night’s reveling); but on the morning after the garden duel, with the night’s events ripe for comment, no one had the patience to wait for a reply, so the streets were unusually crowded with carriages and pedestrians of rank.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
- Born January 30, 1911 — Hugh Marlowe. First let me note that he was first to play the title character in the very first radio version of The Adventures of Ellery Queen. No, it’s not even genre adjacent but neat nonetheless. As regards genre roles, he’s Tom Stevens in The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Dr. Russell A. Marvin in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. He was also Harold McPherson in Seven Days in May if you want to count that as genre which I definitely think you should. (Died 1982.)
- Born January 30, 1920 — Michael Anderson. English Director best remembered for Around the World in 80 Days, Logan’s Run, and perhaps not nearly as much for, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. Yes, I saw it. It was, errrr, interesting. He also directed The Martian Chronicles series. (Died 2018.)
- Born January 30, 1924 — Lloyd Alexander. His most well-crafted work is The Chronicles of Prydain. Though drawn off Welsh mythology, they deviate from it in significant ways stripping it of much of its negativity. To my belief, it is his only genre writing as I don’t hold the Westmark trilogy to actually be fantasy, just an alternative telling of European history. Splitting cats hairs? Maybe. He was also one of the founders of Cricket, an illustrated literary journal for children. The late illustrator Trina Schart Hyman whose art I lust after, errrr, adore was another founder. (Died 2007.)
- Born January 30, 1926 — Peter Brachacki. Set designer for the very first episode of Doctor Who. Everything I’ve been able to read on him says that he was not at all interested in working on the series and did so reluctantly under orders. Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert would later recount that she was impressed with Brachacki’s work on the TARDIS interior even though she personally did not like him at all. His design elements persist throughout the fifty years the series has been produced. His only other genre work that I’ve been able to find was Blake’s 7 and a short series called the The Witch’s Daughter done in the late Seventies. The BBC wasn’t always great at documenting who worked on what series. (Died 1980.)
- Born January 30, 1941 — Gregory Benford, 82. His longest running series is Galactic Center Saga, a series I find a little akin to Saberhagen’s Beserker series. I’ve not read enough of it to form a firm opinion though I know some of you of have done so. Other novels I’ve read by him include Timescape (superb) and A Darker Geometry: A Man-Kzin Novel which was actually was quite excellent. Yes I do read Baen Books.
- Born January 30, 1955 — Judith Tarr, 68. I’m fond of her Richard the Lionheart novels which hew closely to the historical record while introducing just enough magic to make them fantasy. The novels also make good use of her keen knowledge of horsemanship as well. Her Queen of the Amazons pairs the historical Alexander the Great, with a meeting with the beautiful Hippolyta, who is queen of the Amazons. Highly recommended.
- Born January 30, 1973 — Jordan Prentice, 50. Inside every duck is a self-described person of short stature. His words, not mine. In the case of Howard the Duck from the movie of the same name, one of those persons was him. He’s not in a lot of SFF roles after his performing debut there though he shows up next as Fingers Finnian in Wolf Girl, playing Sherrif Shelby in Silent But Deadly, Napoleon in Mirror Mirror and Nigel Thumb in The Night Before the Night Before Christmas.
- Born January 30, 1974 — Christian Bale, 49. First enters our corner of the mediaverse in a Swedish film called Mio in the Land of Faraway where he plays a character named Yum Yum. Note though that he doesn’t speak in this role as his Swedish voice is done by Max Winerdah. So his playing Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is his first speaking role. Next up is American Psycho in which he was Patrick Bateman, that was followed by a role in Reign of Fire as Quinn Abercromby. He was John Preston in Equilibrium, and he voiced Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle, a film well worth seeing. Need I say who he plays in Batman Begins? I thought not. He’d repeat that in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Amidst being Batman, he was also John Connor in Terminator Salvation. His last genre role to date was voicing Bagheera in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle asked off Kipling’s All the Mowgli Stories. He’s got a television genre credit, to wit Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island off the Robert Louis Stevenson of that name.
(9) COMICS SECTION.
- Candorville shows a dad telling his shrink about trying to get his kid to watch Star Trek.
- Foxtrot’s “Goodnight Doom” adapts the verses of a children’s book to a kid’s computer.
(10) ALTERNATE OVAL OFFICES. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] Welcome to an alternate universe. Actually, six different ones.
Have you ever wondered what the White House Oval Office would look like if it were outfitted completely in IKEA furniture? Or perhaps another home furnishing brand? House Fresh will be glad to show you.
Some of the choices are breathtaking; albeit perhaps not in the way a President might desire. “If 6 Iconic Home Brands Redesigned The Oval Office” at HouseFresh.
Consider the Pottery Barn version….
(11) THE BIRD HAS THE WORD. “’An Ostrich Told Me the World Was Fake’ Director Discusses Oscar Nom” in Variety.
…The short film follows a young telemarketer named Neil who is confronted by a mysterious talking ostrich who tells him that the universe is actually stop-motion animation. Neil, voiced by Pendragon, then tries to convince his colleagues about the discovery….
Let’s talk about “An Ostrich Told Me the World Was Fake” and its journey. Where did it begin?
It was part of a doctorate in visual arts program at film school. It had to come from a research perspective. The project needed to have a level of innovation and something that you were doing differently that you could write about and talk about. I wanted to do something on stop-motion because it’s something that I love doing, but I hadn’t thought too much about it yet. There was so much potential about what could be done and explored.
I wanted to look at the handmade quality of stop-motion animation and ensure they were as apparent as possible. That led me down this path of doing something that breaks the fourth wall and deconstructs it, so that the audience could be watching the behind-the-scenes as they were watching the film. I thought it was entertaining because it would show all that goes into making this kind of film. But then on the other side, it’s like, how do I make sure that it’s not too distracting that you can still connect with these characters? Finding that balance was difficult….
(12) VIDEO OF THE DAY. “Honest Trailers – Snakes on a Plane” shows that if you steal ideas from enough different places it’s not plagiarism. But first, you also have to steal enough special effects snakes.
[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Daniel Dern, Cat Rambo, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]
(4) Good for Gellar
(11) The Bird is Cruel!
sigh There’s a lot of talk about “cultural appropriation” lately. I know nothing about American Dirt, but my first question is, is it a good novel? Are the characters caricatures, or are they real people? Are they treated unfairly by the author?
Really, folks, a lot of what I have seen of talk about “appropriation” comes across as “you aren’t allowed to learn from other cultures, you have to absolutely stay in your own, and you’re not allowed out.” If you carry that down the garden path, does it mean I can’t write a story with women in it, because I’m a man?
I sincerely hope you read Baen books… given that I’ve been waiting to hear (since August, when I was contacted by them) to see if they’re going to rehome my novel that was published by shuttered Ring of Fire Press, and I guarantee that Vox Nuts and his crew would hate my novel. (And if they do, and pick up the next in that universe, their heads will explode.)
mark says I sincerely hope you read Baen books… given that I’ve been waiting to hear (since August, when I was contacted by them) to see if they’re going to rehome my novel that was published by shuttered Ring of Fire Press, and I guarantee that Vox Nuts and his crew would hate my novel. (And if they do, and pick up the next in that universe, their heads will explode.)
Let me state that I’m highly selective on what I read there. Simon R. Green’s there now and I’ve been reading everything by him since his Deathstalker days.
What frustrates me about Baen is they have some of the crappiest editing in the known multiverse. It’s rare that, if a book is edited by them as opposed to just published by them and was edited elsewhere as Green’s books are, that I don’t encounter multiple errors. And I means serious errors.
(6) With the passing of Lisa Loring the last remaining cast member of the original series “The Addams Family” is John Astin who recently retired as a professor at Johns Hopkins University. Astin is 92, he will be 93 in March.
One interesting part of Loring’s career is her work in the Porn industry. Yes you heard that right. She did not act or appear in any Porn movies, but her work was visible in a number of Porn movies made in the late 1980’s into the 1990’s. Loring had been working part time as an interior designer, when a friend of a friend recommended her to a Porn movie producer who needed help with sets. it has been common practice in California for Porn producers to lease houses (esp in the San Fernando Valley) that have sat on the for sale market. The Producers will lease an empty house for several weeks and then film several different Porn movies at that location. As the houses are empty, they need to be furnished the furniture and artwork. Loring would be called on to furnish the house and then change the furnishings as the filming continued. She was reportedly amused by her place in Porn history.
She was close with Carolyn Jones who played her mother Morticia on The Addams Family and with Jackie Coogan who played Uncle Fester. Coogan looked out for her and Ken Weatherwax’s interests making sure that their earnings went into the proper trust funds to be released to them when they turned 21. Coogan is the namesake of the Jackie Coogan Law in California as he worked as a minor child in movies and his parents spend all his earnings and when he became an adult he had nothing left of his earnings.
(8) Lloyd Alexander defiinitely wrote other genre stuff; at the very least Time Cat. And if you count Indiana Jones as genre (and I definitely do) then the Holly Vesper books certainly are.
Mark, the problem with American Dirt- and I have read it, as well as knowing something about the subject- is most of the story would not work as it is. The author did not bother to do any research on Mexico’s ID process for example- if you know anything about it, it renders a bunch of the plot nonsensical. That’s just one example. Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican woman from the exact kind of family that the protag of American Dirt is, so when she lists all the ways in which the plot is nonsense, I believe her. Also, I’m from a border state, and know a lot of people from Mexico myself, and know of my own knowledge that that whole part of the book is garbage. That’s why it’s cultural appropriation.
(4) The Gellar interview is a very interesting portrait of a smart professional.
Happy birthday to Judith Tarr! I enjoy her columns on horse-related themes at Tor.Com.
@mark: The ortiginal point, that Paul conviently forgets, was not wether a non-Mexican could write a Mexican story, but that American Dirt was a bad novel by a Non-Mexican about Mexican culture.
For a imho well written summary and takedown I point to : https://biblioracle.substack.com/p/just-when-i-thought-i-was-out
which should answer that question.
@peer – That is a fantastic article!
Peer and Nina A: and that’s the answer I wanted – you’re talling me that it actually is crap, that the author not only didn’t write what they knew, they didn’t do research to find out. I have no issues calling that appropriation, though more, I’d call it bad writing.
Cat Eldridge: yeah, well, they are looking, as I said, at rehoming some of us who were left publisherless… and I, for one, am certainly not going to say no to a major. If they say no, I’ll go with a small press, but I’d obviously prefer a much larger audience.
8) I think Bales’s “Treasure Island” is the best version ever. Besides an excellent soundtrack by The Chieftains (who appear in a cameo in the tavern) it has the best Long John Silver ever: Charlton Heston. Now hear me out. Most versions have Silver as a gruff, lovable rogue with a checkered past. Think Wallace Beery and Robert Newton. Heston played him as he was. A dangerous murdering cutthroat who just happened to have a soft spot for Jim Hawkins. Heston is totally believable as a real pirate trying to work both sides to his own advantage.
Great link. Thanks very much. I found the following passage worthy of repeating.
Good writing and bad writing are equal opportunity outcomes that are not based on the professed identity of the author. That authorial identity may make it easier for a specific author to create more authentic/accurate depictions due to their life experience. Authentic/accurate depictions can still reside in an otherwise unnoteworthy work.
Separately, I don’t purposefully read a ton of books published by Baen. I end up reading more books published by Tor than Baen. Tor’s copyediting is sub-par, IME. Mark, I don’t know who did the copyediting for 11,000 years, but they did a great job.
When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser – Someone ~2008
8) Bale was also the big bad in the most recent “Thor” movie.
Here’s another piece of the American Dirt controversy: there are allegations of plagarism, most notably plagarism from genre-adjacent Luis Alberto Urrea (who is another writer with actual border experience, and who was a protege of Ursula K. LeGuin). Specifically, the account of the child being run over by the truck.
While I haven’t read American Dirt, I have read the work that passage was allegedly taken from. Plus I have met Luis at a writing workshop, talked to him, been encouraged by him, and…he’s a damn fine writer. If you haven’t read his The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America, both are highly recommended, with genre elements.
Separately, I’m unlikely to pick up a book published by Baen, much less hope that they buy my work. Lousy covers and lousy copyediting hurt my brain, to begin with, and I’d just as soon not be identified with most of their current catalog. Not all–just most of them.
Dann665 – thanks for picking up the novel. There were typos in the first few pages… but that’s because they were shifting things around so as to get it out the day before Balticon, so I could have a virtual launch party there… and I’d never worked with that before, so I made at least a couple mistakes, esp. on page 1….
@Joyce Reynolds-Ward: I haven’t read any of Urrea’s fiction (something I keep meaning to correct) but his nonfiction book The Devil’s HIghway, about the Arizona-Mexico border, is terrific.
@PhilRM–completely agree about The Devil’s Highway. Luis’s fiction is just as good as his nonfiction.
The story about what happened to his father is chilling, too.
Per Twitter commentary, Tom Monteleone has apparently been banned from Stokercon and future HWA events.
Link to the org itself:
And expelled from the HWA.
It’s been definitely interesting watching a few of the Old Guard that were egging Monteleone on suddenly switch to sadly shaking their heads and lamenting his actions.